I knew nothing about the bay of Kotor until I received a postcard from my son saying that he had visited this medieval town in Montenegro and he thought it was really strange because the bay was actually a fjord. I was fascinated with the picture on the postcard which was an aerial shot of the closed town and the fjord.I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Montenegro was once very fashionable with film stars in the 60's and Sveti Stefan was the place to go.
So the last time my husband and I visited Korcula in Croatia we decided to take a couple of days out and visit this strange place. We caught a bus from Orebic to Dubrovnik and stayed in the old town overnight so we could catch the earliest coach to Kotor from the main coach station in Dubrovnik.
As we said goodbye to the old town of Dubrovnik it started to drizzle. It was one of those humid days where the sun was desperately trying to get out but the clouds kept pushing it back.
Usually, I spend my journeys window gazing but this time I was too busy listening to two Australian lads who were sat behind us.They were talking of all the trips they had been on and the countries and cities they had ticked off their list. Every now and again I would look through the window and see the odd villa and palm tree and think - Oh yes, this is very Mediterranean. But still that drizzly, humid mist was in the air - a bit like you get in the hills of Madeira or even in Norway.
I also remember the road to Kotor seemed to be a steep decline and then suddenly we turned a corner and were on a narrow flat road enveloped by high mountains on both sides with villas and luxurious gardens tumbling down the hillside.
When we first saw the sight of the fjord I can remember thinking that it was pretty spectacular with the craggy mountain of Lovcan as its backdrop and high above the fortified town the verdant hillside formed strange shapes and colours and played tricks on my eyes. The sheer beauty of the bay came from the bright blue waters and the startling white of the yachts anchored in the harbour.
The walk from the bus station was an interesting one as the environment on that side of the bay is similar to most Balkan towns - a little bit rough and ready with hawkers and people trying to sell you rooms for the night. As we hadn't booked a room we knew we would have to get into a discussion about a price for a room but had been warned by our son about haggling and not to take the first price.
We were approached by an old lady dressed in black with a slightly hunched back. As we couldn't speak any Montenegran we just had to mime and hope for the best. This lady didn't really say much - just beckoned us to follow her. She had a huge black umbrella which made her look even more like a crone from Macbeth.
Eventually we reached the old town through one of the many entrances. The walled town is one of the oldest settlements in Montenegro and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is at the very end of the Bay of Boka Kotorska and as you tread through the cobbled streets you feel the age of time passed. The squares and streets are filled with churches, monuments and ancient houses where people still live.
Our little old lady was one of these people who lived in this urban settlement and as she led us through a wooden gate up to some steps and through her door I started to get goose pimples and a bit of a shiver down my spine.Perhaps I had been there before in another time.
The apartment if that's what I could call it was very tiny consisting of one living area with a table and kitchen combined and then next door was a very small bedroom which was all made up and ready for her guests. The room was very quaint and traditional and had quite a damp smell. My husband and I looked at each other and nodded our heads to say, No, but then felt bad about saying that we didn't want to take the room. We bowed our heads and shook her hand and then left. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with the room - it was just too claustrophobic and I knew that if we had taken it we would have felt bad about coming in late and disturbing her plus we couldn't speak the lingo and I really didn't want to spend my time in Kotor nodding my head and smiling all the time.
To be honest, the rooms spooked me and I was glad when we closed the gate and we were back in the fresh air.
Next stop was the tourist office to see if we could find another room or even a hotel. The tourist office was actually a travel agents and the lady in there was very helpful and told us that if we walked to the top of the town there was a cafe/bar that had rooms above the building and they were to rent. So off we went.
Unfortunately, this little trip to the cafe didn't turn out to be a positive experience of Montenegrans or Kotor. Having made the proprietor understand that we were looking for rooms he told a young girl to take us up the stairs to the top of the building where the rooms were situated. At the top of a long staircase where two small sized rooms with a bed . TV, small table and a separate bathroom. We were allowed to look at both rooms and were left on our own to decide. They were both tacky and not finished. Cables were sticking out of orifices in the wall and the bathroom in one of the rooms hadn't been finished. Still, we weren't fussy and we were both tired by then so we thought that if the price was reasonable then we would take one of the rooms. But the price wasn't reasonable - we were being asked to pay 60 euros for the smallest of rooms. My husband adamantly said NO and that the proprietor was taking the Michael because we were foreigners. A few words were exchanged between my husband and the proprietor and by then people in the bar were staring at us.
By this time my head was splitting and I felt desperate to find a room so we trundled off to the travel agent's again and told her our story of woe. She said that the guy was out of order and said had we thought about trying a hotel. She could recommend the Hotel Marija which is a small hotel within the city walls.
Off we went again to find the Hotel Marija which we did and it was in a super location and the reception staff were reasonably friendly and welcoming so here we decided to stay for the night.
(Review of hotel coming up in my journal about Kotor).
So on our first day we were taken in by the spectacular beauty of the bay and the mountains and we immediately fell in love with the ancient churches, scrawny cats sleeping under the lemon trees, cafes filled with noisy, chatty locals and visitors, but not bowled over by Montenegran hospitality.