Finding my Nis

Trip Start Apr 16, 2012
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Trip End May 18, 2012


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Where I stayed
Best Western My Place

Flag of Serbia  ,
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The bus enters the tunnel shortly after leaving the station and we emerge again on the road back to Budvar and after stopping there we climb back up the mountain above the sea and town on the same road I drove down a couple of days ago. On to Cetinje, where we spend a good deal less time than I did while trying to pass through, then just another 15 or so mountainous miles to Podgorica (Pod - GOR - eet- sah).

There are peaks in every direction. 'Montenegro' doesn't so much describe it's salient feature as give its address. In the cab to the airport, the driver tells me that 40 percent of the country is mountains. It looks like a lot more. Drop a marble anywhere here and it's gone. I point to a row of snowcapped peaks ahead. 'Al - BAHNnia,' he says derisively. 'Only 70 km to border from here - 130 km to Tirana. For 100,000 euros I would not drive my taxi there. They are crazy people. Black market.' He asks how big Seattle is and I tell him somewhere around a million in the metro. He laughs. '630,000 live in this whole country. 300,000 here in Podgorica -- HEFF!'

Podgorica is a small town that sprawls over a good deal of a wide valley of scrub, gravel and scattered cypress. It's so nondescript that it isn't even really interesting enough to call ugly. It's been the capital for over 150 years, but looks as if most of it was built in the 1970s. Place it very low on your bucket list just a few ticks above Muncie, Indiana. In its favor, I doubt very much it has a Hard Rock Cafe.

In for a wait at Aerodrom Podgorica's tiny terminal, nearly empty when I arrive. All 6 check-in counters are closed and deserted. In the three hours before my flight boards, only two planes land, one from Zurich and one from Frankfurt. Three nuns occupy a table in the cafe and chat over coffee and water. A handful of airport employees lean against the counters. Clocks on the wall give the time in New York, London, Podgorica, Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo -- the big six. The TV screen above the entrance to security helpfully reminds passengers that it is forbidden to carry gunpowder, dynamite, blasting caps, hand grenades and tear gas onto the plane. Good thing I used up my supply in Kotor.

It's a 40-minute hop to the Constantine the Great Airport at Nis (rhymes with 'sheesh'), which rather than great is quite small and which only serves flights to and from Montenegro, as I find out later to some consternation. I clear customs and cab to tonight's accommodations at the Best Western My Place Hotel. Set across the street from the banks of the Nisava, the hotel has a restaurant on its fifth floor rooftop with a nice view of the river and town. I tuck I to a plate of dry chunks of pork wrapped in hard bacon and a lettuce and cabbage salad and call it a day.

Nis is Serbia's third largest city and has been home to Iron Age Thracians, the Celts (no doubt on holiday) and of course the peripatetic Romans. In fact, Constantine the Great, founder of Constantinople, was born here. I was in York last year where he was crowned emperor. Obviously, we travel in the same circle. Nis may have gotten its name from the Greek 'Naissos' or City of the Nymphs. It is also possibly the mythical city where the god Dionysius grew up. From what I can see from the hotel rooftop, Nis appears much more humble than its pedigree would suggest. Hope to explore a bit before train time tomorrow.

My room is quite large for a standard double, with one and a half bathrooms for some reason (how does one choose?), a sectional black Naugahyde couch and institutional green walls that set off the orange and green abstract paintings nicely.
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