Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival

One of my favorite things to do in the summer in Boston is to check out the sand sculptures at the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival. This weekend festival is held each year in July. In 2022, the 18th annual festival was held Friday July 22nd thru Sunday July 24th.

Revere Beach – America’s First Public Beach

Before we talk about the sand sculpting festival, I’d like to go into the history of the beach that the festival takes place at, Revere Beach.

When the pilgrims came to America, they settled in Massachusetts so it’s not at all surprising that Massachusetts is home of many firsts. Revere Beach has the honor of being the first public beach in America.

Located just 5 miles north of the city of Boston, this crescent shaped coastline along the Atlantic Ocean was the perfect spot for a public beach. In 1896, three miles of private land along the beach was given to the Metropolitan Park Commission and landscape designer Charles Eliot was chosen to design America’s first public beach. Eliot trained under famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, known for designing New York City’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace.

On July 12, 1896, Revere Beach opened as the first public beach in America. On Opening day 45,000 people came to the beach. The beach became quite the vacation destination, complete with restaurants, ballrooms, roller skating rinks and even a few roller coasters including the Cyclone which as the tallest wooden coaster ever built when it opened in 1925.

But the popularity of Revere Beach didn’t last and in the 1950s, less people were coming to the beach, and everything there started to go downhill. Then the infamous Blizzard of 1978 destroyed much of the structures that remained at this once popular vacation destination. In the 1990s, the city began to revitalize the beach and while it isn’t a popular vacation destination like it was at the turn of the century, it has grown in popularity among locals in the Boston area. For people like me who live in the city of Boston and do not have access to a car, it’s a great beach to visit as there are not just one but two stops on the subway line just across the street from the beach. In recent years, there have been more developments opening near the beach including apartments, condos, restaurants and even a hotel.

In 2001, the Revere Beach Partnership was formed to help bring more people to the beach. The biggest event of the year held by the Revere Beach Partnership is the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival held each July.

As the largest sand sculpting contest in New England, the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival draws sculptors from around the world. This year’s festival featured sculptors from the US, Canada, Poland, Belgium, Netherlands and Japan.

The festival has taken place each July since 2004, with the exception of 2020 when like everything else it was cancelled due to covid. In 2021, it was held later than normal in the beginning of August due to uncertainty earlier in the year on whether they would have the festival that year or not. As of 2022, it was back to normal like so many other things in life.

The festival not only features the sand sculptures, but there are also food trucks and vendors, some of which give out free samples, like Yasso, which gave out free frozen yogurt treats. On a day where the temperature reached the high 90s, the free frozen yogurt was very much welcomed. There are also a couple of small carnival rides, live entertainment and on the Saturday night, they have a fireworks show. What better way to spend a summer night than watching fireworks on the beach!

If you visit on the Friday or Saturday, you are able to see the sculptors at work finishing up their sand sculptures which is always interesting to see. I usually attend on the Saturday for this reason, I really enjoy seeing these talented people at work! This year I attended on the Sunday, and it was a nice experience to see the fully finished sculptures and see which ones won the competition. Here are some of the winners below:

Each year there is a theme for the centerpiece of the festival, which isn’t part of the actual competition. This year it was a great theme for a travel loving person like me! The theme was Wonders of the World! It was fun to look at the sculptures and try and count the number of world wonders included! How many can you spot?

The details in these sand sculptures are just amazing, it takes the sculptors hours over multiple days to create these beautiful sculptures. Some sculptures are sponsored and are a great way to advertise your company. Yasso, who I mentioned earlier gave out free frozen yogurt treats, had a sculpture sponsored as did the King Tut exhibit which is currently taking place in Boston now thru October 2nd.

The weekend of the Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival, I was reeling from a long week of dealing with an injured cat so that being said, my favorite sculpture of the festival was the Cats Mew as it reminded me of my poor hurt little cat Indy who I had left at home alone for a few hours for the first time in days. Luckily, he is fully healed and back to his normal self, my wallet not so much though.

The Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival takes place over a weekend in the latter part of July each year, usually somewhere close to the 20th of the month. Keep an eye on the website for future year’s dates. It’s definitely worth checking out if you live in or are visiting the Boston area. If you are visiting Boston it would make for a nice break from the busy city for the morning or afternoon. If coming from the city, I highly recommend taking the subway, the Blue Line (which just so happens to be the line with the least number of issues) goes directly from downtown via the Government Center, State and Aquarium stops to the beach which you can get off at either the Revere Beach (this is closest to the sand sculptures), or Wonderland stops. With all the new developments in the area, there seems to be less parking than in the past and the beach traffic is definitely something that is worth avoiding if possible.

Who’s planning to check out this amazing festival next year?

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Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Gold Statues

Walt Disney World Celebrated its 50th Anniversary on October 1, 2021. As part of the 18-month long celebration, they have placed gold statues of the “Fab 50” Disney characters around all four Walt Disney World theme parks.

It’s a fun challenge to find all of the statues while visiting the parks. If you aren’t heading to the parks or are looking for a cheat sheet, this post will describe where you can find each statue in the four parks. The gold statues in Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot are mostly all in a central area and easy to spot. In the Magic Kingdom, they are a bit more spread out and I won’t lie there were a couple I had a bit of a difficult time locating.

Another thing to make note of, it’s 50 Disney characters, not 50 gold statues as some of the statues feature more than one character.

Animal Kingdom

We’ll start our search for gold statues at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. These are fairly easy to find. When you walk into the park head towards the Tree of Life. As you walk in front of the Tree of Life from one side to the other, you will see three sets of statues featuring a total of 7 of the Fab 50 Disney Characters. Keeping with the theme of Animal Kingdom, all of these statues are of Disney characters from movies involving animals.

1-2: Bambi and Thumper

3-4: Nemo and Dory

5-7: Simba, Timon and Pumba

Epcot

Heading over to Epcot, there are 5 sets of gold statues totaling 9 of the Fab 50 Disney Characters. If you walk around the construction in Future World and arrive at the center walkway leading towards World Showcase Lagoon. You will come to the first gold statue on the left-hand side by the walkway that leads you towards Test Track. Here you will find Epcot’s own Figment!

8: Figment

The remaining statues are located at the end of the center walkway just in front of the World Showcase Lagoon.

9-10: Miguel and Dante

11-12: Olaf and Bruni

13-14: Pua and Heihei

15-16: Rockett Racoon and Baby Groot

Hollywood Studios

At Hollywood Studios, there are 6 sets of gold statues totaling another 9 of the Fab 50 Disney Characters. It just so happens, what I consider the most impressive gold statue is located here at Hollywood Studios. The statues in Hollywood Studios are from popular Disney and Star Wars movies. The statues are all somewhat close to each other in two locations.

Walking into the park towards the Chinese Theater on the right-hand side in the grass in front of the Hollywood Brown Derby are half of the statues. My favorite is the one of Joe Gardner from Soul. I don’t know what it is about this gold statue, but I absolutely love it!

17: Joe Gardner

18-19: Flounder and Sebastian

20-21: Bo Peep and Woody

On the grassy area on the left side of the walkway is where you will find the remaining gold statues in Hollywood Studios. You will need to walk around the trees, as the statues are located around the area on all sides.

22-23: BB-8 and R2-D2

24: Edna Mode

25: Frozone

Magic Kingdom

Being that the Fab 50 Gold Statues are in honor of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Magic Kingdom, the remaining half of the gold statues are located right here to celebrate the 50th!

These 25 are a bit more spread out thru the park and there are a few that I will admit were quite difficult to locate. I was literally searching in rainstorm (and we all know those Florida rains aren’t light!) for one of them! More on that one later.

The first gold statue is located just inside the park in the center at the head of Main Street USA by the flagpole and the bench with Roy Disney and Minnie Mouse. I found it a bit odd that there was just one statue located here, seems like a great spot to put a few of them.

26-27: Lady and the Tramp

From there head up Main Street towards the castle. In front of the castle around the Walt and Mickey statue is where you will find the classic Disney characters like Mickey Mouse and his main friends that we all know and love:

28: Mickey Mouse

29: Minnie Mouse

30: Goofy

31: Pluto

32: Daisy Duck

33: My personal favorite Disney character, Donald Duck

34-35: Chip and Dale

When facing the castle, if you look in the turret on the right, you will find Gus and Jaq from Cinderella on the wall in the form of a gold plaque. This was one that I had a bit of trouble finding.

36-37: Gus and Jaq

Heading to the right towards Tomorrowland not far from the popcorn stand, you will find the next gold statue.

38-39: Dumbo and Timothy

In Tomorrowland on the infamous purple wall that is between Monsters Inc. and Tomorrowland Terrace, you will find that crazy character, Stitch!

40: Stitch

Walk from Tomorrowland into Fantasyland where you will find 4 gold statues. Located in front of the Tea Cups you will find two Alice and Wonderland themed gold statues.

41: Cheshire Cat

42: Mad Hatter

Continue walking thru Fantasyland. Located in front of the entrance into the newer part of Fantasyland just behind the Carousel, you will find two statues featuring three Fab 50 Disney Characters.

43: Pinocchio

44-45: Lumiere and Cogsworth

From here, walk back thru the castle. Once thru the castle, stay towards the right-hand side, keep your eyes peeled to the trees after you pass the walkway to Liberty Square. Here you will find the hardest to spot gold statue, it’s definitely on the smaller side. I seriously was walking back and forth in a heavy rain trying to find it. Hopefully it’s easier for you to find!

46: Tinkerbell

Along the walkway to Adventureland, you will find the next gold statue featuring two characters.

47-48: Pooh and Piglet

Another somewhat difficult gold statue to spot is the one that is right as you are entering Adventureland. As you enter, make sure to look up at the sign.

49: Abu

And last but definitely not least, on the wall just after Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland, you will find that infamous Florida bird….

50: Orange Bird

And there you have it, all Fab 50 Gold Statue Characters for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. Have you tried to find them yet? If so, have you found them all?

The 50th Anniversary celebration will last 18 months thru March 2023 so you still have some time left to try and find all 50 characters.

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Exploring Ireland – Blarney, Waterford and Kilkenny

After a day of driving the Ring of Kerry and a night spent in Killarney, we started heading east and making our way back to Dublin. Our first stop was in the town of Blarney, home to Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

The Blarney Castle that still stands today was built in 1446 and it’s the third castle on this site, with the first one dating back to the 10th century. It was built by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster and built into the castle is the Blarney Stone. While the castle itself is a site to see, it’s the Blarney Stone that makes this castle so unique to the countless other castles in Ireland.

The origins of the Blarney Stone are not known for sure, but they all have Cormac McCarthy in common. One such legend involves McCarthy being led to the stone by a goddess when he had a serious court case. Another legend says the stone was gifted to McCarthy by Scotland when he helped them defeat the English in the Battle of Bannockburn. Regardless of the origins of the Blarney Stone, people from all over the world have visited Blarney Castle to kiss this stone for hundreds of years.

Blarney Castle

Legend states that kissing the stone will bring you the gift of gab. Kissing the stone is quite the process, first it involves walking up to the top of the castle. The stairs up are narrow at points and if you are one who isn’t a fan of heights, the closer you get to the top, the harder it may be for you. Then there is the whole, having to lay on your back and lean your head backwards to kiss the stone. While the walk up and the height didn’t bother me much, I feel very uncomfortable leaning my head backwards, sounds crazy, but it makes me dizzy. If you’ve read my post on the Cliffs of Moher you know I have the weakest stomach ever, so of course moving my head a different way would lead to dizziness. It’s a shame because as a very introverted person, I could probably use that “gift of gab”, it would have come in very handy in all the interviews I had in my recent job search, but hey I guess I did ok without it.

Whether you will be kissing the Blarney Stone or not, it’s definitely worth it to visit the castle and walk around inside. I mean it’s been there since the 1400s, who wouldn’t want to explore something that old.

One of the great things about walking to the top of the castle, were the views of the surrounding area. The views were so amazing that had I kissed the Blarney stone, I’m pretty sure the views would still have been the highlight of getting to the top.

As much as I loved visiting the castle and learning it’s history, I could have spent all day exploring and relaxing in the grounds and gardens of the Blarney Castle. My trip to Ireland was filled with beautiful dry sunny spring weather, definitely not the cool, rainy weather I had envisioned in Ireland. The day I spent in Blarney was definitely the most perfect spring weather day.

The grounds were a beautiful spot to walk, with many trails leading you past rivers, thru nature and by the beautiful gardens. From spring favorite flowers to fern gardens, tropical gardens with palm trees (yes there are palm trees in Ireland) to even a poison garden. After taking a short walk around the grounds, I grabbed a sandwich and a Baileys Coffee at the onsite snack bar and just sat at a table by the river and enjoyed the views.

After visiting Blarney Castle and Gardens, make sure to visit the nearby Blarney Woolen Mills. It’s the perfect spot to grab some Irish made gifts for those at home and for yourself. I mean, who can leave Ireland without purchasing and Irish sweater? After some shopping, we were off to the next stop…

Waterford

Waterford Ireland

Not only is Waterford the oldest city in Ireland, but it also happened to be the city that our tour guide was from. As enthusiastic as she was about all the other stops on the tour, she was even more enthusiastic about visiting her hometown and you could tell it held a special place in her heart.

This waterfront city dates back a thousand years and located in the city center are many historic Viking attractions to explore this town’s long history. We stayed at the Granville Hotel for the night which is located right in the city center and had beautiful views (see above) of the waterfront. At night the boats sails were lit up and I almost felt like I was watching a stationary Electrical Water Pageant like the one at Disney World. The Granville Hotel itself has a historic past, dating back to the 1700s, it was the birthplace of the man responsible for the flag of Ireland, Thomas Francis Meagher. Over the years, the hotel was host to many famous people and we left Waterford the next morning wondering if Prince Charles and Camilla might be staying there the next night as they were due in Waterford a couple of hours after we started making our way back to Dublin.

When hearing the name Waterford, the crystal of the same name may come to mind and it is in fact from Waterford, Ireland. From the New Years Eve ball in New York City’s Time Square to chandeliers in many famous buildings around the world, such as Windsor Castle, Waterford Crystal is known as some of the finest crystal in the world. The company has been around since 1783 when it was started as Waterford Glassworks by the Penrose brothers. While currently the majority of Waterford Crystal is produced outside of Ireland, they do have a visitor center in Waterford where you can take a factory tour and visit the retail store, which houses the largest collection of Waterford Crystal in the world.

If you happen to visit the retail store, feel free to pick up this beauty pictured below for me, it’s only $40,000 😉

Waterford Crystal

My favorite part of being in Waterford and one of the highlights of my week’s tour of Ireland took place that evening. We headed out to an old local pub for an evening of drinks and live music from a local musician who was friends with our tour guide.

The pub night took place at Jack Meades Pub, located a few miles outside the city center. Located under an old stone bridge, they like to say it’s “Ireland’s only flyover pub”. The pub has been around since 1705 and it’s been owned by generations of the same family since 1857. A family owned, old pub? Definitely my kind of place! I loved all the little historic touches in the place, like the first liquor license above the door…

Jack Meades Pub

And the old bar when you walk in was the perfect spot for a photo op! My friend saw the picture and asked if I got to pour my own beer. 😂

Behind the bar at Jack Meades

Once we finished our photo op behind the bar, we headed upstairs for an evening of drinks and great live music. The bar upstairs used to be the living quarters back in the day for the family that owns Jack Meades. The live music was great, the performer, I believe his name was Tom, has traveled and performed at many Irish pubs in the US. He went around the room in between songs and asked were everyone was from. As some of you may know I live in South Boston neighborhood of Boston, a very big Irish community. When I said I was from South Boston, he said, “You’re from Southie!” So great to hear the nickname of my neighborhood while being across the Atlantic in Ireland. He even mentioned a few local pubs that he had performed at in South Boston.

Live Music at Jack Meades

Kilkenny

After a fun evening in Waterford, we were off for our final stop on the tour before arriving back in Dublin. That final stop was the medieval city of Kilkenny.

One of the top sites in Kilkenny is definitely the Kilkenny Castle. Built in the 12th century after the Norman invasion of Ireland, the castle was eventually bought by the powerful Butler family and was owned by them until they sold it to the city of Kilkenny in 1967. Crazy to think that the castle stayed in the hands of the same family for hundreds of years.

Due to the timing of our quick visit to Kilkenny, we did not have enough time to take a tour of the castle, so I just walked around the gardens which are definitely worth exploring. From the gardens, there are steps down to the river where there is a long walkway for a beautiful walk along the river where I saw many people walking with their morning coffee or walking their dogs.

Kilkenny Castle Gardens

As we were arriving at Kilkenny, we were told the story of the Kilkenny Cats. As legend has it, there were once two cats who were involved in a ferocious battle. The cats are a symbol of the tenacity and fighting spirit of Kilkenny. While I was there, there was an art installation of cats throughout the city. As a huge cat lover, I was very excited to see these.

Seeing the cats was a great way to end the trip thru Ireland before heading back to Dublin for a visit to the Guinness Storehouse before heading back to the US the following morning.

My trip to Ireland was 22 months later than planned, but it was well worth the wait. I hope you enjoyed my Exploring Ireland posts, be sure to check out the other posts on the rest of my trip. Beer and Whiskey in Dublin, Weekend in Dublin, Galway and Cliffs of Moher and Ring of Kerry. If you have the chance to visit Ireland, take it, the country was more beautiful than I imagined.

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Exploring Ireland – Ring of Kerry

After spending a weekend in Dublin and a day exploring Galway and the Cliffs of Moher, it was time to take a ride along the Ring of Kerry. Whenever I thought of Ireland, I pictured green countryside with rolling hills and coastal views of the Atlantic Ocean. On the Ring of Kerry, you will experience all of that. The Ring of Kerry is a 111-mile circular route in County Kerry in the southwest portion of Ireland which features many beautiful sites and towns. There are many different routes you can take and to see the many stops along the way. We started out from our hotel in Ennis and ended in Killarney and saw many of the Ring of Kerry highlights on a full day’s drive.

Adare Thatched Cottage

Before heading out on the Ring of Kerry, we stopped in the village of Adare. In the 1830s, thatched cottages became a popular home choice in Adare due to the cheap and locally sourced materials to build these homes. Thatching a roof became a trade that was passed down thru the generations from father to son. The thatched cottages are beautiful and look like something out of a fairy tale. There are many that you can stay in while visiting the area.

Killorglin

After leaving Adare, we drove thru the town of Killorglin. This town is known for quite the interesting festival, Puck Fair. Held each year on August 10-12, the centerpiece of this fair is a goat. On the first day of the festival, a goat is brought down from the mountains and is crowned King Puck. The oddest thing about this festival to me is that the goat is crowned King by the Queen of Puck, which is a normally a local school aged girl. The goat is King Puck for the three days of the festival and then at the end of the festival the goat is brought back to the mountains.

The Puck Fair has been going on for centuries and there are many theories as to its origins. From a fruitful harvest celebration where Puck serves as the pagan symbol of fertility to recognition for a goat, “Puck”, who broke away from his herd in the mountains to warn the town of approaching danger. Regardless of the origin of the fair, it’s definitely a one of the kind festival that would be worthy to check out if you are in the area in August.

Kerry Bog Village

The Kerry Bog Village is the perfect stop along the Ring of Kerry to explore a bit of history of this area of Ireland. At the Kerry Bog Village, you can step back in time to see how the Irish lived in the 19th century. Don’t pass this place by if you are like me and love historic tourist spots like this. It’s always great to have a physical depiction of how life was to truly understand the history of a place.

Take a walk thru the thatched houses to see how the Irish lived during this time. There is also old farm equipment and other historic items from the time period on the site. And if you are like me and love animals, you are in luck! From baby goats to Irish Wolfhounds, there are many animals to see at Kerry Bog Village. I could have spent hours with these animals! These would be just the first of many animals encountered along the Ring of Kerry that day.

Irish Wolfhound

And not to be missed are the Kerry Bog Ponies! These ponies are local to the area, originally living in the peat bogs of County Kerry. The have a low weight-to-height ratio and are absolutely adorable!

Kerry Bog Pony

If you need a bite to eat or a beverage, The Red Fox Bar & Restaurant is located onsite. This traditional pub is the perfect spot to grab an Irish Coffee or a Bailey’s Coffee to give you some energy to start your drive of the Ring of Kerry off. Also located inside is a gift shop.

Wild Atlantic Way

A portion of the Ring of Kerry goes along the Wild Atlantic Way. This 1600-mile route spans the western coast of Ireland and features gorgeous views along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, including such sites as Cliffs of Moher. The Wild Atlantic Way can take you weeks to explore in its entirety, so when short on time, it’s great to get a taste of it along the Ring of Kerry.

Mountain Stage Viewpoint

Our next stop on the Ring of Kerry was right on the Wild Atlantic Way at the Mountain Stage Viewpoint. This viewpoint features views of Rossbeigh Beach and Dingle Bay. Photos from this viewpoint don’t even do it justice. It was absolutely stunning, the type of place I could sit for hours and contemplate life while staring out at the ocean.

Waterville

With so many coastal spots along the Ring of Kerry, it’s surprising that there is just one seafront village along the route. This distinction belongs to the village of Waterville. It’s a great spot to stop for a bite to eat with its many cafes and pubs. There are many activities you can enjoy in Waterville, from hiking to fishing to cycling to golfing and even surfing, making it a perfect spot for the active traveler. Waterville was an annual vacation spot of actor Charlie Chaplin and there is a statue along the water in his memory.

Moll’s Gap and Ladies View

Making our way closer to Killarney we came across some of the most stunning views along the Ring of Kerry. Moll’s Gap is named after Moll Kissane who lived in the area and was famous for her strong alcohol called poitin (pronounced put-cheen) which is distilled in a small pot and is made from potatoes. At Moll’s Gap, you can see Ireland’s tallest mountain, Carrountoohill and the Gap of Dunloe.

Shortly after Moll’s Gap, you will come to Ladies View. From this viewpoint you can see the Lakes of Killarney. In my opinion this was the most beautiful view along the Ring of Kerry that we saw that day. This viewpoint was named Ladies View after a royal visit from Queen Victoria in 1861. During this visit, the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting loved this view so much that Ireland named the viewpoint after them.

Killarney National Park

We finally arrived in the town of Killarney where we were staying for the evening. Shortly after checking into our hotel, we went for a Jaunting Car ride in Killarney National Park.

A jaunting car is a two wheeled carriage led by one horse with a seat up front for the driver and seats in the back for passengers. Jaunting cars were a popular mode of transportation in Ireland dating back to the early 1800s. The carriages reminded me of what you would see in Amish country in Pennsylvania. Seeing the National Park via a jaunting car is definitely a unique experience that is not to be missed.

Of course, the jaunting car ride will only cover a fraction of this 26,000-acre park which has the distinction of being named Ireland’s first national park. If you have more time to explore the park, I recommend you visit the following sites:

  • Torc Waterfall – 66 foot high cascade waterfall
  • Ross Castle – 15th century tower house
  • Muckross House and Gardens – 19th century Victorian mansion
  • Muckross Abbey – dates back to 1448
  • Hike one of the many trails in the park
  • Kayak or canoe on the lake
  • View wildlife like the red deer

Animals Along the Ring of Kerry

Not only were there animal sightings at the Kerry Bog Village and Killarney National Park, but all along the Ring of Kerry, there were many opportunities to see animals grazing in the fields or even in the road. As you can probably imagine, sheep are quite common along the Ring of Kerry. You may even notice that the sheep have a color marking on them. These markings serve different uses. One of the main uses is that as the sheep from different farms graze together in the same field, farmers will mark each of their sheep a certain color to distinguish them from another farm’s sheep. They also mark the female and male sheep with different colors.

But the sheep would not be the only animals that we saw. For some reason when I travel there is always some form of animal holding up traffic. I must admit, Ireland wins for cutest animal traffic of all the places I’ve visited.

Beauty of the Ring of Kerry

All along the Ring of Kerry, you will see the many features both natural and manmade that make Ireland the beautiful country we all dream of. From stone forts and stone bridges to rolling green countryside, it truly was the type of Ireland day I dreamed of.

The Ring of Kerry is not to be missed when visiting Ireland. If time allows, take it slow and appreciate all the beauty this wonderful circular drive thru County Kerry has to offer.

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Exploring Ireland – Heading West to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher

After spending a weekend in Dublin, it was time to head out of the city to explore more of this beautiful country of Ireland. We headed west while be told so many wonderful stories from our tour guide about her home country of Ireland. Her personal stories brought the country more to life and made the bus ride go by fairly quickly. Our first stop for the day was in the city of Galway.

Galway

Galway

Located on the west coast of Ireland, Galway got its start as a small fishing village and later became a walled town in 1232. By the 1400s, it became an important seaport for trade with other European countries. With the presence of new seaports on the eastern side of Ireland, the trade business in Galway declined beginning in the 1600s.

Today Galway is thriving again as a popular destination full of shops and pubs and plenty of festivals to enjoy throughout the year.

We arrived in Galway and our first stop was Eyre Square. In Eyre Square there are a couple of interesting things to see. First is the Browne Doorway, which dates back to the 1600s. This doorway came from the Browne’s family home on Abbeygate street in Galway. It represents the architecture of the period and displays the two coats of arms of the families that were joined in marriage. They just don’t make doors like this today.

Browne Doorway in Eyre Square Galway

Also located in Eyre Square are flags with the family crests of the 14 original merchant families in Galway, including the Browne Family.

Family Crest Flags in Eyre Square

An interesting tidbit on Eyre Square, it is also known as John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in memory of the US President who visited Galway in 1963 on his last trip before his assassination. As a fellow Boston resident with and Irish background like John F. Kennedy, I love to see that he is memorialized outside of the United States.

As we arrived in Galway around lunch time, I was on the search for a pub for some lunch and a beverage (I was on vacation, so why not?) I walked into one pub and knew it was the best spot for lunch for me when I looked to the right as I walked in and saw police and fire badges from cities and towns in Massachusetts! I settled in for a delicious sandwich and a Baileys Coffee, I had many of these during my trip to Ireland, they were so creamy and delicious!

After lunch we took a walk thru town to check out some of the shops. Galway was such a beautiful spot to walk around and explore and there were so many people out and about which was so nice to see.

One of the things I enjoyed seeing as I was walking around Galway was the local street art. I especially enjoyed the Puffin street art. Being on the west coast of Ireland, puffins are seen off the coast of Galway. I love puffins, but sadly did not see any on my trip.

Although it was a short trip to Galway, it was a nice overview of this beautiful city. But I was so looking forward to the next stop, the Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

I have been dreaming of visiting the Cliffs of Moher for as long as I can remember. To me there is nothing more beautiful than the ocean and if you throw in some massive cliffs as well, I’m in heaven!

Of course, the excitement of finally being on my way to see this amazing spot was foreshadowed by some awful motion sickness. The road there had lots of curves, so make sure to prepare if you are a fellow motion sickness sufferer. Although it was a rough ride for me, the views along the way were stunning and I was very grateful when we made a stop to get out and take some photos, I definitely needed some time in the fresh air.

After the short break in the fresh air, I was able to handle the remainder of the ride. And when we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher, it surpassed my expectations on how beautiful it was, so I will say the motion sickness was worth it to see this beautiful coastal spot in Ireland.

The Cliffs of Moher tower over the Atlantic Ocean along the Wild Atlantic Way. With its location on the coast, the weather can be quite unpredictable. It could be foggy one minute and then bright and sunny the next or they can have fog for quite a while which if you have limited time, could ruin your trip to the Cliffs of Moher. I visited late afternoon and was blessed with partly sunny weather, but they did have quite a foggy morning earlier that day. One thing you can definitely count on weather-wise at the cliffs is wind! It is the coast after all, so be prepared for some gusty winds and dress appropriately. This was the one and only time my entire trip that I was actually cold and grateful for the heavy jacket I brought with me.

Windy selfie at the Cliffs of Moher

There is plenty to do at the Cliffs of Moher. There is a visitors center with exhibits, gift shop and cafe. It’s definitely a great spot to escape the windy conditions for a bit.

The highlight of the Cliffs of Moher is walking along the cliffs to the different viewpoints. Not only are there paved walkways in the immediate location near the main parking lot, but there are also trails that go along the coast both north and south of the cliffs if you are interested in a longer hike. I enjoyed walking to the different viewing areas and getting some photos from different locations.

While viewing the cliffs, you will notice O’Brien’s Tower. This tower was built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien as an observation tower in an attempt to make the cliffs more accessible. The tower is located at the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher at just over 700 feet high. The views from here are stunning, on a clear day, you can see all the way to the Aran Islands.

Ennis and Bunratty Castle

Ennis

A little over a half hour drive from Cliffs of Moher is the town of Ennis. As the capital of the County Clare, Ennis is a popular town to visit. Situated on the River Fergus, it’s a great town to walk thru the winding streets and check out the shops and old buildings. Ennis has an historic past and was home to a Franciscan Friary from 1242 to 1690.

We stayed at the Temple Gate Hotel which sits on the site of a former convent. It was a very unique hotel, with a beautiful lobby.

Located near Ennis is the Bunratty Castle. Located on the site of a Viking trading camp that dates back to the year 970, the castle has been here since 1425. You can visit both the castle and the 26-acre folk park. They also offer a medieval banquet inside the castle which includes entertainment and a four-course meal. I was really looking forward to the banquet, but unfortunately, they hadn’t started up the banquets yet due to covid. So instead, we enjoyed a replacement banquet at the restaurant across the street. I must say, as I sat looking longingly out the window at the view of Bunratty Castle across the street, I was a bit disappointed to miss out on enjoying the banquet inside the castle like I had dreamed of.

Bunratty Castle

The disappointment of the night aside, it was such a beautiful day exploring Galway and the stunning Cliffs of Moher. I was also looking forward to the next day when we were getting out to the Ireland countryside to explore the Ring of Kerry. More on that in my next post, so stay tuned…

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Exploring Ireland – Weekend in Dublin

Back in May 2020, I was supposed to head to Ireland but as with all things 2020, that never happened. Finally, 22 months later in March 2022, I got my chance to take my long-awaited vacation to Ireland. This meant celebrating my birthday and a belated St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

Dublin is not only the capital of Ireland, but it is also the largest city in Ireland. Located on the eastern part of the country, it’s the city most people fly into and start their trip through the beautiful country of Ireland. There is so much to see in Dublin, that it’s definitely worth spending a weekend there before moving on to explore the rest of Ireland. Here are some great things to do during a weekend visit to Dublin.

Trinity College and The Book of Kells

Trinity College

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Dublin has got to be Trinity College. Located in the heart of the city, Trinity College dates back to 1592 and is Ireland’s highest ranked university.

The campus of Trinity College is absolutely beautiful. It was modeled after the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. As you walk in under the archway onto the campus, you will be in Parliament Square where you can admire the beautiful stone buildings and the bell tower. As someone who went to a college that was nicknamed “brick city” due to the many brick buildings on campus, I felt that stone buildings were just so beautiful, definitely better than brick!

Taking a walk thru campus and admiring the historic buildings is a great way to enjoy your time visiting Trinity College. One of the things that I was very impressed with while walking around, was the Globe that is located outside of the Main Library. This sculpture is called “Sphere Within Sphere” and was originally created for the Vatican Museum by Italian sculptor Ornaldo Pomodorro. I thought the sculpture looked a bit familiar and did some research and found out that this sculpture can also be found at locations around the world including the UN Headquarters in New York City, which I believe may be where I’ve seen it before.

“Sphere Within Sphere”

As beautiful as the campus of Trinity College is, the main reason it’s one of the most visited spots in Dublin, is The Book of Kells. Located in the Old Library at Trinity College, The Book of Kells is the world’s most famous medieval manuscript, dating back to the 9th century. The manuscript was created by Christian monks and includes four gospels of the New Testament in Western calligraphy along with intricate decoration.

Before you see the actual Book of Kells, you will walk thru a series of exhibits explaining more about the Book of Kells and its history. Each exhibit has accompanied audio that you can listen to on your phone. Pro tip: Make sure to bring some ear buds with you as it gets very crowded and hard to hear the audio on your phone.

Book of Kells Exhibit

After the exhibits, you will arrive in a room where the actual Book of Kells is kept in a glass display box. Due to its delicate nature, there is no photography allowed in this room. It was very impressive to stand there looking at such an important manuscript that was centuries old.

As you leave the room where the Book of Kells resides, you enter the main room in the Old Library, the Long Room. Many people know of the Long Room from the many photos people post on social media, but it’s so much more than just an instragrammable spot. Built in the early 1700s, this room is 200 feet long and houses over 200,000 of the oldest books.

Long Room

Lining the Long Room are marble busts of famous philosophers, writers and men connected to Trinity College. The busts were created by famous sculptors, and definitely added to the atmosphere of the room. As these busts are all from so many years ago, they are all men, in 2022, it would be nice to add some women to the mix here.

A word of caution, on busy days the Long Room will be extremely crowded, go in and enjoy seeing such a historic room and realize that the perfect photo that you might be wishing for with no people may not happen.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

After Trinity College, the next place I was looking the most forward to seeing was the Dublin Castle. The Dublin Castle dates back to the thirteenth century and was the headquarters of the British in Ireland until 1922 when Ireland gained Independence and it then became the site of the Irish Government.

You can tour the State Apartments in Dublin Castle. The State Apartments include both residential quarters and rooms the government uses for entertaining and ceremonies. In the State Apartments you can visit many rooms, including the following:

  • The Grand Staircase – where guests would arrive for dinners and ceremonies
  • The State Corridor – with it’s gold embellished ceiling, this corridor leads to the many reception rooms.
  • The State Apartment Galleries – which are home to exhibits exploring the Castle’s history
  • The James Connolly Room – which played an important role in the Easter Rising. James Connolly was treated in this room and this was the last spot he was before he was brought to his execution.
  • The State Drawing Room – This was used as the sitting room for the wives of the Viceroys. Today it’s used for the President of Ireland to host visiting dignitaries.
  • The Throne Room – The throne was made for the visit of King George IV in 1821. The throne is watched by video surveillance, so no taking photos sitting on the throne.
  • The Portrait Room – This room’s walls are lined with portraits of Irish Viceroys. The room is used as a dining room for government receptions today.
  • St. Patrick’s Hall – This was built as the Castle’s ballroom and is known as one of Ireland’s greatest ceremonial rooms. This room is where the President of Ireland is inaugurated.

After visiting the State Apartments, make sure to explore the rest of the grounds at Dublin Castle, like the Castle Gardens. I really lucked out with the weather on my trip to Ireland, there was none of the gloomy raining Ireland weather I had been warned about, it was a perfect sunny spring week. I was at Dublin Castle on the first day of spring, so it was so nice to enjoy the spring weather in the gardens.

Dublin Castle Gardens

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Named after Ireland’s patron saint, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland. It was built in the 1200s and is one of the few buildings remaining from medieval Dublin. St. Patrick’s Cathedral is famous for its choir school which was established in 1432 and is known as Ireland’s oldest school.

The cathedral is open to the public daily with paid admission. Free tours are offered inside the cathedral.

St Patrick’s Cathedral

Bridges of Dublin

The River Liffey runs thru the center of Dublin making bridges quite common in the city. There are a couple of popular bridges that are worth exploring:

  • Ha’penny Bridge – The first pedestrian bridge to cross the River Liffey. It got it’s name from the fact it used to cost a half a penny to cross it.
  • Samuel Beckett Bridge – This bridge was built in 2009 and resembles a harp. It’s open to both pedestrian and vehicular traffic and is beautiful to see both day and night.

The Jeanie Johnston

Located at Dublin’s Docklands, the Jeanie Johnston tells the story of its part in the Irish Famine. The ship was built in 1847 in Canada and brought to Ireland to be used as a cargo ship. But instead of being used to transport goods, the ship was used to transport Irish citizens looking to flee the Famine. The ship transported up to 250 passengers each trip with 16 trips taking place to Canada between 1848 – 1855.

The Jeanie Johnston is open daily for tours of the ship and the history of the Irish Famine and the passengers who fled the country during this time.

Jeanie Johnston

Merrion Square

Located not too far from Trinity College is Merrion Square. As one of Dublin’s largest Georgian squares, it’s a nice spot to visit to see the Georgian houses and the Merrion Square Park. Many famous people lived in this neighborhood when it was mainly a residential neighborhood. Now the neighborhood has been transformed with many of the former houses now used as office space. In Merrion Square Park, there are many sculptures, one of which is of former Merrion Square resident, Oscar Wilde. The sculpture features Oscar Wilde sitting on a large rock. There are also two bronze sculptures nearby displaying some of his famous quotes.

Phoenix Park

If you’re looking to get away from the city and into nature, head just 6 kilometers from the city centre to Phoenix Park. If you don’t have a car, there are many bus routes that stop just outside the multiple gates to the park.

Phoenix Park was originally a royal hunting park dating back to the 1660s. In 1747 it opened to the public and it’s a great place for locals and tourists alike to explore.

Below are some great things to see at Phoenix Park:

  • Phoenix Monument – Located at the center of the park, this monument has been in the park since it was open to the public in 1747.
Phoenix Moument
  • Wellington Testimonial – At 62 metres tall it’s the tallest obelisk in Europe. It was built in 1861 in memory of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, who was born in Dublin and went on to defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.
Wellington Testimonial
  • The Papal Cross – This 116 foot tall cross was erected in the park for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Dublin in September 1979 where he delivered a sermon at this very spot to more than 1.25 million people.
Papal Cross
  • Ashtown Castle – This medieval castle is thought to be from the 15th century. Up until 1978, it was hidden within the walls of a mansion on this site but was then discovered when the mansion was demolished. Nearby the castle is the park’s visitor’s center as well as the Victorian Walled Kitchen Garden.
Ashtown Castle

Also located in the park is the Dublin Zoo and the residence of the President of Ireland. As we drove by the President’s house, I did a double take as it looked somewhat similar to the White House, home of the President of the United States.

President of Ireland’s Residence

This is just a small list of all the great things you can see in Dublin in a weekend. Of course, all weekends in Ireland should include some beer (especially Guiness) and whiskey. If you are interested in learning more about where you can enjoy and learn about Guiness and Irish Whiskey, check out my post on Beer and Whiskey in Dublin to learn more.

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Beer and Whiskey in Dublin

When people think of visiting Dublin, chances are that one of the first things that come to mind may be things like Guinness, Temple Bar and Irish Whiskey, among other things.

These were definitely things on my mind when I finally arrived in Dublin 22 months later than planned after covid came and derailed all of our lives. It was a long 2 years for all of us and rescheduling meant that I arrived in Dublin just after St. Patrick’s Day and also on my birthday! Suffice it to say, I was ready to celebrate my birthday and my first international trip in what felt like forever with some drinks.

Full disclosure: I visited all of these places over a few days with other stops in between, which will be part of another post.

Guinness Storehouse

Probably one of the most popular attractions in Dublin has got to be the Guinness Storehouse. It’s located on site at the St. James Brewery and is a must visit even if you are not a beer drinker.

I’ve been to many brewery tours over the years, but the Guinness Storehouse tour was definitely one of the top ones that I have been too. It’s a self-guided tour that takes you thru the process of making Guinness beer and the history of the company with tasting opportunities and very impressive multi-sensory exhibits throughout the 7 floors of the building.

Guinness Brewing Process

The first set of rooms went into detail on the brewing process step by step. Since most of us are very used to Step 11 – Enjoying Guinness, it was very interesting to learn all the steps that gets the Guinness to that point so we can enjoy it. While most of the process is similar to what you learn in other breweries, there are difference which make Guinness unique from other beers. One of the differences is that they use a combination of carbon dioxide and nitrogen to carbonate the beer. This creates 30 million bubbles in every pint which aids in making it the thick and creamy beer we all love.

Guinness is carbonated using both carbon dioxide and nitrogen

The roasting process is done at a temperature of 232 degrees celsius which is what gives Guinness it’s flavor, aroma and color.

Roasting temperature of Guinness

After the brewing process, the self-guided tour goes into the full history of Guinness. From the beginnings in the 1700s when Arthur Guinness started brewing beer right here at the St. James location right into the present. It covers the history of the beer becoming more popular and being sold throughout the world. I found it very interesting that Guinness had its own fleet of trains, ships and barges to deliver its beer within Ireland and around the world.

Guinness Advertisement

One thing that sets Guinness apart from other beer companies is definitely it’s advertising. As part of the tour, you get to see many of the fun advertising pieces that make the Guinness brand special.

But of course, no brewery tour is complete with tasting the beer! At the Guinness Storehouse you not only can enjoy the tasting room, but you can also learn how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness by adding the Guinness Academy to your ticket.

In addition to the tasting room, included in each tour is a free pint at the Gravity Bar on the top floor of the Guinness Storehouse. Not only do you get a free pint, but the Gravity Bar is the perfect place to get a great view of the city of Dublin. I was lucky enough to be up there during sunset which made the views even more beautiful.

If all that beer, has you hungry, there are a couple of restaurants located in the Guinness Storehouse. Also make sure to visit the gift shop before you leave. The Guinness Storehouse is open 7 days a week and tickets for the tour start at 22 euros if purchased online.

Irish Whiskey Museum

Ireland isn’t just known for Guinness; it’s also known for its whiskey. While there are many distilleries located within Dublin, including popular whiskey brands such as Jameson and Teeling that you can visit, as someone who loves history, I decided to visit the Irish Whiskey Museum instead of one of the distilleries.

The Irish Whiskey Museum is located near Trinity College and is the perfect place to learn about the history of Irish Whiskey and get to taste some great Whiskey as well.

Irish Whiskey Museum

The entertaining tour guides will take you thru 4 rooms each representing a different time period in Ireland. In each room they will discuss the history of Irish Whiskey.

Irish Whiskey is one of the earliest distilled spirits in Europe, dating back as early as the 12th century. Although there are no written records, it’s thought the Irish Monks learned of the art of distilling from the Moors who used it as medicine. I found the fact that Irish Whiskey had Muslim origins very interesting!

While the Irish Whiskey industry has had its ups and downs over the years, it is now one of the fastest growing spirits in the world, growing from a mere 4 distilleries in 2013 to 24 distilleries just 9 years later.

After listening to the history, we moved on to the different types of Irish Whiskey: Single Malt, Single Pot Still, Grain and Blended. Once we learned more about the different types, we headed to the tasting room to sample the whiskey.

Included in the tour is a tasting of three whiskeys, but for a few additional euros you can upgrade to the premium tour which includes a tasting of a fourth whiskey and a souvenir whiskey glass. I had never done a whiskey tasting before and was surprised at how little whiskey was in the glass, although considering the alcohol content in whiskey, it makes sense. As you can see from the photo below, you can barely see the whiskey in the tasting glasses….

Alas, after flying all night, with no sleep, the four small tastings were more than enough for me. Although, if the tasting has you craving more whiskey, there is a bar located in the museum where you can continue to enjoy some more Irish Whiskey, whiskey cocktails or an Irish Coffee.

The Irish Whiskey Museum is definitely a great spot to visit when in Dublin.

Temple Bar

Temple Bar St Patrick’s Day Weekend

After learning about Guinness and Irish Whiskey, why not enjoy some in a bar. The Temple Bar District is one of the oldest areas of Dublin and is well known for its nightlife and bar scene. The Saturday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend it was incredibly busy and lively, making me question all the people that have told me over the years that the Irish do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like we do in America. The scene in the Temple Bar District certainly reminded me of how we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day here in South Boston.

The Temple Bar District was once St. Andrews Parish. But in the 17th century it became known as Temple Bar after Sir William Temple who was the provost at nearby Trinity College had a house and gardens here.

Now Temple Bar is a top spot to visit in Dublin, especially The Temple Bar Pub. This pub with the red facade is what first comes to mind when people think of famous pubs in Dublin. It’s a great pub to stop in for a drink but can get busy and seem a bit touristy so make sure to check out some of the other pubs in the area as well.

Brazen Head – Ireland’s Oldest Pub

Speaking of famous pubs in Dublin, one that shouldn’t be missed is Brazen Head.

The Brazen Head is the oldest pub in Ireland. The name Brazen Head dates as far back as 1653, but there has been a food and drink establishment at this location going all the way back to 1198, making it the fifth oldest restaurant in the world!

With both outdoor and indoor bars, it’s the perfect spot for some drinks, a meal and to listen to some live music. It’s the quintessential Irish pub and who doesn’t love an Irish pub?

There is no shortage of places to drink alcohol in Dublin, the city is full of pubs, and you don’t need to walk far to find one. Learning about what the beer and whiskey you are drinking and its origins will make having drinks a bit more special. Where are you heading for a drink on your next trip to Dublin?

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30 Years of Disneyland Paris

On April 12, 2022, Disneyland Paris officially turned 30 years old. It seems like just yesterday I heard them talking about opening a Disney Park in Europe.

While Disneyland Paris may have been open for thirty years, the idea of a Disney Park in Europe first started way back in 1966. Approximately 1200 locations in Europe were presented as a location for the Europe Park. It was then narrowed down to a couple of locations in Spain and France. Ultimately the small town of Marne-la-Vallee just east of the city of Paris.

Disneyland Paris

Construction began on the park in August of 1988 and on April 12, 1992, the park, then named Euro Disney opened to the public. The park had its fair share of problems in the beginning. Attendance was lower than they thought it would be, hotels vacancy was higher than estimated and they struggled to make a profit the first few years.

Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain

I’m not saying the Euro Disney name wasn’t the right name for the park, I thought it just didn’t have the best ring to it, but after a name change in late 1994 to Disneyland Paris and the opening of Space Mountain in 1995, the park reported its first quarterly profit. On March 16, 2002, a second park was opened at Disneyland Paris. Walt Disney Studios Park is similar to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.

Walt Disney Studios Park

While the attendance is nowhere near the attendance at the theme parks in Florida and California, it’s a popular vacation spot and for those of us visiting from the US, it’s nice to visit and not have the crazy crowds that I normally see in Florida.

While there are many similarities between the US Disney Parks and Disneyland Paris, there are so many unique aspects to Disneyland Paris. First off, the castle, like Disneyland in California, Disneyland Paris has Sleeping Beauty’s Castle or Le Chateau De La Belle au Bois Dormant. But it’s much larger than the castle in California, they have made it look like it’s up on a hill. It’s the most beautiful castle I’ve seen in person at a Disney Park.

The castle features a waterfall and even a dragon lair! You can also walk into the castle and see the stained-glass windows. They really outdid themselves with this castle, it blows the castles at the US parks out of the water.

Some of the classic rides at Disneyland Paris are just better than the originals in California and Florida. Big Thunder Mountain is amazing, it starts by going thru a tunnel under the water over to an island and it’s a much faster ride than in the US parks.

Big Thunder Mountain

For someone who loves pirates, I was so impressed with the area around Pirates of the Caribbean. Not only is there the ride, but there is a pirate ship and pirate themed area to explore. It’s a great spot to enjoy especially for kids.

Pirates of the Caribbean Area

One of the things I really love about the Disney Parks is how the exterior of the Haunted Mansion is different in each park. In Disneyland Paris, it’s called Phantom Manor and it reminds me of something straight out of a horror movie.

Over at Fantasyland, they have Alice’s Curious Labyrinth which is a walk thru attraction that will take you down the rabbit hole into the world of Wonderland. It’s fun to walk thru and check out all the Alice and Wonderland statues.

Alice’s Curious Labyrinth

Over at Walt Disney Studios, they have some different rides including Crush’s Coaster. This fun coaster is unique to Disneyland Paris and I’m surprised they haven’t brought it to Walt Disney World yet, it would fit in great at Epcot as part of the Living Seas.

Crush’s Coaster

Some of the areas and rides in Walt Disney Studios have moved on to the US parks, there was a small Toy Story area in this park and now at Hollywood Studios in Florida, they have Toy Story Land.

Toy Story area in Walt Disney Studios

When I heard that they were bringing the Ratatouille ride to Epcot, I was so excited as I had already experienced it at Walt Disney Studios at Disneyland Paris. This 4D ride finally just opened in Epcot in 2021.

Ratatouille Ride

When Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, many of the same hotels that are there today opened as well. There are six hotels all based on different regions of the United States. The following hotels are located on property:

  • Disneyland Hotel – This American-Victorian hotel is located at the entrance of the park overlooking Main Street USA. It’s based on such Victorian-American Hotels in the US like Hotel del Coronado in California.
Disneyland Hotel
  • Disney’s Newport Bay Club – Based on New England architecture, it’s very similar to Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts in Orlando.
Disney’s Newport Bay Club
  • Disney’s Hotel New York – Based on the largest city in the US, New York City, this hotel was recently rethemed as the Art of Marvel just recently in 2021.
  • Disney’s Sequoia Lodge – This hotel will remind you of the American National Parks Lodges, specifically the Old Faithful Inn located in America’s first National Park, Yellowstone.
  • Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne – You will feel like you have ventured back in time to the American Wild West.
Disney’s Hotel Cheyenne
  • Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe – This hotel will make you feel like you are in such popular spots in the Southwestern US like New Mexico. Featured in the hotel is the famous Disney movie Cars.
Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe

If you have a chance to visit Disneyland Paris, during the next year while they are celebrating the 30th Anniversary, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to visit for the 20th and 25th anniversaries and really wish I could make it there for the 30th.

They even had statues for the 25th Anniversary that I now look back at it and it’s very similar to the gold statues they have at Walt Disney World in Orlando this year for the 50th Anniversary.

Disneyland Paris makes a great addition to any trip to Paris. Just a 45-minute train ride from the city center of Paris will take you right to the gates of Disneyland Paris. What a great trip, visiting the beautiful city of Paris and getting to enjoy the Disney magic while you are there.

Happy 30th Anniversary Disneyland Paris!

Birmingham Civil Rights Trail

I love traveling to visit historic sites. When I was a child, visiting historic sites, helped to expand upon what I learned from history class in school. Seeing the sites in person, brings a new perspective to what is learned in history books. As an adult, visiting historic sites, brings an even deeper meaning to those history lessons I learned as a child.

Much of history is tragic and sad, but it’s important to learn about this history not just to know what happened in the past but also to learn why it happened and to make sure that history does not repeat itself.

In a time where people of color are still fighting for equality and against discrimination, there is no better time than now to learn more about the history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. While you will see how far we have come, you will also see that there is so much work still to be done and it will give you a better perspective on how we can all do our part to help fight for equality for all.

Birmingham Alabama played a large role in the fight for Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It was the site of many violent events where lives were lost but it was also the site of strong people fighting for the equal rights for all. Encompassing a few blocks in Downtown Birmingham are some important sites that make up the Civil Rights Trail.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The first place to stop on the Civil Rights Trail is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Opened in 1992, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s mission is:

“To enlighten each generation about civil and human rights by exploring our common past and working together in the present to build a better future.”

It’s a great spot to start the Civil Rights Trail as you will get the history or the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham and the rest of the south which will bring bigger meaning to the other sites along the trail.

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

Outside of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a statue in honor of Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Reverend Shuttlesworth was a minister who led the civil rights movement in Birmingham. Martin Luther King Jr. called Reverend Shuttlesworth “the most courageous civil rights fighter in the South”. He helped organized the Freedom Rides in the South. He devoted his time to desegregating Birmingham by holding mass demonstrations in the city and by attempting to enroll his children in an all-white high school.

Martin Luther King Jr quote featured in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Your visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute begins with a short film and then you can take a guided or self-guided tour thru the exhibits. There were multiple exhibit rooms that started by depicting how segregated whites and blacks were. Then it moved on to the events of the Civil Rights Movement.

Each set of exhibits had a timeline of the events of the Civil Rights Movement. There was definitely a lot of information, some of which I remember learning in history class and other information that either I hadn’t learned or went into more detail from what I did learn.

One of the events that happened in Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement was the Childrens March Against Segregation. The demonstrations and protests during the Civil Rights Movement were not known to be peaceful, with many turning to violence. Even with the thought of a violent demonstration, the children of Birmingham wanted to get involved and knew there was only so much their parents could do while working to provide for their kids. So, on May 2, 1963, thousands of black children, some as young as 12 years old, walked out of school to protest Birmingham’s segregation laws. Many protestors were arrested that day, but it was the following day that was most shocking. Police responded by spraying the children with firehoses and having dog’s brutally attacking the children. It was heartbreaking to read about this, they were only kids wanting respect and equality.

I spent about an hour and a half in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute but definitely could have spent longer. I would set aside at least an hour or two. As of the writing of this post, the Institute is open Tuesday – Saturday from 10am – 3pm. Tickets must be bought online in advance for a timed entry. Always check the website ahead of time for any changes in hours or ticketing procedures.

Bell from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church on display at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

An often-overlooked piece of history sits in the lobby of the Institute by the restrooms. A large cast iron bell that was originally part of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church across the street. This bell was also atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in August 2013 and was rang to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the same location. A few weeks later, the bell rang again to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. It’s the site of that tragic bombing that we visit next on the Birmingham Civil Rights Trail.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Established in 1873 as the first black Baptist Church, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church played an important and also tragic part in the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. The church was used as a meeting place for Civil Rights leaders including Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Martin Luther King Jr. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is a National Historic Landmark.

Sadly, what makes this church a landmark and such an important part of the Birmingham Civil Rights Trail is the tragic events that took place here on September 15, 1963. On a Sunday morning, when the church should have been a welcoming, happy and safe environment for its parishioners, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted 19 sticks of dynamite outside the basement of the church. The explosion took the lives of four young girls, three were 14 years old and the other was just 11 years old. Over a dozen other people were injured in the explosion.

As a result of the bombing, violence in the city of Birmingham escalated. Two teenage boys were shot just hours after the explosion, they were only 16 and 13. The 13-year-old was shot by a 16-year-old as he was just innocently riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bike on his way home.

Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

The awful events from this day helped to lead to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 being signed almost a year later. Sadly, it took years for there to be arrests and trials related to the bombing. In 1968, the FBI closed the case. It was opened again in 1971 but it wasn’t until 1977 that the main suspect was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 1995, the investigation was opened again, one of the other suspects had since passed away, the final two were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2001 and 2002. Learning how many years it took for justice to be served for such a tragic event is just mind boggling to me. My heart goes out to the families of the young kids whose lives were lost that day who may not have even lived long enough to see justice served.

Kelly Ingram Park

Kelly Ingram Park

Across the street from the Sixteenth Street Baptist is Kelly Ingram Park. This park was the location of many of the demonstrations and protests during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the park is the location of many Civil Rights Movement sculptures.

Probably one of the most emotional sculptures in the park is “The Four Spirits”. This sculpture was added to the park in September 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.

Four Spirits Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park

This touching sculpture features the four young girls who lost their lives in the bombing in 1963. The sculpture depicts the four girls preparing for the church sermon as that was what they were doing just before the bombing. At the base of the sculpture the name of the sermon planned for that day, “A Love that Forgives” is inscribed. The sculpture includes 6 doves to represent the fours girl’s lives as well as the lives of the two young boys who also lost their lives that day.

Martin Luther King Jr. Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park

If you walk into the park behind the Four Spirits sculpture, there is a sculpture of Martin Luther King Jr. to honor him for all he did for the people of Birmingham during the civil rights movement.

Around the center of the park there is a circular walkway called the Freedom Walk which includes many of the other sculptures in Kelly Ingram Park. These sculptures along the Freedom Walk depicts what the citizens protesting in the park and throughout the city of Birmingham had to endure. It definitely gives you a visual idea of just how awful this time was.

Located at the southeast entrance to the park is the Kneeling Ministers sculpture. This sculpture recreates three ministers who knelt and prayed during violence during one of the many protest that occurred in 1963.

Kneeling Ministers Sculpture in Kelly Ingram Park

Birmingham is a great city to visit and learn more about the civil rights movement history. Many people visit the city while on a longer civil rights trip thru other cities in the US. This would make for a great educational summer road trip for the whole family.

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An afternoon on the Northern Oregon Coast

While visiting Portland, Oregon last October, I took a drive out to the coast for the afternoon. I’ve dreamed of visiting the Oregon coast since I was young and watched the movie, Goonies. The Pacific coast is just so different than the Atlantic coast which I’m used to from living in Boston.

I got a bit of a late start after a long day the previous day that started with a 5am flight out of Boston. So, I knew I wasn’t going to see all that I wanted to see, but that was fine, something is better than nothing. It was pretty rainy in Portland, so I did get a bit nervous about the weather, but the further west I drove, the rain started to taper off and I ended up with a nice dry day and even some sunshine.

Seaside

Seaside Oregon

My first stop was Seaside, Oregon. This is the perfect beach resort town with plenty to see and do for the entire family. The beach in Seaside is absolutely beautiful, perfect place to get some sun, play in the sand, go for a swim and it has some of the best surfing in the Pacific Northwest. I was definitely impressed with the waves at this beach, I could have watched them all day, waves are so relaxing to me.

One of the most popular things to do in Seaside is to walk the Promenade. This 1.5-mile oceanfront promenade has been here since 1921 and is the perfect spot for a walk, run or bike ride. The views along the Promenade are just stunning. Located along the Promenade is the Seaside Aquarium. The Aquarium is definitely a popular spot especially for families. The aquarium has been in Seaside since 1937 and while visiting, feeding the harbor seals is a must.

After spending some time walking along the Promenade and on the beach, I walked thru town. There is so much to do in town: take a ride on the carousel, play some games in the arcade, shop in the gift shops and one-of-a-kind shops or even just take a stroll and people watch. And if you work up an appetite with all that activity, there are plenty of food options in Seaside. From the typical beach food like pizza, ice cream and saltwater taffy to sit down restaurants featuring everything from Seafood to Italian to Mexican to Chinese to Pub food, Seaside has it all.

Seaside is more than just a beach resort town; it also has its place in history! Seaside is known as the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition. In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set out to explore the land west of the Mississippi which was just acquired in the Louisiana Purchase. Seaside is said to be the last place they stopped in 1806 before turning around to head home. There is a statue where the road ends near the Promenade to commemorate this.

End of the Trail Lewis and Clark Statue

Ecola State Park

After spending some time in Seaside, I headed south to Ecola State Park. This park encompasses 9 miles of the Oregon coastline. It’s the perfect spot for hiking, wildlife viewing, beach access, picnics and stunning views! I could not get over how beautiful the views were and coming from Seaside where the sun was shining made the foggy coastal views in Ecola State Park that much more impressive.

Driving into the park, you follow a road thru the forest which can be narrow at times, but also very beautiful. It definitely makes you feel like you are out in nature. You will then come to the coast with its cliffside views high above the ocean where you can also view the historic Tillamook Rock Lighthouse off in the distance.

While the views are spectacular on a sunny day, I’m so grateful that part of the time I was there was somewhat foggy. The foggy view of the ocean below was just stunning! It was pretty crazy how quickly it went from sunny to foggy to sunny again while I was in the park.

Foggy Views from Ecola State Park

There are many short hiking trails within the park and also sections of hiking trails in the park are part of larger trails, like the Oregon Coast Trail, which an 8-mile section of this trail is located within Ecola State Park. There is also the challenging 5-mile Tillamook Head Trail which starts just south of Seaside and takes you to Ecola State Park.

Being that the park sits high above the Pacific Ocean, it’s no stranger to weather related damage. When I visited in the fall of 2021, there were certain trails that were closed due to landslides. As of the writing of the post in February 2022, the entire park is closed due to a landslide on the Ecola Park Road, which you take into the park. Please make sure to check the website before visiting for the status of the park.

Landslide signs in Ecola State Park

Cannon Beach

Next, I was off to probably one of the most well-known spots on the Oregon Coast is Cannon Beach, famous for the 235-foot Haystack Rock. Haystack Rock has been listed as one of the World’s 100 Most Beautiful Places by National Geographic and it’s definitely a sight to see. I’ve been wanting to see Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach in person since seeing it in the movie Goonies when I was a young kid. It was as impressive in person as it was seeing it in the movie all those many years ago.

Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach

Haystack Rock is said to be formed by lava flow millions of years ago. It can be accessed by foot at low tide, making it a great time to view the sea life in the tide pools by Haystack Rock. When I visited, the tide was coming in and boy was it coming in fast, definitely something to watch out for at Cannon Beach. At one point, I was very far away from the edge of the water and next thing I knew I had to run so as not to get wet from the incoming tide. And I was not alone, there were many others running with me.

Haystack Rock is also a great place for bird viewing year-round and in the early spring to mid-summer, you might even catch a glimpse of a Tufted Puffin. Time for me to plan a trip during that time of year so I can see the puffins! I had no idea before this trip that puffins could be found in the Pacific Northwest.

Other than Haystack Rock and the Beach, there is plenty of shopping, art galleries, restaurants and craft breweries to try. I had a late lunch at Pelican Brewing Company. It was a great spot, not far from the beach and they had outdoor dining which was a plus as it was the only warm and sunny day while I was visiting Oregon, so it was nice to enjoy the vitamin D! Pelican Brewing Company started in 1996 about 65 miles south of Cannon Beach in Pacific City, Oregon. They have a terrific food and beer menu; I ordered the Beer Sausage Flatbread which had roasted tomatoes, ricotta cheese and beer sausage. To accompany it, I had a Sea’N Red Irish-Style Red Ale as recommended on the menu.

I spent a very quick afternoon exploring the Oregon Coast and really barely scratched the surface. I think another trip to Oregon is in order so I could spend a few days exploring the coast, including making it down further south along the coast. This was definitely a great overview of what to expect from the Oregon Coast.

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