For my final few days in Croatia I stayed in the city of Dubrovnik. The bus ride to Dubrovnik from Split followed the scenic coastal highway. As some of you know, Croatia does not control the entire stretch of the Dalmatian coastline and the bus had to pass through the small strip of land owned by Bosnia. This awkward piece land ownership goes back hundreds of years to when Dubrovnik was an independent republic. There was a massive earthquake (I think it was in 1667) and the city was so badly damaged that the leaders of the republic were concerned that the Venetians might seize the opportunity to march in and take over. To prevent this, the republic cut a deal with the neighboring Ottoman Empire and gave them that little patch of land to form a buffer zone and discourage Venice from getting any ideas. Dubrovnik and Croatia never got the land back and today it’s owned by Bosnia. Thankfully when you pass through that stretch of Bosnia there’s just a token passport check, so it’s not a big inconvenience. The bus station in Dubronik is next to the modern harbor, (where the bigger ships dock) so upon arrival I caught a city bus to the old city. My hostel was within the city walls, near the north end of the old city, which meant I had to go up some stairs to climb to get to it. With the few hours I had remaining that first day I walked around town and got photos of much of the old city. The weather forecast called for possible rain over the next two days so I wanted to grab some photos while to town was still dry.
I lost some sleep going into the next day because another person’s phone alarm went off early in the morning and they weren’t in the room to turn it off. I had hoped it would just stop on its own but after a few minutes it was clear that it was just going to keep going so I got up and took the liberty of turning it off myself. It would around 9:30am when I would leave the hostel and I was pleased to see no rain clouds overhead and the forecast had adjusted to just rain the next day. I went over to the city walls entrance near Ploce Gate and went up the walls. By this time of day the tour groups had arrived in town and I would have to deal with them. The city walls offer a great view of Dubrovnik, though it seems that the tour groups tend to do only about half the length of them. It was a fairly warm day but it felt warmer on the walls. There’s almost no shade or cover up there and from what I’m told, the stone traps and reflects back heat such that during the summer it can be like an oven up on the walls. I did a full circuit of the the city walls. If you just walk and don’t stop it takes about an hour to walk the whole length, but I was stopping frequently for photos, so it was just after noon when I finished up and came back down. The tour groups also slowed me down and a number of times I had to wait for them to pass so I could get some room to maneuver. I returned to Dubrovnik’s main street, called Stradun, and got some ice cream. After that I visited the Serbian Orthodox Church, which was the first Eastern Orthodox Church I visited during my time in Europe. It was small, but I recognized the iconography from the brief bits of eastern church history I learned back in high school. Next I went over to the fort of St Lawrence, which is just outside the city walls. My entry ticket to Dubrovnik’s city walls included entry to the fort and I spent some time in and around it. There’s very little of interest inside the fort but it does have a good view of the city. As it was looking out on Dubrovnik it occurred to me that maybe I should have watched an episode of Game of Thrones before coming to Europe. I know that Dubrovnik it used for one of the cities in the show, but having never watched it, I don’t know what to look for. When I was done with the fort I returned to the hostel to do some photo uploads to social media and later in the day I got on the gondola up to Mt. Srd, a tall hill overlooking the city. During the siege of 1991 Mt. Srd was the only high ground held by the Croats. There’s a large stone cross up there which replaces another one that was blown up during the siege. I got photos of Dubrovnik and the surrounding area as the sun was going down and then took the gondola back down to the city. With that I had largely finished all my Dubrovnk sightseeing, and there were still 1.5 days left before departure. I could have just sat around but instead I got a ticket to be part of a tour group visiting Montenegro the next day. Normally I would organize this sort of thing myself via public transit (and if you’ve read the previous blog entries you’ve probably noted that I don’t much care for tour groups) but getting to and from Montenegro by bus or train was looking problematic, so this would be a significantly easier option.
The next day the rain finally appeared. It was raining when I woke up and it didn’t stop at any point during the day. The tour bus to Montenegro was scheduled to leave a hotel outside the city walls at 7:30am so I got up early and did my best to be stealthy and not wake up the other people in the room. The tour would take me and the other people in the group into Montenegro and then across the Bay of Kotor to the town of Budva, and then to the town of Kotor before driving around the Bay of Kotor and back to Dubrovnik. It was about a two hour ride to Budva and along the way the tour guide gave an abbreviated history of the region. I was intrigued to learn that Montenegro uses the euro for its currency, though it didn’t get permission from the EU authorities to do this. On one hand their economy is fairly stable being tied to the euro, but on the other hand the government can’t print any money. When we got to the Bay of Kotor the bus drove onto a car ferry and while crossing the water I stood outside the bus taking in the scenery. The Bay of Kotor is a lot like a fjord, though technically it’s not a fjord due to the lack of glaciers. I got some photos but it would have been nice if it was a clear day. On the other side of the bay, we drove to Budva, a seaside town. Budva is an up and coming resort town with a small old town and lots of new buildings going up in the modern part of the city. With Croatia having been thoroughly discovered and developed for tourism, it seems Montenegro is the next country in line on the Adriatic Sea to get the tourism nod. I can only imagine the travel snobs lamenting how Montenegro is getting “discovered” but they can console themselves by telling everyone about they went to Montenegro before it was cool to do so. Personally I didn’t find Budva very interesting. Being a rainy October day, there wasn’t much of anything going on in either the old or modern parts of the town. With the summer over, many of the businesses were either shut down or operating on minimal schedules. There wasn’t anything notable about my time in Budva and when the time came I returned to the bus. Thankfully Kotor was much better. Although the continual rain put a drag on the experience, I found Kotor very interesting and I hope to one day go back and spend a night or two there. Kotor is similar to Dubrovnik in that they are both fortress cities that still have their old walls. However, Kotor’s walls run right up the mountain next to the city. If it hadn’t been raining I would have climbed them. We got a forty minute guided tour of the old town and then afterwards we had an hour of free time before departure. Like Dubrovnik, Kotor has both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, so you can do some comparisons between the two styles. Perhaps the most notable thing in my mind was how the Eastern Orthodox churches didn’t have any pews, as their masses are normally done with everyone standing. I tried to explore as much as I could, but the rain had me stopping several times to get indoors for a few minutes to dry out. Despite my best efforts, I was thoroughly drenched when I left Kotor. The bus ride along the Bay of Kotor was, like the ferry ride, scenic even with the rain. When we got back to the Croatian border we ended up stuck for an hour. As best as I could tell, the Croatian border cops were understaffed and there was a long line of cars and buses that moved very slowly. It was dark and still raining when I arrived in Dubrovnik. I went straight to the hostel and started drying off as best I could. There were no more expeditions that days; I had gone through enough rain for the day.
The next day I didn’t have to be at the Dubrovnik bus station until 4:00pm. I checked out of the hostel in the late morning and left my backpack behind. With my primary sightseeing in Dubrovnik already finished, I passed the time visiting some smaller sights like the Dominican monastery. I also walked out to the port and then to the breakwater. Although it wasn’t raining, the storm clouds were still passing overhead and the waves were larger than usual. I saw a few other tourists get wet from these waves, which on one hand is funny, but on the other hand that happened to me once, so I know it’s not amusing for the one getting wet. As I walked around Dubrovnik I was also trying to plan out how I would use up the last of my kuna. I needed to save a few to store my backpack in the luggage compartment of the bus but I wanted to try to use up the remainder as well. A spare kuna or two would be ok as a souvenir, but more than that seemed like a waste. After some thinking I thought I had it figured out. Passing by the St Blaize Column, I saw some people dressed in traditional outfits and putting on a folk dance performance. I spent some time watching that and then returned to the hostel to make use of the internet one last time. 4:00pm eventually came and when it did I was at the bus stop. Surprisingly, the bus was charging one euro for luggage rather than the standard seven kuna, so my scheme to use the last of my kuna on the bus came to nothing. Granted, seven kuna is roughly one dollar, so it wasn’t like I was wasting a lot of money, but I was feeling strangely defeated at that moment. But I also knew that there were far worse fates than wasting a dollar, so I just paid the one euro and got on the bus. I was going into Bosnia for a few days, and my first stop was the city of Mostar.