Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms: To Icewind Dale and Back

Being a travelogue of a blogger's summer vacation through the continent of Faerun.This missing may have taken longer than usual to get to you, dear reader. I was away from civilization for a while. Remember when I said I'd had enough of the cold last week? Well, somebody urged me to visit Icewind Dale, and the scenic route isn't too tropical...

From Mirabar, I headed West, but left the road to go and see the Ice Lakes at the base of the Spine of the World (if there ever was a better name for a mountain range, I've never heard it). Just beautiful and entirely crossable, the ice was so clear in places, you could make out schools of arctic fish slowly swimming underneath, and... are those ruins of some bygone civilization?
I can't tell. Between the cold and the bright sun, my imagination is starting to play tricks on me. I'm in the Frozenfar and I know it. Though I can't be sure my toes are on the trip with me since I can't feel them.

Travel tip #4: Hot packs in your shoes and gloves!

After the lakes, a hike and a bit of camping through the tundra to Fireshear, a dreary mining town whose two main natural resources seem to be ore and the evil eye. I hired out a cold, dank room and was told in no uncertain terms that I should leave as soon as possible and that I was damn lucky the ice was starting to recede. The next morning, I went to check out shipping schedules (already preparing my return) and quickly made my way North along a well beaten trail, up through the mountains towards Icewind Dale's Ten Towns.
Yeah, Ten Towns, and they all look alike. I've probably seen faux-Viking design buildings to last me a lifetime. But life is harsh, and I can't fault the people here for lacking architectural imagination. The prized delicacy is knucklehead trout, which you apparently can't get anywhere else. Mine was cold before it hit the plate. I don't want to say I'm disappointed, but there's something desperate here, people clinging to a fragile piece of civilization. It makes me wax poetic. And it depresses me. I mean, by the time I'm read to head back West, this is the view greeting me from out the gates:
At least they tell me the barbarians have recently been repelled, so I shouldn't get molested on the road. I'm not just in a hurry to leave because I can't eat another trout, but because I've heard of a primitive people I really want to meet: The Ancient Men of the North, also called the Ice Hunters. When I reach the shore, a beach like no other, facing the Sea of Moving Ice, it's not long before I come upon a hunting party of these wise folk.
They honor me by sharing a meal, and one of them knows enough of the common tongue (you know what? it sounds just like English) that we can communicate. He's called Nosy Seal, and no, that's not his real name. Apparently, they're very protective of them, and I understand completely. I tell them I've been blogging under a pseudonym for years, but I'm not sure they understand. They call me Skinny Blubber, which tells me that with ancient wisdom comes a sense of humor. Oh, and my first taste of walrus, folks! Goo goo g'joob! Nosy Seal offers to give me a sled ride over the next few leagues South, and I of course accept. This is the real stuff, and for once, I don't feel like a rube paying too much for ice-cold trout.

I'm in Ironmaster before nightfall, a dwarven mining hall that is incomprehensibly more welcoming and comfortable than Fireshear. Which isn't saying much. I'm not invited to visit the mining operation (been having trouble with that), but for gossip from the Dale, they'll let me stay the night. I ooh and ahh at their home-hammered armor for good measure, and the next morning, I'm on the first caravan out of there... and back to damned Fireshear. I'm happy to find that I timed everything right, and instead of finding a room in town, I get a cabin on a heavy merchant ship bringing winter's ore down to Neverwinter. NEVERwinter. That's music to my ears.
But it's only the first part of my sea trip south along the Sword Coast. From Neverwinter - still entirely too wintry for my tastes, what is this, the same logic the Vikings used to name Greenland? - I book passage on another, more comfortable ship down to Waterdeep. Still, Neverwiner isn't without its charms. While I wait for my ship to sail, I visit the famous hothouses where Neverwintrans make flowers and vegetables grow all year round. I even buy a pretty massive turnip... Wait, did I just pay trout prices for a vegetable? I'm back to being a rube already.

My new sea-going abode for the next couple days is called the Lord's Fancy and belongs to a trader of flowers, perfumes and silks called Omar. (I make sure to get his best tips on where to go when I hit the Southern Lands.) He's quite the tour guide, and as his vessel skirts the coastline, he's fond of pointing out this famous spot and that. A lizardman or two spotted out in the Mere of Dead Men. The Ruins of Iniarv's Tower in the distance (I'll take his word for it). The Redcliffs that trumpet we'll soon be in Waterdeep again. And finally, the deep port of the City of Splendors, where I took my first steps on this journey.

Don't worry, this isn't full circle already. I'm booking passing on another ship heading West just after I mail these words out. I'll catch you on the other side.

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