ALTERNATE TITLE: Why San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is very much alike Jon Snow


San Juan de Gaztelugaxte is the mighty real-life shooting location heavily featured as Game of Thrones’ “Dragonstone” on Season 7. First gaze at this islet in the #Basque country and you’ll speedily spot the out-of-this-world resemblance of this secluded Spanish gem to the show’s mystical home of dragons. While Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow shared cute moments here plotting against common enemies on the show, visitors are up for an actual treat of charming coastal views and captivating sunset colours over unique cliffs.




KING OF THE NORTH

Basque is a lovely autonomous country sitting north of #Spain, close to the borders of France. Regardless of its now strong GOT-significance, it really is a worthwhile visit for tourists to go up North. The region lies next to the sea so it’s easy to be hypnotized by the gastronomic experience it offers. Just think of the plethora of seafood pintxos and tapas to choose from. As the Hand of the King, I am very pleased. Its capital, Bilbao, houses the world-renowned Guggenheim Museum.



HOUSE TARGARYEN

Dragonstone, a fictional ancestral home to the House #Targaryen white-haired descendants. Your view of affirmation is the long cinematic 241-steps manmade footbridge as seen in #GOT with a hermitage church on top instead of an impressive CGI castle. From top of the hill, you can enjoy a dragon’s eye view of the zigzag staircase and the peculiar stone formations on the #Biscay Bay.




A BASTARD

Reaching the peak of the islet requires quite a steep trekking down and uphill again, almost not advisable for elderly during rainy days. The starting point would be the Aparkalekua free carpark which is not too far off the main highway where buses stop. A restaurant will greet you on the walk in but I strongly suggest you eat a heavy meal at home before engaging in this adventure and make sure to bring snacks, rehydration and comfortable footwear especially for women. The popular “shortcut” route isn’t all cemented and the miles of soil trail on the decline is being terraced by few wood slabs that can get too slippery. There is a diversion that’ll lead you to a nice vantage point. Continue walking down the trail and you’ll just know when you get there. It is hard to miss that splendid awesomeness. Best times to visit would be hours around sunrise and/or sunset. Being there on that time of the day is dreamlike. Good to note: Don’t stay after dark because there are no street lights to guide your way back.



GAUGE OF MORALITY

In the absolute absence of an imposing stone castle or fire-breathing dragons, the San Juan de #Gaztelugaxte island in real-life is topped with a meek church built over a thousand of years ago. It has witnessed numerous uprisings while being burnt (not by dragons) and rebuilt (not by The Unsullied) many times throughout history. Like every other superstitious churches you visit for the first time, it is believed that you can make a wish if you ring the bell three times. The chime is heard all over the small island up until the lowest footsteps downhill. You’ll also be pushed back by the forceful coastal wind as you walk around and see the unrestricted panoramic view.




YOU KNOW NOTHING

The island and its church were not heard much of until its debut in the hit HBO series. Well, the #Vizcaya region wasn’t as popular in its entirety. North of #Spain is easily overshadowed by it East and South counterparts, plus, weather is much “Westerosi” on the other side. In contrast, the show unprecedentedly changed the popularity scale of this island and all other locations used in the show. How to get to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: Bilbao airport is the closest. You can take buses from #Bilbao to Bakio to San Juan de Gaztelugaxte (stopping at Bentalde) and then trek. By driving, it’ll take you 40 minutes to get there from Bilbao airport.



DISCOVERING DRAGONSTONE

Most of the beach scenes were shot at Itzurun beach in #Zumaia. The location was most prominent on the scene where Daenerys Targaryen and company first landed on the Dragonstone’s shores and she took her nostalgic walk to the castle gates. The rugged cliffs are rich with millions of history and very mesozoic in appearance. No wonder Samwell Tarly was overly delighted when he discovered the hidden cave mine of the dragonstone. The spectacular geological features of the beach is just a perfect fit for queens and kings to walk on. In reality though, the beach is popular for international surfers.




BUT WHY NOT ALSO REVISIT SOME OF THE MOST ICONIC SCENES SHOT HERE…










Want to see other Game of Thrones locations I have visited? Click here


#VisitSpain #VisitVizcaya #VisitBasque #GameofThrones

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Whilst many Game of Thrones fans instantly associate King’s Landing to Croatia as its real-life location, most of the fandom aren’t equally aware that Malta served as the first home of the capital of the Seven Kingdoms! The Maltese archipelago was in full display as a default Westeros-location across several episodes in Season 1 of this phenomenal HBO TV series. Even if the country is too minute to easily locate in the map and much less popular compared to its neighbours, the show has pleasingly showcased this Mediterranean gem to the world that many tourists started noticing.


The geography of the very convoluted Iron Throne story has been said to be patterned after Great Britain’s medieval age. However, show producers needed to look into filming locations way outside UK to find its own King’s Landing – and why not Malta where there’s abundance of fortresses and well-preserved walled cities.


Spoiler Alert: This post contains story lines from previous GOT seasons.


Time to re-experience the opening season of the show that swept the world one decapitated head at a time…


VERDALA PALACE, DINGLI

GOT: Illyrio’s Mansion – S1E1 Winter is Coming – In front of the mansion, Khal Drogo was introduced to Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen

REAL-LIFE: Official summer residence of the President of Malta


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones

GATE OF MDINA, MDINA

GOT: Entrance to King’s Landing – S1E3 Lord Snow – Through this gate, Catelyn Stark arrived and left King’s Landing after a short sneaky visit

REAL-LIFE: Mdina is the original capital of Malta before Valletta. It is a well-preserved 8th century walled city.


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones



MESQUITA SQUARE, MDINA

GOT: Little Finger’s Brothel – S1E5 The Wolf and the Lion – Ned Stark was attacked by Jamie Lannister’s group

REAL-LIFE: Turn left after entering the Mdina main gate and you’ll find this square. There's a local restaurant to dine.


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones





MTAHLEB CLIFFS, RABAT

GOT: Khal Drogo’s Funeral – S1E10 Fire and Blood – Daenerys went into the flames during Drogo’s funeral and gave birth to three dragons

REAL-LIFE: Beautiful views of the sea off the cliff



©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones

ST. DOMINIC’S CONVENT, RABAT

GOT: Red Keep Garden – S1E7 You Win Or You Die – Ned confronted Cersei about her secret relationship with Jaime and their children

REAL-LIFE: Just a short walking distance from Mdina’s main gate, the courtyard of the miraculous Holy Virgin hides behind a church.


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones

SAN ANTON PALACE, ATTARD

GOT: S1E10 Fire and Blood – Joffrey showed to Sana the heads on spikes, including her father’s

REAL-LIFE: Official residence of the President of Malta


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones

FORT SAINT ANGELO, BIRGU

GOT: Red Keep Prison and Underground Chambers – S1E5 The Wolf and The Lion – Arya chased a cat into the dungeons near the dragon's skull but accidentally heard an intriguing insider wisdom

REAL-LIFE: A large fort in Birgu. Best viewing deck to see the fortified walls is from Upper Barrakka.


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones



FORT MANOEL, GZIRA

GOT: Great Sept of Baelor – S1E9 Baelor – Ned Stark was executed in front of his daughters under King Joffrey’s command

REAL-LIFE: Privately-accessed 18th century fort on the Manoel Island


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones


FORT RICASOLI, VALLETTA

GOT: Gate of the Gods, Red Keep, King’s Landing – S1E3 Lord Snow – Starks' (Ned, Sansa and Arya) arrival at King's Landing; S1E5 The Wolf and The Lion - Arya was almost denied to re-enter the Red Keep

REAL-LIFE: 17th century fort built by the Order of St. John. Best view is seen from Upper Barrakka Gardens.


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones



TAL-QARGHA, MANIKATA

GOT: Lhazareen – S1E8 The Pointy End – The vulnerable village ambushed by the Dothrakis warriors

REAL-LIFE: A small farming village with prehistoric-like stone fences


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones


AZURE WINDOW, GOZO

GOT: Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s Wedding – S1E1 Winter is Coming - Pentos landscape

REAL-LIFE: Azure Window is now a thing of the past when heavy storms caused the picturesque 30-metre high natural limestone formation collapse into the sea on 8th March 2017.


©HBO - Game of Thrones

©HBO - Game of Thrones

Tired of cliché travels to the world's famous cities? If you're a dear GOT fan and it so happened that a higher-level travel challenge is of any satisfaction to you, why don't you engage in a Game of Thrones locations hunt around the world?

Want to see the real-life Dragonstone? Read blog post here.


After the shoot and prior to the fall of the famed Azure window, GOT production has encountered natural preservation issues with the Maltese government. Due to the show’s production demand, alterations made in the set has allegedly caused environmental damage. Apart from the spots being already fully maximized throughout one season, the issue might have contributed to the decision of relocating King’s Landing to Dubrovnik, Croatia for Seasons 2-6 and then to cities in Spain for Season 7.


If you're interested to see what are the best tourist attractions in Malta, click here.


Isn’t it sensational how GOT has created a virtual world for fans to indulge in and also massively boost tourism of the locations many haven’t heard much of before? ➳


#VisitMalta #GameofThrones

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West End is London’s conspicuous answer to Hollywood’s Broadway. For centuries now, this glitzy area (also known as Theatreland) of London city is highly saturated with spectacular cultural entertainment which includes dozens of world-class musicals, museums and other attractions. Some West End shows are easily sold out up until around six months to a whole year upon date of ticket release, even beating the blockbuster audience appeal of the most popular of big screen movies.


Currently on my 13th show, this write-up is a quick appraisal and ranking of London’s West End musical shows that I have watched. The list will be constantly updated as I get to see more of them:


13. DOCTOR FAUSTUS ft. Kit Harington (Jon Snow from GOT) – This version is essentially a modernized one already but it still radiates a strong classical theatre feels with it. Diabolically dark, the story demonstrates what makes a man after dealing his soul with a devil in exchange for worldly pleasures. Three hours of fine Shakespearean English by Kit that is beyond amazing. What’s more impressive is that his character has never left the stage even when scenes or cast members change. (The show is no longer running.)

12. TRUE WEST ft. Kit Harington (Jon Snow from GOT) – Another Kit Harington West End show. I hugely appreciate big personalities who would still prefer doing theatrical shows to keep their skills above par, even after they already go big on TV. True West revolves around the meeting of two neurotic brothers with extremely contrasting madness. With obvious similarities to Doctor Faustus, Kit Harington seems to be liking this set-up – minimal cast and staging.



11. I AND YOU ft. Maisie Williams (Arya Stark from GOT) - Simple plot but ends so charmingly sweet with a tear-jerking twist. The whole show was run by only two characters on stage - Caroline and her classmate, Anthony. Seriously dreadfully dragging during the first half but the story development gets exciting midway and it paced quickly towards the end. There’s an amusing stage transformation that’s wow-worthy. Emotional take-away: We get hurt not because we loved but because we invested.


10. THE KING AND I - A very heart-warming narrative of how the West rewrote stories of the East, and how the act of governing people is more magnanimous with respect than with fear. The side stories surrounding the King of Siam contributed greatly to the totality of the show. Made me hope that someday a Philippines-inspired musical will be paraded in the prestigious stages of West End and Broadway too. Even with the clear knowledge that our culture inclines more to films than musical theatres, I still believe that theatrical productions have a lot of room to thrive back home.


9. WAITRESS - Sugar... butter... flour... Sara Bareilles is the power behind the music and lyrics of this pie-loving show. The story of an eventual strong and independent woman in Jenna was relayed in a very relax manner while everyone enjoys life's tasty wisdoms being served in full throughout the performance. The drooling aroma of baked pie is a delightful treat to tease the viewers' senses before the show and during break time.


8. KINKY BOOTS - Very funky and campy show. For those planning to watch any show on Adelphi Theatre (same with Vaudeville Theatre), I noticed it has lots of restricted views so be duly mindful with the seat allocation. It feels tight inside the theatre. Lead actors were excellent in handling their roles. The conveyor-belt-dance scene was badass climactic. There’s only a tiny fraction who can pull off and demand respect with red knee-high boots and this show is one.



7. ALADDIN - It didn’t get too exciting until the “lamp scene”. Also, major disappointment with the leads’ singing prowess. I know I’m no Lea Salonga but definitely I felt no magic there. Even the choreography was sloppy. Teacher Georcelle ain’t happy. They got lucky the Genie hilariously carried the show. Production design went 360 towards the end hence all kids and kids-at-heart would still get to go home with a smile. The flying carpet ride was a lovely act.



6. LES MISERABLES ft. Rachelle Ann Go - The longest-running West End musical. Will always be your unregretfully popular classic option. Came beaming with Filipino pride to watch Rachelle and she didn’t disappoint. Although, a theatrical sin has been committed the second time I watched. I fell asleep for a short while on the second part. Lol. I was tired (not a valid excuse, of course) and their voices are just crystal clean enough to lull you to sleep.



5. DREAM GIRLS – One must be living under the rock if he isn’t familiar in any way with its story nor to any of its popularized songs. Emotion is the word of the game. It makes you both love and hate the characters. The cast presents an overflow of powerful emotions... and projectile saliva. You would certainly get that LSS - last “show” syndrome. Everyone involuntarily hums the same tune after the show. Amber Riley (from Glee) used to star as Effie in this West End’s version.


4. BAT OUT OF HELL - A sexy rock show. Impressive staging and choreography. Very exciting visual content. Ironically, the supporting cast has got better vocals. Lots of exciting lines here and there. Great songs too. Most favourite line from songs: Objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. The plot is actually Peter Pan-inspired with a character named Tink and a group of teenagers who doesn’t age. (The show is no longer running.)


3. MISS SAIGON - This dramatic story of Saigon war isn’t award-winning for nothing. It swiftly glides you through emotion after emotion after emotion. Yes, in case you wonder, I did cry. It’s a wonderful story of real love trying to overcome colonial obstacles and contrasting life privileges. Kim’s character was played by a Filipina that time (I forgot her name). Prepare to be blown away, quite literally, by the helicopter-scene!


2. WICKED - It’s one of those shows where you bring in with you towering expectations then they’ll give you an epic performance of a lifetime and swallow your expectations like nothing cos they are just good like that. The untold story of these witches would crush your hearts. In this world, both goodness and evil feed off from each other. Yes, plus extra brownie points again cos I cried. No emotional mercy. Watch out for the dragon, guise!



1. HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD - I admit my Potterhead-fanaticism helped this show top my rankings. Slimly won over Wicked by 0.0187353%. Lol. What honestly made it number one for me was the production’s ability to translate on stage the magic we’ve seen in the movies - i.e. characters disappearing into thin air. I was sitting in the stalls very close to the stage so I was examining all through out how it was possible but to no avail. Upon the show’s initial release, JK Rowling seemed milking HP’s fame far too much by making a theatrical play out of Harry but the story turned out surprisingly touching and sensible. Also, it's best to book both parts in same day for a better story experience. Best parts of the show: writings on the wall and horrifying real-life dementors. Avada Kedavra!



Where should you buy tickets?

There are ticket-purchasing apps like Stagedoor, Theatre Tickets, TickX, and TodayTix that make it handy for you to monitor price trends and flash sales. However, I still noticed in many occasions that buying at the show’s official website still offers you the best seat prices compared to third-party “discount” sellers. For on-the-day tickets, TKTS in Leicester Square is your go-to.



What shows am I watching next?

Waitress and The Lion King this March! I'm stoked. Reviews will be updated accordingly. ➳

#VisitLondon #VisitLondonWestEnd #VisitUnitedKingdom

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