Thursday, 6 August 2015

Croatia – Five kings, one throne, one location

August 3-5

Hello everyone!

Holidaying in the Balkans is becoming increasingly popular, which explains part of my desire to explore here before the various countries all become flooded with visitors from all corners of the globe. Some places, however, have been frequent recipients of folks armed with their cameras and foreign currency. The main country is Croatia.

Surely a candidate for best national football shirt?

Croatia is a beautiful country. I’ve been a couple of times before but had no hesitation in returning. Where I was going this time, however, was new to me and the country’s main tourist hotspot: Dubrovnik.

The city walls containing Dubrovnik's Old Town

Sunset overlooking greater Dubrovnik

There is much hype about this destination. George Bernard Shaw once described Dubrovnik as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, and the town has been fought over numerous times. Many observers and travel writers state that Dubrovnik, along with Venice, was one of the most important settlements of the Middle Ages. Even Napoleon wanted it (and got it too, for a very brief period of time).

Dubrovnik was desired for its fortress and strategic location

Dubrovnik at night

It hasn’t always held this esteemed and competitive crown, particularly in the early 1990s when Dubrovnik was the unnecessary victim of a Serbian bombing campaign. The Serbs and Montenegrins shelled the unsuspecting town and caused lots of damage. The outrage, both local and international, resulted in the global community resuscitating Dubrovnik’s battered buildings.

The coloured buildings suffered varying degrees of damage from the bombing

This image is from an outdoor gallery highlighting the damage caused in 1991

The result of the rebuilding project is a gleaming, stunning Old Town encased by dominant grey walls which reach a whopping 25 metres tall in some parts. Paling terracotta roofs and white stone make the interior seem bright and welcoming.

A view of the stony Old Town exterior from the old port

A beautiful view of the Old Town from a coffee shop on the northern side

Arguably the Old Town itself has possibly lost a bit of its charm simply because of the necessary reconstruction. The stone houses are without rogue rocks jutting out of them. The main streets such as the Stradun are polished impeccably without any marks from the past being visible. The centre unfortunately seems a bit…fabricated.

These buildings might give you an idea of how bright the Old Town can appear to be

Placa Stradun, Dubrovnik

The unrelenting chasing of the tourism dollar has also turned much of the Old Town into a scene common around popular European destinations. Just to walk on the walls costs 100HRK (£10 or almost €15). A wide array of souvenir stalls and the outdoor seating from the copious cafés and restaurants clutter the alleys and add to the congestion brought by throngs of tour groups. Prices reflect Dubrovnik’s popularity; I had to sleep outside of the town as beds in a dorm started at €40 per night. Food and drink costs are similar to much of Western Europe, which is not ideal as I wrestle to stay on a €30 per day budget.

One of the many tour groups being escorted through the Old Town in Dubrovnik

A steep, narrow alley in the Old Town packed with tourists

In spite of this issues, I have to say I was mightily impressed with Dubrovnik. The combination of towering walls and beautiful buildings all packed tightly together looks majestic from afar. It looks like a fantasy world.

The Bell Tower in the Old Town

The view of the Old Town from Fort Lovrijenac is stunning

Speaking of fantasy, more recent events have occurred in Dubrovnik which have resulted in a further influx of tourists to this already sardine-squished town. Since its second season, much of the television show ‘Game of Thrones’ has been filmed on site right here in Dubrovnik.

A character from Game of Thrones surveys Dubrov - sorry, her Kingdom

One of the many tours available for GoT enthusiasts

Having only watched the first series, I recognised…well, nothing. However, sneakily eavesdropping on the numerous GoT walking tours allowed me to hear where certain ‘epic’ scenes were filmed. If you watch it (I gave up due to not giving it my full, undivided attention and consequently becoming very confused), you may recognise some of the locations from the pictures, though I overheard a guide saying that CGI screens are commonly used when filming occurs.

Fort Lovrijenac is a commonly used filming location for Game of Thrones

Steps in a famous scene from Game of Thrones when a woman repeats the word shame 200 times (apparently)

Though much of Dubrovnik’s beauty is manmade, it possesses a spectacular coastline. I saw one of the finest and distinctive sunsets I’ve ever witnessed from the top of the hill overlooking the town. The vivid and drastically different sky colours above and below the moody clouds were jaw-dropping.

The contrast between the sky above and below the cloud was simply remarkable

Indeed, much of Croatia’s appeal to travellers is its natural beauty. I spent a couple of days visiting a friend further north in the sleepy village of Slano. Much quieter and still devastatingly pretty.

Kamila and I enjoying the Slano sunshine

Banja beach, Slano

Once again I’m leaving Croatia and her beautiful coastline with a heavy heart, longing to be able to stay and enjoy the picturesque panoramas just a little bit longer. Dubrovnik is incredibly busy during peak season but, as I’ve mentioned with popular places before, it is with good reason. The ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ certainly is one of the jewels in Croatia’s stunning crown.

Love you all


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