Friday, May 29, 2009

Visiting Kotor Baz and Lake Skador

A Day on the Pajo
Started the day with a coffee with Jack and Max, who starteed his day with an ice cream cone (reminded of me a bit of how Louis often got off to a start). Max is a lively two-and-a-half year old who was normally a bit shy with us, of course; he seems to have mastered his dad to perfection. We even got to seee the whole family together, Jack, Max, Hayley and Hayley's mom. Jack gave us our ticket for the day-long boat cruise around the bay and we boarded at just after 10. Jack and Hazlez-s business, Black Mountain Travel, is off to a great start - well-established as a leader in outdoor travel activities like hiking and biking. Jack is involved in the overall Montenegran tourism development strategy and organization.
Pajo -- it's Donald Duck! It's the name of this little craft that was already full (just over 20 tourists and 2 crew), but not uncomfortably so. We headed into the bay and got a much better view than when we drove around it. The churches and monasteries are beautiful, either planted high up overlooking the bay from some isolated, practically inaccessible promentory, or down on the waterfront in the center of a village.
We stopped at Our Lady of the Rock, which we had photographed already too much on our drive. It's a church/museum on a man-made island. Apparently, there was a tree all by itself on a rock and a picture of the virgin was found hanging from it. This was considered a miracle, so for 200 years, the people of Perast sank boats and rocks around the tree until they had this artificial island and then they built this church. It's a little gem. It's completely painted inside the walls and the ceiling were all done by a single painter over a 10-year period. The walls are also lined with silver ex-votos from survivors of naval accidents or battles. Survivors also give gifts of paintings and local people give gifts of thanks -- like the old iron or sewing machine -- when they get a new one. There's a room full of these relics from 400 years ago to yesterday. Brides also leave a little souvenir before leaving the church if they got married there. It's really quite interesting. There's another church on a natural island just a few meters away, but we didn't learn anything about it.
We didn't stop at Perast on our way out, but we did on the way back from Kotor. It's a narrow town between the bayfront and the cliff. It's got a church, St. Nicolas, in the center. It's basically abandonned. There are a few magnificent houses that could be restored, but it's like a ghost town.
The Pajo crew served us a little lunch on our way to Kotor, where we stopped long enough for a long walk around the old town and a cup of coffee. Some skipped visiting the town to hit the beach for a swim. Kotor is like a small version of Dubrovnik. Not having been so recently destroyed and restored, it seems more natural. They've taken care to identify the old residences of the great families of the town and even indicate the century of construction. It does help you place them. The city walls extend high up on the hill overlooking the city, but seeing the height of the mountains just behind, one wonders how effective the walls could have been.
This boat excursion is a must. It's the best way to see the bay and spend a relaxing time on the boat. We are not sun freaks, but there was room to climb up on the roof or the prow to catch some rays. There were plenty of sunburned people getting off at the end of the day.
Skador Lake
Off to a later start than usual, we headed down the coast, via the ferry, towards the Skador Lake, the biggest lake that is shared by Montenegro and Albania. It's a national park, protected wildlife zone, but threatened by the pollution of the river feeding into the lake, nonetheless. It looks like there are some fantastic hiking trails and plenty of birds to be on the lookout for. We saw a stuffed Dalmatian pelican at the visitors' center; it's one of the largest pelicans I've ever seen. The visitors' center is two flights up stairs, above the restaurant and administrative offices -- not really concucive to visiting. We had missed the turn off the road before the levee that leads to the visitors' center, so after lunch we headed back, found the road and started on a drive down the western edge of the lake. Our idea was to drive about half way down and then catch another road back to the coast, but we missed the turn and ended up driving almost down to the border before the road turned. We needed to be most vigilent to take the turn towards Bar! This drive is beautiful. It's another single-track, two-way road, so you have to be very wary of oncoming traffic, but there is usually just enough space just a ahead or behind to put the car close to the mountain and let the other car pass. The flowers are beautiful: genet, thistle, and many more. The bees are everywhere. We passed chestnut groves and olive groves. Everywhere, there were magnificent views of the lake. This southern part of Montenegro is predominantly muslim and you can identify the mosques by their minarets. Otherwise, one town looks like any other. On our drive back up via the coast we ran into some thunderstorms and heavy rain. So we were very lucky on our day up to Mt. Lovçen and our day cruising the bay not have had any rain, and today the rain struck at the end. In fact it didn't get to Herceg Novi until long after we did.

No comments: