Dubrovnik Reflections

Stradun Old Town in Winter – Culture Trip

It’s an understatement that Dubrovnik is a vast change from Berlin! With the 90/180 visa rule, I had to exit EU Schengen countries and there weren’t many options. Croatia was the right choice.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

Dubrovnik in Winter

Some say visiting Dubrovnik in winter is crazy, but I love the time here, even though it can get windy and cold. Locals clearly prefer warm Mediterranean weather and grumble when it gets below 50. Winter temperatures are steady in the 40s – 50s with chilly nights in the 30s. Most days are crisp and clear emphasizing a backdrop of sea and mountains! I met a tourist from Chicago who said Dubrovnik’s winter weather seemed almost like spring. It’s ideal for hiking and winter festivals are fun. 

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik – Total Croatia News

Long-Term Travel

Long-term travel is a much different experience than short-term group or family trips. The goal is staying a while and being low-key, forgetting yourself, getting comfortable mingling, and learning to understand a country’s culture, people, and day-to-day life. I no longer try to explain the value of this to those who don’t understand and are even critical. However, as a solo traveler you must be self-reliant and cautious. I’ve made and survived many mistakes. Imperfection and the unknown are part of the adventure.

Stradun Old Town During Winter Festival

Getting Around

Getting around Dubrovnik requires effort but you grow accustomed to climbing and descending a series of steep stone steps. I started a morning yoga routine that seems to keep me limber. I enjoy daily walks, short hikes, and climbing the stairs on the way to and from my apartment – especially at dusk and sunset when the sky and sea are vivid and dramatic. With a car, good luck finding parking near Old Town.

Winter View of Old Town and Lokrum Island from Mt. Srd

Internet is fast and unlike Berlin, you don’t get slammed with excessive advertisements. Almost everything closes on Sunday which reminds me of South Africa years ago.

Dubrovnik’s Islands in Winter – Total Croatia News

People, Cats, Food

I’ve met some lovely locals and learned about Dubrovnik’s history. Most people speak English fairly well. During business hours they move quickly, but after hours it’s a different scene.

Winter Sunset Dubrovnik

People in Dubrovnik are down-to-earth and don’t make life complicated. Some men are flirtatious :o)… It’s fun to be noticed, but even at my age, flirting back isn’t always a good idea for solo women travelers.

Old Town Cat

Winter Adriatic Sea

I don’t know but think locals are slightly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing hordes of tourists. Of course they’re a great source of income, but the summer invasion makes a huge impact. I imagine they must grow weary of the onslaught when Old Town is literally teeming with bodies.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

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Winter is the time when locals “take back Dubrovnik”!

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Mt. Srd January 2019

I’ve noticed many stray cats – nothing like Istanbul. Most of them look healthy and like to be petted, but some are skittish and clearly feral. They’re clever and streetwise knowing when to run, which people to trust, and who in the crowd is likely to feed them at outdoor restaurants.

Statue of St Blaise Old Town Stari Grad Dubrovnik

Only a handful of restaurants are open during the winter – some better than others. Usually you can’t go wrong with seafood. So far, my favorite treat is olives! Green or black they’re absolutely divine – BIG smile. Croatian honey, dates, and oranges are also delicious. Markets around my apartment are small locally owned places with fantastic fresh produce and cheeses.

Mini Market Prima Dubrovnik

Winter Dusk before Sunset Dubrovnik

Politics, History, Money

Understanding politics in any country is a challenge, and I’m learning about Croatia through on-line newspapers and conversations with locals. What little I know about the complicated history of conflict between Dubrovnik and its Serbian neighbors is interesting, as is the Bosnian War from 20 years ago, and the Venetian, Napoleonic, and Ottoman invasions.

Church of St. Blaise and Orlando’s Column Old Town Dubrovnik

Croatia hasn’t adopted the Euro yet, but talks are in process for entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Some services quote rates in both Croatian Kuna and Euro – it’s confusing and there’s a big difference between the two! Taxi drivers give a price that sounds reasonable in Kuna and then when it’s time to pay, they say the price quoted was in Euro – usually an outrageous amount… My experiences with taxis in foreign countries haven’t been positive.

Portion of Steps Leading to Old Town

More Steps

Winter Limitations

It’s disappointing that during winter there are no swimming, kayaking, or boat excursions to Dubrovnik’s fabulous islands – that is unless you’re a polar bear swimmer. I’ve seen several brave souls venture out in the cold Adriatic Sea for brief early morning swims. It’s a daily ritual like with San Francisco’s Dolphin Club members who swim near Alcatraz in the cold Bay.

St. Blaise Holding Croatia in His Hand

In winter many Dubrovnik businesses close and locals take a break for a few months. It’s more difficult finding services like tours of Montenegro and Bosnia, but I’m considering the options. Of course you can rent a car and drive yourself. My last visit to Croatia was over five years ago in the summer, when I passed through Dubrovnik on the way to Split and Zagreb.

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik

Festival of St. Blaise

The Festival of St. Blaise of Sebaste, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It began as far back as 971 AD. This year, Dubrovnik celebrates St. Blaise from January 24 through February 3.  On Candlemas Day they release white doves (called The Blessing of the Throats) in front of the Church of St. Blaise and then raise St Blaise’s flag at Orlando’s Column. The ritual is dramatic and colorful. Activities include “concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances dedicated to the patron saint”.

Feast Day of Saint Blaise Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik Coast

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“Statues representing St. Blaise holding Dubrovnik in his hand are the most common sight alongside Dubrovnik’s City Walls.”

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Old Town Dubrovnik in Winter – Total Croatia News

Croatia & Surrounding Countries – infohost.nmt.edu

Next Stop?

I’m working my way south and considered Malta as the next stop, but it’s part of the Schengen visa block, so it won’t work. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Albania are of interest with Cyprus being the warmest climate. Since my last stop will be Cape Town, traveling via Cyprus is a good route but I’m doing research… Hopping over to Montenegro and spending a few weeks is an option. I’m enjoying the quiet, peaceful environment and of course Croatia’s people and incredible natural beauty!

More later…

Berlin Reflections

Bergmannkiez Kreuzberg – Tagesspiegel

I’m approaching two months in Berlin and there’s still more to see and learn. Each city has personality, and Berlin is uniquely difficult to describe. I’m not a fast-moving tourist, so that shines a different light on things. It’s a complex city with a young population and immense history and nuances – nothing is quite what it seems…

Kreuzberg Apartment Building

Kreuzberg

At first, I was looking for an apartment in Mitte – known as Berlin’s “historical heart”. I ended up in less touristy Kreuzberg formerly part of West Berlin and an area of great urban energy and diversity. It’s south of the River Spree and was once enclosed on three sides by the Berlin Wall. Today it’s a haven for artists. Emily Bland’s entertaining video below describes nearby places and Kreuzberg streets I experience every day.

One interesting street – Bergmannkiez – is a favorite a few blocks from my apartment. The buildings, shops, and restaurants are fabulous. During warm weather everyone sits outside, but over the past week I’ve noticed deserted tables, despite woolly blankets draped over each chair.

Facades in Bergmannkiez Kreuzberg

My first week was a semi-catastrophe. I got lost often. When I found someone who spoke English and asked for directions back to Kreuzberg, first they corrected my pronunciation and then their eyes went blank. Someone finally told me how huge Kreuzberg was and that it’s impossible to give directions without a specific street and cross street. I learned to identify my flat location by the nearby underground station called Gneisenaustraße – still can’t pronounce it. I also learned to never leave my apartment without a fully charged phone and Google Maps!

Bergmannkiez

Language and Communication

Few speak English in Berlin. Many know it but chose not to speak it because, depending on their circle of acquaintances, they really don’t have to. Occasionally some kind soul may take mercy on you and translate – generally you’re on your own. Menus and food labels are the most confusing. Learning German is essential for anyone who wants to live long-term in Berlin. It’s a difficult language.

Flower Shop Zossener Straße Kreuzberg

I’ve visited Germany several times, including Frankfurt, Munich, Düsseldorf, Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Cologne, and smaller towns along the Rhine River like Rüdesheim. Those trips were before I began a travel journal / blog and I was traveling for shorter periods of time with other people. My clouded memories are mostly of traveling companions, not the places visited. Short term travel is more for enjoying yourself, not focusing on the deeper aspects of a country’s culture and history.

Aerial View of Kreuzberg – Wikipedia

I wrongly imagined more English would be spoken in Berlin. It seems in cities like Rome, Lisbon, Prague, Istanbul, and Budapest it was easier to communicate, but I’m not complaining – well, maybe a little :o(

More Kreuzberg Apartment Buildings – GPSmyCity

Communication or the lack there of can become more of an issue when traveling solo. I like the challenge but unless you seek other Americans – that defeats the purpose of travel for me – you must learn to adapt and survive in an unknown and sometimes unfriendly environment. It’s exciting and at the end of each day there’s a feeling of accomplishment.

Huh???

Immigration

Germany is the second most popular destination for migrations – after the US – and Berlin is a diverse city of immigrants. Kreuzberg has a large Turkish population. At times it feels like you’re on a street in Istanbul.
These days, German immigration is complicated. I did cursory research on the process and decided it wasn’t for me. Schengen visa requirements will change in 2021, allowing extended tourist travel (more than three months).

Street Art Kreuzberg – commons.wikimedia.org

Germany encourages immigration of “highly skilled professionals” and “scientists”. There’s no market for unskilled workers. I’ve heard the process of obtaining a permanent visa is daunting, with application reviews backed up for six months or more. I’m not sure what people do while waiting for their immigration review, but they must prove financial independence and learn German before obtaining a permanent visa.

Bergmannkiez Building

While traveling on public transportation, I’ve seen and heard immigrants from all over the world – Africa, Mideast, Asia, South America, and other European countries. They often stick together and speak their own languages, not German or English. They seem content and settled although some have sad-looking faces, maybe indicating they’ve experienced deep trauma and tragedy in their lives. They’ve been helpful and kind – more than most Germans.

Bergmannkiez – welt.de

Early one morning I was awakened by a buzzing door bell. My apartment building is huge, and since I don’t know that many people in Berlin and wasn’t expecting a visitor, I ignored it.  A few minutes later there was loud knocking on my door. I looked through the peephole to see four policemen and quickly opened the door. They were polite, asked several questions, and looked at my passport. They showed me photos of a Syrian couple they were looking for – not sure what crime they committed and didn’t ask. I didn’t recognize them.

The massive front door to the building closes slowing on a heavy hinge, so anyone determined to get inside could wait outside and sneak through – especially at night. I find that slightly unnerving and usually wait to make sure the door has closed completely behind me. Even with the lights on, the stairway to my flat is dark and slightly creepy.

Bergmannkiez Market

Economy

Berlin’s economy is bustling and Germans are avid consumers and into their professions and making and spending money – you don’t find many loose ends. Berlin is full of high-tech. Almost every other car is a sparkling Mercedes. So far, I haven’t noticed any homeless encampments. A few drug addicts and panhandlers roam the streets and subway.

Blog Only Apartments Kreuzberg

Of course the Berlin apartment I rented is not quite as wonderful as the photos… That’s the chance you take when renting in a foreign country. I’ve experienced “apartment reality versus advertisement” before. However, hotels are way too expensive for a long visit and I’m not a fan of hostels. The apartment suits my purpose and is warm and private. Except for one loud all-night party, it’s been mostly quiet. I’m prepared for late-night holiday festivities and have ear plugs. Maybe one of the neighbors will invite me to join a party, although most Germans are not overly friendly – holiday market merrymakers being the exception.

Street Art Kreuzberg – Urban Presents

Short-term rentals for less than three months are not allowed. In 2016, Berlin implemented some of the world’s strictest laws for vacation rentals.

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“With few exceptions, Berlin made short-term rentals on platforms such as Airbnb and Wimdu illegal, with fines of up to 100,000 euros (about $123,000) for hosts who violate the law.”

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It’s called the misappropriation prohibition law (Zweckentfremdungsverbots-Gesetz), and the German government enforces it. Compared to New York, San Francisco, London, or even Munich, rental prices are reasonable.

Angela Merkel – thepressproject.gr

Politics

I’m still trying to figure out what’s happening with German politics. There are changes in the air with Angela Merkel’s recent resignation as leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Some of her policies are unpopular. One of three people is considered her likely successor as CDU party Chair in December –  Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Jens Spahn, and Friedrich Merz.

Kreuzberg Church

Music and Arts

Music and arts are the major jackpot in Berlin with extremely talented artists and everything you could imagine or desire! I like art galleries but am not great at touring museums, and after a few hours find them overwhelming. I still have many to visit in Berlin.

River Spree Kreuzberg – Adobe Stock 81684539 1000

I’ve posted several blogs about live performances. There’s variety and high quality, and I’m getting my fill of theatre and first-class classical music and jazz. People in the jazz clubs are fun and friendly – blog post to follow. During the last month I’ll focus on museums, Christmas markets, and more music – enough to keep me occupied. Ballet and opera performances are of interest but tickets are pricey – $100+.

Back View from My Apartment

Food

Not a foodie, I still appreciate a good meal. Some Berlin restaurants are disappointing, but I’ve found a few I like and keep returning to them. The choices around Kreuzberg are endless, but it can be somewhat uncomfortable dining alone on weekends when most restaurants are busy and usually fully booked.

dean & david – karriere

Menus aren’t in English – and in some restaurants, asking for an English menu is downright painful… When I’m really hungry, my favorite “go to” restaurant is a little place called dean & david where they serve fresh food and make incredible salads! The atmosphere is friendly and comfortable.

Bergmannkiez – Photography ProdJo

Weather

Weather during October and the first half of November was heavenly. It’s turning cold now and gets dark by 4 pm, but I came prepared. The shops and stores are super-heated so if you’re shopping for longer than a few minutes it’s almost unbearable, and you start taking off layers. The cooler temperatures will be good for outdoor Christmas Markets where you can buy hot drinks to keep warm.

Berlin Kreuzberg Map

Next Stop Dubrovnik
My next stop is Dubrovnik Croatia – a non-Schengen country. Although I traveled around Croatia for several months a few years ago I didn’t get enough time in Dubrovnik, so booked a small apartment for January 2019. By December 29, I’ll have exhausted my 90 day Schengen visa limit and can’t re-enter any Schengen countries until April 2019. Hopefully the weather in Dubrovnik will be a little warmer than Berlin. Haven’t decided which non-Schengen countries to visit after Croatia. I’m considering Albania, Cyprus, and Romania.

Typical Kreuzberg Street – Sound Vinyl Store

There are tons of stories about my Berlin experiences and the challenging time here, but this post contains enough rambling. I haven’t taken many photos. Berlin isn’t known for its beauty, although some older buildings and streets are exquisite as are the parks, canals, and rivers. I’m not into selfies and it’s complicated getting your picture taken when traveling solo. It’s easy finding someone to take the photo, but the result is rarely good. Before leaving Berlin, one way or another, I’m getting a photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate!

More later…