The captain recommended the passengers make an early wake up (6 a.m.) to view the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Absolutely beautiful. He pointed out an old submarine repair station (a tunnel in the side of the “mountain”) and several small war ships sitting derelict along the shore. We could hardly peel ourselves away from the windy deck to sit down to breakfast (we watched out the windows the entire time). Our last paid tour took place very early, and overall I must say Montenegro is definitely a place to visit! The tour took us to a number of locations in the country, starting with a trip up 25 switchbacks to get over the mountain. I call them stitches. Seriously, look at Google Maps. In fact, the tour guide described it as the civil engineer’s best work (I’d have to agree, now that my heart is back to normal after the harrowing corners our bus took). Oh, and what a view! The Bay of Kotor is listed by UNESCO as one of the most beautiful bays in the world. I can see why.
Our first stop was in a small village that produces the smoked ham that is one of the country’s specialties. The curing/smoking process takes an entire year to complete! The bus pulled into a quaint restaurant to sample the ham and local cheese, as well as the local wine for those so inclined. I have to say the ham (like a prosciutto) did have a delicate distinct flavor not at all bad.
The next stop was in Cetinje, the former capitol, when it was still a kingdom (prior to Yugoslavia). The mountain village only held several thousand inhabitants. The entire country, now, is just over half a million people. The limestone mountains make for an interesting history and difficult expansion. Our guide walked us through the St. Nicholas Museum, once the palace of the royal family, then gave us a couple minutes to wander back to the bus on our own. At this point we met up with the highway, so no more crazy scary roads!
Back down the mountains the bus made its way through a larger (35,000 inhabitants) town of Budva, now famous for its hotel used in the recent Casino Royale movie. Following the highway was our last stop back in Kotor. The guide took us in a circle route around Old Kotor, surrounded by an old wall, then left us to discover whatever we wished. This was the most time we got on our own, and Herr and I decided to walk up to the mountain’s fort by way of the miniature “China Wall”. Granted, in retrospect, this was a bad idea in the bright sun in the middle of the afternoon, so about halfway we went our separate ways. Herr was determined to see the top, and I was determined not to pass out from heat exhaustion. I did a little shopping while cooling off in the shade of the buildings and hightailed it back to the ship. I did have a scoop of samalad (ice cream!) and found it quite agreeable. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind living there.
Thursday was the first day on the cruise we did not take a pre-packaged shore excursion. The ship dropped anchor in the bay outside of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and we took our ship’s own tenders right up to the walled old city (another UNESCO site, woohoo!). The first order of business was to get the local money, the Kuna. Croatia does not use the euro, although many shops will take it. The main street has smooth white paving stones and the shops all have arched doorways. The wall runs very high and allows easy views of the famous red tiled roofs (many tiles had to be replaced because of earthquakes and the recent war).
We found the morning market first, which was cute. The cathedral and Rector’s Palace were just around the corner, so our first stop was the palace. Inside was a museum with historical artifacts of Dubrovnik, which was a nice relaxed introduction to the city. The ticket covered three museums, so after a quick stop inside the cathedral, we walked to the pier to visit the Maritime Museum. It was located on the upper floor of an old fort attached to the wall and had some interesting information about maritime activities in the city over the years (Dubrovnik was a major port for hundreds of years). The museum itself is simply one room and is thusly a quick visit.
Luckily, the city wall connects right at the museum entrance, so we were fortunate enough to walk part of the wall for free! It was great to enjoy the view of the port and get a close look at the roof tiles before descending again. We were at the drawbridge gate at that point and used the opportunity to go outside the wall and up the cable car for an overarching city view. The sun was beating down, so after exploring some of the bunker ruins from the 1991-2 war, we had a lovely seafood lunch with much of the cafe to ourselves (everyone else was eating outside) with the best indoor view. We went back down, did some shopping, and came across the St. Ignatius church before heading back to the ship for a big barbecue buffet.
Our last day on the cruise, we made a brief half-day stop in Hvar, Croatia. Hvar is known as one of the sunniest islands in the world as well as the longest at 33 miles along the Dalmatian Coast. And lavender. Lots of lavender, although the fields weren’t visible from the port city (sigh). We made it on the first tender out bright and early around 7:45 a.m. when the city was still waking up. The port opens right into the main square with the arsenal and clock tower posted at the corners. The first road off the main square is also the main gate into the old city. And then there were stairs. Lots of stairs. Again. Again! All of the old city streets are paved with white marble stones, so they were slightly slippery going up. Hvar is a small town though, so it was a short ascent to the gate of the Spanola Fortica (the Fortress), and the rest of the climb was on an easy sloping path.
The fortress had many uses over its existence, but the primary purpose was always in defense of the city. Along the path up, we jogged off a bit to see the fortress’s church. In the fortress itself, we saw a small amphorae exhibit and the prisons on top of the view. We took a different “street” back down into the old city and saw the old well, a small church, and the vegetable market just on the other side of the wall at the bottom. Just a quick peak in the main cathedral on the square before we poked our heads into a couple of shops. I found some lavender and had a bit of ice cream before returning to the ship.
We intentionally made the city visit short so we could try out the marina on board. Herr went water skiing while I hung out on the inflatable trampoline, slide, and water mat. It took some building up of courage to get into the briny cold water, but at least the sun warmed us up quite nicely. Since it was our last day on the ship with a morning arrival in Venice the next day, we had to pack our bags and get ready for our time back in Italy.