Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ireland 2017

Have you always wanted to go to Ireland or perhaps you've already been and want to return?  If you are a woman, maybe you are not sure about traveling alone or have a companion that doesn't like to travel.  Either way, Ireland is a place you should explore!

You will be amazed by the exceptional beauty of the country but what will truly take your breath away is the warmth and sincerity of the Irish people.  To say they are friendly is a tremendous understatement.  On my very first visit there I was so surprised and delighted by what I found that I had to return over and over again.

As a woman traveling solo for over 30 years, I found it to be one of the safest and most enjoyable places I've ever been. 

Here are some of my favorites: Dublin, Glendalough, Killarney, Dingle, Co. Clare, Wild Atlantic Way, Cliffs of Moher, The Burren, Connemara, Galway, Music and Food Festivals, and visiting some fantastic film locations (Quiet Man, P.S. I Love You, Ryan's Daughter, Brooklyn)

It's the place that I tell everyone that they should see at least once in their lifetime.  I'm a regular visitor so maybe I'll see you there!

SlĂ inte

Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Didn't Know About Ireland

As an Irish American, I grew up thinking that I knew certain things to be true about Ireland.   Of course, I had always heard how beautiful it was and how friendly the people were but I was surprised to discover that there are so many things that as Americans we don't really know about Ireland.

Here are just some of the things that surprised and delighted me during my travels to the lovely green isle.

Top o' the Mornin - I've never heard an Irish person say this in over 12 years of traveling there.

Corned Beef and Cabbage is not the national dish.

The most common or traditional meal I found all through the country is boiled back bacon (pork), potatoes, cabbage and a lovely parsley cream sauce, it's just like the country boiled dinner my grandmother made when I was growing up.  I found out that the corned beef and cabbage tradition was developed in America due to the cost of food and immigrants living in the same communities with some who did not eat pork. 

Irish Bacon is not the same as Canadian Bacon - it a gorgeous slice of pork loin that I adore!

St. Patrick's Day began as a religious holiday to honor their patron Saint.
Until 1970 pubs were required by law to close for the day.  Irish immigrants in America began celebrating in remembrance of their homeland and it has evolved into the green madness we know today. 

The Republic of Ireland (South) and Northern Ireland (UK) are different countries. 

Pubs in Ireland are truly Public Houses - a place to meet, gather and conduct business.  You are as likely to find a hardware store or linen shop in the same establishment.  Yes, there are many that have become more of a bar but you'll still find many true pubs throughout the country.

To say that the Irish are heavy drinkers, is not a fair reflection of the culture.  Drinking is much more of a social activity and many prefer soft drinks over alcohol when they are out.  My favorite was black currant juice mixed with water, very refreshing.

Having said that, there is a very healthy respect for the black stuff.  Many times I saw Guinness mini vans driving through the country to inspect and service the tiny pubs in the towns and villages.  As a woman you are more likely to be offered a glass instead of a pint when you order a beer, just tell them you want a pint and you'll get a smile and a wink.

We've all heard of Irish Wakes but I was very moved to hear the story about families having American Wakes for their loved ones who were emigrating to the US - they knew they would probably never see them again. 

Christianity/Paganism/Spirituality - As I trekked up the Hill of Tara I was excited to see the shrine to St. Patrick.  I was very surprised that all of their history and traditions were honored there.  That is something I found so fascinating that wherever you go there is great respect and reverence for what was.  Just because they accepted Christianity doesn't mean that they disregard their pagan past.  You'll see monuments and sacred symbols all over the country.

That is something very unique in Ireland - they don't remove something just because it is old or seems out of date.  A lovely caretaker I met at the Kylemore Abbey gardens explained to me that anything that thrives there stays there. 

Taxi drivers are more like professional tour operators - they will give you great information about the local area.  It will also be the most interesting conversation you will ever have.  The Irish are very well informed about news and world events and love to chat with travelers about all of it.

How lovely and social they are is not a myth - if they ask you about yourself, this isn't simply being polite - they really want to know.  I was told early on, when you go out to allow extra time to chat with the people you meet and it was a true pleasure.

The Irish have an incredible, irrepressible, independent spirit that is perfectly displayed on the Painted Doors of Dublin and at the same time have deep love and loyalty to their country, like singing the national anthem at the end of a night of drinking and dancing.  Try that at an American bar on a Saturday night.

They are the warmest and kindest people I have ever met and the countryside is absolutely stunning.  If you've been there then you know what I'm talking about.  If you haven't, then you must see it for yourself to understand the true beauty of this very special place.

To say I was charmed by Ireland would be a tremendous understatement.  It's not only the home of my ancestors but has become the homeplace of my heart. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sailing Solo: What I Learned from My First Cruise Alone

I had always wanted to take a cruise.

Everyone I know who’s ever gone has loved it and had wonderful stories to share. It seemed like an easy and fun way to go to many different destinations and travel with others closer to my own age. I received some great advice from people about how to pick the cruise that was right for me.

First, you need to decide where you want to go and what type of activities or events are important to you. The variety of ships and types of trips is endless. Everything from peaceful, meandering river cruises to the massive, floating cities – the options are plentiful.

Choosing the Right Cruise

For my first time, I knew I wanted something a little more low-key. Perhaps a smaller ship and more casual than the average cruise. I also like to have a little private outdoor space so I knew I would want a balcony. I didn’t need any of the popular entertainment like gambling or the big Las Vegas style shows so I started looking at other types of trips.

It’s like trying to decide between going camping or visiting New York City; choose what appeals to you.

A friend recommended a travel website so that I could start to compare all the different types of cruises available. She had just recently been on one that went to the Dominican Republic and did some volunteer work with the community there. It sounded like something I would really enjoy so I checked into it and booked the trip. It was also very affordable with a low single supplement so that helped keep the cost down.

Embracing a New Experience

As much as I travel it’s not often that I have a totally new experience. I always love visiting new places and meeting new people but the process of booking accommodation and transportation is something I am quite familiar with. Planning for a cruise was all so different for me and really took me outside of my comfort zone; it was long overdue.

I felt like a young novice traveling for the first time and it was so exciting!

I didn’t know what to pack, how to check-in, how to get on and off the boat, whether I would get seasick or if I would like cruising or hate it. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about so many aspects of cruising but I had no idea how it would be for me.

What I discovered is that the same basic travel principles apply no matter where you go. There will always be others who have never done this before and many experienced people there to help guide you. That was apparent as soon as I arrived at the cruise terminal and this immediately put me at ease.

Enjoying a Fantastic Adventure

There are some real benefits that most cruisers will tell you about – you don’t have to pack and unpack for each location, you have the advantage of seeing remote places but still eating and sleeping in your own cabin on the ship. There are so many options for food and activities I can’t imagine ever feeling bored. I liked the freedom and flexibility I had to do as much or as little as I wanted and it was a perfect balance for me.

My favorite experience was meeting the amazing people on the ship and on shore. They were so warm and friendly and happy to share information with me, especially when they found out it was my first cruise.

It may not seem like a big risk to go on a cruise, but for me this was a great opportunity to do something I had never done before. To feel so young and inexperienced was refreshing and rejuvenated my love of travel.

If you think you might like to try cruising, I recommend talking to someone who has a similar travel style to your own and asking them for their advice on what type of cruise you might like. Do your research and don’t worry, it’s one of the easiest trips I’ve ever taken and I will absolutely go again!

Wishing you safe and happy travels!

Have you ever been on a cruise? Do you prefer to travel alone or with others? What questions do you have about first-time cruising? Share your stories and join the conversation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Postcards from a Solo Traveller

Solo Travel Souvenirs 

Cheese and wine from Paris, tea and biscuits from London and a pair of flip-flops from Barcelona when it was simply too hot to wear anything else.

These are the purchases that remind Lynn Clare of the wonderful places she's visited as a solo traveler.

Wherever she goes, she likes to buy something authentic, whether it's something to wear or a local delicacy to treat her taste buds. She used to try to save the latter for the journey back to Denver, but more often than not, she found them too irresistible to resist.

Now Lynn prefers to buy gifts for others. “I love to bring back gifts for my family,” she says. “I usually keep the bag the gift came in as a souvenir; I use it for my future travels, and it always reminds me of the trip where I got it.”

“My grandchildren love hearing about all the places that I visit,” she says. “We try to Skype so they can see a little of it.”

Her passport is full of stamps from New Zealand, Canada and Italy, but her most treasured memories are from her many trips to Ireland.

“The first time I visited, I found that the beauty of the Irish countryside is only surpassed by the kindness of the people,” she says. “I was so touched by the warmth and generosity that after my first visit, I came home and quit my job, so I could spend more time there.”  “That was 10 years ago, and I still go once or twice a year,” she adds.

Lynn's first solo trip outside of the US - over 30 years ago - took her to Mexico. “I did have quite a few reservations initially, but my desire outweighed my fear,” she says. “I planned as much as I could, which helped to alleviate some of the anxiety around things like where I would stay, learning a little Spanish and understanding currency conversion.”

Any concerns that Lynn had previously harboured about travelling alone quickly evaporated. On the flight home, she was already thinking about her next adventure.

With each trip, Lynn grew in confidence, gradually venturing further afield. “I kept having such a fantastic time that it gave me the confidence to travel alone anywhere in the world,” she says.

Anyone who has travelled alone will likely recognize the newfound confidence that Lynn describes.

It can be an intoxicating feeling, but Lynn has been careful not to let this feeling turn into overconfidence, particularly when visiting countries where the culture is very different.

“Some destinations are not what you are expecting, and that can be challenging,” she says. “I have to reset my expectations very quickly, so I can enjoy whatever environment I find myself in. That can be great fun as long as I stay flexible.”

“It's very important for women to stay safe while travelling,” she adds. “You must stay aware of your surroundings, protect your personal information and belongings, and always let someone know where you are.”

For peace of mind, Lynn always chooses to stay at a hotel with a restaurant on site. When eating out, she's careful not to become easily distracted, and whenever she feels uncomfortable about booking a table for one, she simply orders room service.

That's not to say that Lynn feels uncomfortable very often. Having found a way that works for her, the experience of dining out in a restaurant on her own is now one of her greatest pleasures.

Now, she always allows herself at least one night to dress up and indulge in the local cuisine, sharing pleasantries with her fellow diners or simply enjoying some peace and quiet.

The whole experience of travelling alone is one that Lynn finds to be liberating. “I have travelled solo most of my adult life, and I just love the freedom of it,” she says. “I have always enjoyed seeing new places and meeting new people, so I take trips near and far at every opportunity.”

See the full article at https://www.staysure.co.uk/postcards-from-a-solo-traveller/