We arrived in Dubrovnik and immediately realized with sinking hearts: the entire walled city is a tourist Disneyland. It’s one huge attraction. With ultra-inflated prices to boot. (You know it’s bad if restaurants list prices in foreign currencies for your convenience.)
A chair of one's own and 25€ for a bloody entrée. – Virginia Woolf
Part of the attraction is that, apparently, a featured location in Game of Thrones is a heavily CGI enhanced version of Dubrovnik. I haven't seen Game of Thrones, but here's a great video where someone photoshops pictures they took of Dubrovnik into scenes from GoT. As you might imagine, this whole situation means the city is riddled with Game of Thrones Walking Tours and Game of Thrones Official-ish Merchandise.
(Ed. note: this is my favorite picture I took here.)
We immediately set a plan in action: cook our own food, and do as much as we can for free. With this outlook, Dubrovnik was lovely for a few days, largely because the Croatian coast is unbelievably beautiful.
One of the free things you can do is swim in the coves and beaches around town.
You can also hike up the hill nearby the old town for some lovely views.
One thing I have been surprised to find myself interested in while traveling is: flags. Each time we go to a new country I am curious about their flag, especially when there is some kind of coat of arms. What makes this even more fun is when regions or even cities have their own flags. (E.g., I recall in Málaga, flying on an old fortress above town was the Málaga city flag, the Andalusia (region) flag, and the Spanish flag.) I thought this particular one (top left) was neat because it is so long.
… or tromp around this other forest park in the city.
Here is something I never appreciated about hikes: if they go up high, there is a good view at the end. I always assumed this just sort of happens naturally. But cresting this hill (Velika and Mala Petka Forest Park), there was no view. Nearly all directions were blocked by infrastructure or growth. I realized that someone like a forest department probably has to actually plan for viewpoint equipment (platforms, stairs, guard rails) and ecological maintenance (tasteful but non-destructive pruning) and natural beauty lobbying (vs, say, the power or comms depts.) for cases when a view doesn't just throw itself at you.
I think this is the only time I have seen a statue truly just smirking. I almost got a turtle in the pandemic because I am allergic to common pet mammals, but then I read about them a bit more and learned they live like 100 years, are high maintenance, and don't love you. They cute tho.
⛴ → Split
Really like the water texture on that second one. Almost looks like leather.
The Croatian waters brim with tiny islands. The whole coastline looks like forest cells in various stages of geological mitosis.
I am repeatedly impressed by how different some place is on the ground vs what I imagine it to be when I’m Googling it and perusing photos.
E.g., I expected Primošten—a village up the coast a bit from Split—to be mostly people living in the dense city island, with a few houses outside. And I also expected it to be mostly locals and a few people perhaps from neighboring Balkan countries.
It turns out, the island city is more like Dubrovnik’s old town, in that it’s got tourist shops and restaurants and old monuments and probably some homes as well, but not really the place we’d really spend any time.
So that’s the geography. Re: who is there, we came before peak season really hit, but even still, this was clearly a resort town. Menus in English and German, vacationers filling the restaurants and beaches. Apparently more Polish tourists than usual. I guess the Croatian coast thrives off tourism, so everywhere you go will be more or less like this. Another humbling aspect of traveling is repeatedly being wrong in this assumption: if I’d never heard of a place, others won’t have either.
Second from bottom:
Börek, a flaky dough filled with, e.g., meat or cheese, became an instant obsession.
There's kind of a Rorschachian beauty in guessing the purpose of novel infrastructure in foreign places.
Our second favorite thing was visiting a long decommissioned, gutted hotel.
Top fav thing may or may not have been utilizing the local huge inflated floating obstacle course (not pictured).
Brief Linguistic Interlude
Slovenian (i.e., the language spoken in Slovenia, to the north) has great mutual intelligibility with Croatian, depending on dialects. And to pass even further, a speaker of one (e.g., Slovenian) can learn the local words and accents of another (e.g., Croatian).
Since I knew nothing about Slavic languages beforehand, this was very cool to witness.
I also heard Croatian referred to as Serbo-Croatian, which Wikipedia even tells me is sometimes lengthily called Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian. This reflects that there’s one underlying language with four standard forms.
This is cool, because it adds a new middle layer to the “language / dialect” linguistic hierarchy I usually conceptualize.
Bonus: me + 2 animal pals
According to expert bird man, hands and fingers are potential threads so receive nippings, but face is not a threat, so owl lets you rub into body. Very, very soft. Many terrifying facts given about lbs / in² force of claws, inability to even open before object completely crushed, graphic description of hypothetical ripping one's face off of one's head, etc. BTW, animal hospital, which is neat, so birds treated well & held necessarily, etc. Nothing much to say about bug on the left.
I liked Zagreb. It was cheap and interesting, and we had an easy time getting around and talking to people.
The only odd thing was nearly everywhere we went, every time of day and every day of the week, the streets were quite barren.
Second from bottom:
OK, hear me out: Regular Bar is a great name for a bar.
This says, in German, used clothing sold at the cheapest prices. German, you might ask? Didn't we just have a whole linguistic interlude on Serbo-Croatian? Right, but recall that before WWI, this was part of Austria-Hungary. But still, why German? Wasn't Croatian a widely spoken & official language of AH? Here's where I really ought to read a history book, but from hearsay: German, the language of power, was used for matters of greater business and authority. So, here we are, over 100 years later, and the façade of this building still has a thrift shop sign carved in German letters. This is the kind of stuff historical stuff I like.
God is dead; this summer, eat the maestro chicken burger.
And a toaster with, to me, the beauty of brutalist (lack of) flair.