Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Dubrovnik (Croatia)

Heading southeast on a bus from Split along the Dalmatian Coast brought us through the thin strip of land that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina and back into Croatia. We had that brief moment of anxiety when the customs officer walked off with the stack of passengers' passports before he returned. One German couple on a shopping spree didn't even realize we'd be crossing borders. They got a stern dressing down but were let through in the end.

Four and a half hours seemed a long way to go - European-wise at least - to just visit one city, but Dubrovnik is called the Pearl of the Adriatic for a reason. Before Napolean conquered it, the city was the center of the republic of Ragusa for nearly 500 years. Nowadays tourists from the cruise ships are the only ones swarming the city walls... and judging from the hordes when we were there, we dread to think what the flood is like in the actual high season. Nonetheless, the walls are very impressive. They run intact nearly 2000 meters around the old city, and as fortifications, were never breached during Medieval times. The buildings within, however, were razed by shelling during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Now the city walls offer impressive panoramas of the painstakingly restored, orange-tiled roofs - icons of the old city. The views of the sea are also superb. If any of it looks the least bit familiar, it's because medieval Dubrovnik doubles for King's Landing in HBO's Game of Thrones. Squeezing by groups on the walls, we had to giggle at overhearing Spaniards cut through the tour guide's historical spiel with, "¿Dónde está Blackwater Bay?" Not to get all fanboy, but there is a killing to be made on getting photo ops with, say, the severed head of Eddard Stark.

The entrance ticket to the walls also includes a pass through round towers, along bulwarks, and several fortresses. St. John fortress houses an aquarium and a maritime museum, and nooks here and there hosted small exhibitions of Croatian artists. Outside the city walls, Lovrijenac (or St. Lawrence fortress) is known for hosting theatrical productions. When we were there, the risers and staging we saw being constructed looked more in line with a fashion show or exclusive dance club with big spotlights and bars at the ready. Possibly, it was part of the celebrity hoopla overrunning the city.

One morning we brought our newly stamped Dubrovnik Pass to one of the most beautiful and important historical places in the city: the Rector's Palace. To our consternation, the entire complex was roped off for the wedding of some New York socialite and wealthy banker. We were furious! No one we spoke to - not the official tourist office who pitched us the expensive day pass, not even the people at the ticket counter at the Rector's Palace itself who had persuaded us the afternoon before to delay our visit until the following morning - had thought it worthwhile to mention the star attraction would be closed! The plaza outside was clogged with people craning their necks to look at the rich and famous. Although we'd never heard of the bride and groom, such names as Leonardo DiCaprio, Snoop Lion née Dogg, or Angelina Jolie were rumored to be among the guests. That might have explained why, at dinner the night before, Rich had seen a group of men with big cameras jump up from their tables to run lenses out and flashes going... so at least the paparazzi were in attendance!

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