Celtic Heart Tours Featured on KONP Radio’s Artbeat

I recently had the honor of being interviewed on the local radio station’s long-standing arts-related talk show, Artbeat. The host is a longtime friend, Karen Hanan, which helped to put me at ease – or at least make me not so nervous!

It was great fun to share my plans for Celtic Heart Tours with her and her loyal audience. If you missed it, here’s a podcast version, minus the local commercials.

Artbeat Celtic Heart Tours 12-23-11

That’s Us! Travel Survey Says “Off the Beaten Path” Travel Will Increase


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Look for the ASTA, American Society of Travel Agents, logo on Celtic Heart Tours.

Celtic Heart Tours recently joined one of the largest associations of travel agents in the U.S., the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

While we are technically a tour operator business, not travel agents, being a member of this group gives us access to a wealth of resources and support, and to a large networks of agents who might be interested in selling our tours to their more adventurous clients.

One of the perks is a daily digest of travel news compiled from sites across the World Wide Web. I was particularly interested in a recent posting of survey results which showed people indicating a preference for “off-the-beaten path” travel: “Majorities of those Travel Leaders travel agents who primarily book leisure travel indicate they are seeing an increase in interest and bookings for small ship cruising, off-the-beaten path travel, and international family travel, all positive indicators for the growing luxury travel segment.

As you may know, “off-the-beaten-path” travel is a specialty of Celtic Heart Tours. With our small group size we are able to go where large tours cannot go, and where “self-drive” tourists may fear to go!

Travel guru Rick Steves may be the pioneer of off-the-beaten-path tours, but his “small group” tour sizes of 24 people, constantly rotating through previously “undiscovered” locations, have turned them into just another roadside attraction. I love Rick Steves, but in my opinion his tours have become a victim of their own success.

While it’s probably just a matter of time before people start showing up at O’Neill’s Bar and Restaurant in Allihies with the Rick Steves Guide to Ireland poking out of their backpacks, for now the Beara Peninsula remains wild and natural, the perfect destination for those seeking the “real” Ireland.

Please visit our website, www.celtichearttours.com, for more information on the Beara Peninsula and upcoming tours!


Tips on Preventing Jet Lag


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I recently received a lovely Celtic Christmas card from a woman I met in Ireland on my last trip, and she included a great homeopathic plan for preventing jet lag. She said it worked for her both ways — all the way from Alaska to Ireland and back. So with many thanks to Keeley, here it is. The italics are my added comments.

One month before travel: Begin taking a good probiotic and take it without fail. (If you don’t have one, ask for suggestions at your local health food store.)

Three to five days before departure: Start taking cell salts, also known as bioplasma. Take one dose every day. These are a homeopathic that dissolves under your tongue and help each cell achieve optimal performance (so you’re firing on all cylinders, so to speak).

Day of travel: Increase your cell salt dose to every four hours and begin taking another homeopathic drug, “No-Jet-Lag.” You can find it at www.nojetlag.com.

As well as these things, all the other common suggestions really are well grounded — things like less or no alcohol (wait for the Guinness in Ireland), less or no caffeine, and lots of water to hydrate. Seems like every little bit helps!

Thanks, Keeley!

How to Survive a Transatlantic Flight


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Try to get a window seat - the view coming into Shannon airport is beautiful!

Last year on a flight back from Ireland, somewhere over Greenland, a woman seated in the back of the plane went berserk and tried to storm the cockpit. She made it as far as the curtain between coach and business class before she was subdued by the flight attendants and the heretofore unidentified sky marshals. She spent the rest of the flight with her hands ziptied behind her back, only slightly more uncomfortable than everyone else in coach.

Rumor quickly circulated around the cabin that she was mentally unstable. Ya think? I had to wonder if she was insane before she boarded the plane, or if conditions on board drove her to it. I mean, how many times can you expect people to watch “Zoolander” without consequences?

It’s no secret that flying isn’t what it used to be; gone are the complimentary cocktails, comfy seats and gracious flight attendants. Nowadays you’re lucky if your tiny bag of pretzels are fresh. Forget about peanuts – too expensive.

Large sweaty seatmates, cramped bathrooms and really bad movies are hard enough to take on flights across the continental United States, but they can be downright unbearable on flights lasting from five to 10 hours – the time it takes to get to Ireland from the U.S. But with a little advance planning, your flight to Ireland can be bearable, maybe even enjoyable.

I’ve flown to Ireland six times round trip, so that’s 12 flights, with at least one plane change on each flight, so 24 different planes. Services tend to be going downhill each year, which means the savvy traveler has to be much more self-sufficient.

Here are some items I find essential on the long flights:

1. Comfortable clothes. You’ll be sitting for a long time, so leave the sexy skinny jeans home and opt for something stretchable and wrinkle-proof, like yoga pants or leggings. I like black stretch pants with a loose fitting cotton top; dressy yet comfortable. Airplanes tend to be hot and stuffy, so dress a level cooler and cover up if you get chilly. Which brings us to number two:

2. Pashmina or similar large, lightweight scarf. This is an all-purpose item that will serve for many purposes on your travels. It makes a great lightweight blanket, you can throw it over a light jacket to dress up a look and add warmth, or you can put it over your head when you dash out into the rain in Ireland.

3. Slip on shoes. These will not only make getting through security easier, your feet will thank you on the long flight. In summer I love my Birkenstocks, in cooler weather I go with zip up ankle boots. The close seats don’t allow room to bend over and tie your shoes and you don’t want to leave them untied on the way to the bathroom!

4. Noise canceling headphones and portable music system, or earplugs. It seems to be the law that the longer the flight the more crying babies there will be. And they will always be right behind you. Just be glad you are not the parent, and turn up the music. In severe cases, use earplugs and headphones.

5. Audiobooks or e-book reader. Audiobooks also help to drown out noise, while e-book readers are much lighter than lugging books along. I like David Sedaris or other humor writers for long trips. Travel books about your destination are also good. For Ireland I suggest “McCarthy’s Bar,” by Peter McCarthy.

6. Trail mix-type snacks. A hungry passenger is a cranky passenger, and it can be a long time between “meals.” You can take control and head off hunger pangs by bringing your own snacks. I suggest high protein munchies such as trail mix, and of course chocolate. Be a pal and offer some to your seatmate. Try to avoid smelly things like tins of sardines. Trust me.

7. Bottled water. So far most airlines aren’t charging for water, but it’s best to bring your own anyway. You’ll need it for washing down your snack, and for preventing dehydration in the arid enclosed space. Also good for washing down painkillers (see below).

8. Painkillers. After this many hours on a plane, you will get stiff and sore. You can head off many aches and pains with a preventive dose of over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

9. Neck pillow. I used to think these looked silly, but after one stiff neck too many, I caved and got an inflatable one. All I can say is, ahhhh! Airplane seats seem to be designed to be uncomfortable for all body types, curving in all the wrong places. You can mitigate this with an inflatable pillow, plus the tiny pillow they may give you can be used for lumbar support.

10. Infinite patience and a sense of humor. OK, that’s two things, but both essential to surviving a modern-day transatlantic flight. Just remember, the flight will end and you will be landing in beautiful Ireland!

What do you do to make flying more bearable? Please share your tips and tricks with us!

Launch Party Thursday, Nov. 10 for Celtic Heart Tours Website

The Ring of Beara is far less traveled than its neighbor to the west, the Ring of Kerry, and doesn't allow large vehicles.

After many, many, many hours of meticulous work by my web designer, Nancy O’Gorman, www.celtichearttours.com went live this past weekend. It’s a work of art, and cause for celebration. I have to commend her for her endless patience in tweaking the site every time I suggested something new or wanted to change things yet again. Thank you thank you thank you.

Those of you who are reading this in the greater North Olympic Peninsula area, I hope you will join us for the website and business launch party Thursday, Nov 10. It will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Renaissance Wellness Center, 401 E. Front St., Port Angeles.

Artist Sarah Tucker has created a video slide show from some of the photos I took on my recent trip to Ireland, and we will show it at the launch party. There will be refreshments and information on the tours, so you can choose your dates and start planning!

We also have a facebook presence, so please visit and friend us: http://www.facebook.com/Celtic.Heart.Tours

The Comforts of Home


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Ahhhh. Fresh coffee in my room, courtesy of the Aerobie AeroPress.

Been home for what, two weeks, and going full speed ahead with putting the tours together. My web designer has labored for far more hours than she anticipated, but the finished product will be a work of art.

As I work I have been reflecting on the trip and travel in general. A dear friend is having an exciting adventure, having just up and moved to France with her partner, a fellow artist. She wrote about the pleasures of drinking coffee from “American-sized” coffee cups, which they managed to find in the land of demitasse. I can so relate.

While I love to travel and explore new places, I have found that the experience is much more comfortable with, well, the comforts of home. For me, essentials are a down pillow and manual coffeemaker.

If I have a soft place to rest my head, and a fresh cup of strong hot coffee in the morning, I’m set for whatever the day brings. (I also bought a pair of lovely handmade mugs, thus supporting local artists as well as my coffee habit.)

I know, some of you might say where’s the adventure in that? To which I reply, at my age I deserve to have what I want. I’ve done my time sleeping on miniature travel pillows in Africa and on pillowcase-covered rocks in Korea.

The down pillow compresses very well in one of those roll up compression bags (no vacuum cleaner needed), and fits nicely in the top of my suitcase. The Aerobie AeroPress is a hard plastic cylinder about 6 inches long and 2 inches in diameter, so pretty compact too. I bring my own ground coffee for the first few days, but it’s pretty easy to find good coffee in stores these days. (I once brought two cans of Illy coffee all the way from Italy, only to find the same cans at the local grocery store.)

Do you have a “comfort of home” that you take on your travels? Do tell!

Farewell to Ireland

Mural on the wall of the Crane Bar, Galway. Trad music is still alive and well in Ireland.

It’s been raining all day; not the kind of soft Irish rain where the sun intermittently parts the clouds and paints rainbows on the sparkling green hills. This is your basic, boring, straight down rain, the kind that makes the days seem dark, long and dreary.

It’s the kind of rain that makes me want to hole up in my warm B&B, eat chocolate and drink tea. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m in Bunratty, convenient to Shannon airport from which I leave tomorrow morning. I’ve repacked, trying to make room for the treasure I’m taking home: Galway Crystal wine glasses for me, Guinness glasses for my sweetie; Belleek for my mom and his, and other things I couldn’t live without.

I miss Ireland already.

For every photo I have taken I have a thousand memories made in just these past two weeks. Like last night, when I was in my favorite pub in Ireland, the Crane Bar in Galway, and a group of more than a dozen trad musicians played and played and played while the Guinness flowed and friends old and new came in for shelter from the rain.

I went to the bar with two new friends I had met that day, sisters staying at the same B&B that I was, Glencree. I discovered over breakfast that one sister was from Seattle while the other was from Alaska. We laughed at the coincidence — what are the odds that out of the hundreds of lodgings in Galway that we Northwesterners would end up in the same one? And this time of year we were the only guests.

They were in Ireland for five weeks, traveling only by public transportation. Three weeks into it, and I could see that look in their eyes as they talked about the stunningly beautiful things they’d seen and the lovely people they’d met; the look that said Ireland had worked its way into their hearts.

At the Crane the effects of the long day, the warm room, beer and hypnotic music took their toll and by 11 p.m. we were all ready to head back to the B&B. As we got up to leave, a man who hadn’t said a word to us looked up with a look of genuine concern and said, “You’re not leaving are you?”  “Just for now,” I said, touching his shoulder,  “But I’ll be back.”

I miss home, and will be glad to sleep in my own bed, but my heart is in two places now and there’s nothing I can do about that — except plan for my return next May!

Thanks to all my readers who have tagged along on this journey, I hope you have enjoyed it. While this trip to Ireland is at an end, I will continue this blog, adding tidbits about travel, Ireland, Irish things such as music, movies, literature and information about the May tours as they shape up.

I expect to have the tour website, http://www.celtichearttours.com, up and running by Nov. 1st with the expert help of Nancy O’Gorman, a grand Irish-American lass. Look for the announcement here! The easiest way to keep up is to subscribe to this blog. I hope you do!

Closeup of a "Galway Hooker," a sail boat unique to Ireland.

Closeup of a "Galway Hooker," a sailboat with red sails unique to Ireland.

And the Winner is . . .


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Butlers Buses! After an exhaustive search for the perfect bus company to contract with for Celtic Heart Tours, I settled on Butlers Buses out of Cork.

Ready to roll — Ian and the tour bus.

I met with four different bus company representatives, and while two others were strong contenders, Butlers stood out as the experts in the field of custom tours and drivers who were also knowledgeable and personable guides.

Butlers representative, Ian, assured me that if their drivers didn’t have the personality for the job they didn’t last for another tour. I’ve found that Irish people in general, despite the many cruel blows fate deals them, are a talkative, jovial lot. Having a captive audience is perfect.

Butlers also has a driver who is from the Beara Peninsula, so if the schedule works out right he will be our driver. That’s an added bonus!

Wider leather seats, lots of leg room, large windows for everyone and plenty of extra room to move around.

After sealing the deal with Ian I headed north, to Doolin and Galway. But first I had to get out of Cork. Pulling into a gas station on the incoming side of the street, I couldn’t pull back into the outgoing lane. No problem, I’ll just circle around the block. Five miles of back streets later I was finally able to rejoin the main highway and sped north as fast as I could. If I never drive in Cork again it will be too soon! It’s a lovely walking city.

As I drove north a light rain began to fall, and as I neared Doolin, once a sleepy fishing village but now a major tourist destination because of its four pubs that play trad music nightly, it was a full on storm.

Tourists huddled in Gore-Tex pushed into the headwind, making for the fabled Cliffs of Moher, which were shrouded in fog. Visibility was about 10 feet. Most people only come to Ireland once in their lives and they try to cram in as much sightseeing as possible. With the vacation clock ticking and a list of sights to see, they can’t take an extra day to see if the weather clears. It’s a shame, because the weather here is very changeable. It looks nicer today already.

This is what the tourists didn't see yesterday: the Cliffs of Moher. Shot taken May 2010 by Chris Grant.

I’ll be making my way leisurely to Galway today, just an hour’s drive up the road. On the way I’ll visit the starkly beautiful Burren, and maybe check in on an abandoned estate house I saw many years ago. And if the weather gets too bad, there’s always a warm pub to duck into.

My Own Private Ireland

These carved heads represent the river gods.

Traveling in Ireland during the off season, alone and off the beaten path has added up to some unique experiences. I was the only tourist in Twomey’s Pub in Castletownbere; I was the only guest one night at the Sea View Inn in Allihies; I was the only tourist on the boat to Bere Island. But today was a little ridiculous, when I was the only passenger on the double decker Hop On Hop Off Cork City bus tour.

As I looked down on the lowly pedestrians from my perch on the open top deck I tried not to feel superior. Imagine! An entire bus to myself, for the cost of a single admission. They probably thought I hired the bus.

The way these buses work is you can get off the bus at interesting stops along the way, and the next one picks you up. They make a big circuit and you can get on and off as often as you want. Oh – and I found out the winding streets weren’t built on cow paths, as I suspected, they were built on top of river channels!

Medieval Cork was built on 14 islands in the River Lee, and as the city grew they just filled in between the islands and paved in the channels. There are still a lot of channels though and something like 13 bridges. I think I drove around and around on every one of them. It was nice to park the car today.

It's hard to take a photo in Cork that doesn't include at least one church and bridge.

The tours are a really good way to see a city in a short amount of time, and I find it helps me get the lay of the land. But this trip I didn’t have much time so I just wanted to stay on the bus the whole way. The driver, who couldn’t see me from his seat, would pull up to the stops as usual, and wait. And wait. And wait. No one got on. No one got off. Then he would pull away and resume the tour.

Finally, at the Cork City Gaol he stopped and came upstairs. “You might want to get off here just to take a few pictures,” he suggested. I took this to mean he wanted a smoke break, so I obliged. The gaol (jail) apparently as a wax museum-like gruesome display, which I had no desire to see. Still, it was an interesting building with lovely views over the city.

One of my goals on the bus tour was to figure out where the Maldron Hotel was, as I wanted to check it out for my tour. It’s in the Shandon area, near the famous “Shandon Bells” church. You can climb the bell tower and ring the bells, which was tempting, but I had to pass this time.

The Maldron Hotel in Shandon, Cork City. This could be anywhere in Europe, it's so charming.

I met with the hotel reservations manager after the bus tour and she gave me a private tour of some of the rooms. I was thrilled to see the graceful old building had large, recently remodeled rooms overlooking the city (as opposed to my current B&B which has views over the neighbor’s backyard). I immediately told her I definitely wanted to book my tour group with them. That marks the last place I needed to look at accommodations, so it really feels like it’s coming together! I’m really excited about the places we’ll be staying, not to mention the things we will be discovering.

I have also been meeting with coach (bus) companies and have several excellent choices. They are excited to be driving a group that truly wants to get off the beaten path. One coach company owner pointed out that places like the Beara are where they like to go on holiday!

Kieran Deasey, owner of Deasey Coaches, with the type of bus we will be using. It's large enough to be comfortable yet small enough to be agile.

I have one more coach company meeting in the morning, and then I can begin my Irish holiday! I’ll be going to Doolin, trad music center of Ireland, and Galway, my favorite city in Ireland, before heading to Bunratty for the final night. Wonder if I’ll have the castle to myself…





Some Call It ‘Getting Lost,’ I Prefer To Call It ‘Exploring’ in Cork City



Cork's English Market is a foodie's paradise.

After days of getting lost on the narrow, winding roads of the wild Beara Peninsula, I am now . . . getting lost on the narrow, winding roads of the wild Cork City. Driving here is a nightmare. The city center (or centre) is scrunched on an island in the river, and the “grid” was set up when ox carts brought their wares to market. That worked fine until cars were invented. It’s been hell ever since.

The only change was to make many of the streets one way, apparently randomly. And they made some streets pedestrian only. Oh, and there are few road signs and no addresses. Some of the street are named, but like much of Europe the names are high up on the sides of buildings located approximately near the intersection. They are never on signposts where a driver could find them easily.

Here is the “address” for one of the nicest hotels in town, from their website:

When travelling from Waterford or Rosslare (N25), follow the Cork city centre signs taking the 1st exit at the Lota roundabout. Continue straight ahead along the Lower Glanmire Road following the city centre signs. Turn left at Water Street (you can’t go straight ahead) and continue driving along Horgans Quay, (river is on your left). Continue straight ahead passing 4 bridges on your left (river is always on your left). Once you have passed the 4th bridge on your left take the immediate right up Musgrave Road pass the Dominican Centre  (yellow and pink building) on your left. The Maldron Hotel Cork is halfway up this steep hill/road take the 2nd left.

If I can find it today I’m checking this place out for the tours. One of the main reasons for this trip is to personally inspect the lodgings. Last night I was glad I did. We won’t be staying at the Rose Lodge, a guesthouse next to the University of Cork campus, which looks lovely on their website. In person, not so much. I think it used to be a convent. They probably painted over the crucifix outline over the bed.

The lobby is nice but the room, where I am staying for two nights, is tiny and spartan. The view looks out over the roofs behind the building and the orange rug has mysterious stains. But at least it’s warm, unlike the palatial Glengarriff Park Hotel room I stayed in last, where they skimped on the heater size and the room never got above cool.

I could live here.

Anyway, after I ditched the rental car in a parking garage yesterday I walked around the compact city center, and was much better able to enjoy it. A highlight is the English Market, a huge complex which is the gastronomic hub of the city. Row upon row of beautiful Irish cheeses, aromatic freshly baked bread, pungent, freshly caught fish, and every other item you would need to prepare an Irish feast, all under one skylighted roof.

Say cheese! Lots and lots of cheese.

It’s a little like Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but without the million flower vendors. The English Market is a place real people buy real food.

The city holds an entirely new set of photo opportunities, from interesting architecture old and new to curious signs and colorful people. The sun is shining today, time to explore. After I park the car.