A Tale of Two (Walled) Cities

Old Jun 11th, 2017, 10:30 PM
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A Tale of Two (Walled) Cities

With credit to Mr. Dickens.

Travelers. DH and myself for a long weekend in Dubrovnik, Kotor, and Perast.

The Outbound Flight. Croatia Airlines may codeshare with Austrian Airlines, but that is where the Imperial lovefest ends. VIE has DIY machines to generate boarding passes and luggage tags which work fabulously. If your ticket is Austrian. Should your ticket read, “Croatian Airlines,” no matter how many times you scan your passport, your boarding pass, and enter the by-now memorized e-ticket number (seriously?), the machines say, “Covfefe” to your attempt to print a luggage tag. The Austrian Airlines staff milling about become less than helpful, too, when they determine you are not flying the Emperor’s Express, and direct you from one queue to another. Were it not for my muttering to DH, “Geesh. Marrakesh’s airport had it much more under control,” which was overheard by an Arabic speaking Austrian attendant, we might never have left Schwechat. He popped over and asked us to follow him to the Business Class check-in, where he promptly tagged our bag and wished us a pleasant flight. Habibi to the rescue.

In good order we boarded the first of two flights: VIE-ZAG and ZAG-DVK. DH and I both prefer aisle seats, and so a chatty Croatian woman was my row mate on the Bombadier Prop. Behind us were two English speaking 20-somethings. One of them said, “I always puke when the plane lands.” With perfect synchronicity Croatian Lady and I handed our motion sickness bags over our heads. (And sure enough, the woman behind knew her flying style.)

Though this was our first Balkan flight, we are not first-time Balkan travelers, and so set our mental clocks for Balkan time accordingly. The time between connections was 35 minutes, and our plane departed 15 minutes late. First time Balkan travelers might panic at having 20 minutes to pass though security and passport control, but not the two of us. It all just works.

Sure enough. Our plane landed at Gate 21, and boarding for the connection had begun. Everyone disembarked, walked across the tarmac and up two flights of stairs into the terminal. Three left turns later we were at the security checkpoint. The turnaround would have taken less than 35 minutes, but someone had forgotten to alert the screeners that their smoke break was over and they needed to report for duty. Thankfully the bored passport control guy picked up his phone to call them.

One by one we were screened, with only women having to remove shoes and receive a physical pat-down. Five steps later, passport control. One more left turn remained, and then it was back down the two flights of stairs and onto the same plane!

The flight into Dubrovnik was an easy-breezy 45 minutes, with passengers on port side having spectacular views of the walled city from above. I asked the couple across the row if they would be so kind as to take a snap for me. The woman put down her iPhone and took mine; when she returned the phone to me I saw that she had not taken a photo at all. Not certain how to interpret that.

On the return flight, “Take off your clothes!” was the instruction from the Screener. Well, then! (The screener was referring to the sweater across my shoulders.) Two 45 minute hops and a gimpy-sprint across the Zagreb airport to catch our connection, and we were home. DH had pulled a leg muscle on a family hike the previous weekend, so our usual pace was dialed back a bit on this trip.

Our driver was waiting for us after we passed through baggage claim. Once upon a time we would have queued for the airport shuttle and found our own way to the hotel. But thankfully those days are over, and I slipped into the air-conditioned Benz taxi on this sticky 28º afternoon for the drive to our hotel. Our driver was animated, playing (presumably) lively Croatian music on the radio and pointing out the native flora and other points of scenic interest; and in a pleasant 25 minutes we reached Lapad, the suburban outpost of the walled city. Though in the end our hotel only rated a, “Fine,” the decision to have lodging from which to escape the compacted chaos of Dubrovnik was ideal.

With several hours of daylight ahead of us, we freshened up and caught the bus to “Pile Gate,” where everyone not arriving by personal watercraft is summarily deposited. The late afternoon light cast spectacular color on the city, and DH carefully steered me to and fro while I clicked away on my camera. A light supper near the hotel (more on the food to come) and an hour or so on our balcony watching the world go by brought our first day to a close.
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Old Jun 12th, 2017, 12:58 AM
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My Croatian airport anecdote from this past Thursday,flying ZAD-ZAG:

* When the security guy saw my U.S. passport he said, "Oh no, not good."

* When I had everything in the trays he said, "All right, Mr. Trump."

* And when I passed on through the metal detector he said, "My heart is bleeding."

At least there was flaky, delicate, piping hot spinach & meat börek in the capitalist pig Zadar airport lounge.
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Old Jun 12th, 2017, 01:17 AM
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Thanks for this report (so far). I knew there was a reason...(and I'll leave it at that).
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Old Jun 12th, 2017, 03:59 AM
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Following along and looking forward to more. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jun 12th, 2017, 08:10 AM
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I was in Kotor two weeks ago. Very interested in your impressions of Montenegro. I loved the place.
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Old Jun 12th, 2017, 09:25 AM
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Spoiler. Dubrovnik was dreamy, and Kotor was captivating. We’ll never take sides.

We slept with the balcony door open, which meant we were awakened by the dawn chorus of shore birds the following morning. Idyllic (and necessary), because we had a full day trip planned to Kotor, Montenegro. Though we had not seen everything of interest in Dubrovnik, a quick consult of the cruise ship schedule while planning suggested that, “getting out of Dodge” would work to our benefit on this day.

We are not-so-much tour bus kind of people, so we had rented a car for the day; and soon after breakfast (outdoors on the hotel patio, so civilized) we collected an Opel Zafire, a completely functional vehicle but one with those crazy wipers that swish inward rather than left-to-right. Troublesome to those of us with OCD-like sensibilities (that would be me). After the Rental Guy pointed out the cracked tail light cover with, “Some Americans did this,” we hit the road.

OH. MY. GOODNESS. The road from Dubrovnik to Kotor is paved with scenic overlooks, and we stopped and snapped at each and every one. From the clifftop views of Dubrovnik, its chalky walls and red-tiled roofs a more than perfect contrast to the sea blue; to the grey-blue peaks of the Montenegran rias (don’t call them fjords!), the 90 minute drive took almost twice the time. After nearly 25 years of married bliss, DH knows to be ready to brake at little notice because I am hopping out of the vehicle to snap something. It is what keeps our marriage fresh.

Eventually we arrived in Kotor. Horror stories of crossing the border were not quite realized, but this was not High Season, either. We almost caused an international incident when we abided by the STOP sign after passport control, however, when two agents ran over to us and asked what we were declaring. It turns out the STOP sign was only meant for those having something to declare. Live and learn.

What truly frightened us, however, was the monster cruise ship (or, at least it seemed that way to us) berthed practically against the old city walls upon our arrival in Kotor. Scale is everything, though, and in reality only a few hundred people descended upon Kotor, most of whom were organized by colored umbrellas and led in various directions. We headed in various opposite directions and, starving by this time, found a restaurant in a small square off from the main gate at which to sit for lunch. There were no completely free tables, so we inquired at a table where two pleasant-looking people were sitting, and they graciously invited us to join them. It turns out they were a British couple on holiday, and we chatted with liveliness for some time. They departed just after our second-favorite meal of the holiday arrived, guaranteed to be so by our wait staff. He did not steer us wrong; the squid and octopus (a meal theme on this holiday) we ordered were as memorable as our many similar meals on Corfu a year earlier.

Wanting to linger, but with the day ticking along and some gray clouds brooding above the cliffs, we spent the inside of two hours walking about Kotor, snapping as we went and dropping into shops of interest. With DH’s injury, walking the steps to the top of Kotor was simply out of the question, though with the weather we did not feel we had shortchanged our views over Kotor Bay.

Eeeking out of our highly-coveted parking space we began our return to Dubrovnik, with a so-happy-we-stopped detour in Perast, even though the skies above us threatened rain. Perast is beautiful. It just is. The island church in contrast with the sea and the mountains and the village prompted me to remark, “It’s like Hallstatt!” Little white rowboats bobbing against the gray-blue water were mesmerizing and the Oleander were colorful conspiratorial sideshows. It took all the reserve DH had to keep me from walking into a real estate office and plunking down far too many Euros on a holiday home.

My spirits dashed over purchasing a Perast fixer-upper, the return to Dubrovnik was uneventful; and the rain spittled here and there (hence my Opel Zafire wiper issues). The queue crossing back into Croatia was a little longer than we might have otherwise appreciated, but the entertainment of fellow travelers getting out of their vehicles at the crossing for various reasons, coupled with my attempt to find something musical on the radio amused us while we waited. We did not STOP to declare anything on this return, savvy travelers that we now were.

Once back in Dubrovnik and with the rental Zafire safely returned and without “Some Americans did this” issues, we sat for dinner. Over pizza (not so original, but we were squid-ed out) and a bottle of wine we toasted our spectacular day.
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Old Jun 13th, 2017, 06:02 PM
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Did you find Kotor and Dubrovnik to be similar, both being walled towns by the water? Was the day trip satisfying enough or would it have been better if you had stayed overnight?
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Old Jun 13th, 2017, 06:27 PM
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Maybe once the OP takes a breather from finishing her excellent report, she can weigh in. I won't say too much here, but you can read my 2015 trip report for Croatia/Montenegro by clicking on my name. I spent a night in Kotor and, like the OP, loved Perast and stopped numerous times for photos along the Bay of Kotor. I didn't fall in love with Kotor itself and didn't find it all that similar to Dubrovnik, which I would prefer to Kotor myself.
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Old Jun 13th, 2017, 11:36 PM
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Lokrum Island

Dubrovnik promotes a, “Three Island Day Trip” that piqued our interest, until we realized that we would return with about one hour to present for our dinner reservation at Proto, the city’s famed, two-star Michelin restaurant. After a 30º day out on the water…let’s just say I would need more than an hour to achieve presentable.

Instead we caught the first ferry over to Lokrum Island. We can’t throw a rock in these parts without it ricocheting off a Hapsburg-something, so why not visit; plus, I was sold after reading the word, “peacocks.” For good measure, the island was also once visited by Richard the Lionhearted, who is the second person after Tom Hanks with whom I would not travel, when his ship was wrecked here on the way home from the crusades.

Honestly, visiting this island well outranked walking the city walls in our experience. Exploring the abandoned Benedictine Monastery, the light filtering through the trees, and with the hares dancing about required 75 camera clicks (and bunches more on my iPhone to send in real time to DD and DS at home). We unwittingly discovered the GoT exhibit inside the basilica, where the peer pressure of other visitors posing in the, “Iron Throne” wore us down and I made DH pose.

Then came the olive groves, the sun strong enough to perfume the air with Eau du Olive while its 300 year old trees offered all the cool shade we needed to stalk peacocks! And peahens with peachicks! Sensational.

Owing to the rocky climb (and DH’s ankle) we wandered not to the fort but instead followed other paths as we felt, through the gardens and over to the “Dead Sea,” Empress Elisabeth’s favorite place to swim and quite alive with families picnicking and enjoying the water. In between I camera-stalked the peacocks on the tree branches above us.

Three hours later (!) came the call of hunger. Anticipating our dinner later we went light and shared…a plate of exceptional grilled squids (what else) with another friend-recommended Croatian wine on the terrace of the upscale restaurant. The peacocks milling about, punctuated by an occasional bunny passing made the lunch almost fairy-tale like.

A little more wandering to see sights we missed, except for the FKK beach as we see "plenty” of that when we cycle around Donau Insel at home.

Back on the mainland there was just enough time to collect wine and olive oil to bring home, and to sit along the Stradun with a cold and tart limeade palate cleanser before preparing for dinner. I had also purchased some wine and olive oil in Montenegro, foreseeing a Balkan-theme dinner party this summer.

Dinner at Proto? Stay tuned…
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Old Jun 14th, 2017, 12:00 AM
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tripplanner001, we did not find Kotor and Dubrovnik similar, but can understand how some might be underwhelmed with the city coming from Dubrovnik. Each offers visitors its own experience, and I think comparing them might be a little unfair. As a day trip from Dubrovnik, the drive along the bay is part of the experience, culminating in the thankfully-uncrowded, slightly scruffy, and altogether pleasant Kotor.

Our day trip was satisfying for what we had intended to see, Kotor and Perast, knowing our travel style of stopping on whims for one thing or another. If the sprinkling rain had not happened, we had Svent Stefan on the "alternate" list, though we are not disappointed in having passed it over.

Andrew, thank you for your kind comments.
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Old Jun 14th, 2017, 03:13 AM
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Thank you. Lokrum sounds like a perfect relaxing day trip. Appreciate the comparison between Dubrovnik and Kotor. Hadn't been to either and am just curious.
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Old Jun 14th, 2017, 11:13 AM
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Between your and dfour's stories it doesn't sound like an especially friendly place for Americans.
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Old Jun 14th, 2017, 11:51 AM
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I didn't feel unwelcome at all in Croatia or Montenegro. But I made few attempts to talk to locals, either. Many locals (especially younger) speak English but I don't assume they do, and don't speak their language, so I generally don't try to strike up conversations with locals when I travel.
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Old Jun 14th, 2017, 12:10 PM
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Just found this Four4 - what a great report. love your description of racing through the terminal just to find yourselves on the same plane - priceless.

Thanks for taking us with you.
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Old Jun 14th, 2017, 08:38 PM
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Dianedancer, I am afraid I don't understand your statement? Everyone we encountered seemed happy to speak English, once I asked; with one woman German was preferred, so that worked. Even the border officers shifted into English when we mistakenly stopped at the "Items to Declare" post and looked a little panicked.

annhig, glad you like the report!
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Old Jun 15th, 2017, 05:19 AM
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Dinner at Proto and Final Notes

Fish Restaurant Proto is a Michelin two-star restaurant, and so we set our expectations accordingly. Our reservation was indeed excellent; the perimeter of the roof terrace offered banquette seating and we had a corner table, ideal for intimate conversation as well as restaurant-goer watching.

Yet…here’s the “thing#8221; our meals did not inspire us. Perhaps our expectations had been set high; I grew up along the water in the US, and though now several decades removed from this idyllic childhood setting, my nose can still identify the number-of-hours-ago a Lake Perch had been caught when it arrives at the table. DH and I also have the good fortune of having friends who own a beachfront weekend home on Krk, and the even better fortune of being their weekend guests on several occasions. We have enjoyed the daily fresh catch on their grill and, if I may be forthright, our meals with friends rivaled dinner at Proto.

We began with the shared starter of Truffle, Shrimp, and Lobster, to which we assigned a, “Very Good.” DH ordered, if memory serves, a seafood and pasta dish with a remarkable sauce; I selected a Sea Bream with Olive Pate crust that did not disappoint but did not “Wow,” either. To end the meal I selected a cheese plate that was slightly underwhelming; no descriptions of the cheese were made available, and the presentation was, dare I write, akin to something I might toss together for a last minute gathering at our home! DH selected something chocolate (he always does) and found his bliss. This is not to write that our meal was not entirely delicious and beautifully presented, and was not perfectly paired with our wine; it is to write that our lunches on Lokrum Island and in Kotor rank higher. In the end we decided that Croatia does its seafood best when not encumbered by Michelin stars.

Final Notes.

We have the luxury of hop, skip, and jumping to Dubrovnik when it suits us, and thank goodness for that. To be able to time our visit to the city proper around the cruise ship mobs made most of the difference in our enjoyment. We could not be bribed in any way, shape, or form to visit Dubrovnik in the peak of summer.
Complaints? Dubrovnik seems unnecessarily overpriced. We knew this going in and just accepted that those who stay in the city are expected to make up for the cruise ship day trippers who only wander the city because their meals are covered on board the boat. In return the city keeps the cruise ship disgorgees at a respectable minimum, so in the end somehow I am certain this all works.

Biggest “Disappointment?” Walking the wall surrounding the city. Though on every “Ultimate…,” “Must-do!...,” and “Can’t Miss!” list for Dubrovnik, our experience, amidst narcissistic tourists who stopped every 10 meters to strike a pose with their selfie stick left us with aching eyes from having rolled them back in our heads so many times. Call us old-school, but the two or three mis-aligned selfies we shot on this holiday more than captured the fun we had.

Biggest, “Surprise?” The War Photo Museum. History people that we are, the museum was more than worth of the entry €8 fee. Expect to be depressed, however.

So that’s that. With appreciation to our Croatian friends who have shared their culture with us, and encouraged this little dip along the Dalmatian Coast.

Thank you for reading.
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Old Jun 15th, 2017, 07:43 AM
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In the end we decided that Croatia does its seafood best when not encumbered by Michelin stars.>>

Don't you think that that often applies, Four4? less is more, I often find. For example, on TV yesterday a well-know TV chef was waxing lyrical about a meal that he had in Lyon where lobster was paired with braised ox-cheek in a vol-au-vent. Why? Whoever thought that those two could possibly go together on the same plate?

I'm not sure that we would ever want to return to Dubrovnik. Having seen it in its original state before the war, I think I should like to retain that as my memory of it. But thank you for sharing your views of it with us.
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Old Jun 15th, 2017, 08:21 AM
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I thought walking the walls of Dubrovnik was most definitely a highlight. But I did it in 2009, before the "selfie stick" had quite caught on, so I don't recall that particular annoyance. I do recall snapping pictures (not of myself) frequently, because there are so many neat views - not just of the water and the surrounding countryside but of the buildings themselves. I did the walk first thing in the morning as soon as the walls opened, thinking it might be less crowded. I don't recall big crowds on my walk but there certainly were lots of other people. (It's been a long time.)
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Old Jun 15th, 2017, 09:19 AM
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I walked the walls in Dubrovnik back in 1989. Just me and a bunch of stray cats.
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Old Jun 15th, 2017, 08:27 PM
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annhig, I'm with you that, "less is more," especially when it comes to dining. There is an extremely upscale restaurant here in Vienna (another two-star) at which DH and I were obliged to dine, and on the menu was something called, "foamed bacon." I prefer my bacon straight up, not latte style.

Andrew, we walked the walls in the early morning, too. While there were certainly many photographable moments, there were equally as many exasperating moments in the narrow areas having to queue while poses were being struck.

Treesa, Dubrovnik still has its kitties!
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