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Terry's Big Adventures
Croatia (Dubrovnik), 1999

Day 7, Sunday, April 2

I said my good-byes to Margie, Joe, and Elvis. From the airport I caught a bus to Split then a taxi to a different depot where I caught a bus to Dubrovnik, a ride that lasted four hours. I sat next to the window looking over the edge of cliffs at pine-covered islands in a crystal blue sea. The bus made stops at several towns along the way.


The bus stopped for a routine border check when we entered the 10 kilometer section of Bosnian coastline. An armed soldier boarded the bus and asked to see my passport. He eyed me curiously as he handed it back. We made one more stop in Bosnia, this time at a roadside truck stop on the outskirts of Neum. All the passengers quickly made a beeline to the store where they stocked up on duty-free cigarettes (fifty cents a pack), cheap booze, and assorted sundries. Then back on the bus to Dubrovnik. When we reached the depot I ignored the old ladies with signs that advertised sobes (cheap rooms). Instead I opted to treat myself to some luxury. I grabbed a taxi and said "Excelsior Hotel". I paid for two nights (about $58 per night) and settled in.


Dubrovnik, a city of 43,000, is the crown jewel of the Croatian Adriatic coast. Approximately 5000 inhabitants live in Old Town, a medieval walled city that is close to original as when it was built in the thirteen century. Dubrovnik has a rich history. It was an independent republic up until the 1800's and had a sophisticated limited government. It excelled in diplomacy and at one time rivaled Venice as a cultural and trading center. I walked a quarter mile from my hotel and entered the south gate of Old Town and was transported to the middle ages.


I walked through a broad square with a fountain and up Stradun, the main street lined with sidewalk cafes and shops. The street and all structures are built of timeworn stone. In both directions are corridors leading to more shops, houses, and mazes of more narrow corridors winding up stairs and through courtyards. Old Dubrovnik is no doubt one of the most amazing places on earth. After several hours of exploring I had a seafood dinner at one of the cafes. It was the best I'd ever had and was probably caught fresh that morning!



Day 8, Monday, April 3

I rented a motor scooter for $45 for two days and the guy even delivered it to me at the hotel that morning. I drove around the wall on a road that was built upon what was once a small strip of ocean separating the city from the mainland. I parked outside the north gate and entered.


For 10kn ($1.25) you are allowed to walk the circumference of the walls which are still completely intact after many centuries. After climbing a hundred stairs I reached the top and walked counterclockwise. I was now above the roofs of the city. Just eight years ago during the siege of Dubrovnik the Serbs were lobbing artillery shells into Old Town killing people and destroying roofs. Most were now replaced with new red tile but several dwellings had been hopelessly destroyed.

Siege of Dubrovnik

Waves crashed against the rocks as I looked down upon the Adriatic, now reflecting gray under overcast sky. One can imagine these impenetrable 12-foot thick walls staving off canon from Venetian warships five hundred years ago. The only conqueror to penetrate the city was the conniving Napoleon who said "I come in peace". He was given entry to the city then promptly took over.

There are several towers, bastions, and fortresses along the walls, some still containing cannons. There were also many staircases and I was huffing and puffing by the time I arrived full circle.




I spent the rest of the day exploring "new" Dubrovnik on the scooter. The city is located on a peninsula and is pretty easy to get around in. During the course of the two days I probably traveled every road at least twice. One dead-end road led to an abandoned luxury hotel. The Serbian navy had shelled it from the sea and the owners either got out of Dodge or didn’t have funds to rebuild. The tennis courts were still being used by the locals and judging by the beer bottles the beach was being used by the local teenagers. It started to rain heavily and I was sopping wet by the time I rode my scooter back to the Excelsior.

Day 9, Tuesday, April 4

Catholicism plays a major role in the lives of Croatians. In Old Town there are two monasteries, a cathedral, and many churches. You are allowed to visit most of these or to attend a service. St. Blaise Church contains an effigy of St. Silvan, a fourth century martyr. (Believers contend he is real.) Judging by the local moral integrity religion seems to be doing its job. Most encounters as you walk down the street are met with "dobre dan" (good day) or "dobre noche" (good evening). Everyone is extremely polite and helpful when you ask for assistance and crime is rare.


I know it is impossible to judge a country based on a one-week experience but I’m going to anyway. Here are some facts and observations about Croatia.

Croatia's population is 4.5 million people. It has a land and coastal mass about size of the state of Maine. (This includes 1200 islands off its coast, 66 of which are inhabited.) Dalmatia is incredibly beautiful with its blue waters, green islands, and picturesque towns.

Croatia is a democracy and has an elaborate constitution claiming that power stems from the people (not unlike the U.S.). I presume they are copying some the American political system in that they have the same separation of powers in three separate branches of government. Representatives come from the separate twenty counties. There is a flat income tax rate of 22% for everyone. I was informed that everyone cheats on their taxes, which shows a healthy dislike for government. However, the government remedies this by charging an additional 22% sales tax that is built into the price of merchandise. (The dollar still goes a long way.) Croatia just initiated a small land tax. One person told me he pays about $50.00 a year on his house and property.

Croatia is developing economically through the free market. Some U.S. and German companies are there but for the most part they are doing it on their own. The government wants to join the European Union and revert to the Euro next year when everybody else does. However they are not economically developed enough and their membership in the Union has been declined. If you wish to visit Croatia (and I highly recommend it) I suggest you do it within the next few years while the exchange rate is favorable.

Croatians are very nationalistic. They hate the Serbs, expelling most of them five years ago. Of course this is due to the destructive Serbian invasion in the war for Croatian independence.

They like Bill Clinton (because he bombed Serbia) and in general are pro-American. English is mandatory in the public schools and many people speak it.

Most stores are open from 8 am to noon then close for four hours. Then they reopen from 4 pm to 8 pm. (This is also the tradition in other Mediterranean countries.) Everyone takes refuge from the afternoon heat of the summer months, the proverbial "siesta". They just continue the practice all year round. This makes little sense largely because of the inconvenience and cost of going to and returning from work twice a day.

In the U.S. we have the work ethic. In Croatia they have the avoid-work ethic. My nephew says it is almost impossible to get something repaired. Except for the tourist industry they have yet to develop a "service" economy.

Entertainment is meager. There is hardly any live music and television is limited. American movies are in English with Croatian subtitles. (I saw Fight Club in Dubrovnik.)

I did not see one overweight person except an occasional tourist (me included). It’s mostly due to genetics as well as the relative high cost of food as a percentage of income. Also, fast food is not readily available. On the whole the people are "good-looking". The women are gorgeous--slender with straight brown hair and brown eyes.

Alcohol consumption is very popular and may be a social problem--I don't know. Teenagers can drink legally and other than a few drunks I saw staggering in the city most people seem to be under control. The drunk driving limit is 2.0 but hardly anyone gets ticketed--they are just told to go home. You hardly ever see the police and I am told that no-one pays their traffic fines.

Men-women relationships are very traditional and I did not see signs of animosity. Romance was quite evident as I saw many young couples strolling in the cities and going to the clubs. During the week I was there I did not see one instance of sexual harassment and I did not hear any "hey-baby" remarks. I did notice that the women seemed more forward that the men.

There is no political correctness in Croatia because there is not an abundance of idle intellectuals. Most people smoke and no-one seems to care. The government allows the ownership of guns and most people have them. (You never know when those pesky Serbs might invade!) Because the majority are catholic abortion is illegal. There are no race problems in Croatia because everyone is of one race. (Gypsies are not looked on too kindly because they are associated with begging, however they are not harassed.) The Croatian constitution does guarantee equal rights under the law for all people regardless of race or religion.

I went to the International ferry terminal and bought a ticket to Bari, Italy. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 11 pm. The man who rented the scooter gave me ride to the terminal. I was there two hours early so I took out my mandolin and took advantage of the great acoustics of the empty building. A young man with a backpack came in and introduced himself as Miguel from Chile. He been staying at the Dubrovnik youth hostel and had been traveling around eastern Europe for the past two months. We quickly hit it off.

The ferry was a huge ship, not the flat-bottom variety we have in the Puget Sound. It was raining when we left Dubrovnik harbor and when we hit the open Adriatic Sea the ship started pitching back and forth. That was it for me! I immediately got queasy and laid down on some passenger seats. Miguel opened a window for me and it was all I could do to keep from throwing up during the 9-hour ferry ride from hell. I faded in and out of half-sleep and dizziness as the ship would occasionally hit a big wave and jerk me awake.