Knowing absolutely nothing about Kotor, I enjoyed the scenic ride as my bus circled the impressive fjord of Montenegro. Rugged, towering dark mountains rose on all sides, covering most of the country and giving credit to the name Monte Negro, or “Black Mountain.” About an hour after crossing the Croatian border, my viewing was interrupted by an abrupt stop. There was a bench on the sidewalk by the water and a few old houses on the mountainside, and a harsh voice from the front of the bus grunted “Kotor.” The overcrowded bus suddenly came alive, and in a confused rush the passengers started filing out. As I mentioned, I knew nothing about my destination and assumed this was the place, so I hopped off with the rest of the passengers. As luggage was being unloaded, I examined the surroundings. Something didn’t feel right. I went up to the bus driver and asked “Kotor?” He sort of stared back at me and said “Yes.” Then, I gave him a look…one of those one eyebrow raised, cut the BS looks. The middle-aged Montenegrin grinned back and quickly waved me back into the bus. About 45 minutes later, we arrived in the actual Kotor…welcome to the Balkans.
Winding along the mountainside and overlooking the old town of Kotor were a long extent of fortifications, climbing a seemingly endless path like the Great Wall. Excited to explore, I walked from the bus station to old town, wandering around on the way to my hostel.
My hostel was located in the heart of old town and proved to be an incredibly social environment. The staff was incredibly welcoming and helpful, and within one hour of arriving, I had a long list of activities and gastronomical pursuits lined up for the next two days. Interestingly, all of the advice I received from the young lady at the reception was catered towards avoiding old town. In her own words, all of the stores, restaurants and markets within the ancient walls were trying to rip tourists off, and my best options would be found elsewhere. Although I was happy to be getting the advice of a local, all of this seemed very peculiar as the hostel was situated right in between all of the places I was being advised against going to. More of that Balkan charm, I suppose.
Naturally, my first stop would be focused on satisfying my endless hunger, so I left the main gate of the city walls behind, taking off in search of the highly recommended local butcher.
A 5 minute walk brought me to the butcher’s. From the outside, this place would be quite easy to miss, and there was nothing particularly aesthetically pleasing about the interior. A selection of different meats were displayed in one of the freezers, which could be packaged and taken home or cooked in-house by Boro, who stood by the flaming grill with thongs in one hand and cigarette in the other. The other freezer had an arrangement of salads and vegetables inside, as well as freshly grilled vegetables and the meat of the day laying on top, filling the small space with an incredible aroma. After asking Boro what I should have, he replied with “Where are you from?” Hearing that I was Turkish, he exclaimed “you eat like us” and proceeded to fill a huge plate. Before I could say anything, this is what I had:
With enough roast veal to feed two people, my colorful plate was embellished with a large, grilled pepper, grilled eggplant, salad and potatoes cooked in chicken liver, all topped with their homemade garlic sauce and a side of bread. It was truly a feast, and taking my time, I succeeded in cleaning every last drop. What was even more amazing is that I had gotten the most expensive option, but it only cost me 7 Euros, earning this butcher shop the best price-to-taste+quantity ratio of the trip. Taking advantage of this discovery, I was back the following day for more:
With more of a meat focus, I was given a whole chicken with a serving of the potatoes and peppers, swimming again in the delectable garlic sauce. This time, I saved half for dinner.
There was a scorching heat during my two day stay in Kotor, making it very unpleasant during the day and practically impossible to do much exploring. As a result, most of the backpackers were sitting in their air conditioned rooms at the hostel during the mid-afternoon hours. Arriving drenched in sweat, I joined the conversation in my room as the eclectic group planned for the evening. It was collectively agreed upon that, around sunset, it would be best to take the hike up the fortress, just missing the afternoon heat and catching incredible views of the surroundings.
Within a few hours, we had prepped our bags and were ready to take off. As we were heading out, one member of the hostel staff cut us off. Suspecting that we were heading to the fortress, she informed us of a goat path that climbed the side of the mountain and led to an opening in the fortress walls. This way, we would have an easier, more scenic climb, while avoiding the 3 Euro entrance fee. I was beginning to like this mentality.
As the sky darkened, the city lights lit up the coast and stars filled the night sky. It was an incredibly rewarding treat for the long, sweat-drenched hike. It seemed as if hours passed while sitting on the ledge at the top, overlooking the fjord and admiring the grandeur of the surrounding nature. I was so impressed with the fortress that the following day, I joined a new group of backpackers at the hostel and climbed up again. This time the night sky was even clearer, coinciding with the front end of an imminent meteor shower.
While laying on top of one of the walls and enjoying the silence, two hikers emerged from the darkness and sat down a few meters away. At first their voices seemed distant, but as I listened more closely, the familiar Turkish reached my ears and I made my way over to introduce myself. In their late twenties, the two travelers from Istanbul were taking a 10 day road trip through the Balkans, heading to Sarajevo the following day. Within the 3 minutes of conversation we had, they invited me to join them on the drive. Unfortunately, I had already found a ride to Bosnia and thanked them for the offer.
After descending from the fortress and arriving at my hostel, I went to the reception to confirm my ride for the next day and found out my spot had been taken. I felt like the stranded passengers from my bus ride, more disappointed that I had not accepted the Turkish guys’ offer than not losing my ride. I wandered back out into the old town, trying to decide what to do when, almost miraculously, I ran into the guys from the top of the mountain. Happy to hear they still had room, I accepted their offer and we agreed on a meeting time for the next day. Little did I know that on the way to Sarajevo, we would be taking a one-day excursion filled with adventure along the Montenegrin countryside.