Sunday, January 15, 2017

207. Dubrovnik - a walled city

I really don't know where time goes - I am already four months into my "Seniors-Gap-Year" and already two weeks into my Dubrovnik stay, with only a week to go before I have to move on to my next destination ... scheeesh

I travelled by bus from Tirana to Dubrovnik - the buses' air-conditionimg was ( as the driver said ) "carput" and the driver spent most of the trip talking very loudly on his hands-held mobile phone while steering and changing gears with the other hand ... !!! ... I shared the bus with a young Albanian ballet dancer from Sarajevo + and young woman backpacker from Melbourne and another young backpacker from Columbia and another man who sat up the back of the bus looking very disgruntled with the world and didn't seem to want to associate with us other passengers at the few stops we had along the way - he left the bus a couple of hours into our journey ...  Anyway it was an interesting trip that took six hours and involved four border crossings ... the immigration people let me leave Albania + let me into Montenegro + then let me leave Montenegro and then let me into Croatia - phew

There were a few stops along the way and we had an hour in Kotor ( Montenegro ) where I was able to grab a coffee and slice of pizza and take a very rushed picture of the inlet - quite beautiful ...

Kotor Bay - Montenegro
 
And so after leaving my Albanian life behind me, it has taken me no time at all to settle into my new Croatian lifestyle here in beautiful Dubrovnik ... the weather has been quiet unusual  - so the locals tell me - temperatures varying from minus 6 to plus 10 + snow one day, then rain the next and then gale force winds the day after that - but when the sun is shining, it is absolutely perfect - and I'm not at all unhappy about missing out on the 30s and 40s my friends in Australia are experiencing at the moment ...
 

Dubrovnik is a port city on the Adriatic Sea just across the waters from Eastern Italy ... the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now days relies very heavily for its prosperity on the crazy summer tourist trade ...
 
The main feature and attraction of the city is the Walled Old City ( a fifteen minute bus ride from the suburb in which I am staying ) and the many beaches dotted along the nearby coastline - desserted of course now, but packed with sun-worshipping tourists once the weather warms up ...


So to get a good perspective of the Old City I decided that I had head for the hills - and I had a choice to either explore the suburbs on the hill behind the city, or take the cable car to the top ...
 

... I chose to walk ... !!! ...
 
... so it was up a million steps and along narrow roads ...

... then up another million ...

... until I was totally stepped-out and the view below me was pretty perfect ...

... after the heart rate slowed and I totally soaked in the visa before me,
  it was back down the hill, through the ramparts 
and into the city in search of caffeine and lunch
before taking on a walk around that wall ...
 





If an artist painted these scenes, it would look quite unreal - 
such amazing colours and compositions ...
 

The main street in the Old City is the Stradun - the only vehicles allowed in are service vehicles - and fortunately for me, the place was almost deserted of tourists. Most of the fancy restaurants and B&Bs etc were closed up for the season, but there were still plenty of gift shops and cafes open for the few brave souls out and about exploring - and of course the pidgeons ...
 
During the summer months the Stradun and the many laneways that run off it are lined with cafe tables and chairs and packed with noisy devouring tourists. Dubrovnik is a major destination for those mammouth cruise ships that ply the Mediterrannean and I was told by one not-so-happy-about-it local, that on some days when two or three of these ships pull in, as many as 8,000 people can crowd into this tiny area - the stuff nightmares are made of  ... 
 


Saint Blaise ( D's patron saint ) Church and the Cathedral in the background 
both date back to the 18th Century ...


... on through deserted alleyways and along well trodden marble walkways ...
 

... not a tourist in sight ...
just the echo of my own thumping footsteps ...



... it was pay the gate-keeper my Kunas and up the steps onto the ramparts of the wall and off on my 2km plus walk around the Old City ...
 
It looks lovely and sunny and warm - 
but let me tell you, it was freezing up there ... !!! ...


The fortress comprises - not only of the wall - but also of a number of towers, forts, casements and bastions woven into the structure ...
 

Parts of the walls date back to the 9th Century and have been added to down through the ages in various difficult times when the city and the Republic have been under threat of invasion from various forces .... by the end of the 13th Century the entire city was surrounded by the wall. 
 
Looking back to the Hill - the cable car takes passengers to the very top - 
I walked about half way up ...
 

On average the walls are between 1.5 and 3 metres thick on the seaward side and between 4 and 6 metres thick on the landward sides, and are constructed primarily of limestone - in certain parts the walls reach up to 25 metres in height ... the high quality of workmanship and the strength of construction has meant the walls have withstood many invasions - including from the Turks and the Venetians in the 15th and 16th Centuries - and even the destructive earthquake that flattened much of the city in 1667.
 
In Dubrovnik there are 80 churches ... !!!! ... 
ranging from the tiny up to the large cathedral ...
 












Walking along the walls gave me a delightful view of the insides of the city and the labyrinth of narrow laneways crisscrossing from one side to the other ...
 


Lokrum Island

But half-way around disaster struck ... my lovely peace and quiet wanderings and fantasizings was shattered by the shrill of voices and the thud of footsteps coming up behind me - oh no - not a tour group ... !!! ... I thought I had left them all behind me in Athens - but alas no ... here I had to quicken my pace to keep well ahead of this noisy lot ...
 



Not much privacy for residents that live facing the wall ...

In periods of full combat readiness the walls were protected with 120 cannons ... this one facing the snow-capped mountains of Montenegro ...


Phew - looking back - they haven't caught up with me yet ...
but I can hear them coming ...



A brief pause for a salute to the ensign ...

The flag combines the flags of the Kingdom of Croatia ( red and white ), the Kingdom of Slavonia ( white and blue ) and the Kingdom of Dalmatia ( red and blue ) ... the three Kingdoms that are the historic constituent states of the Croatian Kingdom - and the coat of arms of Croatia in the centre ...



Well I survived that long walk without tripping over the edge or dropping my camera down into the salty waters below - and now back down in the city it was time for another coffee to thaw the arteries ... 


and out through the front Pile Gate 
( one of only two entrances through the Wall ) 

... across the drawbridge ...

... one last look back to the massive ramparts ...
 
... and past Aphrodite and Pan ( who is holding a sheep ... !!! )
while looking very sheepish at the damsel ...
mmmm - don't want to know what that's all about ...

It's onto the bus and home to my snug cottage ...