Monday, May 30, 2011

DAY 4: Kotor, Montenegro (Oceania Cruise)

Kotor, Montenegro – when we say gorgeous…!

That’s really the color of the water.

Kotor is a place you don’t want to miss if you ever have the opportunity to see it. It has incredible natural beauty, combined with an Old World architecture and friendly residents. Kotor and the bay seemed to us to be a largely undiscovered jewel, well worth seeking out.

The town is located at the farthest reach of Kotor Bay, sometimes referred to as Europe's southernmost fjord (though it isn’t technically one). Fortunately or unfortunately, we temporarily forgot about that when we went to bed the night before, so we didn’t get up as soon as we would have, meaning that we got some extra sleep but missed much of the cruise through the “fjord.” At least we got to see it on the way out at the end of the day.

Along the “fjord,” mountains and cliffs come almost to the water’s edge, leaving just enough space for a road and some houses, or maybe a small village here and there. However, the scenery was no less spectacular in Kotor itself than on the ride to reach it. Kotor marries these incredible geographical features with a charming medieval, walled city.

We were able to see it with a bit of sun first thing in the morning, but it quickly turned cloudy, with intermittent light rain, which nevertheless failed to dampen our spirits in this gorgeous setting.

View of Kotor, Montenegro from Oceania’s ship, Marina.
The domed building is the Church of St. Nicholas.

Pulling back on the previous shot, this puts the town into context. Perhaps you can make out a zigzag wall ascending the mountain. Climbing that wall is a popular tourist activity.

The keeper of the gate in Kotor, Montenegro

First we set out for the nearby village of Perast, catching the local Blue Line bus for the 25-minute trip there (€1 each). This gave us the opportunity to ride with the locals and interact with them a bit. They were very helpful with any questions we had.

Though a place of considerable beauty, Perast doesn't receive as many tourists as Kotor. There we had the feeling that we were really witnessing what life is like in Montenegro. It doesn’t take long to see the village, especially if not taking boats out to its two small islands. I would have preferred a little more time for Perast itself, but we limited ourselves to less than an hour so we could catch the next bus for the return to Kotor, which has much more area to cover.

A café or tavern in Perast, Montenegro

Boats on the shore of Perast, Montenegro

This photo, taken from, shows what the islands off Perast –
Sveti Juraj and Gospa od Skrpjela ("Our Lady of the Rocks") – can look like on a pretty day.

Back in Kotor, one of us set out to ascend the 1350 steps up the city walls to St. John’s Fortress, which sits at a 1200-foot elevation. It affords a panoramic view of the Bay of Kotor.

Walls and St. John's Fortress above Kotor, Montenegro

Oceania’s ship, Marina, in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro,
and the uneven steps that lead to St. John’s Fortress

Al Scheck on the walls above Kotor, Montenegro, with Oceania’s ship,
Marina, in the background

Marina looks huge next to the town, but it’s only a mid-size ship, carrying up to 1250 passengers. What if it were a large cruise ship? (E.g., Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas accommodates three times as many passengers.)

Rather than climb the walls, the other one of us preferred to sit in an outdoor café, sip some local wine, and people-watch.

Vranac wine at an outdoor café in Kotor, Montenegro

People-watching at a café in Kotor, Montenegro

Once the wine was gone, there were plenty of alleys to explore. It’s interesting to see how colors are used in different municipalities. For example, Santorini is known for its whitewashed buildings with blue trim. In Kotor, especially in the back alleys, there is a lot of this dark green color with the stone. At times there’s also almost a patchwork look to the walkways (just barely visible in the photo below).

Open door leads to private courtyard in Kotor, Montenegro

Outdoor café in Kotor, Montenegro

An old-style water pump in Kotor, Montenegro

Very old stone balustrades on a staircase in Kotor, Montenegro

Mode of transportation – by cart – for deliveries in Kotor, Montenegro

I prefer sunny weather, but there was an undeniable charm to this place, even under the cloud cover. Exploring this town was like being transported to another time. In addition to the alleys I love, there are of course squares and churches. In the second photo below, note the differences between the two towers. One theory is that they ran out of money before finishing the left one.

St. Luke’s Church (dating from 1195), in Kotor, Montenegro

St. Tryphon's Cathedral (dating from 1166) in Kotor, Montenegro

Beautiful flag of Montenegro. I hope to see it flying again some day!

We returned to the ship, conveniently docked right near the city walls, in time for “happy hour” in Horizons Lounge. Happy Hour occurs daily from 5:00-6:00, and during that time, drinks are two for the price of one, and come with free munchies or appetizers. (It’s fine to have the first drink there and take the second one into the restaurant to accompany dinner.)

Being at the bow of the ship, the Horizons Lounge offers a great view, so the place was packed. By now we all knew how beautiful that “fjord” is, and I don’t think anyone wanted to miss it as we passed through it on our departure, even if through rainy-day windows! The busyness of Horizons meant that we shared a table with another couple, Ben and Shirley from Texas, and enjoyed getting to know them.

Dinner that night was at another specialty restaurant, Polo. We sat at a table for 8, right at the bow of the ship (on a different level from Horizons), with a great view of the sunset. It was wonderful! I’m not a foodie, but even I got excited about the meal. My appetizer was a tower of beet root (the same as just “beet,” I think), layered with garliced goat cheese and topped with assorted little green sprigs. For an entree I had filet mignon and truffled mashed potatoes. Yum!

Beet and garliced goat cheese tower at Polo, a specialty restaurant
aboard Oceania’s ship, Marina

All three of the other couples at our table have cruised extensively, including two to three times each on Oceania. When we told them this is our first cruise, almost in unison they said, “You’ve started at the top.”

I find the social dynamics to be interesting on the cruise. Obviously there are a number of very successful individuals who cruise, many of whose net worth we will never approach in this life. But we never saw any one-upmanship in that regard. This was vacation, and a cruise ship is a great equalizer. Conversations were about: Where are you from? Have you cruised before? Was it on Oceania, or if not, how would you compare it? Where else have you cruised and what was your favorite place? Only then might company names be mentioned, but no one ever said, “I’m an executive vice president with Ford Motor Company,” for example, or, “I’m staying in one of the Owner’s Suites.” The cruise brought together over 1200 interesting, accomplished people who like to travel and who are well-traveled. If you are that type of person, or you enjoy being with that type of person, you may enjoy that aspect of cruising, which is not so readily available with independent travel.

For more information on Kotor, see my pre-cruise blog.

TIP FOR PERAST: The Blue Line bus to Perast can be caught at the end of the outdoor market (just to the right of the entrance in the city walls, but outside the walls). The cost was €1 per person, each way. Oceania had the bus schedules available for us on the ship, but the locals are also happy to tell you when the next bus is due; and when the bus driver drops you off in Perast, he can tell you when to be back at the stop for the return trip.


  1. What a wonderful description! You have done great justice to one of my favorite spots on Earth! Here's hoping you will have the chance to return soon and see the rest of what Montenegro has to offer!

  2. Thanks, Jason. It's a place where we'd definitely like to spend some more time. Do you live near there or traveled there? -- Vicki

  3. thank's your information,,