…that a Croat loves his homeland.
Those words are from the Croatian national anthem, and describe something I love about this country….that the locals love their country so much. It makes it easier to enjoy a place when you see the sense of pride in those who grew up there. Some places like Albania and Kosovo lack this due to a long economic downturn that has bred hopelessness, other places like Venice and Lake Como are so spoiled with tourism that the residents resent living there, and even a city as lovely as Budapest has a subtle despondence that permeates through the population. Croatia, on the other hand, exudes national pride, and you hear it in their voices when they talk about their country. You see the flag flying everywhere, as if you are driving through a military town in the Southern US. There were even locals passionately condemning an incident the previous week where someone had burned a Croatian flag. You get the idea that if a Croatian was offered a better job in a different country, they would politely decline.
Getting here was a drama, as one month before the trip our flights were cancelled…not sure why. The only other reasonably priced flights to Dubrovnik were out of Paris, so I spent the night in Lille to be closer to the airport. I nearly got onto the wrong train, as it was one that separated in half during the trip and went in two different directions…I still haven’t got the hang of this as I always go to the wrong end, then have to hustle to the other end before the train leaves. The flight was empty, as April is still pre-season for Dubrovnik, and a perfect time to visit and avoid the crowds.
Many of the highlights of this trip were the result of Ana, a friend of Tim’s who he met during a trip to Ireland. She lives in a beautiful house near Dubrovnik, in a pretty seaside town called Cavtat. We went straight from the airport to Cavtat and met up with Ana, her boyfriend and her brother. It was such a great time that although we only stopped for a ‘small drink’, as Tim likes to say, we ended up hanging out there for hours….many, many hours! While sitting outside at the cafe, there were some stunning pictures just begging to be taken…so I found myself jumping up periodically trying to find the perfect shot.
After so many months of cold weather across Europe, it was nice to be sitting outside with a beer…and without a jacket. We checked into our Dubrovnik hotel much later than expected, had dinner really late at night (with a strong bottle of red…16.8%), and the next day went back to Cavtat to meet Ana and the crew…and to begin a very interesting and unique experience.
Tim had told me that Ana was planning a dinner while we were there, but you never really know what to expect. The hospitality was incredible, and they really went all out to give us an authentic Croatian experience. We started the day picking wild asparagus in the woods…like something out of a fairy tale. The process was simple enough…look for the brownish asparagus sticking out of the ground and grab it…but I turned out not to be so good at this. I’m not the most patient person, and things like this are tests of patience…and I usually fail. Lack of patience leads to frustration, which together with me being easily distracted and not that observant makes me a pretty lousy asparagus picker! I think I found five, whereas it looked like Ana’s brother found five-hundred. Regardless of my poor success rate, it was a great time in a lush, wooded area, and there were dandelions everywhere!
With asparagus in hand, we just needed the main course….which is where the fishing came into play. We had to hike about a kilometer on a rocky coastal trail, and then climb down the cliffs to the seaside…this was really cool! We ended up in a secluded spot where Ana’s brother set up the rods, and then we sat on the rocks chatting and drinking beer in the sun. They kept the beers cold by submerging them in the surface water on the rocks. It’s good they had a backup plan for dinner, since we caught no fish…though I did get some great pictures here.
After a few hours we climbed up the rocks and left for Cavtat and dinner preparation. Later on at Ana’s house I got to help prepare the asparagus, and Tim and I were recruited for dish-washing duties! Tim brought a couple bottles of heavy Belgian beer that everyone loved, and in turn we had some local home-made Croatian liquor that was strong but had great herbal flavors in it. The fish they cooked was great, so I heard, and my potato/vegetable casserole was fantastic. A great night with wonderful people…many thanks to Ana, Mijo and Ante for the extraordinary experience.
Our last half-day in Dubrovnik we finally got a chance to walk the walls of the old town. This is one of the smaller cities I’ve been to, with a population under 50,000. Not only is this smallish city a great summer attraction, but ever since ‘Game of Thrones’ started filming here years ago it’s become a pilgrimage site for fans of the show. I’ve only seen a couple episodes, so I know nothing about it, but Dubrovnik is the site of King’s Landing, one of the cities on the show. It cost 15 Euros to walk the walls, which I thought was somewhat pricey but the views really made up for it. I loved the islands in the distance…in total Croatia has more than a thousand islands scattered up and down the coast. The color of the sea was unreal…deep blue, like the blog title says.
Dubrovnik is, in my opinion, definitely a top ten city in Europe. How much did I love it? My camera’s memory card shut down my last day here, and I couldn’t access the pictures. I paid a hefty fee to a company in Germany to get the pictures recovered. Why? Because you can’t put a price on memories from such a wonderful place.