Before you panic, and think "A CARJACKING! Well, I'm never going THERE"...Montenegro is perfectly safe, wonderful actually! It was Jeff who was nearly jacked a car! But more on that later, lets start with ...
Our adventure in Montenegro started with finding a good tour guide. We noodled around on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic and the name Dimitrije from Mont Travelers kept coming up. He was very responsive via email, and we chose a private Best of Montenegro tour itinerary and invited another couple we were cruising with on Azamara Quest to share the cost. Dmititrje (a man whose name matches his attention to detail, there are a lot of T's to cross and I's to dot in that name, and he takes care of the details on a Mont Traveler Tour too!) met us full of enthusiasm right on time at the pier.
A tour started in the seaside town of Perast, where we wandered along the coast, enjoying the natural beauty of the coast of the Bay of Kotor and the little village.
Seen around Perast; a Yugo, a pair of Catalan tourists looking for someone to take their photo, and some local hospitality (click on any image below to expand)
Perast is also the town where you can get a boat to the Our Lady of the Rock Church. They run regularly, you pay a few Euro at the dock and are on your way.
We wanted to go out to this church because of a legend we heard from Capt. Carl Smith of the Azamara Quest. Legend holds in the 15th century, that a pair of Croat brothers were out fishing and found a painting of the Madonna and Child lying on a rock. They were so overcome, that they promised to build a church in honor of this miracle, and to make the foundation, the poor fisherman would place a rock in the same place in the Bay of Kotor after every successful fishing trip. Over time so many faithful fisherman added rocks to honor Our Lady, that an islet appeared in the bay of Kotor. Eventually a church was built, which today also houses a small museum.
Inside a small museum on the island, you can see many paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a 17th-century baroque artist from the town of Perast. Below: the Lady of the Rocks, Kokolja's The Death of the Virgin., detail of the door, Madonna and Child icon that inspired the church. (Click on any image to enlarge)
Captain Carl was so enamored with this story, that he decided he also wanted to add a "rock" to the islet. After navigating a large cruise ship through the narrow fjords of the Bay of Kotor, he must have felt that it was a fitting way to give thanks! According to Captain Carl, it took a bit of doing, accessing permissions and making arrangements, but finally, in 2010, Azamara Quest was able to "add" a special commemorative rock, participating in a 500 year old tradition! (see Azamara's account of the story here)
After our journey to Our Lady of the Rocks, Dimitrije drove us to the Medieval town of Budva. A beautiful Sunday morning, we wandered inside the Venetian built walls of Budva, and happened upon a traditional Montenegro wedding being held in a more contemporary church within sight of the Historic Santa Maria in Punta.
We also had a chance to enjoy a little of the famous "Budva Riveria", a popular European resort area in Montenegro.
Some details from the Budva Riviera (Click on any image to expand)
A Near Carjacking
After our visit to Budva, our Guide Dimitrije drove us up the winding road high above Boka Bay. This road is not for the faint of heart, with 27 switchbacks, really only wide enough for one car. The road is not really wide enough for full sized tour buses. Now add multiple full sized tour buses to the road, and the view is not the only thing that will take your breath away!
We had an incredible and uneventful trip to the top, and enjoyed the views.
At the top there is a small town with a few tourist stalls set up to sell local specialties. On the way back down, the traffic coming up had increased significantly and included several large buses full of cruise ship passengers. Most of the professional drivers have a good understanding of what everyone; bus drivers, mini bus drivers, tour guide cars, should do. A carefully choreographed dance of pulling forward, backing up, parking on tiny shoulders happens and everyone smiles, waves and moves on. Unfortunately, every once in a while added to this mix are tourists who have rented cars, with little experience on the twisty narrow road, and even less nerve!
Details from along the road above Kotor (click on an y image to expand)
On our trip down the mountain, a large bus got to a narrow corner and commandeered the entire road. In the car in front of us was a young lady in a rental car who had no where to go and no good ideas about what to do next. So she stopped, the bus stopped, we stopped, the cars behind us stopped, the cars behind the bus stopped and we all sat, no one moved up and no one moved down!
We had a little problem because we had just about an hour to get back to our ship, or it was heading out of the Bay of Kotor without us! After sitting about 10 minutes, nothing had moved, and it appeared that no one was going to take charge of the situation, and that we might just sit there until we all ran out of gas! Cars continued to back up in both directions. No one honked or gestured, this would certainly have happened in our hometown of Boston, everyone just SAT there. Suddenly the door to our car flung open and Jeff sprang out of the car. Dimitrije, looked back at me, wide eyed, and asked "What is he going to DO?!" I could not answer. My fear was that I had not brought enough Euros to bail him out of jail.
Jeff walked calmly to the rental car and asked the young tourist driving it if he could drive the car. She didn't speak much English and was panicked, like a deer in the headlights, so she wasn't listening or speaking at all, head to head with a huge tour bus with a menacing looking driver who had no intention of backing up even an inch! Her passengers exhorted to her in their native language to let the nice (crazy?) American man move the car, but she sat glued in her seat. Finally, she let Jeff reach into the car and he took the steering wheel. He told the young lady when to step on the gas and the brake and together with Jeff standing out in the road with his hands through the window on her steering wheel, they maneuvered rental car so it could be moved off the road just enough for the enormous bus to pass. After the bus passed our vehicle, Jeff cheerfully hopped back into our car and said, "Ok Dimitrije, NOW we are ready to go back to the ship!" I'm sure Dimitrije couldn't have been happier to get rid of us, but he was far too polite and professional to say so!
So as long as you don't try to commit a car jacking while in Montenegro, I think you you might find, as we did, a warm welcome, beautiful scenery and plenty of interesting stories to come home with!
Post and Video K Klofft
Photos J Klofft