Dubious about Dubrovnik

Tuesday, May 01, 2018 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Balkans & Beyond, Days 36 & 37:  Mostar, Bosnia to Dubrovnik, Croatia.  When last in this part of the world, we were in our 30s and many of the countries we're visiting— Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia—were part of Yugoslavia.  We had our eye on Dubrovnik back then but it was a bit too far south for us to include in our 16-day itinerary.  If only we had made it here then, things might have been different.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  First we had to leave Bosnia and drive to Croatia.  We had looked at the route on Google Maps and it seemed pretty straightforward, so when we notified our Garmin GPS where we wanted to go, we didn't bother to look at the route it was taking.  Thanks to that inattention, we experienced not one but three border crossings between Mostar and Dubrovnik.
Crossing out of Bosnia, into Croatia, then two dual stations for the last two crossings.
Bosnia has a curious five-mile wide finger of land that effectively cuts Croatia in half, thanks to a fateful decision made more than 300 years ago.  Back in the day when Dubrovnik was a city-state, it allied with the wrong side during the Great Turkish War of the 17th century.  Fearful of retribution by the Hapsburg victors, Dubrovnik's leaders chopped off a bit of their northern border and gave it to the Ottomans in 1699 as a buffer between the city and the Hapsburg Empire.  That little finger of fate land became part of the Ottoman territory of Bosnia.
When Dubrovnik later joined with the remainder of Croat-inhabited lands, that little strip stayed with Bosnia, necessitating international border crossings to get from one part of Croatia to another.  Bosnia had no interest in ceding its seacoast to its neighbor, even as small as it is.  In fact, the only country with a coastline shorter than Bosnia's is Monaco.  Croatia has been floating the idea of building a 1.5-mile bridge from its coast north of the Bosnian finger to the adjacent Croatian-held peninsula, allowing domestic traffic to bypass Bosnia.  Due to the high cost, plans are not yet set in concrete.
Neretva Delta
Just after re-entering Croatia, we pulled over at an overlook to get a better view of the lush green landscape spread out below us.  This rich tableau is made possible by the fresh water of the Neretva River delta.  On its approach to the Adriatic, the river fans out to form fertile agricultural fields that stand in contrast to their surroundings.  The scenery is so lovely local tour providers even include "Green Valley" on some day trips.
In the end, Lady Garmin's shenanigans added about an hour to our transit time with the multiple border crossings, but we still reached Dubrovnik by 1 pm and soon located our Airbnb apartment.  One of the factors that convinced us to select the apartment was its proximity to Old Town—"five-minute walk," according to the description.  "Just 200 meters" to restaurants, supermarket, and all manner of other conveniences, the host promised.  As the crow flies (due downhill), the distance is probably accurate.  However, a total of 400 steep steps separated the apartment from Old Town and the amenities below.
The longest section of stairs
In the host's defense, she did include "must climb stairs" in her description.  With no photographic or other more detailed explanation, however, we just assumed the apartment was on the second floor and there was no elevator.    
Going up
Admittedly, this was no big deal on the way down, but the arduous climb to return to the apartment was breathtaking, in its most literal sense.  We had no difficulty meeting our exercise quota for these two days.
View of the Old Town from our apartment
What we saw from the apartment's (figuratively) breathtaking view was a carefully preserved (and in some cases rebuilt—yes, damage from that same 1990s war) Old Town of warm beige stone capped by brilliant orange tile roofs.  It looked enticing, appealing, as if it were begging us to venture down a few hundred feet to explore its charming ancient cobbled streets.

At eye level, it felt a bit more as if we had stirred up a highly populated ant bed.  When we drove past the harbor on the way to the apartment, we couldn't help noticing that two large cruise ships were in port.  (How can you miss a 12-story behemoth that dwarfs everything on shore?)  Based on the clog of humanity on the streets of Old Town, most of the cruisers' passengers had opted for the "shore excursion" inside the ancient walls.
Much to our surprise, when we chatted about the crowd with a young local working in one of Old Town's dozens of sidewalk cafes, she laughed.  "This is nothing compared to July and August!  At the height of the season, we'll have three times more tables set up."  That's the time of year when Mediterranean cruise ships disgorge as many as 10,000 passengers into the city every day, supplemented by a couple thousand overlanders who arrive with their guides in tour buses.

Apparently we're not the only ones who object to all this excessive and uncontrolled tourism.  UNESCO, which added Dubrovnik's Renaissance era Old Town to its list of World Heritage sites in 1979, has threatened to rescind that status unless the city curbs the flood of tourists trampling its streets and threatening the very relics they are there to visit.
In the way only a movie or TV tie-in can fuel rampant tourism, Dubrovnik's starring role as the town of King's Landing in Game of Thrones draws fans like a super magnet.  And, yes, tour operators play up this connection at every opportunity.

With a population teetering at 40,000, Dubrovnik is struggling to deal with the million plus tourists who come for overnight stays plus another 800,000 who stream off supersized cruise ships in intense bursts of overwhelming footsteps.  Though the elbow-to-elbow throngs were incredibly frustrating, we found it quite interesting to observe them.  We were astounded by the number who looked as if they were enduring torture.  Very few of those in the tour groups appeared to be having a good time, leaving one to wonder why they pour their money into the experience.  (So similar to the faces of misery we've observed on people playing slot machines in casinos elsewhere.)

And on that sad note, we end our time in Dubrovnik, wishing we had made it here in 1985 before it was overrun by tour buses and cruise ships.  Tomorrow we'll leave Croatia and drive south into Montenegro, another former Yugoslavian republic.

2-Day Stats:
    •  Started in:  Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
    •  Ended in:  Dubrovnik, Croatia
    •  Miles driven: 110
    •  Miles walked:  10.83
    •  Weather:  56° to 84°, sunny and again too hot
    •  Tour buses:  68
    •  Amazing views of the Adriatic along the coast:  117
    •  Lazy hitchhikers:  3 (sitting beside road with hand or sign held slightly aloft)
    •  Cruise ships:  too many
    •  Steps we climbed in Dubrovnik: 3,162  (up + down over two days)
    •  People licking ice cream cones:  1,603  (so many tongues flicking in one place!) 
    •  Border crossings:  2 more than we should have had
    •  Selfie sticks:  426  (alive and well in Dubrovnik)
    •  Sunburned tourists:  908 lightly charred, 327 lobsters, 35 crispy cruisers
    •  Street cats:  243
    •  Sidewalk cafes:  150

Loved:  The view from the apartment was great, but what we loved most was our decision to book two, not three, days in Dubrovnik.

 Some semblance of control over the number of tourists permitted in the city.  How frustrating it must be for the people who actually live within the Old Town walls!

Learned:  When I went to mail a couple of post cards today, I found the post office closed.  What?  Easter Monday again?  But it was actually International Workers Day (equivalent to Labor Day in the US), celebrated on May 1 by many European countries. 

More Photos from Chapter 18
Even the wild poppies are lush in Green Valley. 
Dozens of motorcycles on the route down the coast 
No question there are many attractive vignettes in the city
Built in 1419, Orlando's column honors French knight who helped Dubrovnik win a war.
Creepily realistic mannequin advertising Game of Thrones merchandise. 
Prices at sidewalk cafes were as steep as the steps.  $3 for a small croissant.
We dove deep into Old Town, away from the main thoroughfares, to find empty streets.
Amazingly quiet spot
Only one tourist here
Hoping the funds go to benefit their intended recipients, we chipped in.
Post card time