It’s easy to get quite snooty about the tourist crowd. I’ve already taken a few side swipes at the cruise parties that I seem to be bumping into (often literally) on a far too regular basis – and they are certainly here en masse in Dubrovnik – but this beautiful Croatian city takes it to a whole new level. And I hold my hands up here to being an utter hypocrite when I moan about the ‘tourists’ as I am one myself. I might like to think that I’m a station above them because of the nature of my trip (ironically I’m sure many of them would have the opposite point a view; by bike? Why? Can’t you afford a proper holiday?) but especially on my days off, I’m just another tourist myself. A ‘different’ tourist but a tourist all the same.
They aren’t half annoying though which is one of the reasons why I dragged myself out of bed again at that ridiculous hour of 6:30am and by 8am I was one of the first to be wandering around the old city walls of Dubrovnik along with the other snooty tourists who are probably now writing their blogs sneering at the rest of them. The idea to start my exploration of the town via the walls came from the Rough Guide and it was a good one. Before diving into the mass of lanes, squares, churches & alleyways I was able to gain a pretty good geographical layout of the place so by the time I descended from on high (very high in places) I felt as though I at least knew where I needed to be going.
One thing that I didn’t want to miss had been alerted to me by @alzarni via Twitter. He suggested what he described as a ‘thought-provoking’ exhibition of war photographs just off the main street in the old town. Conveniently it was also in the lane next to the one where I am staying so was easy to find. The exhibition space is run by an organisation called War Photo Limited (which does make it sound as though they are intent on cashing in on conflict but I’m sure that’s not the case!) and currently has one permanent exhibition and two temporary ones. I concentrated upon the temporary gallery showing photographs taken by a New Zealander called Wade Goddard. He was only in his early 20s when he decided to come to the fragmenting former Yugoslavia of the early 1990s to document what was taking place. The exhibition shows some of the photographs that he took in the town of Mostar and it was a vivid reminder of just how brutal the conflict was. Most of the photographs, unlabelled, could have passed as pictures taken during the Second World War and Goddard himself notes how during the siege of Mostar he was confronted with images that he could only compare with the ghettos of Europe during the 1940s. Some are familiar – for example the famous bridge that stood for 427 years before being destroyed by mortars – others less so. The exhibition pulls no punches and images of the dead and the dieing are commonplace. The physical destruction of the town is alarming. I’m not quite sure how aware I was of Mostar being levelled to such an extent. In the context of my trip this is all fascinating stuff as I plan to deviate slightly to Mostar in the next couple of days (although I have yet to decide the best way of doing so). I asked the girl on the ticket desk if she had been to Mostar since the conflict and she hadn’t. I’m very curious to find out how such a war damaged town has rebuilt itself in just twenty years. I suspect that it has as I have seen plenty of boards in the streets of Dubrovnic today advertising coach tours to see the town and the now famously rebuilt bridge. It is no doubt on the list of destinations for the cruise liner lot. It’s just a pity that the photographic exhibition currently depicting so vividly its recent history probably isn’t.
The permanent exhibition was a more general one showing images from the wider Balkan conflict of the 1990s. Just as harrowing as the Mostar one. It was a cruel, divisive war – Dubrovnik itself wasn’t left untouched – but visiting the area in 2013 shows the extent to which things have recovered. I’m not sure how much of what I see is papering over cracks that still exist or whether real conciliation has indeed taken place. One thing that the exhibition did provide apart from a lasting visual memory from my visit was an excellent three paragraph summary of the conflict. James Bond style, I slipped the piece of A4 paper from the plastic binder photographed it using microfilm that I had secreted upon my person earlier in the day. OK, I didn’t. I used my iPhone but a very useful summary it was. Expect me to quote from it in the book…
I’ve spent the rest of the day wandering around, snapping photos, tutting at the tourists, poking my head into the odd church (why is it so difficult for some people not to understand a visual sign outside a place of worship meaning ‘no photographs’, especially ones which go ‘beep’ every time a picture is taken?), wandering down alleyways which seem to have been neglected by everyone else and generally having a good old nose around. Some of my efforts are below.
The plan for tonight is rather more cultural… The Dubrovnik Festival 2013 is currently in full swing and I noticed a poster for a Slovenian production of Prokofiev’s Romeo & Juliet. It’s being staged in the open air outside the Jesuit Church on the other side of town and I have a ticket for one of the cheap seats, probably the cheapest come to think of it. I am going to be sitting in the very top left-hand corner of the staging. If I’m bored by the ballet I will at least have a good view of the rest of the audience who, to slightly misquote the famous words of John Lennon will hopefully not be jangling their jewellery… If they fail to amuse me either I’ll just turn around at the sea and contemplate my continuing journey over the next few days along the Croatian coast. Stay tuned!