We have high expectations for Dubrovnik, and as our catamaran from Split pulls into the port of Gruz, we can see the high, solid walls of the old town in the distance. As we have travelled north from Turkey, the number of tourists has increased, from practically zero (plus two), in Istanbul, (and that was before the unsuccessful putsch), to thousands here in Dubrovnik. There are two large cruise liners at the dock and our old friend the Star Clipper is anchored in the roads.
On our first visit to the old town, the crowds from the cruise liners jam the Pile Gate, and three sweaty policemen try to make sense of the disorder. It’s an ancient city, a centre of mercantile activity for centuries with elegant buildings and streets paved with highly polished, slippery marbled streets. Alleys run off the Placa Stradum, climbing up hundreds of steps to the city walls to the north, jammed with tiny restaurants, cafes and accommodation.
Although the old town is charming beyond belief we’re pleased we do not have to drag our suitcases across these slippery streets and up a hundred or so steps. We make several visits to the old town, once for dinner at Lady Pi Pi, on the recommendation of Martin & Peter. Lady Pi Pi is a restaurant high on the hill with great views over the old town. Also, as you might imagine, it has a female version of the Mannequin Piste from Amsterdam outside that attracts the tourist’s attention. But we’re not in the old town, we’re staying at Lapad, a peninsular just 15 minutes away by the very frequent, very crowded #6 bus with which we become very well acquainted.
We take the ferry to the island of Lokrum, home to a 5th Century monastery and allegedly a stopping point for Richard the Lionhearted when his ship sunk in the Adriatic. For the first time since leaving home we swim in the sea, (the somewhat cool waters of the Adriatic), and relax in the sun.
Although one of the joys of a five-night break here is the chance to soak up some sun around the pool, the highlight of Dubrovnik is our walk on the city walls. This 5km trek takes us completely around the walls of the old city, up and down many steps, but provides many insights into the ancient architecture and the immediate past. The city was badly damaged in the 1991 war. Shells struck 68% of the buildings and two out of three of the tile roofs were damaged. The massive walls took 111 hits but 20 years on, only a handful of burnt out shells remain, a stark reminder of the region’s troubled past.
From the top of the walls we gaze down into the two Buza bars that cling perilously to the rock shelf just through tiny doorways that open through the walls. People sunbathe and cool themselves in the restorative waters of the Adriatic Sea.
We take a 12 trip into Bosnia-Hercgovina to visit the emblematic bridge at Mostar. Our trip takes us down the very pretty Adriatic coast, through two Croatian border posts before we arrive at the border with B-H. Immediately we can feel the change. While the Croats have a border post that would make the US Border Patrol proud, the B-H post is simply a collection of shipping containers thrown together. The economy is so bad that more than 30% of the population are unemployed, and life only exists as a large number of young people work outside the country and repatriate funds to support their families. The political situation is equally bizarre, with the three major religious and ethnic groups in a power-sharing arrangement. There is so much hatred, enmity and distrust between the Orthodox Serbs, the Muslim Bosnians and the Roman Catholic Croatians, that all political positions are triplicated. Three alternating Prime Ministers, three ministers of tourism for example, and every decision is taken by a committee that represents all three groups. It ensures shocking politics but at least does provide employment.
We stop at the historic fortified village of Pocitilj, with its abandoned Turkish hamans and buy fruit from the roadside vendors. Mostar is still an ethically divided city and we walk the twisting streets. The bridge was totally destroyed during the civil war but is now as good as new. Young men jump the 25 metres into the freezing river below, but only after collecting 25 euros from the expectant crowd.
On our last evening in Dubrovnik we take the dinner cruise on the Karaka, a replica of the 16th century ships that underpinned the state of Dubrovnik’s seafaring might. Although the captain does not put us under sail we enjoy the buffet and a glass of red as we view the now-familiar sights from the sea.
Dubrovnik (like all of Croatia) has had an interesting past; There’s a Diocletian palace that demonstrates that the Romans were here, then the Venetians controlled the city/state, followed by the Ottomans, the Habsburgs and then Napoleon. Some time later along came Yugoslavia, the break-up of Yugoslavia and the War for Croatia – or, as they’d say here, the Homeland War. (But don’t shoot me if I’ve got that in the wrong order!)
It’s been a pretty bust time for your average Croat over the centuries, and in the meantime they’ve managed to perfect the game of tennis.
But now we’re on another fast catamaran, this time heading north for Korcula, the largest of the Dalmatian Islands that has an old fortified town.
We’re going to have a bit of R&R. I suggest you do too and we’ll talk again in a few days.
Dubrovnik is so photogenic and I’ve posted a few more pix here.