Thursday, 3 November 2011

I was recently taken on a surprise holiday to Dubrovnik, Croatia (this sort of thing doesn't usually happen to me, it was a rather special honeymoon-type occasion). We stayed in a hotel a stone's throw from the sea and had a stunning view of the Adriatic, rolling mountains and all. According to the WHSmith guide book, October is the best time of year to visit this part of the world because the weather is still pleasant enough to be able to walk around in sandals and a skirt and the millions of tourists have packed up for the summer season and left the 'Pearl of the Adriatic' in a peaceful, almost dreamlike, state.

Our week was chiefly spent pottering, sipping coffee in outdoor cafes and reading. This may make me sound like a middle-aged bore but it was just lovely to relax and absorb the culture of our surroundings. The European cafe culture may have become a little tired and overused by us tea-supping, Starbucks-aholics from the UK but when you partake in the activity in actual Europe, it's rather delightful.

We did some of the touristy things too; walking round the city walls of the Old Town in Dubrovnik is highly recommended, especially on a sunny day; taking a boat trip out to one of the islands for a day out is also a must-do activity. The country hasn't joined the Euro yet so things like meals and gifts are a little cheaper than in most European cities. The coffee is good, the wine is OK, the people are warm and friendly (and they speak English).

My favourite part of traveling is seeing a country without its glamourous touristy gloss. I think we managed to see a fair amount of the 'real' Croatia during our stay, but the most authentic part for me was when we went on a boat trip to one of the islands. We were sitting on the top deck of the boat, feeling a bit chilly as the sea air gradually wormed its way through our clothes and onto our goose-pimpled skin and we decided to venture below deck. There was an increasing stench of coffee and cigarette smoke as we neared the indoor section of the vessel and when we poked our heads into what looked like a small makeshift cafe we were met with the most glorious sight.

It was almost as if we had stumbled onto the set of an old Eastern European film; old men propped up at the bar, middle-aged men slumped against the murky windows, taking the chance to nap on the boat before starting work again at the next port, all sporting grand flourishes of facial hair and most of them smoking and drinking coffee. I half expected someone to whip out an accordion and start singing a traditional folk song, but then I shook myself and realised that my thoughts were bordering on ignorant or worse; British.

In conclusion, Dubrovnik is marvellous.


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