Musings on Montenegro

Montenegro is an interesting little country, the size of Connecticut and with a population of about 650,000. While other countries of the former Yugoslavia were involved in bloody wars in the 1990s, Montenegro sat quietly by waiting for the dust to settle. In 1996, as the Yugoslavian Dinar declined, Montenegro adopted the Deutsch Mark, and even though they were not – and still are not – members of the European Union, they later converted to the Euro. I don’t understand why or how this was possible, but I’ve read that the Deutsche Mark became Montenegro’s “de facto currency and the Euro was adopted in 2002 with no formal objections from the European Central Bank.” Later, in 2004, Montenegro asked big-brother, Serbia, by then an independent nation, for permission to hold a referendum to seek independence. Serbia shrugged and said, “OK.” Since there are many Serbians living in Montenegro, the referendum passed by the narrowest of margins, but pass it did, and in 2006, Montenegro became an independent nation.

Town of Kotor and Boka Bay seen from the San Giovanni Fortress

Montenegro as the baby of the Yugoslav family

Something I love about Montenegro is that they have adopted strategies right out of the playbook of a youngest child in a family – and I am familiar with these as I am the youngest child in my family. The youngest sits by as the bigger kids fight for privileges and then, when the time comes, youngest child is handed the keys to the family car and given a later curfew without having to put up a fight. So Montenegro did with their quest for independence. Likewise, the ‘ask forgiveness, not permission’ strategy that we younger kids use was taken by Montenegro to adopt the Euro.

The road to Kotor

As we made our way down the Adriatic coast, transportation options became more limited.  Going east from Split, there is no train travel, so the primary public transportation option is the bus. Taking the bus in this part of the world has its idiosyncrasies, in fact, when we had chance encounters with other Americans in Kotor, the first thing they asked was “did you take that bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor? Could you believe it?” First off, we were required to pay 10 kuna (about $1.50) for each piece of our luggage going into the bus luggage hold. Since this is not the custom where most of us are from, several travelers had already spent all of their Croatian kuna, and Euros were not accepted, leaving these passengers in an awkward position. Then there was the bus driver himself and his sidekick, an older lady who engaged in loud arguments with the driver. She might have been his wife – they certainly seemed to argue like an old married couple. Other than keeping the bus driver on his toes, we never found out what her job really was.

The bus left Dubrovnik at 10:00 and was due to arrive in Kotor at 11:50 after passing border control in Croatia and again in Montenegro. By our Google Maps estimates, this drive in a car takes two hours. How, then, could it be done on a bus full of passengers needing to pass border controls? The answer was that it couldn’t be done. We arrived in Kotor at a little after 2:00, more than two hours late. You have to figure that the bus company knows that the trip can’t be done in less than two hours. On the bright side, it was a beautiful drive.

Town of Kotor

Old Town Kotor
The Crystal Serenity looks like it is going to drive right into Kotor

Kotor reminds me of a smaller and less tourist-driven version of Dubrovnik, which is not to say that there are no tourists, just not as many. Kotor does have a couple of cruise ships visit every day, but its small port in Boka Bay is a limiting factor. The presence of cruise ships is under increasing scrutiny, as this shallow and enclosed bay area is easily damaged by the ships and their anchors.

The walk up to San Giovanni fortress

Kotor has a lovely old town and an impressive city wall leading up to an ancient fortress. One of the more popular pursuits in town is climbing up to the fortress, either by going up to 1300-plus steps or by climbing a trail with many switchbacks just outside the city wall.  We got up early one morning, to beat both the heat and the crowds, and climbed up the switchbacks, visited the fort, and returned to town taking the steps down. It was a fun outing and took only a little over three hours, total. This makes a nice walk up for a sunset as well, however, I did not envy the people who made up the stream of flashlights we saw coming down the steps one evening.

John on the trail with the fortress above
Turnoff to get to the fortress
St. Ivan’s church, on the walk up to San Giovanni fortress
Frescoes in St. Ivan’s are mostly gone
Getting to the fortress required climbing this ladder and crawling through the window
Whew! Finally got up to the fortress, almost 1000 feet above sea level
Now it’s time to go down the 1300+ steps
Our Lady of Health church, halfway down the mountain
Later on, we took a swim at the small beach, a few minutes walk from the Old Town

Perast

Perast is a short bus ride from Kotor and is a quaint little Venetian village with lovely waterside cafes and beautiful buildings. The most popular activity in Perast is taking a short boat ride out to Our Lady of the Rocks, a 17th century church, which is situated on a man-made island. The island began as a pile of rocks in the middle of Boka Bay where two fishermen noticed an image of the Virgin Mary on July 22, 1452. Over time, more rocks, and even sunken ships, were contributed to the growing island. A tradition continues to this day in which people in the village of Perast take rocks out on boats and deposit them on the island every year on July 22.

Beautiful little Venetian village of Perast, a few miles down the road from Kotor
Our Lady of the Rocks Church on an island in Boka Bay

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