Day 13 – Spirit in the Sky

This morning we were up early to catch our tour to one of the holiest sites in Christian Orthodoxy – Ostrog Monastery. We booked our tour through Viator, which we had done many times before generally with a lot of success. We were used to a personable guide loading is into a comfortable van or small bus with 6 – 20 other people, everything we were doing clearly communicated and us well aware of what was expected of us. This was not the case today.

Today we waited roadside with a surly Russian couple, our transportation coming from Budva to pick us up. The bus that arrived was an enormous tour bus, already pretty much full. The surly Russians got on first, then promptly got off. Then Ma, Pa and myself were escorted on and lead to the very back of the bus where there were three seats. Surly Russian dude was yelling something at the tour operator, I would imagine about there being no seats. The operator asked a lady if she would be willing to move seats so surly Russian and his wife could sit together (god knows why his wife would want to sit with him). With that all settled, we were on our way.

From the description of their website, we were under the impression that we would be driving to the monastery, free time at said monastery, back on the bus, lunch, home. When we looked up how long it takes to drive from Petrovac to Ostrog, the internet told us two hours.

Driving up out of the bay was a sight to behold – you could see the whole bay, the beach, difficult to discern where the blue sea met the blue sky. We drove more into the mountains, roads spotted with stone houses, monuments, roadside watermelon and honey stands. We even had to briefly stop at one point as a man was trying to corral his herd of goats off the road.

Two hours in we were not at the monastery but at some sort of roadside market, with a restaurant, market, honey stand, and obligatory tchotchke shop. One thing we noticed as the deeper we went into the mountains, the more things were written in Cyrillic. We were told to hop off the bus and grab breakfast, but the combination of bus ride, heat and overwhelming smell of body odour had kicked my motion sickness into high gear, so instead I took a nap. Ma and Pa had attempted to order breakfast, but nothing materialized, so they came back to the bus empty handed.

Finally we were on the road again, driving past Lake Skadar (which we will be visiting later on the trip), through the nation’s capital Podgorica (which we were gonna visit later on the trip but have since decided that we don’t need to), then started up another narrow mountain road, punctuated by switchback after switchback. Eventually we ended up at a parking lot with a few other big tour buses, and thought “well this is it, time to hike up!” Instead, our tour director said to us “now we taxi”. I laughed out loud to Ma and Pa and exclaimed “what the fuck is going on??” We climbed off the big bus and into some sort of soviet era van with dubious seating, curtains, and a fan screwed to the ceiling. Clinging to the seat in front of me for dear life, we zipped up even more switchbacks, honking at other cars trying to come down the mountain.

And finally, at noon, we were there – Ostrog Monastery. Built in the 17th century by the Bishop of Herzegovina to the glory of Saint Basil, it’s carved into the side of the mountain, which frescoes and icons painted on the rock itself.

Our tour guide shepherded us into a line up for what I thought was the entrance to the monastery. We watched devout women in long skirts, their hair covered by scarves, touch the shrines and icons and cross themselves.

The line moved forward slowly, and pretty soon we were in one of the church caves. You had to duck through a little doorway, with a worker ushering people in and out. Soon I noticed there was an end to the line at the end of the church cave, and I thought I saw people kissing a small painting of an icon before turning away. When I got to the front of the line, I watched the woman in front of me kiss the painting, cross herself, turned to the orthodox priest who was standing there and I had failed to notice, who waved a cross at her and she left.

Then it was my turn. I looked at the painting. I noticed it was in front of an open casket holding the skeletal remains of the founder of the monastery covered in a tapestry. I panicked. I’m not at all religious, so I didn’t want to disrespect the priest by kissing the painting when it meant nothing.

I looked at the painting.

Then at the priest.

The back at the painting.

Then again at the priest. He made a motion to me to kiss the painting. I said a quick I’M SORRYYY to the priest before scrambling out of the cave.

Ma came out of the cave not too long after me and said “don’t worry. I wasn’t about to kiss the painting either. Think of the germs”. We then wandered into part of the monastery and honestly there wasn’t a lot to see – the majesty of the place I think comes from the church caves and the stunning sight of the exterior. There was also a huge gift shop (got some obligatory fridge magnets) and soon we sat in the sunny courtyard, laughing about how much of a shit show the day had been.

When it was time, we piled back into the “taxi”, and barrelled down the switchbacks to the lower lot, where instead of getting back on the big bus, we went to another monastery, this one called Ostrog Donji.

We walked around the grounds and climbed on the big bus, which was supposed to leave at 1400hrs, which it was. By 1420hrs the bus still hadn’t left, and the tour director had gone off to find the one unaccounted for tourist. Surly Russian then got off the bus to vape, followed by a bunch of others who smoked. FINALLY the tour operator returned and got into some sort of verbal altercation with surly Russian, and since I know only about 30 words in Russian, I’m not sure what they were fighting about, but from my limited Russian I’m positive it wasn’t about eating cheese pizza.

FINALLY, we were all loaded on the bus, on our way back to Petrovac…

…or so I thought. We went back down the rest of the switchbacks, past Podgorica, past the pelicans of Lake Skadar, and back to restaurant where we attempted breakfast. Ma and I decided to stop by the honey stand, where we were greeted by the delightful shop keep who didn’t speak English, but were able to communicate with thanks to Ma’s basic German. He let us sample some honey, which is made 8km away in the Durmitor Mountains and is part of Montenegro’s “honey trail”. We said our goodbyes to the nice man and headed back to the restaurant to meet with dad for a pint and some time to relax out of the sun.

After the hour we were given, we headed back into the bus, and back towards Petrovac. For real this time.

Day 11 – If I Had A Boat

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.

Day 10 – I’m Gonna Soak Up the Sun

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.

Day 9 – Good Day Sunshine

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.

Day 8 – If I Leave Here Tomorrow

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.

Day 5 – Come Sail Away

This morning we were awaken at 0400hrs by a flash of light that lit up the room and a deafening crack – a storm had made its way over the mountains and into the Bay. It went on for about 20 minutes, and it felt like some of the strikes hit our hotel.

When it was actually time to get up, the sky was overcast but not heavy with rain. We enjoyed breakfast outside, leisurely sipping our americanos and orange juice and chowing down on corn flakes with cut up banana (my favourite vacation breakfast).

One of the things we really wanted to do while we were here was to visit a church. But this isn’t just any church – this is a Catholic Church built on a small island that was built upon sunken pirate ships in the middle of the Bay of Kotor. Our hotel offers 5€ boat rides there, so we paid the ferryman and putted over to the middle of the bay.

I’m of course in my element, because if you’ve read my previous years of travel, you will remember how much I love boat tours.

Our ferryman dropped us off, letting us know we can spend as much time as we like on the island. A little bit about the island – it’s an artificial island, with construction starting in 1452 when sailors found an icon of Madonna with child on a rock. Over the years they filled seized pirate ships with rocks and sank them in the same location, and once the island broke water, they built the Catholic Church that stands there today.

The Church is tiny, with a small sanctuary and a bit of an ad hoc museum upstairs, housing all sorts of recovered treasure and bounty adorning the walls and floors.

After moseying through the Church, we grabbed a bench outside and watched two enormous cruise ships enter the bay, and dark dense clouds creep over the mountains. Being from Raincouver, we know when it’s time to start looking for cover.

We found our ferryman pretty quickly and boarded the boat as droplets started to fall. After the five minute sail we were back on land and downpour was imminent, so we found a covered restaurant, ordered grilled meats and charcuterie and watched the warm, pouring rain.

Maybe two hours passed, and the sky was nothing but blue and white fluffy cloud, and the sun heating up the air and evaporating any puddles left on the road. We had noticed a small ice cream stand right beside our hotel and decided it was time to test it out.

My lavender cone was delicious, but the sun was making us drowsy, so we all grabbed our books, found some chairs in a sitting area of the hotel and read away the afternoon.

We watched a few wedding parties and tour groups stroll by, and before we knew it, it was dinner time. We again dined outside, tried the local rakia and watched the sun set.