So you’re in DC with kids with plans to visit the Smithsonian, the National Zoo, and all the memorials around the National Mall, but those dag blasted legislators in the Capitol building have managed to shut them all down just in time for your visit. So what can you do? What’s open?
[EDIT: As of Sunday, January 21, there has been no budget agreement and most of the federal government is shut down. HOWEVER, the Smithsonian and National Zoo will remain OPEN on Monday, January 22, 2018]
- The Newseum, Washington’s museum of journalism, is a great place to go to reflect on the news of the day. In front of the museum is a display, updated daily, of the front pages of newspapers from around the world, showing just how ridiculous the U.S. government shutdown looks to people around the world. The Newseum is open from 9 to 5 daily (10 to 5 on Sundays).
- The International Spy Museum currently has an exhibit of James Bond villains, which is rather cool, and its permanent collection is a favorite of kids and their trailing adults. Open 10 to 6 most days.
- The National Building Museum has an amazing show of paper building models, some as small as matchboxes. And there are interactive indoor play areas for building with foam blocks while it’s freezing outside. Open 7 days a week.
- National Geographic‘s current show is an immersive 3D experience about the Tomb of Christ. Open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
- … and speaking of Christ… the brand new Museum of the Bible sure wasn’t funded with taxpayer money, so it will be open through the shutdown. There’s a reconstruction of an ancient city that kids might enjoy.
- Hillwood Museum and Gardens is a spectacular place to visit any time of year, though in winter the museum is much more so than the gardens. The permanent collection of the museum includes more Russian imperial art than anywhere outside of Russia. If it’s warm enough, kids will enjoy running through the grounds and spotting the “dacha” cottage, a pet cemetery, a putting green, and the lunar lawn. Open Tuesday to Saturday 10 to 5.
- The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle is known as the first modern art museum in America, with an impressive collection of impressionist and modern art from the 1920s onward. Admission to the permanent collection is by donation on weekdays, $12 on weekends. So perhaps you furloughed feds should hit it up mid-week.
- Artechouse, a massive underground art space with the feel of a dance club, has a brand new exhibit just in time for the shutdown. Parallel Universe features swirling light projections from the Turkish art studio Ouchhh. Open for ages 6 and up during the day; 21 and over after 5:30.
Of course, none of these (except the sweet mid-week deal at the Phillips) is free, which does change the family travel budget quite a bit. To save money, check on some of the local promotional sites, like Goldstar, Groupon, and Living Social to find last-minute deals on entertainment and dining. We’ll be adding more ideas as we find them, so keep checking back, and send your suggestions to editor [at] alloverthemap.net. And don’t forget to email your representatives to tell them what you think of the shutdown.
Travel Gear Reviews
Because I’m a blogger, people send me things. I don’t get it, either. But I guess they want me to write about their stuff. So I figured I would write some travel gear reviews to rationalize the growing pile of stuff that people have sent me.
Sometimes they send me cool things, like like these fantastically cute and comfy shoes from OTBT, and sometimes they are… puzzling.
I do try out just about everything that people send me, because someone went to the trouble to create it – sometimes it’s clearly a labor of love – and they paid someone to seek out bloggers, writers and influencers (which one am I again? Depends on the day.) who might write about it, and one of those people thought I might be the one to do so. So I try to give everything a fair chance.
On my recent trip to Barcelona and Ireland, I took a bunch of these products with me to try them out, and here’s what I thought:
So, here are the travel gear reviews.
The Good Stuff
First, the shoes. From the minute the OTBT Scamper shoes arrived in the mail, they have been in regular rotation for me. They are lightweight, which is great for this perennial overpacker. I almost always fill my suitcase to its maximum, no matter what size bag I bring. And when i am tempted to bring the big bag, as I did on my recent trip, it usually bumps up against that weight restriction. I will never forget the trip home from Belgium a few years ago when I had to unpack and repack my bags – dirty laundry everywhere – at check-in because I was about 5 pounds over the limit. In any case, lightweight shoes are much appreciated. And these are comfy! I’ve been wearing them sockless for a month without a single blister. And did I mention they were cute? I get compliments every time I wear them. OTBT stands for Off the Beaten Track, which is my favorite kind of travel, so yeah, I recommend these.
About that luggage…. I’ve been trying out a really nice carryon bag by ECBC. I’ve got a full video review of it on YouTube, but I’ll give you the basics here. The ECBC Sparrow Wheeled Garment Bag has two separate compartments for clothing, and another for a laptop and/or tablet. The latter can be opened all the way for easy access and for a quick trip through TSA. There’s an included power pack that can be accessed from a zipper at the top of the bag – perfect for recharging when everyone else has hogged the outlets by your gate. Of the two clothing sections, one can be used for hanging garments, with a nice folding section to protect longer pieces. There are two detachable zippered sections that can squeeze in above the hanging garments for small bits and pieces like socks or charging cords. The bottom clothing section is just a big open space for whatever. I’ve used the bag for weekend trips, but for longer trips I prefer one big compartment for everything. I think this bag would be perfect for a quick business trip, with suit and shirt in the hanging section, and toiletries, shoes and gym/loungewear in the other section. The hardware is solid, and the two wheels roll smoothly.
And then came the socks. I’ve known for years that compression socks could ward off deep vein thrombosis on a flight, but I just never bothered. But when the folks at ATN Compression Socks offered to send me a colorful pair, I thought I’d give it a try. Did I mention they were colorful? The ones they sent me were bright red with white stripes and green toes. Elf-y. I was determined to try them, but I didn’t want to show my stripes while waiting to board. So once I was in my seat, I gracefully and tactfully pulled them on. Who am I kidding? Squashed in a coach seat, I could barely lift my leg to put them on. And you know how they are compression socks? They are very tight. And hard to get on. I was cracking myself up trying to get them on. Thankfully, the only person who could really witness this was my husband in the next seat, who was trying hard to pretend he didn’t know me. Though they were tough to get on, and loud as all get out, the socks did what they were supposed to do and I didn’t die of DVT. Hooray! In all seriousness, though, if you need to wear compression socks for health reasons, or for comfort reasons, these will give you some fun reasons, too. You can choose from animal prints, polka dots, doughnuts (doughnuts?), argyles, and more. They have basic black or white, but why would you want those?
(this is not, in fact, my knee. sorry.)
Over the years, and I won’t say how many, I have developed a little pain in my knee. It’s not a constant pain, and I can even walk for miles without feeling it. But sometimes, when I’m walking down a hill, I get a little *ping* of pain in my knee. It’s not bad enough to do anything about, but once it appears it likes to come back again and again until I give in and rest it. So when I got an itBandz Knee Band Strap in the mail, I was happy to give it a try. We did a lot of walking in Barcelona, my husband and I, and I didn’t wear this every day. But on the day I knew we’d be climbing a big hill and coming back down again, I wrapped it around my knee and wore it (under skinny jeans, even!) all day. Did I have the knee ping? No. Am I sure the knee band helped? No. But I would definitely try it again on my next big hike, just in case.
And now we’ll move to the really sexy stuff: oral care. I received some cool bamboo bristle toothbrushes from a company with the unfortunate name MouthWatchers. I actually really like these toothbrushes, whose bristles are antimicrobial and very thin at the top which offers better cleaning – they say floss-like, but I’m not sure I’d go that far. They also hold up really well. I’ve been using mine for over a month now and the bristles look just the way they did when it came out of the package. A little sterilization in the dishwasher every now and again and it’s good to go. Of course, if you like to replace your toothbrush regularly, you can buy a 12-pack. I was quite happy with the travel version, and it comes in a power versionas well, if you like to really get into it.
The OK stuff
And how about sleeping aids? I’ve already written about my favorite jet lag cure on the blog. This time I tried the world’s tiniest noise machine by Sound Oasis. This one is so tiny it requires ear buds (included) and fits in a case a little smaller than a glasses case. It offers 10 different tones of continuous white noise – i.e. not a recording of a sound, but continuously generated sound – and 25 hours of run time per charge of its rechargeable battery. I’m not a person who needs white noise to sleep, and I found the ear buds uncomfortable to sleep in, anyway. I hoped that this might be a good option for my husband to keep him from waking up when I snore, but he had the same reaction. Sound Oasis offers lots and lots of white noise machines and sound therapy options, so there is probably one that would work for you; this one just wasn’t doing it for me. They do offer a travel version that does not require ear buds (pictured below), which I think might be a better option.
And now, for my least favorite of the bunch. Because this is a real life review.
I received an email way back during Sleep Awareness Week, which, as I’m sure you know, is in April, when no one can sleep because: taxes. I was interested in the Sleep Easily System because: snoring (see above).
What arrived in the mail was an 8″ x 10″ x 2″ glossy box describing the wondrous contents. A mini audio player with a built-in high-quality speaker! Eyeshades! Specialized earplugs! A charger for the speaker! A book! A summary card for using the system! FOUR sleep recordings! And three bonus recordings!
What I liked: the audio player is a nice small size and can be used with or without ear buds.
What I didn’t like: the recordings themselves. You can choose a nice soothing female voice – clearly a professional voice artist – or you can choose a sort of halting male voice that is very clearly not a professional voice artist. In fact, it is the voice of the creator of the Sleep Easily system. Which is I think part of why this whole package rubs me the wrong way. Here’s the problem: It’s expensive. It’s self-important. It makes you think it is more than what it is. For what is essentially 7 tracks of sound, half of which you are unlikely to use more than once, plus some accessories you can find at the drugstore, if not your bathroom drawer, the price starts at $60.
I guess, in reality, this is not so different from the Sound Oasis product above, but it is pretending to be something different. It is marketed as a special scientific approach to sleeplessness, developed by a behavioral sleep therapist. And sure, maybe he did come up with this particular method and script for the recordings. And maybe it even works to help people sleep better. But to me it sounds like the same advice that anyone would give: try to relax your mind before you go to sleep. I think you could probably pick up an eye mask and some wax earplugs from the drugstore, and search online for some guided meditation and ocean sounds tracks, and have the same experience. And plus, how are you going to hear the recording if you are wearing earplugs?
I received free samples of all of these products for review. My real life reviews are honest and thorough, because I know readers want to know the truth about products before spending their money. And speaking of money….
Some of the links in this post lead to affiliate sites where I might get a few pennies if you buy something there. If you do, thank you very much for helping to keep this crazy dream alive.
That’s it for now. If you have travel gear you’d like me to review, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Castle Hotel Stays – Ireland
Did you ever dream of being a princess? Or a king? I would have been happy to be Lady So-and-so of Thus-and-such, but I’m generally pretty happy with the life I have. But if you want to pretend you’re royalty and have a staff at your beck and call, there are plenty of places you can stay in a castle hotel, and few places do it better than Ireland. Many many castles in Ireland have been converted to hotels and resorts, and each offers something special.
On my recent trip to Ireland, there were lots of travel bloggers in Killarney for the TBEX blogging conference, and before and after the conference a few of them managed to stay in some sweet castle hotels. I asked them for their thoughts about the castles they stayed in, and they share their experiences (and photos) below.
–Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel
We visited numerous castles during our 10 days in the Emerald Isle
, but Kilkea Castle (located in County Kildare between Athy and Tullow) was easily our favorite. The oldest continuously inhabited castle in Ireland, Kilkea was built by Sir Walter de Riddlesford in 1180. After his granddaughter married Maurice Fitzgerald, the 3rd baron of Offaly, Kilkea Castle remained in the Fitzgerald family for over 700 years.
Kilkea Castle (Photo Credit: Green Global Travel)
The castle has been operated as a hotel since the 1960s, but was put on the market in 2010. It was purchased by American builder Jay Cashman, who spent four years renovating it into a 5-star resort that includes multiple immaculate gardens, a golf course, three restaurants, and facilities for fishing and archery.
Mary holds an owl! (Photo Credit: Green Global Travel)
We were honored to stay in their Ernest Shackleton Suite (named after Kildare’s famous explorer) several weeks before the resort opened to the public, and it was as posh and luxurious as any medieval castle could possibly hope to be. We’ve traveled all over the world, and Kilkea Castle ranks among our favorite places we’ve ever stayed!
-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Knappogue Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)
While any castle stay will make you feel like royalty, staying in your own private castle
instantly turns you into the queen (or king) of your domain. At Knappogue Castle in County Clare your family members (or group) are the only overnight guests in the castle apartments. Rooms are furnished with a mix of antique and contemporary comforts, and the modern kitchen has everything you will need to create meals to feed your crew. Don’t wish to cook? Each morning your fairy godmothers arrive to fix an Irish breakfast to power you through a day of exploring. And each evening (from April thru October) the dining room downstairs hosts a medieval banquet featuring delicious dinner and entertainment. As the only guests, the castle is yours to explore – no tours are offered here – to treat as your home… if only for a few days.
The Drawing Room at Knappogue Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)
-Julie and Charles McCool, McCool Travel
Castle Leslie in Glaslough Ireland (Photo Credit: Julie McCool, McCoolTravel.com)
Castle Leslie welcomes guests to a perfect balance of relaxed and historic luxury, on a family estate that dates from the 1660s. Rooms in the castle are spacious and comfortable, with quirky Victorian bathrooms and a strict no TV policy. The Lodge offers more modern rooms (with TVs) overlooking stables that draw equestrians from all over the world. Novice riders (like us) can take a “gentle hack” through the estate’s beautiful grounds, followed by dinner in the award-winning restaurant, and time to kick back and savor castle life.
The Blue Room at Castle Leslie (Photo Credit: Julie McCool, McCoolTravel.com)
-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Ashford Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted: Ireland Family Vacations)
Consistently voted one of the top hotels in the world, Ashford Castle in County Mayo
is a fairytale. From the moment you are allowed through the gated entrance by a dapper man in top hat and livery, to the moment you depart the marbled lobby, every bit of your stay is magical. Rooms are lavishly furnished and special treats await younger guests. The grounds at Ashford Castle are extensive and on-site activities include falconry, boating, shooting, golf, and a zip line. Rooms in the castle are expensive, and both the clientele and the spectacular service reflect this. If you wish to visit when the castle is truly kid-focused, plan a Halloween stay when the castle becomes a Wizarding School! Send your little witches and wizards with their capable instructors and enjoy 6 hours of couple time. It’s magical for everyone!
A Junior Suite at Ashford Castle (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)
Gregans Castle (Photo Credit: Sher from SherSheGoes.com)
Hotel is the ultimate Irish country house
for food and luxury. Although no longer a castle
in the traditional sense (only the 15th century round tower remains from the original structure), the Georgian-style manor house has stunning views of Galway Bay and the unique Burren landscape. The hotel has won numerous awards for its innovative cooking and the bedrooms are stunningly decorated with antiques, cozy fireplaces and eclectic art. Make sure to stay here if you’re interested in visiting the Cliffs of Moher or love food – Gregans is located on the Wild Atlantic Way and the Burren Food Trail.
LOUGH ESKE CASTLE
-Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations
Lough Eske by Day (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations)
Few know that Lough Eske Castle in County Donegal was a mere shell before it was lovingly restored just 10 years ago. Now ranking as one of the top hotels in the world, guest can expect a warm cead mile failte from the staff, the majority of whom are local to the area. Rooms at Lough Eske Castle are luxurious and spacious, with connecting rooms for families well thought-out. As castle stays go, this is one of the most affordable in Ireland and you’ll meet a wide variety of people. Located on the shores of Lough Eske, the grounds are a wonderful maze of walking paths; a perfect spot to relax and enjoy the luxury of an Irish castle vacation.
Lough Eske by Night (Photo Credit: Jody Halsted of Ireland Family Vacations)
BARBERSTOWN CASTLE HOTEL
–Sonja Holverson, Outbounding
Barberstown Castle Hotel lounge lobby (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)
When one imagines staying in a 12th century Irish Castle thoughts of cold rugged stones, towers crowned by turrets, ghosts and dungeons most often come to mind. However, when one arrives at the entrance to the Barberstown Castle Hotel Kildare, a warm welcome is waiting inside a pristine white Victorian and Elizabethan blended luxury town house including conservatory windows along with two lion statues on each side of the entry step. A spacious uniquely decorated lobby lounge area opens out onto a lovely terrace which leads to 20 acres of gardens. The reception is discreetly placed on the left as you enter.
Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)
If you find yourself lost in the corridors and nooks and crannies looking for the dining room you will encounter elegant antiques and décor of days long past. You may even run face to face into a full body suit of armor around the next corner.
Despite the formality of the long French-influenced multi-course evening dinner in the opulent Barton Rooms Restaurant with pedagogical descriptions for each delicious course, the waiters are also appropriately down-to-earth Irish: friendly and loads of fun. Other dining choices are the Elizabethan Room and the Medieval Banqueting Hall.
This privately-owned Castle Hotel and Country House is the only one in Ireland that has earned 4 stars. Furthermore, it is unique in its harmonious historical blending with the Elizabethan era and Victorian era country house and the Medieval castle with its own historical epoch décor. All in all, a delightful and eclectic elegant and comfortable accommodation.
The Barberstown Castle Hotel easily handles conferences and large parties, weddings and the perfect weekend Irish castle stay for those with little time as it’s only 30 minutes from the centre of Dublin in the heart of Ireland’s Ancient East.
Barberstown Castle Hotel and Country House (Photo Credit: Sonja Holverson, Outbounding)
DROMOLAND CASTLE HOTEL
by Paige Conner Totaro
I was very fortunate to spend a few nights hosted by Dromoland Castle.The staff at Dromoland Castle Hotel is deferential and service-focused. Rooms are spacious, meals are scrumptious, formal rooms are warm and welcoming despite their grand proportions. The sprawling property offers not only the obvious golf and spa, but also archery, clay pigeon shooting, pony and trap (horse and carriage) rides, fishing, hiking the grounds, and my favorite: falconry.
Dromoland Castle (Photo Credit: Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel (whatboundariestravel.com))
There has been a castle on the site since the 11th Century, but the present building, in all its ivy-covered limestone and turreted glory, was completed in 1835. In 1962, the property was renovated and opened as the luxury Dromoland Castle Hotel.
Dromoland Castle (Photo Credit: Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel (whatboundariestravel.com))
Cheryl and Lisa of What Boundaries Travel
were entranced by Dromoland Castle. “We held our breath as the wooded driveway turned and the castle came into view. It was a fairytale setting of falcons, livery and ivy shrouded towers. Inside was even more spectacular. The drawing room beckoned us to step inside and let time retrace her steps. A magical experience!”
Freelance travel writer Victoria Hart witnessed a VIP arrival during her visit. “Dromoland Castle is an example of living history,” she said. “So often we experience history through a museum or by visiting ruins. It is refreshing to see a place with over 1000 years of history still being used and enjoyed by people who admire the majestic landscape that first attracted its creators and respect the historical events that transformed it into the place it is today. The level of service is still fit for royalty, and an experience I will always cherish.”
A VIP arrival at Dromoland Castle features a staff lineup and bagpipes. (Photo Credit: Victoria Hart)
The castle’s location, about 15 minutes drive from Shannon Airport, makes it a great first or last (or entire!) stay for your Ireland trip.
Please note: most of the bloggers featured in this article were hosted by the castle hotels they have written about. They all offer their honest opinions of their stays. But how could you not love staying in a castle?
On a recent night at All Over the Map, I invited people to come talk about travel and make a travel vision postcard. (And drink some bubbly drinks.) Guided by art therapist and author of Positive Art Therapy and Practice, Dr. Gioia Chilton, attendees created mini vision boards about their dream trips.
Making an Italy dream that much closer to reality. Travel vision postcard by Jody B.
Creating a travel vision postcard is fun and easy and not at all intimidating, even for those of us with sketchy (ha) art skills. I recommend doing it like we did: with friends and drinks and music and great conversation. You can share vacation stories and travel tips along with your own travel dreams.
The Travel Vision Postcard
Here’s what you need:
- art supplies – scissors, glue sticks, watercolors, oil pastels, markers
- travel magazines
- blank postcards or heavy paper cut to postcard size (or whatever size you want, really!)
Embrace Soulful Adventure – Travel Vision Postcard by Dr. Gioia Chilton
Imagine your perfect vacation.
Someday… soon – Travel Vision Postcard by Paige Conner Totaro
Or not perfect, necessarily, but perfect for you. (I’m a big fan of the imperfect vacation.)
Create your vision.
Someday – Travel Vision Postcard by Susan F.
Grab a stack of travel magazines – and if you don’t have any, come over to my office and grab some – and rip out any pictures that draw you in. Use them as inspiration to create a postcard from your dream travel destination. You can collage, paint, or draw your dream – whatever will make you “remember” this dream destination and create your vision postcard.
Write a message to yourself.
On the reverse, write yourself a note from the destination as you imagine you would from that place. You might congratulate yourself on manifesting this amazing trip. Or you might tell a made up story about what you imagine you might do there. Or describe a scene you think you might find there. Or taunt an ex about the great time you’re having without them. 😉
Going Places – Travel Vision Postcard by Dr. Gioia Chilton
Setting your intent to travel and envisioning your trip are the first steps toward making those dream trips come true. And what are the next steps? Budgeting and planning. And then going!
I love those sleek rays with their impossibly cheery grins. I dream of gliding across the sea floor with such grace.
And staying in one of those dreamy overwater bungalows on a Pacific island is one of my #travelgoals.
Now there’s an eco-friendly resort, Baros Maldives, that really could not have chosen a more attractive combination of features for the manta ray and bungalow lover. The five-star resort has taken a proactive approach in luring guests beyond the beach with its Manta Ray and Coral Reef Rehabilitation programs. Working alongside the resort’s Marine and Diving Center, Baros Maldives encourages its guests to not only embrace and enjoy the lush tropical paradise but to also give back to the underwater creatures that make it such a natural beauty.
Manta Ray Surveying & Adoption System: Baros Maldives has a Manta Ray program that invites guests to photograph the underwater gentle giants at the resort and then follow along on their migration even when they return home. A diver who photographs a Manta Ray not seen before is offered the opportunity to give it a name and “adopt” it, which means the diver will receive regular reports on the Manta’s whereabouts and habits. Guests who re-visit the resort have a good chance to have a reunion with a Manta Ray they have seen on their dives in previous years. The best times to visit are from May to November and from January to April, when sightings are frequent.
Coral Reef Rehabilitation Program: Guests are also able to aid in a coral conservation initiative by sponsoring a coral frame through Baros Maldives’ Reef Rehabilitation Program. In addition to sponsoring a frame, guests learn about the coral propagation process and are escorted in a swim to the house reef, where they collect broken coral fragments and reattach them to specially designed structures. These provide a stable substrate elevated from the sandy seafloor. The coral frames not only give artificial reef-structure corals a chance to grow, but also creates new homes for various marine animals. Additionally, the Baros Maldives marine biologists keep participants up-to-date by e-mail every six months about the growth of the corals as they develop on the table.
If you are interested in learning more about Baros Resort, comment below or send me an email.