I am not a dedicated student of history or geography, although I like to believe I have a little knowledge of the world. I recently exposed my own ignorance on the recent affairs of eastern Europe and I am embarrassed to admit the depths of it to you now. Let this paragraph serve as my confession booth when I tell you that just over a year ago, I had never heard of the country of Montenegro. Allow me to further confess that as recently as six months ago, I didn’t know that Yugoslavia was no longer a country, but rather a former Socialist Republic that had been divided into what stands today as seven independent countries (Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia) .
Of course, I knew that this entire Slavic area of the European continent was [very recently] rife with political tension and civil unrest. The result of which sparked years of bloody wars culminating in both great losses for many of the citizens and great victories for each independent nation. I knew this because when I was younger, my sister and father each had friends from the area. But eleven-year old Greg was more interested in tuning in to see how MacGyver was going to use a pocketknife to escape from a flooding submarine than he was to tuning into C-SPAN.
I find that most of my current reading and research regarding the evolution of the world we know today pre-dates what I would call, “modern-history”. I love to read about the Roman or Greek Empires. I am intrigued by all the British Colonies and absolutely love the history of my native America and my adopted Italy. It didn’t really occur to me that major territorial lines were still being redrawn through force as recently as the 90’s. Sixteen-year old Greg was more focused on deciding which plaid Abercrombie shirt best matched his denim jean jacket. It was even more shocking to just recently learn that an entire country as significant as Montenegro could become independently recognized less than a decade ago (they were granted independence in May of 2006). And even though I could easily cite another example of something else that preoccupied my time when the referendum was signed on May 21st 2006…. it would be embarrassing since I was clearly an adult eight years ago. Even as I write these words, Ukraine is fighting [a losing battle] with Russia over Crimea, further proving that nothing in this world is permanent.
I was recently intrigued with the matter of Yugoslavia by chance. Shortly after we moved to Italy, a friend sent me an article – one of those “Places You Have To See” type things. He and I both agreed that Montengro appeared to be one of the most stunning locations on the list. This was the first I had heard of Montenegro and I was excited when Google maps confirmed that this young country was close to Italy. I knew that I wasn’t going to leave Europe without setting foot on her shores. I recently had that opportunity when we embarked on a cruise with Celebrity Cruises. Our cruise began in Rome, Italy (HERE and HERE) and continued to Florence, Italy (HERE) before moving onto Corfu, Greece (HERE) – but not without a couple pitstops in some of the ship’s wonderful restaurants (HERE).
A couple days before arriving in Kotor, Montenegro I was given an interesting narrative of the city, as well as a brief history of Yugoslavia by none other than my favorite blackjack dealer, Brajuško (you’ve got to talk about something to pass the time while you’re splitting your 8’s and doubling down on your 11’s). He was a native of a neighboring city and recounted an interesting personal history of his country’s independence.
Kotor hosts about 13,000 inhabitants. The fortified city rests along the shores in the Gulf of Kotor – an ancient Mediterranean port. The city was first settled in 168 BC by the Ancient Romans. The city became fortified in the middle ages when it’s importance in the region grew (port cities were often crown jewels of any large empire and therefore targeted by many outside invaders). The city eventually fell under the control of the First Bulgarian Empire before becoming acknowledged by the Republic of Venice in 1420. This Venetian control over the city was evident to me as we walked up to the city gates and saw the Winged Lion of Saint Mark. This symbol marks the cities that were under the control of the Venetians… a symbol that we encounter regularly across northern Italy.
Jen and I both awoke early on the day we were set to arrive in Kotor. This was fortunate because we had not yet arrived in port and our large sea craft was slowly drifting through the narrow gulf. We got to bear witness to the massive ship deftly navigating the shallow waterway. We thread through the narrow aqua valley like an accurate strike thrown from Aikman to Irvin. There were times when I felt as though I could easily toss a peanut off either side of the ship, only to have it find dry land.
As soon as our ship cleared the local port authority, we were first in line to take one of the tenders (little boats that deliver you to shore when the ship has to stay some distance from the port). We walked through the city walls with eager anticipation. Kotor is truly one of Europe’s best preserved cities of the medieval era and Renaissance. I was thoroughly impressed with the local receiving committee. Dozens of locals had prepared for our reception with tables full of local treats and plenty of people positioned to give tourist information.
Before we had the chance to take in the main sites of the city, the sky decided to give us the wonderful gift of rain (note the sarcastic tone). We ducked into a local cafe to wait out the wet weather and check our email. Since we had gone ashore without umbrellas or Julia’s rain cover, we found ourselves stuck for nearly an hour. As the time ticked by, we got restless and tried to set out once again. The weather hadn’t improved so we decided our best option was to head back to the ship and collect our rain gear. We also had the benefit of eating a free lunch on the ship before returning to Kotor, properly dressed and equipped for anything.
Fortunately, the sun made an appearance in the afternoon and we got to see the old Town Clock Tower, dating from 1602. We visited 17th century palaces and 11th century churches. We went in Regional Institute for the Preservation of Culture Moments. We strolled along ancient cobblestone streets that made me concerned I might come face to face with a 600 year-old vampire at any moment. My eyes kept glancing up the hill (the town is nestled at the base of a mountain) toward the Church of Our Lady Remedy (Црква Госпе од здравља or Црква Марије Колеђате) with the idea to climb the city walls toward her massive doors. Jen read the idea in my mind before the words were formed by my mouth and quickly put a kibosh on that plan. She had to remind me that it was a few-hundred meter climb along a slick stone path with a stroller and kid before I relented. There were still enough sites in the city to keep me entertained and so I agreed to stay closer to sea level.
We thoroughly enjoyed Kotor and I would recommend a visit to this magical place to anyone interested. If you happen to make it to this part of Europe, plan a few extra days and visit some of Montenegro’s beautiful beaches. They have some fabulous looking resorts that I hope to visit myself some day.
Oh, I would be remiss not to mention that night’s entertainment. Julia had recently become best of friends with a young girl named Ava and we had become good friends with her parents and their family. Jen forced me onstage with our friends, Catherine, Mike and Feng to be “hypnotized” by David Knight, one of the world’s preeminent hypnotists. I eventually excused myself from the stage, but not before there was some “sexy dancing” and “piano playing”.