Travelling Light

Day Trip To Dubrovnik, Croatia, from Kotor, Montenegro, August 2014

We had originallly planned to spend one night in Kotor and then move on to Dubrovnik – until we started trying to find accommodation in Dubrovnik.

Nothing under $60 per night, even a few kilometres away from the old city. Ridiculous! But obviously enough people have the money to pay those prices, because everyone is charging them.

We decided to stay in Kotor and see Dubrovnik in a day trip, something which cost relatively little – 20 Euros each.

There was some to-ing and fro-ing as to whether the tour would happen, because it required a minimum of six people, and we were the third and fourth to express interest. Suddenly, late at night, we were told it was on for the following morning, leaving at 8am.

The driver considerately stopped the bus at Perast so we could take photos of the beautiful islands there. One of our fellow passengers handed Jenny his camera and said “Take a photo of us.” This is Serbian for “Excuse me, would you mind taking a photo of us together, please?”

He was kind enough to take this photo of us together, too.

When we boarded the bus, there were only the four of us, and we wondered why we had been told there needed to be six – until we reached Herzeg Novi, half an hour away, and another six people piled into the eight-seater minibus, leaving two standing. Fortunately, we only went a short distance in this configuration before switching to a bigger bus.

The border crossing seemed to take forever, but eventually we got on our way again. Dubrovnik is in Croatia, not Montenegro. It is a tiny bit of Croatia, completely surrounded by Bosnia except for the short Montenegro border.

Our first glimpse of Dubrovnik showed the old city and the port in postcard configuration.

The bus dropped us by the south gate to the Old City, and the Serbian passengers negotiated with the driver (who spoke no English) to give us a slightly later pick-up time, since the trip had taken longer than scheduled. Finally, we were heading in to the Old City, with five hours to explore it.

Dubrovnik Old City is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, one of the 10 best-preserved walled towns in the world, which was seriously damaged in the 1990s during the Croatian War of Independence (or the Yugoslavian civil war, depending on whose history you read).

This diagram shows where shells landed, buildings were damaged by bullets and shrapnel, and buildings burned down. One of the buildings which burned to the ground was the home of a noted Croatian artist, and many of his works were destroyed in the fire as well. Fortunately, he survived, and he has been working in a spirit of gratitude ever since.

The damage has been restored as much as possible, but you can still see the occasional bullet hole in a wall.

It is hard to understand exactly why the Yugoslavian army beseiged Dubrovnik, as it was demilitarised after its World Heritage listing, to prevent exactly that kind of damage from occurring.

Vandalism? Bloody mindedness? Maybe they hoped that the threat of destroying a major tourist attraction would persuade the Croatians to give up their dream of self-determination. Who knows … but we were very glad that so much effort has gone into restoring the Old City to its former glory.

Dubrovnik was historically a sea trading centre. As the capital of the Republic of Ragusa, a maritime republic, the city achieved a high level of development, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries. Dubrovnik became notable for its wealth and skilled diplomacy. Current archaeological theory is that Dubrovnik began its life in the BCs as a Greek settlement, providing an overnight rest point with fresh water for ships travelling between Budva and Korčula (both Greek settlements).

The catastrophic earthquake of 1667 killed over 5,000 citizens and levelled most of the public buildings, ruining the well-being of the Republic. In 1699, the Republic sold two mainland patches of its territory to the Ottomans in order to avoid being caught in the clash with advancing Venetian forces. Today this strip of land belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina, cutting off the Dubrovnik province from the rest of Croatia, and is that country’s only direct access to the Adriatic.

We went into the largest cathedral first – no quirky coloured paintings here, unfortunately, but it was lovely.

Near the cathedral is the Rector’s Palace, which is a spectacular residence indeed. It houses a cultural museum, and we were very tempted, but in the end couldn’t justify paying the 80 Euro (each!) entry fee.

There was an app advertised at the entrance, and we spent a frustrating hour and 6 Euros buying iced coffees to use the WiFi in a cafe in an attempt to download the app. Tom did the WiFi signal foxtrot, and wound up at the very corner of the square, where the signal was slighly less faint. Eventually, he got the app downloaded, and it didn’t work. Sigh.

Forced back on an older technology, we secured a paper map of the city from the Tourist Information centre, and proceeded to explore.

The streets in Dubrovnik Old City are deep and narrow. Toward the back of the city, away from the water, the land starts to slope up at quite a rate, so the “streets” marked on the map are actually staircases!

Tom was particularly interested in the Franciscan monastery, which houses one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe (operating continuously since 1317). As an added bonus, out the front was a drinking-water fountain, perfect for refilling that water bottle.

The Franciscan brothers enjoyed an opulent lifestyle, with a courtyard garden and beautiful arched cloisters.

We decided to take the opportunity, while in Croatia, to sample some local Croatian cuisine. We had ribsteak with Dalmatian sauce, and black seafood risotto. The specific dish we had been recommended was only available in winter, apparently, but the substitutes were perfectly acceptable.

We did, however, succeed in locating the Dubrovnik dessert speciality – dubrovačka rozata (Ragusan Flan). It was translated into English as “creme caramel”, and did bear a strong resemblance to that dessert. We considered it well worth the two-hours-each-way bus trip to sample it.

We were slightly puzzled by some references to Game of Thrones we saw on the day, but we subsequently found out that Dubrovnik is being used to represent the city of King’s Landing and the slaver city locations of Daenerys Targaryen in the HBO series Game of Thrones (one of the few TV series we have bothered to watch in the past three years). We didn’t see any dragons, though. Maybe it was their day off.

We finished up the tour of the city with the second largest church in town – and this one laid on a glorious rainbow display of sunlight through the stained glass for us.

As always, we took far more photos than we could possibly include in a note, so you can see the album here:

All too soon, it was time to head back to the bus. We didn’t even squeeze in a trip up the cable car to get a bird’s eye view of the Old City. Maybe next time …

The next day we had designated a rest day. We have to do that every so often, or we find ourselves getting gradually more and more tired and grumpy. It’s not that we don’t do anything on rest days (frankly, that’s when a lot of the notes get written!), but we don’t make plans the require us to do something.

We had a cruisy morning of yoga, breakfast, WiFi at a cafe, and followed it up with a nap. That gave us the energy to head out to Kotor’s Old Town again, this time with no agenda except to wander randomly and enjoy the vibe.

We started by fortifying ourselves with a Nutella palicinke (pancake), then headed past the Old Town wall to the ruins of a Franciscan monastery. It was difficult to work out which room was which, but Tom identified the chapel by the tombtones still in place, dating back to the 1440s.

After surveying the ruins, we headed into the Old Town and randomly took one turn after another as the sun set. We found a shop called “The Cats of Kotor”, which sold cat kitch, and gave away bags of cat food for people to feed the multitudinous population of strays in the town. We took a bag, made a donation, and henceforth included bouffle petting in our activities.

We also located what is claimed to be the narrowest street in the world (we told you the streets were narrow!), and gathered some photographic evidence of the claim.

Having seen both Dubrovnik and Kotor, we would recommend the lesser-known Kotor to anyone thinking of visiting the region. Dubrovnik’s Old City is probably larger in size, but Kotor is just as beautiful, and the accommodation is much cheaper.

If we do ever live in a walled city, it just might be Kotor.