Sunday 15 July 2012

Hot Dubrovnik nights (and even hotter days)

Tuesday 10 July - Paul's Birthday

After a lazy morning at home we left for the airport at about 1130. The pre-booked car park was full and we only just squeezed the Micra in at the end of row between a Range Rover and the fence.  Thankfully Flight ZB1354 to Dubrovnik was on time.  We landed at Dubrovnik airport at 1930, passed through passport control, collected our case and were out and on way by 1950 - take note British airport operators! As always, we enjoyed stepping  off the cool plane into warm sunshine, perfumed by jasmine and wild herbs - they should bottle the scent and sell it in Duty Free. We'd arranged to be picked up by Livio, the apartment owner.  During the drive he gave us a brief but informative history of Dubrovnik. Whilst he didn't then talk about the 1991 Civil War, we later found out that he fought at the age of 18 1/2 to protect his family's home.  After arriving at the apartment, we unpacked, had a quick shower and headed into town, but not before sampling some of Livio's & his dad's homemade Grappa - lovely! On his recommendation we went to Konoba Pupo, a small restaurant down one of the narrow side streets, for dinner. Cathy had grilled calamari and Paul calamari in red wine stew; we shared a Greek salad & bottle of local white wine.  This was a very good introduction to the great food.  It was the opening night of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival so fireworks & live music - this made Paul's 49th Birthday all the more special. We listened to some live music in the main square opposite the cathedral then walked down to the old harbour for ice cream.  Then it was back to crash out after a long day.

View from our apartment window

Wednesday 11 July
 When we woke up it was - surprise, surprise - hot & sunny.  We had breakfast at Sesame, a small restaurant just a few steps below the apartment. We took a walk back along the cliff top and saw a beach (pebbles) and swimming area just below the apartment.  Packing our day sac, we walked into the old town and went to Banje beach for a swim & sunbathe.  This was enjoyable until a group of British Hooray Henry's arrived, drinking beer and shouting in the sea.  When 4 more arrived we left them to embarrass themselves.  We stopped for a cold drink sat in the shade overlooking the old port, then headed for the small pebbly beach below the apartment for a welcome swim.  Showered & changed, we decided to take a walk around the old city walls.  The Wall surrounds the old town and even though we left this until 6pm it was still very hot & sunny. There were great views over the city and sea.  We stopped 3/4 way around for a rest in the shade and a beer.  We left the walls soon after to walk down some quiet back streets - quiet but very warm - at this point we were flagging and ready for something to eat. We spent some time looking for Domino Steakhouse and finally found it further down the steps than we expected. We drank plenty of mineral water to rehydrate, then tried some local white wine.  We both had Calamari to start then Cathy had rump steak bearnaise and Paul had a very good t-bone steak. Paul finished with a local coffee (like Greek coffee) then we headed back to crash out - a long, tiring but relaxing day.

Thursday 12 July 

After breakfast we headed to the Old Port to catch the ferry to Lokrum Island - at only 100 Kn return for both of us it's much cheaper than the Gosport ferry. On the way out we passed a large super-yacht with a helicopter on the focsle - it's a hard life for some! Lokrum is only 1 mile long & much less across. We went to the Dead Sea first; an inland salt water pool surrounded by rocky cliffs. It was very warm and relaxing despite all the other visitors. We had bought water, calzone & fruit in Dubrovnik for an al fresco lunch under the pines. We then walked around the monastery ruins (they were bombed and badly damaged during the 1991 Civil War) and a shabby botanical garden,(where Cathy appropriated some rosemary for Paul's sore throat!). before planning for a snooze in the olive grove; unfortunately little red ants cut that short! No ants in the pants for us! So we walked back to the jetty for a swim and sunbathe.It's a rocky shoreline with places to sit or sunbathe, and ladders very thoughtfully provided every few metres to get in and out of the sea.  By this time it had clouded over a little which gave some welcome respite from the hot sun. We caught the ferry back to Dubrovnik for a welcome shower and cool down before heading out for dinner a bit later than normal...when in Dubrovnik....  Our first stop that evening was D'Vino wine bar.  This is a small but chic bar where you can taste a variety of local wines; the staff give a good brief on each when they bring them to the table.  We tasted 3 local reds for only 50 Kn before heading off for a stroll.  At the old port we smelled gorgeous seafood & garlic coming from the fish restaurant right on the waterfront - Lokanda Peskarija.  They serve a limited menu of seafood but all of it is top quality and very reasonably priced. We ordered a sharing dish of swordfish, mackerel, mussels, whole king prawns, baby squid & sardines, all cooked in garlic and served in a large metal black pot - like a witches cauldron Cathy said! This was washed down with a light, local Rose.  We then wandered back through the old town, enjoying the slight breeze and listening to live music in the various squares, before heading up the hill to bed.

Friday 13 July

We were up a bit earlier this morning and had breakfast in the old town (not as good as our usual breakfast haunt of Sesame). Then we walked up to the cable car station to take a trip up the mountain overlooking the old town. Paul's scared of heights but he coped well and the view from the top overlooking Dubrovnik, Lokrum island and the sea was amazing.  There was also a lovely cool breeze so high up.  We enjoyed a Sprite and also visited the Dubrovnik at War 1991 exhibition - hard to think the people suffered so much hardship just over 20 years ago.  Returning to the town we stopped for a light lunch of lamb kebab and tomato salad at Konoba Jezuite.  The young waiter got an ear bashing from the hot & thirsty old biddy when he asked us to move tables because we were sat at one where they only served drinks - suffice to stay he was firmly put back in his box! (We had been told to sit there!) After lunch we walked along the city walls for a beer at Buza Bar.  This is built into the cliffs, under the city wall and overlooking the sea.  I think we doubled the average age (and some) when we sat down; the place was full of young, hip Aussies & Americans. Cathy enjoyed watching the young men climb up the cliffs then leap 60 ft into the sea below; Paul showed concern for the young ladies who are clearly too poor to buy a properly fitting bikini.  We walked back through the tiny streets, looking at little, shaded courtyard gardens as the locals sheltered from the sun.  After a siesta in the cool of an air-conditioned room we wandered down for a swim at our favourite spot just below our apartment building. After a snooze and shower we returned to d'Vino Wine Bar to taste the whites but preferred the previous night's red wines. Dinner tonight was pasta; spaghetti carbonara for Cathy and spaghetti picante for Paul. The pasta was good but the service poor; the people at the next table received our meal so ours took ages. To add insult in injury, we had to listen to one of them complaining that Paul's pasta was too spicy for her! Then the waiter, after us telling him what had gone wrong, brought my carbonara, but not Paul's, so was swiftly told we wanted our meal together. (Grumpy old man this time!) After dinner we walked around the squares and listened to some jazz before buying an ice cream and sitting on the steps to soak up the atmosphere.

Saturday 14 July
Home day today.  After breakfast we returned to pack as unfortunately we needed to vacate to make way for the next guests.  Livio came at 1030 to collect our bags, leaving us to explore some of the other sites inside the old town walls. We walked down to Pile Gate and our first stop was to cool our hands in the fountain, a ritual that must be done when passing it. Opposite is the Franciscan Monastery and what is claimed to be the world's first pharmacy. St Blaise is the local saint and he was supposed to be a curer of sore throats (and we were both suffering with those with a summer cold) and the patron Saint of ENT doctors (did they have those when he was beatified?). Inside it was lovely and cool with a cloistered garden.  After this it was back into the hot sunshine to find a shaded cafe for a Sprite, which Cathy washed down with a caramel crepe. Fortified, we had a quick look in the cathedral - nice and cool and being set up for some weddings later in the day.  Then it was on to our final cultural visit - the Rector's House. In Dubrovnik the Rector is the Head of the Judiciary, rather than a religious figure.  Cathy in particular liked the dungeon with a dragon engraved on the door frame!  We headed for the old port to sit in the shade and catch a little breeze and decide where to eat lunch.  By chance (!) we were sat next to the seafood restaurant where we eat on Wednesday night.  So lunch was whitebait, fried calamari and a salad, with a cold pint of local lager, again sat in the shade to catch any breeze and in a ripe position to people watch.  After stringing lunch out for as long as we could we walked up to the ramparts overlooking the old port.  A cruise ship was in - the sister-ship of the Costa Concordia which sank earlier this year.  This swelled the visitor numbers by over 4,000, making everywhere even busier.  Seeing the water taxis from the ship queuing to enter the harbour, then the 'cruisers'‚ queuing to go back to the ship, it reminded us how much we would not enjoy that type of holiday. After chatting to an American ex-matelot (the common language of the Navy makes it easy to strike up a conversation), we sat at the bar next door for another Sprite.Also outside with us was a wedding party - we weren't sure of the nationality of the bride and groom but most of the guests appeared to be British, from the very well turned-out (rich) to the hippy types with long hair and flip-flops, one of whom was strumming a ukelele. Drinks done we meandered back through the very hot main street in the old town, hunting out the shade as we walked and picking up an ice cream to share on the way through; Dubrovnikian (is there such a word?) ice cream is very good - maybe an Italian influence. Again the obligatory hand dip in the fountain and a quick stop at the Tourist Information to pick up some leaflets, then a slow walk back up the hill to wait for Livio to pick us up. He was as usual on time and we had another useful history lesson as he drove us to the airport.  Interestingly, on the road to the airport we spotted several Auto-Camp sites for motorhomes.  Our flight was delayed by an hour but after a very swift check-in we headed off to the toilets for a quick freshen up and change of clothes. Passing through security we grabbed a cup of tea and a seat to await the flight back to Manchester.

Back to an English 'Summer'
Having checked the forecast, we were expecting the cool, rainy weather but it was still a shock after the low 30's of Dubrovnik.  We enjoyed our stay; it's a beautiful, safe city with great cafe culture and good food.  Like any popular city it's not cheap to eat out but there are good deals to be found away from the main tourist streets.  If we were to come again, we'd probably visit in late September when it would be cooler and quieter.  It would also provide an opportunity to explore Croatia more - a beautiful country.

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