Here in the Med, most people prefer to park their boat somewhere for the winter, rather than sail around. This is because, beginning in the late fall, the weather turns unpredictable at best, and downright snarly at worst. And it's cold. For several reasons, we opted to spend the winter (actually September through April) in Montenegro.
Don't feel bad, if you don't know where Montenegro is. A year and a half ago, Eric and I couldn't point it out on a map, either. Now we've spent eight months there. That's one of the cool aspects of cruising: you get to spend time in a place that you previously knew nothing about, and that you will learn lots about while you're there.
We left Cavtat, Croatia, on September 6, and motored the 30 miles to Tivat, Montenegro, where our winter home of Porto Montenegro Marina is located. When we turned the corner and headed into the Bay of Kotor (also known at the Boka), we were treated to vistas of jaw-dropping beauty: huge, craggy mountains plunging down to the calm water of the Boka, which reflected them back. Wow wow wow! You should Google some images of the Bay of Kotor. It's really that stunning. This sublimely beautiful place would be our home for the next eight months!
We motored past concrete bunkers perched on the rocky hillsides, and submarine hidey-holes bored into the hillsides at sea level, reminders of World War II, the Cold War, and the various other wars that the Balkan countries have fought.
We continued on until we reached Porto Montenegro Marina, where we tied Awildian to the Customs dock, and checked into Montenegro.
Farther along the same pontoon was the Black Pearl, at 350 feet, one of the largest sailing vessels in the world. Black Pearl would be our neighbor for most of our stay at Porto Montenegro.
One of the reasons that we chose Montenegro as our winter home, is that Porto Montenegro Marina arranges for its customers to obtain temporary Montenegrin residencies for the duration of their contracts. This was great for us, because otherwise, we would only have been allowed to be there for 90 days out of any 180 days. This is inconvenient, when your boat is your home.
Another reason was that its location was convenient for our travel plans: it was a short trip from Croatia, where we'd spent the summer, and would be a short trip to Greece, where we planned to spend the following summer.
Montenegro at a Glance
Montenegro and its neighbors
Situated between Croatia to the north and Albania to the south, Montenegro, at 5,333 square miles, is smaller in area than the state of Connecticut. It's also much less densely populated - 621,000 Montenegrins vs. 3.6 million Connecticuters (that's the real term for someone who lives in Connecticut, I looked it up). The Montenegrins call their country "Crna Gora" (pronounced "tserna gora"), which means "black mountain." An apt name for a mostly vertical nation.
The capital city of Montenegro is Podgorica. Formerly known as Titograd (named for Yugoslavia's president, Josip Tito), this sprawling city covers about ten percent of Montenegro's area, and is home to about a third of Montenegrins.
Montenegro - along with modern-day Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Kosovo - used to be part of Yugoslavia. Beginning with Croatia and Slovenia's declarations of independence in 1991, Yugoslavia eventually disintegrated. Montenegro joined forces with Serbia for awhile, becoming the unimaginatively-named country of Serbia and Montenegro, but re-declared its independence on 3 June 2006.
The official language of Montenegro is...Montenegrin. This language sounds surprisingly similar (some might even say identical) to Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian, because they're all varieties of the same language, Serbo-Croatian, which would have been known as Yugoslavian a generation ago. Some experts have said that these are considered different languages because of politics, rather than because of linguistics. But don't ever make the mistake of telling a Montenegrin that he speaks the same language as a Croatian, Bosnian, or Serbian. You'll get a very icy look and will be instantly corrected. I did this once, and I won't do it again. How does one say "faux pas" in Montenegrin....
The Montenegrin diet can be summed up in one word: meat. Montenegrins love their meat. There are entire restaurants devoted to grilled meat, where you order meat by the number of people who will be eating it, or by the kilogram if you prefer. There's a guy whose job it is, to stand in front of a big grill all day long, grilling meat: pork, beef, lamb, chicken, sausages.... If you're feeling a bit guilty, for the lack of non-meat in your meal, you can order french fries to go with it, or a salad or grilled veggies, if they have them. Montenegro is not a good place to eat out, if you're a vegetarian.
Exploring the Boka
The Bay of Kotor
The first month or so that we were in Montenegro, before we moved into the marina, we explored the Bay of Kotor, anchoring in one stunning anchorage after another, visiting medieval cities with walls and drawbridges and buildings that have been in continuous use for hundreds of years, exploring a defunct Club Med that was abruptly abandoned when the war with Croatia began in 1991, basically living our lives and getting to know our new surroundings.
Eric and a friend on the way back from grocery shopping
Some photos of the old Club Med
Some of the old huts
Check out this link
Abandoned Club Med
for more info about the former Club.
Kotor was built more than 2000 years ago, and has been continuously inhabited ever since. It's a fascinating place, with narrow, cobblestone lanes
a moat and a working drawbridge,
and many cats, who are looked after by Kotor's residents and shop owners.
Tucked between the Boka, a river, and a mountain, Kotor was easily defended. The old city wall runs up and along the steep mountainside just behind the town and is lit up at night. There's a hike that goes up there, too.
We celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with a dinner in a restaurant that had been built in the 1200s.
Built in the 1300s, this heavily-fortified old city stands on a hill across from the mouth of the Boka, looking out at the Adriatic Sea, with modern Herceg Novi sprawled out around it. We enjoyed exploring its walls and fortresses, and having a look at its statue of King Tvrtko I (who clearly needs to buy a vowel).
Herceg Novi from the sea
The sea from Herceg Novi
We walked up these steps (and lots of others) to get to the upper fortress...
...to find that it was closed for a function that day.
A flowering caper bush
But we explored the lower fortress
Herceg Novi's water polo stadium. Water polo is very popular in this part of the world.
We never get tired of following these narrow lanes
Besides the spectacular scenery, the other reason we came to Morinj is because other cruisers had reported that they'd taken their dinghy up the river that flows into the Boka here. Not ones to pass up a dinghy safari, we brought Awildian to Morinj. We were surprised when we took our dinghy to the river (really a stream),
and discovered that it was only a couple hundred meters long, ending at the pretty grounds of a restaurant that had been established in an old mill.
So we had lunch.
Near the end of September, the weather was predicted to get a bit nasty for a few days. Our friends, Kerstin and Andi, had their boat, Venus, at a tiny marina in the village of Prcanj, near Kotor. They checked with the owner, Maja, who said that she had space for us, if we wanted to come. So we did. Eric tucked Awildian between two other boats, and we spent about a week in this sweet little town. When the weather did eventually turn nasty, we were tucked up snugly in the marina to wait it out.
The pretty little marina at Prcanj
Awildian squeezed in
Feral pomegranates grow everywhere
When the weather was nice...
...and when it was not.
A beautiful friend who frequently visited the boat next to us.
A Road Trip Around Montenegro
One day, we took a road trip with our German friends, Andi and Kerstin, who had also traveled from Cavtat to Montenegro aboard their 21-foot sailboat, Venus. On our road trip, which lasted about twelve hours, we saw most of Montenegro, traveling inland from the coast through the scenic interior,
A scenic view of part of Lake Skadar
to beautiful, rugged Durmitor National Park in the northwest corner of the country.
The four of us
On our way back to the coast, we traced the beautiful Tara River Canyon, the deepest canyon in Europe, second in the world only to the Grand Canyon.
Tara River Canyon
Look closely and you'll see the zip lines going across
We declined to try the ziplines that were strung across the canyon, preferring to view the lovely river gorge from the relative safety of the bridge or strategically placed turnouts along the road.
In the next installment, we'll move into Porto Montenegro, meet lots of new friends, and I'll share some snapshots of what life is like in Montenegro.