Dubrovnik: Stunning Scenery
Our journey began in the early hours of the morning as we made our way from Central London to Luton just after 3am. The sleepless night and 6am flight was justified by our flight to Dubrovnik with WizzAir only costing £65. A budget airline was definitely what we got but we weren’t expecting much.
A few hours later we landed in the southern Croatian coastal city of Dubrovnik. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, it certainly lived up to its name. The view of surrounding mountains from our hostel was impressive and we hadn’t even seen the sea yet. Situated on the cusp of the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik was founded as the city-state Ragusa in the seventh century and became an important sea-power from the thirteenth century onwards.
We were soon off to explore the Old City – classified as a UNESCO world-heritage site in 1979. The Old City has a rich heritage of religious and secular monuments, including the third oldest pharmacy in Europe located in the Fransiscan monastery. Opened in 1317, it’s still in use, using secret recipes that are hundreds of years old. I recommend the face creams! Dubrovnik also houses the oldest Sefardic Jewish synagogue still in use in the world and the second oldest synagogue in Europe – established in 1352. Although quite small, the synagogue is very well kept and includes a museum. There is also a mosque for the small Muslim community and although we were told it was not in use – it is still functioning. From the outside it seemed empty and run down – no lights were turned on and we had no idea where the stairs would lead to. But we were happily surprised to find many carpeted rooms with sofas, an eating area and a beautifully decorated prayer hall. The imam of the mosque was friendly, spoke English and gave us the number of his friend in Sarajevo so at least we had a contact in Bosnia.
The old city is surrounded by walls which protected the population since its founding and which are definitely a source of pride for its people. They were modified many times during the Middle Ages but were never breached and thus have been considered to be one of the greatest fortification systems of the time. Although the original walls were probably wooden, the ones we see today were mostly constructed in the 14th/15th centuries. Nearly 2000 metres in length and reaching up to 25 metres in height, it took us a few hours to walk across them.
The view was breathtaking. The sea stretched out in front of rows of uneven of terracotta- coloured roofs. It felt as if you had stepped back in time to an old port-city. There were mazes of narrow alleyways between the houses and the sea itself was a magnificent clear blue.
The next day the sea had us hooked and we couldn’t wait to travel to a nearby island called Lokrum and dip our feet in. If you want a day to chillax I would definitely recommend taking a picnic to Lokrum. The beautiful boat journey across the Adriatic to Lokrum is only about fifteen minutes and just by coincidence we had struck up conversation with a guy who turned out to also be a graduate from Cambridge. Tom was good company and decided to join us exploring the island.
But we soon learnt that not all parts of Lokrum were our cuppa tea. One of the routes we ended up following led to a nudist beach so if that isn’t your scene – beware! I didn’t reach the end of the path but I think my friends were scarred by the images of overweight old European men letting everything hang loose in the sun…
We soon turned back and found a lovely spot on the rocks by the sea, which was warm enough to jump in and inviting enough to stay splashing about. The island is a popular tourist location but also large enough to feel it isn’t commercialised. The ruins of an old Benedictine abbey and monastery founded in the eleventh century caught our interest.
Although cordoned off in what I assume was reconstruction work, no workers or security were around, and my curiosity got the better of me. Sliding past the metal gates I walked into the ruins. Not much is left of the monastery but it was fascinating to know I was standing in a place where centuries ago monks would have been walking, praying and trying to live a life of contemplation.
It seemed that some two stories of quarters of the monastery were still intact on one side. It was mostly surrounded by a ditch and the one point of entry was a precarious plank of wood that my friends convinced me not to go over (although I bet I wouldn’t have fallen in)… But then I saw a window on the ground floor which could be climbed through. Of course, I do not usually climb through windows (or break into monasteries) but the sun was egging on my sense of adventure.
We jumped through the window, minding the shards of broken glass, and into a dark dusty room which where we discovered a wooden mill, double our height, used to grind flour. We couldn’t figure out what the second large wooden instrument was –but this was obviously where the monks used to prepare some of their food. Towards the end of the room was a door and some stairs. Yes! I told the others I wanted to find a way to climb to the top… Here we just got confused.
Renovation work had obviously started but it was as if the workers had mysteriously vanished. About a dozen pair of shoes were scattered about all through the corridor and rooms. Tools, cigarette packets, rags, containers were just sitting there as if they hadn’t been touched for years. It was eerie. You know you’ve been watching too much TV when everyone in the group said it was as if we were the naive teenagers in an American movie, about to be scared out of our wits by unseen zombies.
We soon decided to get out of the place – especially as we didn’t want security finding us. On the ferry back to the mainland, my friend realised she had forgotten one thing. A bag with Tom’s passport and wallet in it! The stress and anxiety kicked in. Especially when we were told no more ferries went to the island that evening. Finally, we found one boat that was going and thank God his valuables were safe.
Moral of the story: (apart from keeping your valuables on you) – if you do decide to lose someone’s passport… the ruins of a monastery tourists aren’t allowed into is probably one of your safest bets!
(Names of people may have been changed to retain anonymity)