March 28, 2020

Kotor. A magical place when the Cruise Ships depart

The Venetians liked to travel. While Marco Polo made it as far as China, many other traders and military ships conquered ports along the Mediterranean. Kotor is one of those ports, and thanks to its enviable defensive position at the end of a long bay, and surrounded by mountains, little has changed since medieval times.

Being hidden away inside Yugoslavia during the Cold War helped. Industry and money flowed to the industrial areas around Belgrade, while sleepy Kotor was left to the occasional visitors mainly from Russia. 

An Entrance gate to the old town
That has now changed rather radically, maybe for the best for the local economy but not for those visitors who don't like thousands of tourists disembarking from cruise ships all at once and overwhelming the small streets inside the ancient city walls.

I was somewhat shocked on arriving on a long bus journey from Tirana that three massive ships were in port, only one actually in dock, with the others sending tenders to shore.

It was so jam-packed inside Kotor that it was impossible to move. I gave up trying to find my hotel and went back to a bar in the new town to wait a few hours for the madness to subside.

Early morning moped under a Venetian gate
I knew about the problems in Dubrovnik, and Venice, Kotor's mother city, from over-tourism but was unaware that the much smaller Kotor might actually be suffering more. 

Whether or not the authorities take steps to limit the amount of cruise ships remains to be seen, their coffers are apparently overflowing so they may not be in any hurry.

However, all is not lost. By 5 PM the cruise ship crowds had subsided and only the locals and the few people staying overnight wandered through the ancient streets and the beauty of Kotor could finally be appreciated.

Venetian palaces sit on beautiful stone-paved squares while cats meander along long staircases which lead to ancient houses built on the mountainside. 

The Lion of Venice embedded in the City Wall.
I stayed for three days, exploring the Bay of Kotor and its small villages such as Perast while the ships unloaded their passengers, returning in the evening as they departed and having the medieval city to myself.

I started very early one morning at 6 AM to beat the summer heat to climb the 1350 steps to the Castle of San Giovani which overlooks Kotor. Starting at this time is not only sensible as it is very cool, but free, as the admission gate does not open until 7 AM, and it is easy to walk past the unattended gate. 

The wonderfully preserved city walls.
The ruined castle is of some interest, but the best part is the views looking down over Kotor and down the bay as the sun rises behind you. The best shots were from about halfway up, near a small chapel, as the higher I got the less of the old town became visible.

Tired from the walk I crashed out at my hotel before venturing out in the afternoon into the dwindling crowds as the horns from the ships sounded calling back the tourists to its cabins and restaurants on the sea. I sat and used the 8 euros I saved from my earlier walk, sipping cold beers and watching the ships sail away. 

Peace and tranquility was restored, and I could once again appreciate the magic that is Kotor.


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