Inside the Walls
My sincerest apologies for pulling the same trick twice in a row but, when this posts, I will be sitting tucked up under the shade of a pine tree in the Finnish countryside, likely writing about pirates, or pilots, or princes – I’m not sure which yet. This is a little piece I wrote for a travel writing competition about a city I visited once and fell in love with instantly.
Regular, original, posting will resume… Eventually.
Over the past few years, Dubrovnik has become one of the biggest tourist destinations in Europe with reports of overcrowding in the summer months as a steady flow of cruise ships deposit people at its gates. Best known today, perhaps, for its iconic walled Old Town and for providing the stage for King’s Landing in television’s popular Game of Thrones, an accolade that local vendors tout left and right.
But step away from the Jesuit Stairs and the marbled streets outside the clock tower and you’ll find the corners of what was once a sleepy town plagued by a war-ridden past. Although fortunate to have avoided the worst of the crowds by visiting in late September, I found myself seeking out the quieter alleyways not in search of peace, but in search of shade.
The architecture is no less exquisite here, swathes of sunlight followed by the cool darkness of the arches. Tucked beneath one such arch in the south-east corner of the Old Town sits a surprisingly modern coffee shop for a town that upon entry feels like a step back centuries through time. I take my cold brew to go and continue down the path.
In the shade of the city walls sits a minuscule garden. It is lush with flowering plants and cacti, bright and beautiful but by no means overgrown or untamed. The cats of the city – of which there are many – congregate here, basking in patches of sunshine. I sit on the bench and a jet black cat cracks open one eye. He stares at me for several moments and then returns to his slumber.
I hear voices nearby but there is no one to be seen. The voices come from above – those walking the city walls pass by overhead but with the angle, I cannot see them, and I hazard a guess that they cannot see me, either.
I sit for a while until I observe the visitor book. So, I am not the only one to have found this secret spot. There are greetings from all over the world, dozens of different scripts and languages contained in the pages. I flip through the pages and am overwhelmed by the gratitude of these strangers. Gratitude for this place and its invisible caretaker.
Later, I will walk the walls and try to spy the spot where I sat myself. I cannot see so far over the sides but beyond where I believe I may have sat are tumbled ruins left from the siege of 1991. Children and cats alike dash through the crumbled landscape, their voices echoing up to the sky. A mother emerges from an apartment stacked up high on a block, a typical architectural feature of housing here in the Old Town, and calls down to her children. The youngest gets waylaid, crouching down beside an amber cat and her litter.
The mother shouts again and the little boy shouts something back. He skips over the ruins with a practised ease and runs the several dozen steps up to his front door. It is a town stacked up on itself – you never know what you might find a few feet below.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town is known for its present: for the enormous budgets that overrun the narrow streets to capture and utilise its beauty. But where past and present intersect at the quiet corners inside the walls, there is something different to be found. Something more rooted in the history of this place and its people than what can be gleaned from the rising statistics or travel brochures.
I suspect that the cats know – but good luck getting them to tell you the secrets of this town.