Bare stone surfaces of the surrounding mountains provide excellent acoustic sound boards for the frequent fireworks explosions that resonate all through the night.
Pam is woken frequently, I sleep like a snoring log.
When I wake in the morning sporadic explosions are still occurring and a layer of smoke from wood cooking fires and fireworks is trapped atop the Kotor Bay waters by a thermal inversion.
Views from our balcony show a vast beautiful blue sky day. Yesterday’s pressing low grey becomes a fading memory.
Pam has woken with the sunrise and has already eaten, by the time I wake she is raring to go.
My plaintive defense of ‘patience is a virtue’ is met with her usual refrain ‘of which I have none’.
Today is the Serbian Orthodox Christmas Day. We wish each other Merry Christmas for the second time in a fortnight.
Yesterday both the bus ride into Kotor as well as the taxi ride back to our apartment took us past the walls of Kotor Old Town. Walking down to the shops later in the afternoon the steep slopes above the old town were dominated by a winding walled stone staircase zigzagging up to a ruined fortress high above.
There are no points for guessing what Pam’s plan for the day ahead is going to be.
Finally ‘the slowest man in the world’ is ready. We make our way around the house, through the rusting metal gate beside the heavily fruiting orange trees in the yard and down the little narrow slippery staircase leading between houses that takes us to the road following the flat section of terraced slope below us.
These little streets and staircases form a labyrinth between buildings giving multiple options to descend. We follow the guidance provided by our young cake bearing friend from the previous afternoon and soon we are crossing a bridge over a quickly flowing fresh water stream and find ourselves at a corner of the Old Town Walls on the flat ground beside the waters of Kotor Bay.
The air is absolutely still, to our right the mirror of the Kotor Bay reflects the towering green and soaring blue from the far side.
To our left the age blackened walls are interspersed with the green of the verdant life that thrives in every nook and cranny of this ever damp town.
Surprisingly the Kotor tourist information stand is open and a friendly lady hands us a map of the old town and advises us that because this is not tourist season there are no ships mooring and the walk to the ruined Castle San Giavanni should be free.
Apparently in the high season up to three large tour ships per day dock at Kotor releasing a flood of tourists into the Old Town. We see postcards showing a veritable ant trail of tourists making their way along the zigzagging trails above the town.
As we make our way through the main gate into the Old Town the square beyond is quiet. We thank our lucky stars we have come at the best time of year.
After Pam has had another delicious chocolate swirl topped cappuccino we make our way through the old town.
Before we start our climb I am very keen to find where the fresh water streaming into the salt of Kotor Bay is coming from and we exit the old town via a little side gate and cross a narrow stone bridge to the road running along the stream on the other side.
From here we can see that the water apparently flows from nowhere, it just swirls up from the ground at the base of the slope and then swiftly runs crystal clear over a small weir and flows along the concrete and stone sided canal immediately adjacent to the old town wall into the bay.
I am very keen to make our way to the swirling headwaters of this stream for a closer look however the road is blocked by a boom gate and a manned security booth.
I earn a side to side wagged finger from the security guard when I attempt to skirt the boom gate and Pam calls me back.
Back inside the walls we make our way to a rising cobblestone street that looks like it heads in the right direction.
A sign at the end of the street has me laughing at the warnings for avoiding reptiles.
The probability of dying from a snake bite in the cool Kotor winter is far outweighed by the likelihood of tripping and plunging to my death from the cliffs above.
Turning right at this sign our zigzagging climb commences along a mossy wall and staircase.
Having crested the first couple of turns views over the old town across Kotor Bay become increasingly spectacular as we ascend towards the blue heavens above.
In the harbour below I notice an old sailing ship moored and determine to photograph it should I make it back down alive.
The climb between each turn is steep.
Many sections have the walls protecting the climber from the edge beyond the stairs in ruins. I keep my distance from my ever taunting wife who loves nothing more than creating adrenaline spikes in my bloodstream whenever we’re near any steep edge.
We are not alone in our climb. Small groups of other walkers pass us as we stop to take photos. We overtake them again as they rest panting in shaded sections.
It is like the Wacky Races of the Camino days.
An enthusiastic father and three year old son race by us, the father laughs as we call them ‘the sprinters’.
Soon we have made the chapel which is about one third of the way up. We climb on.
‘Onwards and ever upwards’
The ruins are built on the crest of a steep ridge that runs down the mountain side. A series of parallel stone walls are all that is left of the once grand defensive structure that warded of attack from the hillsides above.
Beyond the edge of the highest of these remaining walls the crest drops precipitously into a rock filled gully below.
Despite the warning signs at the base a daring/stupid young man is climbing this wall to impress his lady friend.
There must always be one.
Views to the mountainside beyond show a winding trail leading all the way up. Pam’s eyes light up as she plans longer steeper walks.
Arable soil contained by terraces of stone walls and the roots of the ensuing plant growth catches my eye.
Kotor dwindles below us as we twist and turn higher.
Stairs become narrower and steeper as we ascend. My Pacerpoles are becoming hard to use.
We stop and push ourselves through the narrow openings of the few remaining crumbling turrets.
Finally all that lies between us and the fortress that crowns the ruins is a flimsy looking metal grated bridge. Keeping my eyes fixed ahead I cross queasily.
We have made it.
Inside the fortress the young child we had dubbed the ‘sprinter’ on the climb up is throwing a mighty full voiced toddler tantrum.
His enthusiasm must have waned near the top.
We take photos of the superb views. I take many with Pam at the very highest point we can attain. She insists on taking some of me however apparently forgets to actually press the button on the phone screen.
Our daring wall climbing chrome domed nemesis finds the highest place to perch.
By now ‘the sprinter’ has regained his equanimity, we take the chance to enjoy the serenity of the occasion.
Even at this altitude today the air is perfectly still. Kotor harbour is a sky and mountain filled mirror below us.
Stony crags above catch shadows from floating nearby clouds.
A daylight quarter moon keeps watch over us all.
Finally a tiny puff of wind partially unfurls the Montenegro flag.
We had forgotten to charge the iphone the previous night and I have been playing a game of balance between my by now seemingly uncontrollable urge to take a billion photographs from every angle with the rapidly dwindling charge left on our apparatus all day.
I think I am about to lose the challenge and I really want to get a shot of the sailing boat in the harbour far below before we return to our apartment so I take one last shot of the winding path of return and we set off.
From above we hear the sound of Tarzan’s cry presumably being emitted as part of a mating ritual by ‘chromedomious’.
I respond in kind with a mighty Aussie ‘COOEEE’ which echoes splendidly back and forth between the mountain ranges.
Uphill burns the lungs, downhill taxes the knees. So sayeth the Pilgrims Law of Undulation.
There is no escape, by the time we regain the base my knees are singing a very familiar tune.
We wander back through the Old Town taking a new path.
I leave Pam to have a cappuccino and make my way over to where the sailing ship is moored.
Looks like I have taken one photo too many.
The vision of that brown hull and rigging against the blue sky and mountain crags mirrored in the ripple free expanse of Kotor Bay remains solely in my mind’s eye eternal.
Pam and Mick