The morning that we left Highgarden I woke up with a raging cold, and tried not to cough my way down to Oldtown. I wanted to stay on the bus and sleep when we arrived, but the sight of the city made me stop grizzling.
Every city and keep in Westeros are built to inspire awe, and compete with each other for the privilege of being the most jaw-dropping. Oldtown wins the prize, in my opinion. Over-reaching the red stone rocks of King’s Landing and the dizzying spires of the Eyrie, Oldtown shines like a jewel, and spreads across the Honeywine River to the shores of the glimmering Sunset Sea.
Three structures dominate the city skyline: the Hightower, the Citadel, and the Starry Sept. And what they say about the smells is true. The city reeks of perfumery, almost to the point of obnoxiousness. We had rooms in a block of apartments right next to the Citadel. Here is where one can spend weeks in researching the history of this world. Everything now is available electronically—the original scrolls, books and papers are preserved in an atmospherically-controlled chamber. A mere tourist such as myself can see, but not touch. Glass walls provide a view into this remarkable collection.
I liked the feel of the Starry Sept so much more than Baelor’s in King’s Landing. Arched windows bring light to the black marble floors, walls and ceiling, and turn everything into silver. It is quiet and peaceful. The Seven stand hidden and small in their niches, so unlike the intimidating giants of Baelor’s.
I was already feeling better the next day, as if the air of Oldtown and its history of healing Maesters was curing me of my virus. And this was the day we signed up for a tour of the Isle of Ravens and the Ravenry.
Ravens, both white and black, are housed here. They are like cats in their habits, in that they will wander off to hunt and explore, but always return to the guaranteed meal and warmth of home. They no longer are the primary messaging tool of Westeros, but they now compete in the Raven Games, which unfortunately had already been held this year. In the games they race between two points with messages and the fastest raven wins the trophy.
Some of them have been taught to perch on your arm and accept a treat. They are noisy and quarrelsome, and you can stand in a room filled with hundreds of them—you are given protective gear to wear—and watch them play.
Next we visited the Hightower, built on an island in the Honeywine. It is taller than the Wall, and at night the beacon from its tower spreads a golden light across the city. At the top, the view is more than spectacular. For a fee one can look through a telescope that is supposedly trained toward the Wall—I only saw high clouds blanking any kind of view at all. Oldtown was once the center of commerce and power in Westeros, and one can still feel that energy coming up from the old cobbles.
By the time we left Oldtown, headed for Sunspear, I was feeling quite refreshed and healthy. It was either because of the city itself or the sweet breeze off the Sunset Sea. but I was ready for a few days of sunny beach and clear warm weather.
Sunspear the city is a remarkable place; its most arresting feature is a great ship prow-like structure jutting over the sea toward the southeast. However we roomed in a quaint hostel in the Shadow City, a warren of shops, homes and restaurants stretched west from the city walls, over-looked by the twin towers: the Spear Tower and the Tower of the Sun, each capped with a golden Byzantine-like cupola. Our one trip into the city included the Old Palace and a guided tour through the labyrinthian streets, which was interesting and a way to relieve us of our cash in the shops and restaurants there.
But I mostly relaxed at our hostel, where a beautiful veranda stretched out toward the sea. Stairs led down to the beach, where the water was silky warm and sapphire blue. After a day of doing nothing, we took a tour out to the Water Gardens—a gorgeous place of pools, waterfalls, birds, tropical plants and a fantastic lunch. I wanted to stay there forever.
But all good things must come to an end, they say, whoever “they” are. And with mixed feelings we packed and boarded the bus to the airport and home. The dogs were glad to see us, and we them, and home felt good. Westeros is a complex place—not a happy place at all, but heavy with history and conquest. It helped me appreciate the simple joy of a cup of coffee in the morning on our side porch, watching the sun come up.