I fear that our concerns about cruising are validated.
The Queen Victoria sailed into Dubrovnic just after sunrise, and we jumped out of bed to watch our huge ship approach the port and tie up to the terminal. The ship approached the dock at a nearly imperceptible speed, then spun around to berth just in front of the Aida Belle, which had already taken its space on the terminal. We watched the shore side crew take the messenger lines and lug the main ties to the dock and the cleats.
We had chosen not to take any of the organized tours, rather to eat a leisurely breakfast, then head out on our own into the old town of Dubrovnic. We were fortunate to be the last two on the bus, so no waiting at the dock and right off on the short trip from the cruise ship terminal to the drawbridge that delineates the old town.
Dubrovnic has been fought over and conquered by a number of countries and conquerors, as recently as less than two decades ago in the Serbian war that erupted following the breakup of Communist Yugoslavia. Today Croatia is a member of the EU but not before its most famous historical city was besieged, bombed and blasted. A large sign at the entrance to the old town maps the numbers of structures that were damaged and destroyed in the war of the early 1990s.
The historic old town of Dubrovnic is tiny but on this day the crowds from no fewer than at least five cruise ships filled it to crushing capacity. The steep narrow stairs leading to the walk around the old walls were jammed with tourists pushing to get in at the same time. As we made our way down the main street of Placa, we were slowed to a crawl by hordes of guided tour groups.
This is what happens when cruise ships disgorge thousands of curious tourists at once. And we were part of it.
We worked our way around the groups to explore the tiny town and found the Jesuit church dedicated to St. Ignatius, small but significant, simple on the exterior but tastefully Baroque in the interior. Being Jesuit trained for nine years, I enjoyed the visit.
Making our way through the narrow, steep streets and steps of the old town, we found a bar that promised a great view and cold beer. Just what we needed. What they didn’t mention was that they had no WiFi or working bathroom, took no credit cards and accepted payment only in a combination of Croatian kona and EU euros. I wound up paying 13.50 euros for two beers, about eight dollars US a piece. The official currency of Croatia is the kona, about seven to a euro, and they get you both ways on the currency exchange, because you can’t spend the kona anywhere else but right there. So you are nicked both buying and selling kona.
Our walks finally led us to the old port, where a row of young women aggressively hawked their harbor tour glass bottom boat excursions.
We finally chose one that was certainly not a traditional boat but was smaller than the rest. The boat itself resembled a floating spaceship with a glass bottom that revealed a foil under the bow. The boat was powered by a single outboard motor, and we quickly realized as we left the dock that there would be no commentary from the skipper, who simply pulled up his fender, slipped his line and took off on a wordless tour around the harbor.
The trip was about as interesting as a bowl of broth, but we did have a chance to view a few islands, all the while as I watched the bottom through the glass. But as pretty and clear as the water was, the bottom showed only nondescript rocks and grass, no fish, no corals, no reef, nothing of interest below at all.
After a couple of hours in old Dubrovnic, we had seen all we needed, so we made our way back to the bus and our ship to spend a delightful afternoon reading on our balcony while watching fellow passengers return in groups before we pulled away from the terminal at precisely 5:30 p.m. Almost imperceptivity, the Queen Victoria slipped her lines, and the powerful thrusters glided us off the dock.
Once free, the Queen Victoria quickly ramped up speed to 18 knots, nearly twice as fast as we have run before, for the 250 mile overnight journey to Corfu. I suspect we will inflict the same level of punishment to little Corfu as we did to Dubrovnic today.