As I mentioned last week, there was a rather long period in my life when I considered myself Croatian. I had initially been told by my father that I was “Yugoslavian” but anyone with an even cursory knowledge of European history would know that “Yugoslavia” was more of a political union than it was a nationality.
After visiting the region while I was in college, I decided that I was actually Serbian based on some “conversations” that I had on trains, in taxis, and at a particular restaurant a gaggle of locals. Those with whom I engaged were barely able to speak English (and I was even more incapable of speaking Serbian/Croatian/Slovenian/Bosnian), but they were fairly convinced that I was Serbian. Either that or they were trying to convince me to try the Gibanica/Šnicle/Golaz/Cevapi (the respective local dish).
Who was I to argue? Or, how was I to argue?
So I was Serbian.
Part of what convinced me to opt for Serbian was the fact that the Croatians had sided with the Nazis in WWII.
This just in: the Nazis were not all that great.
Soon thereafter, war broke out in the region, largely as a result of the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milošević, who was determined to keep Yugoslavia together and may or may have not wanted to exterminate the Muslims as a means to that end.
This just in: Slobodan Milošević was probably not that great of a guy.
So, just as the Serbs were bombing the bejesus out of Croatia, I decided to switch nationalities. I guess one could argue that I was a bit of the equivalent of a “fair-weather fan” but, well, I can live with that.
At the time, I followed the war fairly closely, or as close as I could in those pre-Google days, and I was heartbroken when I learned that the Serbs had laid siege to the medieval town of Dubrovnik. Just a few years earlier, due to a storm in the Adriatic, I had to cut Dubrovnik out of my Spring Break travel itinerary. I had been down in Istanbul, along the Turkish coast (Kusadasi and Ephesus, for those keeping score), and then on a couple of Greek isles (Kos and Santorini), before making the long trek back up to Strasbourg where I was studying for the year.
I had every intention to take a 22-hour diversion to Dubrovnik, the “Jewel of the Adriatic” but time did not permit the trip.
At the time, I chose not to be disappointed, instead, I remember thinking “don’t worry, Dubrovnik will always be there.”
Just a few years later, Slobodan Milošević (the aforementioned not-great guy) and the Serbs tried to wipe it off the map. There was no strategic value to the city, it was simply a symbolic expedition. The Croatians in general and the Dalmatians (roughly, the people who have lived for over a thousand years on the portion of Croatia that is directly on the coast) in particular saw Dubrovnik as their spiritual center, the essence of their independence, as the had been inhabited since the 7th Century.
Despite the contemporary reports of the war, the city was not destroyed; in fact, due to the hardy construction of almost all of the centuries-old buildings, the bulk of the damage was limited to the roofs–many of those, though, were completely destroyed.
For the millions of Game of Thrones fans, this turned out to be incredibly good news since much of the insanely popular HBO series was filmed in the city. While I am far from a GoT junkie, I did watch the series, eventually (honestly, I had difficulty getting past the first episode when Jaime pushed the young Bran out of the window, hoping to kill him–if you are one of the two people who have not watched the series, once you get past this horror, it really only gets worse, but since you have already accepted this blatant violence against children, well, the rest really doesn’t matter).
Walking around the town, there are plenty of GoT stores and scores of fans wearing GoT gear. Most of it was lost on me, though, as I did not recognize a single site form the series pointed out by our guide. My wife, though, seemed to remember the scenes as we walked through the town.
Initially, I was impressed.
Then I was a bit scared.
But when we went into the Game of Thrones store which included a close to a life-sized replica of the Iron Throne, which required a purchase in order to take a photo of the throne, she refused.
That was an extremely long sentence to set up the fact that I was relieved.
Here are a few of the photos I took that turned out to be related to the show. Let me know if I got them wrong.
A few more pictures from Croatia next week!