It's easy to see why Game of Thrones decided to film a large portion of the show in Dubrovnik. The city is like something straight out of a fantasy novel. Its massive stone walls jut out of the sea, an intimidating sight to anyone planning to attempt a siege. Inside Old Town is like Venice without canals, as the city was once part of the Venetian empire. The crowds here were unbelievable, and though we were aware we were traveling touring the busy season, we were pretty overwhelmed with the amount of people crammed into the main streets. However, similar to Mostar, once we detoured off the bigger streets, we often found ourselves alone and free to explore the narrow, steep staircases and alleyways that splinter throughout the city. We followed a sign labeled "Cold Drinks" into a tunnel and were met with a magnificent view of the ocean when we popped out the other side. The bar patio kept us out of the sun (unlike Mostar, it was sunny and hot) and we sipped cider and made friends with one of the city's many cats. Dipping down to the rugged seaside in the shadow of the gargantuan walls, we watched sunbathers and divers until we felt the need to be on our feet some more.
Dubrovnik could fill days with just wandering and admiring the quirky streets. There are plenty of churches and museums to duck into for extra observation, but we mostly found ourselves strolling up and down the stairs. And the laundry--I would be very self conscious of my laundry if I lived in that city, airing everything I own for all to see. Yes, it's normal for Europeans to air-dry laundry, but the compactness of Dubrovnik felt like all we were seeing were people's sheets and knickers on every corner.
Our first evening ended with a trip to the cable car to overlook the city. The view did not disappoint, though the line to get back down sure did. We spent about an hour waiting to get on the return car, and though you can hike down, it didn't seem like a great idea at night.
We wanted to walk the city walls as early as possible the next morning, but found out that they don't open until after 8 a.m.-- a bit late for our crack-of-dawn standards. Our apartment was about a 25 minute walk from Old Town, so we figured to take the late start time as a way to meander toward Old Town at a non-rushed pace. We soon saw why the walls are not constantly open: People actually live in Dubrovnik (a fact that is easy to forget when surrounded by throngs of tourists in a fantasy-esque city) and walking the walls entails walking past people's personal gardens and private areas. I would be mighty pissed if tourists were stomping through my backyard at all hours of the day and night. We passed the school and several cafes, but we couldn't stop gaping at the mass of orange terra cotta roofs juxtaposed with a deep blue ocean and stone towers. It took us hours to make it all the way around, but starting early payed off. By the time 10 a.m. rolled around, the walls were crowded.
We had heard that Lokrum Island is a must-see to get away from the city crowds, and decided to hop on the ferry. The island closes at 7 p.m., and no one is allowed to stay overnight due to the superstition that the place is cursed. I wouldn't doubt it, as every owner of the island since it was taken from a group of monks that used to worship there has died horribly or faced tragedy while possessing it. It's a gorgeous piece of land, though, stocked with peacocks and rabbits, and is another Game of Thrones location (there is a small museum there dedicated to the show). We picnicked, though the peacocks did their damnedest to steal our lunch, and lounged in the sea. We finished off by walking up the steep Path of Paradise to the ruins of a fortress, and had an excellent view of Dubrovnik across the water. We did make it off the island in time--the curse lives on.
It was my travel buddy Amanda's final day with me so we stretched our last evening together as long as possible. Old Town transforms at night from bustling tourist hub to a suave and relaxed ambiance. A few glasses of wine and a prime spot on some church steps with gelato and we were set to take it all in. But eventually we had to journey back to our apartment where she would pack for home and I would pack for my remaining 10 days of solo travel. Tomorrow, I'd go to the island of Korcula.
Getting to Korcula can be done by ferry or by bus, and since the ferry doesn't depart until the afternoon (the schedules are a bit confusing), I thought a three-hour bus ride would be worth the extra time I'd have on the island. I'm an advocate for traveling by public transport and try to take local transportation wherever I go, though a bus ferry across the water was a first for me. My AirBNB host, Ante, met me at the bus station and was very kind to give me a short tour of the small town on our way to the house. He was a jovial Eastern European man, born and bred on the island, with broken English but a happy personality that communicated well. He sent me on my way to explore the town, and I wandered the much less crowded "mini Dubrovnik" as he called it. Marco Polo was born here, though I found the small Korcula museum to be more interesting than a tour of his house. I mostly found some quiet time and great seafood and took a break from being busy all the time. The next morning, I packed back up to grab the ferry back to Dubrovnik, but my short stay was refreshing.
I spend my last afternoon in Croatia people-watching at cafes and taking pictures of more laundry, then heading to stay with a lovely woman in the nearby town of Sestepan. The next time I come to Dubrovnik (and there will be a next time), I'll be staying around the corner in Sestepan. With easy access to the city by bus, it's quite and beautiful, and was a wonderful place to count down to my journey across the border to Montenegro.