Funny how a day that was never supposed to have happened ended up being a highlight of my trip to the Balkans.
I never intended to go to Dubrovnik this summer. I had been there before, walked the city wall, snorkled off Lokrum island, and enjoyed it. I thought it was very crowded. That was in 2006. So my initial sentiment regarding a second visit was an emphatic “hell no.”
But then several things happened:
1. I realized how looooong the bus ride was from Trogir to Kotor in Montenegro.
2. My United credit card was having a special where you could earn a crazy amount of miles by booking a night’s stay through Rocketmiles. These participating hotels are usually in bigger, more tourist-oriented cities.
3. I remembered that many of the scenes from King’s Landing in Game of Thrones were filmed in Dubrovnik. A quick Google search showed… oh hai, Game of Thrones walking tour!
I was sold.
The bus ride from Trogir to Dubrovnik confirmed one of my tenets of travel: always wear pants (long or capri) on a bus trip. Unlike in the US, where you buy an intercity bus ticket which reserves you a seat from point A to point B, many of the other countries I have visited operate differently. That is, your ticket means nothing, and if you can physically cram yourself into the bus, well then, come on down. Despite my having purchased a ticket days earlier, the bus had no available seats when it arrived in Trogir. I squished into the main aisle of the bus in the only remaining standing-only spot, which was in front, inches away from the steps that led to the driver’s seat. I gripped the nearby handles and temporarily enjoyed the panoramic view through the windshield in front of me. After a few swerves and abrupt halts, however, I realized that there was nothing to prevent my body from being flung through the windshield and so decided to sit. Sitting on the front steps of the bus wasn’t too much better, since I slid with every move of the bus; the only way to stabilize myself was to splay out my legs and brace myself with my feet. And my seat was directly opposite the driver’s fish-eye rear view mirror.
Moral of the story: unless you want to pull an accidental Britney-Spears-in-the-paparazzi shot for everyone behind you, always wear long pants on a bus! (I’m glad I did!)
Much of the crowd disembarked once we arrived in Split, so I thankfully was able to be seated for the rest of the trip. The journey took us briefly through Bosnia, which has a small stretch of land that interrupts the Croatian coastline and where we took a rest stop.
The plan once in Dubrovnik was to take it easy in the evening, prepare my things for travel and check out in the morning before heading out for the GoT tour. I would have several hours to kill in the afternoon before boarding my bus to Kotor.
Once I arrived in town in the late afternoon, I caught a taxi to my hotel, a three-star accommodation which was the most reasonably priced (ahem, cheapest) place I could find on Rocketmiles. It was stinking hot, and I was ready to shower and lie down for a bit. But fate intervened.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said the front desk attendant when I tried to check in. “There is an issue. We do not have a room for you here.” Uh-oh.
“But you are in luck today, ma’am. We will be sending you to our partner hotel” -double uh-oh- “the Hotel Villa Argentina. It is five stars. I am calling a taxi now to take you there. Just sit here and relax.”
And this is how the story starts to become awesome.
A taxi whisked me to the other side of the Old Town, where I checked into the Villa Argentina. A sweaty mess with a huge backpack entering the lobby, I’m sure I turned a few heads who wondered when the hotel had decided to let the riffraff in. The hotel was built into the side of the cliff and had a view of the Old Town. There was a fluffy white bathrobe in the closet and L’Occitane toiletries. Down an elaborate set of terraces was the pool, which sat right next to the seaside itself. My tiredness immediately forgotten in my stupefied state, I went down to sit in the gardenside lounge. Feeling like Daenerys Targaryen herself (after all, I was overlooking the island where Qarth was filmed), I sipped my cocktail and watched the sun go down.
Back in the room, the fatigue set in quickly. I hadn’t eaten much all day, and I needed to shower and get some dinner, which would require going down the hill to the Old Town. The prospect of doing anything at this point (it was after 8:30 pm) was very unappealing. But wait… this is what room service is designed for! Believe it or not, I had never ordered room service before. So that was the most delicious bowl of French onion soup I ever had: hypoglycemia and a fluffy white bathrobe will make anything taste superb ;).
in the morning, I slathered on my sunscreen and headed to the tour meeting point in the Stari Grad. Our tour guide, Ana, distributed headsets to all of us (a brilliant idea which allows you to hear your guide even in a large crowd). She then told us, “You are in luck, because the HBO team is here in Dubrovnik today casting for extras to be used in the upcoming filming of Game of Thrones Season 5. So if you want, after the tour, you can go there to audition.”
SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. I may have shrieked aloud.
Ana took us all over Dubrovnik, showing us sites that were used as filming locations. Some were easy to picture; others were a bit trickier to envision because of the heavy CGI use. Ana had a flip book of stills from the show to help us make a comparison. The tour was a great mix of city history, information about the filming of GoT, local art and architecture, and Ana’s personal anecdotes about being an extra herself. (“You’re tall,” she told me, “so you would probably be cast as a noble if they hired you. I’m not, so I was a peasant. We would go to makeup, but it was really just putting dirt on our faces”). It was a blast hanging out with other GoT
obsessive fanatics enthusiasts, who actually joined in when I did the following:
Since it would take forever to explain most of these photos (and many of you may not watch Game of Thrones,
you poor souls), I will just present a gallery here. If you don’t squeal in recognition, then just enjoy some pretty scenery ;).
The tour made for an incredible, but hot, afternoon. I cooled down by jumping in the water at the hotel, then dried myself off and jumped in a cab to go to the HBO casting. It was being held at the Valamar Lacroma Hotel on the other side of the city. (What do you wager they picked that location because it sounds like valar morghulis? I’d like to think that’s the reason. But I am a nerd). I entered to see this sign:
I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I had never been to a casting before. As it turned out, all that was required of me was to take several photos (front and profile) and to fill out a form with my contact information; specifics like height, weight, eye color, dress size, etc.; and then whether or not I would be willing to do a nude scene. LOL. That’s all I need for my fifteen minutes of fame to come from being cast as something like “Pear-Shaped Concubine #2.” I checked “no” :). (As it happens, I need not have worried, because I have not heard from them and filming has already started. Maybe it was my still-wet-from-the-pool Medusa hair that ruined my chances. Darn). Grabbing my backpack, I was still able to make it to the station in time to catch my bus to Kotor.
All in all, it was a 24-hour experience that any Game of Thrones nut would have treasured. Maybe I should check out when filming starts in Spain….