A May 2003 trip
to Dubrovnik by billmoy
Quote: Dubrovnik is perhaps the crown jewel of Croatian tourism, and deservedly so. The compact walled old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is blessed with a beautiful location along the Adriatic Sea. Dubrovnik was known as Ragusa until 1918.
The main east-west thoroughfare is Placa, though locals prefer to call it Stradun. This is like one long pedestrian plaza, with lots of cafes, touristy shops, and the like. Each end features one of the Onofrio Fountains, from which you can enjoy some refreshing water. Prijeko, which is the street running parallel to Placa but is one steep block up the north hill, is stocked with restaurants geared towards the unsuspecting tourist.
Dubrovnik was a lively place in late May, but not annoyingly so. We happened to catch the city in an interesting time, during the beginning of the Dubrovnik Film Festival, and just before Pope John Paul II's visit to Croatia. Crowds pick up in July and August for the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
An interesting side trip from Dubrovnik is Lokrum, an island that is accessible by regular ferry service. Lokrum, which is a national park, features diverse amenities like the ruins of a monastery, a botanical garden, and a popular nudist beach.
I would like to thank my colleague, Chicago architect Marius Ronnett, for some of these beautiful images captured during our visit to Dubrovnik in 2003.
The main tourist office is just outside the western Pile Gate at Ante Starcevica 7. You can get a nice free map here, and surf the internet as well. It is very close to one of the main city bus stops. If you are arriving from the port or bus terminal (both inconveniently located in the suburb of Gruz, several miles from old Dubrovnik), you will probably wind up here at one point during your time in town. You can buy bus tickets ahead of time (for 7 kuna, about 1 US dollar) at kiosks, which is cheaper than getting a ticket from the driver (10 kuna).
The D B&B has only a few rooms, so it pays to reserve a slot in advance. Climb up one long flight of stairs to the main floor with four comfy guest rooms (I have been informed that as of May 2004 all the guest rooms have been outfitted with bathrooms and air conditioning, although we had to use shared bathrooms in 2003). Our well-maintained room was spotless, with a wood floor, closet, windows with shutters, and a large bed (which my buddy and I promptly separated into two mattresses so we each could have our own). The balcony is just outside our room door, so it was sort of like our personal balcony (we even saw a fireworks display from here one evening, a special treat for us). You can pick up a free postcard with an overview of the city and the D B&B prominently circled on it. If you want a romantic splurge, the penthouse has a bedroom and sofa, refrigerator, television, cool air-conditioning, lots of room, and great views of Dubrovnik! This luxurious retreat is "only" about twice as much as one of the simple rooms.
Our proprietor offered to take us on a free circle tour of old Dubrovnik. He showed us many of the historic sites as well as some of his favorite restaurants and locales. He was also good to point out important items like ATM's (usually called bancomats in Croatia), post offices, and the like. He will spell out his house rules, which are good to know ahead of time (no guests, lock all doors, getting hot water in the shower, etc.).
The "Bed" of the D B&B was good, but we did not get to try the "Breakfast", which is an additional 5 euros a head. The proprietor said the breakfast was formerly included in the stay, but according to his calculations only 8 percent of guests consumed the early meal. Thus, he made breakfast a paid option for guests. This was ok with us, as there is a grocery store across the street and a good bakery about two blocks east. A credit card may be used to reserve the room, but cash is the form of payment here.
We were promised a free pickup upon arrival at the Dubrovnik bus station. This apparently fell by the wayside due to massive road construction preceding the Pope's visit to Dubrovnik in June 2003, so we wound up paying for a taxi. This was the only blemish during our stay here.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 23, 2003
Dubrovnik Bed and Breakfast
Frana Supila 1
385 91 201 55 91
The dining room can be a bit warm in the daytime, as there does not seem to be any fans in it. A big cartoon cat decorates one of the walls. You can also dine al fresco within a gravel seating area adjacent to the parking lot and overlooking the city walls across the street. "Gravel seating area adjacent to the parking lot" does not sound too enticing, but it is not as bad as it sounds as long as it is not too windy outside! If so, weigh down your menus and napkins with your glass or plate.
The specialty is the selection of a dozen or so pizzas, each of which should satisfy one person. The single-serve pizzas (about 9 inches in diameter) are thin crust, tasty and filling. My choice one day was Dalmatian ham, which is one of the better ingredients. Another time I ordered the panzerota. The serving contains two huge calzone-like pieces stuffed with cheese and ham, and then lathered with rich tomato sauce and sour cream. You can also order a single panzerota if you have a smaller appetite. Once you near the completion of your meal, you will be able to see one of a variety of cutesy designs on the face of your plate ranging from a Pisces cartoon to a Christmas scene. The menu also has a few pasta dishes, but it seems these entrees are cut off around 9PM. Other light appetites may want to go for the salad bar, but its selections did not look too appealing.
There is a pretty decent selection of beers and soft drinks available to wash down your pizza.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 23, 2003
My first impression of this quaint sandwich cafe is the wall of foreign currencies, so this place has seemingly seen its share of visitors. There are just a few tables inside, with a tiny bar area and a small TV in the wall (convenient for watching titanic soccer matches). A few tables spill out onto the small street for al fresco dining.
The menu is as small as the size of the establishment. While the word "buffet" may imply an endless spread of dining delights, the food menu basically has only a choice of two inexpensive ne is Dalmatian ham (a Croatian delicacy), while the other is cheese and oil. That is it! I had a Dalmatian ham sandwich, which contains several fatty slices of proscuitto-like ham tucked between two thick slabs of homemade soda bread. It was a decent sandwich, and reasonably sized for lunch or a light dinner, though a bit dry for my tastes. I am not sure about the magic of this sandwich. Perhaps you need to create that aura by downing a few of the Croatian brews (I prefer the Ozujsko label myself).
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 23, 2003
There are several entrances to the walls, and ticket sellers nowadays instead of warriors guard these checkpoints. The entrance fee is 15 kuna, which was a shade over US$2 during May 2003. This is not an all-day ticket, so if you want to climb the walls in the morning and then the evening, you will need to purchase another ticket. There are a lot of stairs on this circuit, so you should be reasonably fit to undergo this excursion. Once you are up on the walls, there are only a few stands (thank goodness) selling overpriced drinks and souvenirs. Save your kuna and bring your own bottle of water and your camera (if your camera is busted, bring your friend's camera!).
Most people start their climb inside the Pile Gate, over which the Croatian flag flutters. There are many nooks and crannies in the wallscape, but not too many offer much long-term rest. The best place to hang out is at the top of the Minceta Tower, the glorious stronghold at the northwest corner that looks like a gigantic chess piece. The Minceta Tower was begun in 1463 by M Michelozzi and completed by Juraj Dalmatinac. You can really appreciate the burnt orange roofscapes from up here. The shades of the roof tiles vary from building to building, a result of the scattered damage during the infamous 1991-92 siege. There is even a telescope here if you want to get some far-away views. It is fun to identify the landmark buildings or to wave at the locals peering from their upper-story windows as you walk the circuit.
Ancient City Walls
Attraction | "Landmarks along Placa (Stradun)"
The west end of Placa, which leads from the Pile gate, is marked by the large Onofrio Fountain rotunda (built in 1438) that is a water fountain to grateful sun-baked travelers. If you have been to Rome, you may have heard the term "pubs of Rome" applied to the wealth of drinking fountains about town. The two Onofrio Fountains at either end of Placa are in essence the "pubs of Dubrovnik". Just north of the rotunda is the Franciscan Monastery, significant because it holds a pharmacy and museum that has been functioning since the 1300's.
Pred Dvorom is a prominent pedestrian street running perpendicular to Placa at its easternmost point, and is in a sense an extension of Placa. A stroll down Pred Dvorom includes the City Hall, the arcaded 14th Century Rector's Palace, and the Cathedral.
The Orlando Column (dated 1419) in the center marks the east end of Placa, with perhaps the finest ensemble of buildings in Dubrovnik. The arcaded Sponza Palace (built 1441) is the north "wall" of this square, with the slender clock tower on the east side. Placa officially ends at the tower, though a smaller serpentine path continues past this eastern wall to the eastern Ploce Gate. The smaller Onofrio Fountain is also on this east wall. St. Blaise's Church is the south boundary, and has a convenient staircase that is a good spot for people watching. This church from 1715 has an eclectic Italianate-Palladian-Baroque style.
Landmarks along Placa
Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991. As events played themselves out, Dubrovnik was held under a siege from October 1991 through May 1992 by the Yugoslav National Army, which was basically controlled by the Serbs. There was significant damage to many buildings in old Dubrovnik. Nowadays, a color-coded map of Dubrovnik hangs near the Ploce gate, indicating the numerous spots damaged during the infamous siege. Nearly all of the damage has been repaired, but a few scattered bullet holes remain here and there as a reminder of these grim times.
If you want to learn a bit of recent history along with your leisurely stay in Dubrovnik, visit the Sponza Palace. This Gothic-style edifice, built in 1441, now serves as the State Historic Archives. There is a moving tribute to those soldiers who fought for Croatian independence against the Yugoslav National Army during the infamous siege of 1991-92. There is a video showing coverage of the events of that time. Displayed are names and photos of the men, now immortalized in this pantheon. Also displayed within the interior courtyard of the palace are depictions and descriptions of famous Croatians in history, as well as an architectural display of historical local buildings.
One of the tourism offices (not the main one near Pile Gate) also has a fascinating gallery of documentary photographs. Some photos show Dubrovnik in its pre-siege glory, while these are paired with humbling images of the same buildings damaged by fire, shelling, and other widespread war wounds. There are also some more current photographs depicting the repair work to the damaged properties. It is all very moving and perhaps a bit heavy-handed, but it is hard not to feel sympathetic to the Croatian cause. An ongoing video and a glass case holding newspaper clippings and memorabilia round out the exhibit.
A Bit of History
My friend and I arrived in Dubrovnik on a partly sunny afternoon after a five-hour bus ride from Split, its Croatian cousin city along the Adriatic Sea. After hours of gawking at jaw-dropping vistas of rocky hills and cool blue waters through the windows of a bus, both of us were looking forward to snapping a few photographs in old Dubrovnik. After all, this beautiful medieval city was the intended highlight and centerpiece of our late spring jaunt through Eastern Europe. We were at the east end of Placa (Stradun) along with a good number of tourists and pigeons. I had already taken two photographs in this appealing plaza, one each of the bell tower and the Sponza Palace. A banner depicting a close-up of the aging Pope John Paul II, who would be visiting Dubrovnik a few days after we left town, was draped over the facade of the palace.
My third shot would feature the St. Blaise's Church, the third "side" of this charming pedestrian space. Intelligent and seasoned photographers (like my friend) would have balked at taking this shot, as the sun was all "wrong" for this view. Nevertheless, I wanted to get a snapshot of the lively scene in front of the dark facade of St. Blaise's. I waited for quite a few seconds in order to get the clear view that I wanted, but now the moment had arrived. Shooting...nothing. What happened? Did I not advance the film after my last shot? Shooting...still nothing. I kept advancing the film without shooting any exposures; there was no "stop" in the camera. My friend, who is an intelligent and seasoned photographer, examined my camera and determined that it was down for the count for the rest of the trip. It almost felt like my journey had effectively ended right there.
(Continued in Part 2)
There were attractive views and vistas everywhere, but I no longer had a functioning camera. Later that day we walked northwards up the hill to a lookout platform. From this plateau it was as if we were staring at a giant upside-down map of Dubrovnik, only that this was the real deal. It was exhilarating to witness such a grand panorama of Dubrovnik. At the same time it was disheartening to stare down with my own eyes, but without the ability to capture these fleeting moments with my own trusted camera. My friend offered to lend his Nikon camera for a shot or two, but I declined. I just stared longingly below, as the warm afternoon slowly shifted into a pleasantly breezy evening sunset. The birds were chirping, the local dogs were barking, the leaves on the trees were rustling, but my camera was not clicking. I passed the time by writing a few postcards, rectangles of glossy cardboard that ironically depicted the same panorama I was staring at.
I decided not to buy a disposable camera for the rest of my time in Dubrovnik (eventually I would purchase one in Sarajevo for the remainder of the trip). Fortunately, my friend reached the end of a roll of film at a fortuitous time for me. He is a choosy photographer, so it takes quite a long time for him to complete a roll of film. Anyway, he generously offered his camera to me for about ninety minutes, so I took a joyous circuit atop the magnificent city walls that encompassed old Dubrovnik. Having and using a real, functioning camera really revitalized me! I walked up and down the steps of the walls vigorously as I was shooting, shooting, shooting. The 24 exposures went by quickly on a glamorously sunny morning atop the medieval walls. To me, these ninety minutes were definitely the highlight of my brief stay in Dubrovnik. I enjoyed the views so much that I took a second loop around the walls in the afternoon, even without a camera.
For those readers who like happy endings, my Canon AE-1 camera has now been repaired (for a nominal fee) in Chicago. I look forward to seeing more of the world through my old trusted camera.