Category Archives: Travel

On-Location Vacation: ‘Game of Thrones’ in Northern Ireland

Ever since HBO’s Game of Thrones started filming in 2010, Northern Ireland has been cast as the site of bloody power plays and betrayal, of Iron Islands with impossibly craggy coastlines and caves that conceal shadowy births. Annie Leibovitz’s recent Vanity Fair cover shoot — those beautiful and austere portraits of the show’s cast in Ballintoy — reinforced the notion that when you play the game of thrones, you win…or you die.

It’s all pretty bleak until you drive down the Causeway Coastal Road, Northern Ireland’s answer to California’s Highway 1 or Australia’s Great Ocean Road, and take in the view beyond the viewfinder. To the left of the winding, narrow highway are high plateaus marked by hedges in orderly rows, and sloping hills dotted with stone cottages and sheep in varying shades of white, gray, and tan. Destinations roll by called Ballygally and Ballycastle and Larrybane, all sounding like teasing nicknames for stomachaches and herbs for overcoming ordinariness. The cows are as big as horses and all happily grass-fed — and to say that grass is greener on the other side would be accurate.

Northern Ireland’s natural beauty and charm are reason enough to visit, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan of Game of Thrones. Maybe you’d even consider taking an on-location vacation; there are more than a few tours through the Seven Kingdoms nowadays. We crafted our own day trip along the coast and into County Antrim, looking for UNESCO and HBO sites alike, and nearly made it onto a set. Note: If a security guard asks you if you’re “with the unit,” just say yes. Always say yes.

Check out the gallery above for a tour of the Game of Thrones universe in Northern Ireland. (All photos by Laura Dannen Redman, October 2013)

If you go…

DO
Cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, 30 meters above the sea.
Visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and stand tall atop the basalt columns.
Drive through the centuries-old avenue of Dark Hedges (but beware the Grey Lady, who’s said to appear at dusk).
Take the Game of Thrones road trip.

STAY
Clare House B&B (Ballycastle, from £30, clarehouseballycastle.com)
The Londonderry Arms Hotel (Carnlough, from £35, glensofantrim.com)
Ballygally Castle (Ballygally, from £230, hastingshotels.com/ballygally-castle)

EAT
The Red Door Tea Room
(Ballycastle, 14a Harbour Rd)
Roark’s Kitchen (Ballintoy Harbour, 56 Harbour Rd)

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Why a Russian Beach Town Is Hosting the Winter Olympics

The subtropical resort city of Sochi, Russia lies on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Palm trees line the streets, and the concept of a polar vortex is foreign to its residents—the average February temperature is a balmy upper-40s Fahrenheit.

An hour’s drive from the city is Krasnaya Polyana, an alpine village in the Western Caucasus mountains that will host the ski events for the 2014 Winter Olympics (Feb 7–23). The district of Adler, 17 miles south of Sochi, is home to the Olympic Park and all its newly constructed venues: the Iceberg figure skating palace; the Ice Cube curling center; Adler Arena, with its oval speed-skating track, designed to look like an iceberg. It’s cute, no?

Sochi has been a Russian vacation destination since the days of Tsar Nicholas II, though its latest round of guests might be even more discerning. Much has been said about what a mess Sochi’s Winter Games already are—and the Opening Ceremony doesn’t even happen until tomorrow.

Foreign journalists have flooded Twitter with photos of construction mishaps, like very social toilet arrangements and hotels without running water (or water that looks like apple cider and is “dangerous for your face”). It gets better. There’s even a Twitter account just for @SochiProblems, with 77,800 followers and counting. The latest issues? Reporters being locked inside their rooms, cameras in the bathrooms, and laptops and phones being hacked.

And that’s on top of, you know, threats of terrorism, allegations of corruption, and state-sponsored homophobia.

So…sounds like a natural fit for the Olympics. How did this Russian beach resort land the bid for the latest Winter Games? Technically, the country’s National Olympic Committee has to select a city to put forth to the International Olympic Committee, which then does a four-day inspection of each competing bid. And Sochi has a few things going for it: proximity to the Caucasus, history as a tourist destination. Maria Sharapova lived there.

Reporter Brett Forrest digs deeper in two separate but enlightening articles about the Sochi Olympics that I thought were worth sharing.

Read This: “Putin’s Run for Gold” (Vanity Fair)
Read This Too: “Putin’s Party” (National Geographic)

A little less hysteria to close: Lest we forget, people were calling the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C. — which has a similar, temperate mountain-to-sea climate — a straight-up calamity. There was a death on opening day and bone-dry ski slopes, but Vancouver managed to recover. Here’s hoping we skate through Sochi without any real damage.