Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Croatia - Dubrovnik

We spent a little longer in Dubrovnik, so it was nice to have some relatively relaxing time. Still, we kept busy with a walk on the town walls around the old city, a guided walking tour (we were the only customers, so we had a private tour), a trip up above the city on the cable car, and a trip to Lokrum Island, a 10 minute boat ride away from Dubrovnik but a world away from the city. Lokrum has more peacocks and peahens than I have ever seen in one place, and they are completely unafraid of people.

The old city's streets are made of polished limestone. They are very clean and very shiny and look like they would be very slippery when wet. Luckily it didn't rain on us! We quickly learned that Dubrovnik is best enjoyed starting in the afternoon. The cruise ships come in in the morning and can add several thousand tourists each to the streets. But for the most part, cruise passengers have to be back on board by early afternoon, leaving things fairly peaceful. 

Stradum at night

Walking along the wall. 

Gail was the only one brave enough to try a swim!

Dubrovnik from Lokrum Island
The old port of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik was heavily shelled the winter of 1991-1992. According to our tour guide, everyone had believed up until that point that the old city would be respected and not targeted. Two-thirds of the buildings and many of the streets in the old city were damaged in the war, but virtually everything has been repaired. Even the buildings completely burned out have been rebuilt, with craftsmen using old techniques and original materials where possible. I had been worried that maybe it wouldn't be as I'd long heard it described, but other than some shrapnel marks on a few buildings and a map depicting the damage you'd be hard pressed to know that anything had happened. Our tour guide told us a little of what it had been like, cut off from the rest of Croatia, seeing their old town bombed, living without water or electricity.

One of the museums we visited was a war photography exhibition. It had some pictures from the wars in Croatia and the other parts of the former Yugoslavia, but also many from African conflicts and some from the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts. Many, many pictures of children involved in wars as victims, combatants, or both. We skipped another war museum, mainly because the entrance description was all about the heroism of the Croatians and the villainy of the Serbs. Things are rarely that black and white, and evidence abounds that there were atrocities on all sides. According to our guide book Croats and Serbs are ethnically identical: the only differences are religion (Catholic vs. Serbian Orthodox) and language (though the languages are closely related). We noticed on our drive from Plitvice Lakes toward the coast that virtually every small town had a ruin of a church. I wish I had some way of finding out whether that resulted from a natural shift of population away from small towns or if those Catholic churches were targeted during the war.

To get to Dubrovnik by road you have to pass through Bosnia Herzegovina. I wasn't aware, until looking at the map planning our drive to the city, that there is a narrow section of land called the Neum Corridor that gives Bosnia access to the sea. It meant we had to go through customs twice (once for Croatia and once for Bosnia Herzegovina) each direction. Luckily it was just a glance at the passports and a wave through each time, but at border crossings one never knows.

Today we drove back to Zagreb. It was a very uneventful drive. No snow, no major road closures, no major traffic jams. More on Zagreb later.

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