The Jewel of the Adriatic – Dubrovnik, Croatia!

Approaching Dubrovnik, Croatia coming from the airport and meetings its famous tiled roofs

For a long time, Dubrovnik has been in my radar as a destination.  The images of this city sitting on the Adriatic Sea with its tiled roofs has always captured my imagination – as I hope it does yours, if you have not been to this gem of a place!  This initially was going to be one post but there was so much I wanted to share, I decided to split into two, to not short change you, my readers!

Planning a trip to Italy with friends, I began wondering where else I could go after the Italy visit since I was already across the Atlantic.  As I reviewed the map (first mentally, then online), I zoomed in on Croatia.  Very close to Italy… I did not have a hard time making my mind up.  Croatia it was and Dubrovnik within it….

Arriving in Dubrovnik

I landed in the small but very efficient airport and boarded the bus to town, saving tons of money and paying little to be dropped off right outside one of the main gates into the old city.

The main bus stop area outside of Pile Gate in Dubrovnik, Croatia

As I rode the bus along the coast, I kept my eyes wide open waiting for my first glimpse of Dubrovnik.  And that moment was still as impressive as I thought it would be:  this place looked like out of a fairy tale!  Though I didn’t luck out in the weather department that week, it was impossible to not be charmed by Dubrovnik…

Approaching Dubrovnik, Croatia coming from the airport and meetings its famous tiled roofs

Not too bad for a pic taken from a moving bus!

My Home for 4 Days – The Hilton

My hotel, the Hilton Grand Imperial was almost across the street from the bus stop.  Lucky guy!  (In fact, you can see in the top picture on the top right of the picture!)

Grand Hilton Imperial Hotel in Dubrovnik, Croatia

The beautiful Grand Imperial!

Sample architecture in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Building across from the Hilton Grand Imperial Hotel

The hotel was built in the late 19th century and suffered greatly in the attacks in 1991 (I saw a picture of its roof burning in a local museum where a photo exhibit shows the pain the city went through that year…).  It is now a beautiful Hilton property with excellent service, great location, and an incredible buffet breakfast (along with a well prepared gym to burn off any calories you don’t burn by walking around!  Oh and an indoor pool, sauna, and steam room – imperial indeed.).  (Check out my TripAdvisor review for this hotel.)

Hilton Grand Imperial welcome treat in my room in Dubrovnik, Croatia

A nice welcome treat after a long day coming from Rome via Munich at the Hilton!

Background to appreciate this beautiful place even more…

Dubrovnik competed with Venice, in its heyday (as it does today in my head!), for being one of the most important centers of trade in that part of Europe.  In fact, the Republic of Ragusa, as it was known, was the only contender in the eastern Adriatic to Venice.  It was a skilled center of trade working through complicated politics and centers of power to remain independent until a series of mishaps in the late 17th century started eroding its staying power to be independent.  Little known to me and likely to my compatriots from any of our history courses, this place was definitely unique in history.

Eventually, after many different circumstances, Dubrovnik ended up in Yugoslavia.  When the Yugoslav state began falling apart, Croatia declared its independence along with Slovenia.  Unfortunately, it was not a clean break for Croatia.  Dubrovnik suffered serious attacks in 1991-2 that destroyed parts of the city and most of the tiled roofs that added a lot of charm to the place.  Most of the tiled roofs you see today, in fact, are reconstructions due to the war.  It is very sad not only for the loss of human life and the destruction suffered upon this beautiful city but this city had been demilitarized in the 1970s on purpose to ensure it would never suffer war due to its beauty.  But nationalist zealots don’t respect much…  Dubrovnik paid the price – still visible as bullet holes in some buildings and by the new-looking roofs.   Who is laughing now, though??

Old Town and the City Walls

For sure, the best part of Dubrovnik is what is in Old Town and what surrounds its:  its famed and still intact city walls.  There is so much to share on this that I devote another post to what Old Town offers.  For now, until a few days from now, know that exploring every corner and alley of Old Town is a delight!

The following are views of different portions of the famous city walls as I walked them!

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Food – Because You KNEW I Was Going to Go There

I mentioned in my review of the Hilton how good the buffet breakfast was – so that was one meal I did not go elsewhere for!  I had a nice meal at a local place in Old Town one night, and then another meal right between the Hilton and the Pile Gate at a restaurant that was good but pricey.  However, the star of the show for me was Restaurant Posat.  Though in my TripAdvisor review I mention that it was pricey, it was a great deal.  I had mussels for a starter and then a local grilled fish for the main course.  The mussels and the fish were very fresh (and I know fresh fish having lived in Chile for a year!!).  I sat by the waterfront, under the aegis of the St. Lawrence Fortress (or Fortress Lovrijenac).  The restaurant, though outside of the Old Town and very close to the Pile Gate and the main bus stop, was and felt tucked away.  Oh, and they had good wifi!

View from Restaurant Posat in Dubrovnik, Croatia

View from straight ahead from the Restaurant Posat

View of Fortress St. Lawrence in Dubrovnik. Croatia

View of Fortress St. Lawrence – the immediate neighbor of Restaurant Posat!

Great Location!!

Dubrovnik is not just a phenomenal destination unto itself.  It is a great jumping place to many different places.  Island hopping in the Croatian coast, I hear, is incredible.  Heading to awesome Split not too difficult.  Day trip to Mostar, a jewel in Herzegovina?  No problem.  Saunter off to Kotor Bay, the double-bay in Montenegro, or visit Riviera-like Budva also in Montenegro?  Very easy.  Dubrovnik is just blessed with its location as a great place to base a lot of travel in the region.

How Do I Wrap My Head around Dubrovnik?

I have to say that I have seen many places and many places that I like.  I have seen many charming European towns and villages.  I have seen Venice.  And Dubrovnik fares EXTREMELY well when I stack it against any of these.  I dare say its charm is very unique, as is Venice’s.  Except no foul smells, floods, or sinking buildings here…  Stay tuned for part 2 where I hope you will continue to see why I so enjoyed this jewel of the Adriatic!

View of the eastern approach from the sea to Dubrovnik, Croatia

Beautiful view of the eastern harbor, the Fortress of St. John, the Bell Tower, the Dominican Monastery, St. Vlaho’s Church and the wonderful tiled roofs!

Cats of Bosnia & Herzegovina

If ceilings of The Hermitage or the Sistine Chapel are of interest, may not the cats of B&H equally be of interest to someone out there?  OK, technically these are Herzegovinian cats as I didn’t go to the Bosnia part of the Federation of B&H (and I pray they don’t split or I will have to add another country to the list of not visited countries!).

Anyway, these are really just 3 cats I saw in Mostar and Pocitelj.  Cats were everywhere though.  Everywhere.

Enjoy these feline models!  (Click on any picture to enlarge and you will be able to step through all.)

 

 

Day Tripping in the Balkans (part 1) – Bosnia & Herzegovina

When I was looking for a place to go after my trip to Rome with friends, I literally went to www.viator.com and looked at the possible tours available in countries in the area that I did not know or know well.  Not many of those left in that region for me except east of Italy.  I look at the tours because it helps me understand what are the key places to see.

I had pondered making Dubrovnik that next place after Rome because it seemed beautiful in the pictures I have seen and some folks in Twitter travel world spoke highly of it.  As I reviewed the tours that were possible, I learned that there were 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites in neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro that were possible as day trips.  I would say my ears perked up but it would really have been my eyes, not my ears!

That caught my attention as I have wanted to see more of the former European Communist block and those countries seemed a little less, what’s the word, westernized? modernized? than, say, the Czech Republic for example.  I have been to Bulgaria and Poland and the former definitely gave me the best feel for how things may have been in the old days (though, certainly, these countries have made good strides to leave that past behind).

Bosnia & Herzegovina

The country is more often than not just called Bosnia but there really is a region of the country called Herzegovina so, at least in this section’s title, I will call it by its full name.  But it is too long to type throughout so from now on, Bosnia it is.

Bosnia has had a VERY difficult and horrible recent history.  I will not get into that except to say that people seem to get along well enough in the small part of the country I got to see.  I will also mention that pockmarks of the violence are still evident in buildings around (that’s also true in Dubrovnik).

I ended up signing up through Viator for the day trip over.  It was to be a long day (about 12 hrs).  But it didn’t feel long and drawn out.  First, though, an interesting geographical fact is that to get to Mostar (Bosnia, or “B”) from Dubrovnik (Croatia, or “C”) you have to do some border crossing paso doble.  You leave C to enter B and about 9 kms later you leave B to enter C and then you leave C again to enter B and then proceed on to Mostar.  See, back when there existed the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Dubrovnik, the RoD got along better with their Ottoman neighbors than with their RoV neighbors.  So they (the RoD) sold a tract of land between RoD and RoV to the Ottomans to serve as a buffer.  As history moved on and these 3 players disappeared or morphed or blended, that tract of land remained in what became Bosnia.  The first 2 border crossings (C to B, and B back to C) were pretty easy – barely anything happened.  But the last one (C to B the 2nd time, you following?) was a lot more formal and slow (almost an hour).  The same would be true on the reverse, the initial entry into C from B was long but the last 2 crossings were cake.

We stopped at a hamlet on the way to Mostar called Počitelj (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocitelj).  It has a citadel at the top (which I didn’t get to visit) and overlooks the Neretva River which we followed most of the way from entering Bosnia until Mostar.  It has really neat stone buildings and the town was of strategic importance back in the day.  Besides the architecture, what caught my eye were the stray cats that I saw – they were tempting me to photograph them!

Local cat striking poses for me

Hamlet of Počitelj

Mostar is an old town across the Neretva river (in Herzegovina!) where a very important Ottoman sultan asked for this bridge to be built (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mostar).  Most = Bridge.  The bridge lasted until it was bombed during the 1990s wars in the area but it was quickly rebuilt using the debris from the original bridge.  The old town is very charming and, by now, has the usual range of tourist shops but yet it retains a different air from its unique position geographically and in history near important crossroads across different cultures and temporal kingdoms.  It is hard to describe but you do feel it is a land with connected yet different circumstances throughout history than Dubrovnik.

Looking to old town Mostar from the bridgeThe famous bridge in Mostar (shooting it from the other side may have been better!)

The famous bridge in Mostar (shooting it from the other side may have been better!)

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