It is already 88 degrees in Dubrovnik and it is only 10:30 in the morning. We are standing at King’s Landing in the Old City of Dubrovnik. In front of us, workers are loading a dark brown pirate ship with explosives. They will blow the ship to smitherines in a few days as part of a historic film. Behind the ship are the towers of the wall and large jagged rocks. We are about to circumnavigate the island of Lorkum in sea kayaks with Adventure Dubrovnik.
Kayaking is a lot harder than it looks. In a few strokes, Claudia and I are in last place. Claudia is sitting in the back as the “engine” and I am in front as the captain. Kayaking takes great cooperation, something that is sometimes difficult for mothers and adult daughters to do. We glide out towards the island. The breeze from the Adriatic and the cool water splashing into the kayak finally stops the stream of sweat that has been pouring off my body for the past twenty-four hours.
Lorkum rises above the sea with a sheer wall of tan colored rocks topped by a layer of green trees. Darijo, our guide, stops us when we reach the island and tells us of its curse. The Benedict Monks had a monastary on the island. One day, Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand of Habsburg came to the island and fell in love with it. The spoiled Archduke ordered the monks to leave. On the last night, the monks walked around the island three times with their candles held upside down so that the wax dropped on the ground. They cursed the island so that anyone who acquired the island for their own personal pleasure would meet personal and financial doom. After Maximilian moved his family onto the island, he was assasinated in Mexico, his wife driven insane and his son bankrupt. Now the people believe that anyone who spends more than three nights on the island will suffer a similar fate. Today, the only creatures that live on the island are the peacocks and the bunnies. The island is covered with them as well as tourists and naked sun bathers during the day who come to visit the gardens and the ruins.
We continue our circle of the island. On the far side, we head towards a large cave in the coast line of the mainland. He stops again for another story. Darijo points to a large rectangular building just to the right of the Old City. He explains that this building is the Lazareti, the ancient quarantine building used by the Republic of Dubrovnik to prevent sickly visitors from coming into their community. Visitors would have to spend forty days in the Lazareti before they were allowed into the Old City. During this time, doctors would monitor them for signs of illness. It was with this method that Dubrovnik was able to avoid the Plague.
Darijo points to the tall mountain that rises above Dubrovnik, Sdr. He tells us that in 1991, when the Yugoslavian Army attacked Dubrovnik, it was from this mountain that the people of Dubrovnik were able to successfully defend themselves. Darijo tells us that he was only eights years old, so he remembers this seven month siege from the perspective of a child. On the plus side, there was no school. On the down side, there was no chocolate nor bananas. He remembers hiding in the basement with his school friends. Darijo is a young man. Hearing that he was eight when this attack took place reminds me that it happened in the not so distance past. As most of the people we met in Dubrovnik were born there, It dawns on me that most of the population must carry memories like these in their psyche. What also strikes me is the commitment and loyalty that the people of Dubrovnik have to their city, staying in the city with their families for seven long months, refusing to be intimidated as the roofs of the homes are being systematically bombed away. Today, they remain, their roofs perfectly maintained red tiles, rebuilt by decree of the mayor.
We complete our trip by snorkeling in a cave and munching on sandwiches. Darijo wears the word “sve” tattooed over his heart. Sve means “all” in Croatian. Claudia asks him “Does this mean you love everyone?” “It means I love everything. It is a life philosophy.” When we return to King’s Landing, I have a new perspective of Dubrovnik, from heart and sea.
At sunset, we catch the cable car to the top of Sdr. Just to the left around the fort is an outcropping of rocks. On the top of the rocks sits a simple, small cross. Couples sit close together, dangling their legs over the edge. The top of Sdr offers a 360 degree view of Dubrovnik and the jagged range of mountains just to the East. To the Northwest, I can see the islands off the coast start to glimmer as the sun throws stripes of red and pink across the sky. I wear the word “Mir” which means “Peace” in Croatian around my neck on a small blue medallion. Being here at this moment seeing all that the people of Dubrovnik held so dear gives me another perspective, a higher one.
We descend into Old Town and dine at Restoran 360, the only restaurant in the Old City with a rooftop that offers a 360 degree view of the Old City of Dubrovnik. Darijo has told us that the chef is the best in Dubrovnik. We take a chance and see if we can get same-day reservations. At first, the young woman tells us “no.” She had just finished dealing with a group of very snobby demanding American woman who were acting like her perfect English was incomprehensible. I say “Dobar dan. Imate li stol za večeras?” (Good day. Do you have a table for tonight?) At first she says no, then she says, “I do have one. Let me show it to you and see if you like it.” Speaking a little Croatian has just helped me get reservations in Dubrovnik’s most exclusive restaurant. The table she shows us is on a raised platform set back from the edge. It has cushions and bench seats. It looks very VIP to me. She explains that it is the walk in table, but she will reserve it for us.
Our culinary experience at 360 is unparalleled. The butter is infused with truffles. The oysters float in a sea of green sauce. We have tartar, scampi, and sea bass. Each plate is more delicious that the next. The Chef sends out surprise complimentary treats. The wines are all Croatian and perfectly paired. We have several waiters, each one stopping to explain the ingredients of each course in exquisite detail. When the bill arrives, I am amazed that the whole thing only cost the equivalent of $230 US dollars. In San Francisco, a dinner of this caliber would have easily cost four times as much.
After dinner, we walk to the end of the pier just past the Ploce gate. Even though it is midnight, it is warm and the wind feels wonderful. Sve u radu. (Everything is great).
Life is an adventure, not a destination. Find your sve by looking at life with a 360 degree perspective.
Note to all my friends, Alexandra at Adventure Dubrovnik tells me that she will offer you a 10% discount if you mention that Elizabeth referred you.