Dubrovnik is probably the best known part of Croatia, especially after GoT. This tiny but gorgeous town has enough to occupy one for a week, maybe a fortnight, if you add the side trips. It is also crazy crowded, for its tiny size. It is easily the most touristy of all of Croatia. The entire city and its surroundings are geared up to one purpose-tourism, but that just doesn’t reduce its charm. Whether you choose to stay in the gorgeous beach-front hotels of Lapad, or near the old stone-walled jam-packed old town, or even in the fishing village of Cavtat nearby, Dubrovnik will steal your heart. Like it did mine.
As we drove past the imposing city walls towards our brilliantly located apartment Villa Ragusa (a great find by Yogesh Shenoy; thank you so much), we could see the Adriatic stretched out glistening blue, beneath us with a sea of orange roofs sloping up to height we were at. As we climbed higher on the road, we realised that all of this part of Dubrovnik outside the old town was perched on the hillside, between 2 one-way streets.
And when we finally reached the road on which our apartment was some steps down, we could see a most alluring view of the entire walled old town with its harbour, and then the blue blue sea and the turquoise and teal blue of the Banje beach.
But these were not the colors we saw on the day we reached. These were on the subsequent sunny days. The day we reached was dull and dreary, with grey clouds overhead and a faint spattering of rain. Dubrovnik, however, looked just as gorgeous in the rain.
As we heaved our suitcases down the many steps (I stopped counting after 100) to the apartment, I was praying desperately that it would be good, especially after the Zadar debacle. But I needn’t have worried. An immaculately clean and new pink room awaited us. It was a hotel type room with apartment convenience and phenomenal proximity to old town. Oh did I say that it had a rate to die for. This was the most VFM place we stayed at in our entire trip.
We returned our car to Unirent Lapad bay, roamed about the whole of Lapad, and came back to the old town at the other end from our hotel, the Pile gate. Since we reached that gate, we walked through the old town on a very cool evening with absolutely no crowds. The old town is, of course, such a wonderful place that crowds can’t lessen its beauty, yet, it was nice to see the floor for some time at least.
We entered through the gate and walked through some more stone lined passages and past thick walls, past this lovely painting, and found ourselves at the Stradun.
The Stradun or Placa is the center point of old town. Or rather center lane. The floor looks like gleaming marble, now wet and glowing with the light of the setting sun. On both sides are old buildings, 2 or 3 storeyed, made of old stone. The buildings have shops, ice cream bars, restaurants and cafés all along the length of the stradun, with tables arranged outside the cafes.
At the far end is the old clock tower with a digital clock on it. It is all very ancient and beautiful. I fell in love with it at once.
There were really very few people in the Stradun, so there actually were a few snaps where it didn’t look like Dubrovnik at all. We posed near gargoyles and took countless pics of the beautiful Sponza palace, clock tower and the Rectors palace.
Again like split, architecturally it was awesome. Intricately carved columns and pillars have always excited me no end, so I felt like a spoilt baby.
We roamed about the old town on all 3 days that we stayed at Dubrovnik. That’s the advantage of staying nearby, to visit this lovely place at times without too many tourists, to see it in the bright sun, the twilight and at night; to feel the place.
If the main street, the Stradun, could ensnare me so much, the smaller side ones sent me into a tizzy. Old lanterns hung along the stone walls, flowers grew out of balconies and shutters, clothes hung along lines on impossibly high ropes, small tables with checkered or flowery table-cloths dotted the walls with impeccably dressed men and women tempting us to sample their wares.
These narrow streets steeply sloped upwards with scores of narrower lanes crossing them at different levels. There were no tube lights here, only the soft glow of yellow and red light bulbs. Tiny shops selling jewellery, ships, clothes and all sorts of baubles occupied their place alongside souvenir shops and restaurants.
I had read about holding birds on the Stradun, so was excited to see a lady kissing parrots and macaws, on the bill. The kid went ballistic. She held a pure white cockatoo on her head and was thrilled to bits, then she put a green macaw on her arm. The birds started digging their claws into her and she got terrified. So when the lady got a huge blue macaw, she refused.
So the lady put the macaw on my hand. I was thrilled, with visions of me covered all over in these pretty birds, and started planning the next color when I felt claws scratching my skin and a beak pulling at the button of my new shirt. Suddenly I didn’t want to be bird woman any more. I just wanted it off. I looked about in panic for the bird lady, but she was busy putting birds on others who were attracted by our gutsiness. Finally, bird chewed off button, almost swallowed it, with me squawking more than any bird, when she saw my terrified face and removed the bird and returned the button. Whew! I’ve not put the button back.
However, the best time I had at Dubrovnik was when I wandered about all by myself one hot sunny afternoon, while the hubby and kid merrily slept away. Tummy filled by a delicious salad, I had a great time with my camera and Rick Steves (and after while, without both of them).
I simply wandered about aimlessly. I walked along the small narrow lanes that we’d not seen earlier. I sauntered in and out of all the pretty gold shops even though I knew I wasn’t buying. I happily stood and looked at beautiful stalls selling lace table-cloths with embroidered tulips, roses and other flowers in all hues. They were too pretty for words and I knew right away that I couldn’t afford them but I had a blast just looking.
Finally, I reached the main square filled with loads of small ,colorful stalls selling lavender pouches of all shapes and sizes, varieties of dry fruits, olive oil, other essential oils and food items. Some stalls were selling wooden toys, soft toys, lace, table cloths, and other lace items. A lovely stall had painted coir table mats, coasters and place mats that were so pretty and colorful that I couldn’t help buying some. This was by far the most attractive stall and I had to tear myself away. Looking back upon this splash of color amidst the white and light cream stone surroundings, I was really happy that I came to old town instead of sleeping in a room.
I knew that the St Ignatius church was up the gorgeous set of steps at the end of this square so I happily went there. It was a simple church from the outside. On the inside, it was so quiet and peaceful. Everyone was here to pray, I seemed to be the only one there for sight seeing.
It was cool inside and I felt a great sense of calm settle on me. I sat there for ages, just feeling wonderful, as if in a different world. Somehow I felt no worries, no pressure, all the tenseness left my body and I felt incredibly happy and content. I felt gratitude for being in this beautiful pure place of prayer. My only regret was that the kid wasn’t there. She would have loved this church.
I got up to leave, and was almost out of the door, when I saw the most incredible grotto of Mother Mary. Take time to zoom into the face of the Mother, she is so serene and welcoming. Such a wonderful time I haven’t had in any church so far.
I turned and walked out, only to wander into the oldest church of Dubrovnik. Though not as silent and peaceful as St Ignatius, this one was also calming with tall white ceilings and lovely paintings along the sides. So an atheist had a great time visiting myriad churches and cathedrals in Slovenia and Croatia.
Back out near the Stradun, I was back in the harsh sunlight, happy as could be. As I walked back across the square, I couldn’t help but smile as I looked about. What a magical place to be at!
I walked about slowly, loving this old and ancient architecture. No, I don’t remember the type of construction or the era it belonged to. The purists will argue about the lack of precision/interest/historical accuracy in this post. It doesn’t bother me. I had the time of my life.
It took very little to make me happy. Just like my lone walk through Ljubljana, this too was one of the highlights of my trip.
I walked up one of the tiny streets crossing the Stradun, up, up, up lots of stairs, to come outside the walls of the old town, onto the main road that drives onto Lapad bay on one side, and onto the newer part of Dubrovnik (where we stayed) on the other.
And then walked back down a parallel, steep street to get back into old town and onto the bridge I’d seen in the picture above.
As I walked out of the imposing stone walls, towards the apartment, a camera filled with pictures, I was grateful to the hot sun that kept the others indoors, unable to stop my aimless meanderings! Though, I ended up badly tanned at the end of my walk.
As I exited the Ploce gate, I turned to look at the waters of Banje beach, where we were headed next. The most crowded and popular of Dubrovnik’s beaches, it’s nowhere as good as those in Lapad bay. But was stunning enough for me.
We did go to the beach later on, on our last day, but by the time we reached, the sun had stopped blazing and a cold breeze blew in from the sea. The waters were crystal-clear, but cold and filled with pebbles. These pebbly beaches are why most of the Adriatic has clear waters, there is no sand. The kid spent all her time jumping onto the father, instead of enjoying the waters!
And I turned back to see the old town, against the backdrop of the blue Adriatic sea. It was tough to say which was the prettier sight, the orange roofs, the blue sea, or the white sand.
The mad rush of Dubrovnik, with its tiny alleys, the throngs of people, the cold when it rains, and the sun in the afternoon, are all part of this gorgeous town. The old town feels as old as it looks despite the souvenir shops and stalls and the endless gelato stores. Despite the large numbers of evident tourists, you can’t tear yourself away from that broad street with its narrow criss crossing lanes. You can’t have enough of the old town. It mesmerises you, captures you, addicts you. It draws you back, again and again, for more and more.