Dubrovnik: Still beautiful, but…

Dubrovnik roofs as viewed from the city wall

Before this trip, it had been nearly 13 years since I was in Dubrovnik. On that first visit with my boys, we’d been blown away by the beauty of Croatia, the friendliness of the people…and the fantastically cheap prices. It reminded me at the time of what Italy had been like back in my backpacking days, long before mass tourism, hordes of cruise ships, and the euro drove up prices. That earlier visit had been not so long after the Balkan wars; Dubrovnik was still severely damaged, we saw peacekeeping troops in nearby Bosnia, tourists were just venturing back to the area.

I knew tourism had taken off in recent years in Croatia, so I was not unprepared–and I’d planned only a short stay as a result–but still, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed in the changes. Even though tourist season was not yet in full swing, crowds filled Dubrovnik, especially when the cruise ships docked. Prices had soared. Mercedes Benz had apparently bought the city for some weeks and large banners and cars were scattered throughout the old town. “Game of Thrones” souvenirs and tours abounded. It was kind of depressing.

Dubrovnik was still beautiful, though, and the locals were still friendly. And, it was fun to share with David. (Actually, everything’s fun to share with David which has a lot to do with why I married him.) We had a modest, but homey and excellently-located AirBnB apartment in the old town. Officially, our hostesses were two sisters, but they were out-of-town and it was their parents who lived next door who welcomed us and with whom we interacted during our stay. They could not have been nicer.

There’s lots you can pay for in Dubrovnik–including the 120 kuna/$18pp walk around the ramparts that yielded the lead photo above–, so I’ll just post some of the freebies below and review our apartment, a beer bar and a wine bar in future posts.

The best free entertainment in Dubrovnik is just wandering the medieval streets. It really is a beautiful city:





Churches are lovely and free to visit as well, although donations are always appreciated:

Dubrovnik Cathedral altar
Dubrovnik Cathedral organ
St. Saviour Church near the main city gate

Crowds thin at night, so don’t miss an evening stroll. In peak season, you may need to wander further off the beaten path to avoid the blaring techno music some cafés and clubs prefer:

Stradun at night


Picturesque Kotor: narrow streets and a mountain fortress

Kotor turned out to be everything I’d hoped: beautiful, friendly, and a great base to explore. We spent the morning of our first full day in Kotor hiking to the top of Kotor’s St. John Fortress. Two access points from the old town to the path up are manned buy locals who exact a fee of around €3pp. Steep stairs and rough, cobblestone paths make the ascent easier than mountaineering, but it’s still 87 stories-worth of climbing! The fortress is entirely in ruins, with occasional small shrines and a little church along the climb and a surprising wealth of wild purple irises and bright yellow wildflowers covering the rocky terrain. We thoroughly enjoyed the climb, but were told it could be hot and crowded in the summer. Thankfully, we had neither of those problems.

Old Kotor: on the way to the path up to the fortress
Mountainside shrine on the way to the fortress
Wild irises and yellow flowers
Church, mid-way to the fortress (and David!)

At the summit, we explored the ruins of the fortress proper, climbing through window holes and up dead-end stairs. Huge flocks of black birds swooped and swirled, both above and below us. Clouds had gathered, but fortunately rain held off and we had a beautiful view of the bay beyond the red tiled roofs of the old city.

The summit of Kotor Fortress: the Montenegran flag and a flock of birds

We descended the mountain to exit further south than our entry point, but still within the old city walls, at a spot near Sveti Tripuna (St. Tryphon’s) Cathedral. It seemed the perfect opportunity to visit the cathedral and explore the small museum there. The cathedral is small as cathedrals go and the museum is tiny as well. The museum’s collection is typical of medieval churches, but worth a look and the visit does not take long.

St. Tryphon on a sunnier day

The real pleasure of Kotor is simply being there, exploring the maze of narrow streets, strolling around the harbor, sitting in a café. It’s a luxury to simply have time there. Cruise ships are now docking at Kotor and, while we certainly understood the appeal of this beautiful little city and the right-there dock, it was annoyingly crowded when a ship pulled in and a relief when it sailed away. The old town is already over-supplied with shops selling souvenirs and depressingly-similar restaurants. I imagine it will only get worse as tourism to this beautiful little country increases. [This was a scenario I would soon find to have already played out in neighboring Croatia.]