Have Love Will Travel
Get me to the Taj Mahal

Wednesday 26th May 2010

We slept in well this morning. The noise of the refuse collection outside our window only woke us up around 7am.

Craving breakfast in our room we headed out early to another glorious sunny day to buy fresh provisions from the market stalls in Gundulic Square.

But first, so that we could break into a large 200 kn note we headed over to Cafe Gradska Kavana on the corner of Luza Square. It was so pleasant sitting here watching our fellow early risers go about their business. It was great fun.

We even hooped with laughter when the smallest refuse truck in the world hummed its little battery powered engine around the corner.

It couldn't have possibly been picking up any rubbish, a single dustbin would have completely filled it. Five year old boys have bigger toy cars than this miniature bin lorry!

What was even funnier was watching this full grown man in a yellow municipal jacket trying to squeeze into the driver's seat. He must feel such embarrassment every time he sits behind the wheel of his dinky dumper truck.

After finishing our coffee we returned to Gundulic square, now laden with notes and coins more appropriate for buying a pound of tomatoes from a market trader.

We also bought a bottle of Istrian olive oil and a garlic bulb from the Konkum supermarket and a fresh loaf from the bakery next door. As you may have guessed from the simple list of ingredients I was really looking forward to making bruschetta for breakfast.

Before leaving the square we popped into Pizzeria Castro to find our landlady and tell her that the toilet had blocked (it wasn't a pretty sight!) and there still wasn't a picture on the TV. She promised to sort it out.

We also took a closer look at the bronze statue that stood in its centre. It was of Ivan Gundulic, a famous Dubrovnik son and a 17th century poet whose greatest works were called "Tears of the Prodigal Son" (which sounds like a great prog rock album title) and "Osman". The latter being an epic tale of the mighty struggle between Europe and the Ottoman Empire.

When this statue was unveiled in 1893 it stirred up tension between Serbs and Croats.

Back in the apartment my well planned bruschetta breakfast stumbled across some unscheduled technical difficulties. There was nothing available to toast the bread! I couldn't believe it, no toaster, no grill, not even a two bar heater. Nothing.

There was something that looked like a Breville toastie maker that had seen better days but that wasn't the type of toastage I was after.

We gave in and resigned ourselves to eating just plain bread, which was more than fine as the loaf was incredibly tasty and the tomatoes were perfectly sweet and flavoursome. In fact they were amazing.

Our idyllic breakfast was only slightly tarnished by the noisy grind of the refuse collection still taking place outside our window.

After breakfast we headed over to the nearest beach which was only a short 10 minute walk from the apartment.

Leaving the walled city through Ploce gate we walked along Frana Supila street the short distance to Banje Beach. Given its location so near to the Old Town and also the glorious sunshine today the beach was surprisingly quiet. There must only have been five or six couples and a couple of kids, that's all.

The steps that lead us down to the sand were at the furthest end of the beach. As beaches go it wasn't the most attractive but its location was perfect with a great view of the Old Town's Eastern walls.

We rolled out our towels and lay down to roast in the warm sun. It was nice to just do nothing for a little while. It was a very pebbly beach but there was enough sand to lie down comfortably.

After half an hour of working up a sweat sitting still we decided to cool off in the sea which wasn't as easy as it sounds.

The nearer to the water we got the more pebbly it became, to the point of it becoming quite painful to walk on.

We did manage some time in the water. Julie swam around as I flapped about. I really must learn to swim one day. Clambering back out of the sea over the pebbles onto the beach wasn't easy. It was particularly undignified.

All that activity had made us thirsty so whilst Julie returned to our towels on the sand I walked up towards a bar called East West.

It was they who had white loungers and day beds on the beach. The bar area was very modern with sleek white furniture and wood laminate floors.

I suddenly felt under dressed as I squelched in like the creature from the blue lagoon in just my shorts, dripping wet and forming a puddle where I stood at the bar.

I think I took the staff by surprise, they certainly looked at me oddly as if to say "what the hell are you doing?"

It was the type of establishment where you aren't expected to walk up to the bar, you get served at your table / lounger / day bed.

"Water with gas please?" I said with a face that said "I'm really sorry for making a mess on your lovely wood laminate floor."

I rejoined Julie for another half an hour in the sun before we both decided we'd cooked for long enough and we made our way back into the Old Town. We returned to our apartment for a shower and to change from our sandy damp beachwear into something reasonably tidy for our lunch at the city's most renowned restaurant.

It was called Nautika and was just outside Pile Gate to the left.

It's greatest claim to fame was a papal seal of approval when Pope John Paul II stopped here for lunch during his visit in 2003.

It's best feature was the location of its terrace overlooking the small bay flanked by the Lovrijenac Fortress high up on the rock and the Bokar tower embedded in the city walls.

It was a wonderful romantic location.

We were even accompanied on the balcony by a pair of love birds or at least a pair of frisky pigeons lost in their passionate courtship dance before getting it on right in front of us. We didn't know where to look!

We had thought about having an evening meal here but the menu was quite expensive. The lunchtime choices were more reasonably priced.

Being the adventurous type I tried the cold cucumber soup for starters. I was rewarded with a bowl of a runnier version of Tzatziki with chunks of boiled egg white lurking in the depths. Despite being a really peculiar concept I actually enjoyed its refreshing taste.

My plain and simple tomato spaghetti that followed was absolutely delicious. Julie was also very pleased with her dish of grilled sea bass and veg, although with only one potato on the plate she felt a little short changed.

After our very pleasurable lunch we returned back inside the walls and for the first time during our visit we took a closer look at Onofrio's fountain. This one was called the Big Onofrio fountain because at the other end of the street there was another water feature built by the same Neapolitan architect Onofrio della Cava.
The "big one" was built by Cava in 1438 not to bring sparkling wine but drinking water to the city and remarkably it still flows today. In fact it was a vital source of water during the bombardment of 1991.

The water that pours out through its 16 ornate masks continues to be fine to drink.

Except for these carvings it was quite a plain structure but it was badly damaged during a great earthquake in 1667 and its decorative second level was damaged beyond repair.

In the square, tucked between the walls and the impressive Franciscan Monastery Male Brace was the pretty little Church of Sveti Spas or Our Saviour. It was so tiny that we didn't notice it at first. It was like a miniature version of a renaissance church.

We decided not to go inside the small St. Saviour's opting instead to have a look next door at the much larger Monastery.

A doorway crowned with the pieta scene of the Virgin Mary and the body of Christ was one of the few surviving features of the original 14th century monastery which was destroyed by the 1667 earthquake.

We entered through another door paying 20kn each to get inside.

As we walked in there was an old pharmacy with a collection of its renowned cream lotions in ceramic jars and glass bottles.

The antique laboratory equipment gave it the feel of a museum but it was also still actively dispensing modern day potions.

Apparently seven Franciscan monks continue to run the monastery and its pharmacy.

We continued further inside and quickly realised that we couldn't have timed our visit any worse. The usual cloister serenity was shattered by a large Spanish tour group chattering like unruly school children.

It didn't detract though from the beauty of the monastery.

The attractive double columned arches also pre-dated the 1667 earthquake and were fascinating to study closely. Each capital were unique. They had a great gothic feel to them especially those topped by medieval faces or animal figures.

A local sculptor (from Bar in Montenegro)by the name Mihoje Brajkov created these fine carvings.

One of the faces was supposed to be a self-portrait.

"They're amazing" I enthused perhaps a little excessively.

Julie humoured me but was a little less captivated by them as I was.

In the centre of the cloister, overlooked by a small statue of St. Francis atop a fountain, there was a lovely garden. One that would have supplied medicinal herbs to the old pharmacy but now was just filled with ornamental plants.

We sat down for a while waiting for the gaggle to leave and the moment they did a wonderful calmness descended on us.

"Aaah, that's better" I whispered.

The quietness made such a difference to the experience.

With tranquillity restored we returned beneath the arches and walked around the arcade.

The walls were decorated with several paintings. One that grabbed the attention was a picture of the city as it looked before the earthquake.

It was from an interesting view point painted as if it was from an elevated position out to sea. It was like a modern photograph taken from an aeroplane.

The hot air balloon wasn't invented so it must have relied on some vivid imagination to portray the city from such a perspective.

It would have been easier for the artists to paint from the natural high position of Mount Srd towering over the city.

We continued to walk around the cloisters where along the south wall a team of artists were busy renovating badly deteriorating frescoes. They were working behind screens on top of scaffolding high up in the alcoves.

It would be nice to return one day to see their finished work.

After completing the circuit of the cloisters we left the Franciscan Monastery without seeing the church which was a shame because I later read that the poet Ivan Gundulic was buried there.

We headed back to our apartment for a fiesta, I mean siesta.

We weren't overly tired, it was just such a luxury that we could afford the time out and schedule the next must-see attraction at a less crowded time.

We put our feet up and relaxed for an hour but the urge to do something didn't take long to interrupt our r&r time. At 5pm we made our way across to Dubrovnik's other monastery, the Dominican Monastery located near the Ploce gate.

The staircase that lead up to the entrance had an odd feature where the balustrades were filled in at the bottom. It was added to stop local little rascals from ogling the ankles of devout ladies on their way to church.

Delaying our visit for an hour worked well as we had the place entirely to ourselves.

The cloisters, designed by Maso di Bartolomeo an architect from Florence, were impressively ornate, although perhaps not as interesting as the Franciscan cloisters.

The delicate trifora or triple arches with the dual renaissance motifs above were beautiful to the point of graceful.

They surrounded the peaceful heart of the monastery where in the shade of orange trees and palm trees stood an ancient well. Unsurprisingly it was actively used to supply water during the 1991 siege.

We walked around the arcade and noticed a few troughs that were introduced to the monastery in the 19th century when Napoleon ended the Republic of Ragusa.

His army appropriated both Dominican and Franciscan monasteries.

The cloisters had been reduced to stables and the monastery had become barracks for the troops. It wasn't too difficult for us to imagine as I remembered photographs of the squalor left behind after Catherine's Palace near St. Petersburg became barracks and stables for the Nazi soldiers. It was such sorry sight.

musuem of the Dominican Monastery, Dubrovnik

The whole east wing of the monastery was now given over to a museum.

It housed many religious manuscripts, relics and paintings, the most well known being a painting by Titian of St. Blaise, St. Mary Magdalene, the Angel Tobias and the Purchaser.

There was also a vessel allegedly containing the skull of King Stephen I of Hungary.

The floor was intriguing, paved with the tombstones of Ragusan nobility removed from the church floor when it was last renovated.

Moving on we next entered the church. It was quite simply decorated with two chapel altars on either side nave.

One was for the famous Gundulic family, the other for the Lukarevic.

Our eyes being drawn to a stained glass window. It had been recently restored after they were destroyed in the war.

As we walked back down the aisle we noticed a large gothic crucifix hanging from the central arch above the altar. Created by Paolo Veneziano around 1362 it is said to be one of the largest in Europe.

We left the Dominican Monastery and walked down Ulica Prijeko a street filled with back to back restaurants.

Browsing menus as we passed none caught our eye, except for Nishta which was a wholly vegetarian restaurant. It looked quite modern and had great choices but we stuck with our first choice for tonight's evening meal, the Bosnian restaurant Taj Mahal that we stumbled across the other day.

We went looking for a small gallery called the War Photos Limited just down from Prijeko on a street called Antuninska. It housed exhibitions by renowned photographers not only of the Balkan Wars but recent campaigns such as Iraq.

Unfortunately it was closed. The guide book did say it only opened in summer so clearly it was too early in the season.

On reaching the Stradun we sat down at one of the street cafes and wrote our postcards home. It's always difficult to know what to say in such as short space. I always go too informative trying to namedrop as many interesting sights as possible whereas Julie goes for headline catching humour.

We were sat in Cafe Celle on the last table and chairs Stradun, effectively right on Luza Square where we had a great view of the clock tower. We tried to work out the time but it wasn't easy. With only one big hand we could only guess it was something past six o'clock.

Before long a large group of traditionally clothed performers congregated by the steps of the Church of St. Blaise.

A band of seven musicians struck up a merry tune to accompany the Ragusan maidens and their noble suitors in a courtship dance. Fortunately they didn't behave like pigeons.

Watching this brought back horrible memories of having to do something similar as a child. I can still remember the awkwardness of having to participate in choreographed folk dancing on an Urdd adventure holiday in Bala North Wales. (Urdd Gobaith Cymru (the hope of Wales) was like a crossover between a performing arts school and Hitler's Youth Movement!)

Some kids embraced their Welshness and celebrated their national identity through dance by prancing about in a convoluted line dance. I never did enjoy it. I could certainly empathise with some of the less enthusiastic faces in the ensemble in front of me.

I wasn't totally against the cultural activities however as I really enjoyed getting stuck in to a good old sing song like "Garf wen, wen, wen, ia, win wen win wen win wen" and also listening to the masters of a style of music known as "cerdd dant", which I can only described as singing poetry to a completely different tune to the accompanying music which was usually played on the harp.

It used to fascinate me.

Anyway, moving on we went in search of the other hole-in-the-wall bar on the rocks. We had spotted it whilst on our little boat trip on Monday.

Down in the old port we made our way along the quayside where all the west facing benches were taken by people soaking up the last of today's sunshine.

We followed the quay around Tvrdava Sveti Ivana (St. John Fortress) to the breakwater known as the Porporela.

There wasn't a bench left for us to sit as they were all taken by couples settling down to watch the sunset over the Adriatic.

We carried on walking as far as we could but the path outside the city walls didn't go much further. Clambering around on the rocks was out of the question so we re-traced our steps back through the harbour

Following my trusty sense of direction (which often leads us out into the desert!) we slipped down a few side streets quickly ending up by the walls. Sooner or later we would surely come across another welcoming doorway that said "Best Drink with View" or something.

We did eventually find a hole-in-the-wall but there was no sign for a bar just some crude graffiti saying "Topless Nudist". The fact that they were Nudist would have been enough. They tend to be topless and bottomless.

"Let's have a look down here" I said.

Julie must have thought I was a right pervert but she followed me nonetheless.

Thankfully, saving our blushes, it wasn't a naturist beach on the rocks but another pleasant bar.

This one seemed a lot more casual, with separate tables and chairs dotted around individual level platforms.
The only spot available was a table right on the cliff's edge. It wasn't a complete drop in front of us, there was another level of rocks below but that was almost worse. One little trip over the tubed lighting that marked the edge and you could fall arse over tit onto the jagged rocks below.

The drinks were certainly cheaper than in Cafe Buža and whilst my Heineken beer was the same as the Heineken beer that I would drink anywhere the House White was absolutely lovely and at 20kn for 200ml we thought was exceptionally good value.

It turned out to be Posip Cara, the same Croatian wine as we enjoyed on Monday night.
It was wonderfully peaceful sitting here watching the sky gradually change its colour as day became night. At one point there was an incredible purple quality to the light.

It was getting dark when we left and tubular lights had come on to guide us safely away from the edge.

It was time for supper. The Taj Mahal restaurant was a short distance from Gundulic square on Ulica Nikole Gucetica.

It was around 8:30pm when we got there. We regretted not making a reservation because it was very busy and they couldn't accommodate us. The waiter said we should perhaps come back in half an hour. After securing a reservation for 9pm we went for a walk to kill half an hour ending up in The Gaffe Irish bar.

Hunger got the better of us and we ended up sharing a bowl of chips!

We returned to the Taj Mahal on time at 9pm where another couple were already waiting patiently outside. "We have a reservation for 9pm" I said to the waiter who acknowledged me but didn't say anything.

Ten minutes later a group of four arrived and were shown almost immediately to a table. I couldn't believe it. I was ready to leave and return to the Irish bar for some more chips but Julie calmed me down. Eventually the couple in front of us were seated on a small table outside in the street.

We had been waiting for over half an hour by the time the waiter finally came out to show us to our table. We got up off the step we had been sitting on outside the restaurant and went inside the small, cosy and very busy dining room.

It had a cracking atmosphere which made us glad we were patient enough to wait for our table.

Despite already having a "starter" in the Irish bar we ordered another round of appetizers. The English menu described them as pies, a potato pie and a spinach pie but when they arrived they were delicious filo pastry filled rolls. It was a decent portion with three 6 inch long börekci each.

Unfortunately the main courses disappointed in comparison.

Of course I had to order the side dish with my name on it, the Owen-roasted peppers but they were served cold, straight from the refrigerator. That was OK but then the Aubergines alla Edina filled with a cream cheese mix was served at a really tepid temperature as if it hadn't been warmed through properly. Perhaps that's how it's supposed to be served? If it was, it didn't work.

Julie chose a dish they called "Half and Half" which wasn't rice and chips but turned out to be a veal kebab and a sausage made out of what Julie described as cheap beefburger meat.

We finished off with baklava for dessert or at least I did. Julie watched.

They weren't the familiar small sticky compact pieces of sugar soaked pastry but a large loosely compiled pie of super sweet pastry layers. It was very nice.

I should have ended on the high with that lovely taste in my mouth but I just had to go and ruin it with a cup of the strongest coffee in the universe. It came in a little ornamental copper pot. We saw plenty for sale in Mostar and I wished we had bought some.

I did the fatal mistake of stirring the coffee whilst it was still in the traditional Ottoman coffee maker then tipped it all into a small china cup. I didn't know at the time but I had just stirred up trouble. I took a good slurp and my mouth filled with a thick suspension. I honestly had to chew before I could swallow!

I had a few more sips but I couldn't handle anymore. It was incredible.

"You're going to be up all night" said Julie.

"All night? I'll be up all bloody week!"

I felt unwell afterwards, so much so it brought our last night in Dubrovnik to an early end. I couldn't face anything after that caffeine overdose. We headed straight for our apartment.

Thursday >

 


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