Saturday, 4 June 2011

Dubrovnik Diaries

A split-second connection in Vienna, and we were in Croatia before we knew it. Our bags though, were still in Vienna. We made our way, zipping through the narrow, winding streets to the walled city of Dubrovnik. 

Basketball's always been my preferred sport
On the way from the airport, you get the picture-perfect first glance of the city. As the roads wind around the mountains, you emerge with a side view of Dubrovnik, in all its glory. There's a football field on the coastline and you are left wondering how anyone can concentrate on the game when the Adriatic lies naked before your eyes.

 We entered the old city from the north. Climbed down sharp steps cutting through narrow alleys. That's the charm of the city, the narrow streets. And no vehicles. The wall encloses within it a small world of its own. Narrow alleys, millions of steps, modest houses in rows with shops on the ground floor, a beautiful city that was rebuilt in all its baroqueness, post the earthquake in 1667.

There's plenty of churches, monasteries, museums and galleries to keep you occupied. Instead, spend time walking side alleys, taking random routes, because you'll never be too far from the main street. And you can spot it's marbled path from anywhere in the city, even at night. Spend some time at War Photo Limited, a project that is frighteningly real and exposes, through photography, the injustices of war on innocents and combatants alike. Eric Bouvet's series of photographs, "Somewhere over Grozny", from both the Chechen Wars in the late 90s were on display when we visited. The permanent collection houses some masterpieces from Ron Haviv's collection "Blood and Honey" which is a unique record of the wars in the former Yugoslavia, tracing them from 1991 to the recent turmoil in Kosovo. My two favourite pictures, a Kosavar boy looking through a bullet hole in a bus window and an imam praying on top of a mountain before joining the liberation army, do not feature on their website collection, but the link is Their print editions featuring turmoil in Nepal, Kashmir, Afghanistan and the region are equally good.

The highlight of a visit to Dubrovnik is walking the city walls of course. Accessible from the east and west, the wall offers spectacular views of the shimmering Adriatic and the city alike, and it's difficult to have too much of it.

Busa I
Busa II
Our evenings were spent at one of two Busa's. Both shack-like bars, hanging onto the cliff edges of the walled city, offering uninterrupted views of the Adriatic, chilled beer and a platform to watch the sun set as soulful music plays in the background.

The best food in the city is served at this modest mediterranean place called Lucin Kantun. It's a small establishment, with chic decor, capacity for twenty on its small tables inside, where you sit and watch the two chefs whip you the most delicious meal you will have in all of Dubrovnik. Try the ham dalmatien style and the lamb ratatouille. The stuffed squid is gorgeous too. But the most spectacular part of a meal at Lucin is the dessert. Have the freshly prepared cheesecake, which is easily the best cheesecake I have ever had (and I've had plenty!). The twenty-some old looking chef (with a massive roman numerals tattoo on his right arm) whips together fresh food each time and with his skills with dessert, you will find the sweet 60 year old owner nearly asking you if you would like to take the chef home! The owner is a chatty man himself, and if you can convince him of how much you enjoyed the food, he'll tell you some fascinating stories about his life in Australia and on sea, and about his sons and daughters.

There are Italians everywhere. And Americans. Beware.

Dubrovnik is a city with no fitting comparisons. It has streets more fascinating than Budapest, side alleys more secretive than the Nan Luo Gu Xiang hutong in Beijing, lampposts nicer than in Prague, and most of all, a coastline more spectacular than and a view that beats Land's End in Cornwall. Unlike the Great Wall, Dubrovnik's walls hold within it rather than keep out.

It's the second Wall I have now walked, unless you consider walking along the cobblestone signifying where the Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer) once stood a valid inclusion (the second being the Great Wall of course). And in no measure are the views less spectacular than the Great One, even though its history may not be as exotic or its extent as wide.

Dubrovnik, I would say, is easily one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. And I think that will stay true for some years to come.

Travel tips: travel off-peak season; wear comfortable shoes; bring your appetite and travel with someone special. It's that kind of a city. Stay at an apartment somewhere deep in the alleys. We stayed at Nieves (named after its owner) and it was absolutely lovely.

A good place to travel to Montenegro or Sarajevo from, though we couldn't because we didn't have other visas. Island hopping recommended, depending on the time of year.

Try having more of a stop over time between connections. The German authorities had to hold our connection back to London in Munich! Easy Jet flies straight to Dubrovnik and Split.

Why I love black and white
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