Travelling Light

Kotor, Montenegro (Aug 18, 2014): A Whole New Country!

We arrived in Kotor at 9.30am, a little tired from trying to sleep on the bus, but not as tired as we had expected. The wonders or aeroplane earplugs and eye masks! Fortunately, the bus wasn’t full, so we were able to move apart and have two seats each.

There was a group of four young men talking loudly to one another in Serbian when we first set off, but after a couple of hours they spread apart to have two seats each. Of course, this meant that they had to talk louder to carry on their conversation! We cannot praise aeroplane earplugs enough. Seriously.

The bus made a few stops, but Jenny ignored them and pretended to be asleep (except at the border, of course, although Tom managed to fall asleep in no-mans-land and the border police considerately didn’t wake him – they just picked up his passport from the seat beside him and stamped it). Tom got off the bus at the first stop in Montenegro to use the facilities and sample Montenegrin hot chocolate.

For photos of the Montenegro countryside, see the album here:

We were met in Kotor by a very friendly cat, and a toilet attendant asking half a Euro to use the facilities.

Seriously, Europe, what’s with this paying to pee business? Isn’t elimination a human right?

Tom withdrew some Euros from the ATM, but the toilet attendant couldn’t change a 50 Euro note. Tom wandered around the cafes at the bus terminal until he found someone to change the 50. Turns out the toilet attendant couldn’t change a 10 Euro note either. He took the note into the first cafe, which had refused to change the 50 for Tom, and they refused to change the 10 for him. Eventually, he just let us pee for free.

The next frustration was discovering that our accommodation was 3km from the bus station, and there was no public transport option. We hailed a taxi and paid an additional 3 Euros we hadn’t budgeted for. Grrr.

When we arrived, we found that the room was on the fourth floor (elevator? don’t make me laugh …) and contained two single beds. Sigh. The view was fabulous, though, and made up for some of the annoyance.

There is WiFi here, but the signal is very weak, so it only works in one small corner of the lobby. This is the most densely populated real estate in the building, while the chairs and tables in the bar area are conspicuously empty. They haven’t thought this through, clearly, because they would sell more drinks if the people were sitting in the bar to surf the internet. Lots more drinks.

Then again, perhaps it is better that people don’t drink and post …

Fortunately, we were able to go straight up to the room and have a nap, even though we arrived at 10am. After sleeping, it was time for our first swim in the Adriatic Sea. Cool, but not shockingly so, and once you are in, you don’t want to get out.

We swam close to our hostel, taking stairs from the concrete wall into the water, but farther along the shoreline we found a white pebble “beach”. Still nothing on an Australian or Thai beach, but it’s about the experience. We need to develop empathy for the millions of people for whom this is a close as they ever get to a beach.

Refreshed by a swim, we headed to Kotor’s Old Town, to explore the beautifully-preserved walled town. The walls climb high up the mountain, and there is an Illyrian fortress at the highest point, and a church half way up. It would take dedication to walk halfway up the mountain to Mass on a Sunday morning!

Illyria is a region on the Adriatic west coast, which was inhabited from prehistoric times. Kingdoms were documented here by the ancient Greeks as early as 800BC, and Kotor is one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns. Early Illyrian “kingdoms” were basically a series of fortified towns, each controlled by an aristocrat who pledged loyalty to the hereditary king.

While most of the area within Kotor’s walls is vertiginously steep, there is a flat area at the base by the water, which is the town.

Although we were quite tired by the evening, we enjoyed wandering the tiny alleys and courtyards in the long summer twilight. The sun went behind the western mountains about 6.30pm, but sunset proper isn’t until 9.30pm, so we had a long period of cool shade to explore the twisting streets and old churches.

One church dates back to the 9th century, although it was substantially rebuilt and expanded after the catastrophic earthquake of 1667. Another displays gold and silverwork typical of the artisans of Kotor, and is still attended by nuns wearing the traditional black dresses and white veils.

The streets in the old town are incredibly narrow. We had a map, and often we thought we were lost, because it looked as though there was a dead end where were wanting to turn a corner – only to see someone apparently appear out of the wall! You can only see the tiny streets when you are right at the entrance. In some places, you can reach out and touch the buildings on both sides at once.

The buildings are inhabited – mostly they are now tourist accommodation, but some are government offices, and many have shops or cafes on the ground floor. We chatted to someone who was staying in one hostel in the Old Town, and the idea had some appeal, but the lowest price we found was 40 Euro per night – $60 AUD – and that is just way outside our budget. We are wincing paying 24 Euro at the cheapie place we are staying currently.

Tom has decided that he would like to spend some time living in a place like this, though. We will put that into the “how to” incubator.

While hot chocolate is plentiful and good in Europe, many places in Serbia and Montenegro have struggles with the concept of iced chocolate. Iced coffee, yes. Hot chocolate, yes. Iced chocolate? Impossible.

That’s one thing about the Serbs (and Montenegrins) – they have no hesitation in saying “no”. And if they didn’t understand what you just said? “No.” So much better than the Asian “yes” that doesn’t mean “yes” at all.

We settled for hot chocolates this particular day, at the base of the Old Town walls.

Overall, we loved Kotor. It had an excellent density of cats, good food and hot chocolate, fabulous scenery, we got to swim, and the Old Town was just lovely.

More pictures of Kotor here:

More pictures of the Old Town here: