Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Many Faces of Dubrovnik

Croatia is definitely one of the hottest destinations for travelers these days, with Dubrovnik, its shining gem, topping many an itinerary. With its cafe-lined streets, towering city walls, and architectural jewels, not to mention the striking azure waters of the Adriatic lapping at its shores, its reputation is well-earned. In the past few years, the number of tourists visiting Dubrovnik has soared, and nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find a day when a couple of cruise ships weren't anchored just outside the city walls.  

The Old Town with the island of Lokrum in the background
Most visitors these days seem to be on some sort of organized tour, and spend their day walking the stradun, exploring the magnificent baroque palaces and churches, and walking the city walls before enjoying a nice meal in one of the hundreds of restaurants in old town. And we have nothing against that. However, if you have a little more time to delve deeper into the city, Dubrovnik reveals many interesting and rewarding attractions to capture your imagination. This was made easier by the fact that we had nearly 4 days in which to do our exploring.
The Stradun, the main "street" in the old town
We spent our first day in Dubrovnik doing what most tourists backpackers do when they arrive and quickly made our way over to Sanja and Rosie's Laundrette to clean our stinking clothes. The Laundrette definitely deserves a mention as it was a fantastic place to spend the morning enjoying a pastry and some juice as our clothes were finally given reprieve from the accumulated sweat and dirt of the past few weeks. Classic 50's music filled the place and countless travel magazines and books were available for us to peruse at our leisure. Plus, the owners were from Vancouver! 

Clean Clothes!
With freshly-washed clothes in our bags, we spent the rest of our day actually doing what most tourists do when they arrive in Dubrovnik, and that meant spending time simply admiring one of the most beautiful and photogenic cities in the world. With camera firmly attached to eye, we explored the dozens of churches and palaces, hiked the steep steps of the narrow back streets, and climbed around on the rocks that surround the base of the city walls. We snapped over 300 photos our first day and finally made our way back home after more than 14 hours of exploring. Needless to say, we were exhausted.

The architecture of St Ignatius' Church

The Dubrovnik Cathedral

The Adriatic surrounds the majority of the old town
On our second day, we were for a little bit more than just photographs, and we decided to explore the other side of Dubrovnik that you tend to only hear whispers of. Looking at the majority of the old town these days, its hard to imagine the destruction that the city and its residents experienced just 20 years ago. Dubrovnik unexpectedly became a focal point during the Croatian War of Independence, and remnants of the events that took place are still around even to this day. The city and its people were mercilessly shelled for over 3 months and much of the old town sustained heavy artillery fire. Roads, walls, and roofs were torn apart by the shells, with some buildings even being burned to the ground. The people lived without power and a fresh water supply for months, and consistently fled to the underground safehavens scattered around the city to avoid being hit themselves.

A map showing all of the artillery hits during the Siege of Dubrovnik (via)

The Stradun during the siege (via)
Much of the destruction in the old town has since been cleaned up and restored, save for a few ruined buildings and some unfilled bulletholes. Much of the evidence that still remains is only found outside of old town, and we decided that we would spend our morning on a quest to find one of them. We found an intriguing lead on NerdyDayTrips which mentioned a number of deserted and ruined hotels along the Adriatic coast. With a little exploring on the internets, we were able to find out that one of these hotels was close by. We spent our morning exploring the site we found, the Hotel de luxe Belvedere. This was perhaps the highlight of our stay and we will be dedicating an entire post to it (hopefully by tomorrow!).

Graffiti now covers the walls of the Belvedere Hotel

The deserted floors have been stripped

The massive hotel as it stands today

After spending a good part of our morning and afternoon exploring the ruined Hotel Belvedere, we made our way back to the old town for a slice of pizza, and then made our way to one of the attractions that we were most excited about after learning of its existence. War Photo Limited is a small photography gallery that has rotating exhibits featuring the best in the emerging field of war photography. Our trip here was an eye-opening and powerful one, and more can be read about it here

Photo by Emmanuel Ortiz, current exhibitor (via)
On our final day in Dubrovnik, we decided to get up early (before the cruise ship passengers arrived) and wander the city walls.Just about everyone that visits Dubrovnik does this, and it quickly becomes clear why once you get up there. Sweeping 360 degree views of the old town, the Adriatic coastline, and the city outside the walls are available from nearly every vantage point. In addition, there are numerous bastions and lookout points to explore (read more here).

Some things can only be found from the walls

The pathway around the city walls
We finished off our day with a trip up the new cable car. It only takes a couple minutes to reach the top where amazing views await. From the top you can see kilometers down the coastline, as well as to the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition to the great view, the wonderful Museum of the Croatian War of Independence also calls the top of Mt. Srd home. House in a fort built by Napoleon, it recounts the bravery of the soldiers and citizens of Dubrovnik during  the siege, where they were outmanned and outgunned, but still remained strong. It's a shame that most people don't take the extra hour to explore the wonderful museum (read more here).
The new cable car

The view!

Some of the shell casings that were fired at Dubrovnik
This cross was rebuilt after being destroyed

The fort on Mt Srd, originally built by Napoleon
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Dubrovnik. It is probably the busiest we have been thus far on our trip, but in the end it was all worth it. 

Pictures are up on flickr if you missed them!

By Travis Huyghebaert with No comments

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Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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