Croatia never occurred to me as a place I’d one day visit on vacation. I am a huge failure when it comes to geography and history, and so I approached our day in Dubrovnik, Croatia with vague memories of news reports involving war and bombings. Then I confirmed that in my Lonely Planet Mediterranean Europe guide which says: “The deliberate and militarily pointless shelling of Dubrovnik by the Yugoslav army in 1991 sent shockwaves through the international community but, when the smoke cleared in 1992, traumatised residents cleared the rubble and set about repairing the damage.” Thus begins our day in Croatia.
Croatia was the first stop on our cruise after Venice. The first full day on board was a sea day and this is a day you spend lounging by the pool, doing crosswords with your dad and fighting with your brother over his headphones which you want to use because you lost the rubber cover that goes over one of your earbuds. Arriving in Croatia, it was nice to have something less trivial to focus on. Studying the map of where we were, it was clear we were very close to Bosnia & Hercegovina. Our cruiseship pulled up next to a large wirey bridge and a bus took us into town.
Dubrovnik is called “the walled city” because it is “enclosed in a curtain of stone walls” overlooking the Adriatic sea. Take a look:
Really beautiful, no? The town center was buzzing with excitement–several cruiseships arrived that day–and I removed a small piece of paper from my pocket and studied it carefully.
“Let’s go!” said my dad, marching towards the ctiy gates. The piece of paper I read was advice from two eGulleters who’d been to Dubrovnik and suggested we eat lunch at a restaurant called Orhan.
“We have to look for Orhan,” I said, laying the groundwork for a full-fledged lunch campaign. Sure enough a large plastic billboard said “Restaurant Orahan” with an arrow. “Hey, look, here it is!” I said and my parents nodded their appreciation then pointed out it was only 10 am and we should really go see the city.
“Ok, ok,” I murmured, as we made our way through the city gates.
Walking into Dubrovnik is like walking on to a set from a movie or a soundstage in Universal Studios. It’s hard to believe that this is a real city and that it was built–this giant wall!–hundreds of years ago. We explored the town center which had a nice (but hot and dusty) church and a war exhibition. Sadly, many of the stores desperately tried to appeal to trendy Americans with club music and funky clothes. I’m sorry but when I’m in an ancient city I don’t want club music or funky clothes. I want lunch at Orhan!
Soon we stumbled upon an open-air market.
The produce looked pretty standard, as you can see: apples, bananas, watermelon. Some woman, though, was cutting up slices of this exotic fruit which she passed out:
Fond of new experience but scared of trichinosis, I decided to pass up a slice and save room for lunch at Orhan. Still, though, it was too early and we endeavored to do what about 50 tourists were lined up to do: climb the city walls.
When I say climb the city walls I mean you pay an admission fee and climb up a gigantic staircase. But once up there, Dubronik totally comes into focus. I will now suggest that if you ever go to Dubronik you MUST climb the city walls because it’s truly the best way to see the city. Here’s mom walking along one such wall:
It’s a voyeur’s delight, really, because you peer into the lives of real residents as you traverse their city. We saw children splashing in a tiny plastic pool and cats leaping from doorsteps. Look, someone was marinating olives!
I thought that was really cool. Then we passed a restaurant with this sign:
But my heart was set on Orhan. “Orhan! Orhan!” I chanted as my family ignored me.
And wouldn’t you know it, walking all those miles around the city (we actually gave up 3/4ths of the way, going down an escape hatch) we DID work up an appetite and it was time for lunch. We went back outside the city gates and found that sign for Orhan. Near the sign was a giant sign for “Club Nautica” and yet I recalled the words of the two eGulleters on the paper in my pocket: “Whatever you do,” they BOTH wrote independently, “don’t go to Club Nautica! It’s awful!”
“Maybe we should go to Club Nautica,” said my dad, noticing how large and populated Club Nautica was and how empty and slightly poisonous Orhan appeared. Here’s Orhan from a distance:
Children splashed in little toy boats and locals laid out in the sun. To get to Orhan we had to walk down a dark staircase and go through a graffited alley way.
“Are you sure you want to eat here?” pleaded my mom.
“Orhan! Orhan!” I retorted. We reached the entrance:
A nice owner-looking waiter or waiter-looking owner came to greet us. “How many?” he said holding menus.
“Four,” we responded and we were sat at a beautiful table overlooking the water.
Well beautiful except for the nest of bees flying around behind Michael and I. We all posed for a picture:
And then the waiter presented us with the Croatian version of an amuse:
This was like a seafoody paste that we spread on our bread. I really liked it. And I really liked our waiter: he had a professionalism about him that was kind of adorable in this environment. Plus we were really the only people eating there at that moment.
Dad, I must say, looked crazy uncomfortable. Dad loves safety and reliability when it comes to food and you could watch the battle on his face as he struggled with an urge to return to the ship. “You sure you don’t want to eat back on the ship?” he pleaded. “We could have a hot dog.”
But my mind was set and after studying the menu, I knew what to order. “Grilled fish platter for two,” I said. Michael and I would share this together. Mom and dad each ordered a small seafood pasta.
We all went to wash up and dad became even more discouraged to learn there was no running tap water in the men’s room.
“Grr,” his body language said but then the waiter let us wash our hands at the bar. Dad became less “grr”-ey.
And soon the food arrived. Here’s mom with her seafood pasta:
And here’s the waiter presenting our grilled fish platter:
He deboned the fish tableside and it all looked so beautiful. Mussels, calamari, potatoes; take a look:
I made this plate for myself:
And I watched dad slither up spaghetti. “Good,” he said, approvingly. Of course he got sauce on his shirt which is a ritual for him when he travels: a different stain for each different city.
Our fish platter was delicious. Truly. The fish had fresh garlic on it and the mussels were perfectly washed (so no disgusting sand) and the calamari, while less coated and fried than I was used to, was terrifically tender and lemony and toothsome. This was a great lunch.
Of course, back on the boat dad had his hot dog. And some ice cream. You can lead a dad to Dubrovnik….
And that was our day in Croatia.