Tuesday, June 10, 2014


While I do not mind self-identifying as a tourist, since I am one, I also like to learn a bit about where we visit to have a slightly deeper understanding of it. Nothing beats spending time in one place to gain that, but barring more time, it is great to talk with willing locals – mostly tourist industry people who don’t mind answering questions. We’ve also had some great guides in both Slovenia and Croatia that have helped us gain insights into the people and the places we have visited.

View of Dubrovnik from the Fort above town (We walked up!)
Dubrovnik, the most complete medieval walled city we have visited, has an ancient history of conflict that we feel well removed from.  However, the modern history of the seven-month siege of Dubrovnik in 1991 by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), isn’t as easy to gloss over. Both Slovenia and Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia on June 25, 1991. Slovenia got an immediate “response” from the JNA, but it ended fairly quickly and is now known as the Ten-day War. While Croatia and Slovenia were both part of the peace accord that ended this war with Yugoslavia at that time, Croatia’s search for peaceful independence did not happen. And even though Dubrovnik has held UNESCO World Heritage status since 1979, that did not save it from 650 artillery rounds that damaged over 60% of the buildings within the walls.

Harbor with walled city partially around it
I remember watching news about the siege of Sarajevo that began slightly after and lasted much longer, and how unreal that conflict seemed. Just like the conflicts going on today that we view from the safety of our televisions. But here we were able to witness the shrapnel on the sides of buildings within the walled city, and saw photos and videos of the bombings when we visited the vivid “Homeland War” Museum at the fort overlooking (and then protecting) Dubrovnik. It made war seem a lot closer and a lot more personal, though I recognize we are still far removed in our own experience.

Artillery damage from 1991 in wall of church
This trip we have also seen the headwaters of the Sava River, which originates in Slovenia, and where it flows through Ljubljana and then through Zagreb, Croatia to Bosnia-Herzogovina before entering the Danube in Serbia. Most of you have seen footage of the terrible flooding from the Sava River that occurred this May in these countries, primarily Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia. We haven’t seen evidence of flooding in the regions we’ve been to but have been very aware of how close we are.

Okay – enough about cultural and environmental disasters – not! The number of tourists that go to Dubrovnik is insane. You can blame the cruise ship industry as there can be 10,000 to 13,000 tourists a day that go through and on the walls of Dubrovnik. It is crazy. And they eat a lot of fish. But lets not get into the state of the Adriatic Seas fisheries. I didn’t research that as I didn’t want to get depressed!

View from the North Tower 
There are some great things about Dubrovnik and the surrounding area. 1. It is beautiful. 2. They abolished slave trading in 1418, and the many merchants that sailed from here flew under a white flag that had Libertas (freedom) prominently displayed. 3. The people are friendly and obviously resilient. They have over 99% of their buildings repaired since the war, and they are somehow surviving an onslaught of tourists speaking all the different languages from the Tower of Babel.

Visitors walking on the wall (right) are more ubiquitous than laundry (left) 
We spent three days in Dubrovnik and were lucky to have a quiet oasis very close to town. We happened to be there the same time as Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson and Leonardo DiCaprio – but didn’t get to mix elbows with them. They were attending the insanely expensive wedding of Randolph William Hearst’s granddaughter. After the wedding, I managed to snag a peony (imported from Belgium to the dismay of the Croats) when they tossed all the floral arrangements into the street afterwards!

Garden oasis complete with Belgian Peony

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