Category Archives: Tours and Trips

county cork

The Best of Ireland and the UK

Guest Story by Stephen Flanagan

When planning a holiday in the U.K. and Ireland, there are a number of not-to-be-missed attractions and destinations that should appear on the trip itinerary. Here are the best of Ireland and the UK. London is an obvious choice; its historic palaces and iconic landmarks are among the best-known and most popular tourist attractions in the world. For travelers looking a little further off the beaten path, here are four holiday destinations that offer unique sightseeing and entertainment options to make the trip a memorable one.


Dublin, Ireland

As the capital of Ireland, Dublin offers a diverse mix of activities and options for visitors to this historic city. Golfers will love exploring more than 40 courses located throughout the city and surrounding areas. The history of Ireland is retold at the National Museum of Archaeology and History with a focus on the medieval period of this beautiful land. The beaches and shorelines of Dublin offer plenty of opportunities to soak up the sun in tranquil surroundings. Scenic Phoenix Park is home to the world-famous Dublin Zoo, a perfect family-friendly destination. For short breaks and extended stays, hotels in Dublin city centre comprise an eclectic mix of quirky bohemian accommodations and five-star hotels to suit any budget or personal preference.

Manchester, England
For football fans, the National Football Museum in Manchester is an experience not to be missed. The home of the Football Hall of Fame and of the famed Manchester United football club, Manchester also offers a wide range of cultural and entertainment choices for guests to this cosmopolitan city. As a centre for commerce and industry, Manchester boasts a number of museums and other attractions dedicated to its industrial heritage. For a bit of spooky fun, Flecky Bennett’s Manchester Ghost Walk is a look at the supernatural history of the city. Travelers seeking the best accommodation in Manchester City have an extensive list of choices; this vibrant business centre boasts several five-star hotels as well as a number of smaller bed-and-breakfast establishments located throughout the area. Although if you’re just here for the football, Manchester United is probably your destination.

Edinburgh, Scotland
The capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh offers unique attractions for visitors to this historic city. One of the most intriguing is the Camera Obscura tower in the Old Town district. This scientific marvel projects the light from the top of the tower into a reflective parabolic dish, providing a panoramic view of the entire city of Edinburgh. The Royal Botanic Garden is an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon. If it rains, as it does so often in this part of the world, the Rosslyn Chapel is located in the southern part of the city and is a favoured destination for students of religious history. Travelers can enjoy easy access to all the city’s attractions from the Royal Mile, which boasts a number of five-star rated hotels and less expensive accommodations.

county corkCork County, Ireland
The home of the legendary Blarney Stone, Cork County has many other attractions for travelers to this enchanted region. Druidic influences are still evident in the area, and the Rock Close is an exceptionally well-preserved example of these ancient ruins. Located on the grounds of Blarney Castle, the Poison Garden includes a wide range of interesting and deadly plants. More traditional garden settings are also available for romantic strolls or quiet contemplation. In the scenic village of Blarney, guests can stay at the Blarney Castle Hotel, a lovely family-owned business with all the modern amenities, or choose one of the numerous accommodations located throughout the county of Cork.

These scenic retreats and exceptional cultural offerings can provide a holiday experience that will be remembered for many years to come.

 

Everyone wants to see Abbey Road! cc image courtesy of mcmrbt on Flickr

The top spots for UK Music Lovers from Musicals to Punk Rock.

The influence of UK music on artists throughout the world is undeniable, with many of rock and roll’s most legendary acts hailing from the UK. The UK is a fabulous musical destination for lovers of all kinds of music.

It might be hard to believe but in addition to jazz, blues, and rock, the UK is also a thriving country destination and of course if you want to check out musicals in London then you certainly won’t be disappointed.  Every town boasts its own music landmarks as a result, whether you’re into Punk, Mod, Madchester, Britpop, Indie, or Glam Rock. Here are the top five British rock history destinations.

Abbey Road Studios, London

Everyone wants to see Abbey Road! cc image courtesy of mcmrbt on FlickrAny music fan’s tour of the UK will have to start in Swinging London. Upon touching down at Heathrow, one of the most iconic sites to visit is the famous crossing where the Beatles posed for their Abbey Road album cover. You can also see Abbey Road Studios, where the Fab Four recorded some of their most famous songs.

Heddon Street, London

Pose, pout, and recreate another famous album cover on tiny Heddon Street in London, near Piccadilly Circus just off of Regent Street. This is where David Bowie is pictured as Ziggy Stardust on the cover of “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” album way back in 1972.

Salford Lads Club and The Hacienda, Manchester

cc image by Richard K via FlickrThe background for the cover of 1986 Smiths’ album “The Queen is Dead,” the Salford Lads Club in Manchester also counts Allan Clarke and Graham Nash of The Hollies as former members. You can visit the Smiths Room located inside to sneak a peek at all types of memorabilia. The Manchester music scene of the 1980′s and 1990′s is legendary, with Joy Division, New Order, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, and The Charlatans all hailing from this northern city. Stroll by what used to be the famous nightclub The Hacienda on Whitworth Street, where many of these bands cut their teeth. If you’re staying longer in Manchester, Old Trafford is just down the road.

Spillers Records, Cardiff

Officially the world’s oldest record store, Spillers was established in 1894 by Henry Spiller. Originally selling gramophones, they are now located on Morgan Arcade and specialize in a staggering collection of independent CD’s and vinyl to tempt any music nerd.

Eel Pie Island, Twickenham

cc image courtesy of Diamond Geezer via FlickrA tiny island with a fascinating music history, Eel Pie Island hosted a major blues and jazz venue back in the 1960′s. The Eel Pie Hotel was originally a glamorous ballroom, but opened its doors to a sultrier sound when it hosted some rocking blues nights later in the decade. The likes of The Rolling Stones, The Who, Cyril Davies, David Bowie, and The Yardbirds all played here. Pete Townshend owned the adjacent Eel Pie Studios on the mainland, which were a venue for many pop and rock recordings, including the Cocteau Twins.

The Zodiac, Oxford

The Oxford music scene has produced some international heavy-hitters, including Radiohead, Supergrass, Ride, Swervedriver, and Foals. One of the epicentres of this music scene from 1995 to 2007 was the Zodiac, notable for being the location of Radiohead’s “Creep” video. It was also where The Strokes were first signed in the UK, in addition to hosting live music from a bevy of bands such as Coldplay and REM. Although it’s now officially the O2 Academy Oxford, many local residents still call it “the Zodiac” and visitors can still rock out inside.

Walden

A Lit-Nerd Road Trip Adventure through the Beautiful Northeast USA

lighthouse in Portland, MaineMaybe I am biased because I have spent the better part of my life living in and wandering around New England and the rest of the northeast, but I think it is the most beautiful part of America; especially Maine, where I was born and now happily live. Not only is it gorgeous, it’s a hotbed for brilliant, literary minds. If you are a nerd like me, pack up the car and embark on the great American road trip to discover the great American novel!

Longfellow's GardenI’ve loved poetry since I was a little girl, maybe because I was such a dreamer and I liked the idea of romanticizing every single thing that has ever happened, or maybe I was just dramatic. Either way, I am not alone. Mainers are in love with poetry and trip into Portland will prove that. Head down Congress Street past the giant statue of our beloved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and you will soon find yourself at the poet’s former home. The house was built by his grandfather, Peleg Wadsworth, (a General in the Revolutionary War), between 1785 and 1786. Along with his wife Elizabeth, he raised ten children in the house, which would later become Henry’s childhood home. Longfellow House isn’t just for poetry lovers; architecture and history buffs will also enjoy the visit. It was the first home in a city famous for its beautiful brick work to be built entirely of the material, and it is also one of the oldest standing structures in historic Portland. Plus, the gardens are gorgeous!

About a half an hour up the coast you will find the home that Harriett Beecher Stowe lived in after her husband accepted a position at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. The couple only inhabited the home for two years, but it was during those years that Stowe penned Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The controversial story became one of the most widely read novels in the world, and it is even reported that President Lincoln referred to Stowe as, “The little lady who started this great war.”

Hopping back on the poetry train, you will find yourself in Derry, New Hampshire where one of America’s most beloved poets made his home. Robert Frost worked hard to maintain his farm there for eleven years until moving his family to England to focus on his writing. Upon his return to the States, he moved back to New England and was granted not one, but four Pulitzer Prizes. Today people from all over the world travel to Derry for a tour of the farm. You can even take home a piece of the tree that inspired, “Tree at My Window.”

If you have yet to get your fill of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Cambridge, Massachusetts offers a glimpse at the home he where he spent almost fifty years with his family. All of the items in the home belonged to the Longfellow family, and the collection includes over ten-thousand books that were owned by the poet. As a bonus for history lovers, the house was also once inhabited by George Washington.

In Springfield, MA you will find a wonderful tribute to everyone’s favorite children’s author, Dr. Seuss. The sculpture garden is located outside the museum in the author’s hometown. His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, is the artist behind the bronze tribute which features a giant story book, an enormous likeness of Horton the Elephant, the Lorax (my favorite!), the Cat in the Hat, the Grinch and his dog Max, and of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel.

If you find yourself in Lowell, Massachusetts, you will want to stop by the National Historical Park visitor center. There you can pick up three different maps that allow you to follow the haunts of legendary beat Jack Kerouac. Explore downtown Lowell, Pawtucketville, Centralville, or all three and see where Kerouac lived, went to school, was baptized, and all of the places that inspired and worked their way into his novels and poems. Downtown is home to the Jack Kerouac Commemorative which is made up of a series of granite columns inscribed with passages from some of the writer’s most famous works, including the seminal On the Road. You can also pay your respects, as Kerouac is buried in the city’s Edson Cemetery.

WaldenConcord, Massachusetts was once the most popular places for progressive literary minds to convene. For me, one of the most exciting places on this trip is the Walden Pond State Reservation where Henry David Thoreau lived off the land and penned Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. For two years Thoreau lived in a one room cabin he had built on land owned by his friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott and Margaret Fuller were frequent guests during these years. Thoreau’s original cabin no longer stands, but you can pay visit to a replica where you will be greeted by a statue of the man himself.

Speaking of Bronson Alcott, he raised his family close by. This includes his daughter, and another one of my all time favorite authors, Louisa May Alcott. The Orchard House in Concord is where she wrote and set the classic Little Women. The characters in the story are based on her family, Louisa herself as the protagonist, Jo March. Much like her character, Louisa was a headstrong tom boy who paid frequent visits to Ralph Waldo Emerson and delighted in walks through the woods with Henry David Thoreau. Eighty percent of the furnishings at the Orchard House belonged to the Alcotts, and the home appears much as it did when they lived there. Of all the places on this tour, Orchard House is the most like actually stepping into a story.

Before you stray too far from Concord, take a stroll through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, where Thoreau, Hawthorne, Emerson and the Alcotts are all buried.

roughing ItNext stop: Connecticut, Hartford to be exact. In Hartford you can visit another of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s homes, or if you are like me, you will be far too busy geeking out over the Mark Twain House and Museum. Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, moved to Hartford with his wife Olivia in 1871. Construction on their home began in 1873, and they moved in before it was finished in 1874. While living in their creation, Clemens wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, and worldwide favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The Clemens family continued to build their home in Hartford until hard times forced them to move to Europe during 1891. Twain’s daughter, Susy Clemens, passed away while visiting their beloved house in 1896, after which the Clemens’ never lived in Hartford again. The Mark Twain House and Museum is filled with interesting artifacts from the writer’s life and has a great gift shop where you can buy books and more. My favorite item is a button that reads, “Experience Freedom. Read a banned book.”

There are so many other amazing places to visit in the northeast, like the Edward Gorey House in Massachusetts, HP Lovecraft’s grave at the Swan Point Cemetery in Rhode Island, and the Robert Frost Museum in Vermont. Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, where the poet was born and spent a majority of her life, and in Lenox you will find the home of The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome author Edith Wharton. Stephen King fans flock to Bangor, Maine to see the town that so many bone-chilling stories have been set in. But if I keep going, I will have written a novel of my own, and I don’t want a bunch of people showing up at my house!

Happy reading and safe travels!

Melissa Rae Cohen is a travel writer for Auto Europe working out of Portland, Maine. In her spare time she likes to read books. Lots and lots of books!