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January 02, 2017

Diary From Dubrovnik

Text by Vinod Advani

A leaf from Vinod Advani’s travel notebook on fishy tales and fictional games…

Within three minutes of meeting us, blonde and bubbly guide Nikolina is in full flow. “Do you know how many firsts my tiny Dubrovnik has in its long history? In 1377, we became the first city in the world to develop and implement quarantine legislation. In 1416, we were the first European state to pass a resolution abolishing slavery. And the world’s oldest medieval sewage system built here in 1296 is still in perfect condition. Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew mention the term ‘argosy’, meaning ‘a boat from Dubrovnik’. And just look at our coast!”

The coast is indeed jaw-droppingly beautiful, especially when seen from our vantage point of the top of Mount Srd. A five-minute cable car ride from the seaside station, up 780 metres to a viewing deck, offers stunning vistas up to 60 kilometres on a clear day. But it’s not the Bard from Stratford-Upon-Avon who has lured us to this ‘Pearl of the Adriatic Sea’. That magnet is the world’s most-watched TV series, with its billion-dollar spinoffs.

If you have been living on a desert island for the past five years, you are forgiven for not knowing that Game Of Thrones is the most illegally downloaded television series ever in the history of the internet. Over one billion viewers have seen the last season (6), which translates to one out of every seven humans on planet earth. We are here to do the full GOT tour, especially the locale for King’s Landing, permanent home to the powerful Lannister family and capital of the fictional Seven Kingdoms.

On the tour, fans of GOT stand at Lovrijenac Fort which doubles as the Red Keep; the water below served as the setting of the pivotal Battle of Blackwater Bay. Gradac Park is where the wedding extravaganza was filmed. Remember Little Finger’s brothel? It’s the 16th-century Rupe Museum. And Margarite Street around the corner is where the High Sparrow’s dingy hang-out was filmed. And now, with fanfare, let me lead you to the site of the most unforgettable scene in television history: Queen Cersei’s naked walk of shame! You will recognise the stairs near the Church of St Ignatius immediately. In real life, the stairs actually lead to the lovely Jezuite St, a bustling touristy spot full of restaurants packed to the brim!

Remember you are on the Adriatic Sea, facing Italy. This means the cuisine is not just seafood-dominated but also flavourful. Let’s start with starters. Prsut is Croatia’s succulent home-cured ham often served with cheese. I just fell in love with Paski Sir, a hard fragrant cheese from the island of Pag. Across Croatia, the must-have is called Strukli — a pastry and cheese dish baked like a cheese soufflé and stuffed with cottage cheese.

We stuffed our faces every night with giant oyster and octopus salad, enhancing the fresh catch with just lemon and olive oil respectively. Our fishy tales included local fish like kovac (John Dory), list (sole), brancin (sea bass), steamed delicately or lightly fried.

On each of our four nights, we ate memorable meals at shockingly moderate prices. Two were at our magnificent five-star Hotel Excelsior situated at the edge of the ocean. Executive chef Petar Obad’s creations are sublime and sensually presented. From the tuna tartare and sea urchin to shrimps with roe and escargots to baked Pag cheese, tortellini shrimps and succulent lamb chops, each memory still makes me salivate.

A risotto dinner was the icing on the cake of an evening spent in the small town of Ston, 23 kilometre from Dubrovnik. Four thousand-year-old salt pans are still active in Ston which also boasts the longest medieval fortification walls in Europe. We were taken by the local fishermen to admire their oyster farms. Plucked from their nets, shucked and popped into our eager mouths, the oysters tasted like manna from heaven! Nikolina says, “Popular legend has it that for a few years, Jesus lived here, drank a lot of wine, ate a lot of fish, said a lot of wise things and needed no job. Everything he did was a miracle. The same could be said about Croatian men from this Dalmatian Coast!”

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