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New Europe

Day Nineteen: Dubrovnik

Coffee with Branka Franicevic 
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Coffee with my guide Branka, at a Stradun-side café.
Michael Palin - New EuropeFrightening though it must have been to have 2,000 shells lobbed, with fiendish arbitrariness, into such a confined area, nothing here came close to the suffering inflicted on Sarajevo. Within months of the siege being lifted, seventy per cent of the roofs were relaid, the stonework was patched up and Dubrovnik was back in business.

As if to illustrate the point, a tidal wave of tourists pours through the Pile Gate, the western entrance to the Old Town, and within minutes the Stradun is filled with wall-to-wall sightseers.

Branka and many other locals feel that it is the cruise ships that are overwhelming the old town. From one vessel alone, up to 2,500 visitors can spill into the narrow streets, spending, as she points out, an average of only 13 euros each, whereas those staying in hotels and pensions on land spend over 100 each. There is pressure from many who love the old city to limit the size of the ships in order to preserve its character. This may be one of the very few instances of a city legislating against its own appeal, but Dubrovnik/Ragusa has an honourable and progressive tradition of civic pride. The writer Dervla Murphy notes that the city introduced Europe's first garbage collection, a drinking water system with fines for pollution, abolished torture in the seventeenth century, the slave trade in the fifteenth century and never allowed the Inquisition within its walls. They have had pedestrianisation for hundreds of years. Rationing tourists shouldn't be beyond this redoubtable city.

A torrential downpour clears the streets more effectively than any legislation, leaving the Stradun's shiny smooth paving - limestone from the island of Korcula, a dozen miles away to the north-west - glistening in fresh sunshine.

Later I swim in a cool Adriatic with smells of grilling fish wafting out from the shore and a hazy lemon sunset replacing the baleful clouds of yesterday.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Nineteen: Dubrovnik
  • Country/sea: Croatia
  • Place: Dubrovnik
  • Book page no: 49

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