Josh and Hannah Storm King’s Landing: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Within the first hour of our time in Croatia, it was apparent that it was still a Balkan state, but set apart from the others on our recent travel circuit. It was more decadent, modern, and less impoverished. This perception remained throughout the extent of our stay. Various large sailboats and cruise ships moored off the coasts. Europeans and Americans dotted the beaches, soaking up the final rays of summer. The prices reflected the tourist activity, too. Hannah and I found ourselves much closer to our food and entertainment budgets each day.

Our home base was down the coast from Dubrovnik in a small town called Mlini. Down a long, hilly path, various patches of beach were ripe for the claiming. To my utter delight, a large white-haired, male Labrador scurried up to Hannah for a sniff before leading us into the water where he wallowed around looking for someone to play. The water was a mix of translucent greens and blues.

Further down the coast, there stood approximately 4 abandoned, luxury hotels. Each was in a derelict state, with gashes and fallen verandas. Large chunks of exterior façade were missing from artillery shelling as a result of the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s. Mere feet from the hotel, tourists laughed and splashed in the waters all the while under the shadows of the horrors of war. The hotel ruins have been left untouched for decades, preserved in their state as an eerie reminder of war’s destruction. Dubrovnik, however, stood as a reminder of what tourism money can do.

Guests at our Bnb warned us that Dubrovnik was quite crowded and busy, and they were not wrong. Hannah and I had not really dealt with “over-tourism” or large crowds in quite a while. Cruise ships and tour buses emptied crowds of sightseers into the gates approaching the walls. I amused myself drawing comparisons of medieval knights trying to breach the walls. The knights looked for plunder, the tourists looked for souvenirs and Instagram picture spots. Tour guides spouted interesting facts, history, and bits of pop culture. Hannah and I tended to walk just a bit slower near them, to pick up on a few beads of fresh knowledge, much of it centered around Game of Thrones, as Dubrovnik was a popular filming destination. We looked up a website with a free self-guided tour that displayed the movie scenes alongside the actual Dubrovnik locations. Places such as the Blackwater Bay, Red Keep, and steps from Cersei’s Atonement “Shame” walk among others.

The red tiled roofs and yellowish walls reminded me of similar city backdrops I saw in Spain. The difference was that much of the architecture in Croatia was inspired by Italy, just a stone’s throw East across the Adriatic Sea. Croatia is also predominately Catholic and many churches bore the names of saints. We peaked our heads into the church of St. Blaise to see a priest blessing the throats of a long line of locals and tourists. It was quite a contrast walking into a Catholic church again from seeing the opulent, gold chandeliers and iconoclast frames of Eastern Orthodox churches and the soaring minarets and rounded domes of Islam as we had over the past several weeks.

During one hot afternoon, I stumbled into a busy ice cream shop along the main promenade in Dubrovnik. I noticed the usual flavors, but a different one caught my eye. A light purple swathe of Lavender ice cream looked interesting, so I grabbed a scoop. The flavor was subtle with a faint tinge of floral, but not overwhelmingly so. Lavender is indigenous to the Croatian coast, and is unique in its resistive nature to flourish in harsh environments. Many stands throughout Dubrovnik sold small cloth bags of the herb. We half considered buying some for our hiking backpacks to keep them smelling fresh.

On our last night, we received a surprise. The friendly English couple that we had talked with in the pool knocked on our door. They were leaving for England the next day and had some groceries that they wanted to give us if we could use them in our next city. We graciously thanked them and stuffed rice, instant noodles, English tea, and flavored mackerel in our bags. The kindness of strangers on this trip was a common occurrence. It served as a frequent reminder that humanity is full of empathy and generosity.


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