While every stop we made was impressive in its own way, two destinations stood out to me in particular. Our first excursion was a tour of Mljet National Park. The national park comprises about 30% of the Westernmost part of the cigar-shaped island. Since we were there in mid-October, the end of the tourist season, the small town of Pomena, where the park entrance is located, was nearly empty. Our Croatian born guide, Daniel, had left during the Yugoslavian war to live in Italy and then Australia so he had a perfect Aussie accent. We hiked along a forested path down toward the small lake, Malo Jerzero.
The goal was to take a small boat on the larger lake, Veliko Jerzero, to the small island of St. Mary, the location of The Church and Benedictine Monastery. Along the way, Daniel explained to us that these inner-island lakes used to be freshwater, but the monks decided they needed a way to access their monastery by boat and dug a canal that let the saltwater of the Adriatic into the lakes. The large lake now has a thriving coral reef and has become a popular snorkeling stop.The other ‘environmental monstrosity’, as Daniel referred to them, caused by the monks, was the introduction of mongooses. At one time the island was home to many snakes, which the monks were not a fan of. They brought in mongooses to kill the snakes off, which they did very effectively. Unfortunately, the mongooses have no natural predators on Mljet and have now overrun the island. Locals have to trap them to keep their populations under control.
After a short boat ride, we reached the monastery which is one of the oldest church complexes in the Adriatic, dating back to the early 12th Century. The monks abandoned the monastery in 1808 when Napolean Bonaparte conquered the region, and it became a school. During the 1900's, when Croatia was a part of Yugoslavia, the monastery was used as a hotel. Josip Broz Tito, one-time President of Yugoslavia, built a vacation villa on the shores of the lake.
My other favorite place we visited was Kotor, Montenegro. The morning started with an incredible view from aboard the ship as we navigated the Bay of Kotor. The picturesque and winding bay is dotted with medieval towns and towering limestone cliffs. We found it interesting to look out our cabin window and see a pilot boat pulled up next to our ship. A local captain boarded to help us with the tricky navigation and we followed the pilot boat, who knows the channels and underwater topography of the bay, all the way to the port.
Montenegro is not apart of the European Union, but they do use Euros as their currency. Due to Montenegro's relationship with Germany and in an attempt to boost their economy, they used the German Deutschmark until it was replaced with the Euro in 1999. We learned that the area is vulnerable to earthquakes and this has shaped the history of the medieval old town. Founded sometime in the 5th Century BC, the town has been through a lot. Growing up in a state that was founded less than 150 years ago, this type of history is hard to even fathom. We opted to skip lunch on board the ship and ate at a local restaurant that had been in existence since 400 AD, one of my most memorable experiences of the whole trip.