Thursday, July 2, 2015

Dubrovnik, Croatia: Dreamy Coastal City of Red Roofs...and Tourists

Driving down the Dalmatian Coast (the coast along Croatia) was one of the most beautiful coastal drives ever. There’s a highway that basically follows the coast and has a new breathtaking view around every turn, much like Route 1 in Northern California, only Mediterranean and tropical-looking. I couldn’t even sleep because I was too busy admiring the ever-changing coastline  - that, and it took my mind off the hairpin turns the bus was making while barreling down the coastal highway. We arrived into Dubrovnik in the late afternoon.

Views of the coast from the bus window

More coastal bliss

What It's All About:
Dubrovnik is a gorgeous, red-roofed Mediterranean town right on the coast of Southern Croatia. The city’s Old Town juts out into the water and is surrounded by fortified Medieval walls, and it used to be a major port.  Dubrovnik is huge into tourism - the city is teeming with tourists (there’s a huge cruise ship industry), and most of the locals don’t even live in the city anymore because it’s more profitable for them to live in the suburbs and rent out their Old Town apartments to tourists (my guidebook says the city population of 2,000 drops to way under 1,000 in the summer to make way for the tourists). Consequently, most of the “hotels” you’ll stay in are private rooms or apartments rented out by the residents. 

Old town on the right, surrounded by castle walls and the harbor
Old Town, while jam-packed with tourists, is the sweetest and still has a tiny charming city feel - it’s vehicle-free, has cobblestone streets, and you can get anywhere else within Old Town in minutes. 

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • We dropped our bags off at our apartments - mine was the cutest ever; you had to walk through a restaurant and up the stairs to access my second-floor room, and it was run by an elderly Croatian lady who could only shout a couple words in English (“Keys!” “Lock!” “You pay now!”) and jabbered the rest in Croatian. On that note, I think I’ve pretty much perfected the art of the blank stare. 
  • David and I headed to a cliffside drinks spot outside the city walls of Old Town called Buza II.  You basically walk to the most Southern street in Old Town, look for a hole in the thick Medieval wall that surrounds the city, then walk through it to find this awesome bar on the other side - with several levels on the cliffside and swimmers on the rock cliffs below. Of course the place is all foreigners, so it was fun just having beers and watching the sunset while chatting with all the other tourists.  

Rocks below the cliffs of the bar
A cliff jumper in action
Sunset view from Buza II
  • The next day, I headed out on my own to walk the city’s walls. The walls were constructed to protect the town, then reinforced a ton in the 15th century against the Ottoman Navy. The walls rise up super high above the city with a couple forts along the way, and you can walk along them around the entire city. Not only is it kind of educational/historic, but it also has beautiful views of the entire red-roofed city. The views were really, really pretty.
    View of the port from atop the city walls

    Like walking The Great Wall, but Croatian

    Basketball court on a rooftop of the city
    Red roofs everywhere. The duller roofs are pre-war, the brighter ones are rebuilt buildings after the war

    Looking down at the tiny narrow streets of Old Town

    The city walls are where the city ends, and then A CLIFF
    • Went swimming in the other cliffside drinks spot outside the city walls called Buza I (they are creative with their names here).  The water was really cold but so refreshing, and the saltwater makes it so much easier to swim. I never realized what a slog treading water in freshwater was, because in saltwater, you just kind of throw an arm or leg out once in awhile, and you’re floating like a pro.

    Sunbathers on the cliffs outside Buza I, sea kayakers in the back

    I can cliff-jump too; off impressive heights of ~12 feet


    Steps down into the water
    • Took a cable car to the top of Mount Srd, which overlooks Dubrovnik. From the top, you have this incredible view of all of Old Town and the surrounding water - it looks so cute, this tiny little city surrounded very clearly by huge gray walls on all sides. From the top of the mountain, you can see all the little Dalmatian islands and all down the coast, as well as east into Bosnia & Herzegovina.
    Cable car riding to the top

    Top of Mt. Srd (btw, how is is possible there are no vowels in that word??)

    The only reason I took this photo is to show you that selfie stick usage is totally normal

    Dubrovnik city, maybe with a filter thrown in
    • Both nights, David and I met such fun people - the first night we hung out with this lovely doctor couple from Ireland that were so sweet and hilarious (how can you sound like you're from Harry Potter AND be doctors AND also be funny??? Life; not fair sometimes); and the next night, I met two girls from the States, Jess and Brie, and invited them out to drinks with us.  Our second night included local shots of honey whiskey (it seriously kind of tastes like liquid honey, none of that Jack Daniels honey stuff they always try and push in the US), a beer tower, tuxedo bibs, and street yoga.

    Night 1: my favorite Irish doctor couple ever. They were so, so great

    The main street at night, after all the tourists are gone

    Night 2: Jess and Bri and....tuxedo bibs! The best.

    After dark yoga on the main street, totally normal

    Fun Facts of the Day:
    • There are always tiny pickles in the prosciutto sandwiches here and it’s kind of brilliant. This fact is supported by the embarrassing amount of prosciutto sandwiches I've had here
    • While Croatia has a to-die-for gorgeous coastline, most of the land along the sea is rocky - therefore, the beaches don’t have sand: they’re either just sheer rock faces, or are full of rocks & pebbles on the shore. So it's not a lying-on-the-sand-on-the-beach kind of experience.
    • Game of Thrones everywhere. They really capitalize on the fact that much of the show is filmed here. I wish I made it past Season 2. Except I don't, because I apparently avoided watching everyone die.
    • As today is the last day of my Eastern Europe itinerary (cry), I will leave you with a gem Sunny sent me yesterday.  I like to keep a low profile while traveling and avoid looking like a tourist as much as possible - so I apparently look like this 80% of the time.

    Successfully not-looking-like-a-tourist on the streets of Zagreb. Killed it.

    Some Closing Thoughts:
    I can't believe I've finished my Eastern Europe leg.  The past 3.5 weeks have been nothing short of incredible, and it feels like it just flew by. At the same time, stepping onto that plane at JFK to start this trip feels like a lifetime ago. It's weird when every day is filled to the brim with adventures and things to do and see and eat, and all these people come in and out of your life from one day to another. It feels like I've lived three full lives in the amount of time that would have been just an ordinary month at work.  

    Additional reflections about life on the road to come at a later date.

    I absolutely love Eastern Europe: the amount of history, the fact that it still feels a little grittier than Western Europe (though many spots are pretty much on the beaten tourist path by now), the unexpected beauty, the richness in culture - and every step of the way, I've heard about a million more places here that I want to visit. How weird is it when a month, a period of time that would have been unheard-of extravagance to me last year, is suddenly not nearly enough time to see the things I want to?  Next time on my list: Montenegro, Poland, and Central Europe.  Can I rope Russia in there as well?

    Aaaaand I am now on a 6-hour delay in the Dubrovnik airport. How many more blog posts can I fit into this amount of time, do we think......

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