At the outset, let me just say: with a stunning view like this from our apartment, how could we possibly complain, right? We are staying in Mlini, about 5 miles up the road from Dubrovnik itself. The water of the Adriatic is gorgeously clear, the air is indescribably luscious, and we have three different countries to explore within an hour of the house. Dubrovnik, ”Pearl of the Adriatic,” is a fifteen-minute bus ride away. The apartment is the bottom half of our friends’ architect-designed house–99 steps up from the water, 82 steps down from the Magistrale, Dalmatia’s main road. We cannot believe our good fortune in being able to stay in such a beautiful place because of the generosity of friends. We are so grateful! I preface my remarks with this praise of the place, because as my Facebook friend and inveterate traveller Luis says, ”there’s always a catch”!
Mlini is not what I expected. I had envisioned that the apartment was situated on a bucolic, quiet little cove of a bay in a sleepy little fishing village (that is Cavtat, across the bay, which I will try to talk about in another blog). Instead we find ourselves in the center of the ”Dubrovnik Riviera,” with all the edgy hustle and bustle and opportunistic construction that such a location generates when it is discovered by rich people. And just our luck: right next door to Wolfgang and Nora’s house–and I mean RIGHT next door!–is an enormous construction site that begins with pile-driver banging as early as 7 a.m. The people who have been living upstairs for the last six months have really taken the brunt of it–I don’t know how they have endured it–but the workers are still letting off dynamite and pouring concrete and breaking up rocks all day long. This could, of course, have happened anywhere, and Wolfgang says that months ago they promised this would only take a week or so. In any case, the idyllic mood is broken, except on Sundays, when they don’t work. The rest of the time, one needs to go away for the entire day, which is what visitors should be doing anyway. So a fly in the paradisaical ointment, in what passes as progress and modernization!
The one road along the coastline which runs the entire length of the country is here also in the midst of construction work, limiting the traffic to one lane. Now that the tourists are beginning to arrive, this means some long waits at lights before one can get anywhere. And shopping takes place at two enormous malls, with German-owned supermarkets Lidl and Konzum, along with all the regular franchises such as H & M and Müller. For local
produce and folkloric color, we have gone over to spooky Bosnia-Herzegovina, only 45 minutes by car, where the little town of Trebinje has an old-fashioned market in the square, and one finds roadside honey stands and cows wandering onto the only road into town.
So far we have only been into Dubrovnik once. I am so happy we are here in the off season–shops and restaurants and other venues are just beginning to open up for the summer crowds–but even now the cruise ships and busses with Chinese tourists are making their obligatory stops in town. It is, as everyone says, a beautiful, elegant, charmingly attractive walled city, consisting largely of Baroque-era buildings that were constructed after an earthquake destroyed the city in 1677. Many of these treasures were damaged during the hideous siege of Dubrovnik by Serbian and Montenegrin forces in 1991, but have now been completely restored. If we had visited at the beginning of our trip, we would have been as blown away by its elegance as everyone else is, but we have now, after so many months of travelling, seen so many walled cities and so many beautiful buildings that we are a bit inured to them, and find any tourist crunch at all to detract substantially from the location’s attractiveness. I know, I know,
we, too, are tourists, but we try to blend in as best we can…
Then there is the ever-present trauma of the 1990s Balkan conflicts, still hanging like a cloud over the entire region. Small memorials appear everywhere, and in Dubrovnik there is a poignant room dedicated to those who died in the siege in what must be the stupidest of wars, if any war can be considered stupider than another.
One of the most haunting remnants of this terrible time still stands on the point about a half mile from our Mlini house: the very creepy shells of three enormous luxury hotels that were bombed by Montenegrins and Serbs in October 1991. They are still standing, next to an exquisite beachfront, with all the bullet holes and crumbling roofs there to behold. The older, more elegant, building, from a resort of the Austro-Hungarian years, will be renovated soon into an even more exclusive hotel than it had been. But the enormous hulks of the Hotels Kupari and Gorica, built in the 1970s for the Yugoslav apparatchiks, will soon be torn down.
The photos with cat brings us back to the delights of our place in Mlini. Not only have we had the pleasure of a society of cats, nurtured by all the neighbors, but one serendipitous incident demonstrates the positive solidarity that such communities can engender. One evening as the sun was beginning to set, I was standing on the porch and chatting to Michael; he and his wife Irene are our upstairs neighbors and Austrian friends of Wolfgang and Nora. All of a sudden, a little blue parakeet–a beautiful budgie–flew right up to the ledge and sat next to Michael. He was obviously tame (and very hungry), and followed Michael whenever he moved. Since Michael and Irene
have been in Mlini long enough to know the locals, an immediate campaign was launched to find the budgie’s owner. Neighbors called neighbors, Michael went to the local cafe and everyone began texting everyone. In the end, the owner has yet to be found, but Blue Budgie did find a new home, as one of the neighbors, who has other birds, took it in. It was such a sweet example of the best of village life. And on that note, I will end this report from paradise: not only cats, but birds, can charm me in this beautiful place, despite the cranes and the hammers.