There isn’t going to be enough for me to write to make space for all the photos. And even if I did, you’d still not fully appreciate the city of Dubrovnik. It’s been on my bucket list sine 1990 when I almost got there via an adorable British girlfriend that had Yugoslavian connections. This was just before the whole country dissolved. Back then it wasn’t easy to travel to Dubrovnik as a Westerner.
Long after she had forgotten me (which wasn’t long) I still wanted to see Dubrovnik. Saddened to hear it’s near destruction in the Homeland war of 1991-92, I put it off my list for a while. Well Dubrovnik, here I am. 30 years later. And Dubrovnik you are magnificent.
Dubrovnik is like a lifesize toy city. From the first walk through the Ploce gate, to the shitty, expensive breakfast we are eating at a tourist trap restaurant, we are charmed. With endless solid limestone and fortress architecture; it’s the best example of a medieval walled city left in Europe.
Marco, the endearing Airbnb host, told us where the only grocery store is located. ‘Konzum’ (Consume) is only a hair larger than most NYC corner bodegas. We grab milk, water, bread, eggs, butter, corn flakes, bananas and a few packs of that thinly sliced buttery european cheese they like to eat for breakfast so much. Oh and a bottle of inexpensive French Sav Blanc for Amanda. Balkan wine, even ‘dry’ is way too sweet for her. (I’m not sure I would have cared.)
‘Which way to our apartment?’ I ask the fam. I get three different answers. Up those stairs? Around that church? Down that narrow alley? It’s pretty easy to not know where you are going in Dubrovnik, but it’s also pretty hard to get lost because it’s tiny.
Help from locals? Don’t hold your breath. There basically aren’t any aside from the waitstaff and store clerks. We hear that there are only about 1000 of them still inside the old city. Most have gone to the ‘suburbs’ nearby. Even that has only 43k residents
We were advised to get the groceries early this Easter weekend because of the holiday. Easter anywhere in the West can be quiet but Croatia is particularly conservative and religious. ‘Just get what you need first thing in the morning’ said Maro. The Airbnb is an adorable three level apartment. Basically it’s a spiral staircase with three rooms. The bottom is the kitchen, and then two bedrooms above. Amanda and I have a room with a skylight and can see a slice of ocean out the side window.
There’s no place to sit except beds, which is a little weird. But this isn’t someone’s home, it’s a permanently rented apartment for tourists – like most of the old city. That doesn’t matter. We don’t expect to be in the apartment much the next three days.
We give the girls a little money and split up. Amanda teases them about it being ‘Big girl time’. Emma is, of course, nearly 18 and Lily is precociously competent. So we don’t think twice about letting them go out on their own. Nonetheless Emma gets a little salty at the tease.
Amanda and I walk slowly to a restaurant called Nishta – which supposedly has vegetarian food. It’s in a long row of restaurants that Maro told us was to be avoided. Many don’t even have kitchens but pre-prepare the food and microwave it in the tiny back rooms. But he did say to try Nishta.
It’s cold and we are hungry so anything might have tasted good but we enjoy some of the best vegan food we have ever eaten internationally, much less in Croatia, a place we have struggled to eat.
The dahl with nan and felafel are hearty, warm and tasty. Over the next few days we visit a few times because it’s such a treat. Nishta means ‘Nothing’ in Croatian, which is clever since that’s probably exactly how most Croatians would describe the meatless dishes.
And we walk around through stairs and sidewalks, alleys and arches all over the whole town. Our pace is slow because we are talking through some difficult and sad topics that have been on our minds. It’s not a fight, but it’s difficult nonetheless.
It’s seems both fitting and surreal to walk through the ancient portals, up and down the historic staircases and shed a tear or two. Vacation isn’t ever perfect is it? Nothing is.
We’ve agreed to meet the girls back at the apartment at 4:30 to do the quintessential Dubrovnik activity – the city wall walk. ‘Lily, how is your spring break reading coming along?’ I ask when we arrive.
She does an alfred E Neuman face and says ‘I’ll be fine, bruh, I read enough chapters to make up something the teacher will like.’ I pass no judgement. I was the same student. ‘Okay, as long as you get a B in the class.’ She will get a B. I often didn’t.
Dubrovnik probably dates back to the 7th century AD by pre-Christian Greeks escaping the Slavic hordes from the north and the east. Whatever the exact origen, it quickly grew in size and strength. Under Byzantine rule for the Middle ages and then Venice until the mid 14th century, it was mostly inhabited by Romans. In 1358 it was given self-rule as long as it could pay tribute to the states that controlled it – Hungary and the Ottomans. And it could because it was a very successful maritime trading port and fleet and an educated aristocracy that were skilled diplomats.
We pay our 360Kun (about $60) for the four of us and begin the 3 mile walk around. It’s astounding. There are ancient church steeples, fortress like corners and embankments, platforms for catapults. Round, rediculously heavy catapult stones! I can’t imagine lofting them into the air by any means.
The walls were finished mostly in the 1400s, but have been rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1600s that leveled the town and hastened its demise. And despite a complete demilitirization of the city in 1970, it was drawn in to the Balkan conflict of 91-92 and some of the wall was damaged.
The walls were clearly built organically. Each segment looks like it was conceived separately and connected like a kid would build legos. Somehow it still hangs together as a whole.
The weather isn’t great today. That’s not unusual for Spring in Europe. We don’t get any rain but the wind is gusting. It’s so strong we can lean forward into it and it almost keeps us up. Lily and Emma feel rattled. They weigh a lot less than me. Our hair in every photo is blowing wildly.
The Minceta tower is the tallest part of the old city, built to repel attacks from land. Below the tower is a parking lot where the moat used to be. It’s packed with cars. We descend the small stairs, after waiting for a few others to come down. I can’t imagine what it’s like on a nice day in July. This is a windy, and now rainy day in March!
The rain is just droplets and the forecast is to get worse – a lot of rain overnight. We could get dumped on at any moment. The view of the city from up here is so much fun, we all get that giddy feeling. Hair goes wild in the crosswinds again.
We’ve finished the side of the fort that is adjacent to the land. We approach the north corner, with the St. Larwence fortress on the rock overlooking the city. The sea smashes and pounds the rocks in the cove and the sky darkens. We are sure we are going to get slammed with rain but we hang out taking in the views. We just keep saying ‘This is amazing’ ‘This is amazing.
Just at dusk we end the tour, thrilled and a little wet. And then it rains. And rains. And rains. We stay in, eat pasta and laugh over the dinner table in our tiny AirBnB.
Amanda is glad she bought that bottle of wine earlier today and gets tipsy enough to make up a song about the yummy lunch and gelato she loved so much. I secretly videoed it and am saving it for the right time to show you all.