Finally in Dubrovnik
I got to Dubrovnik yesterday after a 20 hour ferry ride from Rijeka. The Marko Polo ferry is nice enough, though it doesn't compare to the MV Explorer (the ship I was on for Semester at Sea). I had a cabin that was fine but a bit dingy. But still, twenty hours packed in with nothing but tourists (from Germany, France, England, the U.S. and elsewhere) was a bit much, and tiring. Along the way there was plenty of pretty scenery, of the rocky, mountainous coast and the endless string of 1,000 islands. Being outside, though, was windy and sometimes too sunny. I saw an awfully large number of tourists toward the end of the voyage who were burnt to a crisp.
I picked out a place on the internet to stay in here in Dubrovnik and it turns out to be ideally located (right in the best part of old town), very friendly, and comfortable, plus it is pretty cheap for here (about $36 a night). In terms of my overall impression of Dubrovnik, I couldn't use enough superlatives. It's beautiful and interesting, though also packed with tourists. Still, although I feel like the streets and various sites are choked with tourists now, it is apparently MUCH more crowded in July and August (the main tourist season and also when the lauded Dubrovnik festival occurs). The weather is also great in spite of predicted rain. It's in the 60's and sunny. I walked the whole circuit of the city walls this morning. These walls, built in the 13th through 16th centuries (later re-built at various times), are limestone (white), as is most of the town, and circle all of old town, offering endless spectacular views of the red clay tiled roofs of the old town, the sea, various fortresses, and the many little streets inside oldtown and outer areas of Dubrovnik. I spent a good 2 and 1/2 hours on the walls (it usually takes 1 hour I guess) and got lots of photos along with soaking up lots of atmosphere.
Then I had a pizza lunch (typical for Croatia) and have been wandering streets all afternoon (as I did yesterday afternoon and evening). It seems that every corner you turn and every little square and tiny street you stumble upon offers something of interest, weather lovely statues carved into the architecture, a grape arbor over a terrace, roses or other flowers growing, cats sleeping in the sunshine on a wall, or even someone's laundry hanging out over what looks to me like wild sage growing. I've also visited a number of churches and museums, including two monasteries with beautiful cloisters and museums. The cloisters (one Franciscan, one Dominican) have each had orange trees growing in the cloisters with big oranges hanging on the brances. They also have in their reliquaries or museums little body part reliquaries. These are ornately filagreed and decorated silver, enjeweled cases, often here in Croatia in the shape of body parts (like an arm, a foot, a leg, a finger, even a head). That reliquary holds parts (or maybe THE part that it's in the shape of) of whatever saint it honors. Although it may sound gruesome these reliquaries are actually quite beautifully worked and well worth seeing. Yesterday I saw a head reliquary of Saint Ursula. I wanted to get a picture for my friend Ursula, but they did not allow photos and sold no postcards of it.
I've also seen a number of very fine icons, including some in the inside of an orthodox church today. Another churchly phenomenon that I've often noticed here is that statues, chapels and other religious iconic art is often highly decorated, with flowers, candles, sometimes other art, especially statues or paintings of Mary. I've seen more examples of this here, including one church that had a whole sort of grotto devoted to a statue of Mary. There were many little niches therein full of flowers and plants, and then a bunch of candles out front. And in the Orthodox church there was a middle aisle of the floor that was stone with a sort of little altar to Mary set up in the middle of this aisle. Then there were wooden floors on either side of this where normally you'd expect to see chairs or pews. But these wooden floors were empty except for some dried flowers sprinkled all over them. Maybe there had been a wedding or something. One thing different about Orthodox churches (if you haven't seen one) is that usually there is a "screen" between the main part of the church and the altar. The screen is often heavily decorated with paintings (like icons), crosses, and other religious art.
Tomorrow I may go to an island which is also a national park -- Mjlet. Then Tuesday I'll continue touring around here. Wednesday I will likely go to Montenegro (Kotor area) on a bus tour (which appears to be about the only way to get there for a day trip).