This first picture is of St. Lawrence Fort. We climbed up to it on Friday because it doesn't cost any extra after you pay to walk on the town walls. Thank goodness because the fort itself really isn't anything to see, but the view of the Old town is great!
Croatia is BEAUTIFUL! I am sure everyone will agree with that from my pictures and I wish you could all see it for yourself. The waters of the Adriatic sea are so incredibly clear and when the sun is out the water is some of the brightest blues I've ever seen.
This trip had been planned for at least a couple months. I found good deals on flights and so I planned the trip as a surprise for Ryan's birthday. I had to tell him we were going on a trip so he could fill out the necessary paperwork to request the time off at work, but as to the location that remained a mystery. I couldn't contain my own excitement and I told a fair amount of people that we work and live with where we were going, so in a way I am surprised that the surprise remained a surprise, but I am also very glad because it was really fun. I told Ryan where we were going as we were in line to check in for our flight. He was very excited because just the week before he'd found a web site saying that Dubrovnik is one of the best places to go in Europe. I had seen the same site, which is what convinced me this would make a great trip for Ryan's birthday. So it all worked out just wonderfully.
Dubrovnik is at the very far south of the Croatian coastline. It is near both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Later I will tell you about our excursions to these wonderful countries as well.
We arrived on Tuesday night and took a bus from the airport to the main bus station in Gruz. As we exited the bus to go get our luggage a couple gentlemen approached Ryan and I along with the other couple getting off the bus. I had read that this is typical. The men were each asking if we had places to stay lined up and thrusting photos in front of us of their apartments or rooms in their own homes that they rent out. During our time in Croatia we saw SO MANY signs on the sides of homes that said either "Sobe" or "Apartman" or both, which indicated that had either a room or an apartment that they rent to tourists. I felt like at least every 2nd or 3rd building had one of these signs. Some of these people come to the bus station and not only offer you their accommodation but try to get you to come with them and just leave where you were going to stay. Ryan and I were trying to call our hostel to come pick us up from the bus station as they'd instructed me to do. As we were sitting there struggling to figure out how to make the call with the country code (which we ended up not needing to use) one of the men continued to talk to us and tried his best to convince us to stay at his place. He asked if we had already paid for the place we had booked and we told him we had made a deposit for it. He went as far as to offer his apartment at his home, which he said was in the same area as where we had booked, for the price we agreed to pay our hostel minus our deposit. I told him that we had made this reservation a month previous and that we would be keeping it. EVENTUALLY he got tired of trying and walked away until the next bus arrived and he started heading toward those new comers. After awhile we asked for assistance and ended up trying the number we had without the country code and it worked. Within 15 minutes we were in a car on our way to the hostel.
The hostel was very reasonably priced compared to where we've stayed and what we've paid in other cities. It is family owned and the son who is in his 20's was our driver. Along the way he told us great information on how the use the bus where were good places to go and the hours that the cruise ships let people out and the streets in Old Town are the craziest. When he dropped us off his father and another woman were there to show us to our room. The next day we realized that they have a couple rooms under their home on a street below us where their "office" is and where the father lives and then I think our room and at least one or two others were under this woman's house who met us. It was like a conglomerate of people who turned part of their property into hostel rooms. It was very nice and homey though and had a bathroom, small fridge, and two burners all right there, which was nice because normally a hostel will have those in a basement far from your room. There was even a little terrace they were excited to show us with a table and chairs, a swing seat and an orange, lemon, and lime tree. It couldn't have been better as far as we could tell. But we were tired from traveling, and working in the morning remember, so we each showered and then went straight to sleep.
The next morning we headed down to the Placa for breakfast. Our hostel was on the Lapad peninsula, which is a little ways from the Old Town and a good mix of locals and tourist. The Placa is the pededstrian street covered with restaurants and cafés on both sides and at the end your reach the water with a rocky beach that I'm sure is packed with swimmer and sun bathers in the summer. We asked in the tourist information booth for a breakfast recommendation and she said just a few doors down they had great croissants. So we went to check it out. There breakfasts were already in packages I guess you could say so I had orange juice, black coffee (this means espresso in europe I don't know if anyone makes drip coffee here) a "roll" with honey (this turned out to be a loaf of bread... so good) and a chocolate croissant. Ryan had fresh squeezed orange juice (mine was in a bottle), coffee with lots of milk and sugar, a Mediterranean sandwich, and a chocolate croissant. It was all good, but we fell in love with the chocolate croissants. We went back on Friday to get just a couple of those, but had to settle for just one to share because that was all they had left. Also our waitress, who was very nice, popped up all over. We saw her up by our hostel and on the Placa, and on the walking path. She was everywhere.
After breakfast we waited for the bus to go to the Old Town. It turned out to be a good day to go because there was only one cruise ship docked. I don't think it is super busy into cruise season anyway because even when there was 2 or 3 ships on Friday it didn't seem too bad. In the high season June through August when the ships are in port it doubles the population of Dubrovnik bringing in 30,000 people. For those of you who have been here know that inside the walls of the Old Town is not a very big area. One worker we were talking to in shop said it is so crowded you can barely get down the street because no one is moving they are all looking up snapping photos.
Once we arrived we entered the Old Town through the Pile Gate. There are only two gate that let you into the Town because of the mile long wall surrounding it. We headed down the main street the Stradum. When you reach the end the picture below is what you see. This is the clock tower. I think most towns have some sort of old famous clock. I had the same realization when I was looking at colleges. They all had clock towers they were super proud of.
There were I think at least 4 if not more churches we went in on this day. The picture below is of the inside of the grandest. One of the churches was very white and stark inside which was very different from all the churches we've seen in Europe so far.
This picture is of the outside of the same church.
As we continued on along the inside of the walls there were signs for cold drinks with the best view. It was a great view and it is where I snapped this picture below, but we didn't stop for drinks. That island is Lokrum, which was a 15 minute ferry ride from the old town and the closest island to the main land but we never ended up making it over there or to any other of the islands. This gives us something to go back for though. :)
We continued to explore all the little streets like the one in the picture below. It is a very tightly packed area. We came to a bakery and of course had to go in. There was sign below some little donut hole looking things that said they are called "Prikle" and is "traditional Dubrovnik cake." So we got a couple of those and a piece of Baklava. We didn't care for the Prikle and the Baklava was super runny which is not normal for Baklava, so we didn't go back to this Bakery and didn't hit up any others while we were on our vacation. I've found that no bakery in Europe compares to a Bavarian bakery. I also think that other than traveling the thing I will miss the most when I come home is the Bavarian Backereis.
We continued on stopping here and there. We wandered into a building which turned out to be the Ethnography Museum or something like that. It turned out we were supposed to pay but didn't know that because you just go straight in and there is not admisstion booth or anything. And we would not have paid because we walked in walked around barely looked at anything because it looked boring and we don't even know what Ethnography means but it looked like agricultural history stuff of Croatia. So we were in and out in a matter of minutes.
Then we headed out toward the harbor with lots of boats and a few restaurants. Several people were trying to sell tourists trips on glass bottom boats so you could see under the water as you drove. There were people selling all sorts of things everywhere targeting tourists. The entire Old Town is basically a tourist trap I think although I would imagine some locals come there to eat occasionally and there is a fair amount of residences and of course I'm sure it employs a large number of people from the area.
There also might be a pigeon for every tourist. I hate pigeons! On Friday when we were in old town a woman (a tourist) was standing in a mass of them breaking off bread and dropping it without even looking at them and they were all going crazy. It was disgusting and Ryan and I avoided that area all together.
Around the corner from all the restaurants and boats was what I think is a swimming area. Although the locals think it is still to cold to swim. There are VERY FEW sandy beaches in Dubrovnik and the main place people lay out is on concrete that is poured in between rocks to make flat areas. That is what we are standing on in the picture below. And behind us on the right is a corner of Lokrum Island again and on the left is a little south of Dubrovnik headed toward the airport and if you keep going you'll reach Montenegro. (Does everyone notice my new Birkenstocks I am wearing in the picture I wrote about in a previous post? I love love LOVE them and wear them ALL the time. And I knew you'd want to know that.)
After we ended our photo op we walked back through the Old Town down the Stradum and came back to the front gate, but turned a different way to go into a little park courtyard area. There were a couple orange trees, so of course Ryan HAD to climb it to get some fruit. I have documented proof below. A man came walking fast down toward the tree so Ryan hopped out thinking he might be coming to say not to climb trees. It turned out he was a tourist from Poland and made Ryan get back into the tree so he could take his picture. Ryan had thrown me an orange so after the man left we opened it up and took a big big.... not so good.... very sour. So unfortunately that was the last Orange we picked in Dubrovnik.
Yet another view down a tiny street.
We decided we were hungry so we went for an early dinner to a restaurant both recommended in our Rick Steve's travel book and by a woman from our hostel we spoke with in the morning. It was a nice setting right at the harbor or the Old Town. It had been cloudy all day but started to drizzle, but we still sat outside under an umbrella. We ordered the Seafood Risotto that Rick said in his book was good, cheap, and plenty to share. We also made the mistake of getting a liter of the house white wine. I say mistake mostly because it more than doubled our bill and we didn't think the wine was great. I guess it was just the house wine, but I wasn't crazy about Croatian white wine the whole time we where there. The reason we got the wine was because earlier when we walked by we saw a couple guys sharing a pitcher or wine that looked good and they said it was the house white and it was cheap. But they must have had the 1/2 liter because ours came in a karaf instead of the cool pitcher and was way more than we wanted. The risotto was not great. All there food comes in a cooking pot that you dish out of and people think that is cool but I only think it is cool if the food inside tastes a lot better than this did. And then to finish the wine we were there at least two hours I bet, so it turned into a very long meal. Despite the fact we didn't think that suggestion from Rick Steve's was the best we still followed his advice to a side street to find some gelato. This turned out to be a good recommendation though because it was 7 kuna for a scoop instead of 10 on the main street, which is about 1 euro instead of 1,50 euro. AND after they put the gelato on the cone they asked if we wanted chocolate and we said yes so they dipped it into a pot of warm chocolate sauce the immediately hardened on the outside of the gelato. A great bonus at no extra charge. :)
From here we took the bus back to Lapad. We had decided we wanted to buy some groceries so we went to the store to get some breakfast things and dinner for the next night. The store was crazy busy. After shopping we walked up the million stairs (Dubrovnik is very hilly, there are a lot of stairs not for the faint of heart) to the Begovic family residence (our hostel owner) to ask if we could go on the excursion to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina the next day. They arranged it for us as we stood in the doorway with phone calls the father made to his son and then his son to the tour company I guess. We also learned from them, when they commented on our grocery bags, that the store was all 20% off because it was changing owners which would explain the chaos we experienced and the very empty shelves.
We finally got to go back to our room. We put the food away, we showered, and we went to bed after a fun filled first day in Dubrovnik.