Tag Archives: Dubrovnik

Day 8 – Croissant in Croatia, Beef in Bosnia, Dinner in Dubrovnik. Luggage in Limbo

September 22nd. Today should have gone like this:

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Taxi to Zadar Airport
  • Drive rented car to Dubrovnik Airport
  • Be transferred to Gulet to meet new group
  • Drinks and Dinner

But it didn’t. It was much more, erm, fun!

Breakfast came and went, as expected. The first variation from the plan came in the form of an extra passenger – our guide, Željko. He needed to get to Dubrovnik to guide another tour group; his only option to get there on time was to catch a bus at 2am. When we heard about that, we suggested that perhaps he might like to come with us, leaving at about 8am. Unsurprisingly, he agreed.

On our taxi ride to the airport, his phone rang, and one didn’t need to understand Croatian to realise that he was receiving bad news. It transpired that he had left vital paperwork back at the hotel – tour notes, vouchers, all the vital stuff that he needed in Dubrovnik for his next group! Fortunately, there was enough slack in our schedule to allow us to take him back to the hotel and then on to Dubrovnik.

So, papers collected, we headed back to the motorway and started the four-hour drive southwards. I was a little concerned about the border crossings we’d need to do through Bosnia, and so my idea had been to ensure we got back into Croatia on schedule before thinking about maybe a rest stop.

However, Željko had other ideas, and suggested that we stop for lunch – in Bosnia! As usual, he had a good suggestion, and so we found ourselves at the Hotel Orka, eating a traditional “Bosnian Pot” – beautifully tender beef chunks and vegetables in a very tasty sauce. As well as the beef, I swallowed my principles and took a photo of my lunch. But I’m not about to go as far as sharing it with you!

After lunch, we set off with (we fondly imagined) enough time to get us to our destination on schedule. We had reckoned without a few factors, though: hitting the border back into Croatia just at shift change time and so sat in a queue to get through for what seemed like an age, but probably wasn’t; being stuck behind camper vans; being stuck behind people on a slow moped. So we arrived at the Sixt car hire return at Dubrovnik airport somewhat late. However, Jane had managed to alert our new tour guide and so the taxi was waiting for us to take us onwards.

“Onwards” was, we found, subject to the vagaries of the weather. Apparently, a strong north wind was in prospect and so our cruise boat – a Turkish gulet – had to plan to leave early to avoid getting trapped in Slano harbour. So, our group were actually on the tour of Dubrovnik that had originally been planned for tomorrow. Amazingly, in the melée that is downtown Dubrovnik on a Saturday afternoon, we found our guide, Filip, and joined him, after he’d given the taxi driver instructions about where to leave our luggage. Filip, in turn, found the rest of our group and we continued with the tour of Dubrovnik old town, with Filip helping the official guide, a lass called Ana, by giving our group lots of historical, geographical and archeological information as we went along.

Memory plays strange tricks. It had been some 11 years since our last visit to Dubrovnik (see the photos here) and I had clearly remembered the difference between the original roof tiles of the old town and the new ones which had been used in the reconstruction after the Serbs had bombed the crap out of the old town in the 1990s Balkan War. But I had remembered the new tiles as being of a uniform colour, and they were clearly not so, now.

(above you can see the brightly coloured modern tiles as well as the faded colours of the originals). So I wondered if these new tiles had started to age and change colour unevenly. But no – it was basically a false memory on my part, as a quick check on Flickr told me. It’s clear that a single or mixed colour is a matter of choice.

The short tour passed some steps which I’m told feature in a certain vastly popular fantasy drama from HBO

but I wouldn’t know anything about that. It also gave us a sharp reminder of what an utter zoo Dubrovnik old town can be… and this is AFTER the cruise ship crowds had left…

…but there were still wedding celebrations going on.

So, tour over, we got on to our bus and headed out to meet up with another van upon which was the group’s luggage. Well, most of it, anyway. Some was missing – ours! Since this included my backpack with virtually all my camera gear in it, I was as worried as Filip was embarrassed. To cut a long story short, they did eventually find our luggage and brought it to the boat quite soon after we got there. Our boat, a gulet called “Perla”, was awaiting the group at Slano harbour, and looked lovely in the evening dark.

We embarked and finally had a chance to get properly introduced to the other nine people in our cruise group over dinner and drinks before turning in for the night. Getting under way early was going to be the order of the morrow in order to get to Korčula and Brač, and that’s what the next gripping instalment will cover. I bet you can’t wait!

Day 3 – Borderline exciting

17th September meant a prompt start for us, as we had to leave Dubrovnik and head up the coast. To make the journey more pleasant, we took the coast road (slower than the main road, but much more scenic). The view over the Adriatic was lovely, and included some interesting sights, such as an old wall which was a fortification to seal off an area to protect the extraction of salt.

Then we encountered something which is typical of the complexities and conflicts in the region – a border! We had to enter Bosnia Hercegovina, a country created by the Balkan wars of the 1990s. A commonly-held idea is that a break in Croatia was created in order to give Bosnia access to the sea, but Željko disabused us of this notion, saying that the real reason is that Dubrovnik, which used to be a self-contained city state, insisted on retaining its separation (whilst still being part of Croatia, which was, of course, also a country created by the Balkan wars). So, now there’s a border, not only into a different country, but, of course, going out of the EU, which makes it a much bigger deal altogether.

Fortunately, the border guards were not on work-to-rule, as can happen sometimes, and so waved us through with just a few words with driver and guide.

We also saw another consequence of the aftermath of the Balkan wars, on local signposts. This part of the Balkan region has three languages and two alphabets; political correctness demands that these appear on signposts but local bitterness means that the alphabet not relevant to a part of the country tends to get unofficially painted over. Here’s a minor example, where someone objected to the Cyrillic script:

but whose stepladder didn’t seem to be tall enough to reach the top name! We saw other, more extreme examples of blacking out the Cyrillic script, as that is the Serbian alphabet, and this was southern Bosnia.

After a while, we reversed the border process and re-entered Croatia, whereupon the landscape changed dramatically as we entered a fertile plain, where many varieties of produce are grown.

Grapevines, watermelons and tangerines figure highly among what’s grown, and there are many roadside kiosks where one can stop and buy fresh samples.

We passed Ploče, of which you’ll have seen an aerial photo earlier, because you were paying attention, weren’t you? Anyway, here’s what it looked like from the ground.

Shortly after this, we swung off the coast road and up into the hills, to Gornji Tučepi, which was the start of the day’s (hot and sweaty) walk. You’ll have to wait for the next entry to read all about that. Stay tuned!

Day 2 – Browned Off

16th September 2018

Today was the first of the daily walks that form the first week of our vacation. The good news was that it was a short walk, around 6km. The bad news was twofold: both the gradient and the temperature were going to be high. I don’t do uphill very well even in cool temperatures, so the prospect of scaling a peak in 30° heat made me quail. I really, really didn’t want to be the balding, overweight, sweaty bloke at the back.

As part of a relatively frugal breakfast (already in the holiday mode of simultaneously feeling stuffed full of yesterday’s dinner and yet somehow starving hungry) we did the English thing of stealing a couple of apples from the breakfast buffet to help fuel us on the walk, went to get extra water from the local supermarket (engagingly called Tommy) and got on our tour bus to go to the starting point, a village called Gornje Obod.

My fears about the gradient were immediately confirmed, as we started off up a very steep slope. Fortunately, after a while that wasn’t nearly short enough, it gave way to a path that wound its way up somewhat less steeply.

On the way up we got several lovely views over a peninsula village called Cavtat (pronounced Tsavtat, by the way).

(if you look carefully above you can see an aeroplane on its way into Dubrovnik airport).

We ground our way up this path, which was actually a military path created during the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire quite some time ago, for a couple of hours, pausing now and then to listen to some nuggets about local history, geography and culture from Željko (not a rest, of course; oh, no, not at all) until we reached a village called Velji Do, which was good and bad news. The good news was that there was some shade, a commodity notable on the route so far for its absence. The bad news? The restaurant, which might have served us beer, was shut. On balance bad, then.

Things got a lot worse after that, as we headed up the “Ronald Brown Pathway” towards the summit, which is called Straazisce. Below is a picture of the village. The Ronald Brown Pathway goes up the hill on the right and if you peer very closely and use your imagination a bit, you can see a cross at the top of the hill, more of which later.

This climb recalled the worst times of our recent walking holiday in Slovenia, which involved some 40 minutes slogging up a 1-in-1 slope in 30° heat. The main difference with this path was that it was in Croatia, not Slovenia.

This photo doesn’t really convey the hideous gradient of the path. It does, however, give an inkling of how far I had fallen behind the rest of the group, all of whom were better at uphill and heat than I. So, yes, I had become the bald, overweight, sweaty bloke at the back. I disguised as much of this as I could by wearing a hat.

Some 45 minutes later I finally caught up with the rest of the group, mainly because they’d stopped, having reached the summit. There is a memorial there to United States Secretary of Commerce Ronald Brown, who was one of 35 people killed in 1996 when a US military aeroplane carrying a trade mission crashed into the hill instead of landing at the airport. The memorial takes the form of a huge metal cross. I’d love to share a photo with you, but the picture I took was out of focus and I was so knackered I didn’t notice until later. I did, however, get a picture of the inscription on the base

(the other three faces carry the names of the people killed in the crash) and I also got a picture of the view from the top, which is pretty good.

Having ground our way up to Straazisce, there was nothing for it but to grind our way down again. It may not be physically as hard or unpleasant as going up, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy, as it takes its toll on knees, ankles and feet. But we made it down OK (in half the time of getting up). Here’s a Relive summary of the walk: https://www.relive.cc/view/e1198905892. Note to self – take more photos with the phone next time; but it shows an engagingly wiggly path up to the peak.

Whilst we waited in Velji Do for our tour bus, Željko gave us a summary of the geopolitics of this troubled region.

The history of Yugoslavia and today’s relationships between Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Hercegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia are bewildering, and far too complicated to cover here (particularly when you throw in the bugger factors of Albania and Kosovo). But it was interesting to get some insight into the complexities and it agreeably passed the time until the bus came to take us back to our hotel.

Once there, most of the rest of the group elected to go into Dubrovnik Old Town, but Jane and I cried off this option, as we’ve been there before, preferring instead to find a nice quiet lunch near our hotel at the restaurant attached to the Hotel Dubrovnik, which might have been called Nono (as it said on the menus) or Uvala (as it said on the sandwich boards outside). We will probably go to our graves not knowing which was the right name. But we got an adequate lunch and a mightily needed beer for me, before walking down to look at the beach which is one of the attractions of the Lapad area.

before heading back to our hotel for a bit of a kip, followed by some domestic admin from Jane using the marvels of modern technology to extract some vital information from home via a video call, some deathless prose from me (these blogs don’t write themselves, you know) and finally cup of tea (Jane) and G&T (me) in the scented dusk of a Dubrovnik evening in the hotel garden. Tomorrow may be hot and sweaty, but for now, we’re cool.