Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Day 10 – Tue, April 16, 2019 – Dubrovnik, Croatia – Crystal Serenity – Monte Carlo to Venice

Just up the coast from Kotor is Dubrovnik, Croatia. Another one of the small countries that were created when Yugoslavia broke apart.

Dubrovnik is another large walled city, but in this case, it is famous because many parts of it and its surrounding area has been using to film Game of Thrones (GOT). Julie arranged for a guide to take us around to some of the filming sites, and then drop us off in the town so we could do some touring. There is a hill that separates the actual Dubrovnik town from the docks, so we could not actually see the town from where we were docked.

Initially we had a very difficult time finding our guide. In the other ports, the guide met us when we left the ship. In this case, we realized that we had to go outside the port and that is where he met us.

Once we found our guide, he took us about 15 miles northwest to Trsteno Arboretum. This is about a 60 acre area with many fascinating sites. Many of which clearly have been the backdrop for scenes in the show. We wandered around, looked at the great flora in the area and tried to picture the various scenes.








There were a LOT of cats running around




Next, we headed back toward the city and drove back across this great suspension bridge.


We then drove around the city to drive up to the top of the mountain right next to the city. There is a gondola that will take people up and down, but we took the road. The views and vistas were amazing. The guide talked a little about how the area had been bombed by the Serbians in 1991. There was also a siege of the city.



The gondola ascending
We then went further south to visit the Hotel Belvedere. The hotel is a derelict but its circular atrium and some clever CG turned into the location for the big fight scene between the Mountain and Prince Oberyn when they fought to the death in the Season 4 finale of Game of Thrones.




That was the end of the GOT spots for the guided tour, so we headed to the actual walled city. Our guide let us off and we stopped for a bite to eat at a small outdoor restaurant outside of the gates. The food was very good and we relaxed and chatted about what we'd seen that far and what was next.


A lot of people choose to walk the walls of the city, going all the way around. We had found a walking tour for more GOT scenes in the city and decided to try and follow that tour. We made it to a couple of sites and eventually got lost and gave up. Then we just wandered around. It's an extremely well preserved city and very beautiful.
Gate house










Notice the resemblance?


We then returned to the ship. Before dinner, we went to our favorite pre-dinner venue, the Avenue Saloon.


On our way to dinner, we saw an excellent sunset.


That night, we went to the Chinese food venue - Silk and shared a wide variety of dishes. Brenda and Alex thought that it was their favorite dinner (other than the Vintage room of course).


After dinner, we stopped by the Galaxy lounge to see John Joseph do another of his comedy acts. We've seen him many times and he is truly funny.






Day 9 – Mon, April 15, 2019 – Kotor, Montenegro – Crystal Serenity – Monte Carlo to Venice

This was our first visit to Montenegro. In fact, it is our first visit to any of the former Yugoslavian countries (another of them, Dubrovnik, Croatia is tomorrow). Kotor is located about 17 miles inland in the Bay of Kotor. Sailing into the city reminded us of the fjords of Norway (although it clearly wasn't made by glaciers carving the mountains).

We entered the Bay and sailed for about 45 minutes to finally make it to the City of Kotor.

Our ship in the bay on our way to Kotor.
All along the bay, we noticed small villages along the water and then a church about half way up the mountain, isolated from the city. We learned later on that piracy was a huge problem in this part of the world and so the churches were used as lookouts for pirates. If some were spotted, they would signal the other churches to ultimately signal the town of Kotor.




Church on the side of the mountain


It was incredible, as the ship docked a short stone's throw from the walled city.



Julie had arranged a tour and the four of us disembarked and met up with our guide. He was a local and really told us a lot about the history and current culture of Kotor. It's kind of strange to be in a country that is roughly 20 years old. We drove up the side of the mountain to get a look at the city. Normally folks go through a tunnel to get to Budva (our destination), but he took the long scenic way. The views were incredible.


This looks like a postcard!!


The walled city has the longest continuous wall in Europe at about 4.5km long. It goes way up the hill to a fortress and back down. Later in the day, we talked to some ship members that walked up and back (it was VERY STEEP).

Kotor and wall going up the side of the mountain

Top half of the wall with the church and fort at the top.

The fort

And the church
Anyway, the scenery was incredible. Coming from living in the mountains in Utah, we have beautiful mountain scenery, but adding the water and buildings, it was amazing.

On our way to Budva, our guide talked about how old habits die hard. Under Yogoslavian rule, there was an incredible amount of corruption in the government and so the only way to get things done was via bribery. Things had gotten a little better as an independent country, but some of the same people were around and sometimes you still had to resort greasing a few palms. He was thankful that Kotor was a Unesco World Heritage site, so there were a ton of restrictions on building to keep the same style.

On our way to Budva
Budva which has another wonderful walled city does not have that classification and the construction and growth around the small walled city was pretty much out of control. Budva is a very old city, at about 2500 years old and the whole city has a population of around 60K people.


Before stopping at the walled city, we drove another 6km to the island of St. Stephen. The island was originally a true island, but recently they built a causeway to connect it. The whole island is a 5 star resort with about 50 large rooms and cottages. It apparently is ultra plush.


Returning to Budva, we stopped and wandered around the walled city. After showing us a couple of churches, our guide gave us time to wander and he waited for us in a coffee shop. The city was not very big, but incredibly cool. Lots of small, curvy streets, several churches, ruins, etc.






After Budva, we went through the tunnel back toward Kotor. We stopped and went into the walled city and wandered around. Again, another incredible walled city, but significantly larger. We visited several churches and marveled at the wall built up the mountain.





The beginning of the walk up the wall.


View from the front gate of the city to the ship.
We then headed north and visited Perast. It was a nice small and typical for a coastal city. Most of the villas were fortified to protect them from pirates. Our guide pointed out that in the middle of the bay there was a small church, "Our Lady of the Rocks". It was created by people sailing rocks out there and dumping or sinking old or captured ships with rocks in them to make the island. Supposedly the tradition was started when local seamen saw an icon of Madonna and Child in rocks and so they started dropping rocks in the spot each time they returned from a successful voyage. The church has a small museum and gift shop and our guide said we could hire a boat to go out and visit. We declined as we were getting a bit worn out.





Eventually we returned to the ship, hung out and got ready for our big evening in the Vintage Room.

The sail out
This is a private dining wine pairing event that is managed by the head sommelier (Tilmar) and chef. Attached is the menu. Tilmar was the host for the evening, telling us stories about each of the wines, why he picked what foods to go with it, etc. etc. etc. There were 8 other guests and it was an absolutely incredible evening. This was our third Vintage room event and it was far and away the best due to being able to share the incredible food and wine with Alex and Brenda.

Here is the incredible menu:




Some of the wines

Tilmar


Poached Lobster Tail

The Cod

Veal Oscar

More wine... More wine!!!

Wagyu Beef Tenderloin

So Much Laughing - Everyone Had a Great Time

Strudel


Chocolate and Cassis Dessert came looking like this


Then this is what they did to it.

And the final version!!