Last week, arriving in Montenegro, it finally hit me how extraordinary and unique our life has been since we moved off the boat last June.
We spent a two hour layover in an old communist style airport terminal in Belgrade where we boarded a large plane that was unmarked – completely without logos or signage except for a small Serbian flag and tiny Cyrillic script near the tail. Luckily, when you hate flying like I do, an unmarked plane doesn’t really add to the fear of flying, it just validates it.
First, we landed on a small concrete runway in the middle of golden fields stretching across a beautiful mountain valley with a view of buildings in the distance. This was Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital. After loading on a few more passengers we took a 15 minute flight over the coastal range where from my window I could see almost the entire Montenegrin coastline, making out Budva, the Boka Katora and Sveti Stefan, the island resort that is the countries most famous landmark.
Our landing in Tivat was late with that unannounced detour into Podgorica and when I apologized to Sava, our new landlord who graciously offered to pick us up, he said not to worry, he had called ahead to find out when today’s plane was landing. Sava drove us to his house in his old Mercedes sedan that stalled whenever he downshifted leaving him consistently restarting the car. He used to be an importer for Illy coffee, he told us, traveling all over Italy, but he decided a few years back he’d quit and spend more time with his wife and two kids. Sava’s two story house, the ground floor of which we’d be occupying for six weeks is right on the Bay of Kotor and we’d chosen it just for that purpose. Old Town Kotor, a little fancier with its white stone buildings and city walls is across the bay, about 15 minutes by foot, but we wanted a nice view of the bay and we browsed the internet for days only realizing when we had arrived that we selected very wisely.
When arriving at a new long term home it’s nice to quickly find an easy spot to relax and take in your new locale. When we arrived Sava said he put some beer in the fridge. Some beer, in Montenegro, means a two liter plastic bottle of Serbian lager. Then Sava pointed directed us to his covered patio overlooking the water and then pointed to the dock across the street that he owned. “Take a chair out there,” he said, “it’s quite nice.”
In the last 8 months we’ve set up temporary homes in Seattle, Washington DC, France and now Montenegro. We’ll be living in Kotor for six weeks and then moving several miles down the coast to a village south of Budva. Come summer, we’ll move again, setting up temporary homes in several more countries. While we are managing to explore one amazing place after another it almost never feels like we are actually traveling, due in part to the types of places we’ve ended up living. In Seattle we lived in a college apartment among students, in Bassac we lived in a small village where the boulangerie was the key attraction and here in Montenegro we’re living in a tiny little suburb in an old communist style house and most of the people we see each day are Montenegrin fisherman. So thus far, every place we go feels like another temporary, but very unique, home.
When we gave up sailing to spend a year searching for cooler climates we decided we’d like to live places that one, we’d never been to before and two, was in proximity to extraordinary natural beauty where we could camp and hike. We wanted to live in both urban and rural locations and of course, be near the water whenever possible. But most of all, we wanted to make a temporary home out of each place we went, we didn’t want to be on the road constantly and we wanted to live where we could rent a long-term house and try to learn a little about the places we’d be living.
Moving to a foreign country to set up a temporary home for three months leads to all sorts of different adventures, like a few days ago when Sava drove me around to see several friends of his who ran different rental car agencies and I bartered down prices using him as a translator. Just when I was getting discouraged he wrote out another number on a calculator, we smiled at each other and he said “This is best price I think you find in all of region.” Handing the car rental man some cash, I drove home in a little red Toyota. Today Molly and I discovered a method to avoid driving the car into the water. The road in front of our house can fit exactly one and half cars though it’s a two way road with no guardrails. When passing each other one must avoid the temptation to swerve into the bay and sink the car. Molly realized if she opens her car door while I’m driving she can get a good sense of how close I am to the road’s edge and the five foot drop into the bay. That eliminates that concern.
Procuring food and supplies is always our favorite little adventure and Montenegro, thus far, has been our most extreme grocery challenge yet. In a land of tubed meats, endless amounts of buttermilk and Cyrillic text we’ve had quite a bit of fun bringing home some strange stuff to try. For example, there are two types of ketchup here, the normal kind and the kind you use as a sauce on pizza (I fear they are one and the same). And hot dogs are huge here! Molly’s has been sampling like a champ. Also, the most disarming part of shopping here is in the produce section. You don’t actually enter the produce area and pick your own fruit but rather tell an employee (in Montenegrin preferably) what kind of apple you’d like and how many of them you need. They go and place apples in a bag which they then weigh and tag for you.
In one of my favorite moments thus far we opened up a jar of reddish paste called Ajvar we’d randomly grabbed off the shelf to discover that’s it’s a delicious pepper and eggplant tapenade. When you find something like this that is very plentiful in the stores and is good on bread, rice, meat or eggs you immediately feel more comfortable in your surroundings.
But it rained quite a bit the first week we were here which left me restless. Molly is always more relaxed than me in new places: where as I always feel the need to get things sorted, make plans and go exploring right away, when the rains came and kept us indoors she just grabbed her computer, sat at the kitchen table and started blogging about Italy as I paced around the room restlessly. We had chosen Montenegro because we thought the bay would be relaxing to walk around and maybe get a boat to go exploring on and the mountains seemed really severe and extreme for good hiking and yet, here we were stuck inside. And though we had fun with all the new types of food, we really hadn’t settled in and found a decent market and we didn’t really have pans in our kitchen to make a decent meal or mugs to have decent cup of coffee and all the little things got to me. Suddenly, I missed Bassac and Seattle where you could get gouda and good fresh produce or go to Trader Joe’s and find those sweet potato chips and that kale and spinach dip and where you never had to worry about running your car into the bay.
But then we found a good long road just past town where we could jog while staring at the bay and where we went by boats and heard rigging lines smacking against their masts. And we finally figured out how you get gas here: the attendants pump it for you which will make life really easy. Then we took the car through the tunnel out of town to the other side of the mountain where we found two great supermarkets and we bought a nice pan to cook in and really good fruit and veggies you could actually pick out yourself. The next day we hiked up 900 feet to the Sveti Ivan Fortress and looked out across the entire Bay of Kotor and the red roofs of the Old Town below. We came down the mountain and found a fresh bakery just off the old town square and then found a farmers market full of good produce just outside the town walls. That evening, when the last of the storms came through, lightening struck the bay over and over and the giant booms of thunder smacked against the mountains and echoed on and on continuously. We grabbed a two liter plastic bottle of beer, some bread smeared with ajvar and sat on our little covered patio watching the storm unfold. Once again, we were home.