In this journal:
- most magnificent city wall in the world;
- tons of fluffy kittens;
- Game of Thrones scenes.
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.oath of Night’s Watch, A Song of Ice and Fire
My arrival in the city of Dubrovnik is not just a mere coincidence: it was meant to be. Having never been next to the Adriatic Sea, I had to fix this glaring hole in my travel history with the best place to be on the Dalmatian Coast, the small settlement that boasts one of the best historic cityscapes, Dubrovnik. Yet, having known the great reputation amassed by the city over the past decades, I was not ready to be blown away so thoroughly by the charm of old town.
The city was originally named Ragusa, and acted as the de facto capital of the republic of the same name. It was technically under the jurisdiction of Venetians before mid-14th century, and later Ottoman, then French, and eventually Austria-Hungary. Upon the empire’s demise in the aftermath of World War I, the city was officially incorporated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and eventually came into Croatian rule after the demise of the socialist Yugoslavia merely 30 years ago. Nowadays, thanks to Croatia’s status as a member of the European Union, the city enjoyed a huge boom in tourism, especially from cruise industry, after numerous renovations to keep the old down as authentic as possible. The main thoroughfare of the old town is the Stradun, a smoothly-paved limestone street full of interesting shops and restaurants lined at its sides. It has been the main esplanade of foot traffic ever since the 13th century, and now features a fountain and a belltower on either side, as this 300-meter road connects the two largest gates of the city wall.
The city is structured like a perfect medieval city crafted by an RPG-maker. A huge city wall surrounds the old town, which is about 500 meters from one side to the other. One large gate each sits at the west and east side, and a smaller gate opens to the north, while the blue Adiatic waves crash right onto the walls to the south. The west gate is the main entrance to the city, and has been so for more than a thousand years. Called the Pile Gate, (pronounced as pie-lei) this large stone entrance is fronted by a rocky bridge, and guarded by a large rotunda at the back, which also serves as the secret entrance to the Franciscan monastery at the other side of the wall. Right underneath the bridge, the old moat connecting directly to the sea has been converted into a city park, full of frolicking kids, who enjoy the best life one can ever have in this modern world, as they blissfully grow up in the most scenic medieval fortress I have ever seen.
The bridge was originally a wooden one, and during the times of Ragusa Republic, would be lifted up every day at night with a lavish ceremony, accompanied by the handing-over of the city gate to the rector of the city. The bridge is supported by a series of large Gothic arches, built in late 15th century. On top of the gate, sits a statue of Saint Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik.
The authentic preservation of the city and its walls also attracts bigger spenders than typical tourists. Thanks to Dubrovnik’s gorgeous and flavorful medieval vibes, the famous show Game of Thrones is partially shot in town, with most of the King’s Landing and Qarth scenes taken straight from daily locales here. I will include certain images that show corresponding shots from the show next to the place where it is filmed. The show may went out with a wet fart that killed any joy to view any part of it, (don’t get me started on that) the producers’ choice of filming, however, is on point. Here at Pile Gate, we have our first iconic shot, when Joffry and his entorage are attacked as they return to King’s Landing.
The east side gate is called Ploče Gate, protected by a freestanding fortress. It also features Gothic arches as well as a statue of the city saint. The two gates are not too far apart, as the entire city wall encloses a diameter of about 500 meters, so it takes about 10 minutes top to go from one gate to the other. On the north side, another gate called Buža Gate was opened up way later in history to faciliate better accessibility when walled cities became a thing of the past in the last century.
However, do not overlook the city just because of its small size. In this 500-meter radius of old bricks and rocks, hides one of the most magnificent ancient cities in existence. Let me show you the history of Dubrovnik, on a walk from Pile Gate to the old port.
Right inside Pile Gate, the Large Onofrio’s Fountain faces each visitor with a refreshing greeting. This water feature is fed with 16 masks, each sprouting out water from the nearby mountains. In the past, every visitor has to wash their hands here before formally entering the city, in order to prevent bad luck from being brought into the city limits. Just across the 1438-built fountain is the Franciscan monastery, sharing the same wall as the city gates. It is the location of an old pharmacy, which has been running ever since its inception in the old religious building 800 years ago. This makes it the oldest pharmacy that is still running today. However, on this warm Saturday when I paid it a visit, it was sadly closed.
The church itself is quite old, and reached its peak during the golden age of Ragusa in 14th to 15th century. The large ring of cloister surrounds a lush garden full of chirping birds, and on the other side of the chapel is the old rooms that used to be preparation chambers for the monks. However, it has now been converted into a museum, mostly displaying medicine and pharmacy-related artifacts leftover from the centuries. Inside, I found a full display of late-medieval era pharmacy drawer, and an entire library of old medicine catalogs.
Once in the heart of the old town, one will be inundated with dozens of small, charming alleyways barely wide enough to squeeze through. Do not worry, the entire walled inner city has been vehicle free for years, so there is no risk of being run over by a speeding car or a fully loaded bus. In these tightly packed streets, one can find good restaurants, souvenir shops, and dozens of hotels, sandwiching the locals’ houses. Even though the town is beseiged by tourists literally 50% of the city’s population every day in summer, the streets were festive and tranquil during my 5-day visit in December. I admire the locals’ staunch resilience for staying strong and authentic against the hordes of self-stick-stretching, belly-fat-dangling, history-clueless cruise ship tourists, and thanks to them, I still had an unspouiled Croatian stay in this stronghold.
The other side of the city is the executive quarter when Ragusa Republic was at its prime. The country had always been independently managed by the local aristocrats, and the marine trade of this small country hit its prime in the 15th and 16th century. Thanks to the ease of access to good quality oak, Ragusa fleets and marine power could rival Venice even in its home turf, Mediterranean Sea, at the peak. Colonies of Ragusan merchant ships can be seen from the Black Sea all the way to Fez, Morroco, and the country had diplomatic consulates in more than 80 cities in Africa, Asia, Americas, and Europe. It was undoubtedly the superpower of the time, and before its eventual annexation, Ragusa flag could be seen on every inhabited continent in the world. Their success is because these free folks do not invade or establish colonies, as they simply trade and make friends. Flying under a white flag that proclaims Libertas (freedom), these traders far beyond their contemporaries learned the importance of amicability as they abolished slave trade in 1418. The Sponza Palace was built during this golden age, in a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles.
The building served many functions during its lifetime. First constructed as a public space available to merchants for negotiations and marketing, it was later used as a mint, the treasury, an armory, a bank, an academy, and a custom office. The large vault constructed underneath its space attests to some of the uses, and the door was marked with a dragon motif by one of the prisoners, seen above. The inscription on an arch in the atrium also confirms its commercial use:”Our weights do not permit cheating. When I measure goods, God measures with me.” Sponza Palace is also one of the only 2 surviving public buildings in the devastating 1667 earthquake, the largest earthquake that ever shook Croatia, with an epicenter right outside town. The palace now serves as the city archive, featuring a floor full of interesting artifacts and documents.
Another building that survived the earthquake is the Rector’s Palace. The Rector of Ragusa acted as a president and a person of power. It is elected from only the aristocrat class. The people, per typical fashions, were divided into 3 classes: aristocrats, citizens, and plebians, which includes artisans and farmers. Marriage outside one’s class was stricted prohibited by law. The rector is elected by a congregation of aristocrat elders called the Minor Counsil, and serves a stunningly short 1 month term, supposedly as a check to prevent any particular family from gaining too much power like the Medici’s in Venice. As a result, during the entire age of the Ragusa Republic, there has been a whopping 1500 distinct rectors. The building served as a place for the rector to live and work, while it is a city museum nowadays. The building was damaged in the 1667 earthquake, so its original Gothic interior is covered with a Baroque motif instead.
Next to the palace sat the religious center of the city, a church named after the patron saint. Inside, large golden altars and statues carved by the best Italian sculptors of its time tell a story of the past splendor of the city, and its pews full of worshippers on Sundays continue the saga. Behind is a small market plaza and a few local supermarkets, which faces straight at the Jesuit Staircase. This is where Cersei Lannister took her “walk of shame” in Season 5, episode 10. The production team had to pay every single resident living in the shot to shut their windows during the days of shooting, and each of them has to sign a non-disclosure agreement. In fact, nearly half of the town had been employed by the show to be temporary actors as dwellers of King’s Landing!
Just outside the walls on the outskirts of the old town, a bit south to the eastern gate, is where one can find the old harbor. Still completely in the taste of 14th century, it is almost jarring to see modern fishing boats moored in the quiet waters. It is a place of quiet reflection for many locals, and I enjoyed this calm, soothing place multiple times during my visit. It is a location to just sit down by the stern walls, look out of the bay, and watch those tiny boats bob up and down in the waves.
One time, I sat next to an old man and his son, and watched them trying to catch fish in the quiet harbor on a warm Tuesday afternoon. The old man looked at me, and gestured his son to let me sit next to him. Neither of them spoke English, and I definitely am too dumb to manage Croatian, so we just sat there, facing the ancient walls from times long forgotten elsewhere, without a single word. After nearly an hour of sitting in silence, the father-son pair finished their daily ritual, and left. I bowed to them, thanking them for something, but I am not sure what I thanked them for. Even though they did not catch any fish, but we all knew it was not about that. It was about something more, a state of the mind, if you would like to think that way, and a form of inner peace. I guess this is what they mean when they talk about “being one with the world”, right?
Finally, we move on to the most recent history of the city. After Yugoslavia fell into chaos in 1991, a series of wars were fought between the different groups of former kinsmen. Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia were busy fighting each other for the recognition of UN as well as land and ethnic group disputes. And if you have ever seen the map of Croatia, you will find this part of Dalmatia near Dubrovnik to be one of the most bizarre borders in the world. Dubrovnik, along with the rest of the region, is completely cut off from the mainland Croatia by a 5-kilometer strech of Bosnia near Neum, so going from Dubrovnik to Zagreb involves crossing 2 border checks! As you can see, this is absurd!
This is all a result of the final peace treaty signed between numerous parties. And it was not done before Dubrovnik was bombed for months by Serbian and Montenegrin air force. 30% of the old city was destroyed, and it took years of repair for the structures to be safe again. Dozens of people died in the air raids, and since it happened just 3 decades ago, the history can be seen not only in museums but on the streets as well.
But my favorite part of old Dubrovnik is not any particular piece of trivia or architecture, but those narrow, windy streets that have been polished by the daily commute of the hardworking locals to a smooth perfection, echoing the footsteps of every shoe, or every cat’s paw. You forget about the concept of traffic when you meander in these cute alleys, and you forget about the rest of the world when you discover a nice shop hidden in the steep inclines next to the walls.
I guess this feeling of being in love is especially magnified because it was the lowest of low season. I was the only person in the homestay of the house, and very rarely did I find someone who specifically travelled here for this season. My flights from Rome on the way in and to London on the way out were both astonishingly empty and cheap, and the streets, in turn, were only filled with locals during rush hours. However, the downside of having King’s Landing all to myself is that it was way too much beauty to handle all at once, and the majority of popular restaurants are closed for the season. A lot of locals told me that they all work overtime in summer, sometimes doing 90-hour work weeks for 2 months straight, and are given 3 months off in winter as compensation. What a crazy schedule!
Meow meow :3
And how can I forget the most prominent citizens of this city? For some reasons, the old town is full of cats roaming the streets. They are more of the main dweller of this piece of paradise than actual human beings, not only because they are virtually everywhere, in plazas, in cafes, on the grand wall, underneath the gate, stuck in bushes, but also because they stride through the alleys with so much pride that they practically own it. A lot of stray cats are fed by some nice locals in special feed stations, and this results in them having nothing to do but to play around when nobody is nearby, and coming to demand to be pet when I happened to run into them. So? What could I do? I petted every single one of these cute bastards.
Every house seems to have a cat, and every one of them is allowed to roam about, especially when the owner is not at home. At the little house that was my home for the 5 days, the grey cat always gets her fair share of delicious food before heading off to adventures around the wall. She loves to be pet, and will always ask me to scratch parts of her back that she was evidently too lazy to do it herself. Well, what can I possibly do? Say no? Are you serious? And this is how I was enslaved by a cat in a homestay in Croatia.
This is the kind of indentured servitude I was looking for, and I gladly embarked on the crusade to pet as many fluffy friends as I physically could, even after I got scratched up by the above princess because I did not pet the correct position after she staying on my lap for 3 hours straight. It was my fault, master, and I promise it will never happen again!
Now you know how I managed to spend nearly a week in a place that you can walk from one end to the other in 10 minutes, and still failed to see everything. I just roam around the street looking for a nice angle to take a picture, sit down and munch some snacks, see a cute kitty that I must pet, get stuck petting kitty for hours, and then roam around a bit more. The cycle continues endlessly. But you know what? No regrets, I would do it again and again. In fact, I am planning my return now!
My favorite fluffy citizen is this black-and-white kitty, who loves to hang out by the old docks. It was a particularly lazy afternoon, and I was supposedly on my way to the Maritime Museum, or was it the Natural History Museum? Not sure, but it does not matter, because as I passed by the narrow walkways next to the waterfront, I saw him, a slightly chubby ball of fur that begged me to approach, and approach I did. However, little did I realize, it would be my doom. He was so eager to be touched that the moment my hand made contact with the floofy head, his entire back arched into a McDonald’s logo. Promptly, he came up to my lap and rested down, purring as if he found where he belonged, while rubbing his paw on my jeans, trying to shave down his nails. We just sat there, looking out to the blue waves quietly crashing against the ancient stone walls. He put his paws on me, and mine on him. This is how an afternoon was spent, and I hope I can spend every single afternoon in my life like that.
Cats have become a symbol of my life. No, it is not because I have thousands of cat memes stored in my old phone, so many that it caused the phone to crash. It is because I identify so much to the lifestyle of a cat. I just want to lounge around, do nothing, preferrably at a place of great view. No games, no stupid human emotions, no awkward interactions looking for a mate, just scratches, meowing, a nice meal, and a box to climb into. Modern society and its accompanying requirements are too much; being a functional member of society comes with the burden of the very system. Nah, I prefer a nice view, a nice chow, and a nice nap. I know it will never come to fruition, because I eat way too much that nobody will ever adopt me, but at least when I am with these clawed friends, I could live my dream a little. A stretch, a quick tail whip, and a scratch on the post, hey, I can do it too!
Wall of Dubrovnik
However, there is one more kitty that I need to introduce you, one that is cuter than the rest, fluffier than all, and supremely good at eating, and that is my local Dubrovnik contact, Ana. She is the reason why I decided to take such a long detour to get to this town with just 5 flights a day in the dead of winter. We met earlier in 2019 in Madrid, while I was busy having the biggest headache in my life preparing for my parents’ arrival. Thanks to her, I did not overdose in aspirin in a strangers’ town thousands of kilometers from home. So, what am I waiting for? Let me introduce you to the pride of Dubrovnik, the joy of Croatia, a somehow decent chef, Ana!
As you can see, Ana is a beauty not found in a thousand years, yet somehow is so smug and unrelentingly naggy. Yet, we can never turn down…
What do you mean?
Uhhhh, it, um, seems like, we may have some technical difficulties. As you can see, haha, um, this is another cat, which, uhhhh, is not actually Ana, that is super obvious right?
*whisper* Cameraman, what is going on!
Do not worry, my dear reader, the elves on my back end are currently working really hard to fix this unfortunate mishap. During this time, who wants to hear a joke? Eh? Nobody? Nah~! You guys are just too shy. Okay, here I come!
What is the difference between a very old bus stop and a lobster with breast implants?
I will give you a bit of time to let it sink in, and perhaps, marinate for a while in your mind.
One is a crusty bus-station, and one is a busty crustacean! 😀 eh? eh?
Oh come on, this is a great one! You guys just have no taste! Oh, really? Good! The picture is up, back on topic! I present you, Ana!
Oh, what? Why is it a photo of the back? Ugh, whatever, it will have to do. She used to work for Emirates airlines when she was younger, and now, being an old lady, she has to stay put in her hometown, and work a stationary job. How I managed to meet someone from a town with a smaller population than my community in Shanghai, is still a mystery. We met on one of her days off, and ascended the famous Walls of Dubrovnik. This is the crown jewel of Dubrovnik sights, and comes with an equally hefty price tag. However, for Ana, a local, it is free!
The wall, like Ana, is the pride of the city, and has been so for centuries. It was originally built partially in the Dark Ages, and later expanded, and expanded. During Ragusa’s heyday in 14th century, it had completely encircled the inner city, cementing the old town as we see today, and the focus was shifted into reinforcing the walls to keep up with improved canons and seige technologies. It was thickened on the land side, resulting in a 4-meter to 6-meter thick northern wall, if you discount the slanted buttresses set up to stop canon fires. At the tallest, near Minčeta Tower in northwest, the walls stand a staggering 25 meters above the surface, outclassing every single kind of seige tactic of the time.
This tower, at least the top part, has been used as the House of Undying in season 2 of Game of Thrones, as Daenerys and her gang failed to locate any entrance to the seemingly doorless house.
Meanwhile, on the sea side, the walls are not as strong nor thick. Some of them even have a few small passage ways built inside, while most are less than a floor or two above the surface. However, do not be tricked into thinking that it would be easier to just attack from the sea. The wall goes along the sheer cliffs that flank the entire city, from west to east, making them naturally defensible. The walls may only be 5 meters tall, but the cliffs themselves are usually over 20 meters, and not to mention the difficulty of carrying seige weapons and manpower on boats.
As you can see, it is not difficult to conclude that Dubrovnik has always been impregnable. No one has ever successfully completed a seige on the city, despite the fact that it had always been the most coveted position in the entire Adriatic Sea. Venetians, Ottomans, Turks, Austrians, French, Bosnians, all tried taking over the city by force, since the 7th century, and yet they were all sent home packing. Nowadays, this is probably the most impressive series of city walls on the entire continent, as it makes the city wall of Nordlingen, which I deemed to be extremely impressive when I visited, shed shameful tears. In 1987, the entire old town, along with its walls that instill fear into people’s minds, was listed into UNESCO World Heritage catalog, and I say it is well deserved.
The entire walk along the walls is about 2 kilometers, and on the walls, numerous scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed. Most of them are related to the Battle of Blackwater in Season 2. While the sceneries outside the walls are epic and brathetaking, the view inside the walls are leisurely and urban. While walking around the wall, one is on the same line of sight as nearly every house, so I saw an old man reading newspaper on his balcony, a boy playing with a toy car in his room, a young couple doing unspeakable deeds, and an old granny drying clothes on top of the roof. On the other side, huge waves crashed into the stone walls, splashing into millions of watery pearls, scattered just to be recollected again. The dynamic contrast truly felt like a world of difference, separated by the barrier of this wall of archaic past. And needless to say, the sweeping view over the old town, with all the church towers and bell chimes, was unparalleled, especially so when Ana was not busy blocking my view.
After the exhausting climb, mostly because we were trying our damnest to push each other off the walls so we could finally witness the other person’s demise, Ana went to a small convenience shop to buy a Cockta. It is a drink extremely popular in Croatia. Even though it is currently owned by a Croatian company, the beverage was actually devised by a Slovenian during early 1950s to enter the market of Yugoslavia, which had no Coca-cola at the time. It tastes like a rather strong and tangy version of coke, and definitely has a herbal aftertaste thanks to its rose hip main ingredient, and the multitude of medicinal grasses put into the mix. We simply sat on the docks, and chatted away, while the sun slowly sank to the west.
Outside the Walls
As the sun slowly began to fall towards the horizons, Ana said she would take me to her favorite place to watch sunset. On our way, we passed by the only public beach available in the city, Banje Beach, but it is laughably tiny. Normally, in summer, this tiny stretch of sand bar would be filled to the brink with vacationers. If you check out some photos of this beach during high season, it is as insane as my ex-roommate who thought the 5G network would summon alien overlords. There is usually about 1 person every square meter in July, while I did not see a single soul on this December dusk. We continued walking along the coast towards east, as we faced the island of Lokrum.
The island is a famous place to visit as well, because it boasts an ancient monastery and a peacock-infested garden. However, in winter, there were no tour boats or public methods of getting onto the island, so I had to wait for my next visit for a landing. Sun had submerged itself under the tall walls of the old town by the time we reached a little headland on the other side of the bay, but the view over the city was indeed superb. Ana and I just discussed our plans for the next year, and what we could do to get our lives into order. It is strange to be reunited after nearly a year, just to talk about some of the most mundane thing such as jobs, money and hope for not dying alone, isn’t it? A few cats decided to join us on the bench, and the entiere gang sat together, facing the calm waters of the Adriatic, quietly beginning our watch for the night.
Not too far from our hiding spot, a long series of steps goes up all the way to the next road. Atop the steep incline, an old lady sat there, hidden amongst the bushes, with a group of 20 cats simply scattered around her, as if she was some kind of bewitching commander. This is the kind of prowess I want to possess when I am older, an old summoner of forgotten gods, and petter of numerous kitties. We eventually had to return to the old town, as Ana wanted to show me around some of the best hidden alleys inside the walls. We climbed up and down the cobbled streets, looking for something that we know will come to us, beauty. Night was nigh, and the distant screech of tires on the main roads sent a few hissing kittens running about, yet everything else seemed eerily quiet. Just our footsteps, and their echos, nothing else on this slightly chilly evening in Dubrovnik.
And above is Ana’s favorite hole in her hometown. While I wished I had never known her, this little statue is actually the namesake of probably the best restaurant around. Situated just behind the statue, it serves authentic Dalmatian food, but was sadly closed for the winter season. The fountain, which squirts out from this lady’s nether regions, also is turned off, leaving the Lady Pipi as Lady UTI Examination.
I bid Ana farewell as she had to shuttle back to new town for an early rest, as she had a busy day ahead. Hey, don’t discount me! I had a ton of things to do as well! I had to nap, chase cats down the streets, pet those who were unable to escape, and nap with them a bit more! My schedule was truly packed. Next morning, I exited the city from Pile Gate, and circled around the tiny bay. A modest yet uniform dock presented itself in front of my eyes. This is the famous Dubrovnik West Pier, which is doubled as the main location of water access for King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, appearing in Seasons 2 and 3 mostly. It is also the location of the last scene, where Jon Snow had to bid farewell to his family and his brother-king “Bran the Broken” (lol).
Right next to the small dock, is a series of two doors, which are prominently featured in Season 2, when all Robert Beratheon’s bastards had to be executed on the order of King Joffry.
I took the stairs to the large headland perched above the slushing waters, and reached the fort of Lovrjenac, or St. Lawerence Fortress, a large limestone structure that oversees the entire Dubrovnik from the vantage point. During Venetian Rule, the Italian leaders wanted to construct a fort here for better control over the subjects, and the Ragusa people caught wind of this. As a result, these laborous folks immediately began building the Lovrjenac Fort, which was finished in a mere 3 months, giving this land over to the Croatians. By the time the Venetian ship carrying materials used for construction arrived at Dubrovnik, they were stunned by a large fortress already standing, and had to be sent back home. If the Venetians ever managed to build their own fort here, it is theorized that Ragusa would have never escaped their control.
The castle is now used as a theatre for historical plays, but has also been featured in Game of Thrones for multiple times. It is normally portrayed as the Red Keep, and a large series of dialogues are filmed with the classic arches as the backdrop.
The view is spectacular, as it provides an unrivaled angle overlooking the entire city. Imagine traveling across the worlds and eventually reaching Ragusa after a lengthy journey, only to be witnessed by these massive walls shadowing entire buildings. What kind of shock it would instill in a beholder in 14th century! Very very few places managed to ever erect such levels of complex defenses, and yet no other place has managed to upkeep it for hundreds of years. Truly mindblowing, and I am so glad that I managed to pay respects to human ingenuity and this Croatian national treasure.
From the north side of the old town, one can board a steep cable car all the way up the massive hill called Srđ. The dominating panorama from this ominously towering mountain is beyond words, as it gives one a complete sense of how tight the entire construction of old Ragusa is.
A part of the Dinaric Alps, Srđ sits at a comfortable 412 meters above sea level, providing sweeping views all over the Adriatic Sea. In fact, if you look back, you can see all the way to Montenegro just 30 kilometers to the southeast. It is the site of an 1810 French castle, built during Napoleonic Wars, while it also suffered severe damage during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991. It was the deadliest battle fought by the Croatian forces during the entire war. The entire mountain’s oak tree reserve was burnt down in the bombings, and these trees, called dubrava, are what gave the city its modern name, Dubrovnik.
Of course, I joined Ana at the harbor for another round of Cockta while watching the golden sunset. When you have the luck to spend an afternoon next to nothing but smooth breezes, a tranquil sea, a good company who sometimes annoys you with silly comments, the cawing of a few seagulls, and an ancient fortress inbedded with history, you would do the same every day. I would do it for the rest of my life if I can. We slowly watched the fiery star sink beneath our field of view, painting the horizons in a gradient of dreamlike colors, and heard the desperate call of our tummies. It is time for me to introduce you to the joy that is called Croatian food.
My life in Dubrovnik was made especially easy with the Christmas market, sitting smack at the middle of old town. Stradun was covered with a dozen of local vendors who pulled out their best punches and festive selections, even though most of them offer rather similar things: sausages boiled in a herbal bath, bread, a kind of cabbage roll called sarma, and alcohols, a lot of alcohols. They are rather cheap, and a large sausage in bread can easily fill a girl up, while for me, I may require a bit more.
And this is a kind of baked pancake that has garlic and leeks sandwiched between the two layers of thin doughs. It is rather interesting that they come in huge portions and are chopped down into bite size. A store that I frequent the most has killer burgers with patties made of octopus or tuna, and coupled with some fries as well as mayonnaise, life cannot get any better!
In the photo above, Ana is holding what they call knedle sa šljivama; it just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? It is a kind of dough-y dumpling, with plums filled at the inside, and boiled to a white ball. Then, it is served with an unholy amount of sugar and a ton of whipped cream. Kids, gather around, what you are seeing is the definition of a balanced diet. How Ana managed to stay slender, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe everyone practices dark magic here. The other national pride here is ćevapi, a kind of dish similar to kofte kebab seen further south. Rolls of meat are barbequed on top of open flame, and topped with a fresh salad made of feta cheese, tomato, and a spicy sauce called ajvar. I could not say this more clearly: it was the best thing I could have hoped for in my life. I inhaled the extra-large plate in front of Ana in mere minutes on one of those super lazy afternoons. Yes, I did get a few more chins out of ćevapi, but none of those chins expressed a sign of regret.
Yet, the most popular dish in Croatia, is Italian. You might have surmised that for having fought against their arch-nemisis Venetians for more than a millenia, the people of Dubrovnik would have had a different opinion on pizza than the rest of the world, yet nobody can stop this wave of invasion, made of cheese and crispy crusts. Food scene here in Dubrovnik is really different, as anywhere near the old town, you cannot find any typical fast food joints. Forget about Burger Kings and McDonald’s, or even Starbucks and Costa Coffee, none of them exist here. That is one thing I appreciate the most: even though it is quite touristy, the mega-conglomerates have not taken over every corner of this authentic little piece of history.
Wearing the Black
Yet the days of living in medieval dreamland had to come to and end. I hugged Ana goodbye, and hopped onto the bus bound for the small airport. It is hard to bid farewell to probably one of my favorite places ever, out there with Antarctica, New Zealand, and Altiplano. The sea, the people, those food, the architecture, all the history, definitely the feline, the Ana, and the quaint ambiance, came together like a melodious cacophony, seemingly overwhelming but actually soothing, initially pretentious but in fact authentic. For a day-tripper from a cruise, maybe this is too much, but for me, someone who was fortunate enough to explore Dubrovnik in the lowest season with a local in 5 days, nah, it was simply not enough. If I ever manage to become rich and successful, my dream is to have one of those old brick houses in the shadow of the wall, with a purring kitten on my lap, and gaze upon the distant commotion going on in this piece of magic they call King’s Landing. However, for me, I am home.
After these days in Dubrovnik, I feel it is like wearing the black, as portrayed in Game of Thrones. I want to stand atop these giant walls, and look out to safeguard what I treasure. I know travelling may mean the end of a normal life, but I take upon this one way journey without regret, because I am willing to be a brother in the watch, silently gazing upon the realm of man, recording its daily rhythm and the yearly cycle. I hereby swear my oath, to become a watcher on the wall.
World is out there, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I may find no love, hold no estates, have no friends. I may earn no money and win no glory. I shall live and die on the road. I am the recorder of countries. I am the watcher on the walls. I pledge my life and honor to the World’s Watch, for this place and all the places to come.
And now, my watch begins.