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Dubrovnik - Croatian Gem
Member Name: Nibelung
Date: 06/07/12, updated on 10/07/12 (43 review reads)
Advantages: Climate, sense of history, scenery
Disadvantages: A bit too popular, particularly with cruise liners!
Since we were flying to The Dalmatian Coast, was there someone at Gatwick with a Disney-esque sense of humour who had decided that our flight was departing from Gate 101?
Anyway, it takes a shade over two hours to fly from southern England to Dubrovnik, the airport being situated about 30 minutes drive to the south of the city, and conveniently placed for our next holiday (what, so soon?) to Montenegro in the summer, the border of which is a similar distance to the south.
THE OLD CITY
This amazing old walled city (stari grad) is the first image that people conjure up when you mention the place. Sadly, the "Homeland War" as Croatians are wont to call it, from 1991 onwards did the place no favours, it having come under shell fire firstly from the Yugoslav army, followed by the Serbs - at least I think that's right. I'm not sure there's anyone who can fully understand what happened during the break-up of the old Yugoslavia without sounding partisan in one direction or another. As a result, many of the pan-tiled roofs we see today are pretty new, which explains the vivid terracotta colour we look down upon from the walls. A walk around the walls is a must. However, one significant 'must-not' is to do this during the hours that cruise ship passengers are also 'doing the walls'. Being built into a hill side means that the walls are very steeply-inclined in places with a lot of steps, which for a vari-focal wearer like me means that I miss a lot of the scenery whilst looking sharply down to see where I'm putting 'me plates o' meat'. The cruise ship people are usually being beckoned back to their tenders or tour coaches around 3 pm, so that's worth bearing in mind. There was one minor cruise ship actually moored just outside the harbour when we were there, but we did feel a little like we were swimming upstream against a tide of Japanese tourists, all stopping about every 5 seconds to have their pictures taken with some new view in the background*.
(*Someone once told me that the Japanese don't tend to send postcards home, so a picture of yourself half blocking out the attraction in question is de rigueur).
Despite seeming to close in around the old city port (stara gradska luka), like a crab claw, you can in fact walk all the way around the walls, as they skirt across the waterfront, when to look at initially you'd assume that the inner harbour forces the walls in a 'C' shape with a gap where the water is!
Looking out from the battlements, you get some splendid views out to sea, and of nearby islands. If I recall correctly, the entire walk, for which you need to budget an hour even if in a hurry, has only one café stop. Your tickets are checked as you pass various access points, and you can enter the Maritime Museum from up there too.
Down below, there's a wealth of other attractions and antiquities to see. The Rectory Museum for example, which gives an insight into how the old city state of Dubrovnik was run, with a Rector being elected very frequently to this short-term post and with exhibits ranging from dungeons to sedan chairs and an amazing collection of strong-boxes, all with their intricate locking mechanisms on show.
One of the basic pleasures of the old city is be able to walk where you like unbothered by motor traffic, in a rather Venetian kind of way. The main street (Stradun) is paved in shiny limestone sets, as are the many side streets.
Be warned, side streets to the left of Stradun, assuming you came in via Pile Gate are heavily sloped upwards, some just staircases, whereas to the right, they're on the flat.
WHAT ELSE TO SEE
The Elafiti Islands - The Dalmatian cost has literally hundreds of islands ,and boat trips to a selection of them are easily booked from several offices scattered around the Dubrovnik/Lapad area. We opted for a trip to three of the Elafiti Islands, the nearest only be a handful of miles outside of the port. 'Elafiti' gets its name from elaphi, the Greek for 'deer'.
The Cable Car - This runs from the rear of the old walled city right to the top of a cliff that dominates Dubrovnik. Originally built around 1967, shelled to b*****y during the homeland war and only in very recent years put back together, it's nice to see one of these in gratifyingly new condition. I once travelled on what was called the longest and oldest cable span in Switzerland. It wasn't the 'longest' bit that worried me, it was the 'oldest'. The view of the old town from the top is stunning, and there is a bright, but rather breezy open-air café-bar to sit in and relax whilst looking at the view through the glazed parapets. Set to run every half hour until dark, the cable car seems to run every time the turnstiles signal that 25 people are waiting, with the 30-minute schedule only as a bare minimum back-up. There are kiosks on the way to the bottom terminal, so by the time you get to the ticket-office, you'll most likely have a ticket already!
Ah yes, if the truth be known, this is 50% of what we came for! Predictably, the food in The Old City, which can become a money-pit to hook cruise liner passengers, has to be viewed with a certain degree of scepticism. Stradun is an obvious place not to eat, if the numbers of restaurants actively touting for your business, or colour photos of food, are anything to go by. Just like any other tourist destination, the pleasure comes from taking up personal recommendations (the advantage of renting a flat from a local) or just getting off the 'main drag' and seeing what's to be had in the side streets.
We only ate twice within the city walls, once at Rozario and once at Dalmatino. Both were excellent, and neither were anywhere in sight from Stradun! It was at these that I developed my taste for cuttlefish risotto, which whilst almost black to look at, like a dollop of molten liquorice is very tasty. Presumably, I've also made a couple of budgies very happy somewhere in the world.
Helpfully, side streets carry a banner where they meet Stradun with a list of what's to be found down them.
Back at base, the pickings were similar. Avoiding restaurants that invite you to look at their fading colour photos of food seems to be the rule. We ate twice at both of 'Otto' and 'Komin', the former being an excellent and sophisticated restaurant by the commercial port and near the Lapad Hotel and the latter being somewhat more raucous, out on the peninsula at the end of the seemingly ubiquitous No. 6 bus route. Prices seemed to be around 75% what we'd pay here, and for excellent food and service. Local wines are good and we became quite fond of Plavac Mali (pronounced 'plavvats mahlee'), which is made from a grape which is a varietal hybrid being half 'local' and half Zinfandel. It's both fruity and mature red, and can be bought in supermarkets for a paltry sum, although, as with the UK, the restaurant mark-up is considerable..
WHERE WE STAYED
We rented an apartment in Lapad, a suburb of Dubrovnik, and a short 'number 6' bus ride from the famous Pile Gate of the old city (stari grad). Lapad lies on a peninsula to the north of the town, looking, on the map like a 'mini-Gower' as our Welsh travelling companion remarked. The outward appearance of the apartment block was a little off-putting since it clearly dated from the 'Tito era' but internally it had been refurbished to a high standard, including free use of a PC with broadband. Curiously, someone had thought that laying parquet floor directly to concrete was a good idea, but the overall effect was a little like walking over a broken xylophone, or at least that's how it must have sounded from downstairs as we 'plinky-plonkied' our way across the lounge!
WELCOME TO REPUBLIKA HRVATSKA - Some Notes
Yes, folks, the Croatian name for their own country bears little resemblance to our version. As far as I could make out, HRVATSKA is pronounced something like 'cravatska'. It is in fact where the French word 'cravate' comes from, this being the name given by French sailors to the special neck-tie worn by Croatians.
Incidentally, Croatian cars carry HR international registrations and local web-sites use the 'dot hr' suffix.
The dialling prefix for Croatia is +385 or 00385, which is useful to know if you have to ring someone as soon as you get there!
The local currency is the Kuna, and at time of writing there were about 11 to the £. Croatia has applied for full EU membership, but as yet, can still be regarded as 'duty free' when it comes to airport purchases. Also, some of the prestigious shops in the old city offer tax rebates, with, no doubt lots of nice forms to fill in!
Electricity is the usual 220v as for the rest of Europe, using the same circular sockets that you'll find in France and Germany.
From what I observed of driving standards, there's nothing unduly untoward to report. Yes, they stop at pedestrian crossings, but yes, the driver behind will 'beep' you if you seem to be 'too considerate'. Once you've handled the M25 or driving in Turkey, this'll be a walk in the park for you.
Buses in the Dubrovnik area work on a flat fare scheme, giving you up to one hour's bus usage from first use - you have them franked by an automat as you enter the bus from the front. Tickets are cheaper if bought from a nearby kiosk; many bus stops have them built-in. 10 Kuna if bought before boarding and 12 Kuna if bought from the driver, although you must have the correct change. Like most other places, the concept of queuing seems to have died out! Those with the biggest elbows get to ride first, although the giving up of seats to those 'less able to stand', aka little old ladies, was prevalent.
I got better roaming reception on my mobile than I do when at home, but then, I'm with '3'!
Yes, and hopefully a bit later in the season to secure some better weather. Having said that, I'm not sure whether Dubrovnik itself offers the holiday-maker enough to do beyond one week, especially if you don't like lolling around in the sun on your hotel balcony. Maybe it would be prudent to combine this with a week, say, on the island of Korčula
Summary: Famous picturesque Croatian coastal city