Kotor, Montenegro bears a truly impressive setting and a mind-boggling, complex history. I’ll admit (same song, second verse) to not knowing anything at all about the city or the region prior to our grand overland experiment. Each new visit to a place inspires research and learning (same song, third verse?), and here’s the smattering I’ve pieced together about this corner of the world:
Ancient Roman roots. Medieval fortifications. Occupation by The First Macedonian Empire.
Allegiances with Ragusa (modern day Dubrovnik), followed by competitive commerce with Ragusa and the Republic of Venice, then periods of finding itself beneath the umbrella of Venetian Albania, under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire, and then subject to the Hapsburg Monarchy.
Just when it couldn’t sound more confusing, there’s a flurry of French, Italian, and Russian rule followed by British capture in the early 1800s, then a brief restoration to the Austrian Empire, followed by political chaos of World War I, and the eventual inclusion of Kotor into shape-shifting Yugoslavia. Since revolution in Montengro and the dismembering of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s, Kotor has hung its weary head a bit.
Earthquake damage to the city and its old walls and fortifications and economic troubles tied to a burdened (and arguably disincentivized) youth have seen the community of Kotor and the surroundings grow stagnant over the past two decades.
Twenty-first century tourism continues marking the ancient city. Cruise ships anchor in the port, and floods of eager shoppers and diners comb through the narrow streets, and shop owners set their clocks by the sound of the gangway hitting land.
Wildflowers making temporary homes in cracks and fissures of the Old Town walls…
Our two-night stay in an apartment in old town was a perfect window into modern day life mixed with historical ruins in the ancient city.
As overland travelers, we arrived by late-night bus after winding around hairpin curves along the Bay of Kotor, breathing thick fumes of second hand smoke from a reckless driver, and feeling just a bit woozy from road sickness. We lugged our bags by moonlight from the bus station back to the main road, along the old walls, and toward the short little shadow of a woman waiting underneath the streetlight.
Met our landlady, Mira, at the Old Town gate. She’s a kick! Orange hair and an orange sweater to match her orange couch and orange blankets. Love meeting these characters on the road. – Daily Travel Journal Day 148
The following morning, Mira pointed us on our way, and we spend two days wandering the crooked, narrow streets, avoiding the Thursday cruise ship throngs, and shopping at the veggie market for meal and snack supplies.
Enjoy a peek at our wanderings, and be sure to see the bottom for Ted’s olive heaven find.
Finding figs and cherries in the open market just outside the old city walls
At the end of our market shopping, we met Elmer a passionate grower and purveyor of fine olives. Ted was in absolute heaven as Elmer gave us samples of his mother’s homemade feta cheese and his artisan olives, and when the time came to buy, the prices were incredible. A generous mixed bag for the equivalent of a dollar or two. With the selection of fourteen olive cures and blends, we could’ve stayed for weeks and Ted still wouldn’t have had his fill…and we wouldn’t have been anywhere near close to breaking the bank.
A few hours later, we found Elmer walking through the Old City gate, and he recognized us from the morning and invited us for coffee.
Two hours later, we were still sitting in the cafe, listening to his stories of commitment to pure, natural olives, to high standards of agriculture, and to preserving the traditions at risk of being lost…
Elmer has fielded requests for export from several spots around the world, but his primary effort is keeping to a manageable scale and selling his artisan olives at local markets and to local companies. He did offer, though, to send us guidance if we ever wanted to take up olive farming in America. (Who knows? Could just be a divine appointment.)
For the meanwhile, this little corner of the world will continue to evolve and change shape with the comings and goings of visitors and the innovations of residents. So lovely to meet the place, taste the flavors, and spend time with fascinating people in a place we’d once never known and will now never forget.
For more learning, read up on Kotor’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.
This post is part of a series on our “Choose Your Own Adventure” travel through Eastern Europe: Croatia through Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, and Cyprus on to Lebanon. Otherwise known as “junior high geography songs come to life.”
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