On the Gatwick Express
Arriving in Europe:
Generally speaking we have developed our separate strategies for dealing with jet lag and the transition to the time difference that works for each of us. I don’t really do anything special except take some melatonin on the plane and try and get at least 4 hours of sleep after they give dinner and before they wake us up for breakfast (such as it is). Note to self – don’t drink the free wine on the plane.
I also can have a lot of trouble with bloating on long flights. So I didn’t feel at all well when I woke up and it took a while once we landed to get my system in some semblance of being okay. Then we planned to get to the airport and check into the hotel and crash at a fairly early time, since we had a 6:30 flight the next day.
Bill plans for as many contingencies as he can, but drone attacks on the airport were not in his play book. Needless to say, we didn’t get the sleep we needed, and it has taken a toll on us both. But I am so grateful we had the hotel and that we got out on time the next morning. So many people have been stranded for days. We were extremely fortunate.
From the wall, around Dubrovnik
Our first day in Dubrovnik was definitely an acclimatization day – but we still managed to get a feel for the city. Our wanderings were more aimless than usual. We usually divide up the research and planning for our trips. Bill gets us there, arranges accommodations, navigates once we are in our place. I research ahead of time what I want to see, prioritizing sites so if we run out of time I hit the high lights at least.
While there are some things I like to do like art museums, he has no difficulty entertaining himself for the 2 or so hours I might be in one. It also give us a little break from each other. So usually we do more on our first day in a place than we did this trip but it worked out.
The attractions in Dubrovnik center around the Old Town inside the wall. It is the only fully walled city in Europe. The city was delightfully empty of crowds because it is winter. The weather was cool and cloudy but we lucked out with no rain. The draw back to winter here is that things are only opened limited hours, and some are closed for the season.
One place I really wanted to see that we didn’t get to was the Jewish museum. It can be pricey to get into some of the attractions like museums and galleries so if this is of interest it is worth it to get the Dubrovnik card. It can be cheaper if you plan to do enough of the major attractions.
Cafes are everywhere
The Old Town is easy to navigate, beautiful to wander. There was a small Christmas Market that got going after dark. There is a culture here of eating and drinking outside so nearly all the restaurants have outside seating, some with heaters but all with blankets. This is probably because EVERYONE smokes which isn’t allowed inside most places. Lingering over drinks or a meal is a common past time. Food is not cheap but our meals were very tasty. The Croatians are a very social people and seemed to gather in groups to linger over coffee or drinks.
We walked the whole top of the wall. The views were amazing and the history of Dubrovnik is all there if you pay attention. This city has been occupied by various forces practically since its inception. The Ottomans, Napoleon, the Nazis – just to name a few. So the local view of the war was that is was a war of independence. The destruction of the city was evident in the different colors of the roof tiles and wall stucco. I can’t imagine being caught in such a brutal conflict.
The cross on the mountain, commemorating the war dead
Bill wrote about our time with Mateo, the cab driver. He was eager to tell us about his experiences in the war and explain how many lives were lost, property destroyed and lives altered forever. This whole region is still enmeshed with the memories of those times. They are a hardy people and these villages are carved out of stone hillsides.
We sometimes pick a place we like and go back for coffee, a drink or a meal. ‘Our’ place was a little place where the bar tender played a radio station with popular Croatian music. The patrons and he sang along with great gusto. On our return visit he remembered us and supplied me with my tea, honey and lemon with little prompting. That seemed typical of how accommodating and friendly these people are.
As a ceramic artist, I am drawn to textures and patterns. The patterns of the rooftops, paving stones and stonework in general was quite lovely. It makes the ordinary buildings into something much more visually interesting. I also have a thing about photographing laundry. It is the one activity we all partake in, and shows that there are regular people living regular lives everywhere we go.
Another Dubrovnik rooftop
While we wandered the shopping areas I ventured into an embroidery shop. The fellow in there greeted me with a joke that he was just the slave laborer, his wife was the creator of all the items in the shop. Amid a great deal of humor, he explained how each piece was designed and made by his wife and her family, and that the different prices reflected the complexity of the designs.
His wife, he said, was a master embroiderer and his niece was her apprentice. The designs were beautiful and all traditional forms. I asked him what was the deal with all the cats in the city. He said “we like cats…and dogs…and pigeons..and most people”. I will say, the people seem to all get along as do the animals. There was no fighting between dogs and cats, cats and birds, cats and cats.
Durbovnik really is a lovely little city and if we were to go back, it would be fun to venture outside the old town. As we drove away on the bus the entire city seemed to be very clean, well cared for with little evidence of the war having been rebuilt. The ‘New’ town, outside the city walls, is quite picturesque in itself. I felt very safe there, and wouldn’t hesitate to go there as a woman alone.
Mostar is about as different from Dubrovnik as Key West is from Detroit. Entering Mostar, and Bosnia itself, reveals a country that is still recovering from a devastating war. Dubrovnik has always been a tourist destination because of its beauty, old world quaintness and beaches. Mostar does not have that same drawing card and so hasn’t attracted the kind of money it takes to rebuild to the extent that Dubrovnik has.
The people here seem to live simple lives, in simple accommodations surrounded by reminders of how it was not long ago. Buildings have been left in ruins, riddled with bullet and mortar holes. It gave me a much more upfront and personal understanding of what it must have been like to live through a war in your own city. I feel so lucky that I have never had to experience personally anything like this level of uncertainty and violence.
Bombed out building
Given all that, the old city and the Stari Most bridge are quite charming and seems to be where a lot of the reconstruction effort has been made. They want tourists and visitors to come to their city. The food was wonderful, and so much less expensive than Dubrovnik. People are friendly and I had a nice chat with a young woman at a stall in the market about her city and her life here. Everyone takes Euros, unlike Dubrovnik and signs are in English.
Bill has already written about Mustafa. He invited us into his little coffee shop and had no issues with telling us how wonderful Yugoslavia used to be, and how sad he is that it no longer is the paradise he remembers. He defined civilization as a collective respect and tolerance for beliefs other than your own.
Looking up the river from Stari Bridge
This is how he remembers his country before the war. I like his definition of civilization. He spoke of people being sheep, and of lacking the ability to think for themselves and stand up to governments who want to dictate what is best for the people. He went on for some time about how important it is for us to put down our phones and have real conversations, to stop and take the time to drink coffee and talk to each other.
He was not a fan of big companies that influence the government going so far as to tell us what is good to eat. He described it as ‘another brick in the wall’ – Pink Floyd. Who would have thought a Bosnian would reference Pink Floyd. He was a JFK fan and said he was the last president to promote understanding between people – not sure that is entirely true but was an interesting perspective.
We visited a mosque that is open to the public. It was really interesting as I have never been in a mosque. This one was very simple and very old. I thought it also really interesting that there is a fountain outside very mosque to hand washing. There are a lot of similarities apparently with Jewish customs. The practice of Islam here seems to be, for the most part, a very peaceful practice. Since religious tolerance is the hallmark of this area, it was awesome to hear the call to prayer from the mosques followed by the ringing of the church bells.
Turkish baths museum
We also went in a Turkish bathhouse museum. Turkish bathhouses were a big deal in the Ottoman days and a whole ritual surrounded going to the baths. There were special urns used to carry the water, food containers, soaps, towels and scrubbing sponges.
The people here have lived through so much, and have come so far with few resources. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that and for their openness and hospitality. I look forward to Sarajevo and more of Bosnia.
Laurie's photos! Mostar, Dubrovnik