Croatia was a vacation destination for the Czechs when I lived in Prague. That’s how I knew about it. Flights were too expensive to Greece and Turkey, so before I left Prague to move to Seoul, I went on one last trip with a girlfriend to Croatia. Dubrovnik was one of the highlights (we also visited Split, Trogir, and Hvar). This was in 2006. We went in August and it was glorious. There were tourists, sure, but it felt special and unique and like we were exploring a largely untouched place. We walked the walls of Dubrovnik under the burning summer sun and then sat at a sidewalk cafe within the city walls for hours drinking wine and dining on fresh seafood. After an evening full of house white, we got lost in the hillside maze outside of the walls trying to find our way to our rented room. In the end, a gracious cab driver called a friend of a friend and we eventually found our way to bed. It was one of my favorite days of travel. My eyes would glow whenever anyone mentioned Croatia, and I would go on (and on and on) about how they simply had to visit Dubrovnik.
Fast forward to today. It’s not the same. It’s still beautiful and downright stunning towards the evening when the majority of tourists are in their hotel rooms. But it’s ridiculously overpriced now, and during the day the amount of tourists are so overwhelming that it really takes away from the beauty of the old city. It made me wonder, what happened to Dubrovnik?
After getting kicked off of the bus in Kotor that Josh and Leanne were on, we inexplicably had to relocate to a much fuller bus to Dubrovnik and arrived a few hours later exhausted and hoping we would get a decent room for a decent price. Andrew left me with our bags at the bus station while he searched for a bathroom. Tired, and not wanting to deal with those asking if I needed a place to stay, I decided to lowball everyone who asked if I needed a room.
“Ten euro per person?” I asked the woman shouting at me, inches away from my face, “Lady, you need room?”
She suggested an apartment for sixty euro per night, or a private room for forty euro. I shook my head. I wasn’t annoyed, just tired. I motioned to our backpacks and said “This is all we have. Ten euro per person, or go find someone else.” I thought, if nothing else, she would leave me alone and Andrew could take the lead when he returned.
Another apartment owner came up and asked if I knew what I was saying, “Ten euro?!” he asked over and over again, laughing at the idea. I held my ground, again, simply tired, and waiting for Andrew to return with a better idea.
“Okay, okay, ten euro per person!” The woman yelled, again, only inches away from my face. Andrew returned and I shrugged. He shrugged, and we agreed to at least go look at it. I whispered that he could be ‘bad cop’ and say we couldn’t stay if he wanted.
In the car en route to our room, she would say things like “Here, 15 minute walking to old town!” and then keep driving. “Here to the beach!” and keep driving. “Here bus to station.” and keep driving. “Here hotel is my neighbor.” and keep driving. We ended up being about a thirty-forty minute walk away from the old town. We arrived to the woman’s house and waited while the bed was made in the spare room.
“We can go somewhere else!” I whispered to Andrew, completely aware that we were staying in this loud woman’s house, not even disguised as a more legitimate guesthouse.
“It’s ok…” Andrew replied (just as tired as I was) and we went in our room when the bed was made to take a nap before exploring around the city. An hour later, a man walked into our room, and then shouted “Pardon! Pardon!” as he closed the door as quickly as he could. We were too tired to even be bothered by the intrusion.
Into the evening we finally made our way towards the walled in ‘old town.’ It was then the change of Dubrovnik slapped me in the face.
“A bottle of water is THREE EUROS.” Andrew came out of a convenient store flabbergasted. We weren’t even within the walls of the old city. Usually a litre and a half of water is less than one euro. I sighed, taking note of the crazy amount of tourists everywhere.
We walked into the old city and I suggested we find the alleyway Jess and I dined for hours on end during my last visit. We found the alley, and promptly found the ridiculously overpriced menus that accompanied the beautiful cafes. My shoulders slumped, disappointed I wouldn’t be able to share the same magical experience with Andrew this time around. We walked out of the old town and found a pizza place Andrew later insisted wasn’t as good as the pizza by the slice joint we went to in Kotor.
We walked around, stopping short of a smaller version of the Spanish steps in Rome. One restaurant owner gave us a flyer, insisting we wouldn’t be sorry if we stopped. He sounded North American. I asked him about his accent, and he said he had spent several years in California, but having been born in Dubrovnik, he returned to run his (family’s?) restaurant. I told him I had been in Dubrovnik several years ago, and said it seemed so… different… I asked when it had changed.
“Around 2006 he answered. All of the cruisers started to stop here then. Are you on a cruise ship?” He asked, stopping himself.
“No.” I smiled, thinking how different our mode of transportation usually is.
“I didn’t want to offend you… But we don’t really like the cruisers. They come and spend one day walking around and you really need more time than that to get a feel for the city… Since they started coming, things have changed a lot.” He replied. I told him it was nice to talk to him and that I hoped we would be able to eat at his restaurant tomorrow before I climbed the steps with Andrew.
We sat outside of the Church of St. Ignatius mostly watching two boys kick a ball back and forth. Their future might not include professional football, but they sure were fun to watch in the present. Still tired, we made our way back out of the old town to our room in ‘the lady’s’ (as we liked to call her) house. On our way back, I wondered if I knew one of the persons walking towards town. I knew I was tired, but I also knew I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t ask.
“Excuse me, I’m sorry, but is your name Riley?” I asked the poor guy minding his own business making his way towards the old town.
“Yes.” He answered, and I knew it was my friend from college. I took off my sunglasses and smiled apologetically to the woman he was with.
“Riley, it’s Liz, from Loyola.” I smiled. He let out a string of expletives and gave me a huge hug. We introduced our significant others and caught up on life since we saw each other last and finally wished each other well on our travels. They were leaving the next day for Hvar, and I was too tired to suggest continuing a reunion somewhere other than the sidewalk that we were on. The world is small, and running into a familiar (even if it’s been awhile) face made me smile and it certainly made Andrew shake his head in amusement.