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June 11th 2008
Published: June 17th 2008
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Dubrovnik to Mostar

The road the city the bridge

Additional maps: Crete to Dubrovnik


We had flown in from Crete via Athens on an Olympic flight so we had to be up at 5:00 for a breakfast of coffee and yogurt for a 6:00 am pickup and a flight take off at 7:10 am.

With such a short time frame between pick up and take off, the girls were worried that there was insufficient time to get to the airport to ensure we caught the flight. They sought assisted from the hotel desk and one of the guys on the desk was rude and unhelpful when they tried to find out the traveling time to the airport and whether they should arrange an earlier cab.

It turned out that the Heraklion airport was less then 10 minutes away and being domestic was only a thirty-minute pre-booking time so we had plenty of time. The flight to Athens was just 50 minutes. I had been carrying a half bottle of Kitron in my backpack and forgot we were on a flight so lost it at X-ray inspection - Bugger! This was going to be the new Margarita makings and Kiron is only available in Naxos.

At Athens, we had to wait until 2:30 pm for the flight to Roma. The joint Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa flight was two hours and uneventful until we started coming into the rolling hills around Rome. From the windows it was a massive tapestry of farms, fields, vineyards, olive groves in an amazing range of greens and browns interposed with red terracotta roofs.

Rome airport was a shopping Mecca. The women were elegantly dressed and the shops displayed swimming gear- well we weren't too sure that you would want to get this gear wet - at $1 per sq millimeter. There is an Italian elegance in design - the x-ray machine and computer tray retrievals were very Italian - elegant and functional - they had a computer tray and personal bag retrievals system which operated like a fruit box conveyor. The trays were gravity feed back to the front of the X-Ray machine and were stacked in a row waiting to be used.

To get to any B## gate, one walked a long way through the airport then caught a train to a satellite terminal instead of walking the 1 km as at LA or 500 m in Australian airports. They could put the loading bays further apart and they didn’t have the construction costs or the hassle with buses.

We left Rome at 6.30 pm and arrived in Dubrovnik about 8:30 and got a couple of cabs to the pleasant three bedroom apartment which overlooked the five star Rixos Hotel, the most swish hotel in town which cascades over the cliff to the rocky foreshore.

The taxi driver said that the forests that cover the hills were all destroyed in the war and to make matters worse bushfires last year in the dry, wrecked the remaining forests so the hills look like the tops of the stony Greek islands.

We unpacked and went off for dinner to a close restaurant up the road which we were told was just 150 meters away that ended up 1.5 km away up and down the hills surrounding Dubronik.

The next morning we slept in then found a shop and bought the makings for breakfast -the Croatians make a soft yogurt and no soft cheeses as in Greece so our diets are changing.

We walked to the North west city gate past the Rixos around the road overlooking the green ocean against the coastal rocks and further out a deep blue to the island that surround Dubrovnik. The road is narrow, and the footpaths narrower so the buses and cars flash up the road 1-3ft from your shoulder.

As we walked the streets the signs of the war were still visible. Machine gun and artillery damage can be seen in the buildings and rocks- there was some serious stuff being fired that punched holes 4 cm into the rocks and took out the roofs and sides of houses.

Whilst we may refer to a city being raised to the ground, Anita, our landlord, said the buildings were “lowered”. The hotel where the Rixos stood was lowered to a pile of rubble and 10 people were killed there. Anita’s father had 30 neighbours sheltering in his house.

Dubrovnik - This is one of Lou's most favorite towns and we can now understand why.

The old city, contained within the city walls, retains a charm that originates from the C13th when the city wall was first completed. The houses have been built and rebuilt in the same Venetian style with the same stones so pavement stones are smooth and worn from 700 years of walking.

The town itself was established in the C7th as two small towns that eventually joined together in the Plaza in the C11th. Dubrovnik grew to be a great trading city that both the Venetians and the Byzantine empires viewed as a rival . From Venice’s viewpoint - it was their trade competition and from Byzantine's viewpoint as a rival central port along the main trading coast. So, as we would expect, they had to invade Dubrovnik to take control to collect their taxes.

But Dubrovnik had established an interesting three class system - some 1/7th of the population were the estate owners, another group were called the citizens and the last group, called the good citizens had formed guilds and were obviously the traders and the professionals. The good citizens were acknowledged to be as wealthy as the estate owners but they did not own land, and they numbered approximately the same as the Estate owners. These are the traders who brought and distributed the silver, lead potassium copper and other minerals from the Bosnian and Serbian Mines and delivered them to Europe. The local tradesman were involved in salt manufacture, fish, pottery, materials which they traded for the minerals which then on sold to Europe.

Remarkably, the city developed friendship charters with the other great Turkish cities and were given access to trade. Because of their long trading involvements, it was natural evolution that they would develop the ambassadors and the diplomatic connections.

It was their skills in shipbuilding, however, that gave Dubrovnik the edge. They manufactured some of the best trading vessels in the Mediterranean that had taken journeys to England, Africa and even India. (When we were in Kerala in Southern India there were records in the Jewish synagogue of the trading that took place between them and King Solomon so this sort of trade doesn't surprise you- it just makes you wonder whether Vasco da Gama was the first, or the first with royal assent (or the first with Papal recognition) to travel around the cape and back. From memory Portugal and Spain had negotiated specific papal territories of interest at that time.

Dubrovnik had 650 trading vessels and of those 200 were full ocean vessels..and that’s a lot of trading going on.

The city seem to have rolled with the punches being invaded by the Venetians in 1205s, who were then overthrown by the Hungarians some 150 years later but who allowed Dubrovnik to retain its free Royal City State and it became the Republic of Dubrovnik. The Hungarians were in turn were thrown out by the Turks but they also allowed Dubrovnik to retain their independence in consideration for their payments made to their new rulers.

Remarkably, the town had been able to retain its independence even though it had to give lip and financial service to new masters. It took Napoleon in 1808 to finally remove Dubrovnik's independent status.

The town has grown outside the town wall and spread like moss up the hills and along the coast. The city services some 60,000 locals and goodness knows how many tourists and whilst it is a tourist town it is the town of the locals who also shop there. We were surprised when we saw people lugging their shopping up the hill from the town.

The new Dubrovnik is about 5 km away that has a population of about 50,000 large supermarkets with parking - there were only two vehicles that we saw in old Dubrovnik over three days so they must bring in the supplies by night.

As we approached the city it started to rain so we dashed to the nearest covered restaurant, which was between two building with a canvas cover. We neglected to note that is was where the downpipes of all the building drained - there are no storm water drains here so the water flowing off the buildings continually washing the streets until they drain off. The water from one downpipe was splashing right near where Rodger was sitting. (See photo “Happiness”)

The food is a little expensive but these are places where the view is 40% of the costs.

The city is truly remarkable. The damage done to the place in the Serbian invasions were absolutely dreadful but great craftsman, an eye for detail and the capacity reuse the old stones in the form of the original buildings is a great testament to their ingenuity and their character. It is truly a city with charm and character and resilience.

The Croatian soccer game against Austria was won 1:0 last week and everywhere people are in the Croatian colours of red and white in celebration of their win and in support of their upcoming game against Germany tomorrow. Pubs were being decked out, flags hung and a lot of banter a little like the atmosphere in Paris when the world cup was being played….but this is the seriousness of Melbourne football enthusiasm!

We wandered the main road and the three streets to the south. Jan and Rodger headed off about 6.00 pm and we continued along the narrow streets that wove their way around the accommodation, the private residences and the apartments that pressed against the southern walls of the city. We actually found a restaurant and bar that overlooked Lokrum Island and it could only be accessed through a hole in the wall and was built precariously on the rocks outside the wall. It was expensive wine but the view on this occasion was 60% of the costs.

In the back streets adjacent to the houses abutting the wall the narrow path opened to a cleared paved area where kids had set up a street soccer pitch with small nets and the pitch boundaries painted on the path where there were no walls to rebound the ball.

Old houses had planks over the road from their second story to gardens on the other side. Cats wandered the streets impervious to people. Walkways went under buildings through arches and there in one walkway was a painting and flowers.

This is a city of great charm, incredible resilience and friendship. We wandered home about 7.30 and collected eggs and the makings and made up omelets for dinner.

The following day we slowly walked to the city and today we lunched in an excellent restaurant on a fantastic meal of fish soup- a clear fish and mussel and rice soup and deep fried fish.

After lunch and a warm up, we started up the steps of the city wall and commenced the walk around the city. From the top of the city wall you begin to appreciate the number of new roofs and new construction that has taken place since the damage from the war.

There were still some completely wrecked building and we asked when did that damage occur and they replied “no that wasn't from the war, that was the 1667 earthquake!”

You can walk around the wall in 1.5 hours or less. We looked and crawled every where and it took us almost three hours of looking at gardens, checking fig trees and plants and what people were growing, examining pots of preserves outside houses. I thought the contents of two jars looked like fermented prawn pastes but we eventually found out it was fruit liquors or appetitive in which the fruit is left 40 days in sealed jars with brandy and sugar and fermented in their juice. Anita gave us a walnut brandy which tasted similar to the green walnut sweets we had in Naxos.

The wall comes back on itself and borders the well protected harbour with a breakwater blocking the main entrance.

We then visited the St Francis Cloisters a few more buildings and headed home about 7.30. I stopped off at the internet and finally got the last of the Greece diary away.

Jan cooked a dinner that night of local sausages.

From Dubrovnik, it’s a two and a half hour ride to Mostar in Bosnia Hertogovenia.

We were picked up by Tony at 8.00 am in a 9 seater bus. We picked up two young Irish folk, (who had lived in Australia) at the Neptune hotel in the new area surrounding the port and took off for Mostar. The road crosses the new bridge and snakes along the coast line towards Split past the Dalmatian islands with their appearance of white sand beaches. The islands bordering the coastline create protected waters through to Venice. The white borders of the islands are not sand but white rock washed by the sea. Tony, the driver said the road runs 700km all the way to Italy.

The roads are well made, just two lane with a 2ft gap to a rail or a stone wall so there is no margin for error and no overtaking unless you can see. Speed limits are 70 km/hr and the quality of the roads excellent.

Slano is a small town nestled in a bay with a new hotel that dominates the town. The waterways on the edge of the main roads are filled with oyster and mussels farms with posts in rows to hold the seedlings and extends for kilometers. This area is famous for its shellfish.

The towns are full of white houses and red tile roofs, road signs in red and white look like bunting for the soccer match. Even the Cathedral floors in Dubrovnik were red and white square tiles.

We left the coast and went through three border check points and only had to show passports once as we headed into the rugged steep hill 100-150 m high through narrow valleys and tunnels and into Bosnia Hertsogovina.

From the hills, we looked down onto broad valleys filled with abundant waterways, gardens, orange groves and a deep lush green of intensive cultivation. There are waterways and land covered in hot-houses, trellised grape vines, corn, cabbages, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, Chinese gooseberries- kiwi fruit, massive fig trees, beans, and the lush green of intensive farming was unlike anything we’d seen.

Sadly, in the field are destroyed houses yet to be repaired, or maybe, with lost families and relatives no longer in Croatia/Bosnia, will never to be repaired.

Mostar is an industrial town and its main industry is aluminum manufacture. I couldn’t find out where the bauxite came from or when the cheap power came from to make the aluminum - It did not seem to be as an extensive site compared to QAL in Gladstone.

As we approached the town, we noted more destroyed houses in the fields all overgrown with bush. In Dubrovnik there was a deserted Serbian building and a local man said it was possible that it could be swapped for a Croation building in a Serbian area.

Mostar was a city with a long way to go for the healing process to take effect. Buildings are damaged but the bridge at Mostar has been completely rebuilt by the Turkish sultan in 1645? to join the Muslim and the Christian sides of the same town together as a symbol of unity and to facilitate trade.

How and why the war started seems unclear. It seems with the death of Tito, who was a Serb, there was a resurgence in individual sovereign states to seek independence. Repressed under Tito’s firm fist independence now resurfaced. From what I can gather, Serbia wanted to retain control and (being Orthordox) fought with the Venetian influenced Croats (who were Catholic) and the Muslims.

Serbia it seemed wanted to destroy Dubrovnik, a city that symbolized the independence for Croatia hence the severity of the attacks. How the Muslims and the Croats ended up in a bun fight, I’ve yet to unravel. The few people we spoke to spoke of the property damage but not the emotions and the triggers for the war other than Serbia wanting to retain their control over Croatia.

But today in Mostar the bridge is rebuilt. The surface of the bridge appeared to be completely reconstructed with the old worn weathered stones trodden by feet for some 400 years, so the healing process has commenced but, with hundreds of gravestones in the streets, as a constant reminder of the recent past, is unlikely to progress at any speed.

We arrived in Mostar and we were directed to a designated parking place. Tony the driver warned us about the town being unsafe - I suspect because he was Croatian in Bosnia. There was an immediate competition between parties to act as a guide at prices which were very expensive so we gave the guides a miss. We decided to just walked through the town to feel the atmosphere of this city, which commenced to implode with the catalyst of the Serbian Invasion. The Serbian invasion appears to have triggered the Bosnian Croatian power struggles for independence that killed so many of its people.

The Eastern side of the river is Bosnian Muslim; the West is Croat Catholic both interspersed with Orthodox Serbs and the feelings are not exactly convivial but they are holding an agreed pact.

As we drove into the city one could see hundreds of new white grave stones filling the areas between the houses on the Bosnian side. This constant memory standing in your face every day will make harmony between the families that call Mostar home very difficult.

We looked around the gravestones near the Cejvan Cehaj Mosque which was built in 1552 and it was tragic to see the ages of the children and people killed in this bloody and senseless war. The pristine white of the tombstones all dated from 1992-93. The Muslim graves were frequently set with a marble spire like a small minaret. Occasionally, there was a marble sheet with photos and painting of the people who had died. This I thought was contrary to usual Muslim behaviours which prohibited the portrayal of the image of man and the reason, we were told, they smashed the faces in Christian paintings and icons in churches and the reason they destroyed the C4th Buddhas in Pakistan a couple of years ago.

We walked to the bridge past the damaged Croatian part of the town much of it yet to be repaired. Buildings were splattered with the pock marks of bullet holes blasted into the stone buildings, the bridges and windows.

The bridge was built in the mid 1600 some 29meters wide and stated to be the longest single span arch bridge of its time some 31 meters above the emerald green Neretva River. Besides the Nevetva river , small streams rush through the town in walled channels and in places the houses are built over the rushing streams.

Coming up to the bridge the roads are crowded with shops selling war souveniers - 50 mm casings now serving as a biro. I thought somewhat ironic subliminally saying perhaps that they recognise that the pen is perhaps mightier than the sword...but I think they have missed my interpretation.

A diver stands at the apex of the arch, flexes muscles, flexes his arms and elicits funds from the audience to get the 45 euro he needs to make the leap.

There was so much posing that we left and then heard the roar of the crowd- we missed it - and he swam ashore.

Below the bridge there remained five or six pieces of the bridge that they did not use in the reconstruction. Examining them I can see why. These rock pieces were essentially stapled together with iron inserts which were fused into the rocks so that there was not the slightest fracture in the entire block.

The people rebuilding the bridge would have had to use pneumatic hammers to split the blocks and then cut the iron staples that locked the blocks together to be able to reuse them. When they rebuilt the bridge they used the same stones, other than these pieces, and used the identical technique in construction. The walking surface of the bridge was reconstructed from the originals and retains the stones foot worn for over 400 years.

We lunched in the Muslim area and who should turn up but Tony, the driver who had ordered the traditional and local specialty of skinless sausages served in warmed and barbequed bread. We ordered a combination of food that was essentially bar-b-qued in aromatic woods and salted well and complemented with great salads.

We wandered about the Muslim markets, which were far more interesting than the ones on the Croatian side. Here they seem to have a wide range of fine crafts on display. In Croatia, it was just tourist gear.

We wandered up behind the Mosque and on a back street ran into a full contingent of police, black diplomatic cars, security men bristling with guns, earphones and mikes, and three official white police cars at each end of the cavalcade.

The locals thought the cavalcade was Turkish and we presumed the same group we saw in Dubrovnik visiting one of the building where they had closed the building to tourists.

We finally returned to the car. The weather began to clear and on the way home we stopped off near Neam to purchase some oysters for dinner that night.

On returning to Dubrovnik, I went to the Internet and tried to set up the blogg with the names of the people who are not receiving the email or unable to access the photos. I hope it all got through.

I returned home and shucked the balance of the oysters with a can opener. Rodger had completed half and cut a finger. They were the toughest oysters to open and we continually split a sliver of shell along with the muscle. It was a challenge but eventually we got it all done. Jan chopped the remains of the spek and made the Irish favorite, Oysters Kilpatrick. The rest of us ate them raw with lemon juice and dill we found by the side of the road.

Tomorrow Tony will pick us up and we board the Atlanticia for a week on the Dalmatian coast arriving in Split next Sunday.

Additional photos below
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26th June 2008

Hi Win, Well do they?? Regards, Art

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