Sunday, December 8, 2013


Greetings from Kotor, Montenegro
I am sitting on a bus waiting at the boarder to cross between Albania and Montenegro. I am smiling as I realize it is 10:45 AM and I am sitting enjoying the sunlight on a bus headed up the coast rather than a cubicle. I live for these moments of freedom. I spent 22 years chained to a desk and my reward is this year of pure joy and happiness exploring the world! I am not running away from anything. I am living my life. It is the best decision I ever made to take a career break and enjoy my time. Exploring my surroundings and living my dream! Ha ha!  I cherish these moments of realization. I always wondered how good this felt. It is AMAZING!! Yes, I also know I will need to return to the real world one day. But I am living in this moment and enjoying every second!

As we cross the boarder and travel into Montenegro, it is noticeable immediately that it is a richer country than Albania. The litter is gone. The homes are larger and more westernized. A little old man got on at the border crossing and smiled at me. He pointed at the seat and I nodded indicating he would like to sit next to me. I smiled back and nodded my head. My little man smelled like sheep so I assumed he was a farmer. He was likely in his late 60's. He stared at me. When I would smile at him, he would smile and say something in Albanian. I looked at him and asked "English?" he shook his head yes which sometimes means no in Albania and continued talking to me. I smiled and offered him a mint when I took one for myself. I probably looked like an idiot smiling at him and not knowing what he was saying.  He was only on the bus for a half hour before his stop. He got up to leave and grabbed my hand to kiss it goodbye.  I thanked him in my best Albanian and waved goodbye. I turned to look at mom and she was laughing. Then asked if I wanted to go with my sweet little Shepard. Some people would not value these encounters as much as I. I love the interactions with the locals!

Traveling from Shkoder, Albania to Kotor required a few bus changes. First to Ulij then to Bar and Budva before arriving in the late afternoon at Kotor. I felt like we hit the bus jackpot. The longest wait was 20 minutes. Just enough time to go to the bathroom and get a water. Mom and I expertly transferred from one bus to the next making connections smoothly. WI must admit, we were lucky at the Ulij bus stop. An old man asked where we were going and had his buddy hold the bus while we bought tickets. Whew! As the coastline came into view I noticed I became calmer. I spent so many years living by the coast, it always feels like home.
The Montenegro coastline was stunning in shades of turquoise and blue. Even on a dark and misty day, I wanted to go for a swim. I would have liked time to explore and slowly travel the coast. However, I know we have to keep moving to see what Mom and I had named our adventure, "Best of The Balkans and Eastern EU." 

We arrived in Kotor and walked the short distance to our guesthouse in Old Town. I have done more research in places to stay since mom joined me. I have tried to have a reservation at a place that is walking distance from the bus stops and not too many flights of stairs and close to attractions. I never worried about all of this when I was on my own. With her, I try to make it easy. I had booked VG Guesthouse just inside the Old Town walls. The owner was gone but his friend showed us to our room and let us leave our bags. I smiled as I put our bags on the red cougar printed bed (yes, I roared when I saw it!). But it also felt like a tower of a castle. Another good choice in rooms and a bargain price! 

We went to explore the streets of Old Town. As we walked the cobbled alleys past stores, hotels and restaurants, I was looking up to the fortress watching over the town.

See the wall to the top? My morning hike.

I had decided I was hiking to the top in the morning. It reminded me of the Great Wall. As we walked through town and talked with the locals, everyone asked if we were hiking the wall. Mom said "No, but she is." I was told to take lots of water and be prepared for 1400-2000 steps. In my travels I have learned steps can mean a variety of things. Some are little 4" steps and others are a 1.5 feet high. Oh well, tomorrow I will find out. 

The fun of an old town is wandering and exploring the streets. It is small and you can not get lost. I window shopped while mom helped the local economy by being a few gifts.

Mom shopping in Old Town- of course she bought a Santa!

We eventually walked out of the town and into the harbor. We were greeted be a huge cruise ship. I left mom on a park bench relaxing and explored the bay and ship areas for an hour. I returned as it was getting dark and we decide to pick up some dinner and breakfast at the supermarket. Is there anything better than fresh fruit, cheese and bread for dinner? Add a bottle of wine and I am in heaven! 

The next morning, I got up ate breakfast and packed some nuts and oranges for my hike to the fortress. I told mom I would meet her for lunch at noon in the town square. 

I started walking in the direction of the entrance to the hike. I stopped and picked up an extra bottle of water and the woman told me to enjoy the hike. She said it is awful, too many stairs. I was ready for a grueling hike up to the top. I saw a sign that appeared to be the entrance to the path and started up the steps. I saw this sign and realized I had gone the wrong way. 

Darn! I went back down the steps and continued walking towards the direction everyone had pointed. I found a man sitting on a chair with a desk and figured it was the entrance. I paid my $3 USD and started the climb. 

Either I am getting use to walking hills or it was easier than I expected. Everyone had talked that it was so many steps and grueling but I did not find it as hard as they said. I didn't see anyone else on the trail for 20 minutes. I passed two guys on their way down the path. I arrived at the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. It supposedly healed people of the plague.  I suspect the climb finished a few off before they got here. I stopped for a short water break. The view of the fjord was stunning. 
As I turned the corner and walked behind the church, I was greeted with a pile of rocks. Hmmm. Guess they are working to clear these. As I continued, I realized these may be rocks to replace the missing steps on the way to the top.
I continued hiking and smiled as I came to a sign that read "continuing increases chance of harm." Hmmmm. Oh well.  I am half way, can't stop now. The sun was starting to peak at the top of the mountain. It shimmered like a diamonds at the top of a tree.
I was starting to hike through the remainders of the fortress. It was fun exploring all of this on my own. I felt like a kid you had a fort to themselves.
I was on the final assent when two little kids ran past me. Where the hell did they come from? I reached the top and looked around for their parents. I could see a woman climbing the final stretch of stairs. She arrived at the top and yelled for the children. They were running around as she was catching hr breath. Oh, to have the energy of kids!

The view was breathtaking....or maybe that was the asthmatic symptoms after the climb.  

I did it! Top of the fortress view of the Bay of Kotor.
I looked at my watch and realized I was going to be back early. I decided to sit and just enjoy the moment and the view for a while. It was quiet. Two other hikers arrived. But it was perfect. Quiet. No hordes of tourists. This was my personal view to enjoy for a while.

I started the descent and took the overgrown trail back to the opposite side of town. It was a little slippery in the early morning dew but it was nice to see other parts of the wall. 

I was half an hour early when I returned to town. I sat and enjoyed people watching while I waited for mom. When she arrived, I was ready for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious meal in a piazza with a glass of wine. We spent the remainder of the day exploring the shops and relaxing in the piazzas.

Mom shopping

As night fell on the city, we took a walk along the bay. The fortress wall was lit and I could see where I had hiked early in the morning. 
Kotor is beautiful. The cobblestone streets and balconies with laundry and flowers were warm and inviting.


VG Guesthouse in Old Town Kotor

My time here makes me want to return someday and spend a few weeks relaxing on the beaches and exploring the interior of the country.

We returned to the hotel and finally met the owner. I was getting concerned how we would pay for our room when he was not around. Vuk was a nice guy. I sat with him and talked. He told me how his family had moved from Serbia to Montenegro when he was young, before the war. They owned the guesthouse and several apartments. He enjoyed travel and we talked about the places we had traveled and he asked about my trip. We laughed as we shared travel stories. I told him we were leaving on the early bus to Dubrovnik and he told me to just leave the keys on the table in the entrance. I thanked him for a wonderful stay in his beautiful city. In the morning we would continue our journey north to Croatia.






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