I believe I always wanted to travel. My family had a very old atlas in the house and even as a child I loved to thumb through the pages and look at the colorful maps displayed inside. The book was huge and had heavy covers and thick paper that made a distinct sound when you turned it. Pastel pink, green and purple countries filled the pages. Thin black lines connected the cities and different size dots indicated the relative populations of each. Rivers and lakes were marked by a wonderful shade of light blue. Creating journeys along the roads or waterways to the most intriguing sounding places was an interesting pastime.
I remember writing down the names of the countries or cities that sounded the most exotic. I knew nothing about the places other than their name, but they inspired me to want to see them one day. When I was very young I have distinct memories of my dreams of Zanzibar, Samoa, Burma and Bombay. I was fascinated by the island below India called Ceylon at the time.
Of course travelling in real life is different than running your fingers along the pages of a well-worn book. While inspiration still comes from a variety of sources, travelling outside of the pages of an atlas entails limits not found inside of your own imagination. For most of my life, time, budget and responsibilities often took precedence over my desire to visit these far off places of my dreams.
We were asked by a friend recently how we choose the cities that we visit. Our methods are definitely not consistent and have changed throughout the years. Of course, like everyone, we were interested in seeing the most famous cities first. Paris, Rome, Venice and Bangkok were on our list as well as everyone else’s. As all travelers know, the more you travel the more you realize how much there is to see. There is always something just over the next mountain that given just another day or two you could have gotten to. There is always justification to take another trip. Prague, Budapest, Cairo and Penang are all secondary trips that were, at one point, just past our original destinations.
As time went by monumental and magical destinations became as important as the exotic cities of the world. We saw Cusco because of Machu Picchu, Siem Reap because of Angkor Wat, Lhasa because of the Potala Palace, Agra because of the Taj Mahal and Yogyakarta because of Borobudur. I don’t think we would have spent much time in Giza, if not for the Pyramids.
As time goes on, photography has become an important hobby to me. It is the perfect companion to a life lived on the road. When we are discussing our next destination we always check the difficulty and expense of travel arrangements. We certainly check the availability and location of apartments for rent. We check for activities that are of interest in the general area we are considering. However, final arrangements are never made until we check photography sites for photos that might be taken. We peruse various online photo sharing sites for the best pictures of an area. Often photos are taken from locations that we would never have visited if we hadn’t wanted to capture a beautiful vista. We have even visited locations almost entirely due to work by talented photographers who have gone before us. We spent an entire month in La Spezia, Italy due mainly to the nearby beauty of the Ligurian coastline. If not for the photogenic beauty of the Cinque Terre, Portifino, Lerici and Portovenere I don’t think we would have visited this magical area of the world.
We have often spent time just prior to a sunset taking some form transportation to an elevated location to find just the right vantage point over a spectacular setting. While others see the colorful photograph of a gorgeous cityscape, the finished photograph often sparks our memory back to the journey we took to get to the location.
As we were discussing places to go after our month long visit to Dubrovnik, we finally decided on a hopefully magical destination for our future travels. Unfortunately budgets just did not allow us to go just yet. We needed two weeks to find airline tickets that were in our price range. As beautiful as if was, we didn’t want to spend two more weeks in Dubrovnik.
A few months back Nanci returned to the U.S. for a short time and I was travelling by myself in Montenegro. We were inspired to travel to Montenegro by a photograph of the city of Kotor. When Nanci returned home, I never got around to taking the photograph. The photo is taken from the ramparts of an old fort above the city and I just couldn’t find the motivation to make the journey by myself. It sort of bothered me as the “one that got away”.
As Kotor is only a two hour (and less than 10 Euro) bus journey away from Dubrovnik, it seemed like the perfect place to spend our time while we waited for onward transportation. While waiting I would be able to attempt to capture the scenic vista that I had missed before.
Kotor is located at end of the spectacular Bay of Kotor, which is called simply Boka locally. The bay lies in an incredible location between towering mountains that rise straight from the sea. While the area appears to be, and is often called, a fjord, it is technically called a ria or submerged river bed. Whatever it is called, it is as gorgeous as anywhere on the planet. Kotor is a walled city and, while smaller, bears a slight resemblance to Dubrovnik. Inside the walls, it is obvious that the construction of the buildings take inspiration from its Adriatic neighbor, Venice.
What is unique in Kotor is the city walls run up the side of the mountains above town and end in a large fortress at the top of the mountain. The hike to the top is more than 1000 stairs and is popular with adventurous cruise ship passengers that arrive in droves during the summer. Despite the beautiful weather we enjoyed during our stay, it is not the typical season for tourists and we again had the whole town to ourselves. No cruise ships, no massive yachts and no tour buses. The fashionable shops, sophisticated boutique hotels, beautiful restaurants, lovely cafes and stylish bars inside the city walls rarely had anyone inside but a lonely proprietor busily studying their cell phones.
Everyone in tow seemed to speak perfect English and was genuinely glad to have someone to talk to when we visited. We had time to visit a long overdue dentist. 5 fillings, 2 cleanings and X-rays for 250 dollars was an unbelievable price for first class work. We had a nice apartment for a good price and generally just enjoyed strolls through the narrow city streets or along the quiet waterfront.
To get to my picture location I had to climb about half way up the 1000 steps to the fortress. I’m glad it was only half way, because I did it five times trying to get the perfect sunset over the city and city lights below. I can’t really say I achieved my goal, but as always, the picture will remind me of the difficult climb and breathtakingly dramatic views over the city and bay as the sun went down and the lights of the city came on. Because of the location of the mountains, the city gets dark very quickly and I will always remember my mad dashes down the hill before it became too dark to see the steps.
We enjoyed our short time in Montenegro and are now off to further adventures. Like looking through the pages of the old atlas many years ago, I realize how many exotic and wonderful places there still are to see in the world.