Croatia: Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is the first place we “slowed down” since July when we began our world adventure. We spent two leisurely weeks exploring the area, hanging out on the beach, catching up on our work (school, writing, and planning), and our sleep. The four of us were happy to have family from California (Dan, Janelle, and Doris) visit and explore the area with us and we may see a guest post from one of them before too long.

Lapod beach – the view from our apartment window

Our accommodation for the two weeks was a nice apartment building 20 feet from the water’s edge on the shore of Lapod Bay in the North part of Dubrovnik. We had enough people to fill the available rooms in the building, so we had the place to ourselves. Our host was friendly and helpful and we very much enjoyed the sun set views from our patio and the fresh breeze that blew in from the Adriatic Sea during the day.

Patrick and I bought masks and snorkels, and by the end of our stay Patrick explored most of Lapod bay and spotted many types of fish and a few octopi. The water is crystal clear, warm (for sea water), and very salty. This made it difficult for those of us with “subcutaneous flotation” to stay under water, but easy to float along on the surface. One day as we were swimming at the beach Alex jumped on my back and shouted “Whale Rider!”. Did I mention that the pizza is really good in Croatia? It seems like all the restaurants have hot pizza ovens that turn out crispy, cheesy, spicy deliciousness every time. We also discovered a shop that sells home-made ice cream about 5 minutes walk from our apartment and nightly ice cream quickly became a ritual. So I couldn’t get too upset about the whale rider comment – there was an element of truth to it.

We all decided to take a standard touristic boat excursion to a few islands near Dubrovnik. Suzanne and Doris arranged for an agent of the company to meet us at 8 AM to lead us to the boat. We rallied everyone in the morning and arrived at the agreed to spot a few minute early. By 8:15 we figured the agent was a no-show; so we set off for the marina to see if we could find the boat ourselves. Of course we had no idea how to get to the marina through the small twisty roads and alley ways, so I asked a couple of people as we walked along the street. I received the “Croatian Arm Wave” (see my Split post) several times, and we were quickly lost. I started to lose it – in my mind everyone in Croatia was out to ensure I remained lost for my entire stay in the country! Suzanne talked me down by informing me I was loosing my mind along with my temper. Hmmm…. She’s usually right about this sort of thing… I might be having a “small brain day”.

Allow me to take a little detour to explain small brain days. About 20 years ago, my brother and I were diving for abalone along the California coast. That day he made a few poor decisions and ended up falling off a 30 foot cliff and landing on my head. At the bottom of that cold, wet, stoney California cliff we both agreed that he was having a “small brain day” and he should not make any more decisions until he had a good nights sleep. Since then we have an agreement in my family that if someone has made a few bad decisions in a row, the others can call “small brain” on the offending person and revoke their decisions making rights for the rest of the day. The “small brain protocol” has avoided much conflict and probably saved our lives a couple of time over the years.

In essence Suzanne called “small brain” on me, so I decided to leave the decision-making to others for the rest of the day and just do my best to enjoyed the ride. While the adults figured out the directions and arranged for the tour, the kids and I had an ice cream, watched the boats, and tried to spot the fish swimming around the boats. The island tour itself was fine, the crowds on the boats were a little annoying, but the grilled mackerel picnic made for a tasty lunch and we spent a pleasant afternoon at a sandy beach on one of the islands.

The old town of Dubrovnik is surrounded by massive limestone walls. The streets in the old town are paved with beautiful polished stone and the main street is a great place to stroll in the evening and watch the people. Our apartment host told us that the old town is invaded every day at 10 AM by people coming off the 4 or 5 cruise ships in Dubrovnik every day, so we timed our visits to miss the crush of cruisers. During a walking tour of Old Town I learned about Dubrovnik’s history as an independent city that reported directly to the Roman Emperor rather than through a local king. The point was reinforced by a few locals who mentioned it when helping me understand more about Dubrovnik. It is a similar situation to other cities we visited such as Hamburg, Nuremberg and Geneva.

We spent much of out time hanging out on the stone beach about 100 yards from our apartment. As a matter of fact Doris got to know the cabana boy who rents chairs and umbrellas at the beach, he gave her the nick name “America”. We also met a pleasant family from Serajevo in Bosnia … They had a couple of daughters, one who made friends with Alex while playing on the beach. The girls exchanged email addresses and hope to keep in touch.

I gained a little perspective about how the war 15 years ago impacted the people and the place. I chatted with Alex’s new friend’s dad for a while and he tried to explain how the mixture of religions and cultures in this part of the world tends to build up tensions over the years and then becomes a tinderbox that can be easily ignited. He mentioned that the tensions were “released” in the war 15 years ago, but he can already see the seeds of intolerance being planted in the newer generations. He summed it up by saying “There are rednecks in every country”. Fair enough.

I also learned during a conversation with the owners of our apartment that Lapod Bay was shelled extensively during the Serbian attack on Dubrovnik, and many of the apartments (including our own) were damaged. They also said that the little dock across from our apartment was used to smuggle food and water to the people with high-speed boats in the dark of night. When I mentioned that we were next headed to Turkey, but would certainly not be going close to the Syrian border – and they nodded gravely and said they have a lot of sympathy for the people there since they know how terrible the experience.

We visited a small island that is a National park called Lapid Island. It is a short ferry ride from Dubrovnik. We walked the entire island and even though one can walk the entire island in 20 minutes we managed to get lost a few times. Alex was not feeling well on the ferry ride out and got sick while we walked through the botanical garden. We stopped at a small sea water pool connected to the sea via underwater tunnels. We spent an hour or so swimming and trying to climb the rope that taunted us over the swimming hole. In the day (early 1980’s) I would have pulled myself up the rope hand-over-hand; now I am “older and wiser”.

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