Episode 247: Dragon Queen – Dubrovnik


I took a pause between writing residencies to visit Croatia. If you know anything about Dubrovnik, you probably know that it is the location for many scenes from Game of Thrones. So… I went on a tour. Hey, it was also an ideal way to hear a lot of the history of the city, right up until the present. I touch upon the Homeland Wars – a terrible conflict that happened just 30 years ago. Dubrovnik has certainly bounced back, and HBO has been a big part of that.

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Hello, everybody. Hello, my friends. Oh my goodness, I have not been in front of this microphone in over a week! It feels very weird to not be here on a daily basis. But I was in Dubrovnik and want to tell you a bit about that. I am right now in my very first day of my very last residency for this time away from my home. I am in a beautiful, beautiful spot called Living in the Garden. It’s on the island of Paros in Greece. And it took me quite a day of journeying to get here, which I’ll also tell you about later, but it is gorgeous. I got here in the dark. So it’s kind of like that movie, Enchanted April, when the women arrive in the dark, and they don’t really know what is around them, they can’t really tell except for the path they have to go to get to their bedroom. So it was kind of like that for me. I arrived at this little cottage in the dark, and greeted my hosts also in the dark where I could sort of see them by the light of the phones and once we got inside the room. But I got to wake up to the splendor of the Grecian countryside. I can see the sea from my bedroom window! It’s far off, but I can see it. I know I’m on an island. Oh my gosh, it’s just such a delight to be here. And I look forward to getting a lot of wonderful work done. And more episodes uploaded and tell you a bit about this countryside. 

But meanwhile, I wanted to tell you about my week in Croatia, I was just there for about six days. And it’s a country of contrasts. It’s wild. So here’s a bit of it. 

Let me start by saying that I am a geek, a nerd. And also sometimes a fan girl. I mean, come on. We all are at some point, right? I mean, think of someone you think very highly of, if not idolize, for whatever reason. Go ahead, get a good picture of them in your head. I’ll wait. Are you smiling? Does thinking of them inspire you? Do they make you nostalgic for a particular time? A gathering? Or maybe an era, like college time or something? I’m sure you’re a fan of someone in some way. Would you go out of your way to try and get a glimpse of them? Or is it more of an adoration from afar? Yes, if it’s someone like Einstein or Queen Margaret or somebody then, short of seances and weird methods, you aren’t going to get there. But I’m only asking because I want us to be on common footing for a moment while I make a confession. I went on not one but two Game of Thrones tours during my six days in Croatia. Is that excessive? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you I got a kick out of walking the same path as Khaleesi. And gazing off over the same islands as Sansa. And being a Game of Thrones fan will add to your enjoyment of the next few minutes. But it’s not all there was to my visit to Croatia. So I think there’s something here for everyone. 

I decided to visit Croatia as part of the time that I needed to spend outside of the Schengen visa area. If you don’t know what that is, I talked about it in the last few episodes, so maybe listen back a little. I had less than a week after travel time between my second and third writing residencies and I needed someplace close to hop over to in between Chianti and the island of Paros where I am now. Unfortunately, neither of those traveling days turned out to be a simple hop, of course. I left Chianti at 10am and arrived at the door of my Airbnb in Dubrovnik at nearly 10pm – a bus through the Tuscan hills, a tram to the Florence airport, I had to fly through Rome with a three hour connection to then fly back across Italy and the Adriatic to land in Dubrovnik. That’s where I made my first mistake. I rented a car, thinking that would be a convenient place to leave my larger suitcase and only bring a small bag into the city. And that was also an easy way to visit a bit more of the countryside. Dubrovnik is a walled city and entirely pedestrian, which is awesome after you’ve gotten settled inside. I parked at what was supposed to be the cheaper parking area and got out my small rolling carry-on and a shopping tote with a few extra things and set off in the direction of the route indicated on GPS.

Sidenote, do not believe GPS as to walking routes if you ever go there. I got the most direct route, but also the most stairs, whereas if I had gone a bit around about I could have dragged the rolling bat bag down a nice long incline of a road. As it was I had to descend a series of dark and treacherous small side streets that descended in uneven stairs walled on both sides with no railings of course, and no overhead lighting. I mean completely dark. There I was at the top of one such trying to hold my phone to point the flashlight while using my telescoping walking stick to lean on in case I slipped, and lugging my rolling bag, which, although it was the small one was getting heavier by the second. Ahead of me, I saw two men talking on the stairs. They were silhouetted by a faraway window light at the bottom of this terrifying descent. I could not see their faces, and for a brief moment, I thought, well, this is where I die. But I just kept going because the thought of just standing there in the dark, already exhausted, while they finished their cigarettes and conversation was also painful. So on I went. As I came within four or five stairs of where they stood, they bid farewell and one disappeared inside a gate in the wall. The other turned to me and said, “You need help,” in a low voice. It was more of a statement than a question and an accurate one of that. He reached for my suitcase and again, a brief flash of doom crossed my mind. Well, there goes my laptop. But I said, “Yes, thank you,” with some relief. 

The lovely young woman who had rented me the car had said that Croatians were incredibly honest, and that I would find no trouble with thieves there. So I resolved to believe her wholeheartedly. The fellow took up my bag and started on down the stairway with a confident pace. I was still going very slowly, one step at a time as I could not see properly at all. He waited for me on a landing and when I caught up, he remarked dourly, “You come from flat place.” I almost laughed, but I said, “Yes, New York is kind of flatter than here, I suppose…” But he had already marched on ahead, not waiting for an answer. It was, again, a statement, not a question. He left me with nary another word at the bottom of the stairs, where the tiny lane opened out onto a piazza and a busy road in front of the town walls. I called out my thanks, but he was already disappearing in the crowd. 

The moon was just rising over the huge stone walls of the town, and I paused to snap a photo of the gate through which I had to pass to enter old town. It was one of two gates that led into the city this one called Piles. I looked up at the statue of St. Blaise, patron saint to the city, one of the solid pieces of ancient architecture that had withstood the ferocious bombing of the city during the homeland wars when Yugoslavia was being split up into various pieces back in 1991. Remember that? As I heard more and more stories about it in the next few days. I did remember the horrible reports of those vicious battles back then, but I was keenly aware that I had listened to them with a distant ear, so wrapped up in my own tiny domestic activities, half a world away – pregnant with my second child and celebrating the holidays in the bosom of my family. The stories I heard and physical evidence of destruction that was still very much to be seen in places throughout the city brought the event home to me more vividly than it had appeared while it was going on. I feel ashamed to remember how little this huge disaster affected me then. But I suppose it is the same all over the world again and again, every day with tragedies like this and the war in Ukraine. That is directly parallel to the Croatian wars. And yet those of us who are not immediately affected by those atrocities carry on with our lives. 

Sorry, I did not set out to moralize on the passivity we all experience with regard to foreign wars. I guess this is one more way in which travel brings us closer to other people living lives so different from our own. I felt the effects of that war much more keenly now by standing within those walls, knowing that the old faces I saw as I walked around were those of survivors. This war was only 30 years ago after all, and the people I met who told stories about it, my Game of Thrones guides for instance, use the word ‘we’ when talking of the resistance and the defense of the city. In the end, there is a lot of pride in their sense that they accomplish their aims. Even if the path to that success was bloody and terrible. They are proud to have rebuilt their city and to be carrying on and thriving. 

And much as I would like to be cynical about this, they are proud and grateful that HBO chose their city as the site of so many locations for Game of Thrones. That series has put Dubrovnik on the map in a much bigger way than it ever was for so many around the world, myself included Yes, I did have a friend asked me in a text where the fuck is Dubrovnik?  when I sent them some pictures. I laughed, because that was certainly me a few years back. So yes, I needed to see all those locations for multiple reasons. 

My first day in Dubrovnik was a Sunday, and I decided to stroll around on my own for a bit and then see if I could get on a boat to Lokrun. My Game of Thrones tour was set for Monday, and it was only three hours, so I was pretty sure it was not going to include a 20 minute boat trip each way out to this island that had a few other locations on it. Leaving the harbour was a great opportunity to get some amazing pictures of the town from the sea. You can see those on Patreon by the way, where I will put location sites next to scenes from Game of Thrones for anyone who’s interested. One gorgeous thing I discovered about Lokrun immediately upon landing was that it is teeming with peacocks. Since it’s a small island, they are contained and not harassed by predators so they are everywhere. It was a lovely bonus. 

The primary scenes shot on Lokrun were the gardens of Meereen and some shots with Khaleesi strolling with the Spice King. There was a beautiful old monastery there with inner cloisters, perfect for Old Valerian locations. One guide said that they heard that George RR Martin claimed that the inspiration for the book series came when he tried to think what would happen if he put all the most powerful Old World despots in close proximity with a scant amount of territory and one throne. So, English kings, Sultans, Pharaohs and the like, became Lannisters, Starks, Martells and Masters. That makes sense. 

Unfortunately, I had not brought my swim gear. If you ever go there, don’t forget yours. There are excellent spots for a dip, including a tiny quarry called the Dead Sea that is a startling alkaline green color. I made up for my lack of the sea on my body later by having a delicious dinner from the sea, and watching the people stroll by. 

The next morning, I met the Game of Thrones guide at the other entrance to the town, the Ploce gate. During the course of three hours, she recounted much of the history of the town as well as conducting us to various film locations. So if you go to King’s Landing, err.. that is, Dubrovnik, this is a great way to learn about both. We got to see all the backdrops for Cercei’s walk of shame, a market corner where Tyrion learned about that little incest problem, the street where Joffrey got poop thrown in his face (yay!), and the small jetty where Cercei bid farewell in both senses to Myrcella, and where Sansa and Little Finger plot their escape. We saw the ramparts where Tyrion stood to engineer the Battle of the Blackwater, which were surprisingly small because so much was done on green screen. Our guide, Ana, wanted to make sure that we understood that there was no real wildfire. Then we climbed 170 steps to the entrance of Fort Lovrijenac (I’m sure I’m saying that wrong) to see parts of the Red Keep, most recognizably that courtyard where Joffrey celebrated his name day. 

If none of this means anything to you, don’t worry. Basically, we got to walk up and down the alleyways of Dubrovnik and see wonderful vistas over sparkling azure waters. I logged almost 18,000 steps that day between that tour, and the later hike around the entire perimeter of the city walls were one must climb many hundreds more steps. Perhaps I was feeling empowered by walking in the footsteps of the Dragon Queen. I did come upon one last location which we had not visited on the tour – the outside walls of the tower that represented the House of the Undying, so I was quite literally walking exactly where she walked. 

I did not need to be atop the city walls to end that day on a high. So even though it was a slog to get into the city, and even though it cost me more than $400 in total to park the damn car on the various days that I went there, Dubrovnik was definitely the highlight of Croatia for me. I’m beyond the days of loud, bright nightlife. History and fabulous views mean more to me. 

I spent three nights and Sibenik, having chosen it as a central location from which to visit some other places in Central Croatia, but it was unremarkable in itself. My second Game of Thrones tour was in the town of Split, which was also too modern and full of tourists for me. But I got a wonderful guide named Antonjeta all to myself. She took me on an incredibly detailed saunter through Split’s Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace. She too told me much history, including Roman history this time, since Diocletian, of course, was a Roman Emperor, who then retired to Croatia, or that part of the Roman Empire as it was then known. She had grown up playing with friends all over the interior of the palace walls. And I thought the early days of Snedens Landing were cool! The highlight of the Game of Thrones part of the tour was to see the cavernous basement of the palace that served as the prison where the dragons were chained up. So sad. But again, so wonderful to stand right there. I thought of you all while I was down in those catacombs, because Antonjeta took me to a small domed room with wild acoustics, and I recorded a snippet of a message to you, my listeners. 

I’ll end with that, but, as always, thank you from the bottom of my dragon’s Queen heart for walking alongside me. 

Extra Recording: I’m standing in the dome talking to you. It’s wild. It’s from the what century? 305. Maybe 305 ad. And it’s a crazy dome, underneath the palace of Diocletian and I just saw the place where the dragons were kept prisoner and Game of Thrones.

It’s a really cool, cool place. And I was like, oh, I should make a podcast episode. Yeah, so cool. So hi, that’s me. Okay. Bye.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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