Our Top 10 Favorites

IRELAND


 Ireland stole our hearts during our very first visit in 2000. Since then we have been back many times. Yes, the weather can be cold and rainy but if it weren't for the rain then everything wouldn't be so green. Our favorite thing about Ireland though is the people. The Irish are some of the most genuine and friendly people you will ever meet. 

Our first visit to Ireland was on a tour bus but since then we always self-drive. If you self-drive you need to know how to drive on the left hand side of the road. As soon as we land we start to chant “stay left – look right”. It takes some time getting used to driving on the left since your brain is trained the opposite coming from the United States. What makes it even harder is the fact that most rentals are manual and not automatic. Certain credit cards cover the extra collision insurance in Ireland – but most don’t. The coverage can cost as much as the rental. We use our Chase United Explorer for the rental since they do cover Ireland. 

We recommend flying into Shannon and driving to Dublin. You can fly into Dublin and do a circle back if time permits. However, if you only have a week or 10 days then it is more worthwhile to fly into Shannon and make your way to Dublin. 

Most travel sites recommend the ring of Kerry and most tour buses include it.  We recommend ONLY doing the Ring of Kerry if the weather is decent. If it is overcast and rainy you won’t see much. We also recommend spending at least one night in Dingle. The Dingle Peninsula is as beautiful as the Ring of Kerry and you are guaranteed some local music. You can actually see the Ring from Dingle. 

In May of 2016 we traveled to Ireland with 31 friends and family to celebrate our 25th anniversary. Many of the 31 had never been to Ireland so we tried to squeeze in some tourist activities. Our trip started in Dublin which we feel is a must at least once. Dublin is very walk-able and you can see a lot on foot.  When you are in Dublin you need to stop in the Temple Bar District, do a tour of the Guinness Brewery, walk down Grafton Street, and grab lunch at Brazen Head which is the oldest pub in Ireland Est. 1198. We stayed in the StayCity Apartments St. Augustine street which is very close to the Brazen Head. They are really decent apartments which we recommend. https://www.staycity.com/dublin/st-augustine-street/ If you have a car definitely make a trip to MAN-O-WAR pub in Skerries. 

After we left Dublin our first stop was our favorite Pub in Ireland. You have to look for the Pub and we guarantee you that you won’t find any tourists. You will find local Irish - stopping for a pint on their way home from work. The place is called “Glen Bar” and is in Glenmore Ireland about 20 minutes outside of Waterford. If you get a chance stop by, tell the owners Pat and Geraldine that Nick and Dina said hello.  

The remainder of the trip included the Dolman https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolmen on our way to Glenmore, Waterford, Tramore, Cork - Blarney Castle, Cobh, Kilarney, the Ring of Kerry, and Dingle. We only had 8 nights so we tried to make the best of it without spending too much time in the car. When we ask everyone to name their favorites the 3 most common were “Glen Bar”, “Cobh”, and “Dingle”. 

Food and drink is not cheap.  This is usually where we tend to spend a chunk of our budget.  Especially in the cities a pint of beer can cost 5 to 6 Euro.  A pub type lunch will be around 10 Euro.  We try to stay at B&Bs where breakfast is included.  Then we eat a light lunch so most of our food budget goes for a nice dinner and a few drinks.  

A typical B&B will charge between 30 and 40 Euro per person a night.  It is quite common in Ireland to pay per person and not per room unless you stay at a Hotel.  Even then some Hotels charge a different price for a single versus a double.

Here are a few things to do in Ireland:

Ireland's currency is the Euro. http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/ 

Ireland's climate can be cooler and rainy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Ireland 

Car Rental in Ireland - They drive on the left hand side of the road and most rentals are manual. The driver sits in the right hand seat in front. Only certain credit cards offer full collision coverage and the rental car agency will require proof if you decline their full coverage (CDW).  

Our preferred accommodations are Bed & Breakfast's. http://www.irishbnb.com https://www.booking.com/   

ITALY

Italy is amazing.  Our first visit to Italy was in 2002.  We were driving across Europe with a total of 6 family members.  We started in Pamplona Spain for the running of the bulls and drove along the coast up into Italy.  The minute we entered Italy we fell in love. That trip we only had a few days in Italy so our goal was to get to Venice where we would spend three nights. Since then we have been back several times and have been able to see a lot more of the Country. Venice holds the spot for MY favorite city in the world thus far.  During our travels in Italy we have rented a car, flew from city to city, and utilized the train.  The train is inexpensive and super-efficient.  You can buy your tickets online or at the station. We love that you can show up 15 minutes prior and still make the train. 

Purchase Train Tickets     Tips for Train Travel in Italy

Italians are also very friendly like the Irish.  We never have a problem finding someone who speaks English. There are so many reasons to visit this breathtaking country.  Amazing people, cuisine and wine, history, architecture, culture, scenery, and shopping just to name a few.   

We do love Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Sicily but we also love a few of the small places we have found along the way. On one of our Europe trips we flew into Switzerland. After a couple days of rain, we decided to drive down to the coast in Italy. We found a wonderful little city called Recco. During that stay we found a lovely eatery on the water called Le Baracchetta di Biagio. The food was amazing. The owners were so wonderful and invited us back to their kitchen to show us some of their techniques. We couldn’t have asked for a better couple of days. We ate both lunch and dinner there the second day. www.labaracchetta.com  

When we stay in bigger cities we always rent an apartment. VeniceApartment.com is our go to website for Venice. We like to use AirBNB.com for the other cities. Apartments makes us feel a little less like tourists. We also can pick up a few groceries and have a couple meals in an apartment to save on our food budget. Food and drink can be a little pricy in the tourist areas. However, if you look hard and find the out of the way places it can be reasonable also. When you do use websites likes these check the fine print. For instance, if you cannot do stairs make sure the apartment is on the first floor. We have been on the 5th floor before with no elevator.  

In Venice we buy a 3-day pass for the Vaporetta and spend a day just riding around. In Rome we highly recommend a tour of the Vatican, Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, and a food and wine tour. Italy has some amazing wine. Once you have toured the Dumo in Florence do some leather shopping. We found better quality where there was a storefront. After shopping grab lunch at Eataly. It really is something to experience. http://www.eataly.net/it_en/shops/florence/ If you are in Florence long enough take a wine tour to the Tuscan countryside. You won’t need a lot of time in Pisa. It isn’t very large. Sicily has a different feel than mainland Italy. 

Here are a few things to do in Italy:  

Italy's currency is the Euro. http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/ 

Italy's has a Mediterranean type climate, which which has cool, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. Winter temperatures along and near the coasts of southern Italy seldom drop to freezing in winter, and summer temperatures often reach 90° F (32° C) or higher. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Italy 

Car Rental in Italy - They drive on the right hand side of the road and most rentals are manual.  The roads are nice and driving is easy.  However, beware of driving in Rome.  It can be very busy. 

Our preferred accommodations are apartments.  http://www.booking.com https://www.airbnb.com/  http://www.veniceapartment.com/

AUSTRALIA

Throughout our travels there are certain things we will always remember.  Sights that take our breath away.  The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is one of those.  It is absolutely spectacular.  We snorkeled off the coast in Cairns.  We did a day tour on Reef Magic and were extremely satisfied. 

We also love the people in Australia.  They too like Ireland and Italy are very friendly.  We have never met a stranger in Oz.  We rented a car both times.  Our first trip was in March of 2001.  We flew into Darwin and drove through Kakadu National park where they filmed Crocodile Dundee.   We stayed in a hotel shaped like a Crocodile.  http://www.kakadutourism.com/accommodation/kakadu-crocodile-hotel/ I do have to say when you are in the room there was no way to tell that.  While in Darwin we stayed at the MGM Grand Casino. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skycity_Darwin It was right on the water.

The second time we visited Australia was February of 2014.  We flew into Brisbane and drove the Sunshine Coast to Cairns.  It was unbelievably hot in Brisbane.  On our drive up we stopped at several places.  We stayed in Hervey Bay and took a tour out to Fraser Island.   We stayed in Airlie Beach and saw Whitsunday Island.   We stayed at a beautiful B&B right on the water, walking distance to town.  We highly recommend the drive.

We have plans to go back to Australia over the Holidays this year 2017.  Our plans will include Mebourne and Tasmania.  

Here are a few things to do in Australia:

Australia's currency is the Australian Dollar http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/

Australia's climate ... Only the south-east and south-west corners have a temperate climate and moderately fertile soil. The northern part of the country has a tropical climate, varied between tropical rain forests, grasslands, part desert. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Australia

Car Rental in Australia - They drive on the left hand side of the road and most rentals are automatic.  The driver sits in the right hand seat in front.  

Our preferred accommodations are Hotels and Apartments.  https://www.tripadvisor.com/ https://www.airbnb.com/ https://www.booking.com/ https://www.hoteltonight.com/

  

SOUTH AFRICA

We visited South Africa in 2009.  I am a huge animal lover so it had always been a dream of mine.  I was not disappointed and we both absolutely loved the country.  We flew into Johannesburg also known as Joberg by the locals.  We took a flight from Joberg to Cape Town where we picked up our car rental.  We drove from Cape Town back to Joberg.

If you are doing a self-drive then we suggest staying along the coast.  There are so many great places to visit along the coast and everyone was extremely friendly.  We still keep in touch with people we met there.  We did leave the coast to visit Lesotho however we would not recommend this.  

Some of our favorite stops along the way were the Knysna Elephant Park outside of Knysna, the city of St Lucia right on the coast where we saw Hippopotamuses stroll through town, Hluhluwe Nation Park (pronounced Shish-lu-ee), and of course Kruger National park where our accommodations were rondavels.  They are round huts with thatched roofs.  They are basically a single room with a separate inside bathroom and outside kitchen.  

We met a lovely local family in St Lucia and they took us to Hluluwe National Park.  It is smaller than Kruger but we felt the animals were larger and the park was less disturbed.  We had a wonderful BBQ there.  We highly recommend a stop here. 

Overall we felt very safe and welcomed throughout our trip.  We did see slums also called Shanty Towns coming in and out of the large cities.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanty_town

Here are a few things to do in South Africa: 

South Africa's currency is the African Rand. http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/

South Africa's climatic conditions generally range from Mediterranean in the southwestern corner of South Africa to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the northeast. A small area in the northwest has a desert climate. Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_South_Africa

South Africa drives on the left-hand side of the road, and the cars – rental cars included – are right-hand drive vehicles .  A lot of rentals are manual.

Our preferred accommodations are hotels, apartments, and specialty like the Rondavels in Kruger Park.  https://www.booking.com/ 

Peru

Peru is one of the few places we actually felt as if we had stepped back in time after leaving the big city of Lima.  We flew into Peru on an overnight flight.  We picked up our rental car and immediately headed towards Machu Picchu.  Machu Picchu is one of the reasons so many people travel to Peru however there is so much more to see.  The people and their culture is amazing.  

We decided to drive from Lima to Machu Picchu but we would not recommend it.  The drive to Nazca is fine.  At Nazca you leave the exterior of Peru and head into the interior towards Cusco.  The drive through the Andes was very nerve racking.  The roads were steep and the curves plentiful.   As my husband drove I kept envisioning us driving off the side of a cliff.  My husband assured me he had it under control.  We were glad we did it once but would recommend a flight.

Between Lima and Cusco we saw little or no tourism.  We stayed and ate at local places.  However once we got to Cusco we found tourism in full swing.  

Cusco is the base for Machi Picchu.  There are a couple common ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu.  The first is to walk the Inca Trail.  Many tour places offer guided tours.  The second is to take a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes which is what we did and then take a bus from there.  We purchased train tickets once we got to Cusco but we recommend purchasing them ahead of time.  Peru Rail  Once you arrive in Aquas Calientes plan to grab a bite to eat and do some shopping.  

Hire a tour guide once you reach Machu Picchu.  There is so much history it is definitely worth the splurge.

Another  recommendation while in Peru espcially if you are close to Lima is Paracas National Park in Pisco located on the coast. If you book a tour to Isla Ballestas they normally take you buy the Candleabra.  You don't really stop on the island they just take you close so you can see the wildlife. Isla Ballestas Candleabra

They speak Spanish in Peru so for us communication was easy.  We found food and drinks to be very affordable outside of Lima and Cusco.  While in Pisco we found this wonderful silver shop and I was able to purchase some of my favorite silver jewelry (with non precious stones) to date.  

Everyone throughout Peru made us feel welcome.  My husband was super excited in Cusco because he was able to try the local delicacy.  We have all heard about eating Llama or Alpaca - but the actual delicacy in Peru is Guinnea Pig. When the waiter set the Guinnea Pig on the table it was roasted whole.  My husband asked the waiter the best way to eat it.  At this question the waiter took the little guy to the back room and brought him back out completely chopped up.

Here are a few things to do in Peru:

Peru's currency is the Peru Sol http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/

Peru's climate varies.   The climate on the coast is subtropical with very little rainfall. The Andes mountains observe a cool-to-cold climate with rainy summers and very dry winter. The eastern lowlands present an Equatorial climate with hot weather and rain distributed all year long. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_of_Peru

Car Rental in Peru - They drive on the right side of the road same as in the US.  You should be able to find manuals or automatics.  The roads are good for driving.  We never ran into any issues.

Our preferred accommodations were hotels or apartments.  Booking.com TripAdvisor or AirBNB 

Cambodia

When we first planned our trip to Cambodia we had two destinations in mind.  The first of course was Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.  The second was the killing fields in Phnom Penh.  We were traveling at the end of March which is typical for us since our wedding anniversary is March 30th.  March and April are the hottest months in Cambodia.  Due to the heat we ended up cutting our trip short.  We took a last minute flight to Shanghai instead of traveling on to Phnom Penh.  

Even though we only made it to Siem Reap and we only spent a few days in Cambodia it will forever be in our hearts.  We will definitely go back one day.  We fell in love with the country and the culture.  

We arrived in Cambodia on a train from Bangkok Thailand.  We were so glad we chose the train instead of a flight.  It was not only a scenic experience it was a cultural experience too.  The train dropped us off at the Thailand / Cambodian border.  We had to cross the actual border on foot.  This was a neat experience.  They actually have casinos in between the borders.  We went through passport control - showed our Visa's and crossed the border. 

Once on the Cambodian side of the border we decided the best transportation to Siem Reap was sharing a bus with some others we met while crossing the border.  If we remember correctly the ticket cost was $20US per person.

Once we reached Siem Reap we were dropped off at the bus station.   There were several Tuk Tuk drivers waiting to take the bus passengers into Siem Reap.  This was how we met our Tuk Tuk driver who remained our driver throughout our time in Siem Reap. 

We were very fortunate that day to meet our driver.  He was essential in making our trip wonderful and memorable.  Each morning he would pick us up at an agreed time and take us site seeing for the afternoon.  We visited so many wonderful places including Ankgor Wat, Ta Prohma, Koh Ker,  local silk farm, the floating village, and a local market.  We would spend our evenings on Pub Street.  We loved having a couple glasses of wine or beer and watching everything happen from the balconies.  Looking back I wish we would have stayed longer.

Here are a few things to do in Cambodia:

Cambodia's currency is the Cambodian Riel http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/

Cambodia's climate is warm to hot year round and the climate is dominated by the annual monsoon cycle with its alternating wet and dry seasons.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Cambodia#Climate

Car Rental in Cambodia - we do not have a problem renting a car in most countries but we just wouldn't advise it in Cambodia.  We recommend taking buses and Tuk Tuks.  You can hire a car with a driver but then you will have to cover the driver's lodging and meals.

Our preferred accommodations were hotels.  TripAdvisor Booking.com or Hotels.com Also if you hire a Tuk Tuk they can suggest some good places

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