Knego’s eight night Empires of the Mediterranean cruise aboard Viking Ocean Cruises’ brand new MV VIKING SEA continues with calls at Dubrovnik for a full day tour to Mostar and an adventurous morning in Kotor, Montenegro.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.
Monday, October 31, 2016
Dubrovnik, birthplace of my father and “The Pearl Of The Adriatic”. Some of my earliest memories were formed here, way back in 1963, when my parents took us there to film Roger Corman’s “The Secret Invasion”, a decent budget World War Two flick starring Mickey Rooney, Stewart Granger, Raf Vallone and, among others, Peter Coe (my dad, who pulled strings with the mayor to get them permission to film in the old city walls for allegedly the first time ever). Now of course, Dubrovnik is part of the setting for numerous films and series, including the ubiquitous “Game Of Thrones”.
In recent years on cruise ship visits, I have spent a chunk of time wandering Dubrovnik’s cobblestone streets trying to kindle memories of my father’s family residence or clues to his family’s whereabouts. Alas, the local Croatians are barely polite when I ask if they know of the Knegos, I presume because it is a relatively common surname. Instead of dashing my hopes on those cobblestone streets yet again, I had quite different plans for this latest Dubrovnik visit.
Mike and I left the sparkling VIKING SEA in the new harbor to take Viking’s optional 12-hour tour to Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Yes, Bosnia-Herzevogina.
After a windy bus ride along the Croatian Coast into the far less prosperous Herzegovina region of Bosnia, we made our first non “rest” stop. Some 30 miles away from our ultimate destination of Mostar, we paid a short visit to the town of Pocitelj. The architecture in this charming but crumbling village on the banks of the Neretva River is a cross between Ottoman and Medieval.
In recent years, Pocitelj has been placed on an “endangered list” with plans for its full restoration. We did not have enough time to climb to the top of the hill overlooking the town but did get a chance to wander its lower stone ramparts, parts of which are, indeed, in need of repair.
In Mostar, our coach parked near the New Franciscan Church, a towering, reinforced concrete structure that at first struck me as architecturally uninspired. We crossed through the remains of the old Jewish quarter and through the “new” town on the southwest side of the famous bridge that was originally built in 1566 by Suleiman the Magnificent.
Despite, or perhaps because of its historic importance, Mostar Bridge was blown up in 1993 during the Balkan War. Shortly before his death, I recall my father being beside himself after hearing that this Yugoslav landmark had been destroyed. Fortunately, the bridge was rebuilt using the same materials and techniques as the original and reopened in 2004. As my father once told me, it was and still is frequented by divers who, now for 25 or 30 Euros, will plunge into the chilly Neretva River. When they aren’t soliciting their wares, the divers rest in wait atop the bridge’s stone rails.
We crossed into the Muslim quarter on the other side of the bridge, where we had time to shop or enjoy a libation in one of the local cafes. We chose the latter, with a great view of the bridge and perked up with a tasty cappuccino.
The civil war that claimed some 2,000 lives in Mostar, alone, is still very much in evidence with many of the city’s key buildings reduced to hollowed shells.
After lunch, we paid a visit to the Turkish house, a historic, traditional home in the Muslim quarter that is open to the public.
Our coach dropped us back at the cemetery in the Muslim quarter where I literally felt chills when walking past all the tombstones engraved with “1993”. Our guide told us that while burying their dead, the surviving family members were subject to sniper fire.
I am so grateful to Viking for providing this enlightening optional excursion, which went far beyond any standard scenic outing. As our bus headed back towards Croatia, I felt a sense of sadness for Bosnia-Herzegovina as it continues to struggle in the aftermath of yet another senseless war.
Back in Dubrovnik, we found our ship lit up like a Nordic candelabra. It was time to bid goodbye to my father’s fatherland once again but his motherland lay ahead.
To celebrate the hallowed eve, Viking had the Atrium decked out in Halloweeniana.
After a quick dinner in the World Cafe, we wrapped up a long day by heading to the Viking Theater for a screening of James Cameron’s “Cirque de Soleil” film in 3-D.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
We were just too exhausted to pry ourselves out of bed for the sailing into Montenegro’s magnificent Gulf of Kotor but as it turned out, even the sun failed to show up until the VIKING SEA had neared the old town. Nonetheless, by the time we did get up, Mike and I had only a few minutes to spare before our included Viking walking tour began.
Mamsen’s (a Norwegian nickname for “Grandma” — named for Viking chairman Tor Hagen’s mother) occupies the starboard side of the Explorer’s Lounge and serves Norwegian-style snacks throughout the day. For breakfast, it is the setting for freshly cooked Norwegian waffles, which come with all the trimmings, including that sweet Norwegian brown “cheese”. Mike ordered enough for both of us.
Passing through Kotor’s old city gate is like stepping back a few centuries. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, the old town is a beautifully restored Medieval treasure that has been flattened several times by massive earthquakes. One structure that has just completed its renovation is the twin-spired Roman Catholic Church, the first stop on our tour.
There is no shortage of churches and chapels in the hamlets of the former Yugoslav Republic. No matter what one’s beliefs or disbeliefs, they are beautiful to behold. Our tour continued past charming stone homes, numerous cafes and shops. We opted out of a visit to the maritime museum (been there, done that, recommend it) so that we would have enough time to climb the ramparts behind Kotor, which were first built by Emperor Justinian in 535 AD.
One of the most fortified towns on the Adriatic Coast, Kotor is surrounded by a stone wall whose ramparts switch back and forth up to a rocky outcrop overlooking the bay. The Venetians, Ottomans, Hapsburgs and the Yugoslavs have all had their way with Montenegro over the ages but today, it remains independent, a EU contender that is closely allied with neighboring Serbia.
As one would expect, with each upward step, the view of the old town, our beautiful ship and the vast Bay of Kotor just got better and better.
As distracting as the view became, it was necessary to keep at least one eye on the ancient path up the mountain. Loose stones and pebbles, oh my!
About a third of the way up, there are the ruins of an old chapel that is now used by the locals to sell Montenegrin handicrafts.
As in Croatia and Slovenia on the prior days, the springlike weather was a tonic for the local butterflies and other airborne fauna.
Finally, we reached the peak, the back side of which is a precipitous drop. No wonder Kotor proved such a challenge for invading forces to conquer.
Going down can be just as difficult but we managed to get back into the old town without any slips or scrapes.
There was still enough time to work our way into the newer part of town across from the ship where her sleek whiteness was a vast contrast with the rocky mountains behind her.
The early afternoon light, remarkably clear skies and the calm waters created a mirror-like setting for VIKING SEA.
Even alongside, it was hard to tell where the ship ended and the water began.
My father’s mother died during his birth on November 11, 1918. All I know is that she was from Montenegro and my father insisted she was a gypsy princess. Many of his stories seemed outlandish but I would discover in the years after his passing that some were actually true. Nonetheless, whenever I see the words “Kotor, Montenegro”, I instantly see our family name and wonder if my “gypsy princess” grandmother came from Kotor or another nearby village.
With all hands on deck, VIKING SEA backed into Kotor Bay, spun around and began her transit to the open sea.
From the Deck 7 observation terrace, the view unfolded before us. On prior visits, we sailed out at night or in the rain, so today’s departure was a special treat.
We passed the town of Perast ,where sailors’ wives were known to tearfully wave their sheets, table cloths and anything colorful to their outbound craft.
We turned at the dual islets Our Lady of the Rocks and Sveti Dorda, the former is man made and has a Catholic Church dating from 1452. Moments later, as the sun began to set on this calm fringe of the Adriatic, we were off to the gym for our evening work out prior to dinner with friends in the Restaurant.
Another excellent Viking meal unfolded for us, beginning with a fresh tuna starter…
…and climaxing with some spectacular Crepes Suzettes.
The ship’s company performed Beatles songs under the Sky Dome before we ended this part of our journey with a quiet nightcap in the upper realm of the Explorer’s Lounge.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."