21 July 2012

Rooms With a View (and a Hotplate)

This was our living room for four nights.  That yellow block in the top left hand corner of the bookshelf is a collection of National Geographic magazines from the 70s and 80s.  "My grandfather ordered English versions in the mail!" Djeordj told us when we pointed them out.  "We cannot throw them away.  They are like memories!"  Djeordj (pronounced George) had an endearing way of sounding excited about everything.  Once he left, we fingered through the rest of the library: old VHS tapes, paperback romances in Serbian, a totally inspiring cookbook from which a recipe handwritten on a piece of paper fell when opened.  I was half-expecting there to be a yellowed wedding album tucked in somewhere.  Private accommodations are plentiful in Montenegro - we didn't stay in a single hotel in our entire two weeks.  Why would we with options like this? 
This rental, technically named Reževići Apartments, was found on booking.com.  The description said "One Bedroom w/ Balcony and Sea View" and photos of the interior won us over.  A "kitchen" had been listed, but photos only showed a white mini fridge anachronistically sitting in the living room.  Walking in, we saw it there.  No sink or stove to be found.  "Oh that!" Djeordj laughed.  "My mother says that we need two fridges.  I do not think so, but it is what my mother says, so."  With that, he brought us out to the balcony (our balcony) to solve the Mystery of the Missing Kitchen.  A sink, dual burner hotplate and second fridge were right there outside, coupled with our better-even-than-advertised sea view.  We fried fish in the sunset, made lime-basil potato salad and Njeguski fruit salad with salty skin and wet hair.
When we made the booking, we thought "Rijeka Reževići" was the name of a street in nearby (and much bigger) Petrovac.  It's actually a pretty little village - a clump of stone houses and lush oleanders high up above a beautiful, secluded rock cove.  A long staircase takes you down to the pocket of beach which - amazingly, has a great little restaurant tucked right into it.  Being on 'our cove,' as its been lovingly dubbed, it really hit us how important rentals in family homes are for Montenegro's future.  It's a way of utilizing the buildings that already exist to fit the 1 million tourists who flock here every summer (more than double the country's resident population).   It's tourism without development. Especially on the coast, this feels so important.  On each side of Rijeka Reževići,  to the left, right and across the road behind, there are big half finished complexes.  The coast no longer looks the way it may have in one of Djeordj's grandpa's National Geographics. 
Choosing rentals is also a way of putting money right into the pockets of Montenegrin families, who earn about 40% of the EU average, instead of the foreign investors that have built all the resorts.  Renting out rooms has become an industry of its own in Montenegro.  Anyone with a child off at college becomes an entrepreneur.  A lot of those children, like Djeordj, are the ones you post links on booking sites, get business cards made, speak English and handle communication with renters via cell phone and email.  Mostly, though, its an on-point sale. Woman wait at bus stations with photo albums filled with pictures of their offerings.  Signs are posted on doorways.  In Budva, along the main coastal road, a young man in short red swimming trunks and sunglasses sat in a lounge chair.  He was there every time we drove through with his "SOBE - APARTMANI" sign resting up against his steadily tanning ankle.  He looked like a strange cross between a lifeguard and a hitchhiker. 
Rentals are so numerous and actively promoted that when our host mother in Kolašin came out to wave us into her property, I was worried it was just someone else trying to get our business.  Turns out, we were in the right place.  And what a beautiful one.  Their high season is winter, its a ski town, but people like us also come to hike in nearby Biogradska Gora National Park.  To have a few days inland as respite from the coast.  "How much are they charging for an apartment in Budva?" asked the English-speaking niece of our host family.  She was just visiting for the weekend, fleeing the concrete heat of Podgorica for some crisp mountain air.  She was translating the question for her aunt.  We hadn't stayed in Budva, but reported that our little piece of cove heaven had cost nearly double her place.  Not all one bedroom with kitchens are created equal. 
This was just a simple bedroom with an adjacent kitchenette, all we needed for two nights in the mountains. And why would we complain about the less-than-inspiring kitchen after a warm welcome of rakija, strawberry cake and stove-top-popped popcorn.  And a goodbye made of berries, picked in the backyard by the visiting niece's two young children.  Renting private accommodations isn't just a budget option or responsible tourism, it can also feel like a homestay... with a little distance.  We love homestays.  Some of the best moments of this entire trip have been in places like dung-heated Xinaliq and the Arbajter's deer farm.  But sometimes, it's also nice just to have a little more privacy.  To be less doted upon.  To have a simpler breakfast.  Since every place we stayed had a minifridge and a hotplate, cereal and a can of instant coffee become Montenegrin additions to our backpacks.  Carrying them around reminded us of the good ole camping days of 2011.
Since rental rooms and apartments are available absolutely everywhere in Montenegro, you can drive around until you find somewhere that pulls at your heartstrings and then decide to spend a night or a week.  That's just what happened to us in Rose.  All by itself on the northwestern corner of the Lustica Peninsula, it sat simply and prettily.  We wanted nothing more than to stay the night and a "SOBE" sign posted on the door of Aragosta tavern gave us a glimmer of hope that it could be possible.  Sasha was called to help us when we inquired with the waiter and, sure enough, they had a room for one night.
Even in a room situated above a restaurant, we had a hotplate, fridge and sink.  We didn't use any of them.  We simply walked downstairs and sat at an outdoor table alongside the poor fools who actually had to go sleep somewhere else that night.  Shrimp buzarra with risotto, char-grilled octopus with blitva, a bottle of rosé, because it only seemed appropriate. It was a feast.   After our dinner, we changed back into swimsuits and dove in for a night swim.  Jellyfish, used to having the sea all to themselves under the moonlight, zapped at our legs.  We were too full and happy to care, the only people in the water - maybe even in the whole Mediterranean Sea at that very moment.  Probably not, but it's wonderful to think.
Rose is a special place.  So is Rijeka Reževići.  Both feel like discoveries and give you the sense that you have them all to yourself.  Being in a rental only adds to that feeling.  Coming home, unlocking your door, grabbing a cool beverage out of your own fridge.  Heck, being able to start a sentence with 'coming home' at all. After our late night swim, once we were all dried off and tucked in, we realized that for the first time in all our days on the coast, we could actually hear the water lapping up against the shore.  Rose may be the only place in Montenegro where this is possible - where you can sleep right on the edge of the water and it is quiet enough to hear the movement of the sea. And to think of how many people visit and just figure there is nowhere to sleep, not noticing the simple sign that reads "SOBE" or not knowing that that means "rooms." Exploring Montenegro just wouldn't be the same without them.

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