This was the day of walking to the heavens, literally and metaphorically. We departed the Bosnian Stanley Hotel intact, and post-breakfast buffet, we re-entered the serpentine coastal road that led to our penultimate and ultimate southerly destinations in Croatia: Ston and Dubrovnik.
Ston is really two towns, a bigger Ston and a littler Ston connected by the longest town walls of any town in Europe. These walls are made from the ubiquitous limestone that is the very ground of the Dalmatian Coast, and they run 5+ kilometers seemingly heavenward up and over steep mountainsides from town to town. Shortly, before we arrived in Ston we picked up our local guide, Marina, at a petrol station and drove down to the village. In addition to the town walls, Ston is the home of 2000+-year-old salt pans and oyster beds. Salt in ancient times was extremely valuable—therefore the town walls; oysters in all times are just a joy to eat. The bigger town of Ston is quite quaint and hospitable. We first visited the salt pans, which at the time of our visit were filled with sea water. Hotter weather would have to do its work to evaporate the water and leave behind the piles of salt to be swept and shoveled up, and carted away for processing into various grades. Many bought samples which should make their way home soon. After we were briefed on the layout of the town and given a time limit for exploration from Marina, we huddled and devised a plan of attack: first, get a cappuccino or an espresso and enjoy it; second, use the caffeine as rocket fuel to launch ourselves up the steep, arduous climb up the walls; third, enjoy the views and the exercise—frankly, the view of Ston and of the salt pans and surrounding countryside from these old fortifications was euphoric; fourth, make a careful descent, still taking photos, back to earth; fifth, eat raw or roasted oysters, get a gelato to go, and grab your seat on the bus. It was in the sixties and sunny throughout the morning; perfect weather for all of our activities. Our visit to Ston was a little bit of heaven on earth for us all—a trip highlight (post-Venice, post-Piran, post olive oil tasting, post the Pula amphitheater, post-Plitvice Lakes, post, post, post...!)
Then on to Dubrovnik! The buses dropped us off just outside the Old City walls on a small plaza that offered the shores of the Adriatic at the base of the cliff that supported it. Many photos were taken, as they should have been. We followed Marina into the old walled city (once the Republic of Dubrovnik, the first international state to recognize the US following its victory in the Revolutionary War). We went to lunch and ate a Mediterranean meal: fish, rice, bread, and ice cake—a well-prepared meal in a nice, side-alley restaurant. After lunch we threw down another gelato come: chocolate, strawberry, coffee, vanilla, lemon...then we recommenced our tour visiting medieval-era city chapels—to see art, architecture, items from a medieval pharmacy, and bits and pieces of saints preserved in anatomically reliquaries (arms, legs, heads, etc.), walking the dark and narrow and wide and bright streets of the the Old City, and finally ascending the city walls to circumambulate the city and take in the spectacular views of what lay within its walls and what lay without them. It was still sunny and warm, we had full bellies from lunch, we had the Mediterranean world at our fingertips and our “head in the clouds.” Some of the boys found their way onto Dubrovnik’s City Wall Rooftop Court and play some basketball and soccer with the locals. A few of them also kicked around a soccer ball in the streets of Dubrovnik with some local youngsters of the same age as well.
However, upon descending once again from the heavens, we, of course, engaged in 2 earthly delights: eating and shopping. As the sun set on the city and we headed back to our buses, we knew we had just experienced what Winterim was all about: experience the culture and history, meet the people, take in the sights and sounds of another part of the world and gaining some new level of understanding of it. We had filled our bellies and our souls in preparation for the journey home.