Our Walk to Bedem Fortress

It was a lovely early spring day when Richard and I ventured out to a local landmark, the Bedem Fortress.  We hadn’t been able to find a “hard copy” map of Niksic yet–the Turisticka office keeps variable hours–so we google- mapped a path across town and tried to record it in our minds.
This fortress is a reconstruction on the foundation of the ancient Roman-Gothic Citadel.

With that said, yes, we got lost.  But we discovered a river–the Zeta River–and the very large flour mill, the freeway junction and a hillside of tiny purple flowers.

It had warmed up considerably when we finally reached the fortress, and so had we.  We found a cold drink kiosk to revive us.  The food kiosks around town are great, so much quicker than committing yourself to a whole store trip. 

From the top of the walls we could look out over the whole skyline, identifying the  landmarks and seeing where we had lost our bearing.  Niksic was laid out in the Austrian style of streets radiating from a central hub at King Nikola’s Summer Palace and the Church of St. Vasilije of Ostrog.  The fortress marks the western edge of town.  The Surbatoviches home is on the eastern outskirts of town. 

Niksic and Trebjesa Hill from the Bedem fortress.

In the summer months the site is used as an open theatre and place for festivals and cultural performances.  It was looking a bit neglected when we were there, but it made me think this would be a great place for a sunrise Resurrection Day service and a place of prayer and praise for God’s Light to shine in darkness.

Village Visit

Through Anka's WindowOn Good Friday we ventured south in Montenegro for a multi-stop excursion with our friend, Milan Djurisic. Milan proved a friendly and thoughtful guide. And in the Montenegrin tradition he was proud to take us to his family village in Parsi on the way to the former Capitol, Cetinje.

After following the narrow winding road through rocky terrain for a few minutes we stopped   at a fenced property which housed the village cemetery, chapel and the old schoolhouse “Biblioteka”.  Milan said he actually went to school there, the rusty sign said it was built in 1893.  The school is now closed, there are no children living in the village any longer. The cemetery was still in use. It was a lovely place with tall trees and lush grass,with both very old graves and some very new polished granite tombs. He told us the story of some of his relatives who are buried there.

We wound around the road a bit further, passing stone fences that must have been there for more than a century, outlining terraced gardens and sheepfolds.  Sometimes I think they build a fence just to stack the rock out of the way.  Milan’s house stands close to the road on a steep angle.  It has a wide concrete patio that looks out over the valley and the remains of a previous generation’s roofless stone quarters.  It’s a simple house, no running water or w.c.  So we crossed the road and hiked up the short hill to the well.  My clumsy claim to fame for the day was slipping in the mud and falling into the berry bushes.  You don’t get out of berry bushed bloodless.  Milan wouldn’t let me walk on ledges after that.

A short walk up the road, past a neighbor’s house brought us to Milan’s Aunt Anka’s house.  We dropped in on her unannounced, and bless her heart she unhesitatingly welcomed us in and bustled around her living room/dining room putting on a fresh tablecloth, taking some homemade coffee cake out of the freezer, pouring us shots of homemade grape brandy and even cutting some fresh narcissus from her garden for me and for the table.  There was a conversation between her and Milan about whether we would mind eating in a house where the dogs are allowed to come in.  We felt at home.

She doesn’t speak “engleski” and we don’t speak “crnagorski”, but I understood her joy and delight in having company.  She really liked Michael, said he was a gift of love from God.  And I understood as she declared her faith in God, the Strong God, with gusto.  She sent us home with coffee cake and hot, freshly dyed Easter eggs.

Her neighbor from further up the lane walked by with a little herd of beloved goats, you could tell by the happy way  she carried the smallest ones. Milan says everyone in the village is related to him.  They may be 5th cousins twice removed but they are “bratas” and “sestras” just the same.  Though most families own land in the villages, most live in the cities in order to work.  It is a very strenuous life to live off the land in these stony hills, but they are excellent gardeners and very creative “domacica” making cheese, jam, pickled vegetables, smoked meats and cordials.

Aunt Anka’s home has a million dollar view of the surrounding countryside with Lake Skadar in the distance, which is the largest lake in Europe.  I hope that future generations will find a way to return to their villages and the enjoy the pleasantness of the rural life.



European Tonewoods Workshop

Chainsaw first, then to the bandsaw

On the Surbotovich property there is a separate three story building we call The Workshop. This is where Milan, a neighbor and member of the church, mills a very specialized high end Maple product for violins, cellos and other stringed instruments. The curly leaf Maple is extremely beautiful. For about 3 weeks after we arrived, there was a lot of hurried work in the shop preparing pieces to sell to a Chinese violin company. They purchase most of the wood products once a year.  I’m using the Workshop to prepare the wood to help trim out the interior of the Surbotovich home. The shop has some amazing tools and equipment but is short on space. Nemanja, my right hand man, and I have spent hours in the Shop and for me, a wanna be woodworker, the time seems to fly by. There is a little wood stove that might take the temperature from 40 degrees to 50 degrees in about 5 hours but it feels good to have a source of heat to warm up my hands and help glue to dry. Next project…..wainscote on the Dining room walls.

The Workshop

Number One quality for Violin

Cutting wood to show the “curley leaf” effect

Snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?

Hey, Mike here. So, living in suburban SoCal  I have never really had to deal with them in the wild, me not being overly adventurous, and not going on many wilderness hikes. But I have always had a strange curiosity in these otherworldly creatures. I expressed my desire to have one at the dinner table once and the idea got shot down like a duck in a duck blind. Now that I have been the only one to see a snake on the Mrtvice Kanjon hike and the one to be about 2 feet away from a giant brown snake in a graveyard, I have considered snakes with a honest and safe fear. I now look side to side to see around thickets and brambles for these alien creatures.

The sound they make perfectly fits how they look: creepy. The one we saw in the graveyard at our new friend Milan’s remote family village, was about two inches in diameter at the middle-most part of its body. My dad only got a picture of the tail end of the evil monstrosity, as it slithered across the concrete walkway and through a crevice beside an ancient sepulcher. The whole ordeal sent me standing farther away from the sepulcher and the hole the snake disappeared down, and my dad laughing and snapping pictures like a maniac. My mom gasped, of course, and stood still. Here is a picture of the monolith. Mind you, this is only the last three feet. The rest of the snake could have easily been two meters long.


On a more happy thought, there was an adorable dog at Milan’s aunt’s house. His name was Medo. That means bear in Montenegrin. I have some great pictures of him, but I am only going to show one. As we walked up the narrow lane to Anka’s house, he started barking and running around in a skittish way, kind of frenzied. When we were greeted and came inside, he calmed down, lying under the table, where we were served coffee cake and shots of grape brandy. (No, I didn’t try any.)  Medo looked lonesome, so I reached down and pet him. He was grateful, in fact so grateful, he decided to put his paws up on my lap and lay his head down on them. That didn’t stop him from trying to get at the coffeecake. I almost felt him jump onto my lap, and then off to grab the coffeecake that my dad had stuck out in the air above him. Poor dog. He was cute.

Friends in Niksic

Richard with Nemanje and his fiancé, Jelena, at the kitchen bar sharing a late night snack.

Richard with Nemanja and his fiancé, our friend and very excellent translator, Jelena.  Nemanja is Richard’s “right hand man” around the house with thewoodworking projects.  So, since Nemanja usually works for Richard, we turned the tables and went to work for him, prepping and painting the apartment that he will be moving into when he and Jelena get married in June.  

Julie painting over the “test colors”.  Budget jobs require that you use the “krece” (lime whitewash) and then add your own color. Jelena approved a soft peach to make a soothing flow through the 450 square foot apartment.



Richard filled the cracks while Jelena deep-cleaned the furnishings in their new fully furnished apartment.

The apartments are solid concrete, with a thin layer of plaster on the walls.  Residents re-paint quite often, which I found surprising.  Now, I like color, but most people here REALLY like color, very bright color.  Maybe I belong in Niksic.



Nemanja mixing the paint in the hallway.  Cute paint cans, Eurocrem comes in the same package.


House Projects

Preparing Concrete Beam

Richard here….Well, we’ve been here a month now and some projects are finished while others continue along. Most of this last month has been re-learning how to use large shop equipment and milling our own lumber to make false beams to cover up unfinished concrete. Wood is in abundance but it is delivered in a real rough, crooked, unusable form.

Indoor trim items such as baseboard, casings, moldings are not available here….so you have to take 1 1/2″ x 8″ European Beech lumber and mill it down to a  3/4″ x  4″ or possibly 6″ board . Most of the original board is on the shop floor in the form of shavings from planing and joining and cutting off the unusable areas.

This finished false beam with posts is 21′ long and is milled, glued and finished from 32 pieces of rough lumber. In the States it would be made of 2 sheets of Maple plywood.

Next I will introduce you to The Workshop.

Concrete Beam to Cover in Beech Wood


The Finished ProductFalse Beam 21 feet long


False Beam 21 feet long

Neven Vrtic

A daily reminder of the little people who are growing here. This design was inspired by an actual drawing of one of the students.

The children loved to call out my "strange" name while I painted.

I love being a worker in Montenegro! At break time they fix you your own cup of turkish coffee.

Neven Vrtic means ‘Marigold Kindergarten’.  Doesn’t that give you a happy picture in your mind?  The colorful little school inspired me to  give them a colorful, welcoming signage.  The job was officially finished when I met with the “Direktorica”, shook hands and took pictures.

The children, with names like Milan, Anya, Irina, Elena, Vuk, Jovana, Luka, Kristijan, and Mija, cheered me on daily, calling my name out the windows and giggling when I spoke to them in Serbian.  Then they would always be perfectly quiet at rest time, snug in their little cots lined up all around the classroom, sleeping peacefully after lunch.

I love being a worker in Montenegro, they know how to take care of their “colleagues”.  Here is a picture of the little kitchen where Slavica served me Turkish “kafa” and cookies or fruit.  And I would sit on one of their little cushioned chairs, warmed by the radiator and talk to Ana, my new friend, one of the teachers.  It’s a truly homey place.

I plan to continue to visit them weekly for craft time.  Rada and the ladies have a craft center day once a week.  They have welcomed my ideas of new things to try with the children. This coming week I hope to paint cardboard “marigolds” with them.

As we walk through the neighborhood, it’s a fulfilling joy to be able to leave something behind.  Please pray for Rada’s continuing testimony and reflection of Christ.  And for the teachers, Ana, Tanja, and Lilje, and for my kafa maker, Slavica, that they would know Our Savior.