a fuller life

adventures… eats… laughs… life

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Ireland 2019: Forty Shades of Green

When the universe throws you an opportunity for a second trip to Ireland in a six-month period, you say “thank you universe”, buy a plane ticket, and go with the flow.

And so Sunday afternoon, we head off on another adventure… and this time we brought along some friends. Sue and I for a full week of playing tourist, Greg and Alice were mostly there to work. First flight circled the Montreal airport because it was too busy for landing, second flight delayed and circled the Toronto airport because they had to remove something from the runway, third flight (the one finally heading in the right direction) delayed… but at that point, whatever… we were flying through the night anyways. Watched some movies, mostly failed at sleeping… and then we were in Ireland.

Dumped the bags, found some eats (mmmm avo smash at Ethos), and Sue and I wandered off to explore a bit of Dublin… all part of operation power through until night time to get on the right time zone. We wandered through St. Stephen’s Green (hooray for flowers and sunshine and no snow and no jacket!) and around the Trinity College area… she popped in to visit the Book of Kells and library while I basked in the sun like a lizard. Found a treat at a bakery, and then back to the hotel to wait for the others to get back from the office. Supper at Searsons and called it a night (I made it until 8pm, I woke up at midnight, and did some work).

After finally getting a bit more sleep, it was time to get our tourist on. In the wee hours of the morning, it was off to meet the bus to head to Northern Ireland for our Game of Thrones tour with Finn McCools. Our guide Gavin and driver George were fantastic. It’s a long day, but it’s a nice way to add in some extra sites. First stop (not counting the quick stop for bathrooms and eats), the dark hedges – a really cool row of old trees (they are about twice as old as that type of tree should be) – better known to GoT fans as the Kingsroad. It’s waaayyyyy more fun to visit them when it’s not pouring, without six tour buses, and when liquid fertilizer (of the totally stinky kind) is not being sprayed on the nearby fields.

From here, off to the Giant’s Causeway. This was one of my very favourite places we visited on our trip last year. And, this time it wasn’t nearly as cold or rainy. We explored the site, marveled at the awesomeness that is all those rocks, snuck in a lunch break with some hot soup, and then we were off to Ballintoy Harbour.

For GoT fans, Ballintoy Harbour doubles as the Iron Islands… but it’s also a neat stop to make nearby the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. We also visited Larrybane Quarry (where Catelyn meets Renly and Margaery). A nice touch with the tour is that Gavin had still photos of the locations being used in the show for comparison. Admittedly, even if you know nothing about GoT, it’s a nice Northern Ireland tour. Starting this month though, it gets more GoT-focused, removing the stop to Ballintoy Harbour and adding in a stop in Belfast where you can visit sets, costumes etc.

To end the day, we spent a couple of hours with free time in Belfast before the two hour drive back to Dublin. All in all, I would use this tour company again… there was enough time at each of the stops, considering how many there were, but the bus was pretty tight for leg room (which was especially evident when the jerk in front of me reclined his seat for the drive back to Dublin).

Another beautiful day in Dublin meant it was time for me to show Sue more of it. We did some wandering along the Liffy, checking out the Jeannie Johnston, Customs House, the famine memorial, and the bridges. We joined in on a free walking tour for a couple of hours (available because we had booked a Finn McCools tour), and it was nice to get a bit of local colour along with our wandering. We also visited Dublin Castle, Dublin garden, walked through Temple Bar, and ended at Christchurch Cathedral. We visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Killmainham Gaol, and did mass amounts of walking around before returning to our hotel.

As a strange twist of luck would have it, some friends just so happened to be in Ireland at the same time as us. While our schedules didn’t overlap a ton to be able to meet up a lot, we did all get together for a night of eats and drinks at Murrays.

On Thursday, finally being done with their meetings, Greg and Alice got to join us for a day of playing tourist. This time, on yet another beautiful sunny day (this is noteworthy because we did not get rained on AT ALL while in Ireland for a week… and I wore my jacket for about one hour, and only because it was windy), we were off to explore the ancient east with Extreme Ireland with driver Jim and trainee Brendan. This was a day of being outdoors in wide open spaces, and my soul really needed it after the 17 year long winter we’re still in. Our first stop was the Hill of Uisneach, an ancient ceremonial site in County Westmeath (the symbollic center of Ireland). We met up with Marty for a tour around the site, really interesting and stunning views.

From here, we were off to explore the grounds of Trim Castle (used in Braveheart), Bective Abbey, Fourknocks passage tomb (about 5000 years old), and the Hill of Tara. It really was a beautiful day of stunning views. So I’ll just leave you with plenty of pictures… you don’t have to take my word for it.

Friday saw Greg and Alice headed back to Canada while Sue and I switched hotels to the Jurys Inn across from Christchurch cathedral. Our friends Melissa and Mel were still in Dublin, so we had left the schedule clear today to spend some time with them. Off we went on the DART to check out Malahide Castle. Admittedly, I like the ruined ones better, but we had a nice tour of the castle and grounds. Boxty House for supper and a bit of walking around, and then it was time to call it a night.

For our last full day in Ireland, we lucked out with another beautifully sunny day. Blarney was something that was never really on my radar, but when I offered it as an option to Sue, I’m glad she picked it. There’s a lot of cool stuff in that area. Off we went with Extreme Ireland again, and our incredibly entertaining driver/guide Phil. Apart from a rest stop, our first stop of the day was the Rock of Cashel. This was my favourite place to visit on this trip – and I think that was helped immensely by having nearly the entire site to myself for about 15 minutes (while the rest of my bus watched a video of some kind). Standing in the middle of the ruin like that without another person around is worth writing home about. Ravens make their homes throughout the outside walls, and the sounds of their calls echoing through the place were both eerie and amazing all at once.

From the Rock of Cashel, it was off to Blarney Castle to kiss the stone and acquire the gift of gab. The grounds of Blarney Castle are really quite lovely, especially this time of year where flowers are blooming everywhere. It wasn’t overly busy, so once we got to the top of the castle (not for anyone with mobility issues because the way up and down are narrow and uneven spiral stone staircases), the wait to kiss the stone was only a few minutes. We had a couple of hours here, so we explored around the grounds and then grabbed lunch at the giant food court area at the Woolen Mills (across the street from the castle, and also featuring the biggest shop of Irish stuff I’ve ever seen).

One more stop of the day – Cahir Castle. We weren’t actually sure we were going to get to make this stop. They were setting up for a movie shoot (The Green Knight, coming next year) and the castle was closed to the public. They decided to let us come in and look around though, as long as we agreed that we wouldn’t take any pictures of the sets that were already set up (production was starting the next day). I’ve never walked through a Hollywood set before, so that was kind of interesting… but not nearly as much as the castle itself. This specific castle gets used in movies because it’s still in great shape and some of the defensive aspects of it – like a gate with pointy bits at the bottom – still function.

And with that, our touring in Ireland pretty much wraps up. Back in Dublin, we grabbed some supper (and beer) at the Beer Market (avoiding the Temple Bar area like a plague, it being Saturday night), and called it a night. Sunday morning, we walked around a bit, grabbed some breakfast, and we were off to the airport.

Our flight was delayed nearly three hours leaving Dublin (how many people does it take to change a light bulb on a plane? I’m not sure, but it involved breaking something else and causing us to miss our connection in Toronto). We knew before we even took off from Dublin that our lovely 90 minute connection had become an hour five hour connection… so many movies we were watched, we got back to Canada and cleared customs in about 30 seconds, got Air Canada to at least buy us supper, and we killed some time at the airport. And then we flew home… and it was still winter… and I went to bed.

If Ireland isn’t on your list, it really should be. I definitely plan to go back – there’s still so much more to see.

Ange out.

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Panama Canal on the Caribbean Princess


Four hours into the new year and we were at the airport, starting the process of heading to Fort Lauderdale. Sounds like a great way to start the new year to me. First flight left a bit late as it was snowing and we needed to de-ice, but we had plenty of time in Montreal to connect due to a schedule change. We arrived through to US Customs before America was even open in the airport for the day (but it was only a brief wait). Had some breakfast, drank all the coffee and tea in the airport (because sleeping was just not happening with all the subdivision fireworks for NYE), and then we were on our way to Fort Lauderdale (with, ugh, Air Canada Rouge). Luggage arrived and we were finally off to the hotel (Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina – really close to the port). It was a mad house at the hotel when we arrived (after check in time), but our room was ready, so we dumped our bags, changed out of winter clothes, and headed off to find some craft beer at Tarpon River Brewing. It wasn’t a late night after that… too sleepy.

We had an uneventful morning that consisted of catching up a bit of work, finding some breakfast, and going for a walk in the beautiful, warm weather. To avoid the chaos of people trying to board the cruise ship early, we opted to leave our bags at the hotel and go find some lunch (we didn’t go far, we just ended up at the hotel’s bar on the pier… so you can read this as we were thirsty) and spent a few hours enjoying some eats and drinks. We headed to the ship after 1:00 and it was about 15 minutes from the time we left our hotel until we boarded the ship – easy peasy. Welcome to cruise #20…

The Caribbean Princess is an older ship (built in 2004), but it’s been through some refurbishments – most recently last year when it got some upgrades to the buffet areas, some new restaurants, new beds, furniture upgrades, kids club upgrades, and more. It’s also been upgraded with the new Medallion Class Experience – including MedallionNET internet and on-board Ocean Medallions.

The first day schedule is nearly always the same… muster drill, sail-away, unpack, eat, drink, go to bed. Muster was a long process, but no life jackets and in a lounge. Sail-away is always fun – I like watching all the ships start to leave around the same time. We were in port with a few other ships – Costa, Holland America, and Royal Caribbean. We opted for Any Time dining on this sailing and the first night it was a complete disaster, so we went to Steamers instead. After supper, we tried some music trivia and quickly learned that the activities and entertainment was going to be geared to an age bracket much older than us (we were definitely in the “young” category on this sailing).

The first full day of our voyage was a sea day… always a nice way to relax (and never all that interesting to write about). We relaxed, went to a few ship events like watching a fruit carving and trivia (the trivia was geared a bit old for us, but we managed to mostly not embarrass ourselves), did a little touring around the ship, ate, drank… you know, the usual. It was also the first of two “formal” nights on our sailing – so they brought out the champagne fountain and people got all fancy (if they wanted to).

Our first port day had us arriving in Jamaica around noon, and we headed out from Falmouth to Ocho Rios to go to Bamboo Beach Club. It’s a lovely beach, and we had a nice and relaxing afternoon, but I don’t know that I would do it again. It is quite a drive out to that location (at least 90 minutes each way), longer if you hit traffic. The beach is nice. The shore line doesn’t go on forever, but there’s enough to go for a nice walk. The surf was a bit rough when we were there, so we just lounged around more than going in the water. Our excursion included drinks (draft beer, water, mojitos, rum punch, lemonade, and mimosas … enough to get people fall on their ass drunk… that really happened, but not to us) and eats (a set menu of small plates – ours consisted of a sausage and pineapple skewer, callaloo and plantain, jerk chicken, rice and veggie curry, and fried dough with fruit sauce). There’s a bar where you can pay for other drinks. On the non-VIP section of the beach, there are wooden beach chairs. On the VIP side, there’s wooden loungers. There’s music playing the entire time, and there’s some dancers that put on a bit of a show. There are lifeguards, a nurse, and facilities. We spent about 4 hours there and then headed back to Falmouth (caught in traffic, this took over 2 hours) and we got back just as it was time to be back to the ship.

Sea day again! More chillin’ on the ship… checked out a fruit carving demo, did my steel drum lesson (super fun), drank an entire cup of coffee while it was hot, did some trivia… a generally relaxing day. I love those. It was also football play-offs, so you can guess what Greg spent some of the day doing.

Next port – Cartagena, Colombia… hello new pin on our map! We were essentially only in Cartagena for the morning, so we were up and off the ship quite early in the day for a walking tour of Getsemani and the old city. Admittedly, I would rather do my walking tours with people who are a little better and faster at walking, and in a much smaller group, but we did a cruise tour here and there was many more people on the tour than was advertised. Regardless, Cartagena is so charming and it’s definitely on my list to come back. The bright colours and lovely people – it’s really worth a visit. After our walking tour, we had a quick visit to the Armeria Real hotel for a lesson on how to make coconut lemonade (which is absolutely delicious) and then sadly it was time to go back to the ship. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and watching more NFL playoffs.

And now, it’s time to transit the Panama Canal… to see the whole process, we had to be up early in the morning… the tugs were hooking on around 5am. The new Agua Clara locks on the Caribbean side consist of three locks… it took over 2 hours to go through them. Definitely an interesting process to watch. Once through, we anchored in Gatun Lake and the ship off-loaded anyone who had an excursion. Since we were doing a partial transit (the ship was going back through the same locks after everyone doing excursions got off), you could only do a ship-sponsored tour. We opted to do a walking tour of Old Panama. It was about a 90 minute ride from the canal zone to our first stop, Panamá Viejo, which is the remains of old Panama City. We had some time there to visit the small museum and walk through the grounds. We split from the group and did some exploring on our own, so I liked this part of the tour a lot. From there, we headed through modern day Panama City to where they rebuilt Old Panama. This area of the city has some stark contrasts, with a mix of renovated and destroyed buildings at every turn. It was very hot and I was really at my limit of touring around in a big group by the end of this day, because this is not our normal style of doing things at all. But I did get to see some more of Panama that I had never seen before. From here, back to meet the ship, which was now docked at Cristobal (about an hour’s drive away).

To round out a string of three ports days in a row, we landed in Limón, Costa Rica. Here we got back to doing things our way, where we had a private tour (with Your Lucky tours) for the two of us to tour around. We stopped to meet a wild sloth chilling in a cocoa tree, to see wild life all over the place, hit up a local fruit stand to taste our way through tropical deliciousness, visited a banana plantation (a Dole plantation I believe… bananas are definitely big business in Costa Rica), did a boat tour on the Tortuguero canals, stopped at the beach, and did a little hike through a park and some of the rain forest. Our guide was really passionate about showing off this location and wanted to show us as much as he could, making sure we had lots of pictures, and that we stopped as long as we wanted anywhere we went. Throughout the day, we saw birds, monkeys, sloths, etc. Once we finished the tour, we walked around the area of Limón for a little while, had a few drinks, bought some coffee, etc.

Sea day time again! We didn’t get up to much of anything… another steel drum lesson (still fun, despite some ridiculously annoying and rude other learners), formal night again, and we went to one of the production shows – Fantastic Journeys. This is one of the newer shows across the Princess fleet, and honestly, it was a nice change because a lot of the entertainment options are geared to a much older age group than us. Parts of this one were really well done, with some recent music and amazing costumes.

Our last port of the cruise was Grand Cayman, where we anchored with 5 other cruise ships for the day. It’s been a while since we have been there, but we’ve done the tour and been out to see the stingrays… so we decided on a low key day of just walking around and trying some local eats and drinks. We spent hours at Cabana enjoying some tasty beverages, we walked around a bit, and we popped over to Bread and Chocolate (a vegan restaurant) for a bit of lunch before heading back to the ship.

One last sea day to round out the voyage… so some more relaxing was done (though admittedly, this was a bit of a working holiday for both of us). We snuck in a few activities as well, like a cooking demo, a tour of the galley, and some trivia.

As per usual, all vacations are great vacations and we had a lot of fun on this one. I prefer the newer, bigger ships, but this one was totally fine. The staff was all really great (we really enjoyed Anna and Dan from the cruise director team), the itinerary was interesting, and the food was good. As I’ve mentioned, the demographic on this ship was definitely a fair bit older than us, and at times, even though we are not complete assholes, it was incredibly hard on the patience stores trying to get from A to B for us because we both have a tendency to walk fast. This was also a cruise where people really participated in everything, so if you wanted to go to a show or an activity, you really needed to think ahead and go early.

I love the tech advancements Princess has made – fast Internet (and while still not free, at a much more affordable price), current and free movies in your stateroom (sometimes I just needed a break from fellow cruisers), and the new Ocean Medallions (no more signing a receipt for every purchase!).

And that’s a wrap.

Ange out.

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Ireland 2018: Craic and Hookers, All Around

A trip that starts with an empty seat in an exit row on a shiny new plane, with TVs that work and show free movies from this year – how could it be anything but amazing?20181006_215355And so after a crazy busy Thanksgiving market, we dumped things at the house and headed immediately to the airport… the usual boring flight to Montreal, some blah airport eats, another ice shortage at the Montreal airport (every frigging time I want an iced coffee at that airport!!!), and an overnight flight with little to no sleeping, and we arrived in Dublin early Sunday morning (our flight even got in 40 minutes early)… taxi to the hotel, dump the bags until the room is ready, and off to wander the city. Breakfast, a short walk, and a coffee… and the lovely people from the Gresham hotel call to say our room is ready – 5 hours before check in! Yay for showering! Continue reading

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We did Plan A! (Hurtigruten’s MS Fram)

I’m super pumped to be writing this one! I’ve wanted to try expedition cruising for a very long time, and when this chance came up, I jumped at it. So here’s the scoop.

Earlier this year, I got an invite to experience an expedition cruise with Hurtigruten. So full disclosure, Hurtigruten footed the bill for part of this trip. But you all know me… I always say what I think, so this will be a totally honest blog/review. I’ve had Hurtigruten on my radar for ages for bucket list trips to Norway and/or Antarctica and I’ve had some potential clients inquire about them. I knew I would love them and they did not disappoint.


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When the Universe Gives You a Mostly Free Cruise…

So back in September, at a Carnival Cruise Line event, I won a free cruise! So when the universe gives you a free cruise, and the window you have to use it in includes your birthday, you take it. So we did.


A mostly uneventful travel day (can’t say I really enjoyed the chaos that is Air Canada pulling 5 flights worth of passengers out of security line, leaving us to stand there for an hour… but I’ve been on the receiving side of getting pulled out of that line, so I get it… I did enjoy the no-nonsense security person telling the Air Canada rep to piss off eventually though).. Got to Houston by noon… Uber to Galveston (complete with 90 minutes of the vocal stylings of Phil Collins and other terrible easy listening) and away we go. Continue reading