Cities / Towns Visited: 57
Countries Visited: 16
Steps Taken Today: 16,853
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,025,616
Being in a place so surrounded by islands, we thought it only sensible to visit some during our stay, using Dubrovnik as a base from which to explore. Deciding to start small we picked the closest, and one which was visible from just outside our accommodation; Lokrum. Thus we scurried off down the hill in the hot morning sun, bought our tickets, and settled down on the ferry which takes you the short distance across to this national park and UNESCO protected ruined abbey and tower.
Stepping off of the boat we had but one destination to reach first, the replica of the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, gifted to the city of Dubrovnik by HBO. Expecting it to be swamped by tourists, we were pleasantly surprised to see that our guide from the other day had not lied when she said that basically no one knows about it. As we stepped through the door we were alone. We did come to realise though, that despite her touting about it being a real replica and not plastic, it was in fact a fibreglass reproduction. Regardless, it was full scale, and painted to look just as the original prop does, and that in and of itself is rather impressive for any fan. Taking a little time to photograph it, both with and without us pulling our best regal poses on it, soon enough another random couple stumbled upon it and we moved on happily enough. They also have a small display regarding the filming of the show in Croatia, including some interviews with the actors and film crew on their thoughts of Dubrovnik, and the country in general, which closely mirrored ours, in that they found it magical almost to the point of disbelief that such things exist in this world.
Having fed our geek needs, we moved on to explore the island for its non film related reasons. The first building you visit is the ruins of the Benedictine monastery which once functioned here. Now, legend has it that the monks eventually left the island, but before they left they walked round the island all night burning candles and cursing the land to anyone who would own it and use it for leisure or pleasure purposes. As it happens it was later purchased by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; who as we all know met a rather unfortunate end. It then passed to Napoleon Bonaparte, who built a fortress on it when he conquered Dubrovnik; and as we all know he went on to lose the battle of Waterloo, be dethroned, and died in exile. It then passed into the hands of the Hapsburg royal family, firstly by Emperor Franz Josef’s brother to have as a pleasure palace for his wife; this unfortunate man was later to be murdered in Mexico by rebels. It then became the property of Franz Josef; who’s son ended up committing suicide, who’s wife was assassinated, and who’s nephew was Archduke Franz Ferdinand who’s assassination was a trigger for WWII. So believe in curses or not, the owners of this island did meet unfortunate luck after acquiring the land.
Moving on, we wandered through the manicured gardens, and the lush areas of shady trees and palms, until we found ourselves at the botanic gardens. Maximillian of Habsburg had been a lover of plants and had started much of the garden space on the island during his ownership. In the late 50’s, when the island was already in the hands of the government, the National Academy of Science and Art added the botanical gardens to the already large array of plants. Maximillian had been a lover of exotic trees, especially from countries in the far reaches of the world. Walking in we almost stumbled when we noticed that the first section of the gardens looked exactly like our homeland, dusty dirt covered ground and, could it be, yes, a gum tree. With no ability to restrain myself I walked over and rubbed my fingers over a leaf, breathing in the smell deeply; a smell I hadn’t been met with in months, the smell of home. Turning around we were also met with the bright pop of colour from none other than a flowering bottlebrush tree, another Australian native. The heat, the smell, the trees; if you closed your eyes you could almost hear a kookaburra and a farmer yelling cooee. It was so unexpected, but so very welcome. I have not been homesick on this trip, I miss particular people, sure, but I do not long for my home just yet; still a little piece of it warmed a special place in my heart.
Meandering on, we passed through another section filled with cactii and other natives to Central America, before carrying on along one of the tracks in the direction of Fort Royal, the ruined stone fortress built by Napoleon all those years ago. As we reached the top of the hill, sweating and somewhat out of breath, it was incredible to see how well preserved the tower is. You are even able to climb to the top, and admire the view of the old town from another angle. We did laugh at a guy sitting at the top on a beach lounge with an umbrella until we realised that he was not in fact just some punter relaxing in a rather obscure way, but he was there to keep a lookout for bushfires on the densely covered, and incredibly dry forests which surround Dubrovnik. Once more, with the idea of bushfires being a very real threat during the summer months, we felt like the city was close to home.
Making our way back down the hill we reached the shore and followed the seaside path back around, passing a cross commemorating the loss of a number of sailors, before reaching a quiet lagoon in which a moderate amount of tourists and locals alike were wallowing to escape the heat. Before long we were hopping back on the ferry and sailing back to town.
Sauntering back into the old town we decided to cross one last thing off of our list before retiring for the day; Rector’s Palace. This old but stunning building, sandwiched in between other equally at attractive buildings lining the inner perimeter of the city wall, used to be the residence of the cities Rector; think someone like a mayor but the position was shared around the nobility, and they had a term of a whopping one month before swapping again. Now don’t ask me how much you can possibly achieve in a month in office, but apparently the system worked for them for quite some time. After all Dubrovnik city was never conquered in a battle, and the only person who ever took it over was Napoleon (this was not the result of a battle, he just turned up with heavy artillery and the city surrendered as they knew they would never win). Dubrovnik, which used to be its own small country and not part of Croatia in days of old, managed to keep its independence for so long purely through trading and diplomacy. A true example of the powers and benefits of brains over brawn.
Entering the palace you first pass through a series of rooms displaying portraits of some of the past Rector’s, along with a collection of old artifacts from this glorified city hall and the town itself, including massive locked chests which used to store the city’s important paperwork, pieces of religious artwork, along with the old clock mechanism, dial, and bronze figures once used to strike the bell in the clock tower.
Moving through the daylight drenched open air inner courtyard, we swept up the stunning stone staircase and made our way into the temporary display of ancient glass work, before wandering through the old restored private rooms of the Rector, with its period furniture and extensive painting collection. It oozed the lavish lifestyle you would certainly not want for the members of public office today.
The final two exhibits includes one of which displays old pharmacy and apothecary jars and equipment from the cities medieval apothecary which still runs as a (rather more modern) pharmacy to this day, it is one of the oldest continuously running in the Europe. The second, is a rather sombre display of photographs showing the damage and destruction inflicted on the town during the Yugoslav war. It was sad to see images of this now bustling city, empty of people but filled with rubble.
Stepping back out into the heat of the day, we wandered down the main street to, I know it’s surprising, but buy another ice cream from what can only now be considered our local ice cream parlour. Sauntering back to our apartment we passed Orlando’s Column, and paused briefly admire this pillar, with its carved knight. Legend has it that it was erected after the knight Orlando and his fleet saved Dubrovnik from a 15 month siege in the 9th century. Whether true or not, the result is still rather striking. A relaxing afternoon, and a night of home cooked food and life admin, and we were slipping into bed before long.
As I drifted off to sleep, the smell of eucalyptus came back to me, and my mind was filled with the images of my homeland; the sunburnt grass, the sweeping white sand beeches, the red earth of the dessert, the gentle flowing brown rivers, and of course, the eucalyptus. As I travel I have not yearned for my homeland, as many would expect; but in seeing a part of it I felt the connection strongly. Australia is so unlike the countries we have been traversing, and I can only imagine what the first European settlers made of the quite alien surroundings of the great southern land on their arrival. There is a part of me that will always live there, and it’s nice to know that when I tire of the world, it is there waiting for me. I guess the words of Peter Allen’s song are truer than I thought, ‘No matter how far, or how wide I roam, I still call Australia home’.