Montenegro stole my heart….

Morning came very early after my night out in Tirana. I sleepily gathered my things and made my way to the international bus station to get on a 6 hour bus to Kotor, Montenegro. Montenegro is a place that I stumbled upon when researching my trip. I dind’t know much about it, except that there was a beautiful national park in the north and that The Bay of Kotor was stunning.

Some know that my travels began back in 2001 when I decided to jump ship from UW-Madison and head to Australia for a semester at Southern Cross University in Lismore, NSW. I had some American flatmates and 4 Aussie flat mates in our apartment. One girl, Krystal, I have kept up contact with off and on over the last (gulp) 17 years. I had seen on Krystal’s facebook posts that she had fallen in love with the Balkan region and loved Montenegro when she visited. My decision to visit was pretty much based on these posts- so thanks Krystal! She and I talked before I left and she gave me suggestions of things to do, places to see and to just really enjoy the area.

The drive from Albania to Kotor, despite being long, was absolutely STUNNING. Mountains seemed to overlap the shore of the ocean, creating a landscape I can only compare to Hawaii. Lush, green steep cliffs met the crashing water almost instantly, and somehow in certain places, a bay was available enough that people created goregeous towns that were built into the hills and right up to the harbors. Winding through mountain passes took my breath away (and not because the driver was crazy either). It was absolutely impossible to take a picture of, but these scenes are etched into my mind forever.

There are two cities in Montenegro on the coast that most people visit- Budva and Kotor. Budva is the more glamorous of the two cities with casinos, night clubs and beautiful beaches. Kotor was a bit more quaint having a beautiful old town with an old fortress with walls that you could hike up in to the mountains. I decided to hole up in Kotor for a few days- I had every intention of going to Budva for a day trip, but when I got into Kotor I just didn’t want to leave. It was such a sweet town and very chill. I got a basket of raspberries nearly every morning I was there, and waking up to beautiful mountains and the sea was perfect for me.

Kotor was also really fun because I ended up having someone to hike around with that I met in Tirana. The hostel I stayed at gave some really great insider information and told me about this hike around the “back” of Old Town that you could go up the mountain, and get in to the walls of the fortress for free instead of paying the 8 Euros. Sounded great to us, so after a quick brunch in Old Town, we left out of the walls, walked beside a chain link fence, and started up what seemed to be a thousand switch backs up the mountain. The bay was to our back, and the fortress paralleled our path. We passed by fig trees, berry bushes, pomegranate trees, goats and even a little cheese shop and bar. I delighted in the knowledge of my travel companion as all these cool natural things were pointed out to me. The trail forked down and to the right, under some low lying trees and we popped out in the ruins of an old church. We pretty much had this whole beautiful place to ourselves. We peeked into the church and saw the remnants of blue paint on the worn down walls and ceilings. As I walked I ran my hands over the rough stones wondering what it was like for the people who actually used this place. I imagined a priest giving services here, travelers coming to pray for safety in their journeys… I felt like I had stepped back in time. The rustling of the slight breeze from the trees, the bleating of the goats, and our laughter was enough to make me feel like I was floating through life right in this moment. We caught the trail behind the church, and made our way to a little opening in the wall of the fortress, climbing up some old stones and through a little window. And then there we were, standing nearly at the top of the fortress. The view was enough to render this blabbermouth pretty speechless. We let the wind wrap around us and marveled at the majesty in front of us. A few more stairs (hahahhaha) and we were up to the top of the fortress where little rooms, odd little windows, and what seemed to be an old fountain or sewer system existed. Oh, and of course the cats. All the cats. Apparently that’s a thing Kotor is known for- they even have a cat museum! Hilarious. And I feel myself sneezing just thinking about being in that museum- no I did not go 🙂

After relaxing with some ice cold water from the locals who had hauled up coolers full of drinks to sell (genius) we made our way down-down-down the ancient stairs. It cracked us up to see people walking up and down in fancy shoes- one girl even had heels on! I’m not entirely sure how that could possibly be possible or comfortable. My feet would fall of for sure! Filtering out into the main city, all I could think of was “ICE CREAM!” There’s something about being so hot and eating amazing ice cream! We got raspberry, lavender and FIG my FAVORITE! I’m a little obsessed with figs and it’s been killing me to see all the incredible fig trees around, but not being able to grab one and eat it because they’re not ripe yet.

Kotor held a bit of a magical spell over me, maybe it was the company, maybe it was the uniqueness of this landscape, maybe it was that I felt like I was really getting the hang of this traveling solo thing. Cause I realized at this point that although I’m traveling solo, I am definitely not traveling alone. This world is full of beautiful people, beautiful experiences and if you open yourself up and letting your guard down, even for one night, you never know the possibilities that are staring you in the face if you learn simply to be in the moment.

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