Monday, November 9, 2015

Kotor, gateway to Montenegro

It was another early start this morning but it didn't matter as we had gained two hours overnight, one for a time zone change and one for the end of daylight saving. As we approached Kotor, Montenegro it was one breath-taking fjord-like view after another. Some have called it the southernmost fjord in Europe, but it is a riva, a submerged river canyon. We passed two small islands. Legend has it that the sailors threw rocks at a certain spot as they were sailing out to sea causing an island to form. Today one of the islands has a small church on it.

Finally, the bright red rooftops of the medieval town came into view. In the past, the most developed industry in the area was trade and maritime affairs. Seafarers used to bring different products from overseas which they would exchange for the goods they were in need of, making Kotor an important trading centre. Today tourism is the main industry.

We opted for a motor coach tour of the surrounding countryside. It was quite a ride. We ascended the steep slopes of the serpentine road with 25 sharp switchbacks to Lovcen Mountain. It was a one-lane road with very little or no barriers. Vehicles had to give way to buses so cars and trucks ended up either backing up around a switchback or passing by with centimetres to spare. I found myself breathing in a lot. The view was worth it as we saw the soaring Montenegrin mountains towering on one side, while opposite them was the beautiful bay.

The road took us to the tiny village of Njegusi where we enjoyed local snacks of delicious homemade smoked ham - much like prosciutto, local cheese that was quite strong, homemade bread and wine. We ate in an authentic, rustic old building. It was very enjoyable as we sat with our Australian friends and a honeymoon couple from Brazil.

Later we stopped at the museum of King Nikola. At the end of WWI the Serbians annexed Montenegro ending the reign of the monarchy. It was interesting looking around the old royal home with its period furnishings and many artefacts showing the connections to other royal houses especially Russian royalty. The Montenegrins are awaiting the return of the heir and his son, who live in Paris, early next year.

We caught a glimpse of the Budva Riviera as we headed back to Kotor. Once again we saw lots of high-rise holiday homes. Kotor's history extends back to Neolithic times and includes Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs and Venetians until 1797, the time of the Napoleonic wars. After the stormy period from 1797 to 1814, when the area was alternately under the Russians, French, Austrians and Montenegrins, Kotor became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then it was annexed by Serbia, and after that formed part of Yugoslavia.

With the time change it was nearly dark when we arrived back in Kotor. Kotor's Old Quarter was developed within a small triangular area enclosed by town walls. The Venetians built structures that completely enclosed the Old Town and formed fortifications against sieges. The main entrance is the Morska Vrata. Above the gate a plaque bearing the date November 21,1944 commemorates the liberation of the city by partisans.

Inside the old city was quite charming. The Square of Arms, the main square, was the place where arms were repaired and stored during the Venetian period. It was ringed by the Providur's Palace, Napoleon theatre, Clock Tower and Arsenal. We saw lots of lovely little shops and restaurants as we wandered about. Finally, we stopped at one for a much needed coffee.

After returning to the yacht for a quick change of clothing (it had turned quite cool), we returned to the town meeting up with our Australian friends. We had decided that the barbecue and line dancing on the yacht were definitely not for us. Instead we found a charming restaurant where we had some lovely sepia nero risotto - squid ink risotto. We followed this with another  walk around the town getting lost in the narrow streets, something we enjoy doing. It was a lovely ending to a perfect day.

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