The war and tourism
In 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia and following this, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Following this battle for independence war escalated for territory between Croatia and Serbia causing the deaths of over 100000 people. Tensions were high, crime ever evident and destruction of many towns was widely spread ending only by the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords on December 1995 officially ending the war.
War held Croatia in the media and perhaps generated a great uncertainty of the stability of this country and was far from the top of the bucket list of the average holiday maker who seem to crave a summer in the Algarve or a winter break skiing in the Alps as opposed to visiting this high profile country. However over two decades on from the end of the war it is safe to say that Croatia has started to creep back on to the tourist radar.
So perhaps it was with some in trepidation and also a sense of curiosity and adventure that I booked a week long sailing adventure courtesy of the travel company G Adventures. I would be sailing from Dubrovnik to Split on a yacht just of the Dalmatian coast. Each yacht would have around five passengers including the skipper and we would all be involved in the sailing to reach one of the many islands scattered off the mainland each night.
My arrival in Croatia brought with it a fair amount of rain. The sky was blackened and the low rumble of distant thunder could be heard but it was undeniably atmospheric. Stepping into Dubrovnik was like stepping back in time. The castle walls and interior was built during the middle ages to line the stunning Adriatic sea. Placa Stradun (old town) is especially historic and beautiful. I walked as if in a trance round this crumbling yet perfect place and marvelled at the clear floors, glorious high walls and tiny beautiful cafes and bars. It can also be recognised from the HBO TV series “Game of Thrones” where it sets the scene for the iconic Kings Landing.
One of the most novel experiences of the city is that you can literally walk over the walls of the castle grounds on a self guided tour. Of course there were walking tours with multi lingual guides but myself and my travelling companion Michaela who I had met on the G Adventure forum before we departed in our adventure preferred the opportunity to look for ourselves t the winding staircases, hidden ledges and uncapped beauty of the view of the sea under the lead black sky. You could easy become disorientated or distracted by each view and find yourself walking round and round in circles but even seeing the place more than once didn’t detract from the utter beauty of it. The further you walk the higher you ascend and the tranquillity of your surroundings is evident. It is a city built inside history, unblemished, unchanged yet very much appeasing to the modern eye.
We eventually settled into a small dockside bar where we ordered a class of wine each. The price was shockingly low costing the equivalent of about $4 AUS. The wine was beautifully smooth and rich and apparently was an indication of the quality to come. As well as breaking back into the tourist industry Croatia is also the flagship for wines from this region with Slovenia following suit with a myriad of indigenous varieties. This I shall divulge in future blog posts.
Dubrovnik was my home for one night only as the next day around noon I was to find my way to the marina to find my yacht where the adventure would begin. For the time being however I had a good day ahead of me to explore the region.
One of the great delights of Dubrovnik is the ability to see so much from high altitude but it is not easy for everyone to access these high heights so the Croatians have provided a solution to this, for about 108 Kuna ($21 AUS) you can see the city in style from a cable car. However due to our atmospheric storm and now ever present forked lighting the chair lift was closed much to my relief. Michaela seemed game to ascend the high hights but I could help but visualise getting struck by lightning on my first day in Croatia and making international news. Thus Michaela and I made out way back to our hotels for an early night.
The next day the blazing sun did not disappoint, rising early over the hill sides the sun shone gloriously on the sea front and brought with it the hustle and bustle of a Sunday Market. Fresh fruit, Vegetables and Mead adorned the tables at a cost that is far lower than anywhere I have ever been. Meat is especially in expensive at around $8AUS for 1kg of boneless chicken and fruit and vegetables costing mere Cents for a variety of full flavoured and boundless varieties.
Everything was unexpectedly marvellous from the ridiculously low cost of food to the amazing sea views and pleasant temperature Dubrovnik was not disappointing. Even the modern part of it was beautiful. The doors of houses were large and grand and all unique and beautiful. The cobbled streets and huge patches of green were everywhere. The sun was dazzling agains the closely moored boats and yachts that sat in great lines as if eager to investigate the tranquil sapphire sea.
The war was devastating, unsettling, and destructive but in its wake it has created a community of people repelled by atrocity. They are determined to move forward, to be a safe and settled community and I feel this in an overwhelming sense of safety when walking. Even at night the streets are lit, the locals friendly and accommodating. Doors are left open for the cool evening air and the sound of sirens are non-existent. Even travelling more or less alone I never got the feeling that I may be in peril.
Another welcome discovery was the friendliness f the locals. During my time of exploring the city centre I found myself standing confused at many bus stops trying to decipher the creation language only to find that many of the locals regardless of fluency in English would try and help you with a smile.
Croatia really is a hidden gem. It is not known for its lavish night clubs or sun bathed beaches but it provides so much more than I ever could have imagined. I shall be writing more articles following on from this about the many islands that I visited in my travels as there is far too much to describe in just one blog post.
Dubrovnik was an excellent start to my sailing adventure but it was also the start of many more fantastic sights and experiences that I will never forget.