I’ve just returned from a brief trip to Dubrovnik which I organised myself. Having taken pre-packaged holidays for the last few years, it was an interesting exercise to assemble the whole thing – flights, hotel rooms, transfers – and for Carole and I to manage, unshepherded, for the whole week.
It was a complete success, though we could have done without the sudden thunderstorm that caught us on a small boat returning from the island of Lokrum. Apart from that half-hour drenching, the weather was mainly fair and the whole holiday enjoyable.
Come to think of it, ‘Now and Then’ is most appropriate, as far as this particular destination is concerned.
‘Then’ was 1961 or 1962 when I flew to Dubrovnik from Zagreb in a DC3. When the airport was a field with a windsock and a couple of wooden huts. When hotels, and visitors, were few and far between. When the city seemed to have been taken over by an Italian film crew, making one of those ‘swords and sandals’ epics that were all the rage at the time.
The experience is fresh in my memory because I wrote about it for my recently-published ‘Gullible’s Travels’ anthology.
What makes the ‘Now’ relevant to that early visit is because, though no Italian film-makers were encountered, we were reminded at every opportunity that sequences for the ‘Game of Thrones’ television series are filmed in Dubrovnik.
I have never seen this show, but from what people tell me it is a 21st century version of the same ‘swords and sandals’ formula whose filming was a source of innocent merriment during that visit well over half a century ago.
The four-star Grand Hotel Park is located, as are many newish hotels, on the far side of the Lapad peninsula. But it is easy to take the bus (routes 4 or 6) to the terminal a few yards from the city’s Pile gate.
Bought in advance from one of numerous kiosks, the single fare is 12 kuna (around £1.44). If you pay the driver on boarding, it’s 15 kuna (£1.80).
However, a reduction in cost is not the main reason for buying in advance, because by doing so you can get a return and avoid the scrum at the terminal. Unfortunately you can’t avoid the fact that for many people the concept of queueing is unknown.
Though the good citizens of Dubrovnik are patience personified, some visitors are extremely anti-social. The Russians, mainly, with the French running them a close second.
If I were a Dubrovnikan (actually, as the city was once called Ragusa, I prefer Ragusan), I would get very annoyed at the mass of aimlessly wandering tourists who fill the Placa – the wide main street – trying to follow their guides. These individuals usually hold aloft umbrellas or clipboards or other markers, though the better organised ones have smart signs, like ping-pong bats with long handles.
If anything makes me sad about the Dubrovnik of today, compared with the city I have visited frequently during 55 years of globetrotting, it is those crowds. Blocking the way. Brandishing their ridiculous ‘selfie sticks’. Oblivious to those around them as they listen, via their earpieces, to their guide’s narration. But the clock cannot be turned back.
We were unfortunate in that a couple of large cruise ships had called at Dubrovnik nearly every day of our visit. These maritime behemoths, carrying thousands of passengers, wreak havoc wherever they call. Along with ‘All Inclusive’ resorts, they are blots on the contemporary holiday landscape.
Resorts and superliners alike are designed to meet the needs of people, for the most part elderly Americans, who wish to travel abroad but are terrified of anything ‘foreign’. I dread to think what will happen when the emerging middle classes of China and India follow in their wake.
The Grand Hotel Park was a good choice, being convenient to the bus routes I mentioned and also within walking distance of a long pedestrian precinct lined with bars and restaurants. We had taken the hotel’s bed and breakfast option, so as to be free to eat lunch in the old town and dinner in any of those nearby restaurants. It is an option I thoroughly recommend, though in the ‘Taverna’ the hotel did offer an excellent alfresco alternative to its large main restaurant.
It is long established hostelry and, on the evidence of our rooms, in need of some refurbishment. The staff were unfailingly courteous and helpful, the breakfast choices almost overwhelming, and we quickly felt at home – which is, I guess, one of the marks of a good hotel.
Though travelling ‘unpackaged’ we encountered some fascinating folk. There was a waitress at the hotel who spoke four languages and spent six months of every year working with disadvantaged children in Rwanda.
Another was the fellow guest who told us, on the Sunday morning, that her daughter was getting married that afternoon.
“Shouldn’t you be at home, then?” I asked. “No, she’s getting married here in Dubrovnik” was the reply.
I never discovered why Dubrovnik had been chosen for the nuptials (‘Game of Thrones’ perhaps?) but know it went off wonderfully. The bride’s mother certainly enjoyed it, the more so because all the work had been taken out of her hands by professional wedding planners.
On the bus back to the hotel after that sudden downpour, we met an English couple who had taken their three young daughters out of school for a year in order to tour Europe in their motor home. Judging by the bearing and behaviour of the girls, and the self-assured poise of the oldest (around 14 I guess), it had been an inspired decision.
Though saddened by the crowds, I was pleased to discover that the city has lost none of its magic. Carole, for whom this was a first visit, was bowled over, and can’t wait to return. When we do we shall certainly take another trip to Lokrum – the ‘Island of Lovers’ – if only to check on its unexpectedly large rabbit and peacock population.
And we shan’t hesitate to fly with Monarch, whose customer service was first class, in the air and on the internet, or to stay at the Grand Hotel Park, where we felt so much at home.
Though I have reservations about all the tourists, I’m delighted to report that the Pearl of the Adriatic has lost none of its lustre.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Kirker Holidays