A retreat to the relative comfort of the mountains

Trip Start Apr 08, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2007

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Friday, June 22, 2007

In order to beat the heat, I decided on an early rise this morning so I could make the most of the cooler hours of morning. Most importantly, I wanted to have a go at the long hike up into the fortifications looking over Kotor - a chore that was best left untouched in the heat of the afternoon. So I was up and at 'em by 7:30 and down in town by a bit after 8am. As expected, it wasn't the most relaxed of climbs and the temperature was already pushing 30C. The nice thing was that the sun was still relatively low, so I was in the shade for most of the hike. All the same, I was soaked with sweat by the time I got to the top (about 45 minutes later). Kotor ultimately being a beach resort town though, that meant it was perfectly ok for me to strip off my shirt and chill out while taking in the view from there.

I feel for the poor sods that chose to come up an hour later. I saw a total of four other people on the way up, but there were loads more coming up by the time I was descending. By that time there was no respite from the heat, as practically the whole pathway was bright and sunlit. There were a lot of gasping, unhappy faces on their way up. Glad I started early! Once down, I headed straight for a fountain in town, washed out my soaked sweat-cloth and then made my way to the bus station. Time to get off the humid, sun-drenched coast!

The modern capital of Montenegro is a hot, dusty, largely concrete place by the name of Podgorica. Its terrible reputation precedes it by a good deal, so most travelers know to give it a wide berth (or get the hell out ASAP). There was a time not too long ago though when Montenegro was ruled from a much smaller, quainter town in the mountains just in from the coast. Now that independance has returned to Crna Gora, there are some in the country that would like to see the administrative status to wee Cetinje. With a population of only 20,000 or so though, it seems like a pipe-dream today, but the town definitely has a lot of ghosts and faded grandeur lurking about. And at just over an hour's drive from Kotor by bus, it's an easy place to take in while in the area.

Thanks to the altitude, it isn't anywhere near as sweltering as Budva or Kotor, just down the mountainside. Even still, the sun was pretty direct and intense, just without the accompanying humidity. First impressions of the town are that it's a serious backwater, but it doesn't take long to start finding a different side to it. Edging away from the near-derelict bus station, all of a sudden, beautiful villas and colorful houses start popping up along shady streets. Delving further, you eventually come across old Orthodox churches, palaces and even a royal residence designed like a fortress. For what's little more than an unassuming mountain town, there's an awful lot here.

Cetinje's brief heyday lasted from 1878, when it was recognized as the official capital of an independent Montenegro, until its absorption by the Central Powers in World War I. It obviously flourished during that short period as the population shot up and new elegant constructions went up all over town. The most interesting are probably its old embassies, which run the gamut from humble and compact to ostentatious and elaborate. The latter are in direct contrast with the town's old churches and hillside monastery, all of which are extremely simple and borderline austere in their design. All along in between on the main streets are small, simple houses, decorated in varying bright shades of color. It makes for a fascinating wander and a pleasant surprise given the relative obscurity of the town elsewhere in the world.

Seeing the lot of what Cetinje had to offer only wound up taking an afternoon, so it made for a perfect daytrip. I also managed to find a hilltop mausoleum that provided brilliant views over town, with practically the entire town visible and all around it a series of undulating, rugged mountains. I took a pass on the museums - there were only a few small ones about - so I suppose you could fill a whole day if you wanted. But all in all, it was a nice break from the sea and a great look into Montenegro's former "glory days." It will be interesting to see if they some day reinstate the old embassies. There are apparently rumors going around. . .
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