Our first stop in Montenegro via a bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia, Kotor stole our breath away. We did some incredible hikes in the mountainous terrain and found some unexpected surprises. Kotor’s landscape and history made it one of our favorite stops so far. We did a post about our time in Kotor if this all piques your interest!
As we drove out of Kotor, we decided to take the scenic route around the majority of the bay. Perast is another nearby town on the water with two distinctive islands in the middle of the water: a church and a monastery. The church, Our Lady of the Rocks, built in 1632, is an artificial island created by sinking old and seized ships loaded with rocks. We didn’t hear this from locals, but Wikipedia’s account is pretty neat: “According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by local seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea on July 22, 1452. Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea.” Now, each year on July 22, residents take to their boats and throw rocks into the sea to commemorate the building of the island. The island of St. George consists of a monastery from the 12th century and a graveyard for the old nobility from Perast and the surrounding area.
Žabljak // Durmitor National Park
From Kotor, we rented a car and drove a few hours north (almost the entire length of the country) to spend a few days hiking in Durmitor National Park. We stayed in Žabljak, the cutest little mountain town, and days full of sun and hiking and evenings full of beer in front of our woodstove. It was considerably colder here than on the south coast in Kotor and we were glad to have gloves, hats, and wool socks when we went out exploring.
One of our favorite memories from Zabljak is coming home from an all-day hike to our landlord ushering us into his garage. No one in the family we shared a house with spoke English, but he proceeded to show us his work from the day: butchering a whole pig. We had seen it hanging from some chains in the neighbors yard that frosty morning and were glad to get an up-close view of the local food culture. He had neatly separated the head and placed it on a table, then showed us the chunks of meat and all the “other stuff” that I’m sure they find a good use for. We thought he was offering us a bit of it, which we thought we agreed to, but then we left a few days later without any delicious pork dinner. Such is communicating cross-culturally with only gestures!
Ulcinj is a classic beach town. We arrived after the tourist season had ended, which meant that many stores and restaurants were shut down, but we were able to experience this town like the locals. There was a hiking path along the coast a few minutes from our incredible apartment, so we spent some time exploring the nearby beaches and woods. Interestingly, Ulcinj’s population is about 70% Muslim, and we noticed a stark increase in the amount of mosques we saw and prayers we heard. All the mosques perform their prayers over loudspeakers five times a day. This difference from the majority of Montenegro can be explained by the Ottoman Empire’s hold on the area beginning in the 15th century. Seventy percent of Ulcinj’s population also identifies as ethnically Albanian.
A Day in Albania
Since Albania was less than two hours drive from Ulcinj, we decided to take a day trip to experience another country. We didn’t do anything too exciting, just tried to notice the unique differences between such small countries so close together. We visited Shkodër, a small city in the northern part of Albania. We spent the day walking around, eating a leisurely lunch of a fresh, whole fish, and finally visiting Rozafa Castle for a wonderful view. We noticed, like in Ulcinj, many more mosques here than in the rest of Montenegro. We also walked around the Shkodër Cathedral where photos of all the priests killed during the communist regime are prominently displayed.
As we were leaving Kotor, our landlord encouraged us to visit Ostrog Monastery as it’s “one of the most important structures in Montenegro”. Since it’s such a small country, we were happy to find that Ostrog easily fit into our drive from Žabljak to Ulcinj so we stopped for a few hours to see it. Sadly, no photos are allowed once you enter, which makes for a unique experience, willing your memory to keep up and file the colorful biblical mosaics and tiny stone staircases in a safe place for later recall. What makes this place truly unique is its location: it is built into a vertical rock face, high in the mountains.
Possibly the most picturesque town in Montenegro, Sveti Stefan (St. Stephen in English or Sweaty Stephen in Swedish – thanks, Petter), is a tiny, exclusive island right off the coast. We stopped by here for lunch on our drive from Ulcinj back to Tivat before leaving Montenegro. You can only enter the bridge to the island if you’re staying at the resort, and there are a couple of security guards keeping watch, but we enjoyed walking along the beautiful, empty beach and having lunch looking down upon this treasure of a place.
We spent our last night in Tivat, a 20 minute drive from our first stop in Kotor, only because that’s where the airport is. I expected a dingy little airport town but what we found was a beautiful, luxurious haven for the ultra-rich. The large pier was full of huge yachts from the Caribbean islands. We loved treating ourselves to dinner on the water (rare when we rent apartments, as we had throughout Montenegro) and watching the sunset over the Bay as we remembered our favorite memories over our time here.
We’ve now been in “the land of smiles”, Thailand, for almost a month. We’re sunburned and smelly but not sick of our daily habit of curry and rice yet. More fun details about our time in Thailand are coming soon! Now, it’s time for us to go and grab some dinner as you all are waking up in the US. We’ll probably have more curry, but seeing as this is our second to last night here, we might finally throw in some crickets for dessert as well.