Travel Diary: Dubrovnik, Croatia
Updated: Jan 11, 2020
This post is a migration of previously documented travel diaries, plus recently added reflections now that my memories have had time to set. Dubrovnik was the third stop on a group Europe trip that took place in 2016. The group included Will, Vanessa, Dennis, Kim, and Kevin and me.
Dubrovnik was the third and penultimate stop on our four-city trip. By then, we were no longer jittery with excitement for the next thing. Here, we settled into a vacation sweet spot, lingering on balconies after rainstorms, watching the sun set, sitting in the melody of late-night in the Old Town square, eating slow meals that covered entire tables with shared food and drink, and devouring stunning, seaside views.
When we were still planning our trip, Kev was excited to suggest this stop to me because it hit all of my marks: a European town with narrow, stone streets situated right on the water, with warm weather, seafood, and a local wine trade. He was right. Dubrovnik is gorgeous and I can't wait to go back to that part of the world.
We felt the difference from our prior stop, Vienna, as soon as we arrived in Dubrovnik's tiny airport. We’d left fall and returned to summer. It was a warm, humid morning, and a storm was coming. We watched it approach during our drive that seemed to always keep the sea just at hand. We could see the clouds, still far but fast-moving. We could see pockets of clear day and crisp borders of light and shadow on the water below. The rain arrived softly at first and picked up quickly, and by the time we arrived at our AirBnB and completed our tour with the host, it had rolled on, revealing fresh blue sky.
This place had two balconies and spotty electricity, and it would be our home for the next several days.
Our first priority was lunch. Our host recommended a restaurant in Old Town, a 15 minute walk away. I would come to enjoy that walking route very much. For most of the way, there was a wide stretch of promenade with benches. On the other side of a railing, steep drops, strange plants, rock edges, and the Adriatic Sea beyond them.
Once through the gates of Old Town, we had Dennis navigate us to dinner. He'd stop at every single street corner, unfold his map, and fail to locate us. Eventually we found the place, having gone down some of the narrowest streets I've ever encountered.
The meal was good. We sat under an awning at the top of the famous steps used to film the walk of atonement in Game of Thrones. We ordered so much seafood, jugs of house wine, and feasted for our third first meal together.
After dinner we came upon a sign that said "Cold Drinks and the Most Beautiful View." We were sold. Turns out, we'd been pointed to Bar Buza, one of the most well known bars in the city.
Happy to have fallen into this particular tourist trap. Bar Buza sits cliffside and there are multiple levels from which you can enjoy the view. When the water is calm, patrons can enjoy jumping into the sea for a quick dip. There are two locations in Dubrovnik - the one we went to didn't have a bathroom, which struck me immediately because alcohol makes everyone have to pee every 15 minutes right? Not just me? Anyway.
We purchased a few bottles of beer and made our way down stone steps carved right into the cliff all the way to the water's edge. We parked ourselves on some rocks and spent what felt like hours there as day faded into night.
We arrived just in time for blue hour, and with the day's earlier storm rolling away in the distance, the view imprinted on me in such a significant way that I would find myself, months later, thinking (sometimes aloud) "no blue like the blue on the Adriatic" as if the thought were a mantra. It remains one of my favorite moments from this trip.
Once it grew dark we started to head toward home, but were drawn in by the scene at La Bodega, a wine bar/cafe in the main square. A band was playing, and that familiar lively buzz of an energetic night which always calls to me was in the air. We ended up staying for several hours and imbibing on many glasses of cheap, local wine.
We took a group photo on our way out of Old Town which makes me so happy to look at because it marked the end of a great day.
On the next day, we wanted to check out a place called Lady Pi-Pi for lunch, which was another recommendation from our AirBnB host. The place was also in Old Town, situated on a hill close to the city walls, so that to get there we had to climb up steps and wind through many back streets that were surprisingly calm compared to the tourist feel down near the main square.
These streets were mostly residential, fairly quiet, paved with stone, and filled with all sorts of plant life from succulents and cacti to palms and gigantic rubber trees. The plants thrived in the Croatian sun with wild tendrils that often had to be reined and supported by string scaffolds.
Lady Pi-Pi has an open air dining patio with a trellis overhead, lush with grapevines, to provide shade from the strong summer sun. From between the vines above and the leafy, blooming basil around us, we could see past the orange rooftops to the water. Here, we had one of the best meals of the trip.
We stopped by La Bodega again (it would become a trend) for a coffee after we ate, then walked to the harbor and spent some time sitting at the end of the stone pier, watching the minnows in the water and people piling onto and pouring off of ships. It was a beautiful day, and we were full and happy and didn't mind the crowds.
Our next stop was to Fort Imperial at the top of a high hill via cable car. We lined up for this ride, but it was absolutely worth it. The building and the groups at the top weren't super memorable, but Kev found a broken portion of the fence nearby and we all ducked through and began to climb around the rocky hillside. We found ourselves a nice breezy perch away from everyone else and sat together for a long time with the Old Town, the harbor, the sea beneath us. I brought home a piece of limestone from where we sat - it was one piece that broke into two, the two halves fitting perfectly together.
Back down at the foot of the mountain, we had a fancy dinner on the second floor roof terrace of some place in Old Town. I tried but failed to find the name and location. We took the opportunity of sitting all together around a large table to plan for the next day, for which we'd chartered a boat.
We'd secured the boat that morning, before Lady Pi-Pi. Outside of the gates of Old Town, there is a cadre of vendors and hawkers who are very solicitous of each passing tourist. It can make it unenjoyable to linger too long in that area unless you can firmly say no or you're looking to book some sort of activity (tours, day trips, boat rides). We spoke to a couple of people and after some back and forth, booked a reasonably priced excursion on a small private boat with a guide.
In the evening we all walked to the nearby supermarket to pick up food and drinks for the next day. It was so ordinary, so mundane, and yet so wholesome and fun to be wandering the market aisles as a group, and I quite enjoyed that experience.
I also found the gigantic 2-liter and gallon sized plastic bottles of wine incredible, which I'm sure contributed to my fond memories of grocery shopping in Dubrovnik. It was a long and tiring walk back to the apartment, which was at the top of a hill, with our entire haul. We had an early, chill night prepping sandwiches and packing our bags for the next day.
The boat was small, but it was private and perfectly sized for us. There was plenty of room for us to spread out on the deck, sun ourselves if we wanted to, or sit under shade.
After seeing how blue that water was over the course of a couple of days, it was still yet a next-level experience getting out on it and jumping in. I was the first to get into the water, and it felt so refreshing and wonderful and necessary for a full appreciation of the Adriatic.
Our captain brought us around to a couple of beaches, a rock formation in the middle of the water, as well as a cave. We snorkeled a bit at each stop, and generally enjoyed our day out on the sea. We drank lots of wine, some of us a bit too much, snacked, chatted, and sunned ourselves all day.
In the late afternoon as the sun was getting low and we were winding down our trip, a dolphin came to say hello.
After a long day on the water, we decided to stay in on our last night. We opened the doors to both balconies and let the night breezes into the living room, played music, and went through several intense rounds of Werewolf.
Dubrovnik is a beautiful place. Yes, it was crowded with tourism and it was hot, but if you ignore all that and focus on the elemental (the cliffs, the bright water, the blue skies and bluer sea), the enduring (the architecture, the stone streets), and the ebullient (the wine, the giant meals, the music in the square), I think you'll love it as I did.
The next day, we were off to Rome.
Read about our other stops from this trip at the links below: