If Croatia’s eastern exclave was a theatre production, then Dubrovnik would certainly snatch the job of lead role.
From the Old Town to Banje Beach, city walls to cable cars, and a sizeable portion of its tourism industry geared towards Game of Thrones, the uber-popular television show on which it featured as a fictional kingdom, Dubrovnik is ideal for those looking for some history and fun in the sun.
As the first stop on our mini-tour through Croatia and Bosna and Herzegovina, two former, and formerly conflicted, states of the Yugoslav Republic, both me and my girlfriend were able to sample a bounty of pleasures that the city had to offer.
One such example were sweets from the Pirate Candy Store, a self-explanatory company which has three locations in Dubrovnik's Old Town.
It was an unusual set-up, sugary confection piled high on wooden barrels, while also lining treasure chests in keeping with the theme.
It was self-serve – pick ‘n’ mix, if you will. Like Woolworths in its heyday, there were kids and adults alike, scooping up treats and plucking their favourites from the pile.
Gab settled for a giant strawberry and large fried egg. Trying to be healthy, I staved off the utmost temptation and left empty-handed.
It was a tough choice, but not one I regretted, especially with the inevitably high price it was going to cost which any previous visit to a cinema concession stand at home has already taught me about.
As it turned out, I was right. Two pieces of candy for approximately £1.60. Scandalous, yet not the most head-scratch inducing of the store’s choices.
Expensive sweets and lack of visible pricing was one thing, not being allowed to take photos of said food was another.
Plenty of museums, art galleries and places of worship prohibit flash photography, though as Imaging Resource’s Steve Meltzer wrote, “flash photography does not hurt artwork. What the bad remains is the bad news that despite the science, galleries and museums believe what they believe and continue the bans.”
Not flashing images at an aquarium, for example, speaks for itself. The Sistine Chapel in Vatican City forbids photography thanks to a deal struck by the Vatican and Nippon TV, who financially backed its restoration back in 1980. As a result of the deal, Nippon held exclusive rights to photograph the chapel’s insides, allowing them to produce multiple documentaries, art books and other special projects.
Despite the agreement coming to an end years ago, the ban is still enforced by security, as I can attest to as on a recent visit, with whistle-blowing and shouts of “NO PHOTO!” leaving me a little red-faced, but ultimately were not enough of a deterrent to leave me stymied.
But a sweet shop is hardly a Michelangelo masterpiece.
It is absolutely mind-boggling that, in this age of social media, an age in which the furthest anyone is away from a phone is the distance between their hand and pocket, that someone would choose to put up a ‘no photos’ sign in a sweet shop.
It’s a novelty place – somewhere that surely would thrive from exposure on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, yet for some reason it is not seen that way.
And even though it is a rule, it is laxly enforced. I managed to rule-flout, standing outside the store to capture various shots, and I saw others doing so, too.
There are even a few images on Instagram of the various confectionery, and there is nothing stopping customers snapping their purchases once they’ve left the premises.
There is no denying that it is a strange thing to do but, as we later found out, Dubrovnik is no stranger to odd occurrences.
We found this out during an evening meal at Bokcilo, a little restaurant in one of the dainty, fairly-lit alleyways off Stradun, Old Town’s main street.
Now I’m not a fan of seafood, but the restaurant’s representative had sold me on the tuna steak the previous night, and so I wanted to go back, be a little adventurous and explore something a little outside of my taste buds’ comfort zone – that, after all, is what travel is all about.
So there we were, fresh off the sharing platter of Italian meat and cheeses and a row of perfectly aligned and balsamic glazed ricotta-stuffed mushrooms when the tuna steak was placed down in front of me.
It was sizeable and well done, and just how I pictured it would be. Its grandeur matched the taste and provided me with an amazing culinary experience. For someone who usually dislikes fish it delivered, and then some.
I’m also a fan of trying foreign beer on my travels, and like to sample some of the local brew. At Bokcilo, they served Ozujsko, and both the starter and the main commanded a half-litre tankard each.
The beer was pretty average, in all fairness. It didn’t blow me away, but it did the job and after clearing our plates from course number two, the bloated feeling started to set in.
The next job was to take five to let our stomachs settle, then grab the bill. Yet not even two minutes after our dirty plates and cutlery had been taken back into the kitchen, I heard footsteps tapping on the cobbled street approaching.
It was then I turned, and in my face were two more large glasses of beer.
In my head, I panicked a little. We hadn’t ordered these, they were already poured, and I hope they didn’t expect us to pay for them.
But an instant explanation was, instead, given by our waiter.
“These are courtesy of the gentleman over there””
I was confused and immediately scanned the other side of the narrow alley, where a row of opposing tables and chairs were sat. There was an elderly couple, nonchalantly chowing down without much regard for anything else.
It couldn’t be them, I thought.
I then looked a little to the left and saw another couple, who can’t have been much older than we are, leaving the table.
The man made eye contact with me, saluted, and said “have a good night!”
A little stunned, I replied with enthusiastic gratuity and wished him the same. Five seconds later, he had gone.
The reason why he bought us a round was unclear, but took up the next few minutes of discussion.
Was he celebrating something, just in a good mood, or really wanting to get rid of some foreign currency before leaving Croatia?
On reflection, it doesn’t really matter. It was a random act of kindness by a generous stranger. He didn’t have to do it, but ended up making our night extra special.
Although it is a shame we didn’t get to speak, and I couldn’t reciprocate the gesture, it is something I would love to do for somebody else in the future and continue the chain of goodwill.
It’s funny how something so small will probably be one of, if not the lasting memory of my time in Dubrovnik – an act of kindness taking the lead.