She Said, She Said: Dubrovnik
by Geri Bain & Jenny Keroack
Five years after their first blogged adventure (She Said She Said London) Jenny Keroack, now 23 years old, and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain, set off on a new journey. This trip centered on three great societies: the Ancient Greeks, the Ottomans, and the Venetians. Starting in Athens, they set sail on a Windstar Cruise to Venice, tracing the interwoven histories of these superpowers. After the cruise, they headed to the Dolomites for a few days of hiking. As with their last adventure, they recorded their impressions and favorite finds along the way. Jenny’s are in italics; Geri’s are in regular type. The following is their fifth installment, logged from Dubrovnik.
We were happy that we had a full day—from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.–in Dubrovnik. A five-minute tender shuttled us to the dock right in the heart of the Old Port, with Fort St. John guarding one end of the harbor and Fort Revelin at the other.
Walking the City. Winding through the streets of Dubrovnik, you will hear the city’s many tour guides making two kinds of allusions: historical and Game of Thrones. If you’ve watched the show, it adds a strange layer of nostalgia to realize that you’ve seen a street or building before. But even if you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, it’s easy to understand why a production which needed a medieval city to film in would come to Dubrovnik. Despite massive bombings by Serb and Montenegrin soldiers in 1991, Dubrovnik was able to rebuild itself back into the spectacularly frozen-in-time city you see today. My advice is to take the city in slowly and give yourself time to notice just how much care went into its design and to allow small details to catch your eye. Some of my most vivid memories from exploring Dubrovnik are ornate flourishes like the little stone dog sitting on the edge of Big Onofrio’s Fountain and the two green doors in Lovrijenac’s rock face.
Climbing the walls: I wish I’d worn a Fitbit in Dubrovnik because I feel like we must have climbed up and down at least sixty flights of stairs following the guard’s walkway around the walls of the city, climbing the stair-stepping streets of the city, and exploring St. Lawrence Fort, which defends one of the ancient harbors from a promontory facing the city walls. The walls, begun in the 10th century and improved right up until the 17th century, rise to over 80 feet in places. The city walls are further reinforced by dozens of towers, forts and bastions and we made a point of mounting each of them. All those vantage points made for stunning vistas—one more amazing than the next—and a great workout.
A Proud Past. A lot of people don’t know much about Dubrovnik beyond how gorgeous it is. In fact, many modern institutions actually began in the Republic of Ragusa, which was headquartered in Dubrovnik and ruled from 1358 until 1808. These include the abolition of slavery in 1418, an early quarantine hospital in 1377, and Europe’s first pharmacy in 1317. The pharmacy is still functioning and attached to the Franciscan Monastery, which features a gorgeous mid-14th-century cloister and relics from its history. For fans of medieval and Renaissance art, the Monastery joins Rector’s Palace as two must-see destinations. Both feature gorgeous art, clothing, and everyday items from the Republic of Ragusa’s cultural height in the 15th and the 16th centuries. We were also surprised to find that the Sponza Palace, now the home of the city’s archives and a Memorial Room with photos of soldiers who died in the Croatian War of Independence, also features modern Croatian art exhibits. We saw a show by Dubrovnik artist, Vedran Grabovac, and even got to meet him.
Cultural museums. For a relatively small city, Dubrovnik packs in a lot of museums that can offer fascinating perspectives, often in bite-size 30 to 60-minute visits. Among my favorites was the Ethnographic Museum, where farmer’s tools were set out next to photos of the fields they were used in and displays included folk costumes, furnishings and a horse skull believed to provide protection against spells. Also interesting was the Jewish Synagogue, thought to be the second oldest still in use in Europe, and its small museum where we learned that in 1407, the Dubrovnik Senate allowed Jews to settle here and many came on Ragusa ships when they were expelled from Spain and Portugal starting in 1492. The Cable Car was out of order so we missed the Croatian War of Independence Museum, but while walking the city walls, we saw a sign that said “Video about War and History of Dubrovnik.” The war video was too gory and provided little context, but the 20- minute documentary about the city’s long history was excellent. (Note, if you plan to walk the city walls and dip in and out of museums as we did, check out the Dubrovnik pass.)
Next: Our next stop in Croatia is Hvar.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 65 countries. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
23-year-old Jenny Keroack, a recent graduate from University of Chicago, has written for The Gate, Observer Tribune and other publications and is now a Senior Analyst at National Journal’s Network Science Initiative.