Monday, November 25, 2013

CROATIA: DRIVING TO DUBROVNIK AND CLIMBING THE CITY WALLS

After our morning hike up to the Kotor Fortress, we set out for our next destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia. On the map it looked pretty straightforward--just hang tight to the coastline. Our research told us it should take us about 1 hour and 35 minutes.  Ha. Try three or four hours.
Good thing I still had some morning Happy Pills given to me in the States by my friend Kathy as travel nourishment. She knows me well. I was proud of myself for having stretched out the bag this long.
At first, it seemed that things were going our way. At some point, a miracle occurred.  After not having had GPS for nine days (and through Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, and Kotor), maps and directions suddenly appeared on our device near the Croatian border.

But alas, we would have done better on this stretch on our own. The GPS led us astray. Bob and I differ on how badly we were lost, but I had the printed map unfolded on my lap, and we were not on any roads marked on the map. After asking directions from non-English-speaking Croats two or three times and doing our best to understand their energetic pointing, waving, and shouting, we finally found our way to charted roads.

It was not the last time we got lost, unfortunately.

The approach to Dubrovnik from the south is exquisite. The road drops down from the hills above the coast, presenting a stunning view of the coastline. The brilliant cerulean sea, bright white buildings with red tile roofs, and verdant vegetation make the scene look like it is photoshopped.

If you look closely at the promontory below, you can see the old city walls that form a jagged circle around Dubrovnik's Old Town.


Thanks to our GPS, we were able to drive straight to our accommodations, a first. We had rented an apartment near the city walls, and found ourselves luxuriating in enough space for six to ten people. Bob, who loved finally being able to spread out, declared this his favorite stay of our whole trip. (For more information about Anmar B&B, go here.)




The apartments are surrounded by some nice gardens that made the view out the window extra nice.
It was a little bit of a walk to the places we wanted to go, but sometimes it is nice to take some time for a stroll. After walking down the main street for a few blocks, we headed down a series of about 200 steps that run parallel to the exterior walls of the Old Town.
An ancient city, Dubrovnik has been a major tourist attraction since the late 19th century. Its location on the Adriatic Sea, wonderful  climate, and picturesque architecture are hard to beat. However, in 1991 the city was under siege for seven months when it seceded from Yugoslavia, and the old part of the city suffered significant damage along with the newer parts. However, it has all been meticulously restored and may possibly be in better condition than it was prior to the war.

Croatia, which felt dramatically wealthier to us than any other country in the Balkans except, perhaps, Slovenia, actually joined the European Union a month after we were there. No doubt Dubrovnik, a cruise ship port, rakes in millions in tourist dollars each year.
A medieval-looking bridge makes a nice entry into Old Town:
The main attraction in Dubrovnik is the wall that is almost 2 km long (1.2 miles) and completely encircles Old Town. Like the Great Wall of China, it matches the contours of the hillside on which it is built, which means that there are stairs, stairs, and more stairs, beginning with the Grand Staircase that must be climbed just to get to the wall. No access for disabled persons here. If you can't walk, you don't go.


An fee is charged to walk the city walls--something like $16/person. "Disneyland prices for Disneyland," said my husband. Almost immediately, the view made us forget that our muscles were still sore from climbing to the Kotor Fortress the day before.





Almost all of the roofs within the city walls were destroyed by Serbian bombs when Croatia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991. New replacement roofs are red, and the older roofs are mottled brown.
In a few places, the roof was left out so that those visiting the city could look down and imagine the damage done during the six-month-long siege:



Most of the roofs are new, but notice the older roofs around the church domes. Did the bombers spare the churches? It appears so.



On the water side, the walls are built right on the edge of the cliffs that plummet straight down into the Adriatic,

 which affords a great view of kayakers and boaters:

Lots of interesting sights can be seen from the walls' heights. This first-class basketball court reminded me that Kresimir Cosic, who played college basketball for my alma mater Brigham Young University, was a Croat. Immensely popular, he rejected several professional ball offers after he graduated and returned to Yugoslavia in 1973, where he led the national team in two world championships and four consecutive Olympics, winning the gold medal in Moscow in 1980.
The Croatian basketball court above made me think of the poor, rundown court we had seen a few days prior in Berat, Albania:
They are two very different worlds, and I think seeing both of them enriched our Balkan experience tremendously.

Up on the wall looking down on the activities of the city, we experienced an eerie bird-like voyeurism. This party looked like lots of fun:
Good food:
Good music:

A roof-top patio makes for picturesque--although not very private--dining
What really stood out for me was all the laundry that had been hung out to dry. We were there on a sunny day, and everyone was taking advantage of the warm weather. I have no idea how they got some of it up on the line:
There is something so human and endearing about underwear hanging on a clothesline:
This person needs some orange or pink:
Clotheslines are tucked in every nook and cranny of the Old Town, anywhere that gets a bit of sunshine:



I particularly loved this row of brightly colored socks. I think I'd like the people who live here:
"The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. The answer is blowin' in the wind."
Well. Enough about laundry.

We took the opportunity to climb up every flight of stairs we ran across. As you can see, there were vendors with postcards and souvenirs on the wall, unlike the pristine stillness we had so enjoyed at the Kotor Fortress. In fact, a bottle of water alnost doubled in price between the place we entered and the furthest point from that spot. Vendors know walkers get tired and hot going up and down all those steps.







10 comments:

  1. I like your laundry, roof and wall pictures. I did really like where we stayed. Great new blog spot.

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  2. There is something about the uniformity of the roofs that is charming. It makes me wonder why our USA roofs are made so differently. The laundry pictures are fun-another thing you don't see anymore in the states.

    The separation of blogs is a great idea.

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  3. I LOVE the pictures of the socks. It totally has me wanting to meet the people who own them. I think I'd like them too.

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  4. Your new site is lovely and I'm glad you've found a corner of Blogland that will host your wonderful travels. When we hit Burano, we were also amazed by the amount of laundry hanging out, and in BeiJing, it's a given. I, too, was impressed by their ingenuity in hanging out the wash.

    Love this guide to your stair-climbing in Dubrovnik. I'd better find a stair master to get in shape before we go!

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  5. Hello, I am going on a trip to the Balkans next month and stumbled on your website. Information about traveling in the region is sparse so you can imagine my delight in reading your posts on Croatia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro & Albania. The brief history lessons you incorporate into the posts are an added benefit so travelers like myself can have a better understanding of the region.

    If I can I ask you, what map did you use while you were there? My husband and I plan to drive ourselves too. I am originally from Los Angeles so I imagine I can drive comfortably in that region but if you have any driving/direction tips that you could share that would be so helpful.

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    1. Angie, I accidentally replied to this as a separate comment rather than directly. Go back to the post and you'll see my reply.

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  6. I'm so glad you found these posts! It was an incredible trip. You are going to have a blast. We are also Southern Californians and used to crazy traffic. We've driven in countries all over the world, so we felt pretty confident going into this trip. We discovered that the traffic isn't bad in the Balkans. It's the lack of signs that makes it hard.

    Our map was from here: https://mapscompany.com/shop/europe/balkans/map-slovenia-croatia-serbia-bosnia-freytag/?gclid=Cj0KEQjwl-e4BRCwqeWkv8TWqOoBEiQAMocbP9Btgs5qhS2o5PzSnyHtaOT4wfVtvGO1LsF1EGdlRXAaAuHt8P8HAQ

    If the link doesn't work, let me know. We had to buy a separate map for Albania. also from the same site.

    We did very well driving in Slovenia and Croatia because our car rental GPS worked pretty well there and the roads are better marked, but everywhere else we relied on the maps, and just about every time we went through a city, we got lost. Signs in many of the cities in countries other than Croatia and Slovenia are non-existent or in script we could not read, at least when we were there, and there is not a developed highway system, so you are on small roads a lot of the time (although by now more of the Adriatic Highway project only the west coast of the Balkans should be done). Some kind of GPS would be enormously helpful, but if you read all my posts, you know that our GPS, which we were promised by the car rental agency would work everywhere, definitely did not work everywhere. If we were to do it again, we would look into buying a GPS and pre-purchasing maps for that area that we could download. You might be able to use your phone GPS, but that would be very expensive because you would need it a lot.

    We often had a difficult time finding someone who spoke English, especially in Albania, so that complicated matters. Albania was the most challenging place to drive. We did a lot of hand-gesturing and map drawing on scraps of paper. It may be worth looking into hiring a private driver for your time in Albania unless you can get some kind of GPS.

    Sarajevo was also a bit difficult to navigate at first. If you can find a city map, that might help.

    When we were there, all the rental car companies would not let drivers take a car into Kosovo. Maybe that has changed. We were fortunate to have connections to arrange a driver.

    If you have any more questions, don't hesitate to ask. You can also email me at jkcannon@roadrunner.com.

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  7. Thank you so much Judy for your insights. The information about the road conditions and advice you gave about maps was exactly what I was looking for. When I started planning this trip I expected transportation in the region to be similar to Western Europe with subways and trains. I was very wrong. Instead, I found bus schedules.

    I am very excited as I never imagined going to Macedonia or Montenegro :)

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    1. You will LOVE this trip. Beautiful Montenegro is on the cruise ship agenda now, so tourism is increasing there, but Macedonia is a real hidden gem, as are Serbia, Albania, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Come back to this site or email me when you are back and let me know how your trip went. I'd love to hear other travelers' experiences.

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