Saturday, February 27, 2021

Welcome to Paradise; Turks & Caicos

Trip date: November 2019

As is the norm for people in Seattle during the winter, I wanted to go someplace warm and sunny over Thanksgiving. My friend Gail has an Alaska Air companion fare that was expiring and wanted to use it. She also mentioned that she had wanted to go to the Turks and Caicos since another friend of ours had gone. 

I didn't really know too much about these islands except that my brother had been and had told me the beaches were amazing. I didn't really need much more convincing than that! We booked round trip flights to Fort Lauderdale and decided to spend one night on Miami Beach on the way down.

The trip started out on a high note as we were upgraded to First Class! That always helps to take the sting out of having to get up early. We took an Uber from FLL to the AC Marriott Miami Beach. We barely had time to change and then we were back in an Uber heading to The Surf Club for dinner. 

Thomas Keller's restaurant, inside the Four Seasons Hotel, is full on old school glamour. There was a champagne cart, tableside Cesar Salad, servers in beautiful suits. We were thrilled! Gail's pasta was accompanied by a waiter carrying a wooden box, inside was a white truffle which he then shaved an obscene amount onto her plate. I had lobster thermidor which was insanely rich and decadent.
Afterwards we had nightcaps in The Champagne Bar. It was a pretty luxurious evening and I'd happily do it all over again! 

It was a 1 ½ hour flight on American from Miami to Providenciales Island, also known as Provo. We actually almost missed the flight as we were enjoying some margaritas at the airport; the very last people to board! We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel the The Sands at Grace Bay for about $40 (even though Turks is a British Territory they use the US Dollar, go figure). 

We had booked a 2-bedroom ocean view unit at the 4-star resort and we were ready to get a tropical drink and hit the pool! Except when I went to the desk and gave them my name to check in they told me they'd be right back with the manager. Not a good sign.

Long story short, they had overbooked the hotel. But they were putting us up at their sister property the 5-star The Palms for the same price. After a bit of negotiating they actually put us in a 2000 square foot owner's suite; 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and ocean views from the living room, kitchen, and dining room. The suite normally goes for $2500 per night! We had to wait quite a while to get into the room however as the owner had just left after being there for a month so they had a lot of cleaning to do. I also negotiated that we each got $100 credit at the swim-up bar since that's where we would be hanging out until it was ready. It was absolutely ridiculous!

We spent the next six days completely giddy about our fancy suite with uninterrupted views of the ocean. When hot tub conversations with other vacationers turned hoity toity we pointed to our suite and watched their jaws drop. LOL!!
Gail made friends with one of the pool-girls and every morning she had our loungers made up and waiting for us. Our daily schedule was made up of morning beach walks, breakfast buffet (included with our room) outside at the hotel's garden patio, and then the entire day by the pool or on the beach. 
The sand on Grace Bay beach is absolutely unbelievable. It's incredibly white and as fine as talc powder. There was rarely anything washed up on the beaches and when you walked out in the water the bottom was smooth and felt like clay. It was everything I had imagined!

As the day grew longer, Gail and I would move to the hottub and visit with the other guests. Most seemed to be from the East Coast, especially New Jersey.

The resort had a little shack on the beach serving cocktails where most people, including us, gathered around nightly for the spectacular sunsets. 

This was such a great trip! Absolutely relaxing, no running around (we did go out a bit which I'll write about next), just a gorgeous resort with wonderful service. Highly recommend!

If you are looking into traveling to the gorgeous Turks and Caicos, you can find information and updates about COVID-19 related news here

All photos here.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Traveling During a Pandemic; Lincoln City, Oregon

Trip date: July & December 2020

A pandemic really puts a damper on travel; stating the obvious here. By July of last year I had already had to cancel four different trips. And now it was a friend's big birthday and there was no end in site of the travel restrictions. So her and I decided to book a safe road trip and get a change of scenery.

We were headed to Lincoln City, Oregon where neither of us had been before. I had found a large 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo with a private hot tub and ocean views and it seemed like a relaxing and socially distanced getaway. 

We took the long way down, driving I5 south to Longview and then 30 West to Highway 101 South. I had picked up sandwiches before leaving Seattle so we were able to stop and have a nice picnic in the sand at Cannon Beach, picking a place far from other beach goers.

Continuing on 101 we stopped at a few of the lookouts; the weather was stunning! 

We stopped at Manzanita Beach and had a quick walk around, and then onto Pacific City where we watched people climb the 240 foot high sand dune.

It was late afternoon when we got to Lincoln City, the drive had taken about 7 with stops. We found the condo building and parked in the underground garage. There were luggage carts by the elevators which was great as it made it easy to transport everything in one trip. Check in was self-service so we didn't have to interact with anyone. 

The condo was larger than we imagined! There was a big well stocked kitchen, gas fireplace, washer and dryer, and of course the private deck with hottub! 

We immediately set up some drinks and snacks outside so we could take in the ocean views. I cooked the birthday girl dinner that night of halibut with minted peas and roasted mushrooms. Afterwards we hung out in the hot tub and then played games and drank more wine. We had brought most everything from home so didn't need to go out for anything.

The next morning was cloudy but not raining, so we immediately set off for a walk down on the beach. The tide was out, exposing large rocks which were covered with mussels, barnacles, sea urchins, and starfish. I have never seen barnacles on a menu in the PNW, in Spain they are quite the delicacy, so I was surprised to see them!

There weren't many people on the beach so it was very easy to keep a safe distance. We walked a mile or so in each direction before heading back to the condo. 

Gail made a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, avocado, and homemade English muffins. I made mimosas, 'natch. Then we got in the car and set out to explore some more of the area. 

We walked around the cute Taft District, taking in views of Siletz Bay from the public beach. The very popular Mo's Seafood Restaurant was open and serving customers inside, they also had a pretty serious queue at their take-out window. We would not be dining inside anywhere.

Next stop, Depoe Bay. The ocean facing shops along main street here sell touristy t-shirts, salt water taffy, and ice-cream. We skipped the shopping and instead wandered along, watching the boats out in the harbor. And then we saw whales! Turns out this area is known for grey whales. Generally the whales are migrating to/from Alaska and Mexico, but often in the summer they don't go all the way north and stay here instead. It was a great treat just to be able to stand there and see them, especially for the birthday girl who absolutely loves whales. 

Back at the condo we hung out in the sun on our deck with some rosé, soaked in the hot tub, and played Mexican Trains. That evening we were able to spot the comet NEOWISE right from our deck! I'd say that spotting whales and a comet both on the same day is some kind of nature lottery ticket!

Dinner that evening was pan-fried crab cakes and artichokes that we had brought with us. Easy and delicious!

After breakfast the next day we drove to the Salishan area and parked in the golf course lot. From here we picked up the Salishan Spit Trail and headed out for a hike. It was very pretty, and we were the only ones out there, but 90% of the hike is on very soft sand!  

We did not make it all the way out to the tip of the spit to see the sea lions, a 5.8 mile out and back trek.  I had a blister that got really agitated by the sand and Gail finally made me take my trainers off and hike back barefoot. Luckily we spotted a few seals body surfing just out in front of us!

We were starving afterwards so called in a to-go order at the Side Door Cafe which had been recommended by a few of our friends. Pick up was very easy and my Dungeness crab melt was awesome! 

We absolutely LOVED this big condo with the amazing views and private deck so when trips continued to be canceled throughout 2020 and I realized that for the first time in 16 years I would not be traveling for New Years Eve, I suggested to Gail that we go back.

We weren't able to get the same unit but we still found a 2-bedroom in the same building. This one was on the ground floor and was a corner unit, still with a private hot tub. And both bedrooms had ensuite bathrooms which was a plus. 

The weather is very different in December vs. July so this time we skipped the beaches and drove straight down I5 to 99W. As we were going right through Oregon wine country we made a stop at Four Graces Winery which was open and had outdoor seating. It was a nice little break and the wines were lovely, we bought some to take with us. 

Again, the condo had self-check in so no need to see anyone. We unloaded the car and hit the hot tub; the views here just can't be beat! 

Since it was New Years Eve we had picked up "cook at home" meals in Seattle from Lark and appetizers from Mamnoon (which even came with party favors!) We had a delicious dinner, lots of wine, played Mexican Trains, and FaceTimed our friends in Australia and France.

It was far from my normal NYE of being in some foreign and/or exotic location halfway around the world, but it was so much fun and again just felt great to have a change in scenery. 

There were huge storms all weekend with winds up to 70 MPH and monster waves! We didn't leave the condo once. We just watched the storm, watched old movies in front of the fire, played games, cooked, and hung out in the hot tub. Well until we saw a lightning strike anyway! 

The weather cleared the day we were leaving so we got a short walk on the beach in before heading for home. 

I'm really happy to have options like this for short, safe getaways. But I'll be happier when we can all go about business as usual again!

All photos from Lincoln City are here and here

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Ireland Road Trip: End of the Road; Sligo to Dublin

 Trip date: October 2019

As the girls and I left County Mayo and drove into County Sligo and I immediately felt the surroundings to be a bit untamed and rugged, so it really wasn't any surprise when we drove down a gorgeous dirt road to the Ardtarmon House and found no one around but a lawnmower left as in mid-mow and everything eerily quiet. We figured a murder had taken place and voted for Nicky to go suss things out. 

Luckily the owner had just decided to take a break and he and his wife were safely inside. The other residents were out for the day so it was just us when she showed us our rooms. There had been some misunderstanding during the booking and instead of a triple room the proprietor had made up three singles. We negotiated a bit on the price difference and then happily went to each of our private rooms. Mine was a large corner room with a separate seating area and views of the gardens. Lovely!

The guest house is 11+ miles outside of Sligo proper and on about 20 acres of property in the tiny village of Ballinfull. Having been in the same family since 1852 the property has pivoted from mainly farming to providing rooms to travelers. There wasn't much out here so when we decided to go on a short hike down to the ocean I asked Nicky why she was packing her wallet. "In case we find a pub, we're in Ireland after all!" I thought she was seriously wishful thinking as we hadn't even passed anything for miles while driving in.

Our hike down to the shore was picture-perfectly Irish. Green grass fields, cows and sheep grazing peacefully, beautiful views of Drumcliff Bay. We spend a bit of time exploring the beach and then headed back towards the manor house on the grassy trail that bordered a small forest.

We saw one of the owners, back to his mowing chore, and Nicky asked him if there was a pub nearby. He gave us two options, Ellen's which was 3 km away and Jordan's which was 2km. Jordan's it was!

We walked the narrow country road, lined with stone fences, and tried to stay out of the way of the speeding locals who were clearly bored with the speed limit. We passed herds of cattle and Carrigeens Cemetery which must be the cemetery for most of the surrounding villages as it was quite large and even had a map posted to make navigating easier.

And then we came to a curve in the road and there was our destination. Jordan's Pub sits next to a field, it's parking lot was empty and I was sure we had walked here for nothing. But when Mr. John Jordan himself responded to my question "Are you open" with "this is Ireland!" we knew we were going to be just fine! 

Luckily Nicky had her wallet so we were able to sit for a few rounds. We watched various locals come in, wonder on their faces about these three girls who were obviously not from around here, and ended up chatting with a few. I mentioned that we should watch the time as we didn't want to be walking down that road in the dark. 

We had a great conversation with a local oyster farmer, who drew us a map on a cocktail napkin and invited us to come visit the next day. The owner had left his daughter behind the bar while he went out for a bit, and shortly after the phone rang and his daughter said "Girls my dad is in town and wants to know if you want him to pick you up some dinner". God love Sligo!

When John returned and we mentioned we should go he said his daughter would drive us home! Now that is some real Irish hospitality right there! We finished the night in my room with some wine the girls had brought and the cheese I had purchased in Dingle. The Irish have a word for "a good time", it's craic. And let me tell you, there was some good craic at Jordan's!

The next morning we had breakfast at the guesthouse and heard all about Hurricane Lorenzo which was crossing over the northern part of Ireland. Pretty much right where we were driving that day!! We made a quick stop down at the harbour to see the views and got a taste of the wind!

The we tried following the map to the oyster farm but got a bit lost. Luckily the woman who we stopped to ask seemed to know him and pointed the way, "go to where the road ends at the sea and where it says STOP HERE keep on going". Ok then! 

We had a nice tour of the oyster farm with our new friend from the bar. He showed us around and then opened some for us to taste. More Sligo hospitality!
We didn't stay long as the storm was really kicking up and we had a couple of hours drive to our next destination. But not before stopping at the grave of Irish poet W.B.Yeats. There are many reports that the actual bones in the grave here are not his at all, but the locals don't care and actually refer to the area as Yeats County.

We drove through the hurricane, it was crazy windy which slowed us down, but we arrived safely at the beautiful Castle Leslie and were happy to have a seat in the pub and order some snacks.

Castle Leslie, which the Leslie family has resided in since 1660, is now also a 5 star hotel. It's located in County Monaghan which sits on the border of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our food in the pub was basic at best but once we started exploring the main castle we were in awe of the plush surroundings.

We had a triple room at the top floor which use to be the nursery. Fitting. The room was hysterical with the toilet and shower hidden behind doors resembling a dollhouse. There was an actual dollhouse on the fireplace mantel that was a replica of the estate. It was all very meta and we were having a great time!

Having dropped our bags we thought of exploring the grounds but the wind and the rain were lashing as they say. We opted to stay inside.
There were multiple rooms, almost semi-private, with plush furniture and cozy fireplaces. We settled into one and a bartender asked what we would like. We decided that day drinking in the safety of our castle while a hurricane battered on the doorsteps would do just fine.

Originally we had made reservations for falconry but the weather had put a stop to that. So we hung out and had a great time just lounging and chatting away. For dinner we were driven by minivan back to the pub, which was still bad. We didn't learn until later that there actually is a nice restaurant on the property. It was a big disappointment but the hotel made it up to us when Nicky emailed them a few days later by refunding some of our rate. 

After dinner there seemed to be a lot more people in the castle and when we chatted with a few in the bar they told us their friend had rented the entire estate out the next night for his birthday party. Boss!

In the morning we were on the road again to Drogheda, Nicky's hometown is just north of Dublin.  We arrived at her mom's house in time for lunch, her mom had gone all out making a ton of food. It was great to be in staying in her house for the last two nights of my trip.

The next day Nicky's sister Laura and her husband Mark picked us up for a tour around the area. First stop was this crazy place called Gravity Hill. At the bottom of a slight incline you can put your car in neutral and it will BY ITSELF go backwards up the hill. It's crazy and good fun!

Next was a visit to the Long Woman's Grave. It was raining really hard so we didn't spend a lot of time reading the story outside. I looked it up later and found that it's a bit of folklore about a supposedly 7-foot tall Spanish bride who dropped dead at the realization of her husband's lie about just how much land he owned!
Our next stop was the seaside town of Carlingford, which is known for its oyster farming. We settled into Laura and Mark's fav pub in the area, PJ's for some great oysters and pints. Delicious!

That evening Laura and Mark hosted a fabulous dinner party. Laura is an amazing cook, each course was so good! It was hard to believe she had spent the day showing us around and now was serving a gourmet meal for eight! 

It was such a fun day and I absolutely loved meeting more of Nicky's family. They are a good bunch for sure! Great craic!

And then it was over! The three of us girls drove to Dublin airport the next morning. I dropped them off for their flight and went to return the rental car. I used my Priority Pass to enter and hang out in the lounge there. It was good, nothing special but a nice place to grab a drink and some snacks. I had time for some duty free shopping and then a proper sit down lunch. 

US customs is in the Dublin airport so once you clear them you are considered flying domestic into the US. Strange but much easier. I was in Aer Lingus Economy Plus on the way home and I will say that I felt like I was a sardine! And that was even having the aisle seat. 

After 3 weeks in Ireland, and driving the entire circumference of the country, I was home. Ireland was one of the most fun trips I have taken! The people, the music, the food, the history, the beer, the whiskey, etc. etc! I loved everything about it. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Ireland Road Trip: County Mayo

Trip date: September 2019

I had been on my own for 14 days, but now I was leaving Galway to drive to Westport and meet up with Forest and Nicola. I was beyond excited!

It was just a 1 ½ hour drive to Westport, and the girls' train wasn't arriving until late afternoon, so I decided to stop at the famous Ashford Castle on the way. It was raining pretty hard when I pulled up to the main gates and when I inquired about having lunch at the casual restaurant on the grounds I was told they were only open Friday and Saturday; it was Monday. 

So thinking maybe the rain would let up I drove to the nearby town of Cong and had some excellent fish and chips at Pat Cohan's Bar aka The Quiet Man pub. The movie was filmed here and in other parts of the area so it's quite famous. 

The rain hadn't let up but I still thought I would take a stroll around the Castle grounds and get some good photos. When I came back to Ashford's main gate the guard did not think me paying €15 to walk around in the pouring rain was such a great idea, so he kindly let me in without the fee. I parked in the cafe/gift shop parking area and walked to the pedestrian bridge.

He was right, it was nice to get up semi-close to the castle but unless you are a registered guest you can't enter the building, and paying to walk to the other side of the bridge, where the view of the castle wasn't even as good, was a waste of money. 

In Westport I checked into the very large Westport Woods Hotel. This sprawling hotel is like a conference center so there were a few tour groups. We had a large triple room and our breakfast was included in the price. 
Having set up the girl's pillows with a few little treats, I went into town and had a pint at the very well known Matt Molloy's Pub. Matt Molloy plays flute in the famous Irish band The Chieftains and still is known to play in his pub. It's a bit of a pilgrimage and I was happy to sit in front of the fireplace and listen to some Irish men from Cork sing acapella in the afternoon, just so they could say they had.

It was still pouring rain when the girl's train arrived so we decided to head back to the hotel and have a fun catch up at the bar there. So great to see them!

The next morning the weather was gorgeous so after breakfast we set out to meet a friend of Nic's at Croagh Patrick. We explored the park across the street while we waited for him, there is a very moving Famine Memorial sculpture of a ghost ship and also a small abandoned abby. 

Back across the street we started up the holy mountain that is a famous pilgrimage for many. At 2500 feet elevation and about an 3 ½ hour climb none of us were interested in trying for the peak. But the views of the sea and the village of Murrisk from the trail were lovely. 
It is said that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days on the summit of the mountain in 441 AD. We went to lunch after at The Helm! This was a good casual spot for seafood right on the water. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Westport; it's a really cute town and very small. Super easy to walk around; it was the first planned town in Ireland!
That evening we headed to Matt Molloy's, I was more than happy to hang out there again. There were lots of locals listening to the music, the bar actually has a large back venue so there were two bands going. And Nicola even sang along with the band to one song! It was a very fun evening!

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast the next morning and stopped at the small town of Castlebar for a short hike around the lake. There are excellent views of Croagh Patrick and some interesting art installations here.

30-minutes later we arrived at Belleek Castle for lunch, which was excellent. Although we weren't able to do a tour of the castle (tours were at 10:30, noon, 2 & 4pm) we learned that it had been a private residence for many years, a hospital, abandoned, and finally a hotel. 

In the cafe I had a great quiche and salad. The grounds are beautiful and I just wish we would have had time to take a nice walk through their woods. But we had to get back in the car as we were heading farther north to Sligo!

Welcome to Paradise; Turks & Caicos

Trip date: November 2019 As is the norm for people in Seattle during the winter, I wanted to go someplace warm and sunny over Thanksgiving. ...

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