Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The old city of Dubrovnik

We woke up brimming with exploration in our heads. We'd received a map and some great instruction from the owner of our apartment about what to see and do during our time there and needless to say, we wouldn't have enough time for everything. Shame. This always seems to be the case.

So we took off the next morning, prepared for the beach (since we wanted to squeeze in at least one more day of glorious sunbathing before we headed back to our respective homelands before this trip was done), snacked a little to keep the hunger at bay during the 20 minute hike to the old town, and started on our way.

Turns out this hike was pretty scenic, and we took our time. The feeling of Dubrovnik is completely different than that of the other cities we'd been in. The architecture is pretty different, I'd have to say. Also the foliage. Much more leafy green and lush instead of stones and sea. It is also by the sea, of course, but the feeling is completely different.

The gates into the old city are pretty gorgeous, and guarded by St. Blaise, the protector of the city. He's seen around the city 21 times. Although he's looks different in every depiction (since he was created by different art masters at different times), he's always seen holding the city in his left hand.

After wandering around for just a little bit (and me finding a post office box), Hong Kong P thought it would be a good idea if we paid for a walking tour to get a fuller picture of the city and all its historical offerings. Never one to shy away from some useful information I heartily agreed and we joined a walking tour that was just about to start nearby.

It was pretty informative and we learned a lot about the city as we walked. Like the city walls are about 2 kilometers long and really did encapsulate the entirety of the city and its population during most of the golden age of Dubrovnik. Unfortunately though the water source was pumped into the city from sources outside the city, leaving the pipes unprotected so they had to build other systems in order to ensure that if they were under siege they could still get a reliable source of water during that time.

There was a devastating earthquake that took place in the 1700s that destroyed most of the original buildings. This church was one of the few that survived, along with a singular house near the end of town. The original buildings were extremely ornate and were built like palaces. Because the town had to be rebuilt so quickly after the earthquake and resources and money were limited, the buildings you see nowadays reflect the limited means and quickness with which they were rebuilt. They are much plainer now and were easier to construct.

The entirety of the old town of Dubrovnik has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, despite real people owning the apartments and property that is there. This means that anyone who lives there has to adhere to strict rules to keep it a heritage site. All shutters must be made from wood and painted a specific green color, etc. As Hong Kong P and I walked the city walls later that afternoon we also noticed that most people hung their laundry out to dry. We assumed this is because UNESCO did not allow electric/gas dryers inside the historic buildings.

Almost all of the city is built from limestone, which is an extremely porous and common stone for the area. Though it is a great stone to work with it also is difficult to maintain and does wear down. The floors were not polished intentionally but have been worn down by the millions of visitors that have visited the area over the years. Because it is a UNESCO Heritage Site they have to constantly maintain and fix the stones in order to keep them in good working order.

One of the first synagogues (the second, I believe, in Europe) was founded here and is still available for visiting today. Dubrovnik was one of the few places that allowed Jews to settle and have their own space. They were given their own street (I don't have a picture of it) and the gates were locked from 6pm-6am everyday. They were also given a smaller designated fountain with which to fetch their water in order not to use the one that most people used (so no one would have to use the same fountain as them).

Though Croatia was very tolerant of Jews and wanted to welcome them they still had to maintain these rules because overall Croatia is predominantly Catholic. In order to maintain good ties with Rome they put these rules in place in order to make it clear they were still devout.

There were only 49 members in the synagogue. 27 of them perished in the Holocaust. The nearest rabbi is stationed in Zagreb, where the Jewish community numbers in the thousands. He only comes to this synagogue for special occasions, which unfortunately for the past several times has been for funerals.

All of the apartments above the storefronts are in fact, privately owned. Though initially they were only owned by Croatians the rising price of real estate made it worth it to sell to foreigners, which most did with relish. Now almost all of the apartments are the private vacation homes of foreigners and have the price of several thousand euro per square meter.

Because of the rising prices of real estate most shops have converted from selling traditional Croatian crafts to tourist-related souvenirs or other industry items. In an attempt to reverse this effect the Croatian government is offering free rent to any store that sells traditional crafts of any kinds. So far not many have been able to take advantage of this offer though, as not many people still have the skills to make traditional crafts.

Dubrovnik at its height was known for being the biggest distributor of salt in the area and because of this, was an extremely wealthy city. It used to trade salt for gold.

I could continue spitting interesting historical and relevant Croatian facts for awhile, but I'll stop there. If you'd like more, hit me up in the comments section or send me a message and I'll continue rattling on. ;)

After our city tour we decided to finally get some much-needed lunch. We walked around the small alleyway-like streets until we found something appealing. This, happened to be an adorable restaurant at a four-way intersection of a bunch of alleyways that was offering some mussels in the "Buzara" style - that is, cooked in a stew-like sauce with breadcrumbs, olive oil, parsley, garlic, and white wine.

In other words, incredible:

We each ordered a bowl to ourselves and munched away in silence. Literally, no talking happened as we were eating. This rarely happens between good friends except when there is good food in front of them. I cleaned the entire thing out...only freaking out once or twice (sometimes this happens with me and certain kinds of foods...seafood is sometimes one of them).

After this we walked around just a little bit more before deciding that lunch really wasn't that filling and we could splurge on a treat. That treat? Ice cream.

Ice cream shops are as ubiquitous as coffee shops. I read that online somewhere as we were looking up food one time. It's 100% true. Ice cream shops are everywhere around Croatia and this was the first time we actually made it to one. It didn't disappoint. Especially not on this boiling hot day surrounded by stones.

I got coconut flavor.  It was between that and mint and the shop keeper didn't really look convinced about my interest in mint. Plus coconut was more gone than mint. I feel like consumer's choices are not always right, but in terms of flavors...could be a good indicator.

After this our actual plan was to hit the beach. It was supposed to be a fairly close walk outside the further city gates to the nearby pebble beach.

...admittedly we took a look outside the gates, thought about how hot it as and how heavy our bags were (and how sleepy/tired we were after all the walking and food) and exnayed the plan.

Instead we were very easily convinced to take a glass bottom boat tour around Dubrovnik. Easy sell to tourists who are hot and lazy and tired of carrying heavy bags filled with beach stuff. Hilarious. I am never carrying too much stuff again. Period. As my family's saying goes, "If you can't carry it yourself, it's not coming with you."

The boat tour was just what we needed - sitting in the shade with an ocean breeze on our faces. 45 minutes of beautiful views and not much going on. Definitely worth the money. Relaxation, I salute you.

We were a bit more refreshed after that so decided it was time to check out the city walls. Our walking tour guide recommended doing it only when the heat of the day had died down a little bit so by the time we got to it we had 2 hours before they closed. Good enough.

It was definitely worth it. Gorgeous views, nice walk, and though it was still a bit too hot...definitely bearable.

Btw I can't believe I haven't mentioned it yet in this post - Dubrovnik is where they shoot the Game of Thrones scenes for King's Landing. The southern lands are mostly shot in Dubrovnik. The photo above look familiar? I recognized it as the area where after Joffrey has all of the bastards killed the Kingsguard drowns a toddler. This is also where, at various times, Sansa sits (the camera pans out to the sea) and stares at Littlefinger's boat.

Oh yes, I definitely dorked out on the GoT possibilities here. And we were definitely told by our guide that they would continue shooting season 4 here soon. Oh the glory, the sweet sweet glory. I am so thrilled that I have now been somewhere the GoT cast has been. Still got Iceland high on my list (that's where they shoot all of the "north of the Wall" scenes during winter...that's actual winter they're dealing with).

Beautiful panoramas of the city. And now that I'd finally gotten the settings on my camera a little better, definitely more realistic colors.

I definitely saw the differences in the pictures of my friends' phones versus my own though. I had been thinking of bringing my Lumia920 as well as my current line phone (the Nexus4 I'd won at CHI in Paris). Unfortunately I forgot to pack the Lumia and was stuck with what I had. The Lumia photos that my friends took were definitely a lot better than the ones I took. Compositions aside, the colors were more lush and the clarity of the pictures were just better. I'll know for next time. :)

After hike on the glorious city walls it was time for a relaxing refreshing drink. I ordered ice cold blueberry juice. Glorious. I do love me a good glass of antioxidants.

And then it was time to search for a dinner restaurant. Since it was going to be our last big dinner (the next day would sadly be a partial travel day since we'd need to get back to Split before end of the night) we decided to go all out. So it needed to be chosen with special care.

We walked down the entire second major street of the old city in order to choose the restaurant we did. Hilariously it was called...

Yes, we chose the restaurant called Moby Dick.

Admittedly it was the most convincing for what we wanted. We wanted fresh seafood (or meat, we hadn't really decided...we'd heard that Croatian lamb was quite good but oddly none of us had ordered it so far and it wasn't widely available on all menus) and this one had great meals for two that offered a goodly amount of variety. Plus we watched as waiters brought out fresh platters of fish for their patrons to choose from. Just like in the Chinese restaurants! Except that the fish were already dead instead of alive...but at least you got to choose it yourself.

So we were convinced. And so we sat down. And ordered the most ridiculous thing ever.

It started with a nice fresh salad. Tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, and iceberg lettuce, all in olive oil and balsamic. Nothing to shout about but a step up from any salad we'd had so far. Salads: definitely not a big thing in the Croatian diet, despite it being on every menu. Don't order the salads (they're all disappointing).

And then...


I believe this was called the Columbo Dinner. Lobster, shrimp, and crayfish for two. Yes, yes, and yes.

Hong Kong P and I definitely smacked and pillaged that village of shellfish with delight. I of course took forever but I delighted in every bite. It was a bit more cooked than I'd liked and I'd had fresher in other places (we're talking top of the line places) but the flavoring is what made it incredible. I'd never had spices like this before. This is what I'd been seeking everywhere else on this trip and been missing! Flavor! Incredible juicy, spiced flavor! And it was abundant in this dish.

To be honest I'm not really sure how they cooked these guys. From what I can surmise it seems like they might have flash fried them and then baked them somehow. They were definitely greasy (in a good way) and extremely flavorful (so marinated most likely) but also fulled cooked and with no batter.

In any case, extremely tasty. And so lovely. We ate them all (of course). And a jug of white wine. House white.

It was brilliant.

We then spent the rest of the night dancing at a nearby bar that was very oddly similar to the Kiwa Bar on Hvar, but the music was worse. Far worse. After we got fed up we taxied home and called it a night. We had more Dubrovnik exploring to do in the morning.

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