As 2015 comes to a close I reflect on the last year of travel. It was a great year with new locations to explore and helping others experience the wonderful world of travel that I so love. It started out with a cruise on the Liberty of the Seas for Rock Legends Cruise III. Some bands were repeat like Marshall Tucker Band and Edgar Winter. New this year was Doobie Brothers and Alice Cooper. Other travels in 2015 took us to Williamsburg, VA to visit relatives and old Air Force friends. We went twice and the one trip we went to Busch Gardens. In late August it was another short Bahamas cruise on the Carnival Ecstasy to see a Live Concert-Boston. They were good singing all the old classic songs. The big trip of the year came in September when we flew first class to Rome. The flatbeds on Delta were nice. We arrived well rested in Rome and found our way from the airport to the Termini station. Our pre-night hotel, PalladiumPalace was only blocks away. We enjoyed exploring Rome using the Hop On/Hop Off getting off at Trevi Fountain to explore the area more. The fountain was under restoration which was disappointing, but the wonderful Gelato we found just down the street made up for the disappointment. Yummy! The next day we took the train from Termini station to the port Civitavecchia to catch a cruise on the beautiful Celebrity Silhouette. It was a nine night cruise to ports of call in Italy, Sicily, France, and Corsica. We had fun exploring new sights and trying new food and drinks.
The end of the year was filled with back-to-back travel with two more cruises, a trip to Cancun, and the ever beautiful Ireland. One of the cruises was on the mega ship Oasis of the Seas. We traveled with three other couples introducing five to their first experience on a mega ship, and the sixth to his first cruise ever. What a first time cruise for him to experience such a behemoth ship! The second cruise was an inaugural 3-night cruise to see a brand new ship; the Norwegian Escape. Cancun was a travel agent educational trip to experience the Hard Rock Riviera Maya-All Inclusive. A very classy resort with great food, entertainment, and accommodations. One could spend the afternoon just walking around the resort taking in all the rock and roll memorabilia which adorns the resort. Finishing out the year was my eighth trip to Ireland. Another travel agent education trip to experience and inspect some awesome sights and places.
After arriving in Dublin I teamed up with some other travel agents and we were met by our motor coach driver, Leslie, who escorted the whole trip. We headed North through the beautiful countryside of Northern Ireland. It wasn't long and we were seeing the Mourne Mountains. Our first stop was for tea and scones and an inspection at Ballymascanlon House Hotel, an old Victorian home. Set in 130 acres the beautiful hotel dates to 833 ad. It was then time for a Belfast city tour which included a stop at the Titanic Experience. Then on to our hotel for the night, the Galgorm Resort and Spa. It was dark when we arrived and little did I know what a treat awaited me outside my window in the morning. The next morning I swept back my curtains to a breathtaking waterfall rushing over layers of rocks in a wide river. The tranquil scene was set with the surrounding colors of bright green grass and trees decorated with Fall colors. I couldn't wait to explore more. This luxurious place was truly a place that deserved more time, but we were limited. It was on to the Dark Hedges. The beautiful entwined beech trees were planted centuries ago but have gained notoriety with the filming of HBO's series Game of Thrones. Now tourist will flock to the area so get there early. Next was the infamous Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge which I had always been intrigued at the pictures and wondered if I would be brave enough to take the challenge of crossing. That question was answered when we arrived to find very high winds and the bridge was closed. After time for refreshments and picture taking we were off to the Giant's Causeway. I visited the Causeways on my very first trip to Ireland in 2003 and wondered "Would it look the same?" Some areas looked blacker than I had remembered, but for the most part the 40,000 Basalt hexagon shaped columns looked as mysterious now as they did back then. It was time for inspection and lunch at the Beech Hill Country House Hotel in Derry. This hotel is steeped in history being used as Naval-Marine Base1 Europe during WWII. It has been frequented by President Bill Clinton and other celebrities. Already a full day we still had a "hard-hat" tour of Bishop's Gate Hotel; a Gentlemen's club being restored to a 5 star property, and then a Mayoral's reception meeting at the Guildhall in Derry. I was ready for bed after our dinner at our hotel for the night the Maldron Hotel.
Our next day started with a walking tour of Derry including walking on 1/2 mile of the walled city as we learned the history of the Apprentice boys and Bloody Sunday. Later we spent a couple hours at Ulster American Folk Park. The exhibits were half inside and the historical village outside. It was cool and rainy so I looked forward to our lunch of soup and salad at the Manor House Hotel in Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland. Then on to our hotel for the next two nights in Donegal, Mill Park Hotel. The Mill Park was a quick ten minutes to walk into the charming town of Donegal. Several of us checked out The Reel Inn at night for some drinks and fun listening to some "Trad" music of a two piece Irish band. I was treated to a beautiful rendition of my favorite Irish song, Carrick Fergus. The next morning brought sunshine and a beautiful clear day to view the Slieve League Cliffs Centre. The cliffs rise out of the sea 2000ft and the vistas stretch as far as the eye can see. After viewing the breathtaking scenery our guide Paddy treated us to tea and scones in his cafe Ti Lynn Cafe and Craft shop. I couldn't resist buying a whimsical shelf-sitting wooly sheep. Our next stop was the Donegal Tweed Shop where we were treated to a welcoming Irish Coffee and the owners demonstrated hand weaving the wool on old wooden looms. The result was beautiful handmade tweed capes, coats, hats and scarfs. Back in Donegal we had free time to explore and shop before leaving for our dinner Cabaret show at Harvey's Point, Lough Eske, Donegal. What a spread! We were seated at long tables in a huge showroom where they brought us soup first, then instructed us to go to another room to get our appetizers. OMG! the appetizers alone were enough for a meal. Tables shaped in a large "U" held a variety of salads, soups, meats, vegetables, and finger food. My main course of Sea Bass came with carrots and potatoes then it was off to the other room again to pick our desserts. The same "U" shaped appetizer tables had been replaced with nonstop desserts! The Cabaret show started with a wonderful singing Italian Chef, followed by Fiddling Adam who could rival Charlie Daniels in the Devil Went Down to Georgia. Topping off the night were the Burns Brothers. Cute and precocious they sang and danced to Irish tunes. A good time was had by all.
Thursday morning started out sunny again but a bit nippy at 48 degrees as we had an early morning view of the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery in Sligo. Surrounded by beautiful mountains you can see the flat topped famous Ben Belbun mountain. As our guide explained the history of these ancient tombs a rainbow appeared in the distance behind Ben Belbun. You might say we were having the Luck of the Irish with our clear weather. Next we visited an up and coming small craft brewery, Carrig Brewing Company. I tried three of the beers and was pleased at the smooth taste of the darks, reds, and pales. When one mentions Irish Beer your first thought will probably go to Guinness, and reasonably so. However; craft breweries are becoming big in Ireland just as they are in the USA. I have researched and found many others in this area of Sligo, and other parts of Ireland. Next on our agenda was a light lunch and show around the Lough Rynn Castle in Co. Leitrim. The 350 acres are full of history, breathtaking scenery, lush pastures, ancient forests, and a peaceful Victorian Garden. There was time to sit back and relax (or nap) as we had an hour and half ride from the castle to our next overnight hotel, the Mount Falcon Estate. In the morning I snapped some picture and took notes of all the amenities of the estate. This would be a great place for someone to spend a whole week with the estate as their base camp. Activities abound in the area and the estate offers self-contained cabins, spa and gym, falconry, archery, fishing, hiking, and more.
Our trip was winding down and Friday found us on the road to Dublin with a stop at the Tullamore DEW Visitor Centre for a whiskey tasting before continuing on to visit O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel and then checking in across the street at Mont Clare Hotel. There was some free time before we would leave for our farewell dinner show at Ireland's oldest pub, The Brazen Head dating back to 1198. Our entertainer for the evening was Ollie who told stories and tales of folklore and fairies and sang Irish songs. I dined on warm chicken salad and salmon as I listened to Ollie spin his tales, and before we knew it the evening fun was over and time to return to the hotel to pack for the flight home. It was another grand trip to Ireland.