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.
Even though the final episode crashed onto the screens back in the middle of May this year the Game of Thrones bandwagon is still rolling on and bringing with it international publicity for Dubrovnik. For seven of the eight seasons Dubrovnik played King’s Landing in the HBO serial and over that period attracted fans and indeed media attention by the bucket load.
Although exact figures on the number of tourists who have visited Dubrovnik due to the serial is difficult to measure one factor gives a pretty good indication, the explosive rise in the number of American guests. Even though direct flights from the US to Dubrovnik only started this summer season, tourists from the US have been the second most numerous in the city for the past few years. A great deal of this interest is down to Game of Thrones.
The latest Game of Thrones media blast comes from the popular American PBS NewsHour with a program entitled “'Game of Thrones' lives on in Medieval Croatian city.”
“HBO's blockbuster series, "Game of Thrones," broke records for Emmy nominations and wins before it ended this year. But in the small Croatian city of Dubrovnik, the series lives on. It was the backdrop for much of the fantasy thriller, helping its tourism numbers to explode. But some say the swashbuckling series has been a double-edged sword,” commented PBS on the video that was broadcast across America yesterday.
The show features various tourists on the streets of the ancient Old City of Dubrovnik as well as one of the leading tour guides in the city, Ivan Vukovic, who runs Game of Thrones themed tours. "Croatia, this is was like one of the things I was looking forward to the most. Literally the Game of Thrones tour," commented one fan.
Check out the latest Dubrovnik Game of Thrones video
If you thought Dubrovnik was only sunshine and blue skies, think again. When it rains it really, really rains. And the thousands of stone steps in the ancient Old City centre only act as a waterfall for the torrential rain, turning the city into an array of white-water.
Check out this stunning Dubrovnik waterfall!
The US abolished visas for the Polish on Friday, President Donald Trump announced, with only four other EU member states, including Croatia, remaining in visa regime with the US.
Trump announced last month that he expects a visa to be lifted for Poland in the next few weeks, meaning that its citizens will not need a visa to travel to the US for up to 90 days, whether business or tourist.
Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus are the only remaining EU member states that do not enjoy the principle of reciprocity between the EU and the US and their nationals are unequal to nationals of other EU member states.
Brussels has tried to influence the resolution of the problem faster in order for these countries to enter the WWP, but they must first meet the basic requirement and reduce the percentage of rejected visa applications to less than three percent. Although this percentage is falling for Croatia, in 2017 it was still 5.1 percent.
Three new “bendy” buses will soon be on the streets of Dubrovnik as the public transport company Libertas has signed a contract for the lease of these flexible buses. These new buses are intended for the use of transporting cruise ship passengers from the main port to the Old City of Dubrovnik and will hopefully aid with the overall congestion during the main summer season.
Why these buses haven’t been thought of before is a mystery but with 41 seats and room for another 107 standing passengers they hold almost three times the number of passengers as a normal coach. Just do the maths and it is clear to see they will solve the number of coaches that suffocate the roads during the height of summer.
The new bendy buses have been taken on a seven-year lease and the first bus is expected to hit the streets in January next year. Not only will they be used on the cruise ship lines but also on the most frequented of public lines in the city. And although three have been ordered a further three are also in the pipeline.
In the period from January to August 2019, 58 foreign cruise ships sailed into Croatian seaports, completing 466 cruise ships. There were 733,000 passengers on these ships, who stayed in Croatia for 929 days, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).
The largest number of voyages was made by ships flying the flags of Malta (137 voyages) and the Bahamas (79 voyages), while the largest number of passengers arrived by vessels flying the flags of Panama (184,000 passengers) and Malta (182,000 passengers).
Of the total of 466 round trips, the highest number of trips was made in Dubrovnik-Neretva (59.4%) and Split-Dalmatia County (26.2%), which is 85.6 percent in total.
The largest number of visits by foreign cruise ships was the port of Dubrovnik (339 visits), followed by the ports of Split (175 visits) and Zadar (77 visits).
“You really remind me of John,” suggested the Canadian lady in front of me, looking to her children for confirmation, “doesn’t he girls.” John apparently was an English man the family had met on safari in Kenya. And the common thread between the two of us was apparently our sarcastic sense of humour.
As we probably all grew up on the same comedy diet it wasn’t that surprising that John and I had a similar darker look on humour. Monty Python, Blackadder, Yes, Minister, Allo, Allo, Fawlty Towers the list, and indeed the side-splitting humour, could go on and on. “You English just seem to all have a parallel look on life, and even though we have plenty of your old comedies on our TV, and enjoy them hugely, we don’t really have any local comedians who can emulate that black wittiness,” the Canadian lady added.
And apart from the sarcasm the other thing that connects most of the comedians in the famous shows is that they have all finished some of the best universities in the world, such as Oxford or Cambridge. For although this English comedy may appear at times as wacky and pointless it is actually extremely intelligent. For unless you have a superb understanding of the world around you and current affairs it is impossible to have a dry wit. Even one of the daftest comedy shows ever, Mr. Bean, was dreamt up by Rowan Atkinson whilst he was a student at the Oxford University Dramatic Society. The same actor who went onto play Lord Blackadder.
It isn’t only a darker sense of humour but more importantly it is a self-depreciating one. There is nothing that a Brit likes to make fun of more than himself. Humour is in many ways a reflection of the population. In America the comedy tends to be more optimistic and hopeful, just as the society generally is, well at least they were before Melania’s husband came into power. Italian humour is more physical based, with actions and outcomes. And Japanese jokes are probably the politest you’ve ever heard. But the Brits just love satires.
And no, and I mean no, subject is taboo. From sex, to the church, to disability and especially politicians, everything is fair game and everything is attacked with equal gusto. In fact, I once saw a sketch about a politician having sex in a church with a disabled person, there that covers all those subjects in just one short sketch.
As the great Stephen Fry once said “All the great British comic heroes are people who want life to be better but in fact in reality life shits on them from a great height. They are utter failures, British comedy is based on failure but we bring glory to this failure, we celebrate failure.” This is why comedians are having an absolute carnival with Brexit and Thomas Cook and the current horrible weather, well they have plenty of opportunities to joke about the rain to be fair.
I am currently in the UK on family business and am seeing at first hand just how important the odd witty comment, the sharp jokey remark, is to lighten the mood and break the depression. For comedy can heal. It is better to laugh than cry, or even cry laughing. One of the things that I first noticed when I got off the plane was the dry wit. Even from the border guards and the police at the customs, and indeed the people waiting in the queue. It was a jocularity that I has forgotten, and, once I had rediscovered it, missed.
So I’ll finish with one of my favourite jokes from an absolute legend, Tommy Cooper, - A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The driver says, “Ugh! That’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen.” The woman stalks off to the rear of the bus and sits down. She turns to the man sitting next to her and says, “The driver just insulted me!” The man says, “You go and give him a telling off. I’ll hold your monkey for you.” Some times in your life you just need to laugh.
One of the slowest and most badly organised forms of transport in Croatia is about to receive a much-needed shot in the arm as new investment is planned. Croatia’s railway system has for years been the poor cousin of the country’s infrastructure links, when billion were invested into the motorway connections, new airports and ports the railways have become somewhat forgotten.
However, the government has announced a new project of investment. Oleg Butkovic, the transport minister, has said that a massive €3.5 billion would be put into construction and maintenance over the following decade.
“The transport strategy has recognised the potential of the Zagreb-Rijeka railway line for freight transport," commented the minister. Adding that "the European Commission too has recognised the potential of railway freight transport and has financed the construction of several railway lines in Croatia."
When did businesses lose all their self-confidence, so much so that they need to be constantly reminded that they are doing a good job? Why am I constantly being pleaded to rate, fill out surveys and give a review? Does every action and interaction have to be followed by a star system?
Just the other day I jumped in an Uber. Went for a pizza. And then called my mobile phone operator to ask about a bill. And of course I spent more time rating these three actions than actually carrying out the actions. “How was your Uber driver?” flashed up a message on my app. Then Google asked me, “How would you rate the service at the pizzeria?” and finally the mobile rang and an electronic voice pleaded “Were you satisfied with the service you received from Tele 2?” I only wanted to kill my hunger, get a lift to a meeting and pay my phone bill but ended up grading everything like a school teacher marking homework. And then you try and buy something online! Jesus that’s just a minefield of reviews, ratings and comments.
I recently bought some roses for my mother online. And then came the emails. “Were you pleased with the delivery?” – “Was the product to your satisfaction?” It is a bunch of red roses for God’s sake! How the hell do you rate a bunch of roses? Maybe “They weren’t as red as I thought they would be” or “I cut my finger of one of the thorns.” I just wanted a bunch of roses delivered not a relationship.
And the prize for the most idiotic review has to go to T-Com. I had spent what seemed like half my life on hold waiting to speak to a real person to sort out a problem. The plastic music that they play whilst you wait is forever embedded in my brain. And then when I finally got through to a real human being and sorted out my problem I was asked to stay on the line to answer a survey. I had just spent an eternity holding on I am not going to spend the other half of the day whilst waiting to answer a survey.
We are living in a society that constantly needs to be reminded its doing a good job. The new currency is Likes and the more we have the better. We need those Likes! When did we all get so insecure? Why this constant need for validation? Every step of the way in our lives we are now asked for our opinion.
And how was your visit to the WC?
I even saw a sign in Gatwick Airport with a green smiling face and a red angry face, you had to press one to grade a particular facility of the airport. And the facility was the public toilets! Presumably if you have diarrhoea you get to press the button numerous times. Don’t ask me how the toilet was just keep it clean and tidy and stocked with toilet paper and then I won’t have to press a smiling green face, because my face will be smiling!
Here is something revolutionary that will all save us lots of time. It also worked for the past 100 years before Facebook and other platforms came along. If you don’t like the food you get in a restaurant, then don’t go there again. If the taxi driver was rude then use another company next time and if the red roses turn up pink, then switch florists. It isn’t brain surgery. If you start going somewhere else, then that poor business will soon go bankrupt. And on the flip side if you get good service and great products reward those companies by using them again. It’s as simple as that.
Wasting time reading TripAdvisor reviews from “Hank from Alabama” who says “That was the best black risotto I have ever eaten.” It is the best because it is the first and only black risotto that Hank has ever eaten in his life!
The same way that customers complain in restaurants via the anonymity of their smart phones rather than just asking the waiter for help, or why the bread is stale, or the ice melted. Just speak to the person in front of you rather than hide behind your phones. How long before we start reviewing our doctors, teachers, bus drivers and postman?
“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we're too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone,” wise words from Steven Spielberg.