I saw the Mediterranean Sea for the first time yesterday, on the bus north to Dubrovnik from the airport. We were on a winding road, carved out of the side of a mountain. For anyone who has never seen or been to Croatia, the entire country is a comma flipped backwards, with its long trailing tail pointing east along the Mediterranean (and in this case, Adriatic) Sea. This straggling strip of coastline puzzled me until we got here. Here, it is obvious that the mountains divide Croatia from its neighbor of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other side. The mountain loom up right beside the sea, and the small clusters of white and orange-roofed buildings that make up Dubrovnik and surrounding towns all perch on the hillside as the mountains reach toward the water. On the hillside, on a clear day, you can see a quarter of the way to the coast of Italy, which is just a hundred miles away.
It is incredibly like a dream. Dubrovnik feels like the medieval city and town you have imagined yourself in a million times in your favorite (okay, my favorite) YA fantasy novels or Game of Thrones episodes. It has so many elements –glossy, worn cobblestones, towering churches, soaring city walls, winding streets, narrow stairways that descend a hundred feet— that proclaims its identity as an old, old European city. It’s enough to just look at for a long time, because it looks as beautiful under the sun as it does at night, judiciously lit by some very clever tourism bureau, which no doubt also mandates orange-colored tile or roofwork for everyone in town. It is also full of stairs and slopes, which are going to either be the death of me or bless me with amazing lower body strength by the end of this trip.
We huffed and puffed up many of those slopes yesterday. The bus dropped us by the Pile Gate, which is one of the entrances into the Old Town, and we painstakingly navigated the streets to get to our AirBnB apartment, which is situated on the very highest slopes that are inhabited. On the other hand, it has a superb living room and kitchen and a terrace that looks out to the southwest, so we can see a sprawl of orange roofs and the sea.
We wrestled with groceries from a Konzum nearby and also the gas in the kitchen (presently inoperable) before declaring defeat and heading out for a restaurant nearby. We ended up in the Old Town, shelling out a bit more than a pittance for a delicious meal of chicken soup with carrots, cevapcici (grilled minced meat) with vegetables and potatoes, and Dubrovnik flan. The Old Town was dark by the time we got out, covered by a very dark velvety blue sky, and we spent a few minutes roaming its streets, picking up a bottle of Medica, which is honeyed rakija, the local Balkan spirit, and watching the dock cats, which are all strangely large and fat, in comparison to any stray cat I’ve seen while abroad. We saw one of them winning a battle against a starling in the main square, which was pretty sad and highly distressing to listen to. Steve lectured me on the predator inside all cats as we climbed back up hill to our apartment. We poured ourselves some Medica, I got a large blanket to wrap myself in, and we stargazed outside on the terrace, feeling tired, cozy and happy.
I look forward to a lot of things in the next two weeks we have in Dubrovnik. Steve and I are hoping to make use of the comfortable surroundings to get a lot of work done on our respective projects — in particular, I’m starting an online course on Microeconomics which will be good preparation for grad school in the fall. Additionally, I’ve already scoped out the nearest large farmer’s market (Grüz Market, about a twenty minute walk away) which will supply us with fresh produce and delicious meals. The terrace will be perfect for roaming about with coffee and tea in the morning, and a place for me to do watercolors by afternoon and sunset. And both of us will make the Old Town known to us like the back of our hand. Oh, and of course, there will be photos galore.