We arrived yesterday under less than ideal circumstance. We hadn’t slept much for two days. As the previous post shows, it was a difficult transit to get to Croatia. We arrived, and while waiting on the bus to take us to town, torrential rains started. Lucky for me they had good coffee at the airport which was enough to get me to town.
As the bus from the airport carried us closer to Dubrovnik, the weather began to break. The rain quit, and every now and then, the sun came out. Our bus dropped us at the Pile (pronounced pee-luh) gate to the old city, near to where we were staying. We had rented a small apartment for the two nights we would be in Dubrovnik. The views where we arrive are awe inspiring. I can’t tell you how gorgeous this place is.
Rugged rock mountains drop straight off into a turquoise blue sea that is so clear you can see the rocks on the bottom. It is a fairy tale city was built on these mountains. The old town area where we are staying is a walled city. The walls were started in the early middle ages and were added onto over time. They now surround the entire old town area and you can walk along the top of them (over a mile around).
I’ve mapped out where we’re staying and we start walking to it. The best comparison I can muster is that the city is Venice hung on a wall. Or maybe the old town of Barcelona, but you have to be on a stairmaster to navigate it. Narrow pedestrian only “streets” run up and down the steep mountains. While Amsterdam and Venice are cities of canals, Dubrovnik is a city of steps. And you’re going to be climbing a lot of them, no matter where you go. But it’s worth it.
We climb and climb and climb, probably ten stories to get to our apartment entrance. We are met by the rental folks at Scalini Apartments, who let us in and show us around. It is a cute little apartment with a queen size bed in a large loft with closets and a glass rail looking down on the lower floor. Flat screen tv, small kitchen, full bath, fast internet. We love the place….and are quite happy to be in a place that we will be in for a few days.
We drop our packs, sit for just a short while to “recover”. It’s been a rough couple of days. We eventually catch our breath and unpack a little. We gather our “wandering around stuff” (maps, cameras, etc.) and start out to investigate this visually enticing place. We look across the red clay tile roofs of the town and start DOWN the steps this time!
We arrive at the main street in old town. We begin to wander and find a small square with booths set up for a Christmas market. The booths have local sausages, drinks, sweets, olive based products (big around here), and many Christmas treats. We order sausages and drinks and just take things in. Most of the people here are locals and they are a colorful and fun bunch. I loved the sausages but Laurie wasn’t as keen on them as I was .
We continue to wander this maze of a city, that we find is covered in cats. Yes….REAL cats. They are everywhere and there seem to be hundreds and hundreds of them. They are all strays, but the locals love them. They put out food for them. They’re all well fed and most seem to be quite healthy. They are also surprisingly tolerant of people petting them and tourists picking them up. They are as much a part of Dubrovnik as the people that live there.
We stroll the areas at the base of the city walls, right on the sea. Boats bob at moorings in the small boat basin area and even during winter, the occasional tour boat runs. While I have never seen Game of Thrones, I do understand that they film some of it here, and I can certainly see why. The whole place looks like a castle and it’s not fake…..it’s the real deal. I can easily see why it was chosen as a backdrop. The place just has a “real” feel to it. We watch the sun set on the Adriatic…..and yes. It’s beautiful.
We opt for a pizza place for dinner. Laurie has a pasta and I have a pizza, and both were exceptionally good. We’ve found that the food here is not cheap, but it’s not expensive either. I would say the prices are on par with where we are from when eating in a nice restaurant, and the quality is probably much higher. Nearly everything is fresh and from local ingredients, with a heavy emphasis on seafood and olive oils. Lots of savory spices, wonderful baked good, excellent local wines.
We have found the people here to be some of the most friendly we’ve encountered in our travels. Everyone is smiling and engaging. They all seem that they sincerely want to help or take care of you. I had my “hustler” radar up and this place is taking the edge off of it. They’re genuine, like to talk, like to give advice, and like to help you find your way. There doesn’t seem to be the animosity towards visitors here that we’ve seen in a few other places. Almost all speak English and communication is easy. The locals are simply wonderful.
We finish out our day in a tiny Dubrovnik pub. Laurie has green tea and I have a coffee, badly in need of caffeine to keep me going. We haven’t recovered from the travel and problems at all and it’s way too early in the evening to fall asleep. We go to Tinel, a café/winebar just down from our apartment. It is in a basement area of a building with the old vaulted brick ceilings. God knows how old the place is.
We browse the internet on our phones while enjoying our coffee/tea. Three locals are enjoying beers and each other’s company in a corner. The bartender is playing Croatian music and the three guys start to sing along. I survey the room, looking at the people, listening to them sing, sitting with my wife and sipping fantastically good European coffee. It is a perfect travel moment, simple, and nothing incredibly distinct, but one you will remember forever. It just FELT special.
Today, we were in a bit better shape. I’m not fully back to normal but 8 hours of sleep got me a bit closer to normal. We had a simple breakfast of fresh bread, cream cheese with chives, and a local smoked beef product, sort of like prosciutto in our little apartment. When we’re done, we head to the entrances to the city wall, with plans to walk the top of the walls around the entire old town area.
We buy our tickets, which weren’t cheap…but like the food here, they weren’t terribly expensive either. It was around $23 U.S. dollars per person, and it turns out the views were incredible. We walked the top of the walls with incredible views of the city and of the sea. Dubrovnik has many islands around it which make the coastline incredibly beautiful, and the top of the wall gives a great view of this.
After the city walls, we decide we will ride the cable car up the mountain above town. The mountain was the last line of defense in the war and was hotly contested. Once it was overrun, the invaders sat on top the mountain and shelled the city, putting it under siege. It was the perfect place to rain down artillery, mortars, and sniper fire on the people below. We walk the few blocks to the cable car with the intention of heading up the mountain.
In front of the cable car was a taxi. The taxi driver spoke to me and said that he would take us to where the cable car goes, as well as a few other stops along with a narrated tour with great views for 340 kuna. I looked at Laurie and said “The cable car for both of us is 300 right?” I was just asking for information so I could think about this and the cabbie immediately said “okay…..I’ll do 300”. Sold buddy. Let’s go.
The cab driver’s name was Mateo and he grew up in the Dubrovnik area. Like everyone else we have met from Croatia, he was animated, fun, interesting, incredibly friendly and helpful. We rode up narrow mountain roads while Mateo told us stories about the area, the places we were seeing, local history, and the war.
Mateo lived through the war. He was around ten years old and told us how his family was driven out of a nearby small town on the outskirts of Dubrovnik where they lived. The town was invaded by hostile soldiers who burned, looted, and killed with impunity. He told us about his family abandoning their home and riding in an armored transport vehicle to the city of Dubrovnik. He spoke of hearing the bullets hit the hull of the armored vehicle as they traveled through hostile areas. He said at the time he was a child and didn’t fully understand how dangerous this was. His family wound up living in tents somewhere in Dubrovnik.
The city was shelled from above and when you look down on the city, you will see old roofs mixed with new roofs. The new roofs are in areas that were bombed or shelled. When walking through the city, you can at times see places where there were bullet holes and divots where ordinance had hit buildings. You can also see where walls were rebuilt and from time to time, things that could not be fixed.
A random sales pitch from a cab driver at a city attraction changed our entire trip. Mateo was fantastic and worth every penny. I told Laurie that we weren’t paying for the cab ride, but the stories. And the stories were priceless. If you are in Dubrovnik, you can contact Mateo for cab rides or tours. You can reach Mateo at firstname.lastname@example.org or mateotaxidubrovnic.com. This guy will hook you up and he’ll really make your trip something special. He certainly did ours.
We dropped by the apartment to rest for a while then headed out for dinner. We had a fantastic dinner at a restaurant called “Pupo” in old town. All I can say was “eat here.” I had an incredible steak and Laurie had fresh fish. Dinner was wonderful. After dinner, we took in the Christmas lights, had another coffee at Tinel, and headed back.
Tomorrow we head to Mostar, several hours away by bus. After the shakeup at Gatwick on the way here, our experiences have taken a much nicer turn. There are a lot of photos today as this place is too fantastic to describe…..I just have to show you. We haven't even left and I already want to come back.
Dubrovnik slide show. You don't want to miss this.