April 25 – 28, 2006
We took a short flight from Salzburg (through Vienna) and arrived our first stop in Croatia, Dubrovnik, alas the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. The difference between a Western European town like Salzburg and a former Yugoslav town was apparent even at the airport. The custom officer reminded me a little of the Chinese border crossing a decade earlier. My first impression was of Croatia was somewhere between the developed and developing world, probably just like many other Eastern Bloc and Yugoslav countries.
Bullet holes are easy to spot in Dubrovnik. Even though the Old Town has gone through extensive restorations since the end of the Yugoslav civil war, these proofs of the conflict in the 1990s have remained untouched, perhaps as a reminder of the tragic event to both travelers and locals alike.
As Drazen, our rental home’s owner, remarked, even though Dubrovnik has become a popular traveling destination, it was only a decade and a half ago that a bloody conflict took place. Unfortunately, most people who visit Dubrovnik seem unaware of its history. As ever more cruise ships continue to land at this small town, Dubrovnik is quickly becoming a hallowed out tourist town like the Florences and Nices of the world.
I couldn’t help but notice Drazen’s ambivalent tone regarding the post-war development in Dubrovnik.
“Obviously, life has become easier since the war ended, and the tourist trade has really improved the town’s earning ability. Tourists love it here, especially the Brits. They spend couple days here, rent a house and just relax. But for us, we find the foreign crowd to be overwhelming, especially in the Old Town. Everything is tourist-oriented, and everything are becoming more expensive. You cannot get any job outside of the tourism industry in this part of the town. Even though I have a house here in the Old Town, inherited from my wife’s grandmother, I will never live here. I don’t like being surrounded by tourists. Where I live, over in the New Town, there at least is a real community that doesn’t cater to tourism.”
Dubrovnik is indeed very beautiful. Flanked by the azure Adriatic sea and gentle hills, the view from the town’s city wall is one of Europe’s finest. The restoration effort over the past decade deserves applaud. While bullet holes and crumbled buildings aren’t hard to find, most of the blemishes from the conflict in the 1990s are unnoticeable. The narrow stairs and giant city walls give Dubrovnik the look of a medieval garrison, but within these walls are orange roofs of houses of simple stone-made exterior that rivaled the picturesque quality of the iconic blue roofs and white walls buildings in the Greek islands. The local cuisine is simple but delicious. People are mostly friendly, and they provide decent services. Tourist infrastructures are quickly improving.
All these qualities are making Dubrovnik an ideal holiday location for its rich European neighbours, a seaside getaway that is a little more exotic than the French Riviera or the Costa de Sol. Obviously Dubrovnik is no longer the war torned town of the 1990s, and mass tourism has taken a strong foothold. The imposing city wall that is designed to protect Dubrovnik from invaders is now confining the tourist crowds within the small city.
Over dinner one night I overheard the conversation at another table. Judging from the accent they were probably Brits, and they were commenting on how overdeveloped Dubrovnik had become. They were already planning their next visit to the supposed under the radar town of Kotor in Montenegro.
I wonder how long from now will Kotor become the next Dubrovnik?