Basically a wonderful day. Dubrovnik is amazing. I have to then ask myself the nature versus nurture question of travel. Is it the place or is it me that is the determinate? The place being the nature, I, the nurture. Dubrovnik is what it is, no matter what. I, on the other hand am something of a variable. This city is made of stone. I am made of...who knows what.
Dubrovnik is fantastic, there is no question about that. If it were a tree in the forest and it fell, it would make a sound whether or not anyone were present. It’s that solid.
But what about me, the visitor? I got a long in Zagreb. Pula, Zadar, Plitvica, and Split were somewhat iffy for me. But Bol and Dubrovnik, absolute winners. Why? What made the difference--or, what was different about my experiences?
Part of it seems like the guide book, Lonely Planet. I was horribly frustrated by the fact that LP kept saying that there were virtually no rooms in the old towns of each place, but, A) there have been, and B) why don’t they provide maps of the places nearby that they believe do have rooms? It’s easy to get lost when you have to guess where you are on a map. These cities aren’t really well marked as it is when it comes to street signs. At least give me a fighting chance by putting the names on a map for me.
But that can’t be it. I can’t blame a book. What was different about Zagreb, Bol, and Dubrovnik? What I was looking for in the book when I was in the other cities was housing. I’d like to construct a theory about the importance of a place of one’s own, but Virginia Woolf has already done that. And I think there is plenty to be stated about homelessness and placeless-ness, the plight of refugees, which the Balkans is historically abundant with. I can’t imagine the psychological impact of moving day to day with no control over one’s destiny or that of his or her family. I can’t imagine how that changes a mind and a body’s chemistry. But I am not a sociologist, nor do I have the battery power in my laptop to research that. So I can only consider myself...on a simple vacation.
In the places I enjoyed the most, I had housing set up either ahead of time or--get ready--I followed my plan! I had rooms set up in Zagreb and Bol. In Dubrovnik I swore to myself on the bus from Split that I would talk to more than one old lady before making my choice. I’d ask for pictures. I’d tell them to show me on the map. I wouldn’t accept some phony baloney “it’s just a kilometer or two, just fifteen minute walk” BS from anyone. I wanted to know the price and what was included.
In Dubrovnik, the first lady was very sweet. The second lady was vicious calling the other one a liar. I’m not sure what about though. The third one was by my request--“Who has a room in the center? Two kilometers is too far.” The vicious lady pulled the third one over and we were in business. I thought she was pulling a fast one when she had a fourth, younger lady drive us along the walls of the fort that houses the old town, trying to butter me up for the bait and switch, but it was real. Tereza, the third old lady, took me through the Pile Gate, down the main pedestrian mall--the “stradun”-- around a few churches--I think we circled the cathedral--up some steps, and finally into an alley way that reeked of cat piss. Through a green door with metal scroll work in the windows and up two flights of marble stairs that...well, you’ll have to see the pictures to understand the stairs--we came to the room. A ceiling fan, two beds to choose from, tall windows with old broken green shutters...this was it. For as much as I paid Olga in Zadar for the dangerous walk with short cuts galore, 150 kuna, or about thirty dollars (“double the price, drop a zero and you have it,” I kept telling myself).
So I had my place, I set down my stuff and was able to hit the old town for some dinner.
I think that is what made Dubrovnik so much better than Split. I stuck to my plan and not someone else’s. I got what I wanted--not the best, not a four star hotel, but what I wanted. Some one told me once that when we have choices, and when we can make our own decisions, and have some control over our lives, we feel better. I think this trip has been a decent experiment in that sense. I jumped at the first available and saw what it got me. I waited, found and weighed my options, and then made my decision. And was much happier, thrilled even.
So today I got up, had an apple pastry for breakfast, and spent two hours hiking the city walls of Dubrovnik. Each turn provided a more amazing view than the previous. I literally took a hundred pictures of the walls, the sea, and the city within the walls. When I got done, I had enough energy to take the book’s word for it and got walking south (I think) away from the fortress and up to an elevation where I could get a view of the entire place. It was picture postcard perfect. I took seven shots on my digital camera, each one nearly identical, and I don’t know how many on the 35mm. Thank God I had filled my water bottle at the public fountain of Onofrio. The water flows from multiple spigots and runs colder than from the tap in the apartment building.
I walked back to town and had an amazing lunch. I was looking for something cheap and found a place that advertised light lunches. They had listed an open face shrimp sandwich. I gave it a try. Along with the coldest beer in town, I was served a split baguette with baby spinach, balsamic vinegar, shrimp tails, capers, cherry tomato, and a delicate little transparent slice of some unidentified citrus fruit. It was outstanding. I wanted to eat it all at once it was so good, but I wanted to savor ever bite and make the meal last as long as possible. Oh, the agony and the ecstasy of an open face shrimp sandwich in Dubrovnik! Who knew life could have this moment involving something as common as a sandwich?
Then I accepted the fact that I could just simply order a second, so I did.
And nothing makes more sense than taking a nap after such a morning. When I got up and re-showered, I went out to change a little money, see a museum--which was more significant for its architecture than its contents (Google “rector’s palace Dubrovnik) and see what would happen with the night.
I didn’t get much farther than around the first corner where a skinny, scratchy looking middle aged man was playing guitar on the steps to the public square in front of the cathedral. I sat and listened and dropped a few coins in his hat. I’m no judge of music, but his acoustic guitar was a great start to the night. After getting a plate of gnocchi bolognese at an out door restaurant (some places will give you a 25% discount if you sit inside, but no one ever does and there’s till always room out doors) I wandered the stradun. Between the arch at the entry to the stradun and the arch at the city gate, a pair of musicians were set up. One was playing Spanish guitar and the other violin. People were gathered on the stairs and around a stone railing taking these guys in. Great classical music. Everybody dropped coins into the violin case. The violinist took a break and held up CDs of their music for sale. I couldn’t help but get one myself.
Saturday I have made plans to go to Mostar in Hercegovina. A room has already been arranged.