Woke up briefly just after 5.00am to the rumbling of the Solaris‘ engines as she put to sea once more. I had no difficulty falling asleep again, rocked by the vessel’s motion, before the alarm went off at half seven, giving us half an hour to be ready to go up for breakfast. As we stepped outside cabin 15, we were blasted by the wind as we made our way along the ‘promenade deck’ and up the stairs to the dining room.
Kapitän Ante had informed us yesterday that it would be three o’clock before we reached Dubrovnik, so we had a fair few hours to spend at sea, bouncing up and down on a choppy Adriatic. Such things never affect Trevor and me, so we tucked into a hearty breakfast of muesli, charcuterie and cheese, washed down with coffee. Several passengers were missing from the dining room this morning, and several others were sporting those anti-seasickness wristbands (not sure how those are supposed to work, to be honest).
Of course, small passenger vessels such as the Solaris don’t (and can’t) have all the facilities, entertainment, activities, lounges and bars that the big cruise ships have, and in one way that is absolutely part of their charm. Therefore, when spending hours at sea particularly in inclement weather, it’s up to us to make our own entertainment, and that is certainly no hardship. Passengers spent the time in the salon reading, chatting, enjoying a beer or two, or using the excellent onboard wifi to browse their tablets or Kindles. Every now and again someone would pop outside to see if there was any sign of the sunshine yet. 🙂
As the Solaris navigated her way through the channels and bays, some sheltered by mountains, it was interesting to see how the temperament of the sea changed. At one stage the Solaris set off dancing a merry polka, and we could hear the crashing and banging as anything that wasn’t bolted down or tethered fell over or crashed to the floor. Just before lunch, as Trevor and I were taking our things back to the cabin a deck below the salon, it really was quite a feat to descend the ladder-like stairs, holding tightly with both hands to the railings on either side and gingerly stepping down while trying to counteract the rocking and rolling of the yacht.
When I reached the bottom, at the stern of the vessel, a sudden rolling of the Solaris sent me staggering to the starboard side. As I fought to regain my balance, a rather large cascade of sea spray covered me from head to foot. As I screamed and tried to get out of the way, an even larger wave reared up and over the side of the Solaris, completely drenching my jeans and the left side of my denim jacket. Several German passengers nearby were politely trying to suppress their giggles, but when they saw me laughing they all joined in. “Vas the vatter cold?” one of them asked me, smiling widely. Oh, the joys of life on the ocean waves! 🙂
There was nothing for it but to return to cabin 15 and get changed into dry clothes before lunch. 🙂
In the dining room, our table of six Brits was joined by a very pleasant older German couple who hailed from Munich. The gentleman spoke a little English and Jerry spoke a little German, so everyone was able to get by and we enjoyed a very tasty lunch of mushroom pasta followed by fried fish in breadcrumbs and fresh vegetables, washed down with the inevitable beer.
After lunch the sea appeared to calm down a bit, although the motion of the Solaris was still very discernible and it was now lashing down with rain. We passed the afternoon in its leisurely relaxing way, in good conversation with our new-found friends, before recharging our batteries with an afternoon power-nap.
Around 2.30pm we returned to the upper deck to watch the Solaris making her way into her berth just outside Dubrovnik, under a distinctive bridge called Most Franjo Tudjman, named after the first president of Croatia (whose statue we’d come across yesterday). Most is the Croatian word for ‘bridge’.
Once we’d made fast at the quayside, our guide, who introduced herself as Elizabeth, came on board and explained what would be happening. A couple of mini-buses would be taking us on an hour-long scenic ride into Dubrovnik city centre, complete with English commentary through earphones and photo stops on the way, then we would have a guided tour around the Old Town, within the famed city walls. Looking at the pouring rain, we tried to summon up as much enthusiasm as we could at the thought of walking for an hour in this, but hey – I could think of worse places to be than Dubrovnik in the rain! 🙂
The mini-bus set off and we listened to the description on our earphones while watching the raindrops sliding down the window. After 10 minutes or so, the bus pulled up for our first scenic photo stop, which also showcased the bridge with Solaris moored underneath. 🙂
Back on the bus, we looked out of the window as we continued into Dubrovnik to our drop-off point of Pile Gate. The rain appeared to have stopped for now, so we hoped it would keep away for a good few hours longer, particularly as the temperature was a balmy 23°C. On the winding coastal road towards the city, we stopped for another photo opportunity, a wonderful view of the whole of the Old Town.
Finally we pulled up at Pile Gate, the main entrance into the walled city. Buses, taxis and private vehicles were coming and going at regular intervals; you are only allowed to stay for a maximum of three minutes here, so everyone had to alight from the bus quickly. It was with a sense of déjà vu that we took in our immediate surroundings; we were, after all, only here 11 months ago. While the weather might not have been as good as it was then, one distinct advantage was the absence of the crowds; the real tourist season runs from July to September.
Elizabeth, our guide, led us through Pile Gate, under the statue of St. Blaise who is the patron saint of Croatia.
We love Dubrovnik; this is our fourth visit. It is such a wonderful old city with its nearby islands, towers, crennelated walls, old churches and smooth stone floors. Several of the narrow streets ran parallel to each other, some opening onto squares containing pavement cafés and restaurants; one square contained an ornate water fountain (Onofrio’s Fountain) which dated from 1438, from which spring water was pumped; you could refill your water bottle with the crystal clear water if you wanted.
We continued our tour; our guide was wonderful and didn’t overload our brains with too many historical details; just enough to whet our appetites and make us want to look it all up later (which I tend to do). We walked to the harbour front and gazed at the rugged hillsides, the rocky shoreline, the characteristic buildings and the many small boats bobbing. We recognised the three distinctive arches as a restaurant we’d had lunch in last year.
Around six o’clock Elizabeth concluded our tour and said we had until 8.15pm before the bus would return to Pile Gate to pick us up and take us back to the yacht. We could, of course, stay as long as we liked and get a taxi back; “tell the taxi driver you want to be ‘under the bridge'”, explained Elizabeth. 🙂
We found ourselves in a large sqaure with a distinctive bell tower and clock. The tower, originally constructed in 1444, was destroyed by earthquake in 1667 and rebuilt. As it then started to lean in the early 19th century it was demolished in 1928 and rebuilt to the original design in 1929. It was severely damaged once again in the 1979 earthquake and restored in 1987-88.
By now, several of us felt we could use a drink and avail ourselves of the restrooms, so we wandered around looking for a bar, proprietors of several restaurants trying to tempt us into their establishments. We decided on an Irish bar and all trooped upstairs. Trevor and I ordered a cold Guinness each; we didn’t really want anything to eat after our large lunch, although a snack would do. In the end, we shared a bowl of chips.
Afterwards, Gaynor introduced me to the phenomenon of Geocaching! I had never heard of this before and, when she showed me the app and what it entailed, I could not believe I’d never come across it! It’s fantastic, and right up my street. In a nutshell, you have to find a cache that someone else has hidden; there are clues in the app that direct you to where it is located, and the GPS tells you how many metres you are away. It’s a sort of treasure hunt; a bit like that TV programme The Crystal Maze. We looked on the app which told us that the cache was a mere 170 metres away; so we followed the clues and the trail and eventually found a hollow cylinder stashed in a hole, high up on one of the walls. Inside the cylinder was a ‘log book’ where you had to record your Geocache user name and the date. You then logged in the app that you’d successfully found it, whereupon a little smiley face symbol appeared on the map. Geocaches are all over the world, and looking at my home town of Durham City on the map, I saw that there were several in the area. How did I not know about this before?! 🙂
We then decided it was time to start making our way back to Pile Gate for the return of the bus. We had time for one of the wonderful Croatian ice-creams, and we all sat on the wall and enjoyed our cones, while other passengers from the Solaris who’d come on different buses (such as the German-speaking folks who needed a different guide) all arrived, and we waited for the large coach to take us all back “under the bridge”. 🙂
By now, darkness had descended and the bridge looked lovely, all lit up. We had to get some photos of the Solaris; the first chance I’d had to get all the yacht into the picture.
We weren’t ready to go back on board yet, however, so we had a quick look at Google Maps and determined that there were a couple of bars up the street, less than half a mile away. We asked Jerry and Gaynor if they wanted to come too, and they said they’d join us later on.
The weather, by now, was much more how we expected Croatia to be. The night was perfectly calm, the rain had stopped, and the air was still a comfortable 23°C. We found a little bar, called Bistro 49, and ordered a large beer each. A couple of minutes later Jerry and Gaynor appeared and we sat and talked over the events of the day, reminisced, and showed each other photos of previous travels.
We each partook of another drink before taking the short stroll back to the yacht, walking under the bridge that looked wonderful under the black sky.
It was now after midnight and we’d had an excellent day (despite the weather!) so we decided to turn in. But not before taking some more photos of the bridge, the lights reflecting beautifully on the water. Then it was back to cabin 15 and a good night’s sleep; we looked forward to what tomorrow would bring. 🙂