“The jewel of the Adriatic” as Joyce put it and little less than that really does this town in the tip of Croatia justice. It’s more than just a beautiful place. It’s an organism that breathes, bleeds, and creates with the people who live there.
I’ve seen some large cities in Europe with beautiful places in them, but few of these places are such a tightly congested attack of culture and life as Dubrovnik. Most of the people living in the big cities appreciate them, but it seems as if they just live there. There is no “them” in the city. Such is not the case with Dubrovnik, since as was shown in the Yugoslavian breakup where many fought and died to protect that lovely town that has been theirs for so many centuries.
Dubrovnik is an international crossroads like San Francisco in some regards. Italy, Hungary, Germany, Turkey, Greece, and many other groups have passed through there, either trying to conquer or settle around it. All these cultures have blended into a town that is so many different parts. You hear it in the amount of languages spoken and the fact the dialect of Croatian is much different than places like Zagreb. And you see it in the people, who don’t look like any one group of people. The architecture is definitely Italian in origin, but the temperament of the land is something decidedly its own.
So, what is there to do in Dubrovnik? Enough that I felt my extended stay of three days there was certainly not enough and I was there during the low season. It is an artful city. Of course, it helps to have a friend who is a renowned concert pianist showing you around, since she seems to know everyone and also has her finger on the pulse of the cultural heartbeat of the town. But, amazingly, we only saw one small performance by a friend of hers who played a series of duets for piano and violin. It was a lovely setting in one of the small old churches of the town.
There is also the food. Unfortunately, neither I nor the girlfriend are avid seafood eaters, so we missed out on a very large part of the cuisine. Amazingly, when you live in San Francisco, it can be hard to get fresh seafood without paying a lot for it. Luckily, Dubrovnik is a tad smarter than that and the restaurants use fish that is right from sea that surrounds the town. But, beyond seafood, there is a huge plethora of Italian style pastas and pizzas for people to eat. There are cheeses and there are breads like everywhere in Croatia and they are fantastic. And, amazingly, there are salads in Croatia that are actual salads. They seem to understand the American idea of what a salad should be and also the fact that you put a bunch of cheap ingredients into a bowl and charge a bit for it. I don’t know where they picked this knowledge up from, since other areas of Croatia are under the impression that a salad can be one sliced tomato on a plate.
There are the streets. These magnificent streets of century old paved stones that have been walked over by millions. The most traversed street is the Stradun, which runs the length of the city from north to south. From this street branches all sorts of small streets that either run flat and then up, out to the sea, or run steep, up the side of the mountain. The amazing part is that people actually still live along these streets in ancient homes, above ancient or much newer restaurants. Of course, it is along these small little side streets where you find everything, from “fast food” restaurants to funky clothing stores. Few if any of the spaces are empty and those that are somehow blend into the street in a way that makes it seems as if they should be empty and that being occupied would upset a balance.
Probably the only thing more entrancing than walking the streets during the day, is walking the streets at night. While there is not what I would call a jumping nightlife (probably changes during the high season) there are still people out at night, walking down the glowing streets that look like it has just rained; yet they are dry. Unlike walking through the streets of the Palace of Old Town in Split, which are kind of creepy, the Dubrovnik streets are warm and pulsing, pulling you through them like a wayward cell in the body of a stony beast.
And, let’s not forget the walls around Dubrovnik. Built over a period of around 1,000 years, the end result is about a one-mile long trek around turrets and battlements that point out to the sea, waiting for intruders that are no longer approaching. They would be a little difficult to walk quickly if one was not in relatively good shape due to the fact that the steps rise up and down, arching above themselves, only to come back together. The views are of course stupendous and you feel the wind that they are keeping out of the city. You get a feel for how the walls have repelled the forces that would overtake the city for the last 1,300 years, including as late as 1992…
Art is alive and well in this town. In fact, probably more so than anywhere else, given the relatively small size of the place. What’s wonderful about it is how they have managed to leverage art into a form that are interesting to tourism that then supplies revenue to the artistic communities. I can appreciate this, being an amateur filmmaker who pays for his love by working in computers. You have to do what is necessary to grant creativity free range.
Dubrovnik is what many would consider to be a relatively small town, being in total, with the surrounding areas, about 70,000 people. As time rolls on, this will no doubt be a number of the past as the city grows. Having been a tourist town in the past, it seems that they know how to handle it all and they’ll manage to grow without the growth causing root rot, as is the case in many tourist-oriented areas. For instance, the Hilton that is being constructed near the Old Town does not look like some kind of modern intrusion that has painfully thrust into the midst of buildings that dwarf it in age. Instead, it has been built to blend in with the look and feel of the surrounding architecture; a feat rarely seen in American cities.
Do yourself a favor when you can and visit this town perched on the end of a beautiful country.