Thursday, May 30, 2013

Going To The Sea

A peek at the water
 Montenegro.  This tiny country with only 700,000 residents due north of Albania didn't even exist when I was in school.  Once a part of Yugoslavia, she didn't gain her independence until 2006 when she broke away from Serbia. In Albanian, Montenegro is translated as "black mountains" and the soaring peaks that dominate much of the country, while impressive, have nothing on the miles upon miles of shimmering blue and green coastline. While the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia has become an international destination, Montenegro has until recently, save visits from her nearby Serbian and Bosnian neighbors, been ignored by many foreign tourists. In fact, we had driven along her impressive coast on several occasions while making our way farther north to Croatia but had never bothered to stop.  All of that changed this past weekend when we made the Adriatic coast of Montenegro our destination for kicking off the start of our final Balkan summer. 

Although Montenegro has European Union aspirations, at the moment the closest they have come to membership is to have adopted the Euro as their official form of currency.  Historically this has caused the cost of everything in the country to skyrocket.  Not so in Montenegro (yet anyway).  This, combined with May being considered off season (in fact, Montenegro's high tourist season spans a few short weeks in late July and early August), we found the country to be incredibly inexpensive, mostly void of tourists, and yet completely welcoming to those of us who were there.  Each seaside village we visited was orderly and immaculate, melded history with modern amenities, and surprisingly enough, had a large number of English speaking people working in the shops, hotels, and restaurants.

Above the Bay of Kotor

I've mentioned before that we really aren't beach people.  Blazing sun, hoards of people, and expanses of sand covered with oil slicked bodies really isn't our scene.  Just the thought of spending four days "at the sea" made me a bit nervous but I reminded myself that we were still in the off season.  And there is a lot more to do along the coast than just sit and bake in the sun. Besides, the cool and rainy weather that was predicted reassured me that perhaps it wouldn't be too bad.  And it wasn't.  The weather forecast did keep people away and when the clouds gave way to sun --or at least no rain-- for most of the weekend we had much of the area to ourselves.  It was wonderful and made me wonder why we had waited so long to visit this neighboring country that is only a short car ride away.

The magical enclave of Sveti Stefan
We made the most of our short time away and saw a lot without feeling rushed.  We explored the exclusive enclave of Sveti Stefan where everyone from Hollywood stars to European royalty used to cavort during the 1950s. We had driven past this tiny island on each of our previous trips along the coast without even realizing that it was here.  Sidney had an opportunity to throw an unlimited number of rocks into the water (a little boy's favorite vacation activity) from a beach where the sound of the crashing surf reminded me of an earlier trip to Hawaii.  On the tiny island of Kauai on a section of beach called Barking Sands, the sound of the surf crashing on the beach sounds like a pack of barking dogs.  Both Glenn and I immediately thought of this far away beach when we heard the waves hitting this rocky expanse of Sveti Stefan beach. 
Here we ate a traditional lunch overlooking the island at the one restaurant that was already open for the season and engaged in a lively conversation about Montenegro, America, and Albania with our English speaking waiter.

In the picturesque village of Kotor we climbed up 1350 steps to explore the St. John Fortress and take in the sweeping views of the Bay of Kotor below us.  We also had to take those 1350 steps back down.  Geologists would disagree (and they would be right) but the Bay of Kotor is often referred to as a fjord.  It isn't but the narrow bay surrounded by sheer cliffs is similar to the fjords we visited in Norway.  Driving along the narrow inlets of the bay we took in the sights of the blue water, red tiled rooftops, and the numerous stone churches and marveled at the fact we were so close to Albania yet a world away.  With our "home base" being a hotel just outside of the old walled city in Budva, we spent hours exploring the narrow marble alleys of this Stari Grad.  When the occasional shower did strike we retreated to our hotel where we were able to sit on our balcony, sip wine and listen to the crashing surf.  And of course no vacation would be a vacation if we didn't eat and drink the local specialties.  Much to my surprise Montenegro has a small but growing wine industry that produces some very drinkable reds.  Our favorite wine discovery was the perfect accompaniment to the grilled meats and vegetables that while not fancy, were fresh and delicious each time we ordered them.

Stari Grad - Budva
Our brief stay in Montengro was fantastic.  We explored, relaxed, ate, drank, and soaked up the fresh sea air while avoiding a lot of sun.  To me, that is the perfect vacation.  If the rest of our summer is half as nice, it looks like we are in for a good time.

No comments:

Post a Comment