Sunday, August 06, 2006

A daytrip to Lokrum

July 23 (Day 3): A couple of the more adventurous tour buddies set off early morning for a bus trip to nearby Montenegro.

After a late night and a couple of shared bottles of Croatian chardy, I decided to join another bunch of more laidback tour buddies, and we headed over to the small nature reserve of Lokrum, a 30-minute ferry trip from Dubrovnik harbour.

The water is so incredibly clear and junk-free, and as the temperatures soared, so did the number of people we could see swimming off the rocks. There were clearly no inhibitions (or acceptable legal limits) about the amount of flesh and lard that could be flashed about...

We decided to go for a bit of trek around the island, and a couple of hours into it, and heading uphill in the extreme heat of the day, wondered what in god's name we were doing!

The walk afforded us though, with great views of the moored cruise ships and a view back over the city. From a distance, it really became clear how important Dubrovnik's fortress-like walls had been in the city's history. We were told that Dubrovnik had never actually fallen in any attack.

Lunch on Lokrum was awesome. We stopped at an open-air restaurant in amongst some old ruins near where we started the walk, and pigged out on ice-cold pivo and seafood risotto under shady trees. The waiter was a huge Croatian bloke who seemed slightly amused (and impressed) at our attempts to speak Croatian.

The rest of the afternoon was a lazy haze of swimming and dozing under trees. Interestingly, we came across a bunch of gum trees in the botanical gardens, and I had a wee sentimental twinge of Oz. It was easy to see why gum trees thrived in the conditions though. It was still as hot as Brisbane in summer!

Later that evening, we headed back into Dubrovnik to see the night lights, and another seafood dinner rolled by. Dubrovnik harbour has a really chilled but lively feel about it at night - the streets are lined with people dining out, and munching yet more icecream.

We kicked on for a bit longer at the local bar back at Lapad, and were later seen singing karoke-style into the night. This will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well....

Categories: Croatia, Tours

Walking the walls of Dubrovnik

July 22 (Day 2): The warm weather continued, and it was a balmy 25C over breaky on the balcony, with temperatures continuing to head north.

Our brief bus journey took us along a small stretch of the coast, and the Adriatic sea was the most amazing shade of blue – that continued throughout the entire trip. The Dalmation Coast is truly stunning!

Into Dubrovnik on a guided tour, and the huge high walls that have enclosed and protected the city for thousands of years loomed large. Offset by the huge mountains we’d seen in shadow the night before, and the crystal blue waters, it was easy to see how Dubrovnik had been named the “Pearl of the Adriatic”.

More superlatives - George Bernard Shaw once said, “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to see Dubrovnik”. He’s not wrong! One step inside the huge walls, and it was love at first site with a city that has been attacked and re-built many times over.

Our guide showed a map of the Old Town that depicted where the damage took place in the siege of Dubrovnik in 1991. It was hard to believe that this World Heritage site had been bombed to bits quite recently, and eerie to know that we were walking down the very streets that had been under attack. We then walked through the cobbled streets, checking out the oasis-like Franciscan and Dominican Monasteries, the cathedral and the Rector’s Palace.

The waterfront heaved with people - a couple of large cruise ships had deposited thousands of passengers for the day, and ice-cream munching tourists weaved in and out of the streets and atop the city’s walls.

By noon, the sun was a scorching 36C. That became the benchmark for the next week! A bunch of us decided to have lunch in one of the (many) restaurants on the high side of the Old Town, and we got acquainted with the typical Croatian menu of risotto, pasta and salads, and pivo (beer) of course. It was so bloody hot that beer was the only answer. In later days we became rather familiar with Croatian wine, but for lunch, it was always a large pivo! God it was good!

That afternoon, we continued to wander through the maze of streets, observing locals and tourists swimming off the sheer rocks and occupying every square foot of water available. It’s like Australia in that it’s a water–loving country, and you could tell the English or Australian tourists by the shade of pink in their sunburn.

After the first of many awesome Croatian icecreams, most of the tour group reconvened late afternoon to walk the city’s walls – this is a must do in Dubrovnik, and it’s definitely much better done in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the sun. There’s minimal shade up on the walls, and potential to be burnt to a crisp, but the views are entirely worth it.

We could see many of the 1180-plus islands that flank the coast of Croatia, the nature reserve of Locrum being the closest.

Everywhere, people were diving off the rocks into the sea, and boats floated by, while people lounged around open-air cafes and 13th buildings – there was a distinctly Mediterranean feel to the place, but with an equally distinct and proud Croatian heritage. The Wall Walk was awesome, and gave a really good view of the city.

We headed back out to Lapad for a quiet pivo and a bit of a rest before dinner. Later that night, we walked down the very resort-y feeling promenade at Lapad, into a huge bunch of restaurants that overlooked another pebbly beach. People were still out swimming late, as we scoffed down some great seafood, and had our first taste of Croatian chardy – or whatever the equivalent there is called.

We were truly getting the hang of the Croatian lifestyle, with the biggest decision of the day, being what to do the following day…go island hopping, shopping, hang by the beach or take a day trip to Montenegro, which is one of Europe’s newest countries.

I decided to sleep on such a momentous decision, after yet another icecream…

Categories: Croatia, Tours