Travel writing

Five days in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Earlier this month my mother, my two brothers and I spent five days in Dubrovnik, Croatia. As I’ve mentioned before:

[Mum] has the meticulousness and [Dad] has the gung-ho.
We are the world’s most travel-oriented family and we get it all from our parents.

My younger brother went to Dubrovnik when euro-tripping, hence my mum choosing it, but I was heading somewhere I’d never even been close to before. In terms of learning more about the world and our continent, this was exciting and refreshing.

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Apart from Greece and Turkey, south-east European countries tend to blur into one for me — except during Eurovision, of course.

My youngest brother recently got back from three months in SE Asia, and as he remarked to me sagely, this holiday was nothing like travelling. (He didn’t write a travel blog, sadly). Therefore, there’s not much for me to say. Here are a few notes from the five days.

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Dubrovnik is exceptionally beautiful — and it knows it. Everywhere in or near the Old Town (the walled peninsula above), tourists outnumbered locals by a huge margin. It’s the most touristy place I’ve been to for a long time.

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Here are some of the weirder ways that locals monetise this attention.*

In fact, the city is so pretty that the most popular tourist activity is walking around the ancient city walls and just looking at it.

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The top left image is actually Blackwater Bay.

And also to go in a cable car to the nearby Hill Srđ to look at it some more:

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Not only is it popular because it’s beautiful, and because it has an interesting and bloody history (of which more later) — it is also the location for a lot of Game of Thrones filming, especially the scenes in King’s Landing and some of Daenerys’s scenes. The amount of cashing in that Dubrovnik has done on Game of Thrones is spectacular: you can hardly move for branded tat.

My personal place was the Natural History Museum — specifically its fish exhibition, complete with ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen and David Bowie playing in the background.

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A think of beauty, I’m sure you’ll agree.

There was also a museum whose name I don’t know apart from the fact that it’s next to the clearly-very-important Old Pharmacy. (I didn’t get a ticket: I asked if I could get in with my all-inclusive tourist pass, and the teller said, “Usually, no. For you: yes.“) It was a monastery, I think, but the only exhibits I noticed were the books. Whenever I see beautiful old books, I get a bit blinkered.

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Clockwise from top right: 1578, 1717, 1641. The top-left one reminds me of the Voynich Manuscript and therefore makes me a bit giddy.

We ate like royality in surprisingly expensive restaurants, the best being Lady PiPi on the outskirts of the Old Town. Why does it have that name? Well…

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Source: PrimandPrimal.WordPress.com; I have sadly lost my own photo.

The other awesome thing we did was to go on a little jaunt to the nearby island of Lokrum. Were I travelling alone, I would have carefully travelled around the entire island, checking out each of the (mediocre) sights it has to offer. Being with my family on holiday, however, meant we were content to lounge by a lagoon for a few hours, my mum and me reading our books while my brothers swam.

Dubrovnik’s Game of Thrones visitors’ centre was also located in the middle of this island, and it featured a real Iron Throne. Yeah, baby.

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‘English’: my favourite hobby

Bad English in foreign countries will give me great joy for as long as I live, but I only have one from Dubrovnik: the caption on our landlord’s t-shirt when he greeted us on our first day:

I am a rock star because I cannot be President of the United States.”

You go, sir.

I also heard a wonderful line from the guy who picked us up from the airport: he didn’t know the English word ‘noise’, so he apologised for the building work being done on the airport and the music it generated.

(On a similar note, I saw two female English tourists who had “Everything happens for a reason…” tattooed on their backs. Call me judgemental, but I believe that that sentence belongs in this section.)


After a couple of days, I was prepared to be snobbish and to discount Dubrovnik as just another place on a Eurotrip trail — sun, sea, and over-priced sandwiches — but then I realised how closed-minded that would be, because we went to a photography exhibition: War Photo Limited.

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This photo is of a man who fought in the war for three years, then returned to his village to find his family killed. ‘Now Showing!’

Croatia, Serbia, and Montenegro were all part of the Communist state of Yugoslavia, and once communism fell and that state broke up, they went to war with one another from 1991-1995. I knew nothing about this, and the photography museum didn’t teach me a whole lot, but the photograph, and the videos of photographs and clips set to music, were moving and shocking and sad. There’s nothing more I can say.

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The city walls that make the city so beautiful came in handy when it was being bombarded on a daily basis.

We also visited the fort on the top of Hill Srđ, which has been converted into a museum specifically about the siege on Dubrovnik in 1991/1992. As we entered the museum I noticed a communications tower looming above and didn’t think anything of it; after leaving, I took a photo because I’d learnt that the Serbians had spent weeks trying to destroy it in order to cut Dubrovnik off from the rest of the world.

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The museum included the ITN bulletins on the seige on repeat, with a man on the ground shouting to be heard over the bombs. That’s how we are so used to consuming this kind of information: everyone there was mesmerised.

It’s the first time I’ve been to what was so recently a war zone. Somewhere I could see bullet holes in the walls while I ate my lunch. When someone bombs the hell out of a city, even though it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site; when they bomb a hotel to which women and children had been evacuated; when the inhabitants have to spend $35million repairing the damage — I’m glad they’re raking it in.

War Photo Limited also had a photography exhibition on the migrant crisis in south-east Europe called The Balkan Route, featuring photos by Giulio Piscitelli. Those photos were absolutely heart-wrenching. I recommend clicking that link and having a look yourself.


* There were also a couple of women who hung out with a collection of exotic birds in a different part of the Old Town each day (not always in the shade) and encourage tourists to get photos with them. This isn’t unlike the llamas and rabbits in Cuzco, Peru, except that I suspect that these poor birds weren’t bred locally and aren’t necessarily taken care of.