Where to Stay in Dublin – The Fitzwilliam Hotel

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelDublin, Ireland is a unique city where old and new, history and innovation blend in a harmony rarely found in any major metropolitan city I’ve visited. The options for entertaining oneself are endless, as are the places to rest your head. When I’m asked where to stay in Dublin, the answer is easy – The Fitzwilliam Hotel.

I’ve stayed in countless hotels around the globe and learned that all of them can be measured by four things; location, amenities, staff, and value. Here is how The Fitzwilliam Hotel, Dublin measures up…

Location, Location, Location!

The Fitzwilliam sits at head of Grafton Street directly across from the famed St. Stephens’ Green. A large section of Grafton Street is closed to all but pedestrian traffic and features endless options for shopping and dining. Though I will say that I wasn’t so impressed with the stores… what American wants to go to Dublin and shop at the Disney Story? Not this one. 

Far more alluring was the ability to walk – literally across the street– and into St. Stephens’ Green. If you didn’t already know, this public park was the model for New York City’s Central Park, and I’m sure countless other public squares. One of my favorite areas in the park is the gardens around the Caretaker’s Cottage, which is directly in front of the Fitzwilliam.

Saint Stephen's Green Caretakers CottegeThe DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) tram stops within walking distance of the property. There are taxis galore in the area, as well as pedicabs and horse drawn carriages (take one to the Guinness Store House for a fun twist.) Concierge will happily help you with securing a bicycle if you’d like, though the streets are quite busy – I’d fall and need stitches!

Amenities

Sure there is a gym, doesn’t every hotel have one these days? What the Fitzwilliam has that most don’t, is Spirit. Part salon, with a little bit of spa, Spirit ascribes to a wonderfully holistic and natural approach to beauty services. Treat yourself.

Not many hotels can boast three excellent on-site restaurants, let alone one with a Michelin star. The Fitzwilliam can.  Thornton’s is fine dining at its best, thus the star. Citron is a more relaxed, yet still upscale dinning experience that boasts some modern twists on Irish classics. Their Celeriac soup is simply divine! Pop into the Inn on the Green for a great breakfast, or a lovely lunch in this cozy place that makes you feel at ease. Note: the charcuterie plate is HUGE! 

Any good hotel, in my book, must have a fabulous bathtub and plush robes. Not having this can be a deal breaker. The bath at Fitzwilliam was a deal maker!

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThere is also a wonderful tea available seasonally on the balcony that overlooks the city.  Free (reliable) wi-fi and in-room safes that are large enough for a laptop are both pluses.

Staff

Here is where the Fitzwilliam sets itself apart. From the doormen who take the time to ask you where your day is taking you with sincerity to a concierge staff who call your room to ask how they can help make your stay even better, to the housekeeping staff that leave lovely notes, this place makes you feel so very welcome. Many a hotel will send up a welcome amenity. At the Fitzwilliam we got a delivery of Dairy Milk bars and crisps with a note from the front desk telling my daughter how those where their favorite childhood treats.

Get to know the concierge while you’re here! These folks are gems, working with them is akin to having your own private guide to all things you love that can be found in Dublin. Seriously, this is a service they should charge for – I’d pay. 

Each and every staff member we encountered was warm, helpful and never overbearing, which speaks to the earnestness that takes this from hotel to a fond memory and a place you long to return to. 

“Some places you stay. Other places stay with you.” ~Me

Value

The Fitzwilliam is a luxury property, and the price tag reflects that – our stay in the off-season and was £395 per night. That said, the location, and service were well worth the price. Being so centrally located, you need not spend extra money on getting around. Having the concierge as your guides is a huge service, adding to the value.

Where to stay in Dublin - The Fitzwilliam HotelThe Fitzwilliam is also a member of the Preferred Hotel Group – their iPrefer program is one of only three hotel loyalty programs I personally belong to. Why?  Their points add up fast, you always get free wi-fi, early check-in and/or late checkout, and they take the time to learn your (and your family’s) preferences ensuring that they follow you across all their member properties.

The Summer Wind – Sailing in Baltimore

The Summer Wind - Saling in Baltimore

Evening comes and as the sun begins to set. A warm glow lingers among the soft breezes drifting across the Chesapeake Bay. Late summer is the  season that sailing is at its best here in Maryland. The Summer Wind brings a new charter option to sailing in Baltimore.  

We all have our, “Happy Place.” A boat with billowing sails gliding across glassy water is that place  me. Funny that a kid who grew up in the desert loves to be on a boat. Perhaps more odd that the entire time I was in the Navy I rarely set foot on one. Now that I’m living just a short drive from the Chesapeake bay I sail as much as I can. 

Typically that means either a jaunt to Annapolis or taking the bridge over to the Eastern shore. I was thrilled to recently learn that American Sailing Tours has pulled anchor from its original home, sailing the Delaware River off the coast of Philadelphia, and docked in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor bringing The Summer Wind with them.

I’ll admit they pretty much had me at the name of this 48-foot long schooner. “The Summer Wind,”  is one of my absolute favorite Sinatra songs. 

Owner (and skipper) Tom Kirwan captained us out onto the harbor for our latest Travel Massive meetup.  As the 50-foot sails unfurled guiding us past the iconic Domino’s Sugar sign, Tom and I chatted about his life as a sailor – which started before he was even able to walk.

The Summer Wind - Sailing in BaltimoreKirwan brought The Summer Wind to Baltimore in 2015 for its first season. Today, she is the only sailboat of her class offering public sailing excursions out of the Inner Harbor. While American Sailing Tours offers the staple harbor tours and sunset sailing, what sets it apart is Tom and his crew.

There is zero pretension aboard The Summer Wind. You won’t find stuffy folks with ascots and jauntily positioned sailing caps here. When you sail with Tom and his crew you feel a true connection to people who love what they do, and where they do it. They’ll regale you with tales of Baltimore’s maritime history, fill you in on the points of interest as you pass by, and make you feel as though this were your boat. 

Relax on deck with a glass of wine. Here you’ll find comfy seating, polished wood siding, and of course some great conversation. Below decks is more seating and the head {sailor-speak for the facilities – I swear I never even used that term in the Navy, past boot camp. It’s just weird.} 

Saling Excursions in BaltimoreBe sure to make some time either before you set sail or when you drop anchor, to explore the Harbor East area where you’ll find upscale boutiques, a movie theater, and great eats. Wit & Wisdom at the Four Seasons is the perfect place for a wonderful meal or nibbles. It is just steps from The Summer Wind’s birth.  Lobster corn dogs, mesquite smoked mussels in champagne beurre blanc, black truffle popcorn… need I say more?

The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea. Next time you’re in Baltimore… come sail with me! 

The Summer Wind - Baltimore

Could Q Have Designed the Moto 360?

How could would it be to have your own version of Bond’s Q? I mean really, who couldn’t use a gadget guy hold up in a secret lab creating super cool tech to make you even more awesome? Through my collaboration with Verizon I got a chance take what I’ve deemed Suave Spy Gear befitting – the Moto 360 2nd Gen Smartwatch – for a test drive. 

moto 360 smartwatch review

Moto 360 Smartwatch Review

First off, the gadgets that Q designed for Bond were always stylish. An Aston Martin complete with a bar and rocket launchers… that’s just plain sexy. By that measure the Moto 360 Rose Gold watch for the ladies fits the bill. It’s sleek and the neutral tons make it work with just about any outfit.

The cool factor gets a bump from the ability to use apps that customize the face. Choose something more traditional {as seen above}, find a face with artwork from famous designers, or use your own photos. There are even interactive options.  The motion activated face is really cool too. “Hide” what you’ve got going on as the face dims when your wrist is in a flat position. Flick that wrist and the face comes to life right where you’ll see it.  Very Suave Spy cool.

All that said it is a little big measuring in at 11.4mm. But hey, it’s a statement piece.

One of the other qualities of Q created gadgets is their ability to appear as one thing while having other hidden functions. The Moto 360 does that best with its fitness tracker. No more need to have both a watch and my Vivo Fit on one arm.

The fitness tracker in the Moto 360 (Moto Body) tracks all the typical stuff; heart activity, steps, total calorie burn, running, and heart rate. I wish it tracked sleep. 

Moto 360 smartwatch face app

Moto Body has a great analysis tool that keeps me on track. I also like that it’s compatible with MyFitness Pal. I’ve long been a fan and user of this app and all my data from Vivo had to be manually input.

I love the talk-to-text feature, mostly because I feel so very Spy-Girl when I talk to my watch. Yes, I’m a nerd. I own that. Like with any other talk-to-text platform this one can be a bit tricky. Nobody wants to send a client a reply that says, “Let’s move our meat up to next week.” Yep, that happened. Ugh.

Things I really loved include; alerts for incoming calls, texts and email, calendar reminders, GPS, and the wide variety of available apps. My banking app is even Moto 360 compatible.  The charging dock is small and easy to use. Wearing the watch means less having to hunt around for my phone.

Along with the good there was some not-so-good. The battery drains really quickly. I haven’t been able to wear it for more than a day without having to recharge. In the month or so that I’ve been wearing the watch it has had several bug issues and crashed a few times. That said, Motorola was quick with the fix. I wish there were a way to manually input text. Using the search feature is cumbersome. So much so that I just gave up. The leather band isn’t very durable, but I’m sure you can find chic replacement bands.

moto 360 smartwatch review apps

Is the Moto 360 Smartwatch worthy of Bond? It’s certainly better than an old school watch for making tech-life easier. Were Q to get his hands on it, it could be essential spy gear. For now it’s certainly great for mom-life.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less! 

The Greatest Casualty is to Be Forgotten – Memorial Day is for Remembering

With Memorial Day right around the corner. A surefire sign is all the sale flyers clogging my mailbox and junking up my spam filters.  Everyone (myself included) is talking about holiday menus and impending summer fun. And while I’m looking forward to all of that as well, I thought I’d dust off this post again in hopes that we can all keep memory in our Memorial Day.

The bulk of this was written several years before my oldest son became a Marine – an event that forever changed what saying “my fellow veterans,” means to me. 

Don't Forget What Memorial Day is About

Memorial Day – like Veteran’s day – is not about the sales or that long awaited three-day weekend. It isn’t about nabbing a great deal on a new mattress. We live in The Land of The Free… because of the brave.  Let us not forget those who serve, but especially on Memorial Day let us not forget those who gave all. 

Memorial Day is not Veterans day. Though the bulk of this post is about my experience as a veteran, I think it’s important that we make the distinction.  This isn’t a day to thank me for my service, it’s a day to honor those who died in service to this nation. 

Think that just means stopping by crumbly old memorial in a historic park somewhere that marks the site of a battle? Think again. Yes we should honor all those who paid the ultimate price of freedom, but I challenge you to make it a point to honor those lost in recent history.  Those who never came back and those that came back only to lose the battle at home.

An average of 22 veterans take their own lives daily. DAILY! Yes, they are causalities of war. Heroes that fought for your freedom the same as any lost on foreign soil.

Enjoy your three-day weekend, grill up something tasty. While you’re at it stop by a local veterans memorial, buy that poppy from the Vet set up in front of the big box store. Ask them about their story, let them tell it. Listen with an open heart, hear what they don’t say. In the retelling they honor those who never came back. Keep the memory in Memorial Day.

(originally published November 11, 2009)

Today is Veteran’s day and I always thought it was a bit awkward to say “Happy Veteran’s Day”. Not because I’m not happy to have served my country. I think it has something to do with knowing some of the hardships that come along with that service. I was a 19 year old kid when I left the familiar surroundings of my small town and boarded a plane for Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida. It was just after Thanksgiving 1990 and I couldn’t believe how cold it was in Florida, I thought this was supposed to be the sunshine state! I was scared out of my mind, lost and really regretting being the first person in my family to have joined the Navy.A few weeks into training our Company Commanders came into our compartment and removed all the drill weapons. They then announced that the Operation Desert Storm was underway. We were allowed one call home. With the sound of Bing Crosby singing “I’ll be home for Christmas” playing over the PA I called my parents. That was the first time it really hit me what it meant to be a member of the armed services.

 

Yep that’s me on the right all snuggled up to Fifle the mouse from An American tale. I’d go on to cry every time I heard the theme song “Somewhere out there” while serving a continent away from my family and friends. Okay I STILL cry when I hear it.  To my right is the best buddy any sailor could ask for Michelle Graf! 

I went on to become a Navy Airman and made it to 
my first duty station in Rota, Spain. Rota was a stop on the way to both Iraq and Somalia when I was there. Ships came through with Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force Airmen. I count myself privileged to have served, partied, jaw jacked, worked my butt off and mourned with many of them.

Among them all I was honored to serve under Admiral Jeremy Michael “Mike” Boorda. Admiral Boorda is to this day someone I admire beyond words. He worked his way up from the lowest of enlisted rank, Seaman, to go on and become an Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations. I was honored to have had a one-on-one conversation with him. When he reportedly took his own life a hole was ripped in my heart and memory. He was honest and honorable, a person who stood up for what he believed, championed the underdog and no matter what others may think they know, he was a true hero.

With so many currently serving and so many giving the ultimate sacrifice there are those who’s loss has faded in our collective memory. Yet they are heroes all the same and I have not forgotten them. 

Remember you don’t have to support war to support a Veteran or honor the fallen.

 

Lighthouses & Sunken Submarines: St. Mary’s County, Maryland

What is it about lighthouses that sparks such fascination? A romanticized notion of the lonely keeper of the flame. Perhaps it has something to do with a mix of quite heroism and tales of the sea. Then again it could just be all about the view.  I’ve set out on a quest to visit the lighthouses of Maryland to try and answer that question. 

Up first is a unique lighthouse with some hidden treasure you won’t find anywhere else. 

Piney Point LighthousePiney Point Lighthouse

Do you imagine a lighthouse as a towering presence standing watch at the water’s edge? Me too. In fact I’d always sort of thought there was a height requirement. Which when I stop to think about it makes no sense. As long as the view is unbroken, the job gets done.

The Piney Point lighthouse isn’t even the largest structure within the historic park in which it resides. It sands only thirty-three feet high.

“…and though she be but little she is fierce.” ~Hermina

Opened in 1836 the lighthouse stands watch over the Potomac River. In the course of its service (it was decommissioned in 1964 by the US Coastguard) the lighthouse and its adjacent quarters were occupied by twenty-one Keepers and their families. Four of those keepers were women.

Some of these women were spouses, trained in their husband’s profession out of necessity. Lighthouses tend to be placed in remote areas where assistance was often hours away. Wives served as backup keepers. Following a ship wreck, Mrs. Goeshy (wife of one of William Goeshy – Keeper in 1939) swam repeatedly out into the water to rescue victims. She may have actually been one of the Coast Guard’s first, famed rescue swimmers.

Who knew lighthouse keeping was a beacon for feminism? I sure didn’t.

I’d also no clue at there was a German U Boat sunk in the waters just off the coast from where the lighthouse sits century. That’s one of the amazing facts that had our entire family’s rapt attention when we toured the Piney Point Lighthouse, Museum and Historic Park with historian and former Park Ranger, April Havens.

One could say that U-1105, or the Black Panther, was one of the first-ever stealth submarines. Commissioned 1944 she was outfitted with a synthetic rubber skin over her hull. One of less than ten in her class U-1105 was turned over to the Allies after the war. The intention was to bring the Black Panther to the United States in order to study the unique radar/sonar blinding technology.  Ah, but the sea had plans of its own.

On day four of U-1105’s journey from England to the States she was caught in a hurricane while surfaced. A section of the submarine was ripped away by the force of the storm causing it to nearly keel over. A portion of the synthetic skin lost to the sea. After what research that could be done was completed the sub was scuttled in the Potomac River in St. Mary’s county Maryland in 1949.

The Black Panther sunk 91 feet in 20 seconds on that day. The boat was quite literally lost, for decades. In June of 1985 divers rediscovered the  wreckage. Today U-1150 stands as Maryland’s first historical shipwreck preserve.

These enthralling tales are just two of the many we learned from during our visit to the Piney Point Lighthouse.

Piney Point Lighthouse

Tips for visiting the Piney Point Lighthouse Museum & Historical Park

Start at the Museum – There is surprisingly a lot of ground to cover here in the way of things to see and learn about. The main museum is self-guided with lots of vignettes to read through in a small space. They score bonus family travel points for having a small Kiddie Corner with activities for the littlest kiddos.  

Ask Questions – When you head out to the marine portion of the museum you’ll have a guide. These guides are experts with a passion for the history of Piney Point. Asking them questions makes the visit all the more an EDventure. Be sure to ask about the torpedoes! 

Bring a Picnic – The museum sits on a coveted water-front. All that gorgeous beach you pass on the way in with cute decor and colorful beach chairs is private property. Can’t stop for a snack there, but there is a dock, picnic tables and small stretch of sandy beach at the museum.

Great for Kayaks – There is a public peer to launch your kayak from for free. The parking is free as well. The launch closes at sunset but if you let the staff know what your plans are they can make arraignments.

Hit the Gift Shop – Not only are there cute, crafty and even beautiful treasures to be found in the shop, but spending your money here helps support the preservation efforts.

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