30 years ago today: (May 1987) Dubrovnik long before those trendy thrones and games.


Previously: 30 years ago today: (May 1987) Sarajevo, Mostar and what came after.

Day 39 … Sunday, May 24
Mostar → Dubrovnik. The bus to Dubrovnik from Kardeljevo. Good day, evening concert in St. Grad (?), town walls

Day 40 … Monday, May 25
Dubrovnik. Hike out the coast, early to bed

Day 41 … Tuesday, May 26
Dubrovnik → Belgrade. 5:00 a.m. bus. K (strikeout) in Belgrade, punt … on 11:45 brzi to Skopje (arriving Wednesday)

Then as now, the rail line from Mostar to the Adriatic Sea ends at a port town. At the time, it was called Kardeljevo, named for a prominent Communist economist from Slovenia who died in 1979. Since the 1990s, Kardeljevo has reverted to its pre-Yugoslav identity as Ploče.

Kardeljevo’s train and bus stations were side by side, and after a short wait, it cost a couple of bucks and took three or so hours to ride the bus to Dubrovnik.

On the way, we’d have passed through the minor seaside town of Neum, which meant little in terms of socialist Yugoslavia. I don’t remember it at all. However, thirty years later Neum is otherwise landlocked Bosnia-Herzegovina’s only connection to the Adriatic, albeit a port suited more for pleasure craft than larger scale shipping.

It seems that during Ottoman times, the sultan wrested a short stretch of coast from what was left of Ragusa, or modern Dubrovnik — once a mighty trading colossus with territories snaking up the water’s edge in what is now Croatia.

When current boundaries were drawn after the Balkan wars, Bosnia-Herzegovina was awarded access to the sea via a 20-kilometer stretch with Neum in the middle — and the highway from Ploče and Dubrovnik running right through it.

In 1987, my bus rolled through the vicinity with nary a pause, perhaps stopping in Neum to swap passengers. In 2017, there are international borders to negotiate on both sides of the town, and to evade them, Croatia threatens to build a massive bridge and roadway from north to south via the adjacent peninsula — which Bosnia-Herzegovina duly opposes. The oft-delayed project supposedly is a “go,” although it remains moribund.

Dubrovnik certainly was well known to savvy visitors in Yugoslav times, as was the country’s then underdeveloped and still spectacular Adriatic coastline, which was host to a disproportionate number of nude beaches (no dummies, those Titoists).

To be sure, there were far fewer American than Western European vacationers, particularly German and French. These days, other factors have come into play.

‘Game of Thrones’ Tourists Are Besieging Dubrovnik, by Kriston Capps (CityLab)

The medieval city in Croatia is having a geek-culture moment as the setting for King’s Landing in the HBO series (not to mention the new Star Wars movie). But not everyone appreciates all the attention … The city has survived every war that the Balkan Peninsula has delivered to its doorsteps, but a different force now threatens: tourism.

In 1979, UNESCO World Heritage status was conferred on Dubrovnik’s walled Old Town; unfortunately, this meant little to Serbian and Montenegrin military units, which shelled the city in 1991, damaging more than 50% of the historic buildings. Repairs continued through the 1990s, and it is said that nowadays the only discernible evidence of the damage is roof tiles of a slightly different shade.

There was a woman waiting at the bus station to hawk her overnight lodgings. We rode a local bus to the suburbs, roughly a mile’s walk from the Old Town. The room was affordable, and I had a day and a half to explore, beginning in the center.

Massive medieval walls connect with the Minčeta Tower (right of center), built in the 15th century as a major component of Dubrovnik’s defenses.

The Old Town from the walls.

The Stradun (main street) in 1987 …

 … and today.

I’m clueless about my reference to “St. Grad.” Was it the beer? My best guess is that it means the Church of St. Saviour, although I remember nothing about the concert.

Next, the Monday walk along the coast.

Something about this random street scene has always stayed with me.

This bad photo shows three of the beers I drank while in Dubrovnik, probably on Sunday night. There is a vague recollection of purchasing grilled sardines from a street stand, a fresh loaf, and these beers — and feasting back in the room.

I have few regrets from these early years of my travels. It’s clear to me that there were many more options than available time, with inexperience coming into play, and the necessity of adhering to a budget. There was no wiggle room when it came to money.

Still, decades later, I can’t explain my decision to abandon the seacoast for Belgrade after only two nights in Dubrovnik. Granted, the room in Dubrovnik was a bit more than I wanted to pay, but what hadn’t yet dawned on me was the likelihood of a 45-minute bus ride in any direction resulting in completely untouristed (and cheap) villages.

If it did occur to me, perhaps it was a bit too frightening a prospect to abandon the more populated areas. I regret not doing so, although I’ll always cherish the experiences I had … and can remember.

Next: In route to Belgrade, a stop at the Tjentište War Memorial.