Dubrovnik: The Balkan Disneyworld

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Me on the (overpriced, but awesome!) Dubrovnik city wall walk.

I go to school in Williamsburg, Virginia, near the Busch Gardens amusement park. For some inexplicable reason, Busch Gardens is European-themed–you can catch the Griffin Rollercoaster in “France,” near a replica of the Eiffel Tower, down a pint in “Ireland” and enjoy an overpriced schnitzel in “Germany.” My sister calls Busch Garden’s “Poor Man’s Europe” (although, at $65 a ticket, I’ve only gone once during my two years at university–I’d rather save for a trip to the real Europe!), but visiting it is a surreal and slightly kitchy experience. I never thought I would feel like I was in Busch Gardens when I was actually in Europe, but then I visited Dubrovnik.

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I see this every time I walk down the street, and I think that Dubrovnik’s too touristy. That’s bad.

Don’t get me wrong–Dubrovnik has a lot of natural beauty, I’d take a swim in the Adriatic over a dip in the Atlantic any day, and the Old City looks phenomenal from the city walls. But–and this is a really big but–every swim in the beautiful sea and every stroll down Stradum, the main drag of the old city, is completely clogged with tourists. I love the history here (the history of independent Dubrovnik–Ragusa–is FASCINATING!) but it’s hard for me to get a feel for it inside the city walls when I’m constantly dodging overenthusiastic restauranteers and dropped ice cream cones. I’ve heard more English, Italian, German and Spanish than Croatian.When we pile on the bus between the hotel-filled Lapad Peninsula, where my dad and I are staying, and the Old City, packed with sunburned, confused tourists, I feel like I’m on a bus at Disneyworld.

I’m most disturbed by the lack of locals. I’m pretty sure I learned more about Croatia living with my Croatian host dad in Bosnia than I have in my three days here. According to our Rick Steves’s tour book (I have mixed feelings about Rick Steves, but my dad swears by him–I spilled water on the book in Mostar and my dad scolded me for “drowning Rick”) over half of the Old City’s 2,000 residents rent their apartments out during the summer and flee. I have trouble imagining that even 1,000 stay. With the exception of waiters and the hotel staff, I don’t think I’ve interacted with one Croatian since arriving here. I really want to find a bar, restaurant or beach that locals go to, but I don’t even know where to start looking.

The other thing I find really disturbing about Dubrovnik is the prices. Even though I miss my friends my own age, I’m so glad that I came here with my family–I would never be able to afford a single meal in this city. Prices here are absolutely outrageous–they’re comparable to New York City. For example, I’ve had big portions of cevapi (the Bosnian national dish, a type of sausage) in the Richmond, Virginia for around $8 or $9, and in Sarajevo for as little as 6 km (around $4). Here in Dubrovnik, cevapi will cost you around 80 kuna–$16! My dad and I are limiting ourselves to only one meal a day outside our hotel breakfast (ice cream here is pretty reasonable and makes a good lucnh!), but the only reason we can afford even this is because we both work on American salaries.

Unfortunately, the prices in Dubrovnik are becoming too high for the Bosnian families who have come to the beach here for generations to afford it anymore. A “good” salary in Bosnia, a salary that allows people to live very comfortably in Sarajevo, would be gone in less than a day in Dubrovnik. Although some families are rescheduling their sea vacations to Bosnian’s only coastal town, Neum, many are forgoing trips to the sea entirely. I can relate to this on a smaller scale–I can no longer afford beach passes at Avon by the Sea, where I spent every Friday of my childhood–but at least I live close enough to the Jersey shore to take day trips and there are enough beaches along the shore to provide competition. It makes me so mad that after all Bosnia has gone through, now its people can’t even afford to go to the coast to relax anymore. Dubrovnik’s prices have only risen in the past ten years, mainly as the result of the influx of European tourists, and it just really sucks that now most Bosnians either can’t afford to travel here at all or, when they do, probably find it completely cluttered with clueless tourists.

Overall, I’m not thrilled with Dubrovnik. I’m glad that I visited here, because it really is quite beautiful and I definitely needed a few days of just sitting on the beach. It’s also been really interesting for me to visit a post-Yugo country that’s so completely different from Bosnia, and I’ve enjoyed learning about the siege of Dubrovnik during the war. I highly recommend that future Bosnia Project participants take the trip. Nevertheless, this is the only place in Europe I’ve ever been to that I really wouldn’t care if I never returned. It’s a lot cleanier and glitzier than Sarajevo, but I would pick Sarajevo any day over Dubrovnik.

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