Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Moment in Belfast

When I was born, the emerald green blanket of English, Scottish and Irish heritage
was placed on me lovingly by both of my parents. 
It's such an American thing to ask.  "So, what's your heritage?"
And something that will often cause the Brits to roll their eyes (discretely, of course.)

But I grew up thinking that I descended from a magical land of kings and queens,
of fairies and celts and manly men like Mel Gibson in a kilt.
I would proudly proclaim that I was Scotch-Irish, with some Cherokee thrown in for drama.

(Scotch-Irish means something different than I thought it did.
It's much more specific and might still be true but I'm not quite certain.)

I grew up on these romantic notions.  So you can understand why I cried when I thought
I saw the queen in England, felt instantly at home in Edinburgh in Scotland
and dreamed my whole life of visiting Ireland.

After the plane touched down in Ireland, I took my first step onto the 
green, green grass of home tarmac and declared thought
"This.  This is from whence I came!  My people, welcome your sister home!"
I realize that I'm a complete goof but it was so cool visiting Ireland for the first time.

Belfast, Northern Ireland

We started our trip with just one short day in Belfast, Northern Ireland and loved it.
Matthew was really interested in visiting this city with its incredible history
which he will tell you more about in a post on Monday.
But I just want to tell you a quick little story about my first night in Ireland
that sums up my time there.  First I'll show you some photos of this interesting city.
I realize the combination of the two will make this a ridiculously long post,
but I just have to capture this and share it.  I hope you don't mind.  

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

 Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast, Northern Ireland

After exploring the city all day, we were looking for someplace for dinner.  Like a child following the Pied Piper I was drawn into a pub just around the corner by the sounds of irresistible music.  The first thing I noticed was a group of musicians sitting around a few tables playing a variety of instruments, flutes, fiddles and drums.  Each musician with a pint in front of them at various levels of consumption.  

God, I love live music.  It's such a regular part of life in Texas that you take it for granted.  I didn't realized how much I had been missing it.  I sat down at the closest table that we could find with a huge smile on my face, not taking my eyes off of them.  There didn't seem to be any specific playlist.  One musician would start to play a melody on a flute.  Two others would quickly catch the rhythm.  Someone with a drum would then join in.  The fiddles would find their place in the mix.  The music would build up and you couldn't help but tap your feet. 

Every once in a while, one of the musicians would pack up his instrument, chug the rest of his beer and take his leave.  Another one would join the group in a constant rotation of instruments.  The door opened again and a young man entered with an older man.  Each of the musicians called out a a warm greeting to them.  The young man walked over to the tables to join in the session.  I noticed that he had Down Syndrome, but what really caught my eye was the beautiful Irish drum or bodhrán he removed carefully from the case.  It looked handmade with intricate ancient patterns on the hide.  The older man, maybe his father, set a half pint in front of the young drummer.  After a quick little sip, he tucked the drum under his arm and started playing.

As he played intently and with great skill, the young drummer caught my eye.  He gave me a beautiful smile, never missing a beat.  Talk about a travel moment.  I was completely enthralled with the whole thing, grinning from ear to ear and trying not to cry with pure delight.  With that one look he said to me with bit of cheek, "Welcome home, Sister, to the land from whence you came." 

I don't know if a place can be imprinted on your soul because once long ago
an ancestor was born, loved, lived and died there.

But Ireland is certainly imprinted on my soul now
because a young drummer smiled at me and played me an Irish tune.

Have you had a moment in Ireland?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A weekend in North Devon

*We were the guests of Woolacombe Holiday Parks.

A few weeks ago, Matthew and I hopped in the car and headed out of London for a weekend break.  We headed straight to North Devon, a beautiful county in the southwest of England.  It was a quiet weekend of leisurely drives and stunning scenery.

The northern coast of Devon is known for it's natural beauty, rugged cliffs and coves, expansive beaches, and Exmoor National Park.  We visited the seaside resort of Woolacombe with it's sandy, three mile beach that has been named "Best British Beach."  In the summer, this area is packed with families, surfers, holidaymakers.  I was surprised to still see so many people even in October.

Woolecombe, Devon UK

Woolecombe, Devon UK

Woolecombe, Devon UK

 Woolecombe, Devon UK

We spent a lot of time just driving along coastal roads, stopping along the way to take in the dramatic scenery.  I just can't get enough of it.  We stopped in the twin villages of Lynmouth and Lynton for lunch and a stroll.  

Lynton & Lynmouth, Devon, UK

Lynton & Lynmouth, Devon, UK

Lynton & Lynmouth, Devon, UK

I was in a little shop and picked up a book.  It's called Pigs in Clover about a couple that gave up their London life and moved to Devon to live off the land.  The sign said that it was written by a local gentleman named Simon Dawson.  The shopkeeper asked me if I was going to buy the book and I responded with a yes.  "Oh, well, Simon is in the shop just across the way.  You should go say hello to him and he will be happy to sign it for you."   And that is exactly what we did.  He signed my book and we had a very pleasant chat.  I read the book all the way home and loved it.  Very funny and interesting.  

Lynton & Lynmouth, Devon, UK

I love getting getting out of London and driving around England.  I cranked up the seat warmer (best invention ever) and put on some music.  We drove through Combe Martin and stopped just long enough for a few photos with the iPhone.  Then spent an hour or so exploring Ilfracombe. 

Combe Martin, Devon, UK

Combe Martin, Devon, UK

Ilfracombe, Devon, UK

Ilfracombe, Devon, UK

We were invited to stay at a popular family holiday park on the North Devon Coast in a caravan for the weekend.  Actually, I would call it a trailer or mobile home.  When Jess was young we had a little camper trailer and we had so much fun in that thing.   This one was much bigger than the little camper we used to have.  It was nice to settle into one for the weekend.  It was very clean and cozy.

Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon, UK

I've never stayed in a holiday park before but they are pretty popular in the UK.  Woolacombe Bay had everything you need right on site, a pub, restaurant, spa, store, indoor pool, and much more.  I kept thinking that it would be the perfect place to bring your extended families during the summer.  It must be a blast for kids. 

Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon, UK

Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon, UK

Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon, UK

Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon, UK

Woolacombe Bay Holiday Village, Devon, UK

It was the perfect little getaway for us.  These little breaks from London are invaluable.  I love the city but it can get a bit heavy at times.  It's good to get out into the beautiful country and take a breath.  

Have you ever experienced a UK Holiday Park?  What did you think?


  *We were the guests of the Woolacombe Holiday Parks for the purposes of review. 
Accommodation for our stay was complimentary.  All photos, writing and opinions are my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tea Time for Bloggers!!

We've been talking about this for ages and I finally got around to doing something about it!!!

Bloggers Afternoon Tea in London

I can't even tell you how excited I am about this.
Please email me asap if you would like to join us for this fun event!
It's time to put a face to a blog name and socialize to our hearts content over tea (and Prosecco)

Thanks so much to for helping me find the perfect venue. 

(There is still a day or two left for voting in the Avis A-List Travel Blog Awards.
I'd so appreciate your vote! )

Monday, October 28, 2013

Picking the Right Cruise

Time for the next post in my Series Cruising 101 with Selena!

Hopefully, I've convinced you that cruising is a great option
and Matthew has given you a British perspective 

Now it's time to take the next step and select the perfect cruise.

The options seem endless.  So many choices!
This step can certainly be the most overwhelming,
particularly if this is your first cruise. 

Not to mention the pressure to get it right.
You're spending hard earned dollars and valuable holiday time on this cruise.
This is a big decision.   So how do you pick the right cruise?  

This post will break it down to four easy variables that will help you
make this important and exciting decision. 

Who?  (Cruiseline)    What? (Ship)    When? (Season)    Where? (Itinerary)

Who shall we cruise with?

Consider the cruise line's niche, culture and price. Each cruise line is different.  The key is to pick the one that best matches your personality and interests.    What do you want?  Family Fun.  Gourmet Meals.  Great entertainment.  Laid back vibe or party atmosphere.  Each line has their own specialty.  It's also important to consider the culture of each  cruise line.  There is usually a different feel between a cruise line geared towards Americans versus Europeans.  Does this factor into your decision?   Your budget (which we will talk about in a future post) will also help you answer this question.  There is a very wide range of price points in cruising from budget to luxury.  

What ship do we want to spend our time on?

Each cruise line will have a range of ships.  They can vary greatly in age, size and amenities and each of these will lead to a very different experience on board.  What amenities are most important to you?  A stellar kid's program.  Modern spa and fitness center.   Adult's Only pool.   Each year another Mega Ship is launched with anything that you can imagine on board.   But a smaller ship can get into smaller and more interesting ports.  What is more important to you? 

When is the best time to go? 

This one can really trip you up if you don't do enough research.  Imagine taking your European family on a Caribbean Cruise to discover that you've gone during Spring Break Week when every US college student has headed south to get their drink on.   It's important to consider holidays, school schedules, and who else is likely to be on the cruise.   You should also consider weather and travel seasons.  Know that if you cruise the Med in July it's going to be frickin' hot. And if you cruise the Caribbean during Hurricane Season you might miss a port (or get two extra days in Puerto Rico.  Not that we complained.) 

Where do we want to explore?

I love this one!  Where shall we go?   Do we want to lounge on beaches in the Caribbean?  Shall we explore ancient ruins and drink wine in the Mediterranean?  So many options, so little time.  But selecting an itinerary isn't just about the ports.  Be sure to think about your departure point and consider any extra time and cost involved.  Don't forget to think about sea days vs. port days.  As well, as how much time you have.  Three nights?  Two weeks?  Three months?  Itinerary is an important one.   

It's a lot to consider, isn't it?  But don't let it discourage you.

Some of these may have been decided before you even start this process.  Your dates might be limited by school holidays or your itinerary may be something that you already have your heart set on.  It's also important to note that each of these variables may hold different weight in your decision.  You want a cruise line that caters to families no matter where it takes you. 

So start by writing down these four questions and filling in the answers that have already been decided.  Then place them in order of importance for you and your fellow cruiser(s).  This is where the real fun begins!   I hate to even call it research, because it is so much fun.

Recommended Resources  

Cruise Brochures  (Take note of who their target audience is.  Is it you?)
Blogs (That's a no brainer.)
Online Reviews and Forums
Cruise Magazines
Cruise and Travel Shows

Cruise Critic is our number one resource when planning a cruise.  If you don't do anything else I've suggested, visit for their reviews, cruise news, invaluable articles and the community forums.  I've spent countless hours there and not one minute was wasted.

Cruise Specialists

Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for help.  With the internet at our fingertips, many of us have started bypassing the experts.  (Don't tell me you haven't Googled your symptoms and completely skipped a trip to your GP.)  A Cruise Specialist might be a lifesaver, especially if this is your first cruise.  Find one that comes highly recommended and let them help you wade through all of the details. 

When I was planning my first cruise, I was so nervous.  Not only was it me but five other family members were trusting me with this decision.  I used both a Cruise Specialist and Cruise Critic while planning a week long Caribbean Cruise.   I will admit to one minor meltdown upon embarkation.  (Everyone was looking to me to have all of the answers and guide them through the logistics but I was as overwhelmed by it all as anyone.)  And we did miss a port because of high winds.  But, I we all had a blast  and I fell in love with cruising.  

Once you get that first one under your belt, it gets so much easier.  I promise.
And I highly recommend a Caribbean Cruise.
It's the perfect way to start your very own love affair with cruising.

Next in the series, we'll talk about booking that cruise once you've made your choice.

What's your top tip for picking the perfect cruise?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sunshine Awards

I'm so amazed at the calls, comments and emails from yesterday's post.
Here I was in my little cocoon, thinking I was the only one.

Of course, I'm not the only one.
Thank you for helping me put the ugly stepsisters in their place. 
I can't even tell you how much better I'm feeling wrapped in your support. 

After baring the dark corners of my soul yesterday,
I thought it best that we lighten things up around here.  Don't you think?

Have y'all met Jenn at A Country Girl's World?
She is absolutely adorable!  So smart, sweet and down to earth.
She is just one more reason why I so cherish the connections from this blogging world.
She recently nominated me for a Sunshine Award and absolutely made my day.

(On a side note... these grapes are in my back garden!  The vines are from the neighbors yard, but these are growing over the fence.
They make me very happy.)

Here are the questions that Jenn asked.

1. What is your favorite and least favorite place you have ever traveled to?

Least Favorite?  I haven't blogged about our week in Morocco yet.  (Bad Blogger)  I'm so glad that we were able to visit.  But I'm not in any hurry to return.  I struggled a bit during our time there and I'm still processing it.  

Favorite?  This one is really tough.  I loved Turkey, but we were there for such a short time.  Spain feels like home and I would love to live there someday.  But, Ireland.  Ireland was magical and I felt it in my soul.  I felt such a deep connection to the people, the music and the land.  I can't even explain it.  I can't wait to blog about my time there. 

2. What is one random fact about you that your readers may be interested to know?

I have a deep, deep aversion to mustard.  I can't stand to see it, smell it or even think about it.  I find it more disgusting than baby poop.  (Just wavin' my crazy flag for all to see.)

3.  If you were given the chance to go anywhere in the world (money is not an object), where would you go?

Right now there are two places at the top of my Money is No Object List.  Southeast Asia and African Safari.  I would love to spend about a month experiencing each of them in depth.  Third on the list would be Australia.  Matthew lived in Australia for 6 years and even has dual citizenship.  He absolutely loves Australia and would love to live there again someday.  I need to check it out. 

4.  What are a few of your favorite books that you have ever read?

This one is tough.  Gone with the Wind was a childhood favorite and the first book I really fell in love with.  I just love all books.  I love the way the smell and the way they feel.  

Right now I'm excited to read The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I joined two very dear girlfriends for a much-needed, healing day together this week.  Afternoon tea, bottle of wine at the pub and then we went to Hatchards Bloomsbury Book Club to hear Liz speak.   (We're now BFFs, so I can call her Liz.)  What a rockstar!  She is wicked funny, clever, smart and ballsy.  So comfortable in her own skin.  I was deeply inspired by her words and attitude to life.

5. What is one (or more if you'd like) TV show that you just can't miss?

This one is a bit embarrassing to answer.  It's not all great quality, but great for some mindless entertainment.  Emmerdale.  Great British Bake Off.  Downtown Abbey are all in the weekly TV rotation.  On Hulu, I watch the stuff that I don't want Matthew to know about or comment on.  America's Next Top Model.  So You Think You Can Dance.  Nashville.  The Real Housewives of Wherever.  Law & Order SVU.  

6.  What is one goal that you have for your life?

I've never been an athlete or terribly fit.  I've always struggled with my weight.  I've never like this about me.  I want to be fit and healthy.  I want to feel good in my own body, to know each muscle and how it moves.  I want to practice yoga.  I want to run.  I realize that I'm in complete control of this and I'm deeply frustrated that I haven't made it happen yet.  I am totally my worst enemy.  But, I want to go into my 50's comfortable in my skin.  I went for a run yesterday for the first time in ages.  I've signed up for a beginner's yoga class starting next week.  So, we'll see if it sticks this time.  

7.  What is your absolute favorite holiday?

Christmas is probably my favorite.  I love the festivities, food and decorations.  Last year, I went to the Christmas Markets in Germany for the first time.  It's like Christmas on steroids!  I love the family connections of Christmas.  And I love buying gifts for people.   

8. If you could pick one food for each meal that you had to live on forever, what would those be?

Let's see.  For Breakfast?  Yoghurt, fruit & granola.  For lunch?  Wendy's Apple Pecan Chicken Salad.  Damn, I miss that salad.  I ate it everyday for lunch for years.  For dinner?  Steak and Chips.  With A-1 steak sauce.  And a side salad.  And wine.  

9.  I really like this question so I am going to ask it, too.  Who is your celebrity crush?

See #4.  

10.  If you could become fluent in one language, which would you choose?

If I'm being practical, Spanish.  If I'm dreaming big, Irish.  When we were in Ireland we heard the most amazing band sing some great modern songs in Irish Gaelic.  I get goosebumps when I even think about it.  You have to take a look.

Magic, I tell you!  They performed at the TBex Welcome Party at the Guinness Storehouse
and blew everyone away!  I can't wait to go back to Ireland.

I had so much fun answering Jenn's questions that I'm going to use them, too.  

 1. What is your favorite and least favorite place you have ever traveled to?
2. What is one random fact about you that your readers may be interested to know?
3.  If you were given the chance to go anywhere in the world (money is not an object), where would you go?
4.  What are a few of your favorite books that you have ever read?
5. What is one (or more if you'd like) TV show that you just can't miss?
6.  What is one goal that you have for your life?
7.  What is your absolute favorite holiday?
8. If you could pick one food for each meal that you had to live on forever, what would those be?
9.  I really like this question so I am going to ask it, too.  Who is your celebrity crush?
10.  If you could become fluent in one language, which would you choose?

And my nominees for Sunshine Awards are anyone who has ever commented on this blog.

I love getting your comments and hearing your thoughts.
Blogging can feel so solitary sometimes with little immediate reward.

Your comments are definitely the most important part of this. 

So, if you've commented on Oh, the places we will go!
then I nominate you for a Sunshine Award!!

I can't wait to read your answers.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

On being an Expat

I must admit I've been feeling a bit down lately.   I'm sure being sick has a lot to do with it.
But, I also have to admit that there are a few other things swirling around in this brain of
mine that are contributing to the rut I'm in.

As bloggers, we're pretty comfortable presenting a positive face to our readers and friends.
But, you know as well as I do that there is a whole other side to life.
Sick days.  Bad hair days.  Lonely days.  Bra-less days.
 I'm certain you don't want to read a post about them.
(And you certainly don't want photographs!) 

But, today I'm going to bare a little bit of my expat soul to you.  

  Apparently, Expatria has three evil stepsisters.  They are called Fear, Guilt and Melancholy.  

I didn't realize this before, but now I'm very well acquainted with them.
And let me just be blunt.  They are major bitches. 

So, I'm just going to call them out and expose them for what they are

My hope is that it will not only benefit me to get it off my chest,
but that maybe you can relate and not feel so alone on your bad days.  

I'm afraid that when I go home, everything will have changed so much that some connections and comforts will be lost forever. 

I'm sad because I miss my family and friends so much every day.  Some days it's almost unbearable. 

I feel guilty because I moved so far away from my daughter.  Children are supposed to leave the nest, not parents. 

I'm afraid that when I go home, everyone will think that I've changed too much and they will feel like they don't know me.  Or like me.

I'm sad because I spend so much time alone now. 

I feel guilty because I don't work hard enough to keep the connections strong with people that  love but live far away from. 

I'm afraid people think I'm an obnoxious braggart when I talk about traveling and that they don't realize how thankful I am for this time in my life.

I feel sad that friends and family don't know how much I love them and that I think about them all the time. 

I feel guilty because I don't know if I ever want to live in the US again.

I'm afraid that I'm going to get a phone call that will stop my heart and I won't be able to be where I need to be fast enough.

I'm afraid that the price I will have to pay for becoming an expat will be much higher than I expected.

I'm afraid that in spite of a wonderful life and numerous opportunities, I will never become the woman that I've always wanted to be. 

See.  Aren't they awful?   Fear is definitely the ringleader.  (Such a bitch.)

But, I've decided to stop giving them so much leeway and control over my life.
I shall use their powers for good instead of evil. 

These feelings are all very real to me.  I feel guilt.  I'm afraid.  I'm sometimes sad.

But, I don't really want them to go away.  They help me to remember what is important in life.

I'm also grateful. Happy. Content.  And I'm so excited by what the future holds.

How about you?  Any evil stepsisters lurking about and whispering dark secrets in your ear?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

 *I received two complimentary 3-Day Copenhagen Cards from Visit Copenhagen for our visit.

Copenhagen is the seat of the government of Denmark and home of the Danish Monarchy.
The Danish Monarchy can be traced back over 1,000 and the royal family is deeply loved by the Danes.
So, of course there were several royal stops during our time in Copenhagen.

Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace 

The Amalienborg Palace is made up of four identical buildings surrounding a cobblestone courtyard.
At noon each day, people gather around for the changing of the guards.
The guards are on duty to protect the royal family and take their job very seriously.
Don't get too close and don't sit on the window ledges of the palace. 

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

As we were leaving the courtyard, this official looking gentleman was rushing towards the palace with a very important looking briefcase.  I wonder where he is off to so hurriedly.

Royal Copenhagen

The back of the royal residence backs onto the water and these two smaller buildings are for the royal family to use when they are leaving by water.  The Royal Yacht HDMY Danneborg was in the harbor.  It is used by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and her family.

This young man was waiting behind the palace to be shuttled to the royal yacht.
I couldn't decide if he was a soldier reporting for duty or a young royal off for a cruise.

The Royal Reception Rooms at Christiansborg Palace

Christiansborg Palace is the home of the Danish Parliament, Supreme Court and the Prime Minister's Office.  The Palace also houses the Royal Reception Rooms which are used by the royals for official functions.  We donned paper booties and toured the stately rooms.

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Notice the three silver lions guarding the throne in the painting above.
We will see them again later.

My favorite room was the Great Hall.  There are 17 bright and modern tapestries displayed here that tell the history of Denmark.  They are intricately detailed.  It took 30 weavers ten years to create the the stunning tapestries.

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Rosenborg Castle

Built in 1606 as a country home by King Christian IV of Denmark, Rosenborg Castle now houses the royal collection.  It's a large and eclectic collection of royal artifacts, including the Crown Jewels of Denmark.

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

The three silver lions were made in the late 1600's and still guard the throne today.

Royal Copenhagen

Royal Copenhagen

We also visited the National Museum while visiting Copenhagen.  Admission to the museum, the Reception Rooms and Rosenborg Castle were all included with our cOPENhagen Cards.  There is so much to do and see in Copenhagen.  I'm so happy that we decided to extend our cruise holiday for a few extra days to explore this great city.

And that, my friends, is the end of our Baltic Cruise Review.
I hope I haven't bored you to death.  13 posts from a 10 day trip might be overkill.
But, we had such a great time and I wanted to capture it all.

What do you think?  Are you inspired to take a Baltic Cruise?

 I'm still working on the Bloggers Tea in November.
The list is already up to 16 lovely bloggers.  I'm so excited!
Please let me know if you want to be included.


 *I received two complimentary 3-Day cOPENhagen Cards 
from Visit Copenhagen for the purposes of review.
All photos, writing and opinions are 100% my own.
As always, I promise to be open, honest and transparent with my readers.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.