The weather was perfect this morning as we headed around the bay to Kotor. Parking up outside the walls of the old fortress we headed inside. The fortress was built in the 1400’s by the Venetians and throughout the old city there are lots of beautiful Venetian style buildings. In 1979 Kotor was struck by an earthquake which caused major damage. The rebuilding of the old city is just amazing with the old buildings being restored to their former glory. It’s wonderful walking around the old city with its tiny medieval streets. We had a quick look around last night, discovered a few restaurants charging obscene prices and ended up at a cheap bar come betting shop where we met a nice Russian girl. She showed us some photos from the top of St Johns Fort overlooking Kotor Bay which motivated us to climb it today.
There’s lots of nice looking churches within the walled old city including St Tripons Cathedral, St Luke’s and many more. The one which really interested us was St Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church. The church is a one nave church and the walls on either side of the entry have massive paintings of four evangelists. It’s really one of those churches where the saying “less is more” really works. Simple stained glass windows provide filtered light to the interior of the church. This is the first orthodox church we’ve seen since Russia which has had an iconostasis. It’s the panel filled with icons and paintings on the rear wall of the church. All the other orthodox churches we’ve visited in Montenegro and Serbia have still been in construction stage. There’s something about orthodox churches which is quite serene, whether it’s the oil paintings surrounded by silver, the smells of incense or just how quiet they are. A great place for contemplation.
Near the sea gate we spotted a sign pointing the way towards St Johns Fort. As this is a bit of a tourist destination where there’s a charge to climb to the top I don’t know what we expected but I must admit I was a little shocked when I saw the lane way leading up. The street rose up quite steeply at the end with patches of stairs here and there in no sort of order. It was scramble from one set of stairs to the next until we reached the stairs to the castle. After the 1979 earthquake there were some repairs undertaken and a sign proudly states that money from the USA was spent somewhere in 2008.
Truly not very much was spent on the hill fortifications, with the only sign of repair being some of the steps, the church and maybe the lighting. A number of steps have been cemented but as a whole it’s hard to see where any large amount of money has been spent. However, it was a nice challenge to climb up the hill. On one side of the way up is a set of stairs, mostly carved from rock and on the other a donkey track. The donkey track is pretty rough in some places but we found it easier to walk than all the stairs. On the way up we took our first break at St Roko which is supposedly about 1/4 of the way up before heading on to the tiny Church of Our Lady of Remedy. It had a big seat out the front where we stopped for elevenses. After a break I headed on towards the top regretting I’d eaten so much.
About three quarters of the way to the top a hole in the wall leads to a small church in a valley behind the fort and just beyond it a farm. The local farmer sells cheese, prosciutto and other produce. When our friend Varvera visited she was invited in for Rakija and coffee. She said it was a lovely local experience. I passed through a few crumbling ruins before eventually reaching St Johns Fort on top of the hill. The hill fortification has passed through many hands over the years. Originally Illyrians built a fort which was extended in the 7th century by the Byzantines. The current structure was built in the 1400’s after the area was absorbed under Venetian control. Since then the fort changed hands many times between the Ottomans, Venetians, Hapsburg’s, French, Austrians, and Axis Powers.
These days St Johns Fort is just a ruin with no sign of improvements since the early 20th century. All the original buildings are now just roofless shells and the modern concrete just crumbling. It’s a place where you must keep your wits about you as there are no handrails and many of the areas are just rubble.
There’s a great view of the Bay of Kotor surrounded by those Montenegrin hills from most points of the trail all the way to the top.
The return back down was quite easy as the steps are alongside a wall so it’s easy to brace yourself and after a break at the Church we set off for the bottom. The last part at the edge of the city was actually the hardest due to the higgledy piggledy steps.
Once we were back in the old city we decided it was time to eat. After all that exercise our elevenses had worn off. We met up with Varvara again who was having a bad day. She had missed a bus by one minute and then after booking the next bus had been told the bus driver had called to say he wasn’t coming. Dejected she was grabbing some food and heading back to her hostel. Having the bike is an advantage sometimes as it gives us flexibility and we arent reliant on other people.
We decided to check out a restaurant near where we ate last night. It was situated in a lovely old stone brick building with a nice outdoor area fronting the piazza. We started talking to a lovely Montenegrin girl Svetlana, who told us about a wine and fish festival in Virpazar. We visited Virpazar last time we were here, it sits on Lake Skadar the biggest lake in Montenegro. Lake Skadar straddles both Montenegro and Albania but Svetlana assures us that the Montenegrin side is more beautiful. Svetlana told us about growing up in the country and we learnt a little bit about Montenegro.
As the sun was getting low in the sky we headed back to the apartment. The view across from our apartment in Muo to Kotor is just beautiful and at night the castle walls are all lit up. The Muo side of the bay is wonderful with lots of Venetian style buildings along with newer apartments and little jettys stretching into the bay. Tomorrow we taking a ride over the mountains around Kotor.