Our time in London has sadly come to an end. At an ungodly hour we’re on the Tube, heading towards the airport. I think Carmella’s a bit tired; don’t you?
Yes, the clock at the station is showing the correct time: it’s 03:44. Of course all the shops are closed, including the coffee place. I could’ve used a flat white about now. I’m barely awake, juggling suitcases. Meh.
Clapham Junction looks so quiet and peaceful at this hour. We have the station all to ourselves.
We’re heading to a place where Carmella visited many years ago, where she still has friends. Best of all, it’s a place I’ve not yet been. There’s not much more I love than “dropping pins” in new places.
Our first view of Dubrovnik is from the air, as we approach the near-by airport, DBV, known locally as Čilipi Airport. I’m blown away by the view of this walled city, with a maze of tiny warrens and large expanses of brick-red roofs. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.
The “Pearl of the Adriatic,” the capital of the maritime Republic of Ragusa, on the Dalmatian coast, looks like no other old city or port that I’ve ever had the pleasure to see. If it looks familiar to you, perhaps because it’s the filming location for scenes of the fictional city of King’s Landing, in HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Out of the airport, in the bus queue, we’re excited by the bright sun and warm air; a wonderful change from the much chillier London. (The hat is a new acquisition, from Cape Town, South Africa, which is another story.)
I don’t often gush over architecture, but Dubrovnik screams for it: Stari Grad (old town) is visually unique because all the paved squares, steep cobbled streets, tall houses, convents, churches, palaces, fountains, and museums are all cut from the same light-colored marble (calcified limestone).
Urban spaces are usually characterized by some measure of chaos; Dubrovnik’s construction consistency gives the place an unearthly feeling of false perspective and a glow, both in the day and at night.
We’re so excited that we start walking around right after we drop off our bags in the room that Carmella rented, the same room in which she stayed on her last visit!
The center of the walled city is the lowest level, with tiny avenues of ever-rising steps continuing until the surrounding high walls. Exploring here is hard work.
This is an old city, picturesque every which way we look. Church bells, gothic decorations, and the natural variation of old stonework are a visual treat.
Carmella is loving the fountains that Onofrio Giordano della Cava built in the city after he and Andreucius Bulbito of Tramonte made an aqueduct from the near-by Šumet in 1436, almost 600 years ago! The water is cold, clear, and refreshing during these hot days and nights.
There’s something about Dubrovnik architecture that just makes one want to pose :-)
No matter where we walk in the old city — and I’ve made no plans to leave the huge surrounding walls — there are eye-catching unique, captivating views.
I thought walking for hours on end on the marble would make for hurt feet, but the opposite happens. It’s all quite comfortable. We get tired, of course, and here Carmella sits across from the Katedrala Uznesenja Marijina (Dubrovnik Cathedral).
The solution to running out of fuel is to find a good feed, and the Adriatic offers us a bounty of seafood. (When I travel I almost always eat the local food for the duration; I can always get a burrito when I get back to California.)
We stop by the Portun Family Restaurant, at Od Sigurate 2, for some delightful fresh ceviche, really the perfect cold food on a hot day.
My comfort foods here are the rice dishes, all the local variants of the paella of Spain. The hardest to find at home is the arròs negre, the Valencian and Catalan mixture of squid ink, cuttlefish or squid, white rice, garlic, green cubanelle peppers, sweet paprika, olive oil, and seafood broth. It’s plentiful here, and I’m sure I’ll be enjoying it frequently.
The next day Carmella has a reunion with her friend of old. She takes us on a walking tour.
We stop at the gelato counter at the Klarisa Restaurant, at Poljana Paska Miličevića 4. They make new batches daily, so the one you want may be sold out when you visit, but many worthwhile alternatives await your attention.
As we walk to and fro we graze, taking a bit of food at the places we happen by. My favorite pastime is to sit at one of the open squares, under large umbrellas, people-watching and enjoying whatever seafood is touted as the freshest. It’s nice when the sea is your backyard…
Another evening, more good time spent at the clock-tower.
We’re not the only ones who love the seafood: the birds are very happy when the fishing boats come into port.
Did I mention grazing? The European delights include jams, jellies, and marmalades; salumi and meats like prosciutto; cheeses from local soft varieties to aged hard cheeses that can travel great distances; wines and ports; and of course the local shellfish and bony fish.
Carmella finds a cat to love.
Another day, another square, another umbrella, another coffee, another menu over which to pore. There are subtle dishes, made with a delicate saffron broth, and rough savory dishes. Desserts aren’t a specialty (at least that I noticed) and other than the gelato I don’t remember eating anything sweet in Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik can be an especially romantic place, with every moment unusual and memorable. With novel perspectives no matter which way you turn, there’s no way to forget that you’re someplace not at home, someplace special. Carmella and I are taking advantage of the moment.
This meal happens to be mussels in a garlic broth. She’s enthused.
Despite what you may read here, there is something more than food. To burn off our grazing we continue exploring other corners of the city. We come across this map of the 1991 Serbo-Montenegrin Attack on Dubrovnik. The devastation was pretty thorough.
The variety in how the churches are set up and decorated is stunning; there’s no confusing one with another.
By now we’ve settled on a favorite restaurant, Konoba Dalmatino, on Prijeko 12, serves up the prettiest, tastiest versions of the local cuisine that we’ve found. It’s located on one of the tiny warrens, high walls on each side, with tiny tables for two and four set around. (There’s also an inside space, but it’s so pleasant outside that going in never crosses our mind.)
Carmella with Sanel, our waiter extraordinaire. This guy transforms the experience: he’s knowledgable about the food, conversant with the history, and always pleasant. He’s busy, but finds time to chat and enlighten our evenings. We’ve visited several times already, and our trip isn’t even half over.
After supper we’re on walkabout, checking out the nightclub scene. On offer are several different varieties of music and drink, all very chaotic and well-attended. It’s nice skimming on by instead of jumping into the noisy.
The next morning we’re back at it, walking around, seeing the sights, and — of course — grazing. Another alley framed by the beautiful stone, another umbrella, another selection of seafood from which to choose.
Somehow our feet take us back to the gelato :-) I’m not sure we’ve sampled all the flavors, but we’re still game to keep on the quest.
More arròs negre, this with a side of rissotto that I saw offered. I didn’t want to eat two lunches, and by now the chefs know our eating style and conversation, so there it is. Spectacularly tasty.
We’re heading uphill, toward our digs for the last few nights, near the most east-most part of the city, Tvrđava Svetog Ivana (Fort St. Ivana). From our windows we could toss a ball onto the surrounding walls.
On the way we spot this unlikely couple, at peace.
Another church interior, completely unlike the others. The few parishioners don’t seem disturbed by our walking through, although we’re mindful to be quiet and not approach the holies during the active prayer services.
In our never-ending search for locally-made foods we come across a bakery. The service lady speaks absolutely no English, and my Croat is pretty bad, so we make do with a longish mime routine that nets us something similar to bearclaws. It was worth the hand-waving aerobics.
On the main drag Carmella’s discovered an outpost of her favorite stores, Michal Negrin, on Pred Dvorom 1. We’ve passed it by in favor of seeing the local things, and at other times it’s been closed, but today everything aligns and we’re inside, checking out the merchandise.
The jewelry is delicate, colorful, and perfect for a sunny Dubrovnik. The designers whimsy is evident in the intricate detail and consistent design language.
I’m impressed that the business card so completely matches the esthetic of the shop.
Here’s a panorama of the interior.
Hey, is that something new and wonderful around Carmella’s neck?
Here’s a wonderful local interlude: as we were strolling back to the flat we entered the main cathedral near-by. Somehow we’d never made it inside. It was empty outside, few people about, with only a few more inside. The interior space was impressive, large, imposing, with warm gold-yellow. I knew something was up, so I chose to video.
Yes, it’s a wedding rehearsal. Followed almost immediately by the actual wedding!
And here’s the final snapshot, the throngs outside, including a flag-bearer, with the happy couple descending the stairs; the first few moments of being married.
After a long day of many countless thousands of steps we wind up — wait for it — in Sanel’s care at Dalmatino. Carmella’s looking over the menu, finding out the result of the day’s catch. What did the fishermen deliver, what’s the chef been saying about the haul? Most importantly, what does the chef want to do with it? Often I don’t care what’s on the menu if I can convince the chef to make anything they want; I’ve had very few bad meals that way.
Look at that dessert; look at that smile! That’s a girl who got exactly what she wanted to feed her sweet-tooth.
Speaking of which, the chef — having given us the gift of a creation from his childhood — came out into the alleyway to find out how we liked it. The quick chat turns into a long meeting of the foodie minds, with underlings coming out a few times to ask Chef for an opinion or another. He answered and sent them back, but continued to hang with us. It was the gold capstone to a wonderful meal.
Carmella’s friend has offered to take us on a tour of her corner of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and today’s the day! I’m beyond excited; we’ll be able to see places that we’d never know about. Today we see the area through the eyes of a long-time resident. Woot!
First of all we have to get into Bosnia-Herzegovina. I’d forgotten there was a border, and we tendered our passports. There’s always the question of whether the local government has any issues with any other country, whether stamps that appear in the passport will cause entry refusal.
It’s never happened to me, but I’ve heard of travelers asking for visa stamps on a separate piece of paper for this very reason. My thinking is that I wouldn’t want to be in a country that refused me entry just because I’d been somewhere else. If I had something to hide I wouldn’t leave an obvious stamp to betray my travels.
We get through expeditiously and am enjoying the countryside of Carmella’s friend. It’s beautiful, but I’m an unabashed urbanite, and I pine for the concentrations of civilization.
Mostar, on the Neretva River, was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in medieval times. Built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, the bridge eminently recognizable landmark, one of the most exemplary pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.
This is the Stari Most, as one sees it on foot. Note the raised grips in the path; it’s needed because it’s somewhat steep, and I can’t imagine how slippery and hazardous it must be like in the rain or snow.
As we walk away, I turn around and get a photo of the girls, shopping, with the Stari Most in the background.
Mostar is a long, narrow, walking pavestone path with shops, houses, and restaurants along the way. It seems like the perfect place to put inns and public houses, but I didn’t notice the former and this is an Islamic region so there’ll be none of the latter.
The crowded shopping area is the Kujundziluk (old bazar), just east of the Stari Most. I heard it said that it reminded others of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
Us, in a gallery. There’s a bit of everything for sale along the street.
Several times along the walk I’ve noticed this sign showing strictures on behavior. I interpret the sign as:
- No pets
- No public displays of attention
- No alcoholic beverages
- No singing
- No yelling
- No immodest clothing
We pass this wonderful doorway. I have no idea what the writing says. I’ve asked a friend for a help.
As the three of us keep strolling we come across a courtyard with a shaded fountain. It’s such a pleasant place, especially in the warm sun.
We stop for a spot of Arabic tea; truly a perfect moment in foodie travels. There’s something irritably austere about Arabic culture, something that tea soothes. My favorite soother is Maghrebi mint tea with piñon nuts (الشاي).
This is the view from the tea garden, with the Stari Most at the left with the wandering Neretva snaking through the rest of the photo.
Everything is on sale along the old road. Here are war medals, skeleton keys, and that must-have for everyone back home: a bayonet.
As we strolled above we saw an extended Arabic family playing on the banks of the Neretva, the small boys in shorts, the young men in dress shirts, and the women in burqa (برقع ).
We’ve done a lot of walking, especially if you measure the fractal-like path into, around, and out of each and every store and booth along the bazaar and street. Probably a million steps, perhaps last. We pass a cluster of several restaurants and, as one, it’s decided.
Carmella asks me to pick the venue. I look over what the most local-looking visitors are eating, and how pleased they look, and pick the winner, the National Restaurant – Ćevabdžinica TIMA – IRMA, at Onešćukova bb.
The woman in white was our server; very busy bringing the food to a good number of table but yet gracious with the little bit of time she had to interact with us.
The girls went for the “natural salad”, a cheese-based salad mixture of tomatoes, cucumber, and onion. I know the traditional Persian version uses feta, but this is more Edam-like.
I live for the savory so I picked the Čevapčići, grilled skinless beef sausages. (The Serbian version uses beef and pork, but as this is a Muslim region and pork isn’t halal, I’m pretty sure these are all beef. Haraam is the word for which I was searching, forbidden; pork is haraam here.)
On the drive back we see a roadside vegetable stand, and the girls haggle over baskets of cherries and black currants. It was a juicy and tasty ride thereafter.
Return to Dubrovnik, Croatia
We drive up the coast until we see the city again; we pull over to get some photos of the wonderful view.
The walled city looks as magical from up here as it does from within.
This is a close-up of the east edge of the city, where we’re staying these last few days. We’re up against the wall, and the harbor is just outside.
One selfie was mandatory, it seemed at the moment. We were here!
We try to “camel up” on the local delicacies, hanging out in one of the squares eating plate after plate of oysters (with which we fell in love at the Bay View Hotel in Lüderitz, Namibia).
Even though the oysters weren’t up to Namib standards, we’re still pretty happy.
The end of a trip is like the “ground rush”, the transition from feeling like you’re not falling to seeing the earth rush up to meet you when parachuting. I’m feeling the minutes tick by.
We go for a penultimate tour of the city streets, very familiar to us after a week of being here. Feeling ensconced within Dubrovnik has made for a restful time, and I’m loathe to leave.
The walls by our flat, with the staircase leading to the parapet.
A last meal at Dalmatino, but inside because of the falling rain. There’s a completely different vibe inside; it’s much more haute cuisine than the casual fun outside.
Leaving Croatia, or trying to
We bought two one-way tickets on the airport shuttle in the city. We’re ready to go.
Or maybe not. At the transit center the bus driver gives us a story that these tickets aren’t the right tickets for a one-way trip to the airport. (Note the same logo on the ticket, above, as on the bus windshield, below.) I think the driver’s scam is to convince tourists to pay again for the tickets and pocket the difference; €12 per couple must add up pretty quickly, and in this economy it’s a huge amount.
Carmella is indignant. After her entreaties to the driver are for naught, and my “quiet voice” approach don’t work, the driver threatens to call the police. We call her bluff.
All the while the driver keeps asking to take our tickets from our hands, to “examine” them. With her strange behavior it doesn’t seem like a good idea.
It seems like a lot of work for €12, but she stands her ground when the constables appear. Their English is pretty good, and they see the tickets, the bus, and don’t seem to understand the driver’s explanation. Finally, after what seems like a half-hour at least, the police tell the driver that she must honor the tickets, and she fobs us off to the next bus driver. We’re off to the airport at last.
A departing view of Dubrovnik city. We both wave and promise to return for another warm summer stay.
A teaser of Paris, France
We land in La Ville-Lumière, the City of Lights. This is just a teaser until I write up our travelogue there; then I’ll replace this with a link.
We stroll the streets, enraptured by the distilled urban feel of the sidewalk cafés, one of the purest neighborhood meeting spaces.
We continue the oyster tradition at Le Wepler, 14 Place de Clichy. This is our animated Iranian server, a long-time employee, passionate about his customers, his tables, and keeping the passing homeless from disturbing either.
And that’s our trip to Dubrovnik and Mostar. Thanks so much for joining us!