Dubrovnik’s City Walls

(This is the second post of our Croatia-Budapest Trip, June-July 2014.)

(Thanks to F. W. Carter for this map.)

Dubrovnik once was two cities, divided by the sea: Ragusium and Dubrovnik.  Over time the canal between them filled in and after an earthquake in the seventeenth century, the city’s wide thoroughfare, the Stradun, was straightened out and rebuilt.  After I read this in my guidebook (and elsewhere) the use of the word I was seeing everywhere (Ragusa/Ragusium) made sense to me, as well as the shape of the city: shaped like a snowboard half-pipe, with the Stradun (or Placa as some of the locals call it apparently), being the lower flat portion between two sloping sides.  And which also explains why the task we had before us that day, to climb around the City Walls (up then down then up then down), meant it was StairMaster time for the tourists.

Gundulic Square Day 2_Dubrovnik

I was awakened early by what sounded like someone setting up for a church supper: tables being set up and chairs being set around.

Gundulic Square_1 Day 2_Dubrovnik

I was partially right.  They were setting up for the market.  I closed the shutters, and crawled back into our two-part bed: two twin beds shoved together, a common way to get a queen bed in Europe, and read emails, uploaded pictures on Instagram.  I soon heard another sound: it was pouring.

Breakfast

Dave and I dressed, and with umbrellas, went out to the market for some fruit (harder to do when it is all gestures and when you are NOT ALLOWED to touch anything–the seller is the only one that can touch their own fruit).  A Konsum grocery store (mini-sized) is also on this square and we ducked in to find some heaven: chocolate croissants just coming out of the oven.  We’ll take forty please.  Just kidding (sort of).  Two, please, and that loaf there with the seeds on top.  Point point point and she handed us our wares.  We picked up a yogurt–the first in a long selection of yogurts (all different) by Dave to see if they match up to his memory of an incredible yogurt he had on his travels in France some twenty-five-plus years ago (they never do)– and checked out.  We used our umbrellas to get across the tiny square because it was still raining hard.

Sobe in Dubrovnik_1

We climbed back up the four flights of steps to our room, with the last flight increasing in steepness because we figured we were really staying in the place’s attic.  We are still getting the light switches on the stairs mastered–some are automatic and some you turn on when you are at the top, then turn them off when you are at the bottom of the flight.

Sobe in Dubrovnik_2

 (The famous clothes closet, which figures into the narrative at a later time.)

Sobe in Dubrovnik_4

Our sobe came equipped with a tiny table and chairs and a tiny kitchen, so we ate breakfast here every day.  After our feast that morning, we got ready for the day.  “Rain!” (still) so we fell back asleep, awakened only when the sun started to break through the clouds.  We still hadn’t really meshed our internal clocks with what was going on outside, but when the sun woke up, we did too.  And then it was panic: it was after 10 a.m. and we wanted to climb the City Walls and now all the tourists were going to be there, too. . . ACK! hurry hurry to beat the tourists!  (Yes, I get the irony.)

Dominican Monastery Steps_below

We headed out toward the Ploce Gate, where the walls could be accessed, passing by what I believe is the Dominican Monastery.  Apparently heading out this direction we did the right thing, as several guide books mention this is the Way To Do The City Walls.  Start here, and then walk around.  We fork over our kunas to the guy in the window and step out. . .

City Walls_Dubrovnik_1

…to a gorgeous view of the small harbor to the west of the Stari Grad. The rain is gone, having washed the air clean.  It’s pleasant, warm (but not too hot), but I made sure our sunblock was slathered on and our water bottles were filled up to the brim before we tucked them in our backpack.

City Walls and Towers Dubrovnik

As you can see in this map, the city walls (in orange) have a series of Towers and landmarks, with three entrances and exits. Dave turned on his GPS-tracking program, Endomundo, which at the end of the walk looked like this:

Endomundo Map

Right.  But we begin:

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We wondered how these people felt with all of us tourists playing voyeurs, spying on their backyard with their lush green grasses.

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We were walking along the upper side of Dubrovnik, looking down on all the houses.  Because it is such a small town, we could spot where our sobe was, our “neighborhood,” and were anchored.

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We spy not only on the people who live in the city, but those tourists wanting to come on in.

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The walls kept this city safe for years, but were breached in the Bosnian-Serbian war, when the attacking forces sat on the hill above the city and pelted it with artillery.  By one gate they have a sign detailing every hit, and certainly the newly repaired roofs (the brighter colors) attest to the city’s desire to recover and reclaim its reputation as the Pearl of the Adriatic Sea.  In preparation for this trip, my father lent me a book about one traveler’s route around this sea, and the section on Croatia was dim, depressing and fairly morose in tone.  Great, I thought.  I’m going to a pit. (But I’m still glad I read it, as it helped me realize how far this city had fallen at one time.)  But I realized that if Rick Steves, the master of the middle-class tourist trade had put Dubrovnik on his itinerary, it was probably recovered enough that we could enjoy the city.

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Yes, these flowers are fake.  But I liked them anyway.

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Climbing up to the Minceta Tower, the highest point on the City Walls.  It’s at the upper left corner when looking at the (far above) map. And up there on the tower is where Dave and I had our photo taken (coming up).

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The walls are thick in this tower, and it’s shady and cooler than out on the deck, with great views of the Adriatic and the Croatian coastline.

City Walls_Dubrovnik_DAE ESE

Time for a tourist photo.  We were reminded to do this after one young woman prompted us for her photo shoot, and then she took one of us: glasses on, glasses off, chin up, chin down, turn this way and that.  It’s hard work to get those Christmas Card photos.

Dubrovnik City Walls_14

The view.

City Walls_Dubrovnik_12 boy studying

Leaving the tower, we saw this basketball court with a young man quietly studying, oblivious to the walkers high above him.  Dave and I remarked about the challenge of being able to live freely in a town so land-locked, so filled with The Other (us tourists) and perhaps the only way is to live a separate, shadow life apart.  I found out about that divide on our last morning when I hoped to take a photo of some children playing soccer in front of the church.  I approached them, held up my camera and asked “Photo?”  “NO!” the young boy yelled.  I persisted, holding up my finger, “One photo?”  This time all the boys playing turned and yelled “NO!”  I got the message, and secretly applauded their parents for teaching them how to deal with invasive tourists who want to take photos of young soccer players.  I snapped them surreptitiously as I walked away, as they were now involved in their game and back to ignoring these strange people with cameras.

City Walls_Dubrovnik_13

While much of Dubrovnik has been rebuilt from the war, we often saw empty houses like this.  I’d read about one family’s difficulties in Croatia, trying to get clear title to rebuild their grandmother’s home (they were Americans, trying to buy the home and then fix it). This process took over five years.  I wondered how much of the emptiness I saw was due to bureaucratic issues, or how much was due to just giving up and moving away, as I know a lot of that went on.  Again, a parallel existence, somewhat invisible to the tourist, as we are all supposed to fall in love with this charming city and leave our money behind by taking tours such as this one, buy souvenirs, and ignore fallen roofs and water-filled front rooms.

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But for every ruined house, perhaps there is a counterpoint: an exquisitely tended garden, that indicates great effort, great care.

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We are now joined by many others, having reached the Pile Gate entrance.  But as it’s not hordes, we think the rain delayed all the cruiseship folk, too.

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 The restaurant Dubravka is to the right in the above picture, just to give you some bearings, and beyond that the Lovrijenac Fortress.  Our ticket was good for climbing up there too, provided we did it on the same day.  Sure. No problem.

City Walls_Dubrovnik_17 StOnofrioBig

At the Pile Gate entrance, we could look down on St. Onofrio’s Big Fountain (which would encourage us to hurry faster, given the mobs down below)…

City Walls_Dubrovnik_18 Stradun

…as well as the Stradun.

City Walls_Dubrovnik_19 window

Back up into another tower, we climbed into the upper chamber for this view of the town. (By the way, these photos are a mixture between my husband’s and mine, between a snapshot camera and iPhones.)

Dubrovnik City Walls_20 Church

Dubrovnik City Walls Three Towers

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St. Ignatius Church, a backside view

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Dubrovnik City Wall_

We’re rounding our second corner of this four-cornered gait, the Tower Bokar, and below it is more rubble and ruin.  I did find this arch carrying a water pipe across interesting.

City Walls some ruins

Dubrovnik City Wall_2

A view towards the city.

City Walls Climbing UP

We have climbed back up again, as shown by this photo from an earlier vantage point, and now the city is on our left and the Adriatic on our right, as we walk along the old walls.

Dave at Gate on City Wall

Now you see him. . .

Dubrovnik City Wall_3 Gate

. . . now you don’t.  Obviously by the date on the keystone on the gate (1834) not all of this wall is truly ancient.  Just old.

Dubrovnik City Wall_20

Dave on City Wall_1

Now you see them. . .

Dubrovnik City Wall_4 guardhouse

. . . now you don’t.  We are taking our time on this wall, because apparently it’s the Big Game in Town.  We have traveled to other “Grade B” tourist sites (as opposed to “Grade A” sights like Paris, New York City, etc.) and all that means to us is that in these smaller venues the Big Sights are less famous, the pace is slower, the need to see a million things less pressing. It’s a more relaxing way to travel.

Dubrovnik City Wall_Adriatic Sea Window

One last sea-window.

Dubrovnik City Wall_Fort Revelin

Looking back towards Fort Lovrijenac.

Dubrovnik City Wall_5 closedchurch

Dubrovnik City Wall_6seller

In the lower right corner, a woman has set up to sell her tablecloths.  Most of the sellers assure me that they are all handmade in Croatia by their family and some close friends, the genuine article.  There are a lot of women doing a lot of handwork in Croatia if this is true, judging by the amount of table linens being sold.  I was quite interested in one tablecloth, but since I don’t use the ones I have, how could I justify spending those precious souvenir kuna on another one?  I passed, even though she dropped the price 30%.

Dubrovnik City Walls_StBlaise

I have to assume this is St. Blaise, hanging out there on the tower.

Dubrovnik City Wall_7church above

This church, St. Ignacious, is right up our street.  I say “our” like I live there, but in touristing if I can attach myself to a place where I’ll be for a couple of nights and catch the rhythm , it may allow me to break past that invisible demarcation line, so I can briefly slip into the life in the town.  Of course, this is a complete illusion on my part, but maybe just for a couple of minutes here and there I can stop viewing those around me as museum pieces.  Maybe.

Dubrovnik City Wall_8

When I see signs like this, I recognize that I play a part in the fiction as well (Rent Me! Rent Me!).  But I still loved this little balcony, slightly worn.

Dubrovnik City Wall_9church

A seashell of a roof, one Instagram commenter noted (thanks, Judy!).

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Recycled stone.

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I loved the casual toss of clothespins into the window well. In another window I saw an old Singer sewing machine.

Dubrovnik City Wall_13tile roof

We are nearing the completion of our walk, and we are noticing the details on the old buildings around us: the course of stone in an old wall, the colors of the roof tile, the shape of an arch…

Dubrovnik City Wall_15 tiled roof

Dubrovnik City Wall_15steps

…and these perfect steps.

Embroidery Seller Dubrovnik

I did buy one small embroidery from this woman, who assured me it was made by her. . . or her family.

Dubrovnik City Wall_17

She was on the street coming down from the Placa gate and across from her was this interesting stone balustrade, seemingly melting back into the far wall.  There really is a large space between the railing and the back wall.  We walked past the only car we ever saw, from the TV/Radio station, and headed back to our sobe, heading along the City Hall street.

Under the Arcade_Dubrovnik

Every time I came by, the man in the plaid shirt was sitting there, feeding the pigeons.  Not every city loves the pigeons.  In Venice they are sometimes called “flying rats,” they are such a nuisance.

Tourist and Arcade_Dubrovnik

Title: Tourist in Yellow Shirt Leaving the Arcaded Building

Station of the Cross_Dubrovnik

From here we slipped into Dubrovnik’s Cathedral, and were supposed to look at Titian’s “Assumption of the Virgin” polyptych (say that three times fast), but it didn’t look like a Titian to me (not that I’m an expert).  In another guidebook, an author wrote that it came from “Titian’s workshop.”  I’d buy that.  The best part in this traditional old church were the modern rendition of the Stations of the Cross.  I loved this one, with Simon walking beside Christ as he carried the cross.  I had to look up that last detail when I got home — who was with Christ — but I wrote in my travel journal that it was an angel.  It was quiet, serene, thoughtful.

BistroTables_Dubrovnik

Bistro tables made from old sewing machine stands.

Underside of Umbrella_Dubrovnik

 

The underside of the umbrella at the pizza place, with the red-checkered bunting and a Croatia scarf draped for color, for patriotism, for heralding The Big Game that night at midnight.

Pizza Place Soccer Sign

Lunch_salad

First, a stop at the pizza place just below us, for a salad (above) and a “Quattro Stagioni” pizza (below). Quattro Stagioni, Four Stages, means that you don’t have four ingredients all jumbled together in a pile like an American pizza, but that you have four different sections of pizza, as shown below.  We first encountered this in Italy and we kind of laughed, but we’ve seen it again and again, so it must be the way they do it over here.  That salad was to die for.  Amazing, where everything had a taste, even those tomatoes.

Lunch_pizzaRain is predicted for the afternoon, a few showers, and we think it’s a perfect time to climb up to our perch and take a rest.

Next up: Dubrovnik Slows Our Pace

 

Dubrovnik, Croatia Beguiles

(This is the first post of our trip to Croatia, Slovenia and Budapest in June-July 2014.)

Dubrovnik from plane_1

After a long flight from Los Angeles to Munich, and then from Munich to Dubrovnik, we were happy to see from our airplane windows the coast of Croatia.

Dubrovnik from plane_2

Having viewed maps and photos and watched video after video, I recognized the walled city immediately and pointed it out to Dave, equally jetlagged and groggy.  We were happy to arrive after months of planning (car rental made in September of 2013, fully eight months earlier–this long-range planning would give us some troubles at certain points), and finally see that city that everyone is crazy about.

Dubrovnik Airport

Our plane landed and they wheeled the exit stairs up to our plane.  We walked across a street to enter the terminal.  Given that we had to give the name of our firstborn child and submit to search, Xray and seizure in major city airports, the casual approach they took toward airline security (probably there, but just invisible to us) was interesting.  In the small terminal we found the ATM, bought our tickets and waited on the hot bus for a seemingly long time (probably only 15 minutes) before we drove into Dubrovnik, about 20 minutes away from the airport.  I thought the terrain looked like home–Southern California–with its rocky and sparsely vegetated hills; stands of flowers (hollyhocks and others) waved in the airport bus breeze as we rushed by.

No matter which weather forecast we looked at, rain was in our future.  We were just hoping to get in some good touristing before we were kept indoors, so were happy to see the sun.  “Sun!” we said, turning to smile at each other.  “Sun!” we repeated, like the babbling, sleep-starved and hungry tourists we were.  “Sun!” became the morning watch-cry, alternating occasionally with “Rain” (this one said with drooping shoulders, and search for the umbrellas).

Dubrovnik_1

The bus dropped us just outside the Pile Gate, an entrance to the west.  Clutching our printed directions, we were to walk the main street, the Stradun, turn right at some other street, walk past the named pizza place, find the green door (or was it blue?) and ring the bell.

Pile Gate_Dubrovnik

Start by following the tourists. . .

Dubrovnik-tourists arrive

. . .all while rolling our suitcases, toting our extra bag and never wiping the smiles off our faces.

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The limestone pavement was shiny with use.  Nearly everything inside the walled city is pedestrian-zoned, where the tourists (sometimes up to nine cruiseship-loads, plus the rest of us) reign.  I did read that in the early morning, cars come in from the old Eastern gate making deliveries, but only once did we see a car inside the city, and that was branded with a TV-radio station logo.  A nice lady helped us make the correct right turn and on our second green door, we hit the spot.  (I never did take a photo of that door.)  The landlord met us, and as he huffed our two rolling suitcases up four flights of stairs, I found out that his wife’s family owns the building, his mother-in-law had the apartment across from ours on the top floor, that the lower part of the building was over two-hundred years old, and that I was going to hate going up and down the stairs every day.  We got settled, hung up some our clothes in the closets, and then went down four flights of stairs to find dinner.

Slot View of Cathedral

Dubrovnik Carrot Door

I have a predilection for wandering, especially in places where Dave is nearby so that we can point out (or take a photo of) the new and interesting, the unusual and the something-you-won’t-see-at-home.  Sometimes the identification of that last category is often followed by a “well, why isn’t it found at home?”  We take pictures not only to identify, but to capture the idea…and the moment.  These are age-old habits of tourists, and the new social media enhances this impulse with quick uploads to a photo-viewing site and a brief comment to provide some context: #dubrovnik #croatia were my most common tags on Instagram those first few days.  Often we were juggling both our iPhone and our regular snapshot camera, using each for their particular qualities.

Dubrovnik Doorway

This doorway reminded us of Munich’s Ocktoberfest, only Munich would have live garland interwoven with blue checked ribbon.  I think this had been here all summer.  And that is another thing we do — relate what we see with our new, fresh tourist eyes to previous travel memories.

Dubrovnik Outdoor Cafe

Dubrovnik World Cup1

World Cup viewing.  Nearly every cafe in every square, and many restaurants, had a big-screen plasma television going just about 24/7.

Pred Dvorum Durbrovnik

Pred Dvorum street, which parallels ours.  Behind us is the Cathedral and on the right side is a museum and City Hall (under the arcade’s arches).

St Blaise Dubrovnik_1

At the end of that street we enter Luza Square, anchored by St. Blaise Church.

ESE on Hunt for dinner Dubrovnik

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On a popular traveling website I’d written down some restaurant recommendations, and of course it was on the other side of this bowl-shaped town.

View back towards Luza Square Dubrovnik

Looking down the steps back towards Luza Square.

Dubrovnik Restaurant

We found the restaurant–under new ownership–so kept looking.  I know what you are thinking.  How could we pass up this place, tucked underneath this cute little church?  We did.

Prijecko Street Dubrovnik

Behind us was the “restaurant” street, Prijecko Street, and it beckoned because Dave likes to explore several options before settling in to one place.  We call it the “restaurant street,” because we tended to give nicknames to locations, as we found the Croatian unpronounceable even though we tried to wrap our tongues around the words.

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Dubrovnik_8 seating on steps

 If we’d tried to sit and eat dinner here, we would have both fallen asleep. . . or eaten the cushions first.  I think this was more of a bar.

Dubrovnik Strolling Musicians

These musicians started at one of the street and kept moving along, looking for the big tippers.  We were still trying to figure out if we had the right kind of money, kuna, with 5.5 of them equal to one dollar.

Dubrovnik_6 water bottle

One thing we dislike about Europe in general is their refusal to bring out tap water for our glasses. (This is how you learn that not every city in the world is like your city.)  The water has to be purchased and they charge tourists excessively for the privilege of having something to drink with their meal, if you don’t want a glass of wine (we didn’t).  One waiter tried to tell me that the water wasn’t good, especially after a rainstorm (right–and that’s why they let the tourists drink out of the fountains). But I took delight in the current logo being offered up by one water company, Jana, with their Croatian World Cup Soccer spirit.  The Croatian game, our landlord warned us, was to be played the next night–at midnight–and the pizza guy downstairs had already “invited the youths of the city” to come and join him for a wild and crazy party in the square below our windows.

“It will be loud,” the landlord warned.

We smiled and said, “How fun!”

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Dave’s meal–a pasta with some kind of meat sauce.

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My meal: prawns with lettuce garnish.  We demolished the bread basket, ate all of the garnish.  We also ate all of the shrimp but were less than delighted with the Mediterrean way of serving them with their shells on.  You have to work for your supper this way.  It’s always a challenge when ordering your meal in a foreign country, as often what you order bears no resemblance to what you think you’ll be receiving.  We sort of have a little contest determining which person had the better meal every night.  Tonight, Dave won.

dubrovnikoldtownmap

Our sobe, or room, is marked on the map above with a blue circled X, just off Gundulic Square Stari Grad means Old Town.  We ate sort of directly above the black number 7 (above the “R” in Grad), on the restaurant street.  We didn’t feel like heading home, trying to stay up as long as possible to get on the new (+9 hours) schedule, so we walked the length of the restaurant street, where we discovered that pretty much every special at every restaurant was about the same as ours, and just as overpriced.  The street was narrow, filled with tables, first on the right side of the street and then on the left.  It’s one flight of stairs up from the Stradun, so down every side street we had views of the main street.  We were also walking, waiting until all the launches had carried the cruise-ship passengers back to their ships and the city emptied out.

Dubrovnik Steps up to top

Dubrovnik_11 Pile Gate1

We headed toward Pile Gate (pronounced Pee-lay).

Dubrovnik--just inside Pile Gate

There is an outer gate in the walls, and an inner doorway to the left side of this open area, a wide-open space which is perfect for impromptu art shows and musicians.

Dubrovnik_musicians near Pile Gate

Dubrovnik_11a Pile Gate2

The double-columned balustrade reminded us of Italy.

Dubrovnik_outside Pile Gate

Outside, there are small gardens flanking the walkway through the gate, with views of the Adriatic Sea and Boker Gate on the old City Wall (left).  The red umbrellas to the right of the photo are a restaurant, Dubravka, where we ate the next two nights.

Bokar Tower_Dubrovnik

Adriatic Seascape

Pile Gate Guards

The tourist board has hired two young teen boys to act as sentries for several hours every night.  Young women liked to pose with them, and when no one was looking, they’d slump slightly on the top rail of the fencing.  A small statue of St. Blaise watches over them.  St. Blaise, according to legend, saved the town with his warnings that the Venetian Navy was set to attack the town.

Pile Gate through balustrade Dubrovnik

The inner doorway…with St. Blaise.

Dubrovnik_10 foot on stone

Apparently if a young man can balance on this stone water spout while taking off his shirt, they’ll have good luck.  And a broken keister.  Dave thought stepping on it was good enough, and I agreed.

Dubrovnik_9 Franciscan Mon

It was just outside this beautifully restive doorway of the Franciscan Monastery.  Everything looked calm in the waning evening night.

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Dubrovnik9a

Francisan Monastery Doorway

Onofrios Big Fountain_Dubrovnik

Right across from the Monastery is St. Onofrio’s Big Fountain.  All those faces have water pipes coming from them.  Twelve faces, twelve pipes.  Because the weather was always threatening rain (and occasionally delivered on its promise), the air was slightly muggy, yet we didn’t have scorching heat waves to deal with (where the water from the fountain would have come in handy).

Fancy Purse in Window

Window shopping along the Stradun.  Braccialini had some interesting handbags.

fancy purse in window real

Fancy Purse

I looked it up when I arrived home.  That’s right.  It’s $1751.00. That’s SEVENTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS, and change.

stradun late evening

The light was starting to turn, the streets were emptying out and the fatigue of the journey was beginning to hit hard.  Just a few more minutes, we thought.  We ducked in and out of gelato/ice cream shops without buying any, saw red-checked item after red-checked item (the red checkerboard is a centerpiece of the Croatian flag), people watched.  And then that amazing European cerulean sky crept in over the city, making it all seem bejeweled and sparkling.

Stradun_2 night scene bell tower

Stradun 3_night scene darker

Stradun7_filling up

The people start to gather: to eat dinner (more tables have been put out on the Stradun, umbrellas and awnings raised), for drinks, and to watch World Cup games.  And to wander, just like us.

LuzaSquarenight

Stradun5_St Blaise

The Church of St. Blaise at night.

Stradun5_bell tower 850

The bell tower clock dial reflects only the hour, reiterated below in the left window by the Roman Numeral.  The right window gives the minutes, but only in five-minute increments.

Stradun8_St Blaise

We leave the crowds under St. Blaise and climb the four flights of stairs up to our sobe.

Gundulic Square_night

One last look out the window, into Gundulic Square below.  We leave the windows open to catch the cool air, and call it a day.