Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dipping into the Adriatic Coast in Montenegro--Coursing Through Kotor, Perast and Budva

Monday, October 3, 2016:
Kotor-Perast-Budva (Along the Adriatic Coast)

Dipping into the Adriatic Coast in Montenegro--Coursing Through Kotor, Perast and Budva

            Easily the best thing about our Hotel Kangaroo in Budva was its magnificent buffet breakfast that offered several choices including many vegetarian options for Chriselle. We washed, showered, dressed and went down to eat at about 8.00 am and had a feast. We even carried a sandwich for lunch made with thick slices of bread and the huge variety of cold cuts and cheese they offered.

            Our day was devoted to discovering the more interesting parts of the gorgeous Bay of Kotor that appears like the petals of a flower whose tips jut out into the Adriatic Sea. This meant walking to the Bus station from where we boarded a bus to Kotor—the town that is usually a tourist’s base. It is not a very interesting drive as it goes through the interior—not along the water’s edge. Still, it is a short drive and an in about 20 minutes, we were there.

Discovering Kotor:

            From the bus station, you walk about ten minutes to get to the entrance to the huge fortress at Kotor whose walls snake up a mountain like the Great Wall of China. It almost disappears into the mountain side as the walls and the mountain are the same grey. Once you enter the fortress, you are lost, once again, in the feeling of an Old Town. These pockets, common it seems, to all settlements along the Adrtiatic coast, were built centuries ago to offer communal living to the inhabitants. Houses and buildings sit cheek by jowl, there is always a church, a large square in front of it (today, filled with cafes and restaurants, banks or post offices) and a maze of narrow lanes across which houses seem to reach out and kiss one another. We walked through Kotor’s Old Town, pausing often to buy our souvenirs—T-shirts, post-cards, magnets, little gifts for friends, to change money at a bank and to get some euros. We took time to just sit down and enjoy people-watching. The architecture is always fascinating and offers many photo opportunities.

            Kotor is also a modern town with the abundant shops that cater exclusively to cruise ship passengers for all the places we visited on this trip (Split, Dubrovnik, Kotor) are part of a very popular route in the Adriatic region. These luxury stores with over-priced designer goods are everywhere and a great way to pass time—although, to be honest, I have rarely seen anyone actually buy anything. We decided to bypass this part of Kotor altogether and head instead to Perast which was described in my Lonely Planet guidebook as a small chunk of Venice that seems to have floated into the Adriatic Sea and attached itself to the Bay of Kotor. Well…who would not want to stroll through a mini-Venice, right? Chriselle was not too enthusiastic. She definitely showed signs, by this stage, of sightseeing fatigue. But I managed to persuade her—we were so close, why not just cover it too?

Perusing Perast:

     We were, by this stage, also counting our euros—we had too few and did not want to exchange too much more. Somehow we scraped together the bus fare and boarded one to Perast—which took us about 15 minutes to get there past lovely scenery.

            Indeed, Perast did remind us a little bit of Venice with its palazzos, its spire of a church that is visible from afar, its cobbled streets. But sadly, just as we made ourselves comfortable by the water’s edge, with our sandwich lunch, along came a few fat raindrops to ruin our picnic. Spying the awning of a little souvenir shop nearby, we fled under it and Chriselle ended up buying a bottle of lemonade from there—with a delicious bitter lemon flavor that we both enjoyed. We sat there for a long while but our visit to Perast was thoroughly ruined by the rain as there was really nothing much to do in the town.

Its biggest attraction is a boat ride to the two islands that sit in the Adriatic Sea not too far from the town. One of them is a natural island (but that one is closed to the public and boats merely skirt around it); the other is a man-made island that is still a work in progress. On it stands the lovely domed Church of Our Lady of the Rocks which is quite spectacular inside. We chose, however, not to go there as we had already done one boat ride to the island on Lake Bled where a similar church exists. Also, we were short of money and there were no banks or money exchange places in Perast! The church in the main town square was closed—so we could not enter it—although there was an old crone waiting in the campanile tower to take money from anyone wishing to climb up for great views of the Bay. Needless to say, we were quite wiped out from our ten days of sightseeing to want to attempt that—plus, we had no money!

            Between the two of us, we just managed to scrape the few euros we needed to get back on the bus to Kotor—this time the scenery was ruined by rain and windows that kept fogging up and obscuring the view. And once at Kotor, we wasted no time, but hopped into a bus that took us back to Budva. We still had to explore Budva’s Old Town as rain had ruined that excursion for us, the previous evening. So about an hour later, we were back in Budva.

Exploring Budva’s Old Town:    

      Thankfully, and by some miracle, the rain had not reached as far south of the Bay as Budva. So, as soon as we got to the bus station, we walked directly towards Old Town, past all the flashy new skyscrapers and rather gaudy structures as we knew the lie of the land pretty well by this point.

            Budva’s Old Town had a lot to offer: the usual suspects, of course, churches, plazas, shops, bars, cafes, but these were actually quite charming because each place and its Old Town has a slightly different character. Here, there was a lovely Russian Orthodox Church that was very pretty and reminiscent (though on a much smaller scale) of the ones we had seen in St. Petersburg in Russia.  We contemplated sitting at a café with a coffee and dessert but prices were very high. Instead, we sat at the water’s edge on a rampart of the fort and watched people and their dogs and felt happy and contented that our lovely holiday was ending in this place.

            Budva’s tourist literature depicts a lovely sculpture of a ballerina and since we had not yet caught sight of her, we went out in search of it. It meant a bit of a walk around the fort and Old Town walls, but then there she was—on the rocks—sort of like The Little Mermaid that sits in the harbor at Copenhagen. People scrambled across the rocks to take pictures with her (which made it hard for the rest of us to get our shots!) but in the end, after some ill-natured bantering with them, we got our pictures and left.

            It was time to walk back to our hotel before darkness fell over the city. Through the garden we went, past the fountain that changes lights and colors and on to our hotel where we sat at the restaurant and ordered dinner. It was delicious and satisfying—Chriselle had been craving the grilled prawns (large ones, well marinated and charred) and I had some meat (although I cannot now remember what I ate). When we’d had our fill, we left and took the elevator up to our room where we organized ourselves for our departure, the next day, to Dubrovnik. It was not long before we switched the light off and fell asleep.

            Until tomorrow, cheerio…       

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