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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Family, Kids & Senior Travelers’

A Summer of Shakespeare

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Celebrate Shakespeare’s 444th birthday in London and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

This summer marks the celebration of two important milestones:

1. William Shakespeare’s 444th Birthday.

2. Somewhat reasonable English weather…

…which means that it’s time to get into the Shakespeare spirit…by witnessing his creative genius…at some of the most authentic of venues…

1. The Globe Theatre, London.

Start by paying a visit to the one and only Globe Theatre, located on London’s South Bank; I had the pleasure of witnessing the ‘official’ celebration of Shakespeare’s Birthday here on April 23rd. And from the spontaneous, mid-afternoon “Happy Birthday” serenade by a lively group of pub crawlers…to a vibrant musical performance, staged on a floating Elizabethan theatre in the middle of the Thames…it was an event not to be missed!

There are still plenty of opportunities to immerse yourselves in this unique, historical celebration in the coming months…namely, by attending a Shakespeare play at the Globe!

As stated on their website:

“This year we perform his most searching tragedy, King Lear; his most wild and inventive comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream; his most thrilling and savage satire, Timon of Athens, and his invention of a new form, the sit-com, in The Merry Wives of Windsor…”

Join in on one of the Globe’s most exciting theatrical runs to date!

2. The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Upon Avon.

After experiencing the wonders of the Globe, you could take an overnight trip to Stratford Upon Avon—the birthplace of Shakespeare—to get a feel for his earliest sources of inspiration.

Wander through the town’s quaint, cobblestone streets, visit Anne Hathaway’s cottage, and see a Shakespeare play, performed by the world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company.

This summer’s RSC productions include: Romeo and Juliet, Don John, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet.

The Oxford, Warwick Castle and Overnight in Stratford Tour departs from London daily and includes lodging at a 3 star hotel—a fantastic way to experience some of England’s most famous historical landmarks.

Happy Birthday, Will!

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The Peacock Parade…

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Peacock Ruffled Feathers

It wasn’t until I started writing blogs that I realized just how fascinated I am with wildlife; indeed, I spend more time staring at lizards, bugs and squirrels than I do learning about important monuments and historical landmarks. 

If you’ve already read the birdwatching blog, you know just how fascinating Bowerbird courtship behavior can be (check that blog out here  here if you haven’t!). Yet sometimes animal behavior is inexplicable—it was just last week that I experienced my most surprising, amusing bird encounter of the year: I was strolling through the Fountain of Youth Park

 …when I was almost attacked by a Peacock.

While I don’t have photographic evidence of the bird’s sweeping dive towards my forehead, I did, after coming to terms with the insanity of the situation, manage to photograph his beautiful feathers from afar:

 

Peacock Feathers Fountain of Youth

The Peacock Parade…yes, indeed…it’s on display, every day, at the Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine, Florida

You should go there and check out these beauties for yourselves:

Beautiful White Peacock St Augustine

 

Peacock Open Feathers

But be sure to watch your heads!

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The Fountain of Youth.

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Fountain of Youth Ponce de LeonFountain of Youth Ponce de LeonFountain of Youth Ponce de Leon

“When I arrived, I was 135 years old, and now I feel 60 again!” remarked my father after tasting some authentic, sulphur-saturated water from the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida.  Our tour guide assured us that, had Spanish explorer Ponce de León not been shot in the thigh during battle circa age 60, he surely would have, given his daily Fountain bathing regimen, lived to be at least 100, too…

And no, the sexy diorama above—complete with a statue of old Juan in his fatal, thigh-exposing get up (“the shorter the skirt, the higher the nobility!” –  our tour guide)—is, sadly, not the actual Fountain of Youth, but rather, a tourist mock up.  The actual historic site of the famed, bubbling source of vitality, as sought and discovered by Juan Ponce de León in 1513, now appears as a pit in the ground; the rejuvenating “Water of Life” is currently filtered through a man-made tap for tourist-consuming purposes.  Ever smelled and/or tasted warm sulphur water on a scorching summer day? Yummm…

Fountain of Youth tour guide

The Fountain of Youth Park in St. Augustine actually provided several hours of amusement for my not-so-keen-on-sightseeing parents (and for my super touristy self!).  I actually did—as cheesy as it sounds—feel somewhat connected to my country’s 400 + year old history of European inhabitation while perusing the 15 acre grounds. 

Upon entering the Park, you will be brainwashed—i.e. “America is so old” and “La Florida came first!”—as the resident historians emphasize their favorite take home lesson: Chris Columbus may have “discovered” the “New World,” but it was good old Juan who established the first European settlement on American soil—St Augustine.

And what a charming little city he left behind!

Do take the St. Augustine historic trolley tour and stop off at the Fountain of Youth Park, which provides enough activities to entertain a family of 10— an archaeological park, a planetarium, and a discovery globe, to name a few.

Oh yeah, and there are tons of beautiful peacocks (which are actually kind of scary, in my opinion…).  Stay tuned for the upcoming peacock blog if you would like to view some more images of these fascinating creatures!

In conclusion:

Gracias, Sr. Ponce de Leon….queremos beber de la fuente de la juventud cada día!

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Squirrel Mania!

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Once upon a time, two naïve, young Americans resided in an isolated garden amidst thousands of Britons. For years, they cohabited peacefully, frolicking through the flowers, making the most of available resources, scavenging what they could and protecting themselves from the inclimate weather with drab, grey (yet functional) attire.

They remained blissfully unaware of their neighbouring British brethren, who, steeped in age-old tradition, upheld their distinctive, refined set of food and fashion tastes…

Then, one day, some idiot let those Americans loose.

The Yankees invade.

The Grey Squirrels have taken over— ‘those big, ugly rats’, as some of my British friends call them, are destroying the native population of beloved, beautiful Red Squirrels.

continue reading

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Father’s Day 2008: The Gift of Adventure

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Do not underestimate the crazy types of things your father would do with his free time: those receding silver streaks mean nothing. In fact, they were probably, unavoidably, caused by you.

You see, a protective dad’s biggest fear is that his kids are secretly behaving half as stupidly as he was during the dumbest moment of his own youth. Most dads are just giant kids, really. And this Father’s Day (Sunday 15 June 2008!) is the perfect opportunity to make your old man feel like a young lad again. Give him the father’s day gift of a lifetime! It’s time to send dad on one of these…

Big Kid Adventure Tours

1. Four Wheeling through the Australian Outback.

Your mother will hate it (thus he’ll love it even more) when you sweep your dad away on a vacation Down Under, where he can trail blaze through rugged, open plains on his very own 4×4 motorbike! He will delight in pioneering the breathtaking landscapes and beloved fauna of Oz.

(You can assure mother that the tour is led by experienced local bikers!)

2. White Water Rafting on the Ganges

The ultimate adventure. A two-day excursion to India’s prime rafting spot—a most thrilling (and beautiful!) stretch of the Ganges River in the north.

After a refreshing afternoon and overnight stay at the Ganges Nature Camp, your favorite Big Kid will brave the rapids full force (mothers: helmets are provided, and the rapids are interspersed with calm swimming spots and picturesque scenery).

The bravest dads may opt for a quick cliff dive before completing the five-hour journey in Rishikesh.

The excursion includes hotel pick up and drop off, transportation to camp in an air-conditioned vehicle, accommodation in safari tents, rafting equipment, trained and professional guides, and various adventure activities (jungle walking, body surfing, cliff jumping, etc.).

3. Helicopter Ride over Grand Canyon

Who wouldn’t love it? (Actually, I think my acrophobic mother would hate this one, too…).

Suitable for the busy businessman, this exhilarating flight will give your deserving dad a breathtaking vantage point of the grand, cavernous expanse of striated rock that he dreamed about as a boy.

The tour commences at the Southern Rim and will bring him soaring through the center and across to Imperial Point, which boasts spectacular views of the Canyon, the Painted Desert and the Colorado River.

4. Everglades Safari Park Tour

Perfect for all the binocular-clad dads out there, this (affordable!) airboat ride excursion through the Everglades National Park, the “largest subtropical wilderness in the US,”will bring ‘em face-to-face with mother nature.

Dad will relish in the abundant flora and fauna as he watches the gators in action, explores the marshes by foot and truly immerses himself in one of America’s most precious ecosystems.

This most affordable Father’s Day gift includes: a wildlife nature show, reptile cave exhibits, an alligator wrestling show, and, of course, an airboat ride!

5. Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

For the craziest Big Kids out there, this one is pretty self-explanatory:

1. Climb (200 ft up the stunning Auckland harbour bridge),

2. Strap (on the appropriate gear), and…

3. JUMP!

He will even get a complimentary t-shirt and bungee certification…

The Gift of Adventure

This Father’s Day, forget the gardening gadgets and golfing shirts, and ignite dad’s inner child—send him on the Big Kid Adventure of a Lifetime!

Excursions:
Quad Biking in Australian Outback

White Water Rafting on the Ganges

Helicopter Ride over Grand Canyon

Everglades Safari Park Tour

Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

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The Republic of Happiness.

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“We have the friendliest border police in the world,” the officer smiled as he handed me back my landing card, “you can start your story with that?”

I’m in love with Ireland. And I’m not just saying this because I still have traces of Guinness lurking in my synapses (folk ballads ringing in my ears, 40 shades of green flashing through my hazy subconscious…). I just met some of the warmest, most welcoming people on the planet. It was their personalities—their enthusiasm for life and for those around them—that defined my travel experience. My most vivid memories of the Emerald Isle will thus linger as a series of encounters with lively locals, namely the following…

1. Michael O’Leary

Not the famed, fiery chief executive of Ryanair—or his son, as insinuated by friends (unless Mike Sr. secretly spawned at age 10)—but nonetheless a most charismatic guru of Dublin nightlife.

Mr. O’Leary’s mantra—“those who have no fear are truly free” (repeated several times, over several pints)—will never be forgotten. Amen, brother. Amen…

“The way I see it, girls,” he grandly gestured toward the window of The Bailey, a trendy, laid back Dublin watering hole—a crossroads for pub-going lads and cocktail-sipping ladies (a good place for the former to take and (attempt to) impress the latter), “is that you have two choices—two potential paths, if you will.”

We sipped our glasses of chardonnay in anticipation.

“But you must first tell me,” he leaned forward: “What is it that you truly hope for?”

In life…or from the bartender? We just wanted to know which, uh, pub we should go to next?

“You see, you have choices.

choices?

“Yes, choices. You can either walk through that door, and turn left…”

He grabbed a pen from his pocket and quickly charted a hyper-detailed route to Café en Seine, a posh French café-turned-disco, on my damp napkin.

“Or, you can go…right.”

The difference being…?

“Well, if you choose left, you choose…suits.”

French cafes and suits? You’ve gotta be kidding. We want a banjo-picking, sham-rocking hoe down. This is Ireland for G’sake…

“But if you turn right…”

He carefully folded the napkin map into my friend’s palm.

“Well, that’s for you to discover.”

Two paths diverged in a green, drunken wood…

And we obviously chose right.

2. Mary O’Sullivan

Mary O’Sullivan was genuinely concerned with our well-being from the moment we stumbled into her Killarney Bicycle Shop—we appeared as two lost, giggling (hung over) tourists on an eager quest to “discover the Ring of Kerry” by bicycle…in four hours…right.

Mary saw how excited we were, though, and graciously offered us extra cycling time—she would come back to meet as after evening mass at 7.15pm on the dot (the shop closed at 6pm that night).

We had no idea where we were going, what to do with our bulky handbags or how to strap on our helmets. But Mary had us covered—she took care of everything. It took her 15 minutes to get us situated on our pink-trimmed town bikes, an amount of time in which, she informed us, “I can usually get 30 people out the door and on the road.” But she didn’t seem to mind mothering us—in fact, I think she really enjoyed it. She pointed out that she had good training for this type of thing, having raised 3 sons.

“Sorry, all married!” She responded…before I could even ask…while fastening my helmet (for the second time). Damn, she was good.

I should note that our cycling tour of Killarney National Park—a topic for another blog—was the unquestionable highlight of our trip to Ireland. Despite a *tiny* setback (we got lost and had to backtrack 15km to a vaguely familiar cow pasture, from which we miraculously navigated our ways back to the main road and into the city center), we had an amazing, scenic, and exhilarating journey through the enormous park and surrounds.

We even managed to make it back to Mary’s shop on time; actually, we were early. Mary informed us that our good fortune was a result of the prayer she said for us at mass.

Honestly, what would we have done without her? Mary O’Sullivan = our saviour.

3. Crazy Tom

Crazy Tom was the acoustic guitarist that stole our hearts with his country ballads and quirky cover selections at that little pub on College Street in downtown Killarney. I’ve spent the last 30 minutes doing crafty Google searches, trying to track down the name of the rustic little venue in which Tom’s musical magic transpired on the evening of May 25th, 2008. But I have failed miserably. Sorry kids—I just don’t remember where I was. But I remember the music…promise.

Fortunately, Killarney is the type of town where you could go door to door and say something like: “Do you know where I can find Tom, the crazy old, guitarist with the crazy hair? He’s incredibly talented and really nice to tourists? He sometimes plays Bob Marley…” And you would probably figure out a way to catch one of Tom’s gigs in less than an hour.

But if you can’t manage to track down Tom, fear not: the Killarney nightlife scene is live music. Just stroll through the city center on a weekend evening—you are bound to encounter tons of traditional/folk + country + rock cover bands in various little pubs and bars. I’ve never seen so many banjos in one weekend. Greatness.

We listened to Tom play for nearly three hours—he dedicated a song to us. We love Crazy Tom. And Irish music. And Killarney. And Ireland. And life…

Your turn

These are just a few of the many wonderful people that I met on a weekend trip to Ireland. I am still shrouded in a happy, boozy haze; I vow to return to the friendliest, leafiest little land in Europe as soon as I possibly can.

‘Tis the perfect season for an Irish jaunt. Get involved!

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Dating Advice from Birdman

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It’s springtime, and love is in the air…

My undergraduate biology professor was, I recall fondly, the most eager ornithologist alive; I’ve never, ever experienced a person with such passion for his field. His descriptions, slideshows and enactments of Bowerbird courtship nesting rituals were more animated than the dances of a Broadway ‘Simba’ on acid. I just wish I could remember his name….let’s call him Birdman.

“He’s a bird watcheeer…he’s a bird watcher…watchin’ birds go by: my, my, myyyy…”

I learned a thing or two from Birdman; first of all, that, if all men behaved like Bowerbirds, the world would truly be a better place—meaning that women would constantly be showered with attention, affection and personalized, heartfelt gifts (sigh!). The elaborate nest-constructing rituals of the Bowerbird are like none other on the planet.

Picture this scenario:

It’s a warm, bright spring afternoon on beautiful Fraser Island, Australia, and romance is in the air. Benny, the blue Satin continue reading

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Has anyone ever been to Caherdaniel, Ireland?

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This blog is not an informative anecdote, but rather, a call to action. I need your help, regular readers…that I obviously have (- Hi mom!). I am embarking on my FIRST EVER trip to the glorious, green land of sexy accentsI mean to IRELAND—this weekend.

Joy! Guinness! Colin Farrell!

My friend Angela and I have decided to spend the majority of our trip in County Kerry; I have thus empowered myself with the ultimate, coy conversational tactic: “no, no it’s Carrie, spelled like Sex and the City…yes, with a ‘C’—that’s right!” (batting of eyelashes), “tee hee!”

We have also heard that Kerry is one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland; since we only have a weekend to travel, we thought it would be better to really immerse ourselves in one region instead of doing the typical “glimpse and go” bus tour of the Cliffs of Moher, Blarney Castle, Ring of Kerry, Guinness Storehouse, etc..

As we were giddily searching all of the key websites (hostelworld.com, hostels.com, discoverireland.ie, etc.) on Saturday night (I know, lame) for a cheap hostel in Killarney, I saw something that triggered a funny pang in my stomach…

You know when you are in a venue full of strangers, and you think you’ve heard your name called out by a familiar voice? Or when you spot your name on a road sign in a rural town? Or in a random obituary? (You hopefully don’t read lots of random obituaries?)

Well, I could have sworn that I saw, on a regional tourism website, an ad for…the Carriedaniel Hostel.

The Carriedaniel Hostel…in County Kerry…really? Is this for real?

A second glance: no, no it’s a tiny coastal village called Caherdaniel, located on the Ring of Kerry trail, and the hostel is called the Traveller’s Rest.

Caher Daniel…pretty damn close. That’s basically how they say my name in Kentucky: “Ca-her-eh Dahn-yawl.” (Seriously.)

We were amused. Angela even suggested that we forget Killarney and stay there—at the Travellers Rest in Caherdaniel—she really wants to see the coast.

But is the village even nice? There is minimal information posted on the Internet. One tourism website read something like: “Caherdaniel, a great place to stop and stretch your legs on the Ring of Kerry tour…” and “the village has two pubs where you can usually get hot meals…” (usually?).

And my favorite, which came up on an Irish astronomy website after a few random Google searches:

“…the darkest skies I have ever seen are down near a place called Caherdaniel on the Kenmare Peninsula in County Kerry…”

But does the daytime scenery of Caherdaniel counterbalance the dearth of food, electricity and human activity? Do we need to pack our own peanut butter sandwiches, bottled water, flashlights, etc.?

This is where I need your advice, Ireland-savvy readers: should we stick to the high roads or venture into obscurity?

Who knows Caherdaniel?

Insight + local knowledge much appreciated.

Email: carriesblog@googlemail.com

Thanks!
Carrie (and Angela)

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Exploring THE HEATH

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It’s difficult to imagine, as you are pinned against the window of a stuffy underground car at 8:30 am on a Wednesday, your nose embedded in a strange man’s cheap, polyester pinstripes, that vast, wide open spaces, full of oxygen and trees actually exist in this world.

It’s also easy to forget, while you are charging through a rush hour umbrella war, what all the rain actually does (besides ruin our ‘dos) in the first place. It keeps things GREEN.

London is actually one of the greenest cities that I have seen (in leafy terms), especially in comparison to New York and Paris. Most famous for its Royal parks—Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, St James’s Park, Green Park, Regent’s Park, etc.—it also boasts a range of commons, greens, greenways, and, perhaps most significantly, Hampstead Heath—a 791 acre (3.2 km²) expanse of woodlands, ponds, sports grounds, rolling meadows, sandy ridges and untamed foliage—all nestled just a few tube stops away from central London.

Now, with bits of spring (summer?) sunshine teasing the damp crowns of 6 million Londoners, the tubes are getting stuffier, the beer gardens are overflowing, and the green spaces are becoming increasingly…pink.

I’d been hearing so much buzz about ‘The Heath’ ever since moving to London, that I had to go up (yesterday) before the beautiful weather streak ended (today)…though tourists often find their ways to Hampstead (Parliament Hill) to catch a famous, stunning panoramic view of the city, it seems that only Londoners and extended-stay visitors (one in the same?) find the time to fully experience The Heath.

Even if you are on a short visit to London, I definitely, definitely recommend spending at least a day exploring this gorgeous expanse of green, which offers, truly, ‘something for everyone’—from pond swimming and picnicking…to lido lounging and garden dining…to cycling, kite flying and even bird watching (a skill that I am now ‘quite keen’ to master—they even offer educational sessions for beginners on some weekends).

I should quickly emphasize that the region commonly recognized as ‘The Heath’ actually contains several sub-areas and parks, each with its own ‘personality’.

Most prominent is the private, English Heritage site of Kenwood, which, with its stately mansion, intricately-manicured flower gardens, immaculately-trimmed lawns, sparkling ponds and upscale garden cafés, poses a lovely contrast to the untamed wilderness of the surrounding Heath. The Kenwood Estate and Gardens tends to attract older visitors (and nearby residents) seeking a picturesque spot for an afternoon tea and stroll. (I couldn’t help but notice that it would be a fantastic spot for a wedding. Sound good, Harry? xx).

Right…

Also worth a visit is Golders Hill Park, which, with its deer park, animal enclosures, playground equipment and huge picnicking lawns, is the perfect place for a family day out.

But, the best way to fully discover The Heath, in my opinion, is to grab a little map from the park office by the Parliament Café (southeast corner, accessible from Kentish Town Tube station) and embark on a quasi-aimless trek; the park office even has a few trails mapped out—I chose the 6 mile (9.7 km) route and inevitably strayed from the red dotted line about halfway through. But getting a bit ‘lost’, in my opinion, allows you to really experience and appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the wooded areas—to observe the lively movements of the squirrels and (as cheesy as it may sound) to listen to the songs of the birds.

Within thirty minutes, you will find it hard to believe that, just a few kilometers down the road, thousands of passengers are crammed into a stuffy, dark underground tunnel…

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The Search for Prince Harry

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Last weekend, I took a day trip to Windsor and Eton with one obvious objective in mind: to have a royal sighting.

I know, I know—lame, BUT I’m convinced that the chivalrous young prince would have fallen for my “lost tourist,” damsel-in-distress act.

Right?

According to our chirpy Windsor Castle guide Penny, the Queen was in residence that day…

Windsor Castle Tour

But what about our favourite royal soldiers? Where was Harry hiding?

Among the guards?

Changing of Guards at WIndsor Castle

At Eton College—his old stomping ground?

Eton College, UK

We finally decided that the princes were most likely cruising down the Thames in a yacht. It was, after all, a beautiful day. So we set sail ourselves, in a classy rowing boat:

Rowing on Thames in Windsor

Rowing On Thames in Windsor

 

No luck, unfortunately—we were hoping for a royal rescue when we crashed into the bank (Twice! Oops!)—but I still have high hopes. That’s why I am leaving this blog open for responses and comments.

Harry: next time you’re in London, I should be free for a drink. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday nights are pretty good for me. I’m also up for the weekend countryside adventure…but I’ll let you decide.

Look forward to hearing from you!

Carrie x

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