Dubrovnik : 'The city of stone and light'

Dubrovnik Travel Blog

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Silky Blue and Boat - one of my favoutirte views.

Saved by a beer!  Yesterday was quite a long day of travel and finding the lovely Villa Valjelo Guesthouse wasn’t the easiest of tasks at after ten at night, sweating uphill with a 70 litre backpack on my back.  So when I finally collapsed into the company of Neil, Josie, Sari, Brent and Co and the first thing the kindly guesthouse owner Djuro asked me was ‘So would you like juice or a cold beer?’ you know what my response was and that I was a happy boy again.

Yes, warm first impressions of Dubrovnik.  This little coastal jewel.  Byron’s ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’.  The city of ‘stone and light’ that looks like ‘an open palm under the stars, offered to the world’ according to one writer, Jure Kaštelan.

Adriatic coastline
  Happily recalling my time spent on the North Western coast of Italy ( Cinque Terre), my soul is singing again to see the glorious greens and brilliant blues that seem to drink so deeply of life given of the sun in such picturesque parts of the world.  I’m staying a good 35 minute walk from the old ‘Grad’ fortified town in the branch city area of Lapad, but don’t mind this at all as the views of perfect blue, water caressing sky, on the to town are just wonderful.  The vision of a tiny white, solitary boat cutting a gentle swathe across such a silken setting is really one of my favourites whenever I am able to stop and watch its silent passage.  Nothing else disturbs the waters.

Such calm of course cannot last and is fairly well swept away by the maelstrom of human activity that courses towards the Old Town walls,  the money in the tourists’ pockets twitching like iron filings towards a magnet, across the new(ish) wooden pseudo-drawbridge and through the gatehouse into the fortified, historical town of Dubrovnik.

  High holiday season is just kicking off.  Neil and Josie at the guesthouse say there were only a third of the people even a week ago.  Now though large Cruise Ships; Club Med, Thomas Cook and all their glossy brochure cohorts are lining up boat by boat to disgorge their cargoes of well dressed, wine-supping guests and squealing kiddies.  Oh boy oh boy oh joy.  Were the drawbridge to be raised today in defence of the city it wouldn’t stand a chance against the siege of tourism I muse.  The well-moneyed hordes could smash it to smithereens with any one of their 10 foot long Nikon camera lens battering rams!

But of course drawbridges are a defence measure of the past and completely ineffectual in these modern times of unrest as Dubrovnik knows only too well.

The Old Town from Lapad hilltop viewpoint
  The very first ‘information’ poster that you will see as you enter the city is an aerial town map with a key that illustrates every type and quantity of mortar or shrapnel or fire strike that was inflicted upon the city by the Yugoslav People’s Army during the 1991 - 1992 conflict.  2,000 shells and more.  Personally I fail to see any strategic significance in Dubrovnik Old Town as a target of war but what do I know about such things?  I imagine its maritime importance these days almost solely revolves around tourism and fishing but I could be wrong.  The Lonely Plonker’s Guide to Eastern Europe, my single page guide to the region has not educated me well on these points.  But anyway, sometimes war is just about smashing beautiful things for the sake of it, and no other motivation is required.
The old 'Grad' walls.

Of 824 buildings within the city walls, 563 were apparently subject to direct hits.  9 buildings were completely destroyed by fire and many of the citadels churches, walls and marble walkways were seriously damaged.  The extent of the damage rained down upon Dubrovnik is best observed when you head up to walk around the City Walls.  Here you are presented with the beautiful sea of the city’s orange terracotta tiled roofs.  But they shine a little too tell-tale bright these days, the vast majority of the city roofs having had to have been replaced.  Relatively few houses and structures within the city still possess the more weathered, mottled patchwork of faded brown, dirty ochre yellow and dimmed orange tiles that denote age and survival.

But back down to the streets.

  Yep, Dubrovnik gets quite hellishly busy around about this time of year but to be honest I have a whole new sense of what ‘crowded’ can mean since travelling in China so am not phased or put out by this at all.  I am able to focus on what Dubrovnik has to offer me that I love.  It’s a great setting to allow ones feet and mind to get lost in a charming, sloping, bending, ascending labyrinth of centuries smoothed flag stones, stair cases, sometimes to Somewhere sometimes to Nowhere.  Little nooks and crannies tucked away as you step between the bars of shadow and light that play out their eternal contest throughout the day as the sun passes high over the narrow streets.

To the north side as the citadel heads towards the foothills, very long, steep alleys climb up and up and up and are beautified by the many pot plants, balcony creepers, bright-in-bloom flowers and deep green palm fronds cultivated by the residents.

  Also the quaint brush of domestic artistry that I always feel washing strung out to dry across streets lends to such a city scene.  Re-humanising the stone surroundings that would maybe feel a little too cold and petrified without the wind-teased dance of variously coloured towels, swimming cosies, bras, white bed sheets and knickers.  Although it’s a slightly misleading comparison and one I don’t want to over egg, again my memories are drawn back to Italy, this time Venice and its likewise seductive spiders web of stone and water and light.

The waters around Dubrovnik are as refreshing to the body once within them, as they are to the eyes when stared at from without.  The life of happy bathers and swimmers and divers throngs, all tanned and bronze around the base of the fortified Old Town walls at every possible opportunity where.

Inside the city walls.
   Small artificial stone and rock ‘beaches’ or sun bathing platforms have been grafted onto to the citadel walls at various points and young Croatian boys kamikaze jump into the waters from on high.  I prefer to take the steps provided down into them.  Happy to swim about in the silky blue but sad not to have my dive mask to look down through into the Blue World below after the sea claimed them in Split.

Back in the Lapad area of town, where I’m staying, you will find the majority of the more conventional beaches that Dubrovnik has to offer but as with Split don’t go there expecting nice long stretches of inviting sand.  The majority of the Adriatic coastline is an artificial rock and pebble affair, reminding me loosely of Brighton back home.

One of the Old Towns little harbours
  Still, it’s nice to skip from burning in the sun into the cool waters and back again for a morning or an afternoon.  Everyone amused to watch the endless line of kids get zipped into large transparent plastic globes that are then inflated and allowed to be floated out on the water to roll and splash around chaotically.  I have since been told that this activity, in water or on land is called ‘Zorbing’.

I extend my stay in Dubrovnik by a day ‘cos I’m finally learning that sometimes if you like a place enough or your body is telling you to just stop for a while than you need to obey these inclinations toward relaxtion.  So more good times are had with the good people at Villa Valjelo where a swimming pool, a kitchenette and a free BBQ are on hand.

With an extra day in town I’m talked into paying to take to the city walls (50 Kuna / £6) and it is sat by the old fountain as you enter the Old Town, whilst waiting for Helen and Kate to show up, that Nick comes and sets up next to me.

Dubrovnik city wall walk.
  ’Could you just budge over a little buddy?’.  Nick’s from Seattle but has Croatian parents and soon has me assisting him in dressing in ‘traditional’ Croatian villager costume - I clutch and stretch one end of a long red length of fabric that he winds himself into like an oversize cummerbund to complete his outfit.  He’s got his fiddle, Cds, turned up hat expectant of pennies and full command of Croatian and is about to start his evenings busking. 

He plays out his first number.   A large ring of tourists has encircled us with cameras held high.  Yes, I will appear in about 600 photos and travel digitally to the 4 corners of the globe following this moment.  A few pennies thrown down by shy kiddies encouraged by their parents.

  Nick and I get chatting whilst he mops his sweaty brow and upon hearing I used to work for a bank, and discussing the causes of the ongoing ’Crisis’ Nick says in his bold American delivery (Croatian accent now long gone) ‘Oh, well I have an economic theory?  Would you like to hear it?’‘Well, yeah sure.’  ‘Okay so I have this theory, that basically no economy can be expected to continue to grow at a healthy and sustainable rate if it outstrips that country’s ability to support itself through agricultural development.  The movement towards majority or purely manufacturing based economies is harmful and ultimately unsustainable.  Causes breakdown.’  ‘That’s real funny’ I say ‘’cos literally only earlier today I was reading Tolstoy and there’s this scene where a character at a dinner party puts forward exactly the same argument!  Yeah, some guy talking to Levin at the Oblonsky’s…’ and so on and so on.
  ‘Really, well that Tolstoy he was a clever man.  Did you ever read his short story…?’ etc etc ‘Well, no this is my first of his works to read actually’ and so forth… and so Nick (busking forgotten for a time) reels off an engaging, vibrant retelling of this tale about the Devil and the peasant Landlord whereby… and time goes by etc… ‘… and so the moral of the story is my friend, that the only piece of land that this greedy landowner ever needed was a plot no longer that six feet long!’.

And I’m thinking to myself ‘I’m by a fountain in Dubrovnik surrounded by expectant tourists, sat by and having just helped dress a traditional Croatian ‘peasant’ called Nick from Seattle who is playing a cat skin fiddle (and has what looks like a skinned, inflatable pig to use for his next number) whilst discussing Tolstinian economic theory and waiting for a tipsy Kiwi (Helen) and a dippy Ozzie (Kate) to turn up so we can do a turn around the Old Town walls at sundown’ and surely, maybe moments quite this off the wall only happen whilst travelling?… I dunno.

(Dubrovnik) Muju [www.mujuworld.co.uk]
  Let’s just continue to put the theory to the test for the time being…

mimmee says:
You always paint such great pictures with your words!
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
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Silky Blue and Boat - one of my fa…
Silky Blue and Boat - one of my f…
Adriatic coastline
Adriatic coastline
The Old Town from Lapad hilltop vi…
The Old Town from Lapad hilltop v…
The old Grad walls.
The old 'Grad' walls.
Inside the city walls.
Inside the city walls.
One of the Old Towns little harbou…
One of the Old Towns little harbo…
Dubrovnik city wall walk.
Dubrovnik city wall walk.
(Dubrovnik) Muju [www.mujuworld.co…
(Dubrovnik) Muju [www.mujuworld.c…
Nick, the traditional Croatian pea…
Nick, the traditional Croatian pe…
Some of the sea entry points that …
Some of the sea entry points that…
Cobbles & Sheets
'Cobbles & Sheets'
High up and up stairway alleys in …
High up and up stairway alleys in…
Suspension bridge that allows the …
Suspension bridge that allows the…
Main entrance to the Old Town
Main entrance to the Old Town
Dubrovnik city fountain (detail)
Dubrovnik city fountain (detail)
Terracotta Roof (abstract)
'Terracotta Roof' (abstract)
Dubrovnik old town by night
Dubrovnik old town by night
photo by: Vikram