Exploring Southern Europe's "Fjord"

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Kotor Apartments
What I did
Herceg Novi
Banja Monastery

Flag of Montenegro  ,
Monday, September 5, 2011

Since we were due to rendezvous with the Russians at 10:00am, we made sure we were up by 8:30am, thinking that would give us plenty of time to get ready and wander to the meeting point. As it turned out, it wasn't early enough: shedding all those bandages on my foot and then rewrapping it took ages. It was after 10:30am by the time we got to the car rental place, but we'd sent a pigeon to the Ruskies letting them know we'd be late, so everyone was on the same page when we rolled up. After some debate and haggling, we agreed to rent a car for 40 euros a day. They planned to keep it a little longer and go to some other spots in the region, so they were (literally) in the driver's seat.

As soon as we started the drive, Konrad and I both looked at each other and could tell that we agreed that we should have rented a motorbike instead. Viktor was not a great driver, but beyond that was the issue that they seemed to have no interest in stopping along the way, which was one of our primary reasons for renting a car. The Bay of Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site that connects to the Adriatic Sea. Apparently, it's very similar to a fjord -- so much so that people constantly call it one -- but in fact it is a drowned river canyon. There are medieval towns dotting the shoreline, and a variety of important Orthodox and Catholic churches and monasteries hidden within the stari grads and hills rising up from the bay.
We finally convinced them to stop above the town of Perast, an charming spot on the same side of the bay as Kotor. "Town" is probably the wrong word to use since the population maxes out at 349 (not including summer residents, of course), so I'll call it a village. For such a little settlement, they've really packed in as much churchness as possible: there are 16 churches, 17 grand palazzos, a giant bell tower, and two islets housing religious buildings as well. 
We sat and admired the spectacular view for a bit, then hiked down to the village, stopping numerous times in the old town for photos and to appreciate the general adorableness of the place. We walked to northern end of the village and gazed across the water at St George's Island, which is home to a 12th century Benedictine monastery, and its sister isle, Our Lady of the Rocks. St George's is a natural island, but Our Lady of the Rocks is not. Legend has it that it was built over hundreds and hundreds of years by sailors who laid a rock in the same spot (where an image of Mary and Jesus had been found on a stone) after returning from every successful voyage.
From there, we continued our drive around the bay, which was even more stunning than had been advertised, until we got to the border town of Herceg Novi (pronounced "Hertz-egg No-vee"). Herceg Novi is the end point of the Bay of Kotor, and was as far north as we planned to drive that day. As with the other towns throughout the Balkans, Herceg Novi boasts a beautiful stari grad -- one which has experienced a mixed history of invaders and occupiers. Our first stop was the old fort and the Bloody Tower, located near the top of the old town. This was apparently used as a horrific prison during the rule of the Turks (15th-17th centuries). Fortunately, no evidence of those violent days was obvious when we visited -- all we saw were amazing views of the bay from the high fort walls. After exploring a bit, it was time to venture into the heart of the old town and relax a little while enjoying a leisurely lunch.
During the return to Kotor, we made two stops: first at Savina Monastery in Herceg Novi, and second at Banja Monastery near the town of Risan. Savina Monastery is made up of three churches up on a hill overlooking the bay and the city. Information about the monastery's history is conflicting: some sources report it coming into existence in the 11th century, while others saw it was the 17th century. Either way, it was a serene and scenic spot to sit for a bit and enjoy more of Montenegro. Banja is a female monastery, and dates back to at least the 1700s. We didn't realize we weren't supposed to take photos, which was a shame because when they saw us doing so, they kicked us out. 

It was more a comical than a disappointing end to the journey, and gave us something to chuckle about as we drove the rest of the distance back to Kotor. Once in town, the Ruskies dropped us off and continued driving south, leaving us to our own devices for the remainder of the day.

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