Montenegro

Tours from Dubrovnik are difficult to find in winter, so I was happy to book a tour to Montenegro with GetYourGuide, a Berlin-based company operating throughout Europe. It was a full day led by local Amico Tours. I’m considering Montenegro or Sarajevo as my next stop and day trips will help me decide.

Mausoleum of Njegos Lovcen Mountain Montenegro

We began at 7 am and returned to Dubrovnik 11 hours later. Our group of five included a Chinese mother and daughter from Shanghai on an extended European trip, a young couple from Santiago Chile, and me. Our Bosnian guide and driver shared fascinating history, geography, culture, and folktales with us. As usual the vast amount of information was a bit overwhelming – at least for me.

View from Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum – Old Town Kotor Hostel

Our Lady of the Rocks and Benedictine Monastery Islands Perast – dubrovnik-tours.hr

Winter Weather Croatia and Montenegro

I’m learning about weather in the Balkans and had rescheduled once because of heavy rain. Winter rain patterns come fast and furious and can clear quickly, but not always. When rain is in the forecast it doesn’t necessarily mean all day, and for a winter day trip, rain or shine is usually OK. We had heavy morning rain with a few rays of sunshine in the afternoon followed by light rain. It wasn’t a great day for photography. The humidity was daunting and even with a raincoat and umbrella, I got wet.

Kotor Clocktower

Konavle Valley and Bay of Kotor

Our southeast route to Montenegro passed small villages like Mlini and Cavtat, birthplace of Croatian painter Vlaho Bukovac, and continued through the Konavle Valley to the Bay of Kotor. The fertile valley is sometimes called the Gulf of Croatia. It’s known for granaries, canals, and abundant “waterfalls and watermills” generated from the Ljuta, Kopačica, and Konavočica Rivers.

Croatian Painter Vlaho Bukovac

Budva Old Town – Chasing the Donkey

On the way to Kotor we passed several Montenegrin villages – Herceg Novi, BijelaVerige, DobrotaPerast, and Risan. Over the years, Illyrians, Romans, Slavs, Celts, Greeks, Venetians, Spaniards, French, Ottomans, pirates, and others invaded Montenegro. The small country finally gained independence in 2006.

Church of St. Luke Kotor – Travel East

Although Montenegro just started the process of joining the EU, the Euro is already its local currency. Today there’s a strong Russian influence, and in recent years wealthy Russian investors have changed Montenegro.

Kotor St. Nikola Church

Perast

A UNESCO World heritage site, Perast is a quiet Balkan village. We stopped for coffee and even with rain and poor visibility marveled at the bay and its two tiny islands. One is home to Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Škrpjela) Church and the other Saint George Benedictine Monastery. St. George Island is closed to tourists but during the summer, you can take a boat to visit Our Lady of the Rocks.

Perast Marina

Our Lady of the Rocks is a man-made island. “The island’s folklore began on July 22, 1452 when two sailors returning from a difficult voyage discovered an icon of the Madonna and Child resting on a rock in a shallow part of the Bay. They considered their find a miracle and vowed to build a church on the spot. Over time the sailors slowly created an islet by dropping stones around the spot where they found the icon. Eventually they built a small chapel.”

Sokol Tower Konavle Valley – Adventure Dalmatia

Over the years dropping stones in the water around the church became a tradition for sailors. The ritual had a dual purpose – strengthening the tiny island’s foundation and “asking the Virgin Mother to bring them safely home”. Today the tradition is part of “one of Europe’s oldest sailing regattas, the Fašinada“.

Dobrota Village Montenegro – mylittleadventure

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Unique to Perast, “during the Fašinada Regatta, at sunset on July 22 countless local boats decorated with garlands sail out into Kotor’s Boka Bay to drop a stone around the island and Our Lady of the Rocks Church.”

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Kotor City Walls to St. John Fort – montenegro-for.me

The church contains 68 paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a 17th-century baroque artist from Perast. There are also paintings by Italian masters, and an icon (circa 1452) of Our Lady of the Rocks by Venetian painter Lovro Dobričević.

Tripo Kokolja Sibile from the Church of Our Lady of Škrpjela

Map of Balkan Countries

“The church has a collection of silver votive tablets and a tapestry embroidered by Jacinta Kunić-Mijović, the wife of a Montenegrin seaman. It took her 25 years to finish the tapestry made while she waited for her husband to return from long journeys at sea. She used golden and silver fibers, but what makes the tapestry famous is that she embroidered her own hair in it.” The folktale goes that the hair woven changed from dark to gray as she grew older.

Kotor Montenegro – croisieurope

Saint George is a natural island. It’s home to 12th century Saint George Benedictine Monastery and has an old graveyard for Perast and Kotor nobility.

St. Triphon’s Cathedral Kotor

Verige and Risan

Verige (chains in Croatian) is named for chains that were placed throughout its bay to damage or sink enemy ships. Inaccessible limestone cliffs helped protect Risan from pirates and other invaders. Konavle Cliffs are part of the Orjen mountain range in the Adriatic Dinarides. Risan has a famous Roman villa with mosaics dating from the 2nd and early 3rd century AD. Today it’s a popular beach town.

Island of St. George Perast – @poseidonsreach

Side View Church of St. Luke Kotor

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“For about 12.5 miles, the steep inaccessible limestone Cliffs of Konavle sprawl along the coast from Cavtat to Molunat and fall vertically into the Adriatic Sea.”

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Medieval Street Budvar Old Town

Kotor

Kotor is one of the “prettiest towns in Montenegro”, known for its ancient fortified city walls, Venetian-inspired architecture, and maritime history. It’s located “deep down the Boka Kotorska Bay” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kotor Canal Kampana Tower

There are many interesting churches, palaces, and monasteries in Kotor, especially the Cathedral of Sveti Tripun “mentioned for the first time in IX century.” It’s a symbol of the city and the seat of the Catholic Bishopric of Kotor.

Kotor Old Town Clock Tower Montenegro

There are ten churches in Kotor and Orthodox Christians outnumber Catholics. Locals have “acknowledged the peaceful coexistence between the two religions”. Orthodox Christians attend or partake in Catholic celebrations and vice versa. Kotor’s Christmas season lasts into January since Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near January 7.

Kotor Palace Old Town

A hike to the top of the city walls leads to St. John Fortress and a phenomenal view of the Bay of Kotor! I was looking forward to the hike, but heavy rain and a notoriously slippery path made it too dangerous. The weather cleared a bit, and we got some stunning views and photos while continuing our journey into the hills.

Vlaho Bukovac Daydreams – largesizepaintings.blogspot.com

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Lord Byron famously called Montenegro’s coastline the planet’s ‘most beautiful encounter between land and sea’.

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House Old Town Kotor

The annual Lovcen International Hill-Climb Race takes place in the Kotor hills on dangerous curvy roads full of sharp turns. The race is named after Lovcen National Park in the Dinara Alps. During the 2018 race a driver survived a crash that sent his car somersaulting through the air into a boulder!

Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

The Dinaric Alps are part of the Balkan Dinara Mountain Range and a popular adventure sport location for climbing, hiking, skiing, and skydiving. Most of the Adriatic islands belong to this system because in earlier geo history the “western parts of the mountain range were partly submerged by seawater “.

Ferry from Lepetane to Kamenari – Doo Pomorski Saobraćaj

Budva

Budva is a popular Mediterranean tourist town known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant nightlife. Budva has over 30 sand, pebble, and rock beaches. The sand in some areas is an extraordinary pink from the color of local rocks. Near Budva there are endless possibilities for adventurous recreational activities. Lovcen National Park, Lake Skadar National Park, Durmitor National Park, Mount Ostrog, Tara Canyon, and Biogradska Gora National Park are just of few of many popular destinations.

Pink Sand Beach Sveti Stefan – depositphotos

Painting Vlaho Bukovac

Konavle Cliffs – Agroturizam Konavle

Budva’s famous award-winning nightclub Top Hill is one of the largest nightclubs in Europe. Open-air performances are 600 meters (2,000 feet) above the sea with magnificent Adriatic views.

St. Stefan Island – adriaicdmc.hr

I walked Budva’s Old Town in the rain. Smaller than Dubrovnik and Kotor it’s described as a “Venetian maze of cobblestone streets, anchored by a 15th century citadel”. Except for a few shops, it was a winter ghost town.

Konavle Canal – Just Dubrovnik

You can’t help but notice that many palm trees in Budva, Kotor, and Dubrovnik look dreadful. Our guide said this is because palm moths and weevils are killing them and no one has discovered a remedy. It’s really sad.

National Restaurant Konavoski Dvori Ljuta River Konavle

There are many stray cats in Budva and Dubrovnik. Our guide explained that the cats were brought to Montenegro and Dubrovnik during the Great Plague of 1738 to kill rats carrying the disease. Thousands died during the epidemic. To address the situation, Dubrovnik “issued an interesting decree where anyone who lived abroad had to spend 40 days in quarantine at one of the nearby islands before entering the city”.

St. John Fortress Kotor – Afar

Sveti Stefan, Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, Sokol Tower

Three interesting places we didn’t visit on our tour are Sveti Stefan Island near Budva,  the Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, Montenegro’s greatest writer, and Sokol Tower, a medieval remain near Dubrovnik. I’d like to visit Petar Petrovic Njegos Mausoleum, and Sokol Tower, but they’re both in isolated locations and would require hiring a guide for a private tour – for a solo traveler, very expensive in winter.

Verige – Montenegro Travel

Sveti Stefan

Sveti Stefan is one of the “most famous and prestigious places in Montenegro”. It’s a tiny island near Budva. Once a fishing village, it’s now a high-end five-star luxury resort. It’s connected to the mainland by a narrow bridge, with “stone houses packed together on top of the rocks”. Guests “stay in individual rooms or rent entire villas with private pools, terraces, and magnificent sea views”.

Orjen Mountain Range Dinaric Alps – discover-montenegro.com

Petar II Petrović-Njegoš Mausoleum

Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, was a revered ruler, poet, and philosopher. His magnificent mausoleum is situated at the top of the second-highest peak on Mount Lovćen, Jezerski Vrh (1657 m). “To get there you climb 461 steps to the entrance where two granite giants guard the tomb of Montenegro’s greatest writer”.

Our Lady of the Rocks, Venetian Painter Lovro Dobričević

View from Petar II Petrović-Njegoš Mausoleum

Mausoleum of Petar II Petrović Njegoš – Michael Tyler atlasobscura

Sokol Tower

The earliest records of Sokol Tower appear in Dubrovnik archives from 1391. The isolated location “suggests that a fortress existed on this spot since the time of the Illyrians, Greeks, and Romans”. Sokol Tower was “a weapons arsenal and used for storing emergency supplies”. The tower survived the great earthquake of 1667. It’s now owned by the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities.

Inside Kotor Cathedral

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The view from Petar II Petrović-Njegoš Mausoleum is breathtaking – “it’s the best panoramic view of Montenegro”.

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Side Street Old Town Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

Luxury Yachts and Resorts

Montenegro and Croatia are popular summer destinations for Europe’s rich. Rapid development in Montenegro is obvious from the unseemly mix of new and old architecture in some areas. Wealthy Russians and Germans purchased land and built apartments and luxury resorts that are out of character with existing medieval architecture. This is especially noticeable in Budva, known for government corruption. There are no building restrictions or codes, but hopefully this will change.

Saint George Benedictine Monastery Perast Montenegro – Emerging Europe

Owners of luxury yachts often visit Montenegro and Croatia. I forget the details of a new port being built near Herceg Novi to accommodate the summer onslaught of superyachts. One superyacht, Eclipse, owned by German billionaire Roman Abramovich visits the area annually.

Budva Montenegro – adriaticdmc.hr

Back to Dubrovnik

At the end of the day we took the ferry from Lepetane to Kamenari to cross the Bay of Kotor heading back to Dubrovnik. There were few tourists on the ferry and it was fun mingling with locals. Of course each way we had border crossings which in summer can require as long as 10 hours of waiting!!! Compared to borders in Africa and South America, the border crossings were tame.

Yugoslavia

This blog post is long – there’s so much to learn about the area, including Adriatic culture, Balkan War, and the Croatian War of Independence. Every village along the Bay of Kotor has a unique, interesting story. Glad I have more time here!

God Hypnos on Mosaic Risan Montenegro

Church of St. Mary Kotor – Travel East

Walking The Walls Old Town Dubrovnik

Yesterday was perfect for Walking Dubrovnik’s Walls – crisp temperature, sunny sky, wisps of clouds, slight wind, and only a few selfie-taking tourists. Walking the walls is a “must” for visitors, but I waited a few days to learn Old Town’s layout.

The fee for the walk is 200 HRK ($30), good for one day only. Walking the wall takes 1.5 – 3 hours depending on how often you stop to take photos and admire the spectacular 360 degree views.

Glad I waited, as recognizing the fortresses and other major buildings made the walk more rewarding. The beautiful architecture reflects Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque influences, and the seascapes simply take your breath away. In the distance, I could see the tip of a snow-topped Balkan mountain peak in Montenegro.

My next project is visiting Dubrovnik’s beautiful churches and monasteries. Their crosses, bells, and cathedral domes are prominent from the walls.

I recommend the walk! No words can describe the magnificent views. Photos are good for sharing but the experience remains with you forever!

Later, I decided to visit unexplored suburban areas nearby. Old Town is its own unique, fascinating world but there’s more to Dubrovnik. Of course I got lost and contemplated calling Uber but toughed it out and dealt with my dilemma.

I shopped at the Tommy Market and it was difficult walking back lugging my bags up a series of ultra-steep steps. Locals provided different opinions on the right bus to take and where to catch it. One elderly lady was so sweet. She didn’t speak English but clearly understood what was going on and motioned to show her the bus number with my fingers. At that point I had heard, 3, 5, 7, 8, 1a, and 1b. I held up 8 fingers and she smiled and nodded her head – yeah, at last the right bus stop!

Dubrovnik City Walls – Ideoz Voyages

Finally caught the right bus but not without angst. I knew which direction, because my flat is on a hill below the cable car – an easy to spot reference point. Dubrovnik’s bus routes don’t show up on Google Maps, and pointing at my destination wasn’t an effective way to get directions. Most buses make a loop from Old Town but none of the routes seem straight forward, and stops aren’t always marked. Later I learned that the 3 and 5 buses get me to the same place :o( …

The area where I got lost is Luka Gruž on the west side near the Port of Dubrovnik. There are interesting ships in the harbor. I walked there previously with my head in the clouds. Now I know how to get there and will return to continue exploring.

Port of Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik Cable Car

Luka Gruž – dubrovnikdigest.com

More later…

Dubrovnik Reflections

Stradun Old Town in Winter – Culture Trip

It’s an understatement that Dubrovnik is a vast change from Berlin! With the 90/180 visa rule, I had to exit EU Schengen countries and there weren’t many options. Croatia was the right choice.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

Dubrovnik in Winter

Some say visiting Dubrovnik in winter is crazy, but I love the time here, even though it can get windy and cold. Locals clearly prefer warm Mediterranean weather and grumble when it gets below 50. Winter temperatures are steady in the 40s – 50s with chilly nights in the 30s. Most days are crisp and clear emphasizing a backdrop of sea and mountains! I met a tourist from Chicago who said Dubrovnik’s winter weather seemed almost like spring. It’s ideal for hiking and winter festivals are fun. 

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik – Total Croatia News

Long-Term Travel

Long-term travel is a much different experience than short-term group or family trips. The goal is staying a while and being low-key, forgetting yourself, getting comfortable mingling, and learning to understand a country’s culture, people, and day-to-day life. I no longer try to explain the value of this to those who don’t understand and are even critical. However, as a solo traveler you must be self-reliant and cautious. I’ve made and survived many mistakes. Imperfection and the unknown are part of the adventure.

Stradun Old Town During Winter Festival

Getting Around

Getting around Dubrovnik requires effort but you grow accustomed to climbing and descending a series of steep stone steps. I started a morning yoga routine that seems to keep me limber. I enjoy daily walks, short hikes, and climbing the stairs on the way to and from my apartment – especially at dusk and sunset when the sky and sea are vivid and dramatic. With a car, good luck finding parking near Old Town.

Winter View of Old Town and Lokrum Island from Mt. Srd

Internet is fast and unlike Berlin, you don’t get slammed with excessive advertisements. Almost everything closes on Sunday which reminds me of South Africa years ago.

Dubrovnik’s Islands in Winter – Total Croatia News

People, Cats, Food

I’ve met some lovely locals and learned about Dubrovnik’s history. Most people speak English fairly well. During business hours they move quickly, but after hours it’s a different scene.

Winter Sunset Dubrovnik

People in Dubrovnik are down-to-earth and don’t make life complicated. Some men are flirtatious :o)… It’s fun to be noticed, but even at my age, flirting back isn’t always a good idea for solo women travelers.

Old Town Cat

Winter Adriatic Sea

I don’t know but think locals are slightly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing hordes of tourists. Of course they’re a great source of income, but the summer invasion makes a huge impact. I imagine they must grow weary of the onslaught when Old Town is literally teeming with bodies.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

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Winter is the time when locals “take back Dubrovnik”!

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Mt. Srd January 2019

I’ve noticed many stray cats – nothing like Istanbul. Most of them look healthy and like to be petted, but some are skittish and clearly feral. They’re clever and streetwise knowing when to run, which people to trust, and who in the crowd is likely to feed them at outdoor restaurants.

Statue of St Blaise Old Town Stari Grad Dubrovnik

Only a handful of restaurants are open during the winter – some better than others. Usually you can’t go wrong with seafood. So far, my favorite treat is olives! Green or black they’re absolutely divine – BIG smile. Croatian honey, dates, and oranges are also delicious. Markets around my apartment are small locally owned places with fantastic fresh produce and cheeses.

Mini Market Prima Dubrovnik

Winter Dusk before Sunset Dubrovnik

Politics, History, Money

Understanding politics in any country is a challenge, and I’m learning about Croatia through on-line newspapers and conversations with locals. What little I know about the complicated history of conflict between Dubrovnik and its Serbian neighbors is interesting, as is the Bosnian War from 20 years ago, and the Venetian, Napoleonic, and Ottoman invasions.

Church of St. Blaise and Orlando’s Column Old Town Dubrovnik

Croatia hasn’t adopted the Euro yet, but talks are in process for entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Some services quote rates in both Croatian Kuna and Euro – it’s confusing and there’s a big difference between the two! Taxi drivers give a price that sounds reasonable in Kuna and then when it’s time to pay, they say the price quoted was in Euro – usually an outrageous amount… My experiences with taxis in foreign countries haven’t been positive.

Portion of Steps Leading to Old Town

More Steps

Winter Limitations

It’s disappointing that during winter there are no swimming, kayaking, or boat excursions to Dubrovnik’s fabulous islands – that is unless you’re a polar bear swimmer. I’ve seen several brave souls venture out in the cold Adriatic Sea for brief early morning swims. It’s a daily ritual like with San Francisco’s Dolphin Club members who swim near Alcatraz in the cold Bay.

St. Blaise Holding Croatia in His Hand

In winter many Dubrovnik businesses close and locals take a break for a few months. It’s more difficult finding services like tours of Montenegro and Bosnia, but I’m considering the options. Of course you can rent a car and drive yourself. My last visit to Croatia was over five years ago in the summer, when I passed through Dubrovnik on the way to Split and Zagreb.

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik

Festival of St. Blaise

The Festival of St. Blaise of Sebaste, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It began as far back as 971 AD. This year, Dubrovnik celebrates St. Blaise from January 24 through February 3.  On Candlemas Day they release white doves (called The Blessing of the Throats) in front of the Church of St. Blaise and then raise St Blaise’s flag at Orlando’s Column. The ritual is dramatic and colorful. Activities include “concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances dedicated to the patron saint”.

Feast Day of Saint Blaise Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik Coast

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“Statues representing St. Blaise holding Dubrovnik in his hand are the most common sight alongside Dubrovnik’s City Walls.”

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Old Town Dubrovnik in Winter – Total Croatia News

Croatia & Surrounding Countries – infohost.nmt.edu

Next Stop?

I’m working my way south and considered Malta as the next stop, but it’s part of the Schengen visa block, so it won’t work. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Albania are of interest with Cyprus being the warmest climate. Since my last stop will be Cape Town, traveling via Cyprus is a good route but I’m doing research… Hopping over to Montenegro and spending a few weeks is an option. I’m enjoying the quiet, peaceful environment and of course Croatia’s people and incredible natural beauty!

More later…

Beautiful Dalmatian Coast Croatia

Evening View from Studio Apartment

Dubrovnik and the Mediterranean climate here are so beautiful, I’m at a loss for words. Still in orientation mode learning my way around and getting used to the steep hills and stone steps. Hopefully within a few days I’ll be moving faster. Today was slow and it’s noticeable that after the New Year celebration many tourists have departed.

At Medieval City Walls

My Studio Apartment – Top Windows

My small apartment is cozy and private. Best of all it’s a great vantage point for sunrises and sunsets! The biggest problem is maintaining a healthy diet and finding restaurants and markets where I can eat or buy food to prepare. Markets were closed today. Most restaurants serve delicious food, but many are super expensive. A happy medium is necessary and on an extended trip finding the right food takes time.

Old City

Old City Building

Tomorrow I’ll make plans for walking tours and more exploring. Montenegro and Bosnia are near. Day trips are easy and on the agenda.

Neighborhood House

Dubrovnik has a cable car – the only one on the Adriatic coast. The cable car runs between Old City and the peak of Mount Srdj. It doesn’t run as often in the winter, but I saw it running today, so it’s definitely on the list!

Sunset

My photography doesn’t do the vistas justice, but a few photos of Old City and the surrounding neighborhood are attached. More later…

Local Mediterranean Vegetation