Presidium and Executive Board Meet in Dubrovnik
The spring meeting of the AEHT Presidium and Executive Board always takes place at the venue for the Annual Conference the following autumn, so this year, on March 6th and 7th, your president, vice presidents, head office staff and national representatives made their way to the beautiful Adriatic city of Dubrovnik in the south of Croatia.
Our accommodation was the imposing Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel, a surprising structure built into a cliff, where the reception is on the top floor, at the top of the cliff; to reach the bedrooms you take a lift, which is really more of a mountain railway, moving down the inclined plane of the cliff face! The weather, surprisingly for the Adriatic, was awful: it rained very hard, and during the night there was a violent thunder storm. But all was well on Sunday morning: blue skies and hot sun! Early on Friday morning the full Presidium – President, 5 Vice-Presidents, General Secretary and Translator – was warmly greeted by our Dubrovnik colleagues – Antun Perusina, Nedjeljko Jančićand Ivana Ljubimir; we then shut ourselves away for a hard day of discussions about the matters vital to the smooth running of your Association: Leonardo da Vinci projects, ACCOR placements, the cost for students attending the annual conference, how to ensure that teachers can meet their counterparts at the conference …
After lunch we made a quick excursion to Dubrovnik Town Hall – a beautiful baroque edifice at the end of the imposing Stradun, Dubrovnik’s traffic-free main street, also known as the Placa; there we were greeted by Antun Kisic, the Deputy Mayor, Djuro Market, the Officer in charge of tourism in the City Government, and Miho Katicic, the Education and Culture officer in the City Government. Jelka Tepšić of the Dubrovnik Tourist Board interpreted the Deputy Mayors’ words when he expressed his happiness that we had chosen his beautiful city as our conference venue; the rebuilding following the civil war (or ‘aggression’ as we learned to call it) was now all but complete, and now it was their task is to reinvigorate the tourism industry; this was being done with the valued help of Antun Perusina, whose school hotel school was among the best in Croatia
Louis Robert, the consummate politician, thanked the municipal officers for receiving us, and our hosts Antun, Nedjeljko and Ivana for their warm welcome to the beautiful (though temporarily rainy) city of Dubrovnik; he stressed that the young people attending our annual conference in November represent the future of the tourist industry; their attendance is not subsidised and for many of them getting together the necessary funding involves real hardship. Please would the Dubrovnik municipality give serious thought to ways in which the cost of student attendance could be reduced, say through subsidies or sponsorship. And don’t forget, urged Louis, that every student returning home after the conference will be an ambassador in his or her own country, urging classmates and parents to take their vacations in glorious Dubrovnik. What better publicity could a Tourist Board want?
Perhaps as a symbol of these austere times and the Town Hall’s determination to introduce economies, our hosts served us, not the usual municipal champagne – but chilled apple juice, in which we drank to the success of our meetings and of the AEHT Annual Conference in November 2009.
And so back to the Presidium meeting and hard decisions on weighty matters pertaining to the future of our Association, before preparing to take the bus down to the Dubrovnik Hotel School, built in an impressive location in a cliff overlooking the city’s old port. The gastronomic delights awaiting us in the Turistička I ugostiteljiska Ukola Dubrovnik belied the modest buildings of the school: we were greeted with champagne and plates laden with the most delicious oysters any of us had ever tasted: small, compact, with a curious soft edge to the regular shell, and fleshy, succulent and just exquisite, they slid very easily down the throat. These were the famous Ston Kamenice, from the town of Ston some 60 kms west of Dubrovnik, rightly famous for its shellfish production. These particular oysters had still been in the sea at one o’clock that afternoon, Antun assured us.
The Ston oysters were just a prelude though: down in the dining room we were expertly served by a team of students, and the delights on offer included raw sea urchin, carpaccio of octopus and sea-bream, local smoked ham, sepia ink risotto and mussels in sweet wine sauce. This was serious gastronomy. The linguistically versatile President lavishly praised our hosts and the students for the excellent and expertly served dinner; your correspondent, doubling as interpreter, was so overcome with emotion that he rendered all this praise with just one word: BRAVO!
Several Vinjaks* later we were back at the Valamar Dubrovnik President Hotel taking our beauty sleep ready for the important Executive Board meeting on Saturday morning; as well as the traditional reports from each of the vice-presidents, two other important matters were on the agenda: the forthcoming elections to the Executive Board and to the Presidium (and the proposal to extend the period of the mandate from three to four years); and a presentation from Iva Svetac, the Marketing Coordinator of the Valamar hotel group of the hotels in which the November conference would be organised. True to form our President returned to the theme of reducing the cost of student attendance at the conference – asking if additional beds could be installed in the bedrooms to keep the prices low. Nice try Louis, but for the moment the hotel will not agree to this.
A guided tour of the Old Town of Dubrovnik had been laid on for the afternoon, and the rain took mercy on us and stopped for the rest of the day. Our erudite guides selected for us the best tourist attractions, including Onofrio’s fountains (at which during the plague you had to wash well before you were allowed into the city), Europe’s oldest pharmacy which had once belonged to the Franciscan monastery, the cathedral with its many accretions over the centuries, the Rector’s palace which used to house the Ragusan** government in an odd system whereby the Rector was elected for just one month, during which time he was kept prisoner in his own palace! We then moved away from the main road and onto the Prijeko (meaning ‘beyond’ and recalling the time when an arm of the sea, since filled in, used to run along here) and its network of narrow streets with aerial clothes-lines, one of them, the Zudioska (Jews’ street) containing a minute but still-functioning synagogue. Our guide pointed out the ingenuity with which the citizens repaired the city’s red-tiled roofs after the ‘aggression’ – by placing the bright red new tiles below the surviving old tiles so that the attractive ancient patina is still visible. But I shouldn’t be giving the game away – come in November to see it all for yourselves!
And then our final dinner – in the Proto fish restaurant. They’d been warned that we were a bit fussy about the quality of our food, so had put together an irresistible sea-food menu for us: oyster soup, sea bass carpaccio, mussels, octopus, asparagus and shrimp lasagne, roasted fish, rounded off with a ‘symphony’ of desserts. And of course plenty of local wines and the inevitable vinjaks.
And so to Sunday morning and our fond farewells until the Annual Conference in November in this same magical town; those of us lucky enough to have later flights had the chance to enjoy the sunshine on the hotel terrace, or, in the case of your correspondent, to take a walk along the two kms of ramparts surrounding the old city and providing breathtaking views over the city rooftops;.
Many thanks, Antun and your team: this foretaste of the pleasures of November 2009 is very promising indeed!
John Rees Smith
Pictures: Nadine Schintgen and John Rees Smith
*Vinjak: A local spirit similar to cognac, for which the Treasurer developed an inordinate liking
**Ragusa is the old name for Dubrovnik