Croatia


Dubrovnik's Old Town
In 1776, the Republic of Dubrovnik became the first foreign state to recognize a small, upstart republic known as the United States of America.  The people of Dubrovnik had, for centuries, guarded their own freedom against incursions by larger, wealthier states.  It seems they were eager to support others who wanted to do the same.

The concept of liberty has always been close to the hearts of the people of Dubrovnik.  This may help to explain the recent behavior of the contemporaries of those early Dubrovnik citizens.  In June 1991, Croatia (of which Dubrovnik was, by then, a part) declared independence from Yugoslavia.  Within weeks, the ragtag Croatian army was at war with the longstanding, Serbian-dominated Yugoslav one.   The war raged mostly on the Croatia’s interior, until the Serbs shocked the world by attacking seaside Dubrovnik, the gem in Croatia’s tourist crown.
Views from our walk along the city walls of Dubrovnik
The Serbs expected Dubrovnik residents to run for their lives.  Instead, they bunkered down in their cellars and waited.  Ordinary citizens grabbed their hunting rifles and set off into the hills in search of the would-be attackers of their beloved town.  The people of Dubrovnik withstood eight months of bombing, and then the Croatian army finally showed up to bail them out.  The defenders of liberty had prevailed, and their city was safe, if a bit battle-scarred.

We can testify to the fact that–largely due to the efforts of those same, brave Dubrovnikers–those battle scars are barely visible today.  During our recent stay in Dubrovnik, we saw not battle wounds but, instead, an incredible–and incredibly charming–town with countless offerings for the seemingly infinite number of tourists who flock there each year.
Views from our walk along the city walls of Dubrovnik
The heart of Dubrovnik is the Old Town, with its cobblestone streets and terracotta roofs, and the heart of the Old Town is the Stradun, a wide promenade that runs right through the center of things.  Along the Stradun itself and on the many narrow alleyways that connect to it are hundreds of pizzerias, ice cream stands and sidewalk cafes, where locals and tourists alike gather to people-watch and to admire the beauty of their surroundings.  The Dubrovnik Summer Festival was talking place when we were there, so all of this was done to the accompaniment of live classical music, which only added to the ambiance.
Views from our walk along the city walls of Dubrovnik
When we weren’t trying to beat the heat with a gelato and a cold drink, we spent some time learning more about the 1991 siege of Dubrovnik.  In the Memorial Room of Dubrovnik Defenders, we saw photos of dozens of the locals who lost their lives in the fight to protect their town.  In a photography museum called War Photo Limited, we found graphic, powerful documentation of the Croatia-Serbian conflict and the many others like it that sprung up when Yugoslavia began to dissolve.  Later, we walked the one-and-a-quarter-mile loop on top of Dubrovnik’s city walls.  75 feet high in some places, the walls were a great vantage point from which to see the whole of the Old Town and a perfect place to appreciate the efforts of all those who have sprung to the city’s defense over the years.

Views of the town of Split, Croatia
Realizing that you’re in the midst of one of the best experiences of your life always feels pretty strange.  Although such a sensation is usually reserved for big, life-changing events–your wedding day, the birth of your child, etc.–I found it a little while ago aboard a yacht named Jolly.
Scenes from our tour of Diocletian's Palace, completed around 300 A.D.
Yup, I was on a yacht.  Here’s how it happened: Todd, Heather, Derek and I arrived in Split, Croatia and, after an amazing couple of hours spent exploring Diocletian’s Palace–which was built in 305 A.D. (!?!) by a Roman emperor who planned to use it as his retirement home–we found ourselves in need of a plan for the next few days.  Todd mentioned that he’d read that it was possible to charter a yacht for a few days and island-hop among Croatia’s gems in the Adriatic Sea.  Although each of us was certain that such a luxury was far beyond our budgetary reach, we set off to check it out anyway.  The day was sunny and hot, and the pull of the marina, with its turquoise water and its rows of sparkling boats, was irresistible.
The Jolly
Upon our arrival at the marina, we confirmed our earlier expectations that–no kidding–renting a yacht was expensive.  We set to work applying negotiating skills that would make our respective law schools proud, and we met with some success (mainly because it was a truly last-minute rental).  We researched all kinds of options.  We hemmed and hawed.  We vacillated.  And then we saw the Jolly.

We fell immediately in love.  A 47-footer she was, and only a couple of years old.  She offered all kinds of space in which to lounge and–we were all certain–to have the best time of our lives.  We couldn’t help ourselves; we hired a skipper named Damir and signed on the dotted line.
Scenes from our short stop on HvarAnd so there I was, book in hand, lying on the front of a yacht in the Adriatic.  When we got hot, we dropped anchor and swam in the sun-drenched sea.  Later, we docked at a small island named Vis and made our way, per Damir’s advice, to a small, family-run vineyard in the middle of the island.  We feasted on fresh fish and lamb and returned to the Jolly to be lulled to sleep by gentle waves.

The next morning, I went for a run (my favorite way to explore a new place) and realized that the town in which we’d docked, which was also called Vis, was even more idyllic than I’d previously imagined.  Inspired, I set off, camera in hand, to capture some of what I’d seen.  I happened upon a produce stand where fresh figs were sold (delicious! and impossible to find at home…) and returned to the boat to eat them alongside some incredible cheese that Derek had procured.  Soon thereafter, we set sail for another part of Vis, a small town called Komiza.  The whole thing felt like a scene from a movie.  It also felt like utopia.
Scenes from the town of Vis
From there, things went slightly downhill, primarily due to Damir’s abject laziness and to some rather uncooperative weather.  Seemingly deaf to our repeated requests to please use the sails (first of all, because we were on a sailboat and wanted to experience it in its full glory and, second, because gas is even more expensive in Europe than it is at home) and to drop anchor at some of the delightful-looking coves that we were whizzing past, he motored from one port to another without so much as a moment’s pause.  On our third day aboard the Jolly, he told us that it was too windy to move the boat at all.  What could we do?  We gave up our dreams of spending the evening in Hvar (a nearby island that is famous for its nightlife) and instead rented scooters and explored Vis.  Exhibiting brattiness befitting someone aboard a yacht, I whined to Derek that, “it’s not called island-hopping if we stay on the same island the whole time.”  It wasn’t my proudest moment.

As it turns out, we were able to spent a little time on Hvar on our fourth and final day at sea.  We wandered its cobblestone streets for a couple of hours and paused for a snack in a sidewalk cafe.  By the time we docked back in Split, we were sun-burned, exhausted and happy.

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