HAL guest George Labecki and his family sailed aboard Nieuw Amsterdam’s Mediterranean Tapestry cruise throughout Europe this past July and documented his experience in a journal. Below is an entry from their call at Dubrovnik, Croatia. Enjoy!
July 16: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Nearing the Finish
I have to admit that Dubrovnik is a city that I had mixed feelings about when we booked our tours. In our lifetime, Croatia was mostly a part of the former Yugoslavia, becoming independent following its war with Serbia from 1991 – 1995. I had mixed feelings because I know from one of Lee Ann’s favorite shows, House Hunters International, that it’s a modern, expensive, progressive city. But I still couldn’t help but feel that it’s still just another former Soviet Bloc country.
I awoke early at 5:15 and read on the verandah for a while. I was treated to some very nice views of the harbor, the islands, and a large hotel as we entered. We also saw that we were to be docked next to a large suspension bridge with views into Dubrovnik. We got out early and had breakfast; then we met our tour guide, Natasha. She explained to us that we would need to go through passport control then acted surprised when the guards just waved our bus through. Hey, it’s a former Soviet Bloc country. She told us that we’d undoubtedly be checked when we came back. As an aside, I can say that we were not checked.
Anyway, we were driven to the base of the cable car that leads to the top of the hill that wraps its arms around the city. This is the re-built cable car on the same site as the original that was used to evacuate so many people from Dubrovnik during their war. It’s a pretty dramatic ride to the top. You see the old town shrink away until you see nothing but walled orange rooftops.
Once atop the hill, we were given some Croatian cake and orange juice. The cake was heavy with an apricot filling; at least Lee Ann and I had filling, Nick did not, and that was good as he doesn’t like jelly fillings. After cake, we were out and about taking pictures of Dubrovnik from above. It was odd. M.C. Escher-like, you had to take a path downhill to get up to where the good views were. Once there, we realized that all that separated us from falling down the cliff was a light aluminum fence, thigh high, that was anchored into the cliff-side edge of the row of narrow rocks at the edge of the precipice. It’s okay though because the fence ended with at least 10 feet of cliff exposed. There was a large flagpole there painted with Croatian colors, but there was no flag. We thought it may be because the flagpole was locked into a block of cement that sat squarely on a 45-degree angle of dirt and rock and that perhaps adding a flag at the top would have pulled the pole out of the ground. But hey, it’s a former Soviet Bloc country.
Lee Ann took Nick into the War Museum for a brief look at the history of that recent conflict for independence. When you think that twenty years ago they were still fighting over this place, it’s sort of humbling. Nick wanted a book, so Lee Ann bought him one. She said the curator was moved that they were so interested in learning about the history of the conflict. It is sort of shocking: the Croatians have undoubtedly fresh and probably not-too-pleasant memories of that war. That a young person from another country was interested in that conflict was particularly touching to them.
It also explains our guide’s slant to things. She took time to point out that the Serbs could walk to Dubrovnik as its border is only over the first mountain range. She also made mention of the smoke in the air: something Colorado and Serbia have in common, grass fires. She said the Serbs don’t have much of an ability to fight such things; she just hopes they keep the fires to themselves. The old tensions seem to remain. It took a Soviet Bloc government to keep these people from killing each other.
We then bused to the Old Town, the walled city of original Dubrovnik. A walker can reach any of the gates within five minutes, so it is a small, controlled environment. The amazing thing about Dubrovnik is that it was pretty flattened during that 1991 war for independence. So everything that looks old is really relatively new. It has an odd sort of Disney-esque façade feeling toward it.
We took pictures of beautiful people and beautiful places. We took pictures of narrow, winding streets filled with shops. We paused by a large fountain promising refreshment on a warm day. We opted to walk about beyond the city walls and explore away from the tourists a bit. Mixed in with the locals, we began to realize that Dubrovnik really stands for resilience. We felt a connection with a people who have risen, in a relatively short time, from the destructiveness of war and who have begun to put a modern face on their past.
From there we took a quick taxi ride back to where the Nieuw Amsterdam was docked. We had a relaxing afternoon with some wonderful coffee in the Crow’s Nest and read a bit. Then we made our last departure for this cruise. Final stop, Venice.