Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Dublino!

Here we are again... over a year since I last posted. The fact that I haven't completely given up has to count for something though, right? I've been daydreaming about all of the fantastic places we visited when we lived in Italy, so thought I'd recap our trip to Ireland, if only for my own posterity.

The trip was booked after I discovered that one of my favorite singers, David Gray, would be performing. Sign me up! We visited in early June, and were pretty surprised that it was still fairly cold there. The trip was a bit of a whirlwind - we spent one night in Dublin, rented a car and drove to Cork (I say "we" very loosely. Token was the one who had to navigate driving on the opposite side of the road in a manual vehicle. Good man, he is!), and then drove back to Dublin for another couple nights. I'm less than stellar at reading maps, and didn't realize Cork was so dang far from Dublin, which added quite a few hours in the car that we didn't plan for.

The first night, we stayed near to the O2, where the concert was held. I can't seem to recall the hotel name, but it worked for one night.

View from the nameless hotel. (so helpful, I know. I aim to please!)

The next day, we hit the road for Cork.  Looking at a map of Ireland, I figured it would take us a couple hours to go from Dublin to Cork. Um. Wrong. Dang that mile to kilometer conversion! Tricky! It took closer to five hours. Whoops. But, all of our friends said Cork was a must, and while I'm glad we did the road trip, I'm not sure I'd do it again. Cork was a cool city, but nothing really all that spectacular that stood out.

I found a Bed & Breakfast online that I would NOT recommend. The owner was very odd. We got back from wandering around town one day to find that the B&B didn't have any power. The owner wouldn't let us go up to our room, and then borrowed a euro from Token to make a phone call. Very, very strange. So, if you're headed to Cork, Ireland, avoided Audley House B&B.




In Cork, we found an Irish pub and had to have a beer, or in my case, cider. Yum!

 Cork also has a really nice market, so we wandered around there for awhile.






 After checking out of the shady B&B, we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher. If you go to Ireland, this is highly recommended! It was amazing. Do it.






We made the long trip back to Dublin, and checked into our third hotel, the Fitzwilliam. Oh my gosh is all I can say. This hotel was AMAZING. It was in a fantastic location, so plush and fancy. You know, the perfect hotel for a family traveling with a 1.5-year old. ;) They booked us in a room waaaaay at the end of a hallway, I think to keep us separated from their guests who actually wanted to sleep. Ha! Another bonus was the Pack N Play in the room.



 Since this hotel was in such a fantastic location, we wasted no time getting out and exploring. We saw the Temple Bar...

 ... went to the Trinity College Library...


 ... and visited the Guinness factory.




 The hotel is right across the street from a park, so we spent some time walking off 1.5-year old energy. Much needed!




 Ireland with a kiddo was fairly easy. We didn't bring a stroller with us, but Amelia was happy to walk and/or ride on Token's shoulders, so it worked. As with most of Europe, kids are widely accepted and encouraged to be out and about, and that's what we did! Lots of walking and spending time as a family. Can't beat it!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Mama - I'm diving!!!"


Oh dear.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Malta: a year later

There are so many trips we took last spring/summer that I've been meaning to post about and haven't had a chance to. I figure a year later is as good a time as any! So, here's a look back at our trip to Malta over Memorial Day weekend 2011.

The flight from Sicily to Malta is literally 20 minutes once you're in the air. Being not a huge fan of flying, I can totally handle flights like that! You can also take a boat over from Sicily, and I think it's something like 4 hours. Either way, not shabby!

Once we landed, we got our stuff, found our driver, and made our way to our hotel. I made a BIG mistake booking the hotel, and was pretty bummed about it. There are two Corinthia hotels in Malta - one more inland, and one at St. George's Bay. On accident, I booked the more inland hotel, and it wasn't want we wanted at all. I mean, it was a gorgeous hotel, but we wanted to be on the Med, and, well... weren't. It was a 25 euro taxi drive every time we wanted to go anywhere, and was so far removed from any of the action. Bummed. Here's where we stayed: http://www.corinthia.com/en/Malta_PalaceHotelandSpa/home/, and here's where I thought I had booked us to stay: http://www.corinthia.com/en/Malta_StGeorgesBay/home/.

Here's a crap picture of our room:



The first night, we did what any good American would do in a foreign country and went to dinner at Hard Rock Cafe with my boss who happened to be vacationing there, too. (He stayed at the Golden Tulip Hotel, BTW, and said it was awesome: http://www.goldentulip.com/EN/hotels/Malta/Saint-Julians/GT-vivaldi-hotel-hotel-booking-room.aspx)

Malta is amazing. Coming from Italy, I thought we'd be surrounded by Italians, foreign language, and pretty much the same environment that we live in (read: southern Italians who throw their trash out the window, and really don't care for the land on which they live). Not so much. It was so clean, and the people were so nice with their British accents, and it was just totally unexpected.

Plus, this was their public transportation. Awesome, right? 



The concierge told us of an amazing bakery up in the city of Mdina, and so we got a taxi and made our way there. I had no idea what was in store for us. I think M'dina is the most beautiful and amazing place I have ever, ever been - and we've been fortunate enough to go to some pretty awesome places. I was in total awe the entire time. The Mdina  is the ancient capital of Malta, and is a walled city. The walkways are lined with brick walls and they twist and turn in every direction. Put on your history hat:

Mdina was inhabited and possibly first fortified by the Phoenicians around 700 BC. The Phoenicians called it Maleth.[4] The region benefits from its strategic location on one of the island's highest points and at maximum distance from the sea. Under the Roman Empire Malta became a Municipium and the Roman Governor built his palace in Mdina. Tradition holds that the Apostle St. Paul resided in the city after his historical shipwreck on the islands.

An Aerial view of Mdina and its walls in 2007
The name and the layout of the city reflect the Fatimid Period which began in 870 AD and lasted until the Norman conquest of Malta in 1091 AD. The earliest surviving buildings date from the Norman period. The Normans surrounded the city with thick defensive fortifications and widened the moat. The city was also separated from its nearest town, Rabat.
Malta passed to the Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem in 1530 AD. Mdina hosted the public ceremony in which each Grand Master swore an oath to protect the Maltese Islands and the rights of his subjects. A strong earthquake in 1693 led to the introduction of Baroque design within the city scape. The Knights of Malta rebuilt the cathedral, to the designs of Maltese architect Lorenzo Gafa. Palazzo Falzon, the Magisterial Palace and major restoration works are other projects undertaken by the Knights. The monumental gateway was designed by the French architect and military engineer Charles Fran├žois de Mondion in 1724.
(From Wikipedia)


We loved it there so much, we decided to go for sunset, and was able to enjoy the city virtually tourist free. Oh, what I'd give to be there now!

This is the name of the bakery. You must check it out if you're there; the chocolate cake is to die for!



And so was the Strongbow!!

 


 You can even take a horse ride through the winding streets by a guy who should be competing in the The Beard and Moustache competition:


Amazing.

 I went totally picture happy. Here are some more from Mdina.


Whenever we go to a new place, we immediately seek out the Hop On/Hop Off bus. The tickets are good for 24 hours (in most cases) and you are free to explore certain areas without worrying about catching a cab or finding your way back. Just look for the HOHO! We did a tour around the island on a gorgeous, sunny day. I sat up on the open air top, and Token and Amelia for the most part sat in the downstairs section.





 


The downtown area of Malta is VERY much a happenin' place and seems to be the location where the beautiful people congregate. My boss's hotel was very close to St. George Bay, and he said things didn't really quiet down until the sunrise. So if you're a partier, you'll fit right in! While we were there, the Champions League soccer game was on, so we found a good restaurant showing the game outside and tuned in and hung out. Soccer really brings people together in Europe - we had so much fun!


This is the Corinthia St. George Bay hotel - where I *thought* I'd book for us to stay. Boo.



For people with small kiddos, I would definitely recommend a stroller or a carrier of some sort. We brought our BOB, but it was a bit too big, so I wished we'd brought a smaller stroller. Everyone is super friendly toward kids and love them, just like Italians. In the St. George Bay area, there really weren't many families. That area seemed to be reserved for people in their 20s. I don't think we saw ANY strollers walking around that part of town. It makes sense, though - most Europeans go to Malta as a Spring Break destination. That's not to say it wasn't family friendly... it definitely was; we just didn't see many families when we were there.

Going through these pictures and reliving this vacation is so bittersweet! I'm so thankful we had the opportunity to go to such an obscure place for many Americans. Maybe you'll see us on House Hunters International one day, looking for a vacation home in the Medina? I can dream, right?! ;)