Europe 2016-Day 30 & 31….Montenegro

When we first booked the Mediterranean cruise, Istanbul, Turkey was on the itinerary.  However, when they had several bombings, NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) cancelled the port stop and added Montenegro and Croatia.  We were a bit disappointed, but at the same time excited to see these two countries.  On Day 30 of our European Adventure, we were at sea, which we welcomed, as it was only our second relaxation day of the trip.  On sea days, the cruise lines always plan numerous activities to keep you occupied.  Our plan was to sleep-in and catch up on some much-needed sleep.  We had been told to change our clocks to reflect with a new time zone.  We put Jim in charge of change his watch and not setting an alarm.  We guess he was so excited to go to sleep, that he did neither.  The alarm went off at 8:30 and we could not get back to sleep.  So on to plan B.  We went up on deck and ate breakfast, a novel idea on this trip, as we had just been grabbing croissants.  We watched the funniest cake decorating competition between the Captain, Cruise director Dave, Chef Ari, and the hotel director.  The captain used M&Ms and gummy bears which was a big hit with the kids, the hotel director used Jack Daniels whiskey, which was a big hit with the adults, Cruise Director Dave used his hands, which wasn’t a hit with anyone.  We tried the actual chefs cake, Black Forest…really good.

Cruise Director Dave had a contest to give him a new nickname.  We submitted 3 names, Hyena Dave, due to his unusual laugh, Do It All Dave, as he seemed to be everywhere, and Eric, as the Asst Cruise Director was Ariel (Little Mermaid). We watched as they read the entries and they laughed at Hyena and Eric.  Ariel wanted to have it be Eric but Dave said they had to choose randomly and they picked Eric.  We won a great prize package that was delivered to our room.

We had a nice meal and went to bed as we had a full day in Montenegro tomorrow.

We docked in Kotor, which reminded us of the ports in Alaska only the mountains were steeper and taller.  It was a beautiful port.

We met our tour guide, Katrina.  We was in her late 20s and had bright flare bottom orange pants.  Some of the “seasoned” members on our tour were whispering about her pants, so we made it a point to compliment them very loudly.  (Tourists can really be a bit snooty).

She told us that the bay leading to Kotor is called Boka Bay.  It has been referred to as the southernmost fjord in Europe. It winds around and is on the backside of the mountains so it is protected from the open sea.  Unesco has named it one of the 25 most beautiful bays in the world.  It consists of numerous islands and villages.  It is 87 km (54 miles)long and 1330 meters (4300 feet)  deep.  At its narrowest point, at the Verige strait is only 340 meters (1115 feet) wide.

We drove up out of Kotor over the mountain pass down to Budva on the Adriatic Sea.

On the way, we learned about Montenegro.  80% of the country is covered by dense woods.  The country is 13,8 12 sq km (5,333 sq miles).  The tourism theme is “All in One-Sea, Lakes, Mountains, and Valleys.  There are 3 regions: South is the coast and coastal mountains, grows bananas and oranges.  Inner is flat and has the capital city of Podgorica with 150,000 residents.  North is high mountains and glaciers, skiing in the winter.  Montenegro has one of the 10th largest canyons in the world, Tara River Canyon.

The first ruler was in the 15th century.  In 1910, they became a Dutch kingdom.  1945 was part of Yugoslavia.  In 2000, they became part of Serbia.  In 2006, they became independent and the present day Montenegro.  Our guide Katrina, said that she has lived in 3 different countries during her life but lived in the same region.

The total population is 620,000…40% Montenegro and 60% Serbs.  The language is Serbian but they added 2 letters to make an official Montenegro language.  The tourist season for cruise ships is March to November.  It is a fairly new place to cruise, so still has a very home-like atmosphere.

The “old city” of Budva is 2500 year old, it is a walled fortification.   The rest of the city is very modern.  The old city has a gate, that you walk through on your wedding day to guarantee happiness.

We walked down to the Adriatic Sea and Cindy and Jerie had to touch the water.

We had free time to walk  through the city streets….

and even found a 2 Euro “mean deal”, pizza and a soda.  Also did the touristy thing and visited the Hard Rock Cafe store.

Many interesting buildings…

And beautiful flowers….

We re-boarded the bus and headed back to Kotor for a walking tour.  Kotor was settled in the 4th century.  At the time, it was the most important sea port on the Adriatic coast.  We walked in through the Sea Gate (main), past the Clock Tower, and stopped for pictures at the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon. Kotor has a Venetian style architecture due to 400 years of rule by the Venetians.

We stopped at St. Nicholas Church, of which the present building was constructed in 1909.  However, there has been continuous expansion on the church for 1200 years.  St. Peter holds a 3 cornered stone to represent the shape of the Old Town which is a triangle.  The church is adorned with lots of silver and the air was full of the smell of burning incense.  There are 3 main religions in Montenegro: Orthodox, Islam, and Catholic.  There are 2 orthodox churches, the Serbian Orthodox and the Montenegro Orthodox.  They have exactly the same doctrine, but different name due to a disagreement.

The city of Kotor is surrounded by the wall of St. Ivan as a fortification.  We had been told that you could climb the steps of the wall to the Fortress of St. John, which was built as a citadel to protect the city.   The wall was built from the 3th-5th century.  It extends  up the mountain side. We had time before the ship left, so we paid the 3 Euros each and started up the stairs, 1355 steps to be exact and several switch-back paths.  We left with 3 bottles of water, but it was a HOT day.

There are many interesting buildings along the way.  One being the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.  This was built in 1518 by survivors of the 14th century plague.  The views of the city and the bay were wonderful.

We noticed that the water being sold by vendors, became increasingly higher priced the closer we got to the top.  There were also a lot of artist selling paintings.  We though that was strange as who would want to carry a picture while hiking the stairs.  We thought a more appropriate souvenir would have been “I survived the stairs of Kotor”.  It took us about an hour but we made it to the top. We went from sea level to about 1200 meters or 3900 feet. The fortress at the top has been occupied off and on since it was built.  The last time it was occupied was by the Axis forces during World War II.  It was liberated in November 1944 and has not been used for military purposes since.

More pictures of the top.  At the top there were several 20 somethings that walked out onto the fortress roof and dangled their feet over the 1200 foot edge.  We love adventure, but there is no sense of taking chances that you don’t need to take.  Jim remarked, “That these are probably the same people who would go to Yellowstone National Park in the US and get gored by a bison”.

As we started down, both Cindy and Jerie got a bit sick and had some shaking leg issues.  Glad we threw the walking sticks into our day packs.  We made it down safely and admired the view of the wall.

A TMI moment…(due to our tour and the stair climb, we hadn’t used the restroom since 9:30, we finally made to our room at 4:30).  Took a quick shower and then went to the buffet to eat.  We wanted to be on deck as the ship left and sailed out of the bay.

Cruise ships are still a novelty in the bay…several small boats drove by and waved, as well as cars lining the road to watch and wave.

It had been a wonderful day to Montenegro…tonight we would travel a short distance up the Adriatic coast to Croatia.