Croatia is a new travel destination, perhaps in-part thanks to the ancient palaces and forts that attracted the producers of Game of Thrones and several movies including the upcoming release that continues the Star Wars franchise. But it has a lot going for it — mountains, sandy beaches, relatively low cost transportation options, and a keen interest in attracting tourists. We had a chance to sample bits and pieces — the inland city of Zagreb, the islands down the coast, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, and inside and outside the walled city of Dubrovnik.
Our stop in Zagreb was just one dark rainy night, so other than a couple of hours spent in a very old, very smoky bar (not much else was open on a Sunday night!), we didn’t get to fully appreciate the city. But it was the jumping off point for heading to Brac Island (pronounced ‘bratch’) and the small coastal community of Bol. This is a small town that is working the fine line between maintaining it’s sense of community while welcoming tourists visiting by boat for the day or staying for days and weeks at a time. It is perhaps lucky that the docks cannot handle the huge cruise ships that seem to draw the ire of others throughout the Mediterranean.
We’ve been using AirBnb to connect with hosts this trip, and we connected with a great host for our three-week stay in Bol. He picked us up at the airport, showed us where to find groceries and meals around town, and left a fridge full of food to get us started (including a bottle of local brandy!). We walked to the famous Zlatni Rat beach, the most commercialized stretch of sand on the island, but we spent most of our sun-time on a small beach just out of town in the other direction. We also visited one of dozens of military “caves” — huge disguised caverns that were carved out of seaside mountains to hide submarines and small naval vessels during the Second World War. Now mostly used of fisher(men) as a place to tie their boats and mend their nets.
From Bol we were able to explore some of the other islands in the area; Hvar Town on Hvar Island would be worth a return trip some time. It has an ancient hilltop fortification and many other old buildings that would be interesting to explore further.
Okay, now to Game of Thrones. We have not watched this series, but we know many friends and family members do, and to them we say, yes, head for Croatia! Start in Split, the location of Diocletian’s Palace — originally the retirement residence for Roman emperor Diocletian circa 305 AD and best known to GoT fans for a number of important scenes, especially it’s massive cellars (the photo above) — apparently this is where the dragons are kept.
But the real GoT treasure trove is Dubrovnik. This is an amazingly well preserved (and carefully restored following the “Homeland War”) walled city, and the site of many, many scenes in recent seasons. When we wandered within the walls, and over to Fort Lawrence, we encountered many Game of Thrones walking tours — and all the tour guides had photos from the series they could relate to where they were standing, and it was fun to listen in from time to time. “Here’s where the walk of shame scene was filmed”, “This is where the Battle of Blackwater was shot”, replete with references to the house of the undying, Red Fort, and so on. This is Kings’ Landing in person!
Even without the Game of Thrones, it was so much fun to walk the entire 2km along the top of the old walls, and look down on the city inside and the sea and city outside. It was also exciting to take one of Europe’s oldest cable car routes (new cars and cables we were told) to the top of the hill overlooking the walled city and beyond. Near the station at the top is Fort Imperial, originally built for Napoleon when the French held this territory, now a museum describing local resistance to Serbian attacks in 1991 and 1992. Sad to see how destructive humanity can be when there is so much to share and celebrate. Shame on warmongers!