Stepping off the plane onto that sweet Croatian soil after months of excitement for our post-graduation trip, we were greeted with thick cloud and a mild smell of rain. This certainly wasn’t what I’d pictured for my summer jaunt along the Dalmatian coast… I grabbed my hand luggage from the overhead and pondered the prospect of a rainy few days in Dubrovnik.
Our first encounter of Dubrovnik was, luckily, not indicative of the following few days, and when we woke up in the morning, the Croatian sun was beating through the window of our cosy Airbnb apartment. It had only just gone 8am.
Sun at last
‘This is more like it’ I thought to myself, as I tried to wake Dom up, who, this early in the morning, clearly wasn’t as eager as me to start the day. Despite both of us having a limited budget (three years of uni really did take its toll), we were keen to get as much into this trip as possible, managing to squeeze six Croatian destinations into our three week itinerary, with Dubrovnik being the first stop.
The fact that I hadn’t been on a summer holiday in over two years was evident – although I tan quite well, my complexion was somewhat pasty. Dom – who doesn’t take to the sun quite as well as I do – disputed this, but I assured him that this was pale in my books – and warned him that he hadn’t seen anything yet. This was our first summer holiday together, and little did he know, the bronzed goddess was about to make an almighty come back after two years in hiding.
After slopping a good ole helping of factor 30 on (factor 50 in Dom’s case), we headed out into the beautiful Croatian sun, and made our way towards the Old Town. I’m not sure if it’s just me who does this, but for the entirety of the 15 minute walk, I was just taking in all of my surroundings. The sprawling plants and wildlife overgrowing from un-kept gardens into narrow little back alleys. The abundance of shabby, European cars on the roads which led me to the conclusion that the people of Croatia held little importance on materialistic possessions. The people, the birds, even the road signs, as we tried to figure out which direction to go next. I like to do this, to really take it in, to concrete in my head like ‘I’m actually here’. Just me? Ok, moving on swiftly…
The Old Town
As we rambled down the 200 odd steps to the Old Town, the sun spilled through every crevice of the crumbling walls towering over narrow alleys, creating an arrangement of funny little shapes on the ground. The Old Town was surrounded by ancient medieval ramparts, which were grand in size and pretty breathtaking. The entrance was one of grandeur and history – an old wooden bridge over what looked like an ancient moat, and an almighty wooden gate through the castle’s walls.
Inside, the Old Town was a maze of tiny little back streets lined with restaurants, boutique shops and stalls. The main street, Stradun, was lined with shops and restaurants, and bustling with locals and tourists. A short walk to the other end led us to the harbour. After grabbing a mojito-to-go from a bar, we dangled our legs off the end of the concrete jetty, and watched the sun set over silhouettes of yachts and boats bobbing around calmly in the water.
As the night fell, the air became a little cooler, but the heat of our slightly sunburnt skin paired with the strong mojitos we had just been sipping on meant we couldn’t really feel it. After taking in the beautiful views out across the sea, we wandered back into the main square, where the church (which I later learned was called the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola) was lit up beautifully.
The marble steps up to the huge wooden door were grand, and the spotlights accentuated the brilliant colours of the stained windows. The ornate detail of the building has meant it is often considered the most representative Baroque example in Dubrovnik, and indeed, the whole Croatian coast.
Time to eat…
The night brought various street performers into the square, from singers to magicians and fire performers – the atmosphere was electric, while still holding on to the authentic Croatian charm. As we explored further into the heart of the Old Town, we decided to stop for some dinner. We hadn’t done any previous research into restaurants, and so we trusted our instincts (and our noses) through the little streets.
The little restaurant we stopped in was a hidden gem – an authentic Croatian restaurant hidden down a little side street and up some stairs. The setting for our first taste of Croatia was perfect – the dimly lit narrow backstreet was lined with little restaurants – and tourists – with the faint sound of traditional music playing in the background.
Since we booked our trip, I was really keen to try some fresh seafood in Croatia, so I went for the cuttlefish risotto – not realising that the sauce was primarily squid ink which turned my mouth and teeth a lovely shade of black – good job I wasn’t on a first date eh? After finishing our meals and a tipple of Croatian white wine, we headed back to the vibrancy of the main square for another drink before heading back to our apartment.
As we found an outside seat in a busy little cafe bar, we sat down and ordered a drink. This was the perfect way to end our first day exploring Dubrovnik. As I watched people go by, families, locals, tourists, and took in the warm night atmosphere, I couldn’t wait to see what else Dubrovnik had to offer.