Dubrovnik

Trip Start Jul 01, 2007
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13
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Trip End Nov 25, 2007


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Flag of Croatia  ,
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The bus journey to Dubrovnik takes about 3 1/2 hours (but feels much longer)and is tiresome and hot - there seems to be no system of fresh air or air-cpnditioning.
I lie down on the back seat trying to sleep, and also read - in the guidebook it describes the traditional ritual of wine drinking in Croatia. The first phase is Docekusa - before any wine is consumed you drink some spirits as an aperitif (rakija, similar to grappa, or other), this is followed by Razgovorusa, during which you chat while consuming at least 7 glasses of wine, and the final phase is Putnicka (leave-taking), when you drink more as everybody says their final farewells. For a short part of the trip you go through Bosnia-Hercegovina.
We are met at the bus station by Miho, our host, on a motor scooter and our taxi follows him up the hill to our apartment above where he and his parents live. We have an apartment with a spacious terrace overlooking the modern part of Dubrovnik - from one end of the terrace we can see the busy port and straight ahead we look out over houses built on the side of a mountain - at night it's like an amphitheatre full of lights.
In the late afternoon we head for the Stari Grad (Old City), which is built on a promontory and completely surrounded by walls. Most of the city was built in the 1100 and 1200's and it is surprisingly small, considering that it was an the head of an independent republic almost into the 1900's. It is estimated that the population numbered around 10,000 at most. While the rest of the Dalmatian coast was under the rule of the Venetian Republic from around 1400 to 1800 Dubrovnik remained an independent state.
The whole city is built from the local stone and the pavements are polished to an incredible smoothness by the millions of feet that have walked on them. Although the actual city is very beautiful it is being loved to death, and unfortunately it has almost been completely overtaken by mass tourism and is full of shops selling trinkets and restaurants with identical menus. One night Alicia and I have meat platter for 2 (Alice is a vegaquarian - vegetarian that eats seafood), which turns out to be a giant platter of meat of all sorts, which eventually stops us in our tracks.
After a number of early nights (well at least for me - went to bed by midnight for 4-5 nights in a row), my body is starting to feel deprived of lack of sleep (yes, that's what I meant), and I start waking up very early.
On our first full day we catch a ferry to Lopud island nearby. The port area is the standard fare of tourist shops and identical restaurants and bars, and we leave and walk a couple of kms to the small beach at Sunj. It is very different to other places we have swum - there is fine white sand, open air bars and restaurants with thatched roofs, and a laid-back atmosphere. There is a stiff breeze which has whipped up some waves and I even manage to do a bit of body surfing. I have 'fried little fish' for lunch. One end of the beach is reserved for nudists.
That night, back in Dubrovnik, we sit out on our balcony watching the glowing lights across the valley while eating a little feast we have made of tinned sardines and mackerel.

I need to insert a small aside here, as the next couple of days were spent touring Montenegro, Mostar and Medugorje in a hire car, for which I have made a separate entry in the travel blog.

We pick up the story on Friday, 29th September, when Alicia is leaving us to visit relatives in England. We drop her off around midday near the bus station, then head off for the Peljesag Peninsula, which begins about 40kms north of Dubrovnik.
As we head in to the town of Ston at the beginning of the peninsula we pass by many mussel and oyster farms, and we salivate at the thought of eating them fresh by the sea, so we buy a dozen at a roadside stand and eat them on a bench overlooking the sea from blue plastic plates. They are light as a feather and slip down like silk.
After the oysters (unfortunately we didn't have the foresight to bring champagne) we have a swim at the small sand beach at Prapatno, where we see the woman with the longest legs in Croatia (of which there seem to be a disproportionate amount in this country), with her handsome husband and child.
After an afternoon sleep on the beach we continue on - the road is very scenic, climbing up and down hills, crossing from one side of the peninsula to the other and back again, and passing many vineyards.
The most famous wines of Croatia are made here - Posip, a dry, full-flavoured medium gold-coloured white wine, and Dingac, a dry flavoursome red made from Plavac Mali grapes (cousins to Zinfandel, also known as Primitivo in Italian). I buy an excellent Dingac from the Grgric vineyard (he has sold out of Posip).
We have read about a tiny village on the coast called Podobuce that has 30 inhabitants, and a restaurant that can seat 20 people. We decide to try and find it and have dinner there. It is dusk by the time we get there over a single lane road hugging the cliffside. We reach a spot where we can't go any further by car and walk down to the village, which is built around a tiny bay.
The only evidence of a restaurant seems to be a terrace with a few tables on the other side of the inlet. When we reach it we sit down and an old lady comes over and speaks in Croatian to us and we can't make out what she's saying and we can't make ourselves understood, so we walk over to the next table where they are eating whole grilled fish, a potato salad and a tomato salad, and point to it and the lady understands we want the same.
A half litre of thin, vinagery wine and a basket of bread is quickly brought and we watch a beautiful sunset while waiting for our food. It feels like the remotest restaurant on earth - it's just a concrete terrace built on the rocks, ramshackle tables and chairs, a few cats, and a lady who can't speak a word of English waiting on tables and cooking (we find out later her husband, who normally is the front of house, is out picking the last of their grapes from their vineyard). Eventually a relative who is holidaying with them, and who has been dragooned into service, comes over and he can speak a little English. We have a delicious meal (including what seems like about 2kgs of very garlicky potato salad) and get back to Dubrovnik very late at night.
The next day, our last day in Dubrovnik, we spend several hours walking around the city walls, which is beautiful and fascinating. We have seen people sunathing and swimming on the rocks outside the walls below, so in the late afternoon we find the hole in the wall and go out and swim and sunbake ourselves and watch the sun go down.
We meet a young couple, D, who is from the US and is in the army, stationed in Germany, and his girlfriend S, who is German. He's only 20 but has been in the army for a couple of years. He has been to Iraq and was injured - he disagrees with the war but says if he has to go back he will be more trigger-happy than before. We go to the 'best' pizza restaurant in Dubrovnik and have an enlightening and bizzare conversation (at least for Alice and I), and he and I share the house special, a bizzare pizza with melted blue vein cheese and prosciutto . He is a corporal, I think (I can't remember exactly), and is in charge of a number of men, some of whom are 35. He says he rules their lives eg he can make them do push-ups until they drop, for minor infractions - because he can. He tells us about the massive drinking binges on weekends and says he doesn't like living in the US and would like to move to Europe. What makes it all the weirder is he is so young and affable - I have a son who is 2 years older and it's so strange to me that this young man has been injured in Iraq, orders around men who are nearly twice his age, and binge drinks virtually every weekend.
I only hope I haven't made this sound too attractive to my son :)
After this very interesting experience we say goodbye to Miho and his family next morning. Miho proudly shows us around the extensions they are building, including his own living quarters and additional apartments. It really is very nice staying with a family, rather than a hotel. Miho's father, Pietro loved coming around every morning to say hello and have a little chat with me in his half-forgotten Italian.
We trundle down to the port and board the ferry for the island of Hvar, where we will spend the next few days.
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