WIND SURFing The Croatian Coast, Part Five

Continue WIND SURFing The Croatian Coast with Peter Knego in part five of his latest Sea Trek with a wander through Dubrovnik in search of his “roots”.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Often called the “Pearl Of The Adriatic”, Dubrovnik (originally known as Ragusa) has somewhat mysterious origins. Some schools claim it was founded by indigenous Dalmatians and others ascribe the Greeks for colonizing it circa 700 AD. It became an ally of Byzantium shortly thereafter and was a center of trade between the Austro-Hungarians, the Italian peninsula, Serbia and even the Far East for centuries. Its old town, which is protected by a 1.2 mile long wall, dates from the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day, despite sieges by Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler and Milosevic, to name but a few. Among its highlights are the Arboretum Trsteno, the oldest arboretum in the world (1492) and the third oldest European pharmacy (1317).

Vintage Dubrovnik.

In 1918, Ragusa was renamed Dubrovnik and incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). In 1979, Dubrovnik joined UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Cities. When Croatia declared its independence in 1991, Dubrovnik came under attack by Milosevic’s forces from Serbian Montenegro. The town was heavily damaged by shelling in 1991 and 1992 but by 2005, most of the damage had been repaired.

Damaged Dad -- a torn painting of a hopeful, young Peter Coe (nee Peter Knego).

For me, Dubrovnik is much more than just the celebrated “Pearl of the Adriatic”. My father was born there on the very day the Republic of Yugoslavia was created (November 11, 1918) and it has held a personal lore as long as I can remember. In 1963, my family traveled there to accompany him when he acted in the Roger Corman film, “The Secret Invasion”, which starred Mickey Rooney, Stewart Granger and Raf Vallone.

Lobby card for "The Secret Invasion", considered by many a precursor to the more acclaimed "The Dirty Dozen."

In the film, my father (his professional name was Peter Coe) played Yugoslav underground leader Marko, who managed to get the Allied forces into the city walls — he claimed in real life to have persuaded Tito’s authorities to let Corman film inside the old city as it was hitherto forbidden. I was a toddler and remember only a few things like the bell towers (or “campanilles”), salami for breakfast, the stone streets, precipitous ledges, and pointing at colorful fish in the clear waters of the marina.

My Montenegrin grandmother. She died giving birth to my father in 1918.

While things were not always easy-going with my dad, we learned to be proud of our demi- Yugoslav heritage (even if we didn’t quite get the difference between Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia). Having been to Dubrovnik gave me a sense of the world beyond my San Fernando Valley upbringing but in the decades since that life-changing visit, the fragile ties with what was left of my father’s family withered away. He died in 1993, not long after Dubrovnik had been heavily damaged by the Serbian invasion.

When I finally made my first post-childhood pilgrimage in 2005, I quickly learned that in Croatia, the name “Knego” is like “Smith” or “Jones” in America. Everyone knows a Knego there. A subsequent return in 2008 helped me check off all the main tourist attractions (the wall, the pharmacy, most chapels, cathedrals and forts), so today, we would meander through the town and ride the recently-opened cable car to the top of Mount Srd for the ultimate view.

Croat blogger’s homecoming: Lokrom stage left and Dubrovnik stage right. Photo by Mike Masino.

Unlike most of the bigger ships that call at the harbor north of the city, our ship anchored off the old marina.  It was another scorching day as WIND SURF’s tender buzzed the tranquil waters between Dubrovnik and the densely-forested islet of Lokrom.  According to legend, Lokrom is where Richard the Lionheart was cast ashore after being shipwrecked in 1192. Today, it is home to a botanical garden, monastery and nude beach. My father used to tell of his youthful swims out to the island and past visiting liners like SATURNIA.

Milovan's sketch of a young blogger with a hole in his pants named Pero.

Right before I embarked on this latest trip, my mother suggested I ask around about an old family friend, an artist named Milovan Stanic. If someone knew Milovan, perhaps they knew “our” Knegos. Years ago, Milovan would stay at our house and even did quick sketches of my brothers and me.

Shell of "The Pearl".

The rounded buttress of St. John’s fortress, which has protected the marina since the 15th century, grew closer and closer. As the tender plowed onward, an elderly British woman adjusted her magenta caftan and called across to her husband, “I hear the shopping is good here.” He rolled his eyes and then whispered in my ear, “I certainly hope not.”

Ferry to Lokrom.

Two unique-looking ferries shuttle back and forth between Lokrom and the marina. Their yellow dummy funnels are inspired by the coastal liners that once linked the shores of Istra, Dalmatia and Montenegro.

Stratuesque in Stradun: Orlando.

Immediately inside the city gate is Luza square, which is located at the southern end of Stradun, the main street of Dubrovnik. Orlando’s column is directly in front of the famed Church of St. Blaise (Dubrovnik’s patron saint), which was rebuilt in a baroque style in 1714 after the 14th-century original was destroyed by an earthquake and fire. The statue and backing column were erected in 1419 by Bonino of Milano and stonemason Antonio of Ragusa as a symbol of liberty. Legend has it that Orlando (Roland) helped defend the city against a Saracen invasion.

St. Blaise Church with Dubrovnik Cathedral in the background.

Down at the end of the street from St. Blaise, there is the Dubrovnik Cathedral, which was built in the 18th century and houses an impressive treasury with relics of the patron saint.

Flowing font: Onofrio’s Small Fountain.

Onofrio’s Great and Small Fountains were built by Neapolitan architect Onofrio della Cava as part of Dubrovnik’s water supply system. Onofrio’s Great Fountain is located at the northwestern entrance to Dubrovnik (by the Pile Gates), while the Small Fountain stands at the southeastern end of the city.


Stradun, which runs from northwest to southeast, is the longest and most important street in the Old Town. It is 500 feet long and links narrow side-streets with shops and cafes.

Skipper in the lantana

After a short walk along Stradun, we exited the walled town into Ploce in search of the cable car station. On the way, we passed brilliant orange and yellow lantana bushes that were beacons for hummingbird-like skipper butterflies.

Cable car in motion.

Dubrovnik’s cable car was built in 1969 but completely destroyed in the 1991 shelling. It was eventually rebuilt and reopened in 2010.

View from the top.

We couldn’t have picked a better day for a perfect view of Adriatic’s “Pearl”.

SURF crossed.

Without the aid of a trusty zoom lens, WIND SURF was barely more than a speck with masts from the perch atop Mt. Srd.

Homeland War exhibit.

The Imperial Fortress is next to the cable car station. Built in 1806 by Marshal Marmont, it was named in honor of Napoleon and has been of strategic importance in defending the eastern side of the city.

Bullet holes.
Hole makers.

Inside the fortress, there is a touching and unnerving exhibit dedicated to the Homeland War.

The Walled City.

From the fortress walls, the view of the old city was like a breath of fresh air.

Stepped streets.

After our descent, it was time for relative levity. One particular street was lined with some impressive galleries. This would be a perfect place for me to ask about our family friend, Milovan Stanic. In the first gallery, a pretty girl suggested I try the gallery across the way.

A painting by Milovan Stanic.

In the next gallery (Gallerija HOMA — Zudioska 3, Dubrovnik), a striking blonde girl looked at me like I was crazy for asking. “Milovan Stanic? Who hasn’t heard of him? My mother used to sell his paintings in this gallery.” I asked if she knew where he was now. “I don’t know, but he has been dead for years.” After I returned home, I did some Googling and found Milovan and many references to his work. As it turned out, he died in Santa Barbara in 1989, not far from where I live in California.

Painting by Jadranka Mihalovic-Munitic.

Alas, I was no further along in finding “my” Knegos than I was prior to embarking on the WIND SURF. I am sure at some point, the mystery will unravel but not knowing fills everything I see in Dubrovnik with a sense of possibility and wonder (and guarantees a return). Meanwhile, I was extremely impressed with the blonde girl’s mother’s (Jadranka Mihalovic-Munitic) artwork. I was not allowed to take any photos but she did give me a postcard of one painting that oozes with a masterly Midcentury European style. To me, the colors and shapes are reminiscent of Luzzati, the Genoa-based artist who did so much work for the Italian-built liners and cruise ships of the post war era. With their waterfront subject matter, these unique works would be very much at home on an upscale, modern cruise ship. In a way, they would be perfect for phase two of the WIND SURF’s public area refit…

Dubrovnik's open marketplace.

We circled Stradun and then walked back to the old harbor waterfront via the open market. With each step, I had vainly hoped to unleash an entombed childhood memory.

MSY WIND SURF at Dubrovnik.

WIND SURF’s marina was calling out to us as the tender pulled alongside the ship.

Porthole perspective.

A quick lunch in the air conditioned comfort of the Veranda would fuel our kayak adventure along the shores of Lokrom. Young couples frolicked in the rocky inlet as we paddled along, seeking occasional shelters of shade in the lagoon. Afterwards, we gave in to our inner “kids” and jumped into the sapphire salinity for a refreshing swim. This was the way to experience Dubrovnik.

Marina closing: gathering all the gear.

Today would be my last chance to document the marina being closed, so we stationed ourselves atop the fantail as the staff hauled in the floating gear astern of the ship.

Marina closing: inner door (lower portion of photo) ready to close.

Once everything was safely stowed, the inner marina door began to close.

Marina Closing: raising the platform.

The larger outer door began to fold upwards.

Marina closing: platform vertical.

It was all so “Cecil B. DeMille” as the outer door stood vertical to the stern, water gushing as it clamped shut.

Deck dining.

Tonight, there would be a gala barbeque on the aft decks. Tables were set with linens, candles and silverware.

Welcome to the WIND SURF deck barbeque.

The buffet begins with a selection of breads, crostini, snacks and salads.

Grilled on deck.
Chicken and lobster station.

The grill is fired up with an ongoing supply of fresh lobster and chicken breasts.

Al fresco, Ragusa style.

Add a little wine, a dramatic sunset and the rugged Croatian backdrop for a meal most memorable.

Sunset sailing along the walls.

WIND SURF, sails unfurled, plied into the embers of that dramatic sunset, with a close pass along the old city walls.

Sometimes, a photo is worth a thousand words….

End Of Fifth Post: More to Come…

With Special Thanks: Vanessa Bloy, Martin Cox, Henri Lemay

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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