wendylady1 (wendylady1) wrote,

Adventures in Croatia 3 : Dubrovnik

The second half of our five day jaunt to Croatia, a few weeks ago, was spent in the romantic southern city of Dubrovnik - a wonderful little old port, with loads of islands off its coast to explore, and a simply fabulous Old Town in the centre, paved with creamy-white marble, and furnished with golden sandstone buildings all decorated with gorgeous medieval carvings - the whole city surrounded by high fiercely-fortified walls, which today, are one of the best walks in Europe...

To get there, we had to drive many miles south on the beautiful coast road, which zig-zagged down the coastline, hugging the line of the mountains all the way. Several times, we veered inland to circumnavigate a mountain that proved too much for them to drill a tunnel through, but for the most part, we were running along beside the sea. We were totally awed by the amazing scenery - all twisty, turning mountain roads and zig-zagging in and out of inlets and headlands...to give you a slight flavour of what it was vaguely like, we took some photos on the way, not all great, but they give you an idea !!



We knew this was about to happen, but it still came off as a very odd experience - about two thirds of the way down the coast road, just after the little seaside town of Klek, we came upon a border checkpoint, where we had to produce our passports - we were going into Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we would be travelling through Bosnia-Herzegovina for about two miles, before going through another passport control point and re-entering Croatia...


This is the situation as it ended up, at the end of the long Bosnian/Croatian war in the 90s - basically, the Bosnians wanted an access point to the coast, for import/export purposes, and as the Croatians, understandably, really didn't want to give up their beloved city of Dubrovnik, we now have a small corridor in the middle of Croatia, to the coast, which is Bosnian territory !! We had no trouble at all going through - Croatian number plates on our hire car, and the fact that we're all decidedly middle-aged probably had a lot to do with that - we did however, witness an entire bus-load of teenagers being made to unpack all their bags on a table at the side of the road...

Interestingly, this sign tells you we're re-entering Croatia, and it also tells you what the Croatians call their own country - and it's where we get the word 'cravat' from - bet you didn't know that ?!!
Just try saying 'Heravatska' and then running the 'H' and the 'r' together...You end up saying something like 'chravatska', with the soft 'ch' sound, like in the Scottish word 'loch'.


After passing the border-control with flying colours, we negotiated the rest of the twisty winding coast road with ease, and finally entered the last few kilometres down to Dubrovnik...


Several times, we were stopped by red lights, with the road reduced to just one lane, because of rockfalls which had to be cleared - and as we passed through, we saw the diggers clearing piles of rubble which had fallen off the mountain during the thunderstorms the night before - nothing told us more about how unstable mountains really are quite like this :-


This was a fabulous hotel !! We picked this because we had stayed in a Radisson hotel in Split five years ago, and really liked it - being a huge business/holiday resort hotel, it was geared up for all kinds of visitors and really catered for everyone - luxury rooms with beautiful bathrooms , fantastic breakfasts, and a really great spa...we love a good sauna !! We also got a really great deal - a one-bedroomed apartment, with a sofa-bed in the lounge for Russ for two nights, for £193 - about one third of what it normally is. Because it's so early in the season, they reduced the price to get some of the rooms filled, and it's true, the hotel was only about a third full...


There was an audible gasp from the front seats as we swept round the fountain in the front drive...well, it was grand !!


Here we are having a well-earned cocktail after our long drive - 216 Km and four and a half hours from Split...Russ did the first half of the driving as he has driven in Europe before - for Adam, it was a learning experience - and both drivers did really well !!

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Later on, after we had checked in and had a drink, we went back to our flat to unpack, and as we went across the concourse, it just started to spot with rain - out to sea, we saw a huge thunderstorm in progress, under the biggest and blackest cloud I have ever seen...


Here's our little pad -  we had our own kitchen, and so self-catering was the deal, although we did have a 10 Euro breakfast deal option (usually 25 Euros) if we so desired !! We chose to sample their breakfast in the restaurant on our last day, Friday, ahead of our even longer drive back up to Zadar in the north...


Russ's sofa-bed - very comfortable apparently !!


Adam surfing the Internet before breakfast the next morning, prior to going off to explore the city...



Thursday morning breakfast - the results of our raid on the local supermarket in Split the day before - rolls and croissants, ham, thinly sliced cheese, cheese spread, pâté, orange juice and coffee !! Yumm...


Thursday was our one day in the city of Dubrovnik - not long really, but totally worth the trip - it was amazing !! Beautiful red-tiled roofs with creamy sandstone and marble everywhere...
This is what you see on the approach road to the Old Town - high imposing fortified walls set up on the craggiest rocks, with the mountain side just on the other side of the narrow road...

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We started with the well-publicised City walls - you can walk all round the entire Old Town on the top of the wall, and get amazing photos of the city from this high up perspective - all in all, it took about two or three hours to go half way round, at which point, you really want to go down and explore the town that you have been seeing from above...
Here's a superb aerial shot that shows the grey stone city walls very clearly around the Old Town, and just look at the difference between the alleyways inside the old city walls and the rest of the modern Dubrovnik roads outside them - that will tell you how narrow the alleyways are !!
We walked from the left-hand tower, two-thirds of the way down the western side, and walked all round the bottom, curving round to the harbour area, where we left the walls at the semi-circular shape on the right !! :-

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Here's where you start the main part of the City Walls walk, with this huge tower fortress and drawbridge at the Western Gate of the city...

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There were interesting little details everywhere, like these faces carved in stone, and this bit of old drawbridge mechanism...

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Here we are about to make our ascent up onto the top of the walls - the path up was narrow, but the actual wall-walk is very wide with plenty of space...and as for the city centre, it's all pedestrian - no cars at all and certainly no buses - all narrow alleyways and tiny squares - what you see in the photo below is the main street, and as you can see, it's not that wide or even busy...I bet it's a bit more crowded later in the season though !!
The main tower you see here is the Franciscan Monastery, a truly beautiful retreat with cloisters and a garden in the courtyard - sadly, another building we didn't have time to see, so I foresee another visit to Dubrovnik in the future, methinks !!

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This is the 'Big Onofrio's Fountain' - designed and built in 1438, to look like a Basilica, this fountain was part of the aqueduct system that the Neapolitan architect Onofrio della Cava was commissioned to construct, in order to bring a fresh water supply into the city. It still has its original 16 fountain heads all round the sides, and each one is a different carving - more of those further down...


Dubrovnik is right in the shadow of the mountains, as you can see...this one's quite green, and most of the mountains we had driven through were huge craggy outcrops of stone, semi-covered with scrubby trees and shrubs.


Many lookout holes in the fabric of the walls allow you to take great framed photos - this is looking towards the Fortress Lovrijenac, on the western peninsula of the city - a very important part of the fortifications built in the 14th century...


We looked down on squares and quadrangles, cafes and restaurants, bars and shops, and the occasional bit of what looked like it might be the original aqueduct perhaps...


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A little way round, we came across the first or second of the huge fortresses placed on the outside of the wall, with look-out towers, which we, of course, couldn't resist !! A very cramped space, I wouldn't like to spend much time cooped up in there watching out to sea for potential invaders !!

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Quite a few medieval ruins inside the city walls - this one looked like an old church of some kind...



Time to look back at the way we'd come, and then ahead - and you can really see how craggy the rock is...

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Here we are, getting towards the first bar about halfway round the wall-walk !! Me, Russ in the middle and Adam on the right, posing for an unmannned camera - only afterwards did we realise that someone unscrupulous could have easily taken off with the camera as we waited for the timer !!



Time for a drink !! This was a teensy little bar counter set into the wall, in front of a huge semi-circular fortress complete with its own cannon - just beer and wine and soft drinks of the sugary carbonated variety - and there were no tables and chairs left for us to sit down, so the kindly woman got her son to get us some extra furniture out of the back of the shop - probably their own table and chairs !! They were lovely people...and as you can see, Russ made short work of the beer !!


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After a twenty minute break it was time to move on, down the wall-path, past the palm trees in people's (very high up) back gardens, past the orange and lemon trees, past the pretty church with the triple bell-tower, and on to the next bar...

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On the way there, we spotted this other bar halfway down the cliff-side - how mental is that ?!! It looks lovely, but needless to say, we kept to the high-up path and eventually came to the fortress where one of the statues of St Vlaho stands looking out to sea...our bar had been found !! It was a bit bigger with more tables, and had beer, but no wine or spirits - for me, they had big fruity cocktails (non-alcoholic) for sale as their speciality, and they were delicious !!

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Sleepy locals snoozing in the heat of the noonday sun...

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At last, we arrived at the easternmost fortress which overlooks the harbour with all the boats - this is where we got off !! However, I couldn't resist the hole in the wall overlooking the little jetty with rows of boats moored up to it...


The Croatian flag flying proudly, of course...


Time for some lunch...

Having seen the Old Town from above, it was time for some exploration down at street level, but first we needed some good Mediterranean grub !! We found this charming little restaurant which took our fancy, mainly, I have to say, because it didn't have a waiter outside trying to lure you inside - this is truly one of my pet hates about European cities, all over the continent - waiters who have been instructed to  pounce on anyone and everyone who looks vaguely foreign, in the hope of luring them to sit down to one of their sub-standard 'Turističke specijalaca'...

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However, in a long street of such restaurants, this one was deserted - hurrah !! There was no-one eating and no-one waiting to pounce !! It was also one of the 10% discount restaurants included on the card we had bought to get entry into the major sights.
We sat down...

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Suddenly a pale, skinny, and slightly Goth-like waiter appeared and took our order - and you know what ? It was great...
The meal we had was lovely - Adam went for the fresh giant prawns, even though he hates food that has to be fiddled with, and I ordered a superb salmon salad, and a rare steak with a really rich Croatian plummy sauce for Russ...

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After lunch, we spent the afternoon walking round the centre of the Old Town, taking in the sights and taking lots of photos...pretty much every little entry-alley into the Old Town looked like this :-

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Ridiculously steep flights of steps and shops and cafes on the way down, with the occasional little chapel on the way, just in case you needed to pray...

When we got to the bottom, we emerged into the main square, and Adam and Russ immediately found an English bookshop - what are the odds ?!! While they looked round inside, I walked round the square taking random photos of the beautiful buildings...the House of the Main Guard with its beautiful Bell Tower and clock, and the impressive Church of St. Blasius, with it's huge dome, and thoroughly Baroque exterior...



Below, here is the beautiful Sponza Palace, standing in the corner of the square, at right angles to the clock tower, which has been many things in its time - the official Customs Office and a bonded warehouse, a bank, the Treasury and the Mint, the Armoury, etc, etc...
Mostly these days however, it is a gorgeous little sandstone building with an arcade of carved columns and beautiful arched windows in the decidedly Gothic style. It has an inner courtyard and a delightful collection of stone carvings on its walls. These days, it's main function is the City Archive - all the records and documents of the City of Dubrovnik, ruled by the Hungarian-Croatian kings but left to govern itself as a small Republic, all the way from the 12th century up until 1808, when Napolean's occupying forces dictated that this Republican nonsense had to stop...

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The clock tower was very pretty, I thought, and stands at right angles to the Sponza Palace, being the main Bell Tower of the House of the Main Guard - the clock strikes the hour with the aid of two bell-ringers - statues who strike the bell between them. They are modern copies now, but we came across the original statues holed up in the Rector's Palace, which we explored later in the afternoon.

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Right in the middle of the square is the memorial to the legendary medieval knight, Roland - his column is a small but distinctive statue with beautiful Gothic arches carved into the sides !! Legend has it that Roland defended the city of Dubrovnik from marauding Saracen pirates from across the sea, but who knows.
Also interesting however, is the little known fact that the length of his forearm is taken for an official measure - the ell of Dubrovnik, 51.2 cms, was in use for many years !!


From the Main Square, or 'Placa' as they call it, we walked down the main street 'Stradun' to the other end where the big fountain was - lots of interesting little details on the way...

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Me and Russ, looking suitably impressed - the man behind us, however, is positively ecstatic...



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Down at the other end of the main street, about five minutes walk, was this beautiful pair of orange trees in full fruit, framing the entrance to the Official Tourist Office, where you buy your ticket to walk the walls !!


Here's Big Onofrio's Fountain again, in closer view this time - see the many different fountain spouts with lions, monkeys and weird people !!



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Just opposite the fountain was the beautiful Church of the Saviour, built in 1528, and sporting a truly impressive rose window right in the middle of the front elevation - gorgeous !! We didn't have the time to go inside, but I kind of wish we had...

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On the way round to the Rector's Palace, where we had a free entry ticket included on our City Walls Pass, we passed this perfect round window overlooking the square below, and Russ couldn't resist taking a photo through it...



Also, on the way round to the Rector's Palace, we passed a small crowd gathered round this man who was clearly good chums with the city's pigeon population...

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Here's the thing - Dubrovnik had a very unusual way of governing itself for many hundreds of years, with a Council of elected governors, led by a Rector - a sort of Mayor figure. He would be elected every month, would stay in Office for a month, and would not be allowed to leave the Palace except for ceremonial occasions. He would receive the keys to the City every night for safe-keeping, and return them in a short ceremony every morning !!
This is his Palace...

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Beautiful stone-carved columns forming the outer arcade to the Palace, and each column was different...

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The beautiful medieval inner courtyard with its stone staircase and hand-supported rail...and a superb collection of strong-boxes and coffers with their lids open showing the fancy locking mechanisms inside the lids !!

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Just up on the first floor were the original bell-ringer statues from the clock tower next door - modern copies are in their place today, so that these ancient statues can be conserved. The room they were in had all kinds of graffiti, in the form of coloured sketches on the walls...
The Palace also housed the local prison, with lock-up cells for the city's most dangerous prisoners - the cells were tiny with iron bars set into the walls - Adam is demonstrating how the prisoners would have been manacled to the bars for the duration of their stay...

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Above right is the heavily carved wooden door to the main entrance with it's lion's head knocker, and the stone seats lining the front of the palace provide a great resting place for the residents when they need a rest...

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After visiting the Rector's Palace, we only had a short time before meeting the hotel bus back to the resort, so we walked down the main street, and took a peak just inside the Franciscan Monastery...


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Orange trees were in full fruit everywhere, even though it's only the beginning of April...


There were also many cats all over the place...


On the way back to the bus, we had time for a final drink at the top of the steep stairs in one of the many alleyways out of the Old Town centre - and time for a few candid shots of each other !!
Here's Russ...

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Here's Adam...

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Here me, examining the photographic fruits of our visit...


On the way out of the city, we passed over this bridge, which was silhouetted against the sun !!


Dubrovnik was an amazing little city and well worth a visit if you are that way - I think it's worth a return visit to spend some more time here, possibly in conjunction with visiting somewhere else too...
The next day, we had a fabulous breakfast in the hotel restaurant, before packing up the car, and driving all the way back up to Zadar, where we would have time to see the ancient Roman ruins in the town centre before heading out to the airport.
More about that in my next and final post...

Tags: croatia, travelling in central europe
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