DES157 Vacations Spring2019_readerspread_FNL (1)

Cultural Experiences

Pound sterling buys me “cider in King Robert’s horn” at the Lobster Pot in Strangford, where others get beer in a “Winterfell wooden tankard.” I inhale fish and chips to dash outside to meet two “direwolves” – Summer (Odin) and Grey Wind (Thor), Northern Inuit dogs bred to resemble wolves. The brothers that own them have been show extras and their dad, who plays the Dothraki slave master, makes me pull his long, grey beard.

We get a little silly at a nearby stump, posing where the dashing Kit Harington once sat as Jon Snow. On a riverbank beside a bridge, we reminisce about the scene when six orphaned direwolf pups are discovered. One woman proudly pulls out a white stuffy of Snow’s albino direwolf Ghost. You don’t have to be hopelessly devoted to the HBO fantasy drama, inspired by the George R. R. Martin books, to enjoy looking at a country through a pop culture lens. In our global group, I’m somewhere between the superfans and the woman who hasn’t watched a single episode. I’ve seen all seven seasons and can’t wait for the final one in 2019 but flame out during a “Brain of Thrones” quiz on the tour coach that picked me up in Dublin for a 12-hour Winterfell Locations Trek. The last time I was here was 1992 when driving into Northern Ireland involved military checkpoints. Now the only sign we’ve crossed a border is that speed limits switch from miles to kilometres, and the currency switches from euros to Pound sterling.

People are looking at us funny, puzzled that we’re not dressed casually like everybody else who’s strolling, jogging and biking through Tollymore Forest Park on this fine spring day. It’s fun to stare back, expressionless, and wait for the moment they realize that there’s a method to this cloaked madness of 35 people. We are paying homage to Jon Snow, the Starks and other Northerners by wearing fur-trimmed cloaks held in place with sturdy leather straps. We are on an immersive Game of Thrones tour exploring filming locations across Northern Ireland. Meandering down one of the state park’s official walking trails, we pass through a spooky forest of impossibly tall trees to the wildling pit from season one, episode one. The pit is just a clearing in the woods, so our lanky, bearded tour guide, Eric Nolan, holds up screen grabs from the TV show to bring the scene to life. He’s actually a wildling on this hit series and laces the day with tidbits that don’t break confidentiality rules.

DOTHRAKI SLAVE MASTER ©JENNIFER BAIN

CROSSING WATER ©JENNIFER BAIN

BATTLE OF OXCROSS

POP CULTURE: On Scene with Game of Thrones

By Jennifer Bain

With Game of Thrones launching its eighth and final season in 2019, writer Jennifer Bain indulges her fandom in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

22 • Vacations ® • Spring 2019

Vacations® • Spring 2019 • 23

DIRE WOLVES WITH BAIN ©JENNIFER BAIN

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