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.
ou have to be a special type of person to win an Ironman World Championship, but to win twice and to set a new world record on the way, well you have to be Luc Van Lierde. We caught with this incredible athlete in Dubrovnik as he prepares to jump into another venture. Van Lierde (49) has long list of awards behind him, a host of gold medals and world records he won the world’s most prestigious Ironman race in Hawaii in 1996 and again in 1999, and is now a full-time triathlon coach. And as Dubrovnik is also on the verge of its inaugural triathlon event it was once again perfect timing from this Belgium Ironman. We discovered why one of the leading triathletes of all time is in Dubrovnik and why he thinks there should be a Hawaii Evening in the city.
Have you been to Dubrovnik before?
I have been coming to this area since I started coaching a triathlete from Russia who lives in Montenegro. I have been his coach for three or four years and that has brought me to Dubrovnik.
And you have been touring and training the region with a purpose?
We have made a tour, where we start in the mountains of Montenegro, then move down to Kotor, onto Dubrovnik and then towards the local islands around Dubrovnik. The reason for this tour, or should I say training camp, is that in the future we want to organise a training camp for athletes. This trip has been a try-out to see which things we need to change but I can see lots of potential. I also have a new app coming out soon, which is a coaching system, so this tour has also helped with publicity. I coach athletes all over the world, but of course I am limited with time, so I designed an app with artificial intelligence, it is called 3GO.
Potentially you will have triathletes from all over the world coming to this training camp?
Yes, we hope so. The camp will last for one week, and when we go online and invite all our members I see this as a very interesting venture.
Are the geographical conditions in Montenegro and Dubrovnik suitable for this kind of training? We aren’t really Belgium; this is a mountainous region.
They like to test new places and new locations. There are fixed locations where athletes go and train but they also like variation because the sport also has a lot of variation. An athlete from Spain might do an Ironman event in Spain but then he will want to travel to another country to participate in an another event. This is the mentality of a triathlete. At first the dream is to do a triathlon, a short one, and then to progress to an Ironman. And once they have done an Ironman the dream is to qualify for Hawaii, where the sport originated back in the late 1970’s. If they want to qualify for Hawaii, then they have to find the right race to prepare themselves. If they know that there is an “adventure camp” or triathlon camp that they haven’t tried before then of course they will be interested. There are many ways to fly into this area, so getting here isn’t a problem.
So this future camp will be an adventure for triathletes?
Absolutely. The first day we start in the mountains and then we have our first bike ride, then we sleep in huts up high in the mountains, before moving on to Kotor where we cycle around that stunning coastline. The next stop is Dubrovnik where they will get to relax in a five-star hotel and then onto the islands where they can swim in the sea. Bike rides, swim sessions in the sea and running in spectacular countryside, I think people will really like this. I will put my name behind this and we also have partners from Dubrovnik and Montenegro.
Dubrovnik is preparing itself for the first triathlon event, “Earth, Sea and Fire” which will be held on the 13th of October. Is there a chance that you will also attend this event?
I will actually be in Hawaii when the Dubrovnik triathlon event is held. Even though these two events clash on the calendar I also think that it could be good timing for Dubrovnik. When the race is held on the 13th the same day at 6.30 pm here the race starts in Hawaii. So when the prize ceremony is being held here the organisers could have large TV screens broadcasting the event from Hawaii live. Participants could then follow this through the night and make a “Hawaii Evening” in Dubrovnik.
It seems that Ironman is a little like golf, it is addictive.
Yes, the more you train golf the better you get and then you want to train more and more to keep getting better, it gets in your blood. And triathlon is very much the same. It is three different spots, the biggest endurance sport in the world, for the best athletes in the world it will take 8 hours to complete and for many other athletes it will take as long as 17 hours to finish. Believe it or not every year in Hawaii there are 80-year-olds who enter the race, and not only enter but finish inside the allowed time.
How does a country like Croatia, whose sporting scene is dominated by football and other team sports, increase the popularity of triathlon?
If you want triathlon to become really popular in your country, you need a local athlete to win Hawaii. When I won the race, and I won in twice, the popularity went through the roof. You need a face; you need a name. To get to the media, in the small sport that Ironman is, you need to be the best of the best. You need to win. I was even invited by the King of Belgium for a meeting when I won, because I was the first European to win in Hawaii.
Winning Hawaii Ironman
How much of this sport is mental and how much physical?
You need to have a good “engine” but you also need to have something between your ears. This is a sport that takes 8 hours at least, so you need to make the right choices at the right times. Three different sports all have their own challenges, challenges for your body and for your mind.
The recently introduced flights between Zagreb and Seoul have proved an overnight success with Korean Air reporting that the flights are 99 percent full.
These new flight connections were introduced only weeks ago but seem to be an immediate hit with travellers. Korean Air flies three times a week from the Croatian capital to the South Korean capital with scheduled flights.
And with a 99 percent cabin occupancy rate the new route has proved to be the most popular for the airline. According to a statement from the company Zagreb is the most popular, ahead of Barcelona with 98 percent and Zurich with 92 percent. And on a global scale the Zagreb route is the fourth most popular for Korean Air with only Okinawa, Phuket and Sydney more popular.
New rules to the Croatian pension scheme could see the retirement age extended a further two years to 67. The government have put forward a range of proposals and changes to the current pension scheme and one could see the age limit pushed forward a further two years.
And even when you reach 67 pensioners will still have the right to work under the new laws. Pensioners could work up to four hours a day and still receive a full pension, if the proposals are accepted.
There are also fundamental changes to the size of state pension. Under the proposal those with an average salary would receive a pension of some 2,980 kuna (€401), if they receive it from both pillars. Should they switch only to the first pillar, their pension would increase by 603 kuna (€81), reaching 3,583 kuna (€482).
It is estimated that there are some 1.2 million pensioners in Croatia, opposed to some 1.4 million full-time employees whose contributions finance the pension system. Some 19.2 percent of the entire population is estimated to be older than 65, and the average pension is around 3,400 kuna (€461).
It’s one of the city’s newest traditions: for the last eight years, Dubrovnik residents and visitors have looked forward to the annual Second Hand Sale organized by the Dubrovnik Foreign Circle, where a wide variety of gently used household items are available at bargain prices and proceeds are donated to a local charity.
Plans for the annual sale are now underway, so mark your calendars for early April 2019. It’s never too early to start looking through your closets for clothes, toys, kitchen equipment and household items that you no longer need, but could be useful to someone else.
More information about exact dates and arrangements for drop off and collection of donated items will follow in the months ahead. For more information, visit www.dubrovnikforeigncircle.com.
Croatia have reached the finals of the Davis Cup after a dramatic victory over the United States in Zadar. Borna Coric fought a marathon match against Frances Tiafoe, which lasted over four hours, to secure the game and a 3 – 2 victory for Croatia and a place in the finals.
The day began with Croatia leading 2 -1 but after the strong favourite Marin Cilic lost to Sam Querrey in five sets the tie was balanced 2 -2 before the final match.
In front of a boisterous crowd in Zadar Coric held his nerve and took Croatia into the finals where they will face France.
Dubrovnik has found itself on another international list for the best filming locations to visit in the world, this time for Star Wars.
“Dubrovnik, Croatia is not just a popular filming location for Star Wars, but also an important one for Game of Thrones. The location apparently lends itself to particularly otherworldly settings in both franchises,” writes the Canadian website thetalko.com.
Dubrovnik was used as a location for the Casino City of Canto Bight in “The Last Jedi” and has already attracted many fans of the franchise. There are specialised tour companies offering tours of the city and many of the souvenir shops also sell merchandise from the film.
“Dubrovnik's iconic stone-wall defences regularly invoke platitudes of otherworldly-ness, according to Time Out. Built in the 12th century to ward off invasions from seafaring foes, the walls of Dubrovnik slot nicely into Star Wars multiverse,” concludes thee website which also lists the Yuma Desert in Arizona, Guilin in China and the Mayan Ruins in Tikal, Guatemala as must visits for fans of Star Wars.
We just love catching up with the most important cog in The Dubrovnik Times watch, you the readers. And this week we had the opportunity to meet two couples who have been following us and Dubrovnik for years, they are truly Dubrovnik lovers. We meet the two couples, Caroline and Phil Walter, from England, and Jenny and David Pirie from Scotland, in their favourite restaurant in Dubrovnik, Konoba Veranda in Štikovica. They aren’t even really guests of the restaurant any more, far from it, they are friends. Without doubt one of the key factors of tourism in people, friendly welcoming people, and Maja and Mirko Andrić from Konoba Veranda are just the perfect hosts.
When did your love affair with Dubrovnik start? Why did you decide to come to Dubrovnik for the first time four years ago?
Jenny Pirie – It was our 25th wedding anniversary and I was looking around for destinations and after I read the reviews and did my background we decided to come to this villa and we really haven’t looked back since. We wandered down to the beach and were amazed how clear it was and how many fish we could see. David found an octopus and was running along the beach like a little boy telling everyone about it…just fantastic.
David Pirie – The first morning when we were standing on the balcony looking out at the sunshine and the twinkling Adriatic Sea we knew we had made the right decision.
When did you first discover Dubrovnik?
Phil Walter – We first came in 2015 and have never looked back. And every year since then we’ve been coming back.
What were your expectations before you actually came to Dubrovnik? Did you have some preconceived opinions?
DP – I personally thought that Dubrovnik would be much bigger than it actually is. We’d friends who had been before and they told us it was lovely but very hilly. Going up the cable car and looking down on the city, all those terracotta roofs, just magical.
JP – (laughing) Yes, I nearly did the first time I walked up the stairs to the Old City Walls. But when we saw the historic city for the first time…well it just takes your breath away. The pavement of the Stradun is just beautiful and we admire it every time we walk along.
Is Dubrovnik a victim of its own success and is now facing overcrowding problems. Can you feel a difference in the four years that you have been coming here?
DP – Yes, it can get crowded but we have one good tip and that is to look at the Port of Dubrovnik website in the morning to see how many cruise ships are coming in on a particular day and then just plan your visit around that information.
JP – We really don’t mind if its busy, I know a lot of people do mind if it gets too busy, but we come from Edinburgh and when our festival is on you really can’t move for people. We really don’t mid the crowds although we know that for people who live here, especially in the Old City, that it must be a huge problem. I actually feel sorry for the people who come on cruise ships as they can’t get to experience what the heart and soul of the city is all about. It is such a shame for them.
What advice would you give to people thinking of coming to Dubrovnik on holiday?
PW – Come with an open mind.
Caroline Walter – There is nothing that we don’t like about Dubrovnik, we just love it all.
Are there any other tips that you picked up during your time here that you could pass on?
JP – Do your research for restaurants on TripAdvisor. In fact, do your background and research on the whole destination. Get your snorkel and get in the sea. And don’t be go…go…go all the time. Take your time enjoy it. Have a coffee and people watch on the Stradun. Just enjoy it and relax.
DP – Most of the beaches are pebble so don’t forget your sea shoes and don’t worry about stepping on a sea urchin although it might hurt they aren’t poisonous.
But you don’t just spend two weeks lying on the beach?
JP – No, we do like to spread our wings a little. We’ve been to the local Elaphite Islands, to Mostar, to Cavtat and many of the local sights. Although we combine this we taking things easy as well.
What keeps bringing your back? Can you put your finger on what is special about Dubrovnik compared to other holiday destinations?
PW – The people, they are just so friendly and welcoming. We can also honesty say that we have never had a bad meal in Dubrovnik, we just love the food.
CW – Yes, the people have made our holiday.
You’ve been here for two weeks and eaten in Konoba, or Restaurant Veranda every night? Does that mean you’ve eaten the whole menu? And has Croatian cuisine changed your eating habits?
DP – (laughing) Yes, pretty much every night and yes we’ve probably tried the whole menu.
JP – Yes, Croatian cooking certainly has changed my eating habits. I didn’t really eat fish or seafood before I came here. But now I’ve had not only fish but octopus, black risotto made from the ink of octopus, in fact I very rarely eat meat when I come here. The octopus salad here is absolutely wonderful. And I also love the anchovies here.
It seems like Dubrovnik has been almost a life changing experience for you?
JP – It is difficult to explain. I am not a very brave person, but Dubrovnik has made me realise I can be brave. To do things in the past that I’ve been scared of, I feel like Dubrovnik has given us a different outlook on life. It has broadened our life and our way of thinking. It is really hard to put into words just how special this place is. Dubrovnik is part of us now. This will sound strange but the thought of not coming back here is physically painful.
DP – A big part of why we come back here is the people, the friends that we have made. They have helped us and made our stay so unforgettable.
Will you come back? Has Dubrovnik become part of your annual holiday plans?
CW – Oh yes, we will always come back at least once a year. Not only that but we will continue to recommend Dubrovnik, Cavtat and all these lovely places to all our friends and family.
PW – The Old City of Dubrovnik is just so special that we can’t think of not coming back. I am also a huge Game of Thrones fan so Dubrovnik has even greater appeal for me. Fantastic city, great ambience and really great food.
Croatia is hoping to attract more investment from China and ties in the tourism industry are growing year-on-year commented the Croatian Minister of Tourism Gari Cappelli.
Dubrovnik will host the 4th High-Level Meeting of Tourism Cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) from the 18th to the 20th of September.
Around 200,000 Chinese tourists are expected to visit Croatia this year and next year the number will grow even further.
"This is primarily about simplifying and accelerating visa procedures, opening and introducing new direct airlines with China, and adapting Croatian destinations to online payment services through Chinese mobile applications," commented the Minister for the Chinese publication Xinhua.
Adding that "Croatia is also represented in China through the participation of famous Croatians who are well-known persons in China through programs broadcast on Chinese TV shows, such as football coach Miroslav Ciro Blazevic, singer Jelena Rozga, musicians Maksim Mrvica and Ana Rucner," the minister said.