Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Exploring the "Black Mountains", Montenegro ..... July 2009

17 - 27 July 2009

***Regatta Week in Montenegro gave Mark a chance to go racing on British yacht Monty B*** Annual festival at Perast making their way out to Our Lady of the Rock*** Overlooking Lake Skadar, the biggest bird sanctuary in Europe*** Looking down into the fjord-like inland waterway with Our Lady of the Rock in the foreground***

When we headed for Montenegro, this small new country, with a compact inland waterway for a coastline we expected to spend the week exploring the few small bays dotted around with shallow enough water to anchor. We had heard from cruiser friends via our morning 'radio net' that there was a new marina there offering free berths but we didn't know where. Then we were lucky enough to make contact with friends on Samsara who had found it and gave us details. After clearing customs we headed straight to PortoMontenegro Marina in Tivat. We decided to stay the duration of our cruising permit in the marina and discover Montenegro by land instead, a great idea!!

Tivat is a small tidy town set along the waterfront with a busy beachfront and bustling outdoor cafe scene. Their summer music festival was on, so there was live music every night set in a small outdoor theatre against a backdrop of a floodlit ancient stone wall and crypt, magical. We strolled up every night at 9.30pm and enjoyed a mix of styles, never quite sure what we were in for as we couldn't understand any of the programme, one night was a children's pantomime - we gave that one a miss and went for a gelato instead !!

The two day Montenegro Sailing Regatta was also on, Mark was offered a spot onboard Monty B, our dock neighbour in the marina. The winds were light and fluky, the fleet varied but a good time was had by all and he enjoyed being out racing again.

We took the local bus around to the ancient walled town of Kotor, it sits at the end of a very deep fjord in a magnificent location. The castle walls rise high above the town, clawing into the steep mountainside. It is a beautiful small town in excellent condition. Its narrow alleys are a maze, originally designed this way to confuse unwelcome intruders. There are churches everywhere, cafes, restaurants and a few boutique shops, but this is also home to many locals and the sight of laundry hanging from windows and balconies above certainly gives it that 'lived in' feeling. We visited 4 times during our stay, one night to attend a well advertised concert - we had a pizza in the square then set out for the concert but couldn't find it in the maze, we asked several people but ended up admitting defeat and headed home, next time we were there we discovered the indoor concert venue was no more than 50 feet from where we had had our pizza, but we had been looking for an outdoor theatre!!!

We also visited Perast, a tiny waterfront village tucked between the deep fjord and mountains. It was July 22 and on this day for the past 550 years the locals make their way out by boat to a tiny island they have 'built' and throw stones overboard. This construction was helped by the sinking of 87 captured ships here!! Still, it is a part of their history and we enjoyed watching the procession and taking part in the festivities.

On another day we hired a car and set off to explore inland. First we headed south along the coast and saw Budva again, still looking just as manic as when we had visited on Balvenie so we headed inland to the old capital of Cetinje. It is now a small town, almost crumbling down but it still has some beautiful buildings in leafy lanes from the days in the late 19th century when it housed the government. Some of the old embassy buildings and former parliament building have been restored and house museums and art galleries, and some are art and music schools. It would all be splendid if restored, but for now has a feeling of decay with little hope of returning to its former glory. Next stop was to see the old stone bridge in the tiny hamlet at Rijeka Crnojevica, down a narrow twisting road into a valley, the road signs were few and far between and our map somewhat lacking in detail and we were quite amazed we actually found it. After the outstanding bridges we had recently seen in Zagora, Greece this wasn't anything too special but the scenery was worth the trip.

We carried on in the car to Lake Skarda home to the biggest bird sanctuary in Europe. The road was narrow, with potholes that big they nearly consumed our little VW Polo, but the views down over the lake were spectacular. We stopped for a late lunch but decided against a boat trip out on the lake, no doubt the best way to view all the birds, but when you live on a boat it's very difficult to pay for a boat trip!!! With many hours of daylight left we travelled further inland skirting the present capital of Podgorica, ghastly looking place with row upon row of concrete block square multi-storey apartment bunkers, no obvious town planning, no trees, rubbish everywhere, set on a flat plain surrounded by uninspiring countryside. Such a huge contrast in an otherwise clean, green, scenic country.

Our next challenge was to visit the Ostrog Monastery, the Lonely Planet describes it as 'precipitously resting on a cliff face 900m above the Zeta valley on a long and windy road'. Maybe we should have read into that, that the long and windy road would also precipitously rest on the cliff face. I can only describe it as terrifying, one lane wide for two lanes of traffic, potholes even bigger than before, passing spaces few and far between and a steady stream of traffic. The views again were spectacular of course and the monastery interesting, but I was extremely pleased to be back down on the flat in one piece. Then it was time to head on back home to Tivat. Still using our very vague map we travelled down more one lane country roads, past tiny villages with houses still showing obvious signs of the recent war. We found compact vineyards around the village boarders, fertile valleys with fruit trees, farmers tending their fields and eventually we turned a corner and our pothole ridden track turned into a two lane highway for the final half hour as we descended on this deserted ghost road from nowhere, down to the waters edge not far from Perast. After 300kms we made it home to Balvenie, what a great day and a beautiful country.

Sightseeing info:-

The buses go from Tivat to Kotor hourly and take about 40minutes around the waterfront. 1.50E pp ow

Our VW Polo was 50E for the day and fuel was 20E, organized through Sip Travel in Tivat ph (382)32670090. They were very helpful and spoke enough English. It is compulsory to have your lights on at all times when driving (why????)

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