December 20, 2013

European Christmas markets; things to do

Next year I'd love to visit one of these European Christmas markets.

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image c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers  

December 18, 2013

Introduction to Atlantic City, New Jersey

You’ve seen the post-Hurricane Sandy photos of the roller coaster sitting in the ocean.  That’s not here.  Though Atlantic City is an island, with an ocean on one side and a bay on the other, Sandy didn’t flatten it, and the city has been ready for fun-seekers and gamblers ever since things dried out. 
Atlantic City began in the mid-1800s when a few entrepreneurs imagined the seaside location as a health spa and resort town.  A 600-room hotel built here was at that time the nation’s largest.  The first city to have gambling outside of Nevada, it features 12 casinos in close proximity--providing for a pulsating nightlife and an easy casino-hopping experience.  Nine casinos front the Boardwalk, putting the Atlantic Ocean and a magnificent beach at your doorstep.  Three more are positioned about 5 minutes away in the Marina District.

It is the city that inspired the most popular board game ever—Monopoly—which uses the city’s street names, and it is where the Rat Pack first got together.  And you’ve probably seen it on episodes of “Seinfeld” and “Sex and the City.” 

Some Atlantic City firsts include:
●Boardwalk, which opened in 1870.
●salt water taffy, which originated in 1883 on the Boardwalk after a storm flooded a candy store.
●rolling chairs, which debuted here in1887.
And this year the Miss America pageant returned to town. 

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image c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

December 16, 2013

How to drink kava or yaqona in Fiji; things to do

How to drink kava or yaqona in Fiji

Fiji’s national drink is yaqona (pronounced yan-gon-na), or “kava” as it is known in other Pacific Islands.  In Fiji they also often refer to it by the nickname “grog.”  Made from the root of the pepper tree, which grows only in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, yaquona is bitter and potent.  I’ve heard yaqona described best as tasting like “peppery puddle water.”  It is non-alcoholic but has mild narcotic properties when taken over a prolonged period and in large quantities, and the United States F.D.A. warns of a possible link between kava and liver failure. 

Fijians consider it the drink of the Lord and start drinking it at around age 21.  In Fiji, the root is a form of  currency.  Traditionally, when visiting a village a guest brings a gift of kava roots to the chief as a sign of respect.  Sometimes villagers, visitors, and the chief sit on the bure floor while the chief conducts a blessing ceremony, and sometimes the roots are then pounded into a drink that is then distributed in one large bowl from which everyone drinks in a welcome ceremony indicating  goodwill and hospitality.  Pounding drums sometimes also accompany the ceremony.  On my visit to Fiji, I encountered this ceremony numerous times in many different ways—even in a demonstration at a resort shopping center! 

This is the etiquette of drinking yaqona:
●Don’t sip it. 
●When the bowl is presented to you, cup your hands and clap them together once.
●Accept the bowl and say, “Bula!,” or “Vinaka” (thanks).
●If it is a large bowl meant for a group, drink one gulp down fast.  If it is a small bowl for one person, drink it all down fast. 
●Clap three more times and say, “Maca!” 
●Return the bowl to the same person.
●Women sit with legs to the side only.  No one should point their feet at a chief or the kava bowl. 
●Women can ask for a smaller “low-tide” serving.  

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video c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

December 13, 2013

Dingle town, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland: Best way to leave Dingle Town

Take the southern road N86 out of Dingle town east to the R561, and you’ll pass by Inch Strand.  Back-dropped by the Slieve Mish Mountains, this beautiful 4-mile stretch of sandy beach attracts surfers--a van on the sand provides lessons and rents boards--and cars can drive on the packed-sand beach (not advised if you have a rental car).

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images c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

December 11, 2013

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland: Tour the Ring of Dingle/Slea Head Drive; things to do + restaurant review

Tour the Ring of Dingle/Slea Head Drive

There are more than 2,000 archaeological sites on the Dingle peninsula. It is basically an open-air museum dotted with monuments in various stages of decomposition.  Many people think this route is better and easier than the Ring of Kerry, and you won’t see many tour buses on this less-traveled road.  It is 30 miles, and though it is a two-way road, most people drive it clockwise.  Allow about three hours.  Rick Steves describes the loop drive in detail:. I wish I had printed it out.

VENTRY/Ceann Tra  In between Dingle Town and Slea Head.

beehive huts  Also called ring forts, these structures are the most numerous and widespread field monuments in Ireland.  Several groups are found here. Made of stone without mortar by seventh-century monks, they kept the occupants dry and are thought to have housed just one family until around 1200 A.D.  It is believed that many of these mysterious huts survived only because superstition said they were "fairy forts."  Entering one surrounds you in a dank coziness.  The first signposted site we came to was up a steep hill and had a E2/person charge.  Homemade signs made me suspicious that it was a scam, but I was told elsewhere later that the farmers do sometimes charge to visit these sites on their property.  My advice is to wait until you come to the second beehive huts site, where apparently admission is always free.  

SLEA HEAD/Ceann Sueibhe  This is the closest point in Europe to America.  When the weather is good, you’ll have stunning views of the rugged coastline and of the Blasket Islands located 6 miles off the coast.

Slea Head Cafe   You can enjoy a warm-up at this tea house.   

DUNQUIN/Dun Chpoin  Stop for a brownie and latte at this pottery cafe and enjoy the gorgeous view of the Blaskett Islands.

Reasc Monastery  This spot is hidden but worth the effort to find it. 

Dunbeg Fort Visitor Center  At the base of Mt. Eagle.. One of Ireland's most famous prehistoric sites, this fort dates to 400 BC and was occupied in the 8th century.
     ●Stonehouse Cafe  This cafe operates within an authentic Irish stone house.  You can sit outside and enjoy the view of Dingle Bay, maybe with an open-face crabmeat brown-bread sandwich. 

BALLYDAVID/Baile Na Ngall  This picturesque fishing village is on the western end of the peninsula.

Scanlons Pet Farm  5 miles west of Dingle, Barr na Nard, Baile an Lochaigh, near the end of the Slea Head Drive.  Visitors can see and pet farmyard animals.  There is a playground for the children, and a nature walk to Feothanach river.  A picnic area is located beside the river.

    Louis Mulcahy shop  This rambling pottery shop is the perfect spot to select some gifts and souvenirs.  Do allow time for lunch or tea in the cafe, where you can enjoy some delicious food and sample the wares before you buy. 

●Gallarus Oratory  This Christian church highlight comes just before you reach the crest of the hill and start back down to Dingle.  Built circa 800 A.D., it resembles an overturned boat and is probably the finest example of a watertight dry-stone building in Western Europe and it is the only one still standing.

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images c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

December 9, 2013

Dingle town, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland: The Lantern Townhouse B&B; hotel review

The Lantern Townhouse B&B  Main Street, downtown, + 353-66-9151088.  4 stories; 10 rooms.  E30-50/person.  Breakfast + E5.  No pets.  No smoking.  Parking free on street. 

Centrally located on the town's main upper street, this B&B is just a few steps from restaurants, pubs, and shops.  During my stay, the cheery desk clerk provided excellent suggestions for restaurants and for pubs with traditional Irish music.  Breakfast offers a choice of either a Belgian waffle with fresh fruit or eggs scrambled with smoked local salmon on toast, plus a buffet of cereals, pastries and breads, local Irish cheeses (I still wish I’d eaten more of the scrumptious apricot chees), and more.  Decor is simple but pleasant, with knotty-pine night stands and matching armoire and dresser.  Rooms in front face the active and interesting but sometimes noisy main street; rooms in back face a quiet garden and have a beautiful view of the hills. 

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images c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

December 4, 2013

Dingle town, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland; restaurant reviews

Ashes Bar & Restaurant  Main Street, +353 (0)66 9150989.  L-D daily.  We enjoyed a fine three-course Early Bird fresh fish dinner in this cozy little spot.  Some guest rooms are available upstairs.

Ashes Bar & Restaurant in Dingle town, Ireland

Murphys Ice Cream  This award-winning ice cream is served up in a bright little shop that provides the perfect spirit lift on a rainy day.  The best local ingredients are used--including the wonderful rich milk from the rare, indigenous Kerry cow—and they make their own chocolate chips.  Flavors include Dingle sea salt and Guinness, both of which I tasted, but I ultimately decided on my favorite--butterscotch. 

Murphys Ice Cream in Dingle town, Ireland

O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub  The Mall, +353 (0)66 9152853.  Painted brilliant blue with red trim and touted as the newest old pub in Dingle, this cozy spot presents traditional Irish music nightly.  It promises no television, no juke box, and no pool table--just great music.  A turf fire warms things up, and a backbeer garden cools things down.  It even has free Wi-Fi (but you won’t want it).  We met a couple of Australian women here and had a good chin wag with them as they downed their Dingle gin and tonics and we sipped on Guinness.  No food is served. 

O'Sullivan's Courthouse Pub in Dingle town, Ireland

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images c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 
updated August 29, 2015 

December 2, 2013

Introduction to Dingle town, Dingle Peninsula, Ireland; things to do

DINGLE town is at the southern end of the Dingle Peninsula set facing the harbor.  The most westerly town in Europe, its restaurants offer tasty food and its cozy pubs present traditional Irish music.  The main street runs along the harbor (Strand Street), and another higher main street runs up above behind it (Main Street); several smaller side streets join them.  Buildings are painted in an array of colors--the area is popular with artists--and wandering around browsing the shops and peeking into the pubs is a great way to pass the time.  Don’t leave the area without driving the Slea Head Drive, also known as the Ring of Dingle.  As it circles the southern peninsula, it passes many of the antiquities that are scattered across the area and provides spectacular views.  Peak season is August, when the Dingle Races draw crowds from throughout the area to watch the horses run every other weekend.

Things to Do
St. James’ Church  Main St., 087 2849656.  Folk concerts are sometimes scheduled in this charming small church that seats just 100.  An ancient cemetery adjoins. 

Commodum Art and Design  Main Street, +353 66-9151380.  Interesting locally made woolens and art pieces fill this clean-lined shop.  I was partial to the knitted flock of sheep inhabiting the window display.  Hand-knitted right here in the shop from natural Aran wool, you can buy a lamb or slightly larger sheep or a whole flock.

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images c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers  

November 22, 2013

Dingle Peninsula, Ireland: Crossing the Conor Pass; things to do

The relatively remote Dingle Peninsula is known for its rugged mountains, jagged cliffs, and archaeological sites.  Mount Brandon reaches 3,130 feet and is Ireland’s second-tallest mountain.  The area has more sheep than residents, and the weather is often rainy but rarely interrupts sightseeing.  Plus it has sandy beaches.  Allow two nights here.

At Tralee, the peninsula’s entrance point, take the N86, which leads through lovely countryside and provides glimpses of Tralee Bay as it heads to the Conor Pass. Located just before the N86 turns inland from the north coast, the village of Camp has several pubs and makes a good break stop before heading through the rugged Connor Pass to Dingle.

At times the road becomes very narrow as it climbs up and over the spectacular pass.  Sheep are sometimes on the road, and fog and rain can slow things down through this rocky mountain pass over Mount Brandon.  Finally, on the descent, you’ll have an expansive view of Dingle Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Then it’s a hop, skip, and jump into Dingle town.

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image c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers  

November 20, 2013

Introduction to Cong village, Ireland; things to do

Introduction to Cong village  

Located just outside the property lines of Ashford Castle, this small and atmospheric village is reached by a pleasant walk along the River Cong.  The Quiet Man, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, was filmed here in 1952, and this village has never gotten over it!  A daily walking tour visits the main filming locations, and an annual festival celebrating it is held in October.  The village also holds:

medieval abbey ruins: 
Rory O'Connor, the last High King of Ireland, is reputed to have died here.  The “Cross of Cong” is now displayed in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

unique boutiques:
Ladys Buttery Art and Craft Gallery  purveys particularly nice locally made items. 

tea rooms:
Jenni’s Country Tea Rooms  offers a freshly baked scone plus tea or coffee for 3 Euros. 

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images c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers

November 18, 2013

Cong, Ireland: Take a walk with a hawk at Ireland’s School of Falconry on the grounds of Ashford Castle; things to do

Take a walk with a hawk at Ireland’s School of Falconry on the grounds of Ashford Castle

Ireland’s School of Falconry  Though its origins are not certain, falconry is believed to have begun in Mesopotamia at around 2000 B.C. and is believed to be the oldest sport in the world.  By 1228, when Ashford Castle was built, the sport was well established in Ireland, among both the nobility as sport and the peasants as a way to secure food.  Now, Ireland’s original School of Falconry specializes in Hawk Walks but also is home to eagles, owls, and falcons.  All of the birds fly every day.  Peregrine falcons have been clocked at 246 m.p.h. and are the fastest living things in the world.  They are employed by airports to keep birds and pests away from runways, and indeed just their presence is a deterrent. 

Dingle, an amber-eyed female Eurasian eagle owl--the largest species of owl in the world--is housed here. 

According to our guide, Conal Dixon, “Dingle is the only bird we ever had that never caught anything.  Fully imprinted as a baby bird, he thinks he’s human.” 

Our Hawk Walk was with Inca, the first Peruvian hawk in Ireland.  Conal pointed out that she has “lovely hearts on her knickers feathers.”  It was thrilling to witness her flying from a tree to perch on my arm as we walked with her through a dense and beautiful forest.  I highly recommend that you add the experience to your bucket list. 

Though operating on castle land, this school is an independent facility.  It is not open for visits except by appointment for a walk or lesson.

meet Inca the hawk:

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videos c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers 

November 15, 2013

Cong, Ireland: Spend a night at Ashford Castle; hotel reviews

Ashford Castle  In Cong, 30 mi. N of Galway.  83 guest rooms.  Breakfast included; 3 restaurants; 2 bars.  Health spa; bicycle rentals. 

One of the finest and most luxurious castle hotels in Ireland, this impressive property is set on 350 acres along the shores of Ireland’s largest lake, Lough Corrib, and the River Cong (both are famous for trout and salmon fishing).  It offers country sports that include horseback riding, fly fishing, golfing on its own nine-hole course, clay shooting, and hawk walks.  Guests can take leisurely walks through the grounds and along many paths, visit a variety of magnificent formal gardens, and as well as take boat rides on the lake.  A round of golf is complimentary with every stay.  Public rooms in the castle are fitted with wood-coffered ceilings, Waterford chandeliers, huge Chippendale mirrors, period furniture, fine art objects, and warming fireplaces.  Wi-Fi is free in the magnificent Drawing Room lounge, where a full afternoon tea is served. 

This castle dates back to the 13th century.  It was the Guinness family home from 1855 until 1939, when it became a hotel.  In 1970, it was acquired and developed by Irish-American John A. Mulcahy.  Visitors come from around the world and have included President Ronald Reagan, Oscar Wilde, John Lennon, Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan (who rented the entire castle in 2001 for his wedding), King George V of Britain, and King Edward VII--for whom a special billiard room was built.

Poshly appointed guest rooms include 83 in the original section of the castle that date back to the 13th and 17th centuries.  They feature high ceilings, traditional four-poster beds, original fireplaces, and antique furniture. Some have clawfoot tubs.  Rooms in the newer wing date to the late 1960s and are also quite nice.  I can attest that corner room 316 has a commanding view of the bridge and river and a lovely soaking tub.  Being in the center of this vast estate, as the castle is, makes for a deep quiet at night. 

Built in the late 1800s in honor of a visit by the Prince of Wales (the future King George V of England), the Prince of Wales Cocktail Bar is perfect for an afternoon or pre-dinner cocktail.  It is also the place to be a 6 p.m. on September 26 to raise a glass of Guinness in celebration of Arthur’s Day--the birthday of former owner Sir Arthur Guinness (all of Ireland does the same thing at this time).  When the Dungeon Bar is open, it is a fine option and features evening entertainment. 

The George V Dining Room offers elegant evening dining, as well as a more relaxed breakfast buffet in
the morning.  For dinner, a jacket and tie are required, but if you forget to pack them you can borrow from a small closet selection.  The more intimate Connaught Room, located in the old wing, is open May through September.  Built about 10 years ago, Cullen’s at the Cottage operates within a spacious thatched-roof cottage and offers a less fussy and pricey, but still delicious, menu featuring items such as fish & chips, seafood pies, and steak.

Recipe for Ashford Castle's Irish Brown Soda Bread.

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images and video c2013 Carole Terwilliger Meyers