There comes a moment when you know a trip is over long before it ends. After almost two weeks hugging the Croatian coastline a feeling of melancholy came over me near the end of the ferry journey from Dubrovnik to Split. After leaving the last island stopover at Mljet, I could sense the ferry creeping ever closer to Dubrovnik. This was the first time I had ever returned to Dubrovnik twice on the same trip. Coming back to the start was anti-climatic in the extreme. The expectation and excitement of arrival was now lacking. There was a “Is this all?” kind of feeling which was accompanied by feelings of regret. All the things you should have done, become just that. My thoughts were fast turning to final accommodations, passports, airport transfers, check ins and outs, delays, and departures, all the detritus of modern tourism.
I was fixated on details, that series of irksome, but essential travel trivialities that must be adhered to. There was so much to do and so little time. Unfortunately, most of the time would have to be spent preparing for departure. There was still 40 hours until the flight out of the Dubrovnik airport. For me, it might as well have been 40 minutes. When I started counting the hours left on this trip, I had already departed, if not physically than at least mentally. Only a spectacular sunset offered a brief respite from the malaise that had suddenly consumed me. The ferry windows filtered the setting sun. A burning ball of flame that illuminated the water droplets covering the windows. They were instantaneously transformed into beads of liquid silver, some of which slowly slid down the glass. It was mesmerizing, not unlike the entirety of this island hopping journey.
Island Mentality – Pint Sized Paradises
The journey by ferry felt like a dream. One that I hoped would not come to an end, but from which I was slowly waking. In a matter of five hours my opinion of Croatia had been elevated even higher than before. The coast was no longer just the preserve of packed tourist towns such as Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, it was also countless islands that offered varying degrees of space and solitude, not to mention rich history and microcultures. These pint sized paradises are what many people are dying for, the tourist towns are what too many are dying of. It was the equivalent of a package tour, but without a guide, money hungry men or people who insist they are your friends. On this ferry journey I literally had a front row seat to take the measure of Brac, Hvar, Korcula and Mljet. These islands were seductive and sensual with a magnetic attraction all their own. The songs of sirens called out from the rocky landforms, luring the wayward traveler onward.
The setting was much different when the ferry arrived at the Port of Dubrovnik in Gruz under the cover of darkness. As the ferry approached the shoreline, the artificial lighting of Gruz looked like countless fireflies fluttering and flickering. Arrival, even when one is in a self-induced malaise, can still cause twinges of excitement. This was a time for anticipation. Who would be there to greet the ferry? I already knew there would be crowds of strangers, but it did not keep me from enjoying a few fleeting moments of fantasy. If only this was a place to call home. Instead, there was the smell of seawater, air thick with humidity and blinding street lights. There are few experiences more disconcerting than arrival at the end of a journey. Self-satisfaction is the only solace.
Night Riders – Envy & Exhaustion
The bus stop for the connection to Dubrovnik’s Old Town was a short walk away from where the ferry docked. Before catching the bus there was the preliminary proceeding of purchasing a bus ticket. Fortunately, there was a kiosk nearby that made procuring a ticket quite easy. Standing at the stop waiting eagerly for the bus, I noticed many others were doing the same, jostling for space in an area that was meant to hold a handful of bystanders. The weariness of travel then took hold. While riding the ferry, time had ceased to exist for so long that coming back to the mainland was startling. It was akin to moving from fantasy to reality. Perhaps what made reality so jarring was the realization of going back to using buses. While the ride was only five minutes from Gruz to Dubrovnik, the transfer was tricky. It required getting on and off with luggage in tow. On a bus that was filled to the point of overflowing, both finesse and pushiness were prerequisites.
Trying to remain upright through the ride was as physically taxing as the entire five hours on the ferry had been. I passed the time by listening to a Canadian woman in her early 20’s who had never been to Dubrovnik before talk with a degree of expectation. She was wide-eyed and alert, ready for another adventure. I recognized the look in her eyes, it was the same one I had at the beginning of every journey, back when something as innocuous as conversing with stranger could light up the world. I was envious, but also exhausted. When the bus came to a stop everyone poured onto the sidewalk just outside the city walls. A sea of boisterous humanity was pleasantly loitering on this evening. At the Pile Gate, the statuesque figure of St. Blaise greeted everyone. This was a saint who knew his place. For good reason, he never left his perch above the gate.
Sleeping It Off – Dreaming In Dubrovnik
Now there was only one mission in mind, finding the accommodation as soon as possible. This was not without its difficulties. Having never spent the night within the walls of Dubrovnik, it was disconcerting to find the way. The guest house was up a side street, then a sidewalk, then a stairwell. Finding the actual address proved to be a challenge, one that could only be done with a desperate call to the hostess. After a short orientation it was time to sleep, but I was already dreaming while still awake. Dubrovnik tends to have that effect upon visitors.
Click here for: Sinister Serendipity – Dubrovnik: Ivo Grbic & The Scars of War (Traveling The Croatian Coast #61)