Great writers have a talent for placing their stories in spectacular locations that stand up to the masterful mix of words they are attempting to blend on a printed page. They use their imaginative powers to construct a town that serves as the canvas for the conversations and actions of their characters. The setting of a well told tale is sometimes as important as the stories themselves and can even become a character itself.
It’s likely they set their story in an ancient storybook of a town nestled tightly by a beautiful blue sea. The sea should be warm and calm and dotted with luscious islands colored dark green by thick foliage. Steep hills of jagged rock should rise sharply along the shore from the crystal waters. These rocky hills should show the wear from ions of storms that shaped them into perfect swirls that protect the land beyond. The cliffs should have tiny turquoise bays interspersed among them to provide easy access to the sea. Behind these cliffs the mountains should climb abruptly to great heights topped only by great puffs of perfectly white clouds in clear blue skies.
Perhaps a castle or walled city should rise above the cliffs. The walls of the city should be tall and broad and have angles that display confidence and strength. Immense bastions should anchor the corners and together with the castle stand ominously above the tiny sheltered bays and make a foreboding presentation to anyone with threatening ideas. Inside the walls, there should be grand stone buildings of intricate designs and great creativity. Churches, palaces and royal houses should line the steep staircases that provide access inside the walls. Marble streets that shine in the day and reflect the moonlight in the darkness of the evenings separate the buildings and provide a grand promenade. Fashionable people should make their way along the well-worn marble avenue and music should be heard around any corner.
Outside of these walls, through arched passages and across tiny bridges, we should find whitewashed houses made from cut stone. Mounted sturdily along the cliffs, the houses are topped with red tiled roofs that stand in severe contrast to the richly blue colored skies. The houses are surrounded by strongly built rock walls, palm trees and colorful bougainvillea. Lemon and orange trees, full with colorful ripened fruit fill every garden and open space. Tiny roads route throughout the tightly placed structures and all terminate eventually in the picturesque harbors they surround. Boats of every shape, size and color should transit these harbors, carrying goods and people to and from far off places and thusly enrich the people, both monetarily and culturally.
These talented authors could imagine this setting after long hours in a dimly lit room or they could do as we did and spend a month in gorgeous Dubrovnik, Croatia.
We rented a small apartment in a 15th building just a stone’s throw from St. Blaise Church inside the walls of the Old City. The square is just inside the Ploce Gate, the eastern entrance to the Old City. It is flanked by the church, Sponza Palace and the Rector’s Palace and is the main gathering point for any events that happen inside the city walls. Although the majority of the huge crowds that swarm the narrow streets in summer were gone, it seemed there were a never ending variety of activities taking place just outside our 2nd floor windows. So much so that we rarely needed to go far to find our days entertainment.
Dubrovnik puts on a winter festival which brought decorations to the streets and squares. We went out one morning to find the entire Stradun, the main street of the Old City, decorated with lighting displays and a giant Christmas tree in the square. Small, decorated food booths lined the Stradun and each served some type of tasty traditional food or drink. Speakers were mounted and played soft music for the hundreds of tourists and locals who spent chilly evenings celebrating the season along the ancient boulevard.
Popular bands, choirs and folkloric musicians often gathered on the churches steps to entertain. Dancers in colorful traditional costumes entertained frequently, showing intricate footwork and highly choreographed movements. Crowds of many sizes gathered in the square and along the street according to the popularity of the performers and the time of day or night.
The cities beauty has been discovered by filmmakers as well as authors. Hardly a day went by when we didn’t discover camera crews set up somewhere in town. Of course Game of Thrones has become a massive international hit and many come to visit the familiar settings they have seen in the fictional “Kings Landing” location of the show. The soon to be released latest episode of Stars Wars shut down activity along the Stradun and other locations for weeks as major filming took place. A large temporary medieval village is under construction just outside the walls for an upcoming major release called Robin Hood: Origins set for 2017. We spent a good portion of 2 days following the filming of a Bollywood music video that worked its way around different locations near our house. We were surprised how close we could get to the major Indian celebrities who certainly would have been mobbed in their own country.
We were lucky to see the Croatian President when she came to town to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Old City during the 1991 conflict. Few remnants of the attack remain inside the walls of the city. The damage is most apparent when viewing the red tiled roofs of the town. Buildings that were damaged during the war have shiny new tiles instead of the more worn originals. More than 75 percent of the buildings inside the walls were damaged or burned during the shelling.
We took advantage of easy transportation outside the walls to make excursions to the new part of the city also. The crowded summer beach season is over and the cruise ships have mostly departed, so we had the beaches, boardwalks and pedestrian promenades to ourselves. Although the water was a bit chilly for swimming, walking along the rocky beaches gave us spectacular views over the crystal water bays and rocky shorelines. It was a little bit of a shock walking between the huge modern hotels after spending a few days immersed inside the ancient Old City walls.
Visits to nearby towns and islands were easy and equally as quiet during our stay. Especially nice was a day trip to the tiny town of Cavtat just south along the so called Dalmatian Riviera. Recently discovered by Hollywood celebrities and music stars, the town surrounds a beautiful bay and serves as a much smaller and quieter version of its more famous northern neighbor.
The best and most popular way to see the city is by walking along the ancient walls of the city. A circular route runs all the way along the ramparts and allows unparalleled views over the houses, fortresses, streets, churches and harbors of the town. It is very easy to conjure the cities medieval past. Visions of a mighty medieval city filled with worldly residents takes little imagination when viewed from any of the majestic towers that rise above the monumental fortified walls.
Dubrovnik is certainly a city which justifies its reputation as one of the world’s most picturesque. It is obvious to see why so many authors and filmmakers have been enchanted by its beauty. Few places that we have visited could visually compare and certainly this city deserves its place among the destinations that everyone should put on their must see lists.