With a population of just over half a million, Montenegro is one of the smaller countries in Europe, winning a seat in at the United Nations for itself in 2006 after a referendum that confirmed its desire to be independent from Serbia, a country with which it had shared a long history. Montenegrins have a reputation for vivacity which, together with their great love of singing, characteristic of mountain people, confirms their reputation for open-heartedness and generosity. The mountains probably also account for their fiercely-guarded spirit of independence, well summarised perhaps by a favourite Montenegrin toast at male baptisms: “May he never die in his bed!” The Black Mountain, which gives its name to the country, rises to over nine thousand feet and is a dramatic backdrop to the tiny, walled mediaeval city of Kotor, our port of call in Montenegro as we cruise the Dalmatian Coast. In their mountain fastness the Montenegrins have maintained their independence, from Austria to the north and from the Turks to the south. With the latter, they negotiated the rare status of an autonomous province in Ottoman Empire the sixteenth century. This is a country proud of its traditions, one of the last in Europe where traditional costume is regularly worn in the countryside. Politically independent again since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Montenegro is now an applicant for membership of both NATO and the European Union. Kotor itself has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its combination of the natural beauty of its great bay and perfectly preserved mediaeval streets. Its cathedral dedicated to St Tryphon, patron saint of the town and much venerated in the Orthodox but little known in the Latin Church, is an outstanding example of twelfth-century Romanesque architecture. The Orthodox and Catholic traditions have both flourished here side by side for centuries in mutual tolerance and respect. Our visit to Montenegro is sure to provide enduring memories from this cruise.
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