Despite Hvar’s orgasmically gorgeous beaches, Dubrovnik was really more my style. Old Town is brimming with history, and as the King’s Landing filming site for Game of Thrones it’s also a bit of a nerd mini-mecca. You can fly in directly, or catch a bus down from Split. PRO TIP: Always, always check how long your bus ride is supposed to take. I caught one from Split to Dubrovnik that was four hours long, but the return trip stopped in every little backwater town and gave me heart palpitations because I was trying to catch a flight back to Rome. Another PRO TIP is to have your passport handy, because you will pass very briefly through Bosnia on the way up and down. I didn’t mind the ride at all, mostly due to the countryside that we passed through, but also because I’m from Texas and we measure distance in hours.
My original hostel was in one of Dubrovnik’s northern bays, and after a good hour and a half of searching for it I was getting really pissed off. I literally walked the same three blocks about five times, desperately trying to make sense of their directions. I even called the hostel but the guy who answered was spectacularly unhelpful, so I took a deep breath, found a place with WiFi and Karlovačko (the only beer that I have ever genuinely enjoyed), and sat my happy butt down to find a new place to stay. Hostel Marker Dubrovnik Old Town was more expensive than my old place, but it was worth every penny and then some. It’s located less than a five minute walk from the Pile Gate, which is one of the main entrances into the Old Town, and it has fantastic access to the site where they filmed the Battle of Blackwater Bay as well as a great beach. The owner is an absolute dream and he will enthusiastically write suggestions for food and sightseeing all over your map. I really can’t say it enough: stay in this hostel.
My first afternoon in Dubrovnik was pretty relaxed; I thoroughly examined Blackwater Bay, including Fort Lovrijenac, which has spectacular views of both that bay and the one next door. I’m actually fairly certain that I would like to eventually be proposed to up there.
I won’t bore you with the two hours that I spent making goo-goo eyes at the water. I met some hostel people and tagged along to the Argentina vs. Netherlands football game that night, because Europe. On the up side, I did get to geek out over Game of Thrones with Lena and the angry Canadian lobster whose name I have forgotten.
My favorite part of my stay was the next morning, and the weather had a hand in it. Great storm clouds were constantly circling, and when combined with the old stone battlements and the pounding sea below they made for some fantastic pictures, even if it did rain on me a few times. The one thing that you have to do in Dubrovnik is walk around the city walls. It’s a decently physical activity, and it’ll take about two hours, but it’s worth every minute. When you enter the Pile Gate, you’ll see a large fountain on your right; turn immediately to the left and follow the signs to the ticket office, and then head up the stairs to reach the top of the wall. On the low end of the city you get fantastic views of the water, and as you move uphill all of Old Town is spread beneath you. From that vantage point, it’s easy to see more than a few broken buildings left over from the Siege of Dubrovnik in October of 1991. Most of the Old Town has been rebuilt, but at least half a dozen ruins were left standing as a sobering reminder of the war. Near the end of the walk along the walls, you have an opportunity to climb up to the top of an old fort on the walls, and I highly recommend it even though you’ll be exhausted.
As soon as you come off the walls, refill your water bottle at Big Onofrio’s fountain and then stop by the Franciscan Monastery on the left. It has a stunning central cloister and the world’s oldest still-operating pharmacy, not to mention murals on the inner walls. There’s a Dominican Monastery in the northeast corner of the city too, and they’re both fantastic places to slow down for a minute and just sit beneath the trees, listening to sounds echo off the cool white marble. I wandered down the Placa-Stradun, which is like Dubrovnik’s main boulevard, until I came to St. Blaise’s Church and the bell tower. If you turn left you’ll find the Dominican Monastery and a gate leading out of Old Town, and if you go right you’ll pass by the Rector’s Palace, which definitely deserves a look. It’s a beautiful historical building complete with prison cells and magistrate’s chambers. My favorite part was a photography exhibit from the Siege, located in the cells below the palace. One of the coolest things is that your ticket to the Rector’s Palace includes entry into a whole bunch of other places like the Maritime Museum on top of the city walls and the Ethnographic Museum.
For lunch, I kept going around the Rector’s Palace until I was in the old harbor, where I found Lokanda Peskarija, or Seafood Lokanda. It’s a fantastic restaurant with great views of the harbor and delicious seafood risotto, and the portions are huge! I could have easily split lunch with someone. About the time that I finished the rain really started to pour, so I just ordered a cappuccino and stayed put. A sweet French couple came under the awnings and tried to find a table nearby, and I invited them to sit with me since everywhere else was full. They were halfway into their meal when the rain suddenly stopped, so I grabbed my stuff and said goodbye before it could come back. Like in Split, the wet ground was appallingly slippery, so I walked around barefoot until it dried out.
By coincidence, my wandering took me right by Lena and her trio of six foot tall Swedish Vikings. They called each other the Tractor, the Waffle, and the Oracle, and I’m so glad that I’m not kidding about that last part; apparently the nicknames are similar to their real names, and I feel like I can’t stress enough that these are their names for each other. We walked back to the hostel together to collect James, the only living example of a cocaine-fueled monkey that I have ever had the pleasure to meet. James was wonderful, generous, and friendly, but he was also a force of nature. You just didn’t say “no” to James, and that’s how a few of us ended up drunk before 9 pm. We actually met one of the coolest cats in Dubrovnik because James liked his hair. I kid you not, this poor guy was sitting peacefully in a restaurant and James just sat down and started talking to him. Lena, the Vikings and I kept walking, and when we came back James had ordered dinner for himself and a beer for Cool Hair Guy. We joined them rather than fight the inevitable, and that’s how we met Andrej.
Dubrovnik’s cultural festival started that night, so after dinner (during which James threw his pizza over the restaurant’s balcony and the Tractor lost his water gun privileges) Rachel and I headed back into Old Town in time to catch an amazing Croatian band. Even though I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, the quality of the music was so high that it transcended language. I’m actually a bit desperate to learn the name of the band, because I can’t find their information on the festival’s website or Facebook page.
Day Two in Dubrovnik was dedicated to wandering. Old Town is small enough that you can see most of it in a couple of days, and it’s more or less on a grid pattern so it’s pretty damn hard to get lost. I had passed by Gundulic’s Square several times, but that morning they had a farmer’s and artisan’s market. Since covered markets are high on my list of weaknesses, I took the time to walk through it and drool over the things that I wanted but shouldn’t buy. Behind the square is a large staircase that leads up to St. Ignatius Church, which has the oldest grotto in Europe. It’s gorgeously decorated anyway, but the grotto definitely makes it worth the short climb. There’s also a way up to Buza, a bar that’s situated on the Old Town wall; it’s a great place to watch the sunset, and a welcome relief if you’re walking the walls without water.
I stopped at Taj Mahal for lunch, which, in spite of its name, does not exclusively serve Indian food. This was the scene of one of the best meals that I have ever tasted: Ćevapi (or ćevapčići), a Balkan dish of minced sausages grilled and served in a flatbread taco with sides that can include onions and cottage cheese. I’ve had cheaper versions of this dish and they were okay, but Taj Mahal’s was heavenly. Like, I definitely heard a choir of angels each time I took a bite. My instinct was to fill my flatbread taco with the sausage and smother it in cheese and onions before eating it like a burger, but I thought that was just my barbarian side talking (seriously, take me to Medieval Times and watch the civilization flee from my eyes), so I cut the flatbread into strips and rolled the sausage in it. According to Lena, my barbarian instincts were correct and you are supposed to fill it up and mash it into your piehole; fine by me, I look forward to devouring Ćevapi the right way.
I visited the Ethnographic Museum for a while, and if you like mythology it’s worth a look, but the displays are mostly low-quality and the presentation was a bit sloppy. Don’t pay for it, but if you have a ticket from the Rector’s Palace and time to kill, go ahead and stop by. I thought about catching a boat to Lokrum Island, which came highly recommended by our hostel owner, but the weather was still touch-and-go. Since I was already in the harbor, I took a walk along the inside of the walls and noticed that people were disappearing around a corner. Being a curious sort, I followed them and discovered an area between the city walls and the sea where you could sit on the rocks, so I claimed the largest one for myself and relaxed there for a while before going back to the small bay near my hostel for a long swim. Lena and I had dinner in Gundulic’s Square, and then we met the Vikings at an amazing place called Art Bar where they use bathtubs for couches and the metal spinners from washing machines for tables. To get to Art Bar, leave Old Town via the Pile Gate and keep going straight for about ten minutes. Between the weird decorations and the bright lights, it’s kinda impossible to miss.
That’s about it for Dubrovnik! Ever since my visit I have been plugging Croatia like crazy, so hit me up if you have any questions or comments. There were so many places that I wanted to visit, and I would not hesitate to go again.