It’s hard to believe that it’s almost been one month since we arrived to the Bay of Kotor and started our month of relaxation & de-newyork-ification. In that time Kotor truly has become a home away from home as we immersed ourselves in daily life here. In turn, Kotor, and Montenegro has given us so much more – friendships, new experiences, the beauty of its lands & the warm welcome-ness of it’s people. Not every country that you visit takes you in and truly makes you feel welcome and not an outsider, but Montenegro has certainly done that.
You may be a small country, and one that’s seen your share of shit over the years, but I can say without question that many of the large countries and “world powers” could learn much from your ability to truly enjoy life. In the end…isn’t that what matters?
I now would love to share with you some musings on my time here, to attempt to give you a glimpse into daily life here.
Kajmak – Ćevapčići is the “gateway drug” to Kajmak – you start by slathering this rich buttery substance on delicious grilled meat. Soon you are finding new and interesting items to put it on and have convinced yourself it is a substitute for butter. You have a favorite brand (the long rectangle shape container of course) and you can’t understand why this isn’t a “thing” everywhere in the world.
Man Steaks – So I stroll into our favorite butcher, Tanjga to get some steaks to grill on the BBQ. After a friendly banter with the man behind the counter (who of course has randomly been to Newark, NJ) I let him know I need steaks for three people. He looks at me seriously and asks with concern — how many men. I told him I am the only man, and he tells me that the T-Bones are “MAN STEAKS” and each man will want one. I try to express the fact perhaps I can’t eat 24 ounces of steak, but this clearly doesn’t get across. So I end up taking home what amounts to a quarter cow for about $20.
The Opposite of the “Whole Foods” Effect – Try to leave Whole Foods in TriBeCa with anything of consequence for under $100 — I challenge you. The opposite of this exists here…. try to spend more than $50 at Roda and be able to carry it home with you. Bag of farm fresh Tomatoes for $0.60…. Liters of wine for $3…. Massive case of toilet paper for $1.25.
Tomatoes – I’ve said it before, yet I’ll say it again. You haven’t had a Tomato unless you’ve had one in Europe, outside of the EU. Cheap, unbelievably flavorful and rich red in color….these will put any “heirloom” tomatoes that you have had to absolute shame.
“Automatic” Transmission Rental Cars – Easy enough to find, yet somehow not exactly as automatic as they are at home. If you are ever given a choice between a Renault Twingo “Automatic” and (a Yugo, a horse cart, a sheep) choose anything other than the Twingo.
Bus Schedules – Two schedules side by side in the same bus station can & will show completely different times, for absolutely no apparent reason. When you go to confirm your 8:45 bus to Mostar with the station attendant after seeing it on both signs (yay) she looks blankly and tells you how it is only at 2:45pm. Not at the bus station and looking it up on the internet? Tons of helpful sites are out there to completely confuse you – basically after spending 1 hour searching you’ll be convinced there is a bus every hour to where you are going. In reality you will later learn there is one per day.
Vranac – It’s delicious, easy to drink & cheap. It comes in a variety of fun sizes from .1875 to 1.5L magnums. Strangely in a restaurant all these sizes are pretty much the same price. If you can get 1L in a restaurant for 10 Euro or less, you are #winning
On Conversation Starters
Tito – I challenge you to find someone from the former Yugoslavia who doesn’t respond with a least a wistful smile at the mention of the Marshal.
On Conversation Killers
Kosovo – Local: “Where are you going after Kotor?” Me: “We are going to take a bus to Pristina….” — Crickets, or look of shame. Ummm.. new subject.
Tanjga – A butcher converted into a “we’ll grill any raw meat you want and it will taste 10X better than anything you could make” kind of place. The Ćevapčići, Pljeskavica, T-Bone Steak, Chicken sandwiches are absolute musts. The garlic sauce as a topping is a requirement.
Old Town Restaurants – They all start to seem alike after some time, but you begin to have your favorite Cevap/Ustipici (Scorpio), Pizza (Sara), Cheap Wine (Sara), Pizza by the Slice (Pronto) and such.
On The Montenegrin Work Ethic
Lazy?? – This one is confusing…. All folks from the ex-Yugoslavia have the stereotype of the Montenegrins as a lazy people. At the same while, you find stores open late hours, waiters giving some of the best service you will ever have after working long days, and friendly workers everywhere. Bizarrely enough, every gift shop sells a bizarre postcard with the 10 Montenegrin Commandments of which 7 of them are about laziness. #ThingsRisaWouldSayIfSheHadABlog
Kotor Bay – Where else can you swim with Fjords in the background, a medieval fortress behind you and cruise ships pulling in and out of the bay. Expect the water to go from a very warm and pleasant temperature if it’s warm and not rainy to an arctic plunge once the rainwaters of the mountains filter into it.
Velika Plaža – A gigantic strand of Caribbean style sandy beach with warm water on the border with Albania. It would be really cheap if you were to sneak into the hotel parking lot, use their beach cabanas on the water and shower there before driving home, and I advocate doing something like that, of course 😉
Jaz Beach – Warm water, great sands. A bizarre setup with various “fiefdoms” of beach chairs setup so you can pay someone to be part of their kingdom for a day, or plop down randomly on the sand and save your money.
Plaža – When faced with explaining to a shopkeeper that I was looking for pool floaties and realizing I know not a single relevant word, I simply decide to blurt out in a loud and bombastic tone – PLAAAZZZAAA – the word for beach. Somehow she knows exactly what I mean. I’m going to try this back at home if I need spackle for a wall or something at Home Depot and just yell WALLSSSSSSSS.
Hvala – Master this one word and feel that much more appropriate (thank you!). Throw in a “puno” on the end and it’s thank you very much. Throw a “lepa” and it’s thank you beautiful. I confused the last two for the first couple days and several burly men at Tanga are probably very confused by me as a result.
On The Towns of Boka Kotorska
Kotor – The big daddy of the bay, a UNESCO protected old town, beautiful piazzas and more and more tourists coming every day.
Muo – A sleepy fisherman’s town that we called home this past month. Ancient stone homes impossibly close to the waterfront complete with elderly couples sipping coffee on their porch and father’s and their sons cleaning mussels that they’ve pulled straight out of the sea.
Prčanj – Just past Muo, some ritzy apartment rentals and the sort of out of place Hotel Splendido. Just as you pass the town you will find an awesome little beach bar that you can laze the day away at.
Perast – Really gorgeous town right on the water and a short drive or bus ride from Kotor. Walking along the water and taking a lunch at one of the many fish restaurants offering a freshly grilled Branzini is an absolute must. Unique character and more relaxed even than Kotor.