GAME OF THRONES
Ancient walls, narrow white stone streets, azure blue sea and charming views. Dubrovnik definitely belongs to one of the most romantic places in the world, long before Game of Thrones made it famous as King’s Landing.
Elisabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were spending their honeymoon here. Some world-famous newspapers have marked Dubrovnik as one of the most romantic places in the world, before Venice or Paris. And the writer Lord Byron gave the city the poetic name “Pearl of the Adriatic”. But still this beautiful gem of Croatia has been hidden for a long time from wider world. Until the producers of Game of Thrones chose to turn it into King’s Landing and so they put Dubrovnik back on the map! And not only for filmmakers… After Game of Thrones arrived here Robin Hood and Star Wars, and during the summer in 2016, over 10 thousands of tourists have landed at Dubrovnik’s coast! The UNESCO World Heritage Site has begun to face new challenges – uncontrollable tourism… Personally, I have been dreaming about Dubrovnik since I read about its romantic streets, but after the Game of Thrones series it’s almost impossible to resist it’s calls. And since there are more GoT fans in our family, it wasn’t so difficult to convince some of them to restore our old family traditions… And after a few years; here we go, another family vacation in Croatia!
For Slovaks the beauty of Croatia was always a well known thing. Croatia is for us the most accessible seaside destination (both in terms of money and kilometers) and Adriatic beaches are still full of Czech and Slovak tourists every summer. I remember very well how our whole family would pack our small old car full of canned mortadella and spaghetti and took off somewhere to the Croatian sea where we had a private apartment. As a child I remember swimming in Krka’s waterfalls, fighting with sea urchin’s needles in my heel at the Krk Island or wandering the streets of Vodice with ice-cream in my hand. Later I also visited Vis, Hvar or Korcula. Then, however, we ran out of money, so we skipped the area where all the inclusive resorts and water aerobics were popular. Family holidays have become boring, even Croatia has become boring. As an air hostess with almost unlimited possibilities to travel, I started to be attracted to more exotic places, but then travel bloggers and Instagram influencers, or Game of Thrones came and I again started to appreciate the beauty we have around the corner. After miles travelled, I find Croatia a bit underestimated, but really exceptional.
To begin with, we know that we specifically want to go to Dubrovnik, because of Game of Thrones, and neither of us has ever been there yet. Next, let’s choose the date. In the summer, the streets of Dubrovnik are desperately crowded by tourists, in winter the city turns into a Ghost town, and is usually used by film crew who come here to shoot. So, the best time must be in late spring. Finally, we choose the last week of May. While my family, who is missing some beach life, is worried that the sea will still be too cold for swimming, I am afraid that it will be too late and all the romantic alleys will already be full of tourists. (In the end, the sea wasn’t cold, the sun was shining like crazy, and the city was already packed, as I expected, but still, it was probably the best time we could all agree on.) Regarding accommodation, our sister wisely suggests to look for something on the Lapad Peninsula. It is not far away from the city center, the beautiful beaches can be seen from everywhere and it is much quieter than the bustling heart of the city. And as the local feeling of a rented private villa beats the all inclusive resorts, no one argues when I book a nice Sea Shell villa with terrace through the Airbnb app, where all six of us can easily fit – my parents, sister, brother-in-law and my niece. As a flight attendant, I can buy discounted tickets for myself and my parents to almost anywhere in the world, which my parents can readily use connecting from Prague, but myself after many years spent mostly in the air and aircrafts I’m not so eager to travel by plane. My brother-in-law is afraid of flying, so he’d rather prepare his small car and I’ll happily join him and his crew. The journey might be eight hours longer than by plane but I’m looking forward to watching all these picturesque landscapes from the car window…
At nine o’clock me, my sister, my brother-in-law and niece jump into an old car without air conditioning and leave Bratislava for the night drive to Croatia. Little Mia fall asleep very fast, my sister too. As we are taking the highway across Hungary, we are chatting with Igor about Hungarian famous history and our journey flies by. I start to feel sleepy in the morning, somewhere near the Croatian town Šibenik, where we finally get closer to the sea. We have the most beautiful view from the bridge overlooking the Krka River, and then later when the main road take us along the coast through the Bosnian border. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not part of the European Union, so if you go to Dubrovnik by car, do not forget to take your passport, even though at this particular border; officers have been known to turn a blind eye at The ID control. After a while, after crossing the Bosnian border again and returning to the Croatian territory, Dubrovnik welcomes us with its modern bridge. Underneath we can see a number of giant cruise ships. Around 11 o’clock, when the sun is high on the horizon and we start boiling in our car without AC, we finally arrive at the Sea Shell villa, standing on the top of a hill. It has a great location indeed. There are a few beautiful beaches around within a few minutes walk, but they have forgotten to mention that on the way back to the villa you need to take lot of stairs up. Dubrovnik is all about stairs, and not only when you choose a villa on the top of a hill. Between our villa and the main center of Lapad it is only 10 minutes down, but exactly 304 steps uphill! (We had a chance to count it several times a day!) In the afternoon my parents join us who have just arrived from Prague, we all go together to try the nearest Lapad beach with a nice promenade. The sea is refreshing, the Adriatic ice-cream tastes great and yes it’s exactly 304 steps back up. In the evening we all fall asleep so fast.
Old harbor and fortress
Immediately after breakfast we decide to go to the city to explore the beauty of the UNESCO-protected City Walls. As the manager of the villa recommends, we leave the car parked in front of the villa and we go by the city bus. Parking in the city is very complicated, overpriced and unnecessary, while public transport is well organized here. Another option is Uber, prices are very good. When we get out on the main point in front of the stone gates of the old town, we get a shock. Nine o’clock in the morning, and it’s already packed with groups of mostly American and Chinese tourists. So we turn from the walls first to the old harbor, where the scenes from The Game of Thrones were filmed. Right here Sansa had a secret talk with Peter Littlefinger about her escape from King’s Landing. The port leads to several hundreds of steps to Fortress Lovrijanec. However, the view is worth all the pain. Up there you will have a wonderful view overlooking the old town of Dubrovnik – Pearl of the Adriatic, or in the words of the series – all the King’s Landing with its red rooftops above Black Water Bay. If you buy a ticket to the City Walls, entry to the fortress is included. City Walls are definitely planned for the next day…
Climbing the stairs in 30-degrees heat is quite enough for us, so let’s take a little brunch in one of the restaurants around the old harbor before we get lost in the crowd of people behind the City Walls. Immediately upon entering the Pile gate we recognize another series scene – the attack of Joffrey by the poor. A few blocks later, just on the right side of the fresh market we see the famous stairs known as Cersei’s walk of shame. However, the Baeler’s sept above them was added by computers in post-production. We would like to take some nice pictures, but we cannot walk very easily in the narrow streets made of white stones through crowds of eager tourists. Soon we give up and return to Lapad. After lunch we are testing another public beach at the 5-star President Hotel, which got a blue flag for cleanliness. It is really beautiful, just access to the sea full of small stones is a bit painful. All beaches in Dubrovnik are free of charge, you only pay for renting sun-umbrellas and sun-beds.
Me, my sister and Igor are getting up at 5:30. We leave Mia with our grand parents, and we go by Uber to old town so that we can enjoy it before the Chinese tourists land on its shores. This time we come in time. The sun is already shining but the town is still empty. Now we can really enjoy its beauty and all the places where Game of Thrones were filmed. We start with the stairs of Cersei’s Walk of shame, which you can find just above Kamenica Restaurant, then we start exploring all the narrow and cute streets, the city is only ours this time. The cafes are just starting to open. We sit down in one of the open terraces, order a morning coffee and watch how the town slowly wakes up. At 8 o’clock in the morning, we are already standing in front of the gate leading up to the City Walls that just opens for tourists. An approximately two-hour walk on the top of the old walls (about two kilometers long), which goes above the orange rooftops, is one of the best in my life. We are speechless at every corner, only able to say “WOOOOW” “and” AAAAH”. At every point the view is spectacular. The walk ends at the Minčeta Tower, which fans of GoT will know as the House of the Undying, where Deanerys walked around in a circle to get her kidnapped dragons back.
After we finish with the walls, we meet our parents at the gate, and then head to city Banje beach with a beautiful view overlooking the city and the harbor. Access to the sea is as smooth as the sand, but the beach is getting crowded very fast and despite our two sun umbrellas we start to feel very uncomfortable. In addition, two hours of walking on the walls helped us to get sunburnt, so we cannot stand the sun anymore. We rather hide in a beach club and have some lunch and refreshing ice-cream. People, do not underestimate the morning sun as much as we did and go get your sunblock, even if you’re out of the house at six o’clock in the morning. It’s like the City Walls are on fire. Whoever did not get burnt on the walls, got burnt on the beach. When the sun seems to shine less, we dared to leave our rented umbrellas and head for the city bus back to our villa.
Since we are all sunburnt, we do not go to the beach before 2 o’clock in the afternoon. This time we choose a beach with the name Copacabana and we like it the most. There’s trees growing next to the beach walk so we can find some shade without having to rent sun umbrellas. There is not even a parking problem here, and it’s about five to ten minutes by car from our villa. Small white clouds appear on the sky, making it much more enjoyable on the beach today. We spend the whole afternoon there till evening. Afterwords I take 304 stairs down to the promenade. The last time I noticed some posters offering tours to the Bosnian Mostar town, which has long been on my bucket list. Mostar is about a 3 hours’ drive from Dubrovnik and there are two options to choose from – either by local bus for around 50 HKT or by a tour through a travel agency for 300 HKT. Most of my family prefer another relaxing day on the beach, and my sister does not have a passport with her that is needed to cross the Bosnian border, so I’m doing the trip alone. I decide for a travel agency, because it is more comfortable and the stop at the Kravice Falls is included. Additionally, the elderly owner of the small family agency is very talkative. I have learned a lot of interesting things from him about the Balkans and also a bit of information where to buy the cheapest local fresh fish and fruit. Besides, he has a very handsome son in my age. 🙂
Bosnia and Herzegovina
I get up and head for my trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina and soon I can add to my list of visited countries my 52nd one. But I’m not going to talk about it here, because Bosnia is no longer Dubrovnik. You can read more about this magical country in my next post, which I plan to publish soon…
Last day in Dubrovnik
While my family still have a few days left of their holiday, my holiday is slowly coming to an end. Work is calling me again. Therefore I spend my last day just relaxing on our favorite Copacabana beach. Today’s weather is ideal. Not too hot, not too cold. Mia successfully learns to snorkel. She loves it so much that we can not get her out of the water. I remember that me and my sister weren’t so different in her age. When it’s my turn to babysit her, I sit on the stones with my feet in the water and observe the surroundings in detail. I hear the water splashing and the the children laughing, I watch the salty drops running down my skin and the suns reflection on the water. I feel stones massaging my feet. Suddenly I realize that this is the present moment that everyone talks about. Today it is so popular to give advices to live in the present, but only few know exactly what it means. I am sure that it means to see even the smallest details, to feel, to taste, and to observe the moment you’re in…
It’s my last night in Dubrovnik and my Mum’s birthday, so today we do not cook at Sea Shell, but we all go down to the promenade for a good dinner. We are aware that the popular Dubrovnik is the most expensive of all of the Croatian resorts and the prices are equal to the ones in Western countries. We want to try some traditional Croatian cuisine, but we can not find a suitable place. There are dozens of restaurants by the promenade, but something cozy and pure Croatian is difficult to find. We see some Italian pizzerias, Mexican restaurants, and even a sushi place, but it’s all about superficial commercialism. Our fears are confirmed by the handsome son of the travel agency owner we meet on our way. For a more local experience, we should go to the city center of Dubrovnik, outside Lapad. Finally, we will end up in one of the recommended restaurants (the best of Lapad’s poor choice) with a terrace next to a large playground for our Mia and some homemade pasta and white wine for us adults.
I’m having my last Croatian breakfast in the morning – fresh strawberries with sour cream and then booking a transfer to the airport (about 30 minutes from the city) via Uber, where I catch a direct flight to Dubai with Fly Dubai airlines. The rest of the family has another three days left before they return back to Slovakia – either by plane to Prague or by car via Split and Trogir to Bratislava…
> Passport is not needed for EU citizens, just ID. However, pack your passport if you are planning a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro or you travel to Dubrovnik by car (the main road runs through a small part of the Bosnian State).
> Be sure to plan your holiday in off season. If you still want to bathe in the sea, the best is May or October. In the winter, film crews are coming to film.
> Instead of getting a hotel, I prefer a private apartment / villa via Airbnb. But I am a person who is not interested in water aerobic in the pool, I want to have experience as a local.
> Exploring Dubrovnik by car is not recommended. The roads are narrow and steep, parking overpriced. Go for a bus or Uber.
> Get ready for stairs wherever you move in Dubrovnik. It’s an old town built in the hills!
> Definitely visit the City Walls and Fortress Lovrijanec (150 HRK). However, preferably early in the morning. They open at eight! If you can get up early, enjoy the streets of old Dubrovnik before the Chinese tourists flood the town.
> Another great view is from Srd top where you can take the cable car. Departure is above the old bridge. You will also find an excellent Panorama restaurant there.
> You have a choice of several beaches in Dubrovnik. Few meters from the city is Banje Beach, which has a beautiful view overlooking the walls. On the other side of Dubrovnik there are beautiful beaches like President, Lapad and Copacabana, all accessible by public transport.
> If you would like to know Croatian cuisine, the recommended restaurants are Kamenica or Gradska Kavana in the Old Harbor or Dubravka at the Pile Gate. Be aware that the food is way more expensive in Dubrovnik than in other Croatian cities.
The aim of many tourists is to explore the places where this popular series was filmed. Thanks to this, the tours of the Game of Thrones are expanding. In Dubrovnik, this cult can not be overlooked; GoT is a good business here. These tours charge from around $ 50 but it is a completely unnecessary price. As a good fan, you can do it just with the help of Google. Once you enter the old town, King’s Landing welcomes you. The best view overlooking the Black Water Bay is from Lovrijanec Fortress. There, for example, they filmed Joffrey’s Name Celebration. At the Pile Gate, Joffrey was attacked by poor. In the old harbor Sansa and Peter Litllefinger had their secret talk about escaping from King’s Landing. The Minčeta tower on the top of the walls served as the House of the Undying, where Daenerys walked in a circle to save her dragons. And the most famous site are the stairs of Cercei’s shame just to the right of the marketplace above the restaurant Kamenica. Not to be missed.