For such a beautiful country, Montenegro sure has an ugly capital. And not just ugly – boring and lifeless too. Yep, I’m not going to hold back here. Podgorica is a hole!
Imagine a dirty semi-desert plain, with just a scattering of small weary shrubs covering it, like only a few tufts of fur on the skin of a mangy dog. Then imagine a city had been built in the middle of this plain but that this city was a collection of bland concrete apartment blocks coloured in a way that they are almost camouflaged against the dry land. Imagine each window on each of these buildings looks the same and each appears like a hollow dead eye that has given up on life because there is nothing worth looking at. Well, that would be a luxurious version of what Podgorica is.
It’s a tiny city by international capital standards – about 150,000 people. The small population doesn’t give it a folksy neighbourhood feel, though. Instead it makes Podgorica feel stretched too thin without a density to justify social interaction. It’s a bit like if you’ve ever been to a sports stadium complex on a day when there is no game. The only difference is that this city doesn’t get full even a once a week.
It takes longer to walk everywhere than it should – partly because the roads stretch out from nowhere to nowhere, and partly because you find your feet moving slower than usual for there’s no incentive to get anywhere. It’s quite hot during the day in summer and the residents seem to make no effort to leave their homes. The city appears deserted while the sun is up.
The only saving grace I found was when the sun went down and the very centre of the city became busy with open cafes and late night shopping. Here you got a sense of the potential – if only for a few nocturnal hours and in just a few small blocks away from most of residential Podgorica. To say this saves the city, though, is like saying it would be nice to live on the moon because astronauts come to visit every so often.
Abandoned buildings, graffiti, potholes, overflowing bins. In some cities in the Balkans I have found those things give the place an edgy feel, rough edges of a gem. But here in Podgorica they just seem depressing and I interpret it all to mean that even the citizens have lost faith and given up on a city they show no pride in. How is a visitor supposed to like it here if even the locals don’t?
I ended up staying in Podgorica for a few days but simply because it was a convenient base to explore some interesting parts of Montenegro that could all be reached within less than an hour by public transport. Each evening I would dread going back to the city, though, and each attempt to find something redeemable ended in disappointment.
On my final day, waiting at the city’s bus station to leave, I watch a young man sit in full view of everyone and squeeze some glue from a tube into a plastic bag. As he sits down and prepares to start sniffing it, an elderly woman begins to shout at him. She’s also sitting down with a wooden cane by her side and purple swollen feet propped up in front of her. I guess that she is probably as destitute as the young man but she’s still going to try to stop him. At first he ignores her and laughs but as she gets angrier he moves away and out of view.
Perhaps there is a bit of pride in this city after all. Personally I can’t see why, but I suppose everything is relative. If this woman, despite her situation, cares enough to try to stop a hopeless man dissolving his brain, perhaps there are some people here who care about Podgorica… and that is all a city really needs to have a bit of life.