We departed Mostar, BiH bound for Kotor, Montenegro (aka. the poor man’s Croatia). This also marked our first vehicular border crossing this trip. After winding up a hill, we approached the Bosnian side of the border first (obviously). Not that there was much space between the border crossing gents from both Bosnia and Montenegro. In fact, two Bosnian guards and two Montenegrin sentries sit on opposing sides of a double-sided booth facing one another. In our particular case, only one of the four spoke any English. This could be interesting since our COVID vaccination cards are entirely in English. Given that we were leaving Bosnia & Herzegovina, they could not care less, and simply passed our documentation through to the Montenegrin fellow. Insert sheer confusion. The bewildered look on his face made me giggle, and I continued giggling when he slowly closed his window to conduct a “private” call in a language I clearly could not understand. I can understand a whopping three words, “Ciao,” “Hvala,” and “Dobro dan.” Also known as “hello,” “thank you,” and “good afternoon.” After several phone calls to verify our vaccination cards, I’m assuming someone convinced him they were legitimate enough to allow us passage. On to Kotor!
Views of Kotor come out of nowhere. Rocky mountains with sparse vegetation drop directly into the Bay of Kotor below. The road snakes out of the mountain before twisting along the bay itself. The views are astounding as you move from towns scattered along the water’s edge. Road trip take-away: I should not drink my normal amount of water (approaching a gallon) while driving through countries that do not offer the easy use of bathrooms all along the way. This ended with me scouting out panoramic toilet locales until I finally found a mediocre one. Oh well, my bladder was happy and it was most assuredly a panoramic view of the bay!
When we entered the first town after descending from the mountains, we were a little concerned. Blown out windows on buildings were available for your viewing pleasure EVERYWHERE. Trash assailed my eyes and nose. It just looked sad and crime ridden. Uh oh… is this going to be another AirBnB and location fail? Thankfully for us, the towns gradually got nicer and nicer as we approached Kotor.
Kotor contains a fortified old town with a fortress overlooking the walled city down below. Kotor dates back to the early Middle Ages with the fortification dating back to around 535. The name Kotor likely came during the Byzantine period. The city has been attacked, conquered, change hands, been independent and besieged by more empires, republics, kingdoms, rulers, and federations during it’s history than I cared to keep track of. Kotor has been influenced by every empire from the Byzantine’s to the Serbians to Hungary/Venice/Bosnia to the Ottomans and Napoleon. Unlike Bosnia, Kotor has had little Muslim influence. We saw no more mosques, but instead Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches.
Kotor’s walled city is insanely well cared for because… well… tourism. Even the surrounding area was safe and well-kept. We opted to stay inside the walls of the old town in a newly renovated apartment above a quaint little cafe. A few caveats about the walled town: (1) Parking is only available outside of the walls for a decent fee; (2) Unless you know where you’re going inside the walls the place is a maze; (3) Don’t fail to check in with the tourism office upon arrival – if police ask for the document and you are unable to supply it, you may encounter some issues; and (4) If you’re allergic to cats, you’re in trouble.
Pavle, our host, met us in front of the main entrance to the city in order to show us around. He pointed out a few squares as we meandered through the alleyways. He showed us upstairs to the amazing second floor apartment. The brand new renovation had never been occupied before, courtesy of the Beer Flu. Hubs and I were the first ever guests since the city reopened to visitors. Pavel even offered us a free night to thank us for staying! We would later take him up on the offer, as the weather cancelled one of our excursions, and we elected to return to Kotor, we fancied it so much. The Apartment La Piazzetta is immaculate, including a full kitchen (which we took advantage of), a nicely designed bathroom, and a huge bedroom overlooking a quiet square. The location was perfect… walking distance to the surrounding parts of the city, ideal access to the fortress hike up above us. The shops and restaurants are minutes, or even seconds, walk from the door to the apartment.
Shit to do while in Kotor… LOTS of hiking, that’s for damned sure.
St. John’s Fortress within the walls of the fortified structure, perched up above the old town in the mountains. A set of non-standard steps weaves up the side of the mountain and into the citadel. Much like the other castles and fortresses we’d visited since being there, much of the building was in disrepair, only the completely unsound parts had been reinforced for safety purposes. Again, guardrails are not a thing, so don’t fall off the edge. It’s a long, rocky way down, so be wary of the edges. The building of the fortress started in the 9th century, and finally ended in the 15th century. Erosion, earthquakes and vegetation have all helped the structure deteriorate over time. While the Old Town area near the bay within the walls has been revamped and rehabilitated, much of the fortification above has not. The entire city and fortification are surrounded by rock walls, mostly still intact, and the barrier runs 4.5 KM around. The walls have a varying thickness of 2-16m (6.5 feet and 52.5 feet for us silly Americans not on the metric system). Interestingly, at least to me, the city was occupied by the Axis forces and the Germans during WWII. It’s been mostly abandoned, except for the curious tourist, since then.
I didn’t snap many photos of the fort itself, since I was so enamored with the view over the Bay and Kotor. Such a beautiful place, and one that we could absolutely see ourselves returning to!
The hike doesn’t have to end there. Climb out the Ladder of Kotor, and explore the grounds immediately around the fortress before continuing up the side of the mountain. The Ladder is at the northern rear part of the fortress, and can only be described as a ricky, old wooden ladder that allows for access to the fortress through a hole in the wall. Don’t worry, there are signs. Granted, they say entrance to the fort is forbidden, so of course we climbed the ladder anyway. Hiking farther up provides even more stunning views of the bay and surrounding mountains. Had it not been getting dark by the time we his the first saddle, we would have continued to the cafe with views of both sides of the peak. Lovcen is on the other side of the rocky mount, but alas, we were unable to make it all the way there since darkness was eminent. And because Hubs was on the struggle bus during the mostly uphill hike… as usual, the Type 1 diabetic couldn’t keep his sugar up.
On the way down, visit the cheese shack dude. He lives at his little make-shift cafe outside the walls. Where he also resides!
We purchased a couple of bottles of water from him, gave a rather large tip, which apparently prompted him to offer us “Montenegro National drink” – an unknown, clear liquor in a random, label-less bottle that he retrieved from an old fridge. This is safe to drink, right? Well, I didn’t die, so I’m concluding it’s fine. Just prior to pouring us each, to include himself, a shot of the colorless liquid, he demanded, “Sit! Sit!” While pouring, he simply asked, “Okay?… Okay?” while he kept distributing splashes. First shot down, and he pours us another sampling, again saying, “Okay?” while proceeding to dump more in our glasses. Third time is the charm, and we finally had to decline a forth. We still have to traverse down a mountain in what the old man told us was a “Zig Zag.” The gent is also the owner of a very hyper, friendly pit bull that lives behind the cafe. He loves attention, so of course I couldn’t refuse to give it to him!
Wander over to the mountains on the opposing side of St. John’s Fortress – a stone path weaves up the side as you snake up a large number of switchbacks. You’re provided fantastic views of Kotor and the towns running along the Bay of Kotor. This hike begins on the opposite side of the bay from the barricaded old town. A little challenging to find the start, a man that lives right there nicely guided us. The views from the top give you a pleasing view of Tivat, another town nestled on a bay bleeding into the Adriatic Sea. Fort Vrmac, the ruined Austro-Hungarian Fortress from WWI, is at the top, and the structure is abandoned, I suppose, once it was no longer deemed useful. Well, almost abandoned. A strange little man, and his goats and pigs, are living in a rundown building on the grounds. And the fort is clearly now used for alcohol consumption and fornication, evidenced by the trash it’s visitors have left behind. I’m not sure why the structure would ever illicit the desire to remove one’s clothing and engage in coitus, but to each their own? The place is dark, dank, dirty and filled with ghoulish spiders.
Now for the dingy, bleak and foreboding abandoned fortress… if WordPress will actually allow them to show. Stupid technology.
Make sure to wander the old town. Unlike some of the bazaars, most of the shops have shelves lined with unique goodies. While gallivanting through the Venice-esk city, be mindful of the gazillions of cats you were assuredly encounter. As the title implies, cats rule Kotor. The little fuckers even have a museum dedicated to them. And make sure to stop into the store “Cats of Kotor,” the owners make some very unique items dedicated to the animals. Legend has it that cats saved the city from the Black Plague in the 1500s. The felines chased away, and ate, the disease ridden rats, keeping the epidemic away. Legends are far better that the truth! Enjoy a multitude of pussy photos that were snapped throughout out time there in the below little slideshow!
Last but not least, we failed to venture very far for our dining options while there. While we did visit a few small cafes for coffee, to include the one below our apartment where Pavle’s Uncle is a proprietor, we either cooked meals in the suite or went to one of the few establishments open until curfew, Cesare Old Town Restaurant. Since lockdown had effected patron numbers, employee numbers were also decreased, and we had the same waiter every time we stepped foot inside Cesare’s. The Serbian’s name is Dragan. We became so well acquainted with Dragan, that he made sure to “reserve” a table for us each night! We talked about his desire to move to the States with his fiance, he introduced us to some ex-pats that live in Montenegro now, we laughed about life, and drank pretty much anything Dragan placed in front of us, no matter the color! In fact, we are still in touch with him via the wonders of WhatsApp. Gotta love technology sometimes!
“A meal without wine is like a day without sun.” ~ Pescarla Dekaderon
As mentioned in the Sarajevo post, I made the command decision to wing it for the COVID test we needed to reenter Bosnia and make the flight home. Pavle to the rescue again! He advised it would cost 49 Euros in order to get a PCR test with results same day at Moj Laboratory. Winner! And I can attest to the fact that it was sound advice, as we got our results in plenty of time. In fact, we not only used this test to gain entry into Bosnia, but we also used it to get back home to the States. With a single hour to spare! In order to get on the plane bound for Dulles airport, we had to have a result no more than 72 hours old. We were sitting pretty at 71 HOURS!
And because it’s expected, and I have yet to post them… handstand photographs! I’m minuscule in the one. If I didn’t know where to look for my inverted body, I’d have forgotten I was there! Look towards the middle left of the photo.
Since I have already covered Sarajevo, Part 2. Therefore, it is on to Albania, and Shkodër to be exact. Doviđenja, or just Ćao, for a happy goodbye in Montenegrin.