Thursday, August 12, 2010

Croatia - Dubrovnik

I am sitting in a dimly (but bright greenly) lit internet cafe in Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.  I have about thirty minutes to write before I have to pay again, which would be fine except that the keyboard is pretty unusual and it is taking me longer to write than normal.  For example, I have yet to find the apostrophe...hence no contractions.

Having communistically overcome Split, we finally (after some the previously mentioned 7-hour traffic jam) got to Dubrovnik.  Phew!  Here we had rented an apartment with separate rooms and bathrooms for everyone for a whole week, so we could unpack and relax a bit.

Living room in our Dubrovnik apartment

Dubrovnik 0220 Apartment
View from my bedroom

Dubrovnik 0212 Apartment
View from the living room
Coming to Dubrovnik was the whole point of this trip, and I have not been disappointed!  It is everything I had wished the Greek islands would be:  incredibly beautiful, with bright warm sun and cool air, good beaches, an interesting history and old city center, and lots of good food.  The countryside is very mountainous, and the mountains come right up to the waters edge, plunging sharply into the Adriatic, which is super clear and deep blue.  The city is perched on a rock  and on surrounding cliffs; needless to say, the roads are steep and narrow, and kind of crazy. The beaches, as in the rest of the Mediterranean, are not sandy, but pebbly (at best) or rocky.  You just have to find a place to clamber down the cliff face to find a stretch of pebbles where you can put out your towel.  Thats what we did this morning.  The water is colder than the Caribbean but generally warmer than the Mediterranean proper; and the waves are MUCH smaller than in Greece, which makes swimming much more pleasant.  Apparently there are nudist beaches around here, but so far I havent seen any...

Dubrovnik 0286 beach

Dubrovnik 0283 beach QN NB

Dubrovnik 0284 beach JJD

Dubrovnik is an old city on the Adriatic coast that had its heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries as a major rival to Venice in the shipping trade of the region.  In the 16th century the city was badly damaged by an earthquake, and although the city rebuilt itself, it never recovered its power.  Nowadays, it's one of the best examples of a walled city:  the massive, ancient city walls that protect the old town are perfectly intact and give a good sense of what life must have been like back in the day.  From the top of the walls, you have a commanding view of the city, the mountains coming down to the water, and the Adriatic as far as the eye can see.  Inside the city, it's packed and crowded with narrow streets and houses crammed cheek to jowl to enjoy the protection of the walls.  There are obviously no cars in the old city; everything is done on foot.  The modern town spreads on the narrow lip of land that extends on either side of the city, between the mountains and the water.  Scattered here and there are some nice pebbly beaches, and not too far away are some very nice islands. 

Dubrovnik 0238 main gate

Dubrovnik 0263 wall view

Dubrovnik 0272 wall view


Dubrovnik 0277 wall view

There was plenty to do here to keep us busy for a week.  Visiting (and eating out) in the old town, as well as hitting the beaches were the most obvious activities.  We also went sea kayaking around the city and one of the nearby islands, and later took a day trip by boat to some of the other islands. 

Sea kayaking

QN and Niko in the foreground; I'm in the background
At this point our friend Grit Hoffman and her boyfriend Andre (both German, living in Berlin; she's a TV reporter and he's a student) joined us.  All of us, except for Andre, had been friends together at school in France, so it was great fun to see everyone again and to get to know Andre.  One of the funniest things was seeing just how German Grit and Andre are.  Unlike Niko, who despite being German is rather slight of build with dark hair, Grit and Andre are both big and blond, with blue eyes and an unending thirst for beer!  Literally the first thing Andre did upon arriving at the apartment was to go to the nearby grocery store to get a pack of beer.  For the rest of the trip I never saw him drink anything else.  He was never drunk or inappropriate; he just like his beer.

Dubrovnik 0325 Cavtas
Andre, Grit, moi
Toward the end of the week, I found that I was coming up on my limit of relaxed vacationing:  I needed to accomplish something.   So I ran up the tallest nearby mountain.  Rising above Dubrovnik is an extremely steep slope, cresting at about 1,500 feet, with a fortress on top.  Normal people get to the top of this summit by taking a cable car from the city center.  I had noticed earlier in the week that there was a switch-back trail leading up to the top as well, so that morning I left the others at breakfast, with an agreement to meet everyone back at the apartment at 2pm for lunch, and went running to find the trail head and to run to the fortress on top of the hill.  It only took me about 30 minutes to get to the top, and it was properly grueling to get there.  But, boy, was it worth it!  The views were incredible!  (Alas, I didn't run with my camera, so no pics.)  And, boy, did I feel good!  I was hot and sweaty and kind of exhausted, but I felt great having done something challenging and fun, and which turned out to have great views, to boot. 

Dubrovnik 0342 fort hill
See the fortress on top?
After downing a bottle of water (purchased at the swank hilltop restaurant, from a waiter properly astonished by my sweaty, shirtless running condition), I ran back down the mountain (10 mins flat) and directly to the nearest beach, where I jumped in the water and had the most refreshing swim of the entire vacation.  I climbed out after a minute and discovered Grit and Andre crouching in the shade, reading.  I sat near them (in the sun) for a bit to dry off, before the three of us walked back to the apartment.  When we got there, Nikolas and QN were sitting there in the half-lit room writing post cards.  I was now in a great mood, and asked them if their morning had been productive.  They said yes, very: they had written a bunch of postcards.  

The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, but we did have a lot of fun.  We took a side trip to a neighboring village and climbed on some Roman ruins, saw Jesus, and took some faux American-style engagement pictures (the pictures being faux, not the engagement -- Niko was mortified).

Dubrovnik 0332 Cavtas shadows
Standing on top of Roman ruins


How romantic!
We also learned how to thumb-wrestle. Apparently Americans have an inherent cultural advantage in the sport (probably because we made it up...).

One, two, three, four, I declare thumb war!
And we ate vast quantities of seafood -- some of which looked and tasted delicious, some of which only tasted delicious, and some of which was horrible on all counts.  At every meal Niko tried in vain to convince QN and me to have a heart and spare the poor squids we were eating.  The irony, of course, is that by the end of the week, I'd eaten so much squid that I was ready to eat anything but squids (and I haven't eaten squid since!).

Dubrovnik 0233 Nausikaa appetizer

Dubrovnik 0236 Nausikaa entree

Dubrovnik 0237 Nausikaa dessert

Dubrovnik 0340 calamari

Dubrovnik 0339 little fishes

Dubrovnik 0310 day trip food

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