I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
After being on the road for nearly a month, we encountered our first cycle tourist in Dubrovnik. Ironically we had left our bikes in Split but we still approached him to tell him that we too were traveling by bike, just not at the moment. He had been on the road for some months and greeted us warmly. We were waiting outside the old city walls for our Game of Thrones tour guide. She ended up standing us up. She messaged Craig to say she was sick, but I have a feeling that no one else signed up for the tour and she didn’t think it was worth it to just take the two of us. Craig and I decided to give ourselves a tour of old town and with the miracle that is the world wide Web, we found the locations of Black Water Bay, the Red Keep, Cerci’s walk of shame and other memorable scenes from the HBO series.
Dubrovnik looks flawless with beautiful masonry and architecture dating back to the middle ages, but much of the facade was restored in the late ’90s and early 2000s after the Yugoslav People’s Army bombed the old town during the Croatian War of Independence. People camped out in underground bunkers and many residents tried to flea. The new country of Croatia didn’t have an established army so a rag tag group of men known at the Croatian National Guard and (who eventually became the Croatian Army) defended the city from a Napoleonic bunker on a hill overlooking the city. Under-equipped and under-trained, they defended the city for the seven-month-long bombardment until the Yugoslav troops withdrew.
Today a fancy cable car takes visitors to Fort Imperial where a gift shop and panoramic views of the city and sea can be seen peacefully. A museum display shows artifacts and photographs from the Balkans Conflict and a BBC newsreel on a loop shows the devastation and destruction that much of Europe ignored until it was too late. Craig and I walked down a pebbly switchback path with cast bronze sculptures dedicated to war heroes. We ate lunch looking out over the city. I struggle to comprehend that Craig has visited the country before and after a war. We haven’t had a war on American soil in a long time and the impacts of armed conflict can feel so far away.
We stayed in an Apartman north of the old city up a steep hill. We thought it came with a kitchen, but our room only had a electric panini maker and a kettle. We had stopped at the grocery store and bought eggs and sausage, which were going to be a challenge to make given our appliance choices. We asked the 18 year old daughter who was running the guest house for her parents if we could use their kitchen and she kindly obliged. Like everywhere we had been in Croatia, it was sleepy in Dubrovnik in November. Dressed in a Micky mouse sweatshirt, she told us she had never seen Game of Thrones but more so than when Star Wars or Jame Bond was filmed in her hometown, the George R. R. Martin fans make the city almost unbearable in the summer. The house and rooms were surrounded by a beautiful garden. We ate oranges off the tree and in the house was a freshly picked glass jar of kiwis left to ripen. I never knew how hard they were when they came off the tree.
The Velika and Mala Petka park was just a short walk from our accommodations so we hiked up the hill passed an abandoned hotel to a radio tower. Craig found a metal washer used in manufacturing on the path and we took turns rolling it down the hill, competing to see who could keep it rolling the longest. It was nice to spend time walking using different muscled than bike riding requires. We walked passed the new fact hotels and bars of Lapad, the new part of Dubrovnik created, seemingly, just for tourists. Not wanting to loose UNESCO status, Dubrovnik has limited the number of cruise ships that can dock at any one time and expanded options outside the old city to alleviate congestion. We didn’t run into any trouble visiting the Pearl of the Adriatic in November. Christmas decorations lined the stone streets and there were seats to be had at any cafe we chose.