Here I am in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the “Jewel of the Adriatic” as it has been called. It’s a lovely old city, but this is not my first trip here. I visited in 2004 and 2005. The first trip was enchanting. The second was great, but I could tell that tourism was ramping up in the country. During the middle of the day, the streets would get packed with people who got dumped off their cruise ship and then picked up to return to their floating havens just offshore. It was very similar to what goes on in Venice, Italy. The Italians haven’t really figured out a way to deal with this issue and they’ve had a great number of years to figure it out. So, you can only imagine what the possibilities were for Dubrovnik given that the number of hordes were increasing exponentially each year, especially as western tourists from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the USA have all decided that this area is finally a “safe” destination to go to on a package tour.
As it is two years since my last visit, it would seem natural that a great many things have changed, but there are really only two things that stick out as the biggest changes: the cost of things and the number of people. The city is still beautiful. The water is still wonderful. The weather is still lovely through the warm months. The people are still very friendly. These are all constants that I don’t see changing, but the things that are, will create big, big problems over the coming years, if not months.
The costs are a big issue. One my first trip, I stayed in a very nice flat for 30 Euros a night. A great deal considering the dollar was much stronger then. This year, the same flat was fetching 50 Euros a night. We ended up having to stay at a much smaller place that we managed to get for 30 Euros, but that was only because we haggled a great deal due to staying for a week. But, the cost of small things has gone up as well. For instance a beer is now about 3USD at a restaurant where it was a dollar before. I suppose that two extra dollars has bought the average tourist a server who speaks perfect English. Personally, I was quite happy trying to speak the native language as it made me feel more like I was traveling and not putting my Imperialist American foot down in someone else’s country without regard to the people living there. This cost also hurts the locals because while these prices are not that outrageous for Americans or British, they are very hard to maintain for the people who live in this area where around $600 a month is considered a good salary. There are many who are doing well by this influx of tourists, but overall, the trickle-down economics that Reagan so “brillianted” pioneered works about as badly here as it did in the 1980’s in America.
The other enormous and truly problematic issue with Dubrovnik is that the tour operators are just pushing more and more people in to the old city. This is a finite space and I believe that it has reached its critical mass of people that it can hold. And let me add that I’m writing this at the beginning of June. Traditionally, this the slower time of the year. July and August are going to end up with stampedes and casualties at this pace. I was caught in one of these yesterday as multiple tour groups were trying to go in and out of the old city at the same time. There is no management system for this. It is not like parts of Italy where they sell a maximum number of tickets to the Sistine Chapel for a day and then cut people off. No, the local authorities and the greedy tour operations are just shoving as many people through as they can. While quite unpleasant, it was hilarious to hear the various stereotypes of people come through in this trashing wave of people in Pile Gate. The British were trying to be polite and form a queue. The Americans were just out for themselves and trying to shove their way through, yelling loudly, even though half the crowd probably didn’t understand them. The Aussies seemed somewhat drunk and went with the flow. The Italians and French seemed to just mass in to this pushy, snobby group who tried to work their way through. In a word, it was a mess. The really funny part was that all the locals came up, took one look, and then went off up the hill to one of the other streets that avoids Pile Gate to come in through the southern gate which was problem free.
In conclusion, I write this all as a warning. Dubrovnik is getting crazy and not in a good way. It’s still a beautiful place and worth a visit. Just stay the hell away from May 15 to September 15. It will make your holiday a much better one.