2018 Day 74 – Dubrovnik

It’s been a long time coming: we finally make it to the Dalmatian Coast today. Despite the relatively straight forward path, it’s a tricky set of border crossings. We come from Mostar, in Bosnia. It’s not far before we cross into Croatia, where most of the Dalmatian coast lays. There’s a small section of the coast though, that’s still Bosnian territory. We have to cross into it, and out again, to get to Dubrovnik. Within the space of 50 km, we go from Bosnia, to Croatia, back to Bosnia, then back to Croatia, with double crossings, out and in each way. Luckily, our papers are in order – the green card we purchased for Bosnia covers us for 7 days.

We pass Croatia’s citrus and olive orchards – an endless valley of plantings.

Our first sighting of the coast takes my breath away. It’s the azure blue so often spoken of, offset by dramatic grey mountains, islands aplenty and lush greenery.

Where land touches water it’s offset by a line of white stone and aquamarine shallows, nature’s perfect highlight.

I hang out the window and take as many photos as possible. Just as well. It’s only a short while before rain kicks in. The brilliant blues change to slate, the aquamarine edges are no more. Gutted.

The Dalmatian coast is one I’ve waited years to see. It was always too far away, or far too hot at the times available to us. I consult the weather gods, aka Google. Rain they say. Three days of it. Oh no! But there is a glimmer of hope, there’s a window of opportunity, this afternoon and early evening, where it will cease. Pinning at my hopes to this, Chris lead foots it into Dubrovnik.

Along the way there are things to marvel at despite the rain: signs for wild boar, complete with tusks,

a cruise ship the size of a several apartment blocks,

the sprawl of Dubrovnik beyond the old city, Chris’s memories of the city, 40 years ago. We arrive, settle and double time it to the bus: time is of the essence.

In no time all, we’re there.

Along with hundreds, nay thousands, of others. If this is off-peak, I shudder to think what the height of busy season might bring. The old city’s drawbridged Pile Gate and walls stand before us, a bastion against time and invasion.

Hold on Alice, I think we’re about to fall through time again. And yet.. it’s all so strangely familiar somehow – more on that later.

We battle our way in through the tour groups and walk the limestone Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main thoroughfare.

Branching off the Stradun on the right are small alleys full of apartments, shops and cafes. Likewise on the left, but with the addition of steep limestone stairs leading up into the hills.

My eyes are out on stalks, it’s quite overwhelming. The cafe culture is in full force here, but the city has kept its history intact. In the old city, buildings’ appearances are heavily regulated from the colour of green shutters can be painted,

the type of street lamps used and of course building materials. It gives the old city a rare uniform appearance and enhances Dubrovnik’s reputation one of Europe’s most intact medieval cities. Whilst it’s history goes back before Roman times, much of what we see today is the result of a 17th century rebuild following the 1667 earthquake which killed 2,500 people.

There’s so much to see, it’s sensory overload. There’s Onofrio’s Fountain, named for the architect who created the city’s water supply system.

We see Sponza Plaza, a 16th century palace, then customs house and mint, now home to state archives.

There’s Orlando Column: legend states that Orlando was a Knight who saved the city from pirates in the 8th century.

There’s the striking clock tower (no pun intended),

also 15th century, and the beautiful church of St Blaise.

We walk through to the old harbour, guarded by the Revelin and St John’s Forts on either side. I’m still a little overwhelmed by it all.

An attempt to go “off piste” goes a little awry – it’s very easy to get lost in the small side alleys.

It’s here though, that I finally work out why Dubrovnik looks so familiar. It’s the setting for many key scenes from Game of Thrones, including King’s Landing, the Red Keep, Cerci’s walk of atonement many sea and wall shots. What a perfect setting it makes, truly stepping back in time. Dragons would be quite at home here.

Having got lost, and finding ourselves with perfect weather, the question comes: what next? Storm the city walls, I declare. Chris is hesitant – are you sure? Um, hell yes. I’m not coming all this way and missing out on the city’s most famous feature. Up we go.

The city walls are an old world marvel. Built from the 12th to the 17th centuries, they cradle the city, standing 22 metre high and 6 metres thick. The walls have repelled centuries of attack, falling only to Napoleon in negotiation, in 1808. Covering a distance of just under 2 km and offering superb views over the city, sea, harbour and gorgeous terracotta roofs, they also offer an excellent workout – 2 km of punishing stairmaster, as added bonus.

I wouldn’t have missed this on any count but I’m so glad we’re not doing it in the rain. Apart from the spectacular views, it’s oh so very high up here. Slippery isn’t a factor I’d like to add. We stop midway for drinks with the best view in town.

There are a couple of tense moments when the walls either side are quite low, and there’s a brief hesitation before climbing to the top of the tower, the highest point, but I’m so glad we did.

You just can’t beat the views. I take several hundred photos, at least. It’s over all too soon and we climb back down to earth. What an absolute highlight. Now if that doesn’t deserve an ice-cream, I don’t know what does. Hazelnut, thanks.

I’m so grateful that the weather held. The rains show no sign of arriving, so I push my luck. We head for the Renaissance Bokar Fort (aka King’s Landing) to watch the sunset. The old city’s original harbour is below – it was soon outgrown and replaced with the confusingly named “old harbour” we saw earlier. Our wall tickets entitle us to tour the Fort, but it’s closed at this late hour. Instead I find purchase on a rocky outcrop and patiently click through the phases of the setting sun. It’s utterly lovely, and best of all, we have it all to ourselves.

I’m still not ready to go – the light is beautiful in twilight as the city wakes around us.

From outside the walls the Forts are backlit, and just to add to the old-world charm an extraordinary boat appears.

It’s very possible it’s a Game of Thrones set, yet to be CGI’d with its prow and menacing black sails.

I take the last of my twilight shots before we navigate the bus back.

It’s quite tricky at night, when all earlier landmarks are lost. We’re going out for dinner to a local restaurant, away from the tourist scene. It ends up being an excellent meal, bursting with local specialities. We try the Dalmatian air dried smoked ham, Prsut, with Pag, a salted sheep’s milk cheese considered to be the best in the country.

I have the best chevaps I’ve had yet, Chris a mixed grill, Croatian style.

I had my hopes pinned on a Babba’s (Grandmother’s) apple pie, but they’re out. A light as a feather limoncello mousse is a fine substitute. A local aniseed spirit, Rakija, ends what’s been a perfect day.

If you haven’t seen it, put Dubrovnik on your list. It’s utterly magnificent.

Today was the third anniversary of my father’s passing. How fitting that I spent it at one of our homeland’s jewels. I hope he made it here in his youth. I hope walked in his footsteps today, loving it as he would have.

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