So, following on from the excitement of Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris, we landed in Zagreb, Croatia with 20 minutes at our disposal to catch the connecting flight to Dubrovnik (excellent – 5 minutes had been gained by the pilot putting his foot down) … We disembarked at the worlds smallest capital city international airport – barged through immigration control knocking flying anyone who was slow, stupid or frail enough to get in our way 😉 We could still see the Dubrovnik flight sitting on the runway … One strip search at security and a panic emptying and re-packing of our hand luggage later, hope was still high. Puffing, sweating and still re-dressing, we handed over our boarding passes to the airline gate staff – not 10 feet from the open doors of the bus waiting to carry us across the runway to our plane – yippee! This would be the tightest connection we had ever made … We already had visions of sipping cocktails on the balcony of our lovely hotel overlooking the Adriatic by 4pm – all would be right with the world after all 🙂
The charming lady at the gate scanned our tickets, frowned slightly and then informed us in a very exotic accent that “unfortunately” there was a problem – our seats (together with those of the other 20 people from the doomed Paris flight – all huffing, puffing, swearing and gesticulating in a variety of colorful languages behind us) had been given to 20 other, infinitely more lucky and less sweaty, people but that they would try “desperately hard” to get us on the next possible flight 9 hours later (if they didn’t cancel it). Oh joy – again!!
20 minutes of histrionics later (which obviously couldn’t get us anywhere unless we were happy to be strapped to a wing) we waved off our plane and looked forward to the next 9 hours spent in a slightly nicer airport than CDG but with even worse food – if that were possible.
Not to make a drama out of a crisis (and, to be fair, with absolutely zero knowledge of Croatia’s capital, and even less interest in it) we hopped on a bus (free tickets from Croatia “Never travel this airline if you want to get where you hope to go” Airlines ) and found ourselves in Zagreb – a cross between an eastern block ghetto and a rather austere Germanic looking city. Lots of 1980’s music blaring in the old town city square and strange fashions – no doubt they thought the same about us 😉
Despite the fact we exchanged the infinitely more attractive, “glittering adriatric cocktail-sipping experience with 5 star dining option”, for a warm beer and a plate of something unidentifiable (it may have been pasta with tinned vegetables) in Zagreb, it wasn’t altogether disastrous. Zagreb does have some lovely buildings, albeit that I did have to keep shaking images of the Stasi from my mind at the sight of some of the more chilling and bleak looking ones; a couple of attractive pedestrianized restaurant/bar filled streets; and, at any moment, a clapped-out 1960’s Mercedes might turn a corner and head towards you like something in an old movie.
Overall, I am almost positive that it was a whole lot more entertaining exploring the old city than sitting in the airport for the entire day …
Dubrovnik was unsurprisingly beautiful – a 14th C (then later 16th C rebuild – they had an inconvenient earthquake which flattened most of it) cream limestone fortification city criss-crossed with small winding alleyways, staircases and traversed by the famous Stradun (worn shiny by 100’s of years of pedestrians). It has been on my bucket list since I was too young to know what a bucket list was 😉
And then they had a war 😦 And since then, it seems, the Croatians have spent 20 years putting the city back together again. On a first glance you would have no idea that anything grim had ever happened in the old city but then you start to notice ancient walls spattered with bullet holes and lumps of buildings missing from shrapnel damage.
On the upside, in addition to the physical beauty of the town, it’s wall-top walk and harbor, it has a remarkably Italian feel to it – but with no American tourists!!! For once we were pretty much on our own 😉 which amazed us as there wasn’t a native Croatian soul in the city or its environs who didn’t speak English (including the ancient toothless crone we stopped to “ask” the way to the post office by waving a handful of postcards in her face and smiling hopefully) …this, of course, makes it by far the easiest country in Europe to visit for those who prefer not to make a passing stab at anyone else’s language but instead choose to shout loudly in English at all foreigners in the hope they will understand 😉 😉 Good job really as I had NO intention of “brushing up” on my Croatian language skills for 6 days of holiday 😉
Although we loved the old walled city there was a strange incongruence between it and the streets even a few blocks back where it began to feel a wee bit more eastern block again – it kept reminding Geoff of East Berlin which he had visited (possibly not officially in his military days! 😉 ) years back before the wall came down. Lots of unattractive 1950 and 1960’s housing blocks and slightly depressing shopping centers – reminiscent of 1970’s Russian shops with nothing on display that anyone would want to actually buy.
The coast is very pretty (just not quite Italian coast dramatically beautiful) with lots of wooded islands and we spent a relaxing day cruising the Elafiti Islands on the ferry watching the villagers supplies being delivered and gazing at the crystal clear seas (about 20F too cold for us to dip a toe into but probably perfect for anyone living in freezing ol’ blighty 😉 ). We passed up the opportunity to rent a speed boat for the day to explore the islands offered at our hotel (by a completely straight faced concierge, I might add) at anything from $750 for 3 hours to…. well …. $ many thousands ! We resisted and hopped on the public ferry for about $20 for the day, saw 3 islands and spent the rest of the $750 “daily allowance” on lunch in the world’s most expensive restaurant 😉 The fact that there was no written menu and the still twitching platter of fish on offer (only moments before dragged flapping for their lives from the sparkling Adriatic) was priced by weight at anything from 250 Euros upwards per kilo should have given us a clue as to the forthcoming bill 😉 Still, it was all veryyyy fresh and very organic and the veggies/salad were actually hand-picked from the garden immediately an order was placed – so I shouldn’t complain 😉 !!
The hotel was drop dead gorgeous – The Bellevue – and as it said on the packet – it was a beautiful view … We invested a mortgage payment in exchange for a veryyyy nice suite (Dubrovnik is not the cheapest european destination in the world 😉 ) which had a balcony looking straight down over the beach (beaches are rubbish in Croatia if you live in Florida – or anywhere else warm with sand!) and the glittering/sparkling/blue waters of the Adriatic (I did like the sea, it has to be said!). It was a pity we were downwind of a French couple who spent a considerable amount of time arguing loudly and enjoying their disgusting Gauloises on their own balcony next door sending us coughing and spluttering back into our room in fear of permanent lung damage. Croatia suffers from the same social blight as France and Switzerland for a couple of rabid non-smokers, which is a pity …
All in all, we had a fabulous time and really loved Dubrovnik… if we ever think of heading back, we’ll probably charter a yacht and cruise around the Croatian islands… which is what it is most famous for, of course 🙂