Everyone’s Pearl Of The Adriatic

A four day trip to Dubrovnik was always going to be a strange experience for me.  I’ve only ever known two people who have gone, and they are both disappointingly far more in my past than they are in my present or future.  Walking in their footsteps in a place that sells itself on that sort of thing was an odd feeling.

We arrived in to Dubrovnik early evening and were picked up by the son of the owners of the guest house we were staying at.  We’d decided to stay out of the Old Town, not least because our booking was quite late but also because staying at Guesthouse Lile was staggeringly cheap.  For two people sharing a studio that sleeps three, it was little over £20 per night each.  That didn’t include food or room servicing, but did include wifi and air conditioning in a comfortable room.

We thought that it was a 30 minute walk to the Old Town but it turns out that it was a bit longer than that.  That’s not too bad at the beginning or end of the day, but in the sun and heat it isn’t much fun.  Busses run regularly and cost 12 kuna if you buy from an office or 15 if you buy them from the driver.  Either way, that’s not a lot.

I didn’t know a lot about Dubrovnik before we went.  Along with Zagreb, it was a name I remembered from the war in the area in the early 90s.  I knew it had A good place to start on the first morning, then, was with a walk round the walls.

As one would expect, the walls give excellent views across the whole town.  Originally, the walls were built only as a defence against the sea before becoming a defence against invaders.  Nowadays, those invaders are the likes of myself that are creating the risk of Dubrovnik losing its UNESCO World Heritage status until it comes up with a plan to deal with the number of tourists it receives.  Given the importance of that status in its modern history (it is unable to have an army), one hopes that Dubrovnik can find solutions.

We took a couple of hours to get round the walls with regular stops for photographs.  There are some bars that would have provided welcome respite against the heat.  Back at ground level and outside the Old Town, we’re met by an abundance of people selling excursions.

This appears to be the crux of the tourist industry in the town.  I’m not certain about how much regulation happens and there is something a bit strange about handing over money in the street.  Most excursions seem to cost around 100-150Kn if you’re walking, and double that if transport is involved.  Cash is King on the streets, which is a fact that stumped me and my expectation of paying for my big expenses on credit card.

For the second day we booked sea kayaking in the morning followed by a Blue Cave tour in the afternoon.  Kayaking is a must.  The tour guide was excellent, both in terms of kayaking direction and knowledge of the area and the history of the place.  The included lunch was a tad sparse and for a 7.5km row, I wish I’d have taken more of my own water.

I haven’t rowed for decades and was apprehensive given my inability (with my back) to sit in such a position.  But then I didn’t have a heart condition that caused me to capsize the kayak at the first stop.  Again, regulation and all that.

The Blue Cave Tour should have been 380Kn each, but we paid 350.  We were told it would be a speedboat, and it wasn’t. I knew nothing of the caves and didn’t appreciate that swimming was necessary.  Not being a good swimmer at the best of times, having spent the morning rowing and walking for 90 minutes to and from our accommodation, I gave the swimming a miss and decided to stay on the boat drinking what I could find and admiring the views, rather than complete a type of triathlon.

It was an enjoyable boat ride but probably lasted a good few hours longer than it should have done.  A boat tour to caves shouldn’t include 30 minutes split between two caves followed by an hour at a beach before heading back.

Another boat provided the transportation for the third day as we opted for a Three Island Tour.  The cost of this one was 250Kn, and included an all day tour, a cooked lunch and drinks.  We were picked up from the apartment, dropped off as the boat was being refuelled and taken by said boat to the actual pick up point.

The 3 of the thousands of Croatian islands we visited were Lopud, Sipan and Kolocep.  Lopud has a lot of buildings to look at if you’re prepared to walk to them.  We went up to a church, which was a 1.5km walk up a hill to see a wall.  As cynically as I say that, the views from the top were amazing.

The other two islands simply provided other bars to frequent.  They were picturesque, quaint and undoubtedly beautiful and, to that regard, simply provided more of what Dubrovnik had to offer rather than add anything.

That’s what I found on the last day.  We had a late flight leaving us the day to explore, but I found myself looking round the same thing.  The restaurants all served meat, pasta and pizza.  Each drinks round cost around 60Kn, served at bars decorated in the same way and all closed somewhere around midnight to allow the clubs to take over.  Each shop sold the same HBO licenced souvenirs from a building made with white stone walls and orange roofs.

For me, it is those orange roofs that hold the key to Dubrovnik’s identity, not only in terms of physical appearance but in its being.  Pre-conflict, the buildings’ roofs were yellow.  By decree, when the buildings were renovated and rebuilt, they were topped with orange.

That’s all you see.  As poignant and stark as the bullet hole reminders in the walls are, this is a town that is continuously rebuilt for one reason or another, lurching from earthquake to war to its new problem with popularity.

It’s not only rebuilt in to Dubrovnik, though.  Sure, the buildings are rebuilt to the same plans and with the same materials as their predecessors which keeps the DNA of the place running through every iteration.  But it’s also rebuilt in to King’s Landing in Game Of Thrones, or Canto Bight in Star Wars, or the Borgia’s Rome, or a medieval Nottingham for Robin Hood.  Its a place that defies time and location and, in so doing, can be anything to anyone with enough imagination and enough desire.

Given my connections to the place before my visit, I don’t know whether to find this inspirational or demoralising.  As I walked the shiny, worn streets in the footsteps of my past, I found myself wondering if the Pearl Of The Adriatic is a bastion of hope or a reminder that sometimes change is forced from something we would rather did not happen.

Try so hard to get away
Think about you every day
Try so hard to live without
But no, no mas
Sun shine is shining far away
Birds eyes just looking out
And they can see that you’re, you’re mine

‘Cause when we’re together, your love is controlling my brain
Like plunging inside of that fire I cannot contain

Our love is like a heatwave
It’s burning through the evening rain
Sets sail out on an ocean wave
‘Cause our love is like a heatwave
‘Cause our love is like a heatwave

I never will walk away
Unless you’re right by my side
Burn gas in the Chevrolet
She’s so hot
And our connection’s like Wi-Fi
Just love how you ricochet
Won’t stop ’til you’re satisfied

‘Cause when we’re together, your love is controlling my brain
Like plunging inside of that fire I cannot contain

Our love is like a heatwave
It’s burning through the evening rain
Sets sail out on an ocean wave
‘Cause our love is like a heatwave
‘Cause our love is like a heatwave

Strong current won’t stop you
Just makes me want you more
Couldn’t leave if I want to
I wash up at your door
I know at times, we break the rules
Temperatures rise when I’m with you

Our love is like a heatwave
It’s burning through the evening rain
Sets sail out on an ocean wave
‘Cause our love is like a heatwave
‘Cause our love is like a heatwave

Heatwave by Robin Schulz feat. Akon

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