We landed in Dubrovnik around noon after an evening stop in Dublin to break up the long flight from Florida. Dublin was fun as we pub hopped in the afternoon and evening with an early awaking for a three-hour flight to Croatia. Upon landing I immediately felt the Mediterranean climate, and the dry scrub brush mountains reminded me of California. We rented a car and drove to a sea-side town for a lovely lunch at a gastropub. A small citrus arugula salad and a local beer was the perfect choice after hitting the pubs in Dublin the night prior.
Winding roads along the Adriatic and through the mountains led us to a scenic view above old town Dubrovnik. We parked on the side of the road as my heart raced seeing the fort from above. We ran across the busy highway for a better glimpse, the first impression which would become minuscule compared to the following days of amazing panoramas from all angles of hiking, trams and exploring.
Another spectacular scene awaited us at the Hotel More overlooking the sea. We strolled the promenade of sunbathers, restaurants and shops in the village below old town and then had a cocktail in the hotel’s cave bar.
We spent a full day exploring the fortified historic city, entering through the pile gate. We climbed the walls enclosing the fort spending a good hour above, looking into the ocean on one side and the buildings and people below on the other. Clothes hung out to dry as it was still a functioning city with permanent residents among the dominant tourist industry. The ancient pathway was quite narrow and I could imagine during season, July and August, they’d have to limit the amount of visitors doing the wall walk.
We worked up an appetite for lunch below, settling in the town square at the bottom of a set of stairs. As it turns out the stairs were famous from the hit series, Game of Thrones. As many of the scenes from Kings Landing, the fictional city from the TV show, were filmed in Dubrovnik and the stairs were famous for the walk of shame scene. “Shame, Shame, Shame,” the nuns repeated to Cersei as part of her atonement. As we enjoyed our lunch I heard people shouting “shame”. Afterwards, I couldn’t refuse to walk the stairs myself, and I’m sure I deserved it from something I’d done in my youth.
We popped into a few museums to gain a deeper understanding of Croatia’s history including a photo history of its most recent wars in the 1990’s. Strolling down alleys and into churches, I admired the character of old town. We watched tourists line up for gelato, as dogs and cats strolled by. We decided to have a local beer prior to climbing the hundred stairs leading back to our car.
In the evenings we stayed close to the hotel, with plenty of good restaurants nearby. The waves, dim lights and ambiance reminded me of Positano, Italy only less busy.
The following day we decided on a different view of the city, one from the mountain above where within minutes the tram hauled people from the old town to the sky. Initially we skipped the tram ride and drove to the top of the mountain, and it was the most terrifying drive of my life. To start with it should have been a one way street, it was to narrow for two cars, but a taxi coming down confirmed it was the only way up. We attempted three times to ascend, only to be met head on by a car where we had to reverse down the mountain to let them through. We let a van behind us pass so we had someone to follow, a bully to push through. We drove on cliffs with no room for mistakes. My hands sweated and I tried not to look over the edge of death, a real possibility with one miscalculated inch.
Once I saw the view up top I decided the heart palpitating ride was worth it. We rented an ATV for an hour tour of the mountains where we sped though the dusty hills to arrive at a fort which played an important role holding off the Serbs during the 1990’s war, defending the city from occupation. Goats, cows and a donkey roamed as we took photos of the bay from above. We then hiked down a rocky path for about an hour to arrive in old town for a late lunch. My husbands feet were done and we took the tram back up to our car for the equally nail-biting ride back down to our hotel.
The following day we drove to Split. We parked our car below Hotel More via a car lift which we had no problems until our departure day. It was rush hour on the lift and about a half hour wait. I was eager to get on the road, so I felt helpless during this time. I practiced patience, a trait I’ve been trying to master the past few years. The drive along the Adriatic simply breathtaking with the mountains on one side and quaint villages on the other. We stopped at Ston, a small fortified town along our route famous for its shellfish farming.
Along our route we passed through the Bosnia Herzegovina border and enjoyed lunch by the sea. Although a different county and one with a recent war-torn past, it seemed just as lovely as Croatia. While planning this trip I had considered going to Sarajevo for a night, but time didn’t really allow for it and I chose a few nights in Prague instead. I read many books about the war and had a fabulous lunch there, so maybe next trip. I do love history including conflicts, religion and ever changing borders. The former Yugoslavia is a classic and recent example of all elements.
Split was bigger than I imagined, but where we stayed among the red tiled roofs with a view of the harbor and within walking distance to the must see Diocletian’s Palace was ideal. From our fifth floor balcony I watched pedestrian traffic below and ferry’s arriving an departing just beyond to the islands visible in the distance. I’d watch the lady hanging her laundry on the adjacent rooftop, and another resident cooking her dinner in an apartment below. As in all of Croatia, olive trees and herbs in gardens and rooftops seemed abundant.
We toured the palace, the only Roman Emperor to ever retire did so in Split and he built a spectacular fortified residence with three entry gates, the silver, iron and gold surrounded by a moat. He also had a lions den to use at will. It was expanded upon in medieval times and today houses museums, churches, shops, and restaurants. We meandered through the narrow streets, ate traditional Croatian cuisine of goulash and spinach pie for this vegetarian. Evening involved a random concert, dancing and just simply hanging out on the promenade.
After a morning visit to the mediocre archaeology museum, (as an archaeologist I’m picky) we headed to the ferry for our crossing to the island of Hvar, a playground for Europeans and celebrities. I expected nothing and just wanted to relax by the sea. Our hotel was again in a prime spot with a cool pool, lounge chairs on the Adriatic, and a promenade close to the town center.
We managed to find a fort and a winery to visit prior to relaxing by the salty sea. It was a pebble beach and quite cool, but a nice change from the Atlantic beaches of Florida and the Bahamas. Our trip to Croatia came to an end but continued to Prague for a few days which is a near future blog.