Taking the Kids: to Dubrovnik
Where is my pedometer when I need it? We're walking Dubrovnik's famous 14th-century walls with their view of red rooftops, the sea, kayakers and sunbathers.
Everyone says Dubrovnik is the "jewel of the Adriatic" and it's easy to see why -- its Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a cathedral, a monastery, the oldest drug store in Europe, operating continuously since 1317 and the second-oldest synagogue in Europe dating back to 1652, though today there are so few Jews remaining there is no rabbi. "Everyone assimilates," our young guide Vedrana Vukosan said. "We're one big melting pot."
The tiny old town -- just 1,500 residents -- is a wonderful bet to give kids a sense of European history -- ancient and more recent.
Just 20 years ago, from November 1991 to May 1992, Dubrovnik was under siege by Serbian and Montenegrin forces. The city was bombarded from the air and sea. More than 15,000 people fled the city. Electricity and water were cut off. "We used the old cisterns in the city," said Srdan Kristic, who helps run one of the large tour agencies here and was 18 at the time (www.elite.hr). "It was very hard for everyone."
The city's medieval walls helped protect the city and there was tremendous international publicity decrying the bombing of this historic city and in favor of granting Croatia diplomatic recognition. During the 1990s, money poured in for the restoration of the scarred facades and terra-cotta rooftops.
Today, tourists wander the crooked streets, licking ice cream cones, stopping on impossibly narrow streets where tables have been set out, inviting visitors to stop for beer and pizza.
Another day we were equally enamored of the Croatian island of Korcula -- just three miles wide -- and its medieval walls. The area is known for vineyards, olives, and Marco Polo. People here believe the famed adventurer was born here, though there is no concrete evidence to confirm that.
Just 3,500 people live here. Our guide, Katija Tedeschi, shows us churches dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries and explains streets are laid out so that the townspeople would get the maximum sea breezes.
I can't believe the 15th-century manuscripts we see with the writing still perfectly legible, the vestments embroidered by nuns in the 15th century, the Tintoretto painting and the fact that there are no crowds.
We meander the cobblestone streets and peeked into tiny shops, many selling every variety of Marco Polo souvenir. At the very least, it is believed Polo fought and lost a battle against Genoa here. After his capture, he was allegedly put in prison where he told his fantastic tale of his Chinese adventures to a fellow prisoner who then turned it into a best seller titled "The Million." (Because Marco Polo was always saying he saw a million of this and a million of that.)