With Anna under self-imposed house arrest preparing for final exams and Jack perfectly willing to do nothing for four days, we left CTF in charge and Bombadier-propped to Dubrovnik and Montenegro for the recent long holiday weekend.

Croatia Airlines may codeshare with Austrian Airlines, but that is where the Imperial lovefest ends. VIE has DIY machines to generate boarding passes and luggage tags which work fabulously. If your ticket is Austrian. Should your ticket read, “Croatia Airlines,” no matter how many times you scan your passport, your boarding pass, and enter the by-now memorized e-ticket number (seriously?), the machines say, “Covfefe” to your attempt to print a luggage tag. The Austrian Airlines staff milling about mostly become less than helpful, too; when they determine you are not flying the Emperor’s Express you are just shooed from one queue to another. Were it not for my muttering to Tony, “Geesh. Marrakesh’s airport had it much more together,” which was overheard by an Arabic speaking Austrian attendant, we might never have left Schwechat. He popped over and asked us to follow him to the Business Class check-in, where he promptly tagged our bag and wished us a pleasant flight. Habibi to the rescue.

The Kitties of Dubrovnik

In good order we boarded the first of two flights: VIE-ZAG and ZAG-DVK. Tony and I both prefer aisle seats, and so a chatty Croatian woman was my row mate on the Bombadier Prop. Behind us were two English speaking 20-somethings. In between our conversation one of them said, “I always puke when the plane lands.” With perfect synchronicity Croatian Lady and I handed our motion sickness bags over our heads. (And yes, the woman behind knew her flying style.)

Windows and Streets of Dubrovnik

Though this was our first Balkan flight, we are not first-time Balkan travelers and so set our mental clocks for Balkan time accordingly. The time between connections was 35 minutes, and our plane departed 15 minutes late. First time Balkan travelers might panic at having 20 minutes to pass though security and passport control (Croatia is EU but not Schengen, hence the protocol), but not the two of us. It all just works.

Dubrovnik Scenes

Sure enough. Our plane landed at Gate 21, and boarding for the connection had begun. Everyone disembarked, walked across the tarmac and up two flights of stairs into the terminal. Three left turns later we were at the security checkpoint. Except, someone had forgotten to alert the screeners that their smoke break was over and they needed to report for duty. Thankfully the bored passport control guy picked up his phone to call them!

One by one the 30 of us we were screened, with only women having to remove shoes and receive a physical pat-down. Five steps later, passport control. One more left turn remained, and that was back down the two flights of stairs and onto the same plane. No worries about luggage being transferred, at least.

The flight into Dubrovnik was an easy-breezy 45 minutes, with passengers on port side having spectacular views of the walled city from above. I asked the couple across the row if they would be so kind as to take a snap for me. The woman put down her iPhone and took mine; when she returned the phone to me I saw that she had not taken a photo at all. Not certain how to interpret that.

On the return flight, “Take off your clothes!”  was my instruction from the screener. Well, then! (The screener was referring to the sweater across my shoulders.) Two 45 minute hops and a gimpy-sprint across the Zagreb airport to catch our connection, and we were home.  Tony had severely pulled a leg muscle on the Myrafälle hike so our usual pace was dialed back a bit on this trip.

The lighting was never unimpressive.

Our driver was waiting for us after we passed through baggage claim. Once upon a time we would have queued for the airport shuttle and found our own way to the hotel. But thankfully those days are over, and I slipped into the air-conditioned Benz on this sticky 28º afternoon for the drive to our hotel. Our driver was animated, playing lively Croatian music on the radio and pointing out the native flora and other points of scenic interest; and in a pleasant 25 minutes we reached Lapad, the suburban outpost of the walled city. Though in the end our hotel only rated a, “Fine,” the decision to have lodging from which to escape the compacted chaos of Dubrovnik was ideal.

Scars from the Siege of Dubrovnik that began on St. Nicholas Day, 1991.

From the War Photo Museum permanent collection, The End of Yugoslavia. A powerful exhibit.

With several hours of daylight ahead of us, we freshened up and caught the bus for a ten-minute ride to “Pile Gate,” where everyone not arriving by personal watercraft is summarily deposited. The late afternoon light cast spectacular color on the city, and Tony carefully steered me to and fro while I clicked away on my camera. A light supper (more on the food to come, of course) and an hour or so on our hotel balcony watching the world go by brought our first day to a close.