Posts Tagged ‘dubrovnik’

The Souvenir Shop Cleans Up: Aqua in Dubrovnik

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Pencil Case and Sundries

On the rainiest of rainy days, the water cascades along Dubrovnik’s marble streets in rivers. It rolls down its steps and through its alleys in gushes, as though the hard white city can’t bear to absorb a single drop. Water pours off the terra cotta roof tiles. I roll my jeans up to my knees.

I had planned to visit an island or a ramshackle seaside town, but the weather nullifies my plans, makes them seem stupid and pointless. So I walk. I search for souvenirs.

Any European city will give you trinkets, and Dubrovnik is no exception. Shops along the Placa offer snow globes and postcards, scraps of fabric covered in traditional Croatian embroidery patterns for exorbitant prices—the equivalent of 20 Euros for something the size of a napkin. What you’ll also see, whether in Dubrovnik or any other place deemed a “destination,” are the orphan souvenirs, the items that have nothing to do with tradition or place. In one dark store, a woman stands guard over racks of hemp necklaces and colored candles that seem better suited to the parking lot of a Phish concert. In another, pictures of Jesus—whose image is, I suppose, more versatile. In another, giant ceramic roses.

And then, I am saved. The store crops up clean and white amidst the chaos of the other shops, its windows orderly and well styled. The store is called Aqua, and it’s made it its mission to create quality Croatian souvenirs. (Although their eyes, I’m sure, are on the entire Mediterranean.) Some will balk, I know, at the idea of something so calculated. Don’t travelers—real travelers—search for something a little more authentic to bring home?

Well, sure. If you fancy yourself something so important as a traveler. Most of the time, I don’t, and I like souvenirs that know what they are. Silver spoons engraved with skylines, logo-printed shot glasses and golf balls. Aqua is that concept, but beautifully executed. The entire line of souvenirs is done in shades of white, blue, and gray, to reflect Croatia’s relationship with the sea, and they offer several signature patterns, from grown-up nautical to an adorable, cartoony fish print.

There are bathrobes and beach towels, sure, but I flipped over the small goods. I assembled an entire pencil case in the fish pattern—complete with pencils, a sharpener, a ruler, a tiny roll of tape, and an eraser—for about the equivalent of 10 American dollars. It’s maybe the best thing I’ve ever brought home from anywhere; it’s lovely to look at, I’ll actually use it, and it doesn’t take up an alarming amount of space in my bag. On a rainy day in Dubrovnik, it seems, Aqua was just what I needed.

Go there:

Aqua Maritime stores can be found in seaside cities across Croatia, including Dubrovnik, Split, and Rovinj. The Dubrovnik location can be found at Placa 7, Stradun.

Dubrovnik from Above

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Bell Ringer

Among all of Dubrovnik’s white marble spires, there is the bell tower. You can only see into it from atop the city walls, floating above the streets, at eye level with the red-tile roofs for which the city is famous. We take the walk along the walls just before they close, at sunset, with the Chilean travel writer. We shared a taxi with him from the station.

The walls that contain the old city of Dubrovnik, that keep it from dropping into the sea or crawling back up the mountain, were useless in 1991 during the war; centuries of combat technology were made obsolete in an instant. Ten-foot walls could not have stopped bombs dropped from above, right on the heads of Dubrovnik’s citizens, right through the roof tiles. The people who ordered the attack on Croatia’s loveliest city were tried with war crimes, for half-crushing Byron’s pearl.

To visit today, you would never know anything had happened. And by anything, I mean a war or a child born or an instant of time passed, the second hand moving on a clock. Because Dubrovnik has been rebuilt, the bomb craters patched, with such precision and care that the possibility of war seems dubious, a little silly. The city is almost strangely pristine—free of garbage and noise, its narrow streets and stone churches quiet. Sitting on the Placa at sunset, even the chatter around us is muted and soft, the air cut only occasionally by the ringing of church bells, a squawking bird.

From the walls, we first spot the bell ringers in their tower—enormous bronze statues of men holding mallets. We wonder aloud if they actually work. Surely they’ve been in place for many years, as their uniforms, their feathered hats indicate. And there was a war. Wars. The mechanism that makes them swing out, ring the bells, must be rusted into silence. But we have underestimated Dubrovnik, her insistence on freezing her past like a postcard.

On the hour, the statue on the right moves as though waking from a long nap, the motion steady and fluid. The mallet swings wide, swings back, makes contact with the enormous bell. Then the other statue does the same. They take turns. The mechanism is flawless, the sound of the bell ringing brilliant across the rooftops.

That’s when the guard kicks us out, stops our reverie short. Apparently we shouldn’t have been let in so late in the first place, but the old man at the gate took our money anyway and waved us through. The guard is a gigantic man with thinning hair and hollows under his eyes whose speaking voice sounds like it was run through a cheese grater. We are a long way from the exit and he walks quickly, shooing us past the prettiest views.

“Listen,” he says huffing a little louder with each step, “You are from America. What is highest point in America?”

As the only American in our party, I am expected to know this answer but I am bleary and distracted from the view of the Adriatic, the sun slanting across the roofs.

“Uh, somewhere in the Rockies?”

“No!” he says in triumph. “Highest point in America is Mount McKinley. Is in state of Alaska. You know Alaska?”

“I know Alaska,” I say.

“OK, what is biggest island that is part of America?”

We are walking so quickly now that I snap photos illicitly so he won’t see. The sun is sliding away. And I know this one.

“Big Island, Hawaii.”

“Yes,” he says, disappointed.

“OK,” he says, moving on to our Chilean friend. “What is highest point in Chile?”

I let my friends go forward without me, hope that they are distracted. At one point, it is me and the platter of the city, the cluster of red roofs as big and close as my own hands and tiny dots in the distance like an impressionist painting, not a whiff of disturbance, of a past or a future, just a frozen picture of a city, all the people in it somewhere below.

Go there:

The clock tower with the bronze bell ringers (named Maro and Baro) can be found at the end of the Placa in Dubrovnik’s Luza Square. To see the ringers themselves, you’ll need to step back a bit for perspective, or climb the city walls.

You can climb Dubrovnik’s city walls from 9 am to 6:30 pm for 50kn (about 7 Euro).

Little Jewels

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Croatian Botuni Earrings

In Dubrovnik, Croatia, in a city literally paved in gleaming white marble, there is a jewelry store just off the main drag, nearer to the city’s Pile Gate than not. I don’t know its name and I don’t know the name of its bearded, bespectacled owner who opened up his dark wood cases for me with tiny little keys so I could peer closer, but I wish I did.

I visited on a day when it didn’t rain but pour, when the marble paving stones were slick and the tourists crammed the cafes and pizza joints.

Now, there are the splashy jewelry stores nearby that offer enormous knots of beads and flashy cut stones for the cruiseliner crowd that slides in and slides out of the city each day, but this jewelry store is dark and small and crammed with nothing but traditional Croatian pieces, all of them pinned neatly to felt boards and hanging off delicate trees in the single storefront window. My favorites are the necklaces and earrings hung with hollow, detailed little spheres of gold or silver. They’re called botuni, and they’re part of the traditional costume along the Dalmatian coast.

I choose a pair of earrings in antiqued silver, wishing I could have one of everything in the store. As the shop owner meticulously arranges them in a box, I ask how late the shop is open and he explains that he’s closing early because his political party is voting today in a city election. So, then, it’s time to go home. The city of Dubrovnik stops me from returning and spending all my money on trinkets, on a strand of winking little spheres.

What Today Looked Like

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Church of Saint Blaise

Children race across the marble paving stones of this square on roller blades. It is the ideal rink—sleek and free of debris, the statue of a Medieval soldier in the center a perfect compass point. I watched them tonight for hours while drinking tea at a cafe across the way with my friend Ola, a fellow travel blogger. While the sun set. While the bell in the tower struck 7:30, then 7:45, then 8:00. While the lights came on in the square and illumiated the stained glass in the cathedral.

I will be writing lots and lots about Croatia. Or maybe it just writes itself.