Dubrovnik

The next morning, our ship departed from Korčula and headed further south along the Dalmatian coast towards Dubrovnik.  As we slid through the the brilliantly blue water, we cruised past several small but picturesque green islands.

Recovering from the night before, people slowly transferred sleeping spots from their cabin bunk beds to the lounge chairs on deck.  Everyone came to chill out, either reading or sleeping under the warm sun as we listened to someone’s iPod playlist over the ship’s speakers.

Around noon, we stopped near a small rocky island for a swim.  The second the anchor was down, everyone leaped off the sides of the boat to cool off in the refreshing water.

I decided to swim out to a rocky area on the island, and I towed Natalya in her raft along the way.  We investigated random critters in the shallow pools of the rocks like kids as we tried our best to avoid stepping on the rocks as Croatian coasts are well-known to be highly populated by sea urchins… I had had a rather unpleasant encounter back in 2007 in Greece (there’s always a catch with these gorgeous Mediterranean islands!) and was not keen on reliving that again.

We arrived in Dubrovnik around 2pm and had lunch on the boat before heading into Old City.  The boat was parked in Gruž (New) Harbor, and there were three buses (1A, 1B, 3) that provide transport from the harbor to the city.  The bus took about 10 minutes to get to Old City and costs 10kn per ride, or 25kn for an unlimited ride day pass.

Dubrovnik has long been considered the “pearl of the Adriatic” and it is quite simple to see why.  The city is breathtakingly gorgeous, from the man-made towering fortress walls enclosing the city to cascading cliffs that drop off into pristine waters.  Dubrovnik has been listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.  In times of war, Dubrovnik has always been a prime target — not because of any physical military advantage, but more as a psychological tactical advantage–damaging Dubrovnik would be break the heart of the Croatian people.

Dubrovnik, historically known by the name “Ragusa,” has long been an important maritime trading center.  During the Middle Ages, the Republic of Ragusa had become the only eastern-Adriatic city-state to rival Venice.  Due to its financial prosperity and canny diplomacy, Ragusa managed to successfully balance its sovereignty between the Ottoman Empire and Venice for many centuries and remain independent.

In 1815, Ragusa came under Austrian rule by decree of the Vienna Congress; however, following the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918, the city became incorporated in the future Republic of Yugoslavia.  The name of the city was officially changed from Ragusa to Dubrovnik, which derived its name from the dubrava (holm oak) that carpeted the region.

Despite the 1970s demilitarization of Dubrovnik in an attempt to protect it from war devastation, following the breakup of Yugoslavia and Croatia’s independence in 1991, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serb-Montenegrin forces for 7 months and heavily damaged by shelling.  The photo below depicts the city under fire during the war; the photo was featured in the War Photo Limited gallery exhibit we visited in Old Town.

Dubrovnik today has been restored to its former glory.  As I walked down the glistening marble  Stradun (main street) past the charming baroque buildings, it was hard to believe the city had suffered such heavy bombing only a couple decades ago.  However, if you look closely, mortar damage in the streets and bullet marks in the stone houses are visible.

For 70kn admission pp, we took a walk on top of the city walls, which stretch 2km around the entire city.  The walls are open to visitors from 8am-7pm, although it is recommended to do the walk early in the day as the sun can be quite strong and there is very little shade or places to rest.  The views were absolutely spectacular as we had views of the quaint architecture within the walls, as well as the cascading cliffs and islands nestled outside the walls.

Along the way, we spotted the two famous Buza (“hole”) bars, which are two sister cafes that are nestled right into the cliffside, facing the open sea.  Patrons can enjoy drinks lounging on the rocks, and leap off into the water if they so desire.

It took us about 30 minutes to speed walk from the western Pile Gate entrance to the eastern gate; we were in a rush as we had scheduled a sea kayaking adventure with Adriatic Kayak Tours.  The meeting point was located at St. Jacob Beach, which was another 30 minute speed walk from the eastern gate.  Our legs were about to give out by the time we arrived breathless to the beach, and I suppose it was a good thing our next activity would only require our upper body…

Adriatic Kayak Tours: 275kn pp for a half-day tour

We first paddled out to Lokrum Island, a preserved Nature Park, which is located just off the coast of Dubrovnik.  We circled around the island to check out a gorgeous tiny former pirate cove; along the way, we passed a nude beach and attempted to paddle straight whilst awkwardly averting our eyes from the prong fest (think Eurotrip… not really the kind of nudity you want to see).  We circled until we reached a rocky non-nude beach and docked our kayaks there.  The first thing we noticed was that (imported) wild peacocks ruled Lokrum Island; they were everywhere in all their magnificent glory strutting around the island.

Our guide gave us a quick orientation of the island, then we had a couple hours of free time to explore.  We took a dip in the Mrtvo More, “Dead Sea,” which is an inland pond fed by a saltwater channel.

The island houses a 13th century monastery and a Napoleonic French fortress, although we were a bit more interested in the island’s famed cliff jumping.

We left the island and paddled towards to the city walls.  We headed toward the lower Buza Bar II, but unfortunately due to the rough waves, we were unable to stop for a quick drink.  As we paddled towards our final East-West beach destination, the sun began to set.

It was dusk by the time we reentered Old City, and we decided to check out the War Photo Limited gallery, which is open everyday from 9am-9pm during peak tourist season.  It was one of the most well constructed and powerful photography galleries I had ever seen and is well worth the 30kn admission.  The gallery’s goal is the educate the public on the world of war photography and “to let people see war as it is, raw, venal, frightening, by focusing on how war inflicts injustices on innocents and combatants alike.”

Afterward, we returned to the boat to get ready for a big night out.  Our first stop was Gallerie Bar, and we meet up with other Contiki tourmates that are sitting on the stoop in an alley, sipping cocktails from a pail.  We then head to Irish Pub, which had some live music and grabbed a couple drinks before heading to the lounge-y Sky Bar to dance.  Our last stop of the night was the Fuego Club, which was a smoke-filled multi-level club that had green laser lights flashing to techno beats.

By the end of the night, we had partied at pretty much all of the bars in town… of which there were maybe 5?

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