I boarded my ferry to Croatia two hours early and had a great time wandering around the bar, looking at the restaurant and trying to snatch a peek of the cabins where the rich people sleep.
I am not a rich person – I booked a place on the deck; the cheapest ticket. That being said, I still think that ferries are now my preferred method of transportation. I slept curled in an L-shape on a two-seater couch in the bar with my feet on my suitcase, and found the couch much more cushy than the couchettes in overnight trains, and leagues above long-haul economy flights.
My only worry was the departure time – originally 21:59, the ferry actually left at 23:31.
My hostel had offered to pick me up from the port, but had warned that if I was more than 15 minutes late and didn’t contact them, they would leave without me. Being me, I hadn’t written down the hostel’s address or phone number (well I didn’t think I’d have to – they were picking me up, after all!), so I was rather anxious as I went to the ferry reception and asked what our expected arrival time was.
“7:00,” the gentleman said.
“Yes, always 7:00,” he smiled.
Excellent – now I could sleep in peace.
As the gentleman had promised – we arrived at 7:00. At 7:30 I was still on the ferry, and starting to panic. I couldn’t access the internet for my hostel’s details – they were going to leave without me!
By 8:00 I made it through passport control and anxiously looked around the car park. My heart gasped with relief – there was an elderly man holding up a sign with my name. He bundled me into the car and took me home to the Dubrovnik Backpackers’ Club.
He chatted about the history of Dubrovnik and rattled off a list of things that were not to be missed in the Old Town as he went through a map with a pen. Then came the buses – he numbered all of the buses I could take from the hostel and traced their routes through the city with a pen (this would have been very helpful if he hadn’t drawn over the street names).
Then the breakfast – I’d already had breakfast on the ferry, but as soon as I smelt Milka (his wife and the one in charge) cooking French toast; I knew there was no way I could resist. Gradually the other backpackers wandered up for breakfast, and Milka greeted everyone by name. She asked them about their plans for the day and how they’d slept, ruffled the boys’ hair and ladled French toast onto their plates against all objections. We sat around the same dining table like a mismatched family, talking as if we’d known each other for years.
Then – off to the Old Town!
I gasped in awe when I walked through the city walls – everything was built in sand-coloured stone with terracotta roofs, matching green window-shutters and arched doorways. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire area has literally been frozen in time.
I wandered into the Franciscan Monastery Museum and pulled out my purse to pay for the entrance.
“Hello,” said the gentleman at the fold-up desk.
“Hi,” I said as I calculated the equivalent of €4 in Croatian kuna.
“It’s free for you,” he said with a smile.
It was so quiet – a colonnade surrounded a square garden in the centre, which housed a small fountain. I admired the old paintings on the wall, then felt the sun emerge behind me and turned around, my eyes widening as fat beams of sunlight poured through the columns. The sun lit the autumnal leaves of the garden like cellophane, and I endeavoured (unsuccessfully) to capture it with my camera.
Afterwards I returned to the main street, but quickly turned down one of the side streets to the right to escape from all of the tourists. I climbed up the narrow staircases until I was alone, and stumbled through the deserted streets at my leisure.
I emerged near the port at the opposite end of the city and wound my way back to the main street via a couple of beautiful churches and a market. One of the vendors at the market let me taste some incredibly dainty sugared almonds and candied orange rind, and the warm air wafted the smell of lavender through the stalls. I tried to think of an excuse to buy the wooden toys and small turtles carved in semi-precious stones.
In the mid-afternoon I started looking at my map, trying to remember whether I’d actually seen everything that had been circled in that morning’s lecture, when I bumped into two Canadian girls, a Kiwi and a Chilean guy from the hostel. To make a long story short, what started as a search for decently-priced coffee (Dubrovnik is actually pretty expensive. Cheaper than Paris, but that isn’t saying much) turned into a trek up Mount Srđ to Napoleon’s Imperial Fortress.
“If there’s a mountain, we can’t not climb it,” Justin, the Kiwi, said.
“But they said it’s €10 at the hostel,” Odille, the other Canadian interjected.
Eventually we decided just to see if we could find the way to get to the fortress.
We found a staircase that led up to a road and a look-out point. We then decided to see if there was another staircase. There was. And then a third. Already tired from a day of walking on only 4 or so hours of sleep (I know, I know – I’m getting weak in my old age. Doesn’t it seem like your fitness level halves when you’re low on sleep, though?), I was surprised to find myself panting.
We had a welcome break when we reached a hillside highway, and walked along the edge of the road (there was no footpath to speak of) searching for a trail into the mountain. After several false starts (Justin running up staircases to private properties), we found some rocky stairs.
We started climbing. The stairs grew rockier until they were just an unsteady trail rising between the trees. I grabbed damp branches as I climbed to maintain my balance. Justin and Nico took the lead, frequently disappearing behind the bends ahead, and soon Odille moved farther away.
As the trees thinned the slope of the path shallowed and it started to zigzag up the side of the hill.
The heat rose in my face and I hung my long jacket over my handbag as my clothes grew damp. The Old Town shrank below us as the boys and Odille became small figures in the distance, several Zs ahead of me on the trail.
I slowed to walk next to Miriam, and we compared notes on living in France (she and Odille were doing an Erasmus semester in Strasbourg) as well as complaining about how unfit we were. The sky darkened with grey clouds as we climbed, and the air cooled and moistened.
On the last few zigzags Miriam and I were silent. I gritted my teeth and kept my eyes on the ground – looking down at Dubrovnik made me dizzy, and looking up was just depressing. It didn’t matter that we were almost there – I was already spent.
Eventually we met the others at the top. It was around an hour from start to finish, and I nearly died.
I need to find a gym.
After collapsing at the top for a water break, we walked under the fortress and stopped in our tracks as we reached the other side. An endless expanse of grey-green mountains stretched out under the storm clouds, slightly fuzzy in the misty air.
I stared in silence. I don’t think anyone who had ridden the cable-car could have appreciated the view like I did that day – I’d earned it.
That night I caught the cable-car back down with the girls (the crazy boys walked) and we cooked some amazing chicken with roasted capsicum and onion in a mustard sauce with a side salad for dinner. Afterwards we drank wine and played cards late into the night as the storm clouds broke outside.
The next day the storm was still going. Rain fell in sheets and water flooded down gutters – it was impossible to do anything.
- We ate more French toast
- We watched Inception (really good) and The Initiation of Sarah (ridiculously bad, though if you want something to laugh at when you’re drunk, I’d recommend it)
- A cat broke my laptop (not happy)
- We played more cards
- We got in trouble for making too much noise while playing more cards