Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kotor

Descending from the clouds at a forty-five degree angle, first white rock, then green grasses until the landmass, one of the many ridges, disappeared into the gray waters of the Bay of Kotor.  Following the closest ridge up from small city uncommon structures appear in the hillside.  Uncommon only in shape next to the craggy rock landscape, the first church appears up on the mountain.  Yes that's right, a church, "we're in Christian country" I thought, when aren't we in Christian country. 

First built by the Romans and later governed by Serbia, the Republic of Ragusa and Venice the small medieval city is now a part of one of the newest countries of Europe, Montenegro.  The language once spoken in this hidden town on the Adriatic coast was Dalmatian, the romance language that at one point most closely resembled Romanian but now it is a dead language.  Nowadays you hear mostly Serbian echoing through the narrow streets but English, Italian and German are also common tones.  The Vrmac tunnel completed in 2007 gave the town access to the Adriatic coastal route making it easy to ship foreigners in by bus, at least the ones that can't afford the Adriatic cruise liner.  Despite the easier access, Kotor is a breath of fresh air next to Dubrovnik.  Tour groups stroll the streets in the morning but on a May evening the terasas are filled with empty seats, giving the wandering backpacker a romantic sense that they found the gem they had been looking for after much time on the road.

Years ago I saw a poster on a wall with an image of a place where the mountains met the sea.  The picture could have been taken in one of many locations throughout the world and though that particular place isn't something that stuck so well in my mind, the idea of it did and it became a dream of mine.  If given the choice between the mountains or the sea I would choose the mountains, but knowing that there are places where both wonders exist and mesh together so well I decided that someday I would be there, at least to see it.  Kotor was that place where I could both see and enjoy it.

Rising high above the barely coastal town is Lovcen, a national park of high mountain peaks where the poet and national hero Njegos peacefully rests.  A full day of hiking will probably get you to his burial place and back to Kotor before nightfall during peak summer hours.  The nicely, beaten down shepherd road will take you through a series of switchbacks rising quickly out of town until you reach a forest partly shielding you from the beating sun or unexpected storm.  Another hour of climbing and you arrive at the road winding along the mountainside as it connects the bay with the old capital city several kilometers inland.  The hike is intense and physically straining but you're reminded of its value each time you stop and take a look around you.

The bay is full of wonders from the steps of the fortress walls high above the city of Kotor to the steps of the island church Gospa od Skrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock).  Its an artificial island off the coast of the small fishing village of Perast.  They say that there used to be an annual tradition in the village to row out to a certain point in the bay and through a rock in.  Eventually the rocks piled up to make a small island where the church now stands.  Though the islands are the main attraction, an easy stroll through town is the unforeseen wonder of Perast.  Small boats line the water's edge with old stone buildings situated across the only drivable street in town.  Locals struggle to keep there boats from violently crashing against the concrete walkway after a cruise-ship out in the bay slowly crawls along trying to find its narrow exit.  The tiny town is starting to see some of the effects of tourism, both positive and negative. 

Its those places that you never heard of or thought of going that hold some of the greatest secrets.  I'm sure that the Bay of Kotor holds many secrets and three days is hardly enough time to uncover them.  Kotor itself appears to be a secret just recently uncovered.  Looking at Kotor from high above the bay you can see that it is tucked away in the bay's most secluded corner, hidden from the vastness of the sea.  After visiting such a quiet old city you're glad that the secret was uncovered just enough for you to discover it but hope that word doesn't reach the masses.  I didn't see a single highrise there, and I hope I never do. 

Perast and the two islands in the bay, the Island of St. George and Our Lady of the Rock

A walk through the village of Perast

The switchback leading up the mountain and out of Kotor

The view looking down on the bay
A small church on they way up to the fortress above Kotor



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