Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Fantasy, History, and War (plus food and a beach)

As usual, I have two days to catch up on, as I didn’t have the energy last night. Not sure how I’m going to muster up the energy tonight either, but I will! Then, I’ll have to regurgitate it all in my journal as I haven’t done either for two days. Oh, the difficulties of travel! J

Day 4 (Tuesday) we started off yet another bright blue sky day in Dubrovnik with a Game of Thrones walking tour. There are several on offer from multiple companies, so that tells you how popular a ‘thing’ it is. Claire came along for the tour, though she hasn’t read or watched, due to the promise that the guide would talk about Dubrovnik history at the same time.

Most of you know that I’m a fan of book/film/TV pilgrimages, send Claire and I have done a few together: Lyme Hall (where Colin Firth jumped in a lake in 1995), Prince Edward Island for Anne of Green Gables, Karen Blixen’s house north of Copenhagen (independently, we’ve both been to Blixen’s home in Nairobi). So now, Game of Thrones. I have to say, the tour was fantastic: interesting stories about filming, engaging guide, photos from the show to coincide, and lots of Dubrovnik history.

I won’t bore the non-readers/watchers with a blow by blow / scene by scene account (you can see photos on Facebook) but a few tidbits. The guide pointed out that last season (5) they filmed 10 days or so in Dubrovnik, but when they start shooting next season in Sep/Oct, they have only scheduled 3 days. The guide thinks this tells us something about the focus for next season… Another interesting fact, when they shot the ‘shame’ scene for the finale, they had to close down a street for three days, which meant closing down several restaurants and compensating temp. This is a busy city, so it mustn’t have been cheap!

One of my favorite parts of the tour was the fortress where many scenes were filmed. Its across the way com Old Town and gives an excellent view of the city. It also has its own interesting history with the Dubrovnik republic’s history with/against Venice. The usually canons, thick walls, and only 12 men to hold it (21) if really needed extra manpower.

One of the funniest bits was when the guide took us up a hill where a certain wedding took a place. “I know what you’re going to ask me,” he said, walking to a patch of ground scattered with dog poop. “This is where the little bastard died.” There were chuckles from the crowd. “And look, there is dog poop send the grass is actually green here, so nature must have liked that death.” It wasn’t a real person’ death we were talking about, so only a bit morbid...

The tour ended as all kitschy ones do: with a photo op. A chance to sit on the iron throne ad brandish your sword. Neither Claire nor I seem intimidating in our photos, so we’ll just have to follow someone else on their quest for it.

After a rewarding tour, we stuffed some salads in our faces, then went off to book our next day’s adventure to Montero: a new country for both of us. We came home, relaxed, and went out to the War Photo Museum. This was a provocative set of exhibits about war, particularly the current crisis in Ukraine (the current exhibit) and images com Dubrovnik during the war and siege. Powerful images and videos that bring the bustle of the current city into sharp contrast. You look into the mountains right above the city and think of the empty Old Town and how the streets were life-threatening from those above. Having just read Lynsey Addario’s autobiography, “It’s What I Do: a Photographer’s Life of Love and War” this exhibit really interested me. It is a type of photography that doesn’t interest me in terms of my own work, but I am interested in the stories the photographs tell and the photographer’s bravery in getting them.

Then, wouldn’t you know it was time to go out and eat again. An interesting thing to do after seeing images of people lining up for food and fresh water. For dinner, it was Taj Majal, a misnamed restaurant with Bosnian cuisine. Claire’s food was definitely more Bosnian than my gazpacho and roasted veggies. Regardless, my food was excellent. We rambled up and down streets then called it an early night.  

Today/Day 5 (Wednesday), we had to leave at 7am to catch our tour to Montenegro. The streets were quiet and empty as city works cleared garbage and restaurants began to put out their tables and chairs. We waited a bit nervously for our bus, send finally it came.  We were a group of 13: Americans, Brits, French, Canadians, and Russians. The tour was all in English, which we certainly appreciated. The basic itinerary: cross the border into Montenegro, coffee break, tour of Kotor, free time, travel to Budva for lunch and beach time, quick stop at St Stephen’s Island, then a ferry across the fjord and back on the road home to Dubrovnik. 12 hours door to door.

It was a beautiful trip all day, the only interference being the 100F (38C) day. My lord was it hot, hot, hot. We had been contemplating a day trip into Bosnia and Mostor, but once we heard it was 40C yesterday, we crossed it off our list after today. Regardless, today proved a great adventure.

After picking up all the other people, we were on our way. Along the way, the driver and guide told us about the area, the war, and the buildings that were destroyed and not rebuilt: the factory that used to make yogurt he loved as a kid, the hotel overlooking the sea, the many houses along the way. Yet, despite these losses, there is a lot of building being done, which shows its growth and how much tourism also helps reinvigorate the city.

The border crossing we took was a quiet one the locals use, and it is perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. It must certainly be the most beautiful border crossings I’ve ever seen. Once we pass through ‘no man’s land’ between the two borders (the border is not yet ‘fixed’ between the two), we cross into Montenegro. Claire is not happy that I get a stamp to mark my next country, but she doesn’t.

We stop to take photos of two churches in the middle of the lake, then stop for a quick coffee with a gorgeous view. We pose, we sip, we stretch our legs. It’s a bit cramped in the mini van, and after two hours it’s a good break. Then, off we go to Kotor, the town with old town walls that climb up the mountain side.  A guide meats us outside the gates, and she gives us a great tour around the small walled city. Stories of merchants, squabbles, and war. It’s a gorgeous walled city with many different churches, restaurants vying for space, and a stunning photo op every two seconds. We even arrive just in time for a traditional dance in the main square!

After the brief tour, we are left to our own devices. Claire and I stroll around the different churches and narrow streets. The city walls literally climb the mountainside. Dubrovnik’s Old Town walls are 2km all around, whereas Kotor’s is 5km and steep. With only an hour and a half, we opted for an amble and a café stop. Claire enjoyed her ice cream, and I enjoyed my real lemonade. Soon, it was time to meander back up to our pick up point before heading to Budva.

As we made our way to Budva, the host began to feel more oppressive. The point of this stop is lunch, beach, and another walled city. With only less than two hours, all were an impossible feat. Food always comes first, and we dug in. As much as I wanted to see the walled city, I began to feel like I should just go sit on the beach for awhile first.

So, I meandered with Claire to the quieter beach our guide had recommended. It was quieter, but my lord it was hot. Even in the shade it was too hot. When I plugged in the Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion, I figured out it had been 100f sell day. I sat on the beach in the shade knowing that a swim would do me good, but too tired to put in the effort to change into my swim suit and coat my other uncovered body parts with sunblock. This type of heat is just too oppressive.

After only time for a 15 minute swim, Claire emerged and we headed back to the mini bus. The last stop was to the viewing of St Stephen’s island. In the 50s (I think), it was bought up by a private company, and now it’s a vacation destination for the rich who want privacy. For example, Prince Charles and Princess Diana spent their honeymoon here in 1982. The guide rattled off other names like Elizabeth Taylor, Bruce Willis, and Pamela Anderson. You can only visit the island if you are paying for accommodation or have a lunch/dinner reservation. With accommodation costing 1,000 Euro a night, I cent imagine what a meal costs. 

Finally, it was time to take the brief 10min ferry across the fjord and return to Dubrovnik. I tree to take as many photos of mountains, sea, and abandoned buildings as I could. Soon, we were walking like zombies back to our nice little flat and moaning as we plopped on the couch. We eventually plucked up the effort to shower, dress for dinner, walk down the three flights of stairs, and find a table at the restaurant literally right outside our door.

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