Saturday, 18 September 2010

Montenegro, Kotor

At 35º centigrade it was extremely hot and Kim was full of complaints about the heat and the humidity and after we had walked through a slightly smelly street vegetable market that was sweltering in the sun we were pleased to go through the main gate of the old town and into the shaded cooler streets inside, Kim because she was out of the sun and me because she had stopped complaining.

It was busy inside because Kotor old town is quite small with a population of about five and a half thousand and it was playing host to the holidaymakers from the cruise liner and hundreds of others as well which temporarily more than doubled the population. Once again there was a distinct Italianate feel because the old Mediterranean port of Kotor is surrounded by an impressive city wall that was built by Republic of Venice and the Venetian influence remains dominant among the architectural styles around the main squares and up and down the tight twisting streets.

Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage site and inside the walls the narrow sinuous streets took us past little picturesque shops, cafés, bars, antique monuments and cream stone buildings, balconies overflowing with flowers, washing lines full of immaculate laundry and the overwhelming smell of washing powder and fabric conditioner.

The old town of Kotor is wedged in between the rugged Bay and at the foot of the Lovćen massif mountain range directly under overhanging limestone cliffs of the mountains Orjen and Lovćen. At the back of the town there was an entrance to a demanding walk up the vertical mountain to visit the city walls but today it was too hot for us to even think about tackling it especially in flimsy sandals on slippy stones and paths with warnings of danger clearly signposted so we made do with admiring it all from sea level and then slipped back into the maze of streets and looked for a bar away from the blistering heat of the unrelenting sun which was reflecting off the buildings and bouncing about the paved squares and open spaces.

Kotor wasn’t quite what we were expecting it has to be said and Kim found it dirty and scruffy but I would describe it as no worse than untidy, the cruise ship spoilt it in a way because the old town was overcrowded and the hulking mass of the ship destroyed the charm of the seafront and the harbour. The cafés and bars were more expensive than I imagined they would be, certainly pricier than Croatia, but I thought the old town was nice enough and we sat in the shade in a corner of one of the small squares and had a beer before leaving.

We drove back the way that we had come around the Bay of Kotor, which is one of the most indented parts of the Adriatic Sea and, although technically it is actually a submerged river canyon, is sometimes called the southern-most fjord in Europe. By now it was late afternoon and the high cloud that was trapping in the heat and raising the humidity levels was beginning to clear and the water sparkled like parchment as the sky turned to a vibrant blue so we thought we might stop again in Perast and if all the coach tours had gone take the boat ride across to the islands.

One is called St. George island, and the other called Gospa od Škrpjela (Our Lady of the Rock), and each of them has a picturesque chapel. Gospa od Škrpjela is the only artificially built island in the Adriatic, with an area of three thousand square metres it was built upon a rock after two venetian sailors from Perast allegedly found a picture of the Virgin Mary on it in 1452.

A young man, who turned out to be from Sarajevo in Bosnia but studying in London and at home for the summer to make some money, offered us a ride across so we ignored the official tourist boats and accepted. He fired up the outboard engine and then we began the short crossing. About half way across the engine spluttered and cut out and for a few moments were completely becalmed as he fiddled with the fuel supply and grumbled about poor quality petrol (I made a mental note not to fill the car up in Montenegro) and it looked as though we would have to row the final part of the journey but he told us not to worry and after a few seconds he fired the engine back into life and we completed the journey.

We stayed on the island for half an hour but that was plenty long enough to see everything there was to see and when our transport returned he took us back to the mainland this time without incident. As we hopped off the boat he asked for €3 each and I thought this was fair and on the basis that the official boats charged 5 I gave him 4 and that made him smile,

It was still hot so while Kim cooled her feet off in the sea I went looking for a shop for alcohol supplies and when we had both finished our tasks at the end of a long day we agreed with each other that we liked Perast more than Kotor and then returned to the car and drove back around the Bay and returned to Kamaria and the hotel. The balcony which had been too hot earlier in the day when we had first arrived was comfortable now so we sat and watched the boats on the water and drank the Montenegrin beer called Niksicko, which despite its unpromising name was really rather nice.

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