So the next day I went back to Dubrovnik because I had only gotten a one-evening glance of the city the day before.
I like Dubrovnik because of its traditional spirit of freedom and liberty. It represents all the underdogs against the big bullies (Venice).
And when bathed in light, Dubrovnik is majestic.
It must have something to do with the light and the white of the marble and the red of the roof tiles and the cerulean of the sea and the azure of the sky mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Right outside the Rector's Palace
St. Blaise's Cathedral
And the sky was luscious.
Haha this was in a cathedral so cute electric candles!!!!
The narrow alleyways were both claustrophobia-inducing and strangely romantic.
I remember smelling lavender perfume at a stall here.
Partly because tourism is so crucial to Dubrovnik's survival as a city it has an amaaaaazing tourist board (which I will talk about later).
But I digress. Since Croatia is really well known for its beaches, I decided to check them out -- I walked all the way from the walled Stari Grad (Old City) through Ploce (as in the map) to Viktorija on the other side of the coastline so as to fulfill my walking quota of at least 10 km per touristy day.
Which partly explains my Turkish/Bosnian/Croatian tan with which I went back to Malaysia.
The water was super duper clear.
IT IS FORBIDDEN SEX ON THE BEACH
From the coast of Viktorija.
Jebi = fuck
Srbijo = Serbia
I like graffiti. In a sadistic photography sort of way. I think it reflects the spirit (or at least the undercurrents) of a society.
Hahaha these kids were so cute!!!!!!!!!!!
They were dancing to music meant for other performers dressed in pirate costumes hohohoho who just stood aside and watched them. I think.
And in the end the pirates graciously shared their tips with the cute little kids.
I like this photo.
So it was night when I walked back to Dubrovnik after bathing in the Adriatic and I felt this nagging feeling in my heart. You know the feeling: the one which dares you, tempts you, challenges you to do something you'd rather not because of convention or rules or tradition or norms or fear of embarrassment.
And there is this persistent tug-o-war between conventional wisdom and desire; whether to chicken out, follow the rules, and be boring, forgettable, and predictable, or to follow your heart, to be random and exciting and to listen to Nike and just do it.
But I figured that I'll only live once so why the hell not.
And thus, sober with self-doubt but drunk with courage, I strutted into an electronics store somewhere inside the walled city and looked around for a receptacle. I had no real criteria for the desired object -- all I wanted was something (for free) that could contain other smaller objects. Function over form.
Alas, at one secluded end of the sore I saw a cardboard box which contained a few scraps of trash -- and I asked the shopkeeper if I could have it. She said sure. I smiled. And I took my box and strolled out.
Now between life as normal and moments of great intensity there is this middle stage, the realm of the liminal. It is a point in time when it is not too late to pull out of the public speaking competition so as to not suffer embarrassment on stage, when there is still time to renounce one's commitment to a prior agreement, when it is still possible to walk off from the 20 feet-high diving board plank. These are tipping points -- where the situation is just as likely to end up one way or the other. Time stops. You hear your pulse. You close your eyes. You breathe deep. You search your soul. And while the overarching tension and enormity of the situation overwhelms most of the risk-averse population (which ultimately chickens out), you have the balls to take the plunge.
And so I walked over to one of the entrances to the walled city of Dubrovnik, claimed ownership over one of its marble staircases, took out my wallet, put some Croatian kuna in my cardboard box, and crossed out an item on my things-to-do-before-I-die list.
And did I busk!
And I sang: Ave Maria! O Sole Mio! Hey Jude! Let It Be! Silent Night! When You Say Nothing at All! Cinema Paradiso! Angels We have Heard on High! And I was saturated with fear and excitement and vibrato and adrenalin that I forgot my lyrics and hummed (!!!!!!) to many, many parts of the songs.
And how they stared!
And how they gathered around me; some closer, smiling, laughing; some further away, aloof, but still staring.
And how they stared!
And how some laughed at this Asian kid who is evidently not Croatian nor a citizen of Dubrovnik and his gall, hohoho, no less for busking than for singing English songs in a non-English-speaking country!
And how some of them took no notice and just walked past.
And how some of them stayed for a while to appreciate the music.
And how some of them thought highly enough of me to whip out their cameras for a shot or two.
And how one Croatian man came up to me, posed with me for a picture, retrieved his wallet, made a big show of flipping through his cash, then left without putting anything in my box!!!! (I was vastly more amused than annoyed XD )
And how one (tone-deaf) American lady sang the Phantom of the Opera and Disney with me even though she didn't know the lyrics I knew and vice versa.
And how they threw money into my box!
And how grateful I was; how wide my smile!
And how much I enjoyed the attention, the limelight, the recognition as much as I enjoyed the moolah.
And how they stared!
And how I moved from my spot at the staircase to the other entrance at the Pile Gate for a change in scenery.
And how this super hot Italian-looking lady with long, wavy black hair smiled so sweetly whilst proclaiming "Bravo; bravo!
" and dropped a 5 Euro note in my box when I was doing Ave Maria, when every vibrato, every soaring phrase resonated with my soul.
And how I sang again in the central square in front of the clocktower and the Libertas flag and St. Blaise's Cathedral, bathed in the moonlight and the spotlights and their beautiful reflections on Dubrovnik's marble tiles.
And how they stared!
And how this bunch of teenagers came up and asked if I knew any Croatian songs -- and how I sang Dino Merlin's Nedostajes
to their surprise! (But only until I forgot the lyrics halfway through the chorus and lalala-ed my way through)
And how, retrospectively, I should've sang Tose Proeski's addictive The Hardest Thing
as well to better appeal to the audience.
And how this 9 year old kid and his friend was so friendly and candid and had the balls to come up and chat with me after complimenting my voice. So cute!!! And such good English!
And how this family of five stopped by the flag for a full five minutes to listen to me and how the parents periodically gave the kids money to put in my box.
And how some of them came back repeatedly to listen to the music.
And how they stared, and how they smiled.
And how I sang, and how I smiled.
And how grateful I was for free water from the fountains of Dubrovnik.
And this is how I busked in Dubrovnik for an hour and made 185 kuna = 130 RM = 40 USD.
And now I remember, I reminisce, and I still smile.
But that was not the end of my adventures in Dubrovnik.
The next day I decided to go to Kotor in Montenegro, or Crna Gora; both terms mean black mountain. Montenegro is but a bus ride from Dubrovnik. And because Montenegro just split from Serbia, it didn't really have foreign relations with many countries of the world. So solely from the internet it was not clear whether I needed a visa for Montenegro. And I didn't have one.
The very competent and efficient Dubrovnik Tourism Board informed me that they had called the Montenegrin embassy for a visa-less Brazillian woman who wanted to visit the country -- only to be turned down by the Montenegrin side. So no visa = no entry.
Several versions of Lonely Planet, on the other hand, stated that one could obtain visas from the Croatia-Montenegro border crossing.
So I decided why not. Especially since busking the day before -- I couldn't just end my Balkan journey on a boring note; I had to try getting into Montenegro.
And I got on a bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor and almost screamed for joy when we exited Croatia and saw the "Welcome to Montenegro" sign, only to sink to an unfathomable low after realizing that there was another border crossing; the sign was placed in no man's land.
And so this Montenegrin officer came on board and proceeded to stamp our passports, almost carelessly -- which gave me some hope. But when he came to me and I expected him to stamp my passport without much thinking he repeated "Malaysia" out loud, got off the bus to double check his list, and it was at this point when I kinda knew that I wasn't getting in. :(
And true enough, I was directed to take my luggage and deboard the bus.
But I still had the Lonely Planet information -- and I asked to make my visa in the main office building. But for some reason the officer I met was incredibly rude (probably because he couldn't speak English well) and kept repeating no! no! and pointed me to go back to Croatia. So I was adamant lah I'm not going to give in to some rude officer -- and true enough, like the ticketing office of Dubrovnik's city walls, he finally gave in and let me into the main building. And there I spoke to another officer (with better English) and told him what Lonely Planet wrote. And he took my passport, and went into his office for quite a while! I thought that I was finally getting my visa -- perhaps the Montenegrin border services are just lazy and turn down all tourists point-blank, unless the tourists themselves protest vehemently.
But in the end he came back with my still visa-less passport. He had just called Podgorica and they said that the only way that the border office could issue visas was if my papers were sent to their embassy in Zagreb way in advance. So no can do.
So I still bear a grudge against Montenegrin visa policy because Singaporeans do not need visas for Montenegro.
But at least it was an experience lah.
And so I tugged my luggage back through no man's land to the Croatian border. But what the fuck man no man's land was a freaking hill. And pulling 20 kilograms uphill over a distance of a kilometer is not very easy.
So as in Hvar
, I decided to hitch hike. It is easier to be thick-skinned when one is hot and sweaty and is but halfway uphill with 20 kilograms of shit.
And in true deus ex machina fashion, someone stopped. :)
They were a Bulgarian couple who had just returned from their honeymoon -- and they had rented a trailer! Funny thing was that one studied in Dartmouth and the other in UCLA so we all had an American connection. :)
So if one is muka tembok, one must be muka tembok till the end. I asked them where they were going -- they said Dubrovnik. The I asked if I could tumpang them back there (kinda not nice because intruding on their honeymoon, but what to do :( ). The guy was like yeah sure immediately but the girl was hesitant at first. And they were so nice :) so in the end I did end up riding back to Dubrovnik with them.
And on the journey we chatted about American education, Tito, similarities between Bulgarian/Serbian/Croatian, how Bulgarians were valedictorians at Dartmouth for two years consecutively (thanks Eng Han), and how Bulgarians and many of their East European, ex-Communist counterparts place huge emphases on reading and education. I like. Deep people. And I could connect with them.
And we stopped a few times on the way to Dubrovnik for photo sessions. The highways snake by the coastal mountains; such circumstances make for dramatic pictures.
That walled city is Dubrovnik. (I must've walked further than where I took this picture the day before)
And I took pictures of them -- since they were travelling alone I figured they couldn't have had many pictures together. And so I asked if I could take pictures of them together. And they said yes. :) And they were so cute together -- I took so many kissing photos!
In the end I gave them my last two Malaysian keychains/souvenirs. :) And I was glad that I had kept them -- perhaps I knew i needed to hold on to them even in Bosnia.
So I have a positive impression of Bulgarians. :)
And I'm still annoyed at Montenegro.
And after consultation with the ever-friendly Dubrovnik Tourism Board, I decided to revisit Mostar
before flying off from Sarajevo. And this to a large extent because they told me that since I had been to Split and Hvar, there was really nothing much to see in South Croatia (so honest! I like!) -- and it would probably be more fulfilling, touristically, for me to revisit Bosnia. So I took their advice, and ended a lovely stay in Croatia.
Hrvatska -- volim te; ti si tako lijepa!