Montenegro’s Herceg Novi through my cheap camera lens

If Herceg Novi were a person, and not a small town located at the mouth of Montenegro’s famous fjord-like Bay of Kotor, it would be a person with multiple battle wounds – perhaps a missing limb or two, definitely with severe PTSD, and a lot of stories to tell.

Over the last few centuries Herceg Novi has been ruled by the Illyrians, the Romans, the Byzantines, various Slavic tribes and, more recently, by the socialist (former) Yugoslav government from their base in Belgrade, Serbia.

Today Montenegro is enjoying its independence and taking advantage of the lucrative opportunities offered by capitalism. Consequently, a new breed of invader can be found basking on Herceg Novi’s shimmering blue shores. Instead of arriving by warship, these invaders trail in from giant ocean liners or nearby airports, often under the guise of locals in hire cars. They are clothed not in breast plates, crested helmets and chain-mail, but in kaftans, flipflops and short-shorts. They wield not spears, shields and swords, but 26x zoom bridge cameras on straps, packed lunches and pamphlets advertising local boat excursions.

Do not be fooled by the pale, flaccid exteriors of these strange, lost-looking creatures. They may look harmless – nay, oftentimes comical, but the Great Pink-Breasted Western-European Tourist is nonetheless a harbinger of change, and not always the good kind.

With tourism comes price-hikes, tacky souvenir shops, pizzerias galore and a theme-park-like sense of Styrofoam inauthenticity. Croatia’s Dubrovnik, a few miles north of Herceg Novi, has sadly fallen victim to the tourist curse. The beautiful, ancient streets of the citadel now swarm with tour groups in matching hats and T-shirts, guides waving coloured flags, stag parties in fancy dress and a lot of other people just like me, hypocritically wishing that all the stupid tourists would leave the rest of us alone to take our photos and buy our ice creams in peace.

Unfortunately it is impossible to travel without having an impact on the places we go. By going on holiday, I made the choice to be a tourist and thus in a small way I supported the industry that is slowly destroying many beautiful places around the world. It’s like King Midas with his gold, except everything we tourists touch turns to snow globes and novelty magnets.

Herceg Novi is teetering on the edge of becoming a tourist hot-spot. We visited in early May – very early in the season, and already the main streets of the Old Town were peppered with back-packed tourists (me being one of them) taking photos of everything. My overriding feeling about the town was that it wasn’t quite as beautiful, peaceful and underdeveloped as Korcula, the Croatian island I spent a week visiting in 2015, but it was much quieter (and cheaper) than Dubrovnik and it was still an attractive, laid-back and interesting place with lots of things to see and explore.

Instead of writing a long piece about my experience, I’m just going to post a few of the photos I took in Dubrovnik, Herceg Novi and Kotor with descriptions of why I took the photo. I’ve always loved taking pictures and although I did, for a short time, edit a B2B photography magazine, I’m only dipping my toe into photography as a hobby and I’ve never actually owned a ‘proper’ DSLR camera. What I do have is a cheap bridge camera with a broken zoom, a camera phone  and an ability to spout arty bullshit thanks to my English degree, so I’ll do my best.

Here goes…

Above: Just outside the walls of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. We had just arrived after walking from the bus station a couple of miles out of town where we left our bags. I liked the French look of the shutters and flower boxes, the expanse of pale blue sky and the way the late morning light cast deep shadows down the walls of the building.

Above: Entering through the gates into the walled city of Dubrovnik. This is early May – imagine how crowded it must be in July and August! It was pleasantly warm, about 24 degrees C. I liked the symmetry of the buildings, the way the left side was illuminated in the sun and the colourful clothes people were wearing.

Above: A steep alleyway in Dubrovnik – one of many to explore. I had to fiddle the camera a bit to get the exposure right as I wanted to show the deep blue of the sky and the contrast of the shadows, as well as the height and jumble of the buildings around us. I had to wait a few minutes for the path to clear of people too.

Above: Matt pointed this cat out to me. It just seemed to be having the best time lounging decadently on this bar sign in a wedge of sunlight. There are LOTS of stray cats around Dubrovnik and they are all very, very chilled.

Above: Matt, seconds after jumping off this rock beneath the city walls with a little encouragement from a nice guy we met on the bus from the airport, who we kept bumping into around the citadel and eventually had a beer with. I did not jump. Matt got a nose bleed. I wasn’t really thinking about the artistic composition of this photo, I was mainly hoping Matt wasn’t going to drown.

Above: A fleeting view of a little village from the bus on the way to Montenegro. We decided not to hire a car in the end because we were going to have to pay an extra £75 to take it over the border, which seemed unfair as there is no official charge to cross. It turned out the buses were regular, cheap and comfortable (apart from some very fast bends) so we decided to do that instead.

Above: Our apartment in Herceg Novi was simple but lovely, with sea views out of both bedroom windows. It was also only £17 a night through AirBnB! I took this photo because I loved the way the evening light was pouring in through the window and over the round table. It would have been even nicer with a vase of flowers instead of our discarded clothes.

Above: I think this photo is a bit blurred but I wanted to capture the exotic foliage that was everywhere around Herceg Novi. Here the sun was setting behind me, with a storm brewing ahead giving the palm trees these vivid orange tones. It felt quite dramatic, like a T-Rex might come stomping through the undergrowth at any moment.

Above: Skver Harbour on our first night as we sat to eat one of many ice creams we consumed that week. The building you can see on the right is a lido. I love how smooth and reflective the water is, and the curve of the harbour pathway.

Above: Technically, this photo is poor. It’s unfocussed, which is amazing as it’s not like my camera is hard to use. However, I like how it looks for some reason. I like the way Matt is about to put his hands on the railing and everything is slightly skew, like he’s falling backwards. The blur makes the photo look older and – dare I say it, slightly nostalgic? Like a summer holiday from long ago, which is how this actually feels now even though we got back yesterday. Also, this is quite a good representation of how I see the world without glasses.

Above: The view from our spot on a concrete jetty. The mountains are pale in colour due to the distance and maybe mist, but they dwarf these coastal towns.

Above: I ramped the zoom up for this one. There was a private hotel jetty opposite ours and these people had all turned their deckchairs to face the sun (and us). I liked the backdrop of the rearing hill and houses, and the way each person is reclining in a different position.

Above: Matt chilling out in our apartment after a long hard day chilling out on the jetty we claimed. I liked the disarray in this photo, and the colour. The paintings were all by the owner of our house and they were full of colour and light.

Above: This was in the walled city of Kotor, a 1 hour bus ride from Herceg Novi. We had just climbed up a lot of stairs to a monastery on top of the hill where we had our sandwiches and got drenched in rain coming back down. We sat in this square with a beer and an ice cream listening to the classical guitars. I think if I had a DSLR I would have tried to play around with depth of field to soften some of the detail in the background and draw the eye to the two musicians.

Above: A side-street after the downpour in Kotor. The sun came out and because everything was still wet with rain, the light seemed harder, and I wanted to capture the halo around everything.

Above: I didn’t feel like the first picture really showed the gloss of the pavement, so I zoomed in to people’s bodies and their shadows. I quite like the busyness at the top of this photo, and the anonymity of the people with their heads cropped off.

Above: This was a particularly elegant cruise liner, I thought – streamlined and yacht-like rather than the ’60s brutalist-style design a lot of cruise liners seem to have. Just as we reached the top of the city walls, it blew its horn to signal its departure and we watched it go.

Above: This is where my 26x zoom camera really came in handy. I realised I could spy on the people on the cruise ship. Here’s a lady in a sun hat at the bow of the ship watching Kotor slip away.

Above: I love this couple; they are the pure embodiment of the kind of luxurious hedonism that’s meant to be enjoyed on a cruise ship. They look like they’re drinking belinis from a swimming pool as they oversee the ship’s departure from Kotor Bay. I wonder if they even left the ship at all to look around, or if they were happy to watch it all from the swimming pool.

Above: He doesn’t have time for belinis and swimming pools; he’s got to help navigate the ship away from the harbour and out into the Adriatic towards the next destination on the itinerary.

Above: Another day, another adventure. We set off for a hike up towards Mt Orjen, the mountain range between Montenegro and Bosnia. On the way we stopped at a ruined fort built by the Spanish. It was an eerie place with no entrance fee and no maintenance or security – we were free to wander as we pleased. We were surprised to find a courtyard full of goats, though.

Above: Stari Grad, Herceg Novi’s Old Town

Above: I left Matt reading outside a cafe and went off to take more photos of the town.

Above: It was shocking for us to see so many stray dogs around Herceg Novi – in England there’s no way we would let this happen. In Montenegro they live their own lives running up and down the sea front in little packs. This dog and her baby wandered past me as I was taking photos, so I crouched down and said hello and she stopped, and her pup flopped down next to her. I didn’t try to touch either of them as I imagine she probably gets antsy about that. After a moment they got up and carried on walking down the street. I’ve thought a lot about these dogs since but we asked around and apparently every night they all run down to a kennel where they’re given shelter and food.

Above: Bright, misty morning. A couple of times we went for an early jog and once I stopped on a jetty to do some yoga but I was attracting quite a few perplexed stares so it didn’t feel as relaxing as I’d hoped.

Above: Just some bloke I drag around on holidays.

Above: Our boat trip to the blue cave, Mamula Island and a new beach resort on the Lustica peninsular. We sat right at the front with our feet dangling off the edge which was even more fun than sitting at the front/top of a double decker bus pretending to be the driver. Point of interest: Mamula Island was a concentration camp during the second world war where lots of people were tortured to death, and they’re now turning it into a luxury hotel.

Above: A former prison for women. (Nice spot for a spa, perhaps?)

Above: The blue cave is a blue cave. Because of the clear water and shallow, sandy bottom, the cave glows aqua like a swimming pool lit up at night. When we arrived only a small section of it was blue like this, and Matt didn’t actually realise this was the blue cave.

Above: The blue cave again.

Above: One of two entrances to the blue cave. I liked the block colours of the sea, rock and sky.

Above: An extremely poor photo of a very exciting moment. One of the other tourists on the boat shouted about a dolphin and we all turned to look. There was what looked like a large fin or flipper sticking out of the water (this photo only shows the tip of it) and someone said ‘how sweet, he’s waving at us’. The thing really was sort of flapping up and down. This made me think. Why would a wild dolphin be waving its pectoral fin at us? We moved in closer and cut the engine and I realised that the thing in the water was not a dolphin. Then someone mentioned the word ‘shark’ and I started to think that this was the moment I’d been waiting for my entire life: an encounter with a real shark in the wild. Could it be a baby basking shark? But as I watched the thing, I realised it wasn’t snaking through the water like a shark – its movements were too erratic, too floppy. Then it hit me. I remembered seeing something about a really weird creature called a sunfish, a giant monster of a thing that propels its flat body along with huge vertical fins that can, when broaching the surface of the water, look like shark fins. When we got back I googled it and I am convinced it was a sunfish, even though I really, really wanted it to be a shark.

Above: A seagull, a crucifix and a church bell.

That is all I have time for today! I hope you enjoyed seeing some of these photos. I’d like to start taking more and using this blog as a place to put them, rather than making albums on Facebook.

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