Dubrovnik - Croatia
Saving the best, until last
10th to 15th October, 2019

Having seen a plethora of old towns and walled cities since we first got to Europe in June, we weren't sure how it would go in Dubrovnik. We'd planned to meet a couple of good friends from Norway, while we were there. It was a good last chance to see them, and a potential distraction in case Dubrovnik proved to be a gong-show. We needn't have worried. Dubrovnik was, if there were such a thing, the perfect walled city. The few days we spent there were relaxing and fun.

Dubrovnik old town
The Ultimate Walled City
We'd started our time there by going on a trip to Mostar and spent the days afterward exploring the streets of the old town, or climbing up the hill to the Imperial Fort (Utvrda Imperial) for a view and some exercise. The zig-zagged path was easy, but the heat of the morning slowed us up. A herd of cows had adopted the same pace, despite the attempts of the local guy to hurry them along.

Dubrovnik was built for pedestrians. Narrow stairs climbed up from the busy roads to link narrow, quiet alleyways that traversed the steep hillside. It was a hell of a place to build a city, and they'd done a good job of it. The lowest roads hugged the edge of high cliffs. Walking the pavements or along the city wall gave an uninterrupted view out to the horizon, or straight down forty metres to the clear sea washing against rocks.
It's perfection made it impossible to contemplate how someone could bomb it but, like the Mostar bridge during the last war, bomb it they did. From certain places the enormous damage to some buildings was still visible, although a lot had been rebuilt to the point you'd never know it happened.

Our AirBnB had a great location, only a hundred meters or so from the Pile Gate. The guy who cleaned the place between guests wasn't so good, though. The place was nothing like the pictures or description on the web, and was pretty grubby. We had to get down and scrub the worst of the mould and grime before the Norgies arrived. We sent a message to the host and he ended up giving us a good discount on our stay. I imagine his cleaner got a bollocking.
We met R & M off the airport bus on our third evening with a grand plan that would have worked perfectly, if the bus stop hadn't changed. It gave us a bit of exercise, and them the chance to enjoy a beer in the warm evening, while they waited for us. Once we were all ensconced and the kveldsmat (a Norgie word meaning "evening food") laid out, it was like having the family over.

I would love to have seen Dubrovnik before it was built up to the level it is now. I couldn't tell if the seaward side had been a narrow spine of rock, or an island. Either way, going through the west-facing Pile Gate was like stepping into a huge bowl, with the buildings climbing up on either side. The streets to landward had deceptively steep steps, joining more narrow lanes that ran across the hill.

The main street from the gate was broad, straight and smoothly-polished. On the southern side, lanes and alleys spread in a more chaotic profusion, linking here and there before stopping at the outer wall.

Main Street
Complete with bustle
Not Competitive
“Of course, it wasn't a competition, but I enjoyed kicking A & M's butts regardless."

Main Street
Quiet enough in the off-season
There were only two ways up onto the wall, and we paid the 200kn privilege to get up there and see the view. The walls made a two kilometre circuit. Sometimes wide easy to travel, sometimes narrow and steep, with a low parapet the only thing stopping you falling thirty meters onto rocks. Not being a fan of exposed places, I shuffled along in those spots, looking straight ahead.

The wall showed a completely different perspective of the city, running above streets we'd already walked, oblivious that we'd been right underneath it. Outside the wall in a couple of places, people with more adventurous natures leapt from the rocks into the sea. The height wasn't as much as the bridge in Mostar, but was high enough. There were flips and spectacular leaps, and the occasional belly-flop.
To round off the trip on our last day, we rented a couple of double sea kayaks and paddled over to Otok Lokrum, a nearby island. A small inlet on the eastern end gave us a place to haul our boats out and have a swim. There was also the inaugural meeting (and first practise session) of the Kiwi-Adriatic synchronised swimming team.

The paddle back showed Dubrovnik from an interesting viewpoint, and gave the two crews a chance to see who was the better team. R was the perfect paddling companion and we quickly had ourselves sorted out. I had only paddled a double kayak once before, about twenty-five years ago. I only remembered that it was key to paddle in time. Of course, it wasn't a competition, but I enjoyed kicking A & M's butts regardless.
Another good thing about having the Norgies along was, being normal working folk, they were very motivated to make the most of their time away. We took ourselves back into the old town that evening for a last walk through the streets, before a final evening of talk and more kveldsmat.

It was easy to walk through the town, with the wall a controlling factor, ricocheting us back onto a different path. The lanes and stairs were empty and the evening still warm. We turned left or right at random, always finding a new and interesting nook or quiet doorway.

I can imagine all the disgusted Game of Thrones fans, hearing that that we didn't recognise (or be interested in) all those famous locations, but Dubrovnik existed quite well before Cersei Lannister stuck her nose in. The amount of merchandise for sale was nuts. I think we passed about ten copies of the Iron Throne in different shops, where you could sit and have your picture taken.

Avoiding the Night Watch T-shirts and Lannister goblets, we all made it to the airport in one piece having braved the bus queue, conveniently next to the gondola queue and the taxi rank. Not confusing at all.

Silent Night
Evening perambulations
Even without dragons or half-crazy platinum blondes, Dubrovnik was a place that could have sprung from mythology. The labyrinthine streets and alleys were fascinating, the warm evenings delightful, and the food was great. We're glad we saved it for last.
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