Day Three of our Best of Balkans tour. I started the day off with a run around the harbour. I loved the fact that I could see the harbour in the early morning light with only the locals around. It was really quite, other then the fish market down the street. The downside of this run was that there was only so far you could go before the streets started going up hill. So I ran so a bit then gave up when I was in a residential area and wanted to make sure I could remember the twists and turns to get back.
Next was buffet breakfast at the hotel, which is a great time to catch up on all the gossip of the night before. Next we all hopped onto our bus, to drive to old town for a guided walking tour. We had a full day in the city planned so packing was a challenge. We wanted good cameras for sight seeing. We also wanted bathing suits and towels for kayaking. So we ended up packing a bag and it worked out because they had lockers at the kayaks that we could use.
First off was an included walking tour of the city. Our guide met us at the main gates Ploče, and brought us in along the inside wall of the fort until we reached the the main street of Old Town. We walked past Dubrovnik University, that got a lot of us thinking, “why didn’t we got to school here?” We stopped in ________ square and talked a lot about it, but I couldn’t hear what the guide was saying, so I kinda gave up. Our guide also took us to __________ market square which was full of local vendors selling, fish, flowers, and vegetables. We were warned that the market closed at 2pm due to heat, so visit quickly if we wanted photos.
On this part of the tour it was super entertaining because we had a luggage cart “train” following us every where we went. It was clear that this was a prime check out/ check in time for the hotels inside the walls and this was how they moved luggage through out the city so that visitors did not have to navigate the windy streets and stairs with baggage. It was entertaining to watch these trains move along, but they seemed to be chasing us and making it difficulty to walk through the city as they cut us off. So it got old quick. Especially since we were unable to see the “steps of shame” during the day due to thee trains and tourists.
Next we walked along the corridors until we got to a very narrow street. Here our guide told us all about village life in the old walls. The city is under a UNESCO heritage watch, which means that there are rules about how electricity is incorporated into the houses and how air conditioners can be installed. On principle, air conditioners cannot be seen from the main streets, they must be concealed in a chimney or on a back street. They also have rules on what colour the shutters on the outside of their house is painted.
A typical house in Dubrovnik has, the kitchen on the top floor, with the bathroom, then the bedrooms are below, with the living room below that. The idea was to have the kitchen near the top to minimize fire damage. The living room was on the bottom to keep the noise at street level. The windows all had ears carved by them, so that neighbours on the street we reminded that the walls in Dubrovnik had ears (due to the houses being so close together).
Our guide came up with a story that she thought we would like. In the past, when people were cleaning out their chimneys, they would put up a sign on the front door warning visitors to come visit another time, as cleaning the chimney would be very messy and filled the whole house with soot. So therefore, when a young couple wanted to have some alone time, with no interruptions, they would put a sign on the door saying, “Cleaning the Chimney.”
The other story that our guide told us was that since the streets were so narrow and full of stones, they would echo loudly when children were playing. This bothered a priest that lived there very much. It distracted him from his work, so that he wrote a “curse” on the wall outside his house encouraging the children that were playing, to be quiet.
The rest of the tour (our tour route in green below) showed off the town fountain, the first pharmacy of Croatia, and the second gate Pile. At this point we were given free time for the next four hours, and told that we should meet back there for kayaking then.
Andrew and I decided to check out Gradac Park with Krista and Amy. I was excited to see it, because I like to see a different sides of a city, including the parks. The rest were excited to see it because there is some big death scene filmed there for Game of Thrones. If you are expecting it to look exactly like the death scene before warned. There was a lot of scenery and props brought into make it look like an elaborate feast. Also the spot where the famous guy died… it is a pond, so you can’t re-enact the death on the spot where he died. Krista, Amy and Andrew were a little disappointed. They had been quoting lines all morning. However the pond does have two live turtles. They are not statues! We starred them down for quite some time. The park did offer nice views of Fort Lovrijenac, the Old City, and the Adriatic Sea, so I was pretty happy. (Check out shot to the right).
Next we decided to go to Lukrum island off of Dubrovnik. We walked back through the old city to the old port and caught a ferry. I was excited to check out the beaches and do some swimming, as well as see the fort from the water. When we got there I saw on the map, The Bay of Portoc, which I mistook for The Dead Sea. So we followed the map to what we thought was The bay, only to see signs pointing to the Nudist Beach. The couple ahead of us were in their 60s. As signs for the Nudist Beach became more frequent, me and Andrew made a pact, if the old couple ahead of us started removing clothing, we were outta there.
Needless to say we did not find the Bay, and the trail became rougher and rougher on lots of rock cliffs, so we gave up and headed back the way we came. Next we decided to check out the old Monastery. This time we went the Monastery was under construction. So whole many others were able to explore these ruins, we were not. The next thing we went exploring was the botanical gardens. These gardens were built in the 1800’s. The gardens were covered in HUGE rabbits. These were rabbits the size of cats. I wish I had a photo with something in it to show scale. Our guide told us later a princess had rabbits as pets, and they reproduced like crazy, so they were banished to Lukrum. Now its over run with rabbits and tourists are encouraged to take them home. I don’t think that last part is true.
We decided with our remaining time we would try to chill out in the water. However, the water was cold. We both dipped a foot in, but that was as watery as we got. So we hopped a ferry back onto the mainland for lunch. To save some money, we found a bakery and had a traditional dish: burek. It is basically a phyllo pastery pie filled with meat and / or cheese, and they’re awesome. Also no matter how hard we tried we never found them again.
Then it was time to meet up with the group for kayaking on the Adriatic. The last two days had been really windy, so we were nervous about being able to kayak in meter high swells. We had twin-seat sit-on-top kayaks. They were 100% more sturdy on the water then I thought it would be. I think getting out of the cove was the most challenging, as that was where all of us had to “learn” to kayak. Aka we all just paddled really hard and learned that there was no skill to beating the waves, just paddling.
Once we got out of the cove and were just hanging outside the walls, thats when kayaking skill came to shine. Thats when we learned that no one in our group really knew how to stear. Lucky for me, Andrew knew how to work a kayak and was pretty good at directing us out of the way of collisions. But other people in our group (Katie and Sara I am looking at you) were not as talented. I thought from the description of kayaking that we would be kayaking close to the walls, like I could reach out and touch the walls close. This is not the case. #1, the waves would probably kill us if we did that. #2. no number 1 is all there really is. But we did paddle past the walls, then over to a sheltered beach cove. This probably took 40 minuets.
The beach cove…. oh the memories. First of all the water was still really rough, we needed to go into the cove one by one, with the guides helping us get our kayaks to shore so we could get out. Second, when you jump out, there is a good chance the boat will hit you causing big bruises. Third the beach has medium-sized, pointy, rocks, making moving painful. We all “old man” walked onto the beach, found a rock free section and stared grumpily at our guides as they handed out sandwiches, and explained we had half an hour to swim. We all took our time eating our sandwiches and pondering if we really wanted to brave the rocks to go swimming. In the end most of us did hobble to the water, which was beautiful, and once you were in, it was fine. It was like a giant wave pool. But OUCH, those rocks will be remembered.
This left us an hour at the hotel to shower and dress up for dinner. This is really reminiscent of the this trip, we spent very little time at the hotel, most of our time was spent in the towns exploring. That night we had a quiet, romantic dinner for two. Andrew ordered some Ćevapčići – a traditional dish of grilled minced meat (somewhat like a skinless sausage), and it came with an assortment of grilled vegetables. And I had a seafood risotto. Andrew won in the ordering contest.
We spent a good portion of our dinner people watching. There were a lot of people who had small children with them. It made us wonder if one day we would bring kids on our vacations with us. I had always assumed we would leave them at home, as they would not remember the trip anyway. But who’s to say. We got ice cream for dessert. I got after eight mint and Andrew got scotch flavoured. He was pretty happy. We headed back to the bus at this point to go back to the hotel. This was Andrew’s first opportunity to bond with our driver Marko. Our tour mates were half an hour late, so we were free to chat with Marko as we waited for them to arrive. Andrew and Marko both have similar senses of humour so they hit it off, and would be friends for the rest of the trip.