March 9 – December 9, 2021 (All year)
Here are the most Instagram-worthy shots of our long and arduous stay in Croatia’s most overrated tourist trap.
This post is about our 2021 stay in Dubrovnik. Read about our 2016 visit here.
We spent nearly a year living in Mokošica, a tiny village on the outskirts of Dubrovnik. Home to a tight-knit community beset by a frequent churn of short-term vacationers, we were a weird third quantity they couldn’t place. We’re foreigners, but we didn’t leave? Ultimately whether we kept to ourselves by choice or whether that choice was thrust upon us is immaterial – we were on our own here.
Our home was a compact three-story house in the very center of town. From our top floor, we could see clear across the valley of the Rijeka Dubrovačka.
Walking was our main entertainment, as usual. The Rijeka is inarguably beautiful. But after the unparalleled beachfront walks on Hvar, sharing a winding street with aggressive local drivers was a major downgrade. The Franciscan Monastery was a convenient turnaround for shorter (6km round trip) walks.
Holding out a bit longer (8km RT) brought us to the beautiful Bistro Izvor. A decent cup of coffee served as a welcome reward on morning walks.
The principle draw is the amazing setting on the Ombla, claimed to be the shortest river in the world.
At the other end of the Rijeka Dubrovačka is Franjo Tuđman bridge. During the high season it’s often backed up with long lines of German pensioners and even serves as a bungee jumping platform. We hiked up to the towering span and across its perilously-thin sidewalk to get to the supermarket.
If we rounded around the east end of the valley, we could reach the marina in Komolac on our more adventurous days (10km RT).
There’s a particularly lovely trail above Sustjepan, opposite the river from Mokošica. It follows a former railroad track – wide and with an easy grade. However, to get to it we had to brave a winding, busy road behind Komolac.
The western end of the trail popped out under the bridge✨, overlooking the cruise terminal and the uninhabited Daksa Island.
Srd looms over Dubrovnik. Though there is a popular cable car up the mountain, we preferred to hike. These are arguably the best views of Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island, framed by the blue Adriatic sea.
From inside the walls, the city feels like a maze. The narrow streets and stairs branch off the Stradun and vanish up crowded hills. Most famous are the Jesuit Stairs, known for the “shame, shame” scene from Game of Thrones.
Dubrovnik in the offseason can feel less like a living city and more like an abandoned theme park. Overpriced tourist haunts shutter without a fresh supply of rubes to bilk, and locals crowd into the few year-round establishments as if clinging to a life raft.
Restaurants in Dubrovnik range from disgusting tourist traps at worst to decent but price-discriminatingat best. Trattoria Carmen, then, was an extreme outlier. Absolutely stellar grilled fish platter for two, at a price that was more than fair.
We were regularly denied benefits that should have been available to all local residents, from free access to the famous city walls to discounted bus tickets. But the ferry to Lokrum Island, at least, did not discriminate. We made use of it several times over the summer, popping into the nearby Life According to KAWA to snap up refreshments to pair with our island picnics.
Cruise traffic was reduced thanks to Covid, but not eliminated. “Only” one or two a day came through. But they only stuck around during the day, so nights, even in the center near St. Blaise’s Church, were relatively calm for summer.
What pandemic? As the season picked up, the once empty Stradun filled shoulder-to-shoulder in spite of the ongoing public health crisis. Despite having had it once already (or maybe because of it), we shied away from the mobs until we could secure our vaccinations.
Possibly the kitschiest attraction is a ride on an old-timey karaka. The Tirena often docked near our home, but floated out for sunset tours.
A local group claiming that Dubrovnik didn’t have to be ruinously expensive sponsored a ride on it for nomads and expats free of charge. We jumped at the chance. Kitschy or not, fun’s fun! (And free’s free!)
The pirate ship set the mood with (surely legally licensed) renditions of the Pirates of the Caribbean score. The short route around the city walls was a blast, and offered a great view that as non-yacht-owners we wouldn’t normally get to experience.
After an agonizing wait, our numbers came in and we got two doses of Pfizer. Covid passports were only a thing in Croatia for the briefest of flashes (and weren’t well-implemented or respected when seen), but the document was worth its weight in gold elsewhere on the continent. Not to mention the immune system boost.
Our nearest real supermarket, the Konzum in Gruž, was an hour hike up steep mountain and across the bridge, which closed during bad/windy weather.
Otherwise it was a 10km trek around the entire valley (or more typically, a half hour ride on a bus). Gruž wasn’t our favorite place – the pervasive sewer smell was so overpowering we took to calling other offensive smells “Gružy” – but as the only option in anything resembling walking range, we had to make due.
But the boonies weren’t entirely devoid of walkable attractions. We had a lovely anniversary dinner at Konoba Knez, enjoying slow cooked “under the bell” meats and local cheeses.
Even simple errands required at least a trek to neighboring Nova Mokošica. It had the local post office, pharmacy, and small-to-medium grocery shops. But at thirty minute’s walk each way, carrying more than the day’s shopping was a chore.
The cliffs that define the Rijeka valley are stunning. But being hemmed in on all sides, it was often not possible to tell the weather was turning until too late.
The rain caught us out more than once. In summer the rain was usually little more than a refreshing shower. But once the season began to change, the storms grew more serious and we paid for our complacency with soaked shoes.
It seemed the clouds themselves felt as trapped as we did in this picturesque little valley. They struggled to climb out the cragged cliffs, falling over themselves to flee.
Over time days grew less hot, buses less crowded, and we found moments of charm and beauty in the solitude.
On our first visit to Dubrovnik, our home in Babin Kuk had a stunning view of the valley we now called home. Back then we wrote “when the sun hits that ridge just right, these hills sing,” and we stand by that. Through a camera lens, with the right lighting, this place is objectively and inarguably beautiful.
It’s not like we didn’t try to like Dubrovnik. During our long time here, we explored nearly everything there was to explore, from Ston to Cavtat. It just was not for us. I’d go one step further, actually, and reaffirm our judgement from all those years ago. This is a bad place for digital nomads.
The nomad in residence↗ program came and went, in the end nothing more than an advertising campaign, a publicity stunt. Serious complaints about cost of living, poor internet and lack of coworking spaces, and the seasonal nature of life (either come when everything is closed & there’s nothing to do, or come in peak season and compete with every pensioner on the continent for lodging) were handwaved away and quickly dismissed. Many less lucky than us are denied or kicked out of long-term accommodations as hosts try to squeeze a year’s earnings out of two and a half months of high season.
The idea to attract DNs to smooth that out, to “flatten the curve,” wasn’t a bad one. Some folks would surely be willing to compromise a bit on amenities for the opportunity. But the practicalities – the bureaucratic hoops, needing a year’s lease to qualify, etc. make it untenable.
Anyway, as soon as the tourists started to come back all the talk of change was thrown out the window. The focus was back on how high the visitor numbers were, and bigger was celebrated as better. Officials paid lip service to curbing excess tourism, but it’s always more politically expedient to chase money in hand over sustainability.
So when our lease was up and our residency expired, we left for greener pastures.
We said goodbye to the friends we’d made.
We visited our favorite haunts, shuttered again for the off-season.
And we took in a few last Instagram-worthy sunsets at Lovrijenac and other vistas.
Advent Season geared up right as we prepared to leave, offering a glimmer of life in the otherwise slow season.
Our lives once more packed onto our backs, we set out on the road.