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 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.
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.
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.
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.