A Few Things We Learned About Montenegro….
A waiter told us one night, with some concern, that Russia plays a big role in the Montenegrin economy. We discovered Russians own majority shares in 32% of foreign enterprises here. The Russian press claims that Russian citizens (politicians and billionaires) own at least 40% of real-estate property in Montenegro. Montenegro and Russia citizens can travel visa-free between the two countries which makes Montenegro one of the most popular destinations among Russian tourists and accounts for about 20% of Montenegro’s tourist revenue.
Montenegro is working hard on receiving a membership invitation to NATO by the end of 2015. There ‘appears’ to be some policital grumblings and warnings on Russia interfering or attempting to veto this NATO membership. NATO would bring the much needed peace, freedom, security and stability in Europe’s southwest.
It has been interesting to see and try and figure out how the politics in Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, and now Russia, are intertwined. It is very complicated and confusing. How difficult and challenging things will be for these countries for a long time coming.
On the lighter side, some noticeable differences in Montenegro …..
* The lack of stray dogs. Here they have stray cats which are not a favourite of mine. And they can be aggressive! While dining outside one evening, about six cats surrounded our table when the waiter set our meals down. He shooed them away once but seemed to know it was hopeless. Joe’s shooing still left one loudly meowing critter and the rest peering out from under tables until we were finished.
* When you order water at a restaurant here, you are asked ‘gas or no gas?’ Gone are the ‘still or tap?’ questions.
* Oddly, most hotels in Eastern Europe have shoe shine machines. Many, on every floor. We haven’t figured out why yet, nor have we tried them.
* Canadian millionaire Peter Munk built a Venetian-style nautical village resort in Montenegro. ‘Porto Montenegro’ is a deluxe megaresort near Tivat. Munks’ aim was to transform the area into the Monte Carlo of Adriatic. We did not see this in our travels.
Sunday, April 26 – Friday, May 1
Recap of our week in Kotor…
We loved our week in Kotor, a coastal town in Montenegro in a secluded part of the Gulf of Kotor.
Some refer to it the southern-most fjord in Europe, but it is a ria, a submerged river canyon. Kotor is surrounded by remarkable fortifications built during the Venetian period.
Kotor has seen a steady increase in tourists over the past several years, many of them arriving by cruise ship. It was quite strange to experience the filling and empting of the city. Some mornings after breakfast we would venture out only to find the streets packed with thousands of cruisers. And by nightfall they would return to their ships and the restaurants would be empty again except for a local or two and a few other tourists. When cruise season is in full swing, Kotor will welcome up to 6 cruise ships in one day. We would find that claustrophobic.
Visitors love the natural beauty of the Gulf of Kotor and also the preserved medieval town of Kotor; one of the best in the Adriatic. We were lucky to have stayed in the old town. The only way to get around is on foot inside the compact old town, especially since cars cannot get in. There are some golfcarts that are used as taxis and/or for city tours and lots of these are used to bring supplies in from one of the gates of the city:
The Upper Town Walls stretch some 4.5 km directly above and east of the Old Town. The walls are on almost vertical cliffs, and look a little like a short version of the Great Wall.
We climbed the 1200ft ascent of the Upper Town Walls twice during our stay. Yes, we are still suckers for punishment – and at a cost of 6€ each time too! Here is the often photographed gate to the staircase:
The reward is the excellent view of Kotor and the bay from the Church of Our Lady of Health (half way up) was worth the 1350 step climb:
And higher to the St John’s fortress on top:
Some lovely churches in Kotor:
We had an apartment in Kotor with a kitchen table and very hard chairs but nowhere comfortable to relax. We made do but also took to visiting cafes with wifi when they weren’t too busy with paying cruise passengers.
Our favourite spot was the Jazz Bar directly across from our building. This compact, lively restaurant was the busiest place in the city. You couldn’t help but be enticed by the soft sounds of the music after a day on your feet. Anyone that knows me well, knows I refer to this genre as ‘that jazz shit’ so this must sound unusual coming from me. There is a time and place for everything and in the afternoon, it was an enjoyable vibe. When they played jazz until 11pm weekdays and 1am weekends, and we could hear every note from every room of our apartment, we were both unenthralled.
We enjoyed many good meals in Kotor and kibitzed with several waiters. They are all very proud of their beautiful city and country.
We explored the outskirts of Kotor by walking along the shores of the town. One direction was next to impossible to walk along although we tried our best even without a sidewalk. The beach walk going the other direction around the Bay was wonderful. The shores were littered with mansions, small inns, trendy apartments, restaurants, and several historic churches.
We did this walk twice; about 3 hours round trip and it was very enjoyable. We got caught in a rain storm the first round but we were able to sit, drenched, outside on a restaurant patio that served the best chicken burger sliders. We hadn’t seen anything like this on a menu for a long time, so timed our next walk of the bay to arrive here again for lunch.
Every day we are amazed that we are able to see and do these things. EVERY day.
Saturday, May 2 – 4, Herceg Novi
We took our first bus ride in Montenegro, to get to Herceg Novi. It was easy and very cheap; rode a little mini bus.
The Herceg Novi municipality stretches from Prevlaka to the Verige strait. An almost unbroken string of towns lie along this strip of coast, where 31,000 residents live. 50% of the population are Serbs and 34% are Montenegran’s. No Russians mentioned in the stats.
Herceg Novi is a major Montenegrin tourist destination well known as a spa and health center. The city is not a major destination for sunbathing, as there are no long sandy beaches (all concrete or rocky) along the bay, but many beaches are reachable by boat.
Herceg Novi accounted for one-third of overnight stays in Montenegro before the Yugoslav wars, but tourists now prefer Budva, Kotor and other resorts in the northern part of the coast. View from high above, in the Old City:
Some famous tourist attractions:
Castle Forte Mare built by the Bosnian king Tvrtko I in 1382:
Clock tower built by Austrians in the 19th century:
Serbian church St. Michael Archangel in central Belavista Square:
Our hotel in Herceg Novi was seemingly in more of a residental area, at the bottom of several steep hills. Our room had a balony overlooking the gorgeous bay and we spent a lot of time gazing out on the water. The room rate was ‘half board’ which we didn’t discover or know what it meant until after we paid for dinner. Here, breakfast and dinner are both included! Both decent buffets and great for reducing the budget; every little bit helps! The hotel happily refunded the first dinner we paid for.
We discovered that the cruise ships that visited Kotor, sail past us here now, on their way in and out of The Bay. We can see Croatia too! It is only a 30 minute drive so we are very close.
We loved the slow pace of this sleepy community. Tourist season doesn’t begin here for at least another two weeks so it was very quiet.
Our Ship Has Sailed! We wish…special delivery of a yacht! Can you see it on the crane boat?
We watched this on and off all day:
And she’s in the water! It doesn’t look it, but the yacht is huge and the ‘Big Lift’ crane boat, like a small cruise ship.
We heard cheering:
Tomorrow we are traveling by bus to Dubrovnik, Croatia. It is always exciting to visit a new country. We will spend four nights on one side of the city and then on May 9th we move to a bigger apartment with Spencer and Lindsay! So excited! They are in Florence, Italy now and then have a stopover in Rome before heading to Dubrovnik. We may do a tour of the local islands together! Won’t let them out of our sight for the precious three days.
Today marks our 8th month anniversary of our travel adventure. Incredible! We cannot believe it. Yes, time has gone fast but at the same time it is all surreal. It doesn’t seem possible when we talk about New York or Florida or Spain, or France, that they were all in the same trip…
Also made great progress in future planning. Most of the ‘return to reality’ is booked. Crazy part of the summer to be traveling, availability already limited so booked it and now we don’t even have to think about it. Also booked a River Cruise starting June 20 from Budapest to Prague. So with the exception of a few holes and the entire month in multiple locations in Italy, I am almost ready to hang up my travel agent hat. Or, fling it out the window. LOL….
We will see you in Croatia!
Paula and Joe