Monday, November 11, 2013

Kotor, Montenegro

Our ship left Greece and headed north along the Albanian coast toward the southern Dalmatian Coast. On the morning of October 22nd, I peeked out my window and saw the lights of Tirana, Albania.  I arose and began my morning walk around the deck.  The ship was beginning to enter the Gulf of Kotor - a narrow water way with steep mountains on each side very much like a fjord - leading  to the Bay of Kotor and the fortified city of Kotor.  Actually, it is not a fjord, it is a ria - a submerged river canyon. 

Our ship entered the narrow Gulf of Kotor at the point of the arrow

As we entered the mouth of the Gulf of Kotor, I saw the lights of the first Montenegrin city, Herceg Novi"founded in 1382 and occupied at various times by Turks, Spaniards, Venetians, Russians, French, and Austrians." As we silently glided between the fog shrouded base of the mountains, stone houses with tile roofs appeared on the shore.  A large sign saying "Land for Sale" in English appeared on one stone house facing the water, obviously meant to entice a visitor.  I had read that Kotor has become a magnet for foreigners buying up land and homes from the "cash poor, land rich" people of Montenegro. Since the break up of Yugoslavia and Montenegro's vote for independence from Serbia in 2006, the main industry for Montenegro is tourism and cruise ships are bringing a lot more attention to this lovely area. Kotor is an UNESCO World Heritage Site for it's cultural and historical significance.

After going through a narrow strait into the Bay of Kotor, we finally arrived at Kotor.

The fortified city of Kotor

The walls and the many steps up to the Castle of Saint Giovanni (St. John)
and the Church of Our Lady of Health on St. John's mountain

Our ship tied up just across from the ancient walled city

One of the gates into the Old Town

The stone walls

A Madonna and Child bas-relief on the the walls characteristic of the Christian settlement in the 15th century

Looking up toward St. John's Mountain

One of the many cafes in Old Town

A view of the narrow stone streets

Venetian-style buildings rise along narrow lanes. 

The moat outside the walls of the old city

The walls going up the mountain behind the old city

Water of the moat

One of the many cats of Kotor atop a fountain

The Cathedral of Saint Tryphon

A Serbian flag flies from the window of an apartment
When we got off the ship, a phalanx of taxi drivers and tour operators pitched their services, carrying colorful posters of their offered destinations.  "A tour of the whole area for 180 euros...", then a young man offered to take us for a 2 hour tour to the village of Perast for 40 euro and we accepted as Perast was highly recommended in my Fodor's guidebook of European Ports of Call.  Our driver was a 21 year old native of Montenegro who spoke very good English.  He drove us along the coastline and answered our many questions about his beautiful country.  He said he was not happy with Montenegro separating from Serbia because in his opinion, the country was weaker financially. Tourism was now the main economy for his country. He was a third generation taxi driver, but he was suffering financially and did not think he could marry or buy a house on his wages. Montenegro hopes to join the European Union and they have already adopted the Euro for their currency since their independence from Serbia in 2006.  As we drove by beautiful yachts and stone villas, he said he was unhappy with the large number of Russians who had moved into Montenegro to buy up houses, businesses and land. He said much of it was to launder drug money. Born one year after the breakup of Yugoslavia into warring factions, he said he wished they still had Yugoslavia. He said that, in his opinion, religion was at the root of the conflict. Yugoslavia was a federation of states with differing ethnic and religious populations (primarily Muslim, Eastern Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic, and less so, Jews and Protestants)   He and Ron talked about the history of Yugoslavia and the wars after the break up of Yugoslavia.  He told Ron he was the most knowledgeable visitor about the history of Yugoslavia that he had met. I felt pretty ignorant of this history and, in order to learn more about Yugoslavian politics, checked out a book from the ship's library on Slobodan Milošević (past Serbian President and accused war criminal). Hey, cruising isn't just about relaxing, it's also about learning.

We arrived at the village of Perast which is located on a little cape separating the Bay of Kotor from the Bay of Risan. Our driver recommended we take the water taxi to the little church (Our Lady of the Rocks) on a man-made stone islet for 5 euro.  He would wait for us taking a coffee in the cafe.


The Church of Our Lady of the Rocks on a stone island
From the wikipedia page:  "According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by the seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea[2] on July 22, 1452.[3] Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea.[4] The custom of throwing rocks into the sea is alive even nowadays. Every year on the sunset of July 22, an event called fašinada, when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea, widening the surface of the island, takes place.[2]The first known church was built on the islet in 1452[4] and it was Serbian Orthodox. It was taken over by Roman Catholics and in 1632 the present Church of Our Lady of the Rocks was built.[4]
A staircase up to the second floor of the church

The bell tower of the church

St. George Islet with the St. George Benedictine Monastery
 as seen from Our Lady of the Rocks Church

View of Perast from the islet

Venetian-style houses in Perast which was under the Venetian Republic for several hundred years

We headed back to Kotor and asked our driver where we might have dinner that evening.  He said the Galion Restaurant was the best and near our ship on the waterfront.  I walked there along the waterfront to check it out and made reservations for that evening. This port of call was to be our longest and we were not scheduled to be back on ship until 10:30PM so a nice dinner of fresh seafood in Kotor was very desirable.

The view from Galion Restaurant

View of the restaurant and of our ship in the harbor

We walked to the restaurant from the ship that evening and were thoroughly delighted with our dining experience.  Our driver's recommendation was "spot on" and we enjoyed the freshest mussels and clams, fresh fish, spaghetti and prawns, and a sweet local cream puff dessert.  The service was friendly and highly professional with multi-lingual staff. With appetizers, two entrees, dessert, wine, after dinner coffee, our total bill was 57 euro, very inexpensive for such a dinner.

After a leisurely dinner, we walked back to the ship by 9:30PM. 

The ship left port for our next stop, Dubrovnik, Croatia, just 51 nautical miles north. 

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