Friday, July 31, 2009

A Croatian Holiday - Part 2 - Dubrovnik

We had been warned of bad weather forecasts for Dubrovnik for the entire 5 days that we would be there – not heartening news at all, especially as I believed them. Pete kept saying blithely that it wouldn’t rain. The scientific basis of his prediction? “Because I say so” - in his words. His carefree attitude annoyed me immensely because I wanted to wallow in the imagined misery of our rained-out Dubrovnik trip. I didn’t want to be told to be optimistic and cheer up.

However, when our aircraft landed at Dubrovnik’s tiny airport after a 45-minute flight from Zagreb, the skies were mostly clear. It was obvious that it had been raining because of the shiny wet runway, but Pete was right – the rain had stopped. And what’s more, it pretty much kept off during our stay in Dubrovnik (raining hard only once, on one night). So Pete’s prediction did turn out correct after all… and if his “method” wasn’t based on satellite readings and weather pattern analyses and whatever other scientific methods I imagine the Met Office uses, the fact is that Pete was right and the Met Office wasn’t. Maybe they should use him to forecast the weather.

My gloomy mood was dispelled the moment I got off the aircraft and looked around – the tiny airport, the “freshly washed” aspect of the post-rain surroundings, the mountains around us and the blue skies all combined to raise my spirits. We were in Dubrovnik! We’d made it there, it wasn’t raining. Not even Pete’s smug “See? I told you it wouldn’t rain” reminder could stop me feeling pleased.

The hotel I’d booked (when we were in Osijek) was called the Hotel Perla. They had already informed us that they did not have a hotel coach for airport transfers, but that they could arrange a taxi for us at a charge (with the driver holding up a placard with our names, so we would know him). Or we could hire a taxi at the airport and make our way to the hotel ourselves.

We decided to just hire a taxi from the airport taxi stand. Still fresh from our fleecing at the hands of the Zagreb taxi driver, we were just a wee bit wary of what our experience with them would be like in Dubrovnik. We asked the manager of the taxi rank how much it would cost to get to the hotel, and we were told “220 kuna”. And so it proved, literally to the – um, whatever the smallest Croatian coin is called.

I’d booked the Hotel Perla ( because it seemed to have the best combination of price, location and good customer reviews, even if it was a good distance from the airport. It was also not close the Old Town, being situated in the Lapad area of Dubrovnik. But there was a bus stop very close by the hotel, with frequent direct bus services to the Old City, and I was all for traveling like the locals, anyway.

Lapad proved a good choice as a base, with a reasonable mixture of tourists and locals in the area, but with more residences than hotels around. Our hotel was one among many in a pedestrianised stretch of walkway about a kilometer long with restaurants/hotels/small shops on both sides, with the bus stop at one end and the beach at the other. Put baldly (and possibly badly) like that, it doesn’t seem a particularly attractive place to stay, but it was. It didn’t feel crowded (although it was) or dirty (because it wasn’t), and it was nice to be able to stroll to a different restaurant every evening, have our dinner while people-watching, and not worry about transport back to the hotel.

Hotel Perla was quite small and cosy, and the staff were friendly and very helpful - once again, a brilliant choice on my part if I do say so myself. Our room was not large, but it had a little balcony (with a table and two chairs) that looked out onto the walkway below, with the hills beyond, and just visible between the hills, a glimpse of very blue sea.

The beds in our room, though, were the most amazingly squeaky pieces of furniture we’d ever experienced – the slightest movement would create a cacophony of creaks and squeaks at various pitches, reminiscent of excited piglets. I don’t know if it was just our room, or whether all the rooms had such unmusically loud beds. They were comfortable enough, though, so after the initial surprise at the amount of noise, we didn’t really care.

It was still quite light when we got to the hotel, so after dumping our bags, we decided to check out the bus service to the Old City, to get an idea of how long it would take, etc. We bought our tickets at a newspaper kiosk opposite the bus stand (cheaper by 2 kuna than if bought on the bus – plus they saved time and the necessity to have the exact change for the bus driver) and took a comfortably air conditioned bus No 6 to the Old City.

Our first glimpse of what lay within the fortress walls took me totally by surprise – the buildings were beautifully preserved (well, rebuilt) but that was not the surprise… it was the fact that every building seemed to contain restaurants, cafes, bars or shops. Was the Old City then just a glorified shopping centre, albeit contained in beautiful old buildings? A little more exploration, however, reassured me – people did still live there, have homes there, but it was more a tourist area than a residential one. (I know – duh. The Old City is THE most famous and therefore the most touristy area possible… but I’d rather not see shops!)

We wandered up the beautiful main street, marveling at the buildings, then wandered back to the main gate where the tourist office was situated. There were one-hour guided tours advertised (90 kuna per person) and since we were at the right place at the right time, we joined up with a group that was just starting off. Our guide spoke excellent English but had a somewhat irritating way of asking questions of the group as if he was a history teacher and we his particularly stupid students. I’ve had other guides in other places on other tours ask rhetorical questions (“Does anybody know what this statue represents?”) but none of them actually expected any answers! This guy did, though… and because I was woefully ignorant of Dubrovnik’s history, I felt duly cloth-headed even though he wasn’t exactly singling me out. (I guess have to stop taking everything so personally – even my own lack of knowledge!)

What I knew of Dubrovnik’s history before I went there was this: That it is a World Heritage Site and was (is?) known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” because of its natural beauty and its wealthy citizenry; that, despite being of hardly any strategic importance, it was bombed unmercifully and unnecessarily by the Yugoslav army in 1991; and that it was rebuilt to its former glory by the locals with plenty of foreign assistance, not the least monetarily. Oh, and that in 1667 it was nearly destroyed by a killer earthquake and rebuilt in baroque style.

You’d think that was enough historical knowledge of a place where you were going to be holidaying for just a few days, but our guide didn’t see it that way.

“Who can tell me what happened in AD 1358?”, he would ask pompously. Everybody would stand in silence while he tapped his foot on the ground. “Dubrovnik (or Ragusa as it was known then) broke away from the control of Venice.” Oh, right. Then he would march on to another part of the Old Town. “What does that building there remind you of?” More deafening silence from the group. “Something in Italy?” Silence, shuffling feet. “Does it not look like the dome of the Basilica?” Murmurs from the group, and off he would go, explaining exactly which famous architect had built it, why it looked like it did, and so on. I’m not surprised that the boyfriend of a girl in our group started yawning 2 minutes into the tour and looked half comatose by the end of it.

Oh all right, perhaps I’m razzing our guide too much, being a wee bit too unkind, and perhaps that sleepy chap was simply not interested in the tour (although his girlfriend was perky and wideeyed throughout). I suppose that really the guide was a competent enough guy who knew his history, but what was perhaps missing in the tour was a touch of humour, which would have added some interest to his driest facts.

Here’s another fact, neither dry nor humorous… there is a board on the door of a building in one of the narrow, steep little alleys that marks the building as a former synagogue. It is not in use because there are no Jews in Dubrovnik. And there are no Jews in Dubrovnik because they all, every last one of them, died in the Holocaust.

A couple of the other buildings our guide pointed out were the Rector’s Palace, which was one of the two buildings which survived the terrible earthquake of 1667 (the other being the Sponza Palace), and the oldest residential building in Dubrovnik which was owned by a businessman, not a nobleman. The building itself looked quite nice, spread over 3-4 floors, the only drawback being that it was situated in what I privately nicknamed “Cat Pee Alley” – because that’s what the little street smelt overwhelmingly of. Our guide said that the alley was the favoured place for the fat cats (literal, not human) of Dubrovnik to have a pee. Men are men and cats are cats, but I guess they’re all animals when it comes to watering the street!

After the guided tour was over, we wandered for a little while longer around the narrow little streets, coming across shop after tourist shop, each one selling pretty much the same sort of overpriced tat. The outdoor seating areas to all the restaurants were jam packed, and because there were so many smokers among them, we were not tempted to hang about.

When we got back to the hotel, I was thrilled to notice what I hadn’t seen the first time around – books! In English! (and Croatian and Norwegian, but never mind those). The friendly, pretty receptionist laughed at my obvious happiness and explained that they were books that had been left behind by other guests and I was welcome to borrow them. It was a big relief to have more reading material at hand – otherwise I would have had to ration my reading as I was down to my last two books (bought in Zagreb that morning as emergency back-up).

We enquired about ferry trips to neighbouring islands, and the receptionist said that pretty much any ferry service would be the same. There was one right next door to the hotel and we booked two tickets for the next day at 110 kuna each. The ferry trip was to include a “fish lunch” and drinks, and we would visit the Elafiti Islands – or rather, the three inhabited ones of Koločep, Lopud and Sipan. There are, I believe, 14 islands but most of them are uninhabitable.

Because we were staying in the Lapad area, the tour lady informed us that we would be taking a small boat to the port proper in the Old City, and there we would transfer to the bigger ferry which would take us around the islands. That suited me fine. So the next morning, bright and early, we (and a few others numbering maybe 10 people) met up with her, and walked down to where the boats, private and otherwise, were moored. The small boat, as she had said, was not at all busy. It was a lovely bright morning, the sea was very blue, and I really enjoyed the 20-minute trip to the harbor.

But when we got off on the jetty and saw the milling crowds, that was when it struck me that our little group would not be the only ones on the big ferry.

And so it turned out.

By the time the ferry (already carrying passengers who had probably got on at a previous pick-up point, and who had appropriated the best seats on the top deck) docked at our jetty, the majority of OAP holidaymakers were thronging around the access point to the ferry. This allowed only one person on at a time, as it was a fair step down from the jetty to the boat, and there were two crew members who grabbed each person’s arms and helped them on board.

I have to digress here for a rant (what, you were expecting a prayer maybe?) about these OAPs. I’m a polite person and Pete, being English but not a football fan (and therefore not a hooligan), is polite in general and solicitous of older people in particular. But gosh, a lot of older people sure don’t return the favour – especially those you meet on holiday. Maybe they’re polite and well behaved in their home towns where people know them... but on holiday, they leave behind any such pretences and scrabble and squabble and push and shove and elbow others to get ahead without a second thought – and to add to this, if you request them to stop shoving, they’re not above pointing out that they’re OAPs... as if that condones their selfish behaviour.

Not all of them were like that, obviously, but a good many of them certainly were – and oddly, the majority of those were members of a German tour group. After a heavy old woman stepped on my foot while pushing her way forward with not a word of apology, Pete remarked not quite sotto voce that she probably wanted to get her towel on a good seat before anybody else. (Germans have a deserved reputation for grabbing the best seats anywhere early by leaving their towels on them as a sort of "reservation".) I shushed him but an American OAP, who had heard Pete, laughed and added “I believe Germans have a reputation for being ruthless.”

The result was, by the time we managed to get on (and we were one of the last few), most of the seats had been taken. I was extremely upset – I had been really looking forward to the boat trip, and I was annoyed that the woman who sold us the tickets had implied that we would have good seats. She certainly didn’t tell us that our little group would be the last to be picked up by the ferry.

The ferry left immediately everyone was on board. For a few minutes it looked like we would have nowhere to sit at all. The seating was very basic – wooden benches and tables squeezed in on the lower deck, in three rows with a narrow aisle between. These were meant to seat three per bench. Most of the seats had been taken by the German squad, and while we were still stood looking for somewhere to park our heinies, these delightful (not!) old folk had already begun to down the vodka that was provided along with the most godawful soft drinks I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste.

We finally managed to get a seat next to a batty old woman wearing shocking pink lipstick that had bled all around her mouth. She had a massive beach bag next to her on the bench, but did she offer to move it, or make space to give us a seat? What do you think?

I would probably have stood there, fuming and very close to tears, but Pete practically pushed me down next to her, having decided that waiting for these people to be polite was a waste of time. I didn’t want him to stay standing either, so I moved up closer to her, hoping to shame her into budging up as well. All she did was move the bag between us, so that she rather than her bag was at the “window” seat. Which was fine by me because I didn’t have a problem squashing her bag.

After about 5 minutes, the old bat decided that she wanted to find another vantage point, so we dutifully made way for her to get out. But, unbelievably, she left her bag there to guard her seat. I watched her flit from seat to seat until she found a better seat towards the top end (is it aft? or stern? whatever the term is) of the boat. I don’t know quite how she managed this, as there was a young family sat there, but she was soon seated by the “window” again, with a great sea view. It didn’t look like she was coming back, so I finally (with much prompting from Pete) put her bag under the table and appropriated the window seat.

That improved my mood a bit, especially as I could now at least see the waves sparkling in the sun. It still wasn’t an ideal place for the best views of what was ahead, but it beat standing up.

The first of the three Elafiti islands that we arrived at was Kolocep. The stop here was just for 30 minutes and there didn’t seem to be much to do or see in that short time, so we didn’t bother with getting off the boat. I did, however, take the chance to try and find a better vantage point and managed to find a place to sit at the top of the boat. This was not strictly a seating area as there were huge ropes coiled there, as well as an anchor, and there wasn’t really much place to sit, but by holding on to one of the poles at the side, I could at least anchor myself and look ahead. It wasn’t the most comfortable place, but I clung there like a limpet, refusing to move even at the next island (Lopud) for fear of someone else taking my place. This time we stopped there for lunch, so it was for about an hour.

The lunch was, of course, broiled fish of some sort, served with a cabbage slaw and baskets of bread. There were also sausages available for those who didn’t want the fish, and the boat guys didn’t mind serving both fish and sausages for those so inclined. I, as a vegetarian, got the slaw along with a few slices of an amazingly awful cheese – it smelt and tasted like something dead, and not even Pete, who actually likes mouldy (read blue) cheese, could stomach more than a bite! Smelly cheese definitely is an acquired taste. On the plus side, for non-vegetarians, the fish and sausages were plentiful and very tasty, so worth being included in the ticket price! Also, the boat crew were very efficient about serving the lunch while it was still hot (the fish were cooked on board), and even came around asking if anybody wanted seconds. With that part of the trip I have no beef at all (if you will pardon an unpardonably bad pun).

By the time lunch was finished and cleared away, and those who had wandered onto the island had returned, I had consolidated my place quite nicely, moving the ropes a bit till I could sit reasonably comfortably. Pete went one better and sat on the edge of the boat, getting the advantage of what breeze there was – but I was too chicken, afraid that I would fall into the water. It was lovely to feel the wind on my face (because it was a hot day) and look at the bow wave created by the boat and the sun sparkles on the waves, and gradually my bad mood disappeared.

At the last island, Sipan, the boat docked for a couple or three hours, leaving the passengers to their devices. There was a tiny stretch of beach – more stony than sandy at that – where there were maybe a couple of dozen people stretched out on towels or sun loungers. A few were in the water in the roped-off area (beyond which the ferry boats were moored). It did look like they were having fun, and Pete got it into his head that he wanted to cool off in the water as well.

He was wearing swim shorts anyway, which made it convenient, but he insisted that he wanted to dive into the water from the boat. I tried to persuade him not to do so – he could get in the way of other boats coming in, he could scare the bejesus out of the fish (that I had been feeding with bread left over from lunch), he could end up stuck head-first in the sand (the water was very clear and consequently didn’t look deep enough to dive into) - but my carefully reasoned objections didn’t resonate with him. He did agree to jump in feet first, though, which I thought was marginally safer (broken legs vs broken neck – obvious choice, right?).

He wanted me to jump in too, but I declined on the grounds that I wasn’t wearing a swim costume, plus there was only one towel and that was his. (Cowardice had, of course, nothing to with my decision.)

I half thought one of the boat crew guys would yell out when he saw Pete stand on the rail, but he watched without so much as a warning peep as Pete dived in. Once I was certain he hadn’t broken anything (including any nearby fish), I took a couple of photos of him, then made my way around to the beach area, carrying the towel and his t-shirt, while Pete swam lazily across (as an aside, does the word “swam” look and sound as weird to you as it does to me?).

We sat around under the canopy of a cafe for a bit, sipping at a beer, until Pete's shorts were dry. I wanted to explore the little lanes that led up towards the hilltop, where there were the remains of a fort or something (a sign with an arrow pointing upwards helpfully said "fort", which is how I knew about it).

The steps leading up were pretty steep, there was no breeze and it was really warm... but I persevered because there were fruit trees and green grape vines and some very beautiful flowers and things growing by the steps (although behind fences as they were private gardens). Again, lots of fruiting orange and lemon trees, but I couldnt scrump a single fruit as they were all just beyond reach. I had to content myself with photographs. We went about three quarters of the way up, then gave it up as a bad job - it simply was too hot, and I didnt want to risk a headache, a very real possibility in that dazzling sunshine. The views from there down the hill to the sea were stunning, though, so it was not a totally wasted climb. All in all, the day trip around the Elafiti islands was worth it, made better by the absence of rain.

That evening we elected to have dinner at our hotel restaurant... as usual, the vegetable platter I got was literally just that - a platter with lightly grilled vegetables. I got by with a salad and a bowl of chips, while Pete had the whole grilled fish of some kind, and really enjoyed it.

Our meal was made all the more pleasant by our waiter, a friendly man of indeterminate age with really hairy eyebrows and a brilliant grin. He spoke very good English, and we got talking when he asked where I was from. I thought he would most likely not even have heard of Madras - imagine my surprise when he said that he had spent two weeks there while walking from Bombay to Kanyakumari! It turned out that he had spent three or four years travelling all around India on a shoestring budget, staying with Indian families who had befriended him on his wanderings in the country. He was very familiar with places I have never been to, and apparently he had even spent three months in Haridwar and Rishikesh with a blind sadhu whose mind-reading power he could personally vouch for.

He had lots more stories about his stay in India, and his affection for the country was obvious. This Croatian gentleman, who I thought would probably not even have travelled to Asia, had worked for 12 years on the QE2 as the chief purser (whatever that is) along with his wife, had been all over the world, lived in Dubrovnik for 8 months of the year and spent the winter months in warm South-East Asia. And here I'd assumed that he probably wasnt very well off and that's why he was working in a three-star hotel! He was an incredibly interesting man, and yet again it was a reminder not to take anybody’s circumstances for granted just because of where they were or what they were doing at the time I met them. (I never did find out why he was working at this hotel and not in some fancy 5-star one, though.)

Since our hotel was only a small one (just 20 rooms, and most didn’t seem occupied - yet), we got to know the staff quite well, especially as there weren’t many of them. The Hotel Perla was also perfectly situated as far as I was concerned, and we spent most of a day without doing anything much touristy. We had bought a large bottle of vermouth (and a bottle of Sprite as a mixer) and made large sweet martinis for sustenance while Pete worked on his software for a while, and I read a book, sitting out on the balcony, occasionally looking out over the pedestrian walkway and watching the people below.

I found it really amusing to find men and women walking around in public wearing what amounted pretty to just their underwear with perhaps a gauzy top as a basic cover (just the women – the men went bare-chested, sometimes with a towel slung around their waist) – you knew at once that they were tourists, there for the beach and the sun. The locals went about their business with not a second look at these holidaying people clad in not very much – par for the course, as far as they were concerned, I guess. This attire only extended to those who were walking, though – beachwear was not allowed on the buses. Those who were wearing clothes were so beautifully accessorised, it was a pleasure to look at them... light pastel outfits or summery colours with matching bags, sandals, hats, and so on. The ladies looked really stylish, cool and casual.

Anyway, it was a perfect sort of day to be incredibly lazy, and in the evening we walked down to the beach end of the walkway, just to see what was there. There were more shops along the way, more hotels and, on the beach, an open bar with chairs and tables on the shingle. This seemed like a perfect place for a drink, and Pete ordered his favourite Croatian beer while I had a cocktail that imitated the colourful sunset (both were glorious). There was an apricot tree as well, with fruits that were (at last!) within reach - and I finally got to eat a fruit within moments of being picked, the freshest it could get. The apricot was quite small, fairly sweet on the outside and pretty sour towards the seed part – but I was pleased with it anyway.

While we were there, we were hailed by a good looking, smooth talking ferry-trip sales guy. He was very persuasive, very amusing, talked nineteen to the dozen and very nearly convinced us to book tickets for a day trip by luxury bus to Montenegro in Serbia (just a few hours drive from Dubrovnik) along with a boat ride to some other islands.

Unfortunately, as per the guidebook, as an Indian passport holder, I still required a visa to enter Serbia. The sales guy said that entry into Montenegro would not be a problem as I have a UK permanent resident visa… but he couldn’t confirm for certain that I wouldn’t need a visa. Reluctantly we decided that we couldn’t really risk a bus trip – if the border security at Montenegro decided that I couldn’t enter, we’d be stuck in god knows what forsaken area, unable to go on to Montenegro and unable to return to Dubrovnik until the bus made its return trip… not to mention the waste of a day and the trip fee as well. It was a pity, as I would have loved to see Montenegro... but inshallah, I’ll get to Serbia some other time.

The next day turned out to be bright, sunny and extremely warm. Although I had told Pete earlier that we should not miss the Old City walls walk, the heat put me off even venturing out. I suggested that we go out towards the evening, when it would be cooler. But Pete insisted that we should stick to the plan and finish that part of the sightseeing, dragging a very reluctant and whiny me out of the hotel and down the walkway to the bus stop bright and early at 10.30a.m or so. The bus stop was really busy as well, making me even more whiny. I forced Pete to miss a couple of buses in the hope that the worst of the throngs would disappear (the buses came around every 10 minutes), but no such luck.

I guess that because the day was so exceptionally lovely, all the sightseers had decided to home in on the Old City. We bought a couple of bottles of water and tickets at 50 kuna apiece for the pleasure of walking the wall. The first hurdle was the steep flight of steps from where we started at the Pile Gate entrance. There was a steady stream of people coming down/going up. I guess it would have been much more pleasant in cooler weather – I don’t know what the temperature was, but it certainly felt very hot and quite humid… probably over 30C. (I know, I know, Chennai-ites - that’s practically freezing temperatures in comparison – but just leave me to my moaning, ok?) There was absolutely no breeze at all, the sun was blazing down, the steps were steep, leading steadily upwards, and I wasn’t a happy camper – until, that is, I finally got to a point where I got an uninterrupted view of the Adriatic.

It was glorious! A bright bright blue shading towards turquoise near the tower bases, with little waves that sparkled in the sunshine, here and there ferries making their usual trips, a massive cruise ship in the mid-distance, the island of Lokrum rising green from the sea – it was a breathtakingly lovely view. It also helped that the steps had more or less leveled out by now, with only the occasional upward slope. There was no respite from the sun. The only places where there was an actual cool breeze was, oddly, in the occasional little outcropping, tiny spaces (I don’t know the architectural term for these rooms), just big enough for 2-3 people to stand without bumping elbows. The breeze that came through the small openings cut in the stone was soothingly cool. I don’t know where the breeze came from, because the second you stepped out of the room, it disappeared. Those were oases of relief, I can tell you! Luckily Pete had his cap on, otherwise he would probably have suffered sunstroke – as it was, since he was wearing shorts, below the knee and up to his socks, and on his arms, he was quite severely sunburnt.

The sea views were beautiful but as we went further on there were also panoramic views over the rooftops of the Old City. They were various shades of red – the lighter coloured ones being the pre-Serb bombing older ones, and the bright red ones being the replacements used when the Old City was rebuilt. Some of the ruins had not been restored and they were quite a contrast to the reconstructed buildings.

It took two hours to walk a complete circuit of the walls, and by the time we’d finished, it was about 1.30 in the afternoon – extremely hot. The Stradun was, of course, overrun with hatted sunglassed tourists, either strolling up and down the street or seated at the outdoor tables of the various cafes. We weren’t looking to sit outside, so it was very pleasant to walk into a café and find the indoor section absolutely empty. It was dark in there, and reasonably cool, and we had a beer (Pete) and a cool drink (me) to cool off. I worked out the price for my tiny bottle of Sprite and was horrified to find that it was £3! Yikes! I didn’t want to spend all my money in just that café, and Pete, who was probably thirsting for some Guinness, suggested the Irish Pub as our next destination. It was nice and quiet to start with, and there were big-screen TV sets showing football matches. So we sat there for the rest of the afternoon, Pete drinking Guinness while I alternated between trying out the local fruit juice varieties and the different kinds of coffee from the menu. It was a pleasant way to recover from the excesses of the sun before we eventually made our way back to Lapad for our dinner.

Our last day in Dubrovnik – Sunday - was another scorcher. I wanted to do another boat trip of some sort, but since we hadn’t booked anything in advance and had started out much too late from the hotel, we were at a slight loss as to how to set about it. Pete suggested that we walk down to the bay in Lapad, from where we’d taken the boat to the Old City the other day. Dragging my heels and sulking only a little in the heat, I followed him down the shady little streets, trusting reluctantly to his homing pigeon instincts when he veered off from the road down a narrow little alley. Sure enough, we reached the mooring point quicker than if we’d gone the longer way down the main road.

So we were there. Now what?

Pete said we could follow the road around the marina to the other side, and if perhaps there would be boats that took people for rides. It looked like a short distance to the other side and indeed would not have taken 10 minutes to row across, assuming we had a row boat. But the road followed the shape of the marina, meandering around, unfolding more around every corner, and soon I was feeling really sweaty and uncomfortable (wearing jeans had not been the best idea, in retrospect) and extremely icily bad-tempered. (I’m aware of coming across as a complete misery of a travel companion – and unfortunately that’s true in very hot, humid weather. I AM not a nice person in those circumstances.)

Pete kindly tried to jolly me along (he was being extra sweet because it was his fault we were walking – I had wanted to take the bus to the Old City) but it wasn’t until we reached a tourist office that I thawed a bit (ironic usage I suppose, considering the heat). It was blissfully air-conditioned and the guy behind the counter spoke English well. (More importantly, he was rather good looking.)

The office was also a scooter-hire place, little noisy 50cc two-wheelers that you could rent for 200 kuna a day. But I wasn’t really in the mood, partly because it was already past noon and it would have been a waste of money. Also, I wasn’t sure if I would remember how to ride a scooter safely after nearly a decade of not having ridden one. In any case, Dubrovnik’s traffic was a bit iffy. Yes I know, I’m a human chicken.

The main reason, though, was that my heart was set on a boat ride, so we waited at the nearest bus-stop for a bus to Old City. As I had feared, there were no ferry trips to even the nearby Lokrum island, but at the Old City marina, we bumped into our salesman pal from the other day. He looked hot under the collar as well, and readily informed us that he was having a bad day, it was too hot and he had not been able to charm enough customers into taking his ferry trips. He did have a one-hour boat ride around the islands on offer, and since that seemed better than nothing, we ponied up 100 kuna each and were led to a small boat. There were only about 6 people on board apart from the crew, excluding us, all of them Americans on an extended trip around Europe.

The boat ride was enjoyable, as always, and this one took us around the far side of Lokrum Island (which we hadn’t seen on the other trip) which was hidden if you were looking at the island from the Old City, even from the top of the city walls. There were quite a few sunbathers perched on whatever space was available among the rather spiky-looking rocks – sunbathers with a difference, because they were lounging about “digambar” (meaning “skyclad”, meaning naked) style. Nude sunbathing/swimming was apparently restricted to that part of the island only. I have to say that the folks splashing about in the water looked mighty comfortable and cool. There were little ladders (swimming pool style) fixed to the rocks here and there to assist the swimmers in getting out of the water, and the kids were having a great time jumping from the rocks into the water, clambering out and then repeating the whole thing over. It did look like good fun…

The trip finished all too soon, but I felt a lot more cheerful thereafter. Walking back through the little lanes of the Old City, I didn’t even think to sigh about the jewellery shop where I had seen (and instantly coveted) the Most Beautiful Necklace Ever – gold beads and deep blue lapis lazuli beads somehow woven together to form a diamond shape that was pliable instead of stiff-backed. I’ve never been bothered over much with fine jewellery of any sort, but I really did fall in love with that necklace, especially when I tried it on. It looked stunning… and so was the price – something like £1,500. No way we could afford that, but it didn’t stop me from sighing over it for a few minutes.

Anyway, as I was saying, the boat ride put me in a good enough mood to even forget about the necklace.

And back in Lapad, we tried the last restaurant on our row (or the first one, approaching from the bus stop) for dinner – and what do you know, it turned out to have the best and cheapest food of all the restaurants we’d tried. Their pizza was pretty damn good, thin and crisp to the point of being nearly burnt on the bottom (which is how I like it).

Our taxi was coming at 4.30 the next morning, so we tried to check out in advance, to save us and them the trouble so early in the morning. But the receptionist said that we could do it the next morning, no problem, after breakfast - yep, they arranged for fresh hot coffee, bread rolls, cheese, ham, jam and butter especially for the two of us as a farewell gesture. That’s what I mean by friendly service and the personal touch – it’s so much nicer at small hotels with friendly staff!

The taxi driver was the same friendly chap who had brought us to the hotel when we arrived. This time the drive to the airport was much quicker, as there was hardly any traffic on the roads at that godforsaken hour of the morning. Croatia Airlines is nothing if not punctual, and our flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, and the connecting flight from Zagreb to Gatwick went off more or less like clockwork (minus some frustration at the transfer point in Zagreb airport which was run remarkably inefficiently – very reminiscent of the melee that usually happens in the international terminal in Madras!) But that was only a small hiccup and easily ignored – once we were safely at our embarkation point – after another lovely holiday in Croatia.


brinda said...

yaay! reading matter for the next one day, i hope :-) thanks! (finally!!)

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading !! photos please .. maya

Alan said...

Excellent! Like it so much.Photos would be great to see.

Car Hire Dubrovnik said...

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