Day: 110 & 111
Cities / Towns Visited: 57
Countries Visited: 16
Steps Taken Today: 19,539
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,990,717
As was want to happen a number of times in the comings few weeks, day 110 was to be a travel day. After a four hour trip in the cramped stuffy confines of an Eastern European bus, we finally found ourselves in one of our most anticipated destinations; Dubrovnik. Another bus ride, this time literally crammed into stranger’s personal space and doing our very best to keep control of our luggage and stay upright without taking anyone else out, we finally bundled out at Pile Gate; the western gate into the historic old town. Joining the dense stream of tourists making their way through, we finally made it into the old town, beyond the picturesque walls, and to say we were gobsmacked would be an understatement. If you took away the tourists teeming through the main thoroughfare it would look like something only plausible on a green screen. Every building a medieval beauty, every set of green shutters surely shrouding a story worthy of an episode of Game of Thrones. Snapping back to reality, it was a gruelling and swealteringly hot trudge through the masses and out the east gate. A short walk from there and we reached our accommodation. Being thoroughly exhausted by this point we settled on simply buying some groceries at the shop just down the road, plonking ourselves down on the bed beneath the air conditioner, and taking it easy for the remainder of the day. We were falling asleep just outside of King’s Landing, and tomorrow would be spent finding the sites that made the background for one of our favourite shows.
Waking early, and slightly more refreshed, we readied ourselves with as much enthusiasm as we could muster at that time of day, and ventured outside and into the minibus of our tour guide. You see, we had organised to go on a rather pricey, but quite extensive tour roaming the filming locations from Game of Thrones in and around Dubrovnik. Thus after picking up a few more fans, we were on our way.
Our first stop for the day was the Trsteno Arboretum; the setting of the Red Keep gardens. For those of you who don’t know what an arboretum is, as I didn’t, it is a botanical garden, but used solely for growing trees from across the world. This stunningly shady garden used to be owned by the upper class elite, and its easy to see the appeal. With a stunning fountain complete with a statue or Neptune, which spills down into a goldfish and lily pad filled pond; a tranquil retreat from the stresses of the world. Heading through we ended up at the old manor house which is no longer a stately home. Although there was some cute kittens roaming around, it was the private pergola we had come to reminisce in; the easily recognisable site of the Queen of Thorns, Olena Tyrell’s, acid tongue wit and well considered advice.
Continuing on, we ducked into a non-GoT based site; a now unused mill for pressing olive oil, made even more impressive by the fact it is some 500 years old. We then passed by a run down old beachfront house property that our guide informed us is prime real estate that would a sell for millions, but it is tied up in the notoriously slow Croatian courts as the family of the deceased owners squabble over what to do with it. All their squabbling has lead to a bonus for us though; the fact that was can sneak along to the sea side of the property, to an iconic location from the show; the rectangular space where Bron teaches Jamie how to sword fight with his left hand. Seeing the location though, you can definitely see why this house has so many family members trying to get their hands on it.
By now it was time to hop back in the van, and thus we were off to the next location. After a rather treacherous journey up the mountain beside the city, on a road I in no way, shape, or form, ever wish to drive, we reached a spot on the road flanked with ruined bunkers from the Yugoslav war in the 90’s, where Dubrovnik was being bombed and fired upon by the Serbian soldiers from the next hill. This rather unconventional spot was, in fact, used as the backdrop for some of the King’s Road scenes in the show; you know, after they covered the asphalt with dirt of course. Moving a little further on, we came to the top of the mountain and were treated with an absolutely breathtaking view of the city. It’s hard to explain just how fake this old walled beauty looks from this angle. Even the photos can only show you so much. From this vantage point we also has a good view of Lokrum Island, just off the coast, where some of the scenes of Qarth were filmed, but we would be visiting there later in the week.
Driving back down the narrow road, we continued to the last stop of the driving portion of the tour, to a surprise location which isn’t mentioned in the itinerary of the tour. As we hopped out of the van and walked towards our end point, we were told that the property we were heading towards is a ruined hotel, which was severely damaged during the war, despite having only just been built before the war broke out, and is now owned by a Russian billionaire who plans to knock it down and build a 7 star hotel here; right after the legalities of it all are sorted out in the, once again, glacially slow Croatian legal system. Blindly following our guide we finally arrived, and stepping forward to the ledge we looked down over one of the most iconic scenes of the series; the arena in which The Viper fights The Mountain, and of course that unforgettable head crushing. The space looks a little different with its giant painted logo, as it is used by local soccer teams, but for any fan you’ll be able to identify it in a heartbeat. To say we were geeking out at this point wouldn’t do it justice.
After a rather tedious drive back to the Pile Gate, due mainly to the backlog of traffic on the one road which goes around the old town, we finally escaped the confines of the minivan, and met up with our female guide for the walking tour of the old town and the fort on the hill just outside the walls. Our first stop was the aforementioned fort, known formally as Fort Lovrijenac, it was where a number of scenes of the Red Keep were filmed, although the addition of a goodly amount of CGI was needed to give it its grandiose proportions for production. Still, when the guide showed us photos of the scenes filmed it was easy to spot the positions, and see why they chose this secluded space, which could so easily be cut off from any nosey onlookers. From its rooftop there is also a clear view of the bay below where they filmed scenes for Blackwater Bay, and the forts of the city wall which also featured in the show. Here’s a few of the angles, and if you’re a fan you might just recognise them.
Next up it was time to head into the old town, but not before stopping by the bay and comparing a few more photos with some of the iconic scenes and some of the more easily forgotten ones. Stepping through the Pile Gate and into the hustle and bustle it was at this point our drivers explanation about tourists here began to make sense. He had explained that the influx of tourists is mainly due to large cruise ships which dock in the harbour and bus their passengers into town. Some of the large liners only allow a few short hours to explore, so the entire boatload of people, often many thousands at a time, rush into this tight little space like a swarm of locusts, clogging the thoroughfares, buying souvenirs, and leaving. As a result the streets are either workably busy, or almost choked beyond movement.
Luckily today was one of the days when less ships were docked, so through the crowds we weaved. Passing down the rabbit warren of streets, we made our way past the sites of Littlefinger’s Brothel, and the stairs down which Cersei began her Shame walk from the Great Sept of Baylor, as well as a few less distinguishable backdrops from a few random scenes. It was interesting to hear from both guides how they, and almost everyone in the city, either was, or knows someone who was, an extra in the show. It was also amusing to find out that because the producers of the show are so strict on secrecy that the extras all have watertight confidentiality agreements, and when filming in the city, they paid all of the building owners in the streets to close their shutters during filming, and also sign agreements. Just a quick note that a few of these tourist free photos are care of a few days later when we had to be up early so we took the liberty of basking in the isolation.
Finally, our tour was coming to an end, but not before our guide giddily ran off and came back with genuine full scale replicas of some of the shows most recognisable weapons (all blunt of course), from Arya’s sword ‘Needle’, to Brienne’s ‘Oathkeeper’, and Jon Snow’s ‘Longclaw’. She even had a replica of the famed ‘shame bell’. After a little fun posing with them, it was time to say goodbye. It had been nine hours of roaming the area in a Game of Thrones frenzy, but it was well worth the time and money, not only for the geek factor, but simply because we had a chance to see and learn much more about this city.
A quick stop in at a busy as hell ice cream shop to get seemingly the most generous scoop I’ve ever seen, for an even more incredible price, we hurried off home to escape anymore of the heat, and just generally relax after our lengthy day. A quick homecooked dinner, and a little blog writing, found us tucking ourselves happily into bed. As I mentally reviewed our day, it was with much joy. It is surreal to visit the locations of a show we have so often used to escape the monotony of our everyday lives. A place which has seemed a world away, was now sitting just outside of our door, and to be honest it was hard to wrap my head around. Something that had been all but as good as fiction, was now my reality; the fantastical now did not feel so far away. So what if it doesn’t really have dragons, or magic, or impossibly attractive people at every turn, it was just one more facet of my dream of travel coming to fruition, and that’s magical enough for me.