By Eilene Lyon
Our introduction to Croatia was the Dubrovnik airport, where we flew in from Vienna at the end of our Austrian bike trip (future post). The popularity of this southern Dalmatian city is clear from the continual parade of planes, contrasting with the sleepy airport at Split. We quickly found the shuttle and bought our tickets. It dropped us off near the southeastern city gate.
Fortunately, I was able to use my iPhone to find our way to the AirBNB room we’d rented for two nights. The Putterer had selected lodging in the old town because of its proximity to a restaurant (directly below our room in fact). He needn’t have worried – it seems Dubrovnik has a restaurant in every other doorway! It’s not surprising, given the throng of tourists. They need to eat somewhere, right?
As in many European cities, the walled part of Dubrovnik is a cluster of stone buildings crowding narrow, cart-width streets. This incarnation is more grid-like and vertical with stairs than others I’ve visited. It also has the distinction of being prime coastal real estate on the Adriatic Sea.
We quickly figured out the “lay of the land” and in perambulating the inner part of the wall, saw a tempting portal. Following my nose, I found a couple bars situated outside the sea-facing wall – superlative turf for sunset views. They’re also great places to watch the evening exodus of Arctic swifts that nest in the ancient stones. A few bats ventured out as well.
On our second day, we took the aerial tram to the old Napoleonic fort above the city. From this vantage point you can see just how close Bosnia and Herzegovina is to this narrow, southern end of Dalmatia. The views are spectacular. Unfortunately, this also provided an excellent battlement during the 1991 war with Serbia (aka Homeland War). Bombs rained down on the city below – being a UNESCO World Heritage site offered no protection.
The fort offered two exhibits related to the war for a single modest entry fee. One was a sculpture collection depicting the horrors of the concentration camps, with a focus particularly on the abuses to women. Plaques in English tell the grim tales.
The other exhibit focuses more on the war itself, telling a rather one-sided version of the conflict. But that’s probably to be expected. We did get a more balanced view from one of our biking guides (future post) who gave us a 2,000-year history of Croatia (Hrvatske to its citizens).
Briefly, the conflict was partly a matter of religious differences: Croatia is 93% Roman Catholic; Bosnia is Muslim, thanks to incursion by the Ottoman Empire; and Serbia is Eastern Orthodox, due to the rupture of the Roman Empire in early days of Christianity.
There were two different periods when a country known as Yugoslavia existed. In the more recent federation, the constitution provided a clause that would essentially permit secession. Croatians voted to secede, in part sparking the war that followed.
As mentioned earlier, food could be found on every block in great variety and abundance, and generally quite affordable. We ate our most gourmet meal at a restaurant called Gatsby. There are Irish pubs (where aren’t there Irish pubs, for heaven’s sake?), continental cuisine, pizza and pasta, and local wines to be savored. Gelato was de rigueur.
For another version of refreshment, we went for a swim in the sea just outside the city wall (you can also swim from the seaside bars). A handy shower is provided for rinsing off the salt water. There are motor boats for rent and touring boats (including pirate-ship versions). You can ferry to the nearby island of Lokrum to visit the nude beach, or paddle yourself there in a sea kayak. You can go with a guided trip, or just rent by the hour. We chose the latter option.
We got an official tour of the city by a local guide prior to departing on our boat/bike tour to the southern and central Dalmatian islands. This was so we could be as annoying as all the cruise ship crowds we’d endured the past two days.
We learned about the historic pharmacy museum inside the Franciscan Monastery (14th century), a bit about the 600-year-old legend of Orlando, and about the Roman ruins being excavated in the town square. And of course, Game of Thrones sites (a program I’ve never watched). The city has numerous museums, so a longer stay is warranted.
Overall, we found Dubrovnik to be welcoming, comfortable, and relaxing. We even found a laundromat near our room where we could refresh our wardrobe. We ran into another Colorado couple doing likewise. Even in October, it was very crowded with people from all over the planet, but that didn’t seem to detract terribly from this compact city’s charm.
Feature image: View of Dubrovnik, Croatia, and surroundings from the air. Bosnia and Herzegovina in the background.