“Excuse me, where am I?” came the question. At first glance you might think that I was chatting with an Alzheimer’s sufferer or a Schizophrenic having a hallucination. “You’re in Dubrovnik” I answered. “Dobrownic…” came a stuttered answer, “and which country is that in?” Just to fill you in, this conversation was going on in the middle of a cruise ship in Gruž. No, this wasn’t a person in need of a large cup of ginseng tea for memory loss; this was a young person working on a cruise ship. “Croatia, do you know where that it, do you know where you are?” I realised that this young lady could be anywhere in the world. “Croatia, yes, I think I’ve heard of that” she smiled. “Well then welcome to Croatia and welcome to Dobrownic!” I waved goodbye. She is not alone, she is not the exception to the rule, and later in the week it became crystal clear that to thousands of people we are just another place that their ship stops. We’re like a parking place for cruise ships. I haven’t spent much time in the old city, at least time without some work obligations, for a few weeks. And as my wife had been moaning at me for some time that we haven’t drunk a coffee together for ages I combined the two and spent Sunday morning with my wife on the Stradun.
After finding a parking space a short hike away, we were wandering down to the city when I heard “Excuse me when do these cruise ships leave the city?” from a passing man. I was tempted to say “in November” but was beaten to the punch when another passer-by answered “should be better by four o’clock.”
Ah, so I knew that fate that was waiting for me in the old city. And I wasn’t wrong the streets were packed. I felt like a sardine swimming in a huge school. An explosion of colour, thousands of people all walking with a little badge stuck on their chest. “Are you with the D8 group” a guide shouted to a couple who looked lost, they simultaneously looked down at their T-shirts to read their numbers upside-down. I remember once, when I was much younger, going on a school trip to a local farm. This farm was a cattle farm, one of the biggest in the UK, and the two things that stuck in my mind were the horrendous, stomach turning smell and also the colourful tags that each cow had pinned to its ear. “We use these tags to keep the cattle in the right herd” I still remember the farm guide saying. It was déjà vu, well apart from the smell. If you closed your eyes you could almost hear the moos. A quick đir around the city, mooing everywhere, and I realised that we’ve turned into a one day destination. Back in the 70’s and 80’s when package holidays with Jugotours were being advertised on UK television the Med was a two-week holiday. It was a long way to go, an exotic destination, but those times are long gone. The 90’s and the explosion of cheap flights, internet bookings and flexible holiday plans and three-day weekend breaks were “in.” Now we are a day-trip destination. It’s like one-day mass tourism, or should I say daily mass tourism. Just look at the tourist offer in the old city, these are shops looking to sell to day-trippers, people they will never see again. They’ve got one chance to sell to a guest, sell something, sell anything, carpe diem. It’s a shame I know, but it’s our reality. Restaurants and cafés bring out their “summer” menus with prices adjusted to make the most out of the day-trippers. And who can blame them? They are simply a reflection of the guests they are catering for. You have to make an offer to your market otherwise you’ll soon go out of business. If there is a demand for tacky plastic St. Vlaho’s then that’s your market.
If you could recycle just half of the plastic on sale in the old city you could give everyone free plastic rubbish bags for the rest of their lives. But thank God they buy souvenirs. Imagine how much we’d earn if they didn’t buy souvenirs, we don’t really have many other ways of getting money out of tourists. And the signs are there, I overheard an American tourist complaining to his wife “It’s all junk. It’s about as authentic as Disneyland.” My favourite souvenir that I saw, well not really a souvenir, was a bright yellow T-shirt that read – I don’t need Google, my wife knows everything. Needless to say my wife found it particularly appropriate as well. “Is this the Old City?” – “Where is the sea?” – “Where is downtown” – “Do people actually live in these old houses?”, are just a selection of comments I overheard from the herd. Holding their little maps, five things to see in the city, they herd faithfully piled to the cable car, trotted the city walls and the grazed in the Rector’s Palace. Welcome to Dobrownic just another stop on your cruise.