This will be a short post, as the only thing I really did today was lay on the beach and swim in the ocean and drink some grapefruit radler!
This will be a short post, as the only thing I really did today was lay on the beach and swim in the ocean and drink some grapefruit radler!
Yesterday morning we got up at a decent time as we had a boat to catch. At 1000hrs we headed down to the pier and climbed aboard a disheveled old tour boat that would take us past Sveti Stefan, then dock in Budva for 2 1/2 hours, then past a few other sights.
As mentioned, the boat was in rough shape – carpet pulling up, steering wheel held together with duct tape, garbage crammed under the skipper’s chair. We boarded with mostly Russians, a Scottish couple and a few German ladies, and were off, northbound towards Sveti Stefan.
Sveti Stefan is a peninsula at the end of a long sand spit. It’s a walled city that was originally a Venetian protectorate in the 15th century, was turned into a villa in the 1930s, a resort and casino by the communists in the 1970s, and is now a 5-star resort that can only be entered by guests of the resort. A one night stay starts at $1,500 per night.
Motoring further north we entered the Bay of Budva. Budva is not only the name of the town, but also the municipality that Petrovac was a part of. Budva City is a party town, like a post-communist Ibiza, but does have an old town that we were interested in seeing. However, the boat dropped us off in the middle of the beach, packed with sunbathers and far from the old town. We shrugged our shoulders, found a table at a beach side bar and enjoyed a pint. The beaches were absolutely packed, much more of a young people night club atmosphere, and apparently the party continues well into the night. We continued along the promenade, made friends with a few cats, watched parasailers and then back to the boat.
Our next stop was a little island off of Budva called Sveti Nikola Island (Saint Nicholas). The island houses a few pebble beaches, bars, a little church, and apparently, deer. We stomped around the beaches a bit, but mostly tried to stay out of the sun, as it was getting quite hot. Again, the water against the white pebbles was impossibly blue.
After seeing a total of zero deer, we were back on the boat and heading south towards Petrovac. The heat and rocking of the boat lulled me to sleep, only to be woken up by a rush of people to one side of the boat to get photos of Sveta Nedelja – a church perched on top of a rock on a small island.
We went past the church and to a beach farther south than the Petrovac one. The boat got closer and closer to shore, and soon we ran aground, which made Ma cringe. Two tourists hopped off, and back we headed to Petrovac, where we dined and headed to bed.
This morning we woke up with not a lot of plans in mind – just head to the beach and lay there. We had a decent breakfast, walked to the far end of the promenade and back, changed into our bathing suits, bought some beach towels and a shitty little beach umbrella and found a square of sand.
The shitty umbrella was almost predictably an instant fail, so we decided to pay the Euros and use the lounge chairs and cemented-in umbrellas instead. Pa and I had bought a few cans of beer from a nearby kiosk, and the conversation went like this:
Me: are we allowed to drink beer on the beach?
Cashier on the phone: YES.
I cracked open a grapefruit radler, laid back with my big bitch hat and 2 piece on and just revelled in how relaxed I was. It’s been a long time since I felt that calm.
The sand at the beach is coarse and red, and the water is clear and only slightly chilly. I went in for a dip, the small rocks shredding my feet in the shallow water, but finally got to some large smooth ones where I could stand and float about.
After about a half hour I got out of the water and plopped myself down in my lounger and promptly fell asleep in the sun.
Now allow me a moment to pontificate. I haven’t worn a bathing suit in public in many many years. This year through the help and support of some pretty special people I worked up the courage and bought not one but TWO two piece (high waisted) bathing suits. It was the first time today that I’ve ever worn a two-piece in public, and I actually felt pretty great about it. Part of the reason is that here, every woman and man of every shape, size and age are wearing bathing suits of every shape, size and colour. Women who would be body shamed in North America are wearing whatever they please and not giving one single fuck. I saw an older man standing by the beach, back to the sun, reading his book with one hand, cigarette in the other, teeny tiny speedo. I saw a woman literally slathering butter on her husband. I felt confident to not only be seen in a two piece, but felt like I looked good in my two piece.
After beach time we changed back into our civvies and hit the promenade for dinner and tres leches cake for dessert.
This morning we ate our last breakfast at the Conte Hotel, perched over the languid blue that is the Bay of Kotor, packed our bags and were picked up by a man named Padrag and his black Mercedes. We hired Padrag through a car service to drive us from Perast to our next destination, an hour and a bit south on the coast and out of the bay to a town called Petrovac in the Municipality of Budva. The city of Budva itself is a party town, so we decided to stay at her sleepy neighbour.
The car ride was uneventful, but the beautiful scenery kept it interesting. Montenegro is definitely one of the more naturally beautiful spots on Earth that I’ve visited so far.
We drove through Budva city, past Sveti Stefan and arrived in Petrovac. We were met there by a whirlwind of a man named Djordje whose English is just as good as our Serbo-Croatian. He called a friend to translate and took us up to our beautiful apartment, took us on the tour of the apartment, and as mysteriously as he appeared, he was gone.
Petrovac is a beautiful little bay surrounded by red sand beach and and a promenade filled with restaurants and beachy shops. We walked along some of the promenade, ooh-ing and aah-ing over the beautiful sea
Pa went to the little kiosk by our apartment and picked up some beers, so we drank a few Leffe and relaxed in our new place.
We had skipped lunch, so headed next door to the pizzeria for an early dinner and more relaxing time. We had been told by our driver that most of the visitors were Russians and Serbs, and this was obvious by the amount of signage in Cyrillic.
We went back to our apartment where we listened to the ocean outside our windows and fell asleep, excited for our time ahead in another utopian Montenegrin town.
Today was our last full day in Perast, so we wanted to relax, take it easy, walk the length of the village from watering hole to watering hole.
I tried in vain to capture how clear and blue the water is here, but still it eludes me!
It was the hottest day so far at 31 degrees, so we had to take it easy, my ugly heat rash spreading.
Probably my funniest interaction of the day was at the post office buying stamps. The post office in this tiny town is not a slick Deutsche Post-like operation, but a small room in one of the ancient stone buildings manned by a middle aged lady at a table. Our conversation went like this:
Me: hello! I need to buy some stamps to send post cards to Canada.
Her: Canada. Yes.
Me: uh, there’s a bunny in here.
Her: yes. Eet’s bunny. How many stamps?
Me: twelve. Does the bunny live here?
Her: eet’s not my bunny *rolls eyes*
I sent off some more postcards after my thrilling mail bunny encounter, grabbed a 1€ lavender ice cream and went back to taking more snaps.
We decided on our local favourite restaurant for dinner where we had chicken on the grill and local orange liqueur (Pa had two) and returned to our hotel room.
Perast is super lovely and exceeded my expectations for its stunning natural beauty alone. Although it suffers from apparently typical Montenegrin lack of detail (a lot of broken park benches, garbage cans overflowing), I would definitely come back to spend a week in this gorgeous seaside town.
This morning we took our time at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, savouring the strong espresso and pastries. Pa had secured a speed boat tour for he and I, while Ma was more than happy to spend a few hours wandering Perast on her own.
We shared the speedboat with an English couple and two sisters and a mom of unknown origin. I’ve decided the speedboat operator has the best job in the world – zipping around paradise in a boat, cool Helly Hansen jacket, no shoes…what am I doing get screamed at by callers, members and coworkers alike? Anyway.
Our first stop was to Our Lady of the Rock – is that sounds familiar, it should – we’ve already been there. Pa and I stayed in the boat, catching some rays while our shipmates took a few moments to explore the island.
After about 20 minutes or so, we reloaded and headed west – to the narrow opening of the bay.
Our next point of interest was a submarine tunnel, lightly camouflaged and built into the side of the hill. The Yugoslavian government built three of them in the 60s and 70s as a means of hiding submarines and small warships. I tried my best to grab a few snaps through the changing light, rocking boat and clueless shipmates.
We left the marine bunker and sped further west, past the abandoned shipyards and various villas and resorts, all in different states of construction and disrepair.
Next up was Mamula – an island that holds an abandoned prison that was turned into a concentration camp by Mussolini during WWII. Many were imprisoned, tortured and killed here, and the island has stirred up controversy as of late – in 2016 the Montenegrin government sold the island to Russians, who are turning it into an Ibiza-esque resort, complete with spa and nightclubs. This has understandably upset the relatives and descendants of victims and survivors of the camp, and although the new owners of the island said that they would set up a memorial, this has done little to appease the angry people.
Past Mamula and we were on the open Adriatic – due west was Italy. The sky was a grey wall, dotted with sailboats, main sails and jibs full of the briny breeze. It was almost eerie being such a tiny boat on the open sea, as if some rogue wave, wind or monster could carry us away.
Finally, we turned and headed into a 3 meter tall opening in the side of the rock cliffs – the Blue Cave, or Blue Grotto. Not as famous as its Italian and Maltese siblings, the Blue Cave is stunning – almost unbelievably blue water, like blue flavoured Gatorade. I dipped my hand in, the water iridescent, glowing and surprisingly warm.
Again, it was tricky to get a photo that captured how blue the water was, while also being on a speedboat in a cave. Other boats were stopped there, with swimmers and revellers taking refuge from the oppressive heat (I myself have developed and ugly and itchy heat rash on my chest). Even just outside of the cave the water was bright blue, with speedboats and sailboats alike floating in the glowing sea.
We headed back to the mainland and docked at about 1500hrs and met up with Ma. We grabbed some delicious shopska salad (a favourite we discovered from our trip to Bulgaria 2 years ago) beers and some Perast cake, wrote and sent some postcards and wiled away the hot afternoon until dinner and bed.
This morning we woke early to clear blue sky and calm clear water. We had to get up and go a little earlier than normal, as we were taking a water taxi from our home base in Perast across the Bay of Kotor to the town of Kotor. Kotor is the main town within the bow tie-shaped bay and has become a popular cruise ship port, so the town has gotten busier and busier in recent years.
The water taxi is really cool and a great deal – 3€ to take the 45 minute put across the bay. The service itself is a pilot project – the boat is electric, zero emissions and sponsored by the United Nations.
The three of us and two Welsh ladies boarded and enjoyed the smooth trip.
As we rounded a corner, we saw two huge cruise ships anchored in the bay at Kotor, enormous and ominous looking compared to all the speed boats and sailboats flitting across the bay. We braced ourselves as we knew it was going to be a busy day.
Kotor is a medieval fortified town that changed hands with whichever empire was dominating the area at the time – Bulgarians, Venetians, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian – but the architecture is Venetian.
Kotor is known for squares and winding pathways and alleys – basically the best thing to do there is to get lost.
Ma and Pa wanted to try and conquer the 1400 stone steps up to the fortress on the hill, which sounded like a complete nightmare for me, so we parted ways, them heading to the ramparts and me winding deeper into the town, a specific destination in mind.
As far as I can tell, there is only one place to buy used vinyl in Kotor, and that place is called Vinyl Caffe. Vinyl Caffe isn’t at all a cafe, but a small hallway of an antique shop, and nestled near the rear of the shop are a few crates of records. I wanted to see if I could find some Montenegrin releases of some of my favourite albums, or at least some old Yugoslavian hit records. The shop keep spike very limited English, but I asked if she had any 70s Yugoslavian prog rock. She said a firm “yes”, and immediately pulled out a record with an unpronounceable artist name, album title, but a provocative album cover. I asked if we could listen to it and she said “of course”, pulled the record out of the sleeve, manhandled the vinyl slightly before placing it on her turntable and dropping the needle. The album was exactly what I expected it to be, folk-influenced prog rock, straight out of the 70s and sung all in Serbo-Croatian (one of the tracks even translates to “How Does It Feel to Kiss A Bosnian, Baby?”). I handed over some Euros, thanked her enthusiastically and headed back out to the stone corridors of people and heat.
Another fun fact about Kotor – it is a town of cats. There are cats EVERYWHERE, snuggled in corners, sunning themselves in squares, snaking through your feet as you eat. The cats of the town are very well looked after, as locals leave out bowls of water and piles of kibbles for the fuzzy felines.
Still on my own, I settled on a shaded pizzeria in a pretty square where I ordered a cold draught and wrote some postcards, getting a few updates from Ma and Pa – “hot. Lots of people. Dumb people” and “20 minutes in. Hot.” Even as I peacefully drank and wrote, I had a small grey feline friend occupy the chair opposite me at the table, who meowed, then entertained themselves with the chair cushion ties.
A bit later I got a text from Ma saying “3/4 way up. Too hot. Coming back down”. About 20 minutes later I was reunited with Ma and Pa, red faced and drenched in sweat. That climb is a bullet I’m thankful I dodged. We ate lunch at the same pizzeria and then decided to get lost in the winding ways of the town.
Most of the shops in town sell either typical souvenirs and tchotchkes, antiques or cat-themes wares, interspersed with cafes and wine bars.
After stopping for another drink, we walked back to the port to hop on our electric water taxi back to Perast. One of the ferryman asked about my tattoos and said how an artist that he knows will be charging him $1200 for a full sleeve. He spotted my Baba Yaga’s hut and noted that in the Balkans they have a similar folk character, but she’s knows as Baba Roga.
By the time we arrived back in Perast it was time for dinner, so we had chicken cooked over an open flame, local bread and beer, then headed back to our room for the night.