To the North: Winter is Coming...

Christena Carollo
October 24, 2016

Finding oneself in a forest can be pleasant at times and satisfactory at best, but how about an enchanted forest? 

Along my trek through the green, brown and warm fall hues of Tollymore Forest Park in Northern Ireland on an optional IES Abroad field trip, I could have sworn I’d fallen into a scene from the Hobbit. The whispers of water in quiet creeks and small, underwhelming bridges that promised safe passage over these muted waters, felt like elements of a village. I waited to be greeted by kind Hobbits who would offer a bit of bread and a sit by the fire.

And if this hike into a fairytale forest had not satisfied my imagination, there was always the trip to Castle Ward…or for Game of Thrones fans, Winterfell. This old farmyard has a medieval charm that teases your perception of time, especially if you take up arms. They offer archery lessons, and it’s definitely not plastic arrows that they give you. Even if you’re not a fan of Game of Thrones, you can find a thrill in a new sport (or maybe one you’re quite familiar with).

An instructor, dressed in garb that alludes to a time way before electricity and YouTube tutorials, arms guests with a bow and 3 arrows to start. He stands behind you, offering guidance on posture and aim. He says that if you are right-handed (like moi), you turn your body toward the right, stand up tall, aim and then pull pack on the bow string (and be sure to use your back muscles).

Then you let the arrow fly. And though you may miss nearly every time (as I did), the feeling of sportsmanship and possibility is worth it. Just be sure to point straight and not at the fellow next to you. Though there’s a medieval revival happening at this farmyard, it is quite more civil than history class has taught us. Apart from a staged beheading, there was no violence. And definitely no defenestration.

But there was a very familiar and modern bike tour of the lands. This tour, except for one defiant hill, was leisurely. You glide past water, castle and cow. What could be better?

And after much activity and sight-seeing of Northern Ireland’s scenic charms, you can head into Belfast and feel like you’re in your own century again. The city is visually intriguing, especially with its monumental blue and white “Big Fish”, which is a 32ft-long salmon comprised of blue and white ceramic tiles beside the River Lagan. And if you look closely, there are quotes and historical references on the body of this knowledgeable fish. Or you can feast your eyes on various buildings to experience huge, detailed murals, many of which convey historical or societal influences. It’s as if the city itself is a museum.

However, this gander of street art could take a while and your stomach could start to rumble. But don’t fret, there is a buffet in your foreseeable future and it’s close by. Find your way to Victoria Square shopping center with your fellow IES Abroad companions and look for Cosmo. And I hope you are wearing stretchy pants because the food options are nearly endless. Pork, chicken, beef, pizza, lasagna, noodles, vegetables, chicken nuggets, sushi – they have it all. Even dessert.

Then the itinerary continues on to the next day, landing you at the shores of great myth and legend. Giant's Causeway will bring out your inner child as you hop-scotch your way along the interconnected basalt columns. It is a natural and beautiful phenomenon -- all caused by a giant who was at his wits' end with his hollering adversary in Scotland. Give the story a look before you go. It's hugely entertaining. 

Though it all seems unreal, the wonders of Northern Ireland are far from fiction.

And lucky you, because you have the option to go!  

Christena Carollo

<p>Hello, I&rsquo;m Christena, a 4th-year journalism student at the University of Florida, who has decided to spend a semester experiencing the wonders of Dublin, Ireland. I am passionate about traveling, food, reading, writing and experiencing new and beautiful cultures. I&rsquo;m a 21-year-old with a thirst for knowledge and adventure, and I&rsquo;m excited to share all that I find abroad! Happy readings and a jolly good day to you!</p>

2016 Fall
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