After a two and a half hour flight, and a slightly bumpy descent into a partiality clouded runway, we had arrived. Near to the southern tip of Croatia on the shores of the Adriatic sea, we were ready to commence the first leg of our mini trip, starting with Dubrovnik.
The flight had been a pain-free exercise, aside from the fact of leaving home at 2:30 am. With almost tack proscision we got the cab to Croydon, had a few minutes wait for the train to Gatwick, flew through security, and then after a quick coffee and shop for supplies we were on board. The Norwegian flight was only at around a 3rd capacity, and for the first time in my modest aviation history, the plane was quickly and efficiently boarded early, and we beat our takeoff time by around 15mins. This was a great start for the 5-day trip.
After the briefest of moments passing through Dubrovnik security, we were out in the warm and slightly humid air searching for the car hire concessions. For the first time on one of our adventures, we opted to hire a car, giving us more freedom to venture further afield, but as the car was collected I remembered why I usually steer clear of such transactions. I wanted to have a massive rant about how Sixt massively ripped me off, but, I'm reasonably confident that you don't want to hear about my rantings, so I will glaze over this bit. Let's just say, the price I was led to believe I was paying, was actually only a third of my final bill. 'No hidden charges' my arse!
With the car I hadn't requested, it was onto the open road then, destination Dubrovnik! But first, a small stop in one of the towns between our destination and the airport, a small coastal town called Cavtat.
Down a long winding road, we arrived at the small harbor and got parked up straight away. It was time to get out and stretch our legs properly, grab a coffee and see what Croatia had to offer. I had my camera to hand, but with no real intentions of catching stand out shots; I really wanted to ease myself in gently to this trip to avoid the stress I normally inflict upon myself, and because I hadn't actually done much shooting since our last trip to Greece earlier in the year.
The weather was less than perfect; fairly chunky clusters of cloud filled the sky, spotted with patches of the bluest sky, but this didn't detract from the view. Looking out across the crystal waters, punctuated with towering mountains spotted with the sunlight breaking through made the early start and rough car hire exchange all worthwhile.
I was dressed for traveling, and pretty weak from sleep deprivation and a lack of sustenance so did not get too carried away with climbing the rocks to capture the dramatic coastline. Despite my strong desire to start clambering over the rocks precariously of the water, I exercised restraint not usually observed in such settings; probably for the best, as I did not have a spare camera body on this occasion.
Regardless of how pleasant and uneventful the transit part of traveling is, it is still stressful (for me it is anyway), so this walk around the shoreline and marina was a nice gentle start to the trip and helped to put the transition of one country to another behind me. With a scramble to break some big currency for the parking change (cash machines spit out 100 Kuna bills and parking costs around 2 Kuna), it was back on the open road to find our apartment.
The coastal road is a nice and easy drive, with Dubrovnik only around 30mins away from the airport on a single major road. This being my first time driving on the right-hand side of the road for around 10 years, I was unable to truly appreciate the view though as my attention was brought into sharp focus with learning how to operate the foreign vehicle. Claire enjoyed it a little, but I think her enjoyment, for the most part, was interrupted by jets of anxiety over my foreign driving.
Finally, we arrived at our apartment, and I am pleased to say that Claire did it again. Firstly, we had a private parking space, which eliminated my next big problem. Our digs were on the top floor of a recently refurbished apartment building, complete a nice terrace with a view out to sea.
We settled in and grabbed some food from a takeaway place just down the street from us. After short rest to take in our bearings, consulting local guides and maps, followed by a quick outfit change, we were out and ready for the real adventures began.
And that they did.
Much like the drive to the airport, the walk to the old town, which is the iconic fortified area the city is known for, was only around 20min along the coast from our apartment. In an attempt to reduce the usual pressures I heap upon myself to start capturing shots straight away, I wanted to make this a casual day and instead take our time and relax into the trip. I had earmarked two locations close to each other for future a sunrise and sunset shots, so I thought we'd take this time to check them out, especially as the weather was still quite cloudy.
On arriving at the proposed sunrise spot at the foot of the fort overlooking the old town, I instantly fell into my element. The sites were everything I had hoped they would be, and although it was busy with thirsty Game of Thrones enthusiasts, it wasn't nearly as busy as Santorini had been earlier in the year.
I jumped about cracking off some shots while I was there sizing up potential locations for the following morning. We had managed to walk straight past the sunset spot, so I figured that would have to wait for another day.
After I had had some fun, time was getting on so we had to come up with something constructive. The sky and cleared up significantly, so it was decided that this would be a great opportunity to take the funicular up the mountain that towers over the old town and shoot the sunset from there. After a day of traveling, a hike up the mountain was totally out of the question (a question that I did ask genuinely of my traveling companion, which was received by a mix of negative responses), so we mobilized in the direction of the cable car...
Which was out of service. Due to bad weather. A glance skyward and a scratch of the head gave no further explanation, as the day had completely transformed into a fairly calm and warm day. So plan B it was then, and we headed back to my first choice for sunset to see what I could make of it. This meant doubling back and seeking out a path behind the old fort down to a secluded stretch of coastline facing west.
I had half expected this to be a steep decline followed by a serious climb back up again as the coastal road is a long way up from the sea, but as it turns out it was not a bad walk at all. We were a little early for sunset, so ventured in to investigate an old church (1644 kind of old) located midway on our descent. We were greeted there by an enthusiastic nun who was thrilled to have visitors at her sanctuary and excitedly reached for some literature explaining the history of the religious refuge. The low light made for some great shadows created by the ancient carvings, which kept me occupied for a while.
Visit over, we continued down to the rocks below. Now it was time to get to some serious business.
Flying around the rocks which were occupied by a small number of bathers, I scoped out various locations to catch the sunset. Settling on a composition, it was time to wait and see what would happen, which turned out to be a bittersweet experience.
With a pallet of gold and orange rocks, turquoise waters and lush green vegetation, all glowing with the final light of day, the scene made for a pretty agreeable composition. I wanted to shoot as wide as possible and sharp as possible, so opted for my 16-35mm G master and shot at various focus points for stacking. I hadn't got round to purchasing an ND filter for this lens, so instead made the most of the flow of the water breaking against the rocks.
It wasn't until after 45 minutes or so, that Claire said she had been bitten, at which point I looked down at my legs, and I hadn't just been bitten, I had been feasted upon. As our star lowered more and more, I was now conscious of the beasties seeking to drain me of blood, and so was relieved when I had the final shots on board and could get away from the water.
With another early start on the cards it was back to the apartment for a nightcap and a cigar, followed by an early night. After such a glorious conclusion to the day, I felt almost certain that there would be a sunrise to be captured in the morning.
Well, actually, no there wasn't.
After almost sleeping through my alarm, it was up and out to start our first full day in the city. I checked everything; batteries were all charged, I had all my kit, plus the obvious essentials, and headed out. The one thing I didn't check was the weather.
Halfway down the street I peered at the sky through bleary eyes and realized that this was not going to be my morning; a thick claggy cloud filled the dark sky. Balls.
We soldiered on regardless to make the most of a quiet morning. Up at the hill opposite the old city walls, the view was disappointing, so much so I didn't take a single shot. Moving down from the hill though, things got a bit more interesting.
The water coming into the bay area was very animated, with aggressive intermittent waves crashing against the rocks. Shooting this scene made the early rise worthwhile, and I didn't feel so bad for the early start.
It was then time to enter to walled city for the first time and get to the heart of Dubrovnik. There's an instant Venetian feel to the place in terms of architecture, number of churches and floor covering materials. Stick a couple of canals through here, and you could easily mistake the old town for Venice.
The city is fortified with towering walls circling the streets and alleyways within which rise up towards the walls in a kind of bowl-shaped. The main streets are all on one level, but from here the steep steps rise sharply up to the city limits. Away from the main streets and squares are a maze of stepped alleyways leading up to the imposing city walls. There's some serious climbing involved, but totally worth it. On the sea-side of the city, it was pretty minimalist, but on the other, these alleyways were adorned with plants which made for some great photography.
Because of the tall nature of the buildings, the winding passages for the most part of the day were in deep, but cooling shadow. The dark alleyways, peppered with brightly colored cleaned laundry hanging from the clotheslines above, made for a nice contrast against the brightly lit terracotta roofs beyond. We spent a couple of hours in the old town, enjoying the calm before the storm. It was fairly quiet and peaceful initially, but as the day grew older, the city quickly began to fill with busloads of tourists filling the streets wielding selfie sticks.
Before the crowds grew too strong, we ventured out beyond the walls in the direction of the southern coast to take in the view looking back. First from a local beach, followed by the road further up the cliff, the later meant a stiff climb and made for some great views, but they don't really translate photographically as I couldn't get enough height above the houses that sit upon the rising cliff edge.
Walking back down past a seriously packed cable car queue, we decided it was time for something to eat. With no real idea of where to go, we headed back into the old town in search of sustenance.
Lunch was taken on the mid-level between the decorated alleyways, which couldn't have been more successful. Many of the restaurants are overpriced and border extravagant, which wasn't necessary for a spot of lunch. Sitting down at a modest-looking place, it was difficult to settle on something appropriate. They did, however, serve a Dubrovnik selection starter which we ordered for two as a main. Sardines, olives, cheese, ham, octopus topped with onion, tomatoes and the freshest basil. Outstanding.
By this time, the sun had circled just round enough to give the decorated staircases some light, so we took to them once more to see them come to life. On this trek, we stumbled upon a sports area that overlooked the city and gave some interesting juxtaposition between the ancient stonework surrounding it.
By this time it was mid-afternoon. The sun was pretty intense, and after such an early start it was difficult to find the motivation to continue through the heat. So we opted for grabbing a bus back to our digs for rest and refreshment.
Time to make a decision for the evening, and it was unanimous that we would have a nice local dinner and retire early. This meant missing out on a sunset, which does always pain me, but I was exhausted and did need the rest after a fairly energetic days exploring.
As I sat on the balcony enjoying a beer I could see the colour of the sky turning and just couldn't let it go to waste. Scanning the scene I noticed a solitary church surrounded by trees and sky which made for an interesting composition, so set my self up on top of my camera bag and snapped away.
Dinner was booked at a local restaurant called Magellan, which came highly recommended by our host and some of the reviews online were almost too good to be true. Well, I am pleased to report that on this occasion, the hype was on the money.
We opted for the set course menus which offer a choice of fish or meat, and a bottle of local red recommended by our entertaining and attentive waiter. Almost as soon as we had ordered an amuse bouche of beetroot gel with crystallized orange peel and a goats cheese something was whisked to the table. This was beautifully presented, but to be honest, it was lacking a bit in flavor. This threw up many queries; firstly, was this a fine dining restaurant that we were not aware of? The place was certainly very smart, but not exactly what I would consider lavish. Secondly, the presentation was astounding, but the taste was lacking, we're we in for a bit of a rubbish dinner?
Absolutely not. All I can say is wow. Three courses of excellence followed and we left full and satisfied. One Trip Advisor review stated that the place deserved a Michelin star, which I'd say is a stretch, but with absolutely no doubt, the food was exceptional and great value. I highly recommend this place if your visiting.
Full of good food and a little inebriated, it was time for an early night as the alarm was going off even earlier the following day. Hopefully, this time we would see the weather working in our favor.
The night's sleep was a little rough as I was distracted by the huge number of mosquito bites collected during the first evening, but with the 530 alarm sounding, I was up to see what the day had to offer. Learning from my earlier mistake I made a point of looking out the window to see what the weather looked like. To my amazement, the sky was filled with some of the brightest stars I have ever seen! This in itself was magical, but more importantly, it meant there were no clouds!
Instantly energized and invigorated, I was confident I could really make something of the early start, and promptly threw myself together and hit the streets for the walk to the old town. Claire was apprehensive at first but decided to join me at the last minute.
The air was fairly still and cool, but still perfectly comfortable in short sleeves. Arriving at my chosen site I drew an instant smile. The view was absolutely stunning. There was not a single cloud in sight, just a beautiful clear sky.
Like an excitable pig in excrement, I danced around various spots capturing different angels of the old town against the morning sky. This time the water coming into the bay was far tamer, and there was a real calm about the whole event. A couple of wanderers passed through and took some snaps, but other than that we had the place to ourselves.
With the sun now peaking out, and the colour temperature of the light cooling rapidly, it was time to head into the old town for a coffee, a bite to eat and secure our tickets for the City Wall.
According to most, the walk around the city walls is an absolute must for anyone visiting the city. At a cost of £50 for 2 people, I was pretty apprehensive as this seemed quite steep, but there wasn't a huge amount of other things that we would normally be drawn towards.
I made the most of it, trying to capture shots that compress the scene showing the jumble of different rooftops with the different angles and shades of terracotta. This was fairly challenging as I could not get enough of the scene contained with an extended focal length.
Of course, it would have been remiss of me not to take some wide-angle shots to show the full extent of the scene. Time to break out the 14mm Samyang and work some magic.
Opting to walk the walls as they opened proved to be the best idea, as not only was it a lot quieter than it was by the time we completed the circuit, but the low light made for great saturation and contrast between the highlights and long shadows. After completing our circuit in the fairly intense and unwavering sunshine, the view over the full site was worth the venture, but I still felt it was overpriced.
It took around two hours to complete the walk, by which time some refreshment was essential. After inhaling an ice-cold beer, we took a trip down to the marina in an attempt to capture some of the smaller boats gently floating on the crystal clear waters.
After lunch and recharge back at the apartment, we fast forward to climbing aboard the bus back into town to see what the evening had in store. With the sunset drawing near on what had been an impeccable day with clear sky's, but it was hard to pinpoint a suitable location to capture it. At first, we thought we'd capitalize on our tickets for the wall, but form some reason they closed this for entry at 1730, which is a shame as it would have been a prime spot with views of the old fort. Then there was a bar that creeps out to the rocks on the sea-side of the city walls, but this was heaving long before sunset, and I wasn't in the mood for fighting for a spot.
With hunger pulling at my logical thought, we called an early dinner to refocus. Settling for a quick and easy pizza, it was not long before we were on the hunt for sunset again.
We did consider taking the cable car up to the mountain, but with the cost equalling that of the city walk, the idea was dropped like a hot rock. The thought of waiting in a massive queue, then having to rush around when we get there for that amount of money just didn't appeal.
After many failed attempts to catch a glimpse from within the city, I decided to call time on trying to capture the sunset and turned my focus to the next phase of shooting. The dark.
As darkness fell, we took to the streets, tripod in hand to capture the dimly lit passages, and glowing artificial lights glistening upon shiny cobbled surfaces. But this turned out to be trickier than I thought.
During the day I thought I could see plenty of great arrangements for these shots, but at night, the lighting was far more powerful than I expected, where it was working, and in other places, lights were not working at all. I had a vision in my mind as to how the streets would look at night, but these visions just didn't materialize, or, probably more accurately, I didn't turn the right corners to find them.
I couldn't help but feel frustrated about the evening shooting. I had been so fixated on capturing the alleys and passages but saw many people shots that were there for the taking, but with my camera connected to the tripod and configured for long exposures, I just couldn't react quick enough. These feelings of regret from missing out on great opportunities really grab hold of me and cast a massive cloud over my successes earlier in the day. But for now, there is still time to make it up.
We walked around for as long as we could but had to call time around 9 due to exhaustion. Another early start was around the corner as the following day we were heading to Montenegro, so needed to be rested for another early start.
This was the first few days of our Balkans mini-trip, but the journey doesn't end there. Next, we venture to Kotor in Montenegro, followed by a rather precarious trip into Bosnia to visit Mostar. For updates on the next leg of our journey, follow me on Facebook!
If you want to check out the full galleries from Dubrovnik, click the buttons below. Purchasing options are available, so if something inspires you why not check out the printing options selected for you.
Until next time, happy travels!