Been There Done That: Dubrovnik, my visit to the “Pearl of the Adriatic”

Pulling into Dubrovnik

DAY 7 — DUBROVNIK

ABOARD THE MV AEGEAN ODYSSEY– Widely considered to be one of Europe’s most outstanding cities, Dubrovnik is an integrated walled city with immense visual appeal. It’s historical and architectural significance has been recognized by UNESCO, which has placed it on its list of World Heritage Sites.

Dubrovnik is a Croatian city on the Adriatic Sea coast, positioned at the terminal end of the Isthmus of Dubrovnik. It is one of the most prominent tourist destinations on the Adriatic, a seaport and the center of Dubrovnik-Neretva county. Its total population is 42,641.

This morning, after coffee on my balcony, I set off for a half day tour of the city Lord Byron called “the pearl of the Adriatic,”. Our walking tour entered the Old Town of Dubrovnik through the impressive Pile Gate onto the Stradun, the wide main street through the Old Town. We visited the Dominican Monastery with its 15th century cloister and collection of Renaissance paintings and continued past the Sponza Palace, the Baroque church of St. Blaise, Onofrio’s Fountain, and the Franciscan Monastery. Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady we saw its fine treasury, Titian’s Assumption over the alter, and the bejeweled skull of St. Blaise.

Kotor Bay

Our shore excursions have been very well managed throughout our voyage. Upon boarding each guest is provided a passenger cruise card: an on board I.D. card that doubles as a charge card. It can be utilized for on board purchases and is scanned every time you leave or return to the ship.

Each card has a colored dot on its upper right hand corner with a number in its center. Shore excursions are called over the ships public address system by color at which time passengers disembark in order; separate tours are designated by the number. This system makes short work of organizing excursions, saving time and passenger confusion.

Local guides are used for the excursions into the various villages, towns and cities along our route, and Voyages to Antiquity has done a fine job of selecting them. They are all knowledgeable, courteous, and speak clearly. As good guides do, ours added greatly to our overall experience.

Upon our return to the ship we had lunch on the Terrace Café al fresco as our ship left Dubrovnik, to continue our cruise along the Dalmatian Coast for the rest of the day.

At 2 p.m. we were treated to another lecture by Dr. Candace Weddle, this one was entitled “Sensing the Ancient City”. Her lecture explored the ways in which ancient cities would have smelled and felt to their inhabitants. An unusual subject, but quite entertaining. Dr. Weddle has become a passenger favorite on board. Her sense of humor and interesting lecture subjects have competed well with the passing view.

Following Dr. Weddle’s lecture our ship entered Kotor Bay, Montenegro. Kotor Bay is sometimes referred to as Europe’s southernmost fjord, but the winding bay is actually a “submarine” river canyon. Stretching between Croatia and Montenegro, Kotor Bay offers picturesque vistas of fortified towns and mountains dotted with castles. At one time Kotor Bay was rival to Venice and Dubrovnik for sea power.

Deep in Kotor Bay we pass by a man–made islet on which was built in 1452 the baroque church Gospa od Skrpjela (from the Italian Madonna dello Scarpello). It is a great photo opp.

The on-board crew is primarily from the Philippines, with a two-to-one crew-to-passenger ratio. They meet every one with bright smiles every time. I have yet to see a sour or even disinterested face, and th seem quite happy to fulfill guest requests with gracious courtesy. My room steward, Ronald, greets me every day by name and quickly sees to my requests.

Dessert Station

While such courteous behavior is expected, it is not always delivered on some cruise ships. Ships crews often work seven to eight months straight on back-to-back cruises, frequently with long or uneven hours, or both. It is easy, as it might be for us, to tire of frivolous or demanding passenger requests. Those of us that have worked in situations where constant client or guest interaction is required are well aware of the circumstances. It simply wears on one. Not on board the Aegean Odyssey. The ready smiles and helpful comments seem genuine rather than forced, and it makes all the difference in passenger satisfaction and attitude.

I had a very nice dinner of corn salad with radicchio, roast pork with tarragon sauce and cheeses and fresh fruits for dessert in the Marco Polo this evening. I always request being seated at one of the larger tables which enables me constant guest contacts. An avocado grower from outside Sydney, a recent Ph.D. in Biology from Idaho traveling with her mother as a celebration of her recent success, and grandparents taking their 12-year-old grandchild on her first international journey were but a few.

There was another man I met onboard who had quite an inspiring story:

Chinh Pham tried to escape Vietnam several times in 1977 before he was successful. At 16, he and his brother attempted escape from near Saigon by water twice, but were shot at and chased by police back into the city both times. His brother was captured the second time and was sent to prison.

Executive Chef Chinh Pham

Chinh made his way to a cousin’s home to the fishing village of Vung Dau, south of what is now Ho Chi Minh City. He and 70 others were towed out to sea in a small boat outfitted for 30 and cast off. A week later the small boats engine quit, leaving them adrift without water. Several children died over the next few days.

On the fourth day a Malaysian Naval vessel pulled alongside, refused them water and towed them back out to sea. That evening they saw a small light in the distance and after getting their motor started again slowly made their way toward it. A day later they landed on the island the light was shining from, made a campfire and boiled grass to eat.

The next morning soldiers located their encampment and with payment of the few possessions they had left moved them to a small camp on the Indonesian coast where they made homes out of plywood and stayed for several months. Eventually the authorities moved them to another camp where they stayed for a year, where they were allowed to apply for immigration to the United States, France or Canada.

Chinh applied to go to Canada and was accepted and flown from Singapore to Edmonton where he and others were housed in an army base. He was then sent on to Quebec and then to Montreal where he stayed with a family arranged by a church for a year. He went to high school during the day and worked as a mechanic at night. For extra money he accepted a job in at Le Borlaise, a since-closed French restaurant, and was soon hired on full time. The restaurant was owned by four teachers at a local restaurant school in the city and when they opened a new one (le du France) they offered Chinh the position as chef.

To further make ends meet, Chinh started a one-man photography company doing weddings and similar gatherings. In 1988 Chin applied to a Miami newspaper advertisement for a “traveling photographer” for shipboard work. Upon arrival on board, he was told that they would much prefer that he work in the kitchen, as they were short on expertise there. He said “Sure, anything.”

Gospa od Skrpjela Church

It was only three days later that his skills became fully appreciated and he was promoted to sous chef. In 1996, he sailed for Regency Cruises. then for Premier cruises and then joined the cruise line catering company Ligabue (Italy) that provides onboard food service for cruise lines.

Executive Chef Pham told me his story when we met casually standing at the rail of the fantail admiring the lights Kotor Bay shining in the distance. Yes, he’s the executive chef aboard the Aegean Odyssey.

Chinh’s family of seven eventually made their way out of Vietnam to Australia in 1991, where he visits them every year.

 

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