Our visit to Dubrovnik was on Friday the 13th May last year. I tried not to think about the day because I am a bit suspicious about a few things; for instance, I won’t fly on a Friday 13th. Suffice to say that I didn’t have great vibes about the day, and despite not having the opportunity for a guided tour of the city, Susanne and I chose to walk around on our own rather than take an extended trip through the countryside and hopefully make it back in time to explore the city. (Which was probably a smart choice as friends who did, were delayed by traffic and road works and didn’t actually step inside Dubrovnik.)
A Turner sky as we sailed towards Dubrovnik
Looking back towards Split, early morning.
The most picturesque part of the day was as we sailed towards land at about seven that morning. The sky looked even more threatening than it had over Split, but I call these my Turners and am hoping that an artistic member of my family will create a painting from them.
Even from the ocean Dubrovnik seemed to be wealthier than the other ports we had visited. This might be because so many of the residences look fairly new. Everywhere I turned, up and down the coast, terracotta tiles and white or cream walls covered the hillsides, interspersed with trees.
Some houses came almost to the water, where moored boats presumably belonged to the property owners.
Rain and cloud envelop the bridge.
Our ship was turning, heading for the harbour opposite the glamorous homes when, through the rain, we saw a beautiful bridge, seeming to hang in space. With bad weather making further photography impossible, as well as threatening to give us colds, we retreated into our cabin for breakfast.
Breakfast. Even shared it was enormous.
By day four we learned to order just one cooked breakfast with two plates and cutlery as the kitchen staff seemed unable or unwilling to follow our requests for anything other than giant sized portions.
Our ship was moored some distance from the city so, after passing through the usual customs routine, we headed for one of the local buses which were lined up, waiting for us. A notice in our daily sheet had warned us that we’d have to buy a return ticket for about US$12, before leaving the ship. Sometimes the organisation for such simple things struck me as ridiculous. Apparently our shuttle buses were supplied by the cities at earlier ports, but for Dubrovnik, a fifteen minute ride, we had to pay extra. Ship’s crew added everything else onto our bills; why not make it simple for all and just add on that fare too?
We were driven to one of the four main gates and dropped off near the Franciscan Monastery which is famous for its pharmacy, opened in 1317 and still operating today. Photography wasn’t allowed and all information was printed in Croatian so all we could do was admire and wonder about the ancient glass and porcelain vessels used for storing or measuring herbal potions formerly dispensed by the friars.
Stradun – main thoroughfare which spans the city.
From the monastery we stepped straight onto the main thoroughfare, called Stradun, which is closed to traffic but bustling with tourists. Shops and cafes line its sides and narrow alleyways run for a short distance on level ground then climb the steep hills on either side. It was close to 1pm and visitors were hungry. Susanne and I briefly investigated a few cafes but the food looked pretty basic. We had travelled a long way and I was determined to find a memorable venue and meal for this, our only taste of Dubrovnik.
The shops had nothing exciting or original to tempt us. All I brought away with me was a small book, ‘Get to Know Dubrovnik’ which would have been useful if I’d found it before landing. Unlike Rome, Florence and Venice, where quality and originality managed to entice me despite the high prices, I found goods in Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast in general, not worth a second glance.
Susanne and I did get a few interesting photos though.
Windows in old buildings often fascinate me and the Rector’s Palace, which has a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles used in its architecture, caught my eye. Originally used to store gunpowder, the building was badly damaged several times (and I presume restored depending on the fashion of the day.) Now it houses the Cultural Historical Museum of Dubrovnik, after being the seat of local government for most of its life since the 14th cent. Because of the cross on the roof and the fancy windows on the first floor, I initially assumed it was a church and would have liked a quick look inside but that wasn’t permitted.
Intriguing use of roof space
Some cities and towns in Europe also make use of their roof space creating unusual and imaginative windows and what appear from outside, to be tiny rooms. In a place like Dubrovnik, surrounded by ocean, I imagine that these spaces are sort after by artists.
Now at the end of the Stradun, we realised that the crowds were vying for a place to sit down and eat. One cafe, at the end of the thoroughfare, had a couple of tables left but again, the food looked like mediocre tourist fare. Beside me, a well-dressed couple opened doors to what looked like a smart hotel. I grabbed my sister’s arm and followed them, realising as soon as we entered, that we’d found the right place. Tables were full, people were drinking wine or champagne from good quality glasses and the aromas were enough to have me salivating. What hope for a booking, I wondered. We hovered at the entrance to the restaurant and a very busy waiter suggested that we sit down on a bench in the adjoining passage.
The best spot in town for lunch
Five minutes later we were led to the front of the terrace and seated at a table for two, overlooking the water. Our glasses were filled within minutes and the food arrived soon after. Susanne had fish and chips (gourmet fish and chips) and I ordered more chips with a salad.
Very busy little bay
In front of us boats buzzed around, ducking into moorings and almost colliding with the previous occupants trying to get out, young lads larked about in canoes, ferries unloaded passengers, picked up the next lot and raced away again. People walked along the footpath and we were delighted to see friends from the ship who stopped to chat.
Our friends stopped to chat.
To our right was an ancient looking stone structure which we decided to investigate as a way of walking off some of those chips. Once we reached it and turned the corner it was obvious that we’d come across an old fort. We could see our ship on the opposite bank, so Susanne walked out along the Porporela (a concrete breakwater built in 1873 to protect the inner harbour from wind and storms.)
I took her photo then she almost got washed away by a wave breaking over the top of the wall. All she worried about was her precious camera lens which also got wet.
From there we decided to walk along paths that ran parallel with the Stradun. Most visitors climbed the famous walls that went around the old city but with a lot of tourists vying for space up there, and very few sets of steps to get up and particularly down, I wasn’t prepared to risk an attack of vertigo which can come on me at any time. As with many historical stairways, there was also a lack of hand rails. We intended to rejoin the Stradun along the way, but kept rising higher and higher with no obvious safe way down.
The path wound higher and higher
Peering into the locals back gardens
We certainly got a feel for how the locals live, peering into their tiny patios, walking along winding pathways and photographing greenery that seemed to sprout from stone walls in the Mediterranean climate. When
At last, an almost safe way down.
I’d nearly given up hope, we came to a passageway that had reasonable steps and a wall I could hold onto and part way down, tradesmen were at work. If I slipped, they would hopefully catch me.
Back on the main drag, we celebrated with ice creams and headed to the city gate for a return bus ride. I’d forgotten about my concerns with the date and we were looking forward to the second of a series of talks on the History of the Mediterranean by Michael Tunks, an Australian lecturer who seemed to be a combined philosopher, historian, geologist, and modern day Renaissance man. More about him and his lectures later.