The pearl by the sea

img_7135

Dubrovnik is a gem perched on the southern-most tip of Croatia. Known for its fortressed walls, delicious seafood, and charming stairways, the town quickly engulfed us with its charm and hospitality.

img_7219

img_1074

The Old Town stone walls, built in the Middle Ages, tower up to 82 feet in some places and are a great point of pride for Croatians — no marauding outsiders have ever successfully invaded them. We spent a grey morning walking the walls, with the cloudy sky over the ocean only adding to the mystic.

60fa17a7-193d-47a0-bd97-eb50ba7bff6d
Katie shooting for her portfolio as a Target influencer
IMG_7082
A guard post along the walls

Dubrovnik’s rocky coastline is so stunning that is has been adopted by HBO’s Game of Thrones. For the CGI-heavy series, Dubrovnik’s beauty is truly the stuff of fairytales.

img_0965
We climbed up to the Lovrijenac Fortress, as seen here from the Old Town wall, taking stairs from Pile Beach in the cove below.
img_7099
A Game of Thrones filming location, as seen from the walls of Old Town

Dubrovnik falls within a region of Croatia known as Dalmatia, which also includes a portion of the Bay of Kotor, which you may remember from my Montenegro post. Fun fact: the Dalmatian dog originated here.

img_7048

The region was once under the control of France, greedy for its natural resources and ports along the Adriatic Sea. Croatia did not declare independence until 1991, making it fairly young country.

img_7201

Croatia saw terrible war throughout the 1990s as Yugoslavia unraveled. Croatia was one of 6 republics of Yugoslavia which included Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. The Siege of Dubrovnik was a particularly awful period, taking place over 7 months beginning in the fall of 1991. Residents of Old Town faced terrible conditions as there was a communication blackout and supplies were extremely scarce. By Dec 1991, 19,000 people had been evacuated from the port of Dubrovnik with the help of ships flying the UNICEF flag.

img_7208

As we walked the Old Town wall, it was truly inconceivable to think of 3000+ mortars raining down upon the terracotta roof tiles.

img_7098

img_7104
You can see which buildings were damaged based on the age of the tiles.

Katie and I did a lot of research about the war while in Montenegro and Croatia. What seems clear is that the conflict was not black and white. ESPN’s 30 for 30 episode entitled  “Once Brothers” offers a heartbreaking take on the fallout of the war through the eyes of Vlade Divac, the former NBA player and Olympic medalist. As the episode points out, “war crimes were committed on both sides”. Many different interests with no clear winner.

img_1066

img_7231
Our courtyard within the Old Town walls

Know as the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik has a lot to offer, especially in April before the cruise ships have begun to come into port. Highlights included a cathedral with a Titian triptych on the alter, hot burek from the bakery, and delicious Croatian wine.

img_7119
burek: spinach and cheese deliciousness
img_7141
A wine-tasting at Skaramuca

The rocky soil of the region, combined with the reflection off the rocks and water, mean the grapes get 3x the amount of sun as your average vineyard. With all the delicious seafood, I enjoyed the white posip.

img_1082
With many places to choose from in Old Town, the Pubo Dubrovnik proved our favorite.

We also took a day trip to Lokrum, known as the Emerald Island. Just a 10 minute ferry ride from Old Town, Lokrum is good for quick trip and a walk around the island. This was certainly a nice way to escape the tour bus crowd.

img_7173
A Lokrum Island resident

img_7171

img_1049
For Game of Thrones fans, I snapped this epic pic at an exhibition about the filming of the series in the region

Travel Tips:

If you take the bus from Tivat or Kotor to Dubrovnik, anticipate nearly an hour extra for border control. Croatia being an EU country only exacerbates the wait. On the return, you sail through relatively unimpeded. 4 hours from Tivat to Dubrovnik’s Port Bus Terminal; just 3 hours from the Port to Tivat. 45 gorgeous miles. This is Tivat’s bus terminal – by the way – please ignore what Google Maps tells you. About 18€ each way. Euros are sometimes taken in Dubrovnik but the Croatian kuna (HRK) is preferred.

img_7303

Those black hills

Hello, everyone. Just back from my spring break trip to Montenegro and Croatia, two gorgeous countries, both formerly part of Yugoslavia. The trip fell upon me by happenstance – my friend wanted to see Dubrovnik and no matter how we sliced it, we couldn’t get there without 7+ hours of driving or connecting flights. These days my patience for airplane connections is rather low, especially when it comes to a break from school. Thankfully, Katie had the presence of mind to look at a map of the region… and we were off to Tivat, Montenegro!

e1ad4baa-eaf1-4c7a-a4c9-4f9f80b97ea9
Never seen the sky quite so cerulean blue – the Bay of Kotor

We were elated to touchdown at little Tivat Airport to sunny skies and 70F weather. Though this glorious weather didn’t last all week, it certainly cemented our appreciation for the gorgeous fjord that is the Bay of Kotor. This tiny country, half the size of Wales, packs a stunning aesthetic punch.

A few things to know before you go – Montenegro means “black mountain”. This ruggedly handsome country is a combination of deep water and soaring sky, with jagged mountain ridges uniting the two. Wedged in between Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania, Montenegro is one of the world’s youngest countries, born in 2006 (only senior to Kosovo and South Sudan). The majority of the population is Orthodox Christian, which played a role in the regional factions that led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

img_6926
A fjord is a narrow surrounded by steep sides or cliffs created by a glacier which came in from the ocean.

As we drove along the fjord, orange trees and wisteria dotted the waterfront properties. Mountain streams came crashing into the fjord, producing churning water that could surely be harnessed for natural power. Rocky crags jutted out over the single lane highways, hemmed in only by flimsy-looking netting.

All visitors to Montenegro have 24 hours to register with the police. If you stay at a hotel or Airbnb, your host will often do this for you. Euros are the currency here, though it is not an EU country. It is, however, a travel destination for Russians as no visa is required here. The same is true for Americans.

We began our stay at the Boutique Hotel Casa del Mare Aurora, a hidden gem that I cannot recommend highly enough. Another accidental finding, this spot proved perfect for two teachers to unwind and acquaint ourselves with local customs.

img_6892
Doesn’t take long to defrost after a Russian winter!

The hotel featured a gorgeous deck over the water where locals and hotel guests would congregate each afternoon. Whether we fancied an Aperol spritz or a glass of Vranac (the delicious local specialty of a Cabernet Sauvignon and a rich, dark-berried Syrah), the sommelier had us covered. Definitely the best hotel breakfast buffet I’ve ever encountered, and the kindest staff to boot.

img_6883
Vacation official

Looking to explore (and find an ATM), we made our way to Perast, a town along the Bay of Kotor featuring stunning views and two churches on man-made islands just off-shore.

03921165-9e42-4c69-999a-568c9aef12d9
The lake looked as smooth as an oil painting
258A76D1-7712-4FE7-A55D-5DDCC0B18494.jpg
Sister cats in Perast on a casual Sunday morning

After a few days of rest, we ventured into Kotor, an ancient town which was ruled by both the Byzantines and Venetians at one point throughout history. Dating back to 300BC, the red-roof city charms many a cruise-ship visitor (ships do dock here regularly).

img_6990
The view from our hotel balcony
img_6993
Old Town has its charms once you escape the tourist shops

From the road, the medieval walls of Old Town hide the adorable town within, and the cliffs above the city do well to mask the church and fortress which cast a watchful eye over the little town.

img_7010
We walked the 700 steps up to the Church of Our Lady of Remedy. We opted not to climb all 1500 steps as it was beginning to mist and the steps were slippery!

img_7013

Exploring more of the local area, we first drove down to Budva and then inland to the edge of Lovcen National Park. Having opted for digital-free navigation, we noticed a road sign indicating Kotor was accessible without retracing our steps. Little did we know we would end up on the Serpentine Road!

We began at 880m above sea level (that’s 2,200 feet or a half mile).  Down and down the switchbacks I drove, encountering few cars (thankfully) but a horse and multiple cattle along the way. The views were extraordinary, like walking on the wing of an airplane.

img_6950
Mountains beyond mountains

Renting a car was pivotal for exploring Montenegro but we opted to take a bus to Dubrovnik, knowing that the majority of the ride would be spent traversing the circumference of the Bay of Kotor. We wanted to enjoy the view without stress (those pesky crags!).

I’m going to pause the story here as I have to go pack another bag (don’t tell my cat!). Headed to meet some art teachers at the NuArt Festival in Aberdeen this weekend. Look for a Croatia blog post forthwith!

c2855478-23e2-474c-a3b4-5a1649668ad2
A well-deserved cheers to Montenegro