Croatia Re-visited

‘To remember the importance of great friendships and make time for each other’.  That was the promise we made nearly five years ago as we gathered in Zagreb to mourn the unexpected loss of the dearest of friends. Last weekend we honoured that good intention with all the warmth, love and fun that typified our Ana and we did so in the one location where time and again she had played host to us all, the beautiful city of Dubrovnik.

View over Dubrovnik

View over Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea

The weather was kind, as though in support of our weekend of remembrance.  The Croatian sun was out in full force, the blue sea reflected the sky above and Rosemary wafted on the breeze.  There was much comfort in it: after all, everything was as it had always been.   What better place to remember our friend, who loved nothing better than to show us the best of her native Croatia.  We were happy to oblige by exploring new places in and around Dubrovnik, as we knew Ana would have wished.

Views across Dubrovnik

Views across Dubrovnik

The Pearl of the Adriatic

Nowadays the Pearl of the Adriatic – at least among younger generations – is most closely associated with the TV series Game of Thrones, but it has so much more to offer than GoT guided tours, GoT boat trips, GoT drinking games and GoT souvenirs which appear to have sprung up out of nowhere since we were last here.  It can be hard to escape the new-found fame of this age-old city, but if you’re willing to put up with the throngs of people following tour guides waving umbrellas, there are hidden beauty spots to be found in what is still the most beautiful city of all.  In an attempt to keep these secret places from being overrun too, I won’t list them here, but challenge you to find them for yourself. Instead, I would like to share some of the region’s wonders.

Those other walls

Salt Pans of Ston

Salt Pans of Ston

Salt harvesting in Ston, a short drive north of Dubrovnik, dates back to Roman times and has always played an important role in the development of the region.  In the 14th and 15th century, when salt was a prime commodity, the rulers of the Dubrovnik Republic built walls around the town of Ston and its neighbouring villages in order to protect their precious salt fields.  These days, visitors to Ston can still observe the ancient process of salt harvesting, methods which have barely changed over time.  Interesting though this undoubtedly is, most people come to admire and walk – if they are brave enough – the walls of Ston, which are only surpassed in length by the Great Wall of China.  I know, I know… Hadrian’s Wall is longer, but those in Ston are still completely intact and can be walked in full.  Despite Croatia’s popularity as a tourist destination, Ston remains blissfully under the radar of those who come to rub shoulders in Dubrovnik.  Its restaurants however are every bit as good, serving up, among other things, locally sourced oysters and other delicacies.

Cool Granary

Ethnographic Museum, the former Granary

Ethnographic Museum, the former Granary

Back in the city, a group of folk musicians entertained the crowds and temperatures have risen with the passing of the hour. In an attempt avoid the heat, we headed for the old Granary, which offers a cool climate and a glimpse into the determination of Dubrovnik’s 16th Century rulers to secure its food supplies.  It took 42 years to hew great grain cellars into the stone below their feet and coat them with waterproof material.  Here they were able to store enough grain to feed their citizens during even the longest of blockades, should this situation arise.  Protecting the grain was no joke and the role of ‘keeper of the keys’ was one of the most coveted jobs within the Republic.  The responsibility was considered so great, that there were three ‘keepers’, while a minimum of two keepers was required to access the Grain Stores.  Today, the granary is better known as the Ethnographic Museum, a name which ensures it’s usually quiet, but don’t let that put you off.  As well as being home to exhibitions related to local history, culture and folklore, visitors can still look down into the massive grain stores and marvel at the effort involved in creating them.

Time for Reflection

Ston Salt being harvested

Ston Salt being harvested

The walls of Ston and the Granary are evidence of the lengths to which Dubrovnik rulers went in order to protect the interests of their citizens.  Before you think: ‘there must have been something bad about the rulers of the Dubrovnik Republic’, well, perhaps there was, if I choose to look for it.  It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that they banned the slave trade as early as 1416.  Many countries, new and old, could take a leaf out of that particular book.

St. James Church, Dubrovnik

St. James Church, Dubrovnik

As Sunday morning arrived, we headed to the Church of St. James, which is part of the Benedictine Abbey of Višnjica.  Built in 1222 and restored in the 16th century, it is nestled into the hillside on the outskirts of Dubrovnik.  Although it overlooks the old town, its secluded location offers quiet and solitude, something unthinkable inside the city walls. It was the perfect place for a special mass for Ana and allowed us space and time in our weekend to reflect and remember all that was special about our friend, who even after all these years is still missed by so many.  The service was in Croatian, naturally, but that didn’t matter.  It was the act of being together in a common cause, which meant everything.

Beautiful Konavle

Grilled Squid - my favourite!

Grilled Squid – my favourite!

We continued our day by heading south of Dubrovnik to the beautiful region of Konavle.  Here, wine growers, food producers and environmental campaigners work hand in hand in order to promote sustainable livelihoods, support the local ecology and encourage agro-tourism.  Out with the invaders of flora and fauna, in with all things environmentally sound.  The results are obvious to all. Silk production is once again flourishing while new cycle and hiking routes have been developed and horse-riding trails have sprung up. Restaurants offer locally sourced produce, enough to make the mouth water: cheeses and meats, fruits and vegetables, oysters and fresh trout are all on the menu here, never mind the excellent local wines, oh yes!

Croatian Sunset

Croatian Sunset

It was yet another day where laughter and remembrance mingled easily, but we know by now that all good things must come to an end and so it was that we finally headed back to Dubrovnik, with Ana safely in our hearts.  More plans were hatched and more promises made (at least one of which has now been fulfilled).  By the time we each went our separate ways home, several things were very clear: how special our friendship is and always has been, the role that Croatia has played in bringing us all together and the importance of good friends making time for each other. And that girlie trip we planned 5 years ago? Well, mission completed – though I’m sure it won’t be long before friendship and Croatia will be calling us again.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Ada Bauer
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Hoi Annemieke,
    We hebben genoten van je reisverhaal over Kroatie.
    Fijn om weer wat van je te horen.
    Lieve groet,
    Rinus en Ada.

  2. Boris Lot
    Posted June 1, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Lovely heartfelt remembrance with good friends. Great photos of a beautiful country (compressed files might help those of us with slow internet! 🙂

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