Mesmerized in Montenegro – Bay of Kotor

This afternoon we hop into a private car and make our way to Montenegro.  The roads start to get windy, which is not great for my car sickness! But it’s manageable and I’m treated to the most spectacular scenery I’ve seen on this trip. IMG_0065As we descend the mountain road, the scenery is getting better and better around every corner. We finally end up at sea level in the Bay of Kotor, an extension of the Adriatic Sea. The Dinaric Alp Mountains stand high above the bay, and the water is a beautiful blue color. IMG_1196There are small houses with orange roofs dotted along the water, stone churches, and many boats and ships docked or exploring the waters.

IMG_1176Montenegro is a small country, once part of Yugoslavia. It was in a state union with Serbia until 2006, when it was officially declared independent.  In the past, this area has been conquered by Italians so you can see the influence in the architecture and cuisine. Kotor is also a popular cruise ship destination, but there’s just a small ship here today thank god. Since we are a smaller group than expected, we are lucky enough to have accommodation right inside the old town. Perfect! No cars allowed in this old town, so we grab our bags and head through one of the main gates, the Sea Gate.

IMG_0119 As we pass through, I see the stone relief of Madonna and Child flanked by St Tryphon and St Bernard, a famous statue here in Kotor.  Also, the winged lion of St Mark’s statue is on the wall just outside the gate, another famous landmark.

 

The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so lots of history here.

The hotel is right down a small street close to the main square. It’s called Hotel Marija – I have a single room on the top floor and the view from my window provides a stunning look at the St John fortress atop the mountain.

IMG_0069It’s now time for dinner at a quaint restaurant tucked in the small streets of old town. It’s called Cesarica, and has a vast menu to choose from. Montenegro is known for its fresh seafood so it makes sense to try the black risotto. It is by far the best thing I’ve had so far on this trip.

It is risotto with tender chunks of cuttlefish, flavored with its ink. Wow. Almost had an earthy taste to it; reminded me a bit of mushrooms.  I paired it with a Niksicko Pivo, a light beer that is made in the only brewery in Montenegro.

As the sun goes down, Anthony and I decide to wander around the Old Town.  It is relatively small and easy to navigate.  I am in heaven, admiring all of the old buildings and churches. The main square has its famous clock tower, and a small stone pyramid in front of it.

IMG_0081It is a pillory, which was used in ancient times as a place where people were shamed for their misbehaviours.  Right beside the clock tower is a colorful gelato stand, so we grab a cone and look for a cool place to have a few late night drinks.

 

We find a place called Bokun, and we enjoy a couple of glasses of wine at a table outside in the small square, taking in the calming and charming atmosphere of Kotor Old town.

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The next morning I rise early so I can begin my hike to the top of the mountain to St John Fortress.  I have no idea how long it will take, as I have to be careful with my knee. It’s also quite warm and sunny, so I need to keep hydrated on my way up and make sure I don’t go into cardiac arrest(not in great shape! Haha). The seniors on my tour left for this hike an hour earlier and if they can do it, I have no excuses! The entrance is through an archway at the rear of the old town and I begin the walk up the steep rocky path.

The path winds up the mountain and every few minutes I stop to rest and admire the views. It is seriously beautiful from up here. My knee and lungs are screaming, but I must conquer this!  I have a tensor bandage on my knee, so I get a lot of concerned looks from fellow hikers and words of encouragement!  A bit further on there is a tiny striped cat who befriends me. He is purring and meowing, and telling me to climb higher. He follows me for a bit, and then I end up at the cute Our Lady of Remedy church.

It is a Roman Catholic Church dating back to the 1500’s. I wonder who would climb up all this way just to pray at this tiny church??

The views just keep getting better and better as I climb higher.

IMG_0109I finally make it to the top of the fortress, clocking in at just over an hour. The view is just breathtaking….the colorful rooftops of the old town below, the mountains, the Adriatic Sea that flows into the Bay Of Kotor.  It is a photographer’s paradise.

IMG_0113IMG_1131 To toast my victory, I reach into my bag and pull out a mini bottle of Vranac, a red wine from Montenegro.  I do a quick explore of the ruins up here, which was once the Castle of San Giovanni.  I carefully head back down the mountain, so I can explore the Old Town in daylight.

 

The narrow alleyways open into larger piazzas, the medieval stone buildings and churches appear around each corner. I love it!

St Tryphon Cathedral is the largest in the town, and is built on a site where a previous church existed from the year 809!

IMG_0121It has been damaged in a couple of earthquakes, and rebuilt.  I find a cute souvenir shop called Kotor’s Cats. Kotor is famous for its many stray cats that roam the old town; many of them are sweet and friendly.

I strike up a conversation with the woman that owns the shop (and there are at least 10 cats inside the shop at the time). She helps to feed and sterilize them, looks after them when they have babies, and some proceeds from her shop go to the care of these cats.

Of course I want to support her, so I buy most of my souvenirs here and make a small donation to her cause.  It’s now lunch time, and I want to try another Montenegro specialty….prosciutto.  I end up at Forza Café, which is super touristy and right inside the main gate.

IMG_0125 My prosciutto comes with olives on top and a bag of bread on the side. It’s not bad; I pick off the olives (yuck!!) and the fatty pieces and I’m good to go.

My next adventure for today is to hop on a speed boat for a tour of the Bay of Kotor. There are some ominous storm clouds hovering over the bay and the wind has picked up.  Not the best conditions, but the weather behaves for a few hours.  The first stop is an island in the middle of the Bay that is made entirely of rocks.

IMG_0128 (Edited)It was made by local seamen, who laid a rock here every time they returned from sea. It is still a tradition today, and the island is still growing.  They had seen an icon of Madonna and Child resting on the rocks, so it made sense to build a church here.

IMG_0131The Church of the Lady of Our Rocks is the only building on this island.

Back on the boat and over to Perast, a small town with a heavy Venetian influence that was once a part of Italy’s Dalmatia.

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IMG_0136A nice wander along the coast of the town with a stop at the St Nicholas Church. The large bell tower stands high over the town; you may climb to the top if you wish.

IMG_0133 (Edited)The church has not yet been completed since construction started in the 17th century, and probably never will be! Back on the boat for an extremely windy ride into the heart of the Bay and back to Old Town for dinner.  Just outside of old town through the North Gate is Bastion 3, a cute cottage style restaurant serving local cuisine. I try the seafood pasta that has mussel, prawns, squid and fish.

IMG_0141I’m not usually a huge fan of seafood, but I’m giving it a solid go on this trip. I pick out a few questionable pieces and give them to Anthony and Vid. They have been great to have around to eat my leftovers! To end the night, we find a place with outdoor seating in a small piazza, with a live band–they were great!  As I sip my wine, I reflect on how amazing Kotor is and how much I enjoyed exploring and experiencing this magnificent town!  This will be my only stop in Montenegro, and it was beautiful!

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