Climbing above the town of Kotor, Montenegro
20.11.2013 - 23.11.2013 55 °F
I don't know about you, but I can't resist climbing anything. After months of traveling, I can easily skip another cathedral, museum, or other 'must-see' sight listed in a guide-book. But give me a chance to have a view from above?...I gotta do it!
I haven't done any serious climbing requiring ropes and equipment, just things that any curious traveler can do. I paid an extra fee at St. Peters in Rome to climb the dome. I took a leap off Babadag in Oludeniz, Turkey on a paraglide flight. I climbed Popocateptl in Mexico before the volcanic eruption blew off the top (and the huge lodge I had stayed in). When I visited Tikal, Guatemala, I made it a goal to climb every pyramid there. I clambered up to the top seats of the world's third largest colosseum in El Djem, Tunis and recently walked the fabulous walls/ramparts that completely surround the old town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. My favorite was climbing Huaynapicchu the peak that looms over Machu Picchu-- it surpassed my experience of seeing the iconic ruins. You can see what it is like to look down on Machu Picchu in my blog I Find my Inner Amazon Woman.
So when I got off the bus in Kotor, Montenegro and walked around for an hour with Ray, a journalist I had just met...I wondered if I should just hop on another bus and continue on to the former capital Centinje or even directly to Ulcinj which is the transportation hub that will take me into Albania. The late time of year and the dreary rain meant that the usual draw of sun and beaches didn't exist and much would be closed up for the winter. Kotor has a lovely old walled city (Stari Grad) squeezed between the Bay of Kotor and the mountains that come almost to the waters, but it's tiny enough that every street can be walked within an hour or two. However, those crumbling ruins staggering up the huge jutting mountain directly above the walled city caught my eye. At the top, a tattered red Montenegrin flag was flying. Hmmm...maybe there was some potential here.
Ray was still debating on going to Cetinje or Podgorica the current capital of Montenegro once known as Titograd when I left him at the station. I would stay in Kotor and have another day to decide my next destination. I exchange cards with Ray since he was relocating to India where I also plan to be in a few more months and head back to the Stari Grad to find a rented room or a hostel. BTW- The hostel I stay at is a 13th century palazzo in Stari Grad abutting the mountain-- my three-bed room is very attractive and comfortable (and all mine).
The next day in spite of the drizzling rain, I climb.
My destination-- though I don't know it at the time-- is St. John's Fortress which is 4.5 km or 3 miles straight up above. The ascent is 1,200 feet. The rocky trail is pretty good most of the way and along the side is the alternative of some dodgy steps. There are rumored to be 1,350 steps; I don't bother counting to see if that was accurate. The trailhead is really just a continuation of a cobbled street in Stari Grad that just gets rockier and rougher as you go up. This first section is pretty good as it leads to the first landmark, Church of the Healing Mother of God or Gorpe od Zdravlji. This tiny church gets a lot of local and outside visitors hoping for some assistance with health issues. You can buy a candle from the nun to light for your cause and-- at least the day I was there-- a priest was there too. You know you are approaching the church when you see a series of small shrines along the trail.
When I start the climb, I am not sure what I will see. I figure I will read up on it when I get to the top. So, when I see the church, I think I am there...but when I get around the corner, the fortress is still looming above me (at the time, I thought it might be a monastery). The trail continues to traverse so that the ascent is quite mild. The views are stupendous as the dark storm clouds shift and the light changes.
When I finally reach the top, I explore the fort and find that there is an even higher mountain behind. In the deep valley between the mountains is an abandonded small simple church and tumbling rock walls of the houses that once existed. A rough road criss-crosses all the way to the top...another climb for another time. I head back down hoping to avoid the next round of drizzle. As I pass the church, there is a small crowd of locals. I am curious what has brought them here, but I don't intrude. One elderly gentleman with a cane is wearing some traditional clothing. A few women are tearing small branches off a tree-- since I have seen several pilgrims carrying these branches, I assume they will be taken home to be tucked over the doorway or in a shrine in their home. I pass them by and continue back to Stari Grad.