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Balkan Odyssey Part 18: Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic
Even during communist times Dubrovnik was a hot destination for Western European vacationers and even some Americans. When communism fell, however, and war raged through the area, Croatia was shelled like everywhere else despite it having no military value whatsoever.
Naturally, this scared away tourists and continues to do so despite the war being long over. Although everyone is touting Dubrovnik as Europe's newest hot spot, it still hasn't reached its pre-war tourist numbers.
There's good reason why Dubrovnik was so often visited even though it was locked behind the Iron Curtain: it is an absolutely perfect walled city situated on an absolutely perfect expanse of water. Just check out the above screen capture from Google Earth.
There are many accommodation options throughout the greater city of Dubrovnik, but the place to stay is within the Old Town's city walls where cars are prohibited and narrow cobblestone alleys rule. A great site is Dubrovnik-Online.com. This is where we dug up a fantastic one-bedroom apartment with bathroom, air-conditioning and a small kitchen located just above 17th century Gundulic Square. Placa Dubrovnik has three apartments available to rent. Ours cost just 65 euros a night ($83) and included a complimentary airport pickup by Tonci, the friendly, English speaking proprietor. The photo above is taken from our window overlooking the square. My girlfriend and I were very pleased and highly recommend the place.
So much of Old Town is narrow alleyways punctuated with stone stairs such as these. Restaurants and bars are squeezed in wherever there is room, but not so drastically that things seem crowded. And the restaurants are amazing. I found them rather expensive, but the quality was excellent for the most part. We began choosing restaurants by their locations and almost always scored a hit. The seafood was great and the Italian food as well. The cheeses, however, weren't as good as those I had in Albania and Montenegro. One of the stranger things I ate which I wasn't too fond of was a plateful of tiny, inch-long fish deep fried in batter. You eat the whole bite-size fish; head, bones, eyes and all. The taste was a little odd and the crunchiness unnerving.
Dubrovnik also has its share of bars and cafes. One of my favorites was a place with live jazz called Troubadur (on Gunduliceva Poljana). Undoubtedly the nicest place to sneak a drink is a tiny bar which clings to a rocky outcrop on the outside of the city walls. Café Buza, is a little difficult to find, but the view (above) is amazing. Walk along the interior side of the ocean-facing wall until you find a hole with a sign above it reading, "Cold Drinks." On the other side are perfect sunsets and a wonderfully mellow vibe.
Walking the city walls is an activity not to be missed. At 25 meters high, one can circle the entire Old Town and soak up aerial views of life below, or linger on the ocean-facing sections and stare out to sea. The distance is misleading, however. The circuitous route is more than a mile long and many choose to duck out half way through.
The Croatians I met in Dubrovnik were some of the friendliest locals I've met anywhere. I found this surprising because the small town is so overrun with tourists and normally when this is the case, locals grow to hate such an invasion. It made me wonder if such friendliness was the result of the war where an entire city which lived and died by tourism was slowly dying as visitors stayed away en masse. I would guess that having lived through such tough times, Croatians no longer take tourists for granted as do other places like Paris. Or, and this is probably the correct answer, the Croatians are simply very nice people. If you want to see what I'm talking about, stop for some scoops at the ice cream shop on the Placa nearest to Pile Gate. The two brothers who own the shop inherited it from their father who inherited from his father. A lifetime of scooping ice cream and they are as happy and jovial as though they had just started that day. Incidentally, this is some of the very best ice cream in Old Town.
Dubrovnik really is a wonderful place, so wonderful in fact that George Bernard Shaw's oft-quoted "paradise on earth" description no longer seems excessive once you've visited. The exception, however, are when the increasing number of cruise ships dock. One morning we awoke to discover 4,000 American tourists had disembarked and flooded Old Town like locusts. By afternoon they were gone, however, and Dubrovnik returned to its heavenly state.