This was to be the first real ‘holiday’ for a quite a while… We wanted the sea – so it was a toss-up between a merchant vessel on the Norwegian coast or an island-hopping criuse with Sail Croatia on the Adriatic. The sunny option won despite my reservations about high temperatures. Easyjet have made Dubrovnik irresistible…
Mass tourism is not my cup of tea, but the discovery of holiday days in hand at work coupled with a looming early-August cut-off date meant we joined the high season multitudes crowding its hot, shiny streets. The efficient air-conditioning in our old city appartment saved the day; the Irish pub below nearly lost it. Earplugs and eating very late proved the best strategy, and we surprised ourselves with two good nights out of three.
The cable car not only provides glorious views of the old city but delivers the visitor to the Homeland museum, in the fort built by Napoleon, at the top of the mountain overlooking the coast. Here in the early winter of 1991 the heroes of the seige of Dubrovnik held out against the predatory Bosnians, whose border lies immediately adjacent. The continuous bombardment on 6 December destroyed or damaged two out of every three buildings in the old city and shocked the whole world.
It had been assumed that the Bosnians would never intentionally damage the ‘jewel of the Adriatic’, but this finally galvanised international opposition which along with poor weather brought this particular assault to an end, and Dubrovnik was relieved.
Ironically, the legacy of the siege is the now immaculate condition of the historic buildings: new bright roof tiles cover 90% of the roofs. In 25 years it has gone from battle zone to tourist playground; the hallowed location of the Game of Thrones and must-see stop for the huge cruise liners. On just one day in 2015, 10,000 tickets for the City Walls were purchased.
In 1667 an equally catastrophic event – an earthquake – led to the medieval centre’s renewal and the grid-like orderliness of the narrow streets we see today. Every church – including the Franciscan convent begun in 1318 – now shouts Baroque with a capital B….
For the record, suburban bus no. 10 leaves from the cable car, not from the Pile gate. It takes the holiday maker out of town and south to Cavtat with a complimentary ticket that accompanes the Dubrovnik card. Cavtat is a handsome marina and port 25 km to the south along the heavily congested single carriageway coastal road. Being five minutes from the airport must make its property highly desirable and very expensive. We ate wonderful fish in the Galija restaurant and wiled away the afternoon in its shade before returning to Dubrovnik by boat.
The 68th Dubrovnik Summer Festival was underway and we spent a hot evening in the Rector’s Palace listening to a stunning concert of both classical and contemporary music for the unusual combination of classical guitar and cello. The atrium is open to the stars and the building’s acoustic was spectacular, as were the performances. We were moved by the sheer range, depth and tone of the cello which in this context totally outshone the guitar. The two worlds of loud Saturday night bars and high-brow Dubrovnik were literally side by side and metres apart – but each oblivious of the other.
Dubrovnik : the epitomy of parallel universe. Tourism and battleground, fantasy and history; ephemeral excitements and long, painful memories; a world theatre and a film set for personal obsession.
I know I live a sheltered life, but I have never seen so many selfies being taken by the same individuals, over and over again, at 20 metre intervals, throughout our walk around the magnificent walls, despite a very early start. As we trudged in solemn procession I wondered how many zillion inane wide smiles now clog whatsapp, snapchat and facebook – with Dubrovnik only dimly in the background?
Dubrovnik deserves centre stage every time.