MONTENEGRO, May 8, 2008 - There is no other way to describe it. It is truly a piece of heaven on earth. Montenegro's coast is one of only two places in the world that would qualify as such of all the places I have seen in my several million miles of global travel (the other being Cape Naturaliste in Western Australia - see the "Bolt Hole: Just Another Day in Paradise"). Take a look at my new "office," for example, from which I am sending you this travelogue...
The only trouble with it is that it is sometimes TOO SUNNY to be able to see the screen clearly. So I've had to improvise and use an umbrella as a screen for the screen. :-) Of course, I am well aware that two things can quickly dismantle this idyllic looking office. First, the wind. Second, the rain. So far, however, St. George has been very kind to me. The wind howled all night long, but died down around sunrise. And the day before I arrived I understand it rained cats and dogs, too. Now, only cats and dogs are visible around this little 17th century fishing village of Przno. :-)
And now, check out the views from the balcony of a private apartment I am renting here...
The first five shots above show the scenery I am looking at right now from the balcony of my apartment. It has 180-degree views from a perch right above the ocean. But these are only the views from the front of the apartment. On the back side, you can enjoy gorgeous vista of the open ocean with rocks and little islands punctuating the scenery (the three bottom right shots). All around here swallows are having a ball today. They are everywhere. I have a feeling they must be nesting in that old ruin right next to my place (first photo, second row). Every time I see the swallows, I think of Capistrano. And I have been doing it since before I even knew where that was. :-)
Guess you can probably see how one can get a whole different perspective of the world when seen from this vantage point...birds, bees, flower and seas. :-)
Okay, this was just to show you right off the bat what a piece of heaven on earth looks like. Now, let's start this story at the beginning, with my departure from Belgrade...
Belgrade was still mostly cloudy the morning of May 7 after a thunderstorm rolled through that started right after I had come in the previous evening from my various St. George festivities.
But by the time the JAT (Yugoslav Air Transport)
72-seater turboprop plane had started to rev up at the Belgrade airport,
the sun was breaking through the clouds promising a nice afternoon.
As we were taking off, I noticed with mild puzzlement that a woman next
to me was still texting someone using her cell phone. Then she put
that set down and picked up another one and continued doing it for a
What JAT airline lacked in cell phone security, it more than made up by some other ridiculous rules. They did not allow me, for example, to take aboard as hand baggage a normal size backpack. So I took out my laptop before surrendering my backpack. Bad memories from another time in Australia when I trusted an airline with hand baggage only to find my laptop completely busted at the end of the trip. When I asked the stewardess what that rule was about given the ample storage space around the airplane (see above two pictures), she just threw up her hands in desperation and said, "I don't know." She added that often times the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, so there is no consistency in rules. "Sounds like the FAA's ATS," I thought. "It's just called JAT here."
The left two shots are of snow covered peaks of northern Montenegro mountains, the "Montenegro Alps," one of if which is also the Djurdjevic Mtn. Of course, I could not tell it from the rest through the clouds and without a map. As we started our descent toward the Adriatic Sea and the coastal part of Montenegro, I kept snapping pictures. The middle right was a flat area near the coast where a marshy part of Lake Skadar begins. This is a shallow lake that separates Albania from Montenegro. From there on, we were coasting along the beautiful coastline...
The two right photos depict the old medieval town of Budva, which has become the largest "city" on the Montenegro coast since the advent of tourism as the main economic activity around here. My eyes teared up as they were absorbing all this beauty. I was coming home... the Djurdjevic's ancestral home from many centuries ago (from late 1300s to late 1600s).
The temperature was in the low 70s as we disembarked at the Tivat airport. That's where I picked up my cute little stick shift rental car that rides like a mountain goat and parks like a charm. The last time I was here in 2004, I made a mistake of renting a car that was too big for the narrow roads and tiny parking spaces around here. As a result, I or someone else, got it scratched somewhere, so I had to pay extra for "damages." Well, I've learned my lesson. The rightmost shot is one I took from the car while driving toward the little fishing village of Przno.
As you get off the main highway, the leftmost shot is the first glimpse you can catch of Przno. The village is surrounded by olive groves, cedars, and even occasional palm trees. Then as you get closer, I've marked on the two middle shots the location of my apartment in that old stone house. Don't be misled by its antique exterior, though. Everything inside is new and modern, including the wireless technology, as you can see. Well, up to a point... When I asked the landlord about the wireless, he told me the names of the two local networks he uses that I could also access. Alas, we discovered that the thick medieval walls of the dwelling I am in block the wireless. So that's why I was forced to use an "outdoors office," as you saw at the start of this story. "Forced?" I know, it's a real hardship to be working with such gorgeous scenery around you. :-)
By the way, as I turned off the main highway, I saw this interesting IBM billboard. Now I know there is more than one IBM. Guess the intellectual property laws don't reach this far south... :-) Thought I's also show you what shopping for food around here is like. That little hole in the wall store in the middle left shot is the local equivalent of a "Safeway." That's where I get all of my daily supplies. As for heavy duty shopping, for that, I have to walk about 300 yards up the hill to "Tina's Market," the local "Wal Mart." There is no real supermarket or anything close to it for tens of miles around here. So it's really a bliss to be able to live once again the way people used to before the global multinationals started to drive local entrepreneurs out of business. "Well, enjoy it while it lasts, anyway..." I said to myself.
And that I did... enjoy myself last night. My landlord told me that this new restaurant, Zago's, which occupies the space of two holes in a wall, "makes the world's best Cappuccino." And they reportedly also have gourmet fresh fish dishes every night. Well, since this was late afternoon, I opted to sample their famous Cappuccino. it was really good. The young bartender said deferentially that his Cappuccino is still not good as his boss's, "but I am trying hard to improve." He said that Italians come over all the way from Bari and Rome to sample Zagi's Cappuccino.
Well, that's turning the world upside down, isn't it? The Italians, who invented Cappuccino, coming to this hole in the wall in Montenegro to taste "the world's best Cappuccino." Just goes to show us that we should never judge things by their sizes or appearances.
There was a piano in the back of the restaurant, I sat down and played for a while while enjoying "the world's best Cappuccino." It did not bolster the quality of my playing, but it was a good accompaniment.
And then I went for a walk along my "favorite mile" in the whole wide world...
I started my walk from the Hotel Milocer (left) where I spent two weeks in 1990 working on "The Professional," the play that later premiered in San Francisco (1992), London (1992) and New York (1995) to rave reviews. A couple of hundred yards later, my eyes started to water again as the sight of the little Queen's Beach opened up before me. If the Montenegrin coast is the heaven on earth, then this spot is the apple of its eye, the heart of Paradise. I was probably no more than 16 when I first saw this beach and swam across the little bay. I've had a picture of it in my heart ever since, and on my fridge door ever since that return trip in 1990.
There were only two sunbathers on the beach when I arrived... a young Russian couple. As they got dressed and the woman stared to pose for her man, I took advantage of it, too. Her beauty seemed to complement the place called Queen's Beach.
A couple of hundred yards up the hill, came my second most favorite beach. The bigger King's Beach lies between the Queen's beach and the world-famous St. Stefan island-resort (middle right) that has been attracting celebrities and tourists alike ever since in opened in the early 1960s. The King we are talking about here was Alexander I, the Serbian king who was assassinated, along with his wife, in Marseilles, France, in 1934 by the Croat nationalists. His "home away from home" that he personally picked in what he thought was the most beautiful spot - the red roof building in the right shot - was finished in 1936. So he never got to see it or enjoy it.
Above left is the view of the same King's palace from the opposite end of the beach. And the middle left is the view of the coastline from the same spot, looking northward toward Budva. This is where I also met this woman and two children walking this cute Bassett Hound puppy. I stopped to talk to them. The woman sounded upper class British. She said they were walking the dog for a friend, so she did not know much about him. Yet he reminded me of our Fred Bassett who was an important Djurdjevic household member in Arizona from 1990-2000.
And now, check out St. Stefan as you see it when you walk toward it from King's Beach (two left shots), and the massive mountains that rise up in the backdrop. If you really look carefully in the middle right shot, you will notice some red roofs high up in the mountains. I zoomed in on them in the right shot so you can see how high development reaches here these days. "Where eagles dare," were the words that crossed my mnd as I took in that scenery.
And if you think that's high, take a look at the above church, way up at that hilltop. I also zoomed in on it in the second shot. That's a sight that you get used to around here after a while. Nearly every major mountaintop has a church on it, evidently built in the centuries long gone. Guess that's another indication of how close to the Spirit the Montenegrin people wanted to be where they worshipped.
As soon as my elder daughter Tanja Anne (the one who lives in London) heard that I had arrived in Montenegro, she text me to let me know her Russian friend Sonya was also here, vacationing in Budva at the moment. Budva, if you recall from my earlier comments, is the largest town in this part of the coast that we saw from the air. It is about a half hour drive from where I am staying. I called Sonya and we agreed to meet for coffee at the Cafe Mozart, under the walls of the old Budva fortress.
I could not resist, however, of taking another shot of an approaching sunset before I left my Przno apartment (left). The setting sun was also lighting up the walls of the medieval fortress that Budva once was.
I was the first one to arrive. And even though it was still early evening, Cafe Mozart was starting to fill up (two left shots). While waiting for Sonya, I enjoyed pretty views of the mountains back of Budva (middle right), as well as those of the ocean in the other direction. But there are other kinds of beauty you can catch in Budva, too. The place is a regular fashion runway, with all sorts of gorgeous women swaying their hips up and down its streets (like the blonde in the right hand shot).
Speaking of beautiful women, Tanja's Russian friend Sonya would certainly qualify as such, wouldn't you say? She speaks excellent English, so we spent an hour or so in an animated conversation over coffee and tea. We also talked briefly to her Mom Olya in Moscow who has been, what I called, Tanja's "Russian Mom" during my daughter's nine years in the Russian capital. "I love it here in Budva," Sonya said. "That's why I keep coming back every change I get."
You can see why. Nor is Sonya alone. Wealthy Russians are buying up properties along the Montenegrin coast like there is no tomorrow. In some places you can hear more Russian being spoken than Serbian, I told Sonya. She agreed. One of her good friends from Moscow recently moved permanently here, she said. She now works in Budva as a Russian-Serbian interpreter and language instructor. Not a bad place to make a living in, is it?
After that, I drove back toward Tivat (where the airport is), and the up the hill and along the narrow peninsula to Krasici, where my sister and her family have a condo. They live near Belgrade, but happen to be there at this time doing some remodeling, so we caught up with each other over a late dinner.
And that's all she wrote from my first day in Montenegro. Guess you could say it was a full day... :-)
When I got up this morning (May 8), and walked over to my landlord to get an extension chord for my new "office," I could not help but admire the beautiful flowers around his office (the little stone building in the right shot). There was also an enormous stone urn in front of it. It would not surprise me if it dated back to Roman times. Yet around here, where everything is so old and so new, antiquities like that merely a part of normal life. Just before I took that picture a couple of cats were lazily lounging around the urn in the morning sun, probably intoxicated as I was by the fragrances of the blooming citrus trees and jasmine flowers.