We made our way through customs and started up the hill to our room. Night is falling. In retrospect, we might have walked right by my great, great grandfather’s house where my Grandmother’s sister lives with one of her daughters and family. My cousin Paula had put us in contact with our second cousin Andria Trojanovic. We had her email and phone number but not the street address. She, like many in Dubrovnik, works the guest industry and they work seven days a week, 8 months out of the year. Our ice cream seller let us know that he sleeps the first two months of that break. They would make time for us Sunday at 8:00 pm for dinner as another second cousin, Dijanne, would be coming into town Saturday. I say this because Joan booked our room a five-minute walk from their house without us knowing the address.
Our hostess helped us out with bus routes and store times. I picked up a few items just before the store closed at 9 or 21. They use Kunas so I would eventually have to change some money; but the store let me use my debit card. We decided to walk the half hour to the old city. We used a bank machine to exchange some money along the way. The first sight is overwhelming. This was a Friday night about 10 or 22 and it was wall to wall people along the different sized avenues running through the old city. We were a bit overwhelmed and had already eaten twice on the ferry so we did some walking around, found out the wall walks closed at 7 or 19 and headed home on the #8 bus. We knew to buy our ticket at the small stand at the bus stop instead of on the bus. We got a single pass ticket there, but after this we would purchase 24-hour passes.
We were moving a bit slow the next morning. We caught our bus and stayed on it as it passed by the old walled city. It stopped at the south end and would wait 30 minutes before heading back. We decided to keep walking south overlooking the Adriatic and explore. The city truly is breathtaking and it is majestic. Its history is fascinating as it maintained itself as an independent kingdom much like Venice until the Napoleonic wars. The treaties that would determine its fate rested in the hands of Alexander of Russia whose envoy to Dubrovnik hadn’t even been allowed an Orthodox chapel in the militant Catholic city. He turned Dubrovnik over to the Austrians.
The bus map had mentioned Villa Dubrovnik which I assumed was this huge building placed on a point of land jutting out into the sea south of the city. The road would end there; but the building was a wreck. We would later learn that it had been bombed during the 1991 war and had never been rebuilt. Adriana had worked here before the war. We went through an ajar gate that I thought might lead us to a beach full of people we had seen from above. Joan had added “swimming in the Adriatic” to our life that morning, so we had brought swimming suits.
Down and down we wound passing by buildings and openings that at one time would be perfect places to dine and view the old city in the distance. We came to a final checkerboard swimming pool and passed by a caretaker office. He was there with his girlfriend. I said “OK?” He said “enjoy”. We followed the steps to the furthest point of land leading to the sea. The steps took us right to the edge. We changed and had our own private swim in the Adriatic.
We made our way back eating the ripe figs from the trees, delicious dark purple and yellow figs. We passed by the beach and then found the real Villa Dubrovnik. The entry way was a single elevator. A chauffer was there and we asked him if we could get a coffee there. He said “I don’t see why not. Give it a try.” And we did. We were welcomed and treated as guests at a first-rate hotel. The table talk at the table next to us included “When I worked with a Vice-President”. We (I) decided to have our coffee as well as some lunch that would include “macarula” just as my Mom had made it. This trip would be full of faces that remind me of my mother as well as words and foods, especially the figs. We made it to the old city, walked a bit, had some ice cream and decided to come back that night to give it a better look. We took the bus home for a rest.
Ariana had given us a time to meet and I now had the street name without the address. Joan and I took a walk up and down the street (a set of stairs going up and down the hillside). I felt no chills running down my back but it was fun just the same wondering which place was the house. We kept walking parallel to our street when we passed a sign for a Baptist church. Using translator and the camera we saw that services were Wed. and Sunday at 18 hours. We decided to make church the next night. We bought some coffee and fluids returned to the room and headed back down to the city.
We entered in, got some ice cream, walked a bit and then were captivated by the alleyway towering above us. The city sits upon an old canal that divides it. From that low it climbs in both directions. We started the climb up the stairs to finish our ice cream at the top. We were close to one corner. We walked along that top just below the walls and made our way back down to flat ground. We passed by a palace of sorts where a symphony was being performed inside. We could pay and hear the second part but decided to explore the areas under the walls around the entire city.
What do we want? We are not looking to buy anything. We are not hungry. We just want to be there with each other. I think that about sums up my married life. The walk around the base of the walls takes you through neighborhoods as well as guesthouses and out of the way places. The most famous one we came upon was the “hole in the wall”. There are two, one is a fine dining experience the other is a place for drinks and snacks, no coffee and no bathrooms, because it has no running water. This is the place you can dive from the rocks into the Adriatic outside the city walls. Earlier when we were in the main avenue of the city we were swept along with a wedding party. It was a led by a man waving a Croatian flag to make room for the wedding party following. Musicians are walking and playing and all the guests are making it an army moving through the city. They would stop, sing a familiar song that everyone knew, have a drink, take a kiss and move on singing again. We let them go as they parted out the north gates. At the northwest corner of our exploration we heard what sounded like a “how to be happy talk”. It turned out to be the best man’s speech in English and Croatian for the wedding party. They had moved from the old city to a castle across the way with a narrow water entrance in between. This is Saturday night, it would be Monday morning that we would walk the walls and see all the nooks and crannies we had explored. Home late again.
Sunday, washing day, as I type this I am reminded of our visit to a black church in Seattle with a visiting evangelist from Louisiana. The theme of his sermon was “It’s washing day”. He preached and he preached well. About two thirds through the sermon the base player came up and joined him and his melodic preaching became almost singing. Then the keyboard player joined them as well as the guitar and drums and he sang the final fifteen minutes of his sermon. That is something I would like to do someday. We washed clothes, made Turkish coffee with the strudel we bought from the bakery. We decided to take the tram above the city, make church and meet my family at 20 hours.
The tram takes you above the city to a fort that Napoleon’s generals built. I read Rebecca West’s travelogue of her trip through Yugoslavia just before WW2. I read till she left Dubrovnik. Her friends in Zagreb were pictures of the problems that resulted in the 1991 war where the Serbs tried to keep Yugoslavia together and the Croats and others wanted separate nations. The problem was that the Serbs, being the most powerful (they had defeated the Turks as well as the Austrians) held the ruling positions in Croatia as well as the other parts of Yugoslavia. Rebecca West didn’t like Dubrovnik’s pet alliance with the Vatican and it showed in her writing. Dubrovnik, the home found by the wandering Jews that would help make it great, was about to be (she traveled in 1938) part of Croatia’s choosing to side with the Nazi’s with the church’s blessing. Tito became the leader of the resistance, a successful resistance, the enemy of Croatia’s declared independent nation and a hero to the Jews who he helped; with 2000 Jews fighting with him against the Nazi’s. I believe that the nation, person or institution that blesses the Jews will receive blessing from God and a curse to those who curse them. The Croat/Catholic government of WW2 cursed the Jews and Tito’s resistance blessed them.
As we are seeing in Iraq as well as the former Soviet Union it is difficult to require different people groups to be one. Croats do not like Serbs and Serbs do not like Croats. (That’s why the democrats strategy of dividing all Americans into tribes is demonic.) The Croats declared independence in 1991. The war that ensued was not pretty. Part of that war entailed Serbia attacking Dubrovnik. When their final offensive against the fort on top of the hill failed (35 men resisted inside the fort) they began to bomb the old city. This got international attention. The final assault against the fort was Dec. 6 and they started bombing the city Dec. 7th. A cease fire would be issued and partially followed in January or February. The next cease fire would be worded is such a way that the Croatians were allowed to drive out the Serbs from the mountains surrounding Dubrovnik. The tram takes you to the ruins of the fort and the presentations within the fort do a good job of detailing the war.
We chose to walk down in the heat. Made our way to a simple fish meal in the city. Three Croatian meals included some combination of potatoes, string beans, squash or chard. This is a childhood memory that I endeavor to keep alive in my own gardening. I love my potatoes, squash and string beans boiled up, possibly a sausage added, and then a little oil with salt and pepper. I think they call it elegant peasant food, the best there is. We made it through the city again, caught our bus and got ready for church.
We were greeted at the door. The church had an American pastor who had been in Croatia for 30 years. They were getting ready for a teaching series on the reformation to honor the 500th year of Martin Luther’s revelation. There evangelism plan is to place a bible in every home in Dubrovnik. They had two guitar players and a bongo drummer, beautiful music and beautiful singing. We had arrived at the same time as an German missionary to Vienna. He came with his wife and five children. He gave a testimony of his experiences in Austria that included a prayer request for his children because of school prejudices and for Austrian men in his 100 plus church to begin to rise up and be men of God.
More songs, testimonies and prayers and then I was asked to speak. I had already showed the associate pastor, a Croat with the last name of McCandish (father was Scottish), the one-minute bible study on my phone and the pastor had said I could present it to the church. I gave a short presentation and had one of the members of the church choose a study and read it to the church. I describe Dorothy using the one-minute bible study. I have done this several times now. The doctors said she wouldn’t live, she lives; the doctors said she would never walk, she walks; the doctors said she would never be able to live alone in her house, she does! I describe our outreach using the word as seed, not returning void, the spoken word of God that is able to see into the heart all as the mission of the church to uphold the truth. There is something powerful about each of these verses spoken with a translator translating. Church ended, giving us 10 minutes to get over to my Great Grandfathers house. I quickly put the bible study page on the pastor from Vienna’s and the Associate pastor’s phones, one in German the other in Croat. We said some quick goodbye’s and then headed for my relative’s house.
Ariana greeted us along with her two dogs. Her sons were out and about; but her sister Dijane from Canada was there along with their mother, Mara. I thought it would be a get together where the English speakers were the minority; instead it was all English with Mara struggling with the language gap. Paula had given them a heads up about our religious bent so it became natural for that to become the topic of conversation. It was nice to talk about my mother, my aunts and especially Uncle George who they greatly admired. We had mentioned the Baptist church that we had visited and as the evening unfolded Ariana let us know that she knew of the church as well that she had visited a Baptist church with a friend.
Both Ariana and Dijane had worked at the Belvedere Hotel (the abandoned hotel where Joan and I went swimming) before the war. Dijane’s husband had been a soldier during the war. They all left Dubrovnik as refugees during the war with Mara staying behind with her aging mother in the house. Dijane asked her husband to take the family to Canada where Mara’s husband had moved to after divorcing Mara. They still own an apartment that they rent out and stay in an attic room when they visit. I got a little history about my Great Grandfather, Jacob. (We have just met with our third Jacob, a German-Croatian 12-year-old who hacked into my computer here on the train to Zurich calling me by my name Kevin). Grandfather Jacob had impregnated his future wife. He was not allowed to marry because his older brother had not married yet. I am not sure about all of the details as to why, but he was given the money to go to America on a ship. He boarded the ship, got his money back, left the ship and bought this piece of property that we were now having dinner at. He would build the house, that would be added onto as the years unfolded with always three generations living there. He would happily be married and live a good life.
It was a very pleasant evening. I enjoyed recounting my memories of Croatian life in America. I enjoyed Mara’s reaction to the mention of my Mom’s name. It was enjoyable describing her funeral with the 4 priests and me allowed to speak as a Protestant: “Can a Protestant Go To Heaven?”. The conversation flowed enough to hardly give time to enjoy the lavish dishes they had prepared. Chicken, pork, sausage, salad, potatoes, vegetables, grapes, peaches, figs and some nice ice cream for desert. We had arrived at 8 or 20. Ariana’s husband Lukshaw was still working and Ariana needed to get up work again tomorrow, 8 months without a break. At around 11 or 23 we began saying our good-byes. It was just an enjoyable experience made even more joyful by Ariana, Dijana and Mara’s good graces.
We got up early the next morning, walked the walls of Dubrovnik, visited a open air market and returned home to pack up and check out at 12. Our hostess allowed us to keep our packs there and put our fruit in the shade. She even offered us a ride to our ferry for Split leaving at 4 or 16. We rode a bus to the docks to see where our passenger only hydrofoil would be taking off from. We had bought our tickets online and found everything in order but they wanted us there earlier than we had told our hostess. We rode around the parts of the city we had not seen on a different bus route, returned home and picked up our packs. I left a note of thanks to our hostess, letting her know that we were walking. We caught the number 3 bus that dropped us right at our ferry. Joan bought some water and bread and we were off to Split stopping at the Adriatic islands along the way. We would get in around 9 or 21, spend the night and take the train at 8 for Zagreb. Dubrovnik was great!