These last few weeks have been quite the case study in recognizing, challenging, overcoming and, ultimately, letting go of some internal systems and struggles.
Never in my life have I visited a more confounding town than Podgorica, Montenegro. It has been called the ugliest and most boring capital in Europe, and at first glance, I can see how. Unremarkable feels appropriate … and yet, the city endeared itself to me.
There’s a weird trichotomy at play here. Things are either ancient, old and decrepit or brand spanking new, there are no in-betweens. There is tons of construction happening everywhere, and so many new buildings. So much so that Google Maps isn’t even close to accurate. It’s a city that feels like a teenager, just starting to decide what it wants to be.
It gives me hard Denver vibes ... on the edge of the frontier, dry and dusty, jagged mountain peaks towering over it. Sort of wild and unkept, sort of forgotten. Lots of high rise construction and new housing, mixed in with development from a bygone era. Disconnected by commercialization … five blocks here, five blocks there. In-between are swaths of nothing or run down old stuff.
So then, how could I possibly spend two weeks in such a bleak place? I’m just a romantic at heart, and if I catch a vibe, I’m all in. This town gave me a vibe. And I was in. There’s something about it.
People here aren’t fussed. Nothing is pretentious. People sit out, converse, enjoy each other's company. Central Park on a Tuesday night is packed ... everyone is out enjoying each other. Young kids playing games, teens checking each other out, and adults engaged in conversation ... it was all so nice and relaxing.
I like that. Life seems simple. Not easy, just simple.
I always find it so fascinating, and funny, the things that make a person know of a place. One night I went for cocktails. At the bar, the bartender asks where I'm from and I say “Minnesota, if you know where that is.” He says, “Of course!” Usually that’s not true, usually you have to qualify it with “its near Chicago” or something like that. But then he says “Minnesota Timberwolves! Nikola Peković!” He knows of Minnesota because a Montenegrin basketball player who played for the T-wolves. Globalization man, I tell ya!
As I continue to adjust to this new life, I am finding myself frustrated with myself at times. My time in Podgorica was a microcosm of this reoccurring situation. I struggled to find a balance between going slow and overt laziness.
With little to see or do in Podgorica, my plan was to take it slow. However, over the course of several days, severe malaise manifested and I found myself not wanting to do anything. Now in general, there is nothing wrong with taking it easy. Life can’t always be go, go, go … nor do I want it to be.
That said, it was less about the not doing something and more about the desire to not do something. Multiple days elapsed where the only reason I left the apartment was for my morning coffee and to grab dinner later in the evening. The rest of the time was spent inside on my computer or phone. In my defense, it was pushing 40º+ each day, or at least that was the easiest excuse.
I know how lucky I am to be where I am, and appreciate I might not ever be in these places again ... really I do. But don’t want to be beholden to any level of FOMO and want to always feel ok to do nothing at times. It's a tightrope, and one I'm learning to balance on. I found myself annoyed with myself, which deepened the internal crisis. This metastasized into a state of outright paralysis. Unable to find something to do, leading to doing nothing ... and 'round goes the hamster wheel.
Perhaps it might have just been the location, as since I’ve arrived the seaside town of Ulcinj, I’ve found a wonderful balance between exploration and chill time.
I picked Ulcinj over more popular locations, such as Budva and Bar, for the exact reason of being less popular. There is a small but beautiful old town here, with stunning views of the sea which deliver epic sunsets.
After two weeks holed up alone in the apartment in Podgorica, my hostel was the perfect tonic. With its idyllic courtyard, people took oasis in its bounty of shade and flowers. This provided amble opportunity to meet others, something I was in desperate need of. Its always quality over quantity for me, but the quantity of quality people I met is, thus far, unmatched on my travels. Such diverse and wonderful souls, from all corners of the globe, full of the same wandering spirit. A vast array of unique life experiences, insights and perspectives made for deep and connecting conversations. Days spent at the beach and in the courtyard shade, evenings wandering cobbled streets, drinking cheap beer and engaging in cultural exchange.
After a month in Montenegro, Ulcinj was a perfect way to end my time in this beautiful land. While the country may be small, it's packed with an undeniable amount of exquisite natural beauty.