Dubrovnik: One Time, One Way
January 3, 2011 1 Comment
By Rob Packer
No matter how many places you visit, some places will always end up overwhelming you by just how spectacularly beautiful they are—and the really special places, like Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, keep having the same effect no matter how many times you visit. I can’t speak for the effects of a second visit to Dubrovnik, Croatia, but from the first glimpses of the old town below me as we flew over it while landing at the airport and then passed it on the road from the airport, it’s obvious that there’s truth to the physical beauty that’s made it so popular in so little time.
I think I have a decent feel for what was the “Eastern Bloc” for the first six years of my life, but as I’m writing this I realize I have no frame of reference for mass tourism in a former communist state: my experience of Prague was in 1995 when it had barely hit the InterRail trail and Uzbekistan—seemingly popular with French and German tour groups—is a bit of a free-for-all as long as you grease the appropriate palms. My overwhelming impression of tourism in Dubrovnik is that its tourism strategy is made up of a strange combination of west European prices and east European bureaucracy. I had a long time to think about this mixture as I walked around the city walls this afternoon with no-one else to be seen and wonder why entry costs 70 kuna ($12.70, €9.40 or £8.10), and why a guard scanned the barcode on my ticket to make sure that I was going “one time, one way”—perhaps an hour was too long to think about this…). Maybe there was a lot of damage from the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik that had to be repaired, maybe it gets so crowded in summer that tourists fall off, maybe there are costumed entertainers in the summer to keep people amused? Obviously it’s hard to judge a tourist city when there are no tourists—they started to appear around 10am but by 3pm had all disappeared—the old town is tiny, maybe it really does get full?
Other than the city’s bureaucratic vein, there really is a lot to like about a city, which has played the underdog multiple times in its history: it was the independent Republic of Ragusa for most of the 13th to 18th centuries that maintained its freedom against Venice, the Adriatic’s giant during that period, and the Ottoman Empire, which covered the rest of south-east Europe at the time. And the city makes much of this independent spirit that came back to help the city defend itself during an eight-month siege in 1991 and 1992 during Croatia’s independence war: a room off the city’s main square is dedicated to those who died defending the city and it’s chilling to think that the Yugoslav army was shelling the city from the very hills you can see behind the city. I won’t be in Dubrovnik long enough to find out how the people have come to deal with the aftermath of the siege: visually at least, the city appears to have put the past behind it and embraced tourism.
 As part of neutral and communist Yugoslavia, Croatia wasn’t—strictly speaking—part of the Eastern bloc.