My trip to Dubrovnik, Croatia was actually like a mini vacation in the midst of this marathon journey. I met up with four other friends from Toronto and New York City and we rented an apartment, expecting to have a holiday that mixed lots of R&R with some partying. Dubrovnik surprised me. I always knew it was a city with a lot of history but I didn’t realize everwhere you turn you would be faced with Dubrovnik’s past.  It stares back at you from the buildings, homes and its cobblestone streets (especially around the waterfront).  The fort is very prominent with its giant stone walls rising from the harbour, providing protection from invaders for centuries.  I was not prepared for all the stairs though, I have never visited a city or town with so many steps.  It felt like we were constantly climbing up flight after flight, sometimes going up a couple of flights before going down and then up again.  It really gave my quads and my knees a workout.

Dubrovnik has some great beaches right on the Black Sea,  just don’t expect expanses of soft white sand.  If you want to get away from the crowds you will head over to the island of Lokrum, about a 20 minute ferry ride from the harbour and centred right in the front of our apartment.  So of course on our first day we headed over to the island, walking through the woods, home to the friendliest flock of peacocks, peahens and their chicks.  Eventually we got to our ‘beach’ basically a field of relatively flat rocks, tidal ponds and small cliffs to jump into the sea.  We were there for less than an hour when I decided to watch some of the young people jumping from the rocks.  As I turned around on one big rock I lost my footing and had to jump about 2 meters to the rocks below.  I landed hard on my feet but sliced open my baby toe, nearly tearing off the nail.  It hurt like hell but I didn’t feel like my toe was broken and it was only when I hobbled over to my friends did I realize just how much it was bleeding.  I bandaged as good as I could using tissues and napkins but then I noticed even more cuts on the bottom of my foot.  I decided I needed to get back to the apartment to clean it and bandage it up properly.  It was tough trying to walk back to the ferry and then from the ferry to the apartment and what should have taken me about 20 minutes took about an hour.  It was very painful and made it very difficult to wear any kind of footwear.   As a result I ended up skipping the next few trips back to the island and opted not to go out dancing and drinking with my friends.  I did still get to enjoy Dubrovnik though, walking (slowly) through the historic city,  in excellent condition after the rebuild following the war with Serbia in the 1990s.  Most of the homes and buildings had their roofs destroyed or at least heavily damaged so the clay tile roofs are all relatively new.   Also learned the fort and giant wall helped to save the city yet again from its approaching enemy.  While almost the entire harbour went up in flames and mortars were fired heavily at the wall, it managed to withstand the barrage and forced the invaders to rethink their battle plan.  It also drives home the senselessness of war.   It’s difficult to believe that a city so beautiful and its residents so outgoing and friendly, was the target of such an aggressive assault by former fellow countrymen, so recently.   Its residents have picked up the pieces and moved forward, not looking back but ahead at the city and the country’s future. The weather was great… except one day when it rained… really rained… in fact as we looked across at Lokrum we spotted a tornado.  Luckily no damage. Later there was a spectacular rainbow but the rain made the slippery stone streets as slick as ice and I spotted a few people take some big falls so I made sure to tread carefully.

Make sure to browse some of the art and craft shops around the city.  The crafts are still the same  ones that have kept Croatians in business for centuries; beautiful paintings and artworks, amazing textiles and of course the bounty from agriculture.  The smell of lavender hovers over all the farmer’s markets with dozens of growers offering up their homemade sachets and pillows for sale, next to flavoured honey, local pastries, fruit and vegetables.  It’s hard not to go home with fragrant souvenirs of your visit, memories of Dubrovnik every time you open your suitcase.

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