Game of Thrones with Meryl Streep - Croatia and Beyond
Picture this. You are sitting on a European bullet train that simply takes you from point A to point B. Along the way, you uncover breathtaking topography, which inspires you to disembark at the next possible stop. But after several hours and countless miles, the train never slows, and you've lost your one chance to explore the terrain.
Thankfully, this nightmare scenario didn't happen. My imaginary train was actually a tour bus barreling across former Yugoslavia at breakneck speed. To be fair, we made several stops during our whirlwind trek, but we barely scratched the surface of what could have been a truly immersive experience.
If you're a road warrior like me, covering 2700 kilometers in 8 days is relatively normal. But as the train analogy suggests, simply high-tailing it from one stop to another curtailed my ability to extract the cultural and historical richness of this war-ravaged region.
Even though our guide shared valuable tidbits, my overly-stimulated brain couldn't retain them as we darted past socialist buildings, Dalmatian coastlines, and seaside towns. This trip ended before it really begun. I rarely say this, but I need a trip re-do, pronto!
I won't dwell on what could have been since it was my choice to squeeze 4 countries into an already tight itinerary. At the very least, I can remove Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Bosnia from my bucket list and pinpoint which towns warrant further exploration. Until then, I'll share several standouts from my initial visit beginning with my superstar sighting.
My Encounter with Meryl
Can you imagine touring Eastern Europe with Meryl Streep by your side? The possibility never crossed my mind until I met her on my bus. Gasp! Ok, so it wasn't the actual megastar, but her doppelgänger, Elizabeth. The resemblance is so UNCANNY that I was certain she would eventually reveal her true identify. That never happened, but I wouldn't be surprised if she were traveling incognito with her biggest fan (me) nearby.
With "Meryl" in tow, I headed to a former Austro-Hungarian territory with one important goal in mind: King's Landing...Here we come!
As a Game of Thrones fan, I couldn't wait to visit the fantasy realm where white walkers, rapacious dragons, and warring factions battled for territorial prominence.That entailed booking a trip to Croatia, which had its share of contentious conflicts as well.
Once there, I couldn't contain my excitement as we roamed past several film locations along the fictional continent of Westeros. We didn't see all of them, but these four sightings made the effort worthwhile.
Spotted the Slave City of Meereen as we descended upon the town of Split. I bolted from my seat just to catch a glimpse of it.
Cersei Lannister, King Joffrey, and Tommen Baratheon roamed The Great Halls of The Red Keep on the Island of Lokrum. I would have done so as well, but exploring the grounds and sitting on The Iron Throne were not part of our agenda. Instead I captured an aerial view of Lokrum (left) and Old Town Dubrovnik (right) - two extremely important backdrops for the city of Qarth and King's Landing respectively.
Cersei Lannister descended naked upon these very steps when she atoned for her sins. I would have re-enacted this infamous "walk of shame" scene, but "Meryl" would have surely bolted. Just kidding. No amount of Croatian wine would have convinced me to strip nude in Old Town Dubrovnik.
Scaling Dubrovnik's city walls led us to The House of Undying (Minceta Tower), where Daenerys Targaryen found her stolen reptiles in Season 2.
Okay, that wraps up my extremely brief summary of Game of Thrones film locations. I could have uncovered more via a custom GoT tour, but I'll save that option for my future trip re-do.
Many featured sites along my turbo-charged road trip deserve mention. Instead of boring you with senseless mumbo jumbo, I'll dazzle you with cursory highlights from my Southern Slav journey beginning with an alternative view of the region.
My World in 360
Armed with my brand new toy, I filmed several hotspots using a 360 degree camera lens.
This multi-dimensional video compilation showcases Pula, Split, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Senj, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Lokrum, and other trip spotlights.
Opatija and the Istrian Peninsula
Opatija is a coastal town originally built for Austro-Hungarian royalty. I highly recommend walking along the Lungo Mare, a 12 km promenade lined with restaurants, shops, and beachfront views. While some tour members opted to explore this seaside gem, I headed towards the Istrian Peninsula instead to visit Pula (strategic port town at the tip of Istria) and Rovinj (popular resort and fishing port).
Senj and Zadar
Left Opatija and started our descent along the Adriatic coast towards 2 beguiling coastal towns. Senj is situated at the base of the Velebit mountains, where one can admire stunning views of its seaside marina.
Zadar, dubbed by my travel guide as the "most beautiful hidden destination of 2016", is well-known for its rich Roman heritage. The Roman Forum, 19th century Byzantine church, and expansive harbor are must-sees within Dalmatia's historical epicenter.
The 2nd largest city in Croatia features the Diocletian Palace, where we spent the majority of our time. Split-screen footage showcases this royal residence as well as Riva, Jupiter's Temple, Piazza, Silver Gate, and the Green Market.
The Dalmatian Coast, Bosnia, and Dubrovnik
This segment chronicles our bus ride along the Dalmatian coastline towards the "Pearl of the Adriatic". Dubrovnik is simply breathtaking with its medieval ramparts, bell towers, 800-year old city walls, and old ports.
Majority of the footage takes place in Old Town Dubrovnik as we walked from Pile Gate towards various towers, churches, and walkways encased within towering city walls.
Rode with fellow Gate1 travelers to Perast, where we boarded a small boat headed towards Our Lady of the Rocks. This Roman Catholic Church sits on top of a man-made islet in the middle of Kotor Bay. One word: Stunning!
A day trip to Montenegro wouldn't be complete without meandering through the medieval cobblestoned streets of Old Town Kotor. Is this place worthy of its "Jewel of the Mediterranean" designation? Absolutely.
Croatia Has a Theme Park?
Begrudgingly left Dubrovnik and began our 600 km commute towards Zagreb. To make this taxing ride more tolerable, we stopped midway at Etnoland. Etnoland is a popular theme park where 100-year old Dalmatian traditions are re-enacted. The tour began with a Croatian toast and ended with a family-style meal consisting of meat "cooked under the bell".
Zagreb Old City
Join me on a fast-paced walking tour of Zagreb - Croatia's thriving political, cultural, and economic capital. This musical compilation showcases the Old City, Zagreb's outdoor market, The National Opera Theatre, Funicular, St. Mark's Church, and other important areas within this highly-populated (over a million inhabitants) area.
Bled and Radovljica
Goodbye Croatia. Hello Slovenia! I finally took a much needed breather once we reached
bucolic Lake Bled. This popular alpine resort town is nestled beneath the Julian Alps and offers picturesque views of iconic Bled Castle.
The following video showcases this emerald-green wonder as well as the medieval town of Radovljica, where we feasted on traditional Slovenian cuisine and polka danced with our Slovenian hosts.
My body completely shut down during the final day of my jet-setting tour. Luckily, I was able to capture highlights from this bustling capital while zombie-walking past bridges, cafes, outdoor markets, cathedrals, souvenir shops, and more.
I kicked off this post by describing a bullet train traveling at warp speed to convey how I felt
during my weeklong roadtrip. While we covered as much literal ground as possible, I would have preferred to leisurely absorb and savor each stop over a longer period of time.
Slowing things down would have provided the cultural depth that I crave.
While my initial plan involved uncovering Game of Thrones film locations, my ultimate goal was to ascertain a deeper understanding of this region's volatile history.
With that in mind, my guide recommended these highly-acclaimed films for historical context:
"The Death of Yugoslavia." - BBC documentary detailing the "war in Croatia, Bosnia, and the siege of Sarajevo".
"Houston, We Have a Problem." - Film chronicling America's secret Yugoslavian Space Program purchase in the 1960s.
Note: Links are embedded within each title.
There were so many standouts from my trip that I need at least 2 months to embrace each town fully. Which ones were my favorites? Rovinj, Split, Dubrovnik, Perast, Old Town Kotor, Bled, and Ljubljana. Bosnia also warrants further exploration since we only spent 30 minutes passing through Neum on our way to Dubrovnik.
- If you love guided excursions and simply want an introductory tour, click here to view my comprehensive Gate1 itinerary.
TIP: Don't book every optional tour in advance if you want unfettered freedom on designated self-exploration days. You will thank me later.
- Click here to access photo highlights via my Facebook page. Here's my favorite shot of Perast, Montenegro. I couldn't help but smile when I saw this pristine setting in person.
A few things to consider:
- Marco Polo airport (Venice) was my initial entry point since flights were cheaper. If you choose this option, add another 3.5 hours each way to commute to and from Opatija (Croatia) or Bled (Slovenia).
- Consider traveling during the off-season so you can comfortably roam without the typical July/August traffic jams or tourist mobs. March was perfect. No crowds. Zero traffic congestion.
- Your shopping list should include several of my favorite things: pumpkin seed oil, local wine (Malvasia and Teran), and Adriatic sea salt.
- Don't leave Croatia without trying the Burak (a flaky pastry filled with either cheese or meat). This savory pastry is best paired with yogurt.
When you embark on a journey as packed as this one, it's best to refuel with a local favorite. The wine helps too.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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