A Place Called Home – Dubrovnik: Comfort Food (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #65)

Familiarity and habit, these are the actions of self-enforced domesticity. Each of these actions have also become a vital aspect of my travels around Central and Eastern Europe. While travel is a form of escape from them, it is only a temporary one. I find myself out of habit coming back to some of the same places again and again. Seeking out the familiar to provide comfort and quell the anxiety which threatens to devolve into aimless wanderings on trips abroad. A habit is hard to break. Thus, I found myself in Dubrovnik eating at the exact same place as eight years earlier on that first visit to the Old Town.

In the span of time between past and present not much had changed at what amounted to a fast food restaurant. It served the same food for nearly the same price almost a decade later. While there I ordered the same dish that I always do on these journeys, Cevapi, a grilled dish of minced meat that makes me crave visits to the Balkans. I first ate Cevapi in Sarajevo during my visit to that city in 2011. Since then, I have found myself seeking it out again and again. This includes in cities that are not part of the Balkans. I recall at least three occasions when I sought out restaurants serving it in Budapest. On my last trip to Europe before this one, I spent an entire weeklong visit to Montenegro feasting on this delicacy each evening. Having Cevapi one last time in Dubrovnik made me feel like I was enjoying a well cooked meal at a home away from home.

Home cooked meal – Cevapi

Habit Forming – The Trigger Event
Home, if I have one in Eastern Europe, can be traced to the experiences I keep coming back to again and again. It is not just restaurants. it is also monuments and museums or places so powerful for me that I cannot resist the urge to revisit them. I find comfort in the familiar. Several years ago, I had a few hours in Vienna before departing for the Austrian countryside. Did I take this time to seek out something new? Not a chance. Instead, I made a return visit to the Museum of Military History (Heeresgeschichtliches Museum). Ostensibly, this was to see the artifacts from Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo, the trigger event for the starting gun that signaled the outbreak of World War I.

The artifacts included the Archduke’s bloodstained tunic. Upon reflection, I wonder if the artifacts really were the underlying reason for my return? This return visit took place near the end of a two week trip. I was feeling anxious and edgy, more worried about the logistics of heading home than seeing something new. As soon as I walked into the museum I felt at ease, as though my worries had vanished. It is rather disturbing that this museum – which felt like home for a few hours – captured my interest due to artifacts from a murder. Nonetheless, I still find comfort in thoughts of that visit to the museum.

Finding the way – Looking out from a church in Dubrovnik

Domestic Travels – A Circular Logic

In Dubrovnik I found myself caught within the travel equivalent of circular logic. I was not just returning to the Old Town many years after a first visit. I was also returning to several of the same places I had been before. Just as the medieval walls confine the Old Town, so my previous visits confined me. I retraced my footsteps by entering through the Pile Gate, stopped for a moment to ponder Onofrio’s Fountain and found another stroll down the jam packed promenade of the Stradun irresistible. I had seen it all before and was prepared to see it all again. I was caught up in my own personal history more than that of the Old Town’s history. Dubrovnik might be over a thousand years old, but that was no match for my memory of that first visit. Seeing the same places was like visiting with old friends, albeit friends that were frozen in time and inanimate in everything but my mind. At the Pile Gate I was comforted by the site of the city’s patron, Saint Blaise. I watched as those around me failed to notice his presence. They did not need Saint Blaise, but I did. The site of his statuesque form was intensely comforting.

The idea of seeing something different in Dubrovnik was an opportunity that I was not taking. Walking those endless, narrow alleyways that wait to be stirred out of their silence. was not nearly as interesting to me as it had been on my first visit. I recoiled at the thought of leaving my comfort zone. I knew from experience that the backstreets of the Old Town offered a multitude of unique experiences. Ones that are very different from the glories fed to the masses, but I found them painful to consider. They reminded me of my own loneliness, even when surrounded by fantasy, there was always a melancholic aspect to my life. It often seduced me with laziness. On this day in Dubrovnik, I was confronted by the fact that my travels were becoming more like my domestic life. An enervating repetition of habits that dulled the senses. For me, there is safety in regimentation. I had come so far to not go any farther. Or so I thought.

A different path – Backstreet in Dubrovnik

Collision Course – A Tantalizing Glimpse
While downing yet another meal of Cevapi, the idea of how to finally break free of the sensory numbing strictures with which I had mentally shackled myself came to mind. There was a church that I had spied from a distance while walking along the Stradun.  I could see hints of its Baroque elements peeking out through the shafts of streets. Such scenes offered brief, tantalizing glimpses of architectural greatness exposed for the eye. I had no idea whether I had been there before. The mystery of it had been slowly building inside of me. Now a day before departure came the last chance to make its acquaintance. This would be a respite from regimentation and allow me to kick the habit that had been holding me back. Going there would offer the opportunity to explore another side of the city. One where locals still lived not for the sake of tourism, but for themselves and their families. I was ready for one last journey into that other world, the one where history and reality collide.

A Negative Response – Dubrovnik: Getting Tested (Travels Along the Croatian Coast #63)

The day before the day of departure dawned with a wave of blistering heat. The temperature, even for the sunny climes of the Croatian coast, was abnormally warm. It had been this way throughout this trip. Only once had I so much as seen a few drops of rain. On this next to last day, there was no relief from the heat and humidity in Dubrovnik. Every surface in the Old Town radiated heat. The air was once again heavy with humidity which caused an outpouring of sweat the moment I stepped outside. My first stop was a bakery along the Stradun to get a bit of sustenance before a final day of activities began.

After procuring a handful of pastries, I made my way to Onofrio’s Fountain to begin the day by people watching, reading, and relaxing. Sitting down on the fountain I was soon joined by a monk replete in his robe. He had also brought breakfast, but this was not for himself. Within seconds he opened a large bag and began to break bread for a group of pigeons that descended from the sky. Alighting upon the square, they fluttered, pecked, and picked up the crusts of bread in their beaks. The early birds got their bread as the feeding went on for at least ten minutes. I managed to capture several shots of this endearingly unforgettable moment.

Ready for Breakfast – Feeding time in Dubrovnik

Catching Covid – The Usual Symptoms
One thing I did not want to do on the last full day in Dubrovnik was go to the hospital. On this trip, there was no choice in the matter. The only way to reenter the United States was with a negative Covid test. The thought of having to stay in Croatia had a definite appeal, but not while in quarantine. Anyone who had a positive test would be forced into a ten day period of isolation. Could there be any greater torture than to be stuck inside a room, unable to walk the historic streets of this medieval walled city? To make matters worse, anyone quarantined would likely be subjected to spending countless hours watching unintelligible Croatian sitcoms on television. Either that or suffering a severe case of internet burnout. I began to worry a couple of days before departure about the ramification of my mental sanity due to a positive Covid test. At the slightest sign of a sneeze or stuffiness my mind was possessed by fear. It was a temporary type of hypochondria that would only be alleviated once the test had been taken.

Getting to the Dubrovnik Hospital meant taking a ten minute bus ride from the Old Town out to the Lapad Peninsula. The ride was unmemorable except for the fact that I now was more cognizant of the people around me. I feared catching Covid just before taking the test. Of course, I should have shown the same type of precautionary attitude during the past two weeks. I had spent countless hours on packed buses while traveling all along the Croatian coast. Most likely I had encountered someone who had Covid and did not yet know it. It was a risk I thought worth taking, but now I was not quite so sure. Eastern Europe has had a notoriously high number of Covid cases as a proportion of the population. The same is true regarding deaths. Croatia ranked 19th in Covid deaths per capita with 2,234 per million people. This was right behind the United States which comes in at 18th. It could be worse. Eastern European countries held nine of the top thirteen spots in the ranking by the latter half of 2021. For a nation that ranks 130th worldwide in population, Croatia has suffered mightily during the crisis. Fortunately, during the summer there was a lull in Covid cases. A few months later the situation would worsen considerably.  

Health scare – Dubrovnik General Hospital (Credit: Panek)

Hospital Visit – Swabs & Sneezes
The bus ride from the Old Town only took a few minutes. Dropping passengers off at the hospital parking lot. For a town that is known throughout the world for history, culture and sophistication, Dubrovnik’s hospital did not live up to those standards. The building was a classic functionalist structure. A concrete conurbation that almost certainly hailed from the communist era. The area around the hospital did it no favors either. The grass looked like it had not been mowed all summer and weeds were noticeable on the dry, brittle ground. I knew the state of health care in former communist countries had been suffering for decades and at least superficially, the Dubrovnik hospital looked like it was badly in need of an update. The front entrance doors were locked. After pressing a button for help, an attendant soon opened the door. I mentioned a Covid test. She proceeded to point in the right direction which happened to be outside the facility.

A large white tent setup close to the parking lot was ground zero for Covid tests. This was where was done by a woman who spoke excellent English. I had already made the payment online of 150 kuna ($25) for a rapid antigen test. This cost seemed exorbitant until I considered the alternative. No test, no return flight to the United States. Thus, I dutifully allowed a swab to be inserted up my nose. The woman doing it stuck the swab so far up my nose that it stimulated a massive sneeze from me as soon as the swab was pulled out. This elicited a great deal of laughter from the woman. The entire process was completed in a couple of minutes. It was fast, efficient, and effective. The results would be emailed to me shortly. In the meantime there was nothing to do other than anxiously wait.

A testing experience – A man gets a nasal swab during a Covid test

The Way Home – Ready For Reentry
The personnel who administered the rapid antigen test for Covid were as good their word. After returning to Dubrovnik’s Old Town by bus, I received an email stating that the result had come back negative. For a moment I felt relieved. That was until I realized this Croatia trip would soon be coming to an end. The next day began to loom in my thoughts. There were no other cities to visit and no more relaxing siestas by the sea on islands. A sense of melancholy came over me. I was running out of time. That was nothing new. I had been running out of time since the day of arrival, it was only now that I noticed. Then again, I had been running out of time since the day I was born.

Click here for: A Day At the Beach – Dubrovnik: The Forbidding Coast (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #64)

A Higher Form Of Reality – Hvar: The Spanish Fortress (Travel Along The Croatian Coast #59)

I first heard of Hvar at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. While waiting to board the flight to Dubrovnik, I was talking with a couple of women who were making their first trip to the Balkans. Their excitement reminded me of a younger version of my self eager to explore the wider world. They had made plans to see a mix of the popular and the exotic. Besides the obvious places such as Split and Mostar, they were also going to visit the island of Hvar, where they would stay for several days. I assumed that Hvar was a place for sun and fun by the seaside. Since they were not long out of college, I figured their choice offered them a mix of beauty, culture, and cocktails.

Our conversation did not last much longer, but the mention of Hvar stayed in my memory. This came back to mind after the ferry from Split to Dubrovnik departed from Brac and made its way toward its second stop at Hvar Town, the largest town on the island. From a few things I had gleaned from guidebooks prior to our arrival, Hvar was one of the most popular island destinations in Croatia. It was large, comparatively well populated and had a great deal of tourist infrastructure. This led me to imagine resorts, concrete constructions for mass tourism and beaches covered in sunshine seekers lounging about drinking copious numbers of cocktails.

A higher form of reality – Hvar as seen from the ferry

Watering Holes – A Geological Fantasy
Hvar’s natural history is as fascinating as its human history. That was clear as the ferry made its way from Brac to Hvar through the appropriately named Hvar Channel which washes the island’s northern shores. This channel is of very recent vintage in terms of geological time. 11,000 years ago it began to fill with water after the last ice age ended in Europe. Hvar consists of the land that stayed above the rising level of the sea. This included the usual karst topography of limestone to be found on Croatia’s islands. It sucks up the rainfall which falls upon the island. There is plenty of water, but very little to be found on the surface. Perhaps Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ancient sea mariner was thinking of Hvar when he said “water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” Of course, water surrounded Hvar on all sides and that allowed the ferry to bring us into Hvar Town, set upon hilly terrain on the island’s southside.

An unimaginative name like Hvar Town does not exactly lend itself to thoughts of spectacular beauty or Levantine exoticism. I say that with a hint of irony because nothing could have prepared me for the stunning sight which appeared before my eyes when the Jadrolinija ferry pulled into the harbor. The essence of travel can be summed up in two kinds of moments, the moments you would rather forget and the moments you will never forget. Hvar Town was the quintessential example of the latter. No amount of hyperbole could come close to describing the scene as Hvar Town came into view. It was as though a picture postcard of rustic perfection had been made into a higher form of reality. Stone houses, with the customary terra cotta rooftops set ablaze by the sun, were stacked one atop another. Beyond this were patches of scrub forest, touches of darkness scattered across barren ground. It was stark and beautiful. On a hilltop one hundred meters high loomed Hvar’s “castle”, the quixotically named Spanish Fortress.

By the seaside – Hvar harbor (Credit: Andrzej Wolinski)

Fantasy Island – The Making Of A Moment
With its stone bastions and formidable battlements, the Spanish Fortress drew the eye upward. The hill on which it stood had long been a favored defensive location, going all the way back to the Illyrians, who ruled the island prior to the Romans. The fortress, as it stands today, got its start back in the late 13th century when the Venetians constructed it to guard the city from piracy. It was later anointed the Spanish Fortress after skilled workers from Spain did work on it during the 14th century. The fortress proved its value to Hvar’s citizens when the Turks sacked and burned the rest of the town in 1571. The fortress continued to provide protection for several centuries thereafter while under Habsburg ownership. Today, the Spanish Fortress is one of the main attractions for those visiting the town, but I found it just as delightful to view from the ferry.

The fortress, like the rest of Hvar Town, was radiantly photogenic on this day. Above it was the sky, with a depth of blue only rivaled by the waters of the Adriatic. The scene was tailor made for Croatian tourism authorities, Hvar Town offering a default marketing campaign for the best that Croatia’s islands have to offer. The history, the setting, the scenery was beyond compare. The mild weather, marked by cloudless skies allowed the sun to illuminate the homes of Hvar’s lucky inhabitants. The town looked like an ivory inferno, with its luminescent limestone walls and blazing rooftops. There was nothing soft about these colors. It was an image that radiated intensity and would forever be seared into my memory. While we were not in the harbor of Hvar Town very long, that did nothing to stop me from going into a dreamlike trance, imagining what it would be like to disembark from the ferry and walk away from the rest of the world. Everyone should nurse such a fantasy. Hvar was made for moments like these.

A seaside spectacle – Hvar harbor (Credit: Jeremy Couture)

Magical Mystery Tour – Sojourn By The Sea
The hits kept on coming. Island hopping was a magical mystery tour where all was revealed in a matter of minutes. The ferry soon made stops on the islands of Korcula, followed by Mljet. It felt like I was window shopping islands for a future sojourn by the sea. Split was a distant memory and Dubrovnik had yet to twinkle in our eye. As the day grew dimmer, with the sun starting to slowly sink towards the horizon, the seamless transition of the afternoon into the early evening did nothing to dampen the spirits. The ferry floated ever onward, keeping strictly to schedule. I knew that this journey would have to end, but there were moments when I wished it would last forever. I vowed to someday return to several of the islands. It was a dream that I hoped to one day make reality.

Click here for: End The Beginning – Port of Dubrovnik: Coming Back To Life (Travels On The Croatian Coast #60)

An Opportunity to Achieve Immortality – Split to Dubrovnik By Ferry (Travels On The Croatian Coast #57)

Why is travel so unforgettable? Is it the new experiences? Do the foreign people and places make us see the world in a new way? Is it the sense of wonder reborn in us when finally realizing a world that we have long imagined? Or is it the fact that our everyday existence has been upended? One thing is for certain, travel sticks in our memory much longer than most other experiences. It is an unforgettable type of trauma that our mind portrays as a positive. Perhaps travel remains in our minds because it warps the way we experience time. Time ceases to exist for entire periods, as our senses are overwhelmed by different sights, smells and sensualities.

The hurry up and wait process that defines departures suddenly gives way to an unstoppable momentum, one filled with potential and full of promise. Time becomes mere numbers, rather than something that governs our lives as it ceases to enumerate our mortality. Travel is an opportunity to achieve immortality. When we travel, whether it is for long periods of time or a few fleeting moments, we become our true selves, who we were meant to be and who we always were. Travel is like reexperiencing the first day of life that we can remember. It is the beginning of something new, alive with possibilities. This was the feeling I had while boarding the Jadrolinija ferry for a five hour journey on the Adriatic Sea from Split to Dubrovnik.

Riding the waves – Sailboats on the Adriatic from the ferry window

Jadrolinija- In It For The Long & Short Haul
Being among the first to board the ferry, meant having the pick of a prime seat. There were no assigned seats, but unlike on buses, neither was there a fight for the best seats. The ferry was three-quarters full, but the interior was spacious and comfortable. The seats allowed for plenty of leg space, the aisles were wide and storing luggage was not a problem. It was the exact opposite of riding in a bus or flying on a plane. It reminded me of taking the train with one very big difference, this one floated on water. The only drawback was a reminder of my two week lament that Jadrolijina did not offer more long haul services along the Croatian coast. Later I would discover why. One of the most important missions of Croatia’s largest waterborne passenger carrier is to connect the mainland and islands. In this regard, Jadrolijina does an excellent job. I experienced this on the first full day of this journey by catching ferry from Dubrovnik to the island of Lopud. Such short haul trips take place each day all along the coast.

Jadrolijina is the successor to a lengthy historical legacy of passenger ferries that began in Austro-Hungarian times and continues right up through the present. Earlier on this trip while visiting Rijeka, I marveled at the grand edifice of the Adria Palace which is Jadrolijina’s headquarters. The shipping company formed in 1947 as a state owned entity in communist Yugoslavia. State ownership has been a constant in Jadolijina’s history despite the switch from Yugoslav to Croatian control. The fleet includes fifty-one ships, eight of which are catamarans. The latter included the ferry we were taking to Dubrovnik. Running ferries is a quite costly enterprise, hence the fact that Jadrolijina is still under ownership by the state. For locals the ferry system is vital, as it allows them easy access to the mainland where they can purchase provisions at much cheaper cost than on their home islands.

Waterborne – View through a window on the Split to Dubrovnik ferry

Floating Away – Catching The Ferry
Jadrolijina’s ferries are also a crucial part of the Croatian tourist industry. Owners of guesthouses, resorts and other heavily frequented tourist attractions on the islands rely on ferries to bring a steady stream of tourists to what these remote locales. For travelers such as me and my wife, they were an affordable alternative to the cheaper, but much more irritating journeys by bus. From my experience, I can state unequivocally that Jadrolijina runs a first class service. I am sure my opinion was biased upon the fact that they helped me avoid another exhausting journey by bus. What a joy it was to float in seemingly effortless fashion across the smooth waters of the Adriatic.

On this day, the sea was a deeper blue. It mirrored the cloudless sky that stretched westward toward an infinite horizon. Somewhere on the other side of the sea was Italy. Ironically, Italy was an afterthought when compared to the spectacle of mountains, islands and sea spray that could be seen on the islands throughout this journey. If only people knew what they were missing, Croatia would be packed with even greater number of tourists. On second thought, I am glad that many still overlook Croatia. The coast was already packed to near capacity prior to the pandemic. I am sure the same will be true when the pandemic subsides. About the only desirable result of such a trend from my point of view, would be a possible uptick in long distance ferries plying the eastern Adriatic. It took a stroke of luck just to find this one. Amid a pandemic one has to take whatever is available. In this case, that meant a Split to Dubrovnik journey that turned into a blissful island hopping trip on a near perfect travel day.

Port of call – Coming into the Hvar on the Split to Dubrovnik ferry

Beautiful Glances – Seduction In Progress
The only criticism I could make of travel on this ferry was that large portions of the windows were covered with droplets of water. It disappointed those of us looking to take snapshots of the scenery. That was something of a shame because the vistas unfolding before my eyes on this route were stunning in the extreme. Towering mountains, lush hillsides, thick forests, and quaint villages that sidled up to the sea. All these views were on offer while the ferry smoothly skimmed across the surface of the water. I got so lost in the enchanting scenes being constantly revealed to me on this waterborne adventure that time did not exist for much of the journey. I marked this journey by the islands the ferry made short stops at along the way. These would prove to be memorable despite, or perhaps because of their brevity. Island hopping in this case was like having beauty just beyond reach. It was seduction in progress. Offering the thought of what might have been or what still could be.

Click here for: Discovering Distant Shores – Brac: Land of Stone (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #58)

Hyper-Normalcy – Split: A Party In Progress (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #54)

Wandering in the darkness while searching for accommodation in the serpentine streets of Split’s Old Town was not what I had in mind at ten o’clock in the evening. By this point I was soaked in sweat. Thanks to the technological wonders of GPS and Google Maps, I was able to find the accommodation despite a series of narrow streets consumed in near darkness. The winding stone walkways that led the way through shadowy corridors called to mind a murder scene from a European noir film in the mid-20th century. Touch of Evil in the back streets of Old Split was now playing with exhausted travelers diving deeper into the unknown.

The dense, heavy air added to the dramatic effect. In many countries, including my own, this area would have been deemed sketchy. Despite this, I never once feared for my personal safety. My only worry was whether I could find the correct address number. After knocking on the wrong door more than once, I heard the voice of someone calling out “hello.” It was the hostess, an older, soft spoken lady who mysteriously appeared in the street. She guided us less than 50 meters away to the accommodation on this night. Within minutes, she had shown me all anyone would ever need to know. This amounted to knowing how to turn up the air conditioning to arctic like levels. From that point, I do not remember much since sleep blissfully carried me away.

Wake up call – Morning in Split

Claustrophobic & Cloistered – The Stoicism of Strangers
Is there anything more disconcerting than waking up in a different room, in a different city, on a sunny morning? The feeling of having fallen into an entirely different world did not escape me during our first and only morning in Split. I awoke long after the sun had risen. By this time, Split was already wide awake. I stepped outside to seek caffeine and a quick snack. A palpable buzz could be felt throughout the narrow alleyways of the Old Town. Locals were already going about their business with a determined sense of duty. I almost got lost among the twists and turns that took me to a small shop. Along the way, everything felt new and noticeable. The stone seemed to burn brighter, every cobblestone looked like a possible trip hazard, the stoicism of strangers made me feel much more foreign.

Since I had been in Split before, I assumed that it would look instantly familiar to me. The fallacy of making such an assumption soon became apparent. This was not the Split I remembered with Diocletian’s Palace, the Riva and Marjan Hill. The Old Town’s streets managed to look the same and somehow different at the same time. The area felt claustrophobic and cloistered. It was a confusing maze that my wife and I would soon escape. Split felt like what it was for us on this journey, a one night stand that leaves you with misgivings caused by confusion and sleep deprivation.

Classical scene – Diocletian’s Palace as seen from the Riva in Split

Explosions of Emotion – A New Sensation
Split was the liveliest city I visited in these travels along the Croatian coast. It felt like an unending party was in progress. The pandemic was over as far as those on the Riva and surrounding area were concerned. It was now thriving on a hyper-normalcy. The pervasive feeling throughout the city’s tourist areas was one of release from the shackles of mask mandates and social distancing. It looked more like a university town where the energetic and youthful were away from home for the first time. Now that liberation day had finally arrived, everyone felt free to do as they pleased. Expressions of scarcely disguised euphoria were on full display. It was as though the entire citizenry of Split had been let out of jail. They were enjoying fully fledged freedom from a pandemic that refused to go away, but which they now willfully ignored. It was an impressive display of a newfound normalcy much of the world continues to crave.

The pandemic has changed the economic prospects of Croatia, most prominently its thriving tourist industry which faced devastation in 2020. The number of visitors this year is still not what it was prior to the pandemic, but from what I saw in Split, the Croatian tourist industry is in the throes of a full recovery. Anecdotal evidence suggests as much. The hostess at our accommodation mentioned that she had never seen so many people in the Old Town and along the Riva. She believed it was a reaction to the lifting of restrictions.

Despite the continuing dangers of contracting COVID none of the Croatians I saw seemed to be giving it much thought. Foreigners were feted by accommodations, restaurants, and tour companies. Caution regarding Covid has been thrown to the wind, but there was another change taking place in Croatia. One that was much more palpable than the pandemic. Throughout our two week journey up and down the coastline, the sun beamed down upon us with a merciless intensity. At first, I thought this was just another sign of summer, but I heard Croatians call attention to the suffocating heat several times.

Sunny side up – Along the Riva in Split

Heating Up – Sign of the Times
Croatia was suffering – along with the rest of southeastern Europe – a blistering heat wave that showed no signs of subsiding. As we traveled up and down the coastline, we were accompanied by cloudless skies and temperatures that ran between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius. These temperatures would have been tolerable for a couple of days, but two consecutive weeks of them made me dread the inevitable wall of heat that would greet me anytime I stepped out the door. It was imperative to always have at least two large bottles of mineral water at hand to stay properly hydrated.

Since it was mid-summer, I tried to explain away the daily infernos as a symptom of the season. Of course, global warming was the underlying reason that Croatia was so hot. While climate change might extend the tourist season by making the spring and autumn seasons much warmer, it also meant summertime was going to suffer under a scorching sun and brutal heat. The heat wave in progress at the time of our visit was an ominous portent of future ones to come.

Click here for: The Know Nothings – Split: A Tour In Ruins (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #55)

The End Is Near – Trogir to Split: A Merciful Conclusion (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #53)

As evening descended upon the Croatian coastline, the Adriatic Sea became a silhouette that slowly disappeared into the darkness. The final phase of our bus journey from Rijeka to Split also succumbed to a blackout. The darkness made it difficult to tell how far we were from Split. One of the side benefits of the darkness were fewer potential passengers standing at remote bus stops. Our pace quickened, as the drivers had nothing to distract or delay them. Nonetheless, I could not help but think we would already be in Split if not for the earlier roadside adventures inflicted upon us by the bus drivers. They had sought to ingratiate themselves with roadside bystanders and in the process put us further behind schedule. Getting to Split was an all day process that would now go on well into the night.

Energy in the evening – Diocletian’s Palace in Split at night

Return Trip – Terms of Endearment
Getting one’s bearings in the darkness is difficult enough without trying to do it in a foreign country while traveling at 100 kilometers per hour on a crowded bus. I finally realized where we were when the bus pulled to the station in Trogir. This historic town was a very different place from the one I had seen in the daylight eight years earlier. Old Trogir, with its limestone walls radiating history, was obscured on this evening by artificial lighting. This did nothing to keep me from recalling memories of the monumental discoveries to be found within those walls. I found myself longing to stay in Trogir. Not only would it have brought to a merciful conclusion this seemingly infinite bus journey, but I would also have been able to wake up in the medieval treasure box that is Trogir’s Old Town.

I was reminded of just how extraordinary my first visit to Trogir had been while walking those cloistered streets beneath a burning sun. It was one of those days that memory has molded to perfection, whether this matched the reality of that visit hardly matters to me. Love is an excellent example of how little reality means to us. My lust to spend more time in Trogir was fleeting as the bus was soon traveling the highway for the final half hour. As the bus closed in on Split, its bright lights began to cast their glow in the distance. They served to remind me that Split is as much a metropolis, as it is a haven for tourists. Tourism is one of several economic engines that drives Croatia’s second largest urban economy. Speaking of tourism, I was joined on the last stretch of this journey by a young Croat. He was still in high school and as I soon realized, highly intelligent. He asked in exceedingly fluent English if he might offer a bit of advice. I was more than happy to hear what he had to say.

Night closes in – The Riva in the evening (Credit: Michael Angelkovich

Go West Young Man – Life, Fate & The Balkans
The young man started off by explaining why bus drivers picked up those waiting by the roadside. I immediately felt a twinge of guilt, He must have overheard my incessant complaining about the innumerable stops and starts that had been inflicted upon us during this journey. He sincerely stated that this was a sort of Balkan tradition. The drivers felt compelled to provide a lift for those who might not otherwise be able to find one to their chosen destination. He said this in such a sincere manner that it made me curse my own innate selfishness. The terms of endearment drivers willingly offered potential stray passengers were heartfelt.

My temporary Croatian travel companion also provided advice about avoiding the vendors along Split’s Riva. He talked about how their economic livelihood came from hoodwinking tourists with high prices, cheap goods mostly manufactured in China and pulling the proverbial wool over the eyes of foreigners who were so intoxicated by the setting that they failed to realize what they were purchasing or the price they were paying for it. He said this in such a forthright manner that I could not bring myself to tell him of my visit to Split eight years earlier. That I knew the touts were rip offs and to always avoid buying anything in the most heavily trafficked tourist areas. The young man was part of a newer generation that I assumed did not feel the same sense of desperation for dollars that those who had lived through the economic implosion after Yugoslavia’s collapse. At least that was what I thought until my newfound friend added, “everyone knows the economy is a disaster.” That was when I knew that he, like so many of his countrymen, would most likely leave Croatia for opportunities in other EU countries. Such is life, fate, and the future in the Balkans.

Life On The Riva – Making A Statement
Split never ceases to amaze me. It is supersized and sordid in a spectacular kind of way. It is lively to the point of rambunctiousness and extremely ugly in many parts of the city. The proverbial concrete jungle is on display anywhere outside the Old Town and Riva. There is classicism and communism, the spiritual and ramshackle which manages to coexist rather than compete. In short, a bundle of contradictions that informs everything about it. Split feels much larger than it is mainly because the tourist areas are so heavily trafficked. Traveling by bus through the congested city center to the station is anything but easy. The driver had to run a gauntlet of traffic lights while dodging pedestrians and weaving his way through an obstacle course of cars. On this evening, the foot traffic was just as bad as the vehicular kind. The bus fought its way through the chaos and delivered us not far from the waterfront. This still meant a kilometer and a half walk before arriving at the destination. Toting luggage while fighting through what amounted to a melee along the sidewalk was not anyone’s idea of fun.

Nightscape – The Riva in Split (Credit: Jerrye & Roy Klotz MD)

On this evening, Split felt positively tropical. The thick, heavy air was saturated with moisture. After a few minutes I was pouring sweat amid the stifling humidity. I questioned my own sanity for booking an accommodation that was a long and grueling walk from the station. The walk was made much worse by the legions of youth who had turned out this evening to crowd the Riva. Split was packed with teenagers and twenty somethings looking to release pent up energy that had been postponed by the pandemic. Walking along the Riva was an exercise in frustration with great masses of people socializing in the most animated of manners. It felt like New Year’s Eve had come early to the Riva. The waterfront could have been mistaken for Goa or Ibiza. Lights flashed, music blared, the youth of Croatia was making a statement. All I could think about was air conditioning and a bed for the night.

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Hyper-Normalcy – Split: A Party In Progress (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #54)

Getting Ticketed – Rijeka: The Long Way Home (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #47)

My search for the best possible mode of travel between Rijeka and Split turned from a frivolous fiasco to a first class failure. Obtaining a ferry or train ticket between the two cities and avoiding another bus journey was not feasible. Ferries no longer left for Spilt and neither did trains. The logistics involved were either impossible or improbable. I walked back from the train station to the bus station with not a single ticket in hand. This served to remind me that avoiding the straightest shot between two cities in Croatia was more trouble than it was worth. While bus journeys were uncomfortable and exhausting, they always delivered me to my destination even if it was an hour or two after the scheduled time. This was the irrefutable truth that I was being forced to acknowledge. I had little choice but to go back and grovel for two tickets on the noon bus between Rijeka and Split. My focus was now on the destination rather than the journey. That did not stop me from making one more attempt to make the bus journey more palatable.

A last look – Detail from the Adria Palace in Rijeka

The Final Journey – Resigned To Fate
I summoned the courage to ask one final time whether the morning bus was still sold out. I figured this would be an exercise in futility, but there was no harm in asking. The answer to my question failed to result in a definitive no. In other words, there was still a glimmer of hope which sent my spirits soaring once again. The clerk proceeded to stare for long periods of time at her computer monitor. I watched as her eyes studied the screen with a laser like intensity. She would strike one key and then the next. I felt as though my heartstrings were being plucked, the notes went from sullen to soaring and back again with each stroke of the keyboard. Would one of these keystrokes produce tickets? Make other passengers seat assignments vanish into oblivion? Miraculously make more seats appear with a couple of clever keystrokes? Rarely have I been so enthralled with something so selfishly minor. My eyes beseeched the clerk to tell me what was happening.

I finally decided to ask. She dutifully informed me that there was one seat still available on the morning bus, but not two. Faraway and yet so close. Soon another clerk joined the one helping me. After five minutes of uncomfortable silences and tentative nods followed by vigorous shaking of the head, I was politely told that only one seat was still available on the morning bus. I secretly appreciated their efforts which made me feel better about the coming journey by bus. I resigned myself to the fact that we would be covering the same ground, on the same route we had taken on our earlier journey along the coastline. I consoled myself with thoughts of the spectacular scenery. Not to mention the fact that this would be the last long bus journey of this trip. I walked back secure in the knowledge of a lunchtime departure from Rijeka the next day.

The charm of Rijeka – An Austro-Hungarian era building in Rijeka

The Hostess – Seeking The Attention of Strangers
On our final morning in Rijeka we stayed at our accommodation until a few minutes before the 10 a.m. check out time. This was done to spite the hostess who had sent yet another email reminding us to obey the rules and regulation or face fines for unwashed dishes and so much as moving a chair out of place. I assumed that the absurdity of our hostess’s money grubbing was in direct proportion to a need to wrap herself in jewels, dress in revealing clothes and slather on loads of makeup. She was crass and comical, a vampire or victim depending on the situation. No amount of inflammatory rhetoric was spared in her unending search for ever precious kuna. No regulation could go unheeded without a penalty. She was seriously addicted to vanity as much as the trappings of money. In my one interaction with her, I saw firsthand how she sought the attention of strangers. The very definition of high maintenance, but only to herself.

After we left the apartment, I informed our hostess by text that everything had been left just the way we found it. I expected there would not be a reply until she could find a point of contention that might be monetized. Instead, I got an almost immediate reply pleasantly wishing us a safe and enjoyable journey. She also added a bit of history about Rijeka. It was a final bizarre shot across the bow, but her bullets were made of rubber rather than lead. Whatever else I thought of this woman, she was certainly one of the most memorable people. Her need to be noticed was as great as her need for money. On both accounts she seems to have succeeded. I cannot think of Rijeka without thinking of her. Sultry, seductive, and slightly spectacular, that woman was the human embodiment of her hometown.

Just desserts – Rigojancsi Cake in Rijeka

Just Desserts – The Rigojancsi Cake
With a few hours to kill before leaving Rijeka there was only one thing left to do, sample the delights of Austria-Hungary a final time. The architecture and history were well covered in buildings and museums throughout the city. I knew that experiencing the old empire would not be complete without dessert. The proverbial icing on top of the cake would come close to the harbor in Rijeka. Austria-Hungary’s rule in the city had left it with some delectable delights. These included pastries and cakes that made the mouth water. The final hours prior to departure were spent at Cacao, a coffee and cake house par excellence. For those looking for the empire’s richest legacy there was the Rigojancsi cake which can only be found in Rijeka. This Hungarian cake was familiar to me from my time in Hungary. It had been able to supersede ethnic issues, wars, border changes and a multitude of empire, kingdoms, and nations. The same could be said for Rijeka, a city to be enjoyed all the way to the last bite. 

Click here for: Pirates of the Adriatic – Senj: Refugees & Reprobates (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #48)

Forces of Nature – Zadar: Sea Organ & Sunset (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #12)

Some people would travel across the world just to see a sunset in Zadar. And others would travel across the world to hear the siren scream of Zadar’s sea organ. I was lucky enough to be one of those people.

Zadar has several must see historic sites and museums that attract tourists. These include a clutch of medieval churches, outstanding examples of gold and silver reliquaries for a multitude of saints, several sections of the renowned city walls and a seaside promenade par excellence. It is the latter that attracts the most attention from visitors and not just because of its incredibly entrancing views of the Adriatic. It is also home to one of the most unique structures in Zadar, the sea organ. It is also home to a waning sun that sets the sky ablaze.

New horizons – Sunset in Zadar

Siren’s Song – A Rousing Sendoff
When I first heard of Zadar’s Sea Organ, I felt a sense of bemusement. If ever there was a novelty than surely this must be it. I wondered if the organ was a premodern monstrosity created to amuse the ancient or medieval masses. The word contraption came to mind. Nonetheless, I was not going to pass up a chance to observe the Sea Organ in action. As a childhood acolyte of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a place that I managed to frequent on family vacations at the seaside, I knew that the Sea Organ would be something of interest to me. I dragged my wife along with me. She was nonplussed when I mentioned that this was a must see. She had every right to feel that way, but I convinced her that it would be worth the bother.

We were 100 meters from the western end of Zadar’s seafront when I first heard the Sea Organ announce its presence. Imagine a whale warming up, or a ship’s sounding filtered through the water. The Sea Organ emitted powerful, fully developed sounds that were felt as well as heard. The Sea Organ’s power mirrored that of the water which filtered through its 35 pipes divided into 7 graded sections. The structure has a series of steps going down to the sea. Starting with eight steps in the first section, then less one step for each subsequent section. The brainchild of architect Nikola Basic, the Sea Organ was completed in 2005 and was a successful addition to Zadar’s seafront.

Prior to the Sea Organ, the waterfront in this part of Zadar was little more than a concrete conurbation. It was a hangout for ne’er do wells who engaged in a wide range of dubious activities. These included drug users, teenagers boozing and illicit love tristes. This was not exactly family or tourist entertainment. The seafront’s condition was the result of destruction by Allied bombing runs during World War II and communist constructions since that time. The Sea Organ helped make this part of Zadar desirable again. It spawned a dramatic increase in foot traffic, especially on summer evenings. Crowds gather at dusk to hear the Sea Organ while watching the sunset. The sun gets a rousing sendoff from the Sea Organ throughout the year.

Sounding off – The Sea Organ (Credit: Lienyuan Lee)

Towering Above – Reaching For The Sky
I decided to watch the sunset from another precious spot in Zadar, the Bell Tower (Campanile) of the Cathedral of St. Anastasia. The latter stood close to the center of the Old Town, soaring high above the cityscape. The 56 meter high bell tower had been built in two phases. What makes its construction so interesting was that the building phases occurred 450 years apart. The lower portion was built in the mid-15th century. If the construction had then ended, there would have been no campanile to scale. Thanks to the efforts of British architect Thomas Jackson, later additions of the upper portion came off splendidly. This can be attributed to Jackson modeling the Bell Tower after another famous one on the island of Rab. Jackson was also an art historian and brought his breadth of knowledge to bear upon the design. That is why the Bell Tower’s upper levels make such a fine addition to Zadar’s skyline.

The Bell Tower also serves as a lookout for tourists who want to get an aerial view of the city and sea. This experience is one that crowds of onlookers avail themselves of each evening. For just 15 kuna ($2.50), I was allowed the opportunity to climb the 180 steps to a viewing platform that wraps around the structure. The climb left me breathless, but the view over Zadar was breathtaking. The sun was beginning to dip as dusk slowly, but inexorably gave way to the encroaching darkness. Shadows lowered their veils over the Old Town. Orange rooftops and stone structures were still managed a fleeting radiant amid the waning light. In the distance were islands and the Adriatic stretching off into the horizon. The sky which surrounded the sinking sun had turned a tinge of velvet, the fabric of nature stretching across the lowest part of the horizon. It was ecstasy in its purest and most primitive form.

Looking up – The Bell Tower (Campanile) in Zadar

A Sublime Stupor – Life Worth Living
The platform was crowded as people snapped photos. The most in demand spots were any of those which looked over the Old Town and towards the sea. Everyone was keen to witness the famed Zadar sunset. The town advertises it as the world’s best. 57 years earlier, Alfred Hitchcock, the iconic director of suspense films had been staying at the Hotel Zagreb when he witnessed the sunsetting from the seaside in Zadar. Hitchcock was so taken with the scene that he proclaimed the Zadar sunset as best in the world. Hitchcock’s opinion had been spread far and wide. Tourism authorities in Zadar found it useful in promoting the city. This was the rare case when promotional efforts spoke a universal truth. The Zadar sunset was as good as advertised.

The Sea Organ and beautiful sunsets were Zadar’s main seaside calling cards, enchanting hundreds of thousands every year. I watched people frolic near the Sea Organ while others stood in a sublime stupor, dumbfounded as they listened to the sounds emitted by this seamless integration of the natural and manmade worlds. The sunset transfixed crowds of onlookers. To gaze upon such beauty was truly a blessing, it made life worth living. The sunset and Sea Organ were unique experiences, ones that I would never forget. The rest of the world melted away before them. Sky, sea, and sound were all that was left, the fundamental elements of life in Zadar.

Click here for: The Secrets of Zadar – A Free Spirited Free Tour (Travels On The Croatian Coast #13)

Ceasing Into Existence –Hungary & Croatia/Kadar & Horvath: Lost Lineages

Croatia and Hungary seem odd bedfellows. Croatia a prototypical Balkan nation was a central player in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s. Its tumultuous post-communist history included times where its territorial integrity and existence were threatened. Geographically Croatia holds a distinct place in southeastern Europe, known for its dramatic coastline, dotted with thousands of islands. Hungary on the other hand may border Croatia, but its recent history has been much more peaceful. Since the collapse of the Iron Curtain it has in fits and starts managed to integrate itself into modern Europe. The Hungarian landscape is pastoral and landlocked, a world apart from the languid Adriatic atmosphere that permeates Croatia. The people of these two nations are also quite different. Hungarians are Magyars while Croats are Slavs. They speak diametrically different languages, unintelligible to one another. And yet for centuries on end these two very different peoples and landscapes were joined politically at the hip. Starting in 1102, the Kingdom of Croatia entered into a union with the Kingdom of Hungary, whereby the nobility of Croatia recognized the suzerainty of the King of Hungary, while keeping their rights and privileges. Only in the final throes of World War I did they part ways. This left a fair amount of Hungarians and Croats on the wrong side of national borders. Famously, millions of Hungarians ended up in newly created nations. Often forgotten is the fact that these borders divided both ways, leaving non-Hungarian ethnic groups stranded in Hungary. This is why there are still pockets of Croats to be found in Hungary today. They are a human tie that still loosely binds these two peoples and nations together, a flesh and blood link that is a living legacy to eight centuries of political and social integration.

Map of Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I - Croatia-Slavonia was under the Hungarian part of the empire

Map of Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I – Croatia-Slavonia was under the Hungarian part of the empire

Horvath – A Name For Two Nations
Southwestern Hungary is home to most of the nation’s ethnic Croatians. The areas with sizable populations include the counties of Zala, Baranya and Somogy. Due to the carving up of the Kingdom of Hungary in the post-World War I Treaty of Trianon there is still today a focus on the three million plus ethnic Hungarians that still reside in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine. There is little mention about ethnic minorities from these neighboring countries living in Hungary today. In some ways this is understandable. After all, there are only 25,000 Croatians living in Hungary. Ethnic Croatians are so well integrated into Hungarian society that they are barely visible. One of the few notable signs of the Croatian presence in Hungary is the surname Horvath. Though it is Croatian in origin, the overriding majority of people who have this surname are actually Hungarian citizens who speak Hungarian. Somewhere in their near or more likely distant past a Croatian ancestor lurks.

Hungary’s relatively warm relations with Croatia are in stark contrast to more contentious ethnic issues with neighboring countries that are home to large populations of ethnic Hungarians. This is almost certainly due to the fact that Hungary’s relationship with Croatia was historical, covering over 800 years. This was quite different from the troubles Hungary had with Romanians over Transylvania or with Slovaks over Upper Hungary. During the age of nationalism in Europe that surged during the latter half of the 19th century, Hungarian policies towards ethnic minorities can only be described as harsh. Slovak schools were shut down and Romanians were not allowed to use their own language in local government affairs, to name just two among innumerable policies conceived by the Hungarian government to create a majority rather than a plurality of Hungarians in the Kingdom. The situation was different in Croatia. Despite suffering under some Magyarization policies that alienated other non-Magyar nationalities, Croatia gained autonomy beginning in 1868. This allowed Croats a limited, but important degree of self-rule. Of course, World War I changed everything as Croatia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later to become Yugoslavia). So often overlooked is the fact that the nationalities still remaining in what became the Republic of Hungary were almost completely transformed into Hungarians (while Hungarians in other countries still clung to their ethnic Hungarian identity). This did not just affect Croatians, but other ethnic minorities as well. Consider that one of the most common surnames in Hungary, Toth, is of Slovak origin. Many of those with this surname descended from Slovaks who were Magyarized. It should be mentioned that many Slovaks and Croats in Hungary willfully chose this course, both before and after the war, since being able to speak in Hungarian held decisive social and economic advantages.

A palace in Kadarkút

The serene woods in Kadarkút include a palace (Credit: Civertan)

Borderline Personality Disorder – A Village Called Kadarkut
Ethnic identity politics in Central and Eastern Europe are enough to make anyone’s head spin. Traveling close to the Hungarian-Croatian border in Somogy County it is common to see bilingual signs. Contrary to beliefs that the diverse peoples of historic Hungary cannot live together peacefully are centuries upon centuries of historical exceptions. Hungarians and Croatians lived and fought side by side for hundreds of years before the rise of nationalism and self-determination made ethnic identity politics a violent and deadly drama. There were many more decades of peace between Hungarians and Croats then there were years of war. Prior to the 19th century they joined in battle on multiple occasions, defending the Kingdom of Hungary against invaders, most famously the Ottoman Turks. This camaraderie has been mostly forgotten, but there are still fascinating examples of communities and individuals that contain traces of lost ethnicities.

For instance there is the village of Kadarkut approximately 30 kilometers from the Croatian border. It is a small village located in a serene rural landscape. Nonetheless, in what appears to be a simple place, with a simple name, it has a symptom of an identity crisis, a hangover from an earlier era. The first part of the village name will be familiar to Hungarians. Kádár is a common surname in Hungary. Its most notable namesake was the Hungarian leader János Kádár who led the country during the era of “Goulash Communism” from 1956 to 1988. Kadarkut is not named for him, but nonetheless his earliest roots are in Croatia. He was born in what is today Rijeka, Croatia, the illegitimate son of a father with a German surname and a mother with a Slovak one.  His foster father’s brother had the surname Kádár  (this byzantine web of ethnicities almost seems like the stuff of fiction). János Kádár looked up to his foster father and took on his surname. Kádár, whose background was a melting pot of ethnicities, would become the most powerful man in Hungary for over thirty years.

János Kádár - a multiplicity of ethnicities

János Kádár – a multiplicity of ethnicities (Credit: Dutch National Archives)

Lost Lineages – The Identity Crisis Of János Kádár
We do not know if János Kádár ever visited Kadarkut, but we do know that Kádár  said that he grew up thinking and speaking in Hungarian. What was he? In modern terms by place of birth he was Croatian (though it was part of Austria-Hungary when he was born in 1912) by blood Slovak and German, by choice Hungarian. A little bit of everything. As much as anything he was a product of a uniquely symbiotic relationship between Hungarians and Croatians. That relationship is now ceasing under the pressures of a new kind of existence. The modern nation state has largely put an end to such exotic ethnic lineages. The world of Hungary, Croatia and Eastern Europe will be a less interesting place because of it.

You Must Remember This: Dubrovnik & The Architecture of Survival:

“It’s something you really have to see” is one of those redundant phrases often thrown at would be travelers. The phrase usually denotes some site that is so incredible or otherworldly that it ends up as a “must see.” These places have become part and parcel of “bucket lists” a pop culture phrase for places you have to see before you die. I have been to plenty of these sites, sometimes because they were so called “must-sees” and sometimes out of curiosity. In many cases I’m glad I saw these places, but I could care less whether I ever see them again.

A view of Dubrovnik from the old city walls - truly a must see

A view of Dubrovnik from the old city walls – truly a must see

The Eiffel Tower As A Non-Impression
For instance, the Eiffel Tower is a legendary “must see” but that’s not why I went to Paris, far from it. Nonetheless, since I was already in Paris, I felt compelled to go walk around the world renowned monument. I decided not to go up in it, the tower is not all that tall and the view, while probably impressive, did not seem worth the bother or expense.  I can’t say I’m better or worse off for my Eiffel Tower experience. It did not change my life. It did not alter my opinion of Paris or France for that matter. It’s just something I have done and probably will never do again. The Eiffel Tower left me not with a lasting impression, but instead with a single phrase, “I’ve seen it.” Now I am able to definitively say “I was in Paris!” and people I do not care about will believe me. Does this really matter, only if I’m looking to impress social gatherings or co-workers with what might be defined by polite society as a higher level of sophistication?

Dubrovnik – Historical Beauty & Historical Novelty
There are some must-sees though, that have attained their status not by virtue of popular exaltation, but because they hold an intrinsic value that speaks across the ages. And that brings me to Dubrovnik that famed walled medieval city. Set astride the craggy coastline of southern Croatia, scenically buffeted by the bright blue, sun kissed Adriatic Sea. The city has become increasingly popular. It has been given a permanent place on “bucket lists.” With Croatia’s recent entry into the European Union its popularity is likely to grow even more in the years to come. Dubrovnik is truly a must see, not to check it off any list and certainly not to impress your social circle (especially in the United States where hardly anyone is even aware of its existence).

Dubrovnik should be seen because it is a stunning example of a walled medieval city in relatively pristine shape. The seascape which surrounds it only adds to the aesthetics, stirring the imagination in a manner that only sea, sky and stone can do. It becomes quite apparent to the visitor that Dubrovnik is unique, in the same way that Venice is unique. The city is a historical novelty, both representative and one of a kind, representative in the quality and design of its medieval architecture, one of a kind in the way its structural landscape is integrated with the natural landscape.

Dubrovnik - a seamless integration of natural and historic landscapes

Dubrovnik – a seamless integration of the natural and the historic

Besides its astonishing location, what makes Dubrovnik so special? From a historical standpoint it is the city’s ability to survive. Dubrovnik has survived the ravages of time, nature, war, invaders, republics, empires and nation states. It represents the defiance of fate, as much as it does its own history. Unfortunately, we will never see the many medieval towns that once dotted Europe, in among other places Croatia. They have been bombed, split asunder by earthquakes, fallen into decay, crumbled into ruin and finally, mercifully disintegrated into oblivion.

A window into a medieval past

A window into a medieval past

Perhaps we should look upon Dubrovnik for the real miracle it performs before our very eyes, the miracle of its continued existence. And by its very existence, this singular example acts as a magnificent counterpoint to all that has been lost. There was much, much more of this architecture, this style, this history at one time. Perhaps it was not quite the same, but brilliant in its own way. This past, if discernible at all, is largely composed of ruins. Dubrovnik gives us the power to conceptualize all that we have lost, that which no longer exists and never will so again. This walled city, in resplendent stone seems to be saying, “You must remember this.” History here is an impossible image that can finally be glimpsed, if only for a moment. Dubrovnik allows that glimpse, this is why it is truly a must-see.