Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Croatia: Do you hate sand? - Part 1

View from Airbnb of the Old City of Dubrovnik

Croatia is the beach-country to avoid that pesky substance that permeates all. Here you only need the right footwear – watershoes – to get around the pebbles and rocks (and sometimes cliffs) that outline the beautiful, clear water of the Adriatic. With over 1,200 islands there’s no shortage of shoreline to explore – plenty of secluded areas if you wish, but you can also find the most beautiful (and thus popular) swimming spots.

As far as I can tell, there’s only one major blog out there that explores gay Croatia – so I’m glad to add to the body of LGBTQ knowledge of this must-see country. While the nation itself is impeded by a soviet past, its beauty and inherited historical artifacts ensure a thriving tourism industry that keeps the economy afloat. That’s typified in its prime tourist destination – and yes, a must see for us all: Dubrovnik.

Banje Beach, just outside Dubrovnik City Walls
If you’re coming from the US: My boyfriend and I wanted to make sure we still could enjoy gay Europe (and shopping!) so we booked our trip to Croatia through Spain. Flying the exquisite Dreamliner on Norwegian into Madrid, we then (after tapas and some late nights) took lower-cost, but not terrible, Iberia over to Dubrovnik. We dared to visit close to the busiest time, but things were manageable the last week in August. Spring and fall are quieter times, yet you won’t get as sufficiently hot beach weather. Airbnb cost us over $120 each night during this period, which was spacious and also provided an incredible view (but we earned that view each day walking up the hill). We could have paid more, but we were just above the popular Banje Beach.

Dubrovnik on approach
Pro-Tip: When flying into the city under normal conditions, if you sit on the left side (when facing forward, usually seat A) you’ll get to see the “Pearl of the Adriatic” as you land. Just keep in mind not to sit near the wing (like I did). And if you forgot to reserve specific seats on your flight, Iberia let us do it a few days before for just about $10 each.

After getting through customs, a cab into the city will cost you around $40 – or you can take the bus for around $8 (55 Kuna). We opted for the bus, which is great for the views – be sure to get seats on the left side again as the city peaks out on the daring mountainside drive. There is just one bus that drops off in the old city (the other goes to the bus station).

Bus to Dubrovnik Old Town
Airport warning: Know the exchange rate for Kuna to your currency. The ATMs provide exorbitant options making it look reasonable to take out hundreds or maybe event thousands of Kuna – as a way to confuse tourists. And of course, also remember to charge your card in the local currency. Note, when paying at times if you don’t have local currency they may take Euros or Dollars, but you’ll certainly lose out on the exchange rate.

We decided one should probably stay in Dubrovnik to see at least 3 sunsets – and if you’re an early bird perhaps a sunrise (not us!). It may be pretty – but that means crowds and inflated prices (without significant value) so longer is just not necessary.

View of Dubrovnik's Old City from Fort Lawrence
For the first, must-see sunset: walk atop the City Walls. Remember: your ticket also includes Fort Lovrijenac (or Lawrence) which you should do first about 2 hours to 90 minutes before sunset. Enjoy beautiful views across the entire city from the Fort (which really isn’t more than views) and for a good selfie (or a great picture if you find a friendly, talented photographer like we did).

The fort is just a few minutes walking to Pile Gate, where no later than 1 hour before sunset you should begin your city wall walk. Try to get to the eastern, taller side for sunset across the city in front of you (the walk happens only in the counter-clockwise direction). Whenever you do it, the spectacular views of the sea and old city are unrivaled.

FKK - Naturist Beach, Lokrum Island
Your second sunset should be spent upon return from Lokrum Island (the last ferry leaves at 7pm) or afterwards – because you need to spend the day here! Lokrum is beautiful, and you can even spend the day hiking to a monastery or fort. Bring food or snacks at least because food is expensive. Most importantly in August, the island offers great swimming, as well as the only gay (and naturist) beach in the area. The mind-set of the country doesn’t quite accept queer culture. However, one area where other European influence has broken through – critical since there are so many beaches – is in the area of FKK, Freikörperkultur or Free Body Culture, which means naturism/nudism. Thus, the nudist beaches also are often frequented by gays and all are welcomed there.

View from the sea of Lokrum Naturist "Beach"
However, the Lokrum beach is more than just for the nudist – it’s also for the exhibitionist! The beach is next to a stop on the tourism tour – a pretty cool cave you can jump in and swim to naked if you like (there are ladders to get out of the water). But know, tour boats as well as kayakers will pass your butt by. And of course, many won’t be afraid to just snap your picture too! I just smiled and waved – and one guy covered his bits and playfully yelled as he threw his hands in the air.

Finally, your other sunset should be spent (if you like being on the water, and enjoy a little physical activity) on a kayak tour! We opted for the AirBnB sunset tour but I think X Adventures may work as well. In any case, dozens of groups leave from the same location around the same time no matter what way you book a sunset tour – your trip is simply better if it’s a smaller group or with a better guide. See if you can find a reviewed guide – but, unless you’re going in mid August, you can probably book that day (it should be around $30). The groups follow a similar route – to the Bedhai Cave (for an included ham sandwich) and you can opt to go around Lokrum or just paddle into the sun to return. You set off in tandem kayaks, if you’re going solo you’ll be paired off or perhaps get your own if you are fit enough. Of course, you could also rent a boat with a skipper for a group and spend that sunset on the water that way too.
GAYographer and boyfriend Alex & Lokrum Island behind

We also did a day trip to the local Elaphiti Islands – which was just fine – and a great way to get out on the water as well. The tour boasted seeing a blue and a green cave. We probably overpaid. Don’t be fooled, every city on the Mediterannean has a “blue cave” so sure it’s fun to swim into these shore-line rock-formations, but not so unique. What’s nice is on one of the islands called Lopud there IS a sandy beach! One of the few – though it’s SO shallow that you have to wade far to actually swim. Here there is also a far (to the south, left if looking out to sea) FKK naturist spot if you so wish to erase those tan lines.

See you on the next island!
Finally, for dining in the Dubrovnik area don’t forget to consider restaurants like Veranda that are outside the city – you can easily uber. Prices are more reasonable, or comparable to city prices, with better food.

Find out where we headed next – as well as the destination we most treasured (and where we decided we’ll base our trip next time) next week in part 2.