Two years ago I went on a Mediterranean cruise as part of a study abroad experience with three of my faculty colleagues and about 25 students from my university. We boarded a very small cruise ship of only 250 passengers and went from Venice, Italy to Nice, France with stops at Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, the Greek island of Corfu, Taormina, Sicily, and along the west coast of Italy.
We held classes for the students on board ship, and went on guided tours at various ports of call. The food was very good, the small number of passengers compared to some of the floating cities that carry thousands of people made it relatively quick to debark at each port, and it was a novel experience for me. But what I learned was that I never wanted to take a cruise again! I’m a very independent traveler who likes to explore a place and linger a bit to get a feel for it. Therefore, when the cruise director told us that after our guided tour of Dubrovnik that we would have “ample time” to explore the city, I was excited, but subsequently, due to rough seas, the “ample time” ended up being about 45 minutes, I was not happy. My only memory of Taormina, Sicily was running with students to a bakery renowned for its cannoli, which were truly outstanding, buying a few to go, and then racing back to the ship. Nope, I am not a “cruise ship kind of guy”, though I realize that for many people cruises represent an easy and safe way to explore new places.
This summer I decided to go back to Croatia to spend a couple days in both Dubrovnik and Split, as well to drive a bit of the said-to-be-magnificent Croatian coastline. After stops in Vienna, Budapest, and throughout Italy on this trip, I flew out of a stiflingly hot Rome and an hour or so later touched down at the Dubrovnik Airport. I’d done my research and had pre-purchased a ticket on a local shuttle bus that according to the website, took passengers to three stops in the city: the bus terminal, and both the Pile Gate and the Ploče Gate, two entrances on opposites sides of the walled Old City. I had booked a guest house in the Old City and the hosts advised me that to avoid the most stairs in the very hilly, pedestrian-only center, I needed to get off at the Pile Gate and walk from there.
The drive to the city took about 40 minutes, as traffic along the two lane road that winds its way over the coastal hills was bumper to bumper and moving at a snail’s pace. Finally we got views of the city from above and it looked magical: a fairytale walled grey city with castle turrets and forts, cathedrals, and a jumbled, hilly “skyline” of red tiled roofs.
A few minutes later we pulled into the bus terminal where all but about 10 people hopped off. The rest of us patiently waited as people retrieved their luggage from the storage areas beneath the bus, but then the driver came back on board and told us to get off the bus, as this was the last stop. We all argued that we were going to the Pile Gate or the Ploče Gate and he scoffed at us and said buses don’t go there. Sigh. Some passengers were belligerent and demanded that the driver take them to their stop or refund their money, but of course he was having none of that. I learned long ago that you catch more flies with honey, so I quietly asked him how I could get to the Pile Gate and he pointed to a bus stop far down the street and said, “Local, orange bus!” Well, OK then. Local orange bus it was going to have to be.
The brutal heat from Rome had followed me to Dubrovnik, and before I had dragged my roller bag half a block I was sweating and panting. I got to the bus stop and waited with what seemed to be a group of locals. I asked one of them if it was possible to buy tickets on the bus and was told that no, I had to go buy a ticket at the bus terminal, so back I went to buy the equivalent of a 75 cent ticket, and then returned to the bus stop in time to catch the “local orange bus”. There were no free seats, but it was not that crowded, so I stood with my bags and held on tight. However, the next stop was at the Port, and to my amazement and horror, there must have been 100 people waiting to board our bus: cruise ship passengers heading from the port to the Old City. The doors opened and they flooded the bus like a tsunami, filling every space until it was impossible to move and hard to even breathe! I thought, “Surely the driver will stop the crowd at some point and have them wait for the next bus”, but no, they just kept coming. The heat was excruciating and the claustrophobia I didn’t even know I had kicked in. Finally the bus lurched slowly forward, up and down hills, and around curves, and finally making a stop. The sea of humanity emptied from the bus in mere seconds. We had arrived at the Pile Gate.
As big a fan of TV as I am, I’ve never watched Game of Thrones, but I know that it is filmed in both Dubrovnik and Split. Evidently some of the pivotal scenes are filmed at the Pile Gate, and despite having almost 1300 years of history under its belt, Dubrovnik seems now to exist only for fans of the TV show. The gateway entrance into the city was clogged with hundreds of tourists taking selfies and shoving their way through the crowd, making it difficult for me to navigate my roller bag though the bottleneck that the gate creates . Once through and on the wide, pedestrian-only main street, the Stradun, things didn’t go much better. It was hotter than the planet Mercury in summertime, and hundreds upon hundreds of tourists wandered aimlessly down the streets, stopping abruptly in front of me to take a spontaneous selfie, shoving me, hitting me in the face with their backpacks when they made a turn, and walking directly into me because they were staring into their cell phones. I could not believe what a zoo it was.
My experience here has made me really question how I feel about cruise ship travel in general. I am very familiar with the plight of Venice, where hordes of cruise ship passengers make areas around the Rialto, San Marco and the Lagoon almost impassible from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM. At least in Venice it is possible to escape to the quieter neighborhoods during the day and return to the other sites in the evening when all the passengers have returned to their ships. Dubrovnik has a very small Old Town that you could walk across in 5 to 7 minutes (if you weren’t forced to shuffle through the crowds at a snail’s pace), and it’s surrounded by a wall, which makes it seem hotter and more cramped. Some people say that cruise ships help the local economy, but I have seen a couple of articles lately that explain that because cruise ship passengers get all their meals on board ship, they really don’t frequent any restaurants other than for fast food snacks or ice cream. In Venice, while the hotel guest or apartment renter pays a 3 or 4 Euro city tax for each night of lodgings, cruise ship folks pay nothing, and yet thousands of them strain the services of the city throughout the day as they swarm through to buy mostly Chinese made souvenirs that say “I Love Venice!” One Venetian shop keeper I purchased something from made it clear that what I’d bought was Italian made and commented about how most of the tourists just want cheap, badly made trinkets made elsewhere. And of course just before my trip to Venice this summer, a cruise ship ran into one of Venice’s piers and injured a number of people, re-igniting the controversy about whether the cruise ships are a blessing or a curse to the city. I don’t know what the answer is, but I can tell you that the crowds I dealt with in Dubrovnik were 100 times worse than what I have experienced in Venice.
After fighting the crowds on the shade-less and sweltering Stradun, I turned off onto a narrow and shadier passageway that led toward my guesthouse, but though the crowds had thinned, a worse fate awaited: stairs. Lots of stairs. Guidebooks say that there are 4,343 stairs in Dubrovnik’s Old City and I was face to face with a flight of them that looked like it had no end. Slowly I dragged myself and my bag up one step after another. These were not small or even steps; they were uneven stones of somewhat varying heights, some were probably as much as 9 or 10 inches high, so it was very slow going. By the time I’d climbed 10 stairs I was soaked to the skin with sweat and mentally berating myself for my foolish decision to get a place to stay that required such a climb. Another flight of 10 or 15 steps and I truly thought I would die. “So this is where it all ends, Matt. Dead in a pool of sweat on a stone stairway in Dubrovnik… who would ever have guessed?”
Suddenly a huge group of people being led by a tour guide overtook me and I tried to pull over and get out of their way, but one of the young male tour leaders just grabbed one end of my bag and said, “I’ll help you, don’t worry!” It was a godsend, but while he was sharing my burden, he was a young, athletic man who was bounding up the stairs at lightning speed, and after maybe 25 or 30 steps, I had to beg him to stop so I could rest. Not wanting to hold him up, I thanked him profusely and told him to go on with his tour.
All in all, I had to climb approximately 150 stairs, though it felt like 1500. I found my lodgings, the Guesthouse Rustico and let myself in with the code that had been provided by the hosts via an e-mail. Inside was a note with my room assignment and keys, and I uttered an exhausted laugh as I stared up at another flight of stairs that led to my room. Thank God I was on the first floor, so I only had 10 stairs to reach the landing where my door was. I honestly don’t think I could have climbed one more. I opened the door and made a beeline for the air conditioner, cranking it up to the point where it soon created a habitat suitable for a polar bear. I drank about 5 glasses of water, then shed my clothes and took a long cold shower. After throwing myself down on the bed at 3:00 in the afternoon, I wondered if I would even have the strength to leave my room for the next two days! The mere idea of climbing any more stairs filled me with dread.
I did eventually emerge from my polar cave and venture out into the city, knowing that every step down meant I’d be having to come back up later, but at least I didn’t have to do it with a suitcase again! I’d made a dinner reservation at Gradska Kavana Arsenal, a restaurant overlooking the harbor, and although they could not find a record of my reservation, I still got one of the nicest tables in the place, right at the open window. I watched all the boat traffic returning to the harbor, including glass bottomed boats, yellow submarines, and a huge pirate ship. Unfortunately I had a rather terse waiter, and this was even more disappointing because every table around me had a different waiter or waitress and every one of them was kind and funny and talkative, while mine just scowled and tried to take dishes away before I had finished my food! I did however have a wonderful meal of steamed mussels, a seafood risotto, and chocolate cake as I watched the lights come on in the harbor. The streets were still very crowded after dark, it was very hot as soon as you stepped away from the water, so after my arduous arrival that afternoon, I soon retreated to my air conditioned room and fell into a stair-climbing induced coma. I didn’t count sheep that night… I counted stone stairs!
One of the most popular things to do in Dubrovnik is to walk the city walls, but the more I read about it online and talked to other tourists I’d met who had done the walk, the less enthusiastic I became. First you are out in broiling sun the entire time, as there is no shade along the walls. Second, unless you go between 8AM and 10AM, you are evidently surrounded by the cruise shop hordes, and third, the price for all this fun was 25 Euros. It just did not sound that appealing. So instead, I slept in and then took myself to a quiet restaurant called Azur, which featured an Asian – Eastern European fusion cuisine that they call, “Cro-Asian.” (See my review in a separate blog post.)
After a really exceptional lunch, I walked through the city, out the Ploče Gate and about 15 minutes later I reached the popular Banje Beach. It was ridiculously hot and when I arrived, without hesitation I decided I was renting a chaise lounge and umbrella, regardless of the cost. Soon I found myself at the edge of the water, sitting in the shade of my umbrella, and periodically jumping into the refreshingly cool Adriatic. Croatia has few sandy beaches; most are pebbled and many are more like concrete walls from which a ladder allows you to enter the water, almost like climbing into a pool. The sea is so calm, and the water so crystal clear, it feels like you’re in a pool, except that small fish persistently nibble at your leg hairs. I spent over three hours there before making my way back to the city and my guesthouse, sampling local pastry, and taking photos along the way.
Looking at Dubrovnik now, it’s hard to imagine that between 1991 and 1995 it was the scene of some of the ugliest battles that took place in what the Croats call the “Homeland War.” As the former Soviet Union collapsed and its former satellite nations gradually began to regain their freedom, Croatia declared its independence from the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, which had been formed after World War II from the states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. When Croatia tried to break free, it found itself at war with former Yugoslav forces and ethnic Serbs living in certain parts of Croatia. The result was the deaths of about 20,000 people and serious damage to the country’s infrastructure. For several months of 1991 and 1992, Dubrovnik was the target of attacks from the sea, the air, and the surrounding mountains and there was extensive damage within the Old City. Many buildings were damaged in the attacks and today when you look down on the tile roofs of the Old City, you notice two colors: lighter colored, original tiles and brighter, redder tiles that represent post-war repaired and restored roofs . A local museum displays sobering photos of ruined store fronts along the completely abandoned Stradun, and footage on YouTube taken during the battle shows explosions throughout the Old City and the harbor, including just in front of the restaurant where I had dinner on my first night. It’s all just so hard to imagine.
On my third day in Croatia I needed to leave the Old City and get myself to a local rental car office. First I faced the obstacle of going down all the stairs I’d had to climb when I arrived, though at least gravity would be on my side for this journey. Once at the Pile Gate, my GPS said that the rental car office was a mere 3/10 of a mile away. I called the rental company and asked them if there was a local bus that would take me from the gate to their office and they said there was not. When I asked whether it was an easy walk, the genial man laughed and said, “It’s all uphill.” As I stood outside the Pile Gate, sweat dripping off my face even at 9:30AM, cruise ship passengers swarming around me like bees pissed off because I’d bumped into their hive, I made a quick decision and ran to the taxi cab stand. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
The staff at Oryx Rental Car was friendly and funny, and I was upgraded to a brand new Opel Corsa. It was nice, but truly all I cared about was a car with an efficient air conditioner! My first destination was Mt. Srd, a 1300 foot mountain overlooking Dubrovnik that features a Napoleonic fort and a swanky restaurant. A cable car used to travel to the summit from just outside the Old City so that people could experience the spectacular views, but evidently it has been closed for some time now due to some legal issues. It’s a shame, as the only other way to get there is via a very strenuous hike or a very expensive taxi ride – or via rental car. The drive to the summit took me almost a half an hour, and the road was extremely rugged, with huge rocks and potholes, and narrow areas where cars coming in opposite directions had to painstakingly maneuver past each other. The scenery, when I could take my eyes off the road, was magnificent, with abundant wildflowers, picturesque farms, and spectacular views of Dubrovnik and the nearby island of Lokrum. I finally made it to the top and headed to the Panorama Restaurant for an early lunch: a grilled chicken sandwich and sweet potato fries, which I enjoyed with a million dollar view of the Old City far below me.
Mt. Srd was the scene of much of the bombing that took place during the Homeland War, and there was damage to Napoleon’s fortress, a huge TV antenna, and the now closed cable car. The mountain also served as an ideal base from which to reign fire down upon the city, and a museum at the summit features information and photos from the war.
After another nail-biting drive down from the summit, I headed up Highway 8, which skirts the coast for most of the entire length of the country. The coast is truly beautiful, with a very mountainous interior to the east and a patchwork of vineyards, fields and deep blue bays to the west. About an hour north of Dubrovnik a 10 mile swath of Bosnia-Herzegovina divides Croatia, requiring stops at two border stations for passport checks.
I spent that night in a small coastal town called Drašnice at an AirBnB property called Apartment Markotic, run by a Croatian woman who is also a professor of English and Italian. I was pleasantly surprised by the apartment, which although very spartan and small, had a first class air conditioner, offered a parking space right out front, and was located about 10 steps away from the Adriatic and a beautiful beach. I had a wonderful swim before heading for dinner in nearby Podgora, a resort town with a lively boardwalk lined with restaurants and bars. I dined at the Nota Bene Tavern, right at the water’s edge and enjoyed the sunset while dining on good, but seriously overpriced food. I was under the impression that Croatia was a more economical travel destination, but it seems that it’s been discovered and I found prices to be as high as in Italy, Austria or France, but in many cases, what you get for your money in Croatia is not quite up to the same standard.
The next day I continued up the coast, skirting the major city of Split and continuing north to my stop for that night, a bed and breakfast in Privlaka, about 20 minutes past the coastal city of Zadar. I have to say that although this property was very lovely, a villa with beautiful gardens, it fronted a very unusual stretch of coastline that unlike most of the beaches in Croatia, was shallow and muddy, and one would have to walk out through the mud in knee-deep water for quite some time just to get to a place where it was actually possible to swim. It wasn’t very appealing at all.
I got settled into my room, which was stiflingly hot (it had been in the low 90s ever since I touched down in Dubrovnik), so I promptly turned on the small air conditioning unit on the wall, anticipating a burst of refreshingly cool air to wash over my sweaty face. Instead, the fan had less force than a hummingbird’s wings, and in terms of cool air, I would have been better off opening the small refrigerator and sitting in front of it. It was pathetic! Since it was only mid-afternoon, I decided to go out exploring, close all the windows and drapes and leave the a/c on in hopes that by the time I was ready to go to bed that night, the room would be a bit more comfortable.
I decided to drive about 45 minutes further north to Pag Island, a much photographed barren landscape that resembles the surface of the moon, if the moon had some bodies of water on it. At the bridge leading to the island, there was a small refreshment stand and I had not had lunch, so I pulled in and ordered a cheeseburger for the equivalent of about $2.50. I was not expecting much, but after waiting a good 15 minutes, the rather quiet woman who ran the place brought out a very large, freshly cooker burger with lettuce and tomatoes and pickles, and it was actually quite delicious. I took some pictures of a picturesque fortress nearby and of the bridge that connects Pag to the mainland, and then proceeded north, stopping at a cheese stand along the highway to sample some of the famous Pag Island cheese that the area is noted for. It’s made of sheep’s milk and like the lamb from this region, is said to have a distinctive flavor due to the high amount of salt in the grasses that the lambs feed on here. I liked it a lot, and happily alternated between bites of the cheese and dark red cherries I’d also picked up at a roadside stand.
I had really hoped to have a nice swim in some remote beach on Pag, but I found that one of the most recommended ones, Bošana Beach, required a hike down some steep hills, and I could not find any place to park the car, as the whole area was posted with “no parking” signs. Another place that looked good on the internet was Čista Beach, a bit further north, but to my dismay, the road that was supposed to connect Bošana with Čista according to Google Maps simply ended abruptly in a dead end that seemed to be caused by landslides, neglect, or a little of both. By now it was getting close to sunset as well, and so I gave up my search for the perfect beach and headed back south to the city of Zadar to see a couple of attractions there and have a nice dinner.
Zadar is famous for its Sea Organ, an artistic endeavor that consists of a series of tubes that have been carved into the seafront that produce sound when waves move through them. People sit quietly on a staircase above the tubes and listen to what sounds somewhat like whale songs. Nearby is another interesting creation by the same artist called the Greeting to the Sun, a huge circle of glass solar panels that collect energy during the day and produce seemingly random light shows in the evening. I have to say that they were both very interesting and for a listen and a glimpse, check out this short YouTube video.
For dinner I visited a restaurant called Zadar-Jadera, where I sat outside in the courtyard and was waited on by extremely warm and friendly waiters. I had a black risotto made from squid ink and filled with various types of seafood, followed by a traditional monkfish stew with vegetables, evidently a popular dish on the Dalmatian Coast. There was also a rich, dark chocolate cake, and I have to say I left with a very positive impression of Zadar and wished I’d planned more time there.
Unfortunately, when I got back to the villa, my room was as hot as it had been at 3PM, and only if I stood on my tiptoes and stuck my head virtually against the vents of the air conditioner, could I feel so much as a wisp of cooler air. I had to open the door to the balcony and invite numerous mosquitoes in to be able to get the room cool enough so that I could fall asleep. At least the breakfast in the morning was nice and plentiful, but I then ran into a misunderstanding with the hostess, who demanded that I needed to pay for the room in cash instead of with a credit cars. I had to go into town and find a bank so that I could withdraw enough cash to pay for the night. Overall, I was not sorry to see this place slowly in the rear view mirror.
I headed south once again, stopping in a couple of towns for photo ops and a delightfully refreshing swim, until I headed into Split to check in at my guesthouse there. I was led to believe from the website that parking was provided at the guesthouse, which was a major reason I’d chosen this place. I knew I would have my rental car and I knew that the guesthouse was close to Split’s Old City, which is largely a pedestrian-only zone, so parking would be at a premium.
When I got to the vicinity of the guesthouse, I couldn’t find it, so I called and was told that someone would come out to meet me shortly. Soon two very young, boisterously friendly women came out and stood in the street deliberating as to whether we should unload my luggage there or go “find parking” first. It seemed there was no parking AT the guesthouse, and my new friends ended up hopping into the car with me, directing me far up a hill where we drove around until we found a free, public parking space on the street. This meant a long downhill walk with my bag to reach the guesthouse, and I realized that if I wanted to go anywhere over the weekend, I’d have to find my a parking spot on my own again. Not ideal, but by now I was too hot and tired to give it much thought as we trudged back down the hill to reach the guesthouse. I then had to drag my luggage up two flights of stairs to reach my room, causing me to have flashbacks to Dubrovnik! I had shared with my hosts that the air conditioning at last night’s lodging was so weak I almost died, and one of the women laughed and said, “Here you will not die. You will live!” When my hosts said goodbye, I went straight for the air conditioner, sighing with relief as an icy wind equivalent to a New England Nor-Easter blew across my face. Yes, for the next two nights I would live!
It turned out that my place was a mere five minute walk to the center of Split’s Old Town, and the famous Diocletian’s Palace, an elaborate ruin dating back to the Roman Empire which now forms the heart of the city. Shops and trendy restaurants abound within the ruins, while outside the walls there are lovely green parks and a huge area that houses farmer’s markets and a flea market. Split also has an elegant promenade along the seafront, also lined with all kinds of bars, restaurants and ice cream shops. There were a lot of tourists, many from cruise ships docked nearby, but at least Split is a bit more spread out than Dubrovnik, so it didn’t feel as overwhelming here.
One of my favorite meals in Split was brunch at a place called Ciri Biri Bela, where I was seated on a beautiful stone terrace under the welcome shade of an umbrella. I ordered an omelet made with local cheese and sausages, delicious homemade bread, and a salad, and then for “dessert” I opted to try “granny’s fluffy pancakes”, which were not all that fluffy and more like crepes, but were absolutely delicious and accompanied by a sauce of mixed berries and currants. The coffee was some of the best I’d had in Croatia, and the wait staff couldn’t have been more pleasant and welcoming. As I dined, I wrestled with the question of what I wanted to do that day and whether I should move my car. I would have to depart for the airport the next morning by 5:30 AM and did not relish the thought of dragging my bag straight uphill for 15 minutes, so I wanted to move the car to somewhere closer to my guesthouse. But would there be any available parking? I also wanted desperately to go to the beach that day, and the nicer beaches were a bit too far to walk to. I finally resolved that I would use my car to go to the beach for the afternoon, and then come back and find a space somewhere closer, even if I had to pay for it.
I went to Kasjuni Beach, a few miles west of the city center. There was a traffic-clogged road that led down to the beach from the road above, but I opted to park in het dirt lot at the top and just walk down. It was another blisteringly hot day, and I longed to be in the water. When I arrived at the beach I realized that I’d forgotten to bring my flip-flops with me, meaning that to get into the water I would have to walk across scorching hot and rather sharp white rocks, and once in the water, I needed to float and swim, because there are rocks and even sea urchins on the bottom and without protection for my feet, that could prove to be unpleasant. I threw my towel onto the rocky beach as close to the water as was humanly possible, carefully walked across the rocks and then kind of threw myself in and paddled out to the deeper water. The beach was crowded, but calm and pleasant, and the water was so refreshing. Kasjuni is a beautiful spot, with towering limestone cliffs and lots of pine trees as a back- drop. (Ironically, when I got home and caught up on the latest season of the TV show the Amazing Race, half an episode found the racers completing tasks at Kasjuni Beach in virtually the same spot where I’d been swimming!)
I stayed at the beach for a few hours, and then returned to my car, stopped to fill up the gas tank so I would not have to do so at 6AM, and started to look for parking. At first it seemed like this was going to be a difficult task, and I began to wonder if I’d made a fatal error by moving the car, but after a couple of spins around the area, I happened upon a seemingly free, open parking place only a block and a half from my guesthouse. I have always had amazing parking karma, but this was almost too good to be true. I saw two women pulling out of a nearby space and asked them if the parking here was indeed free and they assured me it was. Perfect! I went back to my room and packed my large bag and then took it to the car, so that in the wee hours of the morning I would only need to carry my briefcase and small backpack.
For dinner I’d made a reservation at a highly rated restaurant called Laganini, but unfortunately it was located in a very hidden area of Diocletian’s Palace and to get to it I had to walk beside or through at least 4 other restaurants, none of which seemed to have a sign with a name on them. My GPS indicated that I was virtually on top of Laganini, so I started asking the hosts and hostesses of these restaurants if this was Laganini. Some were kind and pointed me in the right direction, but a couple of them engaged in a playful, but bordering on rude game of “Why do you want to go there? We’re better! You won’t find a table there!”, etc. Eventually I did find the place and had a nice meal of octopus salad and seafood risotto, but it was truly not outstanding.. I was, however, impressed with an Italian gelateria called Pumparela, where I happily stood in a long line for a taste of my beloved Italy.
And so finally, at 5:30 AM I found that my car had not been towed away or ticketed, and I navigated the quiet streets of the city and out to the airport for my early morning flight to Barcelona, the last stop on my European trip this summer. I’d been so eager to explore Croatia after the brief taste I’d had of Dubrovnik and Split on my cruise two years ago, but honestly, when all was said and done, I was glad to have seen more of the country, but I don’t know that I have a strong desire to return. If I did, I would do so at a somewhat cooler time of year, as the heat and humidity really killed me. Though the coastline is beautiful, I think the coast and islands of Greece are just as lovely, and there are far more sandy and accessible beaches there. The cost of food and lodgings in Greece is also far lower than in Croatia, and while Croatia reminds me somewhat of Italy, it is just as expensive as Italy, but the quality of the food and services in Italy is far superior to what I experienced on this trip. Despite Dubrovnik’s truly spectacular setting and beauty, the cruise ship hordes were probably the worst I have encountered anywhere in the world, and I far preferred Split and Zadar. I’d urge those visiting the country to include those cities on their itinerary and to think carefully about whether to actually stay within the walls of the Old City.
I must thank Croatia for one thing in particular: every time I travel in Europe, I tend to lose about 8 – 10 pounds over the course of a month, because despite all the amazing foods I sample, I walk everywhere and the pounds just fall off. This year the same thing happened, but I have to believe that at least 5 of those missing pounds this year were lost somewhere among the 4,343 stone stairs of Old Town Dubrovnik, and for that, I am grateful!