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Nicky Marr: Academy Street solution shouldn’t be beyond us

By Nicky Marr

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Academy Street solution shouldn't be beyond us
Academy Street solution shouldn't be beyond us

Dubrovnik was never supposed to be on the cards for 2023 holidays, but with Mr Marr moving jobs soon, and holidays to either take or lose, I went online and looked for cheap flights.

I knew little about the Croatian city but found us a fancy-pants hotel beside the city walls, with a terrace lapped by the Aegean. It seemed like a steal. Within 20 minutes (it often takes me longer to decide what to buy for tea) a five-night break was booked.

Have you been? If not, add it to your list. Have you watched Game of Thrones? If yes, you’ll know what to expect. I’d never watched a single episode of the hit drama, but plenty of Dubrovnik’s tourists had. Tours and merchandise are offered.

My earlier memories of Dubrovnik, such as they are, were of watching the news in the early 1990s and witnessing a city under siege. I remember seeing the trauma on the faces of those waiting to be evacuated by sea.

That history, 30 years ago now, is still worn on the city’s streets, where reconstruction is evidently still under way. From the city walls, the proportion of bright-orange new roof tiles vastly outweighs the softer ochre of the original ones. A graphic depiction of the damage inflicted.

Guidebooks cautioned us not to initiate conversation about the conflict, but the man selling tickets in the Homelands War Museum atop Mount Srd, carried his story on his face. He was grateful, he said, that we had come, and that we had looked so carefully at the curated artefacts.

Dubrovnik’s main tourist draw is the old town and its city walls. Perched atop soaring cliffs and dating from the 13th century, the walls are a 2km rough square of limestone ramparts, up to 25m high and 6m thick in places, with forts at each corner. Of course we walked those ramparts, cursing their 900-plus stairs, but soaking up the jaw-dropping views in all directions.

And of course, we paid for the privilege. And the city authorities weren’t shy – a three-day pass to the walls, including a dozen or so museums, galleries, and monasteries, set us back €90, but it was €90 well spent. We couldn’t have gone all that way and not walked the walls, and we discovered a whole lot more as a result.

We saw ancient jail cells and elegant sedan chairs in the Rector’s House, a selection of silver reliquaries purporting to contain fragmented bones of saints in the Franciscan Monastery, and cannon balls the size of beach balls at the imposing Lovrijenac Fortress.

The 20th century bronze sculptures in the Modern Art Gallery were a delight, as was just wandering the old city’s narrow pedestrian streets, finding wee bars and cafés, and people-watching.

Pedestrian? Yes. The entire old city is – with few exceptions - car-free. We watched deliveries of food and drink, furniture, building materials, laundry for hotels and B&Bs, plus assorted shop supplies, winding in and out of the tiny streets on battery-operated pallet trucks.

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Pedestrianisation in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Pedestrianisation in Dubrovnik, Croatia

They moved silently among the throngs of girls and boys who spent afternoons and early evenings playing passionate games of football in the streets, and riding bikes and scooters as if their lives and reputations depended on it.

Which of course, made me think about Academy Street in Inverness.

I know. Dubrovnik was designed without the car in mind, and its streets are so narrow and steep, most would be impassable to vehicles. But if they have managed to rebuild their city over the past 30 years without cars, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of us Highlanders to come up with a solution for Academy Street in Inverness that gives it back to its people.

Imagine. People and bikes, kids playing football, shops, cafés, hotels, galleries, and fresh air. We’ve become reliant on cars, but it doesn’t mean we can’t change. Who’s in?

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