Friday 14th – Monday 17th June 2014
So I’ve decided Dubrovnik is going to be my chill out time. Most people wouldn’t spend five days here (it’s pretty pricey as far as backpacking goes!) but it’s a good chance to recoup after a very full two weeks in Turkey and I need to catch up on my writings. I’m still feeling a bit weird about being in this beautiful country and knowing next to nothing about it. Not even how to say hello or thank you. Now I know how spoilt I was in Turkey! For two nights I stay with Amanda in the apartments before she starts Sail Croatia and I move into Hostel Marker, right outside Old Town. Marco is the owner there and he is just fabulous. The most friendly, helpful, lovely hostel proprietor I ever did meet. Can’t recommend this hostel enough for this very reason. To be brutally honest, I wasn’t as mind blown by Dubrovnik as every other traveller seemed to be. It’s undoubtedly beautiful… but that’s about it. The prices in Old Town are, expectedly, ridiculously inflated and I don’t think I was prepared for the sheer number of tourists. Like… Old Town is nothing but tourists. So I didn’t feel like I had a very authentic Croatian experience whilst I was there. But understandably… the main tourist destinations aren’t usually where you get to have raw cultural experiences. In addition, I don’t watch Game of Thrones (they filmed many scenes in Old Town) so I wasn’t interested in that perspective, it was raining pretty heavily for my last two days so there wasn’t a whole lot I could do in the beachside town, and I think part of my heart was still in Turkey, so in love with the experiences there. However, Dubrovnik did serve it’s purpose. I got a lot of writing done and I was able to properly relax and recoup.
On day two I decide to do a walking tour (always thought they sounded like they were for the geriatrics but actually they are extremely helpful in providing some perspective and I think I will try and do them wherever feasible) of the old town and of the city walls. My tour guide for the old town is very…. Animated. She’s maybe in her early 30s and is really very passionate about the liberation of Croatians with many patriotic gestures included throughout her spiels, much to audience delight. Unfortunately the tour guide for the city walls was not quite so dynamic. The time allocation in the brochure was 1.5 hours. We started at 3.30pm and finished at 6pm. And I was more than ready to be done at 4.30pm. Credit to him, he was speaking a language that wasn’t his first and he obviously had very extensive knowledge on the subject matter but the monotone and long spiels nearly put my to sleep at the first stop. Here’s what (I think) I learned from both of the tours:
- Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th century, although some recentish findings could push the date back to the 3rd century. Having said that, much of the building, and perhaps the height of the old city was around the 15th-16th century.
- Dubrovnik was primarily a trading point between east and west.
- In 1667 there was a huge earthquake that killed half of the population. Some of the city was not rebuilt.
- The thickness of the southern walls (following the coast) is about 3m compared with the 6m of the Northern walls because they reasoned that a land attack would be much harder to defend that a naval attack.
- During the Yugoslav war, or the war of Croatian Independence in 1991-2, the beautiful old town suffered 65% destruction. There is still obvious damage from gunfire on some of the buildings.
- There are at least two beautiful ‘fountains’ in the old town, the biggest and most impressive was designed by an Italian architect to bring fresh water from a nearby mountain. Even today it is perfectly fine for drinking and is a very sustainable way to keep hydrated. Pre-fountain the residents were using water wells and filtrating sea water.
- Back in the day the majority of residents were Catholic however it is one of few old cities in Europe to house Catholic churches, a Greek Orthodox Church and a synagogue. There are in fact 47 Catholic churches in Old Town, most of them inactive these days.
- Back in the day, society was very segregated. However this didn’t stop many aristocratic catholic men having affairs with women of a lower class. As a result many “illegal” babies were born. To assuage a guilty conscience the Catholic Church opened up an orphanage where women would leave their babies on the door step, ring the bell then run helter skelter. The orphanage raised the children until they were six and then they were adopted to families.
- Traditionally, the oldest daughter was married off and the youngest was sent to the convent. These were not happy places to live. Many tried to escape, others lost their minds. There is a famous tale of young Agnes who heroically set the convent on fire and has since been a pillar of female independence for young Croatians.
- Houses that have been built in Old Town in recent centuries had to have their kitchens built in the top floor due to fire risk. That means often you would enter an apartment through a bedroom.
- At max prosperity, the population in Old Town was 6,500. Now there are 800 permanent residents. The substantial drop is for a number of reasons:
- There are no cars allowed within the walls – imagine getting a fridge delivered!
- There are 4,400 steps – again, the fridge thing.
- Each square metre is worth on average £5,000, who wouldn’t sell out to that??
- The narrow streets, see below, mean that getting a sunny apartment is extremely difficult.
I am delighted to hear that one of my favourite people in the universe is arriving on her super yacht (that she is employed on) on Sunday. Sophie is pulling into Cavtat, which is a port only half an hour or so away from me. Sunday brings with it rather a lot of challenges: rain, lack of info about ferry departures, no ferry departures, boarding buses in the wrong direction, missing the bus when it’s right under my nose etc etc. The first good thing that happens to me when I am eventually (I think) at the right bus stop is meeting a lovely guy called Mohammad. He lives in Cairo but is en route to visit his dad in Montenegro. He definitely helps pass the half hour that it takes for my bus to show. Eventually I arrive in Cavtat at about 3pm – only half a day late. I meet Soph and we walk the coastal town fringe. I meet her fellow yachties and, inevitably, we end up in one of many seaside restaurants. I was assured by my bus driver this afternoon that buses run until midnight. After rather a few too many wines, at around 11pm, Soph walks me to the bus station where I see not one sign of life. But there is a bus and no, it isn’t locked. I enter and after it’s obvious no one is showing up to drive me back to Dubrovnik, fall asleep in the aisle. Classy stuff.
I wake at 1am and decide that the back seat would be more comfortable. It’s not really and I don’t think I sleep anymore. I do however have quite an urgent toileting situation. At about 4am I pluck up the courage to leave the bus. Let it be known that I did try the public toilets first. Locked. Well I was desperate. There was nothing for it but a public pee in an alleyway then back to the bus for another failed attempt at sleep. At 5am my parched, morning after throat forces me from my shelter to hunt and gather. I sit in the open seating of a restaurant across the road from Soph’s boat and viber bomb her for about an hour. About 6am Soph shows up with the goods. One bottle of water, a banana and avocado on toast. Or in other words, heaven. It’s a struggle to get back to Dubrovnik, what I thought was going to be a direct bus to Old Town ended up with me being dropped in the middle of I-don’t-know-where, asking non-English speaking locals for directions, catching another bus and finally arriving at my hostel about 8.30am and for the life of me unable to get my key to turn in the lock. Hungover, tired and smelly like the floor of a bus I sit on the steps outside until the owner shows up. Urgh. Never before had I felt quite so useless as this morning, especially with the non language thing. In Turkey, it didn’t matter so much because I don’t look Turkish at all so people wouldn’t expect me to be able to speak it. As I’m moving further west, I can’t get away with that. At least three times in Dubrovnik people start chatting away to me and I just have to give them a pathetic look, shrug my shoulders and shake me head apologetically. Today (Sunday), I am that person that everyone judges in their hostel that stays in their room and sleeps during the day. I think I leave maybe once to get food. My last day is soaked up entirely with writing. I thoroughly enjoy slinking into the city walls, takeaway mojito in one hand, icecream in the other and cosying up on one side of a staircase where I can slurp the dregs without getting judgey eyes and can tap away on my iPad in peace. When my bum gets sore, I get up, find another spot in the city and start all over again.
I had planned to go to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina next but Soph told me that she has two days off whilst moored in Tivat which is in Montenegro (only a three hour bus ride). Montenegro was never in my travel plan, despite coming highly recommended, but wanting to make the most of my time with her, I unhesitatingly book two nights at the only hostel in Tivat according to hostelbookers.com– Hostel Anton. How great is this trend over here of naming the hostel after yourself??