Tag Archives: Ireland

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Dublin celebration.

Dublin celebration.

Everybody’s Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. At least that’s how the saying goes.

There certainly is something infectious about St. Patrick’s Day. Perhaps it’s all the merrymaking or maybe it’s just something about the Irish. For cities that go green in honor of the great patron saint, the celebrations can sometimes be hard to avoid.

Anyone who’s ever visited Ireland knows the place is magic. Even my friends from the Emerald Isle who live in the US will tell you the same. Being from or having grown up in Ireland is a different kettle of fish. It’s only by being there that you can truly appreciate and understand the Irish. For Irish-American friends who’ve never been, you have no idea what you’re missing.

County Clare's Cliffs of Moher.

County Clare’s Cliffs of Moher.

To them I’d also say skip the St. Paddy’s Day parade and forgo the hangover you’ll have the next day. Instead be bold and grab a last-minute flight or travel package for the real deal. Anyone touching down in Éire over the next few days will be spoiled for choice with celebrations.

In the States, St. Paddy’s day may be all about parades, beer, corned beef and cabbage but in Ireland it’s a religious holy day and public holiday. Parades are held (pretty much an American import) and festivities take place across the counties. While folks may pop into a pub for a pint, you won’t find the swilling that goes on here. You won’t find any corned beef and cabbage either. Irish immigrants in the US who couldn’t swing for a traditional ham cooked up that dish from kitchen tips they borrowed from Eastern Europeans.

The man had a way with words. (Photo credit: C. Santino)

The man had a way with words. (Photo credit: C. Santino)

What you will find is an incredible culture rich in hospitality, literature, art, and music. Over the centuries, some of the most stimulating, beautiful, and enchanting words to grace a page or guitar note have been gifts from the Irish. Jonathan Swift, James Joyce, Braham Stoker, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, Nuala O’Faolain, Edna O’Brien—the list goes on and on. And what would a playlist be without the likes of Liam Clancy, Van Morrison, U2, or Elvis Costello, to name a few. I mean, really, as cultures go, there’s kind of no contest.

Dublin's Trinity College attracts locals and visitors.

Dublin’s Trinity College attracts locals and visitors.

In terms of hospitality, there’s no welcome like an Irish welcome. They are the land of a thousand welcomes, after all.

During my first visit in 1995, I was overwhelmed by the graciousness and generosity of strangers who directed me to follow their car, or who accompanied me by foot, to ensure I reached my destination.  When it comes to resting your bones, from hostels, to guest houses, to luxury hotels there are loads of lodging.  I like  Ireland’s Blue Book, leaf through it and you’ll understand why.

Before I traveled there, lots of folks said that while I’d probably like Ireland itself, that I’d hate the food. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

The potato famine left an indelible mark on its history but since then Ireland’s come a long way.  Thanks to lots of rain and the  rich and rolling land beneath its feet, the country ‘s long been a leader in the “from farm-to-fork” sustainable food movement.  Something that other parts of Europe, and especially the US,  came late to the party on.

A yummy lunch at Morans on The Weir. (Photo credit: C. Santino)

A yummy lunch at Morans on The Weir. (Photo credit: C. Santino)

On this small island you’ll find the freshest seafood you’re most likely ever to come by. Call me biased but there’s no salmon like Irish salmon. Whether inland or coastal, an afternoon pit stop spent over a piping hot bowl of delicate seafood chowder or plump and buttery mussels that melt in your mouth is heavenly. Some fresh-baked brown granary bread to sop up all the good stuff, and a nice healthy Guinness to chase it all down makes it a perfect meal. Meat lover or vegetarian—bring your appetite, you won’t be disappointed. Darina Allen’s Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork is Ireland’s most famous cooking school but as the country’s culinary reputation has grown, several others have popped up. The immersion experience that these schools offer draw professional chefs and foodies from around the globe and do their fair share of contributing to Ireland’s tourism.

Ballymaloe Herb Garden.

Ballymaloe Herb Garden.

If you can’t celebrate the real thing, from Alabama to Wyoming you can probably find a festivity near you. Like the symbolic shamrock, Boston, New York City, and Chicago act as patron city saints for St. Patrick’s Day in the States. If you’re in one of these cities this week, or month, chances you’ll find some good stuff. Check out Boston’s Irish Cultural Center, Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center, or the Irish Arts Center in NYC.

For folks looking for a quieter experience, throw on some Irish tunes or settle in between the pages of The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story for a magic mix of talent, or How The Irish Saved Civilization. An Irish coffee wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

I don’t know why some people are drawn more to other cultures than their own. Since my first journey to Ireland I’ve been back at least eight times. Yes, I’ve got a thing for the Irish and I’m happy to celebrate them any day of the week.

Sláinte and have a Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Island Hopping.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

One of the gifts of working in travel is the wide network of colleagues you meet along the way.  Across air, car, cruise, destinations, hotels, travel advisors, tour companies, and event specialists—we’ve cumulatively traveled the globe!  So it’s always a treat when you run into each other because chances are someone will have just returned from a trip.  One of the features of Ports Are Calling will be a Q&A with industry insiders—or people who have a thing for travel—to spread the word, share a moment or shine a light on a particular destination or travel experience.   I recently caught up with Catherine Reilly, Managing Director, Brendan Vacations, Ireland.  When she’s not crisscrossing her motherland, Miss Reilly can often be found hiking near Lake Como or exploring a new destination experience.  Because she’s blessed to travel so much, she considers herself a “privileged delinquent” and it was good to learn about her recent visit to Easter Island.

Rapa Nui view from the top.  (Photo credit:  Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Rapa Nui view from the top. (Photo credit: Explora lodge, Rapa Nui)

Q:   What inspired you to travel to Easter Island?
A:   I’ve visited South America several times, places like Machu Picchu, Patagonia, Galapagos  Islands, the Amazon Rain Forrest, Iguassu Falls, and the wonderful cities of Santiago, Quito, Rio De Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Lima and more. I love this continent and this time a visit to Easter Island fitted nicely into my travel plans.

Q:  So you obviously have a thing for South America.  What is it about that continent that attracts you?
A:  Reading about South America as a child I think I was first attracted by the wonderful place names, Paraguay, Uruguay, Patagonia, and Lake Titicaca.  Now as a traveler I am inspired by its ancient civilization and culture, that’s what draws me back again and again. 

Q:  Do you think that might have something to do with the ancient history that’s in your bones as an Irish woman?
A:  In Ireland all around us we witness our ancient civilization.  At Newgrange for example we have a structure built thousands of years ago that remains today. At Machu Picchu the ancient civilization of the Incas is powerfully presented to us and through the statues on Easter Island we learn about the ancient Polynesians.  The debate continues as to whether these structures, temples, monuments were built to venerate their dead or worship their Gods, or were there other reasons? That said, the fascination is with the people who built these amazing places and things with such engineering skills, knowledge of geometry, astronomy, and respect for their environment. Today we visit, stand in awe and remind ourselves they didn’t have metal yet!

Unfinished Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

Unfinished Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  What about Easter Island surprised or fascinated you?
A:  The locals refer to their island as Rapa Nui and you visit to see the Moai (not statues). Interestingly, ‘Rapa Nui’ is the name of the country and the local language and ‘Rapanui’ refers to the people.  The island is so small, about 26 miles long. The biggest attraction is, of course, the Moai, there are so many of them and they are all over this little island and they’re so big.  They’re not protected in any way, so the island relies on the visitor to treat these treasures with respect. What’s fascinating is not just the monumental stonework and the amount of effort it took to build the Moai, there is also the mystery of why the islanders toppled them all over.

The Moai.  (Photo credit:  C. Reilly)

The Moai. (Photo credit: C. Reilly)

Q:  They’re statues but the Moai sound like more of a presence?
A:  Oh, absolutely, yes, the energy on the island is amazing.  It’s like when I walk around some places in Ireland, I feel like I’m walking in the footsteps of my ancestors.  There is a presence on Easter Island and when you visit Rano Raraku, the quarry where there’s something like 400 of these statues still there in various stages of carving, some are half-finished and some are just heads, it’s like one day, the people making them just all up and left.

Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Easter Island. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Aside from the Moai, were you drawn to any particular part of the island?
A:  My favorite place on the island was the Rano Kau, a crater shaped like an amphitheater. When I arrived at the crater it was clear just how remote it all is, truly wonderful, you’re just surrounded by the big, blue ocean.  The island is Ireland green, and the ocean around it is all different kinds of blue and turquoise, and every time you look at it you can see a different color.

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island.  (Photo credit:  A. Reilly)

Catherine at Rano Kau on Easter Island. (Photo credit: A. Reilly)

Q:  How’s the island hospitality?
A:  It’s fantastic, super friendly.  The population on Easter Island is approximately 5,500.  It’s governed by Chili and 60% of the islanders are Rapanui, and the rest are from the mainland. Most of our guides were Rapanui and they were all very proud to share their stories.  The islanders are extremely welcoming. The post office will even stamp your passport with a Rapa Nui stamp!

Q:  Where did you stay?
A:  I stayed at the Explora lodge, which is five miles from Hanga Roa, where 95% of the population lives and the only place on the island with electricity and running water. There are hotels, restaurants, mini markets and the usual souvenir shops. The local currency is the Chilean peso but you can easily use US dollars. 

Q:  How’s the local cuisine?
A: The food was excellent, great variety, with lots of fresh fish and vegetables. It was all very tasty and healthy. 

Q:  Any interesting experiences?
A:  One of the traditions on the Island is a triathlon with the difference being that it takes place during the Tapati festival in February. It’s only open to Rapanui men, and one of our guides participates each year so it was interesting to hear about it from his perspective. It’s a race that requires extreme stamina. The contestants paddle across the lake 650m in canoes made out of reeds. They then pick up enormous heads of bananas and run one and a half times the circumference of the lake. They then swim and surf across the lake atop a reed surfboard. The men are very scantily clad for this competition.

Q:  How many days do you recommend to visit and what time of the year is the best to go?
A:  I travelled there with LAN, a South American Airline from Santiago.  The flight was just under six hours and there’s daily service. I travelled in the off-season in April, there was some rain but I was able to see the Moai practically alone. It’s quite remote, the island is situated in the Pacific Ocean, half way from the coast of Chile and Tahiti, three full days are a must. The Tapati Festival happens in February and that’s peak time to visit.

Q:  Most people over pack for trips, what do you recommend for an Easter Island visit?
A:  You’re visiting a special place that so few others have ever set foot, so bring an open mind.  After that, all you need is casual clothes and comfortable walking shoes—something closed toe is good, not flip-flops or sandals. High season is January through March but the weather is fairly good for the remainder of the year, so I’d recommend sunscreen and a hat.  Pack a light rain jacket for an off-season trip.  It’s an island so there are beaches where you can swim, and for divers there are caves to explore.  Make sure you have plenty of memory card space and batteries for your camera.

Q:  Why should people visit Easter Island?
A:  Because it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world with a unique history and archaeological wealth greatly disproportionate to its size. A visit to the island will unlock some of the mysteries associated with Rapa Nui, sort out the facts and fiction.  

Q:  Do you recommend hooking a visit to Easter Island onto any other destinations?
A:  For sure—Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil.  Chile and Easter Island for example.  Chile is home to some of the most beautiful and exotic scenery in the world, from the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, to the magnificent Torres del Paine National Park in the Extreme South, not far from Antarctica, to the beautiful city of Santiago and the nearby vineyards—the itinerary choices we can design here are as diverse as they are endless.  Brendan’s team, Boutique Journeys, creates amazing South American itineraries and extensions to Easter Island.

Empire of the Incas, Peru.  (Photo credit:  Brendan Vacations)

Empire of the Incas, Peru. (Photo credit: Brendan Vacations)

Q:  Easter Island is considered something of a “bucket list” destination.  How popular is it for Brendan customers?
A:  It used to be difficult to get there but flights have increased and it’s becoming more popular for us each year. When you consider that only a total 4,000 travelers visited the island in 1989 from all over the world and in 2012 that number increased to 85,000.  That’s still a small number in global tourism terms, but when you think of the size of the island and the number of inhabitants a different picture emerges.  If tourism continues to grow, they’re going to have to protect the island in some way because it’s a heritage site. They will probably have to restrict visits, like they do on the Galapagos and on the Inca trail. It’s not a place that you can get to easily so the folks who book with us tend to have a traveler, not a tourist, mindset. They’re not looking for the creature comforts—they’re looking for an experience.  The Brendan team does an excellent job in managing expectations and matching the needs of the customer with the experience

Q:  So it sounds like the ideal thing would be to figure which South American country you’d like to explore and build Easter Island into the itinerary.  If anyone is interested in booking a trip with Brendan to discover Easter Island, what should they do?
A:  That’s easy, they just talk to their travel agent!

 

 

 

 

You Had Me At Margaritas On The Rocks With Salt.

Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)

Sphinx and pyramid. (Photo by author.)

Last Saturday a friend invited me over for a Mexican dinner.  Our meal would start on the stoop with margaritas on the rocks with salt, along with fresh guacamole and chips.  Yum…she didn’t have to ask me twice!  She makes a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guac.   I could make those things myself but why should I when those are two of her specialties. I had no doubt that the main course would also be superior.  What does this have to do with writing and travel?  A few things…

So you travel agents out there…do you have specialty? If so, do you write about it?  Before creating this blog, I shared its main objective with an acquaintance that asked, “Travel agents still exist?”  “Yes, they exist,” I answered.  “Who uses them?” was his next question.  It was easy to understand his perplexity.   Most folks book their travel online, it’s where they think they’ll get the best deals.  Sometimes they do and other times they get a raw deal.  Most people use the Internet for a majority of their transactions these days.   True, it can result in huge cost savings.  It can also result in a lot of time spent in front of a computer, especially when it comes to booking travel.  They don’t call it the “web” for nothing and even if you know where you want to travel, chances are you’ll get stuck, for at least an hour but probably a lot longer, trying to figure it out.   Everything you need these days is just a click away but price doesn’t always equal value or a great experience.

Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)

Chalkley Treehouse experience at Lion Sands in South Africa. (Photo credit: Lion Sands.)

Whether it’s eco-tourism, safaris, cruises, hiking, surfing, cooking, or whatever country you can pinpoint on the map, if there’s a destination or travel experience out there that the customer wants, as a travel agent you’re in a prime position to bring them to it.  So how do you get them to connect with you instead of spending hours at their computer looking for the best deal?  Specializing gives you an edge.  Use that edge and write about the destination or experience that you’re passionate about.  Entice them.  Show them what they’re missing and how you can bring that experience to life for them.  Writing helps readers establish a relationship with you.  It’s a way to communicate your knowledge and value up front.  It’s about building trust through your expertise.  It’s about letting them know that you’re still out there rocking in the free world of commerce.  Show them your version of a mean margarita and a killer bowl of guacamole.

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)

Tango dancers in La Boca, Buenos Aires. (Photo by author.)

“Two weeks ago I met a travel agent.  I thought they were all gone. Shows you how crazy I am—I’m sure there are others like me out there,” said John Walsh, CEO & President, SightSpan Inc.  He’s right—there are lots of others out there like him.  Walsh travels extensively and books online, directly with the airline.  Asked why he doesn’t use an agent he said, I don’t use a travel agent due to lack of a relationship and it seems faster for me to book business trips and vacations myself.”

Understanding this point of view needn’t be a reason for travel agents to throw in the towel, but rather an opportunity for them to understand why it’s important to leverage their expertise and assets and market themselves through writing.  Agents who specialize have a head start to differentiate themselves within the competitive marketplace to influence travelers and communicate their value.  For readers who latch on to a specialist’s insights, they won’t have to think twice about how to book their travel the next time they want to explore options about a particular destination.

Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland.  (Photo by author.)

Ballynahinch Castle, Galway, Ireland. (Photo by author.)

When I asked Walsh if he’d consider using a travel agent he said, “I would, if their services were presented with a clear value proposition and cost benefit offering.  Agents need to better state that they’re still out there and articulate their value.  They need to reeducate people of why it’s best to have a human working with you when something goes wrong—and it always does.”

Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)

Bedouin riders at Petra, Jordan. (Photo by author.)

The best reason for using a knowledgeable agent is that they’re there for you when the unexpected happens and you have to cancel or change your plans because an ash-cloud exploded over Europe or because you fell off your scooter in Bermuda and landed in the hospital. I hope you never have to experience having to suddenly return home from a foreign land when you booked everything on the Internet.  Any travel agent worth their salt will be able to turn you on to the best experience for your money or save you from having that “trip from hell” where perhaps your room isn’t reserved or your hotel is located in the wrong part of town.  Agents who are truly connected to a destination or travel experience can dive deep for you.  If you have any doubts, take a look at Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Travel Specialists Collection or Travel + Leisure’s A-List: Top 100 Agents and you’ll see what I mean.  After reading through a few of these specialists, you’ll be itching to escape somewhere.

So if you’re a travel agent or counselor who specializes, share your expertise.  If you’re a traveler, think about visiting your local travel agency and get to know the experts.

Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)

Margaritas on the rocks with salt. (Photo by author.)

By the way, my friend’s margaritas and guacamole were excellent.  But then again, I had no doubt they would be…it’s her specialty.