ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 16-DUBROVNIK, CROATIA

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When people think of Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), Dubrovnik is probably what comes to mind first.  Dating back to the 7th century, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean region.  That fact was quite evident the day we visited.  Busloads of tourists (including us) inundated the place, and I soon realized why one of La Perla’s crew loved the island of Korcula more than his own home of Dubrovnik.  Andrea lives within the walls of the city, and he complained about the traffic, lack of parking, and packs of tourists.  (Property within the walls has also gotten extremely expensive; a tiny one-bedroom apartment sells for $1.3 million dollars!  People who inherit property within the walls rent them out on Airbnb and buy in a newer area instead.)

One of reasons Dubrovnik has seen such an increase in tourism is because of the HBO television series, Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Dubronik.  I have never seen the show, so I haven’t a clue!

Dubrovnik had a record year for tourism in 2016, with more than one million visitors.  It has gotten so bad that city officials are setting limits on the amount of people allowed within the walls on any given day.  UNESCO has advised that no more than 8,000 people should be within the walls of the Old Town at any one time to prevent damage to some of the city’s oldest buildings; so, security surveillance video cameras have been installed at the walled city’s five entrances to keep tabs on the foot traffic.

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Beginning this year, Dubrovnik is limiting the number of cruise ships to two per day, carrying a maximum number of 5,000 each.  In addition, city officials are working with the Cruise Lines International Association to optimize scheduling and make foot traffic move more efficiently through its historic central district.

The big feature of Dubrovnik that attracts tourists is its walls that run almost 1.2 miles around the city.  The walls are 80 feet high and up to 20 feet thick.  The oldest building within the walls dates back to 1290, and the 700-year-old pharmacy is the third oldest pharmacy in the world.

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Outside of the walls, a fortress was built in the 1400’s to protect he main city gate.  The fortress wall facing the water is 40 feet thick, and only two feet thick on the city side.

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The system of turrets and towers of the Old Town wall were also intended to protect the city; however, it suffered a devastating attack by the Serbs and Montenegrins on October 1, 1991.  The attack lasted for seven months, killing 114 civilians and damaging 56% of its buildings.  The damage to the walls alone was estimated at $10 million dollars.

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Following the end of the war, damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired in the original style, adhering to UNESCO guidelines.

It was interesting to walk the entire wall of the city and look down on the rooftops where we were able to spot undamaged pre-war roofs in between newer, post-war roofs.  It was sad to see some of the shelled buildings that remain untouched since the attack.

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Poster Caption:  Painter Ivo Grbic in front of his burning home in street Od puca 16 during Serbian and Montenegrian attack on Dubrovnik.

The walk was exhilarating, though, especially along the seaside wall.  The views were breathtaking, and we were so fortunate to be able to enjoy it on such a beautiful day!  We watched the kayakers paddling on the Adriatic Sea below us, and marveled at how clear and bright blue the water appeared.

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Although we had begun the day with a guided tour of Old Town, we were provided passes to walk the walls and visit the museums on our own.  It was great to be able to enjoy it at our own pace and cover more ground.  We were among the few in our group that walked the entire wall, a memory I won’t soon forget.

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Our final evening in Croatia was also quite memorable.  We were taken by bus to Orasac Village (population 100; 85% of them related) for a home-hosted dinner.  The 24 of us were divided into four smaller groups to dine in four different homes.  We were welcomed by Tereza Gorace and her cousin, Ana, who translated for us and answered many of our questions.

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Beginning our evening, we were welcomed on the patio with local brandy and fresh figs from their tree.  At Christmas time, the figs are dried with a bay leaf and flour for a traditional treat.

Before settling in for dinner, we were shown their smokehouse where they make sausage, prosciutto, and bacon—all from animals they raise on their farm.  Tereza explained that it takes seven days to smoke sausage, and then it is stored in the cellar.  Prosciutto is smoked for two months straight.

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This is a kuna, an animal native to Croatia that lives in the forest.  It appears on Croatia’s currency.

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Ana is standing on the left.

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Bruce, with Tereza and Ana, after he gave Tereza and Ana each a pair of fused glass earrings he had made for them.

Tereza and Ana raise, grow, and make almost everything they eat, as do all of their relatives who live in their little village.  They pickle their own vegetables, make their own cheese and wine, and bring their own olives to another village to get pressed for olive oil.

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Everything here was homemade or home-grown.

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This is “Rosata,” a dessert made with homemade rose liqueur.  Rose petals are soaked in grappa for 40 days to make the liqueur.

During dinner, Ana was very patient answering the many questions we all had about their life during the war and after.  When their village was attacked on October 3, 1991, Ana was just three months old.  Serbs occupied the village, stole belongings, killed animals, and destroyed what they didn’t take.  The villagers were forced to leave with only their clothes and documents.

Ana’s mom fled with her to Germany to stay with relatives.  Only women and children were allowed to leave, because the men were required to stay behind and fight in the Croatian army.  Dubrovnik didn’t have an army, so one had to be quickly formed.

Dubrovnik suffered substantial damage due to its location bordering Montenegro.  Although the Serbs only occupied areas outside of the Old Town walls, they did bomb it.  In all, they occupied about one third of the country before being defeated.

Following the war, men returned to clean up their homes and clear land mines before their wives and children returned.

To this day, there is still (understandably!) resentment towards the Serbs and Montenegrins for the abuse and brutality they unleashed on Croatia.  (In contrast, Croatia has an excellent relationship with Slovenia to the north.  Both countries are in the European Union, and Croatia will adopt the Euro as their currency in 2020.)

We learned so much about what Tereza and her village endured in 1991 and the struggle the entire country had post-war.  Hearing her story made it so real and so personal.  We were thankful to have had that experience, something Vantage Travel calls a “Cultural Connection.”  This is what travel is all about.

 

Coming up next:  Montenegro

 

 

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 12- SPLIT, CROATIA

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Leaving Sibenik

Our morning cruise from Sibenik to Split was lovely.  I was able to get in a yoga session on deck, stopping from time-to-time to take in the views and snap a picture.  What a fabulous way to start the day!

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Andrea, one of the crew

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Another crew member, Stipe

Cruising aboard La Perla combines the best of ocean cruising and river cruising.  You have the fresh ocean sea air, the beautiful scenery, soothing sound of the water like you would on a cruise ship, but the quaintness of a riverboat.  Actually, with only 24 passengers on board, it was even better!

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It was wonderful to be able to watch the coastline as we cruised closer in than a ship would.  Having a window in our cabin also allowed us to take advantage of the views while getting ready for dinner.  The balcony was an extra bonus, making it convenient to pop out for a quick picture or sit out and enjoy the scenery while the other was in the shower.

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At 115-feet long, the yacht was big enough for us all to have our own space, but small enough to make a quick pit stop in the cabin or run down to grab my camera for a sunset shot.  In a word, FABULOUS!

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Split

Our time off La Perla exploring each destination was fantastic, too.  We saw so many wonderful sites, including Split, one of the oldest cities in the region.  Upon our arrival, a local guide met us at La Perla for a walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The tour took us through the lower level passages of this massive fortress-like complex that was built in preparation for the Roman emperor’s retirement in 305 AD.

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An artist’s rendition of Diocletian’s Palace

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If you have ever watched Game of Thrones (I have not), the fourth season was filmed at the palace.  What a setting!  Looking around the enormous stone passageways, I was in awe.  How the heck did they build that amazing complex—and, in only ten years?!

 

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The four-feet-thick ceiling was constructed with compressed rocks, and no mortar was used.  Vaulted openings were built for air ventilation, and holes were made in the living quarter floor for sewage to be dumped.  The walls of the palace are five-feet thick!

Within the complex, pillars were constructed to support the living quarters above.  (Otherwise, they would have been underwater at high tide.)  Half of the complex was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

Today, there are restaurants, shops, and some homes within the walls of the palace.

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This Wisteria is 150 years old!

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In the foreground are original walls of the palace.

 

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Exploring the palace was fascinating, and roaming the streets within the walls was quite enjoyable.  At one point, we came across a group of klapa singers and listened to their beautiful voices in the amazing acoustics of the stone walls and high open-air ceiling.

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While Bruce took an afternoon siesta, I opted to spend more time walking Split on my own.  Croatia is a very safe country, and I felt completely comfortable as a solo woman walking around Split and other places I ventured out to explore.  The two Canadian women on our tour often split up to sight see and had the same experience.  I highly recommend Croatia as a safe place for a solo woman to travel.

 

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The view from La Perla at night.