The next day, all too soon, it was time to leave Kotor. The first leg of the journey was a short hop by bus, less than two hours, to the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica (pronounced Podgoritza). From here, you can get a bus to just about anywhere.
We had a final gaze at the magnificent Montenegrin coastline (this is Budva’s Old Town) before heading inland.
Even inland, spectacular old buildings appear from nowhere (although not as well-maintained as the coastal walled towns). Before we knew it, we were at the Podgorica bus station.
We booked ourselves tickets to Pristina (pronounced Prishtina), the capital of Kosovo.The bus left at 9.30pm, so we had most of a day to explore Podgorica.
We were accosted by this lovely lady, who spoke not a word of English but considered that no impediment to having a lively conversation. The whole cluster of street vendors was friendly and good humoured, even though they only had a few words of English between the lot of them. The people of Montenegro seem lovely.
Unlike the buildings, most of which seemed to be of the Brutalist school of architecture so favoured by the Communists as “modern” and “efficient”. Even a flower bed out the front can’t soften the face of the building!
Our first port of call was Podgorica’s “Old Town”. Fresh from Dubrovnik and Kotor, we were underwhelmed by the few old buildings which survived the Communist bulldozers.
There is one church in the old town, which is marked on the tourist map. It is tiny, and unremarkable. If you walk down the road behind the church, though, there are a few interesting sights.
These people have a piece of the old town wall in their front yard. It is holding up the car port. The casual repurposing of heritage stone walls seems to be the way they roll in Podgorica.
Walk a little farther, and there are old stone walls which have not been repurposed. There is even evidence that archaeologists have been excavating in the area. These walls are right on the river, so you also get a lovely view of a small beach frequented by locals.
Press on along the path, and you will reach steps and terraces which have been restored (or maybe built from scratch) to make a walkway down to the beach, across a small creek, and up the other side to the road bridge.
You can see a few elements from the old town in the area, such the base of a Roman column, as an old well, and the entry to a building which was dug into the cliff – it is blocked off, though, so you can’t explore it.
Tom exercised his male privilege by stripping to his underwear and diving in for a swim. He was out in record time, though – the water was really cold! Jenny waded in up to her knees to get air conditioning for her travelling pants.
We ate some food while our feet dried, and then crossed the bridge and climbed the stairs to the road. Tom put more clothes on so as to avoid causing traffic accidents, and we headed for our next destination – the city centre.
A last look back, and we captured all of Podgorica’s Old Town in a single frame!
You don’t go to Podgorica for the old town, that’s for sure. In fact, a lot of tourists in Podgorica are essentially killing time while changing buses or trains. Still, if you happen to find yourself in Podgorica, remember to go behind the church to the river to find this hidden gem. (On the tourist map, it is marked as a cafe. Don’t get your hopes up – there is no coffee to be had here. Just scenery and swimming.)
There was a park along the river bank, but it was pretty scrappy and unkempt on the river side. It smartened up as we reached the edge of the city centre buildings, though, and even had a statue.
After tolerating blocks of brutalist buildings where the only relief was the occasional detail like these Swiss cheese balcony railings, we were relieved to discover that there were a few nice-looking buildings in the city centre area. By this stage we were going out of our way to find nice things to look at, and mentally writing a travel guide called “How To See Podgorica Without Falling Into Despair”.
The streets in the city centre at least had decent street trees, and a lower level of graffiti. There were a lot of outdoor dining areas, and we found a cafe with decent WiFi. In fact, after seeing the old walls and the swimming spot, our only other recommendation for Podgorica is to wander the city centre until you find a nice cafe with WiFi!
This is the Town Hall, which has a nice square in front of it. Many of the best maintained buildings in the city centre are embassies, it turns out. National pride leads us to maintain a nice facade for our embassy, even of the host country is too poor to maintain its own buildings.
On the corner by the Town Hall was a Transformers sculpture!
It seemed out of character for a European city, but then Podgorica is nothing if not eclectic.
On a street with many lovely embassies, we found another cafe to have a salad and some hot chocolate for dinner. It was the thickest hot chocolate we have seen yet – it didn’t pour. You ate it with a spoon. It seemed to be cocoa and cornflour thick, though, rather than couverture chocolate and cream thick.
And at the end of Embassy Row, another Transformers statue! Tom’s inner child completely forgave Podgorica for all the ugliness at this point.
It must be difficult for the city council, when they are a poor nation, and the Communists have nuked all the things that made the city unique. How do you rebuild the attractiveness of your city? How do you entice the tourists heading for the coast to spend some of those tourist dollars in the capital?
Our bus from Belgrade, for example, bypassed Podgorica completely and went straight to Kotor.
We found the largest square in the city centre, which has a fountain – and a Transformers statue. A really big one, this time, in army fatigues.
Even here, in the main square, there are run-down and ugly buildings, and graffiti. They haven’t yet perfected their tourist face, as so many places in Serbia have.
There is a nice park opposite the Post Office as you leave the city centre and head back toward the bus and train stations. Across the road is another park, which, judging by the Stars of David in every section of fencing, is dedicated to Podgorica’s Jewish population.
And another Transformers statue!
Podgorica has managed to preserve one old building from its long history (the area has been inhabited since Paleolithic times) – this tower. It is on the edge of an area designated “the old town”, but very little of it is actually old. It seems that, at some point, someone realised that the heritage buildings were valuable, and issued an edict along the lines of “thou shalt not tear down any old walls”.
As a result, you often see new houses built beside or inside old walls, or renovations of part of an old building, like this.
If it all gets too depressing, there are some nice outdoor cafes just a block away from the train and bus stations, and a large, modern, air-conditioned shopping centre with free WiFi throughout.
You can drown your sorrows, enjoy the mod cons and have an experience that would be the same in Sydney, Budapest, or L.A. (except for the local accent, of course).