Croatia? I suppose I had a mixtures of views prior to going based on the location, weather, geography and not least a fairly brutal recent history. Budget airlines have been going there for a long time and holidays in Yugoslavia were popular before the Iron Curtain fell apart. Belying the ‘former communist’ regime and package holiday persona then I knew Croatia to be expensive as they leveraged their attractive coast and guaranteed sun. It was in Dubrovnik.
Departing from Leeds Bradford Airport was unique this time. Leaving the house at just after 4.30am I donned only a T shirt! Even in early July then no one in Britain starts this early in the morning without a couple of layers unless you are happening to be leaving (sadly) a heatwave. The airport was bursting as folk took early flights to the sun. ‘Check In’ had long but contented queues with many girls in their summer finery and full make up. The blokes wore shorts and flip flops and were contemplating their first pint of the day when they got into the Terminal proper. Me? I was just busy shuffling a very heavy box crammed with a bicycle and other touring kit around the floor as we inched toward the ‘Check In’. (I was planning to nurse a heavy bike box around Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina for 10 days before I emptied the contents, re-assembled the bike and then pedalled north to York. Anna declined the tandem option and will fly home from Split). Consumption of early morning alcohol (6 am) still amazes me as I cannot think of a worse way to start a further 17 or 18 hours of being awake. Yes, I know, age either brings wisdom or a lack of adventure! Frankly there will come a time when they stop allowing this.
The flight was a breeze and I bought a newspaper that I seldom buy, The Financial Times, which lasted me until Dubrovnik. The taxi met us and soon we were in a suburb called Lapad to the North West of Dubrovnik, on the coast. Anna had rented an apartment in a complex up what was a very steep hill – I counted 305 steps down to the bus which took us to the old town. It was just as well I did the counting on the way down as counting them during our ascension in 30° C heat may have interfered with my ability at mental arithmetic. Later during our stay then even the millennials were whinging about the climbing when we met them on the steps.The bus was cheap and easy to find to the old town and about 15 minutes away. We had some lunch before a walking tour in the late afternoon. Dubrovnik old town is a gem, small and easy on the eye in the bright Adriatic sunshine. The guide explained that in its heyday it was an independent republic until being conquered by the French and then absorbed by the Austrians in the 19th Century. The 20th Century events led to many changes. Latterly the town came under brief Serbian mortar fire in 1991 and this necessitated much rebuilding. A result of all this was that many residents left the old town and the permanent population has dwindled to about 500 from 5,000. The city became a tourist hotspot and is now home to many holiday apartments, hotels, touristy shops and restaurants. The locals make a lot of money out of this beautiful spot but don’t live here. The old city had been a fortress with walls and a moat. It had its own government,laws and navy. A walk around is sumptuous with its polished limestone pavements and narrow streets shielding you from the midday heat and sun. You jostle with the other visitors; not least the six cruise ships that moored up and disgorged their passengers for excursions.
The guide, a serious and articulate chap with splendid English, gave dramatic insights into the ‘Homeland War’, which seemed mainly to be about the heavily armed Serbians with the other Serbian diaspora of Yugoslavia attempting to keep the former Tito led country together by genocide and military might. A horrific and blood stained time.I always note on all these ‘history lessons’ what is included but also omitted. E.g. Croatia had an inglorious WW2 by becoming a Nazi client state. A fascist leader implemented anti-semitic policies, supporting the German efforts and fought a long running battle with the Partisans. This latter group, led by Tito, were supported by the Allies and Red Army and they eventually prevailed. At the end of the war they formed the new Government and transformed the politics to communism. They dealt with the inconvenient numbers of former Croation, Slovenian and Serbian fascists (who were repatriated after fleeing to Austria to surrender to the British) by shooting them and disposing of them in mass graves. A conservative estimate is that 70,000 but others calculate 200,000 perished this way.
I didn’t expect him to delve into all this but all this history contributes to the mentality, divides, journey and aspirations that now prevail. Dubrovnik is now a flourishing part of Croatia. Tourism accounts for 20% of the nation’s GDP at over $9 billion pa. Anna and I were happy to contribute.Back in Lapad things were exclusively geared for tourism with lots of accommodation, restaurants and sun bathing. It was attractive, secluded, well serviced and expensive!
An evening meal of two main courses, desserts and two drinks came to £60 ($80). Haut cuisine it was not. I’ve been to many popular hotspots around the Mediterranean over the years and it always seems to be a succession of ‘new places to go to’. They have their time of great popularity and then fade. Will this be the price that Croatia will pay, as it builds new towns, roads, resorts, airport extensions etc but prices themselves out of the market? Once upon a time the Brits populated the Spanish coasts during summer, then it was Greece, Portugal, Malta, Cyprus and now Turkey. Cheap flights are the vital component and it now appears that Asia and North America can be available on exceptional deals. So is the advice to the Croatians to make money whilst you can or become an affordable established destination? I think human nature will make them take the money and not worry about the future.
Our next couple of days were about chillin’ and then football. The apartment was well appointed and the World Cup was available on TV in German. This worked well listening to the commentary on the BBC Radio App, although this operated 20 seconds behind the action on TV. On the Friday with the France vs Uruguay game you could up to date with goals scored by the enormous cheers from the bars at the bottom of the hill. (When Croatia played Russia you could hear the cheers and see the flares set off!).
So tomorrow we pick up the hire car and drive into Bosnia. Can’t wait.