Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Mediterranean Magic (2016)

First new country of 2016

ABOVE: Arriving at the outer anchorage point for Kotor

Royal Princess arrived at her anchorage point off Kotor, Montenegro at 7am. We took some photos of the spectacular location, although the weather was not looking very promising at this stage. The ship had reached this point by sailing through the Gulf of Kotor (sometimes called 'the southernmost fjord in Europe', although technically it isn't a fjord at all) while the vast majority of the people on board, including ourselves, were still in the land of Nod. Although it wasn't obvious to a first-time visitor, we were not actually in the planned position. The captain made an announcement explaining that, of the two available anchorage points, we were at the outer one, rather than the intended inner one. This was for safety reasons, given the very strong winds blowing down from the mountains and the size of Royal Princess. We had invited another, smaller ship to take the prime spot, which now meant a two-mile run for our tenders.

Although I had yet to step ashore, the ship had brought me to my first new country of 2016. A remnant of the former Yugoslavia, Montenegro ('black mountain' in Italian) became a sovereign state as recently as 2006, when it declared independence from Serbia. With just 620,000 people, it is one of the smallest countries in Europe - in population terms just above Luxembourg, although considerably larger in physical size. Montenegro has been invited to join NATO and is negotiating to become a member of the European Union. It already uses the Euro as its currency, by unilateral adoption.

Bruce and I had breakfast in the ship's International Café, and after a brief interlude in the cabin to get organised, we took a shore-based tender to town. We were both wearing light rain jackets as our outer layer, which offered additional protection against the strong wind. On arrival, it was just a few steps from the tender landing pier to the gate of the walled old town of this venerable and beautiful Adriatic port, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We strolled through a maze of narrow alleys and attractive little squares, which all became progressively busier as time passed. Our walk included a couple of sections on the walls themselves, presenting a pleasingly different viewpoint.

ABOVE: St Tryphon's Cathedral

As is often the case in urban sightseeing, some of the most historic and interesting buildings turned out to be the places of worship. We visited four churches in total: two Roman Catholic and two Serbian Orthodox. The most historic and interesting of the four (from a tourist's perspective) was the RC cathedral, one of two in Montenegro. Known both as 'Kotor Cathedral' and 'St Tryphon's Cathedral', it dates from the 12th century. There was an entry fee of a fairly modest €2.50, which included access to the treasury.

Turning to the others, St Luke's was also of medieval construction. Originally built as a Catholic church, it was later transferred to an Orthodox congregation. St Clara's was attached to a Catholic monastery, while St Nicholas' was a 20th-century Orthodox church. Its interior had a strong smell of incense, and I was a little surprised to see a priest conducting an informal baptism ceremony while tourist visits continued unabated.

 St Luke's Church St Clara's Church St Nicholas' Church

Bruce had said beforehand that he thought Kotor could be 'done' in a couple of hours, and sure enough, we decided to head back to the tender embarkation point after exactly 2hrs in town. Our transfer back to Royal Princess was on one of the ship's own tenders. We had a leisurely buffet lunch at Horizon Court, the highlight of which was a particularly well executed noodles dish.

It was soon time to head back to our own balcony in readiness for the spectacular departure from Kotor, retracing the route through the Gulf of Kotor. The weather had cleared up beautifully, with the earlier cloud cover now gone and the bothersome wind noticeably reduced. And indeed it proved to be a highly scenic passage back out to the Adriatic, including some tight turns. Hemmed in by mountains for much of the way, there was lots of potential for echoes. Instead of testing this using the ship's horn, we put out several blasts of very loud music, each blast consisting of two phrases from the theme music for the Love Boat TV series from the 1970s, set aboard a Princess cruise ship. The hills made a spectacularly good job of playing back the snippet, with a delay of a few seconds.

By the time we made it back to the open waters of the Adriatic, still in beautiful weather, it was time to get ready for cocktails at Crooners and a second successful visit to Alfredo's Pizzeria.

Tuesday 24 May

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