Dubrovnik – Croatia
Our journey to Dubrovnik was like a scene from James Bond, the afternoon sun ricocheting off the impossibly calm Adriatic Sea as we came in to land on a little airstrip at the foot of the limestone mountains that make this part of the world so damn gorgeous. Our drive along the winding coastal road head-on into the sunset only required an Aston Martin to complete the scene, and if you’re not careful it could be easy to miss the old town of Dubrovnik altogether. Not because of its insignificance, but simply because the entire drive from the airport is awash with mountain views, sea views, terracotta roofed houses, yachts, and an endless blue sky. On arrival to our hotel our taxi driver told us the restaurant next-door was excellent. On meeting our hotel host he told us the restaurant next-door was excellent, but first he gave us a full briefing with maps and all the advice we could ever need for a week in his town. This guy should win awards for his hospitality which he capped off with gifting us a heap of fresh cherries he had just retrieved from the market. Other than cherries, all I had eaten that day was a pastry in Marrakesh for breakfast and a €6 cheese sandwich at Charles de Gaulle airport reflecting the misery of the very man himself. And so stinking of sweat with crumbs from said sandwich still on my t-shirt and crotch, we waltzed into the restaurant next-door full of well-dressed people enjoying a Sunday night, dining almost on top of the water in the harbour and sloshing back delicious Croatian wine.
Dubrovnik is the first in a line of top European destinations that I have never been to and now find myself visiting during the summer on the back of a two year hiatus in world travel. It wasn’t meant to be, but I frankly couldn’t be arsed to re-arrange all our travel plans yet again, and so as I took a deep breath and launched myself into Dubrovnik’s famed old town, I accepted I would be surrounded by hoards of idiotic tourists for the next month or so and I would have to amuse myself by enjoying their oddities. Almost every morning we awoke to one or two new cruise ships parked up in the harbour and the people that ride these behemoths are the most curious of all. The main street in old town is the first place to visit, paved in limestone polished by 1000 years of pedestrians and flanked by limestone buildings, quite beautiful on the outside but full of tourist tat, ice cream and over-priced restaurants on the inside. However, turn off the main street and up one of the many side allies that cross the town and the crowds disperse rapidly. In fact, it was quite incredible. The more steps we climbed, the less people we saw and if we really wanted to cool off and enjoy absolute peace, we just stepped inside one of the many cute little museums that the town has, many of which are ‘free’ if in possession of a Dubrovnik pass. Tourists, in particular cruise ship passengers, don’t like effort. I’ve preached this often, but never has it been so striking than in Dubrovnik with its main street packed full of over-sized people muttering ‘shame, shame, shame’, eating and drinking at 11am in the morning, and making no effort to explore the city, both the old and new towns. It’s fine, you do you, but seriously, turn down a side-street and with minimal effort you can be sat in a wine bar, pub, or restaurant that serves drinks several euros cheaper than the main street only metres away. We visited one wine bar at least three times during the week simply because it offered only three choices, red, white or rose, and it was some of the best wine we drank.
Dubrovnik itself is an incredible place to be. We were camped a 10 minute bus ride from the old town and bus tickets could be purchased from grumpy ladies sat in little boxes at the bus stops, or it may just be easier to buy a Dubrovnik pass which comes in various options, but we went with the 7 day pass that provided 10 local bus journeys, four out of town bus journeys, entrance to the city walls (worth 75% of the pass alone), free entry to seven or eight museums, and discounts at heaps of other museums, restaurants and activities. I think we made our money back within the first day. The walk around the city walls is one of the top attractions and although I disagree, it was still well worth doing simply because it was incredibly beautiful overlooking a sea of terracotta or a sea of, well, sea. And who doesn’t like walking along ancient fortifications and lets not forget, it was a damn good climb up many steps at the beginning of the walk and so you’ve guessed it, not many tourists! Away from the old town were forts and islands that shall be discussed another day, but within five minutes of our hotel was the local’s beach which had been recommended to us by our host and that we naturally walked right on past in the hope of finding somewhere better. Surprise, surprise, it soon became apparent that our local insider information was correct as we came across Instagram friendly beaches pumping out Pitbull and offering sun loungers for €50/day. Returning to the peaceful local beach, five minutes away, we hired a brolly for €5, spread out on the rocky but comfy beach and wallowed in water so clear I was afraid I’d be caught having a pee.
There’s a huge conspiracy in Dubrovnik I believe. They don’t have the Euro in Croatia but you can use a card almost anywhere which is great except for the fact that tipping is customary and card machines here don’t allow for tips which therefore need to be paid in cash. No bother, there’s an ATM every five metres, in old town there’s two ATMs every five metres and everyone of them will happily charge in the region of £5 for each transaction. On our penultimate night I was running low on cash for tips and had to turn to the ATM, withdrawing enough to get us through the following 24 hours of tipping restaurant staff. Happily sat down in a Mexican restaurant, a live band playing British music, sangria in hand, plenty of food ordered (go for your life, this is on the card), my eyes drifted to the several posters on the wall reading ‘cash only’. Needless to say, after ambling back to the ATM to get screwed over one more time, I calculated that the tip for that particular restaurant would be used to cover the bloody ATM charge. Win some lose some!