Travel Diary – Dubrovnik, Croatia

My alarm went off at 4am but I don’t think I really woke up until I was sat alone on the EZY851 EasyJet flight to Dubrovnik thinking “what have I got myself into?”

I have been intrigued by the beautiful architecture, rich history and stunning scenery of Croatia for years now. To begin with I had looked into spending some time in Split or venturing out to see the stunning waterfalls at the Plitvice Lakes National Park but when a photo of Dubrovnik appeared on my timeline, and I learnt about its connection with one of my favourite shows (Game of Thrones), my sight was set. My decision to take on this adventure solo requires a blog post of its own, but I had a passport, a camera, a bit of money saved and a desperate desire for a holiday. I booked my flights, secured a bed in a hostel and jet off on one of the best holidays I have ever had.

TOP TIP: If you’re flying into Dubrovnik from England then aim for a window seat on the left-hand side of the plane as you get incredible views of the old town as you go into land.

The only ‘faff’ I seemed to have on the whole holiday was with the buses to/from the airport. According to my hostel instructions there was a bus that went direct to Pile Gate but on arrival I learnt this wasn’t the case. After a discussion with a rather aggressive bus driver I had to venture back into the airport to buy my shuttle bus ticket (80 Kunas for a return) which then took me to the main bus station situated about 20 minutes away from the Old Town. From there I followed a crowd of other seemingly lost tourists to a bus stop where we were predominantly shuffled into a large taxi and offered a shared ride in for the same price as a bus ticket.

TOP TIP: After a bit of questioning at the hostel later on I learnt that you can get the 1a, 1b, 3 or 8 to Pile Gate from the bus station and you can buy your ticket on the bus for around 15 Kuna or from a local newsagent for 12 Kuna.

Venturing in through the medieval Pile Gate, I emerged into the picturesque Placa Stadun – a wide road that cut straight through the Old Town, narrow alleyways broke off from it in all directions and at the end stood the entrance to the port where moored boats bobbed over the choppy sea. Had it not been for my heavy bag practically dragging my shoulder to the floor, I could’ve happily spent the whole afternoon stood there watching the birds fly over the burnt orange rooves and people meandering in and out of shops. But I was tired, hungry and anxious to see what my hostel would be like. I chose to stay in the Old Town Hostel because it was situated right in the centre of the Old Town (funnily enough) and had no issue in finding it down one of the many narrow passageways. It was too early to check in but I was able to leave my bag at the reception and set off in search of food. The only negative I would have to say about Dubrovnik is that it was busy and as a result of that everywhere was very expensive. Though the choice of restaurants was infinite I didn’t really want to spend money on 2 big meals out a day so I strolled through the maze of alleys until I found a perfect solution – a bakery. They offered everything from sandwiches to traditional pastries and even pizza slices, just enough for lunch without breaking the bank! (I would highly recommend the cheese and spinach burek from Mlinar bakery it was exquisite!)

Loaded up on a slice of pizza the real exploring could begin! According to the weather forecast it was meant to rain non-stop for the 2 full days I was there, so I really wanted to make the most of the sunshine whilst I could. I headed to the tourist centre, located right by the entrance to Pile Gate, and asked for some advice on what to do. As It happened I had actually arrived at a bit of a bad time, due to a financial debate the cable car to the top of the mountain had been closed and the rain in and around the area had caused the sea to be incredibly choppy so the boats weren’t running to Lokrum Island. 2 of the things I really wanted to do weren’t available for the duration of my stay, brilliant! All hope wasn’t lost however, and I was able to get a ticket to walk the city walls. You purchase the tickets at the base of the walls for 200 Kuna and then you are free to wander round above the city for as long as you like. It also came with an entrance ticket to the Fort Lovrijenac located just outside Pile Gate.

TOP TIP: Here is one I annoyingly didn’t learn till I left, If you purchase a Dubrovnik Card (either 1 day, 3 day or 5 day) it gets you into 6 museums, 2 galleries and a ticket to the City Wall. The 3 day card is around 250Kuna so a good price for all of that!

Now I know my opinion is limited as I wasn’t able to look down on the town from the cable car or explore the luscious botanical gardens of Lokrum Island, but I think if you were to do one thing only in Dubrovnik then it should definitely be the City Walls! You get the most stunning views across all aspects of the city from the main town square to the port and even out across the sea to the island and the fort. You can climb up the towers, hear the crash of the waves against the walls and watch the birds float across the sea of orange rooves. The passage itself around the walls is quite narrow but it is all one way and there are larger areas to stop and take in the 360 view. I stopped at one of the shady cafes halfway round and drank a fresh fruit smoothie whilst taking in the breath-taking view of the island. For any Game of Thrones fans out there you can also walk around the tower that Daenerys frantically runs around when her dragons go missing in the house of the undying. Including the smoothie break and stopping to take about 10000 photos, it took me just under 2 hours to complete the circuit, but you have full freedom to be up there as long or little as you like. Although you can only enter the walls by Pile Gate you can leave them at the port side of the city if you don’t fancy going all the way around.

Given my early start and the long day of travelling I was rather exhausted by the time the evening rolled around. After spending a bit of time in the hostel meeting my roommates, I set out for an early dinner. I will be uploading another post soon all about my hostel experience in a lot more detail so stay tuned for that! Seeing as Dubrovnik is located on the seafront it would be wrong to not try out some of the fresh seafood they had to offer! A live school orchestra was playing in the main square so I found a restaurant nearby where I could avoid the crowds but still hear the music. It was a bit daunting going for dinner on my own, but I actually got caught up in great conversation with an elderly pair of ladies sat on the table next to me. Their stories about the dishy captain on their cruise definitely made for an entertaining meal! I went for a fresh seafood risotto with extra prawns and had to hold back from licking the plate clean at the end. In general, I would say seafood, pasta and pizza seemed to make up the core of the food offered in the Old Town, though for my second night I did come across a Mexican offering the most incredible fajitas! The cobbled side streets were riddled with a huge variety of places to eat and drink, from vegan restaurants to Irish bars, and there were also a few supermarkets hidden amongst them if you prefer to make your own meals when away!

I slept like a baby that night and awoke to the gentle but disappointing sound of rain on the window. Of course everyone would prefer a clear day when on holiday but I was determined to not let it ruin my trip. I am English after all, if we can’t get on with life in the rain then who can! The bonus of the downpour was that not many people shared the same spirit as me, so I practically had the city to myself! I took it upon myself to seek out the famous cliff bar hidden on the side of the walls. After ascending the “shame” steps, GOT fans will know what I mean, I wound my way through the outer lanes of the city till I came across a metal gate in the wall and a wooden sign saying ‘cold drinks’ on it. The doorway emerged out onto the cliff edge where a row of steps led down to bar. I read a few reviews of this place before leaving and in the summer months it is supposedly packed, but on this rainy May morning it was just me, myself and I (well and the bar staff). I chose a seat right on the edge, ordered a coffee and read my book to the sound of the waves throwing themselves against the wall. I think it can be hard on short city breaks to actually allow yourself time to relax as it often feels like there is so much more you could be doing or seeing, but it is important to give yourself time to unwind and just enjoy the moment and the place that you are in!

Now even though I was only half way into my holiday at this point I am actually going to end this blog post here. The remainder of my Sunday I spent on a Game of Thrones tour, which I have written a separate post about here, and then on Monday I went on a day trip to Montenegro which I also think deserves a post of it’s own. At times looking back on this holiday I do feel as if I missed out on a lot Dubrovnik had to offer, I didn’t see the island or the views from above the mountain, but everything I did get to experience I loved. It is the kind of city that you can lose yourself in. The criss-crossing alleyways will always lead to new shops and restaurants to explore, you can sit and watch boats drift in and out of the port for hours and it is rich with so much history, all told in the various museums and galleries, that I think even if I spent a month there I still would be left feeling like there was more to see and do.

Have you ever been to Dubrovnik or is it a place that you would like to go to?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Game of Thrones tour – Dubrovnik (Kings Landing)

Quick disclaimer: there may be a few spoilers dotted around this post so if you haven’t caught up totally on the seasons yet then tread carefully!

The stars of the seven kingdoms aligned for me (mixed in with a little bit of careful planning) and I was in Dubrovnik the weekend that the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Season 8 came out. I woke up early Tuesday morning and manoeuvred my way around the city till I could find a spot clearly visible in the programme. I felt like I had stepped into my screen and was watching all the drama unfold from within the walls of Kings Landing. Luckily though my biggest threat of attack came from a pigeon eyeing up my croissant not a fire breathing dragon! I was brought back to reality however when I learnt from the lovely Laura at LauraOverThinksIt that all of those scenes in Season 8 were actually filmed on a replica set built in Dublin, not actually in the streets of Dubrovnik. The smug look on my face dropped quicker than Little Fingers at Arya’s trial in Winterfell and I felt weirdly hard done by but as soon as the bells started ringing out across Dubrovnik the magic was restored.

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Although those specific scenes in Season 8 weren’t filmed in Dubrovnik, plenty of other incredible moments from Seasons 1-7 all took place within the walls of the old city. In order to see as much of it as I could, I decided to go on a Game of Thrones tour. There are hundreds of tours that take place throughout the city, but I chose to go on the one organised by the tourist office at the entrance to Pile Gate. It cost 150 Kuna (about £17) and lasted 2 hours. I bought tickets from the office on the day that I wanted to go and then simply met up with the group outside the large Amerling fountain 10 minutes before it was meant to set off.

TOP TIP: If you walk the City Walls, anytime up to 3 days before the GOT tour, then included in your ticket for that is an entrance ticket to the Fort. You go to the Fort as part of the GOT tour and entrance is 50 Kuna but if you have a city walls ticket then you can use that and get in for free.

We were guided around by the incredibly bubbly and knowledgeable Ivana, who said that she regrettably turned down a role to be an extra in the first season of GOT, and started our tour by the ‘docks of Kings Landing’. The stunning pier protruding from the base of Fort Lovrjenac (also known as the Red Keep) is the spot of many famous scenes like when Jamie returned to King’s Landing with Myrcellas’s body and Robert Baratheon’ bastard kids were killed. It was incredible to look out over “Blackwater Bay’ and see exactly what the actors and actresses saw when filming, but the highlight of this area for me came from a stranger in my tour. On this particular day it was raining cats and dogs (actually more like lions and wolves) which had caused the sea to be dangerously choppy. As a massive wave crashed over the pier and soaked everyone on it, a man from the back shouted, “WATER IS COMING!” I will be totally honest and say I nearly peed a bit laughing so hard.

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One thing I came to love and loathe about Dubrovnik was the number of stairs it had; the true test of my thighs however came when we had to climb up to the Fort Lovrjenac. After a few moments to catch our breath, and once we had gone through the ticket barriers where my top tip comes in handy, we entered into the iconic “Red Keep”. Some really notable Lanister scenes took place here such as Joffrey’s Nameday Tournament and Cersei and Littlefingers debate about what “Power” is. An aspect of the tour that I really enjoyed was that Ivana would hold up pictures from the programme in each area we visited so we could see exactly how it matched up in real life and what they edited in or out of the scenes. The fort itself was quite bare but it did have spectacular views of back over the city walls. After talking us through the Game of Thrones scenes as well as a bit of history about the fort itself, Ivana gave us enough time to take those all-important photos before heading back down the stairs to the old town.

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On the walk back Ivana told us stories of how the cast used to mingle amongst locals and that apparently Tyrion Lannister drank as much in real life as he did on screen. Things like that made me really glad I went on an actual tour instead of following an online route as the guides had so many personal stories about the series. Once inside the walls of the city we momentarily stopped at the entrance to Pile Gate, as a lot of the riot scenes from Season 2 were filmed here, before going to the most iconic place of all. The Walk of Shame steps. I think it is one of the most memorable scenes in the whole programme and seeing as it was raining, we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. Ivana filled us in on plenty of interesting trivia about how many extras they needed for the filming of this scene and that it originally was meant to be filmed outside the Dubrovnik Cathedral, but the Priests denied them access once they learnt Cersei would be naked. I can imagine it would’ve been an incredible sight to film looking out on over 2000 extras and it was a great experience to stand at the top put yourself in Cersei’s shoes. I can’t say that anyone stripped down to their birthday suit on my tour thankfully.

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There were some areas that we didn’t cover on the tour however such as the Spice King’s Palace in Quarth, as it is inside the Rectors Palace that requires an entry ticket, or the House of the Undying which is situated on the City Walls but Ivana did point them all out to us in case we wanted to go back and visit them another day. The tour concluded in a souvenir shop, nestled amongst the maze-like streets of the city. It contained a replica of the Iron Throne and as part of our tour we were allowed to take photos on it. If you’re not on a tour you can still use it but you have to make a purchase in the shop first. I think this was the most underwhelming part of the tour as the throne was just cramped into the corner of the shop and I found it almost awkward to take a photo on when the shop was busy but still a good memory to keep!

TOP TIP: I learnt at a later date that there is actually a better throne that you can sit on for free on Lokrum Island and it has more space around it rather than being cramped in a shop.

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I know that tours aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and there are a tonne of free online resources, such as blog posts, that I think would be another great way to take in all the Game of Thrones sights but I just personally wanted to do a tour. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost or missing anything and hearing Ivana’s personal stories of how much of an effect the GOT franchise has had on Dubrovnik and its residence really made the whole thing special. Since the series began, tourism has increased in Dubrovnik by 30% and it appears everywhere you turn either in souvenirs or themed dishes in restaurants. Being taken round by someone who has come face to face with the cast and seen the enthusiasm for the show grow over the years made the whole thing a lot more personal and I also enjoyed how she dropped in facts about the history of the city as well.

Every sign across the town states that they are offering the “best Game of Thrones tour ever” and I am sure, with a bit more extensive research, you could discover which one of them was actually telling the truth but I chose to just go with what the city offered and I am really glad I did. I shamefully descended the stairs like Cersei, looked longingly across Blackwater Bay like Sansa and eventually left feeling like Varys – knowing everything that goes on behind the scenes of Kings Landing.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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New bedroom decor and tour

Over the last few months I have not only moved away from my student house in Norwich but also sold and moved out of my childhood home. All this change called for a fresh start and I decided to work so hard to make my new room perfect for me. I spent a few weeks collecting some new bits from a range of stores (mostly Primark) and finally it is all in place and I couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out. My new room came with inbuilt wooden wardrobes that take up all of one side so I mainly focused on decorating the other side and my bed. I decided to go for a mustard and dark green colour scheme as I thought it would compliment the furniture the best.

BED

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The bed itself is from M&S and I think the neutral headboard colour blends in so well with the heavy wooden furniture. The mattress is also from M&S and it is so comfortable I literally spend hours at work dreaming of getting back into it!

All of the bedding is from Primark which is one of my favourite places to go for homeware. Technically the dotty side of the duvet cover is actually the reverse (on the front there are loads of bright colours and patterns) but I think it is so subtle and cute. The fluffy blanket is so soft when you wrap up it is like having a cuddle from a teddy bear, the only warning I will have about it though is it moults…a lot. At first I thought I was going to go wild with hundreds of cushions but in reality I just put them on the bed probably once a week, when I can be bothered to make my bed, and other than that they sit on the floor. For that reason I went for 2 that I really loved and can easily chuck on the bed as I run out the door in the mornings.

DRAWERS

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Seeing as I don’t have much shelf space I had to limit all my items down to things that I really loved. This record player used to be in our lounge but there wasn’t any room for it in the new house so I decided to adopt it for my room. It is such a beautiful piece and I love the sound it produces. I got the Disney artwork books for Christmas one year and they are so stunning to flick through. Next to that is my scrapbook which I will do a blog post about soon! I couldn’t find a lamp that I liked so I decided to create my own by simply adding some fairy lights to a large mason jar. I think it fits in so well with the theme and lets out the most beautiful light when it is on.

I bought the HAPPY print at a market place in York and the colours could not fit in better with my theme. I love using prints and designs to brighten up any space. Of course I couldn’t have a green theme and not get a plant in there somehow so this fake leaf plant is from Primark and it came with the stunning mustard glass jar. I do want to get some fresh flowers in my room at some point but I don’t seem to have any luck at keeping them alive. For ages I was debating what to fill the empty wall space with but I just couldn’t find any designs that I liked so I decided to make my own. The heart frames are from the British Heart Foundation and I just spray painted them cream. For the design inside I bought some cards with artwork on from the V&A and then used my label maker to print off a quote I love – “she designed a life she loved”. I think they turned out so well and really fit in with the natural/vintage look I am going for.

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I couldn’t be happier with how my room turned out. I am now just waiting on some blinds and I need to finish off my dressing table then it will be perfect!

What are your favourite places to get some room decor?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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