Visiting the “Game of Thrones” destinations

The HBO drama Game Of Thrones has had an incredible effect on modern culture. As you probably know, the show itself has become one of the most popular television dramas of all time (and the show is not done yet).

Game of Thrones has launched careers, catapulted HBO to even higher levels of prestige, and before it’s all said and done it is going to lead to even more TV shows. The show is a hit almost unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the industry!

The drama also played a role in promoting the book series upon which it is largely based. Many people probably don’t realize that A Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, the first book in the series A Song Of Ice And Fire, was actually first published in 1996. It was essentially another forgotten fantasy novel (and series) until it
got picked up as a TV series and millions of people around the world realized how deep and thrilling the novels were.

Naturally Game Of Thrones has also inspired a fair amount of activity in the gaming world. The longest running game might just be a slot arcade on the internet, which Microgaming calls heart-stoppingly exciting. That’s quite an exaggeration,
but it sure is a game that’s true to the spirit of the show. Other games, including a noteworthy series from Telltale, do more to help you feel as if you can control your own narrative within the Thrones world.
The most surprising impact of Game Of Thrones, however, might be how it has inspired people to leap into the world of the show in a more literal sense. One of the things that makes the show so compelling is that it takes place in absolutely breathtaking locations. Many of them have been altered through CGI so that castles and walls and the like
can appear in the show, but most are still essentially real world places. Most of those places have been seeing tourists who are there specifically because of the show.

These are a few of the destinations people are frequenting (and which you might want to visit)

Dubrovnik, Croatia

This is undoubtedly the main Game Of Thrones tourism destination, if you will. Already an incredibly picturesque Mediterranean getaway, Dubrovnik has been used as the basis for King’s Landing, one of the most important and iconic Thrones sets. The city is actually taking steps to curb tourism following an unprecedented surge. But it’s still amazing to visit should you get the chance!

Dubrovnik

Seville, Spain

Seville is another destination that was popular long before the show, and will remain popular long after its run comes to an end. The city is known for old Moorish architecture, beautiful cathedrals, and even the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
But its royal palace of Alcazar was also used for one of the prettier locations in the show: the water gardens at Sunspear.

Seville

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is listed here as a whole country because it’s actually responsible for a lot of the better-known shots in the show. The beaches of Downhill Strand were used to film scenes at Dragonstone (and do make for a fantasy-like beach view). Dunluce Castle on the coast was turned into the Castle of Pyke on the Iron Islands using CGI. And the
so-called Dark Hedges that line Bregagh Road in County Antrim were used as the Kingsroad in the show.
These are more sights to see than destinations to travel to, but if you’re a big fan of the show and/or its scenery, a tour of Northern Ireland is vital.

Dark Hedges

Doune Castle, Scotland

Doune Castle isn’t the most picturesque destination on this list, but it might be the most important pilgrimage for true fans of the books and show. It is a 14th century castle in Scotland, and incidentally may be best known now as a film location for Monty Python And The Holy Grail. However, where this show is concerned, Doune
Castle was the underlying fortification around which the visual teams built Winterfell the home of the good guys, so to speak.

Doune Castle

Split, Croatia

Split is one of the true hidden gems of Europe not in that it’s unknown, but in that it some how seems to escape tourists bucket lists (probably because of the spotlight on Dubrovnik). Split is basically a peninsula in the Adriatic Sea and a
sprawling, gorgeous city that was once the home of the Roman emperor Diocletian. Game Of Thrones used the hillside ruin of Klis Fortress to build up the image of the fictional city of Mereen, and in doing so sneakily showed off one of the more beautiful destinations in the Mediterranean.

Klis Split

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10 reasons why you’ll fall in love with Ghent (including a Boatel and how to get accidentally drunk)

Ever since I embarked on my very first trip to Belgium, two years ago, I’ve been in love with the country – and its beer. Don’t even get me started on the chocolate. And waffles.

And fries. Yes, the fries from Belgian frituurs/friteries/frietkot/fries’ shops are phenomenal!

To everyone who ever claimed we’re crazy for eating mayo with our fries over here in Europe, you better dip that fine piece of potato in some Belgian (or French) mayonnaise as soon as you set your foot in Belgium. Like I said; phenomenal.

I’ve been romanced in Bruges, charmed in Antwerp and entertained in Brussels. My latest Belgium-adventure, brought me to the beautiful city of Ghent. I knew it wouldn’t take much for this Flemish gem to seduce me (you know, being a sucker for fruit beers and Belgian chocolate and all).

Enough with the food talk (for now). There’s so much more to Belgium than its amazing food and drinks. Especially in Ghent. You’ll love Ghent.

Let me just tell you, I fell head over heels in love with the city – and so will you!

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These are my 10 reasons why Ghent is a city you’ll easily fall in love with

  1. The Flemish architecture not only looks amazing in photos – but it makes me want to drop everything and move into one of those charming townhouses with a view over the Leie river. Imagine living in a nice little studio apartment in a tall narrow brick house, close to all the traditional pubs and eateries. You might end up becoming an alcoholic, but at least your house looks amazing on Instagram. ghent river
  2. The fairy tale castle, Gravensteen, is conveniently located in the city center and just waiting for you to photograph it, visit it, enjoy it and appreciate it – like the prince or princess you are! The castle originates from the Middle Ages and served as the residence of different Counts, throughout history. Today it’s a venue for special events, parties and cultural activities and it is by far the most important tourist attraction in Ghent. Many couples choose this fairy tale-esque castle as a unique setting for their big day. I don’t know about you, but I woud love to say “I do” in a gorgeous castle (darling, if you’re reading this, take notes) ! gravensteen
  3. The Boatel we stayed at, was a very pleasant surprise and it is without a doubt my number one place to stay when in Ghent. It’s cozy, clean and the breakfast is amazing. But the best part of the stay at The Boatel is the owner. A very helpful, chatty and extremely funny guy. He couldn’t resist poking fun at my boyfriend for being French, and as neighbor’s do, my Frenchman made a handful of jokes about Belgium right back at him. Ah, don’t you just love a friendly banter? All jokes aside, the Boatel-owner let my boyfriend borrow his bicycle to run an errand, and gave us plenty of good ideas for things to do and places to eat – and handed over plenty of useful brochures! boatel
  4. The events and festivities! We had no idea there’d be an awesome Food Truck Festival in Ghent during the weekend of our stay. Being someone who loves festivals AND food trucks, I was on cloud nine. A beer here, a snack there, and a whole bunch of snacks from yet another truck, and another one, and another one. Now that’s pure happiness, right there. Be sure to also check out the other fun festivities in Ghent, such as the Christmas Market and Winter Festivities, the Light Festival, Film Festival, Jazz Festival and so much morefood truck festival
  5. The street art adds a little extra coolness and urbanity to the city. As if the city wasn’t already cool! The Werrengarestraat is in fact a legal graffiti street. ghent graffiti
  6. Belgian beer is the greatest beer you’ll ever have. Whether you like light beers, white beers, lager, dark ales, sour ales, fruit beers, strong beers, you name it – Belgium has it. But beware; a lot of Belgian beers don’t have a strong taste of alcohol to them. But a lot of them are quite hardcore and will knock you out if you drink too much too fast, too soon. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that. Still, I keep getting accidentally drunk in Belgium every time I fall in love with a new beer. While in Ghent, we wanted to learn more about the city, its culture and to do a whole bunch of beer tasting, so we went on a guided tasting-tour with BeerWalk. It was fun, educational and we even got to keep our beer glasses after the tour! I did get accidentally drunk again, though. ghent festival
  7. Cuberdon – also known as Gentse neus (Ghent nose) is the most delicious candy ever. And you’ll only find it in Ghent! We bought maybe half a kilo of those yummy sweets from one of the street vendors, while wandering around town. The cuberdons are sweet, cone-shaped, raspberry-flavored and are made with gum arabic (natural gum made from hardened sap of the acacia tree), which gives it the gelatinous texture. cuberdons
  8. The food was mentioned before, and I have to mention it again. Do you want to satisfy your sweet tooth with some artisan gourmet chocolates or thick delicious waffles? Are you looking for a tasty late night snack and want to try some high quality Belgian fries, perfectly crispy on the outside and airy on the inside? Or do you wanna have a pint and a meal at a gastro pub and feed your belly with something more traditional like Carbonnade (Flemish beef and beer stew)? Before you ask, I ate all those things during my stay in Ghent. belgian chocolate
  9. The old-fashioned charm to the city. You’re surrounded by old, beautiful bridges, buildings and monuments. The historic St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Gravensteen castle, Saint Nicholas’ Church and the castle of Gerard the Devil – Ghent is a city full of history and treasures. belfry ghent
  10. Shopaholics love Ghent because the city has something for everyone. Chain stores, authentic boutiques, local up and coming designers and design stores – and last but not least, if you want to get your hands on some local produce or original souvenirs; there’s a market every day of the week, and six (!) markets every Sunday morning! ghent facades

And here are some fun facts you might wanna know about gorgeous Ghent…

  • Ghent is the capital of East Flanders in Belgium. The name of the city is spelled Gent in Flemish and Gand in French.
  • There’s a local brewery in Ghent – in case you wanna try the most local of local beer there is to try. Visit the Gentse Gruut brewery!
  • The inside of the Gravensteen castle houses a torture museum (not for sensitive viewers!)
  • The city promotes vegetarianism. Meat-free Thursday is promoted in all schools and public buildings, and the city is said to have the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita. So if carbonnade and other meat-filled dishes ain’t your thing, check out veggie eateries – such as vegan buffet Komkommertijd or the colorful, trendy and Instagram-perfect Le Botaniste.

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gravensteen fortress

flowers and boats

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6 Reasons why you (with or without kids) will enjoy visiting Muiderslot Medieval Castle near Amsterdam

About 15 kilometers southeast of Amsterdam, located along the Vecht river, that’s where you’ll find the beautiful Muiderslot, or Muiden Castle – the best kept medieval castle of Holland.

My man and I made sure to visit this magnificent historical site while road tripping from one Dutch city to another, with a Lonely Planet guidebook in my already very full handbag and my beloved camera around my neck, recharged and ready for action.

We had just left Amsterdam and was on our way to go to Haarlem, but made a little detour to visit what is known to be one of the most picturesque castles in the Netherlands. We obviously didn’t wanna miss out on something as spectacular as this!

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While my man was complaining about the weather not being that great that day (gray and cloudy) my only complaint was regarding my questionable choice of attire. I was wearing a miniskirt – the most inappropriate thing to wear while climbing the steep stairs all the way to the top of each tower. I’m sure my boyfriend enjoyed his view up my skirt, but I’m not sure other people enjoyed it quite as much. And there were lots of kids there. What an eyesore that must have been for those poor children!

We learned a lot of random facts about the castle and the location of it, while wandering around from room to room, tower to tower. Mostly about Count Floris V, the guy who built the castle back in 1280. The count was later kidnapped by Gerard Van Velsen and his comrades, and was later imprisoned in his own castle. When he tried to make his great escape, he was killed by Gerard Van Velsen who stabbed him 20 times. Brutal. Gerard Van Velsen’s wife was raped by Floris V, and this was allegedly the reason for the conflict between the two nobles.

Understandable, if you ask me.

After visiting the castle, we went to see the falconer. We hadn’t actually booked an appointment or anything – which is what you’re supposed to do. We just stumbled upon a bunch of school kids on a field trip and decided to hang around and photograph the birds of prey. I was ecstatic as I absolutely love owls and I’ve never been as close to an owl as I was there. I’ve never felt as happy and jealous at the same time. While the kids got to touch the owl, I couldn’t, as I was just an intruder and not part of the group. Or a child, for that matter.

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At least I’m left with some pretty cool photos. I guess that beats touching an owl once.

Those who know me well, know how much I love medieval architecture and history. The castles from the Medieval Period remind me of those illustrated in fairy tales and Disney movies. From a (sort of) young couple’s point of view, visiting historical sites like the Muiderslot is a great occasion to take photos, educate ourselves – and sneak around and hide behind a wall, or in one of the castle’s towers and kiss our partner. Yes, I find castles romantic. Don’t you?

Speaking of romance, did you know you can book this castle for your wedding?

muiden castle

Besides photography and romance, let me give you 6 more reasons why you should take a day trip to Muiderslot from Amsterdam or nearby!

  1. You can visit Muiderslot by boat from Amsterdam with the Amsterdam Tourist Ferry! Now doesn’t that sound like a fun way to start your day trip? I sure think so! The ferry operates a daily service except from Mondays, and departs from the marina of Amsterdam IJburg, which is a 15 minute tram ride (nr 26) from Amsterdam Central Station. The ferry has an inside and outside area, toilets, heating and a bar.
  2. Muiderslot is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, if something is officially recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization it’s something worth adding to your bucket list.
  3. Get up close and personal with owls and falcons! Visits can be arranged (between April and October) to the falconer in the tent on the Bastion, next to the castle. You get to see the beautiful creatures up close and the falconer will tell you all about falconry in the time of Count Floris V.
  4. Fun and educational for kids! There’s plenty of games and entertainment for children at Muiderslot, as they explore the castle and its towers. You can buy them a small activities booklet from the ticket office, which adds a lot of interest and curiosity. They also get to dress up as knights and play with toy swords in the castle!
  5. Guided tour around the castle. Travel back in time to the 17th century, to the age of the most famous resident of Muiderslot; writer, historian and poet, P.C. Hooft. Visit the rooms used by the occupants of the castle, and learn all about the culture, customs and habits of the Golden Age.
  6. See the Water Shield and visit the historical gardens. I didn’t get around to doing this myself, as we had to make it a quick visit and prioritized seeing the birds over the gardens, but hopefully I’ll one day return and spend some time enjoying them – as well as the water shield pavilion (which is yet another thing your kids will enjoy)

Are you ready to visit Muiderslot? See, told you you’d love it!

Here’s some practical information:

The castle is open to the public all year around, but opening hours depends on the season.

From April 1st to October 31st,  visiting hours are between 10 am to 5 pm from Monday to Friday, and from noon until 5 pm during weekends.

From November 1st to March 31st, the castle is closed to the public during weekdays, and is open from noon until 5 pm during weekends. However, during school holidays from December 23rd until January 7th, you will be able to visit from noon to 5 pm, all week!

Visit the official website of Muiderslot for more information.

(below is the view from one of the towers)

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Beer bars and balcony breakfast in Haarlem (the Netherlands)

Just so you know, this post is about Haarlem in the Netherlands, not Harlem in New York (formerly known as New Amsterdam). Harlem (NY) is however, named after Haarlem in the Netherlands. But apart from it all being Dutch at some point in history, those two Ha(a)rlem’s have very little in common.

So, where’s Haarlem?

The city has almost 156 000 inhabitants and is the capital of Noord-Holland (Holland is not the name of the country, but two provinces) – and you’ll easily get there from Amsterdam, as it’s only  a 15 minute train ride away.

What does beer have to do with Haarlem?

Haarlem has a long history of beer brewing – a very important industry in the city. Until the 16th century, the water used for beer, was taken from the canals in the city. But, as the canals got more an more polluted, the water could no longer be used. From the 17th century, water was transported to the breweries from Brouwerskolkje (I bet you a pint you’re not gonna remember that name). The canal that leads to there, still exists and is now called the Brewers’ Canal (Brouwersvaart).

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What did I get up to in Haarlem (besides drinking beer)?

While my significant other and I were road tripping through the Netherlands, Haarlem just happened to be our destination of choice. Conveniently located near Amsterdam, which is where I celebrated my 30th birthday, the day before visiting Haarlem – and close to Alkmaar and the famous cheese market (went there, did that). And it’s also close to Zaanse Schans, a charming little windmill village.

We went to all of these places – and many more. We followed a busy “to-do” list most of the time while visiting the Netherlands, and frankly, scheduling in two days of downtime in Haarlem was probably the best idea we had, while creating our itinerary. We needed that. And we needed those two nights of self-pampering at Haarlem Hotel Suites.

The suite had the comfiest beds ever, and our balcony was spacious enough for the two of us to hang out in the sun, drink beer, eat chips and dip and just take a breather – and get fat and drunk while doing so.

Waking up to the staff serving us a large, varied and tasty breakfast in the room, just made the experience even better. I felt like a queen. Privileged, spoiled and pretty effin’ fabulous, I dined on the balcony, wearing nothing but an oversized bathrobe and slippers. The sun was shining, the church bells were ringing and my boyfriend was just as happy as I was. If I could do this every day, I would. Hands down.

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When we weren’t busy stacking up on calories while relaxing on the balcony or while cocooning on the couch in front of the TV, we visited downtown Haarlem and its many beer bars. Our absolute favorite was the Jopenkerk – a former church converted into a bar, restaurant and brewery. The beer menu was so overwhelming I had to ask the waiter for suggestions. The first beer I tried was slightly too bitter for my liking, but the second one was a very pleasant surprise. When the waiter introduced it to me as a sour (open fermentation) beer brewed with algae, I wasn’t sure what to think of it. It sounded strange, but I trusted his opinion and gave it a try. And to my surprise, it was oh so delicious, and I just couldn’t resist ordering a second one. Ever since that day, I’ve been obsessed with old sour dark beers!

We also discovered a nice – and very instagrammable – little cafe called Native, while strolling along the streets and doing a bit of shopping. As a self proclaimed coffee addict, I am sure I would have ordered a latte or a cappuccino, if it hadn’t been so warm outside. Besides, most of the other guests at the cafe were sipping on lemonade, so I ended up ordering the same thing. An ice cold glass of elderberry lemonade. Tasty and refreshing!

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Haarlem is more than just beer and lemonade (or coffee), but checking out the bar scene is definitely a must-do while in town. If you’ve already been to Jopenkerk or you’re looking for yet another beer bar suggestion, I’ll advice you to check out Uiltje Bar, Brewery and Taproom . They offer free tours in the brewery every weekend, host events and serve great craft beer and finger food.

And the city, what does the city of Haarlem look like?

It looks like a typical Dutch city. Charming Flemish architecture, nice little canals, quaint town square (Grote Markt) , beautiful churches, busy restaurants and lots and lots of bicycles everywhere.

It was the perfect place to be for two people in need to calm down and throw that itinerary out the window, tune out and just take some time to really appreciate high quality beer and blend in with locals.

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