By Karlie Marrazzo
There comes a point in every trip where you have a moment of regret, whether it’s about your accommodations, the restaurant you went to for dinner, or, unfortunately, the entire town you chose to stay in. I had that moment for three days in Dubrovnik.
On the day we drove to Dubrovnik, my husband and I woke up in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovia. We ate our DIY breakfast of yogurt, fruit and pastries on the bank of the Neretva River, gazing up at Stari Most one more time. The most common route from Mostar to Dubrovnik is the highway that runs along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. We decided to take the road less traveled and try the highway that runs mostly through the interior of Bosnia, taking us through the Serb territory of the Republic of Srpska.
Our first interesting stop was at the Radimlja necropolis outside the town of Stolac. The necropolis isn’t very big, with 63 tombstones scattered about with the highway cutting right through. There was no entrance fee, no workers at a gate, and only a faded sign giving a few paragraphs of information. The tombstones are striking, bright white, some of them coming up to my waist and others standing six feet tall, all with intricate designs carved into them. Unfortunately the necropolis is an endangered site due to nearby construction. Soon after we officially entered the Republic of Srpska. The land was sparse and dry, reminding me of the American Southwest. The road was well maintained and we rarely passed another car. There wasn’t much along the highway aside from unfortunate amounts of garbage and a few skinny cows grazing along the side of the road. I kept my eyes peeled for the small Orthodox chapels tucked along the roadside and did spot one. There were a few gravestones set around it, and a small alter for prayer inside. We passed through the town of Trebinje but sadly didn’t give ourselves time to stop and have a look around.
Crossing the border back into Croatia was much the same as when we entered Bosnia. As soon as we crossed that imaginary line, the scenery seemed to shift. The sun seemed to shine a little brighter and the view before us immediately opened up on the old town of Dubrovnik perched on the sparkling Adriatic Sea.
Lets just say that I didn’t fall in love with Dubrovnik. It is an absolutely beautiful city and nobody can dispute that. It is almost too beautiful, perfectly restored and maintained, without so much as a cigarette butt on the ground. There are no signs that there was a war here as recent as the early 90s. And there are So. Many. Tourists. I know what you’re thinking – “But you’re a tourist!” Yes, that is true. But I am not one of the thousands of cruise ship day-trippers that infiltrate the tiny Old Town each and every day. It seems like the only Croatians who are in the Old Town are the ones who are renting out their apartments to overnighters, and the ones serving your meals and selling tacky souvenirs. We spent all of our time in the Old Town and probably should have ventured out for a change of scenery.
I had read many praises for Croatia’s beaches, so I was excited to finally get some R&R time and soak up some rays. Dave and I went to Banje Beach, just outside of the city walls. The beach club was charging an arm and a leg for a chair and umbrella, so we laid out our borrowed towels on the rocky beach. It was pretty crowded and the midday sun was scorching, so we only spent an hour there.
One of the very best things we did in Dubrovnik was see a photo exhibit called War Photo Limited. Their aim is to “educate the public in the field of war photography, to expose the myth of war and the intoxication of war, to let people see war as it is, raw, venal, frightening, by focusing on how war inflicts injustices on innocents and combatants alike.” There was a great set on the Bosnian War in Mostar. It’s hard to describe how I felt looking at photos of a city I was in that very morning, that I fell in love with, in ruins, while standing in another city not too far away that doesn’t show any battle scars and is flourishing. Seeing that sharp contrast visually while being there physically was very jarring and unsettling.
We also spent quite a few hours at a rocky pseudo-beach bar, hanging on the side of a cliff on the other side of the city walls. To get there we walked down a small pathway along the inside of the wall, eventually coming to a tiny doorway. You wouldn’t know what it was for or go through it if you weren’t looking for it, unless you were intrigued by the faint beats coming from the other side. There are a few tables perched along the rocks, and lots of people had towels spread out directly on the rocks, bringing drinks down from the bar and diving into the deep Adriatic Sea to cool off. It also seemed to be a hangout for a few of the city’s stray cats, who would stretch out luxuriously absorbing the heat from the rocks. It was quite idyllic, gazing into the deep blue waters of the sea, sipping on radler, chatting and soaking up the heat.
That evening we ended up in an Irish pub to watch Croatia play in a World Cup qualifier against Serbia. We’ve watched many national games abroad when the home country is playing and it’s usually a fun, exciting atmosphere. We also thought it might make for an interesting game based on the two teams involved. The pub was showing four different matches on six TVs, so different groups of people were cheering and reacting at different times, which was odd. The game wasn’t very exciting so we ditched out at half time. This probably had something to do with the fact that there was only one Croatian guy in the entire bar.
The next day we paid 90 kuna each ($16 CAD) to walk along the top of the city walls. Talk about a tourist trap! The views over the bright orange rooftops and the sparkling diamond sea were pretty, and the exercise was nice, but the price was way too high. I’m not saying $16 isn’t a lot of money, but I felt that the price was too high for the experience that I had. For comparison, I hiked for three and a half hours on the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall of China in 2012 and only paid 50RMB = $8.50 CAD.
I’m not knocking Dubrovnik as a city. It is historic and gorgeous and it deserves to prosper. It would be a fantastic place to have a perfect Adriatic vacation – sun, beaches, drinks, and dancing – if the streets weren’t choked with people every single day. I think this is exactly what Dubrovnik was like 10 or so years ago, but it got “discovered” and has now fallen prey to mass tourism.