Ireland for golfers

Yes – Ireland is for golfers. And it has castles galore. But it’s the people and their culture that are the true highlights of the Emerald Isle. Although my husband and I set out with three other couples on a 10-day excursion touted as a ‘golf’ trip – and golf we did – we also absorbed the love of life the Irish have perfected. You certainly don’t go to Ireland for the weather – although we did experience a couple of truly nice weather days with no rain, no mist, no fog and only a light wind. But you definitely need to go for the music, the beer, the music, the smiles, the music, the beautiful architecture, the music, the golf, the music, the lush green countryside, the music. Did I mention the music??

Our days, no matter how long and arduous, always ended up in a local pub listening to local Irish songs regaling us with their entertaining folklore. It was amazing how you could enjoy listening to so many songs you’ve never heard of in a style most are not accustomed to hearing. There was music everywhere – you didn’t need to search it out. Almost every pub, on almost every night had live music. And if it was a nice evening, there were street performers everywhere we turned. They were young, they were old; they were father and son, they were brother and sister; they were the wife of the pub owner; they were a random gathering of musicians.

But more on the Irish culture and people in the next post. As this was intended to be a trip focused on the amazing golf in Ireland, I’ll share our golf experiences in this post and share all the other highlights of Ireland in a follow-up post.

Golf in Ireland. A bucket list dream of mine for the 40+ years I’ve been playing golf. Check that one of the list – but not one and done – I’d head back tomorrow. We arrived on the heels of an abnormal summer drought. The courses were in tough shape, but you don’t expect pristine conditions where they use very little artificial irrigation methods. This is walking with caddies golf, which can be uncomfortable if you’re not used to having somebody looking over your shoulder on every shot. But ‘buggies’ a/k/a golf carts are generally only available for medical reasons. Some courses don’t have any on hand, or are only provided by a handful of members.

Many courses individually name each hole – often to coincide with a story that goes along with that hole. Which adds to the historical element of playing these amazing tracts of land that often have a lot of local influence into their success. The locals love their golf as much as the tourists. All of our caddies had single digit handicaps, so even though you really just want them to carry your clubs and give you the yardage, their local knowledge of where to aim your drives and approach shots, and read the greens, was imperative to navigating these challenging courses. Caddies ranged from a couple of college aged knuckleheads out to make a few bucks for beer, to ‘professional’ caddies who were a wealth of knowledge. Some tended to get a little too deep into your psyche – thinking by the end of the round they knew more about your game than you did. The right caddy can make your golf experience, but the wrong caddy can break your golfing spirit.

We started in Dublin and made our way along the coast of Southern Ireland until we reached Galway and then we shot straight across the country to finish in Dublin. The courses were all links courses – defined as being the ‘link’ between the land and the sea, built among the natural sand dunes and lay of the land, void of trees. Can you say WINDY!! Nothing to stop those coastal breezes as you buffet your way around these courses. We rarely golfed with less than a few layers on top, thermal pants, and kept our rain pants handy as much to cut the wind as to counter any rain. But there was no complaining about the conditions, and we were never ‘chilled to the bone’. We wanted to play in whatever the coast or Ireland could throw at us, and she didn’t hold back! We mixed up our pairings – couples and couples, just guys and just gals, mix of guys and gals.

A map showing all the amazing golf options – in Ireland (aka Southern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.)

1st round – the brainchild of one John O’ConnorOld Head Golf Links, circa 1997, Kinsale. This was to be thee golf photo-op of the trip. Driving in you come up over a rise and apparently below sits the diamond shape of one of the most amazing tracts of a golf course property ever developed. All we saw was fog so thick we did well to see the road or fairway in front of us. But we were there to play golf – and golf we did! Among the rows of thick fragrant hydrangea and wild rose bushes, 400-year-old ruins, an austere lighthouse, and 300-foot cliffs with no barriers to the sea below. We may have missed a great photo opportunity of the peninsula as a whole, but we did get some great on course shots of this very unique golf setting. We’ll be back! Signature Hole: #12 – a 564-yard par 5 – perched along the 300-foot cliffs, from tee to green. You better hope the golf Gods are on your side with this hole or you might as well put down your max.

The view of Old Head as we would’ve experienced it had we arrived on a clear day. The signature 12th hole lies along the right side of the neck heading towards the point that is Old Head. (picture courtesy of Old Head facebook page.)

The 4th hole at Old Head. During our visit, the lighthouse stood shrouded in fog. And the remains of the Lusitania sit in the deep waters off Old Head, where it was sunk in 1915.

Last year during a horrific storm, the storm surge threw 160 golf balls back up onto the 17th green at Old Head.

2nd Round – the Arnold Palmer designed Tralee Golf Club, circa 1896, Killarney. No fog, nor rain, but plenty of wind. Even the inland holes were a solid 2-club wind on what the locals considered a pretty normal day. Built along an expansive beach open to the wild Atlantic Ocean, the salty sea breeze was intoxicating. The vistas are as impressive as the course is challenging, and we all battled the uniqueness of each hole while absorbing the history of the area. Signature Hole: #17 – Ryan’s Daughter – a 361-yard par 4 – where the ocean scenes from the epic movie Ryan’s Daughter were filmed in 1970.

The Arnold Palmer designed Tralee Golf Club has a statue to commemorate him and his legacy in golf.

The beach along Tralee Golf Club where the epic film Ryan’s Daughter was filmed in 1970.

3rd round – modern era designers John Mulcahy, Eddie Hackett, Claude HarmonWaterville Golf Links, circa 1889, Killarney. Rated as the #1 links golf course in Ireland, it was easy to see why. We hit a great weather day, and I finally got to experience the beauty of this layout my brothers and father have raved about from when they played here some 30 years ago. Each hole just feels right – nothing quirky, all magical in their own way. Mark Twain may have said, ‘Golf is a good walk wasted,’ but I think if he had ever played Waterville he would have changed his mind. And I liked it so much I can’t wait to go back. Signature Hole: #12 – The Mass hole – a 200-yard par 3 – a very low spot protected by high dunes was used by Irish Catholics to hold secretive masses during a time when British rulers disallowed the religion. When the course was being built the local Irish would not touch the sacred ground so now the tee boxes sit high atop one dune and the green on a high flat top across the untouched mass grounds.

One of the very few truly flat holes at Waterville, carved along the seaside beach.

The vista showcasing some of the holes on the back 9 at Waterville. A truly beautiful links course.

4th round – Dooks Golf Club, circa 1889, Dingle. Dooks almost closed in the early 1960’s due to lack of funds, but the members rose up bought the land and literally, with shovel in hand, built another 9 holes, creating a championship level course that is today still owned and run by the members. Signature Hole: the members are the highlight of this club – dubbed the ‘friendliest golf club’ in Ireland – and that’s saying a lot – Dooks is the envy of golf clubs everywhere in how they treat their guests while giving them a great golf experience.

Not a true links course, but plenty of gorse and other elements to battle. (Photo courtesy of Dooks Golf Club website.)

5th round – Tom Simpson designed the modern era Ballybunion Golf Club Old Course, circa 1893, Lahinch. Mother Nature was in prime form the day we came visiting and had us looking for extra layers and cement shoes to battle the elements. The course is beyond tough in the best of conditions – today we were truly humbled – ie. hitting a 3-wood to a 125-yard par 3 and coming up short. This course was hardest hit by the drought, but the lack of grass on the fairways did not diminish the experience of a full line-up of 18 challenging holes. Each hole had a unique quality that had us saying wow over and over again. So much so that I need to go back an re-experience this whole round. Signature Hole: #11 – Watsons, because Tom Watson calls this the best golf hole anywhere. Riding the ridge along the ocean, you have to be brave enough to ride the boundary line with your tee shot to have a chance of landing in the fairway. The approach shot is blind, up a narrow neck, that is all carry to the green – the only safe landing area. We earned our Guinness that day!

The 1st hole at Ballybunion Old Course where it is said that whoever puts their drive into the cemetary buys the first round of Guinness.

One of many blind shots at Ballybunion. The walkways are artificially irrigated, but the fairways are left to Mother Nature to tend to.

“I’m flying!” – to take a line from Titanic. And you could have almost taken flight with the gale force winds we experienced off the west coast of Ireland along the 12th hole at Ballybunion.

6th round – the Old Tom Morris and Dr. Alister MacKenzie designed Lahinch Golf Club, circa 1892, Lahinch. Probably in the best condition of any of the courses following the drought, the thick grass covered giant dunes and the ocean breeze made sure Lahinch still stood as a strong test of links golf. The gals took a raincheck on golf today, and after hearing the guys rave about the condition and the layout, I absolutely have to return to Ireland so I can experience Lahinch. Signature Holes: #4 – Klondyke Hill – 475-yd par 5 – a blind approach shot over Klondyke Hill has you waiting for the flagman on the hill to give you the all clear – failing to take enough club to clear the hill will surely result in a bogey or worse; #5 – Dell – 154-yard par 3, the only indication of where to aim your tee shot is a white stone sitting atop another giant dune that blocks your view of the green.

The goat is the Lahinch Golf Course logo/mascot – for good reason. When the weather apps go on the fritz, rely on the reliable on course goats to tell you what’s ahead for the day’s weather. Goats on the hill – all is clear; goats by the clubhouse – nasty weather is near.

Lahinch had the best recovery from the drought of any of the links golf courses we played.

7th round – Portmarnock Golf Club, circa 1894, Dublin. Filling the whole of a flat barren peninsula just north of Dublin, this course has hosted major amateur and professional events over its history as well as some of the games greats dating all the way back to Harry Vardon who held the course record of 69 over what was then at a full course yardage of 5800+ yards. It has been called the fairest test of links golf due all the holes laying out in front of you – no hidden shots. No wonder my husband enjoyed this course the most. Signature Hole: #15 – 204-yard par 3 – this iconic Irish style hole parallels the ocean and a straight shot is needed on this long hole and well bunkered green to have a chance at par.

The 15th hole at Portmarnock. (Photo courtesy of Portmarnock Golf Club website.)

8th and final round: The Island Golf Club, circa 1890, Dublin. Surrounded by water on 3 sides it looked like an island from across the bay and until the 1970’s it was only reachable by boat. Sitting on the north end of Dublin, it is a comfortably challenging links course with a few wow holes. Being so open to the water, the wind had a big influence on our ball flight, but its a fair track and one I’d definitely return to play. Signature Holes: #13 – a 197-yards par 4 – Broadmeadow– a classic short par 4 that’s all carry over a large grassy bowl and along the water; and #14 – a 333-yards part 4 – Old Clubhouse – behind the tee box is where the old clubhouse stood when the course was only reachable by water and boasts the narrowest fairway in all of Ireland with water along the whole right side.

At the Island Club we had a great caddy, and that made the experience all the more enjoyable and necessary with blind shots such as this one.

The 18th hole at The Island Golf Club – a unique private club started by a group called the ‘Syndicate’ and is still run by the members today.

More amazing pictures from the golf courses in an Ireland photo gallery in the Global Gallery.

Books (creative), books (travel), books (journal)

To continue on the path attributing the affect my father had on my life, I would be remiss to omit the two most major influences he had on me – reading and writing. I am lucky enough these days that I can travel on a regular basis, to see and experience all that our amazing world has to offer. But for most of my childhood years my travel came in the form of reading. The public library was my portal to destinations near and far, real and make-believe.

My father gave my daughter and I matching nightgowns for Christmas - "So many books, so little time"

My father gave my daughter and I matching nightgowns for Christmas – “So many books, so little time”

Reading wasn’t just about pretty illustrations, or interesting tales, or something to fill my hours. But a way to be transported to a different location, a new world, an enchanting culture. Reading brings the meaning of escapism to a whole new level – via creative travel writing. I think so often when people read, they may get so caught up in the story line they don’t appreciate the setting.

Think of Gone with the Wind – set in the deep south on beautiful plantations. Or The Thorn Birds set in the Australian outback. Or The Sound of Music set in the hills of Austria. Reading was the catalyst that in later years would entice me to a love of traveling the world around us. My father and I were/are not big chit-chatters. We would spend hours sitting together, not saying a word, our noses in our respective books. In my early years I climbed on to his lap with a book every chance I got. Initially so he could read to me; then when I got older I either read to him or we read our own books. It was just a very special bonding time.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800's.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800’s.

And then he carried that tradition on with his grandchildren, and even had the chance to do that with his great-granddaughter before he passed on. The pictures of he and my daughter sitting side by side reading are priceless. And her love of reading has undoubtedly lead to a deep love of travel for her. As I write this, she is off to Spain and Portugal for nine days – wondering how she was going to manage bringing all of her reading and writing materials. Most girls worry about managing their travel wardrobe.

Great-grandpa reading to his great-granddaughter.

Great-grandpa reading to his great-granddaughter.

Grandpa, once an English and History teacher, sharing with his granddaughter one of his favorite historical novels.

Grandpa, once an English and History teacher, sharing with his granddaughter one of his favorite historical novels.

Now before I go on a trip, I head to the closest book store and buy up every book I can on my intended destination. In the past that meant mainly guide books. But in the last decade or so, travel writing has taken off and now it is common to find a creative non-fiction account of so many of the major destinations. And with the success of these books are coming more books about the hidden gems of travel. Books are being lauded as much for their setting as their thematic content – and not just being cast into a certain genre. I find it rare that I pick up a book that doesn’t create in me a desire to visit the area it is set in, and experience the culture, the people, the visuals that inspired the writer to create a story utilizing all of these aspects of a location.

Many of favorite travel books are:

Anything by Bill Bryson – A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here Nor There, At Home

Anything by Frances Mayes – Under the Tuscan Sun, Every Day in Tuscany, Bella Tuscany

Brad Newsham – Take Me With You

The Best American Travel Writing – an annual anthology of short travel stories, with guest editors

The other element of the influences my Dad had on me – is writing. My father journaled every day for nearly 40 years, and probably long before that at some level. But he saved his journals from his decades of writing in them, and bequeathed them to me in hopes of reading through them to either write his life story, or pick and choose from his experiences and memories to create a fictional depiction based on a certain part of his life. So looks like I’ll have plenty of writing material to work from in the coming decades – many from some amazing travel experiences he had while in the military and as an adult who had a similar love of culture and golf and all the amazing places both can take you. Now if I only I can decipher his writing!

Grandpa reading to Eli, while looking out of Lake Superior on a beautiful spring day - which he will journal about early the next day.

Grandpa reading to Eli, while looking out of Lake Superior on a beautiful spring day – which he will journal about early the next day.

I have not been the best at daily journaling, but where his influence on journaling has taken hold is journaling where I travel. I try to find a small chunk of time every day while traveling to jot down my experiences of the day – or using the long flights home to relive the whole travel experience. Utilizing the 5 senses to fill my journal with reminders of what stood out to me in what was special about the place I was visiting. Journaling captions to go along with the pictures I take has also become a big part of remembering a place so that when I am ready to write a post I am not lost looking at a picture with no recollection of why I took it.

Journaling sitting riverside in the Rocky Mountains of Big Sky, Montana.

Journaling sitting riverside in the Rocky Mountains of Big Sky, Montana.

So next time you are stuck as to where you want to travel to, pick up a book and see if that doesn’t get your travel juices flowing! Or better yet, take the book with you on your travels to enhance your existing travel experience.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

Husband reading on the patio at the Charleston Inn on Martha's Vineyard.

Husband reading on the patio at the Charleston Inn on Martha’s Vineyard.

My daughter reading while waiting for a massage at the Glenmere Mansion in New York.

My daughter reading while waiting for a massage at the Glenmere Mansion in New York.

"Don't bother us, Eli and I are reading!"

“Don’t bother us, Eli and I are reading!”

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My daughter reading on the steps of the Paris Opera House.

My husband reading while looking out over the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

My husband reading while looking out over the 18th green at Pebble Beach.

My daughter reading at the base of Low Library on the Columbia University campus.

My daughter reading at the base of Low Library steps on the Columbia University campus.

My daughter reading in a Parisian cafe' - oh there's that glass of wine!

My daughter reading in a Parisian cafe’ – oh there’s that glass of wine!

Life is a Journey – a tribute to my father

After a long hiatus I am back to start a new chapter in the writing of my travel blog, Nomadic Narrator. On June 24th my father passed away after a long valiant battle with cancer. He brought new meaning to the words ‘fight for life.’ I have never in my 51-years witnessed a stronger will to live than what my father showed, especially in his final days. It is this passion for life and living that feeds a new inspiration in me to be more aware of my surroundings, take more pictures, ask more questions, journal my thoughts and ideas, and fully enjoy the journey that is life.

In February of this year (2015), my father was told his cancer was in remission. Words we had all been hoping to hear since he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer in April of 2011. After countless rounds of chemo and radiation, the cancer (cells that flowed through his bloodstream and on occasion metastasized to bones and arteries and grew into tumors), was finally whipped into submission. For two glorious months my Dad was cancer-free.

Then, in April, he began to have leg and lower back pain. A new scan showed the cancer had returned – with a vengeance. There were 11 new tumors: a large one in his liver, several in his lungs and the rest in his bones. The doctors felt he could not weather any more rounds of chemo or radiation and recommended he try a newly approved treatment that boosts the bodies immune system to kill off the cancer cells. At the very least, the idea that his doctors were willing to try something, anything, gave my Dad encouragement to push for more days to continue his life journey. As he said, “I’m not going to come 98% of the way, and then throw in the towel.”

This time around, we knew his days were numbered, and my three brothers and I dedicated the next weeks to spending more concentrated time with Dad. Two of my brothers and I live in AZ, while my other brother lives in MN where my Dad resided. It was a logistical challenge to create time together with Dad. Luckily, we all have flexibility in our schedules and on the weekend of May 30th, my three brothers and I gathered in Minnesota to experience a weekend that brings happy tears to my eyes just thinking about it.

We loaded Dad up into my youngest brother’s car, which meant dealing with a wheel chair and enough oxygen tanks to get us through the day. With my brother driving, Dad playing co-pilot/navigator/story-teller, and my two brothers and I wedged into the back seat, we headed ‘up the avenue.’ Our first stop was in Farmington (MN), where my Dad was born and raised. Thus began the day of Dad regaling us with stories of his youth, some we’d heard, a lot we hadn’t.

Our first stop was at the cemetery to pay our respects to his Mom, Dad, and grandparents. Then we wound our way through town: past the creamery where his mom once worked; along the Vermillion River where he swam, fished, read books and kissed many girls; by the railroad station where his step-father started his days as a caboose engineer; to the spot where his mother and step-father lived and where we all shared in years and years of Sunday dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy; this house backed up to the old Ford Motor shop where my Dad’s Dad (who died when my Dad was 14-years-old) worked as a mechanic; past the diner where his Mom worked a second job. Dad’s memories of setting pins at the bowling alley, working beside his Dad at the mechanic’s shop, shooting pool at the billiards hall, working the printing press for the local newspaper were all part of helping to create the man we grew to love and spend time with.

After a trip down memory lane of his youth in Farmington, it was off to Northfield, 15 minutes further to the south to relive memories of his next phase of life – marriage and the birth and upbringing of his four children. We routed the car past the multiple (6+) different homes he/we lived in over a 20 year span, from the first place in ‘hungry hollow’ near the river to the house on the hill on Wallstreet Road; past the golf course we spent our weekends playing golf together as a family of 6; to the high school he taught at and we all attended; the location where his one and only restaurant venture began; the office where he built a successful business career with NML; the Cannon River where we fished.

We ended the day by picking up broasted chicken at the locally infamous Quarterback Club, a favorite hang-out over the last 40+ years, and headed up the hill on the west side of town where St. Olaf College sits. Dad graduated from St. Olaf and was a proud Ole’ for life – so it was fitting we found a picnic bench on campus and enjoyed a summertime meal and recounted the amazing journey we had just embarked on. The tiredness in his body may have been real, but smile on his face was priceless.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

What a day! We found a summer intern at St. Olaf to take this pic while celebrating a road trip down memory lane.

The only way to eclipse a weekend like this one, was to have a weekend where all of the family – kids, spouses, and grandkids gathered together. And how fitting it was that Father’s Day was right around the corner. Dad had some setbacks in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day weekend, and we were worried he may not make it until then, but he dug deep – “mind over matter” – and was so mentally strong and physically tough over Father’s Day weekend it was beyond inspiring to all of us.

We began the weekend with all of the kids and grandkids (18 of us) taking in a Twins game, while Dad rested up for the weekends events. With Dad tiring so easily and being on oxygen 24/7 we decided to take advantage of the usage of the party room at his apartment complex for a place to gather. That way if he became tired, it was a mere matter of wheeling him upstairs for a nap. But he apparently was determined to not miss out on a minute of family time and he never even dosed off during the two 10-hour sessions of family bonding that took place over Father’s Day weekend.

Saturday began a lunch buffet with al lot of Dad’s favorite foods; followed by watching the men’s U.S. Open golf tourney while working on puzzles and playing board and dice games; great-grandpa reading a book to his one and only great-granddaughter; next came a collective toast from all the grandkids to their grandpa – where grandpa signed the lids of all the grandkids mason jars that were used to make the toast; topped off with a slide show presentation of Dad’s 81-years of living life to the fullest.

Dad's grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Dad’s grandkids and great-granddaughter (sitting in for Nick) make a toast to Gpa after he signed the covers of each mason jar used for the toast.

Sunday was spent in similar fashion, 22 of us gathered back in the party room to pick up where we left off. Grandpa propped up in his chair, oxygen tank by his side, watching golf while being waited on hand and foot – being served his favorite foods and keeping his glass of Bushmills topped off.

Many years ago, my Dad wrote a monthly newsletter to his grandchildren telling the tales of the adventures he had on the north shore of Minnesota, specifically Tait Lake, with his ever faithful companion, a 100-lb. yellow lab he named Darby O’Doul. My Dad’s dream was to see these stories in print. Several years ago I took creative license and churned these adventures into a children’s novel, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. After several years of failed attempts at getting this published, I knew my days were numbered in getting my Dad’s stories into print. Thanks to the help of today’s technology and creativity of some very talented people, I was able to self-publish this book as soon as we understood my Dad’s days were numbered and have it in his hands in time for Father’s Day weekend.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

Dad personally signing a copy of, Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake, to each one of his kids, grandkids and grandkid.

On Sunday, his final Father’s Day, my Dad personally signed a copy of the book for each one of us and had our picture taken with him and his book. A moment I know we will all cherish, because of his life long love of reading and writing and the special relationship he had with his human-like dog, Darby. Then we all settled in to watch a very exciting finish to the men’s U.S. Open golf championship – a premium way for a golf-crazed family to spend their final hours with the patriarch of all that was good and true of the family he nurtured and loved unconditionally all of his years. We could not have asked for or consciously created a more poignant weekend of activities to celebrate his life and give us closure to his passing.

Happy Father's Day, 2015 - from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

Happy Father’s Day, 2015 – from your kids, grandkids and great-grandkid.

The next morning, Monday, found Dad exhausted and a little out of it. By noon, he was getting very sleepy so we propped him up on the couch for a nap that he would not wake from. Appropriately, at approximately 5:30 am, on Wednesday, June 24th, Dad/grandpa/great-grandpa took his final breath. For 81-years he had been trying to get everyone up at the crack of dawn to enjoy what he felt was the best time of day – his only taker in 81-years was his ever faithful companion Darby. But on this day we all arose as the sun rose and shed a tear for the man who touched so many lives in so many ways.

Dad’s legacy isn’t what he achieved career-wise or financially – his legacy is what he achieved at the family level. An unconditional bond so deep and so strong, the driving goal of our whole family surrounds the ideal of making sure our paths cross often. We love being together and can’t imagine a better way to spend time than with as many members of our ever-expanding family, whenever we can.

Cheers Dad! We love and miss you!

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40's.

The family unanimously chose this as our favorite picture of Dad, taken sometime in his early to mid 40’s.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

On the day of his passing, my brothers and our families made a simultaneous Bushmills toast across 4 time zones, 6 states and 2 countries.

Travel is not something we do only when we are on vacation or holiday. Everyday we ‘travel’ through life. It is up to us whether we make these daily trips challenging or fulfilling.

Please check out Amazon.com for copies of Darby the Wonder Dog: Tails from Tait Lake. All proceeds will go to Dad’s favorite charities.

Naples – Florida that is!

Generally speaking if you live in the northern states and west of the Mississippi you head to the southwest for a winter getaway – if you live east of the Mississippi you head to the southeast for a winter getaway. Growing up in Minnesota I was geographically on the fence. Being from a big golfing family, we were drawn to the golf mecca of the Phoenix valley. We were drawn to multiple sunny days and dry warm heat. When I was 13 years old, we began making this trek to the southwest on a fairly regular basis, and continued that trend for the next 30 years until my husband and I bought our first place in Arizona.

Minnesota’s geographic location in comparison to Florida in the southeast and Arizona in the southwest.

Florida had never been a strong pull for my family and I, but it does have Disney World and lots of great beaches and ocean views. Most of my trips to Florida have been either around the Orlando area or along the warm waters of the Gulf side: Long Boat Key, Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Tampa, and Naples.

The bridge and groom saying enough of this sunset watching - let's party!

Captiva Island – a beautiful setting for a beautiful couple. Congrats Audra and Shawn on the birth of your new son!

I’ve never felt especially drawn back to really any area of Florida, but from the places I have visited, Naples holds the most appeal. Beautiful white sandy beaches overflowing with seashells; lush well maintained grounds in every direction; a quaint downtown area split into its own version of 5th Avenue with great shops and restaurants and an area about 7 blocks south of there with more great shops and restaurants. Even though there are plenty of places for the ‘beautiful people’ to be seen and want to be seen, there are plenty of places to settle into for a romantic quiet dinner, a stroll along the beaches that are so long there is plenty of room for everyone, or relaxing moonlit walk. (Restaurant reviews coming end of May post.)

Naples is an idyllic picturesque town. Mega mansions line a portion of the beaches, but at the end of each street splitting these ongoing blocks of mansions are public access points to the beaches. So unlike other high-end beach front properties the beaches of Naples are not broken up by private beaches. Live Oak trees create an over hanging canopy so thick on the inland streets they create a natural tunnel. Roads going north and south have gulf views on the west and inland marina on the east. There are very few lodging choices along the beach, instead being lined with high-rise condos which must afford amazing views, or low-rise complexes giving you more direct access to the beach.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

One of the many mega mansions that line the beaches of Naples.

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The heavily treed inland streets of naples create a canopy so thick is produces natures version of a tunnel.

Being a golfer, Florida obviously holds great appeal and interest in the many courses that dot the plush landscape. I have not had an opportunity to play many Florida courses, but from what I have played they certainly stand in stark contrast to the desert courses of Arizona. Thick green juicy rough vs gnarly fluffy rough quickly giving way to desert. Towering palm trees vs towering saguaros. Alligators vs rattlesnakes. The ball doesn’t fly as far in this heavy air and the softer lush fairways, but the heat and humidity keep my body warm and loose so I can grip it and rip it and get us much out of my shots as possible.

While in Naples, my husband and I played a private course called Calusa Pines. They play golf there the way golf should be played, with caddies. The luxury of having your clubs carried frees you up to enjoy the leisurely walk of the beauty every golf course holds vs zipping through each hole in a cart. It helps me to stay focused on my game by keeping the round flowing at a steady pace and giving me time to assess my next shot as I walk up to my ball. With a cart I race to the ball, hit and race to the next shot. Plus it’s a nice benefit to have someone along who knows the greens and aiming points off the tee.

Calusa Pines Golf Club - showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

Calusa Pines Golf Club – showcasing a typical Florida golf course look.

The few days we spent in Naples were extremely windy, but that didn’t stop us from getting set-up ocean side on double wide lounger outside out hotel, the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Umbrellas were anchored deeply in the sand by big muscled beach attendants to keep the beating sun off us. The wind made for big curling crashing waves and helped to keep us cool in the high humidity and temps in the mid-80’s in mid-April. We could walk 75 feet out into the salty warm waters of the Gulf before the water began to go up over our chest. One day we saw a couple of porpoises swim by about 50 feet offshore, just cruising and playing along that line all the way down the shoreline.

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

Large beach umbrellas give shade to double wide loungers to give shade along the beaches of Naples

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

A couple of porpoises graced us with their lively and playful natures 50 feet offshore of our beach lounger.

Even though we experience some amazing sunsets in Arizona, I have to give a nod to the amazing sunsets in Naples. We had a top floor room that allowed us a vantage point to see up and over the buildings. There is nothing more picturesque and photographed more often than the sun setting over the ocean, or in this case the Gulf. The colors are vibrant, and the reflection glistening on the waters is hard to replicate in any other setting.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

The sun setting over the Gulf, with a little fishing boat out enjoying the beautiful setting catching more fish while catching the last rays of sun.

Naples residents are proud of their area and it shows. A lot of Florida looks old, run down, tired. Naples looks fresh, cared-for, vibrant and has earned the tag line ‘destination spot.’

For more pictures of Naples, check out the Global Gallery.

Hawaii – need I say more?

With enough snow to fill the Gillette Stadium 90 times and 120-year-old snowfall records being broken, I’m sure many Bostonian’s are dreaming of a warmer climate. With temperatures dipping below zero and wind chills dipping into the negative double digits, I’m sure many Minnesotan’s are dreaming of a warmer climate. With parts of downtown turned into an ice kingdom that the abominable snowman would love to lord over, I’m sure many Chicagoan’s are dreaming of a warmer climate.

Having lived in some pretty cold parts of the U.S. and Canada, a vacation to a place like Hawaii, was as much a necessity as it was a nicety, to survive the brutally cold long winters suffered in these kinds of cold climates. When my family lived in Regina, Saskatchewan, where it can dip to below zero for weeks on end – it was never, “…are you going on holiday?” – but “…which warm climate destination are you going to?”

Hawaii – often came the answer. Flight time is approximately 7 hours non-stop from middle Canada, but many Canadians take two to three weeks off at a time, so that length of flight is well worth the effort to get a break from the frozen tundra. And from the U.S there are plenty of non-stop options from all corners of the country. Hawaii may be more appealing for those dealing with harsh winters, but really Hawaii is just plain and simply appealing to everyone, everywhere.

Aerial view of the Hawaiian Islands

Aerial view of the Hawaiian Islands

Hawaii has a reputation of being an expensive place to vacation. But – it is an English-speaking U.S. state where we can use our American dollar straight up. For me, those perks make Hawaii a very alluring vacation spot. A poolside smoothie may cost $12, but the cost to float in the pool or stroll along the sandy the beach – zilch. Or the cost to boogie board into the ocean or go snorkeling is fairly minimal. Compare that to a lift ticket at Vail, or a park pass at Disneyland, and all of sudden Hawaii is looking like a pretty good deal.

Driving along the fields of pineapples and other fresh fruits - their aromas are intoxicating

Driving along the fields of pineapples and other fresh fruits – their aromas are intoxicating

My first trip to Hawaii was with my husband for our honeymoon – four years after we were married. It was always our dream to go and have the full Hawaiian experience, so we patiently saved our money and earned extra vacation days. We stayed in Kaanapali on the west coast of Maui. Our place was right on the beach, so we strolled the beach every morning and evening. During the day we discovered the remote Makena Beach; peered inside the slumbering volcano Haleakula; had a dinner cruise on a catamaran; bought oysters in hopes of landing a uniquely colored or huge pearl; drank mai tais like they were water.

 

The once very remote Makena Beach was a real find - the waters so blue and clear; the sand so soft and clean

The once very remote Makena Beach was a real find – the waters so blue and clear; the sand so soft and clean

The view from Haleakula was truly breath taking

The view from Haleakula was truly breath-taking

My next visit was with my family, when our kids were 10 & 12. We stayed at the Fairmont Kea-Lani, in Wailea, Maui. Our pool-side room was large, decorated in white and cream hues and plush furniture. So plush my son chose to sleep on the white sofa instead of his bed. Unfortunately this was during his colored hair gel days – and red was his color for this trip. When he woke up the next morning, we had a pink sofa and I was sure we were going to be thrown out of the hotel. We went to the pool and when we came back we had a white couch – I never found out whether they cleaned that sofa or if they replaced it with a new one. But it sure confirmed to me that I would certainly return to this resort again.

The Fairmont Kea-Lani, on the Wailea end of Maui, boasts a beautiful beach side resort and villas

The Fairmont Kea-Lani, on the Wailea end of Maui, boasts a beautiful beach side resort and villas

The kids loved Hawaii!! They ate exotic fresh fruit like it was candy; went snorkeling at Molokini Crater; learned to boogie board at body surf at the amazing beach at the hotel; played marco polo in the pool for hours; drank $12 smoothies like they were water; napped and read in the hotel cabana’s; and went back to Canada with golden tans and made all their friends jealous.

Heading snorkeling at Molokini Crater - where the kids took pics of brightly colored fish with their underwater cameras

Heading snorkeling at Molokini Crater – where the kids took pics of brightly colored fish with their underwater cameras

My third trip was back to Kaanapali, Maui, with my husband for a work conference. We stayed at the Sheraton which hosts one of the islands better luaus twice a week and has a daily cliff diving ceremony just as the sun sets. Being avid golfers we splurged and played the public Plantation Course, where the PGA Tour Tournament of Champions is played every January. The ocean butts up to the edge of the Sheraton property allowing us an unimpeded view to catch a glimpse of whales spouting in the distance, fisherman catching fresh fish for the local eateries or surfers waiting for the big wave.

So far my experience to the Hawaiian Islands has been limited to Maui – but I figured it is popular for a reason. Maui boasts a great mix of tranquility and activity to fit the diverse needs of any family or group gathering. Having said that, visiting the other Hawaiian Islands is high on my bucket list. Aloha!!

Planes, Trains and my favorite – Automobiles

There are a lot of ways to get to where we want to go for our travel needs. Planes allow us to get there quickly. Trains give us the opportunity to get there fairly quickly while taking in some pretty amazing scenery. But for me there is nothing like driving to a chosen destination. Automobiles can provide speed. And the viewing opportunities are endless because you are not tied to a specific track; and your schedule is your own.

PLANES: to cover the most miles in the shortest amount of time there is nothing to compete with flying. Even with delays that seem to happen with far too much regularity, if you have a time crunch, there is no match to covering 500 miles in an hour. Our airline choices have become greatly reduced in recent years with airlines swallowing each other up left and right, leaving less and less competition to keep airline prices in acceptable ranges. The seat areas get smaller, while the prices get bigger.

Taking off in ominous skies in Phoenix enroute to Kansas City on US Airways

After a long delay finally taking off in ominous skies in Phoenix enroute to Kansas City on US Airways

The three main airlines I fly on are: Delta, US Airways, and Southwest. I wish I could say one outweighs the others when it comes to customer service. But it seems to be a real crapshoot as whether you get a good crew or not. Some make you feel like you are bothering them and they are there to basically get a paycheck. Others make you feel like you are the only passenger on board. Some crack jokes and keep everybody’s spirits in a light and lively mood; some try to crack jokes and fail miserably and should just stick with serving; and others are simply good at making your flight pleasant and comfortable.

Pros and Cons of each airline – including perks of flying status on some airlines

Delta: allows purchase and cancellation of one-way flights; $200 change fee; great Delta Sky Club (SkyTeam) – can enter with Platinum AMEX, First Class ticket, or Gold Medallion or higher; three free checked bag; possible but not often free upgrade; boarded by zones; minimum five miles earned for each dollar paid.

Delta Airplane

US Airways: allows purchase of one-way flights – but if you book a round-trip ticket and cancel one leg, they cancel the whole flight > charge a $200 change fee and difference in airfare to rebook leg they canceled; only Emerald or Sapphire or International first class has access to OneWorld Clubs (or you can pay $50 for a one day pass) – a Platinum AMEX, First Class domestic ticket or Silver Preferred won’t get you in; Silver Preferred allows you one free checked bag and free upgrade for you and a companion if available; boarded by zones; earn 100% or 150% of miles flown depending on status.

US Airways airplane

Southwest: allows purchase and cancellation of one-way flights; two free checked bags, but they do charge an early bird fee if you want a chance to get checked in early so you don’t have to end up in a middle row seat; no cancellation fee – they bank your credit for use on a future flight; no first class or sky miles clubs; business status is achievable for better seating options; board by lining up on either side of a line up of numbered posts – A,B or C and 1-60; minimum 6 points (miles) earned for each dollar spent.

Southwest Airlines airplane

TRAINS: now we need more of these in the US. It is one thing I love about being in Europe. You don’t need to or really want to drive long distances there. There are trains traveling at all times of the day and night to pretty much any destination you can think of in Europe. If you’re in a hurry, take one of the many speed trains. If you aren’t, take one of the more leisurely paced trains and take in the diversified landscapes that dot the European continent. And if you are in one of the major cities, there is no better way to get around then by subway or light/metro rail. Quick on and quick off.

Sipping on a cold one in the subway in Prague - those Czechs like their beer anywhere and everywhere

Sipping on a cold one in the subway in Prague – those Czechs like their beer anywhere and everywhere

One of many historical train stations dotting the European countryside - usually with a church in the background

One of many historical train stations dotting the European countryside – usually with a church in the background

On the train, taking in scenery and an opportunity for some reading enroute from Vienna to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

On the train, taking in scenery and an opportunity for some reading enroute from Vienna to Ljubljana, Slovenia.

There are regions in the US that have taken this form of transportation to heart: NYC, Boston, Washington DC, and many points in between; Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Miami. Amtrak has been around for decades and it would be great to see the kind of train access between states like there is between countries in Europe. Obviously from a cost perspective in this day and age this is very prohibitive. The size of each country is roughly the same when compared in square miles, but we have only about 40% of the population that Europe does, so that leaves a lot of vast unpopulated miles to cover that building and maintaining rail systems in these areas would be very expensive.

Amtrak train

Respite from the rains above in a subway below New York Cities busy streets

Respite from the rains above in a subway below New York Cities busy streets

When I am in the US and am not in a hurry to get to my destination there is no better way to travel than by automobile. I don’t really have any addictions, but I do have several passions: traveling, eating, writing, reading, golfing, walking and CARS!! I have a need for speed!! The kind with four wheels. Our family has a diverse collection cars to take us to our chosen destinations: SUV’s to take us through snowy mountain passages and rough terrain; sports cars to hug those curvy roads; sedans to float along the open highway; UTV to go off-roading into the desert.

Ready for a road trip through the curvy mountain roads in northern Arizona

Ready for a road trip through the curvy mountain roads in northern Arizona

Plenty of room in the SUV for dogs and luggage

Plenty of room in the SUV for dogs and luggage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now when my family travels to a destination where we need to rent a car, we splurge on a fun ride as much as on our accommodations. Nothing like winding your way through the Vermont countryside in a road hugging Camaro or cruising along on the Pacific Coast highway in a Porsche Panamera.

Girls road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco in a snappy Mustang convertible

Girls road trip to Yosemite from San Francisco in a snappy Mustang convertible

Cruising through the curves on the 17-mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula in a Porsche Panamera

Cruising through the curves on 17-mile drive on the Monterey Peninsula in a Porsche Panamera

The view through the front window of a 2012 jet black Camaro as my daughter and I wind our way through the Vermont Countryside

The view through the front window of a 2012 jet black Camaro as my daughter and I wind our way through the Vermont countryside

 

Eli helping Dad navigate the roadways from Phoenix to Kansas City

Eli helping Dad navigate the roadways from Phoenix to Kansas City

Summer fun – in the desert?

“Are you crazy?” ask my friends from the north.

“Certifiably,” I reply with a wry smile.

August has been my family’s go to month to vacation in the southwest for over a decade. We love heading down there mid-August for a couple of weeks or however long everybody’s schedule allows.

“Isn’t it like 110 degrees down there this time of year?” they continue.

“Absolutely,” I reply holding strong with my smile.

These friends, who have never been to the hot southwest, are incredulous as to why we would vacation, or as my Canadian friends say, “holiday,” in such hot locales, when there are so many cool(er) weather destinations to check out.

There certainly is some weight to that argument. We bought our first vacation home in Arizona in December of 2003, and no one said “boo” about that decision based on the time of year. Heading to the great southwest, from any of the heavily wintered Canadian provinces or U.S. states when it’s well below freezing with several inches of snow on the ground for a good thaw out in the hot desert is almost a must to survive the rest of the winter spent in the frozen tundra.

“What can you even do in that kind of heat?” their questions continue.

“Everything!” I reply and go on a sales-pitch rant.

These people live in areas where it can get to 30-40 below, for weeks on end, and they say I’m crazy for doing the same, just at the opposite end of the temperature spectrum. You can get frostbite in a matter of minutes at those kind of cold temps. And you can sunburn in a matter of minutes in temps of 110+. Cars can freeze up, wheels break, electronic systems shut down in freezing temps. Cars can overheat, asphalt streets get soft, you can singe your hands and legs on hot steering wheels and seats in intensely hot temps.

But my family and I have found August is a very enjoyable time of year to be in the desert. The pool temperatures are absolutely perfect. The heat of the sun, and the overnight warm temps, keep the pool at a comfortable 90 degrees – naturally – no heater needed. Just cool enough for an overheated body. Floating on a partially submerged floatie, with a cool-beverage in hand, and life is pretty darn good. Take a quick dip to cool down the whole body, and if a little breeze comes over the pool you can actually feel chilled in 115 degree temps.

The boys bake in the August Arizona sun, while the girls chill at the pool bar wondering where that Cabana boy is.

The boys bake in the August Arizona sun, while the girls chill at the pool bar wondering where that Cabana boy is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even the pups need to stay cool!

Even the pups need to stay cool!

Or stand tall and get a free body scrub compliments of a summertime haboob!

Or you can stand tall and get a free body scrub compliments of a summertime haboob!

Because there are not enough hardy souls that head to the southwest in the dead of summer it’s a great time to take advantage of  empty golf courses at greatly reduced prices. A foursome who doesn’t dawdle too much can easily finish in well under 4 hours. With a beverage cart driving by every few holes and a cooler on the cart with multiple ice-cold bottles of water as well as towels doused in ice-cold water to wrap around your neck, playing golf can be a very enjoyable activity in the heat of the summer.

But if weathering the great outdoors is just too much to ask, then jump in your air-conditioned car and head to one of the many air-conditioned malls – i.e. Fashion Square, Scottsdale Quarter, Kierland Commons, Desert Ridge, Tempe Marketplace. Or to one of the many movie theaters with stadium seating, comfy leather reclining seats, bar and food service – i.e. iPic Theaters, Studio Movie Grill, Ultra Cinemas. Or how about the interesting and interactive Musical Instrument Museum.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and have extra time on your hands, rent a fun little sports car and hit the road. A four-hour drive will have you in Vegas – make a quick pit stop at the Hoover Dam. Spend several hours in the mega air-conditioned casinos, take in a show, or feast at some of the best restaurants in the country.

Road trip to Vegas, pit stop at the Hoover Dam

Road trip to Vegas, pit stop at the Hoover Dam

Or make the 2 1/2 drive to Williams, AZ, just west of Flagstaff, to jump on an air-conditioned train into the Grand Canyon. A 2 1/2 train ride in; several hours to wander around the canyon; and a 2 1/2 hour train ride back.

After you have worked up a good appetite, it’s time to settle into one of the many great eating experiences in the valley. No matter where you are staying, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, Mesa…there are multiple options for great food within a very short drive. Mexican is obviously a favorite food in the southwest, but the demands of even the most picky tastebuds will be fully satisfied. Some of our favorites include:

Los Dos Molinos – authentic Mexican eats; try any of the pork dishes, slow roasted all day long. Very spicy. $$ South Phoenix

My friend Vicki enjoying her pork dish at Los Dos Molinos

My friend enjoying her pork dish at Los Dos Molinos

Mastro’s Steakhouse – fine dining w/live music; best steaks in town (in my family’s humble opinion). $$$$ N. Scottsdale

Father and son...

Father and son and…

the fellas enjoying surf and turf at Mastro's Steakhouse

the fellas enjoying surf and turf at Mastro’s Steakhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn –  fine dining – great outdoor seating; a little bit of everything food wise. $$$$ Paradise Valley

True Food Kitchen – good food that’s good for you. $$ Scottsdale

Sofrita – spanish tapas $$Alchemy – contemporary American $$$$Sapori or Arrivederci – Italian $$$. Fountain Hills

Blue Adobe Grill – American Mexican; great flavors. $$$ Mesa & Scottsdale

Casa Mia – authentic Italian with homemade pastas. $$$ Scottsdale

T. Cooks at Royal Palms – fine, dining – fresh and flavorful American cuisine. $$$ Phoenix

Pure Sushi – fresh sushi and flavorful Asian dishes. $$$ N. Scottsdale