Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Honeymoon Take 2 Pt. 8: Magical Montenegro

We decided to rent a car for a couple of days while we were in Croatia, so that we could take trips to neighboring Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. When we first started planning our trip, we were looking to go somewhere that neither of us had visited. We were sitting in Barnes & Noble looking at a map, when Ryan exclaimed that he wanted to go to Montenegro, because that is where Casino Royale took place (however, we would later learn that not a single shot from the movie was actually filmed in Montenegro). After a bit of research, we realized that it was probably better to stay in Dubrovnik, as there was more to do, but we could still schedule a day trip to the town of Kotor in Montenegro. Score. 

On Wednesday morning, we left for Montenegro bright and early, so that we would have be able to cross the border before traffic became too heavy. Luckily, it was a fairly smooth process, except for the part where I lost the great last name debate.  See, my maiden name is a Mc name of Irish origin, and when I married Ryan, I acquired another Mc last name (it's a McCoincidence....har har). I've tried for years to convince him that his last name is Irish, and he has always defended that it is Scottish (lets be honest, he secretly wants a reason to wear a kilt). Well, the Montenegrin boarder patrol agent took one look at our passports, turned to my husband and said...Mc****, what a nice strong Scottish name. So, yeah, if a Montenegrin border patrol agent tells you that your last name is Scottish, it must be true. Ryan: 1, Katie: 0. 

The drive to Kotor, and around the Bay of Kotor, was actually one of the best parts of the trip. The scenery was unbelievably stunning (the pictures don't do it justice, of course), and just got better and better as we went along. Plus, they drive on the same side of the road, and on the same side of the car as we do in the U.S., which makes everything run a lot smoother (i.e. I'm not screaming every 5 min. that I'm going to die in a car crash). There is one point where you can take a ferry, which takes a good amount of time off the trip, but I'm so glad that we didn't do this. By taking the longer route, we were able to pull over at a bunch of different points and take the time to admire everything. 

We passed some very nice yachts along the way...

Welcome to Montenegro! Or, should I say...Dobrodosli!

Ryan was obsessed with the supermarket. Hence the reason we have a picture of it.

Another great part of any road trip through the former Yugoslavia...playing "Dharma Van" (for any LOST junkies out there). So much more fun than "Punch Buggy."

There were a lot more signs of the war, and of the communist era in Montenegro than we saw in Dubrovnik:

This is the town where the ferry is located (which you can see on the right side). Also, I'm not quite sure what is taking place in the billboard in the background:

But, by skipping the ferry, we got to see things like this: 

If you enlarge this picture, it almost seems as though the mountain is coming over that little town.

Beautiful scenery, and smashingly handsome husband. Pretty sweet deal.


Look at the amazing blue colors of the water! The guy isn't too bad looking either...

Driving through Montenegro, and even more so in Bosnia-Herzegovina, you see lots of memorials to people who lost their lives in the war.

Taking in the stunning surroundings.

After about an hour and a half (which included many a photo stop and the time spent getting through the border crossing), we arrived at Kotor. Part of the Bay of Kotor, just outside of the town walls, was a bit of a disappointment, as the town allows very large cruise ships park there. This means that most of the best views of the Bay surrounding the town are obstructed. The town was very pretty though (it almost feels like your somewhere in the side streets of Paris), and I'm glad we spent a few hours walking around and exploring.

Entrance to Kotor through the city walls.

Everything looks better with strands of large glass hanging lights.

You know...just wandering around the tiny alleys in Montenegro.

I think green shutters may be required in Kotor. Lets be honest, green shutters are quite pretty.

Lovely old building. 

One of the main attractions in Kotor is the Church of Saint Tryphon. Legend has it that a ship carrying St. Tryphon's remains had to take refuge in Kotor because of bad storms. However, every time the ship tried to sail after the storms, more storms came along. The sailors finally took it as a sign that St. Tryphon wanted Kotor to be his final resting place.

Located behind this screen are 48 relics, which include Saint Tryphon's head and bones. Creepy, yet interesting at the same time. 

The church was really quite fascinating and housed what almost felt like an art museum on the second floor. There were all sorts of wonderful paintings that often showcased the town's position on the border of Eastern and Western Christianity. Often the faces were more life like (western/ gothic style) and the bodies were stiff and elongated (eastern/ byzantine style). 

While the main attraction is a Catholic church, the town of Kotor is actually predominantly Orthodox, so we also took the time to stop in one of the Orthodox churches.

Outside one of the Orthodox churches. 

And inside. I loved looking at all of the beautiful icons. 

First up: Perast. Oh my goodness Perast. Words cannot describe how pretty this town is. 

Again, gorgeous. 

Only local traffic is allowed in the town, so you have to park at the top of a hill, and then walk down towards the town. This is what the walk looks like... not to shabby! 

As you get closer to the town, you see lots of tiny (and larger, touristy) boats with sailors waiting to take you out to Our Lady of the Rocks. By taking one of the smaller boats, you get to pay less AND you get to have a private boat ride. Score. While the island is beautiful, the trip there and back is definitely the best part. 

Just chilling on a boat with my husband. 

View of Perast from the boat. 

I'm on a boat. I'm on a boat. Everybody look at me cause I'm sailing on a boat. (insert SNL skit reference). Yup, I went there.

Right before you get to Our Lady of the Rocks, you pass the island of Saint George, which is closed to tourists, but houses a small monastery: 

Then you come upon Our Lady of the Rocks. This island is that it is completely man-made. Legend has it that two fisherman discovered an icon of the Madonna in the reef near the island of Saint George. They tried over and over again to bring the icon ashore, but it kept getting washed out to sea to the exact same spot. Eventually, fishermen returning home began dropping rocks in this spot. The practice then took up among the villagers, and over two centuries, an island of rocks was formed. 

View of Our Lady of the Rocks from the sea. 

Walking around the island. It's really quite small. There's a church (coincidentally called the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks), a small museum and a snack stand where you can buy beer and ice cream (both of which my husband bought). 

Ryan on one end of the island. 

I shall call this my sassy island girl pose. 

After wandering around for a bit (and purchasing Ryan's ice cream and beer for the trip back), we jumped back on our boat to enjoy another ride. 

Thumbs up for Montenegrin beer. The brand is Niksicko incase you are wondering. 

This is Ryan with George, our boat owner & sailor. George knew little English and we knew no Montenegrin....however, George knew Italian and Ryan knows Spanish, so somehow they bonded and communicated through a combination of the two. George also told us the island of Saint George was named after him. He was pretty awesome.

Perast as seen on our ride back. 

George was even kind enough to take a picture of us. 

After leaving Perast, we continued on our drive back to Dubrovnik, and made one more stop for some tasty food at Konoba Catovica Mlini. The restaurant is a bit hidden in the town of Morinj, but there are a lot of road signs that lead you in the right direction. 

The restaurant has been family run for over 200 years!

You have to walk through a bamboo garden to get to the restaurant. 

Ryan in the bamboo walkway. 

The food was unbelievable and unbelievably affordable, given that the service is quite formal and you are in such a beautiful location. 

I wish I could eat meals in front of views like this everyday. 

After the delicious meal, it was time to continue on our way, and before we knew it we were back in Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik love. 

As the night ended, we were treated to a lightning storm that created some amazing scenes right outside our window: 

And before we knew it it was time to rest up for our trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina the next day! 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Honeymoon Take 2 Pt. 7: The Scars Beneath The Beauty

On Tuesday morning, we grabbed some coffee at our now favorite bistro, and tried to figure out the best way to start our day.

Coffee (even plain old decaf) just tastes better when you're sitting at a cafe in Europe. 

We also listened to some jazz music playing on the corner. Surprise, surprise, they were playing Sting songs. Sting seems to be quite popular in Croatia.

We had a private tour scheduled later in the afternoon, so we wanted to spend our time doing something that was fairly nearby, and would still allow us a bit of time to relax before the tour.

We had discussed trying to go up to Mount Srd, the highest point in Dubrovnik, but thought we would have to drive up it, as most of the travel books stated that the reconstruction of the cable car (damaged in the war) had not yet been completed. We only had a rental car for a couple of days, and did not believe we would have the time to make the trip with the other timelines (aka border crossings) we had to work around. So, we were thrilled when we found out that everything was open and working. We wandered around the the city outside of the walls for a bit and eventually stumbled upon the cable car entrance. It was a quick ride (about 3 minutes), and it was so neat to see the city get smaller and smaller as we went up.


& Smaller.

& Smaller. 

The feeling of possibly falling off a mountain in a cable car was totally worth it to see this. 

Quite possibly my favorite picture from the trip. I loved taking the time to sit at the top of the mountain and overlook everything.

Apparently I felt so zen, that I broke out a yoga move (note, I do not actually do yoga, so I am not sure if this is a legitimate pose or not. I'm just being a goofball, because that's how I roll).

Ryan, on the other hand, felt like Superman.

Or possibly, like a world class diver.

The original cross overlooking the city was destroyed in the war. The fragments of the old cross were blessed by Pope John Paul II in 2003, and are being used in the foundations of new churches throughout the city.

The lack of trees around the mountaintop is mostly due to wildfire, not the war. Due to the fear of landmines in the area, locals did not fight the fires after the war as aggressively as they normally would have done.

Communications tower. The Croatian flag was flown above the tower to give hope to the besieged residents below.

Next to the tower is Fort Imperial. The fort houses the "War of Independence Museum." The exhibit is still a bit of a work in progress (lots of random artillery just sitting out in the open on the floor), but was  definitely worth the visit.

It was crazy to see that the weapons and armor used to fight in the war looked like they came from 50 years ago, not 20 years ago (probably because they did).

Yes, those are a bunch of weapons surrounded by bullets sitting out in the open on the floor.

There were large pictures on many of the fort walls depicting the damage done throughout the war. Looking at the city now, it can be hard to imagine that there ever was a war. The pictures really emphasized just how bad things were.

Bombs hitting the port and walls.

City coming under fire.

This is the same square across from our sobe.

Map of the city outlining the damages.

Grave just outside of the fort.

After the museum and a quick lunch, we took the cable car back down to meet up with our personal tour guide, Maja. She took us around the town, and we stopped at places such as the Franciscan Monastery, the Rectors Palace, the Sponza Palace, Big Onofio's Fountain, and many others.  I was really happy that we took the time to do this, because it allowed us to learn about the town from someone who lives there, see all different sites, and ask questions without being a part of a large over-crowded tour group.  

Inside the Franciscan Monastery. 

Outside the Monastery. 

Stradun at dusk. Interesting fact we learned from Maja- A U.S. travel association helped pay for the marble walkway on the Stradun to be repaired after the war. Dubrovnik, more than most areas, knew that the key to their recovery was getting the tourists back as quickly as possible. 

Maja even took the time to tell us about her own experiences during the war. She explained to us that at the time, her son was ten years old, and her daughter was in college. Right after the war began, her daughter left to go and take classes for a year in England. However, even though she had all of the proper paperwork, she was stopped at the German border, and wasn't allowed to proceed any further. Fortunately, she was able to find family friends to stay with in Germany. Unfortunately, due to the siege, neither Maja or her daughter could communicate with each other. It wasn't until the siege ended that Maja learned her daughter never made it to England, and her daughter learned that her family was alive. I can only imagine the stress this must have cause on them (and the countless others who also lived through horrible situations throughout the war).

It is definitely possible to get swept away in all of the beauty that surrounds the city. Because the town has done so many repairs and has recovered faster than most of their neighboring cities and countries, it is easy to turn a blind eye to what happened here in 1991. We were both glad that we took the time to learn about how the war affected the city itself, and that we took the time to learn from someone who was there to witness it, how it affected the people that lived through it.

If you would like to learn more about the siege of Dubrovnik, please go here.

As always, here is a video with all of our pics from the day: