Northern Ireland: ‘Game of Thrones’ Locations To Visit North Of Belfast

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The Dark Hedges a.k.a. The Kingsroad [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

As 2018 marks the final year of filming for Game of Thrones, I reckoned it was a good time as any to check out the HBO megahit’s picturesque filming locations in Northern Ireland (NI) before its eighth and final season rolls out in 2019. In my previous Travel post, I highlighted the GOT filming sites located south of Belfast that one can easily get to via a coach tour. In this post, it will be the locations north of Belfast.

As Northern Ireland’s most famous natural attraction – the Giant’s Causeway – is in proximity to many GOT film locations up north, most tours include this attraction. So I booked the Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour via Viator as at £36, it was cheaper than most. Managed by McComb’s Coach Travel (mccombscoaches.com), its claim to GOT fame is that they were a longtime transport provider for the show and its GOT Location Tour along the Causeway Coastal Route also received a 5-star rating from Tourism Ireland.

From Belfast city centre, the tour first took us along the scenic Antrim Coastal Road flanked by the robust Irish Sea on the right and the charming Glens of Antrim on the left. Our driver-guide Derek is a chatty chap who gave us much GOT and NI information, as well as some of the lamest dad jokes ever.

1. Carnlough Harbour

About an hour in, we arrived at the small coastal village of Carnlough where the GOT attraction is the cobblestone harbour steps featured in Season 6 Episode 7 when Arya Stark resurfaces from the Braavos canal after being attacked by the Waif. Not sure how clean the waters are but much respect for Maisie Williams considering how immersed in the waters she was while shooting the scene!

2. Cushendun Caves

A half-hour drive further north is the quaint village of Cushendun where, next to the mesmerizing sight of big waves crushing onto gigantic rocks along the coastline, you will find the 400 million-years-old caves depicting a cove in the Stormlands in which a horrified Ser Davos Seaworth witnesses Melisandre giving birth to a shadow assassin that eventually kills Renly Baratheon in Season 2 Episode 4.

SPOILER ALERT: Weeks after our visit here, the area was closed off for what Irish GOT location watchers suspected to be filming for Season 8. Will there be action in Storm’s End or the Stormlands in the final season? Your guess is as good as mine.

3. The Dark Hedges

This beautiful 18th Century avenue with about 100 beech trees leading up to Gracehill House has become arguably the most iconic Game of Thrones location ever since it appeared as the Kingsroad that Arya and Gendry travel on to escape King’s Landing in Season 2 Episode 2. Located further inland away from the eastern coastline, Derek brought us here during “lunchtime” in order to avoid the crowds from other tours, yet many people still there were. To see the “most recognisable” part of the trees with the distinctive arching branches, you have to walk at least halfway down the avenue. I’d have loved to walk down the entire avenue but on a coach tour with a packed schedule, we don’t have that luxury.

4. The Fullerton Arms, Ballintoy

Lunch was at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy after a jaunt to the Giant’s Causeway. Besides great food and beer, what’s cool about the pub/restaurant is that it has a replica of the Iron Throne, complete with cloak and sword for you to pose with, PLUS Door 6 of the Door of Thrones series depicting Season 6 events. The ten pubs with the doors indicate that there are GOT film locations nearby. This one highlights House Targaryen, namely Daenerys Stormborn’s dragon Drogon and the Dothraki horses finally crossing the Narrow Sea towards Westeros. The doors were specially crafted from fallen branches from the Dark Hedges after a storm hit them in 2016. Ingenious marketing, really.

5. Ballintoy Harbour

Just a few minutes away from the lunch venue, at the end of a long and winding downhill road, is the quaint Ballintoy Harbour that stands in for Pkye and the Iron Islands. Theon Greyjoy is baptised here in Season 2, and is also the venue for Euron’s drowning and rebirth in Season 6.

SPOILER ALERT: According to Derek, this location was much used for Season 8 filming. Maybe we will get to see Theon completing his redemption arc, like saving sister Yara from uncle Euron maybe?

6. Larrybane

Another popular NI attraction located nearby is the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge which, after crossing it, leads to Larrybane Quarry which not only offers breathtaking panoramic views of islands and headlands in the Atlantic Ocean, it’s also the site for Renly’s camp in the Stormlands in Season 2 and where Brienne of Tarth was named to Renly’s Kingsguard. In Season 6, it was used as the Kingsmoot setting. From here, it was about a two-hour scenic drive down south back to Belfast.

All in all, there are about 18 GOT locations north of Belfast but not every one is easily accessible. One example is Fair Head – located further east of Larrybane – which provides the spectacular cliffs of Dragonstone in Season 7 on which Danerys, Jon Snow and Drogon share a special moment, among other significant scenes.

For a GOT fan, this McCombs tour is adequate with sufficient information and videos played in the bus before we set off on foot for most locations. Don’t get me wrong – our driver-guide was great but for a “total” GOT immersive experience, you might want to consider tours that have a separate guide who could accompany the tour group to every site and explain in detail how each sequence was filmed at the spot. Also, during long distances, past episodes of Game of Thrones episodes will be shown instead. Some even have costumes and props thrown in.

Still, for £35 (not including lunch and rope bridge fee), this tour is still a good alternative. If you are keen to cover every location, customized tours are available with various GOT tour groups. Or download the GOT Filming Locations Northern Ireland app which provide directions to the locations and you can adventure on your own (just read the instructions carefully as many are inaccessible or are private land).

Things to Note for the Tour:
1. There’s a lot of walking (uphill, downhill) so dress right with proper outdoor shoes and clothes befitting the Northern Irish weather
2. You need to have moderate fitness; not recommended for anyone with limited mobility
3.  Bring water, although there are locations where you can buy drinks

(All Game of Thrones images – Credit: HBO)

Read also:
‘Game Of Thrones’: 5 Heroic Deeds Jaime Lannister May Achieve in Season 8
* ‘Games Of Thrones’: 10 Essential Reunions At Winterfell We’d Like To See In Season 8
‘Game of Thrones’: Why Jon Snow May Use Greatsword Dawn to Slay the Night King in Season 8

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Belfast: Stunning Street Art

I can’t recall the first time I fell in love with street art but visiting cities renowned for outstanding murals such as Penang in Malaysia and Brisbane in Australia only grew my fascination for them. And although my primary reason for visiting Belfast recently was for Game of Thrones related interests, the fact that the Northern Ireland capital is also filled with stunning street art certainly made my trip much more memorable.

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Building-high mural located opposite the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast Cathedral Quarter [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Everywhere you turn in Belfast, you are likely to spot a mural or two on a building close to you. There is actually a black taxi tour that brings you (I think) to every notable mural in the city but if you are not that fussy, a thorough walk around the city centre or Cathedral Quarter will offer you a good number of outstanding paintings on the walls.

2018-05-21 19.10.21 (640x640)This lively mural, for instance, is located close to Kelly’s Cellars in Bank Street – where you can find “the best Guinness in the city”, according to my Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus guide. There are many other eye-catching murals in this area on and around the popular pub’s outdoor premises too.

2018-05-24 12.37.45 (620x640)Located in an empty parking lot close to the Belfast Cathedral (a.k.a St Anne’s Church) is this amazing larger-than-life caricature of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, one of my favorites found on this trip. Various murals can also be found on other buildings around  the magnificent church.

2018-05-26 10.32.58 (640x640)There are also tons of colorful murals to be found all along the nearby North Street. Whilst trying to find a reported mural of Game of Thrones‘ King in the North, Jon Snow, I walked all the way to the northern most end of the street, which although also showcased lots of intriguing murals and graffiti, the buildings were also rather isolated and creepy even in broad daylight, so I quickly walked back towards the city centre.  Only after a Google search later did I learnt that the Jon Snow mural has been painted over as the building it was on is undergoing renovation. Sob. Oh well, luckily there were other fun murals to see.

2018-05-25 11.12.07 (640x640)Like this cool Dali-inspired mural I found in a covered alleyway close to another famous pub, Duke of York, reportedly the oldest pub in Belfast. The mural, which features many Belfast landmarks and of cos the famous Guinness, is very long – covering the entire alleyway which was too narrow for me to photograph the whole painting in one shot. Just glad I stumbled onto it while taking a shortcut.

2018-05-22 16.39.09 (640x597)Most of the murals in Belfast are also very political. One of the city’s main attractions is the main Belfast Peace Wall located at Cupar Way and which you can get to easily via a Hop-On, Hop Off Bus (which is also a good way to give you an idea of where the notable murals are across the city).

There are reportedly about 100 “peace walls” throughout the city – majority which are six metres high with barbed wire on top and with colourful artwork painted on the side, most of which do not necessarily contain messages of peace however. The walls are still up – with gates at certain junctions that are locked at night – to divide communities (mainly Catholics and Protestants) that were responsible for a very troubled warring period in Belfast’s history infamously known as “The Troubles” where thousands were killed and many more injured. The walls run for kilometres so if you want to cover it all, best to ask for a detailed map which alas I was unable to find for myself.

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Murals with political overtones are also aplenty along the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Thanks to the city tour bus, I was able to catch most of them ‘cos I don’t think I could or would possibly see them all on foot. (There’s a lot of ground to cover.)

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You need to be extremely flexible, agile and seated on the top of an open-top bus if you want to capture them all on camera cos the guide will rattle like a machine gun with instructions such as “over your left shoulder, and over your right shoulder, and back to your left, and now right!” while the driver sped on as if he’s late for an urgent family matter. Still, a very good (and cheap) way to see and learn about the history and significance of some of the murals in the city.

If you love murals as much as I do, Belfast is a great city for it. Just wished I could have found at least one Game of Thrones mural though…

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

Sunshine Coast – Sun, Sand & Sea @ Noosa Heads


When in Brisbane: Take a day trip up north to Noosa Heads in the Sunshine Coast to take in some of the most beautiful sights of sun, sand, sea and sky you will ever see. This is Laguna Bay where you can folick in the waters, build sandcastles, or stretch your leg mucles on the boardwalk that takes you all the way to the top of Noosa National Park where a lookout offers breathtaking views of the entire area. Actually, considering the long drive – 3 hrs each way – best to stay a night or two cos you still need time to check out all the shops and cafes along the main street, Hastings Lane. Hmm, should I go again?… 

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Brisbane – Sunset over the River

When in Brisbane: Catch sunsets (about 5ish during winter) over Brisbane River by positioning yourself on the extremely busy Victoria Bridge. Just be careful and avoid being knocked down by vehicles or pedestrians. Besides sunsets, you can see beautiful fluffy clouds posturing themselves in a clear, blue sky almost everday in the city. Naisee.

Photo by Marguerita Tan

‘Tis the Season…

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Greetings from Singapore – Merry Christmas to one and all across the globe! Blessing  you with the Season’s Wishes & Dreams of Joy, Peace and Hope! May all your days be merry and bright during this Yuletide period and throughout the New Year!

(The beautiful view above of the Singapore Flyer, Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and Marina Bay Sands was taken from Aura, a bar and lounge which lies atop the National Gallery Singapore.)

Photo Credit: Marguerita Tan/Musings on the M49

 

Penang: Street Art in George Town

When in Penang: One of the must-do things is to check out the fabulous street art, most of which were commissioned under the Marking George Town Project that helped brand the precinct as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Most popular are the enchanting murals by Penang-based Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic such as the ones above of “Boy on Motorcycle” and (part of) “Boy Walking His Dinosaur” located on Ah Quee Street. The adjacent Armenian Street, the busiest tourist hotspot in the city, is where you will find his other famous work “Kids on Bicycle” and a host of other murals by other artists.

The other type of street art to look out for are these super cute life-sized, steel-rod sculptures on sides of buildings, mostly ground-level, which feature historical facts of Penang history and its people written with much wit and humour.

To find all 15 murals and 51 sculptures easily, pick up a free Marking George Town brochure at the airport or selected hotels as it has a map showing exactly where each artpiece is. (It also show the routes of free city CAT (Central Area Transit) buses which will help you to move around easier.)

Take note that there are also many other fascinating murals in the precinct that are not listed in the map. Just look around every building or shophouse to see if there’s any street art or mural lurking on or behind it. For instance, I stumbled upon this gorgeous three-storey high rooster in splendid colours along “Chicken Alley” off Lorong Che Em, after stumbing upon steel-red sculpture #32 “Duck” off Beach Road!

Meanwhile, the popular painting – and not a mural – of a Minion executing a kung-fu kick can be found hanging behind Quay Bar along Weld Quay, close to local deaf artist Louis Gan’s adorable “Brother and Sister on a Swing”.

So, if ever you make it to #Penang, Malaysia, do check out the #streetart in #Georgetown. You won’t regret it!

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s authorisation.

Encyclopedia Madonnica 20: Updated Edition

2016-08-14 18.33.06August 16 marks the birthday of the woman the world over know as the #QueenofPop. So, thought it would be timely to recommend that if you are a huge #Madonna fan and if you were to (somehow) only buy just one book about her in your lifetime, then let it be Encyclopedia Madonnica 20 by Matthew Rettenmund.

EM20 is the 20th anniversary edition (hence the “20”) of the New York-based author/blogger’s 1995 best-seller which many fans have long regarded as the ultimate Madonna book as it lists everything and everything about the singer “from A to Z” – from all her likes and dislikes to who she was dating during when and at where. To say Matthew’s intensive research and knowledge about the woman he admired most (next to his mum, ie) is amazingly comprehensive is an understatement.

2015 STANDARD EDITION

EM20cover_standard2015The 2015 version (standard edition, pictured above) is just as outstanding, if not much more,  as it is jam-packed with new fascinating insights, insider info, exclusive interviews, lavish illustrations and mostly rare photographs of the music icon. Weighing in close to 2kg and  the size of a phone book, the tome covers her illustrious career as a singer/dancer/actress/author/film director/fashion brand and fitness gym owner, as well as of her personal life as daughter/sister/lover/wife/ex-wife and mother-of-four, over the past 30+ years.

2015 LIMITED EDITION (500 COPIES)

2016-08-14 18.38.18The 2015 version of EM20 also has a cool limited edition (500 copies only) which has a different cover – a striking Andy-Warhol like illustration by Pegasus Street Artist. Each copy is also accompanied by a special bookplate personally autographed by the author along with  a serial number. My copy, for instance pictured above, is numbered #127/500. And there are five different bookplates featuring illustrated versions of the megastar in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s and ’10s.

2016 UPDATED STANDARD VERSION

2016-08-14 18.33.47Forward to 2016: If you haven’t gotten a copy of EM20 yet, this is a good time to get it as the meticulous Matthew – whom I’ve known for years and even went to see Madonna’s London’s West End play, Up For Grabs, together in 2002 – has updated the standard edition to include new sections on the critically acclaimed #RebelHeartTour and the exclusive #TearsofaClown show held in Melbourne, Australia. There are also a few revised entries to include, for example, the deaths of David Bowie and Prince. The new edition also boasts a gorgeous new cover illustration by Alejandro Mogollo (who also has a dozen other lovely illustrations of M in various stages of her career sprinkled throughout the book), as well as many great images from RHT and TOAC.

5 REASONS TO GET THE 2016 UPDATED VERSION

2016-08-09 03.24.22Even though I already have a copy of EM20, there were 5 reasons why I’m glad I decided to get the 2016 updated version:

1. The stunning new cover illustration by Adejandro Mogollo.
2. The Rebel Heart Tour update is essential as it is by far the best tour La M has ever done.
3. Tears of a Clown too as it was seriously a one-of-a-kind performance which I was blessed to be able to see it live in person.
4. Images of Tears of a Clown (example above) that are by my longtime M pal and fellow Singaporean, Richard Se. (You go, boy!)

And #5, most gratifyingly…

2016-08-09 03.25.28… there’s a pull-out quote under the TOAC entry which is me commenting on Tears of a Clown taken from my March 11 blog review of it, which I only found out about after my purchased copy arrived! (Much appreciated, Matthew!) You can read the original post at this link: https://musingsonthem49.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/tears-of-a-megastar-clown/)

La Vie En Rose

So there you have it, #EncyclopediaMadonnica20, arguably the tour de force of all Madonna books (and most of them are not worth a dime, seriously…).

EM20: Updated & Revised edition – a must-have in any M fan’s collection.

Available at Amazon US (and other Amazons worldwide): http://amzn.to/29QQStD

And oh, Blessed 58th Birthday, Madonna! Here’s to many more!