Holding a crumpled map in one hand, and a bottle of luke-warm water from which I was stopping to take a mouthful every few minutes in the other, we staggered up the steep road—my backpack now seeming to weigh twice as heavy as usual.
The sticky air was thick with humidity, and the sun beat down relentlessly. Frustrated, we looked around for any clues to say that we were going in the right direction.
There were none. It was useless.
We had only stepped off the bus from Mostar—a place that I had adored—about 40 minutes earlier, and already I was missing the relaxed pace of Bosnia.
Despite its beauty, Dubrovnik had not yet charmed me.
As we walked, impatient tourists barged past us annoyed that our luggage was blocking their path. With no clear instructions as to where our guesthouse was located we guessed at which direction to walk.
It was the wrong direction.
Defeated, we had to accept that a taxi was now our only chance of finding the beds that we were very much in need of. As we flagged it down, I sighed and said: “This is going to cost us”. It was clear from the colossal cruise liners docked in port not far away that Dubrovnik was not a cheap city. The taxi driver laughed when we gave him the address.
“What are you doing all the way over here? You are completely lost!”
I ignored the comment, not in the mood for a mocking taxi driver—no matter how good-natured he thought he was being.
One U-turn and a very short drive later, we parted with the first of our large Croatian notes. He had no change to give us and so treated himself to a generous tip. The length of the drive was not equal to the money we paid. He had driven us the long way around to make it seem like a longer journey, and he dropped us off at the wrong end of our road.
Tired, hot, hungry—and now angry—we left the taxi to look for the hostel that was located at number 15. The road was a very steep, very narrow, stone step alleyway. We counted the numbers down: 23, 21, 19, 17, 7, 5…
Where was number 15?
We walked up and down, hoping to find some kind of clue, but there was nothing obvious. Eventually a girl sunbathing on a rooftop terrace peered over the wall, squinting at us in the bright light.
“What are you looking for?” she called.
“Number 15” we said. A discussion ensued up on the rooftop terrace, and then she turned to us. “Go down there” she said, and pointed to a tiny alleyway that led past number 7, an alleyway that looked like the route to somebody’s backyard. Our best hope was to follow it and see where it led. It wound around a few more twists, and more steep steps appeared. Following them for what seemed like another age, we finally came to number 15. We were ecstatic that we had at last found our accommodation.
After a quick shower, we walked to the Old Town of Dubrovnik, a 25-minute walk from our hostel. The walls of the city are absolutely stunning, but the tourist circus that lurks inside is not. I am not berating tourists here because I am one myself, but after eating amazing local cuisine in the other Balkan countries, I was upset to find that Dubrovnik has sold out to the tourists. Menu after menu offered the same boring holiday cuisine: pizza, burgers, lasagne, chips…and at over €20 a main dish, I knew that I would not be eating in the walled city that night. In fact, after only 10 minutes of being inside the walls, I felt stifled and needed to get out.
Trying to avoid the main thoroughfare, we skipped into a side alleyway in the hopes that we could get out by the back roads.
It was like stepping into another world.
Here in this tiny stone alleyway, only metres from the bars and restaurants of the main street, no other tourists ventured. We had it virtually to ourselves. Colourful laundry flapped from the windowsills, and bougainvillea crawled the crumbling brickwork. It was the perfect moment of peace in a frustrating day.
I reflected on why I was not enjoying Dubrovnik as much as I had expected, and then it hit me.
I was burned out.
I had travelled at break-neck speed through 7 countries in less than 4 weeks. I had barely stopped to catch breath in between train rides.
We needed to stop.
We needed a beach.
We didn’t want to be around hoards of people anymore.
I wanted to like Croatia, but travel burnout was preventing me from connecting with Dubrovnik.
We left the city less than 22 hours after arriving. Our final goodbye was when we ended up paying more for our (already expensive) room because the landlady had no change for our large note—something that seems to happen frequently in Dubrovnik.
As far as I was concerned, the best thing about Dubrovnik was watching it disappear in the rear-view mirror of the bus.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
We were on our way to a beach, and I was happy!
Have you ever suffered from travel burn out? How did you deal with it? If you have any tips for dealing with travel fatigue, please leave a comment below!
My grandfather was born in Croatia, and I have only been once, but to my disappointment missed Dubrovnik, as well as the other, more popular destinations in the country. Instead, we stayed in the house my grandfather was born in – in the town of Stivan, met family, and relaxed on the very quiet beaches of his old town. Only nine people live there year round, and others come back each summer to the homes they were born in. It is a very special place, much different than I’d imagine the more touristy locations to be. The food in that area is also some of the best I’ve had while traveling.
This past summer, my parents and brother went back to visit, but this time also went to Split and Dubrovnik for the first time. They were SO disappointed, missing the peaceful and lovely town of Stivan, and wishing they had opted to stay there longer. Maybe given Croatia another chance, but head to the north. It’s absolute paradise there. 🙂
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I would love to visit Croatia again and see the parts that are less tourist-ridden. Dubrovnik was so beautiful, but seemed to have sold out totally to tourism. I imagine that Croatian food is fantastic (as the food in the other Balkan countries is), and I was so sad that I couldn’t find anything traditional on a menu inside the walled city of Dubrovnik.
Stivan sounds like a wonderful place, I will be sure to go there next time I go to Croatia.
Thanks for the comment 🙂
Great post, sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy Croatia, Dubrovnik is pretty crazy but you should try other places in Croatia, it’s a stunning country. Having done the whole overpriced and angry thing the first time I was in Dubrovnik last time I stayed at Cavtat a smaller town to the south near the airport, a lot cheaper and more relaxed with nice swimming and a water taxi to Dubrovnik. I haven’t been to Bosnia yet though…next time!
Cavtat sounds wonderful, that is exactly what we would have liked – somewhere small with swimming and access to the city if we wanted it. I will have to go back and give Croatia a second chance.
Ouch. It happens, though. Dubrovnik suffers the bizarre distinction of being such an architectural gem that it’s overstuffed with tourists. It’s essentially the Venice of the Balkans. But on the other hand, every city in Croatia is gloriously beautiful. Split, Zadar, Ronvij, and plenty of other places offer the cobblestone streets, waterfront views, open-air cafés, and sunshine, but with…somewhat fewer tourists.
I was there a long time ago, so I don’t know what it’s like now, but I remember wandering around Croatia, and thinking “where the hell are all the people that should be enjoying this?” And they were all in Dubrovnik.
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It seems to be a recurring comment that the best of Croatia is outside of Dubrovnik, so I need to see more of the country (I did visit Split and Zagreb too – posts on that still to come).
I guess that any city that becomes a popular tourist destination will eventually cater mainly to them, if they are bringing in the biggest source of income. I will visit Croatia again, but I will stick to lesser-known areas definitely!
I totally sympathize with you on Dubrovnik. I’ve been a few times myself and I always try to hang out on the backstreets. I think the tourism is picking up more and more (as well as the prices!) every year now that its in the EU. I don’t know if you’ve been to Hvar, but its a lot more laid back and peaceful. Great beaches as well.
You nailed it on Dubrovnik, that’s basically how we felt over 3 days there. It’s not a real town anymore, just a place where tourists overpay for everything…I also found locals the least friendly of any place in Croatia, again, too many tourists.