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Zdravo from Hrvatska!

Hello from Croatia!

We flew in from Gatwick to Dubrovnik this morning. We had seen pictures on the internet and read about the city but we were not adequately prepared for the mountainous terrain and gorgeous and serene beauty of the city. Nestled in the Dinaric Alps, the area draws parallels to Greece and the Amalfi Coast. Not as uniform in color as the former, nor as rugged as the latter, nonetheless the sea, cliffs, and houses at steep angles reminded us of Dubrovnik's Greek and Italian cousins. The mountains, better known as the Dinarides, extend from Italy through what used to be Yugoslavia into Albania. These mountains offer a unique mix of ruggedness, low bushes, sharp evergreens and plenty of dolomite and limestone from the time this area was covered by the sea.

Dubrovnik itself is a study in resiliency. The city has held steady in the face of many adversities through the centuries, including a siege as recent as in the 90s when the Yugoslav army bombarded the city's ancient sites in order to maintain its hold on the country as it fell apart. From the 8th century, the city has been protected by fortification, initially made of wood and strengthened with stone until the 17th century to provide a double wall of protection, called the Walls of Dubrovnik. The walls are 1.5m to 6m thick depending on the sea or land side and they rise up to 25m in height. The city has withstood the Ottomans, Venetians and a strong earthquake with the sheer strength of the fortification and judicious politics that kept both the East and the West at bay.

Our day in Dubrovnik started with a leisurely stroll through the Old Town, a couple of blocks from our hotel. On a warm winter day with a bright Mediterranean sun gently bathing us, we set out for an introduction to this historic city. First we stopped for a lunch of fried fish, risotto with scuttle fish and mussels, spaghetti bolognese, a salad with sun-kissed tomatoes and olive oil. Afterwards, with full bellies and an acrophobic amongst us, we set out for our adventure on the walls, à la Game of Thrones.

This, my friends, is the site of King's Landing.

To get to the wall, we went up steps that appeared to rise from the center of the earth to the skies. By the time we reached the top, our knees were buckling and our lungs were gasping. After letting our joints and gills calm down, we continued on a gentle slope, confident that the worst was behind us. Contrary to our expectations and without notice, the wall soon notched up exponentially on the steep scale, while teasing us with spectacular city and sea views.

We took hundreds of photos from every angle, including from the observation points with portholes. We alternated between leaning over the edge and cautiously maneuvering past other climbers with careful consideration of selfie sticks.

All along the walls we found turrets to accommodate up to 120 cannons and the portals in the walls that provide intriguing angles to the sea below.

The portholes in the observation points frame the city in breathtaking ways. Sadly, we found graffiti on the walls which made me want to cry. This is now a World Heritage site which, I hope, means that the penalties for defacing are incredibly steep.

The walk on the walls took nearly two hours from start to finish. At times, we were breathless from the uphill climbs and then we were fearful coming down on the high and uneven steps. What energized me was the thought that we were walking on a centuries-old site and a bit of unevenness in this context was inconsequential. Our favorite acrophobic offered a brilliant and adventurous spirit for most of the way and exited before the final steep incline. Deep breathing, hand-holding, and a few wide spots for photography lifted our spirits, even as the heights induced anxiety.

In the end, we were filled with an immense gratitude for those who have and continue to preserve the wall and a deep sense of joy for the opportunity to leave our presence on the path for those who will follow us next. For centuries more, we hope.

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