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Friday, May 27, 2011

Seven Souvenir Ideas

1. My personal favorite is scarves! Now I’m not suggesting male travelers adopt this type of souvenir collection, but it might not be a bad idea for something to bring back for a mother, wife, sister, girlfriend or any other female. I know silk and decorative (not winter) scarves haven’t been at the peak of fashion in the states in recent decades, but they are still very easy to find and a great accessory. They are also possibly the best thing to buy when traveling because they are often relatively inexpensive, easy to find, both useful and decorative, almost always unique, can show the local culture and (maybe best of all) fit easily into your luggage! I have a scarf from every country I have visited (and one from Greece that my co-organizer brought back for me from that trip). They make for a beautiful and useful collection of memories.

2. A bit pricey but very special, jewelry can make a great keepsake. Every country has some form of unique jewelry. Jewelry is ideal for its beauty, utility and the limited space it takes up in a suitcase. So if you’re willing to spend a bit more on your souvenirs, it’s a great idea. Again this idea is easier for female travelers to make a habit of, but if you’re up for spending the money a watch from each country could be a great souvenir. If your a frequent traveler, you could even set each watch for the time zone you bought it in and make a display of them.

3. Especially if you are crafty t-shirts can be more than just a typical souvenir. Another souvenir that’s always easy to find no matter where you travel is t-shirts. While this may seem a bit mundane, I’ve heard of at least one great way to make those t-shirts into a unique souvenir – once you’ve collected a bunch of t-shirts from your around the world (or even around the country or state) travels, you can use them as the basis for a pretty unique quilt. I actually first heard of this in non-traveling circles as a great idea for a souvenir or fundraising item made from each year’s Relay for Life t-shirts, but in the past couple of years I’ve also been hearing of this idea as a way of preserving your individual travel memories. This could also be a project to use those souvenir scarves for, but t-shirts tend to be more durable for this type of activity.

4. If you’re looking for something to capture the memory of one specific location prints are a more artistic alternative to your own amateur photographs or postcards. Hand painted or drawn prints of sites such as Sans Souci Palace and Notre Dame have become one of my favorite ways to decorate my walls and remember my journeys. The best prints are handmade, but it’s also easy to find photo prints of popular tourist sites. They look great in even cheap frames and are easy to fit into luggage (well as far as size is concerned, but you may want to put them in a sturdy folder or inside a book to protect them during your return flights).

5. When you travel with as many college groups as I do you get used to helping them hunt down souvenir shot glasses. They’re a bit touristy, but they’re also small for fitting in luggage and often relatively inexpensive. Plus you can practically find them anywhere anymore, and they do look great in a display case or on a shelf together with their unique images from various travel destinations.

6. Sometimes the best souvenir is the one you have a hand in making. One of our participants on last year’s tour now has a professionally made book using the photos she took on tour. These books are becoming more and more popular and are even offered for sale from the tour company we travel through. Most include a selection of your photographs (often creatively cropped, turned or layed out on pages or on the cover), pages to record your thoughts and memories and even information on the places you traveled. And while I still prefer my own photo arranging or even scrapbooking, this is a nice way to have your memories professionally preserved and organized in a creative conversation piece.

7. You know you always have extra currancy (change at least) when you travel anyway! I am not an avid coin collector, but I do have at least a few coins from each country I’ve visited. After all, it’s nearly impossible to come back from a trip without having spare change, so you don’t even really have to work much at collecting this souvenir. Kids especially love foreign coins, and while this was more fun when European countries had their own unique currencies, it’s still a lot of fun to try to collect Euro coins with backs representing as many countries as possible. You will likely even come home with coins representing countries you never set foot in!

While it may take more research and work and won’t result in the most uniform of souvenir collections, I’m still a proponent of researching a country (its culture, history, etc) and getting a souvenir that is truly unique to that area. For example, possibly the best thing I brought back from Ireland (aside from my authentic shamrock necklace – yes a bit touristy, but I love it!) was a St. Brigid’s cross. It took a while to find one actually handmade of straw (I refused to settle for some plastic tourist item!) but I eventually came across some at a gift shop at the Cliffs of Moher, and they were only 1 Euro each!

Friday, March 05, 2010

5 Romantic Destinations from my past tours ...

1. Where to propose? 108 stories up, of course! (Paris, France): On our 2008 tour we traveled with another college group and one particular participant was very worried when our itinerary changed pushing back when we’d visit the Eiffel Tower. Mainly he was worried that if we pushed back the visit to that evening it might rain and our visit would be canceled. However, it turned out beautifully; we got to see the Eiffel Tower illuminated in the twilight hours and he got to complete his mission of reaching the top of the tower with his girlfriend to make a very public proposal.
2. Walk around the lake (Lucerne, Switzerland): While in Lucerne most of our group opted to take a cable car ride up Mount Pilatus to enjoy the view; however, I wanted another chance at seeing the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument) and to have some free time to wander Lucerne. So our group leader and I chose to stay behind and enjoy not only our second trip to the Lion Monument but also a truly lovely walk around the lake. Apparently May is a breathtaking time to stroll through the park and around Lake Lucerne, plus we found a nice little restaurant with a terrace so we could continue to enjoy the perfect weather while also enjoying a cold Alsterwasser (beer and lemonade).
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3. Fairy tale castle with a view (Neuschwanstein, Bavaria, Germany): How much more breathtaking or romantic of a site can you find than a fairy tale castle? So, of course, Neuschwanstein, the 19th-century Bavarian palace of Ludwig II, has to make the list. However, the Bavarian palace makes the list as much, if not more, for it’s spectacular views as for it’s lovely design. The bridge is placed in such a spot on the Alp the castle sits on as to offer tourists flawless photographs of both the castle and the surrounding scenery.

4. The perfect little Mediterranean island (Capri, Italy): My favorite day in Italy was the morning we spent taking a motorboat around the Isle of Capri and the time we then spent on the island itself. The weather was ideal, bright and breezy. The sights on our mini cruise produced fabulous pictures and memories. The food (swordfish) was exquisitely fresh and delicious. The shops were plentiful with souvenir items ranging from scarves to hats to lemon chocolate (a specialty of the island). And the view from the top was magnificent and rich in color. Since that day if anyone were to ask me to paint an image of a tropical paradise, Capri would be my muse.

5. Swans, park benches and Irish humor (Dublin, Ireland): While in Dublin last May (2009) I spent a disproportionate amount of time in St. Stephen’s Green. This beautiful park simply offered so much to see and enjoy along with a very peaceful atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the view from one spot in the park where I was able to get perfect pictures of O’Connell Bridge. But from standing near the pond watching the swans and ducks, to strolling through the park admiring the flowers, to admiring the fountains and listening to music in the center of the park, to sitting on a bench talking for hours with one of the locals, St. Stephen’s Green made me feel at peace and at home in Dublin.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Spain: Land of Many Cultures


Yes, our May 2011 tour will be to beautiful, sunny Spain! The 11 day tour includes time in Madrid, Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Granada and Barcelona. Special attractions include visits to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace) and the Prado.




Full Itinerary: http://www.eftours.com/eLiterature/CST/DBD/G/SLAA.pdf

Price Quote: http://www.efcollegestudytours.com/PriceTours/PrintQuote.aspx?Quote_id=892861&Code=fa925ceb056a4564&QuoteType=TC

This tour is open to anyone 18 yrs or older.

For more information contact Jessica South at jessicadebra@gmail.com.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Favorite Pictures from Each of Our Annual Tours ... ~
Pictures can often turn out be a hollow reminder of what was a majestic experience. All too frequently they fail to capture the scale, aura or feel of a place or event. And while they're great for those who were there as a reminder to trigger the memories of the places and experiences, they rarely can convey to others what that moment was really like.
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However, every once in a while a picture not only captures more than just an image, call it a feeling or aura, but even manages to evoke new emotions from someone who was "there". After every tour I've come home to find at least one picture that just blew me away ... one picture that I may have even forgotten I'd taken (or swear I couldn't possibly have taken ... *eerie feeling*) ... or a picture that turned out so differently than I remembered it being (for better or for worse!) that it became a conversation piece and memory in itself.
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So I've decided to share some of my favorite photographs from our tours (most taken by me, but also several gorgeous shots taken by other tour members) along with a little background or the story behind each picture.
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Everyone knows what the Colosseum looks like from the outside (even people who've never been to Rome have seen one of the characteristic shots of this famous building), but it can be very hard to describe the ominous nature of the interior of this building to those who have never been in it. The stadium area is less difficult to get a feel for and to get great pictures of (even I took some nice ones of that part of the Colosseum), but the corridors and stairs are very difficult to capture without ending up with dark photos or mobs of people in the way. That's why I love this picture, taken by Jamie Lackey Stefko, on the Grand Tour of Italy tour in 2005.


Not even Jamie, who also took this photograph on the Greecian Odyssey tour in 2006, knows who the "Mykonos girl" is but this is an amazing photo, especially since it was pure happenstance and not a posed shot of someone from the tour group.


It was an irresistable urge that compelled me to snap this shot of the waves on the rocks while standing on the boardwalk in Eze, France. Although it's not a very easily distinguishable photo for anyone but me, it's still one of my favorites from our 2008 Paris, the Riviera and Rome tour. This photo evokes both a sense of calm and a sense of restlessness for me.


Although I remember the bus ride into Monaco (also on the 2008 tour) when this photo was taken, I don't rembember the shot itself. In fact, I swear I don't remember seeing this exact view from the bus that day, but who am I to argue with my film! This photograph is remarkable to me for it's exquisite, vibrant colors (inspite of the fact that it was snapped from the tour bus window while in motion!).

Another shot taken from the tour bus window while in motion was this picture of Mt. Vesuvius. The misty quality at the base makes for a great effect.


Here's still another photograph from the 2008 tour that has great colors and wonderful effects thanks to the morning light. Although some of my other shots from our motorboat circling of Capri were better planned and aimed, this one brings back the clearest feelings of what a bright, warm, breezy morning it was and how striking the colors of the water, rocks and vegitation were.


I never thought this shot from the 2009 Emerald Isle tour would turn out because it was so dark in that tiny room high up in Bunratty Castle. The armor and straw being struck by the sunlight look to me like a scene out of a movie. And I love this photograph because it captures not only a moment from my tour of Ireland but also the aura of another time in history.

This photograph from the Emerald Isle tour was taken by Christie Brook from our tour bus. The motion of the bus, along with the beautiful cloud formations, resulted in the amazing effects that make this seem more like a pastel painting than a photograph. This is one of the coolest pictures I've ever seen taken by anyone on one of our tours.



The moment I saw the horses being trained on the beach in County Clare I knew I wanted to remember that sight and that moment forever, but the movement of the bus and the extremely bright sunlight frustrated me and made me sure I'd missed out on a tremendous picture. I was near tears when I got the film back and saw that this photograph had been saved. It took a little contrast and brightness editing in photoshop, but now I have a perminant keepsake of the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.



This photograph of the bridge where The Quiet Man was filmed isn't a particularly tricky shot that I took for my grandmother (a big John Wayne fan), but it's come to be one of my favorites for the calm, purely happy feeling it gives me.



I spent so much time and film in St. Stephen's Green in Dublin, but this is by far the best shot I got, and I can't even take the credit for it because it's an easy picture to take. There's a place in the park on the opposite side of the pond from the Grafton Street entrance that overlooks O'Connell Bridge beautifully ... as you can see!

The Irish weather helped make my tour of Glendalough a truly spiritual experience. The grave stones, ancient buildings and landscape took on a mystical and timeless quality in the foggy rain to add to the already reverent aura of this holy place. The mist and rain also produced some wonderful pictures like the one above.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Treasures of Central Europe Tour (May 2010) Itinerary
for more information contact Jessica South at jessicadebra@gmail.com
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This is the itinerary for our upcoming May 2010 tour of Germany and Central Europe. Participants can sign up through January 15, 2010. Our tours are open to anyone 18 years and older. For more information including a current price quote, please e-mail me at jessicadebra@gmail.com.

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Day 1 - Fly overnight to Germany
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Day 2 - Berlin
• Arrive in Berlin
Since the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989, the city has continued to evolve into a thriving metropolis. One place to easily recognize Berlin’s emergence is in Potsdamer Platz. This area filled with cafés and restaurants, was a hub for artists and poets prior to World War II, which destroyed most of it. Today, Potsdamer Platz once again bustles, thanks in part to the sprawling Sony Center, as well as DaimlerCity, which boasts an observation deck with the continent’s fastest elevator. After clearing customs, you are greeted by your bilingual EF Tour Director, who will remain with you throughout your stay. A private motorcoach takes you to your comfortable hotel for check-in.
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Day 3 - Berlin
• Take a guided tour of Berlin including Brandenburg Gate
• Visit Checkpoint Charlie Museum
• Optional: Potsdam
Ride past the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (left unrestored as a reminder of the ravages of war) and down the glittery Kurfürstendamm, Berlin’s liveliest street. Pass the Rathaus Schöneberg, where 1.5 million West Berliners flocked to hear President Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963. On your way to the Eastern sector, pass the Reichstag, former seat of the parliaments of the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. Arrive at the Brandenburg Gate, once the symbol of the undeclared Cold War and now the symbol of a eunited Berlin.
On the site where Checkpoint Charlie once guarded the border between East and West Germany, you’ll visit a museum devoted to the era of the Berlin Wall. Inspect the “escape cars” once used to cross the border. See if you can find the secret compartment where escapees hid. Then view a photo exhibit that evocatively portrays the 30-year separation of East and West Germany, reunified in 1989.
Opt to take a guided journey to Potsdam, the pride and joy of former East Germany. Potsdam was the royal playground of Frederick the Great, king of Prussia. The emperor lavished his fortune on the Brandenburg Gate (1770) and several palaces, including Sanssouci Palace (1745-47) and the New Palace (1763-69). Your excursion includes entrance to either Sanssouci or Cecilienhof.
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Day 4 - Berlin • Dresden • Prague
• Take a walking tour of Dresden
Travel by way of Dresden, once considered by many to be the most beautiful city in the world. A local tour guide will introduce you to the renovated Semper Opera House and statue of Martin Luther. You’ll also have free time to visit other cultural attractions, such as the magnificent Zwinger Palace. Destroyed by the Allies’ infamous Dresden firebombing in 1945, it was later rebuilt and remains one of the most impressive examples of Baroque architecture in Eastern Europe.
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Day 5 - Prague
• Take a guided tour of Prague
• Take a walking tour of Prague
Your tour begins at the celebrated Prague Castle (Hradcany). In the castle’s courtyard, you’ll visit the magnificent St. Vitus Cathedral, which took more than 600 years to complete. On the nearby Golden Lane, royal alchemists once labored (unsuccessfully) to turn lead into gold. More recently, on the same street, Franz Kafka turned his angst into some of the 20th century’s finest fiction. You’ll also stroll through the quaint, cobbled streets of the Mala Strana, the backdrop for Milos Forman’s Amadeus. Cross the Charles Bridge, adorned with 30 beautiful Baroque statues, to the 13th-century Old Town (Stare Mesto). Here, you’ll see Market Square, famous for its 15th-century astronomical clock. You’ll also wander through Josefov, the traditional Jewish Quarter, home to the oldest synagogue in Europe (built in 1270).
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Day 6 - Budapest
• Travel through Slovakia to Budapest
Continue on to Budapest, capital of Hungary. At the heart of the Carpathian Basin and flecked with natural thermal springs, Budapest has attracted nomadic cultures from across Europe for centuries. The Danube River actually divides it into two cities: the old city of Buda and the "newer” city of Pest.
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Day 7 - Budapest
• Take a guided tour of Budapest
• Visit Matthias Church
• Visit Budapest Basilica
• Take a walking tour of Budapest
• Take a cruise along the Danube River
Begin your tour at Heroes’ Square, where you will see the Millenary Monument and statues of famous Hungarian personalities. Drive down Andrassy Boulevard, past the State Opera House to the Hungarian Parliament, modeled on London’s Houses of Parliament. Step inside St. Stephen’s Basilica, named in honor of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. Journey up Castle Hill for a look at the Royal Palace, former home of the Hungarian monarchs. The castle has witnessed several invasions—the most recent occurred during WWII. Look for bullet holes in the outer walls, blasted by Russian tanks during the 1956 uprising. Visit the 13th-century Matthias Church, famous as the site of several coronations and for its colorful tiled roof. Your tour ends with a stop on Gellért Hill, from where you can take in some of the best views of the city. Today’s walking tour takes you past the Parliament and to the Fishermen’s Bastion for a wonderful panoramic view of Hungary’s capital.
Enjoy a cruise along the historic Danube River this evening. Depart from the center of Budapest and absorb the enchanting history of this legendary area. Hear about its Hungarian past, including its kings, queens, poets and inventors. Cap off your memorable evening listening to the Blue Danube Waltz as you return to port.
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Day 8 - Vienna
• Take an orientation tour of Vienna including Opera House
Welcome to the lovely capital of Austria. Pass the city’s worldfamous Opera House and the 450-foot-high, Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a venerable symbol of the city. Also see the Sacher Hotel—the esteemed chocolate Sachertorte was invented here, by order of Prince Metternich.
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Day 9 - Vienna
• Take a guided tour of Vienna
• Visit Schönbrunn Palace
The residence of the imperial court for six centuries, Vienna is marked with the seal of the Hapsburgs, a family who once ruled over half of Europe. In-depth sightseeing takes you down the Ring, a series of wide boulevards commissioned by Emperor Franz Josef in 1857. Ride past the Parliament, the flower-adorned Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Hofburg, where the powerful Hapsburg dynasty ruled until 1918.
You’ll also visit beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, where Marie Antoinette (the most famous of Empress Maria Theresa’s 16 children) spent her childhood. After viewing the elegant interior, stroll through the palace’s beautifully landscaped gardens.

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Day 10 - Salzburg • Munich
• Take an orientation tour of Salzburg including Old Town
• Continue on to Munich
Orient yourself with Salzburg, a town known for its cobblestone streets and famous cafés. You might also recognize Salzburg as the backdrop for The Sound of Music. Journey through the Old Town and past the Residenz, once home to Salzburg’s prince-bishops. Walk by the birthplace of Mozart. The famed composer is buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave somewhere outside of Vienna. Experience the Gemütlichkeit of Munich, capital of Bavaria and site of the legendary Oktoberfest. “Munich” derives from the city’s German name, München (little monk), so named because the original settlement bordered a monastery.
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Day 11 - Munich
• Take a guided tour of Munich including Marienplatz
• Visit Dachau
• Take a walking tour of Munich
Your guided tour takes you past the Olympic Stadium, BMW’s headquarters and the fashionable Schwabing district. You’ll also pass the Residenz (once home to the Wittelsbach dukes of Bavaria), the Deutsches Museum, the university and the Alte Pinakothek. Your tour concludes at Marienplatz, Munich’s medieval heart, home of the city’s famed Glockenspiel. Visit Dachau, a WWII Nazi concentration camp built in 1935 and liberated by the Allies in April 1945. It now serves as a memorial museum. Stroll through the very heart of Munich as you pass the twin copper domes of the Frauenkirche, a long-standing symbol of the city. Arrive at Marienplatz, once the intersection of medieval trade routes. Here you can see the neo-Gothic Rathaus and the golden Mariensäule, a monument commemorating Munich’s divine salvation from rampaging Swedish hordes. Then continue past the Hofbräuhaus, Munich’s most famous beer hall. On a good day, almost 30,000 liters of beer are sold here.
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Day 12 - Munich • Heidelberg
• Transfer to Heidelberg
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Day 13 - Heidelberg
• Take a guided tour of Heidelberg
• Visit Heidelberg Castle wine barrel
• Optional: Neckar Valley
Become acquainted with Germany’s oldest university city—the university dates back to 1386. See Heidelberg’s 700-year-old Schloss (palace) and its famous Fass (wine barrel), the world’s largest. From the castle’s historic battlements, you’ll enjoy a stunning view of the Neckar Valley, where Homo heidelbergensis roamed 500,000 years ago. You’ll also see the town’s medieval streets and Marktplatz, where witches were once burned at the stake. Writers as diverse as Mark Twain (who once floated down the Neckar on a raft) and Goethe (who was inspired by the view from the Schloss) have long praised Heidelberg’s enduring beauty. Join an optional excursion to the Neckar Valley. Enjoy a meandering cruise along the Neckar River, where you’ll drink in commanding views of the many Old World castles that perch along the riverbank. The excursion includes a visit to 13th-century Dilsberg Fortress. Set on a high hill overlooking the Valley, Dilsberg was once the most powerful fortress in the region.
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2 DAY TOUR EXTENSION ~~ OPTIONAL
Day 14 - Colmar • Lucerne Region
• Take a guided tour of Colmar
Your tour director introduces you to Colmar, home of Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty. You can see many of Bartholdi’s statues as you meander through this small, picturesque town. Sometimes nicknamed Petite Venise, you might be reminded of a famous Italian city as you stroll along the canals and through the many small town squares. Pass the cathedral and the Musée Unterlinden, which houses great Alsatian artifacts.
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Day 15 - Lucerne Region
• Take a guided tour of Lucerne
• Visit Mount Pilatus
• Optional: Swiss Folklore Evening
The majestic Alps provide a stunning backdrop to your tour of Lucerne, where composer Richard Wagner wrote several of his major works. You’ll view the captivating Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), a sandstone statue commemorating the Swiss Guards slain in the 1792 Paris storming of the Tuileries. According to Mark Twain, it is “the saddest and most compassionate piece of rock on earth.” Stroll down narrow, winding streets and across the Kapellbrücke, a covered bridge whose history dates back to medieval days—the murals lining its walls are nearly identical to those painted in the 14th century. Be on the lookout for the colorful, hand-painted façades along the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Take an excursion to Mount Pilatus. This exciting half-day adventure takes you to the top of Mount Pilatus, the majestic mountain dominating the Lucerne skyline. In the summer months, travel to the foot of the mountain by boat across the Vierwaldstättersee (Lake Lucerne); then ride the famous Pilatus cog railway—the steepest in the world—to the top. During the other seasons, you’ll journey to the mountain base by motorcoach before ascending by cable car. After 45 spectacular minutes and 6,387 feet, you’ll reach the summit and be rewarded with a splendid panorama of Lucerne, its lake and the glorious snow-capped Alps. On a clear day, you can see for more than 200 miles! Alternatively, enjoy free time to stroll along the shores of Lake Lucerne, view the fairy-tale exteriors of local homes or sample Switzerland’s unsurpassable chocolate. Opt to join us for our special Swiss Folklore Event. Enjoy cheese fondue, the country’s most popular dish. Dip your long forks into the caquelon and be treated to lively Alpine entertainment—including authentic flag swinging, alpenhorn playing and yodeling.
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Day 16 - Depart for home
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itinerary is from EF Educational Tours (www.eftours.com)
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photographs by Jamie Lackey Stefko

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Emerald Isle Tour (May 2009)
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photograph by Christie Brook
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Anytime you dream of visiting a place for 25 years you kind of expect that it may not live up to your expectations, but Ireland truly offered more beautiful scenery than expected and some one of a kind memories. Unfortunately, no picture or even video can do it justice as there is a feeling of great calm and peace about the island that can only be experienced in person.

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photograph by Christie Brook
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The following is my recounting of our May 2009 tour of Ireland along with the planned itinerary (from EF Educational Tours) ...

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Day 1 Overnight flight to Ireland ... um, well for part of our group it was, 23 of our participants arrived on time (thanks to United Airlines & Aer Lingus) ... but thanks to our least favorite airline ever (U.S. Airways), it took 5 flights (all but last one delayed and/or canceled) to get us to Ireland a day and a half late! Unbelievably bad service (didn't even cover our hotel or a meal when our first flight was delayed & then canceled due to the left engine not starting - believe it or not our group members witnessed airline personnel trying to start the engine with a BROOM - we were probably better off not flying on that one). Amazingly the 9 of us were still in pretty good spirits, all things considered, when we arrived in Dublin & we'd really bonded into almost a family for the rest of the tour. My only regret was that there wasn't more time in Dublin for our group as the tour moved on to the Cork area the next morning.

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~~ photograph by Christie Brook
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Day 2 Dublin
Arrival in Dublin; Walking tour of Dublin ... though I wasn't with the group for this the reports were that they had a nice orientation tour of Dublin. The group also enjoyed the Bog Museum exhibits. Fortunately for me I had already planned to do a "stay behind" for 6 days at the end of the tour to see more of the Connemara area & Dublin area (more info on my time in Dublin at the end).
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Itinerary: Originally a Viking settlement, Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin’s original Gaelic name, which means “town of hurdles”) is situated on the banks of the River Liffey, which divides the city north and south. Keep an eye out for Dublin’s famous Georgian-era (18th-century) architecture as you stroll through the city. Walk down the brick-lined Grafton Street, the city’s premier shopping street; visit the striking greenery of St. Stephen’s Green, simply called Stephen’s Green by local Dubliners; and make your way through Temple Bar, Dublin’s hippest neighborhood.
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Day 3 Dublin
Guided sightseeing of Dublin ... our group of 9 arrived late but had a marvelous dinner at the hotel restaurant (truly a first class meal). The rest of the group was able to spend the day visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral & Trinity College along with touring more of Dublin.
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photograph by Christie Brook
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Itinerary: For a city of only 1 million people, Dublin has offered the world a disproportionately large number of great literary works. See what inspired writers such as Joyce, Beckett, and Yeats during your guided tour of Ireland’s capital, scenically situated between Dun Laoghaire (pronounced “dun leery”) and the rocky peaks of Howth Head. Pass by the residence of the president of Ireland as you journey through Phoenix Park. Then continue down O’Connell Street, a wide, treelined avenue named for one of Ireland’s most famous nationalists. Ride past the banks of the River Liffey to the 800-year-old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built to honor the patron saint of Ireland, who brought Christianity to the country in the 5th century. Jonathan Swift once served as dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then see the famous doors of Dublin as you ride through the city’s elegant Georgian squares. You’ll also pass an ancient Viking site (the Vikings founded Dublin in the 9th century). Your tour also includes a visit to Trinity College, established by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. Alumni include Samuel Beckett and Jonathan Swift. In the Long Room of the Old Library, view the illuminated 8th-century Book of Kells, written by Irish monks and found buried in the ground in 1007. You’ll also see a harp that originally belonged to the famous Irish warrior Brian Boru.
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Day 4 Kildare • Cork
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photograph by Christie Brook

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Transfer via Kildare; Visit National Stud Farm ... The National Stud Farm was was a wonderfully close up tour. Though we couldn't actually touch the horses, we were certainly close enough to do so. With so many foals in early May we were able to take some adorable pictures. The weather was breezy but sunny, and the Japanese garden was an unexpected delight to stroll through snapping pics.
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Visit Kilkenny Castle ... while Kilkenny Castle was a short stop during a lunch break, 2 other members of our group and I found a wonderful restaurant that day. Zuni had extremely tasty and elegantly served food at a very reasonable price for the portions. The price of our meal included coffee or tea (so no need spending extra on beverages, great when you're traveling on a budget). In fact, we ended up at Zuni after two of the very friendly locals recommended it. Though I must say, I never expected the food in Ireland to be a highlight of the tour, but many of our meals throughout the country were remarkably good.
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Night in County Cork ... We spent the night in at the Blarney Golf Resort Hotel in County Cork. I have to bring this up because it was a fantastic evening. The food was extremely good, the lodgings were very impressive, and our 9 person group (those of us who arrived so late) had the most amazing time "crashing" a wedding party (well not quite crashing). While we were enjoying the evening at the hotel bar with Guinness and Guinness shots (for those of you who are unaware the shots don't actually have Guinness in them but are great), we watched many wedding party members come in and out in kilts. It was explained to us that a Scots-Irish wedding had taken place that evening in the hotel. Well the wedding party was extremely friendly and allowed us to take pictures with them, as well as, regaling us with some great bagpipe tunes (very talented). How's that for a memory of a tour of Ireland?! You wouldn't believe how jealous the rest of the group was that they didn't stay up with us for that experience.
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photograph by Christie Brook
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Itinerary: Your first stop will be the National Stud Farm, where world-class race horses are bred and trained. Then it’s on to Kilkenny, Ireland’s best-preserved medieval town, where the imposing 12th-century Kilkenny Castle overlooks the River Nore. Transfer via private motorcoach to County Cork.
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Day 5 Cork County Kerry
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Tour director-led sightseeing of Cork ... actually, we made a little detour which turned out to be a great experience. Our bus driver was exceptionally helpful in coordinating a stop at Fort Charles for us that morning. This gave our group some amazing photo ops and a chance to see where the Lusitania went down in 1915. That truly made our group leader happy as it was one of his lifelong dreams ... we history people just can't get enough of standing where key events happened (or in this case standing where we would have been able to see the event unfold if it had been 1915).
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Queenstown Story Museum ... was a great encore to our stop at Fort Charles. It was also a nice shopping stop for me as I was able to get a lovely sterling silver celtic cross necklace for a wonderful price. Our drive also offered us some great views of the southern coast of Ireland.
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Visit Blarney Castle ... I honestly expected Blarney Castle to be too touristy for my taste, but although I didn't go to the top & kiss the Blarney stone with other members of our group I did have a delightful time taking pictures and having a very nice lunch. The grounds around the castle are actually very natural and beautiful and the castle is quite impressive from the outside. Plus we had a very nice lunch at the restaurant there (tuna & sweetcorn sandwich ... never would have though of it but I'm a true fan now). One of the highlights of the afternoon was sitting in the restaurant looking out the window at the bright sunny day when suddenly a gush of heavy rain came down with the sun still shining as stong as ever. It only lasted a couple of minutes but it was an unforgettable part of the tour for me.
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photograph by Christie Brook
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Night in Killarney ... the hotel wasn't so good, but it was well located. And another great evening was spent by our 9 person "family" visiting pubs and a pizza place in Killarney. It made for a very nice, and late evening.
Itinerary: Your tour director shows you Cork, Ireland’s second-largest city. Learn that Cork comes from an Irish word meaning marshy place. But then heed the rhyme of an old saying: “Limerick was, Dublin is, and Cork shall be, the finest city of the three.” Visit the Queenstown Story Museum, whose exhibits tell the story of Irish emigration during the past 150 years. Next, visit Blarney Castle. To reach the legendary stone and to receive the “gift of the gab,” you’ll have to climb the steps of the castle, lean backward under the parapet wall and kiss the stone upside down. You’ll also see the ancient ruins of the Rock of Cashel. Founded by a follower of St. Patrick, the Rock was once a stronghold for Brian Boru and other Irish kings. Transfer to County Kerry, where you’ll spend the night.
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Day 6 Ring of Kerry
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Transfer via Killarney; Visit Bog Village ... our stop at the Red Fox Inn and Kerry Bog Village provided a great shopping stop both for souvenirs and whiskey. We also had some wonderful Irish coffee.
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Visit Ring of Kerry ... it was a long but worthwhile day touring the Ring of Kerry. Some of my best scenery pictures came from this tour (stone walls, sheep, seascapes and lush fields). The restaurant we stopped at had wonderful food and some remarkable decor. The walls were painted with beautiful scenes of Ireland from castles to a great mural of the coastline. Another feature of the day's tour was watching a sheep dog demonstration. It's amazing to learn how the dogs are directed by whistles (a different set of pitches for each dogs commands). I think we all gained a great respect for the dogs and their handlers.
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Night in Killarney ... another great night in the Killarney pubs, though I took it a little easier than the previous night.
Itinerary: Transfer via the Killarney region, gateway to the Iveragh Peninsula. Experience the mystical beauty of Ireland as you journey the 112 miles around the Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Ring of Kerry. Encounter magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean, the Lakes of Killarney, and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks (the tallest mountains in Ireland) as you traverse one of Europe’s most spectacular coastal routes. In Glenbeigh, visit the Bog Village. Wander through a re-creation of an Irish village from the early 1800s as costumed guides demonstrate the way of life that prevailed in 19th-century rural Ireland.
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Day 7 County Kerry • Galway
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Visit Bunratty Castle ... Bunratty Castle was actually quite impressive inside and out. I was able to get some great pictures of the castle and village. I also found my most sought after souvenir in the gift shop ... a real shamrock in a clear necklace, my most cherished treasure from the tour. It was also another sunny (though cool, breezy) day. We truly were blessed with outstanding weather on tour.
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photograph by Christie Brook
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Visit to the Cliffs of Moher ... in order to accomadate a marble shopping trip on day 8, our itineary changed a bit for day 7. We journeyed through some beautiful areas in County Clare on our way to the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs of Moher then provided a terrific photo op as we had another clear, sunny day (with a great sea breeze). I also found some lovely straw St. Brigid's crosses in one of the gift shops for only a Euro a piece.
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Stop in the Burren ... we then made a stop at the Burren to see some unique scenery and get some great pictures. We also took a tour of Ailwee Cave. It's amazing to go from being indoors to being in a huge, winding cave in just a few steps.
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Night in Galway ... while other members of the group headed to the pubs, Tarra and I followed our tour director to the ocean. It was a bit hard walking on the slippery rocks of the shore, but I was able to find some beautiful seashells for my mother (her favorite collectible) and get a nice picture of the sunset. It was a beautiful, mild evening, which we still ended with the others at the pub, of course.
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Itinerary: Built in 1425, Ireland’s best-restored medieval castle boasts stunning tapestries and furnishings showcasing the splendor of the medieval era. On the castle’s grounds, you can stroll through the Folk Park, an authentic re-creation of a 19th-century rural Irish village. Continue on to Galway, City of Tribes. For 400 years, Galway was an independent citystate—as recently as the 19th century, local citizens were still in the habit of setting their watches 40 minutes behind Dublin time. Today, Galway is the cultural and artistic capital of Ireland’s west coast—as well as one of the best places to hear traditional music.
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Day 8 Galway
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Connemara Excursion ... again we have our bus driver to thank for rearranging the day before's tours to work in a bus tour of the Connemara region and a stop at the marble shop on day 8. The green marble is an exquisite and very Irish keep sake rather in jewelery, worry stone or other forms.
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Galway ... one of the best meals on tour was our fish (cod) & chips at The King's Head pub/restaurant in Galway. We also enjoyed some shopping and strolling along the pedestrian walkway and around Eyre Square in Galway.
Itinerary: Stop in the Burren, an otherworldly region of limestone rock and wildflowers, where your tour director will show you the highlights and where you will visit The Burren Centre. Also, visit Ailwee Cave, one of the thousands of ancient caves below the Burren. Stop at the Cliffs of Moher for a spectacular view of Ireland’s dramatic coastline. The limestone walls of rock dominate the coast of Clare for five miles and rise to staggering heights of 700 feet. On your way back to Galway, stop in Doolin, Ireland’s traditional music capital.
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3 DAY EXTENSION TO NORTHERN IRELAND ... 22 of our participants continued on to Northern Ireland while I began my touring of Ireland solo and the rest of our group headed home.
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Day 9 County Donegal
Transfer via Yeats Country ... from what some of our participants reported this made for a long ride but it was worth it for the beautiful scenery. The accomodations in Donegal also sounded quite nice.
Itinerary: Journey through the landscapes immortalized in the poetic works of William Butler Yeats. You’ll see the strangely shaped mountain that inspired Yeats’ “Under Ben Bulben.” You’ll also visit his grave in Drumcliffe churchyard. Drive into County Donegal, one of Ireland's most beautiful counties. Donegal is a rugged tapestry of mountains and moors, where the pounding waves of the Atlantic have carved out a jagged coastline and sandy shores.
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I, meanwhile, joined a bus tour through the Connemara area. My beautiful pictures include scenes of the countryside, rivers, sheep, The Quiet Man cabin & bridge, and Kylemore Abbey. It was another beautifully sunny but very windy day. Kylemore Abbey with the lovely church, walkways, lake and gardens was one of my favorite parts of my time in Ireland.
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Day 10 Derry • County Donegal
Tour director-led sightseeing of Derry ... our group seemed to really enjoy Northern Ireland both for the scenery and the fascinating though troubling history.
Excursion to Giant’s Causeway ... having not been with the group on that day, I won't even attempt to describe what is overwhelmingly impressive in photos let alone in person. Needless to say they were all in awe of this scenic stop.
Itinerary: Learn more about the sectarian violence that has plagued Irish history and today has spurred a long-awaited process of reconciliation. Here, 13 Catholic protesters were shot dead by British soldiers in 1972 on what has tragically come to be known as “Bloody Sunday". Your tour also includes St. Columb’s Cathedral and the Tower Museum. Touted as the eighth wonder of the world, the Giant’s Causeway is a fascinating geological phenomenon comprising thousands of 55-million-yearold hexagonal basalt columns that form a honeycomb pathway into the sea. Explore the ancient rock formations and learn the legend of Finn MacCool, the Irish giant said to have built the columns so that his true love could cross the water from Scotland.
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After spending the morning in Galway, I took a train back to a very rainy, cool Dublin. Though it was a bit damp, the rain definitely made me feel that I was in Ireland. In fact, my entire time in the Dublin area was marked by characteristic on and off rain but with a little sunshine in between. After leaving the train station, I dropped off my bags and took a brief walk from Gardiner Street (where I was staying) to O'Connell Street to find a nice place to eat.
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Day 11 Belfast • Dublin
Tour director-led sightseeing of Belfast ... the group did seem to think the placement of the ferris wheel in front of the city hall was a bit odd, but overall Belfast was well enjoyed.
Transfer to Dublin
Itinerary: Your tour director introduces you to Northern Ireland’s capital today. Although the city was once known as the epicenter of religious strife in Ireland, the city has seen incredible rebirth in recent years. Belfast boasts an array of art galleries and museums, upscale boutiques and the Golden Mile, known as the city’s hub for restaurants. Along your tour, you’ll experience testaments to Belfast’s conflicted past as well as its hopeful future. You’ll glimpse the copperdomed city hall, the shipbuilding docks where the Titanic was constructed and the recently restored Grand Opera House. Make your way from Derry to Dublin, Dublin is the setting for Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the 20th century’s greatest literary works. Along the way, you will pass see the Hill of Tara, known as the traditional seat of the High Kings of Ireland.
I began the day nice and early with a walk down O'Connell Street to the River Liffey. I followed the river around the many quays, getting some nice pictures of the river, and then headed to Trinity College. After viewing marveling at the Book of Kells, I spent an hour walking around and sitting in the Long Room, the most amazing library I've ever seen both for it's architecture and the age and quality of its texts. Next I followed Grafton Street, stopping for lunch before heading to St. Stephen's Green. This quickly became my favorite part of Dublin (obvious from the multiple videos and rolls of film I shot).
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Day 12 Home
While the rest of the tour group headed home, I remained in Ireland to take in some more sites in the Dublin area. I spent the day visiting Dublin Castle, St. Patrick's Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral, as well as, revisiting St. Stephen's Green and doing a bit of shopping.
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The next day I took a bus to Navan to see Dunmoe Castle and the ruins of a church founded by St. Patrick. Upon returning to Dublin I took my daily walk through St. Stephen's Square and had a nice meal in pub near where I was staying.
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My next (and final day) of touring took me on a bus tour to Powersourt, Glendalough and Wicklow. While Powerscourt offered many great photo ops, Glendalough had such an aura about it (especially in the pouring down rain) that it was likely my favorite stop in Ireland. The bagpipes and rain combined with the ancient stone buildings could make a person forget what year it is.
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The next day I flew back to the states, reluctantly, and even more convinced that I'll have to lead some frequent (if not annual) tours to Ireland in the future. It's hard for me to believe that anyone could be satified with visiting Ireland only once.
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Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see large pictures of the Emerald Isle tour.
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