Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The Bay of Kotor: A Kiwi in a New Sea Land

Herceg Novi, Montenegro (Herceg Novi, Crna Gora)
You may notice that Montenegro's name for Montenegro is quite different to what we call Montenegro - Crna Gora. However, both names have the same meaning: 'black mountain'. Many countries use their own language's words for "black mountain", and yet in much of the English speaking world and Western Europe we use the old Venetian name! Anyway, to the topic at hand. 
Founded as a fortress in 1382, Herceg Novi is one of the youngest settlements along the Adriatic coast. 
Bosnian king Tvrtko I built the Stari Grad castle, which now functions as an outdoor theatre. Entrance supposedly cost €1 but the ticket booth was unmanned so we walked in gratis like badass hajduks (a hajduk is an outlaw or rebel - the football team of Split in Croatia are called the hajduks and languages in countries that were part of the former Yugoslavia are largely the same). The views over the bay and the town were wonderful and spiked with tall leafy palm trees. 
Wandering around the waterfront and old town, we discovered that some sort of festival was taking place, though it felt too similar to a school fair to garner interest from us. We departed quickly and visited the Serbian church of Saint Michael. From inside we could hear pensive chanting and figured that some ceremony must be taking place. The square on which it stands was lined by several cafés and we made our selection by seeing which one had the most cats. 
This was the beginning of our discovery that all of Montenegro is filled with felines. It's a great place! We sipped at our drinks in the shade of an umbrella and revelled in cat company. A snaggletoothed and huffy dog made an appearance, but the he must have been too old and slow to bother the cats, or they knew him. When there was only ice left at the bottoms of our glasses we saw a teeny kitten stagger out of the darkness to the café's doorway and look out sleepily. As we cooed from afar, the kitten had a staring match with a few neighbourhood children and then the waitress swept him up in her hand to a safer place. 
Feeling the need for our now daily dose of Vitamin Sea, we spent several hours at a pebbly beach along the coast after an informal lunch of burek and cherry filled pastries. During our stay a concrete wharf next to us slowly filled up with ageing and deeply tanned Montenegrins who each brought their own plastic chair and cold bevvies. They discussed jovial matters in shirtless, sun-soaked exuberance and occasionally one would jump into the water. I think they did this every day. Now I have a choice: to retire in Croatia or Montenegro? First world problems are still real problems ya know!

Risan, Montenegro
That evening we settled into an apartment in Risan and then went to see the town's main attraction: Roman mosaics. In ancient times the town served as a seafaring hub between Rome and Greece, so there was wealth injected into the town from trade. 
The building that contained these famed mosaics functioned as an inn. The information board cheekily states "what other entertainment it offered, we leave that to the imagination". Constructed in the second century AD, the mosaics were repaired "somewhat unprofessionally" in the fourth century AD and were damaged further during reconstruction attempts after they were rediscovered in 1930. Despite this, a couple of the mosaics were quite intact. 
The star of the show is Hypnos, the god of sleep, as he is the only figure to grace the mosaics - the others only portray geometric and vegetal patterns. 
It was a quick visit as though the information boards take a while to read through, there are only a few mosaics to look at and we were being eaten by mozzies. We bought dinner supplies from the supermarket across the street where we discovered that in Montenegro SpongeBob is called SunderBob Kockalone (potentially even better than the Croatian SpužvaBob). 

Perast, Montenegro 
The following day we carried on along the coast to Perast, which is one of the main departure points to two island churches. 
We weren't prepared to pay for the ferry out, so we had to stand with the other tourists on the shore for our photos. A Cyprus ringed island had formed naturally and the monastery upon it is still in use, so no visitors are allowed. The more stark formation shown above was man-made and every year Perast residents row out to add more stones to the island. 
Escaping the many tour busses, we strolled the waterfront where more cats slept and sunned themselves. 
Centuries of Venetian rule (among others) left the town with altogether too many churches, but they are a feast for the eyes set in amongst the craggy hills. 
While the waterfront was stunning, taking the road parallel back towards the carpark gave us a more intimate feel for life in Perast. Charming old stone houses with painted shutters and women sweeping dust out into the street pulled us away from the sense of a beach resort and more towards that of an ancient coastal settlement. 
We followed whatever path we came across and at the top of a set of stone stairs we reached a dead end. Yet we found a most interesting plant growing atop a local's terrace - kiwi fruit! A small pang of homesickness hit me as I remembered scooping out the golden contents in New Zealand winters. 
Later that day we made our way to the bay's namesake: Kotor! But that demands a post of its own...

Today's post was almost called: Hajduk About Town