Mark Thomas - The editor and big chief of The Dubrovnik Times. Born in the UK he has been living and working in Dubrovnik since 1998, yes he is one of the rare “old hands.” A unique insight into both British and Croatian life and culture, Mark is often known as just “Englez” or Englishman. He is a traveller, a current affairs freak and a huge AFC Wimbledon fan.
“And what is the purpose of your visit today?” asked the border control. “Business,” I replied. Yes, I had my first international business meeting for The Dubrovnik Times last week, well maybe not the first but certainly the most unusual.
One businessman called me and asked me for lunch, “Is it a problem if you come to me?” he asked. And so it was that I was waiting at the border for my international business meeting in Ivanica.
Strangely enough Wikipedia describes our neighbours as “It has an unobstructed view of the Adriatic Sea. Due to its close location to Dubrovnik Ivanica gravitates to Dubrovnik and many of its inhabitants work or live in Dubrovnik. Recently, the settlement has been experiencing rapid development and expansion due to construction of many new apartment projects.” And it was due to this “rapid development” that I found myself abroad!
I must say that the new border on the neighbour’s side is very impressive. But although the hardware may be first class the software is still lacking behind. “Can you show me your green card for insurance’” asked the border control, which would be a normal question in normal situations, but as the border control man was asking me with a stamp in one hand and a burning cigarette in another it probably wasn’t up to the level of the EU imagined when they signed an agreement in Schengen. I crossed the border with a smile on my face but little did I know that this would be a theme for the day.
“Welcome to chaos,” joked my business connection as he met him within spitting distance of the new border. “First let me give you the grand tour of Ivanica then we’ll have some lunch,” he added. I must say that the number of new apartments, houses and villas is impressive, they have sprung up like mushrooms after the rain. “And many, many people from Dubrovnik are buying them,” he smiled. And who can blame them. Whilst real estate prices in Dubrovnik are spinning out of control just across the border you can buy a brand new, fully furnished stone villa with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi for 250,000 Euros. Or a two-bedroom house, again with all the furnishings, for 150,000 Euros. British, Germans and of course people from Dubrovnik are snapping them up like hot biscuits.
Interestingly the company selling them always tells their clients that in the summer “expect a wait of at least 2 hours at the border.” Enough real estate on to lunch.
We parked in front of what appeared to be a private house. No signs that it was a restaurant, no Michelin Star, no menu and no tables outside. Walking through what seemed like someone’s front door we were greeted with one of those scenes from a cowboy movie when a stranger walks into the local saloon. A handful of tables and turbo folk blasting out. On the walls photos of Dubrovnik and the aroma of homemade food, well manly onions.
With no menus on the tables the owner leaned around from the table behind us and proclaimed “We’ve got cabbage stew with lamb today,” and got back to his work. It was then that I spotted numerous passports all over his table. “Bloody Albanians, look at this one’s name,” he swore to himself. Yes, thirty Albanian passports filled his table and he appeared to be filling out visas. To make matters even more surreal a border control man was sitting at another table eating the cabbage stew. I later found out that all these Albanians were working in Dubrovnik for a construction company but quite clearly sleeping above the city in Ivanica.
The waiter appeared with a small plate, “try this and if you don’t like it we will make something else,” he dropped the cabbage stew on the table. I looked unappealing, no awards for plate appearance, but tasted yummy. Seeing us raise our thumbs he came back with two mountains of cabbage-filled plates. Again this would have all been pretty normal behaviour had it not been for the burning cigarette hanging from his hand.
The cook, was from Serbia, the waiter from Ivanica and the owner from Croatia, yes I was having lunch in Yugoslavia. “Do you want to pay in Euro, KM or Kuna?” asked the waiter as he collected our plates, which we had wiped clean. I thought to ask if he accepted Yen or Ruble, but stopped myself as he would probably have even accepted dukats. “So in your opinion when do you think BIH will be a full member of the European Union?” asked the businessman in front of me. I had no answer.
Today was a record breaking day in Dubrovnik! Temperatures reached an amazing 30.2 degrees Celsius which is the hottest ever day in April since records began.
Dubrovnik was the warmest city in Croatia and the sun didn’t even break through the clouds today. According to information from the Dubrovnik Meteorological Office the temperatures reached a mercury breaking 30.2 degrees at 3.00 pm this afternoon.
And not only was it the hottest day on record in Dubrovnik but it beat the record by over 3 degrees. The highest recorded temperature until today was 26 degrees.
The sun broke through the clouds, well at least on Saturday, and the temperatures rose as Dubrovnik enjoyed a warm spring weekend.
The tourist season feels like it is already underway as the historic Old City was awash with tourists from all over the world. The ferries to the island of Lokrum are running, and are full, and the queues for the city walls are slowly forming. The café bars along the Stradun were doing a roaring trade all weekend.
Check out our gallery from the weekend in Dubrovnik
According to news in the Spanish media Luka Modrić could soon be on his way from Real Madrid and heading back towards the Premier League. The Croatian captain is expected to leave the Santiago Bernabeu this summer as the team goes through a new transition and the squad looks for younger blood.
The Croatian midfield ace has a contract with Real until June 2020. During his time at the Spanish giants he has won an amazing 13 trophies, including three Champions Leagues and has made over 250 appearances.
With Real working on the team’s reconstruction it would appear that Modrić will be leaving this summer and making his way back to England. Rumours suggest that Arsenal and Liverpool are the two clubs in the Premier League most interested in the services of Modrić, and it looks like he has plumped for Liverpool.
He decision might have been affected by the fact that he started his English career at Tottenham or because he wanted the opportunity to work with Jurgen Klopp. It is speculated that Liverpool will play a whopping 60 million Euros for the Croatian midfielder, which would be the biggest transfer fee ever paid for a Croatian player.
On this day, the 15th of April, in 1979 Dubrovnik was hit by a massive earthquake that badly damaged over a 1,000 buildings. Measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale the earthquake was reported at the time as the strongest ever earthquake to be felt in the region, stronger than the earthquake of 1667 which flattened two-thirds of the Old City of Dubrovnik.
At 7.20am the earthquake started to shake the city, and earthquake that left 1,071 buildings damaged, including 106 sacral objects and 33 fortifications, according to UNESCO reports.
Over 130 people lost their lives in the region, and there were aftershocks of various strengths throughout the day. In Dubrovnik nobody was seriously injured although 80 percent of buildings were damaged. The earthquake was even felt as far away as Vienna.
Croatian tourist officials expect to see a record number of Chinese tourists this year.
Director of the Croatian National Tourist Board Kristijan Stanicic said this week that in the first months of this year, more Chinese tourists want to visit Croatia, with large numbers expected between May and October.
"There have been 193,000 Chinese tourists since last year. Most often, along with the main city of Zagreb, they visit Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, and go to Plitvice Lakes. Chinese tourists usually stay in hotels, but lately also show interest in private accommodation," according to the Croatian National Tourist Board.
After 16 Croatian-speaking Chinese citizens graduated on this week from the first tourist guide training course designed for non-EU citizens, there is an increasing interest for Croatian citizens to learn Chinese and work as official guides, the Zagreb Tourist Guide Association said.
Chinese tourist guides were restricted by Croatian law from doing the job. Things changed early this year when authority eased restrictions and allowed non-EU citizens who have long-term residence in Croatia to obtain qualifications through training and exams.
"The knowledge of Chinese language opens all doors. There are so many inquiries that we cannot accept all of them for the jobs we offer in tourism," Andrija Mavric, a travel guide from Zagreb, told Xinhua.
Chinese form the fourth largest group of tourists in the capital of Croatia.
"Zagreb has become a hit destination for Chinese tourists, and there are numerous actions to attract new guests from China. This summer Zagreb will host a number of new projects that will enable Chinese tourists to get to know the old city and history of Zagreb," said Martina Bienenfeld, director of the Zagreb Tourist Board.
The Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik will reopen its doors to the public today after a long period of major refurbishments. Over the last five months, the hotel has undergone a full refurbishment of existing bedrooms and suites, increasing the total capacity of accommodation to 149.
The communal areas including the Executive Lounge and Reception have also been updated to honour the hotel’s imperial history and glamorous reputation.
Mario Matkovic, the general manager at Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik, said: “The Hilton Imperial is considered one of Dubrovnik’s landmarks, with its striking façade featuring in many holiday-maker’s photos, especially when illuminated at night. We’ve preserved this iconic exterior while updating the interiors to reflect the hotel’s imperial heritage, bringing 19th century grandeur together with contemporary luxury and style.”
Citizens of most European countries believe they live better. The exceptions are Croatians, Greeks and Cypriots.
Croatia, along with Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain, has recorded a decline in the quality of life. In Croatia, Greece and Cyprus the “pleasure of living” declined in all the indicators measured by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) from Dublin. The Foundation is a European Union agency whose role is to provide key stakeholders in the area of social policy information, knowledge and advice from comparative research.
The Foundation has been conducting the European Quality of Life (EQLS) for more than a year. Croatia was first included in the EQLS in 2007, and it is a little surprising that despite the crisis, the level of quality assessment for 2012 was relatively high, probably due to the expectations of early EU accession.
While in Sweden and Denmark more than 80 percent of citizens believe in a better future, only 55 percent of Croatians are optimistic. This is somewhat better than in Portugal and Slovakia, much better than in Italy and Greece where only 47 percent and 37 percent of respondents were optimistic.
According to the standard of living scale, only Bulgaria and Greece are behind Croatia. Croatians, along with the French, Greeks, Irish, Italians, Slovaks and Spanish, say that in 2016 they had even more difficulties in meeting their needs than they had before the crisis in 2007.
According to these indicators, the standard of living has improved most in Estonia. Only in five countries - Croatia, Austria, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg - the situation worsened, while in six countries there was no change.