The weather forecast once again looked a bit mixed for today when we checked it yesterday evening, but we decided to set our alarms for an early start anyway and see what the weather looked like when we woke up. For once we were in luck; when we got out of bed around 7am there was a beautiful bright blue sky, which was significantly better than what had been forecast. We had breakfast as quickly as we could and before 8am we were on our way into the centre of Dubrovnik.
It's about a 40 minute walk from where we're staying to the old town. There is a bus which runs from the street outside the apartment to the Pile Gate at the entrance to the old town, but we've never caught it because it always looks ridiculously jam-packed with tourists. The walk is a bit uphill at first, but it's worth the climb because after 20 minutes or so you reach the top of the hill and are rewarded with a viewpoint like this.
The reason we were setting out so early is that we wanted to beat the worst of the crowds to Dubrovnik's city walls. As we left the apartment we could see that there was only one cruise ship in the port this morning, which isn't too bad by Dubrovnik standards, but it can still get very busy during the day. The walls open at 8am at this time of year and the cruise ship visitors don't tend to arrive until about 09.30, so our plan was to see as much as possible before they descended. Walking round the walls is also quite tiring because there are a few steep staircases and very little shade, so going early in the day also means you can get round before the sun gets unbearably hot.
It was about 08.30 in the end before we arrived at the Pile Gate.
It costs 120 kuna (about £13.50) to go around the walls, which is quite expensive but definitely worth it. For the avoidance of doubt, several signs in the ticket office proclaim that you have to pay for your tickets in Croatian kuna
There's a strict one-way system around the walls, which helps ensure that there isn't complete chaos. After you climb up the staircase to begin walking around, there is a great view behind you to Srđ, the mountain which towers above Dubrovnik.
The next thing you see as you go around the first corner is the impressive Fort Lovrijenac.
From here the walls lead uphill, alongside the sea...
...and you can start to get some views of the town and the rest of the walls.
Once you get to the next corner, the island of Lokrum appears on the horizon...
...and there are some beautiful views of the rest of the Croatian coast, towards Montenegro.
The cliffs which the walls are built on are very, very steep!
One of the unusual things about walking round the walls is that you realise people's houses are built right up against them. As we made our way round we passed private gardens, school playgrounds and even a basketball pitch. It must be a bit strange to have a constant procession of people walking past your windows though.
We soon came to the old town harbour, which is really pretty.
These days only small boats leave from here, with the main cruise ships and ferries leaving from the larger port, not far from where we're staying in Lapad.
From this part of the walls you start to get a good view over the rest of the town.
On the final stretch there are beautiful views of all the red roofs and domes of various churches.
I particularly liked this view, where you can see the town and the harbour and Lokrum...
...as well as this one where you can see Fort Lovrijenac again.
Finally you come to the Minčeta Tower, which is the highest point that you can climb to on the walls. This bit doesn't have a one-way system (there's just one staircase for up and down) so it's definitely good to be here when it's not too busy.
The views from here are incredible...
...in every direction...
...though it was a bit windy up there, as you can see from my hair!!
Finally it was time to start climbing down.
By this point we could see that the first part of the walls was already very busy, quickly becoming a long procession of people as the first of the cruise ship tours started off. It had taken us just over an hour to walk around, so although we felt like it we'd had a day's activity by now, we still had plenty of time to explore the rest of Dubrovnik
The city is beautiful inside the walls as well...
...and it still wasn't too busy at this point in the day.
We walked around some of the main streets for a while and then set off in search of bookshops.
I was quite lucky with last year's holiday that we went to both Zagreb and Rijeka, two large cities which are home to some of Croatia's biggest bookshops. On this holiday we've mostly been in smaller places, so Dubrovnik seemed like the best bet for stocking up on Croatian reading material this year.
On the main street we found a branch of Algoritam, which is a well-known publisher of books in Croatian, so assumed that would be te best place to try. When we got inside I was quite disappointed though; about a third of the bookshop seemed to be given over to selling books in English, presumably aimed at tourists. About another third seemed to be mainly children's books, which left a comparatively small space for actual novels. Even worse, once I started going through them it became clear that the vast majority were just translations of English or American fiction. So if you wanted a complete hardbound set of the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trilogy in Croatian, you were in luck, but if you actually wanted to read something by a Croatian author then your choices were few and far between! We spent quite a while in there going through the shelves in detail and eventually did manage to find some things which looked interesting, but it was a bit of a struggle.
We emerged into the sunshine once more and were just strolling down the main street, when Tim noticed another bookshop called Algebra. We went into this one and it was like stepping into a different universe! The girl behind the counter was really helpful, and when I asked her if she could recommend me some books by Croatian authors, she started running all over the bookshop making piles of interesting things. Unlike the first bookshop, this one was full of Croatian literature and so I was spoilt for choice. We ultimately came away with such a massive pile of stuff (paid for by Tim - to be my birthday and Christmas presents) that I'm now a bit concerned about how we're going to fit it all in our suitcases to get home
Once our shopping was complete, we went for a stroll round to the old harbour to enjoy the views there.
It's a comparatively peaceful part of Dubrovnik, so we were able to sit on a shady bench for a while and watch the boats coming and going.
Then it was time to start the walk back to Lapad, and after leaving the books at the apartment, to find somewhere to get a late lunch. Food can be quite expensive in Dubrovnik compared to the rest of Croatia, but we found an amazingly cheap place just off the main restaurant street, where I had a beautiful bolognese pizza, Tim had some Mexican food (it was a rather wide-ranging menu which covered everything from burritos to pizza/pasta to ćevapčići!), we had some very nice wine and somehow the bill still came to less than 200 kuna
We've had a brilliant day today, and while the weather forecast is suggesting rain for tomorrow again, I'm hoping they might be as wrong about that as they were about the rain today!