The Pearl of the Adriatic

Trip Start Oct 15, 2012
Trip End Mar 12, 2013

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Nov. 16-23, 2012:
I'm staying within the walled Old Town of Dubrovnik, up many stone steps from the wide promenade of the main street called Stradun. This is not a place for those with dodgy knees, achy legs or a weak heart. I have never climbed so many steps! Narrow "streets" branch steeply off the Stradun.

The Old Town is pleasantly vehicle-free, other than early-morning delivery vans. Other deliveries are made by motorized handcart or manual ones. I saw a group of six men discussing how to get a new fridge up to one of the higher-level houses. What a task! And what happens to residents when they get too old to climb steps? I suppose they have to move elsewhere.
I arrived on the evening of a national celebration. Two Croatian generals from the 1990s Yugoslav war had just been freed from prison. My host said, “It’s like getting our freedom again.”

I have read a bit about the 1991-95 Yugoslav war and seen the photos of people killed and structural damage done. I can’t begin to explain the reasons for the war – or as Croatians refer to it, the Serbian-Montenegrin Aggression. The ethnically diverse Balkans region has a long and complex history, but suffice to say that when Croatia declared independence in 1991, Yugoslavia didn’t like it.

From the Napoleonic-era fort atop Mount Srđ (pronounced “surge”), which rises steeply above Dubrovnik’s Old Town, a small group of Defenders of Dubrovnik, as they’ve been named, managed to hold off the far better armed and trained Yugoslav army. The besieged Dubrovnik population stayed put, taking shelter from bombardment in their cellars and sometimes in the forts in the medieval town walls, the first time in history that the walls had been used in defence. Two-thirds of the Old Town’s buildings were destroyed or damaged. It is said that when Yugoslavia started shelling Dubronvik’s Old Town, the Pearl of the Adriatic and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they lost the war, since international opinion turned against them.

In the relatively short time since the war ended, the Old Town has been completely restored and looks as lovely as ever. (There is a small pocket of town that lies in ruins, but they date from a terrible earthquake in the year 1667.)
Maybe when some or all of the Balkan countries are part of the European Union – Croatia is due to join in 2013 – relations among them will be eased.

The highlight of a visit to Dubrovnik is walking the town walls. So photogenic – all the red-tiled roofs, punctuated by a few church towers.

Having a week here, I was able to visit almost every tourist venue and notable spot: monasteries, cathedral and churches, museums and photographic exhibits of the “Homeland War,” an archaeological exhibition, a 14th century pharmacy and the second-oldest synagogue in Europe. I took a city bus to the Lapad area, which is lined with seaside resorts and a rugged coastline.

There are a lot of cats here! And some pigeons. The cat on my street, whom I greeted each day, sleeps curled up in a flowerpot.

I can hear the bells in the clock tower ringing before and after the hour and calling people to church.

People smile when I say Hvala (thank you). Croatian is a Slavic language, so I do recognize a few words that sound like Czech or Russian.

My last full day here, I finished up my sightseeing and chose two spots with benches where I could just sit and read a book: the harbourfront under the walls and the former moat outside Pile Gate. Another meal at the only vegetarian restaurant in town, then back to my room to pack up for my flight back to England.

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