Student Story written by Logan Sweeney, Fall 2022 Voyager
I’m not exactly someone you would label a “nervous traveler,” but traveling
with Semester at Sea is such a daunting task that I nearly felt overwhelmed by the
experience before it started. It is one thing to pack your bags and head to an all-inclusive resort in the Bahamas, but traveling to multiple countries in such a small span of time causes the heads of even the most experienced travelers to spin. My journey takes me to places I, admittedly, had never even heard of, much less would be able to place on a map. One such location is the small, thin country of Croatia, located near the heart of the Mediterranean.
As I’ve mentioned, geography was never one of my strong suits. When I first read over our itinerary, I swapped Croatia and Cyprus, another country we were to visit, in my head and didn’t even realize my mistake until after I had arrived. I was expecting a small island similar to Greece with a splash of Turkish occupation. When I stepped off the boat and took in the mountains and beautiful sea around me; my mistake dawned upon me. The brief reading I had done on Croatia, or more specifically Dubrovnik, our port city, had revealed an ancient land full of history and impressive architecture. No article or blog post could’ve prepared me for the natural beauty I was met with on arrival.
Though briefly awestruck, my reluctance to adventure into such an unknown
horizon caught up with me, and I nearly spent the rest of the day looking out of my
window in my cabin room on the ship. It took some convincing by friends for me to abandon my hovel in search of entertainment within the city of Dubrovnik. Around mid-afternoon, I took off with a few friends to visit the old city. We crossed an old drawbridge connecting a ring of ancient walls into the bustling center of the city.
People from all nationalities, tourists like us, talked in their native language and took pictures with the statues and monuments scattered throughout the square. Waiters popped out from around corners carrying food from one narrow street to the next. It was more impressive than overwhelming, and I enjoyed the experience. Sometimes, just getting out of the safety of solitude is the hardest part. Adjusting to your environment afterward comes naturally, at least for me. Imagine my pleasure at discovering an anchor I could use, something to remind me of home; a small tourist shop carrying nothing other than merchandise from one of my favorite television shows: Game of Thrones.
It would make a more exciting blog post to state that I was unaware of the Dubrovnik tourism department’s fascination with Game of Thrones before I arrived, but that would be untrue. While I had heard of the show’s filming and subsequent tourist attractions in Dubrovnik, I had grossly underestimated the extent of its influence. Game of Thrones has littered every hobby shop and restaurant; even candy stores labeled their gummy swords after famous weapons from the show. It felt like a dark fantasy lover’s Disney World without all of the screaming kids (well, at least not as many). My friends and I immediately signed up for a tour.
Our guide and captain of the small boat we rented was a shorter man named Phillip. While he was reading the rules of the vessel, I had falsely assumed him to be serious and brooding. Once we were out on the water, however, he brightened up and was eager to point out all of the attractions. I won’t bore you with details on Game of Thrones filming locations.
Needless to say I was giddy the entire time and loved every minute of it. The wind carried away feelings of insecurity. I will highlight one specific area; avid tv fans would recognize it as the final resting place of Oberyn Martell. One of my favorite characters on the show, portrayed by the great Oscar Isaac, had his final scene in what was now an abandoned hotel off the coast of Croatia. Intricate graffiti lined the path up to the center of the hotel, a large stone circle now being used as a makeshift soccer field. I was overjoyed with the view and the circle itself and had to reenact the scene where Oberyn gets his head squashed.
On the way down from the hotel, it dawned on me that I hadn’t thought about
my travel anxiety at all. I let myself get swept up in the wave of new experiences and
I couldn’t wait to see where it took me next. Phillip saw what sparked our interest
and took us to the most coveted prop to any Game of Thrones fan; The Iron Throne.
The Iron Throne, as we learned, was donated by HBO after filming in multiple locations throughout Croatia. It changed hands multiple times until it finally landed at its final resting place; the small island of Lokrum. Essentially a Game of Thrones-themed tourist trap, there wasn’t much to do on the island but grab a bite to eat and admire the wild peacocks who lived on the island. We waited patiently for our turn to witness and sit upon the holy grail of our fandom. Finally, we each entered the small chamber and took our rightful place on the throne.
Sitting on the throne filled me with a sense of accomplishment. I started watching the show when I was 16, and nearly 8 years later, I found my way to the most important prop on the show. None of it would’ve happened if I let my anxiety rule me on that first day. Throughout the rest of the voyage, I did my best to exit my comfort zone and embrace what the world and my travels had to offer.