Dubrovnik in a day

We had just a few hours in Dubrovnik, Croatia and wanted to make the best of it. Arriving via cruise ship, time was limited. This was the first port of call on a 9-night Mediterranean cruise which looked to be a good sampling of the area. The plan is to hit each destination hard, see some highlights and capture enough information to decide if a return trip might be in the cards for future travel. It made sense, sampling these places we had never been to before, but right off the bat we had a problem: we fell in love with Dubrovnik.

What we call our “sampling of the Med” tour started in Venice, Italy and will end nine days later in Barcelona. In between we will also visit Sicily, Naples, Rome and Livorno, Italy as well as a stop in Monaco. That makes eight destinations in nine days. To prepare for Dubrovnik we started with a Google search for Dubrovnik and gathered background information. VisitCroatia.com was helpful as well as a host of other websites for the basic information we would need for entry requirements, infrastructure in place, etc. As far as what to do and see, we relied on a number of sources including Gadling and AOLTravel for specific recommendations.

The cruise ship we came on was the Carnival Magic (#CarnivalMagic), a new one on her inaugural voyage and staff there had some recommendations as well. The day before we were delivered to Dubrovnik, Carnival Magic’s cruise director gave a complete briefing on what to expect, see and do ashore. The ship offered shore excursions, packaged tours for a set price, but we wanted to try what we have done in other parts of the world here, go it on our own. Our normal plan when visiting a new destination is to first come prepared with a good working knowledge of what to expect, set some goals for what we want to see then make final choices on the ground in sync with what is happening there right now. In other words, our plans are rarely set in stone and offer a great amount of flexibility.

Approaching travel that does not have a specific date-sensitive event included with a good dose of flexibility has made for some fabulous travel adventures in the past. Still, our visit to Dubrovnik had an expiration date so efficient time management was important.

Money management here was easy. Currency in Dubrovnik is the Kuna which is about a five to one value to the US dollar. Euros are also accepted and some merchants take dollars as well. Unlike other ports we will call on for this journey, Croatia’s entry requirements for cruise travelers call for a valid passport to be presented before entry is granted. On other ports, cruise travelers can leave passports securely behind on the ship and be granted entry with only their ship identification card.

It was a cloudy day with rain off and on all morning. By mid-morning the rain slowed but naggy clouds looked like they would be staying around for a while. Armed with rain gear we chose to take a short (2.5km) hike to what is called the “Old City” (aka Stari Grad), a walled fortress that looks somewhat similar to El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico from a distance. Good public transportation runs all day and we could have taken a bus for a few bucks but would have missed out on some fabulous scenery. Dubrovnik was heavily bombed during the Croatian War of Independence from 1991 to 1995 and has some battle scars to prove it. Still, the people are warm and friendly in a real “I hope you come back again” way rather than a “we’re putting up with you” kind of way.

Stopping at a bar along the way as well as pausing about every 10 meters to take photos, that short hike took a bit less than an hour, leaving plenty of time for lunch and exploring the walled city. It did not take long to fall in love with this city and it’s people, a helpful and friendly bunch that did not mind answering questions or giving directions and suggestions on what to see.

Our waiter, Eliah, at the Sesame Restaurant just outside the gated city, told us English was a second language to many in Dubrovnik who chose it with dreams of visiting some day. He wants to be a Crime Scene Investigator and studied to be one in college. One problem with his plan is that there is very little crime in Croatia, especially in Dubrovnik, so not all that many of those jobs exist. But when he talked about visiting the United States for a possible job sometime in the future, Elijah’s face took on a dream-like look that I will probably always remember.

To Elijah we were not the Ugly Americans off the cruise ship, we were friends being served in his home. That warm and open demeanor of his would be experienced several times that day from others we would come in contact with too.

I mention this particular part of our hike for just one reason; because it accomplished one of the major goals we have for every place we visit: to make a friend. We have done packaged tours and shore excursions before and will later on this journey. Those are safe, guided ways to see a lot of things in a short amount of time. But we like to take our time and get to know the land we are visiting. A day in old town accomplished this very nicely.

Photos: Lisa Owen

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Chris is being sponsored by Carnival Cruise Lines on a Nine-night Mediterranean cruise and is free to report anything he experiences on the journey without bias