Just when we thought the storybook scenes of endless red roofs, hulking fortresses, and clear blue waters couldn’t get more fantastic, we stumbled into the scenery of Dubrovnik. Large amounts of the popular TV drama “Game of Thrones” have been filmed on location here, and as one looks around, it makes perfect sense. First things first, though, we arrived on a gray and blustery afternoon after a rainy couple hours of bus ride that wrapped along the picturesque Adriatic coast. There were simpler and perhaps more adventurous routes to take in southeast Europe, but I was answering to another dream. While I worked in a gift shop in the mall as a high schooler, I saw an aerial photo of this city in one of those 365 Days of Earth from the Air type of books and that was it–I set my heart on getting there. It took almost 15 years, but here I am, with a GoT loving husband in tow.
With the help of a very nice old lady, we found our way up the stairs that led to our rented apartment. The proprietor’s daughter let us in and we bumbled around for the rest of the afternoon, buying groceries and figuring out the neighborhood. As the sun started to set, we finally ventured the 15 minutes along the sea road towards Old Town. It was quite the dramatic introduction to Dubrovnik, with the marble streets glowing in the lamplight and the stark fortress walls soaring up to the black sky. Circling the labyrinth of streets for the first time in the mysterious atmosphere felt like the perfect introduction.
The next morning, we started our sightseeing in earnest. After a hearty home-cooked breakfast in our little kitchenette, we headed back to the Old Town and this time, we took a deep, long look around. Every little alley that beckoned, we followed. Every open door, we inspected. In the churches, we poked around in the vaulted sanctuaries in gold-tinted light and found a couple interesting modern art galleries. On a sadder note, we also found our way into the Memorial for the Defenders of Dubrovnik. As Croatia tried to break away from the former Yugoslavia, it came under attack from a combination of Yugoslav Army forces and the Montenegro soldiers. The city was cut off from the outside world for about a year and many priceless buildings were bombed, or torched.
After stopping for a snack of pears on the fountain in the middle of one of the side squares, we continued our thorough investigation of the steep stairs, quiet back ways, and bustling corners. We spotted several interesting sculptures adorning the older buildings, as well as the little cafes and restaurants. On our walk back to our apartment, we took a stroll through the Dubrovnik University Gardens, where about a hundred columns lined the path, topped with the entire encyclopedia of fantasy creatures, from gargoyles to wizards to harpies to dragons and more. In the isolated, lush green background of the garden, amongst all the beasts and beauties, we felt like we were in an enchanted space.
That evening, we watched the sunset from the overlook just up the street from our little abode before experimenting in the kitchen with the fresh produce from the minuscule market we passed on the way home. In the morning, we looked out onto the first really sunny day of our visit to Dubrovnik. A few clouds scudded across the sky, heading out to sea, blown by a strong wind. We dressed in a hurry, as we had plans to climb the old city walls today, and the weather was perfect for beautiful photos. Along with the nice weather and the day being a Friday, the crowds of other tourists were turning out in earnest. Nevertheless, we breezed through the line for tickets and headed up the stairs to the stunning panoramic views.
It was just like the photo that I had kept in my mind’s eye for the past fifteen years. Except real and in living color with a wind blowing strong enough up there to practically blow my dress off! Herds of people rushed past, but we lingered, really soaking in every sight and moment. For me, it was answering one of my first personal calls to travel…and Sangbyeong was absolutely enthralled to be “on the set” of one of his favorite series. We spent a long time staring out to the crashing sea (in the wind, the surf was particularly violent that day) as it foamed around the cliff base far below. Turning from the sea, we faced the endless swath of red tile and the various spires and domes of the churches that guard the souls of the town. Behind it, matching roofs of new town homes march right up to the pine forests that grow on the mountain slopes. Dizzy with the beauty of it, we were even treated to a live band playing some of my favorite swing tunes.
Alas, the walk through the dream could not last forever…and we were thirsty. Funny enough, we ran into the other Korean couple we had met a few days before in Montenegro while we were up there. We went back to our favorite fountain spot to drink our water and eat the cheap popcorn we had found at a shop. I think the pigeons recognized us as friendly faces (as opposed to the herds of little boys that terrorize them all day long) and we obliged them by feeding them the old maids from our bag of popcorn. As the afternoon wore on, we went exploring some of the side streets just outside of the Old Town before going home to claim our laundry (hurray for clean clothes!) and make dinner.
Full-bellied and mostly packed, we headed down for one last walk through the dark city streets to the historic area for one last look. Just like we first saw it, flooded with footlights and spotlights, the squares and passages gleamed under the night sky. Bands strummed in the restaurants, b-boys practiced for the crowds, couples dined, friends sipped cappuccinos, and we sat on the church steps taking it all in. The sound of heavenly voices caught our attention and we stood in the back of the Catholic church for the last ten minutes of a performance of Handel’s Messiah. Alleluia, indeed! With that, we headed back out of the gates, saying our goodbyes to the “City of Stone and Light.”