Monday, November 25, 2013

CROATIA: DRIVING TO DUBROVNIK AND CLIMBING THE CITY WALLS

After our morning hike up to the Kotor Fortress, we set out for our next destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia. On the map it looked pretty straightforward--just hang tight to the coastline. Our research told us it should take us about 1 hour and 35 minutes.  Ha. Try three or four hours.
Good thing I still had some morning Happy Pills given to me in the States by my friend Kathy as travel nourishment. She knows me well. I was proud of myself for having stretched out the bag this long.
At first, it seemed that things were going our way. At some point, a miracle occurred.  After not having had GPS for nine days (and through Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Kotor), maps and directions suddenly appeared on our device near the Croatian border.

But alas, we would have done better on this stretch on our own. The GPS led us astray. Bob and I differ on how badly we were lost, but I had the printed map unfolded on my lap, and we were not on any roads marked on the map. After asking directions from non-English-speaking Croats two or three times and doing our best to understand their energetic pointing, waving, and shouting, we finally found our way to charted roads.

It was not the last time we got lost, unfortunately.

The approach to Dubrovnik from the south is exquisite. The road drops down from the hills above the coast, presenting a stunning view of the coastline. The brilliant cerulean sea, bright white buildings with red tile roofs, and verdant vegetation make the scene look like it is photoshopped.

If you look closely at the promontory below, you can see the old city walls that form a jagged circle around Dubrovnik's Old Town.


MONTENEGRO: SIX CHURCHES

If you've been to Italy, you know how every time you turn a corner, you are in a courtyard presided over by a church. About 100 miles east of Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea, you can have the same experience, but with a bit more diversity of religion.  One of the distinguishing features of the walled city of Kotor is its many churches. Of the six we saw within the walls of the city, we were able to enter only three, although all seem to be in use.

CHURCH #1
The Romanesque St. Tryphon's Cathedral is the largest building in Kotor, and one of two Catholic cathedrals in the walled city. It was built on the site of an older church and was consecrated in 1166.  It honors St. Tryphon, the patron saint of the city. A massive earthquake in 1667 completely destroyed almost two-thirds of the town and partially destroyed the cathedral's two towers, and money for the restoration was hard to come by, resulting in towers that don't match.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

MONTENEGRO: KOTOR'S FORTRESS

One of my favorite places of our entire jaunt through the Balkans, the Kotor Fortress on top of the Mountain of St. John in Montenegro, deserves a post of its own. 

These walls and buildings have a history that would tie anyone's brain in knots. The original fortification was built by the ancient Illyrians, perhaps as early as 100 B.C. Then the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconstructed the fortress in the 6th century. Venetians took over in the 15th century for the next 377 years and added many of the present-day fortifications, but during their rule the Ottomans managed to steal it twice for short periods of time. In 1797 the area passed to the Habsburgs as part of a treaty, was assigned to the Napoleonic State of Italy for governance, and was occupied by Russian troops until it became part of the French Illyrian Provinces in 1807. Britain conquered Kotor in 1814 and returned the region to the Austrian Empire in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. After their defeat in World War I, Austria withdrew from the fortress and it was left unmanned until Axis forces moved in during World War II. Finally, the fortress was liberated on November 21, 1944, and has been controlled by its own people since that time.
The date of liberation is inscribed above the Sea Gate, the main entrance into the walled city. A quote from Marshal Tito is chiseled into the stone above the lintel: "We do not need other people's things, and we do not give our own." Photo from here.
As a result of changing hands so many times, the fortifications are a delightfully jumbled mishmash of building styles--no master plan here--and recent improvements to the path up the mountain have made all of it accessible.
View from below. Photo taken with a telephoto lens.
The zig-zagging walls creep back and forth along the craggy mountain spine for almost three miles.


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