Episode 222 – Stunning Montenegro

March 14, 2022. 57°F/14°C

#myvikingstory

We docked today in a protected port in the Adriatic, and were told to be sure to photograph the fjords as we entered (are they called fjords even though they were formed by the shift in tectonic plates and not by glaciers?), so Ted was up with the sun (and his camera) at 6 a.m.

The sail in was STUNNING – the water so still and clear that it reflected the mountains and villages like a mirror.

Just look at that reflection!
A few more first impressions from our arrival.
Top: the island of Our Lady of the Rock, as seen during our sail-in.

Since we really knew nothing about Kotor or Montenegro, we opted to do two tours: the short included walking tour, and the optional “Highlights of Montenegro”.

The walking tour was only 90 minutes long – and started out chilly (hovering right around the freezing mark at 8:30 a.m.) but gave us a great overview of this walled city. The walls themselves date back to 1420 during the Venetian period of rule here.

We entered the walled city through a gate updated with a quote from the Tito era, when Montenegro was part of Yugoslavia. Our guide translated it roughly as “we don’t want anything which is not ours, but we will not give up those things which are”.

STUNNING. STUNNING. STUNNING. (That might be my word of the day for this port.). Kotor’s many squares, surrounded by palaces and churches, cafés and shops, are the very definition of picturesque.

The walled city against the mountains. The obelisk on the right is the “shaming” place, where mediaeval criminals would be tied up to be mocked (and pelted with rotten fruit) by the citizenry.

The city has taken its UNESCO world heritage site designation very seriously. Buildings are identified with both their name and year built in both Montenegran and English on purple banners hung on gold rods. Our tour guide Marina emphasized that while the exteriors of buildings could not be modified, they were regularly cleaned and maintained to prevent any further deterioration; the result is that Kotor is one of the best preserved Late Middle Age walled cities in Europe.

The streets are paved in large multicoloured stones, in many places reminding me of Venetian Pierette and Pierot costumes with their diamond patterning.

There are cats everywhere! Kotor has for centuries been kept free of rodents by the city’s many cats.

Top: a bronze cat statue on a windowsill. Bottom: actual cats.

The Cathedral of St Tryphon predates the wall, having been constructed in the 12th century; it currently houses 14th century frescoes and artifacts. The bell towers were severely damaged by an earthquake in the 1600s, and rebuilt, although the city ran out of money before the left side could be fully completed.

Top left: The exterior with its incomplete tower.
Top right: image of St. Tryphon cradling Kotor, the city under his protection.
Bottom left: the gorgeous stone interior of the church. Bottom right: one of the columns from an ancient temple incorporated into the construction of the church in 1166 AD.

We also had a chance to visit the maritime museum, housed in the former Gregorina Palace, where among other things we got a better idea of where we were docked from this relief map displayed there (the red line and arrow are mine).

Some of the museum’s interesting displays. Top left: traditional Montenegran garments from the early 20th century. Top right: lemonwood furniture and flooring from the museum’s years as a nobleman’s home. Bottom left & right: ceremonial weaponry decorated with silver and mother of pearl.

After touring the city, we returned to the ship via the beautiful new port buildings for a brief warm-up cappuccino break before joining our second tour at 11:15.

We’d been forewarned about the twisty mountain road overlooking the Adriatic that we’d be taking to Njegusconi, but can you ever really be adequately prepared for 25 “serpentines” (hairpin switchbacks) that take you 900 metres/3000 feet up? Even if you could, nothing could prepare you for meeting a cement mixer coming in the opposite direction on a single lane (but bizarrely 2-direction) road and having your huge tour bus back down through a curve! Our driver, Bojan, was fearless (but not as fearless as the other cement truck driver we encountered who backed his truck up while talking on his cell phone!) Clearly when this road was originally built more than a century ago no one could have imagined either tour buses or cement trucks using it!

The views over the bay as we climbed were STUNNING.

Top: view from the 10th serpentine. Second: view from the 24th serpentine. Bottom: slightly zoomed in view from the 25th serpentine. You can tell how high we are by how tiny our ship looks.
At the 25th serpentine we parked in a widening of the road for a photo op. Thanks go to fellow passenger Candyce for snapping our picture.

In the village of Njegusconi (birthplace of Petar II Petrović ) at the top of Lovćen Mountain we stopped for a snack of the local prosciutto (a recipe quite different from the Italian version, and maybe even more delicious), the town’s iconic Njeguški sir cheese, fresh crusty bread, and a choice of Montenegran wine or beer. I thoroughly enjoyed the white wine, Krstach, and Ted really liked the Nikšičko beer.

Although I keep insisting I’m not going to buy anything, I picked up a handwoven wool scarf from one of the village women. I hope that my daughter-in-law, who feels the cold, will find it cozy.

Our journey continued on a much less thrilling two lane road to the former royal capital city of Montenegro, Cetinje, where we toured the King Nikolas Museum, located in the palace/villa that he built for one of his daughters but later occupied himself when that daughter decided to live in Venice. The outside of the palace is extremely plain, as is the style in Montenegro, but the furnishings and decor of the interior rooms was, again, STUNNING.

Top: museum/palace exterior. Bottom L to R: Nikolas I coat of arms (in Cyrillic script an N looks like an H), one of Nikolas uniforms, the ornate wooden floor.
Top L to R: the king’s bedroom, the queen’s bedroom, and one of the princesses’ bedrooms. Bottom: the formal reception room with its Persian rugs, silk-covered furnishings, Ming vases, and portraits of royalty from allied countries.
My favourite portraits were the huge ones of Nikolas and Alexandra, the last Romanov Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.

En route back to the ship we had views of the beach and resort area of Budva, and got a glimpse of the modern side of Montenegro. For a country of only 680,000 people, it has both the infrastructure and natural beauty to draw over 1 million tourists annually in non-Covid years.

We continued our STUNNING day with what might be my favourite menu to date at the Chef’s Table: A Taste of Thailand.

Top: Thai royal leaf wrap, consisting of foie gras seasoned with herbs, dried shrimp, roasted coconut flakes and tamarind, served with a tart and sweet orange slice, all of which was eaten wrapped in a Boston lettuce leaf, and accompanied with a Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Washington State Riesling. Centre left: tuna tartare Thai style, surprisingly served with fresh strawberries and chili dressing, accompanied by a black tapioca cracker and a Chilean Lagar de Bezana rosé wine. Centre right: Tom Yum lobster bisque, accompanied by a lobster croquette and siracha aioli. Bottom left: Massaman curry braised short ribs with coconut gnocchi (!) and orange and edamame salsa accompanied by an Altano Organic red wine from the Duoro region of Portugal. Bottom right: dessert of sticky rice and mango spring rolls, black sesame ice cream, and mango, accompanied by a sweet Domaine de Montgilet Chenin Blanc.

To top it all off, guest pianist Adam Johnson presented “A Night in Vienna”. Perfection.

Bittersweet goodbyes: Our room steward Albert left us today to rejoin his wife and 2 young daughters in the Philippines for a couple of months before his next Viking cruise contract. We’re sad to lose him, but nonetheless have been helping him count down the days to his reunion with his adorable girls. Kotor is the departure spot for many of the ship’s current housekeeping staff, including the ship’s delightful and oh-so-organized Head Housekeeper, Sonette, as well as for Farrel, who has been the unfailingly accommodating maitre d for the Chef’s Table since we boarded in December. We’ve already met Julie, our new room steward, and know that we’ll get to love her as much as we did Albert (plus, Albert passed on the secrets of what kinds of snacks Ted likes stocked in the mini-fridge). We’re seeing daily that Viking does an incredible job of hiring first-class crew in every role.

11 comments

  1. We loved Kotor! Surprised you didn’t mention the chain across the narrowest part of the fjord that was used to keep out enemy ships.

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  2. Hi Rose, I have never heard of “A Taste of Thailand” Chef’s Table menu. Is it new and do you have a photo of the menu? Thanks.

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  3. Love your blogs. It makes the fight against COVID a little more tolerable. Now I can dream of cruising a few minutes a day. We have made two Viking cruises and are awaiting this September for a cruise from Vancouver to Tokyo.

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  4. Your blog has reminded me of our interest in going there! Thanks. We’d seen ads on European TV to visit. Also the Montenegro Olympic ski team raved about their homeland. I now see why! How great that you got to explore during a very low tourist time. What a treat!

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