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Published: April 2nd 2020
Despite disturbed sleep last night, my energy was up for a long, full day in Montenegro. About forty minutes down the main road was the emigration post for Croatia. Our driver, Tomas, collected our passports and presented them through a window to the official, who did a computer scan and solemnly stamped each one. We drove a few minutes on, and Tomas presented the bunch of passports to the Montenegrin official, who just stamped us in. A moment later we were stopped for a police check; the official made a motion of checking the passports, but he didn’t really. Montenegro
is lusher than Croatia (4000 mm of rain compared to 400 mm annually). Some trees were adorned with white flowers, from which the petals dropped like snow. The upper parts of the mountains were dry with scrubby bushes, but in the valley where we were driving, green dressed every scene. Bushes with yellow flowers were scattered on the landscape, and purple wild irises adorned the road-side ditches. Later in the day we saw wisteria blooming lavender on pergolas by homes and cafés.
We first saw the Bay of Kotor
as a blaze of sun across the light blue of the sea
Bay of Kotor
Stunning opening in the dark mountains
surrounded by the dark blue of the mountainous hills. Heavy clouds obscured the sky without dimming the sun. The Bay is a sort of fjord penetrating deeply inland, giving the appearance of a wide lake. Kotor
is at the foot of a great stony mountain. The old city is surrounded by heavy walls still in good repair. The Škurda river forms a wide moat on one side. The walls built into the mountainside climb steeply up to a fort almost out of sight. The corners are fortified by round, sloping bastions. Inside, we were in a Venetian city again. Our guide, Miroslav, talked us through the many conquering empires, noting that the city is thought to have been founded eleven centuries ago by the Illyrians
– the ancient originating people on the coast. Since at least the third century, major earthquakes have damaged many buildings that were reconstructed or replaced in their particular times. Amazingly, the small St Luka’s Church
built in the 13 century has survived without damage. The present fortifications and town were built on the Byzantine originals, after the Venetians brought Kotor under their influence in 1420. Without other lucrative resources, Kotor provided huge numbers of sailors to
Kotor, old city
from outside the Venetian walls
the sea-faring Venetian nation.
Before entering the Venetian gates, our attention was drawn to Tito’s communist government’s revision of the identifying décor. In place of the Venetian crest was a communist one, in Venetian style, with the surround in utilitarian cement.
Inside the fortifications, Miroslav led us from graceful building to graceful building. I admired the creative reuse of the Venetian palaces. The long plaza in front of the main building was filled with tourists milling about, crossing from some streets to others. Beside it was a clock tower that became more unusual over the course of its history; the original face was Venetian, and the second face was French from the Napoleonic occupation. The French were trying to prove themselves equal to the unparalleled Venetians, but their clock apparently always runs a bit slow.
Perhaps not so different from Venetian times, shops and cafés front onto most of the streets. The old town is almost as small as a large village and is inhabited by sleek, fat cats. During the Black Death in the 14 century, the cats of Kotor ate enough rats to save the city from de-population. Many centuries later, cats are welcomed and
Delicious sausage-shaped meat balls
fed by locals. We were happy to have our lunch, which we ordered individually. I had cevapcici
, the traditional lamb-beef-pork sausages with ajvar
, a sweet-red-pepper sauce.
Rising high above Kotor, we drove the switch-back road to a lookout in Mt. Lovcen National Park
. We could see the vast expanse of Kotor Bay, formed by the delta of a river gradually sinking and flooding. In the dazzling afternoon sun, the green mountainous hills framed the deep blue bay.
Down again on the twisty road, we drove half an hour to Budva
, a city that is rich in history because all the conquests of the Adriatic have swept into it: Illyrians, Greeks, Saracens, Romans, Byzantines, Serbs, Venetians, Ottomans, Austro-Hungarians and the depredations of the World Wars, until it became part of Yugoslavia, and then Serbia, and then that union broke up. Earthquakes were also part of its history, resulting in the charming precaution on at least one wall where the stones have been visibly numbered for reassembly after the next disaster. An odd instinct of hopefulness.
Almost side by side were two great churches. The Church of St John
(the Baptist) was built in the 17 century after an earthquake, as a reconstruction of the previous
2500 years of history
church. Holy Trinity Church
(Orthodox) was finished in 1804, and above the entry a beautiful mosaic depicted the hospitality of angels.
Budva now welcomes millionaires and tourists to its sandy beaches. On our sleepy drive back to Dubrovnik, we stopped for a moment to look at Sveti Stefan
a 7-star resort that caters to the ultra-rich and their security concerns. Once an island, it is now joined by a causeway to the mainland. Relatively unimpressed, we were happy to be on our own activity-filled tour.
Dinner: Seabream with potatoes and onions View map
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