A couple hours drive to the border between Croatia and the Republic of Montenegro. We’ve been doing a lot of border crossing during this trip, but we’ve been getting a 15 minute early jump on the other tour groups, making our wait time a bit less excruciating than having five busses ahead of us.
The drive toward Montenegro offers more spectacular views, but when you pass some of the villages you begin to understand that the Republic is much less affluent than it’s neighbor Croatia. Montenegro gained independence in 2006, much later than other Yugoslavian break-offs from Serbia. Inflation there was terrible so they borrowed the German Mark, and took on the Euro when Germany joined the EU. We’re getting pretty confused with all the mixed coins in our pockets. The population is 670,000+ and they have their own language. It’s surrounded by Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Slovenia.
The Bay of Kotor represents the best of Montenegro with it’s dramatic cliffs rising out of the Adriatic and it’s ancient towns, packed with history. The geography is undeveloped and rugged, very different from Croatia. The bay is actually an enormous fjord, one of the largest in Europe. As we drive, and drive around it, we see our destination. First this Island of St. George, a monastery now closed to tourists, and then…
…Our Lady of the Rocks, a flat island with a dome-topped Catholic church. Locals built the baroque church on this holy site, filling it with symbols of thanks for answered prayers.
A carver with a sense of humor created this cartoon-like table just outside the entrance.
And a ceiling, done by a local artist, that belies the exterior. An articulate young local man gives an unusually clear and extensive explanation of the history of the church and the many, many artifacts.
Imagine the likes of these filling every inch of space in the holy place. Many were done by locals as tribute.
If you look closely, these are dried flower bouquets left by brides who have married in the church. Unfortunately we are missing some un-loadable photos (that we’ll link to later) of things like silver votive plaques with images of ships and battles. Part of the church is a museum filled with an amazing, eclectic collection of artistic contributions.
We take a launch (the only way to get to the church) back to our bus and head off to the impressively located town of Kotor some 20 minutes away. There’s been a settlement at this location at least since the time of Christ. It’s beautiful preservation has earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Restored and preserved palaces inside the town…
…backed up by a steep cliff that that has an amazing network of fortifications. Take a close look at the stone walls, fortress and churches. It’s a long and arduous walk up (we didn’t have time…or energy) with no roads for vehicles. It’s a truly unspoiled Adriatic town.
There are a large number of varying churches and palaces since it’s 2,000 year history is layered with control by foreign powers like the Ilyrians, Romans, Serbs, Venetians, Russians, Napoleonic soldiers, Austrians, Tito’s Yugoslavia, and now Montenegrins.
Montenegro never had a coast until after WWI. The Ottoman Empire kept them from feeling safe, stranded on the plains, so they moved toward the coast to control that at least.
They have no real industry other than tourism – just a little bauxite mining for the aluminum industry. Russians tend to buy property here and the Orthodox religion plays a large part. The area is often called “Little Russia” – the Russian Adriatic Rivera. Montenegro also has the longest tourist season because it’s further south than the other Balkans. As we drive outside Kotor, cranes can be seen everywhere on the coast building extensive tourist facilities.
It’s been a long and exciting day, and we’re rewarded for our “hard work” with a beautiful change in the weather and some views that could easily be framed. Back to Dubrovnik where we’ve made reservations for one of the best and most scenic restaurants in the area (recommended by some good friends who took this trip a couple of years ago).
The atmosphere ain’t bad at Restaurant Orsan, just a five minute walk around the harbor from our hotel. It’s al fresco dining and with a little chill in the air, the maitre’d brings us all blankets. But it feels warmer as the sun sets and the wind dies.
The food ain’t bad either. Scrumptious tuna carpaccio (again) for an appetizer. Then grilled squids (as they say) over chard and potatoes. Lots of other goodies for everyone.
And a great time had by all with some of our favorite travel companions. Andi (left foreground) was celebrating her birthday (like Marsha, for at least three weeks according to husband Stan). Her sister Ruth from Connecticut and Don from Pennsylvania rounded out the table and helped get through the really good local wine. Splitting the bill was a lot of fun (in retrospect) since we had a group of three, a group of two, and a group of one. Thank goodness Stan is a CPA – he needed all his skills for this one, including wrapping paper napkin totals around each credit card. You should have seen the looks on the waiters’ faces. I think they’re still shaking their heads.
Off to bed to get ready for our last full day. Some are staying to further explore Dubrovnik and relax a bit, while “crazy” ones like Marsha and Joel will take the three hour trip to see Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina…and three hours back.