Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Pearl of the Adriatic

Dubrovnik is commonly known as the Pearl of the Orient and those who know me know that I love pearls with their rich warm lustre and gentle sophistication. It is still raining when we wake at 9 am and as the morning moves past 10 am it is getting darker rather than lighter. But we are buggered if we are staying put for a second day, so once we have brunch, we are off to brave it all - hopefully it will at least be a little more protected inside the city walls below us! Mind you, it's after 12:30 when we move!!

With the weather like it is, we decide to drive down to the old city and park (legally!) so that if the weather turns really bad we can make a dash back! As we get down to the city walls, there is not a single car park available so we decide to climb up and have a look at the view from above and return later.

Maya has shown us where there are panoramic views of the old city from a memorial high above on the edge of the hills. We wind our way up a long grade, but have not found the hairpins that are noted on the map. There are a number of points where you can pull in to take photos. Oh. My. God. what a vista - it is amazing. As we look back at the old city sitting snuggly inside its double walled barrier and washed by the waters of the Adriatic Sea at its feet, there are two liners that have just departed the city and are sailing off to the north. As one comes into the channel that separates Dubrovnik and island of Lokrum it lets out two long mournful blasts - as though it is reluctant to let the grips of the city behind. And as it sails out, there is another cruise ship about a further 20 kms out.

Anyway, we travel a little further up the road having turned back towards the City and pull in at a spot where a bus is parked, for more photos. There is a set of steps and Michael goes to have a look and as Donna and I watch him climb higher and higher, climbing up in a zig zag fashion, we realise that the hairpins on our map are a walking track rather than a road! He is gone for what seems like ages and Donna and I are chatting in the car. Turns out that at the top of the track, not only are there fantastic views over the city, there are also a couple of gun placements - probably left over from the 1991 war with Bosnia and Montenegro, and there is a fort further across, but access is barred by a fence.

Maya had also told us that there are usually three liners that call in to the city on a Saturday morning, so the old city was best avoided then! As it is, there are still another three cruise liners in the harbour as we come down off the hill and in to the old city. One of them is massive, the Cristal Serenity - Donna wants a photo to take home to Garry - think she wants a ride...

Anyway, on our second trip down into the city we find a parking spot within a block of one of the gates into the city. It is still windy, but the rain has cleared although it is still very overcast. We walk up a slight ramp into the city through the gate only to be greeted with steps, straight down to the sea level where the main square of the city lies, far below - about 80 - straight down! And to make matters worse, they are not all the same size, so I can't get into a good swing - bugger. Tell you, Donna and I were both out of breath by the time we got to the bottom.

When we get to the bottom, passing a couple of narrow streets on the way down, we are in a wider street lined with cafe tables, now mostly vacant, but I can just imagine that a few short hours ago when those ships were still in port that it would have been somewhat different. Maya however has told us that this first street is very touristy with prices to match and suggested that if we wanted something to eat to venture further in to the city. We are not hungry though, but do keep moving. The next street across is the Stradun, the main street - wide and lined with shops of all sorts. One end leads in to a square where the museum and clock tower attached to the city hall are located.

We can see a couple of churches from here - including what we assume to be the cathedral with it's dome surrounded by scaffolding. The roads and pavements are all in a lovely white stone reminiscent of Venice (probably because most of the stone that Venice has been built with came from Croatia). The feet of millions of people over thousands of years has polished it smooth so that even in the dim light of this overcast day, it still gleams. We see the museum but decide to start with what is indeed the Cathedral. Around through a larger square complete with statue and fountain with ornately carved bronze panels depicting scenes from their history.

The altars are baroque style, but not over the top and with its plain walls, there is not that feeling of excess that many baroque churches give. It is simple as far as a cathedral goes. Some artworks are on display, but more than anything, this is a working church. There are references to saintly relics, but they are not stored here. We take a walk through one of the City gates to the harbour and find ourselves admidst a couple of tour groups - uh, not for us! There are lots of cats here too - guess that where you find fishermen, you find cats waiting for their share of the fish! There is also reference to an earlier Byzantium church and photos of some frescoes, but if they still exist then they must be under the present church and are not accessible. So we move on. The other church is not open, so we go over to the muesum that is housed in the former Rector's Palace. The rector had a palace! Gosh, what was the Catholic church thinking!

Once we had finished we stopped at a small souvenir shop for a book on Dubrovnik and then a pastry shop for cheese and spinach fingers and a sweet cake or biscuit each. Across the road from this shop was a Greek Orthodox church - it looked like any other church, but the inside was rich with tapestries and gilded timber and a number of stunning icons. No photos allowed so I can't show you how lovely it was.

From here we walk around the streets, finding the Onofrio fountain a large fountain with 16 heads spouting water. In the middle ages, anyone arriving in the city had to wash their hands and feet at the fountain as a safeguard against disease. The fountain sits outside the Church of St Saviour (which was closed) built to give thanks for the city surviving the earthquake of 1520. It was also unscathed in the earthquake of 1667! And beside this is the Franciscan Monastery of Minor Brothers - one of the most important buildings in the city. This is a huge complex and contains the oldest continual chemist shop in Europe that was founded in 1317! As we enter, we come through the cloisters.

Now, we have seen quite a number of cloisters on our trip and this equals any of those. The wall arches are covered in the remnants of frescoes and there are sixty double columns with varied capitals - some display heads or animals. In the cloister garden is a 15th century gothic fountain with stone benches topped by hedges leading to it through a narrow break in the columns. And all around the ledge beneath the columns are inscriptions and graffiti as old as the ages, none of it modern. Being a Sunday, the pharmacy is closed unfortunately, but the museum is open and there are some pharmacy objects in here as well as a number of the relics mentioned in the Cathedral (such as reliquaries containing bones of saints, copes from the 14th to 16th centuries and silverwear from the local churches). The most amazing though for us is the collection of paintings and in particular the 15th century painting by an unknown painter titled 'Ecce Homo' - a painting of Christ that during restoration revealed another painting of a Madonna and Child under this one. The top painting has been partly cleaned off to reveal the earlier one - just stunning.

The rain is starting to sprinkle again now so we hurry through the western gate - the Pile Gate on and around which there are lots of statues of St Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik. His statue appears many time throughout the city, not just here. Leaving the City we pass under the Renaissance Lovrijenac tower and across a timber moat bridge that could be drawn up in times of conflict and then an arched stone bridge. From here we hurry along the outer walls back to the car, admiring the outer wall that surrounds the much larger inner wall with its towers and sentry posts. By the time we get back to the car the rain is falling again and so we head back to our apartment, thankful that we have had 5 - 6 hours of better weather to explore at least some of Dubrovnik's amazing old city.

Tonight we are going back to Restaurant Komin in Babin Kuk just up the road. We emailed a reservation request yesterday ordering their house meat specialities. When we get there, our waiter from the other night (whose name we have learned is Tonči) shows us to our reserved table just as the only other patrons are leaving. He informs us that our meal is cooked. Do we want entrees? No thank you! We are looking forward to the mains!!
Janjetina ispod sača (Roast lamb under the bell) Michael and Donna
Teletina ispod sača (Roast veal under the bell) Maria
They are served on a platter along with a mix of potatoes, onions and capsicum roasted with the meats. They are so delicious. The only other thing we have is a mixed salad - lovely and fresh, crisp and clean flavours. We finish with light and creamy cream caramels and some lively conversation with Tonči. And as we go back to the apartment at the end of the evening, the rain has set in with a vengeance and has been joined by her partner in crime - a howling, biting wind. Bugger.

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