Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Welcome to summer! If you haven't made your summer vacation plans yet, there is still a little time left. And for those of you who are planning to take a vacation during Teacher's Convention Week in November, it is time to start planning!
Cruise for Free!
Cruise free with friends and family. Typically on a 7 night cruise, if you travel with 8 other couples, you will cruise for free. If you add 8 more couples, your traveling companion will also cruise for free - you pay only port charges and government taxes as well as optional insurance. Interested? You just gather a group of friends who need a vacation and are looking for a great value...a cruise vacation. Get them to join you on your selected ship and sailing date. We'll do all the rest - from flyers to invoicing. This is also a great way to get together for a family reunion.
Why Buy Travel Insurance?
It is true that some credit cards and homeowner's policies might provide coverage for lost or stolen baggage, but what the media reports fail to mention, and the reason most people buy insurance, is that U.S. health policies rarely extend coverage overseas. It means Americans must normally pick up their own medical tabs once outside the country. Here are some other key points to keep in mind:
Trip Cancellation/Interruption - Credit cards and homeowners policies will not reimburse you for your pre paid, NON-REFUNDABLE trip cost. Hurricane Season 2007 is officially here and travel insurance is the only way to protect against the unforeseen hassles caused by these storms.
Travel Delay - Will your credit card or homeowners policy reimburse you for an unexpected hotel stay because your flight home from your vacation was cancelled? The answer is no, but a travel insurance policy allows you the possibility of collecting on that hotel bill.
Pre-existing Conditions - Many people traveling today have a pre-existing medical condition that could limit the amount of coverage, if any, they have through other channels. When you purchase a third party insurance product at the time of deposit you guarantee that you have the most coverage available.
Lost Baggage - Consumer Reports fails to mention that any coverage provided by a credit card for lost or stolen baggage is secondary coverage and subject to the airlines definition of "lost" luggage. By buying a primary insurance plan, offered only by third party travel insurance companies, you will have a better chance of receiving compensation for lost articles.
Car Rental Tips
Renting a car while on vacation is often a necessity, but at other times it is easier to use public transportation or taxis . If you do rent a car, make sure to examine the car before taking it off the lot. It is a good idea to photograph any damage the car may have, using a digital camera which records the date and time of each picture. This will help when there may be a debate over who is responsible for the damage. Many rental companies do not cover you while driving on dirt roads, so be sure to check your rental agreement before driving "off road".
Some car rental companies will not rent a car to you without a credit card. Also be aware that the rental company may place a "hold" on your card for anticipated charges, which means you'll have less credit available for other purchases.
Adventures by Disney
Discover the magic of an Adventures by Disney vacation
In 2007, there are twelve unforgettable journeys with destinations Disney has never taken guests before. Guests travel in small groups limited to 40 guests, and are led by two Disney trained Adventure Guides with the gift for family fun.
Each adventure is filled with immersive, interactive experiences. Like zip-lining through a Costa Rican jungle, or pasta making in Tuscany. Traveling with Adventures by Disney, you can expect impeccable service as well as a few surprises along the way. Vacationing is almost effortless. Travel, activities and scheduled meals during the adventure are planned. Luggage is handled for each Guest and hotel check-ins are pre-arranged. An Adventures by Disney vacation allows you to truly enjoy the magic of the destination, while creating memories that will last forever.
Hassle-free vacation planning and travel
Inclusive itineraries that provide interactive experiences for each member of the family
Small group sizes of no more than 40 guests led by two Disney trained Adventure Guides
Personal attention and service
Local experts provide authenticity and character by sharing knowledge and stories
Travel, activities and scheduled meals are planned. Luggage is handled and hotel check-ins are pre-arranged
Opportunities for making new friends with fellow Adventurers
Junior Adventurer exclusive activities
Note: Adventures by Disney welcomes children ages 4 and up to discover the stories of the world with Adventures by Disney. However, on some trips, children 6+ benefit most from the exciting activities that Adventures by Disney has planned. Because each child is different, call your Adventures by Disney Concierge Agent to discuss which trips will be most fun for your little ones. Please be aware that your younger Junior Adventurers - typically under age 6 - may not be able to participate in some scheduled activities due to height, weight, and other requirements.
Monday, June 18, 2007
CIE Irish Spirit Tour of Southern Ireland
Irish Spirit Tour of Ireland with CIEMay 31 – June 8, 2007
Note: we had a wonderful tour of Southern Ireland, booked through CIE Tours. We added an extra day in Dublin, prior to the start of our tour. I would recommend this trip to anyone, especially those who are visiting Ireland for the first time. I think the youngest age that would appreciate this tour is around 12 years (and up). Young children would not find it fun to ride the coach and might be disruptive to the rest of the passengers. The youngest one on our tour was 18, a recent high school graduate.
The hotels we stayed in were the Mespil in Dublin, the Killarney Towers Hotel in Killarney, and the Marriott Courtyard in Galway.
The Mespil was nice, clean, and had very good food. They provided free internet usage for their guests staying there.
The Killarney Towers was my least favorite of the three. The rooms were clean, but the maid did not come in to make up the room. We were there two nights and when we returned the first day from our tour, they were only starting to make up the rooms. The food was just okay; the plates way too hot to handle on the buffet line; and the dining room was way too crowded with tables for anyone to sit comfortably. The hotel was also uncomfortably warm. They did have an exercise room and pool/hot tub/steam room available for guests.
The Marriott Courtyard was our favorite. The rooms were clean, the staff very friendly, and the food was very good. It was just a short walk to the center of town from the hotel. They also had a spa on property but we did not have time to take advantage of it. There was internet available for a nominal fee.
Below is my write up of our trip. There are links to some of the sites mentioned.
May 31, 2007
Tommy, Kevin, and I left home for Newark airport at 6:30 pm, for a 10:05 pm overnight flight to Dublin. When we arrived, the plane was scheduled to be “on-time”. So we checked our luggage and went to the “diner” at the airport and had our dinner. When we went to the gate our plane was not there yet. The departure was changed from 10:05 to 10:30, then to 11:30. We finally boarded the plane and once onboard were given the bad news from the captain: there was an airport delay, and although the earlier flight delays were 4 hours, we only had a 2 hour delay (that was the good news?!). So we sat on the plane and the flight attendants brought us water, pretzels, peanuts, the usual. We finally took off at 2 am, saw the movie (The Pursuit of Happyness – it was very good) and had our in flight dinner, followed by breakfast.
They cut off ½ hour of flying time, and we arrived in Dublin at 1 pm.
June 1, 2007
We landed at Dublin airport and found our driver, Sean (we had a private transfer arranged). Sean gave us a narrative, all the while cracking a few jokes, as he drove us through the city of Dublin to our hotel. We checked in to the Mespil Hotel. There was a double bed plus a twin in each room. Then we left to walk in to the city center. We ate lunch at Foley’s Bar on Merrion Row and had our first taste of Irish food and a pint of Guinness. We had coffee afterward – we were asked if we wanted it black or white – with white meaning “with cream”, sort of a cappuccino style. Foley’s dates back to the late 1700’s and was originally the site of a Gallows, situated close to the Huguenot Cemetery.While in the city we window shopped, crossed the bridge over the canal to see the Tall Ships docked there. We went to Archbishop Ryan Park in Merrion Square and saw Oscar Wilde’s statue with a nearby inscription: “I can resist anything except temptation”.
We finally walked back to our hotel and our feet were dragging! After arriving back at our hotel, Tommy and Kevin fell asleep, Kevin for the night. Tommy woke up around 9:00 and we went downstairs to have dinner in the hotel.
June 2, 2007 (start of the tour)
This morning, we once again walked in to the city before our tour was to start. We went to the National Museum of Archeology. The exhibition galleries included artifacts dating from 7000 B.C., tracing the development of Irish civilization from the arrival of the first people in the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age to late Medieval Ireland. One of the exhibits was “bog bodies”.
About Bog Bodies: (excerpted from http://www.mummytombs.com/) Bog bodies or mummies are accidental mummies, made only by nature. Bogs provide an interesting burial environment. At first glance, a bog may look like solid ground, but it isn't; it's quite spongy and may feel as if it's going to give way. That's because, under the surface, a bog is made up of about 90 percent water. The water is filled with peat (decaying plant matter).Although the bog mummies were buried below the surface, immersed in the bog water, their remains did not decay. Why? First, the bog-watery environment does not permit the growth of bacteria that will help decay flesh. Second, the bog water contains certain acids that act to tan the skin (much the same way as cowhide is tanned to produce leather). If the natural bacteria action is prevented and the skin is tanned, the conditions are right for producing a mummy.
However, much may also depend on the water table of the bog. Over thousands of years, it will raise and lower; the longer a bog mummy is above of the water table, the less well-preserved it may become over time. Many other factors may be involved, and scientists are still trying to understand the complete preservation process in a bog.
One final note: even a bog skeleton is considered a bog mummy by scientists studying these mummies. A bog skeleton is often produced in a fen, while a non-decayed bog mummy will only come from a bog.
Bog mummies are often quite well preserved, arguably even better preserved than almost all Egyptian mummies. But the issue that seems to attract most attention to these mummies is the nature of their death and burial: were they human sacrifices or are there other explanations to account for their deaths.
Afternoon, the start of our Irish Spirit Tour:· We met with our tour group and our tour leader/driver, Patrick Cooney at 3 pm. Our first stop was the Guinness Storehouse. Storehouse means where the fermentation process occurs in which the yeast is added to the beer. We learned how they brew the beer, tasted their current promotion, the Northstar (third in a series of four brews), and had a pint of Guinness on the 7th floor, in the Gravity Bar, which has a panoramic view of Dublin.· After a short hotel break, we were on our way to the Jameson’s Distillery, which was founded in 1780. We were greeted with a drink of the famous whiskey, had a great tour of the distillery, learned why Irish whiskey is better than all others!, and then had dinner and were entertained by Irish singers and dancers, where we finished off with an Irish coffee.
June 3, 2007
This was the only day it rained. Our other days were sunny and between 68 and 72 degrees. This morning we had a tour of Dublin City with a local tour guide, Kay.
· The “Doors of Dublin” ~ all the doors are painted with bright colors. It is said that this is a result of a revolt against the British. The Irish had been told to paint their doors black because of national mourning over the queen’s death. Rather than obey these orders, the Dubliners painted them in the brightest colors possible. Another story goes that the wives wanted the doors painted different colors so their husbands would recognize their own home after a night on the town.
· Molly Malone statue ~ Molly was a fishmonger who died of a fever and is known as the tart with the cart, the trollop with the scallop, the dish with the fish.
· St Patrick’s Cathedral ~ once a Catholic cathedral but it was changed to the Anglican Church of England. Jonathan Swift (“Treasure Island” author) is buried in the cathedral next to his first love, Stella. He was dean of the Church for many years. There are many worn Union Jack flags hanging in the Church.
· Trinity College and the Book of Kells ~ the Book of Kells was written by Irish monks in the 9th century. It is a Latin translation of the four Gospels and is beautifully illustrated.
· Lunch at O’Neills ~ I had the Irish Beef Stew with Guinness. They gave me enough to feed all of us.
· National Gallery of Ireland ~ houses the national collection of Irish art and European master paintings.· Did you know? The Vikings made gold coins but had no pockets and nowhere to put their money. So they melted beeswax and put it in their armpit hair, then attached the coins to the wax. I think pockets would have been easier!
June 4, 2007
We left Dublin after an early breakfast and had a beautiful day to go to Killarney. We drove through the Irish countryside past many farms.Highlights:
· Rock of Cashel ~ a church ruins composed of limestone. Cork City was having its 1st marathon in 21 years, so we were a little stuck in traffic, but nothing like we have here in the U.S.
· Blarney Castle ~ The castle is just outside of Cork. We climbed up the steps and explored the castle before kissing the Blarney Stone (Kevin would not kiss it – too many rumors about it). The Blarney House is also on the property. It was built in 1874 by the then current owners of the Castle. They found the Castle too uncomfortable to live in, so the built the mansion instead. It is still owned by descendents of that family and they still live there. They allow private tours of the home.
· Blarney Woollen Mills ~ Lots of sweaters, capes, caps, and other souvenirs. We had lunch there as well.· Dinner that evening was at our hotel, the Killarney Towers, then we went next door to O’Donoghue’s Pub for Irish entertainment. We left O’Donoghue’s after a while to find more entertainment, but it turned out our hotel had the best. Some of the other pubs had bands playing Johnny Cash (a favorite of the Irish) and the Doors (House of the Rising Sun).We stayed at the Killarney Towers Hotel. The rooms were fine, but this hotel was very warm – a/c did not work very well. The restaurant was crowded with tables too close together, and the room was also very warm. The food was okay.June 5, 2007Theme of the day: “You only need an inch; any more and it’s a waste”
· The drive around the Ring of Kerry ~ was beautiful, but the roads were extremely narrow and bumpy. We had to back up to let a farm tractor through, and our driver said “You only need an inch; any more and it’s a waste”.
The mountains and farms were beautiful and there were sheep everywhere. Some sheep were being herded past us on the street by a dog.
· We went to the Skellig Experience (Valentia Island, Co Kerry, Ireland)· Moll’s Gap - the rocks at Moll's Gap have been rounded as the glacier from Kenmare moved over them giving a dramatic form. We also saw Killarney’s three lakes. We were back by 5:30 and had dinner at the hotel, followed by another evening at O’Donoghue’s.
June 6, 2007
· We left Killarney and drove to take the ferry across the River Shannon. The ride is about 20 minutes. You might see dolphins while on the ferry (unfortunately, we didn’t).
· We then went to the Cliffs of Moher ~ When we arrived there was a dense fog but we checked out the visitor center first, and when we came out the fog had lifted. You can see the Aran Islands from here, a group of 3 islands where they speak only Gaelic. We ate lunch there, then continued on to see the Burren, a limestone terraced land that was once an ancient seabed. We saw houses with thatched roofs (becoming more popular). The people were very friendly.
· After dinner at our hotel in Galway, the Marriott Courtyard, which was the nicest and newest of the three, a few of us went out to the Quay, a pub on Quay Street. They had excellent Irish music there, and the band has come over and played in Morristown, NJ, and in Boston. It was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the center of Galway.
June 7, 2007
· We took a 1 ½ hour ride on a catamaran Killary Harbour Cruise along Ireland’s only fjord, the Killary Fjord. This is where the movie Tristan & Isolde was filmed in 2003. We saw salmon fisheries while on the cruise.
· Then we went on to Connemara and saw how they cut marble (http://www.connemaramarble.com/ ). The marble was various shades of green, some rose, and a few black. The black marble is very rare and has shells within it.· Next we went to Connemara Celtic Crystal and saw a demonstration on how the masters cut crystal. This family run business has, for over a quarter of a century, been pioneering the incorporation of Celtic designs and Gaelic motifs into its ornate Irish Crystal. It is proud to claim clear leadership in this field.
The ride along this part of Ireland is bumpy, and some of the roads are dirt ones. Rhododendrons grow wild along the sides of the roads. Galway Bay was filled with beautiful swans.· Back in Galway we visited Galway Cathedral, a Catholic cathedral which is one of the largest and most impressive buildings in the city. Built between 1958 and 1965, it stands on the site of the old city jail. The architecture of the Cathedral draws on many influences. The dome and pillars reflect a Renaissance style. Other features, including the rose windows and mosaics, echo the broad tradition of Christian art. The Cathedral dome, at a height of 145 ft, is a prominent landmark on the city skyline.· After dinner at our hotel we once again walked in to the city, this time with even more people from our tour group.
We went to Kings Head Pub which dates its roots back 800 years.June 8, 2007This morning we had an early breakfast, followed by our transfer to Shannon Airport. We checked our luggage and waited with some of those we met on the tour. Our flight home was uneventful, thankfully!
We met a lot of nice people on our tour, and we were especially entertained by our tour guide, Pat, with his narratives, jokes, stories, and singing.
Arthur Guinness and the founding of the Brewery (excerpted from the Guinness website ( http://www.guinnessstorehouse.com/whats_inside.htm )
Arthur Guinness was born in 1725 near Dublin in the town of Celbridge, county Kildare where his father, Richard Guinness, was a Land Steward. Part of Richard's duties were to supervise the brewing of beer for the workers on the estate and it is probable that young Arthur first learnt the art of brewing from his father. The brewing industry in Dublin at that date was suffering because English beer was taxed less severely than the home-produced product. Arthur was not, however, deterred. He decided to acquire what was then a small, disused and ill-equipped brewery at St James's Gate. The lease, signed on 31 December 1759, was for 9000 years at an annual rent of £45.
To start with, Arthur brewed ale, but by the 1770s a new drink, a strong black beer called porter, was being exported from London. Arthur decided to brew this new beer himself. He proved extremely successful and right into his seventies Arthur continued to be active in supervising his business at the Brewery, now assisted by three of his sons. Arthur had married an heiress, Olivia Whitmore, and had 21 children, 10 of whom survived into adulthood.
When he died in 1803, he left a considerable personal fortune of about £23,000 and an extremely flourishing business which later generations of his family were to develop, following the example of initiative and enterprise set by its founder.
Brief history of Ireland and Dublin:
The first settlement of Ireland took place around 6000 B.C by hunters and fishermen along the east coast. There is a pre-Christian burial site dating back 4000 years ago. The Gaels came around 600 – 150 B.C. and subdued the previous inhabitants.Dublin was called Eblana in the 2nd century. The Vikings (who were traders) regularly raided Ireland and did much to develop Dublin, Cork, and Waterford. They settled in Dublin in 841 A.D. It was named Dubh Linn which means black pool. The dark appearance of the River Poddle which is now a subterranean river under Dublin Castle gave rise to the name.
Dublin’s Irish name is Baile ´ Atha Cliath meaning town of the hurdle ford. This refers to hurdles used to cross the River Liffey. Brian Boru, Ireland’s High King, defeated the Vikings and their influence faded.In the 12th century Normans arrived and controlled large parts of Ireland which then came under the King of England’s political authority. This was followed by hundreds of years worth of revolt, culminating in the 1916 Easter Rising where a republic was declared in Dublin and an armed insurrection took place. In 1918 the General Election swept aside the Irish Parliamentary Party causing a war of national independence. By the time the Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded in 1921, six counties in Ulster had been given their own Northern pre-parliament, with the remaining 26 counties forming the Irish Free State. Since then Ireland struggled until the end of the 20th century when Ireland’s economy turned for the better and Celtic pride has since flourished.Gaelic is the native Irish language. It evolved from Celtic settlers (600 B.C.) and survived the Norse and Viking invasions, but was almost wiped out by English rule. It is now becoming more widely spoken and all the street signs have both English and Gaelic on them.
Some famous Dubliners:
Samuel Beckett, Nobel Prizewinning playwright and poet (Waiting for Godot)
Maeve Binchy, author (well known for Circle of Friends)
Christy Brown, subject of the movie “My Left Foot”; he wrote and painted with his left foot because he had cerebral palsy
Seamus Heaney, poet and Nobel Prize winner
Marian Keyes, novelist
James Joyce, novelist and well known for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (his autobiography) and Ulysses
Bram Stoker, author of Dracula
Jonathan Swift, author and dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral
Oscar Wilde, well known for his The Importance of Being Earnest
William Butler Yeats, 20th century poet
Miscellaneous, but nonetheless interesting:
The Irish claim that America was first discovered by an Irishman, St Brendan, the Navigator, in the 6th century. http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/58/04712670/0471267058.pdf
Palm trees grow year round in Ireland. Apparently due to the mild climate, there is rarely any snow and the ground doesn’t freeze, so palm trees thrive.