Croatia…land of stunning coastlines, pebble beaches, warm weather and seafood on every corner. Dubrovnik is a do not miss spot should you go to the Dalmation Coast, however be warned; if caught in a crush of tourists pouring into Dubrovnik from the cruise ships and bus tours that arrive daily, one can be swept away by a massive tour group as though lifted up in a mosh pit at a rock concert.
The crowds are particularly thick on the main streets where tacky souvenir shops sprout like weeds on the main streets of Old Town. Thankfully we came armed with our usual Rick Steves’ guidebook to veer us to safety within the maze of small lanes to hidden gems in the midst of tourist mayhem. Following our bus stop in Bosnia-Herzegovina the four so us got right to work with Mr Steves at our hotel outdoor terrace.
Two of the back door spots found in the guidebook are Buza 1 and Buza 2 are an absolute must. Buza translates to ‘hole in the wall’. These small bars serving wine and beer in plastic glasses, are found by literally crawling through a hole in the old stone wall that has protected the city for centuries.
It seems only by word of mouth or Rick Steves’ guidebook that the view of a lifetime watering holes can be found. Buza 1 has absolutely no signage whatsoever so our friend Steve guided us there through twists and turns in narrow stone alleys with laundry drying overhead. When you step out of the hole to an absolute paradise it is as though you have won the grand Croatian scavenger hunt.
For the past thousand years the area now known as Croatia, has passed hands in dizzying exchanges. Hungarians, Venetians, Ottomans, Habsburgs and of course the Yugoslavs. On the day Slovenia declared its independence from Yugoslav rule in 1991, so too did Croatia. The violence that would ensue for years here would leave scars on the country and it’s people.
Dave and I found refuge from the crowds one day in a small purse shop ( clearly a good spot for me to hide in). The young man, who spoke four languages fluently, told us of the day the Yugoslav army began bombing Dubrovnik. At seven years old he would have been the same age as our own son. He told of that fateful morning in October twenty-two years ago the houses on either side of his family’s home were bombed and burned to the ground.
“We only got three grenades….we were so lucky,” the young man shared. He and his sister were sent to live with their Uncle in the capital Zagreb while his brother became a defender of Dubrovnik. We were mesmerized with his account of the events and perhaps understood even more why some Croatians are left feeling resentful and others hopeful as clearly tourism has returned to its pre war status.
During the attacks of 1991-92 the cable car running up to Mount Srd was bombed as was the cross and communications tower. In 2010, with the area cleared of landmines a new cable car was opened as well as a museum dedicated to the fighting of those years. With raw video footage, photographs, and a sampling of the. WW II weapons used by the defenders it presents a sobering, albeit, a bit one sided presentation of the events.
Croatia estimates 1.5 million mines were placed by opposing sides during the fighting of the early 90s. At the end of the war 13,000 square kilometers were suspected of having mines including the area around Dubrovnik.
As of February of 2013, due to the diligent and extraordinarily dangerous work of de-miners , the area affected has decreased to approximately 600 square kilometers and marked with 15,000 warning signs. With respect it should be noted that more than 500 people have lost their lives to land mines in Croatia since the war ended.
Suffice it to say that wandering off at the top of Mount Srd is highly discouraged. Ironically while we were at the top a gentleman had gone over the side rail at the cable car platform and was looking for a geocache. I have only been on one geocaching adventure with a friend and at the time I thought it was a bit adventurous to stand on my bike seat and reach up a sign post. Clearly not as adventurous as wandering outside the guard rails of a previously land mined area.
To get to this point you must leave the cable car area and go into the museum about the war. Although not marked there are a set of stairs winding up to what initially appears to go nowhere. After following the steps one appears out of the small door from between bullet ridden stone walls.
Perhaps the best treasure of all had been located. The hordes of tourists even at the cable car not more than 200 meters away, were missing the best view of Dubrovnik and the time to quietly reflect on all the lives sacrificed in defense of the pearl of the Adriatic below. How fortunate to climb through yet one more hole in the wall.