Friday, August 12, 2011

Dubrovnik

So, who says I can’t keep writing on my place-blog even though I’ve left that place for home? The pics are at hand, the memories are nearby, I still long for the country and region, and I have a few moments to spare.

Dubrovnik is stunning. There is nothing like it anywhere. I had seen so many gorgeous places in the region already—which includes Italy—that it was tough to impress me, but I couldn’t help but be moved on this one. One friend said Dubrovnik was a kind of Balkan Historical Disneyland, because everything seems a fraction unreal. But real it is and as far as I can tell, there is nothing quite like it.

The city is an amazing sight from a distance, especially when you see it from above on the road that follows the coast or if you see it from the sea. I’ve done both. The origin of Dubrovnik was obviously strategic, but the way it juts out into the sea with the mountains behind is visually impressive as well.

The city is surrounded by a high defensive wall that continues all the way around its perimeter, which offers spectacular views to the sea, to a variety of islands, and then down into the city proper. There are a variety of breaks, including canon portals and steps up to look-outs and that lead down to the city itself. I walked all the way around on my first afternoon there, even though that right knee was really giving me trouble. But I took a happy pill and a couple of shots of rakija and it was healed, well at least long enough to take that amazing two hour walk around the walls of Dubrovnik.

The inner part of the city is gorgeous, starting with the view from along the wall. After descending one of the many sets of stairs, you can start wandering the beautiful main thoroughfares and side streets. No vehicular traffic is allowed inside the walls, but once you step out it is crazy—cars, tourist buses of all kinds, mini-vans, etc. The main street inside—called Stradun—is uniquely attractive but the kitsch level is high and much of it is elbow to elbow with tourists if you are there at the wrong time of the year and day. The back streets are lovely to wander through, although it does take a few minutes to get away from the tourist throngs. That said, the inner part of Dubrovnik is gorgeous and unique.

Most of coastal Croatia can be touristy during much of the year, but Dubrovnik can be horrendous. I was there just at the cusp of tourist season, so there was only one major cruise ship parked a mile or two off the coast and there were only a few of those groups lead by someone with the little respective national flag. I gather that in another week or two and I would have been swamped.

I stayed in a great B&B up the side of the hill. http://www.villa-busovina.com/. To get there I had to hike several hundred steps up and then up a steep incline yet more. By the time I got there, I had a great view of the city, the crowds were gone, and I was in a calm little neighborhood that reminded me that I was at an ideal place on the Adriatic coast. It was beautiful, charming and relaxed. And the little church a few doors down looked like it was abandoned until the old creaky doors opened the place for Mass. I went to the service on Sunday morning at 8.00—only one mass a week—and counted 16 other people, which was enough to fill the place to capacity. Less than an hour later it was closed up to again look abandoned.

The restaurants in the city were OK, but I had to spend some time trying to find a nice place that wasn’t too touristy. OK, so I’m picky about food. The result—Restaurant Proto—was a little expensive, but the food was great. http://www.esculap-teo.hr/restaurant_proto.html I usually don’t return to a restaurant (because I’m always looking for something new), but the seafood was excellent and the setting was fantastic, so I went back a couple of times. And it was all about seafood, incredibly fresh and well prepared seafood. By this time I was off the ‘American clock’, so I took a couple of hours for dinner each visit. Of course Vilajmovka was taken while my feast was being prepared.

One afternoon I took the ten minute boat ride across to Lokrum, the island right off the city. There I bumped into the wonderfully effervescent Linda Warley and her soon-husband to be! I spent much of the day wandering aimlessly around the island looking back to the city or out to the sea and other islands; aimlessness is the goal at such moments. It was beautiful.

I also took a day-long trip on a 30 person boat to Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan, which are the only inhabited islands among the Elaphite islands. Each has a picturesque little town where I wandered about for a bit, and of course the ride was as nice as the places themselves; just looking at the coast and other islands as we moved by was as nice as the destinations, and the weather was gorgeous. The tourism intensity on the islands is clearly less than in the city, especially by the time I got to Šipan. But they were very relaxing and pleasant. Lopud is the site of the ‘Vilajmovka shot-shot’ some of you have seen on FB, by the way. Anyhow, I suspect most of the people on those giant ships don’t want to be bothered; maybe they had to get back to the giant ship for ballroom dancing lessons, geography lessons on places they really don’t have time to visit, or more likely it was to hear the Wayne Newton cover band.

Getting to Dubrovnik is not always easy. There is no train. The roads are excellent coming from Zagreb—either the main highway or the winding coastal road. The views from the latter are spectacular; reminiscent say, of Highway 1 South of San Francisco. Coming from Montenegro, the roads aren’t bad, and Kotor Bay—which is nothing short of spectacular—is nearby. If you are short of time, just fly in. The airport is a bit out of town, but that is a much easier way to go and flights come directly from all over Europe. And there are many cool B&Bs; forget the hotels, which most of us can’t afford anyhow.

So, it was a wonderfully memorable trip to a fascinating place. Needless to say, it would have been much nicer if Lucia had been with me, but I had to ‘shoulder on’. Such is life of the nomadic Geography professor. It’s my job.