Travel: Winter in Dublin, Ireland

Just over a month ago, my beau and I took a very quick trip to Dublin. Being the traveler that I am, I was beyond excited to go! This was my first trip abroad since October 2019, which seemed like eons ago!

I was in Ireland just over 10 years ago, but I had only spent a day in Dublin at the time. On this trip, we had a few days to experience the city.

We stayed at the newly renovated The Clarence Hotel (yeah – the one co-owned by Bono!) in Temple Bar. It was beautiful, artsy, and in a great location. Our room had a living area, too (with a pull-out couch), which gave us another little place to relax, watch tv, and enjoy a take-out meal. In non-pandemic times, the area would have probably been a bit too loud for my liking (the bar next door would have impacted my sleep, I’m sure), but it was perfect for us this time. We enjoyed speaking with the staff and having a drink in the lobby bar.

The Clarence Hotel

Pubs are plentiful in Dublin (no surprise there, right), and we loved the first pub we stumbled on – The Brazen Head. It was a cozy spot for a break after an initial walk around the neighbourhood.

The Brazen Head pub

Dublin is easily walkable because it’s compact. We walked everywhere, and only took cabs to/from the airport, and one train to the seaside. The city is also easy to navigate because of the River Liffey, which provides a good orientation point.

walking along the River Liffey

Trinity College, including the Book of Kells and the Long Room library, were one of the first places we opted to go. Trinity College is the oldest university in Ireland, and has some lovely old – and new – buildings.

Trinity College is home to the Book of Kells, which is a most beautifully illustrated Gospel book in Latin (no photos of the book were permitted). The book is an artistic beauty, and the exhibit walks visitors through the history of the book, the craft of calligraphy, and the ink and hide used for the book. Upstairs from the small room housing the Book of Kells is the Long Room library, which houses over 200,000 ancient books. This was remarkable, and it may have been my most favourite place to see. Seemingly never-ending rows of old books lined up on rich wood bookshelves. It was lovely.

Trinity College Dublin architecture
The Book of Kells exhibit
rows of ancient books in the Long Room

Nearby is Sweny’s Pharmacy, which now houses anything and everything related to James Joyce. I walked out of the shop with a couple copies of the Dubliners – Joyce’s book of short stories. I’m not quite ready to dive into Ulysses (Joyce’s first novel).

Sweny’s Pharmacy

EPIC, which stands for Every Person Is Connected, is The Irish Emigration Museum. As there were only a few visitors while we were there, we were able to view every part of the museum and play with all the interactive exhibits easily and at a leisurely pace. The museum teaches visitors about Ireland’s history and the many influences of the Irish around the world. Exhibits also teach users about Irish culture and community. It was fun!

I took a short visit to The National Gallery (it’s free!), and I enjoyed a morning of wandering the halls surrounded by beautiful art and architecture.

The pedestrian-only shopping on Grafton Street made for a pleasant morning stroll and browse. I stopped into Marks & Spencer (of course!) and Brown Thomas (a luxe Irish department store) and enjoyed a delicious lunch in the lovely Bewley’s. It was a busy place when I was there, and I heard that it had recently opened after having been renovated.

pedestrian-only Grafton Street
lunch at Bewley’s
Dublin at night

We took a walk to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and followed the audio guided tour (I highly recommend audio guides, by the way) to learn much about the history of the church and religion in Ireland. We then shared some fish and chips from Leo Burdock’s.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Although I enjoyed being in the hustle and bustle of Dublin, I was also quite eager to leave the city, too. So we opted to take a short train (equivalent to a subway ride) to the seaside village of Howth. This was another highlight of our trip. We both loved being by the water and seeing an area outside of Dublin not heavily populated by tourists. We stopped in a pub here, too, of course, after our short hike on the cliff.

Howth, Ireland

You might be wondering what it was like to travel in the COVID-era (we travelled in January 2022). We felt very safe from beginning to end of the journey. The Toronto airport felt safe. It wasn’t busy. Sanitizer was plentiful, and everyone wore masks. (We wore heavy-duty masks to be extra safe.) The Dublin airport felt equally safe. We hopped in a cab as we exited the airport, and that felt very safe, too. The hotel was clean and took precautions similar to what we have in Canada – masks, plexi-screens, sanitizer station, minimal room service, etc. Restaurants checked our vaccination records on entry and closed at 8pm (they have since changed these rules). Everyone wore masks in shops. We felt safe everywhere we went.

Since it was winter in Dublin, and tourism hadn’t resumed in full-force, it was a really great time to visit. Museums had no lines, we could spent as much time at exhibits as we wanted to, and hotel prices were extremely affordable. The airplane in both directions was nearly empty, so we had (at least) three seats each, which meant that we could have a relatively good sleep in both directions (which minimized jet lag a lot). At the time, we didn’t need a PCR test to enter Ireland, but we did need it to return to Canada. The tests were efficient and relatively affordable ($100CAD).

We knew that there was a risk to travel – just like there’s a risk to do anything we’ve been doing in Ontario – and we were willing to take it. I am SO glad we opted to go. It did wonders for my energy level and gave us a break from the heavy snowfalls at home.

Our short getaway to Dublin was fun and memorable, and it certainly gave me back my itch to travel again!

Travel: Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Ontario

My beau says that I love Langdon Hall more than the owners of Langdon Hall love it. This may be true. I do love it. It’s luxe and beautiful. The employees are kind. The service is superb. The spa is lovely. The food…oh, the food…it’s amazing. I feel instantly relaxed as soon as I arrive. I appreciate that it’s only a 20 minute drive from our home, and yet, it feels so far away. I appreciate that I feel like I’ve been away for days even though it’s only been one overnight. I am lucky to be a repeat visitor for a daytime meal, a spa treatment, or an overnight stay. It’s a special treat to go to Langdon Hall (it’s not cheap), and I’m always grateful when I can go.

My beau and I recently celebrated our anniversary there, and we were treated so very well.

We arrived around 3pm on day 1, and after a quick check-in, we made our way to the spa for massages and some relaxation time (the sauna, steam room, and whirlpool are currently open to guests who have spa appointments). From there, we got ready for dinner and spent nearly three hours dining on the most artful and delicious food and special drinks. Beyond the food, the service was top notch. Of course, the in-room fireplace made our evening that much more cozy and festive.

On day 2, we continued to be spoiled at breakfast with the best croissants among other things like smoked salmon and a masterpiece acai berry bomb (seeds and smoothies have never tasted this good!). Oh, so good! Not wanting to leave after our check-out time, we took our books to Wilks’ Bar, and we read for a couple of hours by the fireplace. It was so relaxing!

wearing heels for the first time in…2 years?!
coddled egg
albacore
venison
milk chocolate dessert
a plate of croissants
smoked salmon
acai berry bomb
Langdon Hall dining room
treats to go

Food: Cowbell Brewing Co. in Blyth, Ontario

A few weeks ago, on our way to the lake, we stopped at Cowbell Brewing Co. in Blyth, Ontario for a meal. Blyth, for those of you (like me) who have never heard of it is about 80km west of Waterloo and 85km north of London. It’s only about 25km inland from Lake Huron. Honestly, I wasn’t entirely convinced a purposeful trip to a brewery was for me. I don’t drink beer, you see. I was told, however, that I would love Cowbell on account of the architecture of the main building…and the food. In fact, this turned out to be true. I was impressed!

Cowbell’s main building is enormous. It sort of reminded me of the main building at the St. Jacob’s farmers market. Think wood, massive ceilings, and impressive stonework.

On this trip, we ate outside because we didn’t have a reservation and there was a bit of a wait for inside seating. Outdoor dining is currently my preferred option anyway, so it worked out well. I opted for the classic burger and a sangria. Both were delicious. The (branded) burger was oh so good!

Beyond a trip to the country for an excellent meal, a visit to Cowbell is worthwhile if you have any interest in learning about branding (and brand compliance). Everything (everything) is branded at Cowbell. The Cowbell store is stocked with products that are made in partnership with local merchants and creators. I was fascinated by Cowbell’s branding approach.

On our visit, we chatted with the friendly staff who told us about Cowbell’s start just a few years ago (in 2016) and its future plans of a fruit and vegetable garden and barn. I am already looking forward to my next visit when I also aim to go on a Cowbell tour (yes, even though I don’t drink beer).

Travel: A Return to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota

I have been spending summers (or part of summers) in Florida since I was 7 years old. Most of this time has been lounging around the beach and pool in Madeira Beach, but in recent years, I’ve enjoyed a vacation-in-a-vacation at The Ritz Carlton Sarasota. In brief, it’s pure luxury. Not only is every detail of the hotel and its offerings well-considered, but the staff at this hotel are so kind and welcoming. The people are definitely what have helped me enjoy my stay each year.

I was in Florida once again with my friend Shannon, and while we love living a retiree-way-of-life in Madeira Beach, we love to get pampered at the Ritz Sarasota, too. We began this visit with a visit to the spa, which was a special treat from the Ritz. Shannon opted for a facial where her skin was treated with the best of the best serums and creams.

I was treated to the Sarasota Touch of Honey. During this 80-minute treatment, after an initial exfoliation of my feet, the massage therapist did reflexology whereby she applied pressure to specific points on my feet to heal aches and pains. In reflexology, pressure points on the feet correspond to organs and areas of the entire body. How did this turn out? Well, I was skeptical at first, if I’m being honest. But then when I could feel tension in my feet and the therapist trying to work out the pains, other areas of my body then acted up. I’m not making this up! At one point, my stomach was making all sorts of gurgling, digestive sounds. At another point, my mind seemed to just open up and become free and clear. If you’ve never had reflexology, I know this sounds kooky, but I’m sharing the truth about these reactions.

I’m all set for my 9am spa call!

After the reflexology, the therapist moved to my upper body and gave me a head, neck, and shoulder massage. It felt amazing!

Post-treatment, the therapist showed me the reflexology map, and gave me some feedback about what she experienced while she was working on my feet. She confirmed that the areas that were tight were also the areas where I was feeling reactions (e.g., gut, mind). Overall, I was glad to learn, my body is pretty balanced. Phew. Let’s hope it continues to be!

digestion, mental tension, and sinuses were on my reflexology menu

After the spa, we enjoyed lazy hours on end at the hotel’s beach club and at the main hotel pool.

I know there’s not much white in this photo, but the shades of blue are hard to resist!

there aren’t many outfit changes on my Florida vacations

The beach club restaurant – Ridley’s Porch – was recently renovated, and since it is filled with white, I had to share it here.

Beyond the outdoors, our hotel room was as it has been in the past – spacious and with the most glorious beds! We spoiled ourselves with room service breakfast on our balcony, too. In our Ritz Carlton robes, of course.

It was easy to fall asleep in this luxurious bed.

Thanks for the sweet white treats, Ritz Sarasota!

Breakfast on the balcony…don’t mind if I do!

light and bright in the room

I don’t usually meet brand partners while I’m wearing a bathing suit, but I also don’t bring many outfit options to Florida!

Because I’ve made repeat visits to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota, you probably already know that I enjoy it, I recommend it, and I will return.

Many thanks to Matthew and Kristine for arranging our visit.

This is a sponsored post. All opinions are my own. Read about my 2017 visit and my 2016 visit to The Ritz Carlton Sarasota.

Personal: 5 Things on My Mind

Here’s a bit of what has been on my mind – and in my life – lately.

1. Plants. I am so pleased with how two of my plants are currently growing. The first is my avocado plant that I started to grow from seed way back in the fall. The second is my fiddle leaf fig that I had cut back a long while ago, and it’s only now sprouting new leaves. So exciting!

2. Kingston. I took a trip to Kingston a couple of weeks ago, and it made me so happy to go back. I lived there for two years, and every time I visit, happy memories trickle back into my brain. I’m thankful that I’m able to continue making memories there even during very short visits.

view of my old waterfront apartment and balcony

3. Heated floor. The One Room Challenge is over, and my bathroom/laundry combo room is done. But when I saw this photo from the team at Warmup, it brought back memories of planning. I like the layout plan of my heated floor (photo source).

4. Art. When I was at Ines‘s house a couple of weeks ago for an essential oils party (with Christine and Hollie), I was impressed by all the art she has around her home. This sweet little piece by Frances Hilary Hahn really made me smile.

5. Elora. I drive over to Elora several times each year. It’s about a 30-minute drive from Waterloo, and it’s such a pretty town for a day trip. It was nice to see the progress of the Elora Mill, too. I’m thinking that the place will be pretty great once it’s all done. I look forward to taking a tour – and hopefully planning a longer stay, too!

That’s all for now. What have you had on the go lately? What’s been on your mind?

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