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Two Years & Twice Around the World...  
Dubrovnik, Croatia
SLOVENIA Ljubljana Oct 7-8 Piran Oct 9-12

CROATIA Istra Peninsula Oct 13 Split Oct 14-15 Hvar Oct 16-18 Korcula Oct 19 Dubrovnik Oct 20-29


BOSNIA Sarajevo Oct 30 Oct 30 Nov 1

SERBIA Belgrade Nov 2-3

ROMANIA Bucharest Nov 4 Suceava Nov 5 Nov 6 Cluj Napoca Nov 7 Sighisoara Nov 8-9 Brasov Nov 10 Nov 11

BULGARIA Sofia Nov 12 Nov 13 Nov 14

MACEDONIA Lake Ohrid Nov 15 Nov 16-17

KOSOVO Prishtine Nov 18 Nov 19 Nov 20 Nov 21

GREECE Thessaloniki Nov 22 Athens Nov 23 Nov 24
Dubrovnik, Croatia, October 20-29, 2003

Croatian Flag CROATIA

October 20-29. DUBROVNIK "The Jewel of the Adriatic"  As nearly all long distance buses must the bus for Dubrovnik left before daylight.  It wasn't such a long ride as there was just one bus a day it was designed to take people to Dubrovnik in the morning and bring them back in the evening.  To get from Korcula to Orbec on the Peljesac Peninsula the bus boarded a car ferry and was toted across the channel.  We just remained seated during the ride and the bus drove off the ferry and continued on the journey.  

It was a rainy day and after a poor night's sleep in our "closet" I slept most of the way into Dubrovnik.  We arrived in late morning with the rain pouring down.  The group of touts that met the bus were the all time most aggressive bunch that we had seen.  They were falling over themselves to get our attention and berating each other, yelling to the point where we just walked away.  Gillian and Michelle settled on a place and we said "good-bye". As we stood on the opposite side of the parking lot to collect our thoughts a soft spoken older man approached us.  He had a bold flyer with the name Begovic Boarding House printed across it.  That name rang a bell and I noticed his references to being mentioned in the LP and Let's Go guides.  One of the other touts came rushing over to intervene, bad mouthing the boarding house.  We were getting fed up and when Sado offered us a good rate we went with him.     

The Begovic Boarding House has been running a nice little guest house, in Lapad Bay on the western side of the city, for over twenty years.  With the growing competition brought on by Dubrovnik's return as a popular tourist destination after the civil war, he has found himself increasingly beaten down by other "guest houses", many not official places.  When we got into his car he handed us an article written by a traveler about his guest house, recommending it above the others.  As the author of the article had requested when she visited Dubrovnik, Sado offered to take us by the place of the other man who we'd been considering.  It wasn't too far from old town but awkwardly set in a newer townhouse community - not very appealing.  Sado had been having more and more difficulty with the tout crowd at the station and even was accosted with an umbrella on one occasion.  It didn't surprise me.  There were some desperate people. He told one story of a woman who took a room with a old lady to wake up at night and find the old lady sleeping in the bathroom!  And, after some of our bad experiences with rooms it seemed wise to be going with a known entity.  

The Begovic Boarding House was a bus ride away from old town but had views out across the Lapad peninsula with a distant peek Lapad Bay.  The bus ride was a deterrent to some travelers but for the benefit of staying in a quiet neighborhood with a spacious patio covered in kiwi vines it was really a minor inconvenience.  Sado showed us where to find the stairs down to the bus stop, just across from the post office and near a handy mall with a sizable supermarket.  To the west of the bus stop was a street lined with cafes that led to some larger hotels and the waterfront.  The place we nearly empty and we lucked out with a beautiful room with a large double bed, satellite TV, and French doors that opened up on the patio.   For the same price we could have had a small apartment with a kitchen and bathroom but we preferred the view and didn't mind sharing the bathroom.  Sado's wife greeted us with some coffee and providing us with a tourist information booklet described the things to do around Dubrovnik.

The city was founded some 1300 years ago by refugees from Greece.  Unlike other towns along the Dalmatian coast, Dubrovnik, called Ragusa until 1918, wrestled itself away from the Venetians in the 14th century and became on of their biggest maritime competitors with trades as far as Egypt and France.  Skillful at international relations Ragusa kept itself independent and relatively peaceful for a very long time.  An earthquake in 1667 brought the town into decline and they were eventually taken over by Napoleon in 1806 and has since been part of a larger political state of one kind or another.  Burdened with the financial support of poorer areas in the Yugoslav Republic the country fought for independence in 1991-92.  Heavily damaged from the war Dubrovnik has almost totally recovered and is becoming a prime tourist destination once again.   

The rain had fallen off so we didn't waste time taking the bus across town to visit Dubrovnik's fortified old town.  There were still groups tourists around, Dubrovnik being such a popular place, but they were manageable.  Approaching the city through the Pile Gate we entered onto the long and wide Placa that led the length of the town to the Old Harbor.  The smooth white walkway gradually widened as it neared the Luza square beneath the clock tower.  We had seen numerous old towns across Europe at this point and the walled white stone towns of the Dalmatian coast had been plentiful but nothing matched the grandeur and charm of Dubrovnik.  The impressive size of the fortification was one aspect and the narrow alleyways stretching to off of the Placa to the north and south, sloping upwards in both directions, laundry strewn from one side to the other, was another.  But, it is hard to put a finger on exactly what made Dubrovnik feel like such an amazing place.  The larger area allowed for a diverse collection of churches to reside within the walls and there several museums to keep us entertained but in the end there was only so much to see. Yet, we never tired of sitting on Luza square sipping a coffee and watching the crowds roll by.  A steady stream of tourists, many from cruise ships, kept the town busy but unlike many old town squares that we had seen, filled with tourist kitsch and gimmicky entertainers, Dubrovnik catered to tourists in a slightly more understated way.  Shops along the Placa certainly sold touristy items and the restaurateurs we ever eager to draw tourists into their web but overall the atmosphere was relaxed and inviting, qualities that kept us there for nearly ten days!    

We gave one touristy restaurant a try early on in our stay but had found it disappointing.  The setting in the courtyard of an old convent was pleasant and the food was okay but the service was bad.  However, the pigeons that came up to the tables blatantly begging for food were entertaining.  After that we limited our snacks in old to our cafe on Luza where they served decent sandwiches and gave us chocolates with our very large biela kavas. 

Ending our days back at the boarding house each night was a perfect way to cap off the day.  Far enough away from the town center to feel like a different place and conveniently near a number of restaurants and cafes, we spent a couple of days just hanging out on the patio of our boarding house and walking around Lapad, taking in the sunset along the waterfront.   A couple of nights we joined fellow travelers on the patio for drinks and conversation.  One young woman we recognized from Hvar, one of the two other tourists we had seen during our visit but hadn't talked to.  Her name was Lesley and she was traveling from Ireland where she had been working but her home was New Zealand.  We had taken a liking to Croatian prosek (prosecco), a port-like liqueur made from cherries and the local supermarket kept us stocked.  Just in front of the market we found a Mexican/Italian restaurant that kept us fed for the week.  The Mexican food was surprisingly good and a welcomed change to our recent diet.  

Internet service proved to be difficult to locate in old town and by our second day in Dubrovnik we were eager to check email.  Since Piran we had been out of touch, either not being anywhere long enough to find an Internet cafe or just not being able to find one at all.  We ran into Gillian and Michelle on our second afternoon and they directed us to a place they had used but when we got there the service was down indefinitely.  The service at the tourist information office was also down.  It wasn't until our third day that we found a bar in old town that doubled as an Internet cafe/video arcade.  When we opened email I felt my heart sink to see an email about my grandmother.  She had been down in spirits in recent months and I had had a nagging feeling about her and as misfortune would have it she'd taken a sudden bad turn in her health.  Of all of the times for it to happen it had to be when we were off on some islands.  I rushed to a the post office to call home and learned that her health was deteriorating and the doctors were predicting that she had little time left.  It was an agonizing feeling to be so far away and not to have been in touch while she was still in a lucid state of mind.  When I said good-bye to my 92 year old grandmother last February it didn't occur to me that it was the last time I would see her.  In the time we had been gone she had battled another case of breast cancer, after more than a decade of good health, and while they said that they had successfully removed the cancer it somehow extended, unchecked, to her pancreas.  All I could do was send her some final words of encouragement and love via an email that could be shown to her in the hospital.  It seemed like too little too late.  The entire next day I was sad and aching from the anticipation of bad news.  By that afternoon her condition was still worse and later that night we received a call at the boarding house that she had passed away.  My emotions ranged from relief that she was no longer in such pain to extreme sadness for the loss of someone that, even at nearly 93, was not ready to die.  She lived an independent life, living alone and even driving on her own until just weeks before, and her death came quickly.  That, at least, was something for which to be thankful.  And, even if I couldn't be home there was something auspicious about being in Dubrovnik.  It had been one of her favorite cities in the whole world and had held fond memories for her from the years she had traveled with my grandfather.  I said my own 'good-bye' to her at sunset on the following day from the cliffs on the backside of the old town, tossing a peach colored rose into the ocean, her favorite color.   

During the rest of our time in Dubrovnik I had some melancholy times.  Since the city had been meaningful to my grandmother I felt reluctant to leave.  My knee wasn't doing well either so we just stayed until the end of the month.  Sado and his wife must have thought we would never leave! But, they knew our situation and were very kind.

On one relatively sunny day we distracted ourselves with a walk around the town walls.  The massive walls surrounded the town on all sides and as the walls were higher on the north and south sides, where the town sloped upwards, there were wonderful views across Dubrovnik, especially from the domineering Minceta Tower on the northwestern corner.  It was the highest point in the city and looked out over the tiled rooftops to the Adriatic and nearby Lokrum Island.  The eastern side brought us down just above the Old Harbor and wound around the protruding St. John's fort.  Looking up at the barren hill behind the city there were two old fortification along the ridge top.  They were old French fortifications and the nearer one had been a defensive post during the recent war while the one farther south had been taken over by the Serbs and Montenegrins from which they bombarded the city and damaged much of Dubrovnik's historical town.  The walk stretched 2km around the city along the 25km high walls.  It included two round towers, 14 square towers, two corner forts and larger fortress off of the northwest corner.  

From the top of the wall or walking the streets of old Dubrovnik it was hard to tell what horror had befallen the city during the war.   In 1991 and 1992 some 2000 shells hit the city.  Shells struck 68% of the 824 buildings in old town.  The buildings and streets suffered from 314 direct hits and the wall was struck 111 times.  The total damage was estimated at US$10 million dollars.  The fortified town served as a haven for people in the recent wars just as it served them since medieval times.  And, it has risen from the ashes to become a beautiful place once again.  Only close inspection reveals some buildings that still have damaged interiors and the new tiles that now adorn the rooftops are brighter and redder than the softer salmon colored tiles originally used.  Sadly the place where those tiles were once made, just south of the city, no longer exists and the new tiles come for other parts of Europe.  The bombings even reached the nice neighborhood of Lapad and what we initially took for a patched pothole turned out to have the star shaped scar of a shell hit and one nearby house still had a pockmarked wall.  Most casual tourists probably don't even notice. 

It wasn't until late in our stay that we realized the Hotel Kompas, just down the hill, provided a convenient elevator for getting to sea level.  This would have helped my knee quite a bit if we had known that sooner!  We figured it out when we went to sign up for a day trip to Montenegro.  Investigation of getting there on our own hadn't yielded much.  It would have been expensive, transport was sporadic and uncertain, and we didn't have much time to spare.  A guided tour proved to be most cost effective.  Sado's wife had advised us where to go for the tour but, after biting his tongue, Sado discouraged us from even going at all.  When the tourist information office had given bus information to the border it was also clear that a decade later was not long enough for water to pass under the bridge.  Undoubtedly a war is not something to recover from quickly but the Croatians did try to put on a positive face as best as they could.  They understood that as visitors we wanted to see different parts of the region and Montenegro at one time shared some of Croatia's spotlight as a popular tourist spot.  But, if there are still people in the U.S. that reflect on WWII, how could we expect there not to be tense feelings between Croatia and Montenegro.  We let them know that we understood their feelings but did proceed to take the tour.  After all we were on a trip to discover for ourselves what these places were like and in the not so distant past, in WWII, the Croatians were the ones reputed to have been the evil doers so perspective is relative.