Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island, Croatia

Trip Start May 27, 2007
Trip End Sep 01, 2007

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

8/14 On the bus up to Dubrovnik I finished Harlan Coben's The Final Detail which was my last book so I was left to work Sudoku puzzles until I could get to a bookstore in Dubrovnik.

The bus arrived about noon and we were greeted by several people offering rooms but the problem is they were close to the bus station which is not very close to the old town. The people offering rooms also kept telling me that the others were not telling the truth about various aspects of their rooms. I decided that I didn't want to stay at any of their places, especially since it would be for 8 days.

I took a bus to old town to go to the travelers information center which, last year, had a good listing of rooms. That policy has changed and accommodations now are only handled by travel agencies. There was one nearby that called around for me but was not encouraging since I was a solo traveler.

The travel agency eventually found a room for 350 kuna/night that was just outside of the old town for me. I was on my way there to check it out when I was asked if I needed a room. The lady said her place was in the old town for the same price. I decided to go with her since the location would be primo. Turns out she had two rooms in her house, a tiny room that was probably part of the attic and a larger room with 2 beds and lots more space. The large room was 350 kuna/night but the tiny room was only 200 so I took that one to save money.

I stopped by the one large bookstore in the old town and book a couple of Harlan Coben books before taking the ferry to Lokrum Island. From the ferry you have a magnificent view of Dubrovnik with the imposing wall and uniform buildings. It is easy just to stare in awe at the beauty of the view.

Apparent from the ferry was the damage done by the fire of August 5th. That was the day after I flew into Dubrovnik and I had not heard of it while in Montenegro. News reports I read talked about how 1000 firefighters battled frantically to subdue the fire that threatened Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik was surrounded by fire that spread rapidly due to strong winds. Unexploded landmines left over from the Croatian war in the 1990s hampered the efforts of firefighters. The line of fire above the old city was about 13 miles long at one point! With the help of 3 airplanes and reduced winds the fire was brought under control the next day. The burned areas were easily visible from the ferry, some frighteningly close to town and others that had skipped the highway and burned all the way to the sea.

The ferry to Lokrum took the long way around the island which it never did last summer. It was interesting to see the rest of the island from the boat on a perfect sunny day. Lokrum has to be one of favorite places in the world (if not my absolute favorite!). Lokrum is a nature preserve with no cars and only one resident (the forest ranger). It is truly a sanctuary where the swimming is amazing because of the clear water and abundant fish. It is like swimming in a huge aquarium!

Since I was so late coming over to Lokrum I didn't get in the water but will tomorrow. The first mention of Lokrum in writing was in 1023 in connection with the founding of a Benedictine monastery although there is evidence that the island was inhabited around 900 AD. The word Lokrum comes from the Latin for sour fruit. The tradition of bringing in exotic plants and gardening that existed from the time of the Benedictines to that of Maximilian Ferdinand was continued in 1959 with founding of a botanical garden.

According to legend Richard the Lion-hearted was cast ashore here after being shipwrecked in 1192 while returning from the Crusades. The vow he made to build a church on the spot where he came ashore should he be saved was kept, at least in part. Although he came ashore in Lokrum, at the request of the people of Dubrovnik, he agreed to have the church built in the city itself.

Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and just looks amazing at night. The entire town is attractively lit and the marble of the streets and buildings just glows. There are absolutely no cars in the old town so pedestrians stroll freely enjoying ice cream cones and window shopping. Old-fashioned street lamps are used as signage for all of the businesses in old town which is a classy touch.

8/15 My third floor penthouse was quite hot overnight even with the floor fan on full blast. There is only a tiny window in the room and the fan just blew the hot air around. It was not as awful as other places I have stayed though and the room was very clean and comfortable.

I went to the Internet cafe and made lodging arrangements for the cities remaining on my trip. It was a somewhat sad moment since I've enjoyed the trip so much and hate to see it end, especially with cooler weather on the way. Three months is long enough and I can't wait to see everyone so I'll just start planning for another trip since the planning before this one certainly helped a great deal.

I took the ferry to Lokrum and set up my stuff on the rocks before jumping in. Some people thought the water was cold but I thought it felt great, especially with the high temperatures. Immediately I saw schools and schools of pretty, small fish. I'm sure Mike and Gary would know what types of fish I was seeing, but I had no clue. I just knew they looked nice. I wondered what they thought of this big whale in their midst. They didn't seem too worried but I don't know that fish really think about much other than eating.

The water was rougher than I remember but the visibility was incredible - I would estimate 100 feet or more. I was out of practice swimming in open water and swallowed quite a bit before getting a rhythm going. The slow pace at which I swim really makes my time in the water more of an extended snorkeling trip since I'm always looking at the fish and underwater life (while keeping an eye out for boats and the awful jet skis). While swimming I thought to myself that there was nothing in the world I would rather be doing. The sunshine and striking scenery made for a perfect afternoon. I was excited when I finished my swim since I wasn't sure how I would fare with such a long swim.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon reading before heading back to town. I checked to see if our favorite Mexican restaurant from last summer was still there and it was, albeit with higher prices. I kept thinking that I hoped Croatia had an underwater fence to keep all of the trash from Montenegro away. I stopped for my usual (funghi pizza) for dinner but thought it was too salty and not as good as others recently.

8/16 Another sweltering night made a cold shower in the morning so refreshing. I took an early boat to Lokrum and swam around the island again. The swim did not seem any more difficult than yesterday. I wondered if I was seeing any of the same fish and if they would think, oh that's the guy from yesterday. :-) It felt much hotter today and I just wilted on the hot rocks. I finished Coben's Back Spin before heading back to town. I did some window shopping and grabbed dinner before turning in.

8/17 I woke up feeling very lethargic and decided I would skip swimming around the island today. I still went over to the island, passing Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas en route. When the cruise ships anchor near old town their passengers are forced to take small tender boats which creates more wake so not swimming was a good idea. I just did a short swim and read, finishing another Coben book, Deal Breaker.

It continues to be hot and I have visions of me eating lots of ice cream and Sonic Diet Cokes (obviously a mirage). One of the charms about Dubrovnik is the total absence of chain restaurants - no McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, etc. The old town is always perfectly clean and residents obviously take great pride in their community. That pride was never more apparent than in 1991-2 when the Serbs and Montenegrans attacked Dubrovnik from the ridge above town in a siege that killed thousands and caused extensive damage.

Having visited Dubrovnik last summer with Lee and Ruben, there were a lot of attractions that I will not do this time since we did them last year. I'll put some of the photos from last year in the photo album so you can see the highlights. In this town more than 1000 years old not much changes in one year.

Here are some interesting factoids I came across:
-the oldest arboretum in the world, Arboretum Trsteno, dating from before 1492, is near Dubrovnik
-the third oldest European pharmacy, dating from 1317, but the oldest still in operation is located at Little Brothers church in Dubrovnik (we visited last year)
-the Republic of Dubrovnik was the first state to recognize the United States of America as a sovereign state!

8/18 My hostess gave me new colorful sheets and towels which is a rarity at these private lodging places. If it wasn't so hot the place would really be nice. I took the ferry to Lokrum passing a small Costa cruise shop anchored in the harbor. I was looking forward to my swim around the island and really enjoyed the first part since the water wasn't as choppy as previous days. The second half was rougher since another larger Costa cruise ship had anchored since the start of my swim and there was a lot of boat activity.

It is such a fantastic sight when swimming to catch a glimpse of Lokrum or the old town when taking a breath. The colors are just so vivid. The trees on Lokrum are a brilliant green accented by the white limestone. Then old town is this sand color complemented by the orange tile roofs. These sights really help pass the time and make the swim more enjoyable.

I finished Coben's Fade Away which was another good mystery. Next is a longer book so I won't be going through books so quickly (and expensively).

8/19 It is still difficult to find Coke Light or Coke Zero. The locals don't need the diet drinks but they should stock them for all of the hefty tourists. The cashiers here(and throughout Croatia)always hate to get large bills. Even if they have a cash drawer stuffed with money they will look put out to accept a big bill and will always ask if you have anything smaller. It is frustrating when they ask a customer if she has 1 kuna to avoid making change and have the customer hunt through a change purse to find one as the line gets longer and longer. I have yet to figure out why this practice exists here (I've only seen it in Croatia).

It would be so wonderful if we had our own version of Lokrum in Houston so I could just walk or drive a few minutes to get there. I can keep dreaming! I swam around the island again trying to ignore the wakes from the tender boats from the two cruise ships. When swimming I'll go through places where there are so many fish that it's as if the fish are snowflakes in a snow globe.

I read for a while before taking the walking tour of the island which, despite my many visits, I had never done. The Dead Sea is the most famous beach on the island. It is connected to the Adriatic through an underground tunnel and offers a great place for kids to dive in off high cliffs. The Dead Sea is not large but is a unique place to swim. Nearby were sports fields and a playground for kids.

I next went to the monastery which was started in the 10th century and then added on to in the 15th century. It is basically ruins now with just some outer walls remaining. An olive grove is in front of the monastery with some of the trees more than 300 years old (and they sure look it!). The botanical garden was not impressive nor were the old reservoirs on the island.

The paths leading to Fort Royal were designed by Maximilian of Habsburg who was later Emperor of Mexico. He originally came to the island as a result of an explosion aboard the Austrian warship Triton where only 10 crew out of 95 survived. Triton's Cross was erected above the scene of the disaster with the names of each lost crew member engraved on it. From the top of Lokrum at Fort Royal there were great views of Dubrovnik and the surrounding area.

I decided to try the best pizza place in town according to one of the guidebooks. It is Mea Culpa (is that foreshadowing?) and just around the corner from where I was staying. After scouring the menu I decided on the funghi (mushroom) pizza. The crust was a little thicker than others but it still tasted quite good. I'm not sure it was the best in town but it was a little less expensive so perhaps it's the best value. I also had half left over so I'll try cold pizza for dinner tomorrow. The restaurant had a line waiting when I left so the guidebook must be popular.

8/20 I didn't think I could swim around Lokrum 4 days in a row so I decided to stay in town. I went in search of books with no success. I took a bus to one of the big local shopping areas and stocked up at the hypermarket so I now have plenty of food but am on my last book. From there I went to Copacabana Beach which is near where Lee, Ruben and I stayed last year in Babun Kuk.

The beach is next to the new harbor where the large cruise ships have to anchor. Today the Carnival Freedom and Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas were both in port which creates horrendous traffic jams through town. Scooters are the best way to get around Dubrovnik while I think walking may be faster than the busses which have to sit in traffic.

Copacabana Beach is small and rocky but it is free! There is a small, uninhabited island nearby but swimming to it did not look like a good idea with all of the boat and jet ski traffic. Instead I just swam along the shore. There were a few small schools of fish but nothing like Lokrum. With Lokrum the drop-offs are steep and immediate off the island while at Copacabana the shore was more sloping which created less underwater life near shore. I could see the nearby Elafati Islands which are a frequent day trip from Dubrovnik. I just read and enjoyed a pleasant day.

8/21 Up very early to go swim and make an early day of it since I'll have to get up even earlier tomorrow for my flight to Poland. My little room is cut off from the outside world so I was shocked to see how windy it was outside plus the menacing clouds lurking about. I checked the water from the ferry dock and have never seen it remotely as rough as it was this morning. There were whitecaps everywhere and even the ferry boat was bobbing up and down in the protected harbor.

My hopes of swimming around the island faded rapidly during the ferry ride as we were pitched up and down severely. I imagined what would happen to me. Off in the distance I thought I saw a waterspout to the north which was another bad omen. This is my last beach day of the 3 month trip so it is disappointing to see the weather not cooperating. I started Ridley Pearson's The Body of David Hayes and got more read today than I expected due to the weather.

The ferry trip was like one of the rides at the Houston Rodeo although I managed to keep my cookies this time. When I arrived at the island it was deserted. I had never seen it so empty as I walked to my beach. Instantly I knew swimming around the island was not going to happen. I had never seen waves in the water here much less these enormous waves that were crashing above where I had laid out on previous days! I was practically at the top of the rocks to get out of the way of the waves as I kept an eye on the dark sky.

Just to the south of Lokrum I spotted a waterspout and it was headed our way! I started thinking about where I would go if it got too close but didn't have any good ideas. I had visions of the TV weathermen that cover the hurricanes lurking nearby. Of all days not to bring my camera! For safety reasons I left it in my room so I failed to capture some of these amazing sights. Sorry. Fortunately the water spout dissipated before it reached Lokrum.

I just sat in awe of the water's fury as I saw the reality of a long swim melt away. The weather was supposed to improve in the afternoon but other than the sky clearing the gusty wind and turbulant seas continued. As more people showed up everyone was watching the water to see if anyone dared get in. Finally someone did and we watched him get tossed around. A few people were brave enough to get in briefly so I joined in.

I have swam in some rough waters but nothing like this. It was as if I was on a trampoline in the water. I'm getting seasick now just remembering it! I tried to swim but breathing was impossible and it was hard to go anywhere except up and down rather than any distance. Getting in the water was a challenge since you had to time the waves just right so you didn't get smashed against the rocks. Likewise, getting out was even more challenging since I needed to grab the ladder and hold on while the water receded to not get thrown against the rocks. It took 3 attempts but I grabbed the ladder and quickly (for me) crawled up the rocks lest I get caught in the next wave and get washed back into the sea.

The peacocks that live on Lokrum were out again as I was leaving. I have seen them on several occasions and each time there are 4 grazing near the dock in the afternoon. I don't know where they hide in the morning but they are quite spoiled since people are constantly feeding them.

I had a difficult time reconciling the usual tranquil waters around Lokrum with the North Sea-like waves I witnessed. Waves in the little ferry harbor were even crashing across the dock which is hard to fathom. I had hoped to swim around the island on my last day but, not getting to do that, I will have to come back!

8/22 I took the bus to the Dubrovnik airport where I'm off to Krakow, Poland. I sure love Dubrovnik and will miss it. I didn't do much this trip except read, swim and sleep but it was enjoyable. The old town has this wonderful feeling about it I think that puts everyone in a pleasant mood. Lokrum Island is just magnificent and I'm already looking forward to coming back one day!

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