It wasn’t too far after crossing the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina to get to Dubrovnik, but we spotted an amazing open space high up on the road down towards the coast. Sunset wasn’t far away, so we decided to be a little spontaneous and parked up for the night. It was conspicuous, but we weren’t in anyone’s way.
The sunset was incredible, and hopefully unforgettable. We watched the sun slowly sink behind the hills of the islands. It was a clear evening, and the sky seemed to radiate colour for an eternity after the sun had disappeared. It quickly cooled down, but due to where we’d parked, we could sit and watch it from the comfort of our lounge/dining room. This sure beat random car parks on the side of a highway.
So, after all the bragging about the amazing place we’d found to park for the night, we were disturbed at 8:30 by a long horn just outside, followed by knocking on our door – thankfully I was already up and about! It was the police, telling us that we were not allowed to park here and that we need to move. Now. Yesterday. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true. But, there was no harm done, and we got to enjoy the incredible display last night. I’d heard that free camping was more difficult in Croatia. This was also only the second time in over six months that we’d been asked to move by police – and both times were in the morning afterwards.
Yet again, it was a perfect day. It was warm but not hot, sunny, and the sky was fantastically clear. There were a few paid camping options close to town, but we’d followed the reviews of other campers and decided to camp a little outside of town – for ½ the price.
As drove towards the city, crossing bridges and seeing the huge cruise ships docked, we caught a sight of the town from above. We were half way between the city and the summit of the lookout, so it was high enough to get a good overview of the city, but not too high that we couldn’t see the details. I’d wanted to climb the mountain, as a physical challenge, but after seeing the views from here, I was content to save time to do other things.
We parked at the campsite, and followed the hosts advice and caught a ferry into town. The ferry travelled along the coast, and along the way we passed by several enormous hotels that were severely damaged from shelling from the Montenegro/Serbian military. These massive hotels are now just sitting there abandoned. I hadn’t realised that Croatia had also been pulled into this conflict – though, over the coming days I was going to learn a lot more about the Homeland War.
It was so incredible when we finally caught our first sight of the enormous fortifications of Dubrovnik from the sea. It looked impenetrable. I haven’t been this excited about visiting a city for quite some time. Not only were we visiting Dubrovnik, we were also going to Kings Landing!
Stepping off the boat into the sheltered harbour, it didn’t take long at all to see the Game of Thrones advertising. It certainly has boosted this already popular town. I was also surprised to see all the Star Wars episode VIII tourism – though, having not seen the movie, of course we didn’t know that it was filmed here until now.
It was busy, and highly touristic, but I truly didn’t care. It was gorgeous, and so fantastically complete and coherent. The advertising was minimal and not too distracting. The crowds were mostly tolerable (though, were here in late September), but occasionally we’d be stuck in a sea of middle-aged cruise ship tourists. They were impossible to escape from, and we ended up having to fight our way through on far too many occasions.
I’m not sure where she read about it, but wanted to visit a small place called Barba. It looked busy, and reviews were overwhelmingly positive, so we squeezed in and gave it a try. It was mostly a burger place, with some fried fish also on the menu. I felt adventurous and tried the octopus burger, while Risa grabbed a prawn/shrimp burger. While we waited, we were distracted by the customer’s artwork on the wooden forks that covered the walls – it was kind of cool. The burger was less so. It was like a seafood patty. The octopus/prawns were ground into a paste, breaded, and then deep fried. It was then put into an dry bun, with a heap of seafood sauce, and some salad. It was terribly mediocre, and Risa was sorely disappointed, too.
We continued walking through the tiny alleyways in the upper district of town, loving the contrast between the heat of the sunshine, and the cool refreshing shade. It was a great place to try and get lost in exploration. It was an added bonus that the cruise ship hordes didn’t make it this far – maybe the stairs were too strenuous?
I took us back towards the coast so I could have a quick flight of the drone. As we walked back down the boulevard, we could hear the unmistakable sounds of parrots squawking. The look on Risa’s face when we finally spotted this group of birds on display for tourists was incredible. I’d go as far as saying it could have been the highlight of her day so far. She stalked them for a while, before finally getting the chance to pat, and then hold one of the birds. Before long, she had half of the birds on her, with them picking at her hair and her clothing, and her in total paradise.
It was beautiful outside of the ramparts, and I was sad that I didn’t have the foresight to have brought swimwear. I truly considered stripping down and swimming in my underwear – but realised I’d be quite uncomfortable for the remainder of the day.
We flew the drone, out over the bay, away from the crowds and the buildings. As always, it was a treat to see it from a birds perspective. We could really see just how dense this town was, and how solid the walls were, and how beautiful the location. Sadly, I kept getting the angle of the flight wrong, and the video itself was less impressive – and I didn’t bother to bring a spare battery to have further attempts.
We grabbed a quick coffee from Cognito, which was surprisingly fantastic, and then made our way up to walk along the city walls. At 150HRK (€20) it wasn’t a cheap attraction, but there was no way that we were going to skip it. To deal with the crowds, the walls are set up to only allow one-way movement in a counter-clockwise direction. From the first moments it was fantastic.
The orange terracotta rooves were spread out below us, with barely a gap in between. The further we walked, the better the views got, too. I later heard that any of the terracotta tiled rooves were replaced – and mostly due to shelling from Serbian/Montenegrin forces during the Homeland War of the early 90s. This is a map showing where shells hit, and where houses burnt down – as you can see, not many buildings were unaffected.
We both loved the small workers cottages that were crammed on top of each other, and stacked surprisingly high. It felt truly unique, which for us at this point in our journey is an achievement.
It was a moderate walk, though with the perspective of the top of the town shifting ever so slowly below us, it was never dull nor repetitive. Even being stuck behind the occasional sea of cruise ship tourists was tolerable …ish.
The sun was getting low, but there was still plenty of fresh things for us to see. We continued to find new alleys, new stairways, new views of the city. The city had its fair share of cats, with people leaving little bowls of food and water out for them.
We sought out several of the locations where Game of Thrones was filmed, however, most of them were unrecognisable (to a casual fan such as myself). However, these stairs were all too familiar. “Shame, shame, shame, shame!” Anyone? We weren’t the only ones that had recognised it, either – and there were plenty of shouts of “Shame” being yelled out. There was no one recreating it in costume though – thankfully.
We stopped in the Saint Ignatius church on the hill, which didn’t look like much from the outside, but was a rich tapestry of marble, gilding, and painted decoration. It’s always such a fun treat stepping inside an unknown church, kind of unwrapping a present. The anticipation and wonder at what could be hidden inside.
The small workers cottages at the top of the hill were starting to glow pink and orange with the last rays of light. It was time to speed things up before total darkness ended our day.
Our wandering took us outside the main walls to the north side of town, where we recognised further GoT filming locations in this small harbour. I raced to climb to a good vantage point to catch the last of the day’s light on the walls of town, but was a little too slow.
As we were searching for a vantage point, I heard an Australian accent call out to us. There was a young Australian couple, who we found out had recognised us and our van from a previous campsite on the Dalmatian Coast. Nick and Skye are travelling around in a similar vintage motorhome, however, they’re spreading it over two years – which is a far more realistic/enjoyable time schedule. We had a good chat about where they’d been, and where they were headed, and then found ourselves in the darkness of the evening.
We knew that dining options in town were going to one of two things – overpriced and average, or very expensive and out of our budget. Yet still, we attempted to find something we wanted to eat. We considered some of the fast food places in town, to get a quick kebab or similar, but once we actually found it, we didn’t like the look of it. We knew we needed to eat, but it felt pointless to be paying to eat from some of these places. Risa eventually spotted a decent seafood restaurant that actually had reasonable prices. She feasted on an enormous bowl of mussels, while I was more than content with my squid ink risotto – sorry, I forgot the name of the restaurant.
It wasn’t particularly late, and by our usual standards, we hadn’t done all that much walking. But, by the time we finished our dinner, we were ready to return to the campsite to sleep. We were treated with a fantastic view of the full moon, surreptitiously slipping in and out of cloud cover. It was gorgeous. The bus back to the campsite was infrequent, and we’d narrowly missed one. An impatient crowd joined us, cramming urgently onto the bus as when it finally arrived.
We set an early alarm for a walking tour this morning, but both of us were exhausted, so I went back to bed. As fate would have it, the Australian couple from yesterday were at this same campsite, and had also done the particular tour that we were interested in, a combined old town and Game of Thrones tour, and had rated it as ‘a bit average’, easing our Fear Of Missing Out.
The wind today was crazy, and rain was on the forecast – though skies were still quite clear. I had wanted another chance to fly our little drone, but I’ve learnt that it’s best not to in winds like these. Our luck with public transport continued this morning, once again narrowly missing the bus into town.
Our city walls ticket from yesterday allowed us to visit the fortress by the sea. The bay had been calm and tranquil yesterday, but was a surging mess today. It certainly made for dramatic views.
The fortress was yet another location heavily used in the filming of Game of Thrones. Everywhere we looked were tours pointing out different locations. We were making do with a website that Risa had found, which showed us the regular view, as well as the scene from the show. Many of the locations are recognisable, but unsurprisingly, many are only tiny parts that have been altered and added to significantly in post-production.
It was a great vantage to see the town’s fortifications. From here it truly looked epic and impregnable – at least to the technology of the time.
We sat and enjoyed a picnic lunch by the bay as a large group of sea kayakers returned. It looked like chaos as they attempted to navigate the violent waters while avoiding the large rocks. To their credit, they all returned safely to shore.
War Photo Gallery
I’d read that this is one of the other ‘must see’ attractions in town. We’d attempted to visit last night, but it was already closed. The gallery has several large collections from conflicts from all over the world, though obviously, it also has a large focus on the Balkan conflicts that took place during the 90s.
The galleries were exceptionally powerful, and you couldn’t help walking away feeling incredibly lucky to have the life of comfort and safety that we take for granted.
There were three floors of galleries. The first was a temporary exhibition, which was from a photographer that documented some of the modern conflicts, in Yemen and Syria. Upstairs were some more semi-permanent galleries, from conflicts all over the world, recent, as some a little older.
This also helped us understand a little better about the conflicts and the timelines of the wars in this region during the 90s after the collapse of Yugoslavia – though, it’s still quite confusing about motivations and portions of blame. It appeared to be non-partisan, not really assigning blame to any one cause.
It was incredibly interesting, but it was exhausting to spend an hour or two looking at the pain and suffering of others, far less fortunate than ourselves. We left a little numb and mentally drained.
It was our final stop in Dubrovnik, and we were now happy to head on our way to Montenegro, satisfied with what we’d seen in Dubrovnik. We’d returned quite late to the campsite, to which the owner was less than happy about. She was even less happy when I then wanted to take up even more time by dumping our waste and refilling with fresh water…
As we made our drive to cross into Montenegro, the forecasted storms finally came, providing us with one final dramatic coastal scene. Croatia was beautiful, and I know we barely scratched the surface.