Wrapping up our stay in Croatia with Dubrovnik

Trip Start Apr 01, 2011
Trip End Jan 26, 2012

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Friday, July 8, 2011

We made a quick two and a half day trip to Dubrovnik which is a very old city in the south of Croatia.  The entire walled portion of the old town as well as the walls themselves are a UNESCO world heritage site and a very popular tourist destination both now and even before Croatia separated from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The walls around old town Dubrovnik are approximately 2 km long and people are able to walk around the city on top of the walls which gives you an excellent view of the old town as well as the nearby islands, the fortress tower outside the town walls, and large portions of the new town.  During the Croatian war of independence, the city of Dubrovnik was attacked by portions of the Yugoslav National Army in October 1991 and held under siege until the middle of 1992.  During this time, large parts of the city were damaged by mortars and shelling and 114 civilians were killed.  We saw a number of pictures of the city after the siege in 1992 and amazingly enough, the city has rebuilt itself very well and hardly a trace of the damage can still be seen.  A few buildings have some shrapnel damage to the stone walls and many of the red tile roofs on the houses are a lot brighter red because they were replaced when the war ended but to the casual observer it would be hard to tell that the old town had taken 650 direct hits from artillery rounds only 19 years ago.  

During the siege, there was a young photographer named Pavo Urban who was taking pictures of the old town for the newspaper he was working for and while he was taking the pictures, another wave of artillery fire started.  He continued to take pictures from the area where he was stranded and unfortunately the final picture he took was of the artillery round that killed him as it exploded just down the street from him.  We have seen prints of the last set of pictures he took in a few places in Croatia and they are very moving images.

We took a walking tour of the old town with a tour guide who was in his mid teens when the war started and he was explaining what it was like to live in Dubrovnik during the siege.  He told us how the residents could no longer get to the landfills so they had to throw all of their garbage off the cliff into the Adriatic to prevent disease from spreading and how once again the old well in the town square was used for drinking water when the water supply from the modern reservoir was cut off.  He showed us a picture of an old town resident on the street after his house was destroyed in an attack wearing a pot on his head for protection and shaking his fist in defiance.  Somewhat ironically, military equipment and troops were moved out of Dubrovnik in 1979 to eliminate its military significance and to help ensure that it would not come under attack and suffer damage in any future conflicts.  Because of this, most of the early defenders of Dubrovnik were local citizens who volunteered to help try and protect the city.  There were hotel clerks, bartenders and many other people who worked in the tourism industry who took up whatever arms were available until reinforcements were eventually able to get through.  It was a very interesting and informative tour and helped us to get a picture of the Croatian view of what happened in this area during the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990's.

We spent the rest of our time in Dubrovnik exploring the nooks and crannies of the old town and walking up and down more stairs than we had ever known could exist.  Dubrovnik is built on the side of a steep hill and there are many flights of stairs that head from the waterfront up the hillside and into the new town.  The room we were staying in was only about a ten minute walk to the old town, at least it is in the morning when we were fresh, cool and heading down the stairs.  After a long hot day of walking around, staring at a half kilometer flight of stairs was not as much fun although it was great exercise and I'm sure I could stop a bullet with my calves now!  The place we were staying at had a number of rooms each with their own outside entrance and each pair of rooms shared a small kitchen area.  All of the rooms exited out to a large patio and garden area overlooking the old town and the Adriatic sea below.  Our host was a lovely little lady who didn't seem to speak any English, however she was always very excited to share things from her garden and she kept bringing us goodies.  When we arrived she made iced tea and brought out cookies, when we were having our breakfast on the patio she brought us a bowl of plums from her garden and when we were making lunch one day she picked us a couple of tomatoes to add to our sandwiches.  On the morning we left Dubrovnik, she hugged us both and waved as we walked away from the yard.  I said to Robin that it was almost like we had a grandma in Croatia for a couple of days.
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