Footloose in DUBROVNIK

Trip Start Sep 01, 2004
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Flag of Croatia  , Dubrovačko-Neretvanska,
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Again with low cost flights, more and more holidaymakers are returning to our recommended European maritime resort with such a turbulent history: Once part of the Venetian empire, it fought off the Ottomans, yet later let Napoleon's troops in. Croatia then became part of Yugoslavia after WW1, and struggled free in 1991. The city has its fair share of earthquakes too! Don't let this put you off... it's absolutely stunning! 

Dubrovnik old town is accurately described as "Pearl of the Adriatic". Usually seen only as a historic beach resort, it nevertheless makes a great destination at the end of a pleasant day's walk. But temperatures get high here on the Adriatic coast and May or September are perhaps the best months to walk, and hotel rates are lower. The summer months are for sunbathing really. We make a 7 Km trail from Gruz Harbour, through the resort of Lapad then on to the amazing walled city of Dubrovnik. We end up on the island of Lokrum  with suberb coastal views. Watch our video

FILMING DIARY IN DUBROVNIK 
Dubrovnik is a jewel - it really is.  When your airport shuttle bus takes you around the corner on the coast road and you get your first glimpse of it, it is breathtaking.  It disappears again with the bends in the roads, and then there it is again, and now you are ready for it.  I had seen the photographs of those tightly-packed terracotta roofs against that gorgeous sea, like most people, for years, but somehow you can't quite believe that it really is as beautiful as the photos - believe it.  I was excited about the coming shoot - Maja in the Tourist Office had done a great job and we were all set with our interviews - the sun was shining, the sea was perfect, what could go wrong?  Well, the worst possible thing really.  Dave lost his passport.  On the first day, right there in the bus turnaround, just outside the city walls.  Must have been there, as we didn't discover it until we had taken another bus and arrived at our hotel in Lapad.  Through the bus windows we saw the new harbour - Gruz - and in it one of the restored Argosy galleons in full sail - what a magnificent sight it was - all you needed was the cannons blazing and you could be right back in the Ragusan Empire days.  Except they didn't have diesel buses.  They did have Police Stations then, complete with dungeons, but we stayed on the ground floor of the one we had to go to, to report the loss of the passport.  We could have made an entertaining short documentary in the Police Station alone.  We sat on plastic chairs against the wall in the lobby, opposite the glassed-in office, speaking not one word of Croatian, and waited our turn.  An altercation was taking place (in the lobby) which seemed to have captured the attention of every police officer in the place.  A man and a woman, plus another man in sports gear, were fiercely arguing, apparently referee'd by a policeman who bore more than a passing resemblance to the Hood in Thunderbirds, surrounded by no less than five other policemen at any one time.  Everyone smoked, the Hood nodding sagely a lot of the time, and as the spectating policemen ebbed and flowed, each in turn would add their comments, watched in fascination by us and boredom by the desk officer, behind the glassed-in counter.  Eventually the Hood threw down his cigarette dramatically, ground it out with the heel of his shoe, and then spoke at length and presumably eloquently, with attendant hand gestures.  No-one interrupted, and then the five policemen wandered off, the man and the woman and the sportsman trailed off, and the bored policeman at the desk put his cigarette out, got up and came out of his office and approached us to ask in perfect English what we wanted. We met Maja at the cafe on Luza Square - it has been a meeting place in Dubrovnik for decades, and everyone knows it.  From the terrace you can watch the steady stream of people strolling the shiny pavement of the Stradun.  Maja was a mature professional, and had that easy efficiency that only decades in her profession and skin can achieve, so we planned the interview with her boss the next morning, and she commiserated with us over the loss of the passport, and instantly organised an appointment with the Honorary British Consul in Dubrovnik, Sara.  The thing about Dubrovnik Old Town is that it is an inhabited monument, so everyone knows everyone else (like Venice, its main maritime rival).  Sara was a seasoned professional as well, and once she and Dave discovered a mutual employment history at the BBC, we spent a very enjoyable hour reminiscing about live TV and the behind-the-scenes experiences.  Both Sara and Maja were convinced the passport would be handed in, so although Maja arranged for Dave to have passport photos taken and he filled in paperwork, Sara said she would not issue the temporary passport until the end of the week, to give it time for it to be handed in.  Knowing this was unlikely we left the Consulate and determined to put it behind us and concentrate on the job in hand.  We did a recce of the town.Next morning it was windy - fairly sunny but very windy.  The spot where we had chosen to do the interview was perfect to show the harbour as a backdrop to our speaker, who only had an hour.  There was no time to move to somewhere else, so we interviewed poor Jelke, the Director of Tourism in Dubrovnik, in something just short of a howling gale.  Then we were free to let loose with the camera.  If you do nothing else in Dubrovnik, you should traverse the city walls.  They are totally intact, and the views are panoramic and wonderful.  The sea is so clear, so blue (almost turquoise) and you can lean on a parapet and just sink into the history of the place.   Although no longer called Ragusa, or an independent maritime Republic that rivalled Venice, the sense of being in a unique place is really there.The Restoration after the Homeland War in the early nineties is superb, flawless even, and it was meant to be.  Whereas Wawel Castle in Krakow decided to leave its repairs visible, Dubrovnik has restored and replaced almost completely without sign.  The patina on the old roof tiles cannot be immediately reproduced, of course, but the masonry has been re-sculpted and replaced seamlessly.  We spent a fascinating several hours with the Director of the Institute for Restoration - Mrs. Jemo - learning about how and why the restoration was so exact.  St. Blaize, the patron saint of the city, was always painted with a model of the city in his hands, which served as a perfect blue-print for the city fathers when they re-constructed the city after the first earthquake in 1667, 1979 and after the Homeland War in 1991.  The Croatians' pride in their city is not just civic duty, it is really heartfelt.  They can become misty-eyed talking about it and the longer you are exposed to it, the more you feel protective of it too.  The city is spotless; a lot of people smoke but there are no cigarette butts squashed on the shiny pavement, no litter.  Children whizz about on their bikes and play football where they can, and only seem to appear at dusk, rather like Venice, when the cruise ship tourists have left and they can take back their city for themselves.  There are a lot of cruise ships; if you get four or five anchored in either harbour, that could mean 20,000 people throughout the day disgorging into a pocket-sized medieval city.  There are plans afoot to try to limit the number of ships arriving in a day to three, which should help the congestion.  But if it is busy in the city, there are other places to go - we walked from Lapad, and although part of the walk is beside the road, lots of it isn't and there are few tourists on secluded beaches.  Lapad is frequently served by buses (we used numbers 4 and 6) and there are always taxis, as well as Shank's pony.  The beaches are nice, and there are always boat trips to the islands.  In fact, taking one is a good way to get a perspective on the city walls - from the sea, they look impregnable, and you can imagine how important that image was to medieval mercenaries who fancied their chances on a raid. We were wrong - Sara and Maja were right; the passport was handed in (has to be the most honest city we've ever been to) and we made another trip to the same Police Station to retrieve it.  On the way, I heard the first hint from Dave that the losing of the passport might just conceivably be my fault (as I was holding the offending jacket between buses), which I hotly disputed, probably to anyone who spoke English's amusement.  The Police Station clearly is the setting for spirited debate.  On our last day (still speaking) we took a boat trip to the island of Lokrum, and climbed the hill to the ruin of the Napoleonic tower (it was Napoleon who gained entrance to the city through trickery, and then promptly abolished the Republic) to look back on the city from the old harbour side.  I know it's been said before, but it really is the Pearl of the Adriatic.

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