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The old country again »

Old towns

Tue Apr 30, 2013 23:59 (UTC -7)

Katya and I woke up in Budva, Montenegro, and told our host we’d be leaving instead of staying an additional night. She seemed surprised, but the place wasn’t what we’d been looking for. So we gave her the money we owed her and left.

We had hardly seen the city, so we walked around. I had read that Montenegro had one of the world’s highest concentrations of smokers, and we could smell that this seemed to be correct. It was easy to see why the place was popular with tourists, though: the weather was sunny and the vistas gorgeous. We walked down the beach and to the Budva’s small “old town,” where we walked between narrow stone buildings on narrow stone streets. From an old fortress labeled Citadela, we looked on at the crystalline Adriatic Sea.

Katya did some swimming on a beach that I wasn’t convinced was public, but if it wasn’t, then it was so crowded that no one noticed. Then we had to find out how to get to our next destination: Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Later that day, we were heading up the Adriatic coast on yet another bus. The trip was long and the bus driver a fan of repetitive folk music. In one town, the road stopped at a small harbor. We had to get on a ferry to reach the next stretch of road. At the border, a uniformed man collected our passports for inspection. Though Katya’s was red with a two-headed eagle and mine was blue with a one-headed eagle, they were both welcomed in Croatia as they had been in Serbia and Montenegro. I was grateful for that.

It was still light out when we arrived at the big bus station in Dubrovnik, and I didn’t see the old city, its star attraction, anywhere. Once we figured out that we had to take a city bus to get there, I went to an ATM and took out a large sum of Croatian kuna because the apartment where we had booked a room for several nights only accepted cash.

Soon we were at magnificently preserved old city of Dubrovnik, walled off all around and perched over the Adriatic. It made Budva’s old town look like… a village? Something less than a town, anyway. We spent a while lugging our luggage around the shiny white stone streets and past the ancient storefronts and churches before we found out that our accommodation was outside the city walls.

It turned out to be surprisingly close, yet tucked away. Apartments Mia is an old three-story house like many others in the maze of streets near the old city. A side street, if you could call it that, ascends as it curves around the house, so there are entrances on multiple floors. Our suite, on the top floor, consisted of a modern, fully-equipped bedroom and bathroom. Next door lived the owner and his mother. (Both suites are shown together on their website as Apartment 1. I don’t know if the site is out of date or if the owner has made different living arrangements since we stayed there.)

Dino, the owner, did everything he could made us feel relaxed and at home (Dino, I said I’d give your place a good review, so here it is). On our first night, he sat with us at the table on the small terrace outside our room; the walled city loomed in the background. He gave us a tourist map and told us where all the good restaurants were. Each day he’d offer coffee and snacks for us to enjoy on the terrace, and his mother even hung up some of the clothes I had left outside after a swim.

We stayed in Dubrovnik for only a few days, but in my mind they blend together into one pleasant memory. The city itself attracts a lot of tourists, but it’s big, and there’s a lot to explore. I never got tired of looking at it. Katya and I found our fair share of fine restaurants, including one at the top of a hill overlooking the city. It was a wonderful place to watch the sunset and the sea.

We went swimming in a hidden cove—I swam only once on this trip and I did it here. The “beach” was even closer to our apartment than the old city was, and it consisted of an extremely short stretch of sand with cliffs on either side. And houses—houses all around (including one in the side of the cliff). We also kayaked around the city walls and back again—man, was that a workout, but it was fun.

One day, Katya and I took a short boat ride to the island of Lokrum (population: peacocks), where we wandered around the ruins of an ancient monastery. We spent a few hours there, until the sunset turned everything orange, and almost missed the last boat off the island. I was worried, but not so worried that I couldn’t snap a few photos before starting to run.

We asked Dino if we could book our room for an extra day, and fortunately it worked out. On our last day in Dubrovnik, we set out early (at his suggestion) to walk the city walls. There was a lot to see: apartments, churches, restaurants, a school—a glimpse into the lives of the people who still call the old city home. I couldn’t imagine living in a place where tourists could walk on a giant wall and gawk at your home all day, and since Dubrovnik has expanded far beyond its original boundaries, the people who still live in the old city must really feel like it’s a part of them. And what a place to be a part of.

I was sad when we returned to the bus station where we had arrived only a few days before. Although we had gotten a lot out Dubrovnik, we had to Split.

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The old country again »