Friday, July 5, 2019

Former Yugoslavia -- Montenegro (Bay of Kotor)

Bay of Kotor from Igalo Spa in Montenegro

We hadn't even planned to go to Montenegro. We had long topped our travel list with Slovenia, and when we decided to take a trip this spring, we decided to add the more coastal and southern country of Croatia.  While reading about Dubrovnik, Croatia, I saw a description of a day trip to the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro.  Near the beginning of this description was a passing reference to the Simo Milosevic Institute -- a former sanitarium specializing in rheumatological and neurological disorders.  A little research uncovered that this institute was now trying to convert to a spa and attract overnight guests.  Perfect!  At the very least, it seemed likely that I could find accessible lodging in a region where it was turning out to be difficult (almost impossible) to find.  At the most, maybe I could even take advantage of some of their treatments.  Oh, the glories of the web!  I struck up an email conversation with a very helpful person, who made my reservations and answered my questions.  And thus, thanks to a tangential reference, the web, Ana, and the Igalo Spa, a trip was born!

Lunch on the Bay of Kotor in Montenegro
In all fairness, we didn't really visit Montenegro.  We didn't hob knob with James Bond and the high rollers on St. Stephen's Island; nor did we spend time on the Budva Coast with the Russian oligarchs.  We did not even approach the interior, where the non-touristy locations exist.  A true Montenegro exploration would have required at least a couple of weeks.  We had only a few days.  We spent those fewdays exploring Igalo and the Bay of Kotor.

Simo Milosevic Institute or Igalo Spa

As I mentioned, the Igalo Spa was a former sanitarium, founded in 1949.  To this former student of Russian and East European Studies, it evoked a nostalgia for communist absurdities in at least two ways: 1. Everything was cartoonishly large.  For example, the building itself (rooms for over 1000 guests), the lobby, the cafe/bar.  2. Many things existed only "in principle."  For example, we were excited to stay in a place offering a rooftop swimming pool, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley, a basketball court, and a ping-pong table.  But the rooftop pool had been damaged by a recent storm, the indoor pool was empty of water, the bowling alley was closed, the basketball court had no balls, and the ping-pong balls were deflated!
Lobby of Igalo Spa

There were, apparently, many physical therapies and spa treatments available, as evidenced by the many people walking around in the hotel's white terry cloth robes (despite signs indicating that robes were not allowed in the dining room), and the long list of therapies provided by the front desk.  However, all but the aesthetic therapies required a doctor's referral (doctor on site, but appointment necessary), and it was recommended to allow at least three weeks for the treatments to be most effective, so I ended up not getting any therapy.  Most of the guests, however, seemed to be settled in for a longer-term therapeutical vacation on an organized tour.  At least one wing of the institute seemed to be taken over by Norwegian(s) and another by Dutch. The cafe/bar and dining room were open and busy (although the food was awful), and the excursion desk seemed to be organizing day trips (at least in principle!). 

The first room we were shown was in the stuffy older wing.  We moved to the newer wing, which was less stuffy and looked out onto the the trees and singing birds.  My brother and family got a three-room apartment in the newer wing, with a balcony out to the Bay of Kotor.  About half of the rooms in the newer wing had remodeled bathrooms, which were large enough for wheelchairs to turn around and had showers with no thresholds.  Unfortunately, from the room I saw, even these remodels had no bars around the toilet, and I question whether the doorway was wide enough to fit a wheelchair (in our older room, the doorway between the bedroom and bathroom was only 25" wide). The building was definitely original -- the tile floors and walls were cracking.  But I hope it survives. It's beautiful and unique.

Igalo Promenade
Igalo Promonade

Igalo is a small seaside town attached to the larger city of Herceg Novi, famous for its spas, healing mud, and summer villa belonging to Tito.   It boasts a promenade along the coast, with cafes, restaurants, and shops lining both sides, many with ramps up from the walkway.  The path's surface changes between pavement, tile, and packed gravel.

Medieval town of Perast and Bay of Kotor

"Our Lady of the Rocks" Church near Perast on Bay of Kotor

Igalo and Herceg Novi are the entry into the loop around the Bay of Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.  A trip around the winding Bay offers several viewpoints of stunning cliffs which meet the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.  Holding on to the limited flat land at these meeting points are the ancient and well-preserved towns of Kotor, Perast, Morinj, Prcanj, Risan, and others.  These cities carry the culture and architecture from their history of Illyrian, Roman, Slavic, Italian, Yugoslavian, Austro-Hungarian, and Montenegrin ownership and influence. Catholic and Orthodox churches and monasteries on the islands and in the towns and mountains attract pilgrims and tourists alike.

Over-development and cruise ship traffic have affected the pristine atmosphere and even endangered the UNESCO status, but the gorgeous geography and picturesque old towns continue to enchant visitors and preserve the Bay's reputation.  The narrow, one-lane roads can induce terror or a sort of driving Zen, encouraging travelers to slow down.  This was especially true for our nine-passenger van.  Usually cars cooperated, pulling over and backing up where necessary,  The old cities along the Bay offer waterfront promenades, restaurants, and cafes.  Traveling with kids (my pre-teen and teenage nieces and nephew), we also learned the prevalence of gelato.

Walls of Kotor
One of the highlight's of the Bay of Kotor is its namesake walled city.  One could walk the walls far up into the mountains above the town -- if one had legs that worked, were physically fit, and were willing to pay about $10 for the experience.  Having nobody that matched all three criteria, we spent our time wandering the cobblestone streets of the old city, looking at old buildings and churches, watching someone empty a garbage can directly into the moat (which connected to the sea), and drinking coffee at one of the many numerous cafes.
Kotor Moat
Entrance to Kotor

One of Kotor's many cats

The kids kept a running tally of healthy-looking (stray?) cats.

Inside the walled city of Kotor

The third wheel came in handy for maneuvering over the cobblestones, and a few strategically-placed ramps allowed us to wander through most of the city.  It was an amazingly well-preserved, relatively not-crowded old town.
Kotor Cathedral of St Tryphon (with ramp)

Trying to figure out how to go to the bathroom in Kotor
The only bummer -- and it was a major one for me -- was that there was absolutely no wheelchair-accessible bathroom in or around the entire city.  It was only Ted's strength and attitude which allowed me to be carried, under the watchful eye of the dour money-collecting attendant, down the stairs to the narrow stalls of the women's bathroom.

Dinner on the shores of the Bay of Kotor
We were running out of time and energy to complete the entire circuit (initially, we had entertained the idea of a loop from the city of Kotor through the mountainous interior), so we took the ferry back across the narrow part of the Bay to the town of Kamenari out of the town of Lepetani. (after going through a confusing police checkpoint).  Before doing so, however, we stopped for dinner at one of many restaurants either fronting or floating on the Bay of Kotor, where we were treated to a rising full moon, mediocre food typical of the Balkans, and tasty gelato.

Next time -- moving up to Croatia!

No comments:

Post a Comment