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gardens Lifestyle

A Meditative Journey

A Meditative Journey The Promise within the GardenDr. Kim Grom

“The Promise within the Garden”

Dr. Kim Grom Brings You Closer to the Heart of God

Whenever you feel drained of your peace and tranquility, Dr. Kim Grom’s inspirational guidebook, “The Promise within the Garden: A Meditative Journey into the Heart of God” will help bring you closer to God while you enjoy the beauty of scripture and renderings of old, European gardens.

If you believe God is ever-present in your world, Dr. Grom encourages you to connect with God through the aesthetic and peaceful garden. Nature heals as many of us have come to know this year as we face the challenges, fears, uncertainty, and isolation. Whether you’re struggling daily with heartache over the loss of a parent, as I am, or your world has been turned upside down due to economic turmoil, The Promise within the Garden remains a source of inspiration and hope.

TIP: Use your favorite voice recorder app to record your thoughts and feelings during your next garden tour and then automatically

You, of course, must provide the elbow grease, the plants, and the water, but hostess Earth does the rest! Simply begin with the dirt as your canvas, add your favorite garden plants, and you are on your way to creating a spectacular, living scene. A garden of any sort without the hostess, our Earth, is simply impossible!

Dr. Kim Grom, The Promise within the Garden: A Meditative Journey into the Heart of God.”

The Promise within the Garden
What makes a garden thrive? The Hostess Earth steps in and irons out any imperfections.

Ecclesiastes (NIV) says, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Ease your way through the dark days in life with a stroll through your garden. If you don’t have your own plot, consider setting aside a sunny corner of your property or find a garden where you can meditate. Bring the beauty of nature into your world for long-lasting relief from your worries.

Dr. Kim Grom is an author and counselor with a Ph.D. in Philosophy/Counseling from Cornerstone University. She owns a bible bookstore and cafe and a counseling center. Her hobbies include gardening, show dogs and breeding, equestrian activities, hiking, swimming, and public speaking.

You can learn more about Dr. Grom at https://www.drkimgrom.com.

Speaking of gardens, discover Longwood Gardens and its acres of plants and flowers from around the world.

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Bird-Watching and Ornithology Lifestyle

Northeastern Pennsylvania Birder

The Mystery of the Feathers

The Mystery of the Feathers

by Elizabeth Baumeister

Elizabeth Baumeister is an award-winning journalist, birdwatcher, all-encompassing nature enthusiast, avid reader, crafter, and coffee addict. She resides in Overfield Township, Pennsylvania. All photos by Elizabeth Baumeister.

Join Elizabeth Baumeister, journalist and photographer, for a suspenseful walk along a Northeastern Pennsylvania (NEPA) trail as she uncovers the Mystery of the Feathers.

This week’s column by Elizabeth Baumeister, “Northeastern Pennsylvania Birder,” takes you on a spellbinding walk along a local stream. Whether you venture outdoors regularly snapping photos of feathered friends you meet along a walking path or hiking trail; ornithology, also known as birdwatching, continues to grow in popularity. There is no shortage of forests or backyard birdfeeders in (Northeastern Pennsylvania) NEPA. You can find more information or search for a group in your area through the National Audubon Society.

The Mystery of the Feathers by Elizabeth Baumeister
In the distance, a great blue heron makes its way across the rocky creek bed at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock, PA. (Photo by Elizabeth Baumeister)

I was walking alongside the stream at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock a couple of weeks ago when I came upon a murder scene. 

A pool of deep red blood-stained the earth and was surrounded by dozens of bright blue, black and white feathers. A body wasn’t present, but I knew there was no way the victim of such a gruesome attack could have survived.

An initial investigation revealed the victim as park resident, Blue Jay. Although I was unable to identify the murderer, I suspect he or she bears the name of Hawk. One possible witness by the name of Red Squirrel watched me from behind a nearby tree, but he refused to come out and talk (probably for fear of becoming the next victim). After taking some crime scene photographs, there was nothing else I could do. So I continued on my walk, pondering the circle of life.

When I was a little girl, I engaged in all sorts of daydreams — from realistic to radical —  about what I would be when I grew up. Among the more far-fetched of these aspirations was the occupation of detective. 

I devoured mystery books. After exhausting the local library system’s selection of “Nancy Drew” novels, I moved on to the “Hardy Boys” books. From there, I read the “Mandy” series and every other children’s mystery book I could get my hands on.

Birdwatching in NEPA
A female belted kingfisher perches on a downed tree branch over the creek at Lazy Brook Park in Tunkhannock, PA. (Photo by Elizabeth Baumeister)

I eventually settled on the career path of journalism. But in a way, those childhood daydreams of detective work are realized in one of my favorite hobbies: birdwatching. 

And I’m not just talking about the mess left behind by a hawk during its lunch break on a recent summer afternoon. Birdwatching — whether in one’s backyard or in the field — is full of detective work. For example, to identify a bird species, consider a wide range of questions and clues: 

  • How big or small is the bird?
  • What shapes are its wings and body? 
  • What size, shape and color are its beak or bill?
  • What colors are its feathers, legs and feet?
  • Does it have any distinct or unusual markings?
  • Where and at what time of year did you see it?
  • Was it with other birds, or was it alone?
  • What type of habitat was it in? 
  • Did it display any unusual behavior? 
  • If you saw it fly, what did its flight pattern look like? 
  • If you saw it indulge in a meal, what did it eat? 

Any of these questions can turn out to be important clues in distinguishing one species from another.

For me, birding isn’t just a hobby. It’s an adventure. And the most thrilling part is seeing and identifying a species for the first time and adding it to my life list (a birder’s means of tracking all the bird species he or she has seen in his or her lifetime).

I am writing this guest blog series for the purpose of sharing that adventure with readers from Northeastern Pennsylvania and beyond. I hope you’ll join me as I solve mysteries, learn new ornithological facts and explore birding hot spots in the region, surrounding regions and sometimes outside the state.

Happy Birding!

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Florida destinations Lifestyle

A Journey Across The Overseas Highway

"A Journey Across The Overseas Highway"

Papa Dobles, Key Lime Pie, Papa Hemingway, and Key Lime Seafood Penne

What You’ll Find in Islamorada: The Fishing Capital of the World

Everything, Everywhere, Travel Writer Guest Series Marcella Nardi
By Dr. Joe Leonardi

Warning: “A Journey Across The Overseas Highway” spells out food descriptions that might provoke you to immediately book a trip to Islamorada.

This week, I welcome Dr. Joe Leonardi, a Chiropractor from Kingston, Pennsylvania, and the author of several books in the Historical and Realistic Fiction genres. Joe is a one-time candidate for congress, an educator, and his greatest pride, a non-combat United States Navy veteran.

Islamorada in the Florida Keys
Dr. Joe Leonardi is a Pennsylvania chiropractor with a love for travel. The Florida Keys rank high on his list of favorite Florida destinations. But there’s more…the Key Lime Pie, Key Lime Penne Pasta and other food selections every Florida traveler must experience.

Begin Your Journey to Islamorada

A jolt as the wheels touch down. The roar of engines as they go into reverse. The jetliner slows and taxis to the jetway. The flight captain announces for us to remain seated until the plane comes to a complete stop. I don’t think I’ve heard a more useless announcement because as we are rolling along, people spring from their seats and unlatch overhead compartments as if they can exit before the doors open.

We sit and chuckle at the hurried crowd. When those around us have finally moved away, we get up. I reach above and grab two simple duffels and we are last out the door.

One step across the metal threshold and the heavy, hot, close Miami air greets us with a welcoming hug. It feels good as it penetrates old bones that have been enduring a Northeast Pennsylvania winter.

We are not at our eventual destination, and because overpacking is not a necessity, we skip the throngs at the baggage carousel and head straight to the car rental place. Being a preferred member allows a straight shot to the garage. My old friend, whose name I do not know, who is here on each of my trips greets me with a broad smile and tips his hat to you.

Beaches in Islamorada in The Florida Keys
Florida has beaches that draw millions of visitors each year. While you’re in the Florida Keys, there’s a restaurant Joe ranks high on his list of favorite places to eat. Scroll down to read more about “Marker 88” and the BEST Key Lime Pie in the continental United States.

“Your car is ready.” He hands me the key, and we shake hands.

The top is already down. He knows me too well. We exit down an angled ramp and find our way to Florida’s Turnpike. Of course, as I have done on each of my ventures to the sunshine state, I have forgotten sunglasses. It isn’t long before we arrive at the same convenience store where I have purchased at least a dozen pairs of dark lenses to protect my eyes. I get you a pair, even though you were smart enough to take yours.  I always marvel that this is the only store I have ever been to which is on the left side of a highway.

Sunglasses – check.
Shirts changed to lightly colored tank tops – check.
Sunscreen applied – check.

A couple of bananas and a few bottles of water now occupy the back seat and we are ready to continue south. You see my friends, this installment is not about the destination, but about the journey. A journey along one of the most scenic roads one can ever drive and an interesting stop or two along the way.

But before we begin, we take a moment to just sit in the car taking in the warmth and sunshine. Scanning the radio for a Latin music station, we must set the proper Miami mood. Once I find one, the driving beat of Gloria Estefan Turns The Beat Around, so I turn the key and let the plugs spark fuel to fire, set my foot heavy upon the accelerator and roar back onto the turnpike.

Wind whipping.
Music blaring.
Sun beating.

I smile and joke, “Toto, we aren’t in frozen Pennsylvania any longer.”

We were not on the road for half an hour when I suggest we make a stop at roadside attraction I have often wanted to visit, but never before made the time. You are game. I put the Coral Castle in my phone’s GPS and after a couple of turns, we are on The Dixie Highway pulling up to the limestone structure.

Walking along the outside, my hand rubs the rough structure. It has weathered much in its nearly century of standing. Admittance is paid, and once inside, we are mesmerized by the tale of how a lone, slight man, with no advanced tools, nor anyone’s assistance, built this monument to a love who broke his heart. Every part of the structure is made from the limestone he magically moved and crafted. Chairs, a bed, stairs, and sculptures all the same coral. We are informed there are many myths as to how this solitary person put together this magnificent structure.

“He had an unrivaled working of physics, so much so, he was able to perfectly balance the heavy, revolving door that keeps the outside world from entering, but can be spun upon its axis with little nothing more than a solitary finger.”

It is fascinating, and while I would like to know more, I don’t think I will bother to research any of the truth behind it. After witnessing this man-made wonder, it is much more fun to believe the myths of its creation than try and find out what may be the truth. Who knows, perhaps the truth is not out there.

Before heading out I crack open a bottle of water which has warmed considerably in the Florida sun. A banana hits the spot and gives much-needed potassium before we head back on the road south.

A quick jaunt by Florida City and the end of the peninsula is near. The turnpike has melded into US 1 and much of the surrounding area is desolate, but the ocean is in view and we are crossing a bridge that is elevating above the water. Beneath us the sea is calm and tranquil, as we crest the top, the first of the Florida Keys, Key Largo, welcomes us and our journey upon The Overseas Highway. There is where it begins.

Here traffic slows as the small town is overflowing with tourists. This is a big area for diving. One day we must make a stop, but today our stomachs are growling so I keep on the road. Islamorada is but a mere 15 miles, but traffic is heavy, so it may take another 30 or so minutes to reach a favored spot for a late lunch.

A sign welcomes us to Islamorada and lets us know we are now in “The Fishing Capital of The World.”  At this time of day, the traffic is now light, most are out experiencing deep sea fishing, and the usual lunch hours have ended. I see Lion’s Lair, a specialty swimwear and intimate apparel business that has managed to take hundreds of my hard-earned dollars over the years for travel companions. Today we have no need, but it is a tell-tale sign that our eating destination is less than a few minutes away.

Or sooner. I have been to the “Marker 88” restaurant more than a dozen times, and yet, each time, the entrance sneaks up on me. I hit the brakes hard, downshift and make a sudden ninety-degree angle right turn onto the long driveway. My empty and rumbling stomach leaps into my throat and then settles quickly as it knows what to soon expect.

The car comes to a rest. The lingering smell of asbestos tickles the nose but does nothing to deter appetites. This is the best time to come. The lunch crowd is gone and there isn’t a soul in the place. Well, there is one soul in the place.

“Joe, is that you? I was just thinking it is time for one of your visits.”

It still amazes me; the people I see a handful of times a year know me better than many back home.

“Hi Lori, too cold up north.”

She smiles, “I know. When are you just going to up and move down here?”

I give her the same answer as always. “Soon.”

“Well, you know the routine, you have the place to yourself. I will bring out your Papa Dobles and menus.”

As we walk through the restaurant, we head out back to the beautiful body of water where the Gulf of Mexico forms the Florida Bay. Glider-style tables dot the sea. Lowering our bulk into one causes the metal to groan as it gently sways as we settle in.

The sea air is fresh and cooler and less humid than the air that greeted us at the airport. The beach is one of the few natural ones in the Keys. Most of the beaches require sand to be shipped in for the tourists to sun themselves.

Alongside a refreshing Papa Dobles is an appetizer of sweet potato fries. The deep orange potato, fried to a crisp texture, covered in salt, is giving off an enticing aroma.  We take a fry and gingerly bite into it.  It snaps as teeth break the surface.  The inside releases a small burst of hot steam warning us to blow on it before our next bite.

As we peruse the menu, the sun drifts from directly overhead and takes a temporary spot over the bay. In a few short hours, people will line all points west to watch her dazzling display of beauty as she sets beneath the ocean.

As we finish the fries, fresh Papa Dobles appear in front of us as well as plates of Key Lime Seafood Penne that we didn’t order, but Lori knew that was what we were getting. Honestly, what could be more Florida Keys than freshly caught lobster, shrimp, and blue crab mixed with penne pasta in a key lime-Tabasco butter sauce.

The savory scent of melted butter mixes with the tart tang bouquet of key lime. The heat from Tabasco opens our nasal passages in such a way that the fragrance overwhelms.  After another deep breath, we dig right in.  The sweet, tender lobsters melt in our mouths.  Not wanting to miss even the slightest morsel, both fork and spoon are a necessity.  We take a quick look around and we are still the only ones in the place. so bowls are lifted, brought to mouths, and with slurping sounds, we finish off the remaining sauce. Butter streaks our chins as the delicious broth passes our lips.

As our plates are cleared, a walk along a pier that juts out over the bay is a must. Standing out over the sea, the water is crystal clear. Various sea life is visible moving about. Not too far off, what appears to be a nurse shark taking a break from the ocean floor, is sunning him, or her, self. The sun’s light reflects at us at such an odd angle, we squint until the dorsal fin drops beneath the surface.

Dessert is the next order of the day, and there is no reason to ask what we are having. As we retake our seats, set on the table is truly the best Key Lime Pie in all The Keys, if not the world. This pie is more than simply a key lime filling atop some type of crust, no — atop this filling, made with freshly squeezed key lime juice, are several inches of snow-white meringue. The fluffy topping has a sugary coat beckoning us to plunge in our forks. As the tines pass through the filling and break the graham crust, the scent of that fresh key lime juice escapes its confinement. We raise a portion to our mouths; the sweet but tart bouquet tickles our noses causing us to immediately place the decedent dessert into our mouths. We allow it to sit on our tongues, the intense flavors reawaken our appetites. Slowly chewing, a loud pleasurable moan is all the expression necessary. 

I order up a pitcher of Papa Dobles. Lori asks if we are staying next door. I nod my head yes. She tells me I can leave the car in the lot; she takes my keys and will put the top up and tells me she will have them for me at breakfast.

The drink of Papa Hemingway continues to relax as much as the warm breeze blowing in off the ocean.

Our next installment will take us the rest of the way down The Overseas Highway where we will explore the Southernmost Point in the Continental United States.

Short Story Scribe by Joe Leonardi
Joe Leonardi’s website, ShortStoryScribe.com

Visit Joe’s website, ShortStoryScribe.com to get your hands copies of his books that reveal his fascination with storytelling.

Sponsor this post or a podcast episode. Get the details about how you can promote your business here at joanmatsuitravelwriter.com.

A Journey Across The Overseas Highway is one of many travel stories created for the Everything, Everywhere, Travel Guest series, a weekly feature that shines a light on travelers from around the world and all walks of life. Here’s a companion story you’ll love by Neil Patel, a digital marketing icon.

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Adventure Travel Lifestyle

Yvon Chouinard: Falconry to Fishing

Patagonia Founder: Challenging People, Business, and the World

“Some Stories: Lessons From The Edge of Business And Sport”

A Book Review

Yvon Chouinard: Falconry to Fishing highlights a lifetime of stories and adventure.

Who is Yvon Chouinard?

He’s well known for challenging people, business, and the world to achieve sustainability on Earth.

Chouinard is the provocative and innovative Patagonia founder whose humor and storytelling skills in “Some Stories: YVON CHOUINARD: LESSONS FROM THE EDGE OF BUSINESS AND SPORT” will captivate you. And hopefully, as you read his stories, he’ll get your wheels turning and you’ll reconsider how you’re living your own life. Expect to be motivated to step out of your world and look for ways you can do your part.

It’s never too late to join forces with Chouinard and his Patagonia team. Consider the great strides we’ll make if we follow his lead and take time to appreciate nature and then find a way to do something positive for our environment and our world. From cover-to-cover, you’ll find we can all play an integral role in environmental activism.

Through his stories, Chouinard demystifies the evolution of Patagonia, a company he founded in 1973 in Ventura, CA. Patagonia is known worldwide for its outdoor clothing and gear for the silent sports: climbing, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, fly fishing, and trail running. But it has been his commitment to conservation and preservation that sets

He utilizes each of the 452 pages to set the record straight about what motivated him to fastidiously craft his company based on an urgency to save our planet from further destruction. It’s not a coincidence that Chouinard chose to not only document his treks around the world but that he created gear that supports an adventurer’s lifestyle.

Yvon Chouinard: Some Stories
Photo courtesy of Yvon Chouinard: Patagonia

“The Golden Age of a sport is when the most innovation in technique and equipment occurs, and I’ve been fortunate to have lived and participated in the Golden Age of many an outdoor sport.”

Preface to Yvon Chouinard: “Some Stories”

If you share Chouinard’s appreciation for nature and zest for exploration, you’ll be captivated by his anecdotal descriptions of climbing some of the world’s most challenging mountains. They’re also symbolic of his thoughts and philosophies.

“I’ve found that I get a lot of creative satisfaction from breaking the rules in sport and business. Plus, it’s a lot easier than conforming and, in the end, leads to better stories.”

Preface to Yvon Chouinard: “Some Stories”

At the end of Some Stories, Chouinard reminds us of Patagonia’s Mission Statement.

“We begin with the premise that all life on Earth is facing a critical time, during which survivability will be the issue that increasingly dominates public concern.”Where survivability is not the issue, the quality of human experience of life may be, as well as the decline in health of the natural world as reflected in the loss of biodiversity, cultural diversity, and planet’s life support systems.”

Yvon Chouinard: “We’re in business to save our home planet. Our Values”

As a fly angler, every moment I spend in the water serves as a reminder how fortunate we are to have abundant outdoor resources at our fingertips. Without a doubt, it’s our job to not only reap the benefits but do our part to protect and preserve.

You can purchase a copy of Some Stories: Yvon Chouinard LESSONS FROM THE EDGE OF BUSINESS AND SPORT directly from Patagonia.

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Lifestyle

Indian Architecture Rooted in History

Indian Architecture with an Islamic influenceRooted in History

Preserve Your Own Treasures for Future Generations

Everything, Everywhere, Travel Writer Guest Series Marcella Nardi

Travel Tips: What to See

An Interview with Architect, Jayashree Shamanna

Jayashree Shamanna and I met when our oldest sons became friends and as time went by, we developed a close friendship. I knew her story, “Indian Architecture Rooted in History,” would be an instant hit with my readers based on her love for travel and architecture and her strong sense of ethics in her personal life and career.

Similarly, her goal is to design buildings that connect people and society – to create spaces that are innovative, inclusive, and inviting.

Before we jump into my interview with Jayashree, here’s a sample of what you’ll find as you scroll down the page.

In all of my work, I have sought to be true to the sensitivity of the building designs and to the needs of the clients while integrating it all within the community setting. 

Jayashree Shamanna, Architect

A full bio follows our interview.

Indian Architecture Rooted in History

Tell me about your life growing up in India and how your Indian heritage has paved the way for your fascination with architecture.

I was born and brought up in Bangalore, India. I come from a typical south-Indian middle-income family. What made my family a bit different is that they had a more liberal mindset than most traditional Indian families. As a girl, I was encouraged to be independent, to think for myself, and to focus on building a career for myself. It was outside the norms of how girls and women were often treated in India in the early 1970s. My parents were both highly educated and they inculcated the love of reading and education and travel in me from the onset.

Indian architecture is tied in inextricably to the culture and religions of the country. Many of my travels with my family were to temples and places that embodied the culture and the society we lived in. My earliest memory of this was in the 11th century Belur temple, which our family visited every summer. The main deity at Belur is ChennaKeshava, our family deity. So, trips to Belur were always a combination of religion, ritual, tradition and memories. The temple complex is a tribute to Hoysala architecture and is constructed entirely of soapstone with intricate works of art and sculpture. The temple complex is paved with hand-hewn granite slabs upon which the visitors walk barefoot as is typical at Hindu temples.

One of my earliest memories of Belur is of running on the rough granite slabs of the temple complex with my brother and cousins. It was a combination of play and to avoid the burn from the hot stone on our bare feet. My first lesson in the science of materials came from my father at the temple when he explained to us about how darker materials store more heat than lighter ones and our game then became to identify lighter colored granite to step on. Some of these stones collected drops of water from the rains, which also added to cooling our little feet as we ran across them. The Belur temple complex was my introduction to architecture through science, history, culture and sustainability.

I strongly believe the first step towards sustainability is the preservation of the built environment. In addition to my professional work, I have taught architecture at various colleges and universities, both in India and the US.

Overall, what does India offer in terms of architecture?

Indian architecture has a long and rich history dating back over a thousand years. The buildings and structures are a fascinating study in materiality, craftsmanship and scale. With early origins in wood and brick to skilled construction in stone, traditional Indian architecture is heavily influenced by religion. Over the centuries, influences of invading/colonial cultures and traditions have directed the changes in the language of architecture.

With its 1.2 billion population, India offers diverse architectural styles from the north to south and east to west. The styles of architecture differ from one region to another based on local traditions and religion. Short of a course in architecture, it is quite difficult to explain the nuances of the differences. That being said, I have included a couple of examples of the different styles here.

Indian architecture City Palace: Udaipur, Rajasthan
City Palace: Udaipur, Rajasthan – Islamic Influence
All Photos by Jayashree Shamanna
Nagara Style: Typically found in North and Central India. Emphasis is on verticality with curvilinear beehive-shaped towers.
Galaganatha temple: Pattadakal, Karnataka
 
Islamic Influence: Agra Fort, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
British Colonial Influence: High Court Bangalore, Karnataka
 
Neo-Dravidian Style: Vidhana Soudha (Seat of State legislature) Bangalore, Karnataka
Contemporary Architecture: MG Road Metro station. Bangalore, Karnataka
What do you remember about your first experience traveling throughout India and how did that excursion kindle your quest for travel?

India is less than half the geographic size of the US and has 28 states and 8 union territories. Most states have their own languages, cultures, and regional cuisines. There is so much variety and diversity, that traveling through the country from state to state, is both a culinary and a cultural experience like no other. Additionally, geography, climate, and ecology also vary enough to give a traveler a unique experience from one end of the country to another.

Although I can’t really remember my first experience traveling in India, the most distinct memory is of seeing snow for the first time. Bangalore lies in the heart of south India in a typical tropical zone of the country with moderate temperatures all year round.

The summer of my tenth birthday, I had traveled north with my family, to visit an uncle, who lived in a small town at the foothills of the Himalayas. We set up base at his house and traveled further north for a whole day in an old rusty jeep to the state of Jammu and a popular tourist destination called Gulmarg. We arrived late in the day when the sun had set and it was almost bedtime. When I woke up the next morning, I remember seeing bright sunshine and everything outside our hotel room was pristine white. It had snowed overnight and a fresh layer of snow covered the entire landscape. We woke up to strong aromas of coffee and local breakfast delicacies served to us in the midst of this beautiful landscape. After all these years, I still do not have words to describe the feeling I got in seeing all this. The touch of the cold snow, the lightness of the snowflakes, the warmth of the local people and the incredibly fresh food still brings memories of my trip. That was probably one of the defining moments in my desire to travel the world. The potential to experience different cultures, meet diverse people, taste different cuisine, and see the wonders of the world.

As an architect, what type of architecture interests you the most?

We spend our entire lives within buildings. From the moment we are born in a sterile hospital room, to the homes we live in, to the schools we attend, to the buildings we visit during our travels, and the place we rest our heads on finally. Architecture is harmoniously woven into our lives and we never pay attention to it unless it brings us discomfort. I love buildings and spaces that resonate with the users. Buildings and spaces that evoke memories. Materials, textures, and patterns that bring comfort.

Based on your travels, what world landmarks and heritage sites do you recommend to a first-time traveler?

I personally endorse the notion of exploring domestic sites first. Something close to home. The understanding of your own history and culture helps you look at the world through a different lens and helps you appreciate the importance of protecting and preserving your own treasures for future generations. Every country has its contribution to the world landmarks and heritage list. That being said, for a first-time traveler, I would recommend Egypt. Both for the architecture and culture. The scale of the architecture is awe-inspiring, and the food and culture are exceptional.

What tales and stories are hidden within the walls of historic buildings you’ve seen?

Every historic building has stories and memories associated with it. Each one of them reveal something different based on the use and the period of construction. The abandoned buildings of the lace factory in Scranton talk about a thriving industry in a small town in Pennsylvania, the working conditions and a peek into the industrial process that fueled this city. An old sewing factory in the garment district in New York City talks about immigrant women trying to make ends meet, the loss of an industry to globalization, and the draw of loft spaces for the wealthy. Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam talks about grief, the horror and atrocities of the Nazi regime and the young girls resolute drive to survive. Preservation Hall in New Orleans talks about humid summer days, soulful music, and a piece of the history of this country. Finally, my grandparents’ house in Bangalore talks about fond memories, endless summers with my family, books that I read and a yearning for simpler days.

When you’re planning a trip, typically what’s the first thing you want to do when you arrive?

Find a good restaurant and check out the local grocery store.

To what degree is architecture a part of your travel plans?

Whether it is visiting architectural sites or understanding architecture through museums and culture, it certainly forms a huge part of all my travels.

What are a few of the sites you’d like to visit in the future?

My bucket list includes cities and countries and not just sites. St. Petersburg in Russia, Cambodia, Morocco, Japan, to name a few. I would love to walk the El Camino de Santiago to visit the Santiago de Compostela, walk the Hardian’s wall and climb the steps to the big Buddha in Hong Kong.

How can we best design the timeless architecture future generations will visit in years to come?

Architecture is very subjective and is a mindset that needs to be approached with the understanding that what was suitable yesterday may not be relevant tomorrow. I believe good and timeless architecture is one that has permanence, that is adaptable and has a relationship with natural elements.

What makes historic architecture so popular?

Travel is a voyeuristic sport. We all want to see what others are doing or did. We want to explore and experience a piece of the people, places and cultures we visit. Historic places and architecture give us a small peek into someone else’s life, and as humans, we always use that as a scale to evaluate our own lives. It also offers a peek into what was lost, what could have been, and a moment to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Why do we visit the same sites over and over?

Comfort, familiarity and memories.

Author BIO

Jayashree Shamanna Architect and Historic Preservation Specialist Indian Architecture Rooted in History
Meet Architect, Jayashree Shamanna. She resides in Northeastern Pennsylvania and specializes in historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and sustainability. Contact Jayashree at jayshamanna@yahoo.com for more information about her work and speaking opportunities.

Architect and educator, Jayashree Shamanna, lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She earned her architecture degree in Bangalore, India, and her Masters from Texas A&M University with an emphasis on historic preservation. She has more than 25 years of experience as an architect and educator. She has worked on multiple projects in her career as an architect in New York City with an emphasis on adaptive reuse, restorations, and additions to historic structures. 

She has lectured at local community colleges to expand the awareness of architecture, design, and sustainability and she dedicates her free time helping local community-based historical societies in preservation-related projects.

Contact jayshamanna@yahoo.com to learn more about her projects and work with historic preservation.

Check out my partner’s offers on my landing page. I currently work hand-in-hand with SiteGround, Orvis, Qatar Airways, Transcribe Wreally, Sunglass Warehouse, and The New York Times to bring you outstanding offers.

Love architecture? The world is full of breathtaking buildings, history, and compelling travel stories. Here’s yet another personal account of what you’ll find in other cities and countries. https://joanmatsuitravelwriter.com/sri-lanka-to-abu-dhabi-a-couples-getaway/.

Start a conversation about architecture and travel at https://www.facebook.com/LearnTravelWritingWithJoanMatsuiTravelWriter/.

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A Penchant for Travel

Aragon Castle, Taranto, Italy
Everything, Everywhere, Travel Writer Guest Series Marcella Nardi

Italian Author, Marcella Nardi’s Quest for History and Mystery

Italian writer and traveler, Marcella Nardi, was born in Northern Italy. She currently lives in Seattle, WA. All photos in this Travel Guest interview were submitted by Marcella Nardi.

Above all, Marcella Nardi has a fondness for travel and writing mystery and detective novels. Her novels combine history and mystery into believable and engaging tales.

Similarly, “A Penchant for Travel” is an opportunity for Marcella to highlight her accomplishments while giving essential travel tips every traveler should know before going to Italy.

Marcella was born in Castelfranco Veneto in Northern Italy but she moved to Seattle, WA in 2008 and since then, dedicates herself to teaching Italian, technical translations, and writing novels. Travel, ancient and medieval history, and photography, reading, and construction of historical models are a few of her interests. She also has a Master’s Degree in computer science.

As a lover of detective novels and the middle ages, Marcella won third prize in the 2011 contest “Philobiblon–Premio Letterario Italia Medievale” (Philobiblon–Medieval Italy, literary award). The winning story was one of the six stories that gave birth to her first book, an anthology, “Grata Aura & Altri Gialli Medievali.” The first edition is called “Medioevo in Giallo.”

Marcella Nardi: History, Mystery and Travel
Award-winning Italian author, Marcella Nardi, combines history, mystery and travel as the storyline in her books.

In Italian, “Giallo” means two things: the color yellow and thriller. Between the two World Wars, a large Italian publishing company started to sell thrillers in books dressed with a yellow background cover. Since then, Italians use the word Giallo for Thriller. She translated the anthology into English, under the title “DNA Code & Other mysterious tales from the Middle Ages” a year later. In December 2014, Marcella won first prize for a story set in Gradara in the contest, “Italia Mia” (“My Italy”), organized by the Italian “National Association of the Book, Science and Research.”

History, mystery and travel
Readers find tales from many of Italy’s most cherished landmarks and cities.

Marcella continues to write novels, and since 2013, she has written more than 15 novels. In fact, she has created a detective series of six novels in which the detective resembles Marcella, having almost the same name, looks, and personality.

Legal thriller fans should check out “Morte all’Ombra dello Space Needle” (“Death in the Shadow of the Space Needle”), the first novel in Marcella’s new legal thriller series set in Seattle, WA. Her historical mystery novel, “Joshua e la Confraternita dell’Arca,” has been translated into English as “Joshua and the Brotherhood of the Ark,” and a paranormal novel, an erotic romance, and several short stories.

Marcella Nardi Mystery and History books
You can find a full collection of books by Marcella Nardi on Amazon. See the link below.

Although I’ve never met Marcella, travel and Italian heritage and traditions are a common thread we share. We’ve both mingled our traditional Italian values and culture we’ve grown up with and interfaced them with our love for writing, art, and architecture.

Marcella Nardi and her mother
Although separated from her family in Italy, Marcella, left, looks forward to the day when she can visit her mother and homeland again.
Enjoy our Q & A interview.

What is your primary purpose for traveling? What percentage of your travel is business versus leisure?  

My primary purpose for traveling was/is to know this wonderful planet and to know different cultures.

The percentage? It depends on the time in my life. There was a time in which 40 percent of my traveling was for work and the rest for leisure. It was the first seven years of my job career. After that 90 percent was for pleasure. I was on all seven continents, even in the Antarctica Peninsula.

Travel to Antarctica
Marcella has traveled the world but in the coming months, as soon as travel restrictions are lifted, she’ll plot her course to destinations in Australia and Africa. Shown is an image from her Antarctica adventure.

What are the benefits of travel?

I think the benefits are not just relax from months of working, but mostly is that knowing other places and other cultures opens your mind. You learn there are good and bad things in your country as far as in other countries. So your way to judge changes.

How does travel ignite creativity?

Travel ignites a lot of my creativity. This is due to many reasons. You can get ideas for plots, as I am mostly a writer in the last 10 years. Looking at the behavior of other people and what happens there, can be a good idea for a new novel.

Antarctica Adventures
Learning more about world culture is a driving force for this Italian author.

What are a few experiences you’ve encountered while seeing the world that has had a profound impact on your life?

It’s a difficult question. I’ve traveled a lot. I could say that visiting the ancient Egyptian temples made me understand how for every civilization there is a rise and fall. If we don’t understand this important topic, and the reasons,  we are doomed to fail.

Marcella Nardi

How would you describe Italy to someone who has never visited your country’

Italy is considered, worldwide, the best or one of the best countries on the planet. I think that it is right, not because it is my home country but because of its history. All the invasions we had for more than 2000 years, made Italy a unique place. The architecture is different from the rest of Europe and the Romanesque and Gothic styles are different. Our cuisine and the people are different from the other European countries. We are a big mixture of people from the very north of Europe and from the Middle East and from Asia and Africa. So a trip to Italy is something that everybody should do in their own life. 

What to see in Sienna, Italy
Italy offers architecture, food, and history one won’t find in other European countries, according to Marcella.

Coming from Italy, one of the world’s most breathtaking, scenic, cultural, and romantic travel destinations, what are a few of the cities and experiences you believe travelers are missing if they adhere to only the most-visited tourist sites?

I think that the typical touristic destinations are nice, but there is so much more to visit. Umbria region, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful areas in Italy. Apulia, too. It’s difficult to answer just in a few phrases to this question.

One of the treasured Gubbio landmarks Marcella photographed during her travels.

Why are the Umbria region and Apulia two of the most beautiful areas in Italy? What makes them so enticing to visit?

They are not the best but they are very interesting.

Umbria is similar to Tuscany, but is cheaper to go there and its history is great, too. Many old famous families from Tuscany invaded Umbria in the past. You see small villages on the top of mountains as in Tuscany. And the food is quite unique. They have their own cheese and meat that are fantastic.

Apulia was the greatest and the biggest ancient Spartan Greek colony, outside ancient Greece. Also, they have a particular kind of stone, for building, that makes the centuries, churches and the castles really different. Then, in many places, the dialects are like Greek. The Romanesque style in Apulia is very different from other places in Italy and Europe.

Aragon Castle, Taranto, Italy

When you visit Italy, what’s the first place you visit? What’s on your must-see list?

I go back to Italy every year. The first place I go to is Taranto, Apulia. My mother is still alive and she lives there. I spend two weeks with her and then I select an Italian area that I never saw, before. I reserve a hotel room in the middle of that area and with my rental car, I visit two places every day. I am discovering the beauty of my Country.  

What are your plans or dreams for the days ahead when we can travel again?

There are many other places I want to see on this beautiful planet. One is Australia and the Great Barrier Reef; then I would like to see Spain and Northern Africa. I already was in Egypt, but never in other places in Africa.

You can contact Marcella through her web site, www.marcellanardi.com and her Facebook timeline, https://www.facebook.com/marcella.nardi.5.

Marcella Nardi Italian author Joshua English translation The story of a man who became the Son of God.

My Books:

English (ebook & paperback):

English and Italian:

All my other books are in Italian. Follow the link below to find all of her books, including a new series, a legal thriller located in Seattle (“Morte all’Ombra dello Space Needle” and “L’architetto dei Labirinti”) and an audio book featuring Marcella as narrator. You can find her books on Amazon in a digital (eBook-Kindle) and paperback unless otherwise noted. Please note the books do not appear in chronological sequence

If you found A Penchant for Travel, an Interview with Marcella Nardi of value and you’re looking for more travel stories, read other selections in the digital guest travel series.

Submit a story or podcast idea for consideration here.

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Lifestyle

Africa on My Mind

Jungle State of Mind Debashish Dutta

Into a Land of Dreams

by Debashish Dutta, Natural History Photographer and Writer

Welcome back to Debashish Dutta, a contributor here at joanmatsuitravelwriter.com. His exceptional wildlife photography and moving narratives from his exotic African and Indian exhibitions have drawn readers from around the world. In a time of unprecedented tragedy and suffering throughout the globe, it’s important to note Debashish returned from his East African trip as COVID-19 spread around the globe. “Africa On My Mind” is no exception. I’m particularly honored to publish this exclusive portrait that serves as a reminder of the frailty of life and our natural resources.

Africa On My Mind

My soul lives in the jungle – “Africa On My Mind” reflects my state of mind every second of my life.

Yet life rarely offers one a path to walk which is in line with his / her desired state of mind. You got to build it. And only few are able to. I have just managed to build a wee bit. And I can tell you the experience is one that is difficult to describe. It is simply surreal.

A Dreamland Called Serengeti by Debashish Dutta
Before Debashish Dutta headed to Tanzania to witness the beginning of the Great Migration, he utilized a detailed study of Tanzanian weather patterns as the basis for scheduling his recent exhibition. Shown are Kopjes, a microhabitat for cats – big and small and reptiles. Africa On My Mind photos by Debashish Dutta.

It is never as simple as packing bags and leaving. Much before your physical being travels; your mind must imply the desire to travel and embark on a journey that takes you to your land of dreams. This is what we call dreaming. Per an old rusted maxim – a man without dreams is like a ship without a rudder. I was never short of dreams. They have always propelled me into action – to take decisive steps towards the pursuit of my passion for wildlife and wilderness. That grip on me is ineluctable. Now maybe you will understand why I plan my trips in advance – at least two years! Some folks around me find this funny but I have never tried to explain why because it is difficult to explain that which is intangible! So intense is the passion!

And so, the preparations started for an insightful photography expedition to Tanzania in real earnest. Given all the knowledge and information accumulated over the years; there was absolute clarity on what I wanted to do there. As always, I was clear about working with the sons of the soil and I dialed up my Masai Rafiki. Together we leveraged our collective knowledge and expertise to put together a drool-worthy schedule for Tanzania in March 2020. By February of 2019; the schedule and itinerary for the March 2020 adventure were firmed up on paper. Joining me in the adventure were three good friends who had never been to East Africa before but knew this could be a trip of a lifetime going by the wondrous photos of Africa that they had seen in my portfolio as well as elsewhere. We were heading to Tanzania to witness the beginning of the Great Migration.

Late one night of February 2019; the itinerary was dispatched to my buddies – crisply documented in a template with an even structure and reflective of my approach to work as a banker. Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Ndutu Conservation Area, Serengeti National Park, and finally Tarangire National Park was our critical path, and boy, were we excited? The schedule was built on the basis of a detailed study of the Tanzanian weather pattern. Once there, however, we had the first-hand experience of climate change. Rains where everywhere and the vegetation far thicker than they should have been. The animals were confused and the Great Migration seemed to be headed for a delay. My Masai Rafiki expressed his worries over the changes in weather patterns that he had seen over the years growing up in the savannahs of Kenya and Tanzania. Due to the inclement weather and a much longer rainy season; the grasslands were too dense for the carnivores like Cheetahs to run freely and be visible most importantly. There were lions around. We were particularly keen to see them on trees and that is why we had targeted Lake Manyara – famous for its tree-climbing lions. It was amazing to see a whole bunch of them up there.

Macho Man Tree-Climbing Lion Photograph by Debashish Dutta
Africa on My Mind offers a visual journey of Wildlife Photographer Debashish Dutta’s fascination with the animals that inhabit Ngorongoro Crater.

Author Insight

This safari is in line with my jungle trips that I try to do as often as possible. My work is focused on Indian and African wildernesses. It is essential that I continuously upgrade my portfolio and continue my dialog with people on the subject of biodiversity conservation through my photos.

Debashish Dutta

Matters changed for the better as we moved from Lake Manyara to the astonishing UNESCO heritage site called the Ngorongoro Crater. Ngorongoro is an unparalleled natural phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed. It is home to a magnificent array of wildlife and is blessed with remarkable natural beauty. It is a sort of landscape where one should pause and look around to wonder at the beauty nature has blessed planet Earth with. Ngorongoro looked gorgeous in marvellous sunlight and we soaked in every moment while solemnly pledging to be back again soon. At the Ngorongoro, we succeeded in spotting the Ghost of the Ngorongoro – the double-horned African Black Rhino.

While maintaining a safe distance, Debashish and his friends spotted the Ghost of the Ngorongoro – the double-horned African Black Rhino, the smaller of the two African Rhino species, as it browsed the selection of leaves and other vegetation.

From a distance, we watched the glorious animal as he maintained a safe distance from us. Who wants to get close to humans anyway?  We were inching closer to the spot regarded as the sort of congregation ground for the Wildebeests and other herbivores before they embarked on the great migration – a journey herbivores are programmed to undertake from Tanzania to Kenya every year without fail. That spot is known as Ndutu Conservation Area. Ndutu is actually the name of the vegetation that dominates the grasslands there.

Per our assessment, we arrived in the Ndutu Conservation Area at a time when the rains would have left, and the area would have been the hotbed of herbivore – carnivore action thanks to the beginning of the great migration. But that was not to be. The rains were coming down in torrents. The terrain was difficult to negotiate, and the lions were preferring trees to the grasslands. Clearly, the climate change impact was too obvious and visible all around. The animals were confused too. We could hardly spot lions on the ground, but we did find them on trees. It seemed odd initially but not thereafter. The vegetation on the ground with its unusual density was too wet and buzzing with insects – certainly not conducive for a comfortable siesta. Therefore, being up on the trees was the best option.

The thick ground vegetation also resulted in poor visibility and that meant that even with binoculars it was difficult to track carnivores as they moved through the grasslands or lounged around. From a pure photography perspective, Ndutu proved to be unproductive but from a wildlife lover’s perspective; it was a dream come true to simply be in the cradle of one of wildlife’s most important pilgrimage centres. From years of game drives and time spent in jungles; I have come to terms with the ways of nature. No one can control nature and the natural events that occur. They will happen when they have to happen. Nature is supreme.

Cheetah Portrait by Debahish Dutta

We were buzzing with excitement as we headed to Serengeti. For me, personally, Serengeti was, is, and will always be the ultimate dreamland along with few other wilderness hotspots in India and Africa. When I was a kid; I had the great privilege of seeing documentaries by Anglia Productions on such dreamlands and I wondered if one day I would be able to be in the lap of this dreamland and admire its timeless natural bounty. So, there I was standing at one of the gates of Serengeti and gasping at the eternal expanse of spotless greens in front of me and as far as my eyes could see. It took me a while to absorb the truth of my physical presence in the brilliant Serengeti. And it was in Serengeti that we had the best time of the eight nights that we spent in Tanzania. Gorgeous landscapes, terrific birdlife, and lions on kopjes summed up our time in Serengeti. In our hearts and minds, there was not an iota of doubt about our firm intent to return to the Serengeti for a much longer duration.

Africa On My Mind author, Debashish Dutta, is a professional natural history photographer featured in the prestigious Africa Geographic “Photographer of the Year 2020” Contest. His work has been recognized by BBC Earth, Nikon India, and Nikon Asia. Recently, he has been invited to contribute to the UK’s premium digital wildlife magazine called Wild Planet Photomag. His work has been published in America’s numero uno portal on national parks run by Kurt Repanshek. He has been covered extensively by mainstream Indian media and FM radio stations. He is also a full-time corporate leader with over 20 years of core corporate experience across global banks and financial services firms like GE Capital, HSBC, ABN AMRO, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, and State Street. His extensive wildlife portfolios are displayed on his website www.fromdawntodusk.in. His Instagram handle is fromdawntodusk_india

Dive into another story by Debashish Dutta.

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Mike Stevens

Mike Stevens Shooting the Breeze an interview with a multi-talented Pennsylvania Journalist

Shooting the Breeze

Travel Stories from the Road

Mike Stevens and I met a few years ago when I interviewed him for a newspaper feature story I was working on. Our interview at WNEP-TV was an exciting moment for two reasons. I’d watched Mike for years interview interesting people from all walks of life as he did what comes naturally to him. He loves to “shoot the breeze.” He’s also such an unpretentious, easy-going person. The podcast episode was my second interview with Mike Stevens. Scroll down to read the digital version of our podcast episode.

Mike Stevens Shooting the Breeze is an entertaining and enlightening journey into broadcast journalism with Mike Stevens, a well-known Pennsylvania journalist.

Introduction

Joan: My guest today is a fellow journalist whom I admire and respect for many reasons. He’s best known as the host of “On the Pennsylvania Road,” a long-running segment on WNEP-TV. He’s also an author, educator, and storyteller and he also shares my love for interviewing people from all walks of life.

Mike Stevens Shooting the Breeze and Sharing Stories from the Pennsylvania road.

Welcome, Mike Stevens.

INTERVIEW

And thank you for meeting me today a Keystone College. How are you, Mike?

Mike: Well, I’m good. I’m good, Joan. I’m kind of retired and sort of working on different things here and there and you know, it’s fun to get together and shoot the breeze.

Joan: For my listeners who don’t know you I would say you are the ideal person to share your experiences as an itinerant traveler, and that’s what I’d like to do today.

Joan: Also, I’d like you to tell me about your life now and what you’re doing. What are you working on?

Mike: Oh, well, I’m doing a podcast occasionally for “16” and I do a blog so I try to write every week or so when I have the opportunity and something strikes my fancy. and that’s about it. I’m thinking about going for a ride somewhere pretty soon. And that’s about it so far and goofing off most of the time.

Joan: When you were the host of on the road how many towns throughout the state do you estimate you visited?

Mike: Oh, you know, I’ve never given that number any thought because I don’t think I could come up with a reasonable answer. I was doing this since 1978. I started the Pennsylvania road pieces.

I came into the office one day and the news director said we want you to go out and do this thing called On the Pennsylvania Road. And I said, okay, but what is it I’m supposed to do? He said, “Well, we don’t know for sure because it’s a new thing but we want you to do it three times a week. So here I am stuck looking for stories and I literally went door-to-door looking for stories that I could tell that would fit the situation.

Joan: Didn’t they give you any guidelines? I mean, they didn’t tell you that you’re going to the Harrisburg area one day and then you’ll be in the Philadelphia area. What was your region or did they just sort of throw you out there?

Mike: That was basically it. It was Northeastern and Central PA, which was our coverage area and it still is although I haven’t checked for a long time. They said you know go out and do your thing and we’ll look for the first story in a couple of weeks. And so that’s what I did. I went out and traveled around from town to town. You know you go to diner somewhere in some town.

Joan: So you just walked into and a diner or wherever – a supermarket.

Mike: And then you just sit around, and you listen and after a while, you get the hang for it. You get an idea of what you’re looking for and which person in that crowd might fit into that story. You kind of zero in on them and listen a little bit and see where they’re going. You can tell if the person has that kind of laid-back personality that you can work with and have some fun with. And if they do something really neat, that’s good, too.

Joan: Was it the opportunity to travel or the opportunity to meet interesting people who told interesting stories that initially interested you?

Mike: I think it was a little bit of both but I think it had more to do with the individuals involved. This is a fascinating world I think and we don’t get a look at most of it. We see what’s on the news.

We look at the politicians and we look at the town officials and so forth, but I’ve always felt that what really drives America, what really makes America tick, Pennsylvania included, are the people who live on the back roads. They’re the people who go to work every day – seven days a week sometimes. They raise their families to the best of their ability. They live to whatever comfort level they can get to in the world and they’re decent people.

If you call them up at two o’clock in the morning and say I’m stuck down in a ditch at the bottom of your hill, well, the guy will come out and he might not like it but he’ll do it and come down and help you pull your vehicle out of whatever mud hole you’ve managed to get it into. Even though it is two o’clock in the morning and he’s got to go to work the next day. I think those are the kinds of people that make America great.

It’s not the people who lead our country, so to speak. It’s the average John Q. Citizen who’s really the backbone of our country and those are the people that I have been privileged to meet. And I say privileged because a lot of them were really one and done. You know I’d go in and meet them and talk to them and be fascinated by their abilities and their travels and their attitudes and their personalities. Then I’d move on to the next individual who kind of fit the same mold. I was privileged to meet individuals who would open up about what they did and we would sit and just shoot the breeze. That’s what we did. No interview per se, we’d just sit and talk and I’d tell the guy or girl forget the camera. He (the camera-man) is not here. He doesn’t work with me anymore. They would take sometimes two or three minutes to get into the interview but eventually, they’d forget the photographer behind me and we would just sit and shoot the breeze. In there somewhere is the nut of the story.

Joan: What did you typically interview about? Was it anything that came into your mind at the moment or was there a purpose to the interviews? Was there always a reason?

Mike: No, other than the fact that you generally needed the interview but you didn’t need the whole interview. You needed three or four seconds here and 10 to 15 seconds there. That’s what you needed. And when we got them both a photographer and I knew that we were done. It wasn’t going to get any better than that. We had this guy locked in. His sound was in there. So let’s just say the individual was doing something to I don’t want to write, you know get that miscarried but

If the individual were doing something, we would then go and have them do it. And then they might say something while we’re shooting the story. But if they didn’t that was alright, too. Most of them would forget that the camera was there and they would just shoot the breeze. And so would I. We would talk about this and talk about that and in there somewhere is another sound bite that you know is going to fit. And after you’ve done this for several years you kind of get the idea.

That’s how we set up a story. There were very few times that we actually did an interview like we’re doing here – one-on-one. It was more like well, let’s sit down and talk and let’s see if something happens…

Joan: And you knew, right then, the direction you were going?

Mike: Yeah, we knew the guy or girl did something. We knew people who did crocheting and you know painting and all kinds of things.

Joan: So would you call yourself a traveling journalist?

Mike: Well, it’s a good title and I like that title. I’ve never used the title before but I guess so. I would go into a town and we’d record individuals and essentially make it into a journal. Although we called it “On the Pennsylvania Road,” it was really a journal of everyday life with individuals who had some unique talent. And some didn’t have a unique talent. Some were just fun to be with.

The very first story we did was a guy who told me he could forecast the weather by the number of times a cricket chirped per minute. So we sat on his front porch and those were the days when we were shooting film and the film was very expensive. I mean, relatively speaking. So the photographer is loaded up, and he’s rolling, and I said how do you do this weather forecasting thing? It was a dumb, dumb question. I never should have asked it. He said, well, I just count the chirps of the cricket.

He said, for example, there’s one underneath the porch that’s chirped 14 times in the last minute. He said, watch, he’ll do it again. Let’s listen. So we’re sitting there while the photographer’s running through the film, at some unimaginable rate and my whole life is passing before me. The guy says at the end of a minute, okay, that cricket chirped 14 times in the last minute. Now, how he knew that I don’t know because, in the summertime, there were a thousand crickets underneath the porch, but I said to the guy, so what does that mean? What do you get out of that? And he said well, it’s going to rain tomorrow night. And I said, well, how do you know that? He said well, I don’t know for sure but it’s happened often enough Gotta be some truth to it. He was just a fun guy to be with and that’s the way that very first story kind of set the groundwork for all the other stories that came after. It was whatever suited our fancy. Whatever I found that I thought was interesting and those are the kinds of people I’ve dealt with throughout my career.

Joan: What are a few of the places you visited that you would recommend to people – since this is about travel and you’ve obviously been to a lot of different towns and cities? Where would you recommend travelers go to find Pennsylvania at its finest?

Mike: New Hope…That’s a good spot. There’s a lot of arts and crafts and there are a lot of good people who do their thing every day. I like Sullivan County for getting around. I like scenic shots. I do some photography and Sullivan County has a lot of scenery. You know, Bradford County is a good one. We took one of my favorite drives, Route 6…

Joan: Yes, we’re definitely going to discuss that (route)…

Mike: Yes, we took that one. You wind up out in Ohio actually, eventually, but you get on the way out there you get to Erie.

Joan: So you really did go a distance. So you really weren’t in only in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Mike: A lot of Pennsylvania – let me put it that way. We didn’t do the big cities. We never bothered with the big cities because they didn’t attract us. The small towns like the one that has the Jimmy Stewart Museum. I don’t remember the town but there is a Jimmy Stewart Museum. Don’t put me on the spot.

Joan: I know you’ve been to a lot of places and it’s obviously difficult to remember (all the places you’ve been).

Mike: I must tell you this though that we found all these stories by simply researching it. So if you really want to see what Pennsylvania is like you can do the research and the materials are out there. There’s the Zippo lighter company out in Bradford, (County). It’s a very interesting company.

Joan: I’ve never heard of the Zippo Factory. So this is great. I’m learning a lot.

Mike: Yeah, they make the Zippo lighters. You may not be familiar with them, but they had a closed top.

Joan: I remember you flipped them.

Mike: There was a little wheel on it with a flint and that was long before the Bic lighters came along. But yeah, they made them out there and they made the commemorative cigarette lighters. And there was a museum that you could tour and go around and see what they had and learn how long they had been around.

Up in that area, too, there’s oil a lot of oil exploration, which is another part of history. But again, these are all things that we found just by looking. The Slinky Factory…

Joan: That one I’ve heard of.

Mike: Yeah, and an interesting place with a lot of history there. I think that’s what drew us to these things, too, because they had such a great background and everybody could relate to them. See, you know, Slinky.

Joan: Yes.

Mike: You know the Zippo lighter.

Joan: Now I do.

Mike: But those were all things that are in Pennsylvania. You know, and they’re all out there. All you have to do is look for them and then go visit them. That’s where we were coming from.

Joan: Many people travel for business purposes. Yours is sort of a mix of business and you also enjoyed it. It was really a mix of… and some obviously do it for leisure vacations. Breaking out of our region, and staying in the region and learning everything Pennsylvania offers is obviously beneficial. What would you say are some of the benefits of taking a journey into unknown territory or uncharted territory?

Mike: Because there is always a surprise at the end. It may not be the kind of surprise that you want. But there will be a surprise of some kind.

Joan: And excuse me for one minute. I don’t mean only in our state. I’m talking about regionally and nationally. What are the benefits of doing that – of breaking out?

Mike: Oh, yeah, I agree with it a hundred percent. There are a lot of things you can learn about an area. Let’s say Pennsylvania. There are a lot of things you can learn about Pennsylvania as I did by doing the research going into the published pieces that come out. But if you go by yourself or with your family, and you take a ride out to I don’t know, Oil City, (for example) and you look around there, there’s no telling what you’re going to find and that surprised us. That’s what made us keep going because the predictable was always there. We knew that. What made it really, really interesting was what you came across and that’s what made the trip intriguing. Now if you have two or three kids, that’s another ballgame.

Joan: That’s another kettle of fish.

Mike: Yeah, you might need to plan a trip differently. But if you’re there with your wife or husband and you’re out traveling around, you’re saying well gee, let’s go down that road for a while. Where does it go? Well, I don’t know, but it looks like it’s going to go someplace. So why don’t we take that road and see what happens?

Joan: I do that, but you know my kids do not enjoy it in the least.

Mike: Well, no, they won’t appreciate it until later on. But with me, that was always our key. When we had time we could do it. We would go on a road somewhere that looked interesting. It looked interesting. So that to me is the best part – the surprise.

Joan: And there always is a surprise. It doesn’t matter where you go.

Mike: No, and again it may be something you don’t like.

Joan: It may not always be a very good surprise.

Mike: No, but it’s going to be the kind of thing that will keep people entertained around the dinner table.

Joan: Yes, (I agree). Give us an overview…give my listeners an overview of some of the areas and what they can expect to find as tourists in Pennsylvania, and also the people who live in the state who may not know as much about it as they should. Give them some ideas of what they’ll find in the different regions.

Mike: Okay. Well to the best of my ability, I’ve forgotten a lot of them. In Williamsport, there’s the Riverboat, of course. South on the Susquehanna (River), and I can’t remember the name of the town but there is a ferry boat that goes across one side to the other. I think it takes two cars, maybe three and their people, and it chugs along out through the Susquehanna from one side to the other. It’s on a map. You’ve got to look for it on the map. The guy who used to be the captain of that, a guy by the name of Jack Dillman, went on to become the captain of a ferry boat down in Harrisburg, which you could also travel on. And while you’re in Harrisburg you should take a look at the state capitol building.

Joan: Yes, that is a splendid architectural (gem).

Mike: An extraordinary accomplishment…Then on the way back up you come up on the easterly side of the Susquehanna because you’ve already seen the Westerly side and you drive up that way to get into Schuylkill County and just a whole bunch of little towns on the way up. I don’t have favorites, per se, because I try not to pick favorites. I think that’s a good thing because it rules everybody else out. But, you know, we travel through a town and you inevitably find something that was amusing or entertaining or just you know, a museum in Pottsville, where they keep cars – old cars. Those kinds of things. And so up in the Northeastern section maple syrup making is starting. Yes. In fact, it’s already started. I tried tracking a guy down the other day in the Moscow area who was making 250 gallons of sap. He had boiled on a Saturday afternoon and I wanted to go up and see that but I couldn’t find him.

Joan: Are you writing articles about this or are you doing any live broadcast work right now? You mentioned the maple syrup. Is this work-related?

Mike: Well, it’s kind of a mix. I’m trying to develop my own little system that I can use my own just for the fun of it and I do some things for 16. As far as a podcast or a blog, you know, it’s all like just fool with it and see if something works. I’ve gotten through life doing that and so you say to yourself, well, gee, maybe that’ll work. Maybe it won’t.

Joan: Much like we’re doing right now.

Mike: Yeah, we’re seeing how this works. We don’t know how it’s going to work. We’re going to sit here and shoot the breeze and talk about things and see how it goes. And that’s basically what I’m doing.

Joan: I would also like my listeners to know that this is not our first interview – that I interviewed you a couple of years ago. We both love to talk. And so this is a great opportunity.

Mike: Well, you were working in newspapers at the time.

Joan: Yes.

Mike: And yes, and that’s another thing that I lament. I must say, you know, there’s a lot of newspapers that have gone bankrupt across the country because of the internet and digital and I really find that to be sad. Now, locally, we’ve got a couple that are still doing okay and I hope that continues. I really do because you don’t find out about the pancake suppers all the time from the big metro papers. You got to go to these little places and find what’s going on in town. That’s where you find it, you know, and for the local newspaper, that’s the treasure. They really are.

Joan: There’s something about opening a book or opening a newspaper and reading it that you don’t get from digital publications. I’m not obviously putting them down but there’s just something (about them). Maybe it’s because we grew up with newspapers that we appreciate them so much, so much more. Well, one of the questions that I want to talk to you about is during our conversation about a week ago, you mentioned a trip you’d like to take. Where would you like to venture? Tell me more about the cross-country trek – what you’d like to see.

Mike: I’d like to do on the Pennsylvania Road in every state where Route 6 travels through. And Route 6, for those of you who are not close to the area, Route 6 goes east to west or west to east depending on how you look at it, but it goes coast to coast.

Joan: Where does it actually begin, if that’s not a ridiculous question? I have no idea where it begins, but I know where it ends.

Mike: Yeah, well it begins in the Atlantic Ocean.

Joan: Ok, so it was sort of a silly question.

Mike: Well, no, because it varies. It used to go coast-to-coast, specifically, but then what I found out is, California changed its highway numbering system several decades ago. And so that kind of cut off Route 6 before it hit the water in California. You can still go that route, per se, but I want to do what I’ve done in Pennsylvania all across the country. I just think when you go on an interstate, you have one intent in mind. That’s to get from point A to point B as fast as humanly possible and that the speed limit…

Joan: And avoid any kind of traffic or jams.

Mike: Yeah, but my goal on traveling Route 6 is to just travel it. The signs are easy to follow. I have a GPS in my vehicle, you know, which will take me from one point to the next and it’s what you find along the way. Charlie Bennett’s old fishing lure store or something.

Joan: Now when you do this, are you going to stop and talk to everyone or talk to certain people? Or is it more of a visual journey? Or do you anticipate you’ll actually do interviews, maybe not for a particular publication, but would you say that you’re going to do interviews or you just want to talk to people?

Mike: It’s a little bit of both. It depends on what actually develops. But again, it’s wanting to see America and not from the view of an interstate, where everything is bypassed at 75 miles an hour or more if you can get away with it.

Joan: Some places, right?

Mike: Yes, but I want to take Route 6 where the speed limit sometimes goes down to 35 miles an hour. Oh my goodness, we’ll never get there. That’s the point. Who cares? You can drive all the way across and if you see something, a covered bridge… There’s one out on Route 6 in Bradford County off to the right-hand side of the road. (It’s a) Beautiful covered bridge. I shot three dozen pictures there one afternoon just for the fun of it. But that’s the kind of stuff you find – the fairgrounds out in Bradford County. If they’re having a fair, you stop at the fair. Say hello. How are you doing? Shoot the breeze for a while and see what happens. Maybe you’ll run across the 800-pound pig or something.

That’s the way to see America in my mind. And that’s my goal. That’s my bucket list goal I think – one of my bucket list things.

Joan: Is to be able to see all of America east to west on Route 6?

Mike: Yes.

Joan: Do you have any idea when you might do this and is your wife ready for this, also?

Mike: Well, she’s kind of on the edge with it but I thought we’d warm up a little bit by going up to the New England coast on Route 6. Just to see what happens.

Joan: Say, “Honey, this is Route 6.”

Mike: Yeah, we’re going to go from here to I don’t know, Butte Montana, on Route 6. I don’t know where we’re going. But I think that to me is something I really want to do.

Joan: Well on that note, it has been an absolute pleasure interviewing you again, and I really appreciate that you’ve joined me at Keystone today. I want to give Keystone a huge thank you for allowing me to do this podcast in their recording studio.

Mike: It’s a nice Studio.

Joan: It is a wonderful studio and very comfortable. Yeah, and so again, thank you.

Mike: You’re welcome.

Joan: Best wishes with your trek across the country.

Mike: Thanks, Joan.

Joan: You’re welcome.

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Take Me Home to Ireland

Carden Family descendants

Tóg Mé Bhaile go Éirinn (Translation)

Paul Kostiak, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a retired Regulatory Compliance Analyst who now spends his time traveling and writing. As an approved United Nations international expert/lecturer, Paul has extensive experience visiting other countries and experiencing their cultures. He’s co-owner of the Ireland-based “Take Me Home Ireland” tours, a company that provides individualized Ireland tours.

Paul Kostiak takes in the surroundings at Moyne Abbey, County Mayo, a national monument and what’s considered to be one of the most impressive ecclesiastical ruins in Mayo. Photo by Lee Shaffer.

By: Paul Kostiak

The first time I traveled to Ireland I was only mildly excited.

After all, I had flown over a million miles during my professional career, much of it internationally. This was a pleasure trip. A chance to explore the Emerald Isle from which three of my four maternal great grandparents had emigrated.

I had been somewhat of an amateur genealogist for a number of years and this was possibly my first chance to make some interesting discoveries in situ. Little did I know this flight from Newark to Dublin was the first step toward what would become an obsession, with multiple return trips every year. As a genealogist, I would find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and as a person, I would come to fall in love with a country and its people.

Oddly, this would not be my first glimpse of Ireland. I had seen it before from 35,000 feet in the air on a flight from Newark to Amsterdam. Our flight path took us directly over and as I glanced out of the window on a rare clear day, I saw green – nothing but green.

“That has to be Ireland,’ I muttered to myself. A few years later I would be wheels-down on that green.”

Some who know me casually had questioned my interest in Ireland. My Ukrainian surname belies all the Irish blood within me. Tis on me mam’s side. Three of my mother’s grandparents had been born there before emigrating to Northeastern Pennsylvania. Through my cursory genealogical research, I had been able to identify their names and in some cases, their parent’s names as well as their approximate dates of birth.

Carden Family descendants
Carden descendants at the site of Sarah Carden’s birth, Ballyderg, County Mayo
Front – Paul Kostiak Second row – Julie Shaffer Klotz, Ann Kostiak Shaffer Third row – Lee Shaffer, John Boone
Photo by Vicki Kostiak

Some of it was easy. My grandmother, Katie Allen Boone, passed away when my mother was only 10 months old and because of this, she was raised by her Irish grandmother, Mary Mullarkey Allen, and her mother’s sister, Mary. Her other Irish grandmother Sarah Carden Boone lived next door. There is no doubt the Irish raised her. This gave me three Irish lines to explore – Mullarkey, Allen, and Carden.

Discovering great-great grandparent’s David and Margaret Carden grave, Tuam, County Galway
From left, Lee Shaffer and Paul Kostiak. Photo by Tony Traglia

Armed with this limited information, I had a glimmer of hope that I might be fortunate enough to find just a wee bit more about them, but that was a secondary purpose. My primary purpose was even more personal. As a gift to my mother, I was taking her along for the ride to the homeland of those incredibly strong Irish women who had formed her into the strong woman she is. At 85-years-old, she, who had never ventured farther from Avoca, Pennsylvania than the Jersey shore, would board her first airplane and soar across the pond. My sister, Ann, accompanied and her son, Lee, who had been there several times before and would act as our guide. We were taking Grandma on one helluva road trip.

Gloria Kostiak’s first plane trip. Front to back – Ann Kostiak Shaffer, Gloria Kostiak, and Lee Shaffer

We touched down in Dublin early in the morning after flying all night on the red-eye. After collecting our bags and navigating my newly minted world traveler mother through immigration and customs, we waited outside for the car hire shuttle. As she stood in the early morning sunrise, she looked up and saw the tri-color green, white and orange flag gently waving in the breeze.

I heard her repeating, more to herself than anyone, “I can’t believe I’m here.”

If you’ve ever been to Ireland you’ll know what an adventure just maneuvering can be. Driving on the left side of the road from the right side of the car (and automatic transmissions are virtually unheard of), negotiating your way through the seemingly endless roundabouts, all while deciphering road signs written in both English and Irish Gaelic, can be somewhat intimidating. Best leave the driving to Nephew Lee who’s had experience, as my own was limited to riding left-sided shotgun in Japan.

Our plan was to experience the entire island, which is about the size of Indiana, in seven days. We would travel from Dublin, down the east coast across the south, up the west coast to the north, and then back to Dublin for the flight home. A tad ambitious, especially while traveling with an octogenarian, but certainly doable.

Avoca Mill Ireland Paul Kostiak Ireland travel story
Avoca Mill, County Wicklow
Avoca Mills produces the bulk of Irish wool and is the oldest continually operating business in Ireland.

We spent the first day exploring Dublin, Ireland’s capital, and largest city. While there is a lot of Irish culture, it is a large city and filled with the typical tourist destinations, Trinity College and St. James Gate where Guinness is brewed. We spent the night at the four-star Croke Park Hotel, rose the next morning for a “full Irish” breakfast and we were on our way south to see the real Ireland. Our first stop on the list was a small village in County Wicklow called Avoca. I was raised in a similar small town in Avoca, Pennsylvania, and Mom, Ann, and Lee still live there. For a true Avocan, no trip to Ireland is complete without a visit to Avoca, County Wicklow, and the world-famous Avoca Mills where the iconic Irish wool is woven into the plaids and tweeds that we all know. Avoca Mills produces the bulk of these fabrics and is the oldest continually operating business in Ireland. Of course, a pop into Fitzgerald’s Pub, the only pub in town, for Mom’s first pint o’ the Black Stuff (Guinness) was mandatory as well.

Next on the itinerary was County Cork, and Cork Town, the second-largest city in Ireland. Of the Irish who emigrated to Northeastern Pennsylvania, beginning during the Great Hunger (mistakenly called the Potato Famine by unknowing Americans), County Cork was home to the second-largest contingent.  Although it’s a rather large city, Cork Town is much more quaint than Dublin with its pristine parks, traditional pubs, and the beautiful River Lee.

We spent the night at the four-star River Lee Hotel and of course, my nephew just had to take a dip in his namesake frigid river before we left. We decided against the obligatory stop at the Blarney Stone in County Cork. The prospect of standing in a long line (queue) of bus riding tourists only to climb rickety wooden stairs, lie on our backs over the edge, and kiss the stone that millions of others have done before seemed rather unappealing. Rumor has it, the local lads relieve themselves on (the stone) after the tourists leave.

From Cork, we set out for Mizen Head, the southernmost point in Ireland, and often the last glimpse of Europe passengers aboard transatlantic ships from England would see on their way to America. A “head” in Ireland is what we would call a peninsula. If you were to look at a map of Ireland you’d see a group of these heads jutting out from the southern coast like fingers. The tip of Mizen Head is the southernmost point of all of them. It’s also one of the windiest places I’ve ever been to.

The weather in Ireland is enigmatic. Although it lies farther north than Newfoundland, Canada, the island has a somewhat temperate climate.

“Be prepared to see palm trees, yes, palm trees.”

Ireland has a similar reputation to England, namely rain every day. It may be cloudy most of the time but my experience over multiple trips has been that rain showers are frequent but short-lived and snow is a rare occurrence. It’s not unusual to see umbrella vending machines along the streets. We were there in September so the weather was relatively mild. But nothing could have prepared us for what Mizen Head had to offer.

 I have been in windy conditions before. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Chicago. I lived in Center City Philadelphia in the winter and am thoroughly familiar with the streets of New York during a storm. I’ve walked snow-covered Gero Mountains in Japan in June and I’ve sailed the open waters of the Rio Plata between Argentina and Uruguay. I’ve lived through countless hurricanes. I’ve never experienced clear weather winds the likes of which we found at Mizen.

The car park at the very tip of Mizen Head is a few hundred yards from the actual tip. To get there entails a long walk on a ground-level wooden boardwalk over the rocky shore. The scenery is breathtaking. The ground can only be described as moonlike and in the distance, the roaring waves of the North Atlantic continually pound the shore. Have I mentioned that the wind was unbearable? The four of us made our way along the boardwalk struggling with each step, being slammed in the face with the North Atlantic wind all the way.

Being the good son that I am, I lagged back with Mom while Ann and Lee paced ahead. Finally, about halfway to the end, Mom had had enough. She turned to me and asked if she could go back to the car. I was never so relieved to grant her a wish as I was then. We retreated to the warmth of the car and waited for the other two to tell us how “awesome” it was.

And so it was time to start heading north toward Galway for our next overnight stay. Along the way, we passed through County Clare, home to the famous Cliffs of Moher. But first, we had to traverse the narrowest country roads that exist on Earth. Bushes along either side of the roads were literally brushing against the side view mirrors. Occasionally we would drive over a knoll only to be confronted by an oncoming farmer’s tractor or a herd of sheep.

“They’re not walking on our road. We’re driving through their field.”

An Unspoken Irish Rule

After roughly fifty miles of this, we finally reached a paved road and eventually the motorway.

Our intention was to visit the Cliffs of Moher but the fog was rolling in from the west coast by the time we got to County Clare and visibility was most assuredly minimal. The wind had abated somewhat but after our experience at Mizen Head, we decided to forgo that stop. As it turns out the Cliffs are an extremely popular tourist destination. Long queues of tourists once again. Much better and less “touristy” cliffs lie ahead, Lee assured us.

Like many counties of Ireland, the largest city is often named the same – County Galway and Galway Town. Along the west coast, the cities are actually a cross between a city and the countless small villages you’ll pass through. We settled in for the night at the Imperial Hotel in the middle of Galway Town. It was somewhat older than other hotels where we had been staying but quite comfortable nonetheless. It was here that I finally had some time to myself to relax and also where I enjoyed one of the most Irish experiences of my short time there and since.

After the long day of travel, the others were beginning to succumb to jet lag. Because I spent the majority of my career traveling I am somewhat immune to it. And so, when in Ireland do as the Irish do. I hit the hotel pub.

It was late afternoon, around half five as they say, and so I was the only customer there. The barmaid was a lovely lass appropriately named Colleen who was thankfully blessed with the Irish gift of gab. We discussed my family ties to Ireland, which tourist sites to avoid, Gaelic sports (that’s a story for another time), all while she continued to politely ask if I fancied another pint o’ the Black. Sure, it was quite the craic. (The craic – pronounced crack – is the Irish way of saying fun or a good time).

Eventually, her shift relief walked behind the bar. He was a young man. Very young. He looked to be 12-years-old. I knew the legal drinking age in Ireland is 18 but this barman seemed to be more of a barboy. His name is Danny King. I only mention this because one of my favorite bartenders here at home is a fine Irish-American lad named Danny King.  As it turned out this was young Danny’s first night behind the bar and it fell to the lovely Colleen to train him.

Kostiak and his family found Danny King learning to bar tend.
Barman, Danny King, first night behind the bar, and Ann Shaffer, Galway

Pouring a proper Guinness is both a science and an art and must be done correctly to avoid the wrath of the customers. First, it must absolutely be served in a genuine Guinness pint glass. They take this seriously. These glasses have a CE mark on them which indicates that they have been certified for use within the European Union and that they hold exactly 16 ounces. In America, a “pint” glass is actually 14 ounces. Contrary to popular belief the Irish do NOT drink their beer warm. That’s the British. Cold temperature is monitored as closely as the volume of the glasses. Also. there is a distinct difference in taste between the Guinness we get in America and what you’ll find in Ireland even though it’s all brewed in Dublin. It doesn’t “travel well” I’m told. The proper pouring technique is to tip the glass to a 45-degree angle and pour until the glass is precisely three-quarters filled. Then it’s set down to rest for a few minutes. Guinness is not carbonated as most beers are, nitrogen is used to create the head and create its distinct creamy texture – think chocolate milk. Because of this, foam accumulates but eventually settles down. Once it has settled the glass is filled and served. Not before. To do so is a mortal sin I would imagine punishable by the ire of the whole of Ireland.

Back to young Danny. Yer man (boy?) was struggling to acquire the skill of a proper Irish barman. With each pour, the overseeing eye of Colleen gently critiqued him and promptly passed his mistakes onto me, the only soul at the bar – on the house. Quite the craic indeed. Eventually, young Danny triumphed and was able to pour the perfect Guinness and alas my stint as Guinness Quality Control inspector came to an end.

Belleek Castle, Ballina County Mayo
Belleek Castle, Ballina County Mayo

The next morning we left on the final leg of our tour. We were headed to County Mayo and the lovely town of Ballina. I mentioned earlier that Cork was the home of the second-largest contingent of Irish immigrants in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The Province of Connacht is by far the largest contributor, 85 percent by some estimates.

The Republic of Ireland is composed of four provinces, Connacht, Munster, Leinster, and Ulster. The three southern provinces include 25 of the 26 counties of the Republic while Ulster consists of the 26th Republican county (County Donegal) as well as the six counties of Northern Ireland. Provinces were originally small kingdoms and today they don’t really have any significance other than a geographic description, much like we might say of New England and its six states. The Province of Connacht includes the counties Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Leitrim, and Roscommon and is located in the northwest corner of the Republic. Our visit took us to Mayo, where Lee had made friends during his previous trips.

The largest city in County Mayo is Ballina, whose population is slightly more than 10,000. Interestingly, Ballina is Sister Cities with Scranton, Pennsylvania, a testament to the large number of Irish-Americans in Northeastern Pennsylvania who can trace their roots to County Mayo. We would spend three days there to give us time to meet and socialize with Lee’s friends and explore the county, in my opinion, the most beautiful in Ireland.

Scranton Tree is found in Ballina, County Mayo, Ireland, a Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. sister-city.
The Scranton Tree, County Mayo, Ireland, symbolizes the large number of Northeastern Pennsylvania Irish-Americans who can trace their roots to County Mayo.

For our stay, we selected the Great National Hotel, another very comfortable and clean accommodation.

Ballina is the sort of town that instantly makes you feel comfortable, much more than any of the other towns we visited. Even before I had met any friends there was something about it that made me feel at home. Lee told me that he felt the same the first time he visited. We would later find out the reason why.

The beautiful River Moy winds its way through the center of Ballina northward to Killala Bay on the Atlantic. It is known as the Salmon Capital of Ireland, and on any given day fly fishermen and women can be seen plying their skills in hopes of landing the evening’s dinner. Visitors can try their hand at it or enjoy it in one of the many fine restaurants in town. Just one of many reasons to visit.

Like any respectable Irish town, Ballina is not without its share of pubs. Each one is as welcoming as the others. On any given night the craic is bursting the walls in each one, complete with live traditional Irish music and plenty of adult beverages flowing from the taps. It’s a given that one of the locals will strike up a conversation with you, especially when they hear our accent. You’ll be engaged in hours of long conversation.

“There are no strangers in Ireland, only friends you haven’t met.”

An Irish Adage

At the risk of slighting all of the other pubs, I’ll have to pick one as my personal favorite.

 “An Aulde Shebeen is one of a kind. The name means The Old Shebeen.”

A shebeen (she-BEAN) is what we might call a speakeasy. Under British rule, there was a set of laws called the Penal Laws which restricted the rights of Catholics. Among other things, Catholics were forbidden to gather together or to drink alcohol and have the craic. As a result, they came up with their own version of still made grain moonshine called poitín (po-CHEEN). They would secretly come together in an inconspicuous place, usually, someone’s home, to drink. Such places were called shebeens.  In today’s pubs the restrictions obviously no longer apply, but The Shebeen carries on the spirit of the day.

Scranton Tree in County Mayo Ireland honors its sister city - Scranton Pennsylvania.
The tree marker in County Mayo, Ireland, bears the names of former Scranton mayors, Jimmy Connors and Chris Doherty. The Scranton Tree represents a kinship between the two cities.

Ballina is also home to the Cathedral of St. Muredach (MOOR-a-dock), the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Killala. I mention this only because of its historical significance. Muredach was a follower of St. Patrick himself in the early sixth century and Patrick instructed him to establish a church in nearby Killala, with Muredach as its first bishop. Remains of the old cathedral can still be seen adjacent to the present cathedral. A well still exists in Killala where it is said that St. Patrick himself baptized his converts of the area.

Continuing on the religious theme, a short 30-minute car ride from Ballina is the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock. Catholic tradition holds that in 1879 several peasant farmers and their families witnessed the appearance of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and St. John the Evangelist on the site of the shrine. Today the Shrine of our Lady of Knock takes its place among the shortlist of apparition sites which includes Lourdes, Fatima, and Guadalupe. The site has been visited by five popes as well as St. Mother Teresa and is visited by hundreds of thousands of faithful pilgrims each year. Of course, we had to get Mom there to attend Mass, purchase rosaries, and have them blessed with holy water from the shrine. This holy place is memorialized in the beautiful Irish song Lady of Knock.

Within a short five minute drive, you’ll find the beautiful Belleek Forest as well as Belleek Castle. The castle is an early 19th-century replacement for a 13th-century one built on the banks of the River Moy. Although we haven’t stayed overnight there (yet!!) the castle functions as an operating hotel. Its Library Restaurant was where we enjoyed a fine dining meal to mark our last evening in Mayo before heading home.

“Mom’s review? “I feel like a queen!”

Another nearby attraction we had a difficult time tearing Mom away from is the Foxford Woolen Mills – a shopper’s dream. They offer the beautiful Irish woolen goods such as flat caps, scarves, and the iconic woolen Aran sweaters. Fortunately for Mom, they offer to ship her purchases back home so she didn’t have to haul her entire Christmas gift cache on the plane with her.

Mayo is also the location of many fascinating geologic and archeologic sites which were must-dos on our list. In less than an hour, you can be at Downpatrick Head. This amazing place is a geological wonder with its rolling green hills, amazing cliffs. Yes, much more awe-inspiring than the Cliffs of Moher as Lee had promised. The indescribable Dún Briste sea stack ( dun=fort, briste=broken, think our Dun-more), is a 150-foot high piece of the cliffs that broke away from the mainland 350 million years ago. St. Patrick also established a church here and some of the remains can still be seen.

Dun Briste in Ireland
The Dún Briste sea stack and the cliffs were formed in the Lower Carboniferous period, a geological term that refers to a time 350 million years ago when the sea temperatures in and around Ireland were much higher than today.

Next on our list was another magical place. Ten minutes from Downpatrick Head we found Céide Fields (KY-duh meaning “flat-topped hill”). This Neolithic site is the oldest known agricultural field system in the world, dating back to 3500 BC, older than the pyramids of Egypt. The museum and the walking tour were followed up by afternoon tea in the café which certainly put a smile on Mom’s face.

 As you might have guessed Mayo is steeped in religious history. Centuries-old ruins of religious abbeys litter the landscape and it is one of these, in particular, that lead me to make a significant genealogical discovery and the spark which united my urge to return again and again. While exploring the ruins of nearby Moyne Abbey, I noticed an old stone plaque on the wall. The abbey was constructed in 1460, almost 40 years before Columbus sailed from Spain to the New World. On this plaque, I was barely able to make out the name “Carden.” If you recall my great grandmother’s maiden name was Sarah Carden. I immediately wondered if there were a connection and became determined to find out.

I really didn’t have an idea where my recent ancestors came from in Ireland. I knew that most likely they came from Connacht as this is where the majority of the NEPA Irish had come from. But I had no information to support it. That would soon change immensely.

“I wondered if that was the reason I felt so at home in that particular corner of the beautiful island of Erin. Is there something in my DNA that draws me back?”

As our time in Mayo drew to a close during the drive to Dublin for our flight home, I was already planning my return. I’ve since learned that’s not an uncommon phenomenon. Our mission this time had been completed, we had given Mom the opportunity to walk on the auld sod where her grandmothers and grandfathers did. She prayed on her Knock rosaries on the flight home and I couldn’t help but wonder if she wasn’t saying a prayer for them.

That initial visit with Mom was just the beginning of what became a passionate obsession.

“I became more determined than ever to put faces and places to our family story. I began what still would today remain several true friendships.”

One in particular, is my dear friend Brendan Farrell. Lee met Brendan on his first trip a few years before and he introduced me to him. Brendan, born in Killala and now living with his lovely family in Ballina, became my tour guide, historian, folklorist, a supporter of my geneaology (he’s a wealth of local knowledge) and friend. A singer/songwriter of original Irish music, he also introduced me to Gaelic sports! We eventually became business partners in a custom-designed small tour company, Take Me Home Ireland tours, so named because we both share the same idea that no matter where we are born, we are born with Ireland in our hearts.

Take me home to Ireland also mentioned Scranton PA, a County Mayo sister-city known for its annual St. Patrick's Day parade
Take Me Home to Ireland offers plenty of stories but Paul Kostiak and Brendon Farrell also celebrated Irish culture in Scranton, PA, U.S.A. at the city’s celebrated annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

When Brendan wrote his original stage show of storytelling and his rich Irish music “Take Me Home Colleen,” (sensing a theme here?) he trusted me to produce his American premiere at The Theater at North in Scranton. The story of a 19th-century Irish man who left his beloved Colleen back in Ireland while he traveled to NEPA to seek his future. One of his original songs in the show is “Scranton Railroad Lines,” a nod to his friends back here. Most importantly he is the first one to give us a hug and say, “Welcome home,” whenever we return. Such is the value of friendships. There are no strangers in Ireland, only friends you haven’t met.

Kostiak and Lee Paul and Lee discuss the next trip while taking in the beauty. Phot credit - Ann Shaffer
Paul Kostiak and Lee Shaffer plan their next Ireland trip while taking in Ireland’s lush greenery. Photo by Ann Shaffer

That first trip turned into many, on average twice a year. On subsequent trips, we have been able to establish that indeed we hail from Mayo. It must be in the DNA after all. With the help of the North Mayo Family Heritage Centre’s resident professional genealogist, we have greatly expanded our Irish family tree to more generations. On one such trip, I was able to find the remains of the simple stone cottage where Sarah Carden was born and the well in the middle of the field where her father, my great-great-grandfather worked as a shepherd, in which Sarah was likely baptized. We also found the remains of the church where my great-great-grandparents were married, and the grave in County Galway where they rest today. This past September I was able to take Ann, Lee, Ann’s daughter Julie and another great-great-grandson, my cousin John Boone, to these sacred sites.

Unfortunately, Mom was unable to make that trip due to some temporary health issues. I was heartbroken that she wasn’t able to make it. I wanted her to be able to walk in the very footsteps they did and to say a prayer over the grave of those who had the courage to put their eldest daughter on a ship to the new world in 1872. A daughter who would come to raise my Mom.

As a postscript, Mom’s health steadily improved we made a plan to take her in her 89th year to those sacred sites in May 2020. But Nature has a way of changing things. With the help of God, we’ll all get through this pandemic that affects the whole world, including our beloved County Mayo. Until then we can only hope that one day soon we’ll again be on a plane across the pond saying, Tóg Mé Bhaile go Éirinn – Take Me Home to Ireland.

You can reach out to Paul on Facebook at Take Me Home – Irish VIP Tours or via email.

Do you love stories about travel and culture? Did you enjoy Take Me Home to Ireland? Start a discussion or join in with one on my Facebook page.

Read a companion story about Neil Patel’s idea of the perfect getaway.

The Everything, Everywhere, Travel Guest Series is a gift to the world community as we struggle to find “normal” and “familiar” in our lives. Our travel stories allow my guest travel writers and readers to stay focused on the future and remember the past moments that made us smile. As we shelter-in-place and wait for the green light to resume our lives, these stories will prey on your optimism. Contact me if you’d like to share your story.

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