Visiting the Trevi Fountain in Rome, Italy

Legend says to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain so you will return to it one day. Visitors flock to the fountain to view the remarkable 85-foot high (65 feet wide) example of Baroque art, designed by Nicola Salvi. There is a little ice cream shop adjacent to the fountain that has a yummy selection so you can stroll around and enjoy a sweLegend says to throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain so you will return to it one day. Visitors flock to the fountain to view the remarkable 85-foot high (65 feet wide) example of Baroque art, designed by Nicola Salvi. There is a little ice cream shop adjacent to the fountain that has a yummy selection so you can stroll around and enjoy a sweet treat while trying to work your way to the front of the crowd.

The Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain at Night

Read more of my reviews on TripAdvisor.

A Very Active 39 Hours in Amsterdam

This isn’t a play on the NY Times series titled 36 Hours in… but the actual time we spent on a stopover in Amsterdam on a recent trip back from the States.

We chose to fly via KLM and Schiphol airport in Amsterdam because we had heard good things about using them while traveling with infants and children. They provide diapers, formula, baby food, bibs, kid’s activities, and such on request as part of the travel experience (i.e., no extra charge). Of course, the best part was that during our outbound layover, we discovered Schiphol has a baby lounge. Yes, can’t you just picture little babies resting in velvet banquets while sipping milk martinis and using free WiFi? Well, it’s not that kind of lounge and I’ll admit the adult food options at Schiphol leave me hungering for frites and pancakes. It is a haven of peace and ideal for regrouping. LB was getting tired and though he was a delight on the flight from Cork, he needed a feed and a nap to keep his good mood going. Unfortunately, he’s a social baby so if there are people and interesting noises and cool light fixtures, he is sometimes too distracted to eat. But the subtly-marked baby lounge (beside the kid play area and by a library) is an oasis. Enter the generic door and hear Peter and the Wolf on a loop with soft lighting, pastel stripes on the back wall, and several round curtained ‘cubicles’.

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Baby Lounge

On the left, there is a wall unit with changing mats and bath-sized sinks. Paper towels and soap are provided. This is ideal for a baby that is soothed by a bath or in case of a mess (you know what I mean).

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Baby Lounge

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Baby Lounge

There is also a microwave gadget to warm bottles! Our LB likes his bottles chilled though so we didn’t use it.

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Baby Lounge

We did, however, find our favorite cubicle and tuck in to have a feed. Next thing you know, the bottle is empty and baby and I are both asleep. A solid 45-minute nap was all he needed to keep his positive outlook on the world (and for me to keep mine).

Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport Baby Lounge

Meanwhile, hubby went to get us lunch (tuna sandwich)! That one nap for LB meant that he was not overtired when we took off on our next flight and he could stick with for normal daytime nap schedule that day. But that starts to get into how to travel with a small baby, which is another blog post entirely. Don’t worry, I’m already writing it! Now, back to our 39-hour stopover in Amsterdam.

We landed early in the morning after a red eye from the States and were tired. Even LB was not his usual giggly self. We immediately collected our baggage, went through the passport stamping process, and taxied to the hotel. The public transportation options are great in Amsterdam and we’d taken that before but with us so tired and only 39 hours in town, we wanted to make the most of our time and a taxi costs €38-48 (higher if you get a van taxi).

We arrived at the hotel and decided we needed food. But first, maybe just rest my eyes for one minute? Two hours later, LB and I rouse from our cuddly nap and brave the sunshine to find food. Hubby was being so patient all that time! We stayed at the Eden Hampshire Hotel Americain (can’t remember what the current name is but it is centrally located, clean, and pleasant). We opted for a BIG room and they put a crib in there with soft cotton bedding for no charge. The trick with the mini bar fridge (for bottle storage) is that you cannot remove anything to make room for bottles or you are charged for the mini bar item that is removed. Technology.

Here’s a photo of the outside of the hotel. It is a stone’s throw from the Amsterdam Apple store and the landmark Bulldog (it’s a coffeeshop). I’ve not gone into either but they are handy when navigating or asking directions.

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The hotel has a renowned restaurant but we opted to get out and about. But here are photos of it because when I walked in it made me feel like I should be meeting Hastings and Poirot for a cup of tea. That’s a GOOD thing in my book.

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Having a basic understanding of the layout of the city and having favorite neighborhoods from our previous visit, we set out for Jordaan. First stop, Pancakes! at #38 on Berenstraat. It’s a neighborhood spot that makes the most of its small space by using egg-crate noise softeners on the underside of their tables and decorating with a light-hearted touch. I had my favorite Dutch pancake, which is apple and cheese. They used an Edam and a pink apple. Delectable and light with a crunchy layer on top. Hubby had something with ham, cheese, and chicory.

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Bowls of keychains and toys line the counter by the register and they’re quick to hand them out to keep younger customers happy. We witnessed a waitress give a new toy in-package to the toddler at our table so he’d be too busy playing to object to forkfuls his mother was helping into his mouth. This pair was kind enough to share the table with us and didn’t blink when LB spit up all over himself. Gotta love parenthood! And for everyone who praises me for always being so prepared and on top of things, I’ll admit I didn’t have a change of clothes for him on-hand.

After a quick change for LB from gross onesie to swaddled in my fleece jacket, we went strolling in search of a place that sold children’s clothes. We found a great spot that also sells women’s clothes. We went to several hip kids stores actually and LB has some new clothes to look stylin’ in.

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It seems like Amsterdam not only has few vacant retail units but the ones that are filled express personality.

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Then there’s the little matter of an afternoon snack?

And where would a trip to Amsterdam by without a visit to one of those places they’re famous for. You know what I’m talking about. You know, a cookie bar. What? They’re not famous for cookie bars? It’s coffeeshops? And they don’t serve coffee? Seriously? I don’t believe you. So, back to the cookie bar because that IS where everyone should go when visiting Amsterdam. We went to Melly’s Cookie Bar and I chose a Dutch Almond Cookie and a… (anyone want to guess?) …hot chocolate. Hubby had a conical cookie filled with sweet cream and a cappuccino or something decadently caffeinated. He is much better at managing jet lag as a result of his relationship with the coffee bean.

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I had an afternoon nap too but managed to extract myself from the bed for dinner. One thing to do while in Amsterdam if you’re a foodie is to enjoy a traditional Indonesian rijsttafels (like Indonesian/Dutch tapas). We did this at Puri Mas. Coconut is a prevalent ingredient so be aware of that if you don’t like it or have an allergy.

Traditional Indonesian rijsttafels at Puri Mas

Traditional Indonesian rijsttafels at Puri Mas

Day two we set out in search of food but had a few stops along the way.

Tesselschade-Arbeid Adelt is a charming children’s shop one block away from city centre from the Apple store in Amsterdam. Charming hand knits and crafted items that are great gifts and heirloom worthy.

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Turns out it is a guild of women in The Netherlands who hand craft things and sell them. They’ve been around since 1870! Even better than handmade things? Handmade fair trade things! No, it’s not as expensive as you’d expect.

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A basket of Dachshunds. One of them had to come home with me. I chose a navy one with a pale blue jumper. Her name is Lucy after a friend’s Dachshund. Wish I had gotten an orange one too so they could keep each other company.

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Here are more goodies. Mmm, hand knits!!!

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And speaking of the Apple store, here’s a photo of the historic building from the outside.

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If you are into dental hygiene or want to encourage your child to brush his or her teeth, definitely pay a visit to De Witte Tanden Winkel at #5 on Runstraat. This little shop has a toothbrush ferris wheel in its window display and carries toothbrushes, toothpaste, dental floss, and dental hygiene products. Want flossers? What kind? Seriously, there are several. This is also our favorite spot for choosing toothbrush holders (like the one I got Q). I have a pink hippo but wanted to get another so I can use one for traveling and one for home. Each has a suction cup on the back so it adheres to a mirror easily and holds your toothbrush. If you travel a lot and stay in hotels, it is nice to have something out of the way of housekeeping so they don’t need to move things to do their clean-up. If you’re not near this shop though, take heart because some animals are available from Amazon.com.

Toothbrush Ferris Wheel

Shortly after  The Pancake Bakery opened, we were there! Because one pancake meal wasn’t enough.

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I always get the same thing (again, all three times I’ve been there). Gouda and green apple pancake and French onion soup.

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It is around the corner from Anne Frank’s house. Nice if you need a meal after waiting in the queue.

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Couldn’t miss a chance to go to my favorite spot for a bit of domestic indulgence is Kitsch Kitchen at #8-12 on Rozengracht.

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It carries things made of plastic, little goodies, household items, cookbooks, paper lanterns, wallpaper, pulls/knobs, bags, and dishes! Yes, dishes!

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If it also sold argyle socks, garden gnomes, and fish dishes, I’d never leave! Thankfully, they don’t sell those things… yet.

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This is where we bought our nephew Q an awesome toothbrush holder that is a Triceratops. That is his favorite dinosaur. Being an awesome aunt, I make it my job to remember these things and even drew one on the mailer when I sent it over to him. They also sell amazing paper lanterns, toss pillows, rugs, wallpaper, and have a wide selection of oilcloth.

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This reminded me of something I’d see in Young House Love. Sherry over there has a thing for ceramic animals. These are drawer pulls, hooks, or whatever you want them to be really. I would love to get the triceratops for Q but what would a toddler do with such a thing? Would be fun to get two and drill them on either side of a wood bucket and use it for crayons & colored pencils or a little toy catchall. Especially if the bucket is painted boldly (think pink deer heads with yellow matte.glossy striped bucket). If someone does this, please share the link in the comments?

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I didn’t see until we were paying and ready to leave there is a small sign to the side of the register with a camera and a line through it. Big oops! I was respectful though (no flash, no faces, no staging of items). Oddly, no one said anything to me in spite of the big DSLR looped around my neck. They didn’t hesitate to scold me for possessing a camera once in Vienna.

Have you ever had the souvenir that got away? Well, this trip it was a paint roller from Kitsch Kitchen that has a faux wood-grain effect. I stared at the basket of them for several minutes trying to devise a way to fit it in my already overfilled luggage then said a sad goodbye. I had dreams of using a dark gold paint and rolling it on the blackout curtains in LB’s room to complete the nursery’s Enchanted Forest theme (yes, there are gnomes and even a dragon). Did I mention it was €19.95 on sale 50% off? The squirrel and hedgehog hooks are cute for the design of his room too. But I’m pining for the paint roller. Get it? Pining? *Collective groan at pun* Seriously though, I am. Next person going to Kitsch Kitchen then to Cork City, I’ll give you the tenner plus a batch of baked yummies (Croissant Monkey Muffins, cupcakes, or Chocolate Chip Cookies) if you bring a wood-grain paint roller back for me.

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We then went exploring and quickly decided that we should eat more so we remembered the words of our KLM stewardess (sorry, flight attendant), “Winkel has the best apple pie in Amsterdam.” So we went!

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Winkel at Nordermarket has a pie crust over their baked apple goodness that more closely resembles a cookie than a crust. Good hot chocolate too.

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Very friendly staff and a nice bar inside that had a beer on tap that my hubby has never seen on tap anywhere. I was distracted trying to change LB’s diaper and outfit in a tiny bathroom stall (it seems I have a new superpower) or I’d remember the beer’s name. Maybe he’ll comment with it. They serve other things too (besides apple pie and hot chocolate), here’s the menu:

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We wandered around most of the afternoon and enjoyed admiring the canals? Around each corner is another stunning view.DSC_0015©

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We even got to see a barge trolling the canals retrieving lost bikes and shopping carts.

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Now there is one great place to go for croquettes in Amsterdam and everyone will tell you it is Eet Salon Van Dobben. Around for decades, this deli-meets-soda fountain style restaurant has croquettes that melt in your mouth and thin slices of deli meats piled atop a soft roll that you can adorn with mustard for a sandwich. Nom nom nom. I always (you know, all three times I’ve been there) the roast beef and we split some croquettes (which are made with beef not pork, woohoo!).

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Of course, don’t miss the chance to stroll through the Flower Market. When I say stroll, I mean stroll – no bike riding allowed in this pedestrian area.

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Though we had wanted to do an excursion out to see the tulips or visit a cheese factory, we decided that having a baby with jet lag was reason enough to take it easy and sure Amsterdam is a short flight from Cork so we can go another time. We went to Henri Willig across from the Flower Market instead of a cheese excursion and got to taste many cheeses and even bought a fun cheese knife (checked luggage material). But for anyone wanting it, day excursions are available for layovers or those staying in the area. Some of the companies running them are: Amsterdam City Tours, Viator, and Great Amsterdam Excursion Company.

I know this was a very long post. Now you know why I sometimes don’t write posts about our getaways. Even just 39 hours someplace has this many photos (actually more), stories, and adventures. Please comment if you like this or try any of these places and it may just encourage me to write posts like this more often.

Reviewing my adventures on TripAdvisor landed me in The Times today

The Times ran an article today written by Daisy Greenwell (if you haven’t read her articles, you’ll like them since she writes about food fairly often and in a cultural and lifestyle sense) hat discusses online reviewers and their approaches, roles, and perspectives on the process and websites themselves. Throughout this post are screenshots of portions of the actual article.

Now that the piece is published, I’ll tell you all about how it came about.

A few months ago when I was in the final days of my pregnancy, Ms. Greenwell contacted me to enquire about my role as a Top Contributor on TripAdvisor. With over 280 reviews, I guess that’s something to be proud about. It’s also something I don’t spend much time dwelling on. Trips happen and while I’m busy writing about it for my blogs, why not whip up a review too? It’s only fair since I use TripAdvisor information to help plan the adventures in the first place. So back to me being very pregnant and on the phone with Ms. Greenwell… She interviewed me and I answered her questions honestly. I think I gave birth within a week or two after that so talking on the phone was just my speed at that point in the pregnancy. I kept quiet about her article until today because it’s her scoop to share, not mine.

Photo by Don Moloney for The Times. Taken at Electric on South Mall in Cork City.

Photo by Don Moloney for The Times. Taken at Electric on South Mall in Cork City.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago, she asked about sending a photographer out to take my picture. Me? Post-pregnancy me? With my son’s age still being counted in weeks, I am not feeling my fittest but professional photographers bring out the best in us, right? Hopefully. They even sent Don Moloney, a professional photographer, to photograph me in seven or so poses to choose to run with the piece. I waited and hoped a photo would look good. I guess it must have because one friend didn’t even recognize me. Provided, the ponytail makes a difference.

I was relieved when the interview was shared in a straight-forward manner, giving little chance for misquotes. Honestly, I was worried I would somehow come across as a ruthless reviewer who seeks out opportunities to ruin businesses with harsh ratings. Trust me, I’m not. I think anyone who knows me will laugh at that worry now that I’ve voiced it. Of course, I also worried about that photo. Should I have worn a necklace? Did the post-pregnancy weight show? Were my Tracy Anderson DVD workouts helping? Would I shine through as the person I am in spite of the fact I was faced with a photographer (usually I snap my own portraits with my camera’s self-timer feature, like I did for my Twitter profile pic).

Want to read my reviews on TripAdvisor? Go right ahead. I’ll warn you though, some a short and some are long with no consistent review format being followed. If I go to a place that doesn’t give much of an impression, I only mention the part of the experience that made an impression. The boring things that every restaurant or hotel offers/has/does are skipped.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that’s it. And my boss is asking me to make him lunch now. He’s so good at encouraging me to keep my blog posts brief in favor of the all-important snuggles, floor playtime, and meals.

Do you write review on TripAdvisor? What food do you think defines the success of a restaurant or hotel? What is your top pick in Cork, Dublin, or Ireland for a place to visit, stay, dine? I’d love to hear from you!

36 Hours in Cork – New York Times Article

Last week, Cork City was featured in 36 Hours in Cork, Ireland, a New York Times article written by Michael McDermott. Initially, I was thrilled to see Cork City receive such attention, but was a little disappointed in the article content. Though he mentioned a few favorites (St. Anne’s Shandon Bells, Franciscan Well, The English Market, Sin E, Fitzgerald Park, Crawford Gallery, and The Pavilion), so many others were missing. Understandable since the New York Times is a print newspaper so if this ran in their Sunday travel section space would have been limited. Thankfully, blogs don’t have the same limitations so I have been inspired to post more travel itineraries from now on.

Before starting on that, I want to warn anyone who read Mr. McDermott’s article that there is one thing to be aware of – Church of St. Anne Shandon is open 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Easter through November (10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. November through Easter) and strongly encourages visitors to enter at least 30 minutes prior to closing for the full experience (ringing the bells then climbing up to the top of the bell tower for a stunning view). Arriving at 4:30 p.m. as the NYT article suggests may leave you being turned away in winter or rushed for time.

More travel ideas and itineraries coming at regular intervals!

Arriving in Cork by Plane, Train, Automobile, or Ferry

Arriving into Cork usually means you are either in a plane, train, bus, or car, or ferry.

Plane via Cork (ORK) or Kerry (KIR)

If you are flying, you will be happy to know there are many airlines serving Cork International Airport (ORK). Cork (ORK) is a convenient spot for many flights within the European Union. Ryan Air, Aer Lingus, Aer Arann, Wizz Air, BMI Baby, Air Southwest, and Jet2 all serve ORK. ORK’s Scheduled Flight Destinations List includes the airlines serving each destination and the seasons when these flights are available. Each airline tends to have slightly different baggage and fare rules so be sure to read the fine print. One thing to be aware of when booking your itinerary is that ORK has —but does not use— jetways (the enclosed bridge-like walkway between the airport terminal gate and the plane). To board or exit an aircraft at ORK, passengers go down stairs to the tarmac then up the stairs into the plane. I know a few Americans with mobility issues who choose to fly into Shannon Airport because they cannot safely and comfortably navigate stairs. Evidently, it is a cost issue that keeps the jetways from being used since ORK charges airlines for use of the jetways (based on time used, according to a 2004 article in the Echo).

Once you get into the airport itself, it is easy to navigate to the taxis, buses, or rental car companies.

Taxis are queued up in front and rarely is there a wait to get one. It is handy to have your address written down because the Cork accent is known for its thick charm. Depending on the day/time (surcharges for taxis on Sundays, click here for a post about taxi/hackney fees in Ireland), your trip to Cork City Centre can run you €15 to €20.

Buses include SkyLink and Bus EireannSkyLink travels between Cork City Centre and Cork International Airport every day of the year, except Christmas Day and tickets are under €4 each way. There is usually one every 30 minutes and it is only about 15 minutes drive between the two. It has two routes so choose the one that brings you closer to where you want to end up and remember that all SkyLink coaches run on a constant loop from ORK so if you miss one, there will be another. Best part is that you can ask to be let on or off the bus at any City Centre SkyLink stop (noted on the route details online). Bus Eireann serves all of Ireland’s major airports with #226 and #249 between ORK and Cork City, #249 between ORK and Kinsale, #16 and #51 between Shannon Airport and Cork City, #40 between Kerry Airport and Cork City, and numerous buses serving Dublin AirportIreland West (Knock), and Kerry Airport.

Rental Car companies include some familiar names as well some regional ones. Keep in mind that there is a €25 charge per rental from the airport. Companies at ORK include:353ArgusAvisBudgetDan DooleyDollarEnterpriseEuropcarHertzIrish CarNational/AlamoSixt, and Thrifty. There is only one car rental company in Cork City Centre, Great Island Car Rental on McCurtain Street, even though several places list ‘Cork City’ as locations they are still located outside downtown, like Thrifty and Dollarwhich are located one mile away in Farmer’s Cross or Argus which is in Wilton.

ORK has a rather large duty-free shop for when you depart. If you are flying to another EU destination, duty-free prices do not apply, but if you are flying to the States or outside the EU it is worth picking up some Guinness (half-litre cans of the good stuff), Jameson, or Bailey’s. If you are making more than one transfer on your return trip, liquid restrictions will get in the way of your options, but most European airports have duty-free shops within the security area so you can pick up goodies when transferring flights.

Kerry Airport (KIR) is located about 100 kilometers northwest of Cork International Airport (ORK). If you are flying into Kerry Airport, but want to end up on a Brittany Ferry or wish to visit Fota or Cobh, you will want to take Bus Eireann #40 between Kerry Airport and Cork City. From there, for the ferries take Bus #223 or for the Irish Rail to Fota or Cobh take Bus #205 from Patrick Street to Kent Station.

Train

The Cork City train station is near the heart of the city. Irish Rail serves passengers with routes to/from Dublin, Mallow, Cobh, Fota, Limerick, and beyond. Buses seem to be more popular, because of the cost of ticket prices perhaps. The train is ideal for going to Cobh or Fota. The #205  bus connects Kent Station with Patrick Street and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT). Bus Eireann and Iarnród Eireann team up to offer the Explorer Ticket for those wishing to wander the Republic by rail and road.

Bus

Cork City is served by Bus Eireann, SkyLink, and CityLink. Bus Eireann offers Tourist Travel Passes if you will be traveling the countryside. The main bus hub is at Parnell Street in the centre of Cork City. You are within walking distance of several of the city’s hotels or can easily take a bus to your final destination, such as Killarney, Ennis, Kinsale, and so on. City buses stop across the street next to Merchant’s Quay Shopping Centre so you can hop a more local bus to Blarney or UCC. Timetables are available for all routes and there seems to be a discount for tickets purchased online. Expressway Services are those bringing you around the country, like to Dublin, Tralee, Killarney, Shannon (including #51 to/from Shannon Airport), Waterford, Limerick, Sligo, and more. Local/Rural/Commuter buses serve the suburbs and nearby towns. City/Town routes are those staying within city limits and tend to be the least expensive tickets (they also usually work with a day pass).

SkyLink travels between Cork City Centre and Cork International Airport every day of the year, except Christmas Day and tickets are under €4 each way. There is usually one every 30 minutes and it is only about 15 minutes drive between the two. It has two routes so choose the one that brings you closer to where you want to end up and remember that all SkyLink coaches run on a constant loop from ORK so if you miss one, there will be another. Best part is that you can ask to be let on or off the bus at any City Centre SkyLink stop (noted on the route details online). CityLink offers service between Galway-Dublin-Dublin Airport, Galway-Shannon Airport, Galway-Clifden, Galway-Limerick-Cork, Galway-Limerick,  and Limerick-Cork.

Car

Driving in Cork is not as intimidating as driving in Dublin (I’ve done both). Just remember to keep left, watch traffic patterns because one-way streets are popular, and be respectful in terms of yielding in traffic circles. Maps are readily available online and in the Cork Vision Centre, ORK, and other tourism offices. The city itself is very walkable so whenever possible, park your car and explore on foot.

Parking requires payment on streets except at night and on Sundays so watch for signs. There are several public parking garages in the city. The lowest public garage hourly rate is the garage on North Main, but with its early closing time rely on it only for daytime parking needs. For overnight parking, I’ve found Q-Park on Grand Parade to be the best bargain since it’s €5 for 5:00 p.m. to 9 a.m. (overnight) or €3 for 6:00 p.m. to midnight (evening out). Keep in mind, not all garages are open seven days a week or have exits that are open in the middle of the night so be sure your need to access your vehicle matches with the available hours of the garage you choose.

Ferry

Cork Harbour is one of the four largest natural harbors in the world (along with Sydney, Halifax, and Poole). Brittany Ferries offers transport to/from Cork at the Ringaskiddy Terminal. Bus #223 travels between Cork Bus Station and Ringaskiddy.

Around Europe in One Year

Today is the one-year anniversary of my arriving in Ireland to live. It has been a challenging, exhilarating, and blissful 12 months. There are so many things I’ve learned, but one thing that surprised me a little was how many places we’ve visited while living here such a short time. Since August 2008, we’ve traveled around Ireland (West Cork, Blarney, Waterford, Dublin, Killarney, Kinsale, Midleton, Youghal, Glendalough, Ring of Kerry, Kenmare, Cobh) and to Barcelona, London, Vienna, Italy (Rome, Sorrento, Capri, Ischia), France (Brest/Bretagne, Paris), Washington D.C., and Amsterdam.

Holiday in Vienna

We recently enjoyed a five-day holiday in Vienna. Though I had heard of Vienna’s rich history in terms of music, horses, and the waltz, I was pleasantly surprised to discover their cuisine, beer, and hospitality. It was also nice to experience the politeness and courtesy of the Viennese. They earned 60% in 2006 when Readers’ Digest did a study on manners and there is even a discussion about the topic in TripAdvisor.        

Five days is a long time to enjoy a city so we were able to see everything on our wish list and even have time for a couple lazy mornings/afternoons. 
We stayed at the Hilton Vienna. Its location at the edge of Stadtpark made it very easy to take the CAT straight from the airport to just blocks from the hotel. The city’s website lists several ways to Travel From the Airport to the City Center. The trip from the Wien airport to city center is just 16 minutes.
 
I am about to mention five restaurants/cafés so I first wish to tell you that unlike some European countries, Austrians leave a gratuity or tip after the meal. Leaving 5-10% is a sign that you enjoyed your meal and service. Leaving nothing is rather insulting. Here is a brief article about the custom with a good example of a transaction. 
 
We enjoyed our first meal at Pürstner. Delicious, filling, authentic Austrian cuisine. Their garlic soup is perfection and would be great to help fend off a cold. A new standard was set that night for Wiener Schnitzel, theirs is made with tender veal (sorry, calf). A couple nights later, we dined at another Austrian restaurant, Augustinerkeller. If you are craving a maas (one litre) of dünkle (dark beer), this is the place to go!
 
For phenomenal pizza, we dined at Da Capo. A lovely spot, which to make sure you get to enjoy it’s best to make reservations. It was the best pizza I’ve had so far in Europe (disclaimer: I’ve not yet been to Italy).
 
We had three full days in Vienna, so plenty of time for activities. One day was spent going up to Shönbrunn Palace on the local train. We walked all the way to the Gloriette at the top of the palace hill, enjoyed lunch there, then walked back to the palace for a tour. 
Being a chocolate lover, it was a must to enjoy a slice of Sachertorte at the Sacher Café at the Hotel Sacher. We went twice. The first visit we enjoyed a full lunch (including Original Sachertorte for dessert), the second trip was just for another slice. Many restaurants in Vienna serve a variation of this dessert, but only the Hotel Sacher serves the Original Sachertorte. Something like 350,000 cakes are sold each year! Yes, they sell whole cakes for you to bring home with you or ship back to the States. Here are a few steps helping you through the experience so you know what to expect:
1) When you enter, you may encounter a queue that goes out the door. Be patient as you wait, they go as efficiently as they can without making anyone feel rushed. The Cafe has a few cozy rooms to it and as tables become available it is communicated to the hostess/greeter. When you reach the front of the queue, you will wait until a table is available then if you have backpacks, shopping bags, umbrellas, or coats you will be asked to check them in the coat check before being seated. The coat check is just beyond the entry to the left and it is a small charge for all your items (don’t misplace the ticket, you pay when you leave). Leaving your items here makes it easy to enjoy your dining experience because the rooms are cozy and it would take away from the elegant setting to have coats and bags all around. After your excess belongings are temporarily shed, you return to the hostess who points you toward your table. 
2) Half the seats in the café are booths the other half are tables. Though the booths look cozier, the tables do the trick and unless there are two different tables available at that time, it is considerate to take what is offered as to not hold up the staff. Remember, this is not Hard Rock Café and tourists are just another customer so be respectful. 
3) The menu has many options beyond dessert. I enjoyed the smoked salmon [open-faced] sandwich and my husband ate a delicious goulash. It was enough to balance a slice of Sachertorte and not feel too full. If you order a meal, the table is set for what you ordered and you get a tablecloth (it’s pink!). If you only have café and/or dessert, you dine on the marble table without a cloth. Orders seem to be brought on little silver trays.
4) The waitstaff do not accept your payment, there is one person who seems to roam the dining rooms helping here and there and acting as the bank for the café. 
5) Snapping photos is ok though I tried to limit the use of flash as to not distract other diners. The waitstaff are amazingly well-versed in visitor’s needs and if you are holding a camera when they approach it is perfectly fine to ask for a photo to be taken of you at your table. 
 
One day was spent just roaming the old city center. We visited St. Stephan’s Cathedral as well as some of the nearby shops. We were treated to a classical guitar performance at the cathedral.
For an afternoon snack, we stopped into Zanoni & Zanoni for ice cream. I had a scoop of the Maroni in a cup (though it was cold enough outside it wouldn’t have melted off a cone). I recognized the name ‘maroni’ from a similar word in French, ‘maron glace’ which is roast chestnuts. I love roast chestnut spread on brioche for breakfast so thought this would be equally tasty. Yummy! My husband commented it was too sweet – it is as sweet as coconut ice cream.
 
Our final full day was spent enjoying the Spanish Riding School then a leisurely walk back through Stadtpark and lunch at the hotel. I’ll admit that I had such high expectations for the Riding School performance and those expectations were not met. In hindsight, the cost of admission could have been better spent purchasing the DVD of the performance to enjoy again and again. Why do I say this? Well, don’t worry I do believe the horses are beautiful, their history is enthralling, and the feats they perform are nothing short of amazing; However, if you are not in a seat it is hard to see everything on the floor below so those purchasing standing views of the performance miss out on what does not happen right in front of their section. Here are a few suggestions to help make your experience the best possible: 
1) Photography is not permitted at all while the horses are performing. Though this is not printed on the tickets, it is said at the start of the performance. I initially misunderstood that flash photography was prohibited, but it is actually ALL photography and video. Basically, no images can be captured of the horses in action.
2) Tickets are sold in the official box office within the palace and online. The box office closes at 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Tickets are usually sold out in peak tourist seasons so plan ahead. There is a place a couple of blocks from the Riding School that sells tickets for Vienna attractions that does not close until 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays in case you’re running late. It is possible they mark the ticket price up. If you purchase tickets through your hotel concierge, a mark-up is most likely.
3) The entrance to the Riding School exists by the road between the stables and the school. There are two covered walkways on either side of the road and one has display cases with memorabilia and video, this is the side where entrances are. Enter as early as allowed so you can claim your seat. Tickets are sold in different levels. We noticed that the other side of the Riding School was not as crowded as our side, but could not find the entrance to that side. On each side of the performance area there is one row of seats behind which is a pathway to walk and behind that are what appears to be deep windowsills that house standing areas (you can sit there too, but not much of a view if seated in a standing section). There is another balcony above and a seated section at ground-level. If money is no object, buy seats in the front row of the ground-level. 
4) If you have mobility issues, check with the ticket office because the entrance we used was definitely not wheelchair accessible and would have been tough had our knees been less spry.  

5) If you are short on time or money, ask the gift shop (beside the official ticket office) what DVD region code their performance is and consider bringing that home instead. This is strongly recommended if you are on a business or romantic trip without your children as seeing the performance with kids or equestrians would be more fun. But check on the region code since some DVDs won’t play on some machines, depending on the region. If you live in the United States, you want a DVD for region 1 (or region 0 which is all regions).
Music is everywhere in Vienna (aka Wien) and we saw street musicians that no doubt were just performing on the side while perfecting their craft. It was delightful to encounter music around each corner. We saw a pianist, a school brass band, a Canandian marching band (not marching), a classical guitar group from Arizona, an Austrian accordion player, and much more. No waltzing in the streets though.
Seven photos from Vienna, Austria.  ©2009 Evin O'Keeffe

Seven photos from Vienna, Austria. ©2009 Evin O'Keeffe

Flying RyanAir

The first I had ever heard of RyanAir was when my husband read a book about it. A book is one thing, but the experience is another. Every hyperlink in this post will link to a separate, useful RyanAir page (until they change their URLs, that is). When I say separate, I mean that if I am talking about traveling with an infant and there are eight links in that paragraph, they each direct you to a separate policy within RyanAir’s site. It’s a lot to take in, but it is wise to read all of the policies pertaining to your situation.

The airline itself has so many policies and fees that I am in awe of whoever keeps it organized. The cheap fares have taxes and fees that sneak in a punch at the end, and that everything was priced á la carte. If you are only going to read one page of RyanAir’s website, read their table of fees.

Having experienced the stress not knowing the rules can bring to a traveler, I want to share what RyanAir’s site states on all their various rules, terms, and conditions pages so you don’t have to go hunting around to learn the basics about how to happily travel on this airline. Since rules change, I am linking to every related page I can find so you can find it faster. This also means that if I say something in my post and RyanAir contradicts it, trust the RyanAir site. 

Here is a list of survival tips if you are planning to fly on RyanAir…

1) BOOKING
When you make the reservation, you select whether you will check in online and/or check a piece of luggage. If you do not select the accurate options for your situation at that time, it will cost you more to do it later. Be sure you reserve your ticket in the name on your photo identificationBook your RyanAir flight with RyanAir directly (or make sure your business’ travel office/agent does so). Booking through a site, such as Expedia or the like can void your ticket. I don’t understand it, but I’ve heard of it happening. Because RyanAir is a self-proclaimed ‘point-to-point’ airline, you cannot book a connecting flight using their reservations options. 

2) ONLINE CHECK-IN
To check-in online you must have a specific form of ID. Who can check in online? Bottom line is that if you are an American citizen you probably don’t have the documentation and need to shell out the extra money to check in at the airport. Now, there is currently a way to petition for reimbursement of the check-in fee if you had to use airport check-in because you do not have the necessary EU/EEA identification. Any other reason for airport check-in does not have this refund option. More information is detailed in the section, 3b) Airport Check-In Fee Refunds.

3a) AIRPORT CHECK-IN
Airport check-in is available for a fee up to 40 minutes prior to the scheduled departure of your flight. They recommend two hours. RTE reported that RyanAir plans to do away with the airport check-in option later in 2009.

3b) AIRPORT CHECK-IN FEE REFUNDS
Getting the fee refunded…According to a page within RyanAir’s FAQs, if a passenger is unable to use online check-in solely because he or she does not posses either a valid EU/EEA passport or an EU/EEA-issued National ID Card (Guarda-issued residency certificates do NOT count), any airport check-in fee paid will be refunded upon application. An application must be requested separately when checking in and may only be available at select airports. Be sure to get receipts for your check-in fees. If you are traveling with someone who does possess the necessary paperwork to use online check-in that person’s airport check-in charge is not refundable. 

4) CARRY-ON & CHECKED LUGGAGE
RyanAir’s one carry-on rule means ONE BAG ONLY - not one carry-on and a purse or laptop. RyanAir does not offer bag checking at the gate. If you show up at the gate with two carry-on items you will probably be turned away. Leave a wee bit of extra space in your one and only carry-on bag in case you buy anything at the airport. Everything you bring with you on your trip has a related charge EXCEPT for the one carry-on item and a mobility device or children’s buggy. Other than those items, there is a fee for checking luggage, particularly excess luggage, and you must deposit the baggage at the appropriate desk no later than 40 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time of the flight. The checked baggage allowance policy details the weight and dimensions permitted. 
Whether carrying on or checking, be aware of RyanAir’s carry-on restrictions and packing guidelines. Other policies related to items you may want to travel with: Food; Parachute; Avalanche Rescue Pack; Alcoholic beverages; Life jacket; Musical instruments; Bicycle or sports equipment; Rugby balls or footballs; Wedding dresses.

5) OVERCOATS & BOARDING/SEATING
Wear your coat until you are actually on the plane in case they consider this a separate carry-on item. Passengers do not receive a seat assignment (like Southwest Airlines), just board and find a spot. They offer Priority Boarding for purchase when you book your flight.

6) INFANTS & EXPECTANT MOTHERS
New and expectant parents, I suspect traveling with a child is a true test of your patience, but particularly under these circumstances. Parents, be aware of their carriage of infants policy, which states you cannot use online check-in and any infant 8 days to 23 months must be accompanied by an adult over 16 years of age and only one such infant per one such adult (1:1 ratio). Meaning, if you have twins you need to bring someone else to travel with you and the little duo. Any infant 24 months or more must have his or her own full-fare ticket. Their infant equipment policy and separate car/booster seat policy state that one collapsable buggy (aka stroller) is permitted for free, but read the fine print  carefully. Car seats are not permitted for use on board the aircraft. If you are pregnant, feel special because they even have a policy about expectant mothers. RyanAir requires infant passengers be at least eight days old in their newborn baby policy. They prohibit an extra seat being purchased for infants. They have a page of fine print regarding unaccompanied minors.

7) PHYSICAL AND MEDICAL DISABILITIES
If you have mobility issues or special needs when traveling, review the following policies, look on their website for specific information regarding your needs, and notify RyanAir of your condition or special request.
Policies
: EC Regulation 1107/2006Assistance dogs; Portable Dialysis Machine; Post-op and travelers with medical conditions; Bringing your own oxygen (prohibited); Portable oxygen concentrator; In-flight oxygen; SyringesWheelchair or mobility scooter; RyanAir-supplied wheelchair.

8) FOOD
RyanAir does not provide meals as part of its in-flight service, but they usually have food or beverages
 available for purchase. They have information for passengers with an allergy to peanuts. They permit passengers to bring their own food so long as it stays within their carry-on food policy.

9) ITINERARY CHANGES
As with any airline, it costs to change any part of a flight itinerary. This can be more complicated if you have to change your travel insurance. It is best to read up on RyanAir’s  date/time/route change cost changing the date/time/route (this is a different page than the previous link); name change cost (only possible if no portion of the itinerary has taken place). They have specific information if you need to change your itinerary due to a death in your family.

10) EVERYTHING ELSE
There are so many policies and nuances to their service that I cannot cover everything, but hope this has given you an overview of some of the basics as well as some of the more obscure things you may wish to know. The search feature on the RyanAir site is easy to use (top left). Here are a few more links to help you find out about flight status; in-flight use of a mobile phone, PDA, or PED.

Don’t assume anything.  Slán Abhaile.