Fancy seeing two of the more interesting corners of Europe – Italy’s Puglia region and Croatia’s Dalmatian coast – in one trip? It’s easy with the Bari to Dubrovnik ferry across the Adriatic.
The Croatian shipping company Jadrolinija makes the Bari to Dubrovnik crossing four times a week in summer, less often in off-season. The nine-hour journey departs from Italy’s 9th largest city, Bari, at 10pm arriving in beautiful Dubrovnik at 7am.
But first things first, Bari. Guidebooks describe it as the kind of place you might not want to hang around in – and they’re probably right. To be fair, we only had four hours there, it was raining and we were tired, but it looked the kind of place even the staunchest Italophile would struggle to say anything positive about.
We walked from the train station, through the grid of streets that make up the new town, avoiding a thunderstorm and a demonstration held by African asylum seekers in southern Italy. Once you cross Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, you’re in Bari’s Old City – a maze of tiny alleyways famed for being one of the easiest places to get lost in Italy.
It’s also one of the hardest places to find a bar. We wandered around with trolley suitcases on the cobbles in the rain for almost an hour before we found one – the kind of bar you’d normally not consider stopping at, but we were happy to grab a table, have a few bottles of Peroni and a microwaved slice of Focaccia each.
Two and a half hours before our scheduled 10pm departure, we got to the entrance to the port – more than enough time to check-in, board the ferry and relax right? Wrong.
This was the most stressful, pointless and disorganised check-in procedure I’ve ever come across in a developed country and makes Ryanair’s boarding process look a doddle.
We joined the “Croatia” queue but realised something was wrong when everyone else in our queue had boarding passes. When I booked the tickets I was given a voucher, but not proper boarding passes – exchanging voucher for boarding pass is something no-one tells you about, and no-one helps you with, least of all staff at the Jadrolinija office who were absolutely bloody useless. A Japanese tourist told us where to go, but when she said the ticket office we need is 3km away, our hearts sank.
When it got to 21:15 we were convinced we’d miss the ferry, but then a free shuttle bus turned up to take us to the ticket office on the other side of Bari. By the time we arrived, there was no-one else queuing so we quickly swapped our vouchers for boarding passes, jumped back on the bus and went back to Terminal 1. The queue for passport control seemed to go on forever, and then unbelievably when we had cleared that we were told that the ferry left from a different terminal another 1km away.
Once on board, we were so shattered we couldn’t face sleeping in our allocated airline seats so asked about upgrading to a cabin at the ship’s reception. For €65 we could have a cramped bunk-bedded box with breakfast, or for €100 we could have an en-suite room. Bunk beds it was.
We’d spent all our euros by this point, so I got my credit card out and hoped they’d accept it on what looked a pretty run-down ship. The receptionist looked as though he’d never seen a credit card before and began to panic, but then took out one of those old fashioned card swiping machines that produces receipts in triplicate. The cost of the room took two months to appear on the credit card bill, so I had hoped we’d got away with it.
We dumped our bags in our shoebox for the night, and went out to see what our liner had to offer in terms of entertainment. First stop was the self service restaurant. There was actually no food available, just three cans of Coke. The ship’s on-board duty free was just as sparse, with no more than ten bottles of cheap local spirits left in the whole shop.
I guess this is how it felt in the days of communism and food rationing. It also explained why nearly everyone apart from us had brought picnics along with them. Luckily, we found a bar of melting Milka chocolate for sale, took that back to the cabin and crashed out for the night.
We were woken at around 6am by a member of staff knocking on all the cabin doors. After ‘enjoying’ one of the worst breakfasts of all time (stale bread, congealed egg, weak tea), we joined the rest of the passengers on deck taking in the fresh air on our final approach to Croatia.
The views of the islands along the Dalmatian coast as we entered Dubrovnik’s port made the stress and lack of sleep all worth it.
A taxi from the port in the Gruz area to Pile Gate just outside the pedestrianized Old Town costs 80kn (£10), so you can enjoy a better breakfast on Stradun before the crowds arrive.
If you fancy making this trip, you can find more information at Jadrolinija’s website here which has an English section.