Kotor, Montenegro deserves more recognition as excellent travel destinations, says gay traveler, novelist, and parent Hans Hirschi
When you love doing something, do it again! This was our reasoning when we booked our second cruise to the Eastern Mediterranean. Initially skeptical about an itinerary with three stops in Croatia and Montenegro, I was won over by this region’s natural beauty and wonderful cuisine.
The previous year’s cruise had us stop in Split,. We really enjoyed that city, so what was I worried about? Mostly my preconceptions about “Yugoslavia”… Old dogs and new tricks, right? I needn’t have. We left Venice on the Norwegian Star and sailed straight to Kotor, a small town in Montenegro.
A wee bit of pre-cruise research revealed that Kotor is the Adriatic equivalent to the Norwegian Hardanger Fjord. As we sailed into the bay, we saw the mountain walls creep closer and closer. They’re not as steep as we may know them from other places in the world, more like green, rolling hills, but that does in no way diminish the stunning visual impression.
By the time you reach Kotor itself, your cruise vessel will tower above the town, looming over the city walls. A path from the old city leads to the Castle of San Giovanni, a centuries-old fortress perched a few hundred meters above the town. Many tourists make the steep climb and fellow passengers told us the view of the city is amazing. With two senior citizens (my husband, as well as my father who travels with us) plus our four-year-old son, we decided to skip the climb. We explored by strolling within the old town itself. We found Kotor’s narrow streets filled many cafés and restaurants and shops charming.
Montenegro is a country that gained its independence from “rump Yugoslavia” or Serbia & Montenegro as it was officially called in 2006, thus making it a very young country. They joined NATO in 2017 and have applied to join the European Union. After the divorce from Serbia, Montenegro chose not to adopt its own currency but unilaterally adopted the Euro. As a small country, they seem to have gotten away with it, despite unhappy murmurs from Frankfurt and Brussels. However, Montenegro does have a bit of a pirate or rogue reputation, and political ties to the mafia and corruption seem to plague it, which may be why negotiations with the EU are progressing slowly.
As a tourist, all this will not bother you much. Being able to use the Euro makes things easier than in neighboring Croatia which still uses its local currency, the Kuna, and unlike the Caribbean where the U.S. dollar is used in parallel to the local currencies, Croatians are proud of their Kuna and you’ll need to exchange for things you can’t pay by credit card.
Another practical matter: as a member of the EU, Europeans can now use roaming on their smartphones at no extra cost all across the EU, including the latest member state Croatia. However, Montenegro and Albania aren’t members, so as you spend time in those countries (or sail past them up close), remember to turn off your roaming or you might encounter steep charges.
From Kotor, we sailed north again, to Dubrovnik. Although I haven’t seen Game of Thrones myself, you just can’t avoid seeing the references everywhere. The old town of Dubrovnik is absolutely stunning. We left our vessel and took a taxi for a tour of the area. We wanted to see a bit of countryside, not just roam streets the same way we had the day before. The taxi took us up to a few places overlooking the entire coastline as well as the old city itself, and boy… All I can say is impressive.
One of the things you get to learn from your driver is the recent history of Croatia and Yugoslavia, particularly the war that plagued the region after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of Communism in Europe. Croatia was at war with Serbia for five years before gaining full independence in 1995. In the Dalmatia region of Croatia (see map), the borders to Bosnia & Hercegovina are often just a few hundred meters away, and the Yugoslav army was shelling Dalmatian towns and cities from nearby Bosnian mountains.
Only twenty-two years have passed since those events. Even younger people in the region have strong memories of the war, with lingering resentment against Serbia. Across the border in Bosnia, ethnic tensions remain high. All of this adds an extra dimension to visiting this area. No matter whether you’re there to visit old citadels, eat and drink amazing local food and wines, enjoy spectacular natural beauty, or want to learn more about the region’s rich history from the Roman Empire to recent conflicts, this sun-drenched region has something for everyone.
Gay parenting while cruising
My husband and I travel with our son. He is used to traveling with his crazy parents who enjoy great food as much as we love to dive into history. For the benefit of other gay parents reading this, here’s how family cruising has worked for us.
At four, he’s happy to tag along, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to him tiring hours before we would. Regular pit stops at bars or restaurants for refreshments and lacing it with stops at the water (see the fish?), or a trip to a beach for a swim will make your day go by more smoothly.
Interestingly, our son isn’t a huge fan of the onboard kids’ club (yet). Not sure if he feels he’d miss out on any fun with us, but he’d much rather tag along, and let’s face it, even if you enjoy a fresco or a statue that is a thousand years old, your kid will see a different kind of appeal, guaranteed. Thus, these pearls, including Split with huge its Roman palace, have something to offer for everyone. I hope you’ll consider a visit on your next cruise.
- Croatia: Free roaming for EU citizens on your smartphone. You’ll need to exchange a few Kuna to get by during your day. Acceptance of the Euro is increasing rapidly, but the exchange rates are of course not the best.
- Montenegro: Uses the Euro, but is not an EU member. No free roaming
- Getting around: Take a taxi. They’re inexpensive and can quickly take you to places you might not otherwise get to see. The drivers are usually very friendly and will be more than happy to answer your questions about the region. They speak English and quite a few speak German, French or other European languages as they may have grown up as kids of migrant workers in Europe.
- Climate: It gets really hot in the summer. Wear a hat and apply sunscreen. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Dehydration headaches will dampen your enjoyment of the evening activities on board, and that would be a shame…
- Culinary: local food will remind you a bit of both Greek and Italian specialties you may already know. Try things like squid or black risotto, as well as Dalmatian pršut (dried ham), cheese and – if you have the time – try peka, a famous Dalmatian fire-pot dish. Don’t miss to try a local wine, too, if you’re into that. Dalmatian wines use grapes that aren’t used anywhere else in the world. Worth a try!
Hans M Hirschi is a fairly recent “cruise convert” with six cruises under his belt, all with his husband and their son Sascha on Norwegian Cruise Line ships. Hirschi is the author of contemporary LGBT fiction and a Stonewall Awards nominee. His most recent novel, Disease, details the struggle with early onset Alzheimer’s. His travel and cruise experiences tend to find their way into his writing. He lives with his family on a small island off the Swedish West coast in Gothenburg. Their next cruise will take them back to Hawai’i aboard the Pride of America. He previously wrote “2 Dads Cruising with Kids – It’s About Attitude” for MeetMeOnBoard in 2016.