About Kiera Reilly

Traveler, dog lover, F1 & Olympics fan in search of amazing coffee, gin and whisk(e)y. Social Media manager; group travel planner; alumni relations professional. Redondo Beach, CA

Flashback: Hey Day 21 Years Later

Today is “Hey Day” at the University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater.

Hey Day is a one hundred year old tradition at Penn. Held on the last day of classes, before reading days and then final exams, Hey Day marks the ascension of the Junior Class to Seniors. The class gathers on the Junior Balcony in the Quad wearing red t-shirts and styrofoam skimmer hats and wielding canes, and after some celebrating (the traditional drink is a screw driver, or at least it was during my time on campus), marches down Locust Walk to College Green and then to the steps of College Hall, the main administration building on campus. The University President comes out to greet the class, say a few words and then officially declare the class as seniors.

A tradition that began in 1917, this year marks the 100th Anniversary of the original Hey Day, while last year marked the 100th Hey Day itself. Confused? So are the Penn Classes of 2016 and 2017 who each want to claim to be the 100th Hey Day class. The campus newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, covers the ‘dispute’ in this article.

The University archives at Penn describes “Class Day,” which was the precursor to Hey Day here, and the traditions and history associated with Class Day, Ivy Day and Hey Day here.

Three years ago, my graduating class at Penn, the great Class of 1993, was preparing to celebrate our 20th reunion at Penn. I decided then to look back at our class’ Hey Day which was in April of 1992. I asked classmates for photos and their memories. Given the partying and craziness of the day, we are all grateful that cell phones and social media didn’t exist back then.

Even today, in our class Facebook group, classmates are reminiscing about that special day.

Here is my original post from the Frankly Penn blog, published on April 24, 2013.

Hey Day 1993 – 21 Years Later

By Kiera Reilly, C’93  @KieraReilly

As the Junior Class celebrates Hey Day today, the Class of 1993 is busy preparing for our 20th reunion in just a few short weeks. But it’s also a good time to think back and remember our time as students. It’s hard to believe that twenty-one years ago, on April 24, 1992, we were strutting down Locust Walk about to become Seniors and officially begin our last year at Penn.

Remember the bookstore wall? Huntsman Hall now stands where this wall was. Hey Day is coming - buy your hat, canes and shirts!

Remember the bookstore wall? Huntsman Hall now stands where this wall was. Hey Day is coming – buy your hat, canes and shirts!

I asked my classmates to share their memories of Hey Day, but no one was willing to fess up and share anything on the record. So, here is Hey Day 1993…names withheld to protect the innocent.

Anonymous Classmate #1

OMG, Hey Day! I had 3 job offers and was deciding between them. Completely forgot that a rep from one of the 3 firms was coming to meet me that day to talk about his company. After many, many cocktails, I stumbled back to off-campus housing midday in my red t-shirt and broken hat to find him sitting on my front steps. I could hardly put 2 words together. Cheers to my housemates who saved the day and invited him into our filthy stinking apartment and got him completely wasted. Needless to say, I accepted the offer and stayed at that job for 12 years. It was so awesome. He was my first boss — we just had drinks together this past Tuesday!!

Everyone gathered in off-campus apartments and houses to start the celebration.

Everyone gathered in off-campus apartments and houses to start the celebration.

Hey Day Kiera Lisa

Hey Day Regan 2

Anonymous Classmate #2

First of all it was one of my best days at Penn – being with all my best friends on the Junior Balcony, hugging each other and laughing, while at the same time seeing – in one place – so many of our classmates that I had met during the 3 years before.

I remember after all the festivities started to die down, standing buzzed in the lightly falling rain in the middle of College Green listening to Jerry Brown give a campaign speech for President. I remember thinking, “Boy did his campaign staff really pick the wrong day to come to campus!” Everyone in the audience was a drunk junior – barely standing, cheering and not listening to him. It was a surreal experience for sure!

We made our way from Super Block, over the 38th Street Bridge.

We made our way from Super Block, over the 38th Street Bridge.

And then we headed to the Quad.

And then we headed to the Quad.

Hey Day Quad

Hey Day Lincoln

Hey Day Karen Jamie Deanna

Hey Day 2 friends

Hey Day girls college green

Anonymous Classmate #3

I remember I had a blast that day…smooched a couple people amid the hustle and bustle and had a great excuse to act silly and irresponsible all day. What I remember most though is how I ended the day…meeting class of ’92 friends on Locust Walk. One friend (Name withheld), W’92, took a bite out of my styrofoam hat and then drenched me in beer head to toe. He told me it was part of the Hey Day tradition and to this day I am not sure if his claim was true or just a sneaky opportunity to soak me:-)

And our class board led us down Locust Walk to College Green. L-R: Ed Miller, Elissa Laitin, Lisa Luther, Julie Berliner, Chrissy Bass, Mike Rosenband, Laurie Bieber, Brooke Hayes.  Not pictured Jennifer Spadano and Doug Rosenberg.

And our class board led us down Locust Walk to College Green.
L-R: Ed Miller, Elissa Laitin, Lisa Luther, Julie Berliner, Chrissy Bass, Mike Rosenband, Laurie Bieber, Brooke Hayes. Not pictured Jennifer Spadano and Doug Rosenberg.

Hey Day Regan

Hey Day Kathleen P Scoops

Hey Day crowd

Hey Day classmates

Congratulations to the Class of 2014 – we hope you have wonderful memories of today to share twenty-one years from now!

The Penn Archives shared the history of Hey Day.

See photos from today’s Hey Day on campus by following @UofPenn on Instragram or @Penn on Twitter. Hashtag is #HeyDay.

1993 Classmates – it’s only a few weeks until our 20th reunion

We can’t wait to see you on campus May 10-11, 2013!

93.GraphicThis was originally published on the Frankly Penn blog on April 24, 2013.

Plane Spotting Iron Maiden’s “Ed Force One” at LAX

Living close to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I enjoy seeing the planes coming from the east making their final approach for landing when I’m driving on the 405 Freeway. Or when we’re walking our dogs on the Strand in Manhattan Beach, we try to guess the plane type and carrier as we watch flights depart to the west over the ocean.

When private planes and charters come to LAX, they are often parked on the south side of the airport, near the intersection of Sepulveda Boulevard and Imperial Highway (aka the 105 Freeway). I wonder sometimes who the planes belong to, or who is flying in them. On Sunday, when I saw a plane there, it was clear who was in town.

As I drove north on Sepulveda, heading to Santa Monica, I saw a 747 plane with Iron Maiden livery. Iron Maiden was in town to perform two shows over the weekend at the Forum in Inglewood. Returning home a few hours later, I decided to try to get a picture of it. It was difficult – you could see it perfectly from the streets but it was parked at a busy intersection with a highway overhead so views of it were obstructed.

I finally parked, walked down an incline, and was able to take this photo – unfortunately the 105 Freeway is blocking the full view of the plane.

Zoomed in view of Iron Maiden plane parked at LAX.

Zoomed in view of Iron Maiden plane parked at LAX.

I could see some people walking along the green fence taking pictures of the plane (pictured above in the distance, closer to the plane), so I looped around to attempt parking near them with the intention of then walking back to take photos. Unfortunately, they were parked on the side of an off-ramp, in a no parking zone, and as I pulled over to park, I noticed a police car behind me. I thought better of parking there and moved.

I next went to Imperial Avenue in El Segundo. This street parallels Imperial Highway, but instead of being on the same level as LAX, the land is hilly, so there are some spots that provide excellent views of LAX and the southern runways.

On Imperial Avenue in El Segundo looking over LAX

On Imperial Avenue in El Segundo looking over LAX. The building on the far left, with all the planes parked outside, is the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The first five planes closest to me are all A380s.

A KLM 747 taxis on the runway at LAX.

A KLM 747 taxis on the runway at LAX.

Here is a map of where the plane was parked and where I was standing to watch the runways. It is a great location for plane spotting, watching both the incoming flights from the east and then seeing planes depart to the west.

While I was too far from the parked plane to get a good photo (and it was obscured by other buildings at LAX from this vantage point), there was a large crowd gathered with several people wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts, presumably from the concert the night before. The gentleman standing next to me, Ron Monroe, had a DSLR camera with a large lens, and he was taking pictures of all the planes departing, so I asked him about the planes, identifying them, and watching them land. He said this spot usually only has a few people watching and most of the people there today were there for the Iron Maiden plane. Ron took some beautiful photos of Ed Force One departing LAX that I shared below. I encourage you to visit his gallery on Flickr (he also took photos of Ed Force One landing at LAX a few days earlier. You can see them here, here and here).

/Air Atlanta Icelandic, Boeing 747-400, "Ed Force One" Photo credit: ©Ron Monroe

Air Atlanta Icelandic, Boeing 747-400, "Ed Force One" Photo credit: ©Ron Monroe

Once the plane started moving from its parking spot, there seemed to be excitement in the gathered crowd. I learned from some of the other onlookers that Iron Maiden’s lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson pilots the plane, and the plane is called Ed Force One.

After about twenty minutes, the plane was at the end of the runway and started moving towards take off, and I was able to capture the departure on video.

Iron Maiden and their crew was headed to Tokyo for their next concerts there as part of their Book of Souls world tour. Interestingly, after I shared this post, I saw an article about an associate curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology who helped translate the band’s Book of Souls song titles into ancient Maya hieroglyphs, two of which appear on the tail fin of Ed Force One. You can read more about that here.

Immediately after the plane departed, the crowd dissipated. One woman, wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt, said, “I want to cry. It’s all over now.”

Did you see the Iron Maiden plane at LAX? Have you ever visited an airport to watch planes taking-off and landing? Let me know in the comments below!

Fun Times Through the Years at The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach


Every April, the streets of Long Beach, California, are turned into a race track for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, an IndyCar race, but there are other races throughout the weekend: the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race (this is the 40th and final year), IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge, Stadium Super Trucks and Super Drift races.

We are heading to the track today, and I found some old photos of previous weekends at the race. Fridays are less crowded, with open seating, and the ability to walk around some of the pits and take part in an autograph session with the drivers.

On Saturday there is World Challenge and Indy Car practice, the Pro/Celebrity race, Stadium Super Trucks race, IndyCar qualifying and the IMSA race. In addition to the IndyCar race on Sunday there is the Pirelli World Challenge race, Mothers Exotic Car Parade, and the Stadium Super Trucks race.

Throughout the weekend, the Long Beach Convention Center is open with pit areas for some of the support races, cars and automotive displays. There is a lot to see, and with bright sunny days in the forecast, it will be a beautiful weekend for racing!

Here are some of my photos from previous race weekends.

tgplb conv ctr 2014

K-PAX car in the Convention Center, 2014

tgplb conv ctr 2 2014

Nissan GTR in the Convention Center, 2014


Racing Ford GT and a Corvette, 2008 (If only that guy was sitting!)

Racing Ford GT and a Corvette, 2008 (If only that guy was sitting!)

Autograph session in 2012 with Corvette Racing's xxx, Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen

Autograph session in 2012 with Corvette Racing’s Tommy Milner, Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen

Flying Lizard Motorsports Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long, 2012

Flying Lizard Motorsports Jorg Bergmeister and Patrick Long, 2012

The Wayne Taylor Racing car in 2014

The Wayne Taylor Racing car in 2014

Lots of skid marks on the streets of Long Beach, 2008

Lots of skid marks on the streets of Long Beach, 2008

Walking around, you can see the cars being worked on before the races - here Flying Lizard Motorsports in 2008

Walking around, you can see the cars being worked on before the races – here Flying Lizard Motorsports in 2008

There are screens throughout the course - here during the Indy Race in 2012

There are screens throughout the course – here during the Indy Race in 2012

Corvette Racing's Oliver Gavin and crew members by the car in 2008

Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin and crew members by the car in 2008

Racing in 2011

Racing in 2011

Indy Car race in 2011

Indy Car race in 2011

Indy Car race 2011

Indy Car race 2011

Indy Car race 2011

Indy Car race 2011

Have you ever been to the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach or another IndyCar race? Let me know in the comments below.

Flashback: Penn Basketball’s Zack Rosen at the Final Four

As the NCAA Men and Women’s Basketball championships concluded this week and ended the month of “March Madness,” I looked back to Penn Basketball’s most recent “Hurrah” in the NCAA’s. Four years ago, Penn senior Zack Rosen was a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award. The finalists were pictured around the Final Four host city New Orleans and recognized on court between the two Final Four games. That year Robbie Hummel of Purdue eventually won the award.

Since then, Penn Basketball is in a rebuilding effort, with this year being the first of new head coach Steve Donahue. Hopefully in the coming years, the team will return to compete in the NCAA tournament. While it was nice to see the Ivy League’s entry Yale win in their first round game this year, I hope that Penn will be once again be making regular appearances in the tournament representing the Ivy League.

Here is my original post from the Frankly Penn blog, published on March 30, 2012.

Hurrah, Hurrah! Zack Rosen at the Final Four!

By Kiera Reilly, C’93 (@KieraReilly)

This weekend, as Louisville and Kentucky, Ohio State and Kansas battle it out in the NCAA Final Four Men’s Basketball Championships in New Orleans, Penn Athletics teams will be playing Women’s Lacrosse, Softball, Women’s Tennis, Baseball, Men’s Lacrosse, Men’s Lightweight Rowing, Men’s Tennis, Women’s Golf and Men’s Golf. But Penn will be represented at the Final Four.

How? By virtue of Men’s Basketball senior guard and team captain Zack Rosen, who is one of ten finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award. The award, “is presented each year to the outstanding senior NCAA Division I Student-Athlete of the Year across ten different sports. The acronym “CLASS” stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School®.”

Each of the ten finalists is profiled on the award website, and you can read about why Zack was nominated here: http://www.seniorclassaward.com/athletes/zack_rosen/.

Just this week, Zack wrote an editorial published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, thanking the students for supporting the team this year. As you can see in the comments below his piece, the fans write to thank him for bringing excitement back to Penn basketball. I for one, am a huge Penn Basketball fan, and was thrilled when the team visited southern California this year (read my earlier post about the fans that came to cheer for the Quakers). When I was on campus in February, I attended the Penn-Harvard and Penn-Dartmouth games, and it felt like old times in the Palestra – a packed house with Penn alumni and students cheering loudly for our beloved Quakers. Much of that spirit is thanks to Zack Rosen, being the best player on the court and a class act off the court.

The finalists are in New Orleans now, and participated in a service project this morning. Tomorrow, between the two final four games, the winner will be announced. In the meantime, their photos adorn a bus and a hotel in New Orleans. Pretty cool to see a Penn player receive some well-deserved national recognition.

Lowe’s Senior CLASS bus in New Orleans.

Installing the Lowe’s Senior CLASS photo on the Sheraton in New Orleans.

Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalists on the Sheraton Hotel in New Orleans.

Photos from Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award Facebook page.

Congratulations Zack!

Hurrah, Hurrah, Pennsylvania!

More links

A Penn YouTube video highlights Zack.

Penn Athletics article on Zack’s trip to New Orleans.

Unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year: Zack Rosen on Philly.com.

Rosen is named second-team ECAC Division I All-Star, the only Ivy player named.

Capsule review of Penn’s season by PhilaHoops.com

Rosen dives into life with same passion as hoops on CSNPhilly.

This post was originally published on the Frankly Penn blog on March 30, 2012.

Celebrating Easter Mass ON Hermosa Beach

Six years ago my parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach, California, started a tradition of a sunrise Easter Mass on the beach. It was the idea of our now pastor Father Joe Kim (at the time he was studying to be a priest).

I attended the first year this mass was offered (I believe in 2010), and I remember being cold (nights are chilly in southern California). There was a small gathering, and even though it was overcast, it was a wonderful way to celebrate Easter, as night became day, by the water, with the waves as our music.

When I joined the mass last year, I was happy to see that it had grown in size. It was still a bit chilly and overcast, but the crowd of worshipers gathered to celebrate the risen Christ was warming to the heart. As the mass progressed, the moon faded from view and the sun enlightened the beach and our gathering.

Arriving to the beach, it was still quite dark, and the pier was still lit.

Arriving to the beach, it was still quite dark, and the pier was still lit.

The moon lit up the sky before the sun rose from the east behind us.

The moon lit up the sky before the sun rose from the east behind us.

The Bishop said mass and is giving his homily.

The Bishop said mass and is giving his homily. As you can see, there is a large crowd.

OLG Beach Easter homilyOLG Beach Easter homily 2

By the end of the mass, it was almost completely daylight (though still overcast - typical for southern California in the Spring and early Summer).

By the end of the mass, it was almost completely daylight (though still overcast – typical for southern California in the Spring and early Summer).

Once again this year, Our Lady of Guadalupe will offer Easter mass on the beach – 6:30 am on Sunday, March 27, at 11th Street and the Strand in Hermosa Beach. Bring your own beach chair, a warm sweathshirt and a blanket. Come join us!

For more pictures, see this photo gallery from beach side mass in 2014 by the Los Angeles Times.

How do you celebrate Easter? Does your church celebrate mass or hold services outside of your usual church?

Tasting Whiskey in Dublin

whiskey taste tastings

Whiskey tasting at Jasmine Bar in the Brooks Hotel, Dublin, Ireland.

When I traveled to Ireland last year, my first visit to the land of my ancestors, I knew a little bit, or maybe less than a little bit, about Irish whiskey. Sure I had heard of Jameson, and maybe had some vague knowledge of Tullamore Dew and Bushmills, two other popular Irish whiskey brands, but that’s about it. What little I did know is that I liked whiskey, or is it whisky? I did not even know the difference between whisky with an, “e,” and whisky without an, “e,” – clearly my knowledge was limited! My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan, and I enjoy Scotch on the rocks, so when the lovely people at Brendan Vacations invited me to join an Irish whiskey tasting with my friend Lisa of We Said Go Travel, I happily accepted.

Lisa and I spent the afternoon on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Dublin, and it was a cold and wet afternoon (surprisingly, the only rainy day I experienced on my entire week-long visit!). We arrived at the tasting needing to warm up, and in short order we ordered some soup from the kitchen which helped rid us of our chill. Of course sampling some whiskey also warms the body!

I did not know what to expect, but in my head a tasting was a formal affair, with a group of people being led in a tasting by someone who would be at the front of a room lecturing us about whiskey. I was very wrong! The tasting took place in the Brooks Hotel’s Jasmine Bar, “Ireland’s First Great Whiskey Bar of the World.”

The Brooks Hotel, Dublin

The Brooks Hotel, Dublin

whiskey taste Jasmine Bar

Entrance to the Jasmine Bar at the Brooks Hotel is right from the lobby of the Brooks Hotel.

After arriving at our assigned table in the Jasmine Bar and ordering our soup, Jacek, Jasmine’s head bartender, joined us to teach us about Irish whiskey. Originally from Poland, Jacek is extremely knowledgeable about whiskey and eager to share his insights with us. As he explained, Irish whiskey is different from Scotch whisky in that it is triple distilled. This makes for a smoother finish. The whiskey does generally not have the smoky, peaty smell and taste that is often, but not always, associated with Scotch single malt whisky.

There was a selection of five whiskies for us to taste, and Jacek walked us through each one.  I enjoyed them all. At one point, I started to ask about the price of a bottle of each whiskey, then decided I should wait until we were finished so that I could pick a favorite without regard to the price.

whiskey taste Jasmine menue

Jasmine Bar’s menu listing some of the over 100 whiskies they stock.

One of the great advantages to a tasting is that you can compare each whiskey to the others, and sample one, then perhaps circle back to another dram you sampled earlier. On their own, each whiskey had a lovely smell and taste, but tasting them in one sitting allowed us to differentiate between them and notice the subtle taste notes that are distinctive to each one.

The whiskeys we sampled (detailed tasting notes are listed at the end of this post):

  • Green Spot
  • Bushmills 16 Year Old ‘Three Wood’ Single Malt Whiskey
  • Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey
  • Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection
  • Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Lisa created this short video of our tasting:

As the tasting progressed, I only took a sip or two from each, as I wanted to return to my favorites at the end.

whiskey taste glasses lined better

Here, with the whiskies lined up side by side, you can see the variations in color.

My favorite of all that we sampled was the Midleton Very Rare, which Jacek estimated to be about €150 per bottle! Lisa’s friend Enda joined us near the end of our tasting, and he was familiar with the Connemara that we sampled. He had purchased it as a wedding gift for a friend. It has a very smoky finish, and as a peated single malt, was very similar to the Scotch whiskies that were more familiar to me. While the Midleton was the most expensive, some of the whiskeys we drank were less than half that price. The beauty of tasting five whiskeys is that there is sure to be one to suit everyone’s taste – and price point.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting and the knowledge that Jacek shared with us. It was an excellent introduction to Irish whiskey. If you are visiting Ireland, I highly recommend adding a whiskey tasting to your itinerary – and Brendan Vacations can assist with planning your trip and scheduling a whiskey tasting.

I so enjoyed this tasting that later in my trip, I stopped at the Celtic Whiskey Shop to purchase some whiskey to bring home to share with family and friends (my purchase? Green Spot).


Dublin Whiskey tasting

Lisa and I with Jacek, the Jasmine Bar’s head bartender, during our whiskey tasting. (I am on the left and Lisa is on the right).

Tasting Details

Greenspot – made entirely from seven and eight year old Midleton Pure Pot Still, with 25% of the spirit having matured in sherry casks. Only 500 cases are made each year.

  • Nose: Heavy barley is noticeable to the nose.
  • Taste and finish: A good full body and sweet honey finish making this one of our favourite Whiskeys.

Bushmills 16 Year Old ‘Three Wood’ Single Malt Whiskey – The whiskey is aged for 15 years in 50% bourbon and 50% sherry casks. These are married in vat and recasked into port pipes for a year.

  • Nose: An exquisite belt of exotic spices, cut with rich cigar smoke.
  • Taste: A rich start sets off tangerines, cocoa and spicy port notes. This whiskey keeps unfolding as you hold it in the mouth. Later, nutty toffee and cocoa arrive.
  • Finish: The port really makes itself felt here.

Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey – Comprising of superior aged whiskeys from 12 up to 27 years of age. Midleton is soley matured in ex-bourbon casks which contribute to its wonderful honey, spice, vanilla and gingerbread flavour. A superb, complex and satisfying whiskey that reveals new hidden layers upon each sip.

Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection – The 18 year old master selection is a supreme example of the Jameson tradition of maturing whiskey in Spanish sweet oloroso sherry casks. Rich, complex and truly rare – only limited stocks of this exceptional whiskey are available. Each bottle is individually numbered to become a true collectors item over time.

  • Nose: Soft, rich, juicy: apricot, dried fruits, orange, butterscotch, hazelnut butter. Water brings out sherry, becoming chocolate and bourbon biscuit.
  • Taste: A luscious, oily sweetness with a crisp solidity on the palate, then a burst of dried fruits, spices and citrus fruits.
  • Finish: Rich, soft and honeyed.

Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Connemara was the first peated malt whiskey produced by Cooley distillery. Once the malted barley has germinated it is dried over a peat fire, the smoke rising through the malted barley giving it a distinct peaty flavour and aroma.

  • Nose: Pronounced smoke, rather than peat, though both evident.
  • Taste: Syrupy. Sweet grass. Smoky, some drier hints of phenol. A suggestion of juicy wood extracts, or sherry, rounding out flavours.
  • Finish: Smoky and emphatically grassy. Sweet grass, but also spicy dryness.

Read Lisa’s article from USA Today, “Whiskey Tasting in Dublin’s Distilleries and Bars,” which includes with our experience at the Jasmine Bar.

My whiskey tasting was arranged and paid for courtesy of Brendan Vacations, but the opinions about the tasting and the whiskey are entirely my own.

Have you tasted Irish whiskey? Do you have a favorite or a whiskey you would recommend I sample? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Garrick Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Sorting through my photos from my day trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, a year ago, I found this image of The Garrick bar on the corner of Chicester and Montgomery Streets in Belfast.

The Garrick pub on Montgomery Street, Belfast.

The Garrick pub on Montgomery Street, Belfast.

I was rushing back from visiting the Titanic Museum, trying to find a bite to eat in the city center before I caught the last train back to Dublin.

Leaving the museum, I asked for walking directions back to the city and recommendations on where to eat. The very friendly woman at the museum provided a few suggestions, one being a great place for Mexican burritos. I wonder if it was the shop right behind the street light that she suggested? I did walk up to the window of a burrito place, peeked inside, remembered that I live in California and can have excellent Mexican or Cal-Mex food every day at home, and moved on to the next item on my list – sampling Short Cross Gin. That isn’t available in California!

My friend Mrs. O Around the World had suggested Short Cross, and as Mrs. O is a fellow gin lover, I needed to listen to her advice. I saw The Garrick and decided to stop in for a gin and tonic.

I did not have much time before my train, as the walk back from the Titanic Museum took some time as I enjoyed the late afternoon sun after experiencing a rainy start to the day. I went inside The Garrick and asked the bartender if they carried Shortcross – they did – and in short order I was drinking Shortcross Gin, “Northern Ireland’s first premium craft gin,” per the Shortcross website. It did not disappoint!

Shortcross Gin and tonic at The Garrick, Belfast.

Shortcross Gin and tonic at The Garrick, Belfast. (Note the top of my head in the center of the mirror).

The bar was somewhat full, and I wish I had more time to stay and mingle (and have another Shortcross), but I needed to catch the train as it was the last one to Dublin. I quickly paid my tab (£1.95 for the tonic, £4.95 for the Shortcross = £6.90), and gathered my things for the train station. When I stepped outside to take a photo of The Garrick, I noticed the quote on the side of the building:

“A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise.

A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.”

A sentiment we should all keep in mind, but particularly apt, perhaps, for Belfast and Northern Ireland. In searching for the source of the quote today, which seems to be unknown, I came across this post from David Ross, who visited Belfast again in July after twenty years away.  He provides an interesting perspective of what visiting Belfast was like during, “the troubles,” assuming you would visit, which many people did not, and what the city is like today, when he returned.

While I do not have his perspective, I do hope that I can return to Belfast, and Northern Ireland, and spend longer than a too-short day-trip exploring. A visit to the Short Cross Gin distillery would definitely be in order!

Note: I traveled to Ireland with Brendan Vacations, but my day-trip to Belfast was planned and paid for by me.



Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show

I spent most of Saturday at the Long Beach Convention Center visiting the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show there this weekend. Billed as, “The First Stop on Your Next Trip,” the show will visit San Francisco on March 5 -6, and Philadelphia on March 19 – 20.

If you want travel inspiration and to discover new places to visit, I encourage you to attend. There are travel destinations near (in California), somewhat near (the United States) and far at the show with brochures, information, and show specials and discounts for new and more seasoned travelers alike.

Entering the show, attendees were greeted by large booths from Fiji, Indonesia, Taiwan and China.

I met some friendly faces from Korea in the Visit Korea booth.


Some dancers from Thailand entertained the crowd.


In a large area focused on Japan, there was a model of the Shinkansen “bullet train” with the Central Japan Railway Company, and a cooking display in the Japan National Tourism Organization booth.


New Orleans Bill and his team were sharing samples of his New Orleans potato salad  and Sweet Potato Cookies in the Cuisine Noir Magazine booth. They were having fun sharing a bit of New Orleans with us!


New Orleans Bill and his crew. His potato salad is available in the deli counters of Walmart and Albertson’s locally in Los Angeles.

There were several stages throughout the convention hall with noted travel experts sharing their travel experiences and insight – pictured below (left to right) are Rick Steves, Samantha Brown and Angel Castellanos.

Many exhibits offered interactive features – attendees could ride Segways from Long Beach Segway Tours, climb a rock climbing wall in the Yosemite Experience Pavilion, and take an Olympic ski jump by virtual reality in the Korea booth (Pyeong Chang, Korea, is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2018).

While I enjoyed learning about new destinations to discover – Iran and the Cook Islands were two of my favorites – there were also travel resources at the show. Los Angeles World Airports had information about the long overdue modernization and transformation of LAX – LAX is happening! In addition to learning about updated food and shopping options and the new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT), I was interested to learn about a coming central car rental facility, people mover, and links to Metro. You could learn about acquiring a U.S. passport or joining the Global Entry program from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. I was impressed by the new website www.HeadingHomeHealthy.org that compiles information on travel outside the United States from the Centers for Disease Control in a more user-friendly format.

There were many travel products at the show too. The Lazar’s Luggage booth was popular and offered discounts on travel packing items. Lazar’s Luggage is a luggage superstore in Sherman Oaks. I really liked this small wheelie bag decorated with graphic flowers.


I love this flower wheelie-bag that was at the Lazar’s Luggage booth.

The ScottEvest offers men’s and women’s tech-oriented travel vests, jackets and sweaters. There are many pockets in each design to stow your phone, e-book reader, iPad, credit cards, earphones and more. I particularly liked the sweater which offers deep pockets (and zippers to stow some cash or a credit card).

Tep Wireless offers a private wireless hotspot while you travel – you can either rent their device for one-off trips, or purchase one to keep (and then pay for wireless whenever you use it).

Tep Wireless's private hotspot device.

Tep Wireless’s private hotspot device.

A new undergarment option for women, the Travel Bra, seems like a promising new product. Built within the bra are pockets for a passport, credit cards and a USB device – a great way to keep your most important travel items safe while exploring the world. The Makeup Eraser, is a polyester cloth that when wet with only water, removes all types of makeup. The cloth is machine washable, so it seems like a great alternative to make-up removers (and easy to take on the road).

I was really excited by the vests offered by Stuffa – puff vests with internal pockets that fit several days worth of clothes. I tried the vests on – and even though all the items on the table were stored in the vest, it was easy to wear and felt light. I spoke with the founder of the company, Sandro Cafasso, and he said he designed the vests so that he could get away for the weekend without needing to bring a bag. I thought it would be a great way to bring some extra clothes on a flight if your wheelie bag is full.


The Stuffa booth

All of these items fit in the Stuffa vest!

All of these items fit in the Stuffa vest!


The Stuffa vest for women

Go Sleep is a combination of a memory foam pillow and an eye mask with straps that you attach to a seat back or head rest, enabling you to sleep upright while traveling. I can’t wait to try this on my next long-haul flight.


My favorite find of the show was from Otto Trading – they were showcasing a mini personal message device. It’s the size of a small ipod with medical pads that you can place anywhere on your body that needs a massage. There are different modes of massage to choose, and you can select the strength of the massage. It felt a bit weird at first, but then it started feeling really good. I asked my fellow blogging friend Kat to try it too – and we both ended up buying one. I have already tried it at home, and it gave my sore shoulder a nice massage while I was watching the Oscars last night. I think this would be a perfect fit for traveling – you can massage sore muscles after a long-haul flight or after a day of walking and sightseeing.


Kat and I enjoying the UniMed Massager.

I met and talked to so many people at the show, and I barely scratched the surface of all the vendors that were on display. Here is a quick run-down of who I met:

  • Alaska’s Inside Passage – the ladies at this booth told me about reasonably priced flights to Juneau on Alaskan Airlines from LAX via Seattle. Once in Juneau, an alternative to an Alaskan cruise would be to take a ferry to different towns.
  • Avianca Airlines – a Star Alliance partner, I chatted with them about their new Dreamliner service that flies direct from Los Angeles to Bogota, Colombia.
  • Bayou Lafourche, LA – the gateway to Cajun country
  • Best of Croatia – small ship Adriatic Cruises – Croatia is one of my favorite countries, and I would love to cruise the Croatian coast again in a small ship. We also talked about the wonderful lavender from the island of Hvar.
  • Czech Tourism – I saw the director of the Los Angeles office, Vojtěch Kačerovský, again, and said I still hope to travel to the Czech Republic soon.
  • Destination British Columbia – I looked at the map, saw that I’ve only been to Vancouver and Whistler, and realized that there is so much more to explore in this Canadian province.
  • Enjoy the Mountain – Adventure and off-road experiences (think off-road Segways!) in Southern California.
  • G Adventures – they are partnering with National Geographic on tours, and have multiple tour options to travel all over the world.
  • Gilroy Welcome Center – I have stayed in Gilroy when visiting the Monterey Peninsula, but have yet to visit their famous Garlic Festival in the summer.
  • Hande Tour – a luxury tour operator in Vietnam, one of my favorite destinations. They also offer trips throughout Southeast Asia.
  • Infinite Safari Adventures – I met this Studio City-based tour operator a few years ago at the show. Chairman and Founder Alan Feldstein and VP of Marketing Diane Haithman talked to me about the state of conservation efforts for elephants and rhinos in Africa – it was good to hear that things are improving. I like that they offer unique, custom wildlife adventures in Africa – one example is the ability to kayak off the coast of Tanzania.
  • Iran Doostan Tours – as I was standing at this booth, another attendee approached and said, “You’ve got to be kidding, right?” She was fearful of traveling to Iran, so I told her that I would happily travel to Iran. Iran Doostan Tours offers several tour options, including hiking and cave explorations. They also had a wonderful map – I love looking at country maps!
  • Israel Ministry of Tourism – in this booth I met Nir Margalith, the founder of Puzzle Israel, and his US marketing director Deb Lust Zaluda. Nir is a chef and created tours that feature Israeli guides and staff, and more experiential tours in Israel. I was particularly interested in their food tours and their yoga tours. On the back of the Puzzle Israel brochures were photos (and recipes) of delicious looking Israeli dishes.
  • Pishgharavolan – another Iranian tour operator. There was a helpful information sheet with information for US passport holders interested in traveling to Iran (how to obtain a visa, if Iran is safe, etc.). Here I learned that the exchange rate is ideal for Americans wanting to travel to Iran as its cheaper than ever. They also had a map of Iran to share.
  • Romanian Tourist Office – I met Nicolae Aldea of Romania Tours, and he jokingly (I think)  said he could help me meet Dracula when I visit Romania. His company offers tours in Romania but also include visits to other neighboring countries.
  • Rovos Rail – offering luxury train travel through South Africa and neighboring countries in Africa. They too had a beautiful map that displayed their train route options – a great and luxurious way to explore southern Africa.
  • Slovenia Tourism Office – there were beautiful brochures about Slovenia to encourage travelers to discover your #ifeelsLOVEnia. I asked about Ljubljana the European Green Capital and the capital of the country, as I have learned a bit about it from some twitter chats – it looks like a beautiful city, and I hope I can visit there soon.
  • Tourism Malaysia – I hope to visit Malaysia one day, perhaps in conjunction with a visit to the Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
  • Via Corsa Magazine – billed as, “The Car Traveler Magazine,” this is a new publication that publishes quarterly.
  • Yamnuska Mountain Adventures – hiking, rock climbing and ice climbing in the Canadian Rockies, and there are trips for all experience levels.

This list is a small sample of the tour operators, destinations, travel suppliers and travel products at the Travel and Adventure Show. But with so many exhibitors, there is surely something to meet everyone’s interests.

Another bonus of attending the show was catching up with friends in the travel industry. As I was leaving the show floor, I bumped into Mike Siegel of Travel Tales Podcast, and we chatted about the show and Formula E car racing. Once outside the Long Beach Convention Center, I saw Russell Edmond, Kat Von B and Sarah Good taking a break. After sitting for a few minutes to refresh and grabbing some iced coffee, we headed back inside to listen to Rick Steves talk and do one last run through the show. Sarah, Kat and I then met up with Nick Kontis and headed across the street to the Auld Dubliner for a drink. While there Michael Bennett of Muddy Shoe Adventures and Annie Neukomm from Interlaken Tourism joined us. It was nice to share some laughs and travel stories with people that love to travel as much as I do.

The Travel and Adventure Show will return to Los Angeles (and other cities) in 2017, but there is still an opportunity for people in San Francisco to attend the show there this coming weekend, or in Philadelphia March 19-20. Check the Travel Show website for more details.




Amara Chocolate and Coffee Cafe in Pasadena

Earlier this year, my friends Lisa, Melissa and I were looking for somewhere to meet and catch up with each other. Melissa suggested a few places near her in Pasadena (California), and one of them was a place that served hot chocolate. That quickly became our pick, and we met there on Saturday afternoon.

I arrived first, and since I left the house early that morning, I was hungry. Not knowing if we would be ordering only hot chocolate or food too, I decided to try an empanada while I waited for Lisa and Melissa to arrive.

Pasadena empanada

Beef empanada at Amara

It was the perfect size for a small snack, but you could also order several to make a full meal.

Although I wanted sipping chocolate, I needed some caffeine, so I decided to try a cacao latte, but I had choices as to how dark I wanted the chocolate in my mocha to be, a choice I never had before! I am a big fan of dark chocolate, so I ordered my cacao latte with the 61% dark chocolate. According to Amara’s menu, the chocolate is paired with Guatemalan espresso. It was the perfect combination of chocolate and espresso flavors with a hint of sweetness.

Pasadena mocha

Amara Cafe’s dark chocolate mocha – note it’s already half gone because I was too excited to drink it before taking a picture!

While waiting, I realized that Amara Cafe was not simply a pastry cafe but a Venezuelan cafe – the empanadas on the menu was one clue. There was a selection of the usual sandwich combinations, but at the register, an ipad displayed photos of other menu items. One thing that caught my eye was a tortilla that seemed to be covered with beans and plantains. There were also churros on the menu! I did not expect that. I knew I wanted to order some but decided to wait to see if Lisa and Melissa were interested in sharing some too.

Melissa arrived next, and while she was looking at the menu, she too noticed the tortilla photo and was intrigued. We decided to order that to share and learned that in addition to the beans and plantains there was beef and cheese as well. It is called an arepa, a Venezuelan corn flat-bread. We ordered La De Pabellon which included the arepa, shredded beef, white cheese, black beans and plantains.

Pasadena pancake

When it arrived at our table, we split it between the three of us (by this time Lisa joined us) – it might make a main entree for dinner, but with both beans and meat, it is pretty filling for one person for lunch. It was delicious – the sweetness of the corn tortilla and plantains balanced nicely with the meat and beans. So, so good!

After finishing that, we had our next big decision – how many churros to order, and with what sauces? We decided on six to share with dark chocolate and nutella sauces.

Pasadena churros

Churros con chocolate -mmm the perfect morning, lunch, mid-afternoon or late night treat!

We were all surprised by this little cafe in the heart of old town Pasadena. While there is typical cafe fare, the Venezuelan menu items – especially the chocolate – give it something to stand out. Read more about Amara’s chocolates on their website.

The space is small, but we were able to find a table with ease to enjoy our orders. There was a steady stream of customers coming in for food to sit and eat or a drink to have on the go.

I would recommend visiting this unique cafe and trying some of their Venezuelan delicacies and chocolates!

Amara Cafe

55 South Raymond Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone (626) 744-1765
90 min Free Parking

The 2016 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona – My Trip via Social Media

Rolex24 start

It was a quick weekend trip to Daytona Beach for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Here is a quick re-cap of the weekend based on my social media posts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook via Storify.

Has anyone attended a long endurance race – either 24 or 12 hours? Let me know what you thought about the experience!