Kotor, Montenegro

Has Anyone Seen James Bond? I first became aware of Montenegro while watching the James Bond movie Casino Royal. Since then, it has shown up in several spy-related programs as an area of intrigue.

Kotor was all I had envisioned, and more. We got up early, and were on deck by 7AM to watch our entry into the spectacular fjord that provides sheltered access to the harbor. Because of the early hour, photos did not do justice to the incredible views and scenes of villages seeming to tumble into the sea. As we entered Kotor Bay, the Captain spotted dolphin ‘dead ahead’ of the ship, headed starboard; our daughter was lucky to see them.

The two islands of St. George and Lady of the Rock were circumnavigated during our entry. The Lady of the Rock has special meaning to our captain, as well as to all other sailors since 1452, who have made offerings for a safe journey. The legend explains a local fisherman found an icon of the Virgin and Christ on a rock in this location. Since then, sailors and captains have added stones and rocks to the site creating the only artificial island in the Adriatic. The church was rebuilt in 1632, and now houses a small museum, as well as an altar with the original icon. After months of paperwork, Azamara Quest’s Captain Carl Smith recently got permission to make an offering, and has added a special rock to the shrine.

One disadvantage of being on a cruise is you don’t always get to see the surrounding area – so we have tried to get into the countryside whenever possible so that we may truly experience what Croatia and Montenegro have to offer. Today was no exception, as we piled into a bus for the long trip to a national park that is home to the Crnojevica River and Skader Lake. We drove from Kotor’s Boka Bay along the beautiful coast, known as the Riviera of Budva, and along interior mountain roads through the Grbalj Valley, often with a sheer drop inches from the bus. Looking out the window was not for the fainthearted. Along the way we learned about the fascinating and, as typical of this region, complex history of Montenegro. It’s no wonder it is a place of intrigue.

We eventually reached the settlement of Rijeka Crnojevica for a rest stop and then on to our two-hour boat ride starting at the narrowest part of the river and ending at the lake. We enjoyed seeing mountains, some of which are actually part of the Alps, distant monasteries (there are 12 on the Lake), local fishermen and the occasional passing boat. It was an odd juxtaposition to see sawgrass and what looked like bamboo, along with water lilies, herons and seagulls in such a setting. The mountains in the distance belong to Albania, which actually shares ownership of this lake, the largest in the Balkan Peninsula.

Along the way, we were served some refreshments of goat cheese and a fried bread with honey as well as a clear local cordial which was also referred to as “firewater” and tasted like straight PGA (pure grain alcohol). Mom and I had already experienced similar locally-made beverages and so were forewarned; my husband and daughter took one sip and dumped theirs in the Lake.

We landed in Virpazar and had a lunch of fish soup and fresh grilled trout at a nice outdoor restaurant. Afterwards, we had a two-hour journey back along a lower coastal road. For those who could stay awake, the scenery was still stunning.

Once back, we walked into the walled town of Kotor. The medieval town is completely walled, and so perfectly enchanting it does not seem real. I felt like we were strolling around a pre-planned amusement park exhibit or maybe a movie set. The town was clean and filled with high-end shops, and a café of some sort was always in sight. The churches were quaint; the streets beautifully cut stone and colorful flowers and brightly painted shutters added to the charm. We even saw a few cats. All of this is enhanced by the mountains soaring overhead and the castle/fortress nestled far above us like a crown.

Just another day in a fairytale – waiting for a knight to come around the bend . . . .

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