I spent two summers in Mallorca, one of the Spanish Balearic islands. Dubrovnik felt much like Palma de Mallorca, the capital city. They are similar in that both are on the Mediterranean Sea, both are tourist destinations, and both have a long history of trade and conquest.
I really like many aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle, or in this case, the Adriatic lifestyle. The climate is great with hot summers, and cool wet winters. We loved the weather in Perth, Western Australia for our two years living there, another place with a “Mediterranean” climate. One can be active all winter as it never gets so cold to force people indoors. On our last full day we had the classic bright sunny Mediterranean day. The brilliant light brought back memories for us of Perth. We also enjoyed much delicious seafood and we love the gardens filled with orange trees, pomegranates, etc. Some of our expatriate friends have purchased homes or boats and devote many holidays to the Croatian coast. There is a lot to explore here and I would like to see some of the islands and smaller towns on the “Dalmatian Riviera.”
Dubrovnik, which means “grove of Oaks,” is a city of around 100,000 people. Its claim to fame is their walled city. The city is a small part of the metro area, but it is the draw for the cruise ships and tourists coming to visit. There were two huge ships in the port yesterday, which we can see from our rented apartment. I as write this, another ship is coming into the harbor. Dubrovnik, for hundreds of years, was known as “Ragusa” and was an independent city-state, like Venice or Athens. The people of Dubrovnik today, still make a living off the Ragusans accomplishments. The old city is beautiful, with high walls jutting dramatically into the sea, stone streets worn smooth by centuries of traffic, and the amazing architecture of porticos, arches, towers, cathedrals, steps, etc.
Yesterday we walked around and enjoyed the day. It was a bit crowded; I can imagine the place in the summer. The kids enjoyed the umbrellas, as it poured early and rained on and off all morning. The kids were photographed by the many Asian tour groups. A small group of Japanese ladies even posed with them. I can imagine if we lived in Asia, they would be absolute superstars.
Ragusa was founded by Greeks escaping from a nearby city. They were technically independent, although they did have to pay tribute to the Ottomans to maintain their “independence.” Throughout the centuries, I am sure they made deals with the Hungarians, Venetians, and other empires of the Mediterranean. Being on the sea, they were great traders and they built up quite an economy and culture. It was interesting that the Ragusan culture in some ways was quite liberal, with probably the first ban on slave trading in the world. The society however, was quite strict in other ways, and did not allow freedom of worship with only Catholic churches being allowed. Eventually, this caused their downfall, as Peter the Great, the Russian Tsar, did not give the city protection of their independent status in one of the many treaties of the 19th century. His grandmother Catherine, had been snubbed by Ragusa when she asked for them to establish an Orthodox Cathedral so I guess he got back at them.
When Yugoslavia took possession of the city, they changed it to a Slavic name. I read they thought it sounded too Italian. Today, almost all of the inhabitants are Slavic Croatians, and the Greek ethnic heritage has disappeared.
It is noticeable the animosity of the Croatians towards the Serbs. We live in Belgrade and so we got some reactions to this. As you may know, the Jugolsav National Army (JNA) attacked the city about 20 years ago. Some of the old city and hotels were destroyed. When I mentioned that I am learning Serbian or offered Serbian currency to pay for a bill, it was like I mentioned the Nazis. They didn’t want to have anything to do with anything Serbian. We also got some dirty looks driving around Sarajevo, another victim of JNA attacks. People would see the Belgrade license plate and then look up to us with a sour look. Our plates our diplomatic however, and being blond and short, we obviously do not look Serbian. I bought a couple of books about the siege in Sarajevo and one book on the war in Dubrovnik. I want to learn more about the breakup of Yugoslavia and the violence that occurred because of it.
Our apartment is located on the Lapad peninsula, a few minutes’ drive outside the old city. The neighborhood of Lapad is very California-esque, with many date palms and there is a nice promenade bustling with cafes filled with mostly locals. I went for a run in the morning. It is amazing the difference in temperature from Belgrade. It was almost balmy, despite the clouds and intermittent showers. After spending the morning shopping and looking around the old city, we went swimming at a nearby beach. The water was wonderful and being mid-October and temperatures in the 70’s, we were alone on the rocky beach. The kids loved climbing on the rocks and we collected quite a few colorful and unusual rocks. It was the first time the kids swam in saltwater since Venezuela. It was Ocean’s first visit to an ocean. It was the highlight of my day.
We came back from the beach and Nadia cooked a delicious pork roast with rice, green beans, and salad. I played “crazy eights” with the kids and after dinner, while I cleaned up, Nadia watched “Rat Race” with the kids in bed. As we were going to sleep, Owen was saying how much he loved family vacations and was not looking forward to Wednesday. These are memories and family bonds were are establishing on these holiday trips. I would tend to agree with Owen. It is wonderful to spend so much time with my wife and children. I hope they remember this trip!
Last morning in Lapad – We had two super days filled with family fun. We managed to go swimming each day and the kids enjoyed throwing rocks and swimming in the turquoise waters. It was our “last day of summer” for a while as we are heading into a cold, continental European winter, and then next summer we will be in Bolivia, the southern hemisphere winter.
It was interesting to compare and contrast the Croatians and Serbians. This was our first time in Croatia and I am only comparing Dubrovnik metro area to Serbia. The city infrastructure and buildings are better than Serbia. It does certainly feel more “western” although I can’t put my finger on what exactly it is that is western. The Croats seem a bit colder than the Serbs. It may be because they are jaded on tourists, especially here, but we found them less out-going, less talkative, and heard much less laughter than we do in Belgrade. They look similar but I still think the Serbs are a bit taller. They should be one country because of the language. I know they have a lot of bad history that will take a long time to heal. There is always hope with the next generation and a few more decades with both countries with a democratic, capitalist system will in my opinion, bring them closer together.