Balkan Honeymoon–Part Nine: Dubrovnik

[Continuation; see parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.]

We make it to the Croatian border. Unsurprisingly for this part of the world, the border is along a near-impassable ridge, so the view as we pass through the precariously-perched immigration posts is awesome. We pull over the first chance we get for a couple of photos, and a bit later we catch our first glimpse of Dubrovnik, “Pearl of the Adriatic”.

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The old parts of Dubrovnik are nightmarish to drive through; the streets that can fit cars are narrow, one-way, and clogged with impatient drivers who actually know where they’re going. We can’t find our lodging anywhere! Finally we contact the host, who gives us a hint as to where to park, and he and his family show us around our room, invite us into their home, feed us snacks, charm us with their stories, dance for us, and finally bequeath upon us some homemade grappa.

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We finally beg off around sunset, and go to find dinner. This is the night we’ve planned to exceed the bounds of our crazy style of eating and eat pizza. The eastern side of the Adriatic is heavily influenced by Venetian and Italian culture, and so the best local food is pizza and pasta, which we’ve been avoiding up till now. The pizza is great, but the gluten gives Becky a bad headache, and she has a rough night.

We wake to discover that this apartment is perfect for us. We can’t seem to muster the energy to leave our apartment, partly from the everything from the last two weeks, and partly from the pizza. Breakfast is excellent coffee and potato chips dipped in potted mystery meat, and we read (books!) until noon. We finally make it out to get lunch at a lovely little cafe overlooking a teensy fishing harbor, but we come straight back to the A/C and laziness. By all rights this should feel like a waste of time, but we have 4 days here (we actually canceled a couple of day trips), and our bodies are drinking it up. We venture out again at 5pm to return our rental car, and make it inside the old city walls on our walk home (yes, it took us 24 hours to start exploring). We explore the back alleys a bit, eat at a touristy place, and retire to our room to watch Portlandia.

The next day we’re feeling more ourselves. We wake up early to walk the city walls before the tourist crush, and finally remember to take pictures again. We arrive at the gate at opening time, pay the fee, climb the stairs, and enjoy the cool breeze and complete lack of company as we walk the 1½ miles around the ancient city center.

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Some of the buildings were damaged or destroyed when the city came under siege in 1991, and you can actually tell which ones by the color of their roofs; the gray-colored tiles are made from clay that isn’t available any more. The newer red and yellow tiles are buildings that suffered damage.

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Sometimes this place just looks fake. I promise, it actually is this awesome.

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Amazingly, parts of the old city are still in ruin. Some of this has just never been rebuilt since the 90s, but some of the neglect is much older; there was a massive earthquake in 1667.

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The seaward wall has been breached in several strategic places to make room for commerce. Several hot night-life spots have terraced patios outside the wall, such as the appropriately-named Buza (“hole in the wall”).

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Our flat is in the yellow house, just above-left of center:

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Our wall-walking admission also covers entrance to the fortress we spotted earlier from the city walls. We hike up the bluff and explore, but it’s totally empty, and we have no idea what we’re looking at.

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We buy some groceries and head back to the flat for lunch and a beat-the-heat siesta. Or that was the plan, at least; I get a text message telling us that our sunrise kayaking adventure has been rescheduled to 45 minutes from now, so we suit up and head to the launch point.

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The water is the perfect temperature, the sun is bright, and the breeze fresh. We paddle a couple of miles to a little cave with a rocky beach. The kayak guides have brought sandwiches and snorkels for everyone to enjoy while they nap; the sandwich is meh, and the snorkeling is nice, I suppose.

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We paddle out to Lokrum Island and back, stopping twice along the way to hear lies interesting stories. Once we re-beach, we head back to our flat to shower off the salt crystals and be lazy some more. Becky’s appetite resurfaces around 6pm, and we end up at a recommended restaurant for sugary cocktails and delicious food. We stroll the town, chatting about places we’ve visited, and places we’d visit again. We find a place that, 10 years ago, we would totally have Instagrammed, snickering. We decide we’ve arrived at “old”, and head to bed.

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The next day, after I make an honest-to-goodness eggs-and-bacon breakfast, we head to the docks to catch the ferry to Lokrum Island. We hike around sort of aimlessly, avoiding the crowds. We marvel at why the botanical garden was a target during the war.

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We take a swim in the “dead sea”; apparently there’s a tunnel to the ocean under the water here, but Becky won’t let me even try to find it.

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There’s a cafe right by the ferry dock; we stop for beer and a little snack. These guys are all over the place, and try to steal our food right off our forks. Then it’s time to head back to the mainland.

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Dubrovnik, outside the “old town” core, is built on a steep hillside. This is the street that our flat’s address is on; it’s 86 steps to our door.

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Tonight is splurge night #2, this time for pasta. We’ve decided that, if we’re going to eat food that will make our tummies ache, it had better be good. We do lots of research to find the best spaghetteria in Dubrovnik, and this is it. The gnocchi is delightful, the lasagna less so. We continue our gastric adventures with the best gelato in Dubrovnik, which was worth hunting down.

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We stroll, soaking in our last night in this spectacular city. Our flight is crazy early, so we retire to the flat, to be greeted by our hosts with fresh apple-chocolate cake and brandy! These people are the best! We pack what we can, set an alarm for 4am, and try to get some sleep. The next day we manage to catch transportation to the airport (on only our second try!), and forget to take our checked luggage through customs in Vancouver B.C. Our old friends Hood and Rainier welcome us home.

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(Our luggage arrives three days later. At midnight.)

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