Sunday, July 31, 2011

Part 14

Thursday, July 21

Moving on, we're headed for Dubrovnik today.

We had to get up early (again). When we were leaving Ljubljana, I set the alarm for 0610. So far, that seems to be a good time for getting up whenever we have something to do. Yesterday, it was a good time to get up to head to town to get the ferry tickets, and today, it was a good time to get up to get ready to leave.

Irena, the apartment owner, had offered to drive us down to the bus terminal; so we didn't have to schlep our bags too far to the ferry dock.

It was a much different ride on this Krilo catamaran. Fast and smooth, but also very full. Every seat was taken. When we got back to Split, there was what I now consider to be the "usual suspects" meeting the boat ... people holding signs for "Apartment/Sobe/Zimmer", tour operators meeting their next clients, porters offering to tote your bags on carts.

The transportation links in Split all converge at the same place. The ferry dock is right adjacent to the bus station, which is adjacent to the train station. It sure makes life easy for those "usual suspects". We hiked over to the bus station, and while Marg checked on where the bus was likely to be, I went in to buy the tickets. It turned out that we wouldn't have much of a wait; the next bus to Dubrovnik was leaving in about 15 minutes.

Who knew that buying your bus ticket didn't include "luggage handling". I had to pay a 20 kuna-per-bag "checked luggage" fee. And who knew that there was "assigned seating" on the bus. While I was dealing with the bags, Marg had gone on board to snag us a couple of seats on the right-hand side (for better views of the coast as we go southbound). With the bags taken care of, I went inside to get us a couple of kava z mlekom for the trip. I got on board and joined her. It was shortly afterwards, based on the conversation s of those around us, that we realized the "assigned seating" policy. Checking our tickets, we saw that we didn't even have two seats together ... let alone on the right-hand side of the bus. Fortunately, no one came to ask us to move.

We're working our way south along what is called the "Croatian Riveria" - and for good reason. The "beaches" along here are closer to what I would consider "beach" and there are all kinds of small hotels, pensions, apartments and campgrounds. The road twists and turns it's way along the coast; the views out over (and because it's a coastal road with plenty of ups and downs, down to) the water are spectacular. On the left, the coastal hills (or maybe they're mountains) rise rapidly. In the tourist centres, vendors with small stalls sell everything you might need when on vacation, outside of the towns, roadside fruit stands have giant watermelons. Every turn in the road brings something new.

A few passengers just got off in Makarska ... another tourist-centred town. A few more are getting on. The bus station here looks a lot like the one in Split.

We carried on slowly down the coast. The bus stopped in Ploče for a quick five-minute break and Marg managed to get in to the bathroom. I stayed behind - on the bus - to make sure that we didn't leave without her.

The road made a large loop around what appeared to be some sort of flood plain; the area was latticed with irrigation canals and roadside fruit and vegetable stands were everywhere. As we left the flood plain, the road climbed up, and up, and up - over a shoulder of yet another mountain. We rounded a few more bends in the highway and came to a passport control. This part of Croatia's Dalmation coast is fractured into two pieces by a small slice of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But it wasn't Bosnians that boarded the bus, they were Croatians. As happened on the train from Ljubljana to Zagreb, passports were checked *leaving* the country. A little further on, we came to the town of Neum. Here, the bus stopped for a 15 minute break.

Marg and I got sandwiches at the small snack bar. Many of the other passengers were getting ice cream. The "rest area" has a terrace with yet another gorgeous view out over the Croatian Adriatic ... or at least what I assume is the Croatian Adriatic since the Bosnian piece of coastline is so small and includes no offshore islands.

Back on the bus and we're off - only to arrive shortly after at another passport control/customs stop. Again, it's Croatian. Margaret and I are beginning to make jokes about the secret police forces of Bosnia and Croatia ... but maybe it's no joke. At the last passport control, they checked everyone's documents ... at this control they just waved the bus through. I started to wonder what all of these people will do for a living when Croatia (and eventually Bosnia) joins the EU. What happened at the Slovenia/Austria border will happen here - the only difference being that these recently-established borders (post-Yugoslavia breakup) have not yet developed as much infrastructure.

Out of Bosnia and back in Croatia, we were on the "home stretch" for Dubrovnik. Traffic was heavy on this two-lane road. We crossed a really nice-looking single-pillar cable-stay bridge (Franjo Tudjman Bridge), turned left and down to the bus terminal/ferry/cruise ship dock. From there, we had to take a bus to the Pile Gate - the main entrance to the old city.

The old city was not quite as confusing to navigate as Venice. We quickly found our way to the apartment and got squared away. We'd had a pretty early start to the day so we had a brief siesta before going out to start exploring the city.

We started by taking a walk around the city atop the old walls. Other empires swirled about Dubrovnik ... Venetians, Ottomans, Byzantium ... all were influential in the area. But Dubrovnik (formerly Ragusa until 1918) maintained independence and in the Middle Ages offered a counter-balance to the Adriatic influence of Venice. The city remained staunchly independent as a republic until being conquered by Napoleon in 1808. Even today, the city's motto is "Libertas".

The original city walls were built up to their present state in the 15th century as protection from the Ottomans. The walls offered a measure of protection to the residents during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. But not completely. As we circled the city and looked down across the roofs, the areas of destruction were identifiable by the presence of new roof tiles. And from the number of new tiles,it was obvious that nearly no area had been untouched.

The view out over the city from the walls was only outdone done by the view out over the Adriatic. Our choice to walk the wall late in the afternoon seemed to have been a good one; we'd heard that the parapets can become quite crowded when all of the day-trippers from the cruise ships flood the city during the early-to-middle part of the day. All told, it was about 2 km all around.

The walk around the city helped to give us a sense of perspective on Dubrovnik. For good reason it has the nickname "Pearl of the Adriatic".

We came down from the wall right where we'd started ... at the Old Port gate near the Sponza Palace. Back up along the Stradun and a couple of left turns brought us back to the apartment.

Supper that evening was at a restaurant near the site of the morning market; we had a mixed fish grill plate (for two) which was very good. After that, we did what Dubrovnik does best ... enjoyed the evening stroll around town. The streets were alive with street performers and pedestrians.

But all great days must come to an end ... so it was back to the apartment for a good night's sleep.

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