I wrote this article in 2004. I celebrated my birthday here five years later because it's my favorite place in Eastern Europe.
I can think of no higher compliment I can pay a town than to say, "I want to buy a house here."
That's what I said when I walked through the streets of Kotor, Montenegro.
From an interior with Alpine-type scenery to deep canyons, coastal fjords, and a sparsely vegetated and limestone mountain range that plummets down to an azure Adriatic sea, Montenegro has got the works. But it was Kotor, a town which lies in the largest fjord in southern Europe, that stole my heart.
The highlight of my Eastern European trip: Kotor
My guidebook says, "Kotor is a big secret." No kidding.
Kotor is a small town with a population of 25,000, and it lies on the Montenegrin coast in the southern Adriatic. It stands at the foot of the Lovcen massif, at the end of the deep, rugged Bay of Kotor.
Tiny Kotor has all the features I love in a typical Venetian town: narrow sinuous streets, little picturesque shops, antique monuments, and enchanting plazas. But it has something that Venice and Dubrovnik don't: massive mountains towering all around the city which is set at the end of a triple bays. And it's a lot cheaper too!
It's got a cool location. OK, so Kotor doesn't have the canals of Venice, but maybe global warming will change that.
Plus, you have the thrill of knowing that the Serbs might want to invade at any moment.
Locals call it a 6th century town, but Illyrians lived here in the 3rd century BC. Maybe I'll share with you its rich history some other time, but for now just enjoy the pictures.
You know you're small when Estonia is 3 times bigger than you. But there's still a lot to see in Montenegro, although everyone told me to skip Podgorica (the ugly capital) and so I did.
Marco and I saw Herceg-Novi, which an old walled city set on a steep slope that ends with beaches. It's not a bad pit stop after crossing the Croatian border (which is a pain because you have to walk across the border since these neighbors still haven't kissed and made up).
Man-made island, built over 500 years
When Marco and I were 30km outside of Kotor we passed Perast, a small waterside village. Although the town is cute, it's the two islands next to it that draw your attention. They are so close to the sea level, they look artificial. One is. And the story of how the Montenegrins built it is remarkable.
The locals created the island called Lady of the Rock by dropping stones on the site every July 22. It eventually dawned on someone that this sure is a slow way to build an island.
Therefore, a few hundred years ago they loaded 87 captured ships with rocks and then purposefully sank them onto the site. That certainly helped their progress.
It took 550 years, but there it is, and a man-made island built before earth moving equipment.
Original capital of Montenegro
Cetinje, perched on a high plateau above Kotor, is the old capital of Montenegro, and is the subject of songs and epic poems. The Montenegrins are proud that they were the only country in the Balkans that never fell under Turkish rule.
The town isn't that great, but the drive/walk up from Kotor is spectacular.
Budva is Montenegro's top beach resort. It also has a walled town that was completely rebuilt after two earthquakes in 1979. Budva is much more polished than Kotor and has the beaches that folks in Kotor have to drive 40 minutes to get to. But it lacks the majestic
mountains that encircle Kotor and the inexplicable charm of that city.
Before you all buy the next plane ticket to Kotor (Tivat is the nearest airport), realize that I'm a sucker for quaint Venetian towns. I'd guess that most people would go to Kotor, spend a couple of hours roaming around the town and conclude, "Yeah, it's nice. But not that great."
Most would prefer Venice or Dubrovnik because they are much more grandiose than poor little Kotor. But I treasure finding little overlooked gems, so I appreciate Kotor more than most.
And no, I did not meet some girl who is encouraging me to move there. On the contrary, the few girls that Marco and I met were not that nice. Despite the ladies, I liked the tiny town. I did run into a great business opportunity, but that's another story.
Therefore, I left with a bit of sadness, but I may return someday.
September 21, 2004