2009: Settling into Montenegro

November / December 2009
November is a month of consolidation, followed by a drive to Skopje to sell the faithful Hyundai Galloper which has done so much sterling service. Because it is registered in Macedonia and does not conform to EU class 3 emission standards, we cannot import it into Montenegro. Seeing the decades-old rust-trap bangers which populate the roads here belching out smoke and fumes, there would seem to be one law for locals and one for foreigners. From Skopje, we fly to London to buy a replacement and spend a little time with family before a sun-seeking break to recuperate – probably our last proper holiday for a long time. On our return to London in mid December we spend a hectic weekend finding insurance for the new car and then trying to get out of UK. It was the week before Christmas when snow caused total travel chaos, including the closure of the Channel Tunnel, through which we had been due to take the Eurotunnel shuttle. No chance. We managed with what we can only think of as divine intervention to get the very last cabin on the Harwich-Hoek van Holland overnight ferry. On to München for Christmas with family, and back to Risan for a quiet New Year, taking in the Ikea store in Padova and Carrefour at Macon outside Venice en route.

October 2009
We are more or less back to normal at last. A major event is attending the Conference on Climate Change and Sustainable Development for the Mediterranean Region and Southern Eastern Europe organised by the Montenegrin Ministry for Spatial Planning and Environment jointly with the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. A fascinating 2 days, also extremely useful for us in terms of contacts and keeping our project in the public eye.
Among other activities, we make time to pick most of the grapes from the vines we have been tending carefully throughout the year. Anke does a marvellous job and produces about 10kg of delicious grape jam. One interesting aspect is that one cannot buy pectin powder anywhere here. We have enough left over from Skopje to manage – otherwise it means using double the amount of sugar making the result far too sweet. James had hoped he might be able to make rakija, but the complications and lack of sufficient grapes make this unrealistic.

September 2009
James buys a replacement for Ermintrude, Frieda a desktop this time, from a friend who is downsizing his business. Time is needed to get rid of a virus which Frieda caught while unprotected in the interval between her previous owner’s Kaspersky being operational and James getting his Kaspersky installed. Ermintrude’s memory is transplanted but none of the programmes which were installed, leaving James bereft of chunks of his background information – Ermintrude was on Windows 2000, Frieda uses XP and there are compatibility issues.
This is the month of the move from Tivat to Risan, carried out mainly by our carrying our belongings down from the third floor of the apartment block to the car and from there to the floor of the new abode, fortunately downhill. We get a few hours help from a contact with a Transit van for the heavy furniture, and make the deadline of vacating the Tivat place by 30 September with a day to spare. That move is combined with our new landlord getting some essential (to us anyway) work done to make the place habitable for more than a holiday let. Like having hot water in the kitchen area to wash up, extra power sockets in the living area, and other such. Dragan, the electrician who does most of the work, is an excellent tradesman; drilling through half-metre stone walls is no easy task.
Consequence of all of this is that we have almost no time for anything much else.

July/ August 2009
Summer heat means standard dress is polo-shirt, shorts and sandals. We negotiate a move from the apartment in Tivat to take over most of the rest of the stone-house in Risan in a room of which we stored all our belongings which came out from UK earlier in the year. The actual move will happen in September, after the summer letting season is over.
A major activity is getting our presence in the country legalised. A new ‘Aliens Act’ came into law in the Spring but without a category for retired people like ourselves. This meant we have registered ourselves as entrepreneurs. Fortunately we have help from an energetic young man who sorts out the paperwork for us, but it still means a considerable time spent queuing at different offices in different agencies, from the municipality to local offices of the central government.
As part of our research into the paperwork for our residency permits, we find that the municipal Cadastre Office has not got a full record of our ownership of our land in Risan. We should have 2 documents in the Cadastre. One records in words our ownership of the designated plot. The other is a drawing giving the location and boundaries. The latter is missing. We are put in touch with someone who free-lances for those like us who need to find out what is happening. She does indeed provide information – not welcome; among other things, the lawyer who purportedly put in an application for our land to be included in the revised Urban Plan in October 2007 did not actually do a proper job. Also that the land in early 2007 was actually registered in the name of the lawyer who we used to transact the purchase! All that is now sorted, and we have the proper documents. There is still, though, no progress on the Urban Plan – frustrating.
To round off the month, James’ trusty laptop of 8 years, Ermintrude (successor to Buttercup and Daisy, all Gateway computers whose black and white corporate design made James think of Friesian cows), has a brain seizure (ie motherboard failure) and dies.

June 2009
Much of the month is spent on our annual visit to family and friends in UK. Bill and Ruth do their usual sterling work on keeping the plants alive in our absence.

May 2009
After the excitement of finding Alex in April, Anke finds little Bertie, a baby tortoise, at the beginning of the month. A few days later while we are at the plot, our neighbour is scything his undergrowth and finds Alex again, and then Charlie, half-way in size between Alex and Bertie. Being a typical male, Charlie gets excited about Alex. Maybe there’ll be a brood of babies in the autumn!
We are told that the Kotor municipality is close to publishing the revised Urban Plan for Risan. By the end of the month, there is still nothing!

April 2009
In April, we spend 2 weeks in Germany, the main aim being to attend the Passivhaus Institut’s Tagung (Conference) in Frankfurt. Marvellous to be able to meet others engaged in the same work as ourselves, and to learn from them. Also to visit the associated suppliers’ exhibition and see products in real-life, such as windows, which to date we had only read about on the internet. En route, we visit Freiburg, the ‘Sun City’, and have a conducted tour of the Sonnenschiff, the development established by Architect Rolf Disch. Amazing to learn that the residents can sell back their surplus electricity generated by the solar panels which form the roofs, and make a healthy profit. One set of costs show the owner saving about EUR3000 per year on electricy use compared to his previous house of a smililar size, plus an income of EUR3000 from the sale of electricity.
While we are away, our very dear friends Bill and Ruth in Risan keep an eye on the plants and make sure that they are watered regularly. On our return, we are excited to find a tortoise wandering around. We call it Alex. as at this stage we know nothing about tortoises. More research reveals Alex to be a female Hermann’s Tortoise, the most common type in the Balkans.

March 2009
Our main work on the plot in March is weed control – doing as much damage to plantlife in the wrong places – ie where we are growing avocados, flowers etc. The embedded root systems have clearly been decades in establishing themselves, and all one can do is to dig out about 80% at any time.
We meet Prof Stasa Puskaric in Dubrovnik, who lectures in environmental science at the American College of Management (moderated by Rochester Institute of Technology). A fascinating explanation of the Swedish dry loo system made by Clivus Multrum, which he has installed in his own house, and the end-products of which produce magnificient vegetables! As water conservation and recycling is very much part of our project, this is a system we need to examine more closely.
In the middle of the month we attend a most interesting conference organised by the German Development Agency, GTZ, and the Montenegrin Government on Energy Efficiency. It is a regional conference with speakers and participants from across the Balkans. We make some very useful contacts.
During March, James is asked to chair a group aiming to form the Green Building Council for Montenegro. This Initiating Group builds on a meeting last November of internationals and locals, and is an extremely exciting project. Anke is of course also a member – her input is essential!
We wrap up March by helping to observe the Parliamentary Elections in Montenegro, as the British Embassy team with the OSCE/ ODIHR Election Observation Mission. We are assigned to Herceg Novi, a stronghold of the main opposition party. All well organised and calm; overall result is that incumbent Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic increases his majority. This type of work was a part of James’ job in the EU MIssion, where he organised teams for election observation as well as being an observer himself. Anke joined in as part of the teams from the British Embassy in Macedonia while we were there.

December 2008 – February 2009

Risan in snow from across the Boka; February 2009
Risan in snow from across the Boka; February 2009
The north wind (the 'Bora') blowing the snow off the peak of Lovcen (1749m); February 2009
The north wind (the ‘Bora’) blowing the snow off the peak of Lovcen (1749m); February 2009


With the Catholic Christmas, New Year and Orthodox Christmas holidays, there is about a month of relative inactivity in business/ agency life at this time of year. The weather is not good either. Late January last year, we enjoyed sunshine and the mimosa was out, ready for the annual Mimosa Festival in Herceg Novi in early February. No way in 2009; weeks of cold and rain. There was even snow down to sea level in late February – something that hasn’t happened in the living memory of most locals. We are told that the Revised Urban Plan for Risan should be out by June. Sounds familiar.

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins