The journey from the anchorage at Tivat to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kotor took us through one of the most spectacularly beautiful landscapes we have seen from Aisling's deck. Motoring deeper and deeper into the fjord-like inlet, we passed under imposing grey-capped mountains, with belfries nestled into wooded hillsides and charming towns at the water's edge.
Sailing past the islands off Perast, we recalled that one of the islands was man-made, constructed after an icon of the Virgin Mary was miraculously found on a nearby rock.
When we finally reached Kotor, it was almost an anticlimax, since the full scope of the town and its mighty Venetian walls is not immediately evident from the water. There is a marina on Kotor's waterfront, but since we planned to return to Tivat in the evening we decided to anchor off the town. Fortunately, there were very few boats in the small bay, and we quickly got our anchor set and headed for shore.
On our way down the dock, we spotted Impala, a classic yawl flying an American flag from the stern and a Cruising Club of America burgee at the masthead. Stopping to investigate, we met Alfie Sanford from the CCA's Boston station, and spent a pleasant half-hour chatting in his cockpit. Impala was well positioned, since both the local market and the imposing Sea Gate were just steps away from her stern.
After saying goodbye to Alfie, we spent a few minutes browsing through the market. Most of the vendors spoke little English, but were able to communicate the prices of the fresh produce, beautiful hand-embroidered tablecloths and colourful hand-knitted sweaters being sold. Looking at the sweaters, I wondered what it would be like here in the winter. A bit bleak, I suspect!
The symbols and date on the Sea Gate commemorate Tito's liberation of the area from the Nazis, and the Tito quote (apparently a common Yugoslavian political slogan) roughly translates to "We won't take what is yours; we won't give up what is ours." But the Lion of St. Mark on the wall and the beautiful architecture within the town are evidence that the Venetians were here far longer than the communists.
We've seen our share of walled cities lately, but Kotor seemed special. Perhaps it was the fact that there are few tourists at this time of year, or perhaps it was just the novelty of finally being on dry land. In any case, in spite of the fact that it began to rain moments after we passed through the Sea Gate, we had a very enjoyable afternoon. We began our sightseeing in the "Square of Arms", which is lined with Venetian buildings. This odd-looking thing at the base of the bell tower was the town pillory.
It is a bit incongruous that the most important church in Kotor is the Roman Catholic church of St. Tryphon. During the wars that occurred during the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Orthodox Christians of Serbia and Montenegro were pitted against virtually every religious and ethnic group in the region, including the Roman Catholic Croats. I won't pretend to understand the whole ugly mess, but a consequence of the war is that very few Roman Catholics remain in Montenegro today, just as very few Orthodox Christians remain in Croatia. On the other hand, at least a few Roman Catholics must have remained in Kotor, because St. Tryphon's still seems to be used for worship.
In the interior of the cathedral, we saw soaring columns, some fragments of frescos, a glittering altar and, upstairs, a reliquary that housed the remains of St. Tryphon.
Here is another example of Italian body-snatchers running amok! The saint's remains arrived in Kotor in the year 809, when Venetian merchants who were attempting to "transfer" the body from Turkey to Venice took shelter here during a storm. The weather did not improve, so they decided that this was a sign from heaven that the body of St. Tryphon was meant to remain in Kotor. (The Venetians quickly set their eyes on another saint and in the year 828 they made it all the way from Alexandria to Venice with the body of St. Mark.)
The second largest church in Kotor is the Orthodox church of St. Nicholas, a more modern building. Our Rick Steves' guide points out the differences between the Orthodox and Catholic churches. We've already visited many Orthodox churches in Greece, so the iconostasis (screen of icons), tall thin candles and additional bars on the cross are nothing new. But this is the first time it dawned on me that the absence of pews reflects the fact that Orthodox Christians stand during services. So I assumed that the lovely little church of Santa Clara, with it's beautiful baroque altar, is not an Orthodox church.
Kotor is small and compact, so it didn't take us long to explore the maze of narrow streets. The next item on the typical itinerary would normally have been a climb to the church and fortress that overlook the town. But Rick had slipped on the companionway during one of thunderstorms earlier in the week and had a sore foot and there was no way he was hiking up that hill. I decided to climb as far as the church, while Rick settled himself in a little café in the square.
Unfortunately, finding the path proved to be a challenge. After climbing up about a hundred stairs, I reached a dead end at a private terrace and realized I had taken a wrong turn. So back down the stairs I went, and then back up another set of stairs, only to discover that there was a fee of 3 euros to get onto the stairs. I didn't have a cent, having left my bag in the café with Rick. Oh well. I gave up and joined Rick in the café.
Just as we arrived back at Aisling, all the bells in the town began ringing. What a great end to the visit!