New York Times From Dubrovnik: ‘It Feels Like We Got the City Back for Ourselves’

‘It Feels Like We Got the City Back for Ourselves’ – travel restrictions have turned 11 overtouristed destinations into quiet, almost unrecognizable places, even for those who live there. It’s a bittersweet experience for the people we talked to, New York Times reports.

Among those they’ve talked to is Darko Perojević, chef and owner of the restaurant Azur. He has lived in Dubrovnik most of his life. Her his story!

The Old Town of Dubrovnik, where I’ve lived most of my life, hasn’t been empty like this since the war and the eight-month shelling of Dubrovnik in 1991 and ’92. We all have had some lingering sadness because the emptiness of the city is a reminder of that time.

The situation here is bittersweet, really. Bitter because I’m the chef and owner of a restaurant in Old Town — called Azur — that relies on a lot of tourists for business. But it’s sweet because walking the empty streets on a sunny day feels great. No need to elbow your way through the cruise ship crowds. There’s no smell of overused frying oil from restaurants. The terrace of my apartment looks out over the Old Port and instead of restaurant tables taking up the space on the port, there are now freshly used fishing nets drying on the cobblestones.

Kids are playing on the streets just like I did when I was a kid. Back then there were not many restaurants occupying public spaces and squares, so the whole city was our playground. For a moment it feels like we got the city back for ourselves. We played football yesterday in front of my house in the Old Port. As soon as we go back to normal this will not be possible. I think we all know this can’t last forever and that’s why we want to use Old Town as our playground as much as possible while it lasts.

Another surprisingly positive thing is catching up with old friends. Most locals don’t go to Old Town, especially in the tourist season. But now, you can only see local people here all the time. I can’t walk the length of Stradun — the main pedestrian street in Old Town — without meeting like 20 old friends.

We all know here that the notion of quarantine began in Dubrovnik — as a 14th-century act to prevent outsiders from bringing the black plague into the city — so my friends and I are often joking about how quarantine has returned to the place where it started. It gives us more confidence these days. We’ve dealt with this before — it’s in our DNA — and on some level, we know we’ll overcome this plague just like our ancestors did over 600 years ago.

So, in the end, we’re not making money but we’ve got our town back to ourselves. We usually get kind of annoyed with all the tourists in Dubrovnik but people here are even back to loving cruise ships again. — As told to David Farley