Welcome to Montenegro on the Eastern Adriatic Coast. This place has been around almost forever but an independent country since only 2006. The city of Kotor is on a bay at the end of the largest fjord in Southern Europe. Technically it is not a fjord carved by a glacier but a sunken river valley. You could not tell me the difference as we are sitting on the boat looking up a couple thousand feet to the top of the cloud enveloped mountains that surround the bay. We spent a delightful day here.
Kotor was originally settled by Illyrians some two centuries BC. The Queen decided to take advantage of the geography and develop the highly defensible port by stretching a chain across the narrow entrance to the bay. She was so successful in her efforts to collect revenue that the Romans grabbed the bay and the surrounding area for themselves. The locals gave way to the Slavic invasions of the Barbarian times in the early Middle Ages. These Slavs became mostly Orthodox Christians like their inland Serbian cousins and unlike their nearby Roman Catholic Croatian neighbors in Dubrovnik.
They started to make their home impregnable from attack by building fantastic walls on the bay and in the mountain behind the city. Climbing to the top of these fortifications was our first order of business this morning. The morning fog lifted as we climbed the 1500 or so steps to the top. I use the term step as a generalization as to their purpose. They were mostly unique flight after flight while they zigzagged up the mountain. The stairs were adjacent to fortified walls with slots for firing arrows or an arquebus. Occasionally there were landings for cannons or last stands.
Much of the wall building was completed during a time when the Venetians controlled the local foreign policy. This was probably a good move as the Venetians and the neighboring Republic of Dubrovnik were rivals. The Venetian lion is part of the Montenegrin national flag. They must have gotten along reasonably well. The walls and the fortification of the entrance to the bay assured that the place was never taken until the feisty Corsican, Napoleon showed up. The place was under siege by the Turks on a fairly regular basis as the port was the best in the Eastern Adriatic. The Turks had conquered neighboring Bosnia, Albania and Serbia without much trouble. The Montenegrins were safe behind their walls.
We managed to make it to top. The pictures say it all. Incredible. Good commentary with our fellow tourists. We headed back down after catching our breath and exploring the WWI improvements made by the Austrians who used Kotor as their command center for their navy. I wonder if Captain Von Trapp liked the place as much as we did? Bought some cold water from a little old lady about 2/3rds of the way up. She invited us to visit her home on the side of the mountain. You reached it by crawling through a hole in the fortifications. It was there some thousand feet or so above the bay. She is one of those people who will reach 150 years by carrying bottles of tourist water up the mountain.
Wandered back into town and I was ready for a beer. We sat down at a table and were soon joined by many other hikers. It was made more welcoming by a pianist playing standards. The beer was cold and reasonable. They served wood fired pizza and I felt at home. I talked to owner who looked the part of a Resistance fighter. I saw a gallon glass jug with brandy looking contents. He offered a glass. Never hurts to say yes. It was homemade, “very old” plum brandy and actually good. Even better, it was a gift. It never hurts to show appreciation for local efforts.
We then spent the next few hours wandering this tiny old town and taking a few hundred pictures. Did some inquiries about local history. When they discovered that I knew the basics of their history they could not help us enough. Most visitors have no idea that this place was involved in all of the recent wars and they did like the Nazis either. They were loyal members of Tito’s Yugoslavia and then stuck with their Serb neighbors after the Yugoslav breakup and they parted peaceably from Serbia in 2006. They still have no local currency. They use the Euro despite not being in the European Union.
Managed to find a wine tasting venue. Actually the local Montenegrin and Croatian wines are quite good. The plum brandy works also.
On deck for the “sail away”. Since it was foggy this morning we never saw the way we came into port. As we left port we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the surroundings. It was great. Went by the little island with a church that the locals each bring a rock to each year. It gets a little bit bigger each year. We finally made it through the 400 yard wide exit to the bay. It seemed that we might hit the sides. You leave the this hidden bay that could have been the home of the “Mouse that Roared” or “The Prisoner of Zenda”. Amazing that it is not a Disney set and packed with tourists. Maybe it is hard to believe that it exists.