At Home in Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian Coast
For more than three years, the ancient city of Dubrovnik was Klatawa’s home port and the ACI Marina, situated in the worn and war-torn yet still elegant grounds of a former summer villa, was our neighborhood. It was within this stone palace and modern marina setting that we got to know our cruising neighbors from England, Scotland, Austria and America. And it was here that we formed lasting friendships with Croatians who helped and directed us through the seemingly endless but rewarding challenges of living in a country where we did not speak the language or understand the local customs.
However, it was more than the comfort and beauty of the marina that convinced us to spend three years in Croatia, it was also our ever-expanding love affair with the ancient city of Dubrovnik. Just a 15-minute bus ride from the marina and we were at the entrance to this incomparable ancient city, the “Pearl of the Adriatic.”
Entrance to this “living museum” was through one of two gates and, since there were no vehicles allowed, residents and visitors alike became pedestrians. The more convenient and busier gate was the picturesque Pile Gate. Dwarfed and overwhelmed by the massive stone walls, the gate was a beautiful 16th century Renaissance arch, topped with a statue of Saint Blaise, the patron saint and protector of Dubrovnik. The steady stream of residents and visitors that passed through this gate were funneled across the moat via a sturdy, wooden drawbridge. Seasonally, especially during the summer tourist months, the stone benches which lined the gate’s entrance were filled with Croatian ladies of all ages, calling out politely to passersby to take a moment, examine their fine and colorful needlework and make a purchase to “remember Dubrovnik.”
Once through the gate, it took just a few moments to walk down a set of well-worn marble steps and emerge onto the Placa, Dubrovnik’s pedestrian main street. The Placa, paved with almost-pure white limestone and polished by hundreds of years of endless footsteps, seemed to glow in any light - the sunshine of midday or the moonlight at night. Lined with lovely old churches, public buildings and green-shuttered shops, it was impossible not to slow down and exclaim a quiet “wow.”
We loved our lives in Dubrovnik - the land, the architecture, the history and the food. But what made us feel most at home were the people, their smiles of welcome and their inclusiveness. And there was no place where we felt more at home than at the restaurant/café Buzan, located in the marina. It was here that we were introduced to many Croatian foods and many became our favorites: fish pâté, thinly sliced prsut, fish soup, grilled fish and rozata. Café Buzan was also where we would go for arguably the best cappuccino in Croatia. The intensely flavorful and richly foamed cappuccinos were made by our good friends Ivo and Stefan and this marina café was the closest we have ever come to having a Cheers-type pub as part of our daily lives. Here the barristas knew us, joked with us and shared our daily life events. And as a special sign of friendship, they developed a ritual of using chocolate syrup to decorate the foam atop our cappuccino cups with a message for the day: happy faces, sad faces, political/national comments and modern art. We loved those friendly efforts and when a barrista would ask if we wanted our cappuccino with or without chocolate graffiti, we would reply “Da, molim.” (Yes, please.)