Day Tripper #2- Your State Park

With summer upon us in the north and midwest, it is nice to be out and about, enjoying the sun and warm weather. Like most midwesterners , I try to do as much outside from May to October as I can. I know winter is around the corner and it will have me hibernating. There is still some hesitation on traveling so I thought another day trip idea could be to your State Park. Pack up the bikes, kayaks, picnic baskets, and perhaps the family and let’s take a trip to some of the best State Parks in our nation.

Connecticut -Dinosaur State Park

Real. Dinosaur tracks. Yes, for real. They have been preserved for over 200 million years. Located in Rocky Hill, CT- Dinosaur State Park is just an hour or two drive from many east coast cities. Aside from the amazement of the tracks from the Dilophosaurus and Eubrontes dinosaurs there is a 2 mile trail that takes you through the arboretum. Enjoy the beautiful tapestry of juniper, ginkgo, pine, sequoia and magnolia trees as well as discover rocks that date back millions of years. Not your typical State park as there are no beaches, no biking, or kayaking but what they do have is pretty cool. For inspiriting Paleontologists, you can do Track Casting– you create your very own dinosaur footprint to take home with you. There is also the opportunity to mine for gems and fossils. Be sure to review the website as you need to come prepared with a few itemshttp://www.dinosaurstatepark.org/outdooractivities.html. The park is closed on Mondays. The exhibition center is currently closed due to Covid19 but the rest of the park is open. Bring a picnic basket and dine where dinosaurs once roamed the earth.

Kentucky- Cumberland Falls

Moonbow at Cumberland Falls

Only a 3 hour drive from Louisville or Nashville, Cumberland Falls State Park has a lot to offer. It’s hard to know where to begin here… Do you start with the 68 foot waterfalls and catch a glimpse of a moonbow – a rainbow formed by the droplets of water when the sky is clear or the moon is full? Or are you feeling REALLY adventurous and want to go river rafting? Or enjoy the adrenaline rush from the 650 foot long zip line that reaches 35 miles per hour as you drop from the tower. Not your thing? There are stand up paddle boards, kayaking, and fishing activities as well. A lovely beach for swimming and relaxing. You can’t go to the state that hosts the Kentucky Derby each year without trying your hand at horseback riding. Take a 45 minute guide trail ride through the beautiful woods of eastern Kentucky. You may discover that you want to spend more than a day. There are cottages and cabins available for rental for 1 to 7 nights. Campsites are open again if you want to rough it and bring your own tent or RV.https://parks.ky.gov/corbin/parks/resort/cumberland-falls-state-resort-park

Maine- Baxter State Park

Bull Moose enjoying the Penobscot River

Known as New England’s greatest State Park, Baxter sits on over 200,000 acres and is the largest protected wilderness area in the US. It is also the northern terminus point for the Appalachian trail. There are over 200 miles of hiking trails that offer 2 hour to day long hikes through the park. There are many measures in place to protect this area, so parking reservations for hiking the more complicated trails are recommended. Open 7 days a week, you can cover everyone’s interest as activities include; fishing, canoeing, kayaking, , bird watching, hunting, and mountain climbing. Home of Mt Katahdin, peaks at 5767ft and visible on a clear day from the Quebec/New Hampshire border. This is a rugged area. No electricity. No food or gas. No cell service.Road are unpaved. Any facilities that are available are very primitive. It is a great place to go off the grid. Your only interaction for hours (or days) can be with the moose or other wildlife that roam this unspoiled area. During “non Covid” times you can also go white water kayaking on the Penobscot River (check back in late 2020). Camping is available- tent and cabins. There are glamping options near by as well, check out this resource https://glampinghub.com

I hope I have peaked your interest. Stay tuned for part 2 as we discover what the the parks in South Carolina , Michigan, and Maryland have to offer. Create that road trip playlist that has all your favorite tunes, grab your most adventurous friend and venture out to your favorite state park.

Day Tripper- Your Favorite Farmer’s Market

Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky on Pexels.com

I am a morning person. Don’t hate me. I love the coolness of a Summer morning, when the heat of the day hasn’t hit yet and the world is just waking up. Everything is in slow motion. The earth is calm and the light of the sun is breaking through the trees and around buildings. The birds are singing and people are out walking their dogs and savoring the peace of the moment. I just love this time! I feel energized and optimistic about life itself. So with a coffee in hand, and a tote bag in the other- let’s head out to your favorite Farmer’s Market or explore a new one.

Maybe your favorite market is in your home town – quaint and made up of local farmers and artists. Or if you live in a larger more urban area, offering a more robust market that hosts a slue of vendors including butchers, bakers, home decor, restaurants, gardening and floral sections etc… some are year round, others only seasonal. These markets are an intricate part of the community in which it resides and exists based on the support of the community. Each a treasure in its own right. I make it a point to visit these wonderful markets like these whenever traveling to a new destination.

Let me begin with the wonderful Detroit Eastern Market https://easternmarket.org. With over 150 of history showcasing local artists, locally farmed produce and flowers as well as cultural events,Eastern Market brings the vibrancy of Detroit to life. It is open and thriving these days so let me help you plan your trip

You will want to go early, so plan on having breakfast at Vivio’s It is a popular place so there could be a wait http://www.viviosdetroit.net. Known for their Bloody Marys and hearty breakfast, it is a great place to fuel up for the day. If there is a wait, don’t worry pop in next door at Devries & Co- https://www.devries1887.com. – it is a gourmet grocery store with hard to find items, local Detroit and Michigan made products, and a great gift shop on level 2 & 3. I love the vintage Detroit t-shirts they have- Vernor’s, Farmer Jack, Pine Knob and Faygo are just a few that you can find. After breakfast, it is time to explore the area. The Saturday market tends to be the most popular. Often you will find more than 200 vendors offering their produce, their stories, and their passions for what they are doing. The Sunday market is not as traditional as it more of a showcase of local artists and musicians. Neither will disappoint. You will notice the The Murals in the Market – created by local artists displaying their talents, telling stories of Detroit’s past and future, the struggles and the triumphs. The tributes to civil rights leaders through out the ages and the influencers on the culture and people of Detroit. You can feel the time, the energy, the sweat, the tears and the passion that went into creating these wonderful works of art.

As you make your way through the different sheds, you will experience so many different pleasures. You will enjoy the sweet fragrances of the flowers displayed in magnificent rows of color. Sunflowers, Lily’s, Hydrangeas and other wonderful flowers in bloom line the market. I love the warm croissants and baguettes you will come across -it makes me feel like like I am in Paris. The temptation of fresh baked breads, muffins , and cookies are hard to resist as you pass by the many bakery stands spread through out the market. The fresh fruit and vegetables that seem to go on for miles will make even the most discerning eyes take notice to the fine quality of the produce offered. There is always a new fruit or vegetable that I discover when I am there. If you like to cook like I do, you will love the selection of fresh herbs and homemade spices that are available as well. There is homemade jam, local honey, organic soaps and lotion and more.

Photo by John Lambeth on Pexels.com

Eastern Market is iconic to the Metro Detroit area and an important part of the neighborhoods of Detroit. For years it has been the main provider of affordable fresh food for the people who live there. The market has the support of our homegrown celebrity, Kid Rock, who helped create a community kitchen- Kid Rock Kitchen Commons– used by small food entrepreneurs and community educators who focus on creating a healthier and happier Detroit though improved nutrition and access to fresh foods.

It is easy to spend a few hours here and still not see it all. The energy of this area is so positive and encouraging. It brings people in from all over the state and regional visitors from Ohio and Indiana. They have implemented social distancing guidelines and you will need to bring a mask. Wear light clothing as the summers can get hot in Detroit and you will need a good pair of walking shoes. The market is free, parking is easy, and it is a great way to spend a warm sunny day in Detroit.

If Detroit is too far for you, check out your city or town’s local market. Make a day of it. It’s the type of trip you can do solo, with a partner, or even bring the kids. I have had the privilege of exploring many other markets that I want to make sure I give them honorable mention;

West Side Market in Cleveland– open year round http://westsidemarket.org

Green City Market in Chicago– year round and has great cooking demonstrations; https://www.greencitymarket.org

Eastern Market DC– love the weekend markets in the Capitol Hill area that dates back to the late 1800’s;https://easternmarket-dc.org

Sturgeon Bay (WI)Farmers market– Saturday mornings by City Hall during the summer-https://www.sturgeonbay.net/news/explore-like-a-local/sturgeon-bay-farmers-market

If you have a favorite Farmer’s market, please feel free to share so we can at it to the list.

Is it time to travel again?

To be honest with you, I have been reluctant to post anything about travel considering; a worldwide pandemic, the injustice in our nation, and the risk of being judged for not taking COVID- 19 serious enough. It’s true , I find comfort in traveling, it was part of my job but more so a passion in my life. I couldn’t wait to get back on the road or in the skies.

I spent the last 3 months in my home, like you ; worried about the virus, worried about my family and friends, the economy, my job, and wishing for things to go back to normal. I found things to distract me when I wasn’t working 14 hour days. I must have tried at least 30 new recipes- I think my favorite were the peanut butter brownies (happy to share the recipe if you are interested) . I tried my hand at painting ,well paint by number..but it was a tough one! I ordered books to broaden my horizon. I signed up to take a writing class. Oh and a language class to to work on my French. And then there were the daily walks that I said I would do at least 8 miles a day and the 30 minutes of meditation to keep myself calm and balanced. I was determined to use this time to become a healthier and better version of myself.

Also part of my original plan was that I could use this time to write…I have been traveling for 30+ years, I had 100’s of places I could write about during this time of “shelter in place”. Keep the blog going and my audience interested. Just waiting for things to get back to normal so we could do all the things we wanted again. I rescheduled trips with great optimism and then rescheduled them again for later this year or into 2021. When it came to writing though, words escaped me. Or what I did write was boring. Maybe its because I knew deep down, things were not going “back to normal”?

Needless to say that a lot of what I had planned for myself, didn’t really play out the way I thought it would. I have emerged a better version of myself in many ways. I have a great appreciation of simple things now; hugging my adult children or a dear friend, eating in a restaurant, taking long walks and talking to neighbors or strangers about life and family. I love meditating each morning and I do feel more calm. My French is slightly better. My closets and cupboards are VERY organized. And I have started to travel again!

Fast forward to today- I am actually on my third trip since the restrictions have been lifted. I have only been traveling by car so I am able to control my environment a bit more. I find road trips are great for listening to podcasts, audio books, quality time with your friends & family. They allow for impromptu stops in little towns along the way. Or to take a scenic route that hugs a shoreline or the curving roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am back to striking up conversations with strangers and it feels so good to be out and about!! As I talk to people, I am finding they were anxious to travel too. Many used the quarantine time to plan family, couple, girlfriend get-a-ways, or solo trips. So even after 3 months of confinement with these people, they chose to spend even more time together and were having so much fun doing it! Everyone was friendly. People were appreciative and respectful. Masks were worn, Social distancing was observed.

One of Michigan many beaches along the western side of the state.

It made me realize that I love travel not for the luxury of it but because it makes this big world, feel smaller. It is the perfect classroom for the soul. Traveling allows me to meet people that look different than me, have different beliefs, observe different customs and enjoy different foods. I find travel breaks down barriers and helps me appreciate all the wonderful things about our differences that make this such an amazing world to live it. If you stop and think about it…how boring it would be if we all looked alike, sounded alike, and liked to do the same things?

Enjoying sometime with friends in Wyoming

So join me today as we start up some new adventures. I am going to start sharing some drive / road trip destinations and we will build up to traveling by plane. Be confident that hotels, airlines, restaurants, and shops are doing everything they can to keep you safe. Be patient as hoteliers, servers, bartenders and business owners figure out how to provide you the care you desire while adhering to new guidelines.

So grab your bestie, your significant other or your family and let’s take a day trip to the

Farmer’s Market down the road …

Breathe

Take a deep breath. Notice how your shoulders drop, your sense of awareness awakens. Take another one. You start to gain perspective of where you are in this moment. One more and gratitude starts to sink in. Gratitude for the friends and family you have in your life. For a job that allows you to have a roof over your head. For the breath that God has put in you to bring purpose to this world. A state of gratitude is where I am right now. The sun is starting to rise, the morning air is still brisk in Texas and the only zone I am able to have WIFI is outside the little coffee shop on the beautiful grounds of Miraval Spa and Resort in Lake Travis, https://www.miravalaustin.com . The spa is located about 45 minutes outside of Austin Texas. It is only 40 degrees but my mind is set on gratitude and finding my purpose.

The lovely team at Miraval have one goal for you…to put you on a path that will bring you balance. A stay here will allow for time to reflect upon your life. Time to focus on forgiveness. On self love and care. On making an impact in the world in which we live. An opportunity find peace and self acceptance. The message here is all about investing some time in one’s self to set your intentions for your next chapter in life An opportunity for healing, re-grouping, and creating a life well balanced.

As you enter the resort, the first thing you notice is the sense of peace. Almost desert like in its appearance , Miraval Spa & Resort Austin sits on the hills of Lake Travis and is surrounded by the beauty of Texas wildlife and the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. The resort has various buildings sprinkled across the 220 acres including a Yoga barn, gym, spa, dining facilities. a Provision’s shop, and housing for guests. The intent of your trip is made very clear by the guide that welcomes you…no cell phones- take this time for yourself to reconnect with what is important in life. They give you “permission” to push aside the day to day distractions of the world and take care of yourself- mind, body, and soul.

There are so many options to choose from when it comes to how you want to spend your time here, I will try to break down to a few categories. For well being ; you are able to consult with a Wellness Counselor. They can help you through the process of addressing some of the tough issues in your life and provide guidance to move towards a more emotionally and physically balanced approach on life. Help with relationships, parenting, stress management, and inner calm. This will include developing a daily routine of mediation or prayer, healthy habits with food and exercise and connecting with others to bring peace and love into the world.

If you prefer to spend your time sharpening your culinary and wine skills, there are workshops for that as well With a working farm across the street, you can work with the chef and team to learn key steps to provide your body with the nutrition that it needs and find a healthier way of eating that brings you more energy. There is the opportunity to learn more about sustainable living as you work with bee keepers to learn about the impact bees play on our world and how essential they are to our survival. I have to admit, I opted out of this, my life long fear of bees just didn’t allow it. There are lighter workshops as well that include wine pairing and a class on chocolate.

If you are looking for more activity, there are plenty of outdoor adventures to join. There are Challenge courses, hiking trails, horseback riding excursions, and something called a “Swing and a Prayer” which has you dangling 35 feet in the air to help you face your doubts and insecurities. And of course there is Yoga and fitness. Learn to belly dance, or try your hand at kickboxing. Or maybe your style is more along the lines of Tai Chi in the beautiful Zen garden. Perhaps you want to try your hand at acrobatic yoga and hang from the ceilings while holding yoga poses. All of it is available to you – most of it included in the cost of your stay.

Are you starting to see how much there is to do at this fabulous place? I haven’t mentioned the spa yet. The Miraval spa with its beautiful infinity pool has all you could ever want. Body treatments, massages, facials- all focusing around renewal, healing, nurturing, and balance. This is not included in the daily price of the resort but truly worth a splurge to experience one of their fabulous treatments.

The accommodations are equally luxurious. The bed can only be described as heavenly…you feel like you are sleeping on a cloud. The feather bed with it’s layers of blankets and sheets will swaddle you as you fall into a deep sleep after a full day of activities.

Best time to come to Miraval? The.off season is January and February which is when the resort offers some great deals on packages for girlfriend and couple’s get-a- ways. We met women that gather here yearly to reconnect with each other. A family from Kansas City that gather together to celebrate each other each year. Season is spring and fall so the prices are a bit higher but Tuesdays and Wednesdays are their slowest days, so you still might find a deal or two.. Summers are hot in Austin- temps can reach over 100 degrees but the resort is in full swing. The nightly rates include so many of the activities that I mention above as well as 3 meals a day. You don’t need to over pack as the attire is mostly yoga pants and sweatshirts. No make up is needed. Perhaps a hat for a cool night or to cover up your bed head. You will not regret your time here and I will bet you will be eager to plan your return to the Austin location or explore one of the many other resorts they have. As an added benefit…3 months from the time you stayed you will receive a letter from yourself, mailed by the resort. Perhaps it is a letter stating your intentions in life, a reflection on your time at Miraval, or a letter of encouragement to stay on your path to a well balanced life. The journey you will experience at Miraval will have a lasting impact on you. It is well worth the trip.

Namaste

Galway Girl

It’s difficult to know where to begin. The people, the music, the food, the sites- once you step on the streets of Galway, you know you are in a magnificent European city. Galway has great energy. Maybe it was because the sun was out? Or because it was relatively warm day which can make even the toughest Galwegian smile. Locals were enjoying this beautiful day, and we were fortunate enough to be in this moment.

There are little cafe’s that line the street with sidewalk tables that were filled today with friends sharing a coffee or a meal. The musicians on almost every corner, playing traditional Irish music added to the joy of the day. The breeze was cool but no one paid it any attention.

The city of Galway dates back to the early 1100’s. For centuries Galway was controlled by 14 families, known as the Tribes of Galway. Then in the late 1400’s, it was granted a charter, making it a royal borough. As the story goes on , entering into the Middle Age’s , Galway was an important port, with the main import being wine. This is a city of resilient people that survived fires, disease, and famine. Today, it is one of Ireland and Europe’s most prosperous cities.

There are many things to do here. There are the numerous historic sites; Spanish Arch, St Nicholas Church , Galway Catherdral, the Riverside Walk as well a as the National University of Ireland and the Claddagh Museum (Galway is where the ring was first made). We decided to take the road less traveled and experience the city like locals.

We started the morning off with coffee at Mocha Beans on Cross Street http://www.mochabeans.com to fuel up on cappuccino and a true Irish breakfast called Prata Bacailte- which is a potato stuffed with things like cheese and bacon or cheese and sweetcorn. A delicious way to start off your morning. Bundling up , we stepped outside to start our Galway adventure.

Our first stop was a whiskey store/ pub where we met Sean. Sean and Rob (see picture below) hit it off right away and before you know it, there was an impromptu whiskey tasting. It is a bit too strong for my liking but we walked out with a bottle of Green Spot Whiskey distilled specifically for Mitchell and Sons of Dublin- a unique taste as it is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and then in Bordeaux wine barrels.

The streets were starting to fill with children from the local school on their lunch break wanting to take advantage of such a beautiful day. As we wandered down the cobblestone streets we came upon a local bookstore – Charlie Bryne’s Bookshophttp://www.charliebyrne.ie A step inside revealed over 100,000 books to choose from. A bit overwhelming, but we decided to take on the challenge. I found a lovely book called “100 Letters that Changed the World”. It includes such great pieces as Leonardo da Vinci’s resume, love letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn, as well as a letter that let to the downfall of Oscar Wilde “J’accuse!” and so much more.

We moved in and out of stores, trying not to pick up too many souvenirs and were doing quite well until we came upon the Galway Woollen Market that had a sign “Ships free worldwide” and we were hooked. The items were gorgeous! Thick wool sweaters, brightly colored scarves and hats as well as delicate Irish linen. I think I did most of my Christmas shopping here and the best part was I didn’t have to find room for it in my suitcase!!

It was almost time to get on the road to head to our next destination but we needed a bite to eat to tide us over. We decided to try out Quays Bar and Restaurant https://quaysgalway.ie and grabbed a table right by the window so we could see what was going on outside – we didn’t want to miss a thing. We ordered the chicken and stuffing sandwich ..which was the tastiest sandwich I have ever had. The grilled chicken remained moist by the warm season stuffing that was laid on top of it, both nestled in between freshly baked bread. With an accompaniment of fresh chips, it will be a meal that I won’t soon forget. Hoping I can duplicate it with a box of Stove Top stuffing when I get home.

We were sad to leave our Galway. We promised each other we would be back soon. With a deep breath, we climbed into our car, ready to once again brave the wild Irish roads to our next destination of Enniscrone.

As you wish….

Does this place look familiar? It’s the Cliff’s of Insanity if you are a Princess Bride fan. If you are a Harry Potter fan , this is a familiar scene from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. If you find yourself driving along the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW), you will want to stop here. It one of Ireland’s most famous attractions, the Cliffs of Moher.

There are a couple of ways to get there. You can take the coastal hiking trail from Doolin up to the Cliff’s of Moher Visitor’s Center, which is about a 2.5 mile hike. Or you can drive on the narrow roads that take you through quaint Irish villages and then hike on the actual cliffs once inside the park. Either way, you are in for a spectacular sight.

We chose to drive to the Visitor’s Center which took us through the beautiful countryside and allowed us stumbled upon this gem. The Clare Jam Company. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere with a view of the Aran Islands (check out the view below)sits this family owned and run Jam shop. Check out their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pg/The-Clare-Jam-Company-638087912938304/posts/?ref=page_internal you will see they are known all over the world for their delicious jam. For Rob, this was the highlight of our past few days in Ireland. We now have 5 jars of jam to travel home with.

After spending a few hours at the Cliffs we jumped back on the WAW and headed along the sea to explore some of the quaint seaside towns. The first one we came upon was Lahinch, County Clare. This surfing town was still in it’s winter slumber with a few exceptions that were open for shopping and dining. After a brief stop in Kenny’s Woollen Mills https://www.kennywoollenmills.com where we picked up some beautiful Aran wool gift items, we were in search of food. We found a cute little cafe, overlooking the water called Joe’s Cafe. I was craving pizza and Diet Coke and they had both. We were the only tourist in the place. Locals gathered to catch up on the local news, discuss the big storm coming in and to spend time with friends. There were a group of surfers that were talking about their plans to go surfing tomorrow- yes, surfing in Ireland, in February…crazy. It’s a place I would go back to as it reminded me of some of the surfing villages in Souther California along the PCH. High on a cliff, the village of Lahinch has spectacular views and was the ideal location to watch the sun set.

Tomorrow we are heading further north to spend the day in Galway. Galway was recently honored of being named the 2020 European Capital of Culture so we are looking forward to exploring this famous town. For now though, we are heading into Ennis to find a pub for a bit of dinner and music.

A Scandalous Affair

Our first full day in Ireland, Kilkenny to be more specific , revealed a bit of scandal in the Royal Family. No, it is not “Megxit”. This scandal dates back to the 16th century, involving Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry the VIII and Anne Boleyn. Elizabeth I and Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, 3rd Earl of Ossory, Viscount Thurles -were rumored to have had a long standing affair that produced a child. The Butler family lived in Kilkenny Castle for hundreds of years and were related to the Queen through her mum, Ann. The Earl was very loyal to Queen Elizabeth I and it is said that they had a very close relationship and he received much favor from the Queen. After one of their encounters, Elizabeth taken ill with a swollen stomach, went into seclusion for a period of months, sparking this rumor. To this day no one has been able to prove it, but the Irish love to still talk about it.

Current day- Kilkenny Castle, http://www.kilkennycastle.ie has less drama and is a very peaceful place. Gone are the battlefields and guards, replaced by green soccer fields, elaborate play structures. and a lovely park The sun was out as we walked along the path and it was a warm 50 degrees. Children were laughing and playing, dogs were sniffing and trotting along while friends chatted and pushed strollers. We all were basking in the pleasure of the sun and warmth of such a glorious February day.

The Kilkenny Design Centre http://www.kilkennyshop.comis located across the street from the castle in the former stable section of the castle. Today it showcases; art, textiles, and glassware from artists across Ireland. The prices are very reasonable on Aran Island’s scarves, blankets, and hats as well on the beautiful works of art capturing Ireland’s landmarks and rich history. There are so many great gift items it’s hard to chose. You are able to receive a refund on the sales tax paid by registering for the Horizon cardhttp://www.shoptaxfree.com. Knowing this, it certainly encouraged me to buy more stuff!

Dining in Kilkenny can be a great culinary experience. Typically you don’t think of Ireland as a foodie destination but it has many gastro delights to offer. You have your traditional Irish Pubs and then your more modern Irish cuisine to chose from. We went a more traditional route on our first day. We had a great breakfast at The Fig Tree http://www.thefigtreerestaurant.ie. Took us a bit to figure out what rashers were. Grateful to the woman dining next to us that solved that mystery and informed us that rashers are what we call bacon. The food, atmosphere, and conversation at The Fig Tree made us feel like locals. The Irish are very warm and friendly and quick to offer up a great recommendation or helpful travel tip. Another common theme we noticed through out Kilkenny is their “age friendly” efforts The National Council on Aging and Older People have worked diligently to ensure stores, restaurants, and attractions have modifications to make it more comfortable for the older generation. Preferred seating, large print menus, brochures as well as physical assistance if needed are readily available- yet another reflection of the warmth and hospitality that the Irish are known for.

After exploring the great shops and a fabulous bookstore, we found ourselves a bit thirsty. We decide to stop in at Left Bank http://www.leftbank.ie located in the former Bank of Ireland building. Left Bank is one of the more popular places in Kilkenny to dine, drink, and experience the lively nightlife. Kilkenny is popular to what they call “hen and stag parties” – think of it as the “Nashville of Europe” for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Today was a quiet day, so we were able to chat with the our bartender, Ian about politics, history, and whiskey- the 3 favorite topics of any Irishman you meet. After a pint , we headed out to Smithwicks for a tour. Smithwicks is the oldest brewing company in Ireland, first brewed in 1710- 50 years before Guinness. The breweryhttp://www.smithwicksexperience.com has moved to Dublin so what remains is the historic factory that you can tour. You are still able to taste samples of their famous ales and pick up a t-shirt to commemorate your visit.

Our day was wrapping up in Kilkenny as we had 170 KM to go to our next destination – Ennis, in County Clare. The travel along the narrow Irish roads proved to be an experience of it’s own and worthy of a separate post. All I can say is that I am grateful for the calm and confidence of my boyfriend. He took on the challenge of driving “on the left” without hesitation and has mastered it quite well (and quickly).

Stay tuned for more of our Irish adventures.

My mom would love this

Growing up, my mom was very proud of our Irish heritage. While I claimed to be more French than Irish and dreamed of going to Paris not Dublin (insert teenage eye roll here) she talked about going to Ireland. We had to do all sorts of “Irish” things growing up- lectures, concerts, movies, and watch every TV special the Irish Rover’s did. She would insist that I attend her St Patrick’s Day parties – I would wear Orange instead of Green, just to bug her. She spent hours researching our Irish ancestors, hoping to find a long lost relative to visit. As a single mom raising 2 daughters, finances were tight. It was a really BIG dream to dream. I am happy to say, this story has a happy ending. She was able to make it to Ireland, several times, and even somehow convinced a couple to let her run their Inn for a month somewhere in County Clair . She really loved her trips to Ireland.

Then a few years ago, my daughter decided she wanted to go to Ireland. She set out on her own to do a semester abroad at the University of Dublin College. She also fell in love with this beautiful country and the people that live there. So now it is my turn.

It is February 2, 2020 and I am sitting in the Delta Sky lounge at Detroit Metro Airport waiting to board my Air France flight to Dublin. I am excited for so many reason. This will be my first international blog for Travel is my Passion. I have convinced myself that I will run into Bono while we are there. We are staying at the hotel that U2 owns in Dublin..so it could happen! I am excited to meet new people, make new friends, and have a new adventure in my life. But what has surprised me, is how emotional this trip is becoming for me. I won’t ever get to do this trip with my mom. She passed away over 10 years ago. She would have loved that her only granddaughter went to school there and now one of her daughters is about to set off on her own Irish adventure. So Barbara “Bridget” McGrew…this trip and upcoming blogs are for you.

Grá tú mam

My New York Adventure

My first solo trip…I decided to go big. I thought I would take on New York City. I thought a few years of living in Chicago was the preparation I needed and I was ready. I was going to have my Carrie Bradshaw and Holly Golightly moments mixed in with a little of my own style. And I was right, it was sensational!

I decided to use my Delta miles to upgrade to first class. For some reason it seemed appropriate to arrive in a glamours, high powered city like NYC this way. I arrived early in the morning to what was Pride Day in New York. What an awesome way to be welcomed to such a vibrant city. The parade was wrapping up but the streets and sidewalks were packed with supporters and very few protestors. The people watching was fantastic! There was music, dancing, celebration, and laughter every where. Traffic was a hot mess, which my cab driver was very upset about, but the energy of the city was good. It was too early to check into my hotel so I dropped off the luggage and started to walk.

Not far into my walk, I found myself a little Irish pub. I am Irish and friendly so I figured this place would be too. Most of the time when I travel, I don’t necessarily have a “pre-plan itinerary”, I like to wander around a bit, talk to the locals and get a feel for things. What I didn’t realize was that I was walking into a legendary bar, PJ’s Carney’s http://www.pjcarneys.com. Sitting at the bar, I was informed by regulars that this was a place that New York legends would hang out in “back in the day”. I am sure I seemed like Dorthy from Kansas with some of my questions but what I learned about New Yorkers is that they LOVE to tell you what they know and they are proud of their city. After a quick bit to eat and my briefing on the city…I headed out.

Another thing you should know about me…I lack the ability to read a map, I still try sometimes but I usually get it wrong. So when I stepped out of the doors of PJ’s, I just decided to go straight. And yes, I know New York is on ” a grid” but honestly that doesn’t mean much to me. I know I was on 57th, because my hotel was at 57th and Lexington which I felt like was an important fact to remember. It wasn’t long before I was upon 5th Ave. There I spotted… The Plaza http://www.theplazahotel.grandluxuryhotels.com which immediately made me thing of the book “Eloise at the Plaza” so I has to stop in. After exploring this fabulous hotel and grabbing a cappuccino, I headed towards Central Park. It was a beautiful summer day so the park was active. I am sure I stood out as a tourist…with a big smile on my face and pep in my step..I could have broke out in song at any moment. Still didn’t have a destination in mind but kept walking until I emerge and saw this…the MET. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art!

My first thought, I bet they have an amazing gift shop!http://www.storemet.museum.org I bought a ticket and began to explore the beautiful halls of art, sculptures, and displays. I was also intrigued by the number of artists that were there actively drawing. I listened in on a few conversations they were having and was fascinated by their observations, their theories, and knowledge. I saw beautiful works of art from Rembrandt, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh and so many others. I was feeling quiet cultured now. I didn’t take in any of the traveling exhibits but I was right about the gift shop…it was pretty amazing. I even found a book about the “Things to do in New York” that I purchased to help me navigate the rest of my weekend.

A view of the bar at Il Cantorini

The afternoon was wrapping up and I had dinner reservations at a place that was listed on the “Sex in the City” guide to NY. The restaurant is located in the village and was featured in an episode of the HBO series, Il Cantorini http://www.ilcantinori.com. Wow, did I make the right pick! I was seated out side by a handsome Italian waiter. It was a perfect warm summer night and there was a lot of activity on the street. Inside was even more interesting with birthday and anniversary celebrations. The restaurant was filled with large bouquets of fresh flowers, you could hear beautiful Italian music playing in the background and the sound of laughter coming from tables of families, couples, and friends, all there to enjoy the evening. The service was top notch. I expected to be overlooked as a solo diner but the manager came over at one point to chat as well as the sommelier, who picked out a delicious Nebbiolo for me to enjoy. People say New Yorker’s aren’t friendly but I haven’t found that to be the case. They can be direct, but I appreciate that. They can be sarcastic but I find that to be entertaining. That evening I met some wonderful ladies from Long Island that were in the city for a play, a couple from the Netherlands , and a family from somewhere in Ohio. After a wonderful dinner of a summer pasta with chicken, I said good-bye to my new friends and headed back to the hotel.

Photo by Kai Pilger on Pexels.com

My first day alone in the big city had been even better than I expected. I was excited for the next morning as I had some great plans in store for the day. Stayed tuned for the adventures of day 2. Hint: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bono, and the Berlin Wall.

Hit the Reset Button

Happy New Year! Out with the old and in with the new. Wipe the slate clean and begin again. Although I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I do think the beginning of a new year and in this case, a new decade is a great time to hit the “reset button” on life. Over the last 10 years, my family and I have taken a trip over the New Year’s time frame to do just that. It is always the same destination…a warm and sunny escape from the grayness of Michigan winters.. to the warm and sun of Florida. Nothing is more relaxing to me than the beach…the waves, the sand between your toes, the sun on your face…it opens the heart and mind for reflection. Add in some time with the people I love most in the world and I am in my “happy place”. I have some favorite family, couple, and alone spots that I would like to share with you in the Naples and Bonita Springs area if you are looking to do the same. Let’s start with the family.

Family Time

Bonita Beach is the destination that I have been taking my kids to for the last 25 years. The activities have changed for us, but it is still our “go to” spot. The beach has rich white sand, perfect for building sandcastles together. Love the idea of siblings working together on a plan to build the best castle on the beach. Should there be 4 towers or 6 in the castle? Anything is possible! One person is in charge of filling the buckets of water, the other digging the moat to protect it from intruders and the tide. The other molding the sand as the castle begins to take shape. Usually supervision by a mom or dad is helpful, just to ensure there is peace among the villagers. If your kids are past that age, maybe it is strolling along the beach looking for the perfect shells to bring back as a souvenir. I remember some of my best conversations with my children about their struggles, hopes, and dreams have happened on that beach. All walls seem to come down and the family bond is renewed.

When reality sets in and the family starts to get hangry, there is Doc’s Beach House http://docsbeachhouse.com close by…actually on the beach. It’s ok to leave your stuff on the beach to save your spot (chairs, towels),no one will bother it. Doc’s is a cash only establishment -but don’t worry there is an ATM on site. You can dine inside or sit at one of the umbrella covered tables on the beach. After a delicious burger or fish sandwich and some lively conversation with the bartender or server , it is time to hit the beach again. Maybe up your game with the kids a bit and rent a jet ski , or go parasailing or join a dolphin tour – whatever your level of adventure is for the day, Doc’s offers it all.

Couple Time

Need to reconnect with your spouse or significant other? The BEST place in southwest Florida to do that…2 words…The Ritz. Even if you don’t stay there, it is a great place to spend the day. I recommend getting there early, grab a couple of coffees from the cafe and head out towards the beach. There are miles of white sandy beach you can walk together, hand in hand, admiring the multi-million dollar homes- picking out the one you would want if you won the lottery. Then turning your gaze toward the ocean and watch the dolphins play along the shore, or maybe even take a dip in the warm Gulf waters. As relaxation sets in, the conversation and laughter grows and all of sudden you realize you are on a date.

A date usually includes a meal and it is almost lunch time…fortunately for you without any preplanning, you have a great option close by. Gumbo Limbo at the Ritz. Great Ritz service, delicious options for food and drink and a view like no other. Sometimes there is a bit of wait, but the wait is eased by the perfect frozen margarita or glass of Rose. Once seated, this al fresca restaurant has great views of the ocean and a festive Caribbean atmosphere. The service, in true Ritz Carlton tradition provides the pampering you SO deserve. You are no longer worried about time of day, world events, or to-do lists. It’s just you and your love. Let the rest of the day evolve into a romantic dinner while watching the sunset together.

Alone time

I travel all the time by myself for work, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I took my first vacation by myself. Such a difference experience. There is no need for making compromises when it comes to what to do, when to do it, or how long to do it. I found a few days (or even just one day if that is all you can manage) at the beach alone can be rejuvenating, reflective, and glorious! I like beach at Naples. Close to downtown Naples so you can add in shopping if you so desire. There is so much do to, so let’s take a walk through a full day. Beginning with breakfast, I highly recommend Jane’s Cafe on 3rd http://www.janesgardencafe.com. The garden setting is beautiful and the French toast is AMAZING. After a delicious meal, a stroll downtown is on the agenda. Great little boutiques line the avenues. Pick out a new outfit, find something beachy stuff to take home or gifts for the people you left at home. After some shopping, head towards the pier for some sun and surf. I love to walk the beach. I can resolve a lot of things in my life with some quiet time along the seashore. I have a practice of throwing shells in the water, representing any negative thoughts or things in my life, clearing the way for new and prosperous things to enter in. Might sound cheesy but it works! After all that soul searching, I am hungry again. Lunch at old Naples Pubhttp://www.naplespubs.com is on my list..mainly for the pickles. Not to say they don’t also have great seafood, burgers, and tacos..but it is the pickles that will bring you back time and time again. After lunch, you can head down to Tin City and take the 2 hour boat cruise through Port Royal and Naples Bay http://www.purefl.com. Sightseeing includes the homes of the rich and maybe not so famous. After a full day of sun and sea, a relaxing dinner at Albertos on Fifth is the perfect way to end the day. Chef Alberto has created a delectable menu of Northern Italian favoriteshttp://www.albertosonfifth.com. A glass of one of the Super Tuscan wines accompanied by a dish of homemade pasta will send you home content and relaxed.

I imagine you all have your own traditions when it comes to welcoming in a new year. Maybe it is a trip? Or an activity? Your own way of finding renewal and a fresh outlook. I hope through what I have shared that I have inspired some new ways. Either with your family, with your loved one, or some needed time alone. Please feel free to share your stories with me. I would love to hear them.