Wednesday 15th May
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was performed last night in a church in old Dubrovnik which is part of a square-cloistered Dominican Monastery. The concert also included Vivaldi’s Gloria. The church was large and full, the orchestra well-tuned and together. An energetic conductor, good acoustics and an enthusiastic performance combined to make a splendid evening.
The Old City is surrounded on three sides by the sea. On one side is the port, protected by a huge stone wall – originally wood – which, with its steps, levels and lookouts, looks like a miniature version of the Great Wall of China. There is also the occasional canon pointing to the sea lapping upon the rocks far below. Tourists can't yet walk all the way round, but we went as far as we were able. From the land side there are two gates in the wall with draw bridges, and I think we saw a few barred gates coming from the water. Outside the walls are forts and, once upon a time, an underwater chain was drawn across the port at night to prevent enemy ships from entering. But the real interest is inside the walls. The town here is supposedly the most perfectly preserved Mediaeval town in Europe. The main reason for this is that, from Dubrovnik’s foundation in the sixth or seventh century to the time of Napoleon, who conquered it in 1808, the town was free. Consequently, it is a museum in itself, although it is still the living quarters of many people including shops, kafanas, washing strung out on lines from the windows, and open markets. And, guess what? No cars! The streets are cobbled, worn smooth by the centuries, but the cross streets go up the hill and are composed almost entirely of steps. Cars can’t drive up steps yet! In 1667 an earthquake all but destroyed the city. The people must have been very proud of Dubrovnik and fairly courageous themselves because they rebuilt the city to the same design as the old, even buildings that had been levelled by the disaster.
Thursday 16th May
At 8am this morning we piled yet again into our new German bus and headed south along the winding Dalmatian coast. For every kilometres, as the crow flies, you travel ten by road, according to Saša. As you cross the border from Croatia to Montenegro, you notice many tall cypress trees in the thickly wooded forests. They stand out from the other trees because of this noble shape. Well, I call it noble.
In 1979, an earthquake badly damaged this area and repairs on modern and ancient buildings are still being carried out. In some cases, this is impossible, and the buildings have just been left, instead of demolished. One such case if the Mediaeval town of Budva, which is surrounded by another splendid stone wall. People lived in it as they do in Dubrovnik, but today it stands empty. A ghost town. The buildings are so weak since the quake that they could fall down without warning, and it is really quite eerie to see it – a whole town deserted, yet still standing.
Up the road, another ancient town is being reconstructed. Note the Venetian forts. At one time, Venice and Dubrovnik were the two most powerful ports in the Adriatic.
From 12.00 until 2.00, we stopped for lunch at Sveti Stefan. This little island is connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus of sand on which is built a pedestrian causeway. There is a church on the top and a collection of fishing huts, which have been updated into a modern resort. This, too, is surrounded by a sea wall, and is compactly built using bricks, stones and tiles to make quite an architectural maze. There are steps all over the place connecting the various levels and gardens, and small plots of grass are built into the stonework. There also trees, where they will fit, but with all the houses it’s a tight squeeze. It’s a lovely little place, and well worth the visit.
This picture is part of a royal collection in a museum decked out with original furniture, crystal and china. It was the Royal Family of Montenegro, of course, because Montenegro was a country before Yugoslavia was united in 1918. There are also many medals, guns, flags and uniforms from their wars with the Turks, and some lovely examples of National dress.
Going back to Dubrovnik, we cut an hour off the trip by catching a huge punt, or ferry, across the largest bay. I thought it was great fun, but one of the older ladies wasn’t too impressed when I asked if she could swim.
Total on board: 3 coaches, 3 trucks, 8 or 9 cars and about a hundred people.
Friday 17th May
We slept in this morning and caught the local bus into Old Dubrovnik with the rest of the unwashed masses. Once here, we climbed the steep stairs to the walkway on the thick wall, and completed our circumference that we had started on Wednesday. From here you get a bird’s eye view of the sixteenth century town (and some parts are even older). It’s just superb! Did you ever wonder what a mediaeval chimney looked like? See the oldest grape vine in Croatia, with a stem like a tree trunk. Just change the clothes the people wear and here you are, back in pre-Renaissance Yugoslavia! Nowhere else have I seen things like this.
The working day here is unusual. The shops open from 8.30 to 12.00 and then again from 4.30 to 8.00 with some variations. The hours in between are lunch and siesta time. Understandably, this is a bit irritating for Western tourists, but we’re not in the west now.
The highlight of the day was a two hour concert of dancing and singing from all areas of Yugoslavia. It was held in a huge sports stadium which was filled mostly by tourists from about 20 coaches. The items were announced in Serbo Croat, English, French and German. I think there was nobody in the thousand or so guests that didn’t enjoy the evening. I was in heaven, as usual, and Lyn liked it so much that she bought a cassette.
In particular note: the costumes: really beautiful and certainly made in any colour you could think of. Lovely lace for the hems of the garments, embroidery even on the girls’ boots, headscarves and boleros. The most amusing costumes for the men were these long and full divided shirts down to their ankles with lace at the bottom. It looked so funny over black boots and they did a dance like the Can Can which almost bought the house down. There was a lot of stomping of boots with bells to keep the rhythm. Some dances had no music but kept the beat by this means. The boys, of course, danced the most vivacious and exciting steps.
Saturday 18th May
There are now two buses on our tour, a 7 day tour of parts of Yugoslavia has joined us from Dubrovnik to Zagreb. We journeyed along the Adriatic coast to Makarska for lunch. Although Saša kept on telling us about the lovely beaches below on the road, we were on the wrong side of the bus to see them. Makarska was a pleasant seaside town with a beach and a small marina. We stopped here for an hour, during which one of the Americans contacted his cousins by looking them up in the telephone book. Both his parents were Yugoslavs, but they have been dead for many years. The also drove after us to Split to spend the afternoon with them. Very exciting! And he was very nervous!
The most prominent historical building in Split is the Palace of Diocletian, which was built between 295 and 335 AD, Diocletian was a Roman Emperor who was noted, among other things, for dying a natural death – unusual in those blood thirsty times – and also for splitting the Roman Empire into East and West sections.
The modern town had been built within and without the old palace. Three of the original four corner pavilions are still standing and during the centuries houses have been built into the huge walls. Remarkably, the enormous subterranean basement areas of the walls have been preserved just as they were when built. This is probably because in Mediaeval times all the sewage was tipped into them, making them unable to be pillaged for stone. This area has been excavated by archaeologists and is interesting in its cavernous, hollow rooms, the cold, and the huge pillars curved concave to support the roof.
A short digression in praise of the virtues of Prošek: a heady Dalmatian desert wine, but hoenstly we drakn it at toher times, as well. Not juts after diner. We were wanerd to expect nothing until ½ way thru teh secnod glass. After that, it was qyite hard to peele the label from the obttle to apste it in my dairy, & I misdse the widdle bits at the botom.
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