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.
Last year was an extremely successful one for Croatia’s airports with seven million passengers passing through the countries airports. The top three airports, in terms of passenger numbers, were the capital Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik. According to information from the specialised website EX-YU Aviation Zagreb Airport had it best year on record with 2.58 million passengers travelling through the capitals airport. This figure is a massive increase of 6.5 percent over last year. This growth was largely due to an increase in the growing number of international airlines operating through Zagreb. When the passenger numbers through Zagreb over the past five years are compared a steady growth can be seen. In 2013 a total of 2.3 million passengers used the airport, in 2014 that figure had risen to 2.4 million and last year the figure of 2.58 million was a record.
And it wasn’t only Zagreb that had a record year; Split also had its best year on record with 1.95 million passengers travelling through in 2015. After Zagreb’s 6.5 percent increase Split had a whooping increase of 11.6 percent. The managing director of Split Airport, Luksa Novak, told EX-YU Aviation that he expected 2 million passengers to travel through this year. He announced that with the arrival new flights from such airlines as Niki, Volotea, Air Berlin and Thomson Airways. The airport is also undergoing an investment project with the construction of a new terminal planned to start this spring.
And the last of the “big three” airports in Croatia, Dubrovnik airport, continued the positive news with another record breaking year welcoming 1.69 million passengers in 2015. The increase in passenger numbers at Dubrovnik Airport grew by 6.9 percent last year compared to 2014. The most popular route to Dubrovnik in 2015 was London and Croatia Airlines was the most frequent airline, mainly thanks to their daily operations to Zagreb. The airport expects that passenger figures will grow by between 5 and 6 percent this year.
The Old City of Dubrovnik was awoken early this morning to the sirens of fire-engines responding to a fire in a fast food restaurant. The fire started in Vetranićeva Street in the heart of the ancient Old City early this morning and was first noticed when neighbours smelt smoke, they called the fire-brigade at 7.27am.
The Dubrovnik fire-brigade was on the scene very quickly and at 8.10am the fire was already under control. Three fire-engines arrived carrying ten fire-fighters and tackled the blaze. The fire-fighters broke through the ceiling and checked the wooden beams and the floor structure in order to check if the fire was still smouldering.
The cause of the fire seems to be an electrical fault, however the official fire investigation has yet to release their findings.
The Facebook page of the Croatian government had the third biggest community of visitors compared to Facebook pages of other governments in Europe, and ranked third according to the number of comments it had attracted from citizens in 2015, shows a study conducted by Burson-Marsteller, a leading global strategic communications and public relations firm.
The study called "World Leaders on Facebook" covered over 500 Facebook accounts of executive authorities. It is Burson-Marsteller's latest research into how world leaders, governments and international organizations communicate via social media.
The Croatian government's public relations office on Monday published results for the Zoran Milanovic cabinet. Thus, over 1450,000 Facebook users follow the activities of the cabinet, and this number keeps growing, with 280,000 likes last year.
"Based on data collected in January 2016, the World Leaders on Facebook study – the first installment of the 2016 edition of Burson-Marsteller's annual Twiplomacy study – found that 169 of the 193 UN member states maintain an official Facebook page," Burson-Marsteller stated. BM analyzed 512 official Facebook pages for 169 governments, pages which together have amassed a total of 230.5 million ‘likes’.
The Croatian government's public relations office recalls that its Twitter account was also proclaimed "the third most prolific Twitter account among all governments" according to findings of an international study, "Twiplomacy", conducted by Burson-Marsteller in 2015.
Be careful if you are driving in Dubrovnik. No, not because of the freezing temperatures and the ice on the roads, this time it’s a two-legged animal that is the problem. The peril on the roads of Dubrovnik this afternoon was an escaped chicken. The chicken wandered across a busy intersection in Dubrovnik and following the road safety code even used the zebra crossing.
A reader sent us this photo of the chicken crossing the road (yes we know it sounds like the beginning of a joke) near the water company building in Dubrovnik.
Has the mega yacht season in Dubrovnik already opened this year? This morning the luxury yacht owned by a Saudi prince and former defence minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, a member of the Saudi royal family dropped anchor near the Port of Dubrovnik. In 1991, the prince retired from the military to focus on business.
Golden Odyssey, measuring 124 metres in length, opened up the mega yacht season in Dubrovnik in January! The yacht is among the twenty most luxurious yachts in the world and was built just last year. Before dropping anchor near the Daksa island off Dubrovnik the Golden Odyssey had been in the marina Porto Montenegro in Tivat in Montenegro.
We have learned that the Saudi prince is not currently onboard, although it is likely that the crew arrived in the city to check out the necessary details for a future visit by the prince this summer.
The popular UK newspaper the Independent has released an article entitled “Six once-dangerous countries that are now safe holiday destinations,” and Dubrovnik finds itself on the list. Certainly one of the inspirations behind the article is the recent events in Paris, Egypt and Mali and the need for tourists to explore “safe” destinations. Although the relevance of Croatia on a list promoting “once-dangerous” countries does seem a little out-of-date as the Homeland War ended twenty years ago. And Croatia is the only European country to be included on the list, the others being Colombia, Nicaragua, Namibia, Vietnam and Cambodia.
The article harks back to the past with mentions of the former Yugoslav tour operator “Yugotours.” - “Sun-sational Yugoslavia,” as the federation was marketed, was all about the Adriatic coast - stretching from the Istrian peninsula in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. Offering a week in the sun for as little as £99, Yugotours was sending nearly one million Brits a year to the country by 1990 – opens the Croatia article. It then goes onto mention that almost half a million British tourists are expected to visit the country in 2016.
The 2Cellos have become the most popular Croatian musicians on Facebook.
The duo of Luka Sulica and Stjepan Hauser, known globally as the 2Cellos have reached a landmark of one million likes of their official Facebook page and have become the most followed Facebook page in the whole region.
The 2Cellos add photos, videos and comments to their official Facebook page on a regular basis and every entry is greeted with thousands of likes and comments.
The Croatia cello duo are still some way off the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo with 109 million likes and Shakira with 105 million likes, but one million is still an impressive landmark.
The Dubrovnik Times caught up with a photographer and travel writer who has recently spent some time in the city. The images of Dubrovnik that Crispin Zeeman captured were, to say the least, stunning. He managed to capture the heart and soul of Dubrovnik and his passion for his profession shone through like the August sun. He has brought the colours and contrasts of four continents and over thirty countries to life, and now it was the turn of the Dubrovnik region. We found out what makes Zeeman tick when he picks up his camera, how Dubrovnik mesmerised him and why he compares Dubrovnik to a well-dressed man.
“What are you waiting for? Get your bags packed and go visit this place (before it gets so busy you need to join a waiting list!).” - Crispin Zeeman
Could you give me some more information about yourself?
I never knew my grandfather. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances in 1929, long before I was born. Christian left his native Denmark when he was 22 years old. Joining a crew of fishermen, he set off to explore the world, travelling through Eastern Europe, Russia, Siberia, Kamchatka and was “last seen” leaving Japan on a ship bound for Hawaii. When I came to live in Oxford (UK) in my 20s, I was captivated by the majestic city that towered up around me. I felt compelled to photograph it – in case it changed. I wanted to preserve and share that sense of awe and wonder that I felt whilst living in the historic city. From here, there was no turning back, and I fixed my gaze (and viewfinder) on the distant horizon, travelling and photographing the world beyond. I feel I was destined to travel; to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather. My photographs always tell a story. They are a celebration of life, of the diversity of the world around us; the beauty of land, the richness of each culture, the human spirit, the pure emotion. Many of the people I have met have impressed me with their strong, proud sense of cultural identity. I am compelled by my encounters with people and their cultures to capture their essence – in an effort to preserve, in part, the unique beauty and elegance of our world, before it changes or disappears altogether. I am lucky to have had the freedom and opportunity to use my photographs for the benefit of charity and education – especially for promoting the ethics of protection and preservation of peoples and places under threat from poverty and climate change.
Why did you decide to visit Dubrovnik and was this your first visit?
I had never been to Croatia before but had seen many beautiful photographs and read some interesting travel articles over the years, especially the about the Dalmatian coast. I was looking for a fresh destination for a short summer break this year – somewhere culturally interesting, steeped in history, good weather, inexpensive, relatively close by – and after watching Game of Thrones, it all clicked into place. I wanted to visit Kings Landing!
How would you compare Dubrovnik to other tourist destinations that you have visited?
George Bernard Shaw once said, “If you want see Heaven on Earth, come to Dubrovnik.” He was not wrong. The old city is majestic. A quintessential historic World Heritage ‘city-state’ ringed with wonderful solid and powerful walls, offering fantastic views across tightly packed houses stacked up on each other, defiantly ancient walls and vibrant terracotta rooftops. I love destinations like Dubrovnik where the traffic is kept out leaving exploration only on foot, allowing the curious traveller to walk back in time through corridors of sunlight and shade. Dubrovnik reminded me of pockets of Europe I’ve wandered through in Italy, France, Spain and Greece – old fortified towns, landmark churches and horizon-crossing towers – but this city and it’s culture still felt unique and in touch with it’s own sense of identity. Considering the huge numbers of tourists visiting the old city, it was very easy to get off the beaten track into the quiet ‘nooks and crannies’, hidden squares and silent architectural character. One minute you’re on a busy street, then you climb some stairs or divert through a tunnel and suddenly the crowds feel distant, with some curious cats, or locals hanging out the washing on one of the thousands of clothes lines that criss-cross above you in the old streets and stairwells. Ever-increasing numbers of visitors swell the Stradun of Dubrovnik almost to bursting point, but behind the scenes a quieter traditional life continues to thrive. Sure, it’s clearly European, but very much its own character.
Were you happy with the service, price and general tourist offer?
I liken the Dubrovnik ‘tourist offer’ to a well-dressed, educated man, who knows he is popular, who cares about his reputation, and feels a need to uphold the promise of this to everyone. Indeed, he’s quite in demand, having to handle many people at any one time. So if on first impression, he seems a little brusque and offhand, don’t despair. If you’re polite, patient and inquisitive in your approach to Dubrovnik, the city will embrace you and treat you like a VIP! We stayed at a two-story flat in the old town nestled high up on the north side of the old city with terrific views over the rooftops. The owner, a local woman called Lydia, was very hospitable and charming; a pleasure to meet and talk to. We enjoyed many pleasant meals – best of which were at Horizont, Taj Mahal, Azur, Nishta, Glam Café and Bugenvila in nearby Cavtat (also worth a visit).
Were there any surprises, pleasant or bad, during your time in the country?
Just after we’d arrived, we wanted some no-fuss lunch somewhere nearby the flat and Lydia recommend a small place just up the steps and round a corner; a discreet place on a quiet back street, facing the city walls. She called it Lady Pi Pi. I thought nothing of it … until we discovered the statue sitting on the wall of this small restaurant. Not seen decor quite like that before! The panorama from the Srđ Mountain is amazing. I timed my visit to the latter part of the day, to get the best of late afternoon light, (and avoid crowds at the cable car terminal). That light, that view – a gift to photographers. Many of the first photos in my gallery are from this view point. The War Photo exhibitions are outstanding – everyone should make time to visit this place. Important moments in history – both locally and globally – captured through the enduring power of photography. Lokrum Island is lovely. More recent tourist development (i.e. metallic restaurant blocks) on the island felt a little soulless, which is a bit of a shame considering how much the authorities seem to want to protect the natural capital value of the island. But we sat on some ancient-looking steps ‘hidden’ behind the new blocks, sharing our packed lunches with a peacock and it’s chick.
Would you recommend Dubrovnik to other friends and family, and if so why and if not why not?
Absolutely; I’ve been recommending it to everyone ever since I got back.
What would you have liked to have done in Dubrovnik but were unable to?
Circuit the walls more than once on the same ticket. Once I’d completed my first periplus around the walls, I knew I still had maybe another hour of evening left before sunset and I’d like to have re-visited certain views from the walls to get different angles and perspectives in the golden light. But when I tried to go round again the ticket inspector denied me access, pointing to the ‘small print’ on the ticket, explaining that he was “just doing his job”. A little disappointing; I would’ve let me through!
As a freelance travel photographer, how photogenic is Dubrovnik?
Dubrovnik is a paradise for photographers. I think my gallery speaks for itself in answer to this question. I strive to create images that communicate the essence of a place, and actively look for angles and views that I’ve not seen, or at least feel fresh to me at the time. I do a lot of image research before I visit a destination and I like to walk around a place as much as possible to get feel for the light and shadow and the rhythm of life. If I’d had more time, I’d have talked more with the locals to get a better insight into their daily lives and hopefully capture some of that in my pictures. Then there those ‘unique’ moments where being in the right place at that time (and with the right lens!) can reward the fast-thinking photographer with some really nice, quirky or unusual shots. I sometimes grab candid shots of other tourists taking photos. I find this can help communicate a sense of enthusiasm felt by others visiting the destination; I like to think people looking at these images will picture themselves enjoying the place too.
Can you give our readers a few tips of taking the perfect holiday snap?
I’m always happy to offer advice on how to take photographs. I was in Dubrovnik in mid-summer, with long hot days of almost cloudless skies. So my tips are based on that time of year for this city: - Plan your day round the sun: First thing in the morning or late afternoon are the best times of the day to take photos – especially for capturing the warm hues on buildings and vistas. In the middle of the day when the harsh light flattens the contours, visit a church or a museum – or go for a long lunch. Harsh sunlight of the middle of the day is useful however for using reflected light off walls and floors to gently illuminate otherwise shaded areas. - Don’t always go for the obvious angle: look up, down, back … walk around a site to get every perspective. - Sit still for while. Find a shady spot, take a cool drink and just watch life pass you by. You can guarantee something interesting will happen before long. - Look for details as well as the bigger picture. - Get your selfies and souvenir photos out of the way, then concentrate on the scene, the people, the action. - If you’re looking for memorable moments, be ready to shoot at a moments notice; you never know what you’ll come across. - I used two camera bodies, using a 12-28mm wide-angle lens and a longer 70-300 zoom respectively. I shoot most of the time using aperture priority in order to control depth of field, saturation and sharpness, or I switch to manual to take light readings through the camera and get sample shots, assessing composition and lighting for trickier shots. My goal is to achieve as much as possible in-camera to minimise optimisation afterwards.
How would you describe Dubrovnik in three words?
Stunning. Sun kissed. Stepped.
Text - Mark Thomas
Photos - Crispin Zeeman