Friday, February 2, 2018

The magic of carnival gives Venice an enchanted feeling. Everywhere feels lively and jubilant, but the city also is very crowded.

This past weekend, we visited Venice during the opening weekend of “La Festa Veneziana,” which featured a music and light show parade on the Rio di Cannaregio on the first night. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t access this event because the streets were insanely overcrowded, so we went to a wine bar instead.) But on Sunday, we stood outside our hotel and watched the Carnival Regatta along the Grand Canal which consisted of countless gondolas and assorted boats with people decked out in splendid costumes. I couldn’t resist sharing many of the regatta photos I took, so I hope you don’t mind.
The theme of this year’s Carnevale di Venezia is “Playing,” and the carnival festivities run until February 13th. That means you still have several days to enjoy the carnival parties in Venice, or you can start planning your trip for 2019.

Gondolas with people decorated as pirates or animals seemed to be two of the most common themes. It was quite odd to see a cow and a zebra rowing a gondola!
And even more pirates!
History of Masks in Venice
I was surprised to learn that the history of Carnivale in Venice and the use of decorated masks dates back many centuries. In fact, carnival became an official public festivity in 1296, with an act of the Senate of the Republic of Venice, but its origins are even older. In official documents dating to 1094, they state there were already public celebrations held in the days preceding Lent.

For several hundred years, in the weeks leading up to Lent, people wore masks and costumes, making it easier to hide the wearer's identity and social status, or even to make fun of the aristocracy. The festivities also included public shows with musicians, dancers and jugglers throughout the city.

During the 18th century, carnival became internationally famous and reached its widest fame. You’ve probably heard of the writer Casanova, right? Well, it was during this period that Casanova spent his life in Venice attending wild parties and having love affairs. Then, the fun ended. At the end of the century, first with the French conquest of the Republic under Napoleon (1797) and later the Austrian Empire occupation, the tradition of wearing masks was forbidden and was even illegal. Surprisingly, the ancient traditions finally were restored 1979 when the city officially organized a Carnival program and that is what we see today.

This past weekend, many locals and tourists alike, dressed in extravagant costumes, walked around the main areas of Venice and happily stopped to pose for photos. I was impressed!
We even joined the Carnival fun and bought two handmade masks at Ca ‘Macana, an atelier started by penniless students back in 1984. This small shop, bursting to the brim with papier- mâché masks, gained fame when it produced the masks for the movie “Eyes Wide Shut” directed by Stanley Kubrick in 1999. You’ll find several ateliers in the artsy-studenty Dorsoduro neighborhood (which also contains several fun wine bars). Expect to pay at least 30 euros to more than 100 euros for an ornate handmade mask. However, you can find inexpensive plastic and fabric eye masks for only 3 euros at many tourist stands in the city center.
How about some kisses from Venice?
Here, I am wearing a cat mask along the Grand Canal.
More Carnival Regatta Photos
While the regatta rowed by, I tried to snap photos as fast as I could in the sports mode setting. Even if a few photos are out of focus, I think you can still admire how elaborate some of the costumes were.

We may have missed the main Carnival festivities in Venice, but we still had a wonderful time.

Have you attended Carnival in Venice or someplace else?

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, January 25, 2018

When my husband suggested horseback riding on our trip in Ireland, I thought he was crazy! I hadn’t ridden a horse in nearly 30 years…and then just the odd camel or two and a donkey on our travels in Turkey and Greece.

But the next day, I found myself up on a horse named Hemmingway and riding through the stunningly green Killarney National Park, which received the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in 1981. We opted to take a two-hour, guided trek through the park, and I’m so thrilled we did. For once, my husband was right! Later on, my petite mother-in-law said her son’s weird ideas helps keep her young. 😉  
The friendly staff from the Killarney Riding Stables selected horses that would be easy to handle as novices. We got lucky and had our own private tour with our family. I think it was easier as a small group, and we were able to try and keep our horses at the same pace. However, sometimes, a horse would want to stop and eat grass or not move that fast, so we had to nudge them along with the help of our guide. 

And trotting on a horse was a whole different experience!
The Killarney National Park, located in the southwest corner of Ireland, covers more than 25,000 acres and includes three main lakes situated in a broad valley stretching south between the mountains. Closest to the town of Killarney is the lower lake (Lough Leane) dotted with islands and the historic ruins of Muckross Abbey and Ross Castle. The wooded peninsula of Muckross separates the lower lake from the middle lake sometimes called Muckross Lake. You’ll find tons of wooded areas with oak and ash trees as well as ferns and wild flowers and even the picturesque Torc Waterfall, which unfortunately we did not see.
What I quickly learned is that trying to ride a horse as a newbie and take photos at the same time is much more difficult than I imagined! I had to straighten out many crooked photos while editing them. Some of the photos in this post is from our horse ride and others are from another day that we took a long walk through the park. I recommend doing both activities, if you can, because you can see different parts of the park as well as the 15th-century Ross Castle.
The trail ride through the National Park was absolutely beautiful with stunning mountain scenery of the MacGillicuddy’s Reeks and the lakes in the valley surrounding us. We also saw several herds of Irish red deer in the park. Amazing! This Killarney Guide maps out some areas where you usually easily find the red deer. See if you can spy all the deer below.
Even though I was skeptical of riding a horse at first, I’m so happy we did this adventure in Ireland! Riding a horse through the national park allowed us to see so much more as well as give me a different perspective.

I will say that at the end of our two-hour ride, my butt and other aching parts of my body, was happy to be on solid ground again. I joked with my mother-in-law that I don’t know how Claire Fraiser from “The Outlander” series could handle riding for several hours in rugged Scotland.
The four amigos on our horses in Killarney National Park, Ireland.
Note: We paid for this activity ourselves. The cost was €240 for four people for a two-hour guided ride.

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Day Trip from Doolin

In April, the strong westerly winds whipped across our faces as we stood on the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, a dramatic 5-mile coastline on the west coast of Ireland in County Clare.

Here, you will see Mother Nature at her most rugged, panoramic and breathtaking best. The views are incredible, even with a pending rain shower in the distance, which is what we experienced. I guess it wouldn’t be a typical day in Ireland if it didn’t rain.
Originally, hubby and I had planned to hike about 90 minutes from the darling village of Doolin to see the Cliffs, but his parents didn’t share our enthusiasm for this idea. Instead, we drove about 15-minutes down some narrow, country roads to the parking lot and went directly to the visitor’s center.

Towering over the Atlantic Ocean, the Cliffs of Moher reach a maximum height of 214 meters – shaped by Mother Nature over 300 million years. The Cliffs take their name from a ruined fort ‘Mothar’ – which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s, to make room for a signal tower at Hag’s Head. In old Gaelic, the word ‘Mothar’ means ‘the ruin of a fort.’
From the cliffs edge, we heard the the booming far below as the powerful waves crashed against the rocks. We peaked over the edge, watching hundreds of birds swooping in and out of the cracks of the cliffs. I kept looking for the mysterious Atlantic Puffins who were doing their annual spring migration, but alas I didn’t see any. If you’re into birding, I’d recommend a pair of binoculars.
View from O’Brien’s Tower.
Perhaps, as warned by my mother-in-law, we both attempted to get too close to the edge of the Cliffs. You do need to use extreme caution here! The area is known for its strong gusts of wind and crumbling rocks that have led to some unfortunate accidents. We took these photos so they look convincingly close and I was just far away from the edge that I still felt comfortable. Still, be careful!
There also is a well-marked hiking trail along the entire stretch of coastline if you enjoy hiking.
Because the cliffs are so beautiful, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that more than one million people every year visit the Cliffs of Moher, making this one of Ireland’s most popular attractions. Definitely a recommended outing when you visit Ireland!

Cost: €6 for adults/€4.50 for concessions
Cost for O’Brien’s Tower: €2 for adults

Lodging: We stayed 1 night at the Pairc Lodge in Doolin, which is along the main road to the Doolin Harbour. We paid €85 per room which included a lovely full Irish breakfast with homemade jams cooked by Rita, the owner. The bed and breakfast is perfectly located if you want to hear some Irish music at night in one of the local pubs.

My Traveling Joys

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Even though I’m a city girl, I love putting on my hiking boots and getting out into the countryside!

When I visited my girlfriend up in the Scottish Highlands, she booked us a special treat – to visit UK’s only reindeer herd living in the wild. More than 800 years ago, reindeer used to roam the island, but now they only live high up in the Cairngorms National Park where the herd are permitted to graze on over 10,000 acres on the mountainsides. Back in 1952, a Swedish couple re-introduced reindeer to Scotland by bringing over several Swedish reindeer to establish the herd.

Today, the Cairgorm Reindeer Centre in Glenmore is home to about 150 lively reindeer, but only a handful of older ones live at the centre. A daily guided tour takes you on a short hike up and down rocky paths and wet grasslands to where the rest of the reindeer live in the park. You’ll definitely want to make sure you wear layers to stay warm and have a good pair of hiking boots. Sometimes, the tour may be cancelled due to inclement weather or if the reindeer are too far away.
Once on the hill, we were free to interact with the reindeers, approach them slowly, pet their soft furs and even feed them. The friendly staff passed around handfuls of animal feed to us, and then the reindeers rushed toward anyone who had food. At first, I felt a little hesitant because the reindeer do have big mouths and soft noses, but as soon as they nibble in your hands, the sensation is more like a tickle. All I could do was giggle!

In fact, did you know that reindeers only have tiny teeth along their bottom jaw, and no teeth along the top, just a bony palate? We learned that these small teeth aid the reindeer in grazing on the tufts of wild vegetation, such as heather and grasses, on the hillsides.

During the winter months, the reindeer’s diet consists of up to 70 percent of lichen – a type of “reindeer moss” that grows even in the coldest environments. This is also the time of the year when the reindeer’s coats turn to a brilliant white in order to blend into their snowy surroundings. In fact, we saw some of the reindeer’s coats already turning white at the end of our September visit. The white really stood out against the bright blue sky that we got so lucky with because the next day was grey and rainy. So typical of the U.K.
Don’t worry, if you’re not able to do a guided tour, you can visit a few of the older reindeer that live at the centre, which is open from mid-February to early January.
After playing with the reindeer for nearly two hours, we headed for lunch at the nearby Rothiemurchus Centre, home to the Druie Café and Estate Farm Shop.  Both are open every day except Christmas Day. The café offers breakfast and lunch featuring homemade soups, sandwiches, scones, shortbread and cakes. The farm shop sells locally roasted coffee, leaf teas, artisan cheeses, Highland beef and venison, fresh and smoked fish, produce and other locally-made crafts. Everything looked truly mouthwatering! If you like simple, home cooking and fresh ingredients, the Druie café is a great place to try.
This trip marked my third time in Scotland – a country whose beauty continues to impress me.

Would you like to visit these reindeer in Scotland too?

Rothiemurchus is a privately-owned Highland Estate within the national park, northeast of the River Spey, that includes a 13th-century island castle, wildlife and Rothiemurchus forest covers an area of about 30 square km. This castle is located in the middle of Loch an Eilein, which means “Loch of the Island” in Gaelic.
My Traveling Joys

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