An orange orb glowed through the haze of Montenegrin sky. A massive wave of unimaginable heat had overtaken the city, swamping its citizens in a never ending blanket of sweat. Deserted streets baked in the sun, their chairs sitting unoccupied under the blistering sky. Down below the river provided the only source of respite. Locals lay on the beach while the Kayak Club pumped up the volume during “Despacito”. Even the river was off-limits for cooling off, however; the water slowly lapping the banks of the river left the sand and stones green as a forest. Only one man dared to brace a swim. A half kilometer downriver stood the Stari Most, an old stone bridge whose beauty was unfortunately dimmed by the lack of water in the tributary which lay underneath it.
Podgorica, for all the bad press it gets, can be a fascinating place when one decides to wander. The river and main roads are lined with parks, turning the side streets into small coves of Mediterranean bliss. Curious statues of Turkish dancers and a bronze guitar player gifted by Russia occupy street corners. Delightful slices of cream cake and flaky sesame rolls baked around a hot dog (my favorite Balkan bakery snack) adorn the shelves of corner bakeries, even when the intense glare of the sun darkens windows to the point where everything looks closed. It is almost as if the businesses stay open all day just so the employees can earn a wage. This of course is impossible, though the people could certainly use the economic help. My hostel owner earlier in the day asked me what I was studying, and said I would certainly get a job with my degree in the U.S. He on the other hand studied biology at university but could only find work as a taxi driver. It is a trend I see time and again in Europe, as students complete their first and second degrees only to enter a job market with too few positions for their professions. Some students just keep studying, adding on degrees since the student life is better than whatever prospects wait for term afterwards. International students from Macedonia and Bosnia come to Slovenia; Slovenians go to Austria and Germany; there is always a better place. These are people who will never call their new dwelling home, as most wish to live in their own, beautiful countries if only the economy and politics were better.
As the sun sets and pubs are greeted by a relieving fresh breeze, the worries of the day fade away. They are replaced instead by a beer in hand, surrounded by friends and good music. The candlelit hotel terrace across the way plays a steady club beat, while my table at the pub Berlin enjoys the tunes of decades past. Wrought iron chairs and burgundy cushions sit in circles around the tables. Posters of past adventurers, printed in black and white, adorn the otherwise worn orange sponged walls. Past patrons have scratched their names into the paint, marking a finality to an otherwise timeless ambiance.
My glass of Nikšičko is quickly drained, and I must ask for another. It is 8pm, and the folks of Podgorica are finally venturing out of their houses. Couples walk hand in hand alongside parents pushing their kids in strollers. A once empty main square has begun to fill with city dwellers young and old. The night has begun in this nocturnal city, for only once the sun goes down do the streets truly come alive.