Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Dubrovnik - Croatia

Our second departure from Stanstead airport and we were on our way across the channel, tracking over Germany, Austria and into Croatia. On our descent into Dubrovnik, the skies were clear and the views of the Dalmatian coast were stunning. Small villages nestled on the waters edge, a bit of beach here and there and a backdrop of mountains. These looked surprisingly quite dry and rather barren, but it didn't take away from the overall beauty of the area.

The warm air and sunshine was a welcome change from what we had left in England, where the sun of late has just been a pretence. We caught the shuttle bus from the airport and in no time had reached the coast. Our first impressions were of turquoise blue waters and pebble beaches, not sand, and then the impressive walls of the old town walls came into view. Dubrovnik harbour with lots of little boats bobbing around on their moorings and tourists boats coming and going - a hive of activity. What a pretty place.

There are 3 main gates into the walled town. Our shuttle bus dropped us at the Pile Gate - the main one where all the various tour sellers are vying for business. We made our way passed them, under the arch and into the old town where the streets are made of beautiful marble stone, all gleaming in the sunshine. We walked the length of the Stadun, the Main Street and found our way to the Ploce Gate which was the start of the road where our accommodation was located. A short 3 minute walk and just past Banje Beach we were at Franca Supila 27 - a lovely apartment overlooking the water across to the island of Lokram. It also had a lovely private garden for our use with resident tortoises and we just knew we would have to buy some local wine and spend the late afternoons there.

                          The view from the street outside our apartment in Dubrovnik

As it was still early in the day, our room wasn't ready, so after a refreshing glass of iced water and change into lighter clothing, we deposited our backpacks and headed back into the old town for our first real look at Dubrovnik. We spent the next few hours zig zagging our way through marble (hard limestone) paved squares, steep cobbled streets, tall houses, convents, churches, palaces and museums, all made from the same light-coloured limestone. The alleyways were filled with restaurants and cafes, again all touting for our business. There were buskers, men dressed as pirates with exotic birds - parrots, macaws and sulphur crested cockatoos on show, elderly women dressed in traditional Croatian costume selling various knock knacks and tourists everywhere.

                              The Stradun or Main Street with shining marble pavers.

                                                              Alleyway restaurants 

We made our way for a drink in the Buza Bar which we had read about, nestled into the cliff face and with an amazing view over the Adriatic. The sun was strong and we were finding the heat was taking its toll on us, so a cold beer was a welcome relief. After our pit stop, the remainder of the afternoon was spent walking, down around the harbour, up and down alleyways and climbing hundreds of steps. It was time to head back and officially check in, shower and change for dinner. Our hostess Emica had recommended a small bar/restaurant on a tiny beach only a short stroll out of town and away from the throngs of tourists. It was a lovely spot, the 163 steps down to the water just a continuation of what we had been doing all afternoon. The return trip a little slower with stops along the way to take in the view.

                                                   The small harbour of Dubrovnik

       The Buza Bar, cut into the cliff face and capitalizing on the view across the Adriatic.

              Dinner for 2 looking back along the coastline to the walled city of Dubrovnik

Next morning, we decided to purchase our Dubrovnik cards which gave us free entry to walk the walls of the old town, all museums and 10 free bus rides each. The trick is to get there early before the bus loads of tourists arrive, as the majority of paths are narrow and wide enough for only 1 person at a time. We knew it would be busy as 2 cruise liners had docked overnight and would be shuttling hundred of passengers ashore. It took about an hour to do the circuit, stopping to appreciate the views over the city and the Adriatic. We then caught a bus over to Gruz port where we will be catching the ferry in July to Bari in Italy, familiarising ourselves with the ticket office and the boarding procedures.

Clocking up the kilometres on foot, we headed across to Lapad where all the large hotel complexes are, and followed the path along the waterfront back towards Dubrovnik. By now the heat was really getting to us and decided the only way to cool down was with a dip in those turquoise waters. So with bathers, towels and flip flops, we headed down the 50 steps to Banje Beach, calf muscles strengthening with every step, across the stoney beach and into the water. To say it cooled us quickly was an understatement. To say it took our breath away was also one. To say it was almost a heart stopper was probably closer to the point - but we had our 'very quick' swim in the Adriatic. Stopping to purchase our wine and chips, we headed home to savour the view from our little garden, and thaw out in the warmth of the day.

    Pete with feet up enjoying a chilled wine and the view with the island of Lokram in the distance.

The next day was the trip to the top of Mount Srdj. The serpentine footpath takes about 90 minutes and zig zags its way up the mountain with amazing panoramic views over Dubrovnik. Pete had decided to walk both ways - up and down the path. I declined the uphill slog preferring to catch the cable car and meet him at the top, but was happy to do the return downhill route. So setting off at 7.00am before the day started getting too warm, he left me in bed to snooze an extra hour before I caught the first uphill car at 9.00am. Not being a fan of heights, it is always with trepidation that I climb into one of these things, but I must admit the trip itself was very quick -  413 meters in 3 minutes, and the quietest cable car I have ever been on. Then there was the view!!! Breathtaking doesn't really describe it.

  Pete after his long trek up to the top of Mount Srdj with the walled city of Dubrovnik behind.

At the top we visited the museum which told the history of Dubrovnik's War of Independence from 1991 - 1995. So recent yet we didn't know much about it, and it was interesting to learn the reason behind it - the Croatians wanting independence from Serbia. After viewing photos of the fighting, it is amazing that such relatively little damage was done to this beautiful city and thankfully what was done has been restored so that we can all enjoy it.

Once back in town, we grabbed bathers and towels and headed down into the harbour to catch the ferry across to the island of Lokram for a few hours. It is only a 15 minute trip and you arrive at a tiny harbour with aqua water surrounded by rich pine woods. The locals call it a treasure island as it contains natural swimming holes and has an grand historical heritage. Apparently Richard the Lionheart sheltered there on his return from the third crusade. Gravel paths criss cross the island through olive groves and tall straight pine trees with peacocks everywhere. One path leads up to the top of the island where the remains of an old fort offer views back across to Dubrovnik. Another leads to a 15th century Franciscan monastery where scenes from Game of Thrones were shot. There are no cars on the island, the only sounds are the lapping of water against the rocks and the call of the peacocks. 

                                       Pete inside the monastery on Lokram Island.

                                 The gravel paths and tall pine trees of Lokram Island.

       The Dead Sea swimming hole - said to be warmer tha the Adriatic but debatable !!!!

Our last night and we returned to the Buza Bar for a sundowners with a view. We started chatting with a couple from NZ - Marg and Derek, and ended up in one of the small alleyway restaurants off the Main Street, having a great meal with them and exchanging travelling tips for Europe. Always great to receive  info on places that you are yet to visit, and compare notes on where you have been. And half of the fun of travelling is the people you meet, some you know you will never see again and others who you feel there is every chance of crossing paths some time in the future.

As the sun set on our last evening in Dubrovnik and we made our way home, we had to take one last photo of the old town. We have never taken so many photos on our weekends away - around ever corner was another opportunity to try and capture the magic of this place. I had been here 35 years ago on a Contiki tour around Europe, and so glad that I had the opportunity to return and share it with Pete.

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