Monday, October 12, 2009

Croatia and Montenegro Trip, part 1: Dubrovnik

Last month is made a trip to Eastern Europe to visit Tim before he and Lexi moved back to the States.

Getting There

Left my house, took Metro to L'Enfant, bussed to Dulles (always get this bus at L'Enfant and not Rosslyn, gets very crowded at Rosslyn), flew to Paris, transferred and flew to Zagreb (chill and damp outside transfer that involved a 20 minute bus ride from the terminal), Croatia, passport control and transfer to local jet to Dubrovnik, Croatia, bus from airport into town, cab to Hotel Kompas. Total travel time 24+ hours.

After a quick shower I was out to see the town. My hotel was pretty much built into a cliff. The Lobby was off the street entrance, on the 9th floor, my room was on the 5th floor (view from my window in the picture on the right), and the seafront promenade was on the 1st floor. The Hotel Kompas was as the end of a long pedestrian road lined with restaurants leading from the bus stop to the beach. Great stretch for people watching. Every table along the road has a swinging bench on the side of the table facing the street. In the evening these are full of couples sipping drinks and just observing the people walking. No real "beach" though, just pebble beaches in this area.

I walked down this stretch and hit up the ATM for a second time, the first ATM hit was completely spent on the bus and cab ride, half hour bus was 25 kuna and ten min cab was 75 kuna, I really should have looked up conversion rate before this (later found it was about 7 kuna to the dollar). Hopped on the bus and took my first trip into the walled city of old Dubrovnik.

The Old Town is very touristy, as I would discover later, but not too bad this first evening. Apparently in the off season they only get two cruise ships a day, but still enough to fill the town with plenty of day trippers. Tried to get a bite to eat, but refused to eat Mexican food or pizza after traveling halfway around the world. Of course I later found that pizza and pasta are as local as you get in Dubrovnik. The town is amazing, the streets are narrow and lined with restaurant tables. Many old buildings that had been repaired to authentic conditions, following centuries of war and earthquakes. Just spent the day exploring the streets and climbing the narrow stairways. Finally ended up at "cold drinks", the best place in the city to get a drink and watch the sunset. It is a small bar perched on a cliff outside the city wall. The only way to find it is to locate the small wooden signs with "cold drinks" painted on an arrow. The view is amazing, but eat something before. I hadn't eaten since that small breakfast on my Air France flight and the effect of three beers was substantial.

I spent several wonderful hours watching the sunset and sipping beers. I even met a nice couple from England who I shared my table with. After departing the bar I went in search of food, ran into the English couple again, and accepted their invitation to dinner as they were helping me find the correct bus back toward my hotel and realized they were going to dinner just down the street from it. They were older, 50s, and were meeting up with another couple as well, in their 60s, but it was a great dinner. The older couple was a Finnish husband and English wife. The grilled me on Obama-care since the health care debate is on the news there all the time but they didn't really understand how the American health care system worked. After dinner, much helped to sober up by the food, it was off to some much needed sleep.

The next day I slept till at least noon.

Spent this day walking the old town walls. The views were amazing, even if my fear of heights did arise from time to time.

After the wall hike I took a boat road over to the forest preserve island of Lokrum (the island at the top left of the above picture). The island is a park with an abandoned monastery, botanical gardens, and abandoned forts. All in the typical Mediterranean climate beauty. Grabbed lunch here as well as a large beer to set the proper mood for a long hike. I really enjoyed walking around the entire island. The views from the top of the old fort at the highest point of the island were breathtaking. There was also an abandoned dock and an old quarantine hospital.

Between the hiking and the morning on the city walls I had a nice workout. I returned to the old city and spent the evening chilling at Oliva pizza making notes on the trip, eating and drinking a few beers while people watching. The old town gets beautiful after sunset with the lights reflecting off the foot polished flagstones and the chirping of the bats flying all over the town and keeping the mosquitoes from existing in any numbers. Luckily I didn't notice my Mediterranean poison ivy equivalent rash that had broken out on my ankles from the day hike until the following day so had a fun evening. It was just amazing how many people live in the walled town and go about their day without the use of cars or even bikes to get around. A lifestyle to be envious of for sure.

I spent several of the evening hours walking around town when i noticed an Irish pub. I was excited to find this place where i could just chill in town for the evening. The people of the Balkans love their cafes for hanging out, but the whole concept of a bar/pub is completely lacking. So the Irish pub run by an Irishman was a nice find. I hung there for most of the evening and maid friends with a nice Irish couple my age. We had a lot of fun, even if they did drink me under the table. Those .5L beers really sneak up on you.

The next morning was my final day in Dubrovnik. Rather than waste time on the bus ride into the old town I spent my morning walking along a seaside trail near my hotel. Wonderful vistas and a relaxing way to spend my last morning. I then took a taxi to the bus station. The taxis here are really nice. Usually luxury cars that hide the time and distance meter behind the stereo faceplate when not in use. Why can't DC cabs get down with such things! The bus station has a complete lack of seating, 20 seats for 10 bus bays isn't enough, luckily my large suitcase makes significant seating for one.

Below is the view of the bus station being dwarfed by one of the many cruise ships that dock there on a regular basis. This was picture 244 of my trip so far, only a small selection of which are provided here. I have all 550 or so of them, the good and bad on flickr, but have made a "best of" set that takes a couple hundred off that, still a good bit of time to get through them all at And as always find all my pics at Part two coming soon.

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