Bye Bye Montenegro

It was finally time to bite the bullet and get our butts out of the marina once and for all.  When you find yourself in a really nice marina, it’s very easy to grow barnacles.  After all, who doesn’t want to be safe and snug in their home?  Besides, our purchased time in Montenegro was quickly coming to an end (yes, sailors have to buy a cruising permit which allows you to stay a certain period of time….a month in our case).  So, we cast lines and said a sad farewell to Marina Lazure and made our way down the coast to a town called Bigova.  

Marina Lazure – a very nice place to dock our boat for a few days.
Montenegro views as we head south
Moonrise over the anchorage

We decided that we would ease ourselves back into the anchoring scene by taking a mooring ball for our first night.  These are a rare find in Montenegro, and since they were put in by the local restaurant, it required us to eat dinner at their establishment.  Given that I cook almost every night on board, who was I to complain about a night out for dinner?  The tender driver for the restaurant greeted us as we entered the bay, and ushered us to a great spot in the bay.  Once we were settled in, it was time for some swimming.  The water was crystal clear and very refreshing after several hours in the blazing sun.  Before long, a lovely couple from the UK swam over to our boat to introduce themselves (we fly a Cruising Association and a Women Who Sail the Med burgee which identifies us to other members of these two groups).  Since we were both headed in the direction the other one had just come from, we decided to get together on board for drinks and swap information.  We had such a good time together, we ended up spending the rest of the evening and dinner together swapping tips and stories.

The restaurant sends out a boat to pick you up for dinner
Sunset over Bigova Bay

Unfortunately the restaurant food was average, the wait staff was kind of surly, and it was kind of expensive (remember you have to eat there to stay on their mooring ball), so we headed to the other side of the bay to finally try our luck at anchoring.  We spent the next two nights anchored here pretty much all alone.  We dug in well and felt pretty good since we had no one around us, and if we broke free we would blow out to sea rather than onto shore (both dangers that were in play during our anchoring disaster).  Despite all this, I struggled to sleep (plus it was stifling hot down below).  In the end, we ended up sleeping up on the trampoline.  The downside of this…..yacht week (18 boats loaded up with 18-23 year olds) had tied up in front of a beach club about 1/4 mile from us.  This meant the beach club blasted loud, thumping music until 4 a.m. (I think I am getting use to this no sleep thing).  On the plus side of all this, we were awake to watch the meteor shower, and it did not disappoint.

Yacht week craziness. There are 18 boats rafted up and ready for a party!

After two nights at anchor (and some gusty winds forecasted to come in), we decided to slide on over to the mooring balls outside of the beach club.  We had no idea if there was a charge, who they belonged to, or if you had to eat at the restaurant.  We figured it was probably the typical set up where you had to eat at the restaurant.  Since we moved over as soon as we were up, we had our pick of the balls.  We selected one of the outermost balls (furthest from the beach and club scene).  We were definitely in our happy place and spent hours in the water.  Our plan was to go in for dinner, but as darkness descended and no one came calling, we ate on board.  The next day we felt a little guilty about our free night on the ball, so we made a reservation to go in for dinner.  When the tender driver blew by us almost a half hour late, we had to flag him down (I’m not sure they would’ve missed us if we would’ve just let him go).  It turned out that we were the ONLY ones in the restaurant!  We did end up at an amazing table with an awesome waiter.  We took his recommendation for the lobster pasta (we had read rave reviews for this dish) which was the most expensive dish on the menu (I told you we felt guilty about our free night).  The meal was fantastic!  Since there were still open balls the next day, we decided to stay a third night (I told you we really loved the place), but we would only get a drink and appetizer (gotta mind the budget you know).  Once again, no one came by……so, once again…..we ate on board.  Maybe they let us slide given the price of the dinner we ordered, or maybe they didn’t care that we were squatting on their ball since it wasn’t keeping anyone else from coming in to the restaurant.  

Lobster dinner? Why yes please!

As much as we loved this spot, it was time to get moving down the coast.  Our next stop would require us to anchor yet again, and I wanted to get there before the crowds in order to secure ourselves in the best location.  We arrived at the beautiful island of Sveti Stefan.  This was a former village at one time which was later bought out and turned into a luxury resort.  By luxury, I mean LUXURY!  Each villa goes for $1600 euro per night!  Several times a day, we watched this beautiful, gold helicopter buzz in and out dropping off and picking up guests.  Anyway, we anchored behind this lovely little reef on the outskirts of the island.  In front of us was the rocky reef and behind us was the beach….uh yeah, there would be no sleeping tonight!  Despite swimming our anchor multiple times, putting out some extra chain, and backing down hard on it, I did not sleep well for the next two nights.  Every time the wind kicked up, I played a game of whack-a-mole…..head popped up, then back down….all night long.  Are we closer to shore?  I think we are closer to shore.  No, we are right where we are suppose to be.  Ughhh…when is the sun coming up?  Oh, I forgot to mention that the beach that lay behind us only 500 feet away was filled with nudists by day… about a disturbing view 😝

The island of Sveti Stefan
Drone shot of the Sveti Stefan
We had to pick our anchor spot carefully….lots of rocks and weeds to snag the anchor.
Very pretty spot to anchor for a few days

We were rapidly coming to the end of our Montenegrin journey.  Our next stop was the town of Bar.  This is where we would check out of Montenegro before heading on to Albania.  We arrived at the marina which was quite dumpy looking.  This was quite a shock after the beautiful, luxury marinas up in the Bay of Kotor.  The worst part was this one was almost twice the price!  In almost all the marinas that we have been to, you back down to the wall and pull up lines from the sea floor to tie up the bow of your boat.  You then throw the dock hand your back lines which they tie to the dock and pass back to you.  In this marina, they had us tie up side to which means you pull up with the wall along the side of your boat and tie off to the dock.  We loaded up on fenders since the dock was nothing more than crumbling concrete and rebar.  This was a tough one because you have to climb off over the side of the boat.  Our sides are quite high which meant some odd looking acrobatic moves on my part, and one ass baring (ok, undie baring) pair of shorts after they split from top to bottom.  We felt pretty good about the set up.  We had a boat in front of us and wide open space behind us so departing the dock would be super easy! Ha!  You know by now, the story never ends that easily…..but I will come back to that.

Boat munching docks….we moved every fender we had to be ready!

We had planned to spend a couple days here, so we booked a boat tour on this incredible lake that spans both Montenegro and Albania.  We hopped in a cab to the train station and took the train to the town of Virpazar (about 30 minutes away).  We had been warned that to try and drive it would take over 2 hours because traffic was so horrendous.  Our tour operator met us at the train station and took us to our boat.  The lake is now a National Park in order to protect it and it’s inhabitants.  One part of the lake is a breeding ground for pelicans, but we did not get to see any.  There are a number of monasteries around the lake, a castle, and some fjords.  Our captain took us through the channels in the lake through a myriad of lily pads and blooms.  The yellow blooms are male, and the beautiful white ones are female.  The female flowers bloom once a day, opening with the sun, and dying below the water as the sun sets.  There are also fields of bamboo throughout the lake, and many species of birds.  We cruised up the fjord which ended in a quaint little village.  The tour took 5 1/2 hours, and we were pretty beat up at the end from being in the blazing sun all day long.  As we made our way back to the boat, we ended up getting off the train a little too early (they don’t announce any of the stops!) which meant a 4 mile walk back to the boat.  Yep…hot, sticky, worn out mess.

Train inland to Virpazar
Lily pads everywhere!
Heading out from Virpazar
Our boat and guide for the lake tour
Pretty flower for a pretty lady!
Ancient bridge over the river

On our last day, we rented a car to explore some local sights and re-provision before heading to Albania.  Driving in Montenegro is quite interesting.  For example, there is a 4 way busy intersection with no signage!  Everybody just muscles through and makes their way across…..definitely not for the faint of heart.  Our fist stop was to the oldest olive tree.  This tree is over 2000 years old, and you get to pay to go look at it….haha.  We did.  It was pretty cool looking with it’s giant, gnarled trunk rising out of the ground.  The surrounding olive trees didn’t look too much younger given their slightly smaller trunks.  From there we headed up the mountain to the old city of Bar.  True to form, we arrived here in the heat of the day.  After all, there is no better time to be climbing hills, clamoring over toppled stone blocks, and climbing steps to highest points 🤦‍♀️ Nope, we never learn!  Oh, and I have neglected to mention that every day, for weeks now, we have been under an extreme heat advisory.  Yeah, good times! Stari Bar is a cobblestone road lined with quaint little restaurants and shops rising up the mountain.  At the end, you arrive at an ancient Roman fortress surrounded by the remains of an ancient Roman town.  The views from the top of the fortress were quite spectacular, and it is easy to see why this was built as their stronghold.  

World’s oldest olive tree!
Over 2000 years old! (How do they know?)
Wandering the markets of Stari Bar
Old city walls
Stari Bar is perched high above the surrounding areas – perfect place for a fortified keep
Earthquakes have done damage to Stari Bar over the years
Ancient fresco amongst the ruins

When we arrived back to our boat, we discovered that we now had a new neighbor at our stern.  See, I told you nothing was simple.  We were now officially parallel parked with our boat.  One boat in front of us and one boat, very close, behind us.  I now had a new thing to fret about all night.  How on earth were we going to extricate ourself sideways???  As we always do, we talked through our ideas and came up with our plan of action.  Wouldn’t you know, that night a Bura (strong NE wind) came in.  Are you kidding me?  I said I wanted to build my skills and confidence this year, but come on.  The next morning, we still had 15 knot winds blowing.  We needed to leave the marina, motor out and around the bend to the customs dock, get tied up and do the formalities of checking out of Montenegro.  We made a couple of little tweaks to our departure plan, and the wind that I was so freaked out about, blew us easily off the dock while Dan pivoted our stern out.  We sure made that look easy! Thanks for the help wind 🙂  Now it was time to tie up to the customs dock.  This would also be side to, but there would be no help with the lines on the dock.  As Dan carefully navigated us up to the concrete wall (remember we still have a lot of wind to deal with), I lasso’d our front line to a bollard and got us tied off.  I then ran to the back to grab the back line and jumped off the side of the boat to tie off our back end.  That went really well also!  What was I losing sleep over???  Because that’s what I do 🙁

All alone on the customs dock
When leaving a country, it’s customary to fly a yellow flag (a quarantine flag) indicating you are in between countries.

Everything went amazingly well, and we were on our way by 8 a.m.  It would be a 57 mile cruise to get to our first port of call in Durrës, Albania (our longest cruise yet).  We hope you will stay with us as we explore the wonders of Albania.

An Inland Adventure to Bosnia

After spending a large chunk of time on board, we decided it was time to get off the boat for a few days and explore some inland sights.  We had met several new friends here in Montenegro who highly recommended a visit to the city of Mostar in Bosnia (about a 3 hour drive away).  We rented a car, and by late morning we were on our way out of Montenegro.  This was now our 6th country to visit since arriving in Europe in early April.  

Road trip!
Three border signs within 5 minutes of driving. The Balkans are complicated.

The drive inland takes you way up into the mountains of Bosnia on a simple, two lane roadway.  After a period of time, you start making your way down into this amazing, fertile valley cut through by a beautiful, teal colored river.  Towns at this point have been very few and far between and cell service even less (definitely not a great place to run into car problems).  Before we knew it, we had arrived in Mostar.  It was blazing hot and packed with tourists (par for the course at this point).  I think we’ve come to the conclusion that we might need to go to the Arctic for the month of August….that shouldn’t be crowded or hot, right?

So, what is significant about Mostar?  Mostar is a crossroads of where East meets West.  Bosnia is as far as the Ottoman Empire pushed into Europe.  Mostar is renowned for some of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.  It is also one of the epicenters of the Balkan conflict in the 90’s.  This is the first place in Europe (that we have seen) where the landscape is not only dotted with Christian churches but also Islamic mosques and minarets.  The streets overflowed with tourists dressed in the traditional summer attire of western cultures and full on head to toe burkas (only the eyes were visible) of some Islamic cultures.  It is also the only place in Europe I have heard the call to prayer by the many minarets.  It was definitely a fascinating confluence of cultures all in one place.

Beautiful Neretva river in Bosnia-Herzegovina

We spent a little time wandering the streets once we arrived in order to get our bearings and make our plan for a full day of exploration the next day.  The city itself blankets both sides of that beautiful river I mentioned earlier.  In the heart of town, spanning the river, is Stari Most (Old Bridge).  This bridge was destroyed during the war, but rebuilt to it’s original glory.  The bridge is very picturesque and popular.  At the highest point, it is an 80 foot plunge into the cold, swift moving water below.  I mention this because this bridge is famous for it’s “cliff divers” (obviously it is not a cliff, and they do not dive….they jump).  This draws quite the cheering crowd to watch them leap off this very high bridge (my heart stops and my palms get sweaty just watching these guys).  People have died attempting this.  The local divers prance around the bridge in their speedos, collecting money from the tourists.  Once they deem that they have collected enough, they jump.  If you’re really nuts (I try to think that I am not!), you can actually PAY to do this.  There is some coaching involved to guide you in your technique so you don’t kill yourself 😬🙄

Crazy jumper will dive for euros….

The following day, we got an early start and headed out exploring.  The city itself is very picturesque.  You would never know that this place was once ravaged by war….until you take a closer, deeper look.  While they have rebuilt the heart of the city in spectacular fashion, deeper down the alleys and on the outskirts you can still see the bullet and mortar shells pocking the structures.  Some of the buildings outside the center are nothing more than skeletal ruins from being blown apart.  From there, we headed to the genocide museum.  We choose to visit these types of places wherever we go in order to learn more about the history of the countries we visit.  Needless to say, we always walk away feeling sad and empty inside that humans can do these kinds of things to one another.  This one perplexed me even more so given that history’s most notorious genocide happened in Europe only 50 years prior!  As a person who loves traveling the world and learning about other cultures and ways of life, it breaks my heart that humanity cannot get to a place of live and let live.

View from the top of the minaret on the river. Claustrophobic climb up the turret!
Made it!
Walk back in time…
Across the ancient bridge
Bullet marked homes as a reminder of a troubled recent past
Most of the town has been rebuilt but there are still ruins from the 90’s war
Bosnia Genocide museum in Mostar
Chilling photos from Srebrenica
Dioramas of concentration camps

We spent one more day wandering the streets of Mostar and enjoyed some wonderfully authentic Bosnian dishes, but it was time to make our way back to the boat and start making our way south.  As we made our way out of town, we made a couple of other stops to see some sights.  The first place we stopped was an old airplane bunker built into the mountainside.  Tito had built this to hide his planes during the Cold War.  Unfortunately, it appeared as though the locals have turned it into their dumping grounds as the roadway into the tunnels were littered with piles of trash and discarded furniture.  Dan walked as far in as he could see, but without a flashlight, he could not go all the way in.  No way in hell was I going inside this pitch black tunnel that looked like the perfect set for a horror movie kill scene!  As we made our way back to the car, I caught sight of this giant mop of fur laying on one of the trash heaps.  The closer I got, I noticed legs….pretty sure it was a very large dog.  Needless to say, I ran back to the car.  Gross! 

Cold war bunkers for the Yugoslav air force
That’s as far as we were willing to go!

Driving in a foreign country is always an adventure in and of itself.  This trip was no exception.  Google maps is our lifeline for finding our way around.  Unfortunately, google maps is not always right.  Several times we were sent down roads that we were pretty sure were not roads.  We were mapped down one way roads, going the wrong way.  And my all time favorite….being guided to cross a foot bridge in the car as a means to cross the river.  When we finally managed to find our own way across the river, we continued on our journey to our next stop.  Once again, this was a highly frequented tourist attraction, so it was a zoo!  This was a Dervish house in Blagaj.  Despite the huge crowds, this beautiful place sits on the river beneath huge cliffs.  It is surrounded by tranquil gardens along with many riverside restaurants to cater to the tourists.  This place existed in the mid 17th century and was renovated in the mid 19th century.  It is quite a sight to see.

Beautiful setting…
Cave tours bye hand towed dinghy
Dervish house from Ottoman times

Needless to say, this was just a very tiny glimpse into a piece of Bosnia, a former part of what was Yugoslavia.  Once we are back on board, we will continue our journey down the coast of Montenegro with some new sights and adventures!

Fortress overlooking the valley

Welcome to Montenegro!

After 3 months of enjoying the beauty of Croatia, it was time to get moving.  If you’ve been following our blog, then you are fully aware that our departure from Croatia came with a great deal of trauma, stress, and a major lack of sleep.  Upon clearing customs, the expectation is that you leave Croatia immediately and by the most expeditious route.  The little bit of wind that we had was right on our nose which meant motoring down the last little bit of Croatian coastline before rounding the corner into the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.

The first sight that greets you is an ancient fortress that once guarded the entrance to the Bay of Kotor.  Some of it appears to be in the process of being restored and proudly flies the Croatian flag….it is literally the end of the Croatian coastline.  Our first stop was the customs dock to take care of formalities.  While this was much, much easier than the customs dock in Croatia (very large pier where you tie up side to and only one other boat present), we were still grateful for the extra set of hands that came with our friends.  Tying up is always so much easier when you have the extra help (special thanks to Tim and Aline).  Once the formalities were taken care of, we headed off in search of the marina that Dan had found.  It was a brand new marina and resort that was not yet officially open (and was still under construction).  This meant super cheap rates for us!  The marineros all came out to assist us in getting tied up.  The marina was absolutely stunning, and we were one of about 6 boats in a home that could house several hundred.  It was a quiet, peaceful bliss that we really needed after our stressful departure from Croatia.  Today would be a day of rest and relaxation for all of us, and the exploration of Montenegro would begin tomorrow.

The southernmost tip of Croatia and a fortress protecting the entrance to the Bay of Kotor
Customs dock in Zelenika, Montenegro- our first stop in the country
Zoe all alone in newly opened Portonovi Marina.
Portonovi Marina beach club….we were not roughing it!

The next evening, we grabbed a cab and headed for the old city of Herceg Novi.  We are definitely in the height of peak season.  Traffic and crowds are overwhelming.  Despite the heat and the crowds, we climbed up to the tower walls to take in the views.  We wandered the ancient cobblestone streets immersing ourselves in the ancient history that surrounded us.  We took a break for a fabulous dinner on a tree lined terrace, underneath the towering fortress walls.  We returned to the boat and called it a night earlier than usual in preparation for a big day exploring the city of Kotor, deep inside the bay.

Herceg Novi church in the Old City walls
Cannon eye view of the Bay of Kotor from Herceg Novi’s battlements.
Patron Saint looking over the harbor

The following day, we had a later start than planned since our rental car did not get delivered until 10:00.  We had hoped to get an earlier start since it was now extremely warm this time of year, and the old stone fortresses did not offer much reprieve from the heat.  Driving in this part of Montenegro is fairly simple (from the perspective of getting lost).  There is one main road, two lanes only.  Unfortunately, it was not designed to see the amount of tourist traffic that arrives in late summer.  The drive was quite long, and the ability to pull over and take in the sights along the way was practically non-existent with the number of visitors everywhere we went.  Even the car ferry was not equipped for these kinds of traffic loads since the loading areas overfilled and backed up onto the main roadway for miles.  Occasionally you would see a frustrated local pull into the oncoming lane of traffic to try and zoom ahead of the stand-still we were stuck in.  No way were we attempting that bit of fun!  When we finally arrived in the old city, we had to park on the outskirts and walk back into town.  The fortress walls were incredible to see and walking around the fortification was quite amazing.  There was also a non-stop parade of large cruise ships that come in, so you can imagine the insane amount of people wandering around the city.  After spending a few hours within the walled fortress, we decided to drive up the mountain to an observation point that overlooked the entire bay of Kotor and looked down on the fortress.

We made our way out of town, and started our ascent up the mountain.  Before we go too far, let me set the stage for you on this little adventure!  Come on, I know you’ve been hoping for a little bit of drama and excitement….and we always aim to please 🙂  Imagine a roadway that is no more than 1 1/2 car lengths wide (sometimes less).  Imagine that road filled with 35+ hairpin turns.  Let’s not forget that this narrow, little road is built for two way traffic.  At this point, you might be saying “big deal….so it’s a little narrow.”  Now picture those giant, private, shuttle buses on the very same road.  So up we go, winding through tight turns and sheer drop offs, side mirrors nearly kissing oncoming traffic (and there is a lot of oncoming traffic).  Then comes a bus (or two or three).  This usually requires all oncoming traffic to back up to some scarce little squeeze out spot so that the bus can scrape by you.  As you can imagine, there was a lot of squeaking and squealing from my side of the car as we backed down (or up, depending on which direction we were coming) and off into the brush to give the buses room.  I think I hit my workout goal on my Apple Watch based on my heart rate alone.  I will say, the views were spectacular, but the drive surely left me with a bunch more gray hairs.  Anyway, we made it up and back in one piece with some stories to tell.

Kotor and it’s amazing old city walls.
It was magical wandering the old cobble stoned streets
Robyn and Tim…
View of Kotor and the non stop cruise ships from the vantage point high in the mountains over the city.

The following day it was time for our friends to say good-bye and make their way home.  Dan and I set about figuring out our next steps.  A very big storm was forecasted for tonight, so we made sure the boat was secure on her lines.  As forecasted (for once), the storm came in with a fury.  There were strong wind gusts, pouring rain, thunder, and lightning.  Once again, we were grateful to be safely tucked in the marina to ride it out.  As it was, it was much shorter lived than the fun we had out on anchor in Croatia.  We spent a few more days in this beautiful, luxury marina and then decided to head to another fairly new marina with even cheaper prices.  We had heard good things about this marina and were excited about the fact that it was within walking distance to the old town of Herceg Novi.  So we said farewell to Marina Portonovi and did a quick ride up into the Bay of Kotor before heading back down toward the entrance of the bay and Marina Lazure.  This of course came with it’s own bit of fun.  By now, the winds had really picked up (which makes for a really fun time docking).  This marina was quite a bit smaller than the one we had come from and quite a bit fuller.  As we started down the fairway, the marinero signaled us to come down a specific finger.  It was incredibly narrow, so Dan shouted out to him asking if he was sure it was wide enough for us.  He just waved us down again.  As we slowly made our way down, fighting the crosswind, our rudder snagged a boat with lazy lines that rose ridiculously high on the surface of the water.  Luckily, I was watching it as it happened, and Dan was able to quickly reverse us and pop us free.  Next came the fun of pulling into our spot.  We had plenty of room between the two boats we were going between, but our marinero did not seem to know what he was doing.  The first line he handed me to run to the front of the boat was tied to boat beside us!  What the hell!  He quickly scrambled to pull up a line on the opposite of our boat which meant I had to drop everything and run to the other side.  In the meantime, Dan has left the helm station to help with back lines and I’m yelling to him to stay at the helm because we have no lines tied to the boat at this point.  We finally get one side secured and move back to the original side we started on.  The marinero now hands me a line that has been severed so it is no longer attached to the lazy line on the sea floor.  The next one he grabs is right under our rudder and prop!  Seriously?!?!  He finally gets his act together and takes the extra line off of our neighbor (the one he tried to give me originally while it was still attached) and hands it to me to tie off the other side of our bow.  We were finally safely tied up in our new spot.

Big storms bring big rainbows…
Onwards to the next marina – Lazure Marina which was also newly opened.

At this point, we are pretty much just trying to burn off the month of August.  It is the hottest month in this part of the world along with the absolute busiest month for tourism.  The high temperatures and crowds quickly overwhelm my spirit of adventure, and I find myself longing for those quiet little anchorages that can only be found in the earlier part of the season.  Our stay here has reset the tax clock on our boat, and reset our visa time in both the EU and Croatia.  In the next few days, we will continue our exploration along the coast of Montenegro and then make our way down to Albania.  Our cruising season is rapidly coming to a close, and by September we will arrive in Greece.  Our hope is that some of the summer tourism traffic will have died off as people go back to work and school.  

Goodbye from Montenegro!