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…..talk 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.

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Karen
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Karen

♥️ Such an awesome story and experience! Your bucket list is over-flowing. Love reading it all! You are still so hilarious. 🤣