By Karlie Marrazzo
We woke up early to get to the bus station to catch a bus to Kotor, set in the stunning Bay of Kotor in Europe’s youngest nation, Montenegro. The Stradun, the main pedestrian road through old town Dubrovnik, was still very quiet at 7 am. It gave us a chance to appreciate the beauty of the town in relative peace. We were almost at the main gate when a huge group of people in medieval costumes paraded by us in the other direction. I might not have found this very odd, but the quality of the outfits, along with the hair and makeup of the women especially, and how good looking every single one them was made me take a little extra notice. It wasn’t until I was lying in bed in Kotor 16 hours later that I realized it was the cast of Game of Thrones. I kept hearing people in Dubrovnik talk about how they were filming there, but I don’t watch the show so I didn’t recognize any of the actors.
We got to the bus station fairly early to buy our tickets, then sat around for an hour and a half soaking up the cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes. The bus ride was fairly normal until we got to the border crossing. Our bus driver sort of looked like Balki from Perfect Strangers except surly and always smoking. We parked at the Croatian border and every passenger got out one by one to go up to the border control desk. Needless to say this was not a speedy process. After we got our stamps, the driver made us stand 30 yards up the road and wait. We got back on the bus, drove for two minutes and stopped again at the Montenegro border. A guard came on and collected all of the passports again, which was a lot more efficient. There was an older gentleman in his 80s sitting near us. He was chatting with everyone around him and was very friendly and charming. He was given the stack of passports and was going up and down the aisle, calling out names and giving passports back. He was so cheerful and it made everybody on board smile.
As we wound our way around the Bay of Kotor, the scenery outside was breathtaking. The day was sunny and people were relaxing all along the water. After a while it got a little torturous and we were relieved to step off the bus.
Kotor’s old town is absolutely tiny. You can meander and wander and feel like you’re getting lost, but you’ll end up back where you started without even trying. It is really beautiful and, more importantly, quiet! As much as I adore Europe, beautiful towns are a dime a dozen, and getting an experience that feels more exclusive is a little more rare. Maybe this is what the elusive up-and-coming, before-it-has-been-discovered destination is like. We spent much of our two days in Kotor leisurely wandering the narrow streets, or sitting on a bench by the water looking out at the bay and the impressive yachts from around the world, talking and enjoying each other’s company.
One thing you can’t help but notice is all of the stray cats in Kotor. These cats are a little rougher around the edges than the ones in the major tourist cities. They aren’t as pampered and you can tell they live a hard life – they’re skinny and several of them have injuries from street fights. One cat that I always made sure to check on was a big white guy whose ear and face were pink from blood. All of the cats seemed to congregate in the area outside of St. Mary’s Church, lounging on benches or playing in the grass. One of the funniest moments was when a lady walked by and up some stone steps, and suddenly 20 cats bounded after her. I went to check it out, and this kind lady feeds all of these stray cats up there, pouring the cat food onto the ground and letting them at it.
I didn’t sleep well that night, so it was hard to wake up the next morning, but I managed to drag myself out of bed. We had planned to hike the intense city walls and wanted to start before the day got too hot. Luckily the morning was overcast, but it was still ridiculously humid. We got an early start and were some of the first people on the wall. To further prove my point about how much of a rip off the Dubrovnik city walls were, the cost to walk Kotor’s walls was only 3EUR, or $4.50 CAN per person versus $16. There were no flashy pamphlets or gift shops atop the walls, so I had to rely on the info from my guidebook, which told me that there are over 1350 steps and an elevation gain of 700ft. We took it slow as I am not the most alert person in the mornings. The fortifications have not been restored at all and there are loose rocks along the pathway, so you have to watch your footing. This gave us plenty of time to stop and gaze out at the incredible view of the Bay of Kotor spreading out below us. We only encountered two other couples on our way up, so it was fantastic to have this breathtaking moment essentially all to ourselves.
The next morning we took a cab to the Tivat Airport to pick up another rental car. Even though the agency has a desk and the airport was swarming with Russians, nobody was at the rental desk to help us. The people at the info desk were “forbidden” to call for us, but one nice guy used his cell to get in touch for us. This gave us time to notice the arrivals and departures boards, where every flight in and out was from Moscow or some other Russian destination.
Our end destination was Bar, about 60 km south on the coast. My husband Dave decided to take us on a more indirect, yet potentially more interesting, route to get there, which was 115 km through the mountains. We climbed high above the Bay of Kotor, winding through 25 switchbacks and taking in a more fantastic view at each one. The roads were so narrow that I almost held my breath each time we passed a huge tourist bus coming the other way. I’m thankful that the weather was perfect that day, or else the drive would have been absolutely hair raising. We stopped at almost all of the lookout points right behind a young Russian couple that were doing the same thing. The thing I love about young Russian tourists is that they go all out with their photos. They don’t just take a snapshot or a quick selfie and go on their way. They do full on photo shoots at every opportunity, doing so many poses to get just the right shot. This couple was climbing up on rocks, and the girl was busting out poses left and right. I couldn’t help but giggle. We took a few shots of them together and they did they same for us. I can’t imagine what their photo album at home looks like.
We eventually stopped for a break in Cetinje, the historic capital of Montenegro. We parked in the old town and walked through the main square and saw the former palace, which was very, very humble by European palace standards. The main square was quiet, with a few kids kicking a ball around and locals enjoying an afternoon drink at outdoor cafes. No matter where you go in Europe, there is always some degree of tourism, but in Cetinje there hardly seemed to be any.
Further along the road, we passed the Budva Riveria, although we didn’t bother stopping. There is a long, gorgeous beach that attracts tons of tourists, but the area immediately surrounding it is built up with ugly hotel blocks and holiday apartments, plus cranes and construction equipment scattered about. I find it funny how people flock to these places and spend money on “luxurious” hotels and spas to enjoy a gorgeous view, when most of the town itself can be hideous and boring.
Our ferry wasn’t set to depart Bar until 22:30, and we arrived at 17:00. We went to the old town, which is not like other old towns in touristy cities. This one in still in ruins, but they want to develop it and attract more tourism there. Then we had an annoyingly slow dinner before going to the port to go through passport control and board the ship. If I thought our first ferry room was basic, I was wrong. This time we had an interior room – no windows – with two tiny bunk beds. The entire room was only the width of a twin bed. We had our own bathroom with a hideous shower. The showerhead was a hose that came out of the sink that we had to spray ourselves down with, and the shower area was covered in mold. Thank goodness for flip-flops. After we settled in as best as we could to read a bit before going to sleep, we left the door open so we wouldn’t suffocate. Neither of us was upset at all. It was an experience, and at least we didn’t have to sleep with a hundred other people in those airplane chairs. And the next morning, we would wake up in Italy!