By Nancy Van Veen

“Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik” ~ George Bernard Shaw

As I passed through the gates into the walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, it felt as if I had stepped back through time into a medieval kingdom. My first course of action was to ascend the city’s main attraction — its awe-inspiring ancient wall. Started in the 7th Century and completed in the 15th, it’s undeniably one of the greatest walls in the world. It’s a challenging 5.5 km trek around, but tremendously rewarding, with breath-taking views of the Adriatic, the vibrant terracotta roofs within the fortress and, of course, bragging rights! The wall is pentagonal in shape and boasts 40 towers, five fortresses and towers as high as 25 m.

My walk on the wall was great fun and I was determined to go the distance. I was keeping a steady pace, meandering up and down and through corner towers, pausing now and then to photograph the stunning panorama, when the stream of walkers came to an abrupt standstill. Being vertically challenged, I jumped and strained to see what the hold-up was. A beefy security guard in dark sunglasses with arms crossed sternly was blocking our path. He bellowed “No cameras! No photography allowed!” Glancing down, I was star-struck to see a medieval scene being enacted in the street below. HBO was filming my favourite fantasy series Game of Thrones! I searched frantically, hoping to spot one of my favourite characters — perhaps even Tyrion Lannister. (I will confess I nonchalantly snuck a couple photos.) Despite the excitement of the movie shoot, the natives were getting restless and the throng of anxious wall walkers was backing up exponentially. The cruise ship folks were fretting about missing their sailing and meanwhile the humidity was becoming unbearable. Finally the scene wrapped up and our journey resumed.

Mission accomplished, I now took a leisurely stroll through the limestone, pedestrian-only streets of old town down the Stradun. This main thoroughfare is lined with shops and restaurants, but there are quainter, more affordable gems down the ultra-narrow side streets. There were lots of spots to indulge in a gelato or cappuccino, take a break and enjoy the ambiance.

The most striking feature of Dubrovnik, known as ‘The City of Light and Stone,’ is the stunning architecture. In the main plaza alone, there’s the Baroque St. Blaise Church, the Renaissance Sponza Palace and the Gothic Rector’s Palace Museum, as well as captivating sculptures and fountains.

Shopping is pricey in this unique city. I did, however, treat myself to one of the iconic ‘Dubrovnik Buttons’ — beautiful ornate silver balls crafted for generations by family jewelers and fashioned after the antique buttons from men’s uniforms — apparently a traditional keepsake given to their sweethearts when they went to sea. Dubrovnik originated as a seaport and developed into a centre of culture and commerce, building its wealth from trade and salt pans.
Today, 40,000 people dwell within this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Restoration to repair damage from the elements and shelling from the 1990’s Yugoslavian conflict is ongoing. More recent concerns are the rising sea level and the extreme overcrowding in the streets. Tourism to the region has exploded, with enormous cruise ships docking nearby, not to mention hordes of Game of Thrones fans.

My experience exploring Dubrovnik was indeed a fantasy come true! So, dear Connector readers, whether your travels in the coming year take you around your community, your country, a medieval wall or the whole wide world, I wish you safe and joyful journeys for 2018!