When you plan a trip to a region you’ve never been to, you are at the mercy of pictures, blogs, and guidebooks. You can never truly know if a destination will meet your expectations or if photographers simply took the one attraction and then beautified it with the best angle and lighting.
When we planned our brief stint in Kotor, Montenegro I had seen this image over and over again.
This is the quintessential image that you will see in any online search, guidebook, and tourist office if you plan on traveling to Kotor. Having known little about the region prior to our trip, I got in the habit of Copy & Pasting myself into these pictures. It helped me imagine where we were going and held enthusiasm high of our upcoming adventure.
Way back during our planning phase, we had booked so many AirBnbs in so many cities in the Balkans that certain places just became another stop along the way. As our time in Dubrovnik was ending, I realized that Kotor became a victim in this grand adventure. I said to myself “Okay. Kotor is next….Kotor??? (googles Kotor image) OHHHH Kotor! Right, I remember now! (copy and paste myself into google image and feel adequately excited)
Everything I was expecting was simple: the lake, the mountains, the sky. Nothing more. I acknowledge that this is a tragic way to think of a beautiful town in Montenegro but the Balkans are known for being mountainous, with loads of rivers, lakes, and seas. On top of that, we had already driven through a good chunk of the region and saw a lot of mountains, rivers, and seas. Regardless, that’s how I imagined it and I was expecting to grab a seat near the water and look at the lake, the sky, and the mountains.
As we approached the bay after a two-hour drive from Dubrovnik, my expectations had no choice but to be pummeled into the ground. Yeah it had all the features I was expecting but nothing can prepare you for being in the Bay of Kotor. While I sat at this tiny dock, completely surrounded by mountains, I couldn’t help but feel especially small in this world.
When we finally made it to our AirBnB. “Okay, we made it to Kotor” I thought to myself. “Now let’s grab some chairs and talk about how awesome this view is!” We threw our bags down and walked all but three minutes to the water’s edge where a great seaside restaurant awaited us. We wolfed down amazing meals, sipped our Nigsisko beers, talked about the view, and topped it off with a brief swim and reading session by the nearby beach. “This is Kotor” I thought “I have zero issue with this” and mentally prepared myself for two days of slow-paced, bay living.
I can’t remember who did the small bit of research, but we later found out that Kotor has an Old Town roughly ten minutes down the road. We showered, loaded into our VW, and decided to check out the night life.
During our trip thus far, Megan and I have become fairly accustomed to Old Towns. A lot of our destinations have had them and most sport the same cobble stone streets lined with gelato shops and shoe stores. As we walked through the streets of Kotor, I noticed that there were gelato and shoe shops along stone-paved walkways, but there was A LOT more in its DNA that you can sense immediately.
The shops were unique, the restaurants showcased live music, the bars were bustling with locals, and all nestled at the foot of this tremendous mountain fortress. Most Old Towns show remnants of their medieval pasts with the watch towered walls, drawbridges, and primary church in its center. So when I learned that Kotor’s old town was protected by this fortress, I soon realized that Kotor trumps all of them; especially because you can scale this beast with a nominal fee. Our plans for the next day were set.
The next morning we meandered through the streets asking shop venders for “stairs up” and eventually found a man towards the rear of old town (hopefully he works for the city) and gave him the nine Euro to access the stairway. Fueled by coffee, bread, and cheese we began the thigh-burning ascent to the top of the fortress. The stairs themselves are rather narrow so our climb consisted of a lot of zigzagging through groups, side-stepping, and doing the “no, you go…NOOO, you go!” wave that every awkward person excels at.
The night prior, I had read a blog that continuously noted to keep climbing. If you think the view is great, keep climbing. The church halfway up is not the fortress, keep climbing. Keep climbing, keep climbing, keep climbing. So I kept this in my mind as we reached the many checkpoints along the way; church, garrison, lookout etc. Just keep moving up and more will reveal itself.
Needless to say, at the end of our hike upwards, our thighs cursed us but our eyes thanked us. The view atop Kotor was absolutely breathtaking. While resting and overlooking the bay, I kept thinking back to my copy and pasted picture of myself in Kotor. I was upset that I had allowed my brain to underwhelm itself prior to arriving to Kotor. I had thought that my experience was going to be nothing more than lakes, sky, and mountains, and came away humbled. We picked these destinations months prior to actually visiting them and your mind can do a lot of things during that time. You can occasionally lose sight of the meaning of travel and not boil it down to living the copy and paste version of a google image.
Until next time.