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Dubrovnik

We started off the day with some of the hardest “see you laters” we’ve had to do so far with my grandparents, packed our bags in the rented van and piled ourselves in.

My family (including my auntie, uncle and cousin) decided to make it a day trip to Dubrovnik and be our ride there, which was great because we hadn’t figured out that part of our trip yet! For a self-proclaimed over-organiser, I’m not looking too good here.

So the eight of us piled into a rented van and made our way down to Dubrovnik, which was in total a 3 hour drive, including a stop off at a café to stretch our legs. Stopping at the border though was a heinous task. It was sluggish, boring and frustrating. By the time we lined up to the time we finally crossed the border we were in our car for hours. There were some points that were so slow where we had time to leave the van while “driving” to grab a drink or go to the loo at near by café’s.

Finally driving away from the border, and around a cliff-face, we were greeted with a beautiful scenic view of Dubrovnik and a thick layer of the iconic red roofs. Driving around Dubrovnik was absolute chaos though. One way streets going downwards and then suddenly spiralling around the other way were causing us a bit of panic while trying to find our accommodation. We somehow figured out how to get to our accommodation and the landlord, Milan, met us downstairs to help us with our bags, along the 200 long steps to our accommodation. What an adventure and we hadn’t even stepped foot into the city.

After unloading, we had a short time to appreciate our absolutely beautiful view of the Old Town and the sea. I genuinely have never seen a more breathtaking city before. It’s striking blue waters and warm red roofs would have to be an impressionist’s dream.

We hugged my family goodbye and my dad gave us a sweet little speech about the importance of our travels and making the most of it all as it will be the trip of a lifetime. After staying with family for two weeks, this was going to be a brand new experience for our travels, being out on our own. We made our descent into the Old Town, finding our way to an entrance with some narrow stone stairs that had shops on the walls of on every new step. It was like stepping into a fortress. I mean, we were stepping into a fortress but even with the shops on the corners it still felt like stepping back in time.

Funnily enough one of the first shops we saw (and obviously went into) was a dedicated Game of Thrones fan-shop. If you didn’t know already, Dubrovnik is where Kings Landing is filmed, and we had already pre-booked the Game of Thrones tour for the next day. Naturally, being the geeks we are, we had to step in the shop and take our Queen/King of the Seven Kingdoms photo in the Iron Throne.

We had a dinner reservation at Panorama Restaurant, located on top of Srdj mountain. We made our way to the entrance of the cable car that would take us to the restaurant. We also had the option to hike up to the restaurant but with Jamie just out of knee surgery, and the fact that we had planned our cable car trip to be both day and night time, we didn’t want to be hiking and instead paid for the cable car ride which was really worth the small ticket price. When we booked the restaurant a month prior, I had requested that we possibly be seated at a table that had the scenic, panoramic views of Dubrovnik and the staff were kind enough to honour the request without any questions. The meals were absolutely beautiful and the service was flawless. We stayed up there for a final drink, watching the sun set over the town and the Mediterranean Sea. By nightfall we decided to make our way back down into the Old Town to explore a bit more and it being dark we got a chance to view the city in a different light (or lack thereof) on the way back down the cable car. We went for a little wander around the town which was still full of people. We stumbled across a Salvador Dali exhibition and made our way in, immersing ourselves in art and history. We eventually found our way back to our accommodation, realising there were exactly 325 stairs between the old town and our bed. Hopefully this will work off the copious amounts of delicious food we’d been eating so far.

The next day we had the Game of Thrones tour booked – we decided to do the 7 hour tour around Dubrovnik. In hindsight it wasn’t the brightest idea for a 35 degree day, but we can’t control the weather so off we went! Both of us had come prepared with a jersey of our favourite Game of Thrones house – I told you we are secretly huge geeks.

We met our tour guide at a fountain just outside the city walls who spoke a bit about what we would be doing, what we would be seeing and where we would be going. Our first stop was up a small hill, at Lovrijenac fortress. This wonderful piece of historic architecture is often used as a set for the Red Keep in King’s Landing – many recognisable scenes have been filmed here, and it was geekily awesome to be standing in the middle of it.

Eventually we made our way back down to the fountains outside the Old Town walls, refilling our bottles up before making our way to Ploče gate, the entrance of the Dubrovnik Old City walls. Walking on the walls was a fantastic experience in itself, getting to walk above the iconic red roofed buildings in awe at the panoramic views. We hid under some shade whenever we could find some and eventually stopped for a photo at the Minceta Tower, which was where the iconic Qarth scene was filmed with Daenerys Targaryen running around the circular building. Eventually we made our way down the walls and found the famous “Shame” stairs. According to our tour guide, the GoT crew had to close all the shops along the street down the stairs for a few days to film the scene and paid the shop owners triple their daily profit.

After about 3 and a half hours of walking we were given some time to rest and fill up our stomachs – we went to a nearby food stand and got ourselves some slices of pizza before meeting up with the group again to board the tour bus down to Trsteno Arboretum. The bus ride was about 40 minutes but it definitely wasn’t a boring one. The scenery of the Croatian coast was so beautiful I’d have happily stayed on the bus for another 5 hours, but alas, we eventually arrived at our destination. The gardens of Trsteno were used as the beautiful gardens in Kings Landing and is such a gorgeous place with spectacular fountains, seaside rocks and familiar, scenic pavilions.

We finished up our tour by 5pm which gave us enough time to head home and refresh before dinner. On the way back into the Old Town we came across a small crowd of people and soon realised they were hovering around a woman holding about five tropical birds. Being the crazy bird lady that I am, you could imagine my sheer excitement. I made friends with a few of the birds and got a chance to hold them for a few minutes before we set off once again on a hunt for food. We eventually came across a lovely hole-in-the-wall restaurant and once the owners realised I was from Mostar they even gave us a small discount on our final bill which was a nice surprise. We finished up the night by walking around the town some more and discovering new side streets, walking off our dinner.

We had made it to our last full day in Dubrovnik, and probably the one I was most excited for. Banje Beach, right next to the city walls, is usually packed with locals and tourists and wanting to escape from a bit of the tourism that was starting to develop in Dubrovnik, we decided to make our way over to Lokrum Island by ferry.

Lokrum is a beautiful island just 600km off Dubrovnik. It’s a place seldom visited by tourists yet an island worth exploring. It’s also where some scenes of Qarth were filmed for GoT, so we got to add another one to our list. Lokrum is known for its colourful inhabitants; peacocks. However we came across many beautiful animals including hedgehogs, rabbits, turtles and eventually finding peacocks themselves. We were there on a mission to find a swimming hole we had read about, called Mrtvo More (Dead Sea). It’s a secluded little area that’s a bit hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. After some wandering we stumbled across a sign pointing us to the right direction and found our way to the swimming hole.

What a picturesque place. It was surrounded by tall rocks and tall trees so it was completely secluded. It had shade and it had sun. it had big rocks to sun bake on and a small amount of land to lay down a towel. We made sure to arrive early in the morning to avoid as many tourists as we could and by the time we arrived there were only six other people there with us. We put down our stuff in the shade, de-robed down to our swimmers and jumped in. The water was glorious in the heat we had been enduring the last 3 weeks.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I was not a good swimmer and I genuinely didn’t know how to float. Now, you may have heard of the dead sea in Jordan, southeast of Asia, where you can lay in it and you naturally float; you can’t drown due to the high levels of salt. This was the same concept and for someone who panics the moment she can’t touch the ground, it was exhilarating. Swimming felt more like floating, as if you were held up comfortably by an invisible source.

We stayed in the water for a long time, hours had passed and it was hitting afternoon so more people were settling in. We packed up our stuff and decided to explore the island some more. There was a high point in the island which we were excited about climbing as it had some of the greatest views of Dubrovnik so we made our way towards it. I can tell you that nothing until that point, and nothing since, has been a harder climb. With Jamie only a few months into rehab from his knee, my concentration on worrying about him, the loose rocks on the path before us and the steep climb up, it felt like a three hour hike. Realistically it was about a 45 minute hike but it was a tough one, concentrating on your every step to make sure you don’t slide back down. I have to say, the view we were greeted with at the top was worth the trek. There was a little fortress at the top, called Fort Royal, that you climbed up and you could see the whole of Dubrovnik and more. It was breathtaking.

Needing to make our way back down, we decided to try another route that could potentially be easier and faster. Boy, were we wrong. I don’t know what route we ended up taking but it definitely wasn’t one that was made to climb down. Instead of 45 minutes, it took us a good portion of 2 hours to make our way safely to the bottom of the island. You thought we had to handle loose rocks before? That was nothing compared to the side cliffs of this hike, trying to find our way through paths that technically didn’t exist, rummaging through trees and bushes until we finally made our way to level ground. It was genuinely a challenge but a hilarious one. That is what we get for pretending to know our surroundings.

After finding more furry friends near the water, we hopped onto the ferry and made our way back to the old town. We wandered around the city walls for a while, looking for a sign that said “cold beers”, knowing full well this sign led us to a beautiful cliff-face cafe, overlooking the sea and Lokrum Island. Somehow, after hours and with the help of Jamie’s great orientation, we stumbled across the sign and the hole in the wall which led us to the cafe. It was nightfall by now but you could still see out to the sea and the view was spectacular. There were still people at the rocks a few metres off diving into the waters. It was a beautiful cafe and an absolutely fantastic way to finish off our visit to Dubrovnik.

The next day we woke up, all packed and ready to head to the airport for Rome. The drama we endured before we even made it to Rome should have been a precursor of what was to come in Rome. But for now we were saying bye to one of the most beautiful cities we had visited and we can’t wait to come back and visit the rest of Croatia one day, including Split, Hvar and Brela.

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