The Way It Used To Be - Chapter Twenty-two: Kotor

Europe » Montenegro » Kotor
August 12th 2005
Published: May 28th 2008
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Getting lost in Kotor is a privilege...
Having abandoned all hope for a meaningful stay in Budva, I am now in a much better place. Then again, any place is better than Budva. Barrow, Alaska would be better. For Montenegro, Kotor is that town. Though, its popularity with visitors and limited number of beds almost had me call of my entire interest in exploring the area and head elsewhere. All hotels within walking distance have been booked for months and have no vacancies until early October. So said the lady at the reception desk at the Hotel Fjord, with a snicker and dismissive shake of her head as if to say, Enjoy sleeping in a dumpster tonight, you idiot.

Nemad approached me around nine o’clock in the morning by the main gate of Kotor’s Stari Grad. I could not have been hard to spot: Dazed, confused, and out of options for pensions and private rooms, I am certain he smelled my desperation and saw an opportunity.
“You look for room in Kotor?”
I had already accepted his offer in my mind, whatever it was. “Uhh, maybe. I don’t know. I am one person.” Of course I am one person, I thought. But that told him there was
Kotor MarinaKotor MarinaKotor Marina

Twenty-three kilometrs from the open sea...
not a second one in my party.
“I saw you get off bus from Budva.” Great, I am being stalked and hunted like wild game. “What you pay room in Budva? How much you want pay room here?”
I lied, naturally. “Let’s see. It was…hmmm….fifteen euro.” If he knew the market there, he’d realize that I was way out of line with that figure.
“Fifteen good. You come. I have room. Clean. Near center. Two minutes, no problem.” The “near center” part scared me. History has dictated that near center could mean anything from spitting distance from where the action was, or the last tram stop where the goats get off. Then, Odessa came to mind. This time, Nemad was on the money: clean, great location, and the price worked, too.

The further south I have progressed into the Balkans, the more I have come to appreciate acquiring refuge in a private home. Despite the fact that it is a risk for both sides, it is one well worth taking. It is very well possible that the place is a dump run by a dodgy family with questionable characters, or has a long-haired cat, to which I am allergic.
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Only a few ways in and out...
On the other hand, taking unknown guests into a private home can be a huge risk. Approaching new arrivals at a bus station or train station, you have no idea who or what you have just swept off the street for the sake of a few extra dollars. The most astonishing revelation is that the room you occupy is not designed for guests, rather the family in whose home you have entered. The immaculate master bedroom in reality belongs to the husband and wife, who are willing to give it up for cash, which will buy them groceries for several days or take a considerable chunk out of other living expenses. Nevertheless, you cannot imagine how uncomfortable and downright embarrassing it is to wake up early in the morning only to find the entire family, sometimes up to five and six of them, asleep on the living room floor, while I have lounged out spread eagle all night on their queen-sized bed. There have even been times when I offered to take the couch. But, no. That would not do, they said. Into the bedroom I would go.
Travelers do steal, unfortunately. They may not be clean or they could
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Turn left, turn right...
be constantly drunk and misbehave. You really have no idea in the end. In the case of my time in Mostar, Ilidia told me of a Bosnian man a few days before I arrived who slipped into bed with a lovely Swedish girl across the hall one night. When rejected, he tried it with Ilidia, too! I smiled at that and thought far all my annoying qualities, I will never stoop to that. Since he was just there prior to me, how can I do anything wrong in comparison? Moreover, I am in the habit of going to the market every morning and buying the lady of the house fresh vegetables or perhaps a watermelon as well. This keeps me in the good graces with all in the house and eases any uncomfortable situations that may arise. Sometimes, I have had my laundry done, been offered a meal, and almost always take morning coffee with the family. Other guests in and out usually ignore their hosts and vice-versa. I like to blend in. Odessa and Budva notwithstanding, I have been very lucky with private homes. There was nothing wrong with the room I had in Budva per se. However, I bargained and dismissed the lady at the station, insistent that I could find a place in town. An hour later and still homeless, I trudged back to the station, swallowed my pride, and took her original offer. The relationship now poisoned, we barely tolerated each other after that. At her apartment, I had access to my room and the bathroom/toilet. All other doors were locked shut. Even the cordless phone was removed from the carriage and kept in the living room, out of my reach. Was I going to call Australia? No. But she wasn’t taking any chances.

Kotor is a great find. It magnificently occupies the most distant end of a jaw-dropping fjord, forty-five kilometers inland from the open Adriatic. It is the ultimate highlight of the ride from Dubrovnik to Budva and makes you reconsider why you’d ever venture beyond Kotor’s marina and on to Budva anyway. I am told the fjord is the only warm-water one in Europe, and perhaps the world. Nevertheless, the entire estuary is a sight to behold. Towering rugged mountains at the foot of which picturesque villages dot the twists and turns of the inner waterway. Shame on the person who does
Residential AlleywayResidential AlleywayResidential Alleyway

I am particularly keen about the overreaching arches...
not secure a seat on the bus that overlooks the inlets. And may some tortuous punishment (like a week in Guatemala City, roaming the streets at night) be inflicted on the person who actually dozes off to sleep and misses the jaw-dropping scenery. Look left. Look right. The switchbacks around the coves disorient passengers to where they cannot know if they have been to the next turn or on the way to another branch of the fjord. How I have never heard of this place or not even seen pictures of it in brochures is beyond me. Its beauty is unmatched.
It important to bear in mind Kotor’s Stari Grad is no secret, as proven by the Bermudan, Dutch, and French gin palaces docked at the marina. Tourists swarm the narrow passages of Kotor’s back streets and squares that open up to church façades, outdoor cafés, and staircases that lead up to the walled ruins of a castle. In spite of the masses, Kotor retains its elegance and class with a cramped and cozy feel to it, which cannot be said for Budva. Budva is just plain cramped. The Stari Grad here is a real-life candy store that begs exploring, and does not let you down. It is extraordinarily picturesque, active, yet relaxed at the same time. Roaming in the morning silence cannot be beat even though by ten in the morning, you are relegated to sharing the rest of Kotor with half of Zagreb. But, there is no need to panic. When exiting the gates and approaching the beach, the melding of mountains and sea once again take center stage above an aquatic center where water polo practice is held. While I will not stay here over the long term, I could see myself wasting a week to walk the roads that line this fjord, and use Kotor as home to come back to every evening.

Nemad, like so many Balkan men, is unemployed. A mariner by trade, he longs to live in the past. Having been to the States, he wants to be nowhere else and constantly repeats the same tale of his times in New Orleans and Portland, Oregon, to the point where I feel I have lived them myself. Bored out of his skull in Kotor and forced to move back home, he is a pathetic case in need of attention, or simply something to do. He tends to my every need, even when I need nothing. He has watched me type, take notes, while staring out the window at the bay. Sad, unmarried, and no real hopes of work in the near future, Nemad will invent an excuse to strike up a conversation just to pass the time and has become my Montenegrin shadow. I cannot ditch him. Even when there are no more sights to see, no more churches whose history need explaining, Nemad will take me back to Bourbon Street. He shows me his employment documents and certificates in hopes I may know someone whom he can contact for work. Although he drowns himself in self-pity, I cannot help but to feel sorry for him. I invite him for a cold drink and know that my ears will be the target of another episode of “America is good. I want good wife. When I was in Mobile….”

One evening in Kotor, I asked where I could find a late night pharmacy. I had to tend to my stinging toes, which had begun to crack open. Constantly on my feet in warm and sometimes humid weather with only two pairs of shoes, it is a common case of athlete’s foot, one to which I am all too familiar. I had run out of medication and needed a replacement. This should be no real problem, I thought. Pushing my beer aside, I was sent in the direction of the pharmacy. I told Viktor from Novi Sad I would be right back and I expected that upon my return, it would still be cold.
Wrong. Oh, so wrong.
I entered the empty pharmacy to the sight of a young lady in the typical white overcoat arranging bottles on a shelf. We took one look at each other and immediately knew a normal verbal exchange was not about to happen. She spoke no English except what she could read of the active ingredients in a dose of morphine, and my Serbo-Croatian was limited to…
“Dobro večer.”
“Good evening”, she came right back to me. She smiled. It was all down hill from there.
She shook her head, but was polite. “No.”
I waved her off as if to say we’ll work out this minor inconvenience. I smiled. We’ll do just fine, I thought. “I need a cream, anti-fungal cream. Feet.” I pointed to my feet.
Nothing. She just stared at me.
I mimicked the pain in my toes by once again pointing and squinting my eyes. “Oww! Hurt. Cracks in toes!”
Again, nothing. I was getting nowhere, and looking like a complete ass over enunciating and dramatizing, given the number of people on the street who had now stopped to look through the shop window, as I hobbled up and down on one foot in front of the pharmacist. Finally, a woman of about thirty walked in. I grabbed her.
“Do you speak a little English?” I always insert the word little, for without it, many get intimidated, as if I want them to recite Shakespeare to me.
“Yes.” Great, I’ll be out of here in two minutes and I’ll never see these people again. More passersby gathered outside the window to watch. Some were starting to assemble inside the shop. They needed no medicine, just some original entertainment to break up the routine of their evening stroll. My new assistant tries to help out, but could not comprehend the word fungus. She bantered back and forth with the pharmacist, and this resulted in my receiving a tube of lotion to eliminate dry flaking on the soles of my feet.
“No! Fungus! Like bacteria. You know, bacteria? The pharmacist’s eyes perked up. She darted off to the back. By this time the entire shop was about full, but I was the only customer. She returned with an antibiotic to be taken orally. I closed my eyes in defeat. The onlookers were delighted…I still had no solution and the show continued.
“No! Fungus!” I tried to be creative. What else could I use for…Wait! That’s it! Mushrooms were a fungus! I would use this as an analogy and this would send me back to my not-so-cold beer.
What a huge lapse in judgment.
“You know”, I pointed to my feet and even used the fingers on my hand as a model. I indicated the area where the burning and cracks were. By this time, the rest of Kotor watched on behind me. Some were even peering over my shoulder to get a better look. Nearly no room was left in the pharmacy anymore. “I have mushrooms right here!” I once again pointed to my fingers, modeling them as if they were my toes. So help me, I was not going to take my shoes off. As I turned around, I concluded that private moment and discretion granted at a drugstore for an embarrassing condition does not apply in Montenegro.
Then I made the most monumental of mental lapses. I remembered the Serbo Croatian word for mushroom, for I had them on my pizza for lunch that afternoon. This was getting out of control. “Pečurke!”, the word for mushroom. “Feet!” Laughter broke out. One woman made her way out the door and hollered to her friends, for I knew enough of the words to string the thought together. “Quick! Come! An American has mushrooms growing out of his feet!” All of a sudden, I was surrounded by thirty people. My embarrassment turned to complete disdain. I put my face in my hands and wanted to evaporate into the air.
Up stepped two young guys and they replaced the thirty-year-old. It was kind of like a game show. Their English was better. I explained my situation. They played soccer for a local club. Great! They’d know what I needed. They interpreted. I got my cream. My feet felt instantly better. The show thankfully was over.


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