My Plan B to propose to my dearest girl was during sunrise by the bay, watching the city walls start to glow with warmth. We had planned to spend the day by taking a day tour around Montenegro, the world’s newest country. We woke up early to watch the sunrise, walked outside and it started pouring down with rain. I sighed, we went back inside until it was time to leave for Montenegro, and I started considering a Plan C.
The Slavic history of Montenegro began in the 6th century, when Emperor Heraclius invited the Slavic tribes into the empire to repeople Ilyria, in doing so pushing the local Shkipetars back to the Albanian highlands. With the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire soon after, the Serbians nations became independent. While Serbia was taken in the battle of Kosovo in 1389 by the Turks, due to the difficulties of controlling the highlands, Crnagora (Montenegro) remained effectively independent. With the independence of Serbia in 1815, Montenegro was able to develop from a highland refuge into a state, with a ruler who was both King and Bishop (until 1851, when Danilo Petrovic Njegus the second fell in love with Darinka Kuekuic, and had to formally separate Church and State in order to marry her, also secularising and reforming the legal system). This also allowed Montenegro to take control of its coast, which had constantly changed of hand between Venice and Austria. After WWII, Montenegro joined with Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia to form Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia joined the Tripartite Alliance in 1941. Tito overthrew the Facist government in 1945, forming a communist republic allied with Stalin (but non-aligned by 1948). While most of the republics split off in 1992, due to the racial tensions caused by the “Greater Serbia” attitude after Tito, Montenegro remained joined with Serbia until the 3rd of June this year.
Our first part of the tour to Montenegro drove south from Dubrovnik along the Dalmation Coast. It was really obvious why the coast had such a different history from the mountains, the thin strip of shore has tiny cities sitting on excellent ports facing the Adriatic, while the mountains go straight up, preventing any easy access inland. We visited the city of Kotor, which had been constantly taken by Venice and Austria. The city sits on what is called a fjord, but is actually a series of three bays, giving it an excellent harbour. The occupying forces built a wall around the city that extends to the top of the first hill, to protect from invasion from the highlands (knowing that it was impossible to push inland from the port, and being focussed on the seafaring trade anyway). In the bay is a church called The Lady of the Rock, on an island formed by dropping stones in that spot every 22nd of July. The old town (Stari Grad) was small and pretty (especially the Orthodox St Nicolas’s), similar to Dubrovnik except the new areas surrounding the town had been rebuilt in modern styles after the earthquake, so it didn’t have the same atmosphere. Since it wasn’t quite as romantic as Dubrovnik (and because unlike Ragusa, Montenegro stayed independent through war) I decided to wait until we were back before proposing.
We drove up into the mountains, requiring many switch-backs on the narrow roads, to reach the Slavic highlands. The area was beautiful and green, with low bushes and rocky outcrops rather than farmland. We stopped to try honey wine, Montenegro beer and cheese sandwiches, then we drove to Centinje. In Centinje we looked Nicolas I’s house (built in 1871), converted into a museum showing the last royal family’s clothes, bedrooms, dinner sets, and dead polar bears. From Centinje we drove to Budva, with another charming Stari Grad, and Bar, a tourist town for Serbs, with a long beach and a commercial 1000 year-old walled city.
Back in Dubrovnik, I had decided on a Plan D for proposal. We would go to a nice romantic restaurant, then after dinner I would take my special girl up to the stairs that look down on the city from the Franciscan Monastery. As we walked through the town my love started to tell me about Orlando’s Column, in the centre of the town square. Orlando’s column was built in 1419 to celebrate the defeat of the first serious Venetian attempt to end the independence Ragusa in 972. The column celebrates the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, who had become a symbol for nobility and independence. Plus it is functional too, with the distance from Orlando’s the fingertips to his elbow (of the right arm) being the standard unit of measure, the Ragusan ell.
In Ragusa, the column became the symbol of liberty, and from 1419 flew the independence flag of Saint Blaise (in 1990 it flew a white flag saying “Libertas” in the same spirit). My dearest was telling me how the column was the centre of the city, with all proclaimations of importance being made from its steps. On an impulse I improvised on Plan D and suggested that my love stand on the steps of Orlando’s column. I then told her how much she had changed my life, how she brings me more joy and delight than I could ever imagine, how much I admired and respected her, how I loved her completely and utterly for the wonderful person she is, and I asked her to marry me. My dearest girl, beautiful in every possible way, blinked in surprise and said “yes, of course”. We then had to sit down to calm her shaky legs, and she told me how happy she was to be engaged to me, how she had secretly hoped I would propose but hadn’t expected it, and how she was almost as impressed that I had thought to bring along a ring size-converter as she was with the engaged ring itself.
After talking together on the steps of Orlando’s column for fifteen minutes, we slowly walked hand in hand to an Italian restaurant, where we talked together over a bottle of wine until they closed. A perfect end to a perfect day, and a perfect start to a perfect life together.