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Dubrovnik 9 October 2011

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to Dubrovnik

This long travel day started out a little after 8, when I went to the Jadrolinija office to get our ferry tickets. We hoped to take the fast boat from Hvar to Split this morning, saving ourselves a bus ride back over the mountain and a couple of hours of transit, but the weather wasn't cooperating, and anyway, it was a national holiday. (We looked everywhere for evidences of national holiday. We think that a "national holiday" here means you stay home and don't do anything if you possibly can.)

This mattered because even with a good connection in Split, the long and windy road down the Dalmatian coast takes about four hours without stops, and our bus stopped four times. The trip is gorgeous, even through a bus window.


mouse-over for context

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The islands stretch along the wrinkled coast like the backs of huge craggy sea beasts. Resorts are scattered all along the mainland and the islands. In a few places, rivers punch through the massif that rises above the ocean. This looks like a place for boat travel, not bus travel.

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Increasingly as we went south we saw abandoned villages on the hillsides -- then, right around a corner, a thriving, busy place. It is hard to remember that this place is just twenty years past a bitter civil war that uprooted whole populations of people solely because of religious differences and bigotry.

After one stop, we were thrust right into the middle of one of the most absurd workings-out of that civil war. Let me try to explain, starting with a map.

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Here's the area just south of the city of Ploče, a manufacturing city at the mouth of a large river, where a railroad comes down out of Bosnia, and where there is an aluminum plant (marked A in the map.). The delta of the river is filled with agriculture (B), including hundreds of acres of beautiful orange groves (B again). The river (C) is navigable right up to the town of Metković, where there's a yellow line: the border between Hrvatska and Bosnia and Herzgovinia.

Now notice what happens just south: where there's a steep hill, the treaty between these two warring nations allowed the land-locked one, Bosnia, its outlet to the sea, around the town of Neum. We crossed two borders and had to show our passports twice. This sufficiently inconveniences the Hrvatski to motivate them to build a new highway and bridge (D) around the incursion. Note that the little peninsula (E) right across from Neum is Hrvatskan.

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The little town of Neum clings to the steep hillside, but it is thriving, because apparently Bosnian goods are cheaper than Croatian. Even our bus driver stopped at a "Diskont" store for some mystery purchase. The folks in Neum were of two distinct breeds. The Bosnian women in particular wear more somber clothes and always wear head scarves. There's the issue in a nutshell. Here on this Adriatic / Balkan coast, if you are Catholic, you are by definition Croat – that is considered a race -- and you will not be happy in Bosnia and Herzgovinia. If you are Muslim, then you are a Serb, and you are not at home in Hrvatska. Hence the abandoned villages and the unreasonable dislocation along "racial" lines, instead of a compromise that makes good use of the rivers, bottomland, and so forth.

There are two sides to this story, and neither one is completely believable. Both sides suffered and continue to be inconvenienced. At the human level, it is no longer a big deal. But it is most acutely remembered here around Neum, and in Ploče, and in Dubrovnik – more about that when I'm writing about that city.

We arrived in a rain shower and after dark, not our favorite way to get somewhere, after ten hours of travel. We navigated from our long distance bus to a city bus – remember to put your ticket in upside down – and then dragged our luggage through the marble streets of the old town to our wonderful little apartment overlooking the harbor. 

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<p>harbor view at noon when the boat people have to leave</p>

harbor view at noon when the boat people have to leave

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Renata's Rooms are right above the harbor. You can see people walking by on top of the wall, and you can see the invading hordes from the big cruise ship being vomited into the old town starting at 8am and queueing to return at noon. After they leave, the town returns to some level of sanity, but while they are here, it is bedlam.

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Walking the Wall

Dubrovnik is a proud little city halfway down the Adriatic. At one time or another it has been called "An outpost of civilization" and "the pearl of the Adriatic" ...and it does have gemlike qualities. One of it's most polished facets is that fact that its old city has a wall all around it that you can pay $14 and walk on. We started our walk well after the tourist barges had left with their unwholesome trash, and finished just as the sun dropped below a layer of cloud and bathed the top of the city with golden light. 

At the time the map at right was made, the town called itself the Republic of Ragusa, and it looks like the wall around the seaside was pretty low or non-existent. Clearly, the present wall is in part the creature of the local tourist board.

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<p>West wall and Pile Gate</p>

West wall and Pile Gate

But there can be little doubt that Ragusa was a calm place in a storm of pirates, first Venetian, then Ottoman, and its calmness was due in part to its ability to protect itself from attack. Here is the West Wall, and the main gate, called the Pile Gate. Remembering that the notion of the silent final "e" is an English one, this is a two syllable word, "pee-lay." Just outside the wall there was, at one time, a moat, and there are still retractable drawbridges that can be raised to make access to the city that much more problematic for beseigers.

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In the photo above at right, you can see that Dubrovnik has a lot of bright new roofs -- due to the unintentional urban renewal project imposed on it by the Serbs during the winter of 1991-92.

At right, you can see the view back toward the harbor, in which you can barely make out, if you know where to look, the whereabouts of our little fourth floor apartment's three windows onto the harbor.

You can also see the municipal bell tower, wherein Maro and Baro, the town "green giants," take turns striking the bell on the hour during the day. More will be seen of one of them in the next page.

This is an impossibly photogenic little city, and I could keep showing you wonderful pictures for several more pages. 

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<p>The Stradun: main street, Dubrovnik</p>

The Stradun: main street, Dubrovnik

In the earliest days, the town was a sort of mini-Venice, with its harbor extending as a canal right down its middle. When the two sides of the town made friends, this was seen to be impractical, and it was filled in and paved with shiny marble.

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The sun cast a golden glow over the top of the town, the Minčeta (fortress) at its top, and the ridge behind. We wandered the darkening streets for awhile, auditioning restaurants, and finally settled on one promising Bosnian food. Too dark for photographs, and the food wasn't so much pretty as it was delicious, and a sharp change from what we have been eating: smoked sausages in pita bread, a lamb-and cheese concoction in puff pastry, a wonderful gazpacho featuring carrots and peppers, hot and sweet at the same time. And for dessert, baklava flavored with lemon.

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