The wake-up call comes at – ugh! – 0445 Wednesday morning. It is raining and grey when we board our 0630 flight from Sarajevo to Zagreb, raining and grey when we land in Zagreb, still raining and grey when we pick up our rental car from the parking garage, raining and grey for 6 of the 7 hour drive south to Dubrovnik. The sun shows up as we hit the coast. Finally!
Our worries about driving the rental car in Bosnia resurface when we realize there is a 20 km stretch of coast north of Dubrovnik that belongs to Bosnia. We take our chances. Bosnian customs is not even open for business! We whiz through. Great relief!
Southern Croatian is Game of Thrones land: rocky, harsh, big. And, as it turns out, the show is filmed here in various locations around Dubrovnik. There is a tour dedicated to those sites. Not being fans of the show, we pass on the tour.
This is southern Dalmatia, the strip of Croatia that lies along the Adriatic Sea. At 42 degrees latitude it is subtropical. Palm trees, olive groves, grapes, pomegranates. Farmstands appear beside the road.
The Hotel Tirena – https://www.valamar.com/hr/hoteli-dubrovnik/tirena-hotel – is advertised as 3 stars. I’ve recently learned that in the Balkans it is advisable to subtract a star to get the North American equivalent. But I’d give the Tirena a solid 2.5 stars. It is clean and the buffet breakfast more than satisfying. More like lunch. Craig’s happy. The price is a bit out of line but Croatia is hot and Dubrovnik is its crown jewel. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is one of the most visited sites in Europe.
We set off on foot the first morning and walk to the old city, through a neighbourhood of graceful villas on the waterfront. Hardly any people and we start to diss all of the complaints we’ve heard about how crowded Dubrovnik is. Then we get to the gate of the historic centre. Yikes!! We are definitely not the first ones here. A friend had sent a CNN video clip a few weeks ago and it is very apropos.
We join a walking tour with a lovely guide whose name I have forgotten, but let’s just call her Zendaya. Yes, she is that lovely. Craig is enthralled with all she has to say. Zendaya tells us that today is quiet, not many tourists, we should see it in the summer. Oh, and it is not too hot either. This past August it was 40 degrees for weeks on end. All of a sudden the sun and the crowd don’t seem as intense.
Our expectations about Dubrovnik have been lowered by friends who have been here and have told us it is crowded and over-rated. Maybe that is why we are rather smitten with the narrow alleys, grand churches, tasteful restaurants, views of the sea, and the wall. We spend one morning just walking on the wall. After a trip up the cable car for unsurpassed views of the old city, the port, the forts and the Adriatic.
Dubrovnik is at the southern tip of Croatia, where it borders Montenegro. Over the years it has been occupied by Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, Napoleon, and the Austro-Hungarians. As part of Croatia, and Yugoslavia, it was communist for most of the 20th century. As well, it has endured several devastating earthquakes and fires. The city was under siege for 8 months during the war with Serbia. The most recent invasion comes from Hollywood. Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Robin Hood – and soon the new James Bond movie – are filmed here. Dubrovnik knows how to survive!
We have been wondering along the way on this trip: where are all the cats? We both recall, from previous trips to Europe, hundreds of cats, especially in the evenings at the restaurants. Apparently they’ve all moved to Dubrovnik. There are several resident at our hotel and in the old city we come across a cat refuge complete with little cat houses, food and water bowls, and a donation box. I take photos an give pets while Craig leaves some cash.
Three days here gives us enough time to explore the ‘hood our hotel is in, Babin Kuk, as well as the one adjacent, Lapad. We are about as far from the old city as possible, but it is a short bus ride and the bus stop is directly in front of the hotel. We are perched high on a hill with great views of the sea. We can see when a new cruise ship arrives! Bringing more tourists! The hotel pool is a welcome reprieve from the heat and crowds of central Dubrovnik. Late afternoon is a perfect time to have a swim before collapsing on a lounger.
Rather than dine in one of the pricey places up here on our hill, we’ve taken to buying dinner from the local mini-mart. Olives, cheese, ham, a bottle of the local red and we’re good to go on our little balcony with the sea view. The only problem is the bread. It’s not great. So we’ve reverted to the habits of our youth. We steal it at lunch. Picture it: a couple of seniors on a leafy terrace, eating their seafood salad and stashing slices of baguette into their bags.
Lapad is a beachy suburb that we walk to via a seaside path, passing hotel infinity pools and cafes. Strictly 5 star. A few private villas. A small rocky beach where the locals hang out.
Closer to home a path leads down to the sea and a cozy beach club. Rather than pay the exorbitant $25 for a lounge chair, we find a palm tree and a free patch of sand. The water is warmer than that in the hotel’s unheated pool! As we bob around, all manner of boats cruise by. At the end of September and even though it is Saturday, it is blissfully uncrowded and peaceful. Aaahhhhh!
As I write, Micheal Buble’s “Home” is playing in the cafe below our room. The song pulls a heart string, for sure. But we’re not quite ready for home. We still have a week to meander up the coast, through the islands, back to Venice.