Dubrovnik: Lokrum Island

On our last day in Dubrovnik we decided to cross over to Lokrum Island. It is only 600m from the Old City and an hourly ferry makes the 15-minute journey. This a shot taken this evening from the harbour. On the way over this morning cruise ship groups on the dock and a French school trip on the boat somewhat obscured the view.

There are numerous paths through the woodlands, the lower ones having views down to the coast.
Austrian archduke Maximilian once had a holiday home on the island. A monastery and a botanical garden survive from that era. The monastery had been damaged in the 1667 earthquake and the monks left in 1798. It was further damaged in the 1991-95 war and there are pieces of stonework lying among the trees. It is still undergoing renovation so not all the ruins were accessible. Part of it has been converted into a restaurant.

The archduke also introduced peacocks which potter around and are not at all camera-shy. In fact they are even more forward than pigeons and gulls when you are trying to eat your picnic.

The botanic garden dates from the 19th century. It lost all its scientific records and work still needs to be done in the garden and it needs a spring tidy up of dead material but there were some flowers.

Fort Royal stands on the island’s highest point at 96 metres above sea level and was built by the French. We walked up the steep path to it. This is in the process of being improved but many stretches have lots of loose rocks. Interestingly on a weekday, there was no sign of anyone working on it but there was a huge pile of bags of cement at the back of the fort. After descending we walked along a path by the coast and past a cross erected to commemorate the men of the Austrian Navy ship Triton who died in 1859 when the ship exploded while anchored in front of Lokrum. We had our lunch by the rocky coast, four peacocks in attendance.

The sea is clear in the harbour and you can see small fish. It also appears clear around the island. Transparent kayaks can be hired and glass-bottomed boats also run trips from the harbour. Looking into some of the rock pools by the edge of the island I did not see very much in the way of life. No doubt the vast cruise ships contribute to pollution. There are plenty of rabbits around who are not afraid of people and presumably there are no predators. We did see some European blackbirds and I tried to photograph a Croatian Finch but it was spooked by some passers by and flew off. Most of the island is a nature reserve and a number of native species of bird can be found there. We took the ferry back in the afternoon to get some packing done as we leave to tomorrow morning. After an early dinner we joined Dubrovnik’s equivalent of the passeggiata along the Stradum. Children were rolling along on scooters and segways.

We then had a final stroll round the now much quieter harbour.

Dubrovnik: last day in the Old City

Our wanderings today took us first around the centre of the city past the clock tower which we can see from our window. The bells keep time for us throughout the day.

At the top of the steps we had our evening meal by the other night is the Church of St Ignatius and the Jesuit College. They are on the highest point within the city walls. Construction of the church began in 1699 but was not completed until 1725. There are two alcoves on the front of the building which are empty. Apparently the ship carrying two statues that were to sit in the alcoves sank en route.

Inside, there is one central aisle with side altars. After completion of the building, the decoration commenced. The walls and ceiling of the sanctum which depict the death of St Francis Xavier were painted by Gaetano Garcia who took three years to finish his work.

The foundations of the college next door were laid in 1662 but the work was destroyed in the major earthquake of 1667 and did not begin again until 1670 and was completed in the 1690s. There was a pile of rubble in front of it today so I assume more renovations are underway. Tomorrow we are planning to visit the nearest island which has a nature reserve and as our museum ticket covers it, we popped into the Natural History Museum. It is small and has areas set out for children (a school trip arrived just before we left). As it is situated in a coastal city it focusses on marine life although there was a large display about the endangered Balkan Pond Turtle. Upstairs there were a few birds and butterflies on show and only one mammal, an otter. Afterwards we had a cold drink at the nearest of the two Buza Bars which has sea views.
Continuing up and down steps and through the narrow side streets we found the Ethnographic Museum. The ground floor was devoted to a large exhibition of the work of Mateo Kalć, a photographer working in the early twentieth century. The upstairs galleries were devoted to farming and home life and costume. It was very quiet with only one other person visiting. Working our way back towards the harbour via the narrow lanes and a detour due to building work we found the Atelier Pulitika, a small gallery. On our visit one room was devoted to an installation entitled Time by Ana Požar Piplica which was created this year and a replica of Duro Pulitika’s studio (he died in 2006).

Lunch was by the harbour. A cat was curled up under the table when we arrived but as a man set up to start fishing nearby, she moved over and watched him closely. He was unlucky and gave up after a while but the cat scrounged a fish from elsewhere and returned to eat it next to us. Our meal this evening was at a restaurant just outside the Pile Gate with views over the sea.

Dubrovnik: history and modern art

Two books have accompanied me on this trip. The first is the 3rd edition of Marcus Stanver’s ‘Croatia: a history forged in war’ and the second is the 11th edition of ‘Dubrovnik in War’ edited by Milenko Foretić. Staying in the old city has also focussed us on history so far as it is all around us. Today we need a change so headed out of the walled city through the gate we had entered on Monday on to the road behind.

A flight of steps took us up to the station for the four-minute cable car journey to the summit of Mount Srđ (412m). There are great views over the Adriatic and inland to the mountain ranges.

There is some history up here, the remains of a Napoleonic Fort and the white cross which was destroyed in the 1991-1995 war has been rebuilt. I noticed a switchback path on the hillside emerging from the pine forests so walking up is also an option which I had not known about. Doing it in mid-summer would have to be early in the day and with lots of water as it is exposed for most of the route. After descending we walked along the road to the Museum of Modern Art housed in what was a ship-owner’s summer villa built between 1939 and 1949 in a similar style to some of the palaces in the old city. There are exhibitions on three floors with the current focus on their collection from the beginning of the 19th century to the present day. Most of the works are paintings with a few prints and numerous sculptures. There is a terrace overlooking the sea with sculptures

including this one by Frano Kršinić entitled ‘Mother’s play’ from 1965.

The museum ticket gives access to eight more around the city so we will explore some more tomorrow. Just below the museum were steps leading down to a small shingle beach. Huge piles of sunbeds suggest that it will be crowded in mid-summer but this morning it was quiet with only a few people around. I found some sea glass and admired the view over to the walled city while James made a new friend as yet another cat wandered over to see him.

Afterwards we sat by the harbour enjoying the sun while some pigeons were bathing in a puddle left by the rain a couple of nights ago. To make us feel at home one of the many boat trips you can take from here is in a craft shaped like and called ‘Yellow Submarine’.

Stepping back into history we visited the maritime museum which is housed in the Sveti Ivan Fortress. Noticing how many ships in the 18th and 19th century were built in Glasgow, Belfast and Northeast England was a potent reminder of what our past ship-building industry was and what we have lost. There were also a couple of physicians’ chests from ships on display.
This one from the 18th century included a treatise on the management of scurvy. The 19th century chest had many more bottles of potions and instruments.

Outside the inevitable cat was resting on a cannon.

This evening we ate at a restaurant called ‘The Taj Mahal’. Despite the name it serves Bosnian not Indian food. Sunset photography was not on tonight as it started to rain while we were eating.

Dubrovnik: walking the walls and exploring churches

Today was overcast and rain forecast for the afternoon so we set off to walk around the city walls first thing when they are quieter. There are good views over the town and the Adriatic, a few runs of steps to the viewpoints and Minčeta Tower which are good exercise and some spring flowers.

There was a small cafe in the walls providing a welcome espresso and others near the St John Fort and Maritime Museum where we started and finished our circuit. Wandering back along the Stradum I noted that a number of the places we have visited or are about to have been film sets for either Game of Thrones or Star Wars or both and here there are plenty of shops to buy souvenirs. Very few destinations are without an Irish pub and I have seen two of these so far. We had a look in the cathedral where there are some modern paintings depicting the stations of the cross

and then the church of St Blaise which has stained glass windows by Ivo Dulčić.

In the early evening we were wandering around trying to decide where to eat. As we we are a little out of season some places are not open. James was not keen to hang around the harbour until sunset at 19.17 so we headed back towards the centre of town and found a place (Konobo Colosseum) right next to Croatia’s equivalent of the Spanish steps.

Discovering Dubrovnik

Spring was in the air as we drove down to Gatwick. Oilseed Rape was in full bloom turning the fields yellow and lambs were enjoying the sun. I even had to put my sunglasses on. After a night in an airport hotel and an early start, we had an uneventful flight with some good views of the snowy Alpine peaks and a quick passage through immigration and baggage claim. Our taxi driver was waiting for us and we were soon on our way to Dubrovnik. There was building work at the airport and new hotels going up all along the coast. The driver told us that we had made a good decision coming in early April rather than in July and August when it is so busy. I have heard that passes for access to the old city are being considered. As in other coastal European cities, cruise ships arriving can disgorge hundreds or even thousands of passengers at a time, causing crowding.We met our host and we had settled into our apartment which is in a building in the old city wall. After a rest we headed out to explore, looking at the buildings and some of the interesting side streets.

We also met some of the residents, including numerous cats

and a few parrots. I did not see a dog until we were walking back from our evening meal and a few small dogs were having their evening promenade.

We passed the home of Ivo Grbić, an 85 year old painter. His house had been hit by incendiary bombs in 1991 but he has rebuilt it and now has a gallery of his work.

Following an alley through the city wall with the following written on it

led to the Bužar Bar. We sat by the rocky shore opposite Lokrum Island with a beer listening to the waves and the Rolling Stones. Apparently the bar sometimes has to close if the sea is too rough.

Today’s outings were concluded with dinner at Azur, a Croatian/Asian fusion restaurant nearby which was excellent.