March 25, 2010

Discovering Dubrovnik

Mitch and I had a fabulous time in Dubrovnik. I should say from the outset, that we had nothing planned. We simply got off the bus in Dubrovnik and left it up to the gods to direct us. Upon arrival we chose Jelena. She crammed our luggage into the back of her "how on earth can this thing move", little, old, beaten-up renault. The soaring temperature of the day reached 38 degrees celcius. We sweated and held on for dear life as she skillfully weaved her trusty vehicle through one way streets, beeping her way up the hills to alert any oncoming drivers. I couldn't believe it.

Jelena and her trusty car

When she pulled up beside the road, the car was literally almost touching the side of the wall. I couldn't open the door to get out, so I hopped over Jelena's seat. There was just enough "road" left for another car to pass, although she tells us her mirror is often knocked off and the car has many scrapes from 'careless' drivers. And this was a "main" road in the suburbs!

Perspiring the whole time, we climbed the loose and rocky steps that looked like they were made sometime BC. Struggling with our luggage we finally and breathlessly arrived at her apartment door. I was getting alarmed at this stage I must admit. She handed us a key, took us in and opened up the bedroom door to reveal the most spectacular view. We could even lie on our beds and soak up the view. Not that we did. We didn't waste a minute. We grabbed our towels and began walking to the sea via the old town. We just wanted to get wet. I recall the tremendous relief Mitch and I felt when we hit that water for the very first time. Given the unbearably high heat of the day, it was the best feeling ever. It was almost like we earned it. A reward I guess for the "unknowns" of the day that led us to a cosy corner with a crazy car-driving Croatian lady.

We could pick pomegranates straight off the tree next to our terrace.

Outside of Germany and Montenegro, Mitch and I travelled impulsively and without any itinery. It was nerve racking at times because we weren't sure where we would end up. Looking back now it was terrific because it was adventurous and exciting and sometimes even scary. Somehow everything just worked out. Mitch and I chose to walk almost everywhere. We never took a taxi and I recall we caught the bus twice because it was raining. I was feeling quite fit and fabulous at that time. I am rather annoyed with myself as I observe the growing 'podge' on my belly right now. Oh dear. Please enjoy some photos of our discovering Dubrovnik.

We walked our tooshies off all around Dubrovnik and we explored the old town on three separate occasions. The sea fortress was simply amazing. People actually live there throughout the walled city which surprised us. Families doing what families do. Having their dinner together, tv's humming, phones ringing, computer keys tapping, laughter, arguments, so forth. They didn't have any lawns to mow. Lucky them. Many apartments did have pots with herbs and flowers nestling on or drapping over window sills.

Wherever we walked there were people and shops everywhere. And this bothered me. I said to Mitch I found the crowds and the mostly 'tacky' shops filled with kitch both overwhelming and disappointing. He handled it better than me. He accepted it for what it is and for what it has become today. We tried to get past it as we sat in a cafe having a drink overlooking the marina. At night we sat out along the edge of the water as far away from people as we could get and we tried to imagine Dubrovnik a long time ago. Apart from the "kissing couple" near us, we dangled our legs in the water, looking out to sea and we tried to visualize the enemy coming. I couldn't feel it. I looked at the fortress and all I could feel was people making money from tourists more than happy to part with their money. I felt rather sad. Although I didn't feel the atmosphere I was hoping for, I still admired the tough men of the day that built the fortress, that lived, fought and died by the fortress.

Outside of the fortress, I did admire the locals that lived there. The daily struggles of their lives, trying to make ends meet, taking in tourists to help them get by. Jelena and her mother told me about their lives, day to day and of a long time ago. Her mother recalls the bombing of Dubrovnik less than twenty years ago and the fear she lived through at that time. The hunger and the hardships and families sticking together through thick and thin. Jelena's mother seemed disallusioned with the youth of today. She talked about their lack of respect for the elderly, their selfishness and their lack of compassion and caring. She shed tears as she told me she would prefer to live under the bombs with families that cared and looked out for one another rather than for what life has become today.

She kept patting Mitch on the head and she 'blessed' him for travelling with and for looking after his mother. On the one hand I felt touched she chose to share her views of her life with me. On the other I was saddened to hear what those views were. Incidentally I should mention she knew full well I had Montenegrin blood in me, I was going to Montenegro and it was infact the Montenegrins who bombed so much of Dubrovnik. She showed no malice or anger toward me. Infact quite the opposite. She wished me a safe and happy journey and she was overwhelmed to hear that Mitch wanted to see where his grandfather came from.

Before I left with Jelena to go back to the bus station, I asked to see her mother. I slipped "a little" money into the elderly lady's hand and I thanked her for her generous and warm hospitality. She cried and kept "blessing" me all the way out of the door. As I stood there waiting for our bus, I kept thinking of what Jelena's mother had said. Of all the things that I was hoping to 'feel' in Dubrovnik, her words were actually what I 'felt' the most. Tearful and contemplative, I recall Mitch telling me "don't be sad ma" and to look forward to our next leg of the trip. The one that he had most been looking forward to. Finally, his grandfather's homeland was just around the bend.

PS: Watch for my next entry. A true Balkan beauty. Stuffed Peppers. It just didn't feel right for me to post it here. I really want to share it with you in Montenegro. See you there!!


  1. Oh Ma,

    I got goosebumps at the very last sentence. That did touch a nerve and I wasn't even there! And you know I loved these photo's, at another look I'd say the first is my favourite and really quite brilliant! Well done (:
    I wish I was there to experience this all with you, someday though I'm sure!

    Much love,
    (The young one)

  2. Awww. So nice to see you drop in Nikka. I am blown away that you like my opening photo the best. I remember it was so special seeing the rays from the sky hitting the water. Not sure the photo captured it that well, but Im glad you liked it. Don't worry darling, when I write my book clearly I shall need a photographer and that's where you come in. We will have our trip together - perhaps back in the Balkans. By the way, congrats on your new and upcoming photography coup. I hope you sell heaps darling! Love Ma.

  3. Your photos are gorgeous, Mariana. What a special place; what memorable encounters...

  4. Another fantastic post. I really like your writing, Mariana. And I'm always interested in seeing familiar places through other people's eyes.

    Like Nikka, I loved the first photo. Especially the sky in it. The roof of the old church also resonates with me, in particular, somehow.

    I have a friend from Dubrovnik. She finds it slightly unreal, a magical place. Not sure if that's always in a good way. To me, that atmosphere hits me most on summer evenings, with music all over, and lights bouncing over its stone.

    But Dubronvik had a remarkable past. A republic until it was disolved by Napoleon, managing to survive, and doing quite well, despite the company of the neighbours such as Habsburgs, Venice and Turkey! Most impressive. And then I see inside the city walls a mosque, a sinagoge, catholic churches and orthodox churches. It brings it home to me what a cosmopolitan place it used to be.

    Here is a song from a Dubrovnik singer that I really like - Shalom Sara -

    I look forward to your articles about Crna Gora, and your stuffed peppers. (I have a version on my blog, too!)



  5. Do you know the blog Taste of Beirut? :) Joumana's grandma was from Dubrovnik!

  6. Oh, and what was that about a book? :)

    Sorry, I keep thinking about yet another thing to say! :)

  7. Hello Mariana
    Maninas sent me a link to your post, knowing how much I love to know more about Dubrovnik and I was not disappointed! Love reading your post, meeting the locals and talking to them makes it so real, love the photos too; the fruits everywhere, the little cobblestone streets, it is so charming and alluring and yet it is still there despite one tragic past. I can't wait to visit!

  8. Very interesting post. I like how you decided to simply get off the bus and leave it "to the gods to direct" you. I've felt the disappointment you felt while visiting many places in a variety of countries. I've often longed to feel the real place, without the blanket of the tourism industry draped over everything. It's difficult because this annoyance is how many of these people earn a living. It just all feels so sad and superficial. I don't have the answers, but wanted to tell you that I have felt the way you felt. I can tell where your mind was by your photographs. You managed to eliminate almost all tourists and shops and only capture the pretty and peaceful. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us.

  9. Oh my, it sounds like a dream to be able to pick pomegranates of the tree! I love your photos of the buildings, especially the one with a green door and some yellow under the staircase. Such great writing here!

  10. Lovely post and photos. I found your blog via Maninas and shall be back. Can't wait to read more!

  11. Gee - I never look at my blog on the weekends, but I had a peek this morning and was pleasantly surprised to find some new and regular readers.

    Chelsea- coming from such a lovely photographer like yourself, thank you dear.

    Maninas - You left me feeling overwhelmed with your comments. Thank you so very much. Please don't get me wrong about the atmosphere. There was plenty of atmosphere regarding the people and music as you say. We even saw a wedding taking place and then a photography shoot with some models. Heaps of atmosphere, but somehow, not quite the kind I was hoping for. I will go and search to find your stuffed peppers. Cant wait to see those.

    And regarding an earlier comment I should explain that I am Australian born and only really know the Montenegrin language from hearing it spoken as I grew up. I never had any formal written or oral education. So to answer your question, I cannot really write in the language. I know a few basics only to write but I can speak quite well. I managed to get by very well whilst over there, but sure, there were times when I didn't quite understand at times. So please, any communication, I would prefer English. Thank you.

    Just one more thing. My goodness, what a complicated past. As you say,Dubrovnik is certainly a cosmopolitan place.

    tasteofbeirut - I can't wait to visit you and see some of the food in your neck of the woods. You are so right. I feel the best way to get to know a place is to be and talk with the locals. I'm glad you like my 'sights' of Dubrovnik. I can't wait for you to visit either. Thanks.

    Denise - you may as well have been with me. I feel rather connected to you right now, as I see you totally get what was going on with me. Yes Denise, getting off the bus always caused butterflies in our bellies because of the unknown. We were around so many people in tour groups or with itineries planned to the hilt and the both of us agreed that this was such an unadventurous way to travel. However, there was also security in what they did. We chose the risk-taking and it always left us feeling satisfied and happy once we were settled.

    Tumbleweed Woman - my daughter absolutely loves that picture. She said if we get to go together there some day, she would love to find this very same building and photograph it herself. She is a budding and talented photographer, so I was very thrilled to get the thumbs up on this photo. Your comment makes me feel you know a thing or two about photography as well. I, on the other hand, am a complete amateur.

    Hello Bria - so glad you found me. It would seem that Maninas has quite a few friends! I hear that you want to read more, so I better get cracking on that next post.

  12. Hi Mariana,

    I completely understand about the language and I know you are Australian - I was just wondering whether you'd like a few links to some blogs in the language. Croatian is written in Latin script, and many of these bloggers write in Latin, so you might be fine if you can speak it. This is because Croatian and Serbian (when not written in Cyrillic) is written in the same way as it is spoken. Anyhow, I'm happy to write in English, and it's no problem at all.

    I studied linguistics, and language acquisition and attrition, and am well aware what a complicated thing it is. Especially attrition, which I'm beginning to experience myself...

    As for the atmosphere, we all experience places differently. And Dubrovnik has many faces. Though I realise one of them may not be the one we expect. Such is life. And like I said, it's always interesting to me to see familiar places through other people's eyes, because they often notice and see things that I didn't. So keep writing, draga!

  13. And write when you feel like it. Please don't let us pressure you!

    I meant also to say: Greetings from Zadar! :D It's a very windy day here, but filled with light. And I can smell the sea!!!!!

  14. maninas - I'm so envious of you right now! My son and I had one of the nicest experiences on our holiday in Zadar. The sea organ was so beautiful - we went there three times!! We couldn't get enough of it. I can only imagine on a windy day, the sea would be making the best music ever!! Oh I wish I was there to hear it right now. Enjoy it for me. Hugs right back.