The Lannisters send their regards — from Croatia and Spain

Looking at Dubrovnik’s fortification walls from Fort Lovrijenac, which doubles as the Red Keep in Game of Thrones, while the entire old city of Dubrovnik is King’s Landing.  Photos by Tanya Lara
“Knowledge is power,” Little Finger tells Cersei Lannister. Bitch, please. “Power is power,” counters Cersei in this scene filmed at Fort Lovrijenac in Dubrovnik.

It feels surreal to be standing in the castle courtyard where a scene from Game of Thrones with Cersei Lannister and Little Finger was filmed a few seasons ago.

Lord Baelish, implying knowledge of her incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime Lannister, says, “Knowledge is power.”

Cersei counters, “Seize him. Cut his throat. Stop! I’ve changed my mind, let him go.” She pauses, looks at him and says, “Power is power.”

Of all the quotable lines from Cersei, this to me distills her character’s understanding of what real power is. Manipulation is for children; cutting out the second act and going straight for the denouement in the third is the Cersei way, just like blowing up the Sept of Baelor with wildfire and killing everyone in such a spectacular manner.

Boats outside the walls ready to sail on the Adriatic Sea. The little beach is where the Lannisters shipped off a crying Myrcella to Dorne.
I don’t remember if this is indeed the Ethnographic Museum, which doubles as Lord Baelish’s whorehouse.

That line, along with what she casually says to Maergery Tyrrel, “If you ever call me sister again, I’ll have you strangled in your sleep” — which makes me laugh so hard! — is classic Cersei.

Power, which what makes GoT so compelling, is also understood by those who know they will have it only in doses that the gods old and new deem fit, like the eunuch and master of whisperers Lord Varys who says, “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick. A shadow on the wall.”

It is September 2017 and I am on a solo road trip through the Balkans, a trip I had always wanted to do and wouldn’t shut up about to friends asking me what else was on my bucket list. Reading about the Balkans conflict and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia when I was younger made me want to see this region for myself.

Many years later, Game of Thrones entered my consciousness with the subtlety of a bullet through the head — and I was even more determined to go to this part of the world where they had filmed.

On top of Srd Hill in 2017, with views of the old city of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic Sea.

I’ve traveled to places before specifically to see where my fave movies were set — Savannah for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Bruges for In Bruges — but Game of Thrones is filmed in so many different locations I had to pick one first to suit my budget. Would it be Croatia, Spain, Morocco, Northern Ireland or Iceland?

My first choice is Dubrovnik, the setting of King’s Landing and perhaps the most publicized of all shooting locations in the series. Landing in Sarajevo, the third of nine cities I would go to on this solo trip, I rent a car at the airport and on the third day drive from Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Dubrovnik is a tourist city propelled by history and the Adriatic Sea, and only in the last decade by Game of Thrones. An American tourist once famously told my guide, “It’s great that GoT came to Dubrovnik to make it famous,” to which my guide replied, “Dubrovnik was Dubrovnik before the TV show, our castles were built before the TV show, our people existed before the TV show…”

I understood why she was so irritated in telling this story and two  years later in Seville  I would have to answer an equally stupid question from a fellow tourist on a walking tour. (“Do Filipinos consider Spain their motherland?” Me: “Of course not! It was our  country before Spain,  our people existed before Spain colonized our islands.”)

The Baroque Staircase and the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola as the Sept of Baelor, which was CGI’d to look bigger, grander.
Shame, shame, shame. A vengeful Cersei would blow up the Sept of Baelor in the Season 6 finale.

At my hotel facing the Adriatic Sea, I ask the local staff if they watched GoT and four out of four people said no. My guide at the walking tour, of course, did — many of her friends were hired as extras in episodes till season 4 when most of the shooting transferred to Spain.

But Dubrovnik is the place where some of the series’ biggest scenes were filmed and the city’s entrepreneurs have wisely capitalized on this. The Hilton just outside the walls is where Peter Dinklage stayed during shooting and  he got so drunk one night he fell asleep on a sofa in the lobby. That sofa is now a tourist attraction.

I meet my walking tour group at the main entrance to the walled old town, Pile Gate, which was used in several GoT scenes.

Cersei’s Walk of Shame was filmed here, starting at the Baroque Staircase or Jesuit Stairs. Naked and pelted with mud, she walks through a seemingly straight street but in reality it was filmed in several streets in the walled city.

My walking tour guide shows a picture of Cersei’s Walk of Shame and where it began.
One of the streets where Cersei’s Walk of Shame was filmed. Bar and restaurant owners were happy to close their establishment and get compensation while GoT was filming the scene.

The main street leading from the Baroque Staircase (similar to Rome’s Spanish Steps) is flanked by bars and restaurants and on top is the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola. On any given day, the restaurants are all full for lunch and dinner, and the hours in between when tourists try rakia or the popular fruit brandy in the Balkans.

To film the Walk of Shame, the owners were compensated to keep their establishments closed for several days. Then the shooting dragged on to 10 days, and they were very happy to be paid for staying closed.

Fort Lovrijenac doubles as the Red Keep. Outside the walls they shot the scene of Myrcella Baratheon — daughter of Cersei and Jaime — crying on a ship being exiled to Dorne to keep her safe from Stannis’ advancing army. This was filmed on a little beach below the fort.  The yellow and red kayaks waiting for tourists to enjoy the sea were, of course, taken away.

You can see the small beach and the red rooftops of the town from the ramparts of the fort, which is located on a 37-meter-high cliff and known as Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar. Some of the walls in this fortified city are 12 meters thick while other walls are only 60 centimeters.

King’s Landing from another angle
Another scene, another location. Every corner of Dubrovnik is a potential shooting location for King’s Landing.

The Ethnographic Museum doubles as Little Finger’s brothel and where Tyrion Lannister meets with Oberyn Martell, who is seeking justice for his dead sister and her children.

Season 7’s ending scene at King’s Landing, after Jaime Lannister leaves Cersei and rides north, was filmed in the old city. What’s funny about this is that they had to use fake snow in that love scene of King’s Landing with the slow piano version of the GoT theme. After the cast and crew packed up for the season, real snow did fall on  Dubrovnik, a first after many decades.

Had they waited five days, filming would have been easier and less expensive, but who’s counting money when you have the Iron Bank behind you?

A 20-minute boat ride from the harbor of Dubrovnik is Lokrum island, used as the city of Qarth near the Jade Sea, where Daenerys’ dragons are stolen and kept in the House of the Undying. In Qarth, the Mother of Dragons proves once again she is the Unburnt and merciless to those who betrayed her, locking Xaro inside his own empty vault.

Breathtaking views of the old city and the islands surrounding Dubrovnik are from Srd Hill, accessible by cable car.
Outside the Ploče Gate of Dubrovnik’s walls is Banje Beach.

Most scenes in Qarth were filmed in Lokrum’s botanical gardens and former Benedictine Monastery, and also at Dubrovnik’s Minčeta Tower, which stood in as the House of the Undying.

* * *

And so two years later, in February 2019, I am flying to Seville, Spain on a budget airline to see Dorne, in real life Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a collection of palaces built by the Moors and then the Christians.

I’ve let my feet run wild again, booking flights without a real plan except to find GoT film locations, losing my phone on the first leg of the flight from Manila to Abu Dhabi.

Called “the frying pan of Europe” (it reaches 45 degrees in the summer),  Seville is the capital and largest city of Seville province and the autonomous region of Andalusia.

Real Alcázar de Sevilla or the Royal Palace in Seville is the setting of Dorne in Game of Thrones — a breakaway kingdom of sorts but an important ally to the Iron Throne nevertheless.
The Ambassadors Hall in the Royal Palace of Seville is where Prince Doran welcomes Jaime Lannister, who is sent to collect his daughter Myrcella.
Entrance to Real Alcazar. Never make the mistake of not booking online — as I did. Long queues in the morning.

In Sevilla without a phone, I have only rudimentary Spanish to communicate with my cabbie and Aibnb owner. My landlord is nice and welcoming, telling me she spent her honeymoon in Manila 25 years ago. She gives me the keys and a hug, and hours later the lights in her flat — my flat for a few days — have gone out. It’s shit but I don’t have the energy or the wifi to throw a hissy fit.

But I love this flat. It has a rooftop terrace, below the building are tapas bars and coffee shops — and most of all, the  Water Gardens of Dorne (or Alcazar) are just 200 meters away.

Dorne holds a curious place in Westeros — a sort of breakaway republic within the Seven Kingdoms, properly away from its politics and hypocrisy, but an important ally nonetheless.

Bastard children — the Sands — are not shunned. “We are everywhere in Dorne. I have ten thousand brothers and sisters,” says Elaria Sand when she and Oberyn Martell meet with Cersei and Tywin Lannister in King’s Landing.

In the Water Gardens of Dorne or Real Alcazar de Sevilla.
Moorish and Christian decorative motifs at Real Alcazar.
Sevilla’s warm climate is the perfect setting of Dorne. “Bastards are born of passion, aren’t they? We don’t despise them in Dorne,” says Oberyn Martell.

The intricately decorated Ambassadors Hall in Alcazar is where Prince Doran welcomes Jaime (after being imprisoned briefly for sneaking in on a fisherman’s boat with Bronn) .

In Dorne, the weather is warm and the people are ruled by passion. “Bastards are born of passion, aren’t they? We don’t despise them in Dorne,” says Oberyn.

Warm weather and passion are also fitting descriptions of Seville. There are palm trees in the palace grounds and the street parallel to Guadalquivir River. Cross the river and you’re in Triana, a neighborhood with such a strong identity it considers itself apart from Seville.

I didn’t book online for the Alcazar tour, so I stood in line for an hour.

GoT scene from the finale of Season 7, where the “summit” takes place between Team Lannister and Team Jon Snow/Daenerys Targaryen, filmed at the ampitheater of the Roman ruins of Italica in Santiponce, Spain.
GoT_Seville_12_by_Diego Delso
The real amphitheater of Italica. Photo by Diego Delso,

There is music everywhere in Seville played by street musicians and ordinary people who just seemingly woke up and took their guitars outside to play. If you go out of the Alcazar, you’d still think this was Dorne — warm, laid back and tropical — and you fully understand Oberyn’s disdain for King’s Landing.

Emilia Clark (Daenerys Targaryen) said in an HBO interview that shooting in Seville was a joy, that it felt like they weren’t working at all but were on vacation compared to cast members shooting in Iceland like Kit Harington (Jon Snow).

Another shooting location in Spain, an hour by bus from Seville, is Santiponce, a town with a population of just over 8,000. This is where they shot the final episode of Season 7’s summit between the northerners plus Daenerys and her dragons, and Cersei and her minions, to show to the Lannisters the white walker they had captured from beyond the wall.

The Dragonpit is actually the Roman ruins of Italica, an archeological treasure to Sevillanos and commonly believed to be the birthplace of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. That scene where Jon Snow and Ser Davos, Tyrion Lannister and the Hound are walking to the Ampitheater is one of many cobbled streets of this ancient city that was once the third largest in the Roman Empire.

The path leading to Anfiteatro de Italica.
The pit from which the Hound carries the undead in a box.

In BTS interviews, the cast talked about how shooting in the Dragonpit was a sort of reunion for them — and for many characters it was the first time to shoot with each other, like for Cersei and Daenerys and Jon Snow who had never been together in a scene before.

As Game of Thrones progressed from its pilot episode in April 2011, previous shooting locations in Croatia were transferred to Spain. Scenes in King’s Landing, for instance, were shot in Girona even as the city doubled as Bravos where Arya Stark trained to become an assassin. Girona Cathedral doubled as the Sept of Baelor, previously shot in Dubrovnik.

Obviously, GoT isn’t the only reason to visit these places, but you do get a kick when you see a scene from this cultural phenomenon and remember your travels. And to be able to channel Cersei and say, “I was there, bitch.”

Communal latrine in Italica.
Santiponce is about an hour by bus from Sevilla.

Symphony of the Seas sails the ultimate adventure

The world’s biggest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas can accommodate 6,000 passengers and over 2,000 crew members. It is also the most technologically advanced — and most fun!  Photos courtesy of Royal Caribbean
Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
Fireworks show as Symphony of the Seas departs Malaga.

When they said it’s like a floating city, they weren’t kidding. Royal Caribbean International’s newest cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, is the biggest in the world. At 18 stories high, it’s taller than Mt. Rushmore and twice the height of the Washington Monument in DC. If you line up 17,000 African elephants and coax them on a scale, they’d still be lighter than the ship.

It can be overwhelming being onboard with so many choices in food and drinks, and sports activities and shows. In short, you will not be bored for one second, but if you just want to chill, that’s an option too, whether in your stateroom with balcony or on the boardwalk flanked by restaurants and cafes. Or maybe just grab a cold beer or frozen margarita and soak up the sun by the swimming pools.

Sure, it’s the biggest ship in the world, but that wasn’t RCI’s intention at the outset. It wanted to build the best in terms of efficiency, offerings and technology. So advanced is the ship that it literally floats on water using an air lubrication system that creates a reduced-friction layer of billions of bubbles, which means it uses less energy. Also, in terms of WiFi, RCI has satellite beams that literally follow each of its ships across the world’s seas. It’s a huge investment by RCI but as satellite technology costs get lower in the next 10 years so will the cruises’ Internet packages.

Royal Caribbean International’s representative in the Philippines is Arpan Air Inc. For inquiries, call 892 2701 to 03, 0955 213 3579,

Royal Caribbean chairman and CEO Richard D. Fain says, “We set out to build the best ship in the world and it turned out to be the biggest. In the beginning, we said, no, don’t talk about it being ‘the biggest, talk about it being the best.’ It turns out that was a losing proposition with media. They wanted to talk about it being the biggest but that’s because there’s so many things to do on board.”

And we got to experience the ship’s offerings on a three-day pre-inaugural cruise to nowhere with Arpan Air, RCI’s international representative in the Philippines.

Arpan Air senior vice president and COO Joy Abrogar has seen the growth of cruising among Filipino travelers especially on European itineraries. “We now have families that hold reunions onboard especially if they live all over the world. They meet up in Barcelona from the US or Canada and the Philippines. It’s hassle-free, no need to fly from one destination to another.”

Symphony of the Seas.
The movements of the robotic arms at Bionic Bar are patterned after American Ballet Theater principal dancer Roberto Bolle. They can produce two drinks per minute for a total of 1,000 drinks per day — and no need to change shifts! Bestselling spirit? Vodka.

Allpoints Travel president and CEO Dondi Ocampo says, “RCI’s cruise ships are floating resorts. For a week, you get to see several countries and you don’t have to worry about transfers, luggage or even restaurants. It’s all here. Cruising is also great for incentive travel.”

Symphony of the Seas, which sailed its maiden voyage three weeks ago, will be starting and ending seven-night cruises in Barcelona to the Western Mediterranean until the end of October.

Barcelona is a fantastic port. Apart from its famous landmarks like Sagrada Familia, there’s so much to see, learn and eat in this beautiful Catalan city. Before and after the cruise, we explored Gaudi’s greatest love: the city he dedicated his life to.

Adrelanline rush on the Ultimate Abyss water slide and sugar rush at the candy store.


Symphony was designed from top to bottom to fulfill what RCI calls the Ultimate Vacation. Let’s start with the look of the ship first. It’s a beauty! Onboard, you’d feel like you’re in a high-end resort whose design is both playful and sophisticated. For instance, Symphony of the Seas has more works of art than the Louvre has paintings. It has over 20,700 plants, more than The Smithsonian Gardens has in its orchid collection.

Symphony can accommodate around 6,000 passengers and it has 2,759 cabins — the most on a cruise ship — in 30 categories, ranging from the interior rooms to the staterooms with sea-view balconies, staterooms with boardwalk-view balconies to suites, which are like luxury hotel rooms with the family suite equipped with slides for kids.

The ship has seven “neighborhoods,” each with a distinct feel. When you’re out at sea, explore each one because they offer so many different things.

My fave artworks onboard, “Meltdown” by Desire Cherish (left) and “Paradox Void” by Gregor Kregar (right)

For instance, Central Park, which runs in the middle of the ship on Deck 8, is a lush space with British chef Jamie Oliver’s Italian resto and a wine bar called Vintages.

At the Royal Promenade, there are two bars that draw everyone’s attention. First is the Bionic Bar with two bionic-arm bartenders that can do everything a human bartender can — shake, stir, muddle, strain — except frozen drinks.

The movements of the bionic arms are patterned after American Ballet Theater principal dancer Roberto Bolle. They can produce two drinks per minute for a total of 1,000 drinks per day — and no need to change shifts.

On a touchpad, you can order from the drink list (25 of bartenders’ favorites) — or customize your own, choosing from 30 spirits, eight sodas, six juices, three syrups, sugar, mint, lime and lemons. You decide how many shots you want to put in your glass (the robot bartenders will not judge you). Name your customized drink and the next time you order it, you don’t have to start from scratch because they already know what’s in it. The bionic arms will mix your drink (and wash the shakers between mixes) and then with a gentle push, they slide the drink to the end of the “bar” for you to pick up.

Made by Makr Shakr, the bionic bartenders are the fifth generation in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, starting in 2014 on Quantum of the Seas. Guess how many drinks they have made in the four other ships prior to Symphony? One million drinks as of last year.

Royal Class suite
The Ultimate Family Suite is practically is its own playground!

Also at Royal Promenade is the glass-enclosed Rising Tide bar, which lifts three decks from Deck 5 to Deck 8’s Central Park

The Boardwalk harks back to the 1950s with a candy shop called Sugar Beach and roaming around entertaining passengers are jugglers, clowns and other performers. It is also on this deck where Aqua Theater is located and where Aquanation divers and swimmers do their synchronized show — diving from 10 meters high or swimming in sync with the music. Most of the athletes are from Eastern Europe, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were former Olympic athletes.

Adventure and Youth Zone is where you drop your kids off while you relax at Vitality Spa and Fitness or play in the casino. Here, the kids have creative ad educational activities such as scavenger hunts and talent shows.

At the Pool and Sports Zone, get your adrenaline up with the Perfect Storm slides or practice your surf at Flow Rider or literally hang out at the Zipline.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
On the Boardwalk, you’ll run into clowns, pirates and jugglers.
Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
The festive Boardwalk is one of seven “neighborhoods” onboard. The carousel turns pink night.

The Ultimate Abyss, the most talked about slide in the cruising industry today, is the tallest slide at sea. Appropriately enough, its entrance is the mouth of a giant fish with menacing teeth. It’s a 28-meter serpentine drop with two 360-degree circles. It may feel that you’re sliding endlessly, but in reality it’s only 13 to 14 seconds.

Entertainment Place includes the Royal Casino, the largest casino at sea, where they serve the best frozen drinks while you’re trying your luck at the tables. A section of it is one of two designated smoking areas on board (the other is by one of the pools).

This neighborhood also has theaters where they stage the Broadway hit Hairspray and a 1970s ice skating caper.

Two things not to be missed as well are the Silent Disco, where people dance to music listened to on wireless headsets; and Laser Tag where you pick your own team and battle another.

Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
Cotton candy and shots at Wonderland.
Playmakers servers classic sports bar fare.


What I love about the food onboard Symphony of the Seas is the variety of choices. Windjammer is the all-day restaurant where most people gravitate to, but there are also cafes that serve light food, Johnny Rockets for burgers and milkshakes, Jamie’s Italian for Italian cuisine, Izumi for Japanese cuisine, and new outlets Hooked Seafood for just-shucked oysters, El Loco Fresh for Mexican enchiladas, Playmakers Sports Bar for sliders and fries, and Sugar Beach candy store.

So how do you prepare food for 6,000 passengers who are likely to eat more than three times a day — across 14 specialty restaurants offering 350 dishes?

With a team of 1,085 culinary staff, that’s how. At a behind-the-scenes tour in the ship’s galleys, I met Royal Caribbean corporate executive chef Gary Thomas, also known as “the General.”

A veteran chef of 26 years, he commands more than 10,000 chefs across RCI’s fleet, and he’s part of the design team from blueprint to construction of the ship’s kitchens.

On a seven-night cruise, Symphony of the Seas serves about 9,700 lbs. of chicken; 60,000 eggs (“We only have one chicken, it lays eggs nonstop,” he jokes; 700 lbs. of ice cream, 20,000 lbs. of potatoes; 2,500 lbs. of salmon; 5,300 lbs. of bacon; 195 spirits and 450 cases of champagne!

Royal Caribbean president Michael Bayley (center) and Arpain Air senior vice president and COO Joy Abrogar (second from right) with Simeon Aquino Jr. of Blue Horizon Travel, Abigail Avellana of Our Awesome Planet, Abbie Sandico of Acewin Travel, the author Tanya Lara, and Ferdinand Dondi Ocampo of Allpoints Travel at the Royal Promenade of Symphony of the Seas on a pre-inaugural cruise on the Balearic Sea.
Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas
Wall climbing onboard — and after which you can do the zipline, play billiards or cards, or try your luck at the Casino Royale.

What about special diets? “Symphony has an allergy-wise program. By the time guests arrive on the ship, we know their requirements, whether it’s medical or religious or lifestyle. Veganism is way more common now than 10 years ago. We keep up with the times. We have guests that have really complex allergy requirements, so we have designated preparation areas like for gluten-free or for religious requirements. “

So how many times does the ship replenish its food supplies, say, on a seven-day cruise? “Everything is set at the start of the cruise. We take supply on every embarkation day and to keep the food fresh — vegetables, fruits, etc. — we get them at certain stages of cultivation.  We buy quarter ripe, half ripe and ripe bananas, tomatoes, and store them in facilities that are temperature-controlled and based on the length of the cruise. Food continues to grow as long as there’s certain light and moisture. It’s very technical once you get on a 10 to 14-day voyage.”

Thomas says they know they got the requisitioning right when, on embarkation day, the storage facilities are empty and what they see is just stainless steel — ready to take on new supplies that have to be loaded in five hours for the next cruise.

The supplies and storage facilities are run “exactly like a supermarket.” The chefs order their supplies the night before, he approves them and a team distributes them. Maritime law also requires every ship to have a hurricane plan, “which is to have enough of everything to sustain the ship for 48 hours. We have to account for every unforeseen thing. So we have all the basics — not just food.”

Main Dining room for formal lunch and dinner (left) or just chill in one of the Jacuzzi pools (right).
Sushis and sashimis at the new-concept restaurant Izumi.


One thing that I love about Symphony is that it is staffed with so many Filipinos. From deck managers to chefs, restaurant servers, bartenders, housekeepers — at every corner of the ship you can ask a question in Tagalog and be answered in Tagalog.

Joy Abrogar tells me that when they have a big group on a long itinerary, they arrange for local dishes to be served to the group. “One time, we surprised our group with tapsilog breakfast and they loved it.”

Speaking of itinerary length, RCI offers cruises designed for millenneals called the Perfect Weekend, a three-night cruise on their Caribbean itineraries.

Symphony of the Seas was built in the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard at Saint Nazaire, France. She is the fourth ship in RCI’s Oasis-class series.

RCI is changing with the times as passengers change, as tourism changes. Chairman and CEO Richard Fain says, “We keep getting questions about over-tourism, but the more appropriate term is sustainable tourism. As people become more affluent, they want to travel to great destinations and it’s their right. Rather than think about how to stop people from doing that, time and energy must be focused on investing in infrastructure. The growth is inevitable. We work closely with the communities we serve to help them generate economic activities. We’re also very sensitive that we need to do that in a sustainable way.”

When Puerto Rico was hit by hurricanes last September, RCI allocated many of their ships to humanitarian efforts, “transferring people from different islands including dogs, cats, birds, you name it. It was a very rewarding effort for us and we’re proud to be in the communities we serve.”

* * *

Royal Caribbean International’s representative in the Philippines is Arpan Air Inc. For inquiries, call 892 2701 to 03, 0955 213 3579, Like their FB page Royal Caribbean Philippines and visit their website at

Symphony of the Seas.
The Broadway musical “Hairspray” is just one of the entertainment offers onboard.