After a 7 hour flight to Dublin and rushing through the airport to make our 3.5 hour connection to Dubrovnik, we arrived at Dubrovnik at 11:30am. Naturally, most of the flight aboard Aer Lingus was spent sleeping, but I did wake up just in the nick of time to see the hundreds of islands of Croatia scattered throughout the Adriatic Sea along the Dalmatian Coast. We were lucky enough to arrive right at the end of the tourism season, so the heavy crowds had subsided while we caught the last few days of perfect, 80 degree weather during our trip.
It was a breeze getting into Old Town aboard a local bus, and since all roads led to Old Town, we easily figured out when to get out. While Dubrovnik itself spans a rather large area, we elected to stay in Old Town, the core of the city that was reconstructed quickly following the ravaging it withstood during Croatia’s independence war just 20 years ago. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Old Town is a pedestrian only, walled city center, with copper-roofed buildings that took on iridescent hues as the sun rose and set. The town is bisected by a rather wide boulevard called Stradun made of polished marble, with narrow alleyways branching off each side. Our hotel, Villa Flora, was off of one of these alleyways, up a good 50 or 60 uneven steps. Really good exercise going up these stairs with heavy suitcases! Our hotel was a tiny room but loved the location – peering outside made us feel like we lived in the heart of the city. I quickly learned that showers in Croatia ran off of individual water heaters that needed time to warm up, and learned the hard way when the hot water ran completely out in the middle of my first shower! And when the hot water was out, it was completely out…
First order of business after cleaning up was to get a bite to eat. After wandering the streets and looking through seemingly the same generic menu after another, we found a nice place to eat al fresco called Penatur, right off the Stradun. Over a nice cold round of beers, Doug had spaghetti carbonara and I had shrimp scampi risotto. We quickly found that Croatian food is heavily influenced by Italian food (hence carbonara and scampi) although it features way more seafood and is much richer in taste (mmm butter). Not to mention the portions were HUGE.
After lunch, we took the afternoon to get lost in the narrow alleyways and side streets of Old Town, which brought us to an old cathedral, a synagogue, quaint cafes, little archways, all strewn between cozy homes. It was kind of hard to believe people actually lived in this nostalgic medieval town that seemed like it was frozen in time. We stumbled across a bar called Buza Bar which was built into the side of the cliff, where people could sit at cafe tables enjoying their beers while looking straight out onto the bright blue Adriatic, glistening in the sun. AWESOME. Made a mental note to come back here…
Once we were done exploring the core of Old Town, we went up the City Walls that enclosed Old Town. After what seemed like endless steps, we arrived at the top of the stone walls, which took us on a full loop around the city. Some highlights included towers we could hide inside or hike up for more amazing views, a great aerial view of the copper toned rooftops, and a different view of Buza Bar – this time watching daring tourists jumping off the edge of the cliff into the sea. It took us a full 2.5 hours to walk the perimeter of the walls since we stopped so many times to enjoy the view, as well as the sun setting over the city.
We literally tried to maximize every hour of our day even after the sun set, so before going to dinner, we stopped at the War Photo Museum, which contained vivid photos of recent wars and conflict depicted from a unique lens that captured the people that lived through these wars – from Libya to Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, and the former Yugoslavia. It was actually very educational seeing history come to life in a very different way through conflicts of past and present.
After a very long day that covered nearly every inch of Old Town Dubrovnik, we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at Proto. Unfortunately, Old Town is very touristy, and the prices and menus reflected this. Although our dinner was pretty good (Doug had some kind of fish wrapped in bacon in a red wine sauce with gnocchi, while I had a gratineed bass with a black olive puree), it was extremely overpriced. We capped off the night with a drink at Troubadour Bar, a lovely outdoor cafe with live jazz, where we experienced “Desperado,” a tequila flavored beer. Bizarre!