Old Town Kotor, Montenegro

Montenegro. Just saying it out loud sounds like a place somewhere in Africa. It is not. It’s a new country located south of Croatia in what was part of the old Yugoslavia.

A view of Old Town Kotor from St. John’s Fortress

Our port of call was Kotor, located on the Bay of Kotor. Although Montenegro is a relatively new country (only 11 years old), it is steeped with history. To learn more, we booked a 90-minute walking tour of the Old City. Our guide, Yelena explained Montenegro’s turbulent history. It was ruled by Rome, Serbia, Hungary, Bosnia and a few others until becoming part of the Venetian Republic in 1420. It stayed that way for almost 400 years.

The Austrians took it over in 1797 and basically held on to it (except for a few years when Russian and France had control) until the formation of Yugoslavia in 1918. Even after the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Montenegro went through several changes until they finally gained independence in 2006 from Serbia-Montenegro.

On top of all that political turmoil, Montenegro has been rocked (no pun intended) by major earthquakes in 1563, 1667 and 1979. After the one in 1667, over half of the town was destroyed. The clock tower, built in 1602, now has a slight lean to it and the bell towers at St. Tryphon’s Cathedreal had to be rebuilt.

Cathedral of St. Tryphon

 

Our first stop was inside the Cathedral of St. Tryphon. Built in 1166, it is considered one of the oldest Romanesque cathedrals on the Adriatic coast. St Tryphon became the patron saint of Kotor when Venetians carrying his body were caught in a storm and had to stop in the city. The townspeople felt it was meant for St. Tryphon’s body to stay in city. Every February, Montenegrins celebrate St. Tryphon’s Day.

 

Although the interior is somewhat bare compared to the lavish cathedrals in larger European cities, St. Tryphon’s boasts a reliquary on the second floor. Also called the Treasury museum, it features beautiful icons, relics and church vestments through the ages. Additionally, we walked out onto a balcony with a view of the main St. Tryphon’s square.

We walked into the Church of St. Nicholas. Whereas St. Tryphon’s is Catholic; St. Nicholas is an Eastern Orthodox church. Yelena, now in her twenties and Eastern Orthodox, explained that the young people of Kotor don’t go to church much anymore. The service is very time-consuming at at least 90 minutes long. Additionally, worshipers stand the entire time.

While the Church of St. Nicholas is somewhat tucked away, it makes up for it with it’s lavish interior.

Yelina urged us to order a strong, red wine made from local grapes at one of the restaurants. We tried the Vranic and I loved it – so much so that we ordered a case once we got back to the States.

As our tour concluded, we walked by the “Pillar of Shame” near the gate of the Old City. At one time, criminals were publicly humiliated by being tied to the structure for a period of time. For second offenses, criminals couldn’t enter the city gates. Below, my in-laws pretend to be tied up to the monument.

For more information about Kotor, click here. Also, read about hiking up to St. John’s Fortress – it is not to be missed!

 

 


A North Carolina Thanksgiving

Tired of cooking every Thanksgiving, our family decided to try something different. We wanted to go somewhere out to eat that wasn’t ridiculously expensive and we wanted to have time to do at least one hike.

After some research, we decided on Highlands, NC. Starting early that morning, we drove up to Whiteside Mountain to hike the 2.5-mile loop trail. The weather was crisp and because most of the leaves had already fallen, we had spectacular views.

Whiteside Mountain

We weren’t alone on the hike. Many people were also there before feasting on Thanksgiving dinner. We had reservations at the Main Street Inn in Highlands. Our reservation was for 3 p.m. but we had a little time to walk around the quaint downtown area. We ducked into the Old Edwards Inn and admired their Christmas tree.

It’s beginning to look like Christmas at Old Edwards Inn

Finally, we walked over to Main Street Inn where we ate a wonderful Thanksgiving buffet. Besides turkey and ham, the restaurant offered a wide array of side dishes – green beans, collard greens, sweet potatoes, macaroni & cheese, cornbread dressing, traditional dressing, corn and more. Desserts were plentiful as well – apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie. They also had cookies and a peanut butter parfait.

The Main Street Inn

With full stomachs, we drove over to High Hampton Inn in Cashiers. We had stayed there for Thanksgiving a few years ago and remembered the large fireplaces and beautiful lake.

High Hampton Inn

High Hampton is a bit more formal. It was fun to see families gathering for the upcoming dinner seating with their coats, ties and suits. Outside, families were taking group photos around the lake.

My favorite activity is sitting by the large fireplace with a good book. Built in 1932, the inn feels like a National Park lodge.

After spending a delightful Thanksgiving Day, it was time to return home. But the trip was not without more great views of western North Carolina!


Hiking up to San Giovanni Castle in Kotor, Montenegro

The word Montenegro, which means “Black Mountains,” aptly describes this enchanted area south of Croatia. As our ship traveled through the Bay of Kotor, the captain recommended we get up early to watch the majestic mountains loom on both sides of the ship.

Since we were up early to watch the sunrise, I decided to disembark as soon as we docked. I wanted to take the hike to San Giovanni Castle (or St. John’s Fortress) before it got hot and crowded.

As I walked through Old Town Kotor, I felt I had most of the place to myself. Quiet. Empty restaurants and shuttered souvenir shops greeted me as I meandered through the stone streets to the hike. Once there, I paid the fee of a couple of Euros and began the ascent to the top.

Words can’t describe the hike. It was long and often ardous with gravel lined paths and 1,300 stone steps, but the views of the mountain, the bay and the town below were breathtaking.

The Church of the Lady of Remedy dates back to 1518

About a third of the way up sits a small church built almost inside the mountain. For those not able to continue the hike, this is a great spot to sit, take in the views and head back down.

The town below got smaller and smaller as I continued the 3,900 foot climb uphill. Soon, I saw the castle walls. Built over numerous centuries, I could see why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Every time I thought I was at the top, there was more to see. I kept climbing until finally reached it. I had to ask someone to take my picture in front of the flag to prove I had completed the hike.

At the top of St. John’s Fortress

You would think the view would be the same on the way down. It was not. I saw things I had missed on the way up. I spent most of my time on the descent, appreciating the surrounding beauty since the hardest part of the hike was behind me. Everywhere I turned, there was another great photo opportunity.

The sun rose higher above the town and more people were coming against me on the trail.

I wanted to stay up there the rest of the day, but I had to meet up with my family to take our tourĀ  As I entered the Old Town again, it was bustling with activity. My recommendation is to do the hike first thing in the morning. It will be less crowded and you’ll have cooler temperatures.

For more information on Kotor, click here.