Monday, September 7, 2015

How to Enjoy an Amazing Long Weekend in Ireland!

This year hasn't given me many breaks but thankfully back in January we booked the most amazing trip which turned into a long weekend getaway at the end of August.

Last week we went to Ireland!   I worked from 7:30 - 2:30 on Wednesday, then ran home to take a shower and made it to the airport by 4:00 to be ready for our 5:50 flight.  Typically I'm not one for packing those neck pillows but because we only had Thursday - Saturday to do our sightseeing so I needed to be rested and ready to tour as soon as we hit the ground. Pillow in the backpack...check!  This trip I packed really light with just a small carry-on bag and of course packing a sturdy pair of walking shoes.  We arrived in Shannon by 10:00 on Thursday morning, picked up our rental car (one of the bravest things we've ever done) and set out to see County Clare.

Day 1 - Our first stop was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park and it was a perfect start to the trip after such a long flight.  We walked the grounds saving the climb up in the castle until the end.  By the time we finished it was lunchtime so we headed over to Gallaghers before driving on to Ennis.
Maybe I'm in the minority but flipping my driving mindset from L-R to driving R-L would be impossible but my husband was agreeable to handle the driving, provided I made no sounds while he was at the wheel.  Leaving Shannon it was a big deal to adjust differences.  Little did I know the driving would be even more challenging over the next few days with all those narrow country roads but now that we are home I'm so glad we had a car and that my husband was willing to handle the driving.

We arrived in Ennis and after circling many blocks several times we finally found our hotel AND the hotel parking lot.  We spent our days at the Old Ground Hotel and it was wonderful.  We had a suite which was fabulous (thank you Delta vacations).  The hotel is right in town so the location is perfect and it also has great restaurants and a top-rated pub.

We ended the day with Irish music at Cruises Pub.

Day 2 - Friday morning we got up early and hit the road.  We were headed for the Cliffs of Moher and were encouraged that even though it was overcast, there was no rain.  That is until we got to the Cliffs.   As soon as we stepped out of the car it started sprinkling and by the time we got on the walking trail it was pouring.  We were drenched but we continued our walk. Seeing the cliffs in the rain, with crashing waves, winds and heavy clouds, gave the scenery a haunting appearance and it made the walk more beautiful.  We stopped in to the cafe and had some tea before heading to Doolin.
From Doolin we waited at the port to catch a boat to the Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands.  Our boat ride was the scariest, most turbulent ride ever and I'm not exaggerating or kidding about this.  We were not asked to wear life jackets but I spotted their location and had we capsized I was going to be ready.  There were so many distractions - people throwing up and working as hard as I could to hold on to my seat actually made me feel like I was holding on for dear life. We had windows from our seating but all we could see was crashing waves. Luckily it was only a 35 minute ride and soon we were on the dock, the sun was out and we were seeing a dolphin!  Apparently Dusty Springfield's ashes were strewn near the Cliffs and shortly afterwards "Dusty" the dolphin made an appearance and now stops in every day to visit with visitors and natives alike.

We spent the day with a local man touring Inis Oirr.  It is a beautiful island and we saw St. Kevin's Church, the O'Brien Fort, the Plassey shipwreck, the Holy well, the lighthouse, the handicraft workshop and much more.  And we got to enjoy one of the best bowls of seafood chowder ever!  After a full afternoon of walking the island it was time to get back on that boat and face the rough sea and another boat of seasick passengers.

That night back in Enis we made another trip to Cruises for some Irish music.

Day 3 - Again we got an early start and hit the road in search of faeries and the Burren.  Okay, I knew I was pushing my luck to think that I would see the faeries but I was eager to see a ring fort and was hoping to spy a faerie too.  Along the way we stopped at the Burren visitor center to learn a bit more about the land and nature before heading to the stone fort. At the fork in the road where we were to turn was a beautiful abandoned castle called Leamaneh so of course we had to stop for photos.  I later learned that the fireplace in our hotel was removed from the castle and installed at Old Ground.  Driving on we finally arrived at Caherconnell Stone Fort and enjoyed taking in the beauty of the landscape as well as learning about the excavations.  We took some time to enjoy the sheepdog demonstration which was an added bonus before heading up the road to Poulnabrone.
Poulnabrone looks huge in photos that I'd seen but it is not that big really but it was eerily beautiful to see the stones mounted in the midst of nothing but stone.  On the drive back to Ennis we stopped to see the Kilnaboy Church with its round tower.

One thing I've failed to share is that at every stop we just took in the views.  The landscape is so beautiful and so perfect that it almost doesn't seem real.  We decided that on our last day we needed to see the Ennis Friary and needed to enjoy some time in Ennis.  The town has lots of shops, cafes and a lovely river.  It seemed like a perfect way to slow down and relax and it was.  By late afternoon we decided to go back to our hotel to sit in the garden and have a tea.  It was amazing to enjoy a wedding and sunshine!  The garden was filled with love, flowers, friends and family celebrating the marriage.  As the sun went down it only seemed right that we return to Cruises for our last night of Irish music.
As we headed out to the airport I couldn't help but think about this trip as perfect.  We saw so many things but had plenty of time to relax and visit with people.  In fact, I felt right at home.  People were so friendly and welcoming making our visit even more memorable.

I don't know if I'll make it back to Ireland any time soon but I can honestly say it was one of my favorite trips and I sincerely hope to visit again. Delta Vacations helped me put this trip together and while it was short, it was amazing and affordable.  I'm sold on Delta Vacations.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Where Has the Summer Gone?

I just realized how long it has been since my last post and I can't believe it!  But I've got several good excuses.  My son got married in July and it has been a whirlwind ever since.

We've had lots of fun family weekends.  Just ask me how many times I've played Apples - to - Apples.  

And then then there were more gatherings and outings (I just love how my niece manages to be the most sophisticated at her most playful moments)!

Two of my nieces and their kids

And of course there was a lot of work and some volunteer fun. 

Then there was back-to-school shopping. 

Even though school has started, thank goodness summer is still with us and I'm hoping to enjoy it for as long as possible.  It is by far my favorite season.  I hope your summer is bringing you joy.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fun in Columbus, Georgia!

Flag waving in downtown Columbus
My niece was in the Miss Georgia's Outstanding Teen Pageant so I had the good fortune of going down and spending a few days in Columbus, Georgia.
Mel with her best friend
The Miss Georgia pageant has been held in Columbus for as long and I can remember though until my niece became involved in the pageant I'd never had an overnight stay in the city.  I'm hear to tell you that Columbus is great.

I was able to do some interesting work while visiting the city which was actually quite fascinating.  Our firm is helping with a really timely project called Race, Law and Law Enforcement and I had volunteered to conduct some interviews and it just so happened there were candidates willing to be interviewed living in Columbus.  It was an unusal way to be introduced to some of the local people while at the same time, very interesting. As much as I was helping, I felt like I learned a lot.

 My hotel was located in the downtown which happens to have lots of shops, restaurants, a riverwalk and on Saturdays a fantastic farmers' market not to mention that it is right in the historic district so there are lots of beautiful homes nearby.

In the afternoon I managed to walk about 3 miles but who wouldn't? The scenery was lovely!

  Did you know that you can go whitewater rafting in Columbus?  And if you cross the bridge you enter Alabama!

I ended up buying a mess of purple hull peas at the market.  They are my favorite and when the afternoon heat got to be too much it was nice to sit in my hotel room and shell peas.  (I bet the cleaning ladies got a kick out of the trash I left behind)!
We were the cheerleaders!!!
My grandgirl came down to enjoy the pageant so it was fun to be able to have play time after everything was over.

Columbus is a beautiful city and after conducting interviews I decided it is a really friendly city. Most of the time I'm rushing around to get to wherever it is I need to be but it was really nice to slow down and enjoy a city in this great country of ours.  We've got some great towns, great people and lots to be explored.  Happy 4th to those who are celebrating.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Quicken Loans, Detroit AND the Great Place to Work Executive Strategies Network

Okay, the title of this post probably makes no sense but this month because our firm is a member of the Great Place to Work Executive Strategies Network, I was able to visit Detroit and spend a couple of days at Quicken Loans headquarters and wow, what a great trip!!  Detroit was amazing and so is Quicken Loans.  I have never experienced so much enthusiasm for a city and a workplace.
Great Action Words Throughout Quicken Loans
Don't You Love This "work" Zone?

Work - Life = Balance
Meet Melissa - The Woman Who Helps With Buildouts - Amazing!

Getting ready for discussion

Love the ESN!

What a perk - Red Bull!
 Prior to the trip I wasn't expecting much and I'm sure you are thinking the same thing - Detroit?   There has been so much negative publicity about the blight of the city and the bankruptcy.  It just doesn't sound good, right?  But what a surprise.  Perhaps because the city really had no place to go but up, the city entered a modern-day renaissance and Quicken Loans is one of the major driving forces behind many efforts. It is incredible. Quicken Loans is working to renovate dozens of properties and historical buildings, helping start new companies, encouraging and investing in new entrepreneurs all while growing their core business.  You can feel the enthusiasm for the city from the moment you arrive.

Quicken Loans operates a summer internship and guess what?  They never advertise and yet every summer 1,500 students get an opportunity to work at Quicken Loans.  They meet for one entire day with Dan Gilbert, the CEO and get a full day introduction into the "isms", the core values that get put into action and are the foundation of QL's success.
Isn't this a great philosophy for the workplace?

The "isms" as a Fathead.

We met Melissa. She oversees the build of new space. I was amazed at her enthusiasm, artistic passion, her artistic eye and practical vision in work spaces.  Then came Bruce.  Believe me - NO ONE is more proud or has a greater passion for Detroit than Bruce.  I left there wanting to move to Detroit.
Sample work space.  Can you say fun?

And cool?

Pianos on the street.  Music at lunch.

Bruce showing us a layout of downtown.  Orange roofs are Quicken Loan Buildings!

View from the QL exec floor

Bruce on the street.  He is something!

Bruce showing us art in a parking deck.  Artists are leaving their mark everywhere!!!

Yes, the can says...Detroit, Opportunity!  Detroit is an opportunity and even keeping things clean is an opportunity to make a city better!

Dan Gilbert owns the Cavaliers, thus there is a basketball court in corporate headquarters.  Gotta love it.

Ezelle and Tony - Great Place to Work

Safety Deposit Boxes - Dime Bank Building 

And Art!

The vault conference room

Vault conference room

A little fun!

The vault door

Were it not for the Executive Strategies Network and my workplace I would not have had this opportunity.  Wow!  Now I can't wait to go back to Detroit.