roadtrip

Bye Bye Boston & Blogger Goes on Break

For those of you who know me personally you've been wondering how it is that I've lived in Boston my whole life. A lover of sunshine and warmth I've wondered the same thing and I've always thought I was born in the wrong place because those brutally cold Boston winters never get any easier despite my 30+ years of experience. So I am proud and excited and scared all at the same time to announce that I am finally relocating to a warmer climate! Yes, you've read that right. I am packing up and headed west to La La Land, a.k.a. Los Angeles. <<cue the O.C. theme song>>

Having never really spent much time in California and always being the crazy planner that I am you can imagine the thoughts and emotions I'm experiencing at the moment. Excited to experience something new. Scared of the unknown. Curious of what lies ahead. Confused that I will not need a puffy down coat in winter or big clunky snow boots (just confused about wardrobe in general....). Thankful to be young and able and to have the opportunity to do something like this. Sad to leave behind friends and family and the support system I've built over so many years. Overwhelmed to find a home, all new healthcare providers, hair stylists, therapists, fitness instructors. Worried how a quiet little New England girl will fit in with all the cool cats of LA. But most importantly, I'm HAPPY to be doing this with my number 1 by my side.

So this Friday I say goodbye to Boston, throw our belongings in storage and hit the road, literally. No planes for us, my husband and I are driving so we can get our car out there, which from what I understand we will be needing a lot more than we've ever needed a car here. We will be taking a (minor) detour to Florida to spend a couple of weeks with my parents and from there we will be making our way west stopping along the way in states that I've never seen. Yay, checking items off the bucket list!

I am also letting my readers know that my blog posts will be temporarily on hold while I take on life on the road but I encourage you to follow me on Instagram @jetsettingwithjess as I road trip across country. Once I'm settled I will pick back up right where I left off, promise!

Oh and one last thing. The invite to LA will always be open! Come on, you know you want to visit us ;)

Key West: My Guide to the Conch Republic

If the craziness of Miami has you longing for more laid-back vibes, the Florida Keys are just a short drive away. Key West, the southernmost island, fits the bill nicely with Duval Street bars and gorgeous sunsets in Mallory Square. I highly recommend Key West if you prefer flip-flops over heels, beach coverups to slinky dresses, and dive bars to bottle service. You can easily do this place in a couple of days (perhaps tacked onto a Miami trip) or spend an entire week. Only 90 miles from Cuba (technically closer to Cuba than Miami), this island actually makes you feel like you are in the Caribbean when you're really still in the U.S. No passports needed which makes it a tad easier to access. But there are a couple of items I'd like to address:

  1. Key West is not known for its beaches. That doesn't mean you won't find any, they are there, they are just not the pristine white-sanded beaches you envision when you think of the Caribbean. And actually, you can find prettier beaches at other Florida destinations.
  2. Key West airport is very small so don't expect flights to be cheap. This is especially the case over holidays and school vacations, unfortunately.

But don't let the facts deter you. Simply opt for some quality pool lounging and rent a convertible and hit the road (for the most scenic drive in the U.S.) from Miami or Fort Lauderdale where flights are much, much cheaper. Once you've made it over the final bridge in the keys, here's what you should do:

 

SEE

Duval Street- This mile-long street is Key West's main street that's full of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. Definitely take a few strolls up and down and bar hop along the way. No need to chug that beer though--with a lax open container policy you can bring it with you to your next watering hole (plastic cups only!).

Mallory Square- The best place to catch one of Key West's beautiful orange sunsets. Live performers, carts selling everything from drinks that light up to Christmas ornaments, and happy people out enjoying life makes this a perfect place to start your night. Be sure to Google the time of sunset and plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before to watch the bright orange circle get sucked into the sea.

Southernmost Point - A life-size buoy marks this spot. Must get a photo with the view in the background. On a clear day you can spot Cuba (just kidding, but you are only 90 miles away).

Ernest Hemingway House - If you don't mind lots of free-roaming cats, and 6-toed ones at that, then visit the famous American writer's home where he lived from 1931 to 1939 and arguably wrote some of his best work. (907 Whitehead St.)

 

EAT

La Creperie - Both the sweet and savory varieties abound on the menu at this cute little cafe. The owner is from Brittany, France so you can expect these to be as authentic as they get without going to France. (300 Petronia St.)

Margaritaville - I mean, When in Rome! This Jimmy Buffett outpost is the original and in my mind is therefore the best. It offers live music most nights starting at 8p so why not enjoy your Cheeseburger in Paradise and order that Boat Drink? (500 Duval St.)

Ana's Cuban Cafe - A little hole in the wall near the Southernmost point serving up delicious made-to-order sandwiches, Cuban delights and breakfast. (1330 Simonton St.)

Kelly's Caribbean Bar & Grill - For any fellow aviation enthusiasts this is the place to visit because it is the original Pan Am headquarters back when Pan Am was the first American airline to fly an international route - Key West to Havana. The casual restaurant is also the location of the Southernmost Brewery offering beers brewed on the premises. (301 Whitehead St.)

Glazed Donuts - The gourmet donut shop craze made its way to the southernmost point of the continental U.S. to bring you both classic flavors as its name suggests and more adventurous flavors like Key Lime Pie (of course) and candied bacon. Espresso drinks too. Closed Mondays. (420 Eaton St.)

La Te Da - A classic choice if you're looking for a more upscale dinner on a charming, candlelit patio. (1125 Duval St.)

 

DRINK

Sloppy Joe's Bar - If there's only one place you go to while you're in Key West make it this iconic establishment. Casual bar by day, live music and dancing by night. (201 Duval St.)

Captain Tony's Saloon - Jimmy Buffett fan or not, this dive bar is a must with bras hanging from the ceiling and business cards covering the walls. Sometimes you'll catch a one-man band and his guitar and other times you'll spend way too much time trying to toss a coin over your shoulder and into the mouth of the fish that rests on top of the sign outside. (428 Greene St.)

Hog's Breath Saloon - Another Key West icon with, you guessed it, live music. Belly up to the outdoor bar and feel like you're in a treehouse. Don't be surprised if you get pulled into a conga line; this place can get rowdy but in a good fun kinda way. (400 Front St.)

Louie's Backyard - For a more refined evening, opt for glass of wine with a gorgeous view of the water. Head upstairs for said view and ask for a table on the balcony. You won't regret it. (700 Waddell Ave.)

Sunset Pier - Head to this colorful dockside spot for an ice cold boat drink and sit back and enjoy the sunset. (0 Duval St.)

 

SLEEP

Casa Marina - Off the quieter end of Duval Street is this grand Waldorf Astoria resort. The pool/waterfront area is one of the prettiest on the island and you can go swimming off the dock into the ocean (a plus when the shore is protected by coral reef). You even get popsicles delivered to your lounge chair. If you're worried about being too far from the action, perhaps a pedicab ride will change your mind. (1500 Reynolds St.)

The Reach - Located next door to the Casa Marina is another lovely Waldorf Astoria resort. Much smaller than the Casa Marina, especially the pool and waterfront, so guests at this hotel are welcome to use the facilities at the Casa Marina if they so wish. (1435 Simonton St.)

The Westin Key West Resort & Marina -  Located steps away from Mallory Square, this hotel is a great option if you prefer to be close to all the action. There is no beach here, but the pool is inviting. Guests can choose to have breakfast dockside at the property's restaurant, Latitudes, and watch the ships pull in. (245 Front St.)

Southernmost on the Beach - If the above options are a little too pricey, try for this stylish hotel. From appearances, it looks more like an inn but offers hotel amenities. It is located, as the name suggests, on one of the few beaches on the island just steps from the Southernmost Point. (508 South St.)

 

Last but not least, if you're lucky enough to be able to visit Key West during the holidays, I highly recommend you do so. Flights and accommodations are pricey but you're guaranteed endless merriment. Palm trees are decked out with Christmas lights, lampposts are decorated to look like candy canes and there are numerous New Year's Eve countdown celebrations to choose from (a pirate sliding down the mast of a schooner....um, yes please). Plus, Duval Street shuts down to traffic to allow for a big party in the street. I promise, this experience will not disappoint.

Whether or not you visit during the holidays, Key West really makes you leave your worries behind and gives you a taste for Jimmy Buffett/Ernest Hemingway-inspired life. It is a crazy but amazing little place that should be on everyone's bucket list. I mean, who can turn down a boat drink while taking in the gorgeous sunset? After all, if we weren't all crazy we would go insane.

Views for days on the drive down to the Keys

Views for days on the drive down to the Keys

The Southernmost Point was getting a fresh paint job unfortunately!

The Southernmost Point was getting a fresh paint job unfortunately!

Gorgeous tropical views abound in Key West

Gorgeous tropical views abound in Key West

Cruise ships docked near Mallory Square
Cruise ships docked near Mallory Square
A Key West sunset
A Key West sunset
Key West decked out for the holidays
Key West decked out for the holidays
Sloppy Joe's on Duval Street is a true Key West tradition
Sloppy Joe's on Duval Street is a true Key West tradition
Captain Tony's for all you Jimmy Buffett fans out there

Captain Tony's for all you Jimmy Buffett fans out there

The original Pan Am headquarters, wow!

The original Pan Am headquarters, wow!

The beautiful Casa Marina Hotel

The beautiful Casa Marina Hotel

The grounds and pool area at the Casa Marina

The grounds and pool area at the Casa Marina

The pool area at the Reach Resort&nbsp;

The pool area at the Reach Resort 

The Westin Key West Resort & Marina
The Westin Key West Resort & Marina

Ireland Day 4: Dingle & Limerick

Last but not least on the whirlwind tour of Southwestern Ireland is the Dingle Peninsula and the city of Limerick. On our last day, we headed northwest from Killarney (read about it in my last post) and after driving only about a half-hour we were on the must-see Dingle Peninsula. We spent most of the day exploring here but decided to rest our heads closer to Shannon Airport, in Limerick, where we had an early flight home the following day. Here's a recap of these two areas with my recommendations:

DINGLE PENINSULA

Located on the westernmost tip of Ireland, this area is as far as you can get in Europe before reaching the States. On the coast here, the ocean and the beaches, which are great for surfing, are the star attraction rather than cliffs and therefore it has a very seaside-village feel with lots of (green) Irish culture. From Killarney, the R561 brings you along the southern coast of the peninsula where you will find some stunning views of Inch Beach and its strong, rolling waves below. Follow this road until you reach the N86 which will bring you into the town of Dingle.

The view from Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula
The view from Inch Beach on the Dingle Peninsula
A few brave souls on Inch Beach
A few brave souls on Inch Beach

SEE/DO

Dingle Town - The only town on the whole peninsula, Dingle is a colorful, vibrant place chock full of cute shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. It has a fisherman's village feel, and seafood is as fresh as can be. The town is pretty small and you can walk it in 15 minutes or less. From the waterfront stroll along Green Street, which is especially quaint, and follow it until you reach Main Street where most of the action lies.

Colorful buildings in Dingle
Colorful buildings in Dingle

Slea Head - If you continue heading west past Dingle Town via R559, you will reach this westernmost tip of Ireland marked by a crucifix. Stop along the way to check out the stone beehive huts and old Dunbeg fort. Once you reach the point, admire the beach with its almost-tropical-like water (in color, not temperature!).

Gallarus Castle & Oratory - Keep on R559 all the way around the peninsula and on the northside you will reach one of the few standing castles on the peninsula and its worshiping house.

Connor Pass - Head back down to Dingle Town, where you can pick up Ireland's highest mountain pass. This lovely passageway, like Healy Pass on the Beara Peninsula, connects the north and south coasts cutting the peninsula in half. It only takes about 20 minutes to drive but on a clear day, expect to make stops to admire the views of Dingle Harbor to the south and Mt. Brandon to the north.

Can't get enough of the sheep and the green grass
Can't get enough of the sheep and the green grass
These sheep must pay a lot for their oceanfront property.....
These sheep must pay a lot for their oceanfront property.....

EAT/DRINK

Murphy's Pub - A traditional Irish pub located in Dingle Town serving up good pub food. Healthy options available. The fire is warm and the atmosphere inviting. (Strand St)

Bean - A delightful coffee shop serving up delicious espresso and fresh baked goods. Don't say no to a cinnamon roll, they are amazing and baked to perfection. (Green St)

The Little Cheese Shop - Exactly as its name suggests, this is a lovely fromagerie selling local cheeses and chutneys as well as those from mainland Europe. Cheese lovers are not to miss this place. (Grey's Ln)

Out of the Blue - One of the best seafood restaurants in all of Ireland, this is a must for dinner. Everything is so fresh that if they are not pleased with the catch of the day, they don't open. Reservations required to avoid disappointment. (Waterside)

 

LIMERICK

A great gateway to County Clare, the city of Limerick is located about 25 minutes south of Shannon Airport. From Dingle, it is about 2.5 hours north. Similar to Cork, Limerick has a very English feel, the buildings reminding me of something I would find in a (very small) neighborhood of London. It is also much less of a tourist town than the other cities of Ireland and many guidebooks skip over this city, but I am not sure why because I found it to be quite enjoyable and charming. It is where the sport of rugby began so if you can catch a match, even if only on TV at a pub, it's a fun way to get a peek into local culture. If you have an early flight out of Shannon, I recommend spending your last night in this city rather than the city of Shannon which doesn't have a lot going on.

SEE/DO

O'Connell Street - The main drag of the city, this is where all the action is. Or a lot of it. You can expect to find the usual shops, restaurants, pubs, etc. On the weekend it seems like everyone is out socializing. It is a very fun, happening scene. During the Christmas season it is all lit up and decorated making for a festive vibe.

King John's Castle - Located a short walk from the city center, this castle overlooks the River Shannon and offers tours for those interested. So easy to get to and doesn't require you to drive through the countryside. (Nicholas St)

EAT/DRINK

Nancy Blake's - A cozy, traditional Irish pub that fills up as the night gets going, on weekends anyway. It has a big outdoor beer garden with heat lamps but I prefer a seat by the fire. (19 Upper Denmark St)

Warming up by the fire with a whiskey
Warming up by the fire with a whiskey

Locke Bar & Restaurant - Closest thing to what we would call a gastropub, this place has a great beer selection and good food. Located on a cute street alongside the canal. It is near the university so the crowd skews younger. (3 George's Quay)

Curragower Pub - A short walk on the other side of the river, this is a traditional Irish pub also with an outdoor beer garden. It is cozy inside and can get packed, especially during a rugby match. Live trad music. (Clancys Strand)

Glen Tavern - Located in the Georgian quarter, this traditional pub offers live music (of all sorts) and a snooker (billiards) table in the back. Makes for some fun people watching. Like the other pubs mentioned, this one also fills up. I think people like to go out and have a good time in this city. (Lower Glentworth Street/ Theatre Lane)

STAY

No.1 Pery Square Hotel & Spa - A 4-star hotel overlooking the park in the city's Georgian quarter, this hotel is a lovely place to stay. From heated bathroom floors, modern decor, freshly-baked scones in the morning, you can't go wrong here. The hotel bar is a fun place to grab a drink before heading out for a night on the town or when you return for a night-cap. Staff was so kind and accommodating. Highly recommend. Rates from 150eur/nt. (1 Pery Square)

Overall, Ireland was definitely not a glamorous or luxurious vacation by any stretch of the imagination and we were constantly on the go. The weather wasn't great either, but let's put it this way, we don't go to Ireland for the weather. It's the friendly people and the beautiful surroundings that we go for (and the fun pub culture, of course). It's a place everyone should add to their bucket list especially if you have ancestry there because it's so cool to learn where some of your family traditions come from. And where the names of all the "Irish pubs" in the States come from.

Lastly, just some suggestions. I really encourage you to rent a car and drive because some of my favorite memories I have of the Emerald Isle are those little towns inaccessible by train and those windy roads in the middle of (beautiful) nowhere. You will get the hang of driving on the left quicker than you may think, so don't let that deter you!

Try some Irish whiskey (Jameson, Midleton, Red Breast) because it's loads cheaper in its native land and some of the aged stuff is actually tasty. Also try a stout on draught like Murphy's, Beamish, and yes of course Guinness to name a few. You might surprise yourself and like it-- I know I did! Sláinte my friends!

Ireland Day 3: Beara Peninsula & Killarney

Day 3 of the Ireland Adventure is all about nature. I didn't know I could be that outdoorsy, but the great thing about traveling is that you can surprise yourself sometimes. On our 3rd day in the Emerald Isle we left Cork (read about it in my last post) and headed west towards County Kerry and discovered the natural beauty the area has to offer, which is some of the best in all of Ireland. I've heard many people say if there is only one part of Ireland you can visit, this would be the one. After seeing it, I can understand why. This is the Ireland on postcards.

BEARA PENINSULA

One of 4ish peninsulas in Southwest Ireland, the Beara Peninsula is the bit of land between Kenmare and Bantry that juts out into the Atlantic. It is where County Cork meets County Kerry.

SEE/DO

Ring of Beara - A scenic route along the coast of the Beara Peninsula offering stunning views and some of the prettiest nature around. This drive is a little less known and therefore less touristy than the famous Ring of Kerry on the neighboring Iveragh Peninsula. For this reason alone I recommend it, but it's also a good choice if you don't have a full day to dedicate to the Ring of Kerry or if you're like us traveling when daylight hours are limited and you want to see as much as possible before it gets dark.

NOTE: If you do decide to stick with the Ring of Kerry, beware that in summer months it can become extremely congested with tourist traffic from buses, cars, cyclists, etc. especially on the narrow parts. If you're going by car, consider starting later in the morning, giving the buses a head start. Check its website before you go to make sure you are driving in the right direction around the peninsula (clockwise or counterclockwise). It helps manage traffic flow and stress levels because 2-way traffic on some parts is a real tight fit, especially with large tourist buses. 

Healy Pass - The BEST part of the Ring of Beara and a highlight of our entire trip. It is a MUST whether you're short on time like we were or if you have all the time in the world. The Healy Pass (also known as R574 on the maps) is a road (barely) which runs North/South and intersects the Beara Peninsula cutting it down the middle. The drive brings you on windy narrow roads up through the sheep-speckled mountains where you actually have to brake for sheep crossing the road. There is everything from grassy hills and rocks to waterfalls and rainbows. It's truly beautiful, so much that it seems fake. Prepare to be in awe the entire drive! It takes under an hour, but make sure to factor in time for staring at the majestic views and for picture-taking. And for chatting with the sheep. If you're lucky, like us, you will be the only ones on the entire road (besides the sheep). It felt like we had this beautiful, undiscovered land all to ourselves. YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS! 

Sheep-speckled mountains in Healy Pass, Beara Peninsula, Ireland
Sheep-speckled mountains in Healy Pass, Beara Peninsula, Ireland
Waterfalls everywhere in Healy Pass
Waterfalls everywhere in Healy Pass
Coming down from the mountains
Coming down from the mountains
Very photogenic sheep and a background that ain't so bad either
Very photogenic sheep and a background that ain't so bad either
The view never gets old
The view never gets old

EAT/DRINK

PF McCarthy's - A lovely traditional pub located in the quaint town of Kenmare, this place is a great place to stop for a bite and a pint at the end of the Ring of Beara drive. There's a warm fire going, local beers on tap, and a tasty menu with healthy (even vegetarian) options. The town of Kenmare is really cute (and small), which is perfect for stretching those legs after a long drive. NOTE: In the off-season there are not a lot of options for dining on the Beara Peninsula for lunch as many businesses close for the season, so plan accordingly. This is a great place to stop though, in or off-season. (14 Main St, Kenmare)

The Purple Heather Bistro - Also located in Kenmare, this restaurant is a good option for lunch if you're looking for sandwiches and soup or a salad rather than "pub grub." (Henry St, Kenmare)

KILLARNEY

This mid-size town is best known as the jumping off point for the Ring of Kerry but offers some fun pub life, cute shops and good restaurants. It has a true Irish feel and Christmastime is especially festive here.

SEE/DO

Killarney National Park - Located just outside town, this national park is a major highlight and must-see of the area due to its stunning mountains, lakes and woods. There are many viewing points to pull over along the way, but make sure you do not miss Ladies View, Muckross Lake and Torc Waterfall. The short walk through the woods to the Torc Waterfall is so incredibly green with leaves and moss and shamrocks, it's like something out of the Irish Spring soap commercials. The park is technically part of the Ring of Kerry circuit but is also easy to access from the Ring of Beara via the N71.

Ladies' View in Killarney National Park
Ladies' View in Killarney National Park
Walking through the woods
Walking through the woods
Approaching Torc Waterfall
Approaching Torc Waterfall
Looking for the 4-leaf variety
Looking for the 4-leaf variety
Torc Waterfall, this photo does not do it justice
Torc Waterfall, this photo does not do it justice

Ross Castle - Located on the Lough Leane lake in Killarney National Park, stands this old stone tower house. The grounds are exactly what you would picture of Irish countryside-- a castle situated on a lake with swans swimming about, surrounded by green land. The castle itself offers B&B accommodations for those looking for a unique experience.

Ross Castle grounds
Ross Castle grounds
A lovely Irish castle
A lovely Irish castle
One of the old towers
One of the old towers
Love the stone detail
Love the stone detail
The castle standing tall
The castle standing tall

Muckross Estate - Also located in Killarney National Park, this compound consists of the mansion of Muckross House, the farms, and the abbey all of which are situated on the edge of Muckross Lake. Entrance is by guided tour. For a really special experience, hire a jaunting car (horse-drawn carriage) to take you around the grounds.

Gap of Dunloe and Molls Gap - Located slightly outside of Killarney National Park, these passageways through the mountains are beautifully rugged and offer majestic views. Though in the summer they can get extremely crowded and backed up with traffic, especially the Gap of Dunloe, so plan accordingly.

EAT/DRINK

O'Connor's - A traditional, cozy little pub with live trad music nightly. Perfect for a pint by the fire. (7 High St)

Courtney's Bar - A fun pub with an impressive whiskey selection. Fills up for the live bands and is a lively late-night spot. (0 Plunkett St)

Treyvaud's - A good option if you're looking for variety and something other than the usual Irish stew. Food was good and the staff was very attentive. (62 High St)

Petit Delice - An adorable French bakery serving good croissants and espresso. A nice alternative to tea and scones. (42 High St)

STAY

Killarney Royal Hotel - Centrally located, this boutique hotel has simple, comfortable and clean accommodations. It is the sister hotel to the Hayfield Manor in Cork, where we also stayed. Rates from 100eur/nt. (College St)

Killarney Plaza Hotel - Located right on the edge of town and only a 5-minute walk to the action this grand hotel is also a good option. Rates from 90eur/nt. (Kenmare Pl)

If I had to pick, this was my favorite day of the vacation. Seeing the landscapes on the Beara Peninsula and in Killarney National Park was one of the most unique experiences I've had. In my opinion, there's no better way to enjoy Ireland! Next up will be the Dingle Peninsula and Limerick to wrap up the adventure. There's good stuff ahead so stay tuned!