“What a terrible country!” said a lady tourist to me once in Cetinje, “nothing but barren grey rocks; and what poverty! I declare I shan’t breathe freely till I am out of it again.”
This is a common opinion of travellers to Montenegro, and one that is spread by them all over Europe. And yet how unjust! A fairly large number of tourists take the drive from beautiful little Cattaro up that wild mountain-side and through the barren Katunska to Cetinje. A few hours later they return the way they came, convinced that they have seen Montenegro. A few, very few, prolong the tour to Podgorica and Niksic, returning with a still firmer conviction that they have penetrated into the very fastnesses of that wonderful little land. These chosen few have at least seen that all is not bare and rocky, that there are rich green valleys, rushing mountain torrents, and pleasant streams.
If they are very observant they will likewise notice that the men of these parts are more wildly clad and fiercer-looking than their more polished brethren of the “residence.” Rifles are carried more universally the nearer lies Albania, and in Podgorica itself they will have seen—particularly if chance has brought them there on a market-day—crowds of savage-looking hill-men, clad in the white serge costume of Albania, standing over their handful of field produce with loaded rifles; stern men from the borders with seamed faces; sturdy plains-men tanned to a mahogany tint by the almost tropical sun of the valleys; shepherds in great sheepskins, be it ever so hot; and haughty Turks, hodjas, and veiled women, all in a crowded confusion, haggling and bartering. Quaint wooden carts drawn by patient oxen, their huge clumsy wheels creaking horribly; gypsies with thunderous voices acting as town criers; madmen shrieking horribly; blind troubadours droning out songs of heroes on their guslars. If the tourist has witnessed and understood all this, then he has seen something of Montenegro. But beyond those lofty mountains which rise on either side of the carriage road, live these same people in their rude villages. There are towns far away, unconnected by any road, to reach which the traveller must journey wearily by horse and on foot, over boulder-strewn paths, by the side of roaring torrents, through the cool depths of primeval forests, and over the snow-clad spurs of rugged mountains. There he will find men accustomed to face death at any moment, who delight in giving hospitality, and who talk of other lands as “the world outside.” These are the Montenegrins to whom we owe some of the most pleasant reminiscences of our lives.
Our book does not describe the whole country, as unfortunately we were unable to visit the northern districts and the lofty Durmitor, but we certainly saw the more interesting half, namely, the whole of the Albanian frontier.