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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2014
Mediterranean Cruise - Part 4
Dubrovnik is one of the prettiest cities we have seen and one we were looking forward to re-visiting. It is an ancient walled city where medieval ramparts encircle a tight maze of narrow streets and ornate stone buildings. The walls, completed in the 13th century, have a circumference of more than a mile and a half, and along with the Old City, have been designated a World Heritage Site. Our first visit was in 1998 not long after war in 1991/2 had split the old Yugoslavia asunder and the city was still showing the scars. Most had been healed by our second visit seven years later, and we visited again in 2007. We have made two visits in 2014 only separated by a few weeks. Both times we have been moored in the New Port at Gruz Harbour. Instead of being anchored off the old harbour allowing a short tender ride and the finest approach to the town we now have to face queues and a twenty minute shuttle bus ride which is only free if you have paid Cunard fares otherwise it is cheaper and faster to take a taxi even with two people (10 Euros to the old town for up to four people) Dubrovnik has a remarkable history. An independent, merchant republic for the 700 years up to 1806, Dubrovnik traded with Turkey, India and Africa - it even had diplomatic relations with the English court in the Middle Ages. Its status was such that even the powerful and rich Venice was envious of this Croatian-Slav city.
Having made two visits in a short space of time we have decided to try to bring the two visits together - that way we have the latest information at our own fingertips and it will give a better feels for what is available to our readers. That said we have tried to make it clear which activities belonged to which visit.
Our priority on the first visit on the Queen Victoria in 2014 was to try something new, namely the cable car. The original Dubrovnik cable car was built in 1969 so that visitors could enjoy the view of the Old City from the top of Srdj Hill. It was destroyed in the war in 1991 and remained in disrepair until it was restored and re-opened in 2010. Therefore we had never had the chance to use it on previous visits, and did not know of its existence until we read about it in one of the QV tours. The drive into town passed the cable car station, but looking up towards Srdj Hill we were not optimistic that the trip was sensible or even possible as the top of the hill was covered in low cloud. Fortunately there was no wind. Euros are commonly accepted but it is better to change into local currency and we changed £40 into local kuna (rate was approx 9.5). We asked about the cable car and the helpful information guides rang to find out if it was running. By now we had seen a cable car but it was only the first trial run of the day. Walking up to the the cable car station the weather began to clear and we purchased tickets and joined the queue (under 15 mins wait). As we went up a Cunard tour group came down. Their tour involved a return trip, followed by a coach journey to Cavtat. The views from the top were good by that time, and there is also a museum which has details and photographs about the 1991-92 war. The barracks at the top of Srdj Hill were an important part of the defences of Dubrovnik. It was only because they held that the surrounding forces started to fire on the world heritage area inside the old town walls.
Instead of entering the city in the usual way, from the Pile Gate or from the moorings on the southeast side, we then entered the city through the gate on the east, just below the cable car. The old town was completed in the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day. The port's sea fortifications rise directly from the waters edge, and a massive fort dominates the city. Tall ramparts surround the city that is a maze of narrow twisting streets with two 14th-century convents at the ends. Dubrovnik has a wealth of cultural and historic monuments and is sometimes described as one of Europe's greatest outdoors museums. In 1991/2, the Serbs shelled the city during the homeland war causing considerable damage, but thanks to local efforts and international aid, the old town has been restored to its former beauty. We checked the map which indicated those properties which had been destroyed during the war, or had their roofs destroyed. The few bullet marks on the buildings which we reported in 2005 have gone. It is a remarkable reconstruction. On our first visit many of the roofs were missing but they have now been replaced and the city gleams with bright clean walls and glossy roof tiles. The churches are all open once more - we could see virtually no sign of damage in any of them much to our surprise. The unchanged character of the town and the intact medieval walls has led to the old city being included as a whole in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The ramparts are one of the most visible
features of the town. Construction started on the ramparts and forts in
the 12th century and continued for 500 years. The walls are 20 feet thick and soar to 80 feet. One can still walk the entire circumference of 6,350 feet past and through the various towers and fortifications and enjoy magnificent views over the port, out to sea and into the town. The route is narrow and the steps often steep and it is essential to get there before noisy guides start to drive their flocks of tourists in slow moving herds round the ramparts. It was quiet and there were not many people walking along the ramparts, perhaps because the price is now 100 kuna. At least they have now made it one way.
On the east side narrow streets, so narrow one can reach from one window across to the other, lead up so steeply that they quickly change to steps. Check to jowl with these houses, unchanged for hundreds of years, one finds garish signs and Internet access, tourist junk and street cafes full of tired visitors taking vicarious enjoyment and emptying their wallets in the belief they are absorbing the true atmosphere - such is progress. One soon reached the main wide street, the Placa, which leads directly from the Pile Gate to the Town Hall and harbour, and looked in both directions to decide where next to go. Pauline headed to the craft stalls in the Luza Square and was then dragged towards the Sponza Palace, the clock tower, Orlando's pillar and the Town Hall and Theatre. Turning right led back towards the Pile Gate and the Franciscan Church and Monastery. Here it was quiet and we sat inside, then emerged opposite Onofrio's Great Fountain. It was built in 1438 and the 16-sided fountains carved heads still dribble water. There was a cafe-cum- icecream stall immediately behind which served good cones for 10kuna, then we wandered along the narrow side streets, browsing in the windows. There is a small supermarket (not open on Sundays) which is useful to purchase items such as muesli, the Queens only have Alpen and Pauline prefers something more crunchy. It is not far from the square which has a morning market with lavender, fruit and vegetables, and local dried fruits and preserves. One can then continue south to visit the Church of St Ignasius, near to the Jesuit monastery.
When we reached the small harbour we noted many new bars and restaurants. Artists were selling their paintings and old women were selling hand made embroideries. Dubrovnik has found even more ways of parting the tourist from their spending money. One can walk onto the breakwater at the risk of wet feet at high tide. On our first visit in 2014 we climbed up to the city walls and the entrance to the Maritime Museum in the Fort of St Ivan. It is our favourite. There is now a Museum card costing 80 kuna (only 25 for students) which gives entry to 9 museums. It is a real bargain and enabled us to visit the Maritime Museum and then the Studio Pulitika nearby. It is only a small museum and art display. The local Cats Protection group has a souvenir stall in the square outside, and there was an eating area for wild cats in a small garden below. We remembered that Dubrovnik had many cats from our previous visits. Following the map on the ticket the next museum was the Dulcic Masle Pulitika Museum, which was on two stories and adjacent to the city walls.
Eventually one emerged again in the Placa, near the Cultural Museum and Rector's Palace. The building was designed in 1435 and is said to be the finest building in Dubrovnik and is a mixture of museum and art gallery, set on two stories around a central courtyard with an impressive stone staircase and a maze of rooms full of interesting artifacts. Next door is the National Theatre, and then the Town Hall with its proud flags billowing in the breeze. Beyond them we were facing the 16th century Sponza Palace, also once the residence for the Rector. It is Dubrovnik's oldest building and is now the home of the State Historical Archives.
Our next museum was the Archaeological Exhibitions/Fortress of Revelin so we walked around the walls and the harbour which gave a good view back across to the Maritime Museum. There are a lot of excavations in the area and useful information about what has been found. After wandering around the narrow streets we eventually found our final museum, the Natural Science Museum. We had spent a complete afternoon and then only visited 6 of the 9 museums.
So when we returned on the Queen Elizabeth a month latter in November we again tried to add in some new activities to our favourites, it is becoming increasingly difficult! We did much of the same walks round town and the free bits of the walls but did not go into the museums. The light was good and we did however get some nice new pictures with the lower level sun giving a glow to the town a selection of which will follow.
We next paid 3 euros for our first visit to the Treasury in the 12th-century Dubrovnik Cathedral. That was quite interesting as it had an enormous collection of reliquaries. The treasury is itself quite small and is protected by a wall of glass and is like a curio cabinet for holy body parts gleaming with gold. Whilst we were there a craftsman was doing some re-gilding which was fascinating to watch. Each fine sheet was removed from a book with the gold leaves separated by tissue paper. They were moved on a brush charged with static and held on a velvet pad before application. Pure gold is extremely malleable and can be hammered out until it is translucent.
The gilded structures have been custom-built for relics of all shapes and sizes, with each bone fragment and mummified remains in its own space. The reliquaries themselves are shaped like the objects they hold: arm-shaped reliquaries hold arm bones; leg-shaped reliquaries house leg bones; and head-shaped reliquaries hold skull-caps. The Treasury contains 182 relics, gifts from different regents, relics of the head arm and leg of Dubrovnik patron St Blasius, sacral dishes from 13th to 18th century as well as a number of paintings of extraordinary value from the Romanesque-Byzantine icon of the Virgin with Child from the 13th century to the paintings by Padovanini, Palma il Giovane, Savoldo, Parmigianino, P. Bordone and others. Among the most precious relics in the treasury are the remains of the patron saint of Dubrovnik: St. Blasius. According to legend he saved Dubrovnik from Venetian attack in the 10th century. The reliquary of his head, in the form of the Byzantine imperial crown, is embellished with enamelled medals and precious stones and demonstrates the outstanding work of Dubrovnik goldsmiths in the 12th century. There are also what are believed to be some of baby Jesus’s swaddling clothes (translated into English as Jesus’s diapers) and a piece of the true Cross. Unfortunately photographs were banned
After a final ice-cream we set off to the Pile Gate and our choice of 10 euro taxi or $14 Cunard shuttle bus. After passing through the gate we we decided to climb up to the Lovrijenac Fortress is built on a 37 meter high sheer rock overlooking the sea and looks most impressive. This detached fortress was of prime importance for the defence of the western part of Dubrovnik, both against attack from land and the sea. During its service fortress was manned by 25 man garrison and a Commander of the fort. The fortress has a quadrilateral court with mighty arches. Over the entrance to Lovrijenac fortress an ancient inscription reads as follows: 'Non bene toto libertas venditur auro' which translates as 'Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world'.
As the height is uneven, it has 3 terraces with powerful parapets, the broadest looking south towards the sea. Lovrijenac was defended with 10 large cannons. Being a dominant fortress whose capture could threaten defensive position of whole Dubrovnik a fail safe mechanism was designed into the fortress. The walls exposed to the sea and possible enemy fire are almost 12 meters thick (40 feet), but the large wall surface facing the City does not exceed 60 centimetres (2 feet). The caution of the Republic was not only directed against the foreign enemy, but also against possible rebellion of the Commander in charge of the fort garrison. In case of any trouble, the thin wall could never hold against the firepower of the mighty Bokar fortress facing Lovrijenac. Lovrijenac Fortress is maintained by the Town and open 0900 to 1500 - although we paid 30 kuna each to look inside, it was explained that the ticket could be upgraded if we later decided to walk around the walls.
Back at the Pile Gate there were Cunard tour groups and more independent visitors all jostling for the best place to wait for the next shuttle. Lunchtime was approaching and the sun had been replaced by heavy clouds. We decided to catch a taxi, and 10 euros was cheaper than the shuttle ($14) and much more relaxing. The taxi driver dropped us by the bus station at the port gate and for the first time we noticed a supermarket there. It was fairly basic, but did have some cheap bottles of wine although we were not planning to buy anything. They accept kuna and mastercard but not euros. This was our fourth visit and the first visit in 1998 had been truly memorable - one saw a proud people rebuilding the city and their lives after war, despite not really ready for tourists. This time we felt just slightly disappointed as the character and culture is being eroded by the need to pander to and exploit the tourists, but there is a lot of local craft work on sale and so far there are no fast-food outlets. It is an absolute must to visit if you have not previously had the opportunity.
This was our second visit within a month and the weather was better on the first visit so we took few additional pictures in areas we had already covered. We covered a lot of ground on the first visit and the second time we were filling in interesting gaps. We have decided to try to merge the two visits into a composite - that way we hope we will have the latest information at our own fingertips for future visits and it will give a better feel for what is available to our readers. It has not always proved easy without resorting to fiction so in some cases we have had to flag which activities belonged solely to a single visit and their timing or put them in an extra section at the end.
Venice is located at the head of the Adriatic Sea, where an intricate web of tiny islands and canals form this enchanting city. In this intimate setting where gondoliers serenade, delicate bridges lead to winding cobblestone streets, and glorious renaissance architecture form a fairy-tale backdrop, it is no wonder that many people feel it is the world's most romantic destination.
We started our entry into Venice before 0700 and we were treated to a description on the main decks of the main sights as dawn broke but it was not until reaching the Canale di San Marco that there was enough light for pictures on the cameras but Pete took some video earlier of the new tidal protection barriers. The QE and QV are not very large compared with modern cruise ships and will just be within the size limit planned for limiting access along the waterfront from next year. In the early morning it seemed very quiet but there were already several other ships in the distance at the cruise terminal which must have arrived the previous evening. Usually Cunard ships also stay overnight.
The views from the water, from the height of Deck 9 where we had a grandstand view from in front of the gym, were excellent – on the port side of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore with its marina and then Guidecca which has the famous Cipriani Hotel, the church of Il Redentore built in thanksgiving for the end of the 1576 plague and finally the Molino Stucky Hotel. The views on the starboard side of the palaces, bridges and expensive hotels along the waterfront lead to the famous view of the Doge's Palace and the Campanile immortalised in landscapes by Canaletto. There was a glimpse into the Grand Canal, still quiet in the early morning, and of the church of Santa Maria de la Salute as we continued along the Canale della Guidecca.
The ship was cleared by 0815 and we were quickly ashore. Cunard offered a private shuttle boat to San Vaccaria near St Marks Square costing 13 euros each way; we preferred to walk through the city after catching the People Mover. This overhead unmanned shuttle runs from the dock gates every 10 minutes to the Piazalle Roma and cost 1.30 euros. It is much easier than walking on main roads. There are then several options; we had decided to walk everywhere but the waterbuses, costing 7euros per journey or 20euros for a day ticket, are another good option. The walking routes which link the main areas of Rialto, Accademia, San Marco, Piazalle Roma and Ferrovia (railway station) are very well signposted, we were surprised to find. We started at the Tre Ponti, five interlocking bridges which span the Rio Nuovo canal near Piazzale Roma. In every direction there were canals, watertaxis and more bridges. It is much more fun to wander around the narrow streets and small canals than to rush down the Grand Canal in a large waterbus.
The first significant group of buildings is in the Campo San Rocco - the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, the church of San Rocco and the back of the Chiesa San Mario Gloriosa dei Frari. St Roch was a French saint of plague victims and the mission of the Scuola was the relief of the sick. The building was not open when we passed but our guide book described the Tintoretto paintings on the walls and the ceiling. A bric-a-brac market was setting up in the Campo dei Frari and the church door was open so we just walked inside. The “dei Frari” refers to the Franciscans who built the beautiful Gothic church, founded in the 13th century. It is empty inside and dominated by the altar in the distance, with Titian's “The Assumption”, and the choir screen and choir stalls. As we left, shortly after 0900, the ticket office was just opening and the first tourists were arriving.
Following the signs towards the Rialto led to the Campo San Polo, which we crossed and then continued until we glimpsed the Grand Canal on our right and could stroll along the waterside on the Riva del Vin to the Rialto Bridge. This is the oldest part of Venice and the name comes from rivo alto – high bank. The Rialto Bridge is one of four bridges which cross the Grand Canal and is probably the most well known, with its single span of marble and its shops. The other bridges are at Piazalle Roma, Ferrovia and Accademia. From the bridge there were excellent views along the Grand Canal, with good views from the Riva dei Ferro and the Riva dei Carbon before the path ended and we turned south through more narrow alleys towards Piazza San Marco.
Emerging at the Museo Correr in the corner gave a perfect view of this famous and large square, with the Campanile, Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace facing us. There were already lots of tour groups in the distance and our priority was to visit the Basilica, which was free, and then plan the rest of our time. Unfortunately there was a sign at the entrance explaining that it was closed until 1230, but that gave plenty of time to take the lift to the top of the Campanile. It was 8 euros, so quite expensive for a short visit, but the views from the top were excellent and allowed us to fit all the places together. The Torre del'Orologio clock-tower, built in 1496 and restored in 2006, glowed in the sunshine with its large blue and gold face displaying the signs of the zodiac.
Then we joined a queue to go into the Doge's Palace, the seat of government from the 9th century until 1797. There were two lines, and we had to wait to buy our tickets (16 euros full price and 10 euros for seniors, no discount for students over 25) while pre-booked tour groups, including those from the ship which had arrived by private launch, had priority. Everywhere in Venice we saw signs requesting “No Foto” or “No Flash” but they seemed to be ignored by everyone here, including the tour groups and we understand they only refer to flash pictures (the flash was always highlighted in the symbols). However the contrasting light conditions made it difficult to take useful pictures inside. The golden winged Lion of St Mark is the symbol of Venice. The seated lion represents the majesty of the State and the walking lion symbolises sovereignty. The highlights of the external visit were the courtyard with the Scala dei Giganti staircase and the Scala d'Oro gilded staircase leading to the State rooms. The sumptuous State rooms all have glorious ceilings, mosly decorated by Titian, Tintoretto and Bellini. The main rooms are the Sala del Collegio, the Sala del Senato with Tintoretto's “The Triumph of Venus” dating from 1580-84 on the ceiling and two clocks on the walls, the Sala del Consiglio dei Deici (the Council of 10) and the Sala del Maggior Consiglio where Council met presided over by the Doge, an enormous room with one entire wall covered by Tintorettos “Paradise”, said to be the world's largest oil painting and dating from 1588-90. Intrigue and power struggles were part of Venetian life and there are several examples of Bocca di Leone – letter boxes into which anonymous denunciations could be posted.
The Armoury has a large, comprehensive and interesting collection of weapons and armour, and from there the tour continues to the Prisons which occupy both sides of the canal, linked by the famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). Emerging through the souvenir shop and cafe, there remained the views of the Piazza and the special outdoor exhibition of photos from WW1 of Italian mountain defences, before leaving at the exit through the old main entrance at the Porta della Carta.
It was just after 12.30 so the Basilica San Marco was open and we joined a short queue to go in. Bags were not allowed so we took turns to stay with the rucksack instead of putting it into left luggage. The Byzantine building with its ornate domes dates from 1071 and unfortunately the exterior view was spoiled by scaffolding. The outside 13th century mosaics were in good condition, including those showing the arrival of the remains of St Mark in Venice, having been stolen from Alexandria in AD828. His remains are said to be buried underneath the altar. Inside the building was dark and the mosaics which are supposed to be spectacular and golden were dark and tarnished. Overall it was a slight disappointment after some of the other churches and the Doge's Palace.
Continuing towards the Molo (waterfront) there are two columns, one with the Lion of San Marco and the other with S. Teodoro, the previous saint of Venice. The square is one of the first areas to flood and Venice is slowly sinking on its wooden piles by about 7 cm a year, hence all the new barriers and protection works. Bentonite, a form of china clay which is also used for wine finnings has been injected under the square. Strolling along the waterfront the first bridge gave a good view of the Bridge of Sighs and the area was a mixture of souvenir stalls and waterbus and gondola stations, including the Cunard shuttle boat service. The first hotel, the Danielli, was soon followed by the Londra Palace. It belongs to the Relais and Chateaux Group so is not cheap; just pasta and a glass of regional wine with a basket of bread was 30euros each. However, the pasta with rabbit ragout, was excellent, as was the local Sauvignon Blanc, and it was pleasant to sit outside and watch people strolling by.
Dragging ourselves away as they closed the gates at 15.00 we stopped to look at the chaos in the lagoon. A regatta with 7 large yachts had just started, much to the surprise of the gondolas. Passing the Doge's Palace with its balcony we crossed St Mark's Square, passing all the cafes with their live music. Florians, the most famous, was full but as we arrived the music stopped so we continued walking, passing the Chiesa di San Moise and following signs to Accademia. The plan was to cross the Accademia bridge, but instead we found the traghetto gondola ferry which for only 2 euros crossed the Grand Canal from Santa Maria del Giglio towards Santa Maria della Salute.
Overall our day had cost 120 euros including lunch, and lasted from 0815 until 1730. It was a long day but we covered many of the important sights in Venice itself, although sadly many were only viewed from the outside due to lack of time. It is a place we have visited previously on our anniversaries and a place to return to – autumn is a perfect time when the heat is lower and the plagues of tourists are reduced. We went back on deck to watch the sights again as we left, some of the central area is still lit by gas.
As we stated earlier this was our second visit in a month - much of the visit was in common and has been merged but these activities were sufficiently major that they have been kept separate.
On our way into Venice we took the People Mover as last time but walked down past the Station (Ferrovia) and crossed over the Scalzi Bridge so we took a different route into the central area and bore away more to the East on our way to the Rialto Bridge. We looked at the natural History Museum which was very comprehensive but too expensive for the time we had available. They however offer a multiple ticket to 9 museums including the Doges Palace for 18 Euros, only 8 Euros more than the ticket for the Palace and Museo Correr Complex - it also lasts for 6 months rather than the three for the other ticket so it worth considering if one is in town for several days or planning to return. We also found the Rialto Market alongside the Rialto Bridge which we had missed last time it is full of Fish and fresh vegetables and worth diverting through although we did not see many sources of local cheese in our somewhat superficial look.
The first major change was in St Marks Square where we used our tickets from the last visit to go into the Museo Correr Complex - its rich and varied collections cover both the art and history of Venice. It was much bigger than we had anticipated and comprises the Museo Correr, the Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana, the Sansoviniana Libraries and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale as well as associated Art Galleries. One enters at the opposite end of the square to the Doges Palace and it stretches round two side of the square at first floor level and also has a sweep of art galleries on the floor above - we spent close to two hours and basically only did a walk through most of the top floor to assess it for the future. There were a number of huge rooms with some magnificent ceilings, in particular the Correr Ballroom and the Bibleoteca Marciana, which alone made the visit worth while. Another lasting memory were the various libraries with carved bookcases and the number of old globes (terrestrial and celestial), many over a metre in diameter and mostly made of leather. There were many Murano Glass chandeliers illuminating every room. Give a choice we would still recommend the Doges Palace as the higher priority but it is certainly worth finding time for both. As in the Doges Palace the staff were happy for non flash pictures to be taken although there was a small warning sign on entry.
The other major addition was a visit to the Gran Theatre La Fenice, a magnificent Opera house known as one of "the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre" with an opulent interior. La Fenice was the site of many famous operatic premieres including works from - Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and Verdi. It only returned to use in 2003 after being largely gutted in a fire in 1996, in fact it has been gutted three times but has risen like the Phoenix it is called after and been rebuilt to essentially the same design each time. They still have the original model used by the architect to guide them. The rebuild was completed in only 650 days by a team of two hundred woodworkers, plasterers, artists,and other craftsman who recreated the ambiance of the old theatre at a cost of some €90 million with the motto ."how it was, where it was". We had looked at booking tickets for the evening in Venice but those available over the Internet had been 185 Euros whilst we found there were some at 45 Euros at the theatre but for inferior seats with potentially restricted views. There were also 'listen only' seats which have a totally obstructed view. It is based much more on boxes than the Royal Opera House, it has 170 - in fact it was originally created by a society of box holders in the 18th century after their San Benedetto Theatre burnt to the ground.
On the way back to the ship we stopped for an espresso and local cakes as we did not have lunch this time. By then it was dark and we took a few night time pictures.
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