Armchair Traveler’s Series: Walking the Walls and Meandering the Streets of Old Town Dubrovnik

Note: Most of us have been grounded from traveling, so I continue the “Armchair Traveler’s Series,” a nostalgic look at my past travels in 2019. Come explore with me! (Photos by Bruce and Connie Holmes)

1082 Stairsteps and 2 Miles, But Who’s Counting?

I am! I proudly completed the challenging, but exhilarating, walk on Dubrovnik’s Medieval walls. I was terrified to attempt this trek. Why? Read on.

Would Cranky Knees Allow Me to Walk the Walls?

A long time ago, 2002 to be exact, my husband and I were power walking on a lovely five-mile trail that traversed a luminous lake, ambled through a dappled forest, and paralleled a shimmering river. As I set each foot down, leaves leaped in the air releasing a riot of red, orange, and amber. Unknown to me, hiding under the leafy carpet was a four-inch piece of a tree limb. My unsuspecting foot stepped on it, and suddenly, I went airborne, then crashed to the forest floor, landing on both knees. Ironically, my idyllic autumn walk set up a lifetime of pain and knee surgeries.

Fast forward to the present. Between meniscus tears and a knee replacement, I have had five knee surgeries. Because I am a “slow healer,” navigating stairsteps and uneven terrain one year after my knee replacement was a challenge. When the opportunity arose to travel to Dubrovnik, I had fears about whether I could do the iconic City Wall walk.

Fears Revealed

I asked myself the following questions:

  • Can I navigate the stairsteps without one of my knees buckling?
  • Can I handle the stairsteps and the distance without tiring out?
  • Will I be a nuisance to the other walkers, especially the vast majority who walk faster than I do?
  • Will impatient walkers push past and bump me as I walk down the steps, thus increasing my chance of falling?

Elusive Answers

These bothersome questions ricocheted throughout my brain without a resolution. Once I arrived in Dubrovnik and I saw the walls, my guard fell to their power. I felt like a sailor pulled to the dangerous sea by the Sirens’ songs. I couldn’t resist; I had to make the walk:

A bonus was knowing I’d see Game of Thrones filming sites, such as the Minčeta Tower, which is close to the Pile Gate and the highest point in Old Town. This was the location of the House of the Undying where Daenerys goes to free her imprisoned dragons.

In fact, Dubrovnik’s Old City is the home and fortifications of King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms. The epic Battle of King’s Landing was filmed here, and the Fort of St. Lawrence was the Red Keep of Westerosi Royalty. For more information about Game of Thrones’ sites in Dubrovnik and Croatia, check out Rick Steves’s blog:

Off I Go!

Determined to complete the walk with my husband, I took off using my walking stick to help me navigate the obstacles. The beginning of the walk was straight up several uneven steps, a daunting start to a challenging day.

Luckily, there were also long expanses of passages with gentle inclines. Looking around, I was enveloped by the warm terra cotta of the roofs, the glorious green of the mountains, and the brilliant blues of the sea and sky. Thus, I felt encapsulated in a colorful cocoon, wondering if all who had walked this fortification, starting in the 12th century, had felt the same way.

On a practical note, most of the walk is under the blazing Adriatic sun, requiring one to wear a hat and sunscreen. Pre-planning ensures success, and the benefits are numerous. For example, sea views evoked the romance of scenic modern sails, dashing pirate ships. and marine beauty.

The beckoning Adriatic Sea.

Questions Answered.

Yes, I am waxing poetic about this beautiful walk, but what about my mobility issues and fear? From my experience, I encourage those who are fit but challenged to consider making this walk. Here are my reasons why:

  • It’s possible to choose a time to walk when the crowds are at a minimum. Check the cruise schedules. Don’t arrive at the same time or day as the horrendous hordes. Also, walk early before the sun gets scorching hot. The day we walked, there was only one cruise ship in port. We arrived for the walk before they debarked, so we had no crowds.
  • Bring a walking stick. My knees didn’t buckle, but I couldn’t have completed the walk without it.
  • I found the other tourists to be incredibly polite. The fast walkers were courteous and careful when passing me. In fact, there were niches I could step into and let people by when needed. Also, I discovered some people walked even more slowly than I do.
  • On the subjects of tiring out or getting sun stroke, there are museums and cafes along the route. You can escape from the sun, sit for a while, and enjoy drinks and food. During your rest period, you can savor the views, which are a beautiful marriage of the ancient and the contemporary.

Photo taken out the window of the Maritime Museum housed in the St. John Fortress on the north-east side of the City Walls:
The Old Port bustling with tourists.

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

I did it! My stubborn resolution beat my cranky knees into submission. While walking two miles is not a challenge for me, climbing up and down 1082 stairsteps is. Pacing myself and resting when needed allowed me to exit the City Walls without injury.

We left the Old Town, going to our hotel to meet our friends, Bob and Marcia, with whom we traveled for the next two weeks. The next afternoon, we gladly returned to Dubrovnik on the water ferry and explored the Old Town at street level. We started by walking the pedestrian-friendly, limestone-paved Stradun, the town’s main street.

We first explored some of the religious sites: Dubrovnik’s Cathedral, a baroque beauty built 1671-1713; the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Annunciation erected in 1877; and the 14th-century Franciscan Monastery and Pharmacy. The Old Pharmacy was tiny and so packed with tourists we couldn’t see the displayed artifacts, nor could we tell if the new products for sale are made locally. The scene was too claustrophobic, so we left:

I could not leave Dubrovnik without seeing the Game of Thrones’ location of Queen Cersei’s Walk of Shame where religious leaders forced her to atone for her sin of adultery. Stripped naked and long hair cropped, Cersei walked down a grand Baroque staircase and through the streets while her taunting subjects pelted her with fruits and vegetables. The scene was raw, emotional, and excruciatingly hard to watch. In other words, it was great television.

We found the site, the Jesuit Staircase, on the Old Port side of town. Cersei wasn’t there, but tourists descended the steps, mimicking her arduous journey. The street below the staircase was filled with contented outdoor diners and shoppers, but no hecklers.

Looking up the Jesuit Staircase.

The day was waning, and it was now time for some great food and adult beverages, However, I needed to make one more stop to visit the statue of Marin Držić, “Dubrovnik’s Shakespeare,” sculpted by Croatia’s most famous sculptor, Ivan Meštrović. Tradition edicts one must rub the statue for good luck, as evidenced by the shiny spots:

Hoping for good luck.

Good Luck and Good Night

I got my good luck since our friends and we finished our evening in Old Town at Fish Restaurant Proto, an excellent choice: We were seated on the second- floor terrace and enjoyed the cool breeze and the view of the street below. My dinner of scallops on a bed of two purees, potato and green pea, was as delicious as it was beautiful. Lovely!

Night falls on the Old Town. What a wonderful two days! I leave, Mistress of the City Walls, Conqueror of the Unknown, Tamer of Fears. I am happy.

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