Magical Montenegro

While we were still asleep this morning, the Queen Victoria boarded her pilot and was navigated through the winding Bay of Kotor, before being manoeuvred alongside her berth.  The Bay of Kotor is approximately 28 kilometres long and only 340 metres wide at its narrowest point.  Many people who have sailed into the bay liken it to sailing in the Norwegian fjords.

Kotor was founded by the ancient Romans as ‘Acruvium’ and remained under Roman rule until the break-up of the Roman Empire in AD 476.  For the next 700 years, many different powers ruled or occupied the city.  Kotor was a free city of medieval Serbia from 1186 until 1371, but Venetian and then Hungarian dominance followed for brief periods. Once again, from 1393 to 1420, Kotor was an independent republic, only to revert to Venetian rule for almost 300 years. Many of the city’s magnificent public buildings date from the long period of Venetian control, but the sixteenth century in particular was one of the great hardships for the inhabitants on several occasions.

By the time we got up at eight o’clock, the Queen Victoria was at anchor, and we looked out, on our balcony, to another sunny day and cloudless sky.  We could see a P&O ship docked a short way across the bay; a quick look at the Marine Traffic app identified it as Oriana.  Further out at anchor, away to our left, was the Tui ship Marella Celebration.

In the Lido self-service restaurant we sat with Billy and Carole at breakfast, and agreed to go ashore together in the liberty boat together.  As they would land us right into the Old Town, we didn’t have any excursions booked today, as we’d be able to see and do a lot on foot, and we looked forward to exploring our 86th country.  🙂

Back in our stateroom we gathered together camera, money, credit cards, water bottles etc and made our way to the Royal Court theatre to await the call for our liberty boat.  We then went down to Deck A for the short ride across, passing right up next to the Oriana as we did so.  She looked a lovely, elegant ship, the shape a ship should be, with tiered aft decks, and it’s a pity we’ll never get the chance to cruise on the Oriana as P&O have announced she will be leaving the fleet in August 2019.

The boat arrived dockside and we disembarked and walked along the water’s edge, heading for the old town in this ancient walled city.  It was fantastically picturesque, the shimmering sea against the blue-grey mountainous backdrop, with many small boats tied up and at anchor.  In fact, it looked a bit like Norway with palm trees!  🙂

We soon found ourselves in a large square, the stone paving underfoot worn smooth by the passage of thousands of feet.  An immense church dominated the square, with the dates 1166 on the left tower, and 2016 on the right tower, commemorating the 850th anniversary of the building.  A quick look at our Kotor Guide told us that this was The Cathedral of St. Tryphon.  St. Tryphon – the patron saint of Kotor – was executed in Turkey in AD 251 for his Christian beliefs, on the orders of Emperor Trajanus Decius.  His remains were brought from Constantinople to Kotor in the 9th century and are now in a chapel here.  This magnificent cathedral was consecrated in 1166, having been built on the site of a 9th century church.  Like many buildings in Kotor, it suffered extensive damage in the earthquakes of 1667 and 1979, but has since been restored to its former glory.

As we walked about the square, looking at the buildings and shops, our attention was drawn by a number of stray cats, in particular a large, friendly ginger tom, who quite happily enjoyed the stroking and petting he received from many of the passers-by.  When I put out my hand to him, he rubbed his head against me, purring ecstatically with his tail in the air.  He was a handsome chap, and he sat there placidly, not in the least bit bothered by the crowds of people.

We saw a great many cats, and in some areas bowls of water, milk and food had been put out for them.  In one souvenir shop, a family of cats seemed to be in residence, and we looked through the window at a large desk containing the counter and checkout; one of the drawers was open and from it peeped the heads of two tiny kittens – it was so cute.

In fact, cats are so ubiquitous to Kotor that they have taken on a symbolic meaning. The official symbol of Montenegro is the Venetian lion, but the cat is like a little lion and is now the unofficial symbol of Kotor because the locals believe that cats are a sign of good luck.  As I am a cat lover, I couldn’t resist stopping to pet a lot of the cats, and in one case I briefly cuddled a tiny kitten, so small I could pick it up with just one hand.

The old town was lovely; there were a lot of narrow alleyways with steep steps going up the hillside, and several narrow streets with quaint little shops either side; in some parts they reminded me of The Shambles in York.  Many of the shops sold hand-crafted goods; we saw a shop selling Christmas decorations and a large number of intricate papier-mâché theatrical masks, giving a hint of the city’s Venetian influence.  Other shops sold paintings of local scenes, and one of them showed the artist outside his shop, putting the finishing touches to a country scene he’d been working on.

After we’d done a circuit we found ourselves in small square off the main square, and the four of us decided to sit in the sun with a cold beer.  We came to a bar outside which  there were a couple of guys playing the guitar and singing lively local songs; all the tables and chairs were occupied and the nearby bar was doing a roaring trade.  There was nowhere for us to sit, so we returned to the main square and found a café/bar with lots of canopied tables and chairs outside which seemed suitable for the purpose.  We each enjoyed our beers as we sat and people- and cat-watched; our ginger friend had wandered over to the tables and was making the most of any titbits it was offered.  He also slunk into the square and made some half-hearted attempts to stalk some of the many pigeons strutting about.  🙂

After the beers, Billy and Carole decided they’d start heading back to the Queen Victoria, but Trevor and I were happy to explore further, so we said we’d see them later on.

We then set off on another circuit, just meandering along and soaking up the atmosphere.  What a lovely place Kotor was!  We walked towards the harbour and climbed up some steps to walk along some of the city walls.  From up here we had great views over the harbour, and I took a number of photos with the bow of the Oriana in the foreground.

As we walked along the wall, we came to a path with some trees forming a welcome shade from the hot sun.  As we paused to watch a half-grown cat which was attempting to climb one of the trees, the half-door of a nearby cottage opened and a bespectacled woman frowned at us, and spoke sharply to us in her own tongue.  Eventually we heard the words “Pree-vat, pree-vat” and she pointed at a sign (which had its back to us) hanging from one of the trees.  As we passed the tree, we saw that the sign said “Private”, which would have been visible and obvious to anyone coming from the other direction, but not to us.

As we walked away, another couple of people came along, a few minutes behind us, and the upper half of the woman’s body appeared again over her half-door, as she glared at them over the top of her glasses.  We watched in amusement as yet more people came along.  By this time the woman had banged open the lower half of her door, and she stood solidly in the doorway with her arms folded, admonishing anyone who dared to come along.  She had her work cut out all right!  🙂

We strolled along and returned to the main square by another route, and decided to go back to the same bar and have some more beers.  As we sat down and placed our order, the four lads who we’d seen singing last night (“Troubadour”) came along and sat down at a nearby table, obviously to make the most of some time off.  Several people went up to them and said how much they’d enjoyed their performance last night.

We weren’t in any particular hurry, so we enjoyed a nice cold refreshing pint of beer each then, when I saw someone at an adjacent table order a glass of chilled white wine, I decided I’d finish off with one of those too.  We therefore summoned the waitress again and placed our orders.

Afterwards we made use of the bar’s toilet facilities, and started to make our way back to the liberty boat landing stage.  We didn’t have too long to wait and we were back on board the Queen Victoria just before 3.00pm.

As we’d missed our lunch, we just went along to the Queen’s Room at half-three for afternoon tea, served as usual by attentive, white-gloved waiters as a harpist played a selection of tranquil tunes.  We then returned to stateroom 5130, had an afternoon power nap, then started getting showered, shampooed and changed before pottering around on the balcony and just whiling away the time until the Queen Victoria weighed anchor around 5.45pm, and slowly started her way back along the picturesque Bay of Kotor, which was indeed like cruising the Norwegian fjords.

Down in the Britannia Restaurant we noticed our waiter had moved our table round slightly, so that none of us had our back to the window.  This enabled us to enjoy the ever-changing scenery beyond the window as evening descended and the ship proceeded towards the open Adriatic sea once more.

After dinner we just did the usual: along to the Golden Lion for a drink before the show, and another unsuccessful attempt at the Wipeout Trivia, then along to our ‘regular’ front row seat in the Royal Court theatre to see tonight’s performance by the Theatre Company, called “Hollywood Rocks”.  This was billed as a “roller coaster ride through the history of the silver screen” and was the usual high-energy, all singing and all dancing extravaganza.

Then it was up to the Commodore Club with Billy and Carole, where we enjoyed some cocktails as we talked over the day’s events.  We were trying hard not to think that we only had one more day at sea and one more port of call to visit before the end of our fabulous cruise.  😦

Once Trevor and I returned to our stateroom, we sat out on our balcony in the cool night air, looked at tomorrow’s programme of events, and enjoyed a nightcap.  We had a full day at sea to look forward to tomorrow and as usual we slept very well in our big comfortable bed, where we were still unable to discern any motion at all from the Queen Victoria, on what has to be one of the calmest voyages we’ve ever done.

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