New Year’s in Dubrovnik

Note: Although this is a relatively old piece, we decided to keep this up on our site because it’s lovely account of New Year’s in Dubrovnik, and it’s interesting reading what ‘it’ (winter tourism!) was like in Croatia in the late 1990s!

During the autumn of 1999 my wife and I started to think about how to celebrate the millennium – well, how to escape from the hype surrounding the celebrations in the UK.  The other factor to take into consideration was that as a IT Manager January 1st seemed like a good time to avoid the office – well at least I was confident that we had removed any risk of the Y2K problem from our systems!  In the past we have often spent a couple of winter weeks in the Canaries but this year we thought we should do something different.  As we have been visiting the Elaphite Islands (just north of Dubrovnik) for many years it was an obvious area for us to consider as within reason we knew what to expect (well we thought we did!).  After spending a while browsing the various internet sites checking on what would be open and trying to verify ferry times we decided that a week in Dubrovnik would be a better bet (mainly because the hotels on the Islands were closed and we didn’t fancy self catering).  We eventually decided on the Hotel Kompas in Dubrovnik as being suitable for us. The criteria we used were – heating, party on New Years Eve, reasonable standard of room, location in relation to the city and Gruz harbour, facilities in case of bad weather. An email from the Dubrovnik Hotels Group dubrovnikhotels@du.tel.hr confirmed availability but advised us to book early.  At this stage we thought we would be the only people wanting to go to Croatia at New Year – wrong!

A telephone call to Marie at Bond Tours confirmed how wrong we were.  Croatia Airlines flights were nearly fully booked!  We managed to get a flight on Boxing Day with a return on 3 January which involved a long wait at Zagreb homebound.

Sunshine in London, snow in Zagreb

A relaxed flight on an Airbus 320 from Heathrow to Zagreb was rather spoilt by a comedian in the Croatia Airlines catering department who decided that we would all like cold fish fingers and cold vegetables (cauliflower and carrots) for lunch. Snow and thick cloud at Zagreb airport was a change from the bright sunshine we experienced when leaving London. Two minutes across the airport terminal and we were ready to board the ATR42 for the flight down to Dubrovnik.  Sandra (my wife) was a little apprehensive about the ATR as the smallest aircraft she had flown on before was a 737. Soon after take off music started to play through the loud speakers. At this stage we both burst out laughing as it was the instrumental version of ‘I did it my way’ which has the lyrics amongst others approximating to ‘the end is nigh as I face the final curtain’.

We made it to Dubrovnik with no problems and were promptly collected by the Bond Tours agent and taken to the Hotel. The journey in the dark was quite impressive as the city was lit up for the celebrations.  Dubrovnik resembled a fairy tale city with the twinkling lights and soft floodlights illuminating the massive protective walls.

Exploring the old city

For the first two days the hotel was very quiet with only about 20 people staying there.  The weather was quite mild, but cloudy with a small amount of rain falling mainly at night. We spent this time walking and exploring the area.  In the past we have never spent a lot of time in Dubrovnik as we find it too hot to walk around in the summer heat, but during the winter months it is great and the people watchers still sit out at the cafes on the Stradun with their designer sunglasses and the cups of coffee that last for about two hours.

A particular rewarding visit was to the maritime museum were we spent so long that we stayed beyond the closing time without realising.  One notable display referred to a ship which had sunk not to far away from where we live, so I now have the task of attempting to see what information I canget about it here and tying it up with the information in Dubrovnik. A visit to the Desa Gallery in the Lazareti was well worth it if only to see the wonderful hand made articles such as lace and embroidery produced by the wonderful ladies there. Email: desa@du.tel.hr

The closer we got to New Year’s Eve the more people there seemed to be in the hotels, and by New Year’s Eve all the hotels in the Dubrovnik area appeared to be full.  We did not see any other English people about, but we were told that there were a few staying at one of the hotels in Babin Kuk and in the Hotel Excelsior.  Guests from Slovenia and Bosnia occupied the majority of the hotels, but all nationalities mixed well and a great time was had by all.  The food at the Hotel Kompas was excellent and the only problem was getting the motivation to do some exercise to make room for more food!

What a great party!

We had been planning to see in the new year with the celebrations that were taking place along the Stradun in the old City, but excess food and alcohol got in the way and we stayed with the hotel celebrations which ran from 1930 in the evening until 0430 the next morning. The hotel ran various functions on New Years Day including a marathon, a dancing competition and a prize draw. A good range of prizes were available ranging from various holidays (including one which was for a two day stay in Sarajevo) to a roasted whole suckling pig, complete with a tray to carry it on. Just how I was going to carry it home if I won it I don’t know. As it turned out we didn’t win a prize, but it was great fun and good practice in working with Croatian numbers.

Visiting an old friend

On the final Sunday we decided to walk to Gruz harbour and take the ferry to Sipan which is our favourite Island in the Elaphites.  We call it a ferry but Jadrolinija – the ferry company – call it a ship as it does not take cars. It was a bright sunny day but the cold bora wind was blowing off the mainland and it was bitterly cold compared with previous days.  We were glad to get out of the wind and into the snug bar on the ferry.

By the 0930 sailing time all the interior seating was occupied with people visiting their families or returning home to the islands after spending the night in Dubrovnik. Stopping at Kolocep and Lopud prior to arrival at Sudurad we were reminded of the many pleasant days we have spent in the past wandering around this verdant archipelago. Many people refer to Dubrovnik as being the pearl of the Adriatic, but if that is the case, the Elaphite Islands must be emeralds.

There are two main villages on the island of Sipan. The largest being Sipanska Luka (harbour) and the other being Sudurad. We decided to get off the ferry in Sudurad and walk across the Island to Sipanska Luka.  On walking through Sudurad we both suddenly stopped and looked at each other and realised that the only sounds we could hear were a couple with their children walking in the same direction as us and nothing else.  We had forgotten just how quiet and laid back Sipan was. We walked along the path between the imposing fortified towers of the historic summer residences and out onto the track which runs along one side of the valley which lies between the two villages.  Everything was so peaceful: just the birds, an occasional goat or cow, and us. Progressing slowly along the path we soaked up the tranquillity and the sun which was now warming up the land.  Small patches of iced over water were now beginning to steam in the sunshine, and, unlike in the summer when everything is dry, now the vegetation just seemed to be so vibrant with the multiple hues of green painted against the deep blue sky.  It is a little over 4km between the villages and throughout this journey we only saw four people and these were in the distance.  About half way along the path I spotted a large bird sitting on a pine tree which later turned out to be one of six, what I think, were honey buzzards.  After spending some time watching the buzzards we eventually arrived at the back of the village of Sipanska Luka.  The total population of Sipan is only about 500 and during the winter months many of the inhabitants are away at sea (Sipan is a historic seafaring island).

Descending down the path into the village we saw a familiar sight walking up the hill towards us – it was one of the ladies who works in the Hotel Sipan during the summer months. A look of total surprise was followed by warm greetings and enquiries as to what we were doing on Sipan during the winter and would we be back in the summer to stay in the hotel. The rest of the day followed a similar pattern with many of the villagers recognising us and testing my very limited Croatian.

As there were no bars open for food we went into one of the shops to get some food and to purchase a large jar of ajvar. In the shop we received more greetings and hugs. It was one of those days when the shop owner decides to hand out drinks (clear alcohol of dubious origins) so all were on good form!

We sat beside the harbour eating a few crisps (cipi cips) and soaking up the now pleasantly warm sunshine when one of the older ladies that we knew walked along. Lela is totally deaf but speaks English which makes conversations both difficult and easy at the same time even if somewhat one sided at times. Lela decided that she was going to cook lunch for us and as it is difficult to say no to a deaf person who does not want to understand, we finished up having soup, chicken, and cake in Lela’s massive house. After lunch we picked oranges and lemons from trees in Lela’s garden.  She told us that we should come on holiday with no luggage so that we can take home proper fruit and real olive oil from Sipan.  As it was we took a bag full of citrus to eat later the next day.  If you have not tasted oranges straight off the tree you have not tasted oranges. They were fantastic.

Sipan is one of the few places that I know of where olive oil is still pressed by stone wheels and there is at least one olive mill that still uses a horse to turn the wheel. After tasting olive oil pressed in this way you never want to buy supermarket oil again. Just try it dribbled over thick bread sprinkled lightly with chopped garlic and tomatoes and grill until warmed through – ‘food from heaven’.

It was rather sad leaving Sipan to go back to Dubrovnik because this was the last day of our holiday and we never like leaving Sipan for whatever reason. The journey was lightened somewhat when on arrival at Lopud a priest and his helpers boarded the ferry and proceeded to conduct a service blessing the ship and crew whilst nearly gassing the rest of us with the incense burner that he was swinging around.  A cold walk from Gruz to the Hotel Kompas followed by an early night prior to a very early start ended our stay in Dubrovnik.

On our way home

A delayed departure from Dubrovnik was of no worry to us as we were due to spend about six hours waiting for our connection in Zagreb. The flight to Zagreb takes about 50 minutes on an Airbus 320, but we spent about 30 minutes circling above Zagreb waiting to land only to be told that we would have to go to Pula as the fog was too bad to land at Zagreb.  We spent about three and a half hours in a deserted Pula airport prior to returning to Zagreb and a quick trip through the airport to board our connecting flight to London.  At least we did not have to spend 6 hours getting bored at Zagreb.