Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Kotor – Go now before it gets discovered by the world

Our first impression of a quiet town before the cruise visitors swoop down
We trudged into Bay of Kotor old town area from the main bus station, weary from an overnight coach from Skopje. We were lost, not knowing where to take the local bus to our guesthouse. We found the morning market instead and were tempted to browse immediately, luggage and all with us. Practicalities prevailed. We asked the traders for directions and they pointed us to the bus-stop just opposite the market. We dithered at the bus stop, not knowing what bus to take. We saw a taxi approaching and gave up trying to be money-conscious backpackers. We asked how much and scrambled in. That was how we started our magical exploration of this medieval coastal town in Montenegro.

The bay is often known as Europe's southernmost fjord, but it's actually a submerged river canyon. Hike up via the more than 1,000 stairs to the top of the fortress near Old Town and be swept away by the panoramic view of the bay. After that, take a well-deserved rest in the carefully-preserved Old Town with its heavily fortified wall. It’s pedestrians only within the walled town. Amble around and get delightfully lost within its multitude of narrow streets and squares. Souvenir shops, boutique shops and restaurants abound and you’ll be spoilt for choices. Look beyond the touristy side of it and just admire the ancient buildings full of architecture details and soak in the medieval atmosphere. 
Town hopping
After awhile, we felt stampede by tourists from the cruise ships docked nearby. Waves after waves of tourists flocked into the Old Town. We escaped to Perast which was quieter and is a UNESCO World heritage site. We took a motor boat out to Our Lady of the Rocks, one of the two islets off the coast. According to legend, the islet was formed due to an oath taken by local sailors in the 15th century. After every successful voyage they would lay a rock in the Bay till the islet emerged and the church was built on it. This tradition continued and becomes an annual festival on 22nd July where local residents take their boats out and throw rocks into the sea. We might come back one day to a bigger islet. The other islet is Sveti Dorde (Island of Saint George). It contains the Benedictine monastery of Saint George, which dates from the 12th century and an old graveyard for the old nobility from Perast. It’s not open to public though. You can also continue your town hop to Risan, Morinj, Tivat, Herceg Novi and many more which are located along the coastline of the bay.

Balkans is generally inexpensive with the exception of Croatia. When you are in Bay of Kotor, stay outside of the Old Town as expensive boutique hotels abound inside the walled town and you won’t get a good night sleep anyway with the partying atmosphere and loud music from the numerous pubs. Price of food and accommodation drops dramatically as you move away from the Old Town. You can get a studio room with kitchenette and terrace plus a view of the bay. Cost? €40 a night during peak season. Not even per person, that’s the nett price for the room.

Easy navigation 
It’s easy to explore Bay of Kotor. You have majestic mountain view on one side and the deep blue bay water on the other side as you travel along the winding coast. The road is narrow and seems to be single lane but don’t faint as you see another car coming from the other direction. The bus barreled around the corners, surprising you with new vistas at every turn. Take the public bus service (Blue Line bus) plying the coast, from town to town. It leaves from the Old Town at every hour. It’s quite on time, so depending on where your guesthouse is located, you can easily finish your morning coffee and run out to catch it. The locals should have no problem advising you of the bus schedule.

In short, Bay of Kotor has lots of potential. Visitors will grow exponentially soon. With such natural beauty at easy access from other parts of Europe, it won’t remain undiscovered for long.

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