In keeping with my relaxed (read entirely nonexistent) bicycle touring schedule, when invited to stay a few days in Risan by Goran, I happily accepted. I seem to be unfairly lucky as yet again the hospitality I keep receiving seems limitless. My first day in Risan was spent wandering around the town and bay, dutifully sampling a flakey potato burek from a local fast food joint as I made my way through a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets. In the town square a market of three stalls sold fresh produce and old clothes under the surveillance of the omnipresent coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking men in cafes. I bought a bunch of spinach and four bananas from a wizened woman in a headscarf, offering her my handful of change as I don’t know my numbers in Montenegrin, then she picked out a ripe pear and added it as a gift.
Risan’s claim to fame is a series of Roman mosaics from the third century. I missed the opening times on the first day in town, but made up for it by peeking over the railing at them after hours. At 2 euros for entry it’s a cheap thrill, and is worth a look if you’re in the area. The mosaics are beautiful, and if you stand there a while taking in the momentous passage of time since they were created, imagining what the artists were like as they pieced each little stone together, it can be a powerful experience.
Goran entertained me that evening with wine and great conversation by his new fireplace. The Villa Rustica property has been passed down in his family over the centuries, and many of the relics of the past are still kicking around. Ancient cookware and wine barrels, slabs of stone and a still-functional well are just some of what remains. Goran’s vision is to convert the old smokehouse into a soft of memorial-historical miniature museum and kitchen, shelves holding interesting things with stories to tell while he cooks bread and meat in the traditional way on hot coals. I think staying here will be a rich experience for guests as they are made to feel at home by Goran and Antonia, and learn about the history of the property and surrounding areas.
I particularly liked a story that Goran shared with me. Once there was an old man and a young man. The old man said to the young man, go to this place and you will see all of the beauty of the world. But here, take this spoon and let me fill it with water, and be careful not to spill it. The young man took the spoon, carried it to the place, and was so swept up in the beauty of the world that he forgot about the spoon, spilling the water. He went back to the old man with an apology, and the old man repeated the exercise. Again the young man went to the place, this time paying such close attention to the spoon that he didn’t see any beauty at all. He returned proudly with the spoon full of water. The old man still wasn’t satisfied. He sent him back again with the spoon full of water. This time the young man was able to enjoy all of the beauty of the world, while maintaining just enough focus to prevent the water spilling from the spoon. Finally when he returned the old man was satisfied.
I love the story – travelling (and living life generally) is all about finding that balance between enjoyment and focus.