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Archive for the ‘Ireland’ Category

One of the things I love best about the Irish is the passion they hold for their culture. This week’s event demonstrated just this. The businessmen and academics genuinely shined with pride for their technological innovations, business strategies and ambition.

But it wasn’t all business. Our hosts also showed their pride in Ireland’s culture, striving [and succeeding] to impress us with social and cultural events.

Our fun included…

a tour of the Jameson Distillery outside Cork in Midleton, Cork, that was informative and historical, offering insight into a name that is synonymous with Irish innovation. The tasting reminded me why I am not a fan of whiskey, but also confirmed that the Jameson brand is true to its advertising and offers a much smoother and appealing taste than its Scotch and American counterparts.

a private cooking demonstration and dinner at the Barnabrow House in Midleton. The heaven of traditional Irish cuisine, with a three-course dinner of leek and potato soup with salmon for a starter, Guinness beef stew for the main and something with chocolate for dessert (I can’t remember that bit well), along with a lot of delicious wine and great conversation.

a visit to Powerscourt Estate and gardens in Enniskerry outside Dublin. Previously the residence of the Slazenger family (as in the sports equipment manufacturers), the grounds are now open to the public – and they are absolutely breathtaking. We had limited time so I took an abridged tour of the gardens with Italian and Japanese designs and the Pets’ Cemetery, the largest in the country where most of the family’s pets are laid to rest.

Here are a selection of shots from Powerscourt: (The remainder can be found here.)

Some other highlights of the trip included:

— meeting a government official with the e-mail address “himself@[firstandlastname].com.” How creative is that?! Trualy a fantastic person!

— having dinner (another three-course delight including a duck entrée) next to one of the investors, a delightful Dublin native who spent a good amount of time drawing me a map of walks outside Dublin to check out during my free time. He even left me his phone number in case I got stuck somewhere, since I knew no one else in the area. Oh, and he hit the bar with us afterwards. Bless him.

— post-dinner drinks at some Dublin hotspots and watching some of our crew let loose. No seriously, there was a great guy from Texas who just kept inserting himself into groups of ladies. (They also told me I need to head South and find myself a cowboy. I think they may be on to something.)

— lunch at Johnnie Fox’s, the “highest pub in Ireland,” or so it claims. The décor is fabulous, packed with old mismatched furnishings and signs, photos and other random memorabilia. The place also offers fantastic food; I continued the seafood theme and indulged on Mussels in a White Wine sauce and a Goat Cheese salad.

This is Michael Flatley’s shoe.

— hearing a hilarious story about the time one of our entourage got terrible sunburn before flying to Japan for a business deal and accidentally patted (literally) on 5-day bronzer instead of after-sun lotion and showed up with bright orange handprints on his face on top of red sunburn. Best part of the story is how he handled the situation: he pretended nothing was out of the ordinary and offered no explanation for his look. (This guy had some fantastic stories; definitely a life of the party type of character.)

— staying in The Gibson Hotel, one of Dublin’s newest – and most modern – hotels where I came home to late Thursday night to find someone had come in to turn down my sheets and refold all the towels I had left in disarray during my first hour there. Oooo, and I had a fab patio where I saw a great sunset.

— hearing three company representatives in a row answer my question about their business ambitions for the US market with, “world domination.” Simmer down now.

— and, to be serious for a moment, meeting a ton of brilliant, personable and interesting people from my industry. I could go on and on about how fantastic the event, the businesses and the participants were from a business perspective, but to keep all identifying characteristics out of this blog (minus the story above which I am going to guess is not all that common), I’m going to leave the professional opinions out of here. But in all honesty, some really inspiring people who know their stuff. I was thoroughly impressed day after day.

All in all, a fabulous trip!!

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With two hours to ourselves between the day’s work-related events and the delicious dinner at Cucina, I joined another traveler on the trip on a wander around the grounds. The Carlton Hotel sits on a peninsula between two rivers (sort of), with a view of one of the inlets.

We followed a muddy trail that led down to the shore and then continued back along the path until its end at a grassy cliff where the river hit the Atlantic. Desperate to see if we could catch a glimpse of the village, or whatever else was there at the end of the land, we left the path and stumbled through the brush, including a lot of nettles, into a field that led us across the southern tip of the land towards the other river.

Not gonna lie, I was getting a little bit nervous: we had only another 30-45 minutes of sunlight; it was overcast; and we weren’t quite sure where we were. It was easy enough to reverse the route, but lucky for me I was with another journalist who shared my sense of direction and curious excitement for unfamiliar wandering. The decision point to continue on through a farmer’s field or turn back was a clump of dark tall trees full of crows resting up for the pending darkness. It kinda felt like the setting for a spooky movie.

(I can’t figure out how to upload the video so here’s a pic of the trees.)

Obviously we did find our way back. The walk, however short it was, reminded me of the Coast-to-Coast Walk (read more about the C2C here), covering woodlands, fields and farms, one after another. To top it off, we passed a dairy farm along the road and watched a collie herd cows into the barn for milking (I imagine).

The best part of the walk wasn’t the sights and sounds, but rather feeling like part of the Irish culture. If I learned one thing living in England, it is the importance of enjoying the outdoors and the mental benefit of a good country walk.

Another thing I learned is that the only thing more important than enjoying a good country walk is that there is a pub waiting at the end.

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When I travel I like to explore my surroundings, no matter how large or small. That includes the local food establishments, so as a rule I never order room service. But as I collapsed on the bed after a hot bath when I finally arrived in Kinsale, Ireland after a 7-hour overnight flight full of turbulence followed by 7 hours on the road, I not only considered ordering room service I actually contemplated skipping dinner because I felt too tired to get up and find the room-service menu. Fortunately I managed to roll to the end of the bed and find it on the desk because the goat cheese salad and tomato basil soup I ordered was delicious.

The combination of sheer exhaustion and jet leg knocked me out for a solid 12.5 hours and my dreams of driving the Southern coast in the early morning mist were snored away. In reality, I only got up just in time to get the car back to the airport on schedule.

The bus ride back from the airport, however, dropped me in Kinsale town and I realized where I had gone wrong. I metaphorically kicked myself for not driving or training straight to the seaside village. It is absolutely adorable, quaint yet bustling and packed with restaurants, cafes and markets all featuring seafood. And if wasn’t for the information center being “out to lunch” (as if that would ever be allowed in New York) and me being unable to find a cab on my own, I may have missed enjoying this little piece of travel heaven.

Here were some of my favorites sights around town:

The harbour was packed with small sailboats.

The only place I’d seen comparably beautiful flowers was Seattle; there is something to say for wet weather.

An old hardware store covered over with vegetation.

While I find Ireland’s urban structure holds tremendous similarity to England but the color added to the building designs connects the country more to the European mainland. (It’s so much more fun than tudor!)

They love fresh markets.

And cute little butcher’s shops with old jolly Irishmen behind the counter.

Any town with an “old town square” is worth visiting, in my opinion.

Luckily our itinerary in Kinsale included dinner at a local restaurant, Cucina, where I got the chance to sample the local seafood cuisine. I ordered the ‘hot and cold seafood platter’ that included fried haddock, poached salmon with some sort of curried mayonnaise sauce that was to die for, prawns, crab meat, fried calamari, crab claws and fingerling potatoes.

That came after a starter of prawn and avocado salad and before a a dessert of blueberry cheesecake.

I left Cucina stuffed to the brim with a warm and fuzzy food buzz. (Although I guess that could have been the bottle of wine I drank with the meal – a delicious Spanish white wine that I desperately wish I could remember the name of.) This was the second delicious meal we had during our trip and there were more to come. This may be the first time I went abroad and the weight in my tummy went up more than the weight of my luggage.

My review of Kinsale’s cuisine? Two thumbs up, a round of applause and checked off as a definite return destination.

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Some Irish Sun…

And just when I was trying to decide if I should head into Dublin for the night or spend it relaxing in my hotel room, I went out to the balcony to be met with a bright pink sunset.

Needless to say, I’ve spent the night sitting on my bed with the curtains wide, door open and a warm spring breeze blowing through the room…

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I have a very close half-Irish friend who truly loves the Emerald Isle. Every time he talks about the green land and its drunken inhabitants he gets giddy with passion for the culture and its rolling landscapes — which he also takes fantastic photos of. So when I was planning my quick trip across the country, he jumped in to help me plan. He threw out small villages to stop in and reminisced about the photos he caught of rainbows and misty hills; he insisted I stop at certain pubs and went on about the meals he had eaten and Guinness he had drank.

Since you couldn’t tag along, you-know-who, here’s to you!!

Contrary to the weather report, it is clear and sunny and beautiful outside. I am cruising on the left side of the road with the windows down and traditional Irish music blaring through the radio. I finally had some energy after stopping for a pub lunch — ham and Irish cheddar cheese toasty with chips — and a cuppa tea in Kilkenny. With nowhere to be, and no set schedule, I had gotten back on the road with the intention of cruising until something struck my fancy. Your favorite way to travel!

I slow down as I enter a roundabout and make a split second decision to take a different exit when I catch a glimpse of a rocky ruined castle off to the right. The sign said Cashel — the Rock of Cashel. Thirty minutes later I am walking up a muddy, hill sticking close to the stone wall on my left as I catch a rainbow up ahead, and, with a quick look behind me, climb the fence [keeping out tourists] to chase it down.

The view grew more beautiful as I rounded the back of the castle and saw a ruined Abbey in the field below. Needless to say, I made a beeline for the pile of stones.

The sun is pouring in the windows and small crevices. I mess with my camera a bit and capture dozens of perspectives of the same view — some bright, some dark, some a fuzzy confusing mess, others crisp as the air. The shots above are a few of my favs.

I spend a few more hours walking around — back past the Rock of Cashel, where I follow a grassy ridge up to small segment of a rainbow, brighter than any I’ve ever seen before. (Seriously, I didn’t edit the color in the image below.)

This made the sleepy hours of driving worth it — being in the middle of such a beautiful place. It’s now too late to make it to Cobh village or explore the town of Kinsale before sunset, but there is a warm and cozy hotel waiting for me and tomorrow is a whole new day.


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In the book Around the World in 80 Dates, the author, Jennifer Cox, takes off on an around the world trip in search of love. She plans the trip effectively, reaching out to the network of contacts she’s created through her roles as a travel journalist and the head of PR for Lonely Planet and asks them to set her up on dates, introduce her to people, etc.

taken by Carla Franco on Ireland's Dingle Peninsula

I read the book a long time ago, shortly after it came out in 2005, so the timeline and facts are fuzzy, but she says one thing in the story that has stuck with me ever since. When describing her decision to take the journey she says (and I don’t quote) that she puts time and effort into building her career and traveling for work, why not travel for love?

Good bloody question Ms. Cox.

Tonight I am leaving for Ireland. It’s a work trip and I will have only a couple of days free but there is something terribly romantic about Ireland. Of course the landscape and historical sites are beautiful, but what I find most moving is [the portrayal of] its people’s connection and dedication to their culture. They believe in and have passion for… being Irish. You can’t help but feel welcome and ‘home’ while you are there, even if you don’t have an ounce of Irish blood running through your body.

For the next week I will be doing a lot of schmoozing, mingling and small-talking. But for the first 30 hours, I will be driving across the country making periodic, unplanned stops — which in my opinion is the only way to road trip — basking in Ireland’s greenery and seaside towns. Cox may have traveled for romantic love, but for the first 30 hours I will be traveling for all kinds of love — my love for exploring a new culture, my love for landscapes and scenery, my love for taking photographs, my love for pub foods and my love for, well, me. Everyone needs a little “me-time,” and I can’t think of anywhere better to spend it.

And who knows who I’ll meet along the way…

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I confess: I expected to hop off the plane in Ireland and fall in love. Maybe it was the years of anticipation; maybe it was all the “you’ll love it more than England” departing comments I received; maybe it was my love for beer at pubs surrounded by rainy hills and sheep, who knows.

View from Conor Pass

View from Conor Pass

It wasn’t till day 6 that I felt my heartbeat quicken and eyes glaze over in admiration. I fell head over heels for County Kerry.

Having learned a lot about this area of the country from a friend of the family, and the founder of the walking tour company Walking Experiences, Terry Carruthers, it was, for me, the most anticipated part of the trip.

Ring of Kerry from the Northern Side of Dingle

Ring of Kerry from the Northern Side of Dingle

We drove the Dingle Peninsula, stopping to wander along its rocky shores and take in the snow-capped peaks, and through, or over is more like it, Conor Pass, which took us into the bottom of the cloud cover. Mesmerizing!!

We looped up to explore the north side and ventured into Killarney. Maybe it was because I could sense the nature close at hand—literally the park is a quick walk from the city centre—but I fell in love with the city after one drive-through.

Triple A and I dropped off the other gals to do some souvenir shopping while we trooped off to see what we could of Killarney National Park.

Ross Castle

Ross Castle

We ventured in to Ross Castle… another ruined piece of history that still stands in a physical state defined by nature. This was one of many castles, churches and who knows what, that we visited, drove by and saw in the distance that stood in a ruined state—not rebuilt to accommodate tourists.

Ross Castle was cool and as all the boat ride options were closed for the season we quickly visited and moved on. It was getting dark and there was a lot to see. So we followed directions into the park and drove along looking for sights. We visited Muckross House—an old estate that, well, I have no idea why it’s there. We still had Torc Falls and Ladies View to see, according to our trusty National Geographic Traveler Ireland guide book—awesome guide book I must say!

Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

We got back in the car when it started to drizzle and took off in search. We saw signs for Torc and other sights, but no Ladies View… Triple A’s sight of choice. So we drove and drove and drove, stopping at every turn off. We drove over the slick wet roads, winding up into the hills, through stone tunnels inches away from stone walls and branches up the one-lane road.

Ladies View!

Ladies View!

Then… we pulled over to the right of the road when we saw a parking area… we reached Ladies View. And it was spectacular…

It was dusk, cloudy and we were late to pick up our shopping friends, so we took a few pics and moved on. But it was the perfect view to end the trip and put a smile on these Ladies’ faces!

I definitely love Ireland and can’t wait to go back and hike the Kerry Way!


IRELAND PICS CAN BE FOUND HERE!!

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