We took a hot smelly bus from the beautiful walled city of Dubrovnik south along the Adriatic coast toward Montenegro. Though the four and a half hour bus ride may have been horrible, I don’t think anything could have put a damper on my excitement of visiting the countries that lie in this portion of central/eastern Europe. Not only are the sights unique and different from the sights in western Europe, the people are positively the nicest I have ever come across on my travels and there is a certain amount of authenticity in the way they go about their lives that is really hard to describe but is ultimately refreshing: they treat you like family no matter where you come from.
Montenegro, like Croatia, lies on the Adriatic sea and borders both Croatia to the west and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the north. We had plans to visit both in the next few days and (spoiler alert) ended up falling in love with all of them! Like many countries in this region of Europe, Montenegro and its people suffered greatly during Yugoslavia’s violent civil war in the 1990s with evidence of its many tragedies still evident today. Due to this civil war, tourism in Montenegro virtually disappeared but has since become a thriving industry with visitors like us lucky enough to re-discover this amazing country and region.
Our destination in Montenegro was the awe-inspiring walled city of Kotor located in the beautiful and secluded Bay of Kotor. The Bay of Kotor is a submerged river canyon which is surrounded by steep mountains on both sides that come straight down to the water’s edge, much as they do in Lake Como. Similarly, the effect is a beautiful mix of clear blue water and beautiful, imposing mountains.
The old medieval city of Kotor is considered one of the best preserved medieval towns in the Mediterranean and is shaped in a rough triangle shape, surrounded on two sides with heavily fortified walls and a third side that backs right into a cliff face. An upper town wall meanders up the mountainside culminating in the Castle of San Giovanni on top. The city itself is deceptively small, but its mazelike old town, a feature that was done deliberately for protection, makes it very easy to get lost in. However, there is a high concentration of churches, cathedrals, palaces, and museums in the city that make getting lost in Kotor a fun and exciting experience.
One of the most recommended activities in Kotor is to take a hike up the 1300 steps which take you from Old Kotor up the mountain to the fortress above. It is an intimidating proposition being able to see the fortress from all the way at the bottom of the mountain and we were worried it was going to be extremely difficult to climb it. I decided to make the trek on my own, however, and left early one morning of our visit to escape the 87-degree heat that was forecasted for that day. There are two paths up the mountain, one is fairly secret and free so I took that option which ended up being a really good decision as the zig-zag path up the mountain meant I didn’t have to take the steps and deal with all the tourists that think that is the only way up.
Though the winding walk stretches nearly three miles in length, the way up was not as bad as I feared, though it was very hot. Before I knew it, I was sweating out of every pore. The situation was not helped by the clouds of gnats that if you are not careful and walk into would result in them sticking to the exposed parts of your body, forcing you to wipe your face and arms on your shirt sleeves so before you know it you are covered in dead gnats. Regardless, the hike went smoothly until I came across a “Beware! Wolves!” sign graffitied by some jokester on a rock halfway up. Not wanting to take any risks, I armed myself with a sharp rock for defense, feeling ever more stupid as I made my way up, though it did occupy my mind for a few minutes as I imagined the face down with me coming out miraculously victorious.
I made my way up the mountain and passed a super random tiny cheese shop run by a family who knew no English, as well as a little abandoned church near the top which you cannot see unless you went up the back way I took. It was a really cool building but a little creepy and I found myself wishing I knew more about why it was abandoned and ended up making something up for my own personal enjoyment as I continued my journey.
Eventually, I made it, forced to climb through a little hole in the wall to get access to the fortress and the breathtaking view of the Bay of Kotor below.
The top of the mountain is occupied by the 6th-century Castle of San Giovanni though it has been constantly evolving throughout its history. The castle is in pretty dire need of repair, but the feeling you are seeing the beginning stage that all of the old ruined castles we have seen on our trip went through on their regression towards decay definitely added character to the castle and gave me a reverent sense of its age. Not just affected by the weathering of age, the castle has definitely seen some shit, being under the rule of several different countries where it was subsequently occupied and attacked by opposing forces and has even survived three separate earthquakes. In that sense, while dilapidated in places, the walls are actually much better preserved than they may appear at first glance.
While in town, we were recommended by our hostel to visit a nearby restaurant called BBQ Tanjga, which, despite the name, doesn’t use BBQ sauce, just a grill and some marinated meat. We shared what they call a meat plate, which is just as heavenly as it sounds. For 20€, the meal was an enormous plate covered in different meats, including The Holy Triumvirate of Meat (Beef, Pork, and Chicken), all cooked in various and wonderful ways, from shishkebabs to steak to the most amazing grilled chicken I have ever eaten, including an unholy combination of all three types of meat in a hotdog like creation that if served on a fresh bun with your personal choice of toppings would make the best hot dogs ever created. The owner of it was ridiculously nice, betting us for a beer that we couldn’t finish our meat plate. Needless to say, he underestimated my fatassness/alcoholism and we won that bet. The food was simply fantastic and at an unbeatable price to boot. We went twice while in Kotor because it was so good and the owner was so talkative and friendly. I’m salivating right now just thinking about it!
Montenegro and Kotor were everything I was hoping for when we had decided to go back to central/eastern Europe again. It was a perfect teaser to the wonderful experiences that we were to have visiting Croatia and Bosnia later. I was sure the niceness of the people in this war-torn part of the world was a fluke when I first visited but visiting Montenegro put those fears to bed instantaneously. We had a great next few days in the Balkans so make sure you check out my next few blog posts! Thanks!