Category Archives: europe

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.

Ireland Road Tripping (in pictures)

More than just about any other place in the world the Emerald Isle makes for a driver’s delight. Last spring I had the joy of driving my dad and oldest daughter from Dublin to Westport and back. Memories were made. Songs sung. Food devoured. A few unexpected detours taken.  Endless pictures taken Ireland road tripping.

Snapping photos is one of my favorite things about any trip. From monuments to meals, I take pictures of everything. Yes, it drives the family nuts — sometimes.

I harbor zero delusions that I’m anything more than marginally passable as a photographer.  In fact, there were times before the advent of smartphones and mobile editing apps, that i was famed for lopping off heads. The wonderful thing about Ireland is that it’s pretty much impossible to take a bad picture. It’s just that beautiful.

Deep greens, hauntingly beautiful ruins, even overcast days can’t cast a shadow on the beauty here. There is simply no better way to see – and photograph – Éireann than from it’s winding roads.

Ireland Road Tripping (in pictures)

 

We traveled the width of Ireland – from Dublin to Westport– in a quick five-day jaunt. The nice thing about this route was that it was certainly less traveled than say the Great Atlantic way in the north or the winding roads of the southern coast.

If this is your first time Ireland road tripping – or driving on the “wrong” side of the road– it’s a great place to start. Lots of history, cute small towns and villages, great if you’re in search of antiques and certainly picturesque. One thing I will say is that planning your stops for gas needs to be done in advance. There were a couple of times there that I wasn’t sure if we’d see anything but rolling green hills and sheep. There were also a few petrol stops that didn’t have gas. Gads!

Part of the adventure though is in the getting “lost” and seeing what you find.  It seems that nearly every town, village and county in Ireland has it’s own art and history. Getting lost in that was the best part of the adventure. That and trying to interpret pictograph road signs. 

Is road tripping something you enjoy? Where is your favorite place to roam?

 

 

5 global hot cocoa recipes

global hot cocoa recipes

Winter has finally arrived in all it’s teeth-chattering glory here in Maryland. I’ll admit to never being much of a cold-weather gal. One thing I do love about a nip in the air is that it is the perfect excuse for whipping up some hot cocoa. After you try some of these global hot cocoa recipes you’ll never go instant again!

On cold Spanish nights {yes, we had those even though I lived in the south} my favorite treat was wrapping my frozen fingers around a tiny mug of toasty warm coco and dipping crunchy churros into it’s molten yumminess. You’ve never indulged yourself in chocolate decadence until you’ve had Spanish hot cocoa.

Dense, rich and luxuriant, Spanish hot cocoa is more an event than a drink. Yes, there is work involved. This isn’t rip-open-the-packet coca. That said, making it is easier than you may think and certainly well worth the effort.

Spanish Hot Cocoa Recipe

2 cups WHOLE milk {I know, I’m a skim girl too but you really have to have the “real” stuff for this}
1 tsp cornflour
3/4 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup dark chocolate, grated {I suggest at least 75% cacao}
1 tbsp sugar

In a small sauce pot over medium heat make a roux of the flour and cornstarch with about 2 tablespoons of the milk. Allow to cook for about a minute. You don’t want to toast it but you also don’t want that icky flour flavor. Slowly whisk in the remaining milk.  Add grated chocolate and sugar. Continue to whisk until chocolate melts and the milk reduces to a nice, loose, almost pudding-like consistency. 

Three types of milk and cinnamon? I’m in! When I found this recipe for Peruvian hot chocolate over at Provecho Peru, I started praying for winter to arrive. Okay, if we’re being honest I could drink this stuff any time of year. The addition of the cinnamon gives it a warming aroma that is perfectly suited to a cold winter’s day though.

Peruvian Hot Cocoa
Global Hot Cocoa Recipes
photo credit: Provecho Peru – provechoperu.com

 

You’ll find the hot cocoa recipe here but once you’re done with that browse around. This website is packed with all sorts of Peruvian culinary adventures!

Norwegian Hot Cocoa

When you think of a Winter Wonderland there is no doubt Norway has to top that list. So it makes perfect sense that the Norwegians would have some seriously awesome cocoa, right? Right!

This recipe from My Little Norway is super simple. Good quality cocoa powder and vanilla essence set it apart.

Zartbitter Heisse Schokolade – German Dark Chocolate

Just saying, “zartbitter heisse schokolade,” makes me smile. Somewhere Heir Isaacson from 11th grade German class is cringing at my inability to properly pronounce those words, but still it’s fun. Even more fun when you add this delectable drink recipe from The Kitchen Maus. 

global hot cocoa recipes
photo credit: The Kitchen Maus

 

Ghanaian Hot Chocolate

Sometimes the story is even better than the drink. And that’s saying something when the hot cocoa includes spiced rum, people! Chrissy of The Hungry Buddha weaves a tale of West African history while pounding out cacao beans {yes, actually taking a pestle to those puppies}  the result is a recipe fit for even the most discerning travel journal.

Do you have a favorite hot cocoa recipe? I’d love to try it!

 

Spanish Holiday – Hotel Playa de la Luz Rota, Spain

Spanish Holiday - Hotel Playa de la Luz Rota SpainSouthern Spain {Andalucia} has long been a favorite “holiday” destination for European travelers. This makes perfect sense when one considers the lovely beaches, amazing architecture, history, culture and cuisine.  I recall the first time I met a person on, “Spanish Holiday” while living in Spain.  Partly because – as an American– the term, “holiday” means something entirely different, but also because of the place we met – Hotel Playa de la Luz in my “hometown” of Rota, Spain.

Holiday goers -or vacationers, as we call them– flood into Rota during the summer months just as they do nearly all of the coastal towns in Andalucia. The favored casks of La Tintilla in local bodegas take a back seat to hard cider and flowing sangria, skin sizzles to a burnished bronze {in most cases, save the bulk of visitors from the UK and people like me who end up the hue of ripened tomatoes} on the beaches, and the night life rarely gives way at dawn.

What makes Rota differ from this typical Spanish Holiday foray, comes in the form of luxurious oasis just barely outside the city. I’d been living in Rota for nearly a year before setting foot in the Hotel Playa de la Luz, time lost that I’ve come to regret.

Spanish Holiday - Beach front tapas at Hotel Playa de la LuzNestled on a stretch of nearly pristine beach -a welcome change from the beach I leaved near on the other side of town– the hotel is practically a world away from the bustle. Though Rota itself is a small town, Calle de María Auxiliadora being its one fairly busy main boulevard, in high season the crush of people can be difficult to manage. The hotel gives you a place to enjoy the natural beauty of this part of Spain in a simple, yet luxurious setting that is still close enough to the town when you want to stop in at Bar Christina for amazing tortillitas de camarones – or shrimp fritatta– dance the night away, or roam the quaint little shops and gypsy stores.

La Gaviota, the onsite restaurant takes the best of local ingredients and whips up outstanding tapas. As I type my mouth is watering in memory of their alcauciles rellenos, a stuffed artichoke that is worth the airfare from the states. Once you’ve stuffed yourself with Spanish delights you’ll need a way to burn off those extra calories. The hotel features four tennis courts, a gym, and several pools. You can even ask the staff to arrange horseback riding on the beach for you. If you ride, this is a can’t-miss activity. 

For Americans, the rooms by seem small and sparsely decorated. Getting used to that was a tough one for me, but this is pretty much the standard with nearly any level hotel in this part of Spain. I suppose the idea is that you’ll be spending so little of your time indoors, they’d rather focus on elevating the common spaces. 

Playa de la Luz does this really well. Their white-washed facade and intricate Moorish tile work is evocative of old Hollywood glamour.  Take a stroll along the marble inlaid beach walk and you’ll feel as though Clark Gable is waiting on that yacht in the distance to whisk you away.

Spanish Holiday - Luxury Sunbathing at Hotel Playa de La Luz Rota, SpainTips for Families

The hotel features a playground for kids, separate adult and family pools and during the months of July and August childcare services are available.

Day Trips Nearby

Jerez {35 minute drive} visit a Bodega -Harvey’s is one of the more famous ones– stop by the Royal Spanish Equestrian school to see the famed Lipizzaner horses, eat at the Mercado de Abastos.

Cadiz {45 minute drive} Cadiz is one of my favorite towns in all of Spain. It has everything a large metropolitan city could want without the issues that come with being a city of size. To me its a bit of Paris meets Madrid. There are a plethora of galleries and museums, lovely public parks with sculpted gardens, and an immense amount of history as Cadiz is the oldest continually inhabited town in Spain.

Hotel Information

Address:  Avda. de la Diputación S/N
                     11520 Rota (Cádiz) Spain
                     Tel: 1+ (34) 956 810 500
Website: Hotel Playa de la Luz

Reservations line: 1+ (34) 902 418 428

HELP! I’m ALONE in a Foreign Country and My Phone Won’t Work #truestory

How to get global cell service BEFORE you goIt was a warm and sunny January in Jamaica. Well of course it was.  I’d arrived at the airport in Kingston, but the people who were supposed to meet me were nowhere to be found.  Alone in a foreign country, in strange town, I did what anyone would do. I pulled out my phone. I was wholly unprepared for the obnoxious klaxon of  the “No Service” signal that greeted me. Cue the panic…

Help! I’m ALONE in a foreign country and my phone won’t work!!

Even though I travel quite a bit, somehow I hadn’t thought about global service in Jamaica. Maybe I’d been distracted by daydreams  of white sand beaches and rum punch. Who could blame a girl?

I spent nearly an hour waiting for my travel companions to show, then caught a cab to the hotel we were staying at. While I was winding through the streets of Kingston with a taxi driver who could moonlight as a historian – thoroughly enjoying myself – my family were back stateside growing increasingly worried about the lack of call from me. 

Once in the hotel there was a land-line and the bill to go with it.. gah! I got in touch with my family, all was well. It was on that trip that I decided that I’d rather pay for global service than ever end up stranded alone with no phone again. 

Things have changed a bit since my semi harrowing experience in Jamaica. Verizon (my carrier) no longer causes shell shock with that “no service” noise. In fact if you haven’t added international service before your trip you can still call within the country you’re in to reach their Call Center and get that your international all hooked up.

A few months ago I took my oldest daughter on her epic 16th birthday trip to Ireland. Before (like months before) we headed out I made sure to do my research and get both the best and most flexible global plan I could. No way I was going to pay over a hundred bucks for two weeks of service!

With the help of the friendly folks at Verizon I paid less than $40 up front and when I got back there was ZERO sticker shock. I had voice, text, and data with a bill that ended up being a whopping $3.78… YES that period is in the right place.

My poor Dad, who tagged along on this trip, wasn’t so lucky. The global portion of his bill was nearly $200.  I felt so bad for him! Nothing can tarnish great travel memories like getting hit with a huge bill one you get home.

I thought I’d reach out to my pals at the Verizon Buzz crew and see if I could get some useful 411 on going global with your gadgets – no one should ever be stuck in a foreign country without a cell phone… or worse, stuck with an enormous bill when you get back! Here is some of what I learned; 

4 Ways To Go Global with Verizon Plans

International Preferred Pricing

This is the plan I used in Ireland. There are two tiers to choose from, each has a per-line flat fee. What you pay for voice, text and data varies by plan.

per line              voice & text                                     data

International Travel Preferred Pricing with Verizon

note: there are also International Preferred Price Plan options that allow you pay $50 per line and get 250 MB of data, or $85 for 250 MB of data as well as 250 minutes of voice, 250 minutes of text and unlimited incoming texts.

Mexico & Canada

We’re heading to Canada in a few days, and it’s a good thing I’d reached out to Verizon for this info, we may have had another Jamaican Indecent on our hands.  I set up global service for three phones for $45. That gives the hubby, the teen and I each 100 minutes of talk and 100 texts. Any parent of a teen knows that is a huge deal when texts could otherwise be .99¢ each. I get the shakes just thinking about how much that could cost! 

per line                           voice & text                           data

Mexico and Canada international cell service with Verizon

Pay As You Go

Not sure where your travels will take you? Don’t think you’ll need that phone too much when you get there? Pay as you go pricing could be exactly what you’re looking for. Be aware though that this can be pricy. Voice starts at 99¢ a minute in Canada and Mexico and can go up as high at $2.99 a minute. Text and data pricing varies by country, but there are 140 countries with lower, “Preferred Pricing” options. 

Cruise Ship Rates

Here is where I leave you, or at least it’s an area I have zero experience with.  I’ve never been on a cruise ship that wasn’t docked right here in the good Ole US of A, thus never had need of a service like this. That said, I’ve a number of pals who dig the cruise thing and tell me that getting reliable data, and even voice service can be not only rough, but expensive. As it turns out, Verizon is the only carrier that offers a package that provides data, voice, and text for ONE price! So if you’re into cruising pop over to Verizon Wireless and see what’s up. Click on “View Cruise Ship Coverage” for a list of cruise lines available.   

Insider Tip: Verizon Wireless is offering a special promotion through their FREE Wi-Fi Connect app that allows you to connect to select wi-fi hotspots while traveling helping you get more bang for your buck.

Have you ever found yourself stranded somewhere without a means to reach someone at home? I’ll bet there are some funny stories out there. Do tell!

 

* (**) be sure to check with Verizon Wireless directly to verify plans and pricing, as well as any restrictions that may apply. 

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!