To Plan or Not to Plan… Whichever, it’s Going to Require Coffee!

So we’re trying to decide where to go next… we’ve bounced a few ideas around… Tried to figure out timing… checked on pricing… I think it’s time we get serious & getting serious requires a serious beverage & a great little place to enjoy it.

Not far from where we live is a really quaint little place called Cafe Amarti www.cafeamarti.com It’s got a casual, comfortable atmosphere, they’ve got fresh healthy food, fresh maybe-not-so-healthy-but-oh-so-delish-desserts, they serve all kinds of loose teas, some wine & beer & best of all… 49th Parallel Coffee that is from Vancouver. It’s a great place to go with a friend or two, I’ve met clients there & a lot of students go there to study. There’s a dance studio & a martial arts business next door so I’ll bet it’s where the Mommies love to go wait while their kids plié or break boards. There is even a long community table to sit at if you have a crowd. The staff are quick to serve & friendly and made delicious sandwiches for us. It was the perfect place to start planning our next travel adventure. What’s cool is the owners are a brother & sister who love to travel & have used their experiences visiting different cafes & wine bars around the world to develop their own unique menu & feel. They have excellent hours: 8 am – 10 pm, so can accommodate the breakfast bunch or the after dinner crowd.

You just never know… The ‘flood’ of 2018

There we were just going along on our Saturday, cleaning house, doing errands, doing some work… I said to my husband for the second time that day “Something smells funny downstairs…” We happen to live where a forest is our backyard so everyyyy once in awhile a mouse gets in and well, you get the idea. Down we go to check it out… I’m wearing shoes & head in to the living room, my husband, wearing socks wanders in & gasps “Hey!! It’s sopping wet down here!” And lo & behold his socks are soaked! He opens the door to the furnace & hot water tank room only to get blasted in the face with a spray of water! Because the carpet is so lovely & luxurious it was hard to see at first that there was actually an inch of water down there! We quickly called our insurance & restoration company but there was no way we could stay in the house for the next couple of nights with 8 gigantic fans, dehumidifiers running & the water turned off – no plumber till Monday.

This is how we ended up just down the road from our home in The Quality Inn & Conference Centre in Abbotsford, B. C. http://www.qualityhotelabbotsford.com/

We need to stay for 2 nights so got a suite as we both have to set up our computers and get some work done. The room is a good size with 2 decent sized little fridges, a desk, great big king bed, flat screen tv, a couch & 2 wing chairs sitting in front of a fireplace. There’s even a jacuzzi tub – it’s huge! This hotel has a pool, exercise room & conference centre. We’ve attended many events with excellent meals in the conference centre but had never stayed overnight.

There is a White Spot restaurant attached, the breakfast we ordered in was really good & arrived in only about 15 minutes. I decided to order their special Nat Bailey Coffee since it was Sunday morning 😉 it was a delicious Baileys & Amaretto coffee. My husband enjoyed his BC Sunny Start & I couldn’t finish my yummy Breakfast Quesadilla – it was so big! Something we’ve discovered staying in hotels & ordering room service – read the fine print! We often have just paid a tip to whomever brought the meal but have come to realize there is already a $5 or so delivery fee PLUS a percentage on top of that! It’s right there in black & white…

It’s great to have a room with a microwave & coffee maker etc in case of a longer stay. The only negative thing we noticed was that there were the tiniest shampoo & conditioner EVER. There are two of us and there’s no way there is enough there for us both. Having said that, I’m sure we can call down for more.

There is quite a lot to do nearby for those who are travellers from elsewhere, including coffee shops, spas, yoga studios, a grocery store, Sushi restaurant, liquor store, fast foods restaurants & a place to go drive mini racecars, play on 3 different mini golf courses, play tons of video games, use the batting cages & even a soccer scoring net to work on your shots.

The hotel is conveniently located right off Highway 1 but luckily, we couldn’t hear any road noise from our room. So far a decent stay less than five minutes from home. I like that they had a QR Code in the Guest Services book that shows you all that is local and once you’ve scanned it you can take all the info with you. A nice touch. There are also menus for local, pizza and Chinese restaurants etc.

36 Hours in Ireland

NrothernIrelandCoastline

I arrived in #Dublin, the capital & largest city of #Ireland with a population of more than 1M, with only 36 hours to explore. I wasn’t sure what to expect… despite what many people say the service by Ryanair  was excellent, departing & arriving as scheduled. Landing at Dublin Airport, I proceed to get a taxi to downtown Dublin. The taxi driver was extremely chatty & told me that he had a connection with Canada & in fact his sister lives in #Chilliwack (British Columbia, Canada) – my wife’s hometown! He advised me of the things to do while in Dublin, how to use public transport, I thought this very helpful. When I arrived at the Ashling Hotel the driver asked me for 50 Euros in cash. I asked to pay by Visa, he declined saying that no taxis will take Visas in Ireland… I thought it was odd, but had cash so paid the driver what he asked. **As a side note: on the return trip from the Ashling Hotel to the airport, I also had a very friendly, former civil servant taxi driver & when we arrived at the airport he asked for 25 Euros… he said paying by Visa was no problem… I explained the issue with the first taxi driver when I had arrived to which he shook his head disdainfully.

The Ashling Hotel was a grand old #hotel, it was clean, had that antique feel & the service was excellent. I was informed about a tourist spot named Temple Bar, where all the #restaurants, #pubs & #entertainment can be found. Since the following day would be a packed day including a trip to #Belfast, I thought I would venture out, that very day to Temple Bar. The concierge told me to catch the public tram just yards away from the hotel, that would take me to downtown Dublin. I paid 3.7 Euros for a return ticket, hopped aboard a packed tram to downtown & jumped off the tram at the third stop. I walked across the Liffey River for the first time & entered Temple Bar. It reminded me of a hustling, bustling downtown Amsterdam, with live music in the cobblestone streets – every bar & pub overflowing with very happy people. Enjoying a quick meal, I returned to the hotel to get organized for the Belfast trip in the morning.

Murals3

A Day Tour of Belfast
Getting up at 6 am, I headed to the rendezvous point at the Gresham Hotel (23 O’Connell Street) for the 7 am pick up. I was about to embark on a day tour of Belfast including a visit to Giants Causeway, and The Game of Thrones filming locations with the Wild Rover Tours Company. Once aboard the 60 seat luxury coach, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a retired private school teacher. As we were to travel a number of hours, we got to share a bit of each other’s lives, it was fascinating to hear of he and his wife’s travel exploits around the world, and about their home city of Perth, Australia. As we departed Dublin, the guide explained about the Millennium Monument, The Spire of Dublin located across the River Liffey. Dubliners were disappointed as the big celebration planned for the Millennium that was to include the monument did not happen as the monument wasn’t finished until 3 years later. It has been given many names (some I cannot repeat!) but one popular name that is frequently used is the ‘Stiletto in the Ghetto’. We travelled for about 2.5 hours, heading to Belfast. We were given the option of either taking a Black Cab Taxi Political Tour or visiting the iconic Titanic Museum. I opted for the Black Cab Taxi Tour. We were dropped at a nearby shopping mall, grabbed a tea & a sandwich, then in groups of 5, were piled in to a series of Black Cabs. My fellow travellers included a couple from Germany & students from Toronto, Canada. The taxi driver was full of vim & vigor & couldn’t wait to tell us about the history of Belfast, and in particular, the division of Catholic & Protestant communities that still exists today.

BattleOfTheFalls

Our first stop, was called Battle of the Falls, where the famous murals of history are all displayed on the Catholic side of the Peace Wall. We got out of the cab in the pouring rain, were given umbrellas & marched along the Road of Murals with our tour guide in tow. Passionately, he explained about the brutal violence over 30 years that took place in the streets of Belfast, with thousands of people losing their lives. This included his own personal trauma during the troubles. We spent about 80% of our time on the Catholic side & the remaining on the Protestant side. When we stopped at the gates that divided the two communities it struck home to me, that the violence and the troubles were still very real.

PeaceWall

Dubbed ‘The Troubles’ – Northern Ireland 1968-1998
The memory of a 30 year stretch of violence in Belfast is still very apparent. The Catholic/Nationalist population together with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was in a brutal conflict with Protestant led RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), UDR (Ulster Defense Regiment) and the British Army. The aim by the IRA was to achieve a United Ireland by removing British rule. Violence in the streets was common between Unionist/Loyalist Protestant population and minority Catholic/Nationalists, including; rioting, house burnings, shootings & bombings.

Our taxi driver, Martin May, with Black Cab Tours, said “There were troubles on both sides. I will never forget the death squads (RUC/UDR) as they were known, who came & simply hunted Catholics to kill. On the other side, I recall the IRA getting information that leaders within the Protestant groups were enjoying a meal at a local fish & chip shop. They planted a bomb & blew it & everyone in it up. No one survived. They later found out the leaders had already left & innocent people were killed. The conflict in Belfast/Northern Ireland was officially ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. 3,500 people lost their lives & 50,000 were injured over the thirty year conflict.When you enter Belfast, in particular along the Peace Wall, it is evident that there are many reminders of the conflict however even today the main gates between the two religious groups are locked every night at 6:30pm & all day Sundays.

RopeBridge

Back on the coach, we then departed Belfast for Carrick-A-Rede and Larrybane, about a 40 minute drive away. When we arrived at this location, we were told it had become extremely famous throughout the world as it was a major film location for The Game of Thrones (since I was not a current fan of the show, it was difficult to follow all of the characters that were discussed & what they had done here). It also struck me when I saw a National Trust logo, that we were in Northern Ireland under British control. Before we disembarked the coach, we were reminded that currency would now be in pounds at the gift shop, not in Euros. The tour guide explained that the walk along the cliff path would be about 2 kms & that we had an hour in total before the coach would depart. Out in the rain, I headed to the famous rope bridge which was featured in The Game of Thrones. About a hundred people ventured along the cliff path with me, but only 8 people at a time were allowed on the rope bridge. The bridge named Carrick-A-Rede, allowed you to cross over to Carrick Island. The bridge was approximately 100 feet in the air, and in the name (Scottish Gaelic) means The Rock in the Road. It has been used for over 350 years by fisherman gaining access to migrating salmon. It was awful weather, pouring with rain & very windy, so I stopped at the gift shop for another quick hot tea & warm up before boarding the coach. The tour guide, who was extremely entertaining, explained to us that on a good day you could see Scotland as it was only 13 miles away from Carrick-A-Rede.

BasaltColumns2Wikipedia

Basalt Columns – photo Wikipedia

We then headed off to Giants Causeway, which was about a 40 minute journey. The guide explained that you could walk to the Causeway (about 2 kms), you could ride in a shuttle for 1 pound or you can visit the pub, sit by the fire & enjoy a beer (or two!) before venturing out to the Causeway. Almost everyone headed to the pub! After my own liquid refreshment, I headed out once again into the rain & wind, to the shuttle pick-up point. Disappointingly, the only ‘ride’ that stood in front of me was a golf cart full of garbage. It looked like another 2 km walk down the cliff path would be inevitable. The Giants Causeway is a World Heritage Site with an area of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The Causeway is located in Country Antrim, on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, 5 kms from a town called Bushmills. In 2005, the Giants Causeway was named as the 4th Greatest Natural Wonder in the United Kingdom. All owned & managed by the National Trust, it remains as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Once again, sopping wet, I headed back to the coach, for a three hour return trip to Dublin, in Southern Ireland. Interestingly, there is no border between Northern & Southern Ireland, making it quite difficult to distinguish between the two, however, as noted, the currency did change. On the return trip, just outside of Belfast, we passed through the small village of Ballymena, famous for being the hometown of actor, Liam Neeson.

See our videos:

 

Happy New Year!

And just like that, it’s 2018 . . . Make the best of this bright, blank slate of a new year. Make goals & break them. Set your sights high & keep them there. Do something inspiring. Put out your hand to help a stranger. Be kind. Do your best. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Stay in touch with your family, even a text is better than nothing. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today UNLESS it means putting off doing the laundry to play with grandsons. . . always do that. Find a hobby & enjoy every minute spent doing it.

For God’s sake, T. R. A. V. E. L. See the world, learn about others’ way of life, walk a mile in their shoes, absorb their history. . . If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with the love of your life, tell them, tell them every day, multiple times a day & give all of yourself to them. . . Be their partner, their cheerleader, their sounding board. . . Love them through everything. We’re not promised tomorrow. Not any of us. Live today the best way you know how. Make it your best year yet.

Every. Last. Minute.

Photos by myreturnticket.ca on News Year’s Eve Day, December 31, 2017 #travel #winterwonderland #snow #icy #abbotsford #britishcolumbia #canada #fraservalley #landscape #nature #photography #mountains