Category Archives: europe

B&Bs of Ireland: Hounslow House

Ireland's Most Charming B&Bs - Hounslow House, Fore, Castlepollard, County WestmeathRoom service, concierge, spa treatments, there is no denying the attraction of a good hotel. That said, the one thing that even the hotel with an in-room cappuccino machine will never have is the feeling of being welcomed home that you get from a great Bed and Breakfast (B&B). Our recent return to Ireland uncovered some of the best B&Bs we’ve ever stayed at.

Finding a good – let alone outstanding – B&B can be challenging. Do you trust the reviews on Yelp or Tripadvisor? Who exactly are you sleeping with (um..  rather who’s running the place you’re sleeping at?) Having the right tools at hand can make all the difference in finding the perfect B&B for you.

Wait, I have to share a bathroom with strangers?!

If you happen to be heading to Ireland, the best tool to have in your search is Bed and Breakfast Ireland. Their search feature goes so much deeper than location. You can search by activity, amenities, room types, and so much more. Including ensuite bathrooms you won’t have to share.

Homemade Scones & Jam at Hounslow House B&B Fore, Castlepollard, County Westmeath IrelandThe site has a “Short List” feature so you can save potential locations, saving time and sanity in the process. The Irish Tourist and Northern Irish Tourist Board also certify the B&Bs found on the site and most have profiles of the proprietors as well.

The Best of The Best…

Some places you stay leave such an impression that you’ll undoubtedly carry that memory with you. Hounslow House in Fore, Castle Pollard, County Westmeath is one such place.

Nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills of deep beryl green, Hounslow House is a gem. The resident welcome party – in the form of a very friendly Irish Setter – eagerly awaits disembarkation from your car. Equally as welcoming (though I might not suggest trying to pet them) are proprietors, the Healy’s.

The Fore Crosses stand sentury on 10km of roadway, beared witness to religious persecution during penal timesGrainne Healy is a veritable expert in local history, which serves her well as a teacher at the are primary school. She also whips up amazing scones – until her’s I’d always thought of a scone as sawdust in the shape of a biscuit. 

The front of the house features a huge picture window that overlooks the countryside as well as the ruins of Fore Abbey below. Resident equine ambassadors – Orlando and Zsa Zsa – were always game for a photo, while the chickens provide excellent fresh eggs for the outstanding full Irish breakfast you’ll enjoy included in the price of your stay – which can be as low at €70 (or around $80.)

Ruin of Fore Abbey sight of the 7 Wonders of Fore Castlepollard, County Westmeath, IrelandTake tea with Grainne and let her fill you in on the history of Fore Abbey, regale you with the tale of the 18 ancient stone crosses that dot the roadside near the B&B, and be sure to ask her where the best hiking and fishing can be found. She and her husband are quite the outdoors people and a priceless resource for getting the most out of your time in this breathtaking region rich in natural beauty and history that you’re not likely to find in typical travel guides.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path but that’s part of it’s indomitable charm.

Official Ambassador of Houndslow House

 

 

2015 Travel Trends: Insider Interview with John Golicz

Can't Miss Travel Trends of 2015 - an Insider's GuideAhead of each change in the seasons my family gathers round the table, each with a list in hand. From the grownups down to the eight year old – everyone gets a chance to share. This is part of our travel ritual. Where are we going? What will we see? What’s the year’s newest travel trend we’re longing to give a go?

A Disney destination of some form Invariably makes the list. Beyond that though, I’m often surprised by the ideas brought – literally – to the table. When I had the chance to chat with an industry insider about 2015 travel trends, I couldn’t pass that up.

This summer I’m going to have the coolest ideas!

John Golicz is the brilliant mind behind the Travel & Adventure Show Series. Open to travelers – and those who aspire to be – the shows attract over 130,000 people annually as the largest series of travel shows in the United States.   As founder and CEO of Connecticut-based Unicomm, John has put together a team that creates hands-on experiences that educate and inspire travelers expand their boundaries, helping them to plan, book and take trips that enrich their lives in ways that only travel can.

John Golicz founder of the Travel & Adventure Show series
John Golicz founder of the Travel & Adventure Show series

After thirty minutes with John my list grew exponentially. Here are some of the new places I added and what John had to say about them.

Taiwan

A perfect ‘Starter’ destination for families who are looking to delve into the Asian travel experience. Being that Taiwan is an island, getting around is an easy task. A 2-hour train ride can take you from a vibrant city with a slightly ‘Western’ feel to a pastoral village that is a step back in time. Taiwan is a paradise for adventurous Foodies. Both modern and steeped in tradition at the same time, it’s gives a sense of the China experience with  better air quality and fewer adjustments.

Iceland

For the outdoorsy types and shutterbugs the stunning natural wonders make Iceland a must see. Glaciers, volcanoes, and don’t forget the Northern Lights – there is just so much to see here. Not only easy on the eyes, it’s also easier on the budget. The Swedish Krona (as of the writing of this post) is around 1 for every 12 cents in US dollars. That will buy the adventurous eater quite a bit of Hákarl (cured shark meat – the national dish of Iceland.)

Nicaragua

Less traveled and cheaper than Costa Rica, Nicaragua boasts beautiful beaches, modern hotels, and epic surfing – not many ankle busters here. Into adventure travel? This is where you want to be. Hiking to a volcano? Um… okay. They’ve got enough of those to for you to do nothing but. If you want to experience all that Nicaragua has to offer – BEFORE everybody and their Aunt Millie catches on – do it soon! (check out this great piece on 15 things to in Nicaragua do penned by Nomadic Matt)

Istanbul

I love how John put this, “Istanbul is the crossroads of the world…” In all honesty Turkey has been on my list for years – even before the White House Travel Blogger’s Summit where Turkish Airlines hosted an amazing event and invited us to visit. Living in Spain I was always enamored of the Moorish influences abundant in the the architecture. Istanbul is like a living classroom where culture, food, and history literally come to life. Walk through the market an discover spices that ensnare the senses.  Visit a museum that houses artifacts that date back to the birth of civilization . Sip coffee that is as much a cultural event as it is a morning pick-me-up. Plus, what Disney-loving kid doesn’t want to play Aladdin? 

Europe

I didn’t really need John to tell me this one. We spoke a week after I got back from Ireland. Always a great place to take the family, Ireland – and much of Europe – are now even more family-friendly with the strength of the dollar. My last visit was in 2010 when the Euro was strong enough to leave the old bank account bruised. This go around the dollar bounced back and opened up even more options. A seven day rental car was less than $200, allowing us to get lost in the most magical of places.

Beyond the destinations John had some great tips for traveling with your family, and even the extended family.

Let The Kids Do The Planning

John allows each of his kids to plan an entire day of the trip. The rest of the family can tag along, or go do their own thing. The idea is to give each child the opportunity to do something they’re excited about rather than keeping everyone on one rigid itinerary. As a result John and family have toured the sewers of Paris and the Royal College of Surgeons in London. Turns out both were very interesting places – who knew?    

Go For The Villa

A recent trip to the Dominican Republic brought John, his wife and kids, siblings and their brood, parents and a slew of mulch-generational family members together. How do you manage the needs, likes, and … well… dislikes, of a group that size?

Get. The. Villa.   

Having a home-base that everyone can have their own space in, come back to on their schedule, and generally just go with the flow does wonders for traveling with different age groups. Renting a big house may sound pricy, but when you split the bill it can be more manageable – and less expensive – than multiple hotel rooms. My family are big fans of the vacation rental.

Corolla North Carolina - The Outter Banks

Let The Local Be Your Guide

 I’ll just put this out there, I have never been a fan of guided tours. In fact I rather loathe them. Something about being herded like cattle into and out of points of interest makes me get the willies. Not to mention it can make you a target for everything from jacked-up prices to petty criminals. John has a different point of view. Arrange a private tour guide.  Skip the guide with the flag and microphone and get an intimate look at both the famed attractions and local favorites with an expert who actually lives there. Many times students serve as tour guides to earn a bit more, some tours are guided experts on the history, food, or culture of the city you’re visiting. There are even resources out there that will match you with a local guide who can tailor the tour just for you.

I can’t wait for our next gathering. With a list like this at least ONE of my trips is sure to make the cut.

Want more expert tips from travel insiders? Check out John’s latest venture; 1000TravelTips.com.

 

Storytelling Through Pictures

There are some places we visit that inspire such awe as to rob us of words. (Which can complicate things if you happen to write blog, or hope to send an email to your mother who awaits word of your adventures like an Elizabethan spinster. ) Were it not for storytelling through pictures, many a story would be lost.

I started traveling, in earnest, in my late teens. From the tiny seaside town in Southern Spain that served as home, we’d take weekend jaunts into new worlds. Phoenician archaeological sites in Segóbriga, mysterious labyrinthine passageways of Morocco, and luminous Greek beaches — sadly, I’ve few pictures to tell the stories of these places that changed my world.

Back-in-the-day the only photographic tool I could operate was a disposable camera. Sure it was the, “High Tech” option of the era, but I still managed to cut people’s heads off, miss shots, and miniaturize epic works of art through my inability to grasp the concept of scale. Though I did capture blurred visions of what may or may not have been ghosts. At least that’s what I’m going with, it wasn’t just a bug flying through the shot – Marc!

As I’ve trod the winding path of this journey called life, I’ve lost so many of the stories from those early days — simply because I couldn’t take a decent picture, or was too lazy to go get them developed.  Then came the smart phone, and the DSLR, tools that can make storytellers of us all.

Truth be told, I’m still not the best shutterbug. The stories are getting better though. I have a DSLR, but frankly I’m still rather confounded by it. Having a phone with a good camera feature has made all the difference.

I recently moved from iOS and a trusty -if outdated- iPhone4 to the Samsung Galaxy Note4. The differences between iOS and Android have been rather like being abandoned a foreign country without speaking the language.  (I’m slowly learning to converse with the natives.)

My Rosetta Stone moment came with a visit to the new Verizon  Destination store in Boston as part of my participation in the #VZBoston event. Here the Mediums of Modern Technology help  we everyday folk to see through the fog and communicate with the devices that inhabit our daily lives. 

Verizon Destination Store of Boston

The store is packed with products that make our lives better; WiFi-powered “canary” air quality monitors, connected home devices that allow you to adjust your thermostat, turn on/off lights, even view live video of your home – remotely.  Here is the place to test out those electronic fitness devices you’ve been on the fence about,  pilot a drone,  snap a Boston-Themed selfie, or print your a skin for your phone, tablet or laptop. Better than all of this though, is there are actual experts there to show us how to use all this mind-blowing stuff.  Which brings me back to stories and pictures.

Timing couldn’t have been better for my visit to Boston’s Back Bay and this treasure trove of inspiration a on Boylston Street. I’d be heading to Ireland the following week and could use some expert help with using my phone to snap photos. No heads would roll in these photos. 

What I Learned…

Download the Dropbox to your phone and set it for camera uploads. Note: This can eat up your data. I have mine set to upload only when attached to WiFi.

The Galaxy Note® 4 has a wide-angle, 3.7MP front-facing camera so you can capture crisper selfies. Photograph anything else, the Galaxy Note 4 comes equipped with a 16MP rear camera with built-in Optical Image Stabilization. That means I can zoom and stabilize at the same time, so no more miniaturized works of art or blurred “spirits” of questionable tangibility.  

There are several photography settings on my phone, and most “updated” phones that  allow for focal changes, capturing panoramic and action shots, and best of all (on my phone) correcting things like blemishes, under-eye circles, and wrinkles that resemble the Grand Canyon – YEAH for “Beauty Face!”

Taking photos with a phone – as opposed to a full-sized camera like a DSLR – allows you to flexibility and more spontaneous shots.   Laying on the moss in a cemetery to shoot up at a historic Celtic High Cross – so much easier with a phone.

Droim Chliabh - A Celtic High Cross remains of the monastery founded by Saint Colmiclle  between 900 and  1200 in Drumcliff, County Sligo, Ireland.
Droim Chliabh – A Celtic High Cross remains of the monastery founded by Saint Colmiclle between 900 and 1200 in Drumcliff, County Sligo, Ireland.

Social sharing is storytelling, one picture at time. And, much easier from a phone!

The result of the advice I got in Boston? So. Many. Stories.

The old reflected in the new. Copley Plaza, Boston
The old reflected in the new. Copley Plaza, Boston
Fore Ireland Kirk at For Abbey
Fore Ireland Kirk at For Abbey
Doors of Dublin, Ireland
Doors of Dublin, Ireland
The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
Acient Archway at Fore Abbey, Fore, County Westmeath, Ireland
Ancient Archway at Fore Abbey, Fore, County Westmeath, Ireland
Celtic Crosses in the Kirk Yard of the Church at Fore, County Westmeath, Ireland
Celtic Crosses in the Kirk Yard of the Church at Fore, County Westmeath, Ireland

 

Disclosure: Opinions expressed are entirely my own, because honesty is always my policy. I have relationship with Verizon Wireless as part of the #VZWBuzz Social Media Team . I was hosted as a member of the team for my visit to Boston and the opening of the Verizon Destination Store there. I have not been asked to, nor required to provide a positive opinion. No monetary compensation was revived for either the visit or this article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Study Abroad Because…?

White House Travel Bloggers Summit - Gingerbread House in the State Dinning Room

The White House was decorated for the Holidays, beautifully picturesque and embodying all that is good, familiar and comfortable in our country.  Traditional vignettes were everywhere; the smell of freshly cut pine, the sumptuous float of color on mantels, the brilliant shine of ornaments and the inviting twinkle of lights evoked a yearning for the Rockwellian innocence of American Christmases past.

It would have been easy to become swept away in the grandeur, delighting in my snug little box of national pride.  But, that’s not why I was there. 

I was there to consider the value in sending American children to other countries as part of the White House Travel Bloggers Summit.

America is the land of opportunity, right? So why encourage your precocious progeny to pursue knowledge beyond our borders in a place where those “A’s” they earned in foreign language classes might not be so impressive? Why?

Because it will change  their life, yours and maybe the world.

Study abroad is for everyone and we must prepare our future leaders — American students of all backgrounds — for the global workforce and to be global citizens.” ~ Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs

Studying abroad opens minds and doors for our children, providing better job opportunities, making the connection between what is found in a textbook and how it translates into application on a local and global scale. And frankly, it makes them far more interesting.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s address summed up eloquently, the core reasons why both travel and study abroad should play a key role in the education of all Americans,

“…travel outside our borders can add a new dimension to a person’s social and cultural intelligence – and one’s knowledge of how people abroad interact and do business with one another…In this day and age, more and more employers want to hire people with a true “world view” with the adaptability and openness that comes with having experienced other cultures.”

The Secretary sited a survey by MetLife that found 65% of Fortune 1000 executives identified global awareness as “very important” or “essential” in order to be ready for a career.

Study Abroad is a relevant, important, life skill.

Applying this message to myself, I considered my own years abroad. My study abroad experience wasn’t traditional. There was no “convincing my parents” that there was value in it, that I was mature enough, able thrive living a content away in a country where I barely spoke the language. They didn’t have to struggle to find the funds needed to send me. A set of orders from the Secretary of the Navy rendered those points moot.

Yet the years I lived in Spain – explored Europe and North Africa, studied life – imbued me with the same depth of understanding of our oneness, illustrated firsthand the impact of global citizenship, and the power in person-to-person exchange of ideas and values. 

The knowledge I gained in my early adulthood travels is with me to this day. It is the spark that kindled my passion for travel,  my need to continue to build relationships with the people I meet – be that down the street or digging beets out of the ground with a farmer in Jamaica – and to help my children see the value in these experiences. It was the beginning of an unquenchable wanderlust.

Living abroad changed me forever, for the better.  It allowed me to explore and appreciate of our differences while becoming keenly aware of our sameness, of those threads that run through each of our stories that form the binding of a book this the greater anthology of humanity.

The summit was also used to announce the opening of the State Department’s new U.S. study abroad office, which will manage some of their premier study abroad programs. The office will join advocating for the benefits of study abroad, and bringing resources to those interested in participation. To that end, they announced a partnership with the Institute of International Education and College Week Live to launch the first ever Virtual U.S. Study Abroad Fair that will be taking place on February 25th on-line and everywhere. (for updates connect with the State Department Exchange Programs on Facebook )

In the midst of the busy holiday rush, as we shop and shop, furiously checking off the “wants” on Christmas lists and hunting down longed-for toys, I invite you to consider some “needs”. 

White House Travel Bloggers Summit - Christmas Tree in the East Wing

The need for shortening the bridge between cultures. 

The need for uniting the threads of our world into a tapestry of more peaceful understanding.

The need for living life fully, for contributing meaningfully to the creation of future history.

As you sip cocoa in the firelight this season and listen to the strains of “Joy to the World”,  I invite you to think of THE WORLD.

I’ll be back in Part Two of this series to share information gleaned in our family’s quest to find a the Study Abroad program that works with our resources and suits Kaytie’s (our teenage daughter) goals. She seems to have an ever-changing list of places she wants to go and things she’d like to focus on… none of which include cleaning her room.

Patent pending, Hyperactivate

Finding Cheap Flights … YOU can do it!

Tips and Tricks for Finding Cheap Flights

Getting there can be half the adventure, it can also eat up more than half your travel budget and much of your sanity. Between having to pay for your bags,  seemingly endless fees, hours searching, and aggregate sites that, “search hundreds of fares all at once,” and open about that many windows while they’re at it – it’s a wonder we don’t all just say on the ground.  Here are some tips to help you get those cheap flights, easy and pain-free.

Wait Till Tuesday (had to toss the 80’s pop reference in there)

Several studies have pinpointed Tuesday (after 3pm eastern) as the sweet spot for saving on flights. Why?

Airlines tend to launch sales late on Monday. When the competition gets wind of it, they often drop prices to stay competitive. Loading the savings into their systems takes a bit of time, but by about 3pm on Tuesday everyone is on the same page. Often you can find fares that are even a tad cheaper than that first advertized offer.

The Early Bird Gets The Cheap Ticket

Fly out early in the morning. You’ll save enough money to buy some Visine for sure. Maybe even enough for a pick-me-up facial when you get where you’re going.

Happy Hump Day

Wednesday is marks more than the halfway point in the work week, it is also the cheapest day of the week to hop on a plane.

Listen to the Birds

Following in the footsteps of everyone from Lady Gaga to the Pope, nearly every airline that flies is on Twitter. Follow the carriers you’re hoping to hop a ride with. You might find a flash sale. 

Like I did with Frontier

Frontier
Pick Up The Phone!

I’m as guilty as any text-loving-send-me-an-email-I-can-find-it-online modern day human who would rather avoid a conversation via phone.

Real. Live. Human interaction – gads!

The thing is, actually talking to that real person can both save you money and time. Calling up the fine folks at Aer Lingus to book our tickets to Dublin and London was not only painless, but perfectly pleasant. The person on the other end of the line was able to quickly search days, times, lengths of layover, and more. They helped me find an even better itinerary at almost $650 less than I’d been able to find on my own. Now THAT is a conversation starter!