It was time to leave the country. Across the hills, sneak over the border and visit Montenegro.
Left at the crack of dawn. Well, 8.15 is early when you’re on holiday! One stop to collect a German couple from another hotel along the way and off to the border crossing. It seems that it can be a bit variable how you’re handled on the crossing – either they aren’t very interested or they want to check everything. Leaving Croatia we had an enthusiastic customs official who walked through the coach checking everyone’s passport. Phew, got away with my photoshopped photo! Down the long stretch of road which is no man’s land were a number of buildings proclaiming themselves as Duty Free Shops. All looked long closed so no cheap bottles of gin here. At the crossing into Montenegro no one bothered to come and look at our passport! We were in!
First stop was a petrol station for a comfort break and a quick dose of caffeine. Onward we go.
First impressions were that Montenegro is not as affluent as Croatia (well, at least the areas we had seen around Dubrovnik). There seemed to be more rubbish around the sides of the road and the place looked generally less cared for. From the natural beauty point of view it is stunning. Very high mountains and lakes that connect to the sea. In some ways reminded us of the Italian Lakes.
First destination Risan and the Villa Urbana where we saw some 2nd and 3rd century Roman mosaics. Ever get the feeling that the Romans have always been there ahead of you?
Next we are off to Perast and onto the boat for a trip to the church of Our Lady of the Rocks. Particularly interesting is the fact that the island is manmade and took two hundred years of sinking old ships and dumping rocks to make it. As the lake is connected to the sea it experiences tides which, especially in the winter, move the rocks so they still have an annual event (pilgrimage) where they sail out and dump more rocks to keep the island stable. Beautiful collection of wall paintings in the chapel and a very enthusiastic guide!
Back on the coach and we’re off to the UNESCO protected town of Kotor which has a very fine set of walls. We gave walking them a miss this time! There is a fort high on the hill above the town with walls which clamber down to meet the city boundary – looks like a mini version of the Great Wall of China.
Lunch first, watched by an adoring cat who stuck his tongue out at us when he realised he wasn’t getting any. Then a walk around the narrow streets. It is a beautifully preserved town, well worth a visit and not polished within an inch of its life like old Dubrovnik is.
A visit to the cathedral of St Triphon (nope, no idea who he was). Very small and intimate feeling space. Up more steps to the terrace which overlooks the square (I think this holiday has been all about steps!) then it’s pretty much time to get back to the coach.
Having spent much of the day winding around the edge of the water we head back down the main road, past one of Montenegro’s two International Airports – not quite Heathrow – and then onto the ferry for the short cut. Back to the border where no one wanted to see our passports (although the Croatian sided kept us waiting longer to not see them) and back to Dubrovnik.
Tricky subject, you can sense people skirting around this. Most of what we have seen around Dubrovnik has been restored although there are still signs of shell damage and bullet holes in some buildings. Further out of town you can see more evidence. Where we picked up the German couple for the tour the original hotel still stands wrecked from the fighting. You walk down the streets into Dubrovnik old town and everything looks very normal and then you see signs of the war and it brings home a reminder of what it must have been like.