Our final stop in Croatia was the jewel in the crown of the Dalmation Coast, the ancient walled city of Dubrovnik.
We got underway early, in time to see a beautiful sunrise as we left the harbor in Mljet. By mid-morning we were approaching the marina in the harbor at Gruz, a few kilometers northwest of the old city. Surrounded by dramatic rocky mountains on all sides, the views from the marina were quite spectacular, and provided an appropriately impressive backdrop for our last night in Croatia.
As soon as we were docked, the four of us hopped on the local bus to Dubrovnik, while Chris and Linda (who had visited a week earlier with Stuart) stayed at the boat. Sadly, the timing of our arrival did not enable us to follow the advice of our friend Kathy, and see the city in the early morning. We didn't reach the Pile Gate until just after noon, by which time hordes of tourists had already been unloaded by the cruise ships and buses, and Stradun, the main street, was packed wall to wall.
But surprisingly, the walkway along the top of the ancient and wonderfully preserved city walls was quite empty, allowing us to enjoy a relaxing hour and a half slowly making our way around the city, enjoying spectacular views across the red roofs and out to sea, and exploring the defensive forts built into the wall at intervals along its perimeter. And when we descended to the streets below, we followed a walking tour which quickly led us away from the busy thoroughfares, and into the quiet and picturesque back streets, where we were able to experience the real atmosphere of the town, rivaling anything we had encountered in Italy. Once again, this is a place we would love to have the opportunity to return to and explore more fully in the future.
Amazingly, the only visible reminder of the terrible destruction caused by the 2,000 shells the Yugoslav army rained down on the city in 1991, is the variation in color of the re-tiled roofs. The walls, buildings, streets and monuments have all been returned to their original glory through a heart-warming international effort funded by countries from around the world, the repairs virtually invisible thanks to the skill of a team of craftsmen committed to using painstaking traditional building techniques.
By late afternoon the city had started to empty, and the Stradun was almost deserted as we strolled back towards the main gate. Unfortunately the same could not be said of the street outside, where swarms of people crowded the sidewalks waiting to push their way onto each bus as soon as it pulled up and opened its doors. Eventually we managed to squeeze aboard a bus back to Gruz, but it was standing room only through rush-hour traffic all the way, and we were very relieved to finally make it back to the marina.
Our final evening in Croatia was spent enjoying the scenery from the marina restaurant, while Beckie and Lucas swam in the adjoining outdoor pool. The next morning, Linda treated us to a breakfast of French toast with real maple syrup (Canadian unfortunately!), then we packed our bags and loaded up with snacks for the road, the kids scrubbed the decks, and we were off to catch the bus to the ferry terminal and begin our journey to Madrid.