Saturday, 24 September 2022
Mark Thomas

Mark Thomas

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.

Email: mark.thomas@dubrovnik-times.com

The tourist season in Dubrovnik is continuing in fine form with September looking just as busy as predicted. In the first half of this week there were more than 17,500 tourists in the city, which is 29 percent more when compared with the same week from last year.

 

Official figures show that the majority of tourists are from the UK, followed by guests from the USA, Germany, France and Ireland. The Brits have really dominated the tourist scene in Dubrovnik this summer season, and with airlines coming from many UK cities in September and October the post-season should be just as positive.

 

And the news that the flagship airline of the UK, British Airways, will operate throughout the winter months from London to Dubrovnik twice a week will only help to boost the winter figures.

The longest journey starts with the hardest step, the first step. We have been debating, discussing and planning this first step for well over a year. An adventure of our lives that will see us, my wife, my dog (Toto) and I walking the longest continuous path in England, the South-West coastal path.

 

A path that stretches around 1,100 kilometres, or for my English readers, 630 miles, and wraps around four different counties.

 

But before we can do our first step of this monumental walk (walk seems to small a word) we need to actually get to our starting point. In other words we need to drive 2,500 kilometres before we can walk 1,100 kilometres.

 

As me neared the Croatian capital I said to my wife “Do you realise that we are now setting out on walk that is equivalent to walking from Stradun to Ban Josip Jelacic, turning around after a coffee in Gradska Kavana, and walking back down south to Dubrovnik.” We must be bad. In fact, it probably helps that we are a little crazy.

The first night in Zagreb and the onto Frankfurt, a night at the Channel Tunnel, and then the push down to the far south west of my homeland. Slovenia whizzed by, as it usually does. Austria was its normal mix of green-covered mountains and undrinkable coffee. Germany, wow this is a big bloody country, it is never-ending. What has happened to the German sense of work ethic and organisation? If any German tourist complains at the condition of our roads grab the end of a whole pršut and smack them on the head. Compared to German roads we drive on carpets in the south of Croatia. We had to drive over roughly 500 kilometres of highway in our first day and without exaggeration at least half were covered in roadworks and three lanes were squeezed into two.

If you want to become a millionaire sell orange paint to the Germans. When the roadworks mean lanes get squeezed down to two, to sometimes even one, they use orange paint to make the new road markings. All we saw was orange paint!

And the Black Forest is now blacker than ever. I have never seen so many black, shining solar panels in my life! The south of Germany is black and reflective. And I’m not just talking about industry and private homes, I’m talking whole farmers fields of solar panels that stretch as far as the eye can see. Probably heavily subsidised by the EU, especially in light of upcoming winter period with Putin turning off the gas tap.

“Why don’t we have more of these own the ground that we don’t use. Surely, we have more sun than the Germans?” quizzed my wife. She had a point. “And will electricity be much, much cheaper when we start producing everything from renewable sources,” she added. Again she had a point.

But if we were to take that theory then electricity in our whole county would be free as we’re fully green thanks to Plat.

Onwards to Calais and the opening of the tunnel that physically joins the UK with continental Europe. All the time we are thinking and trying to plan ahead for what awaits us over the next two months.

Can you really plan for this? Well, to a certain degree, but what you can’t plan for is the unexpected. As the sun still pours down on Europe it is raining where our walks starts. “At least we won’t be too hot,” I joked with my wife. Rain is expected in the first few days, which kind of justifies my nephew when he summed up our walk in one sentence “You are going for a two-month walk in the rain.”

I was asked by one colleague in the media “How do you think this experience will change you?” I didn’t have an answer. I can answer all the practical questions, but this one I couldn’t. I only know that it will change us, but in what way, well I have no idea.

We have set up our social media, Travel with Toto 2022, and have been overwhelmed by the kind words of support as well as the donations that have started. Yes, we have a humanitarian angle, we are collecting for Dementia UK in England as my father, who would have loved to have done the walk, unfortunately died due to dementia a couple of years ago. And in Croatia for S-Pas society, an excellent society that has an animal shelter and is a shining light on how animal welfare should be done. That’s our anglo-Croatian joint. And both causes are worthy and both need funds.

We will be carrying a UK flag, a Croatian one and the flag of St. Blaise on our rucksacks. And of course be spreading the news about Dubrovnik, promoting our tourism to the Brits, and the English countryside to the Croatians. Wish us luck. We will keep you all updated with regular videos on our social media. This time next week we’ll probably have our first blisters! God help us.           

 

The association "Dva skalina" is organizing a "Summer Ball" and all interested parties will be able to contribute to improving the quality of life of children with developmental disabilities and their families. The summer ball will be held at Zephyrus Yacht Club, in ACI Marina Komolac, on September 7 from 7:00 p.m. In a beautiful natural environment and a modern interior, that special evening will bring together all those interested in helping the further work of this small association from Dubrovnik.

The humanitarian summer ball costs 550 HRK, and the ticket price includes entrance, an aperitif, a three-course meal and wine with dinner. There will also be a raffle with prizes and a silent auction, and raffle tickets will be sold throughout the evening to raise additional funds.

The entertainment includes a carefully selected program, so guests will be able to enjoy the sounds of excellent performers, and guests will be entertained by Marko Pecotić and guests and a DJ.

The goal of this humanitarian ball is to contribute financially to the Association that works hard to provide support to children and families of children with developmental disabilities. In this way, it is possible to continue the work of the so-called day care centre, as well as to provide special therapies to children with expert and professional staff.

The association was founded in 2002 primarily to cover the basic needs of children with disabilities, and then to bring parents together and work together to improve the quality of life of children with developmental disabilities.

“This event is an opportunity for us all to gather, enjoy and collect money for a noble cause, and celebrate love and raise awareness of children with difficulties and their families,” the association stated.

You find more info here - https://web.facebook.com/events/581587040174124/?ref=newsfeed

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The euro will become the official monetary unit and legal tender in the Republic of Croatia on January 1, 2023 and already from Monday the 5th of September changes will come.

Prices across the country will have to be both in Kuna and Euro from the 5th of September, or as a statement read “The period of mandatory double reporting is from September 5, 2022 at 00:00 hours to December 31, 2023 at 24:00 hours.” In the period of dual reporting, business entities will be obliged to report the price in euro and Kuna with a fixed conversion rate.

And the period of dual circulation begins on January 1, 2023 at 00:00 and lasts until January 14, 2023 at 24:00. And during the period of dual circulation, both Kuna and Euro will be used as legal tender in cash transactions. During those first 14 days of 2023, if you pay in Kuna in cash you’ll receive your change in Euro. The only exception will be if the payee is not able to return the rest of the amount in Euro cash, in that case Kuna can be returned.

The government expects that the exchange of Kuna cash will be particularly intensive during the first two weeks after the introduction of the euro, i.e. during the period of dual circulation.

The Council of the European Union also determined the euro conversion rate for Croatia, which established that the conversion rate is set at HRK 7.53450 for one euro.

 

The Mayor of Dubrovnik, Mato Frankovic, pointed out the positive tourism results in Dubrovnik this year on his Facebook profile. “In the first eight months, we recorded excellent tourism results. In August, 93 percent of overnight stays were achieved compared to 2019, and we have announcements for an excellent September and October ahead of us. The confirmation of the arrival of charter flights from Seoul is encouraging, which means that the recovery of the eastern market, which has not returned since the beginning of the corona virus, has begun,” commented the mayor.

And he added that “We are recording good announcements for the winter months as well, and I am convinced that in cooperation with Dubrovnik Airport we will succeed in connecting Dubrovnik and international destinations during the winter as well.”

And when it comes to cruise tourism he stated that “Cruise tourism is also recovering well, and Dubrovnik is again the City with the most cruise ship arrivals in Croatia, but this time according to a clear schedule - no more than two cruisers per day and with a longer stay than it was before the pandemic. We are slowly but surely sailing towards sustainable tourism. A lot of work is still ahead of us, especially in the historic core to put everything in its place, but step by step we will reach the goal.”

 

In the Museum of the Homeland War in Dubrovnik last night, as part of the program dedicated to the thirtieth anniversary of the liberation of southern Croatia, the exhibition "Art Fantasy" was opened in cooperation with the Cultural and Sports Veterans Association from Zagreb - "Always Loyal to the Homeland".

The group exhibition consists of works by academic painter Duško Šibl, Marija Šafranko, Marijana Vuković and Dražen Pilić.

Through its activities, the Association gathers numerous Croatian veterans and members of their families, encouraging and enabling them to improve the quality of life through artistic expression and creativity, relying on the lasting human values created in the Homeland War.

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The exhibited works represent different artistic styles and painting techniques, from oil on canvas to digital photo processing.

The artworks of the members of the association were exhibited in London, as part of the Zagreb Fair, and in the City Museum of Virovitica and the Pejačević Castle.

 

After two years of uncertainty and travel restrictions tourism in Dubrovnik has bounced back incredibly. The forecasts at the beginning of the year were for stable, but unimpressive year, with even the fear that tourism would still remain around 2021 levels. Clearly, that has not been the case, and the region is now almost up to the record breaking year of 2019.

This can clearly be seen from the figures at Dubrovnik Airport, the front line of tourism for the whole region. In August this year a massive 429,878 passengers passed through the southernmost airport in Croatia. In August last year 291,207 passengers used the airport, meaning that an additional 138,671 passengers used the airport this August.

These encouraging figures follow on from July this year when 425.536 passengers used the airport, compared to 191.714 in August 2021.

 

“What does this remind you of?” I said to my wife as we watched a documentary. “Where will this happen again but on a much smaller scale,” I continued. We were watching a documentary about the most famous road in the world, Route 66, in fact the rise and fall of the road that crosses the US from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The road was the lifeblood of the small towns along the way. In fact, many businesses sprung up and grew thanks to the traffic on the road. Communities were formed, families lived off the revenue from passing trade and infrastructure was constructed.

Whilst at the time it was built it was wide enough and large enough to handle the traffic flow over time it, as more trucks used the road, became too small. After opening America, from coast to coast, it was replaced by larger and wider highways. Of course, as the traffic moved so did the business.

Over time the small family businesses closed down and Route 66 was lined with ghost towns. The only real traffic on many parts of the road today are tourists following the romantic dream of this iconic road.

This documentary really reminded me of a trip closer to home. “Oh, it looks very nice, very impressive,” said my mother as we crossed over the new Pelješac Bridge. It is impressive, but there was one thing that was bugging me.

We had just driven part of the new access road that connects the south side of our county to the bridge, the part that isn’t completely finished yet. The road was as smooth as a baby’s bottom and was a joy to drive on.

We had, in the past, got used to driving on the old bumpy road that ran like a spine across the middle of the peninsular. And it was that bumpy road that I was thinking of, Dubrovnik’s Route 66.

Opening up the county with the new bridge has certainly improved the traffic and indeed opened many new doors for tourism. These new challenges haven’t yet been answered. Of course, we were going to get day-trippers from Split coming to Pelješac, this should have been clear to everyone. The bridge has not only cut the journey by around 100 kilometres but also bypassed the border controls at Neum. Of course more people would come from the north than the south, and head towards Korčula, which is absolutely rammed, to the “hidden” areas of Pelješac.

If you are driving from the south then it is still quicker to use the old route through Neum, providing that the queues at the borders aren’t too long. Although someone I know in Neum said that traffic has dropped by at least half. Pelješac is open for business and I expect that next year it will be extremely busy.

But the “mass tourism” that the bridge has brought isn’t welcome by everyone. Funnily enough I can vividly remember reading some articles about three years ago that highlighted the positive expectations of business owners and people on Pelješac as they believed that the bridge would bring them a whole new world of opportunities. It did. In the first month after opening almost half a million cars crossed over the bridge.

The bridge has changed the south of Croatia. Pelješac has become busy, the beaches there are full. But the one part of the peninsular that doesn’t appear to be that busy is the old road before the bridge, what I’ve already described as Dubrovnik’s Route 66. “Passing trade has just disappeared overnight,” explained a local to me. He has a small vineyard and used to sell wine to locals and tourists who used the old road. I say used to sell because the new bypass has meant that the old road is a ghost road. “I’m not sure what to do now, I don’t think it will get better,” he added. At least four small villages are completely off the radar now. If they were looking for a tranquil life then great, but if the old road brought you a way of living, well not great.

Time will tell whether these vineyards owners will survive, or whether they will fall like their American counterparts.

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to

 

 

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