(This is the second post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)
Wednesday, June 18
Dubrovnik once was two cities, divided by the sea: Ragusium and Dubrovnik. Over time the canal between them filled in and after an earthquake in the seventeenth century, the city’s wide thoroughfare, the Stradun, was straightened out and rebuilt. After I read this in my guidebook (and elsewhere) the use of the word I was seeing everywhere (Ragusa/Ragusium) made sense to me, as well as the shape of the city: shaped like a snowboard half-pipe, with the Stradun (or Placa as some of the locals call it apparently), being the lower flat portion between two sloping sides. And which also explains why the task we had before us that day, to climb around the City Walls (up then down then up then down), meant it was StairMaster time for the tourists.
I was awakened early by what sounded like someone setting up for a church supper: tables being set up and chairs being set around.
I was partially right. They were setting up for the market. I closed the shutters, and crawled back into our two-part bed: two twin beds shoved together, a common way to get a queen bed in Europe, and read emails, uploaded pictures on Instagram. I soon heard another sound: it was pouring.
Dave and I dressed, and with umbrellas, went out to the market for some fruit (harder to do when it is all gestures and when you are NOT ALLOWED to touch anything–the seller is the only one that can touch their own fruit). A Konsum grocery store (mini-sized) is also on this square and we ducked in to find some heaven: chocolate croissants just coming out of the oven. We’ll take forty please. Just kidding (sort of). Two, please, and that loaf there with the seeds on top. Point point point and she handed us our wares. We picked up a yogurt–the first in a long selection of yogurts (all different) by Dave to see if they match up to his memory of an incredible yogurt he had on his travels in France some twenty-five-plus years ago (they never do)– and checked out. We used our umbrellas to get across the tiny square because it was still raining hard.
We climbed back up the four flights of steps to our room, with the last flight increasing in steepness because we figured we were really staying in the place’s attic. We are still getting the light switches on the stairs mastered–some are automatic and some you turn on when you are at the top, then turn them off when you are at the bottom of the flight.
(The famous clothes closet, which figures into the narrative at a later time.)
Our sobe came equipped with a tiny table and chairs and a tiny kitchen, so we ate breakfast here every day. After our feast that morning, we got ready for the day. “Rain!” (still) so we fell back asleep, awakened only when the sun started to break through the clouds. We still hadn’t really meshed our internal clocks with what was going on outside, but when the sun woke up, we did too. And then it was panic: it was after 10 a.m. and we wanted to climb the City Walls and now all the tourists were going to be there, too. . . ACK! hurry hurry to beat the tourists! (Yes, I get the irony.)
We headed out toward the Ploce Gate, where the walls could be accessed, passing by what I believe is the Dominican Monastery. Apparently heading out this direction we did the right thing, as several guide books mention this is the Way To Do The City Walls. Start here, and then walk around. We fork over our kunas to the guy in the window and step out. . .
…to a gorgeous view of the small harbor to the west of the Stari Grad. The rain is gone, having washed the air clean. It’s pleasant, warm (but not too hot), but I made sure our sunblock was slathered on and our water bottles were filled up to the brim before we tucked them in our backpack.
As you can see in this map, the city walls (in orange) have a series of Towers and landmarks, with three entrances and exits. Dave turned on his GPS-tracking program, Endomundo, which at the end of the walk looked like this:
Right. But we begin:
We wondered how these people felt with all of us tourists playing voyeurs, spying on their backyard with their lush green grasses.
We were walking along the upper side of Dubrovnik, looking down on all the houses. Because it is such a small town, we could spot where our sobe was, our “neighborhood,” and were anchored.
We spy not only on the people who live in the city, but those tourists wanting to come on in.
The walls kept this city safe for years, but were breached in the Bosnian-Serbian war, when the attacking forces sat on the hill above the city and pelted it with artillery. By one gate they have a sign detailing every hit, and certainly the newly repaired roofs (the brighter colors) attest to the city’s desire to recover and reclaim its reputation as the Pearl of the Adriatic Sea. In preparation for this trip, my father lent me a book about one traveler’s route around this sea, and the section on Croatia was dim, depressing and fairly morose in tone. Great, I thought. I’m going to a pit. (But I’m still glad I read it, as it helped me realize how far this city had fallen at one time.) But I realized that if Rick Steves, the master of the middle-class tourist trade had put Dubrovnik on his itinerary, it was probably recovered enough that we could enjoy the city.
Yes, these flowers are fake. But I liked them anyway.
Climbing up to the Minceta Tower, the highest point on the City Walls. It’s at the upper left corner when looking at the (far above) map. And up there on the tower is where Dave and I had our photo taken (coming up).
The walls are thick in this tower, and it’s shady and cooler than out on the deck, with great views of the Adriatic and the Croatian coastline.
Time for a tourist photo. We were reminded to do this after one young woman prompted us for her photo shoot, and then she took one of us: glasses on, glasses off, chin up, chin down, turn this way and that. It’s hard work to get those Christmas Card photos.
Leaving the tower, we saw this basketball court with a young man quietly studying, oblivious to the walkers high above him. Dave and I remarked about the challenge of being able to live freely in a town so land-locked, so filled with The Other (us tourists) and perhaps the only way is to live a separate, shadow life apart. I found out about that divide on our last morning when I hoped to take a photo of some children playing soccer in front of the church. I approached them, held up my camera and asked “Photo?” “NO!” the young boy yelled. I persisted, holding up my finger, “One photo?” This time all the boys playing turned and yelled “NO!” I got the message, and secretly applauded their parents for teaching them how to deal with invasive tourists who want to take photos of young soccer players. I snapped them surreptitiously as I walked away, as they were now involved in their game and back to ignoring these strange people with cameras.
While much of Dubrovnik has been rebuilt from the war, we often saw empty houses like this. I’d read about one family’s difficulties in Croatia, trying to get clear title to rebuild their grandmother’s home (they were Americans, trying to buy the home and then fix it). This process took over five years. I wondered how much of the emptiness I saw was due to bureaucratic issues, or how much was due to just giving up and moving away, as I know a lot of that went on. Again, a parallel existence, somewhat invisible to the tourist, as we are all supposed to fall in love with this charming city and leave our money behind by taking tours such as this one, buy souvenirs, and ignore fallen roofs and water-filled front rooms.
But for every ruined house, perhaps there is a counterpoint: an exquisitely tended garden, that indicates great effort, great care.
We are now joined by many others, having reached the Pile Gate entrance. But as it’s not hordes, we think the rain delayed all the cruiseship folk, too.
The restaurant Dubravka is to the right in the above picture, just to give you some bearings, and beyond that the Lovrijenac Fortress. Our ticket was good for climbing up there too, provided we did it on the same day. Sure. No problem.
At the Pile Gate entrance, we could look down on St. Onofrio’s Big Fountain (which would encourage us to hurry faster, given the mobs down below)…
…as well as the Stradun.
Back up into another tower, we climbed into the upper chamber for this view of the town. (By the way, these photos are a mixture between my husband’s and mine, between a snapshot camera and iPhones.)
St. Ignatius Church, a backside view
We’re rounding our second corner of this four-cornered gait, the Tower Bokar, and below it is more rubble and ruin. I did find this arch carrying a water pipe across interesting.
A view towards the city.
We have climbed back up again, as shown by this photo from an earlier vantage point, and now the city is on our left and the Adriatic on our right, as we walk along the old walls.
Now you see him. . .
. . . now you don’t. Obviously by the date on the keystone on the gate (1834) not all of this wall is truly ancient. Just old.
Now you see them. . .
. . . now you don’t. We are taking our time on this wall, because apparently it’s the Big Game in Town. We have traveled to other “Grade B” tourist sites (as opposed to “Grade A” sights like Paris, New York City, etc.) and all that means to us is that in these smaller venues the Big Sights are less famous, the pace is slower, the need to see a million things less pressing. It’s a more relaxing way to travel.
One last sea-window.
Looking back towards Fort Lovrijenac.
In the lower right corner, a woman has set up to sell her tablecloths. Most of the sellers assure me that they are all handmade in Croatia by their family and some close friends, the genuine article. There are a lot of women doing a lot of handwork in Croatia if this is true, judging by the amount of table linens being sold. I was quite interested in one tablecloth, but since I don’t use the ones I have, how could I justify spending those precious souvenir kuna on another one? I passed, even though she dropped the price 30%.
I have to assume this is St. Blaise, hanging out there on the tower.
This church, St. Ignacious, is right up our street. I say “our” like I live there, but in touristing if I can attach myself to a place where I’ll be for a couple of nights and catch the rhythm , it may allow me to break past that invisible demarcation line, so I can briefly slip into the life in the town. Of course, this is a complete illusion on my part, but maybe just for a couple of minutes here and there I can stop viewing those around me as museum pieces. Maybe.
When I see signs like this, I recognize that I play a part in the fiction as well (Rent Me! Rent Me!). But I still loved this little balcony, slightly worn.
A seashell of a roof, one Instagram commenter noted (thanks, Judy!).
I loved the casual toss of clothespins into the window well. In another window I saw an old Singer sewing machine.
We are nearing the completion of our walk, and we are noticing the details on the old buildings around us: the course of stone in an old wall, the colors of the roof tile, the shape of an arch…
…and these perfect steps.
I did buy one small embroidery from this woman, who assured me it was made by her. . . or her family.
She was on the street coming down from the Placa gate and across from her was this interesting stone balustrade, seemingly melting back into the far wall. There really is a large space between the railing and the back wall. We walked past the only car we ever saw, from the TV/Radio station, and headed back to our sobe, heading along the City Hall street.
Every time I came by, the man in the plaid shirt was sitting there, feeding the pigeons. Not every city loves the pigeons. In Venice they are sometimes called “flying rats,” they are such a nuisance.
Title: Tourist in Yellow Shirt Leaving the Arcaded Building
From here we slipped into Dubrovnik’s Cathedral, and were supposed to look at Titian’s “Assumption of the Virgin” polyptych (say that three times fast), but it didn’t look like a Titian to me (not that I’m an expert). In another guidebook, an author wrote that it came from “Titian’s workshop.” I’d buy that. The best part in this traditional old church were the modern rendition of the Stations of the Cross. I loved this one, with Simon walking beside Christ as he carried the cross. I had to look up that last detail when I got home — who was with Christ — but I wrote in my travel journal that it was an angel. It was quiet, serene, thoughtful.
Bistro tables made from old sewing machine stands.
The underside of the umbrella at the pizza place, with the red-checkered bunting and a Croatia scarf draped for color, for patriotism, for heralding The Big Game that night at midnight.
First, a stop at the pizza place just below us, for a salad (above) and a “Quattro Stagioni” pizza (below). Quattro Stagioni, Four Stages, means that you don’t have four ingredients all jumbled together in a pile like an American pizza, but that you have four different sections of pizza, as shown below. We first encountered this in Italy and we kind of laughed, but we’ve seen it again and again, so it must be the way they do it over here. That salad was to die for. Amazing, where everything had a taste, even those tomatoes.
Rain is predicted for the afternoon, a few showers, and we think it’s a perfect time to climb up to our perch and take a rest.
Next up: Dubrovnik Slows Our Pace