Until recently, I had never traveled anywhere alone. Not really. I had certainly been alone in transit, but I have always been going somewhere, to someone, or with someone. Even when I was flying to Montenegro by myself, I knew that someone from the Embassy was expecting me. A few weekends ago, I decided that it was time to take my first real solo trip.
I chose to go to Perast, an old town on the Bay of Kotor that past Fulbrighters raved about. It is not a very far trip. I made no reservations or concrete plans – I decided to just go and see what happened. I was on no one’s schedule but my own… and the bus system’s.
Oh, the bus system. Here in Montenegro, similar to pretty much everywhere else in the world, traveling by bus never seems to go exactly as planned. I had to talk myself out of being frustrated when my travels didn’t go exactly as expected- after all, I wasn’t late for anything or anyone. There was literally nowhere I was supposed to be other than on that bus, finding a destination of my choice. If I had gotten lost, it would have been fine – I could just find another town to stay the night in and enjoy myself there instead. After coming to terms with that realization, I began to relish in the freedom and joy of traveling alone. Although my trip to Perast could have gone better (and faster), I finally arrived early Friday evening.
Perast is peaceful and beautiful. Although it is small – really, just one street – its rich history, old stone buildings, and gorgeous location make it seem magnificent. Walking through Perast, surrounded by the mountains and sea, felt like some sort of fairytale. I was able to find a nice little room with a perfect view, dropped my bag off, and set off to wander and find somewhere to eat. I ended up at Restoran Armonia, a café situated right on the sea, and enjoyed a lovely meal of fish soup, local cheese, tomatoes, bread, olive oil, and red wine.
Adjusting to being alone is an interesting process. I decided to totally unplug for the night so there was no faking it: no phone, internet, headphones, journal to write in, or book for company. It was just me, the stars, and sea. Why should that be uncomfortable? I have no clue, but it really was at first. I have a tendency to either be too nostalgic or too future-focused. In the beginning of my meal, my thoughts drifted back to the U.S. and what I’ve left behind – the job that is no longer mine, the boys who never really were mine, and the family and friends who I am lucky to know always will be mine. Then I began to wonder what will happen next, after my grant period in Montenegro is over. Finally, I forced myself to lean into the discomfort of being on my own and came into the present. I relaxed and took it all in: Perast in all of its peaceful, scenic glory. I really tasted my food, really savored my wine. I listened to the sound of fish hopping in and out of the water. Stevie Wonder began to play on a distant stereo inside of the restaurant. Somewhere in the transition between “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Superstition,” I began to smile to myself.
Contrasts in life often make me smile. I have always loved oxymorons. Enigmas. The things that seem like they shouldn’t go together, but somehow fit perfectly. I like to eat things that are salty and sweet, date athletic artists, and rock heels and bold lipstick after playing a Friday night soccer game. Life in the in-between is more fun. To me, the sound of Motown over those historic streets felt like a sweet, sweet oxymoron – a piece of Detroit in Montenegro. I was no longer thinking about the past or worrying about the future. I just was.
I woke up early the next morning and went for a run on the Bay of Kotor, then took a boat out to explore Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rocks), a manmade island off of the coast of Perast. After playing tourist around the island and its beautiful church for a bit, I was ready to go into relaxation mode. I spent the rest of my time in Perast on a beach near Pirate Bar – soaking up the sun and alternating between floating in the sea and reading. I returned to Podgorica later that day, feeling refreshed and at peace.
If you have never done so, I highly recommend taking a trip with yourself, for yourself. Unplug. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy your own company.