|Dubrovnik from the Lovrjenac Fortress|
Gatwick was the usual hubbub of travelling families, hen parties and (most avoidable) stag party crews, and the full flight to Croatia was distinguished by the extra-loud babbling of a dozen or two excitable English folk. It was the first time I've seen passengers stand in the aisle for almost the entire flight, so they could carry on their vital, and rather exuberant, conversations. Naturally, the correct behaviour for air travellers is to sit in their seats, unspeaking and unmoving, for the entire duration of the flight. Also: absolutely no eye contact.
After flying over the Alps and along the eastern coast of the Adriatic the A320 turned to land at the far southern tip of Croatia. The airport coach (35HRK, NZ$7) sweeps along the great cliffs above the famous walled city, affording passengers (particularly those sitting on the left side) a splendid view of the walled city of Dubrovnik glistening by the sea. Alighting at the city's Pile Gate in its western walls, I walked 1.5km up the long, sweeping main road to the city's YHA, where I was spending the night. If you're planning the same walk, be sure to have drinking water with you, as I did - or if you're feeling lazy, just take the bus up the hill.
After dropping my bag in my room and admiring the view from the top floor sun terrace, I ambled back down to the old town for a first look inside the city walls. Passing through the mighty Pile Gate and a narrow second gate into the city itself, the view immediately opens out into a splendid vista with the arrow-straight pedestrian boulevard of the Stradun dividing the city in two - formerly a Venetian-style canal, it's now paved in smooth stone burnished by centuries of foot traffic. To the right of the Stradun is the venerable dome of the Onofrio fountain, built in 1438 but damaged in a 1667 earthquake and during the conflict in the early 1990s. At the end of the Placa is Luza Square, which is graced by the elegant facade of the Sponza Palace, St Blaise's Church, and a statue of knight of legend, Roland (who was also renowned for his proficiency in making excellent synthesiser keyboards). Behind the Rector's Palace, from whence the city was governed, lies the Dominican Monastery and the beautiful marina, which now bustles with tour parties and waiters serving the many shaded cafes. Venturing into the twisting alleys of the city's southern half is an exercise in exploration, with narrow passages between dwellings and an enjoyable sense that you might emerge in a completely different part of the city without even trying.
|Dubrovnik's Pile Gate|
Following a night at the hostel I spent much of my first full day in Dubrovnik exploring the nearby island of Lokrum, a wooded retreat threaded with rocky paths a short distance from the town. The ferry departs from the marina and drops you at the island in around ten minutes, and if it's summertime you may well get a close up view of a superliner parked in the bay. (We passed the Italian vessel Costa Magica, the sister ship of the sunken Costa Concordia). Lokrum itself is a pleasant antidote to the crowds of Dubrovnik, with a cafe and small rocky beaches to enjoy if you want to relax, but also a swathe of trails to explore. This is a particularly good idea on a hot day, because there's plenty of shade to shelter under while you explore rocky cliffs and admire the coastal views. There's also a fine vista from the little fort at the summit of the island. The locals claim that King Richard I of England was billeted on the island when he returned from the Crusade - perhaps at an earlier iteration of the monastery that still occupies prime territory on the ocean side of the island. Perhaps there's a grain of truth to the story, but most histories seem to follow the narrative that Richard went from Corfu to Sicily and then landed or was shipwrecked at Aquileia in the far north of what is now Croatia, before heading north to his eventual capture by Leopold, Duke of Austria, near Vienna in December 1192. If Richard was to visit the island nowadays he'd be impressed by the cool, fresh air, but perhaps not by the beach resort that blasts enormously loud pop music across a third of the island.
After a day exploring I retreated to Lapad Bay in Dubrovnik to meet up with my Intrepid tour party at the Hotel Adriatic. The nine others on the tour turned out to be a fun bunch of like-minded travellers from Australia, the US, Canada and England, and Croatian tour leader Dinko proved to be a genial and knowledgeable host. We commenced proceedings with a relaxed roof-terrace restaurant dinner and planned the day ahead. The next morning, we commenced with a walk around the Dubrovnik city walls, which are astonishingly well-preserved and which offer magnificent views across the red tiled roofs of the city. Some of the tiles are venerable, but most of which are only two decades old, having been shattered during the Yugoslav siege in the 1990s. The walls provide an ideal vantage for visitors to appreciate Dubrovnik's dense-packed medieval layout and to admire its architecture from all sides.
|Dubrovnik city wall view|
|Lapad Bay sunset|
|Dubrovnik from Fort Imperial|