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Interviewing Tips with Guest, Mike Stevens

Interviewing Tips with Guest, Mike Stevens

 
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How to Interview Someone

Mike Steven describes interviewing as “Shooting the Breeze” and rightly so because if you’re a journalist, travel writer, or author, simply asking questions is not always likely to get you the answers you want or need. In fact, a meaningful conversation goes much farther than a list of obligatory sounding questions. The “Interviewing Tips with Guest, Mike Stevens,” podcast episode takes you through some of the most important techniques and suggestions you’ll need to turn an interview into a fabulous conversation.

In spite of our goal to collect information for the purpose of creating a story, we need to focus our efforts on creating a relaxed environment. Journalists often approach an interview solely as a means to get answers from the respondent but they fail to realize that one-word or one-sentence answers when transcribed to a page, will do little to engage their readers. Strive for a conversation-starter and take it from there.

As for Mike Stevens, if you don’t know him, it’s time you listen to his entrancing voice and often hilarious stories of the people he met as host of “On the Pennsylvania Road.” After handing the reigns to his colleague, Jon Meyer, Mike wasn’t ready to fully retire after more than 35 years as host.

He took up blogging under the title, “Stevens Says” and started a podcast known as “The Slow Lane.” Moreover, Mike is an author, guest speaker, and a contributor to the Saturday morning “Home and Backyard Show,” and in his spare time (I use the word spare loosely), he’s often looking to discover an uncharted town along a Pennsylvania road. Of all the places he has visited, he’s reluctant to name one as his favorite and I suspect the reason is he takes the time to meet and interview the locals. I’m sure he also finds an ice cream shop.

On that note, it’s time to put your phone down and listen intently to the podcast.

Thank you, Mike, for taking the time to join me in the Keystone College recording studio.

And many thanks to Ryan Evans, station manager, for recording and editing this show.

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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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European Travel Everything, Everywhere Travel Guest Series Guest Travel Stories Guest Travel Writers Ireland travel stories Lifestyle

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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Neil Patel – Travel Story

Neil Patel Travel Podcast Show Notes

Neil Patel Accolades

Chances are if you listen to marketing podcasts, “Marketing School” with Neil Patel and Eric Siu is at the top of your list. It’s my number one favorite show. Beyond his role as a podcasting icon, Neil is co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics and he also helps companies like Amazon, NBC, GM, HP, and Viacom grow their business.

The Wall Street Journal refers to Neil as a top influencer on the web and Forbes says he’s one of the top 10 online marketers. The accolades don’t stop there. Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 MOST BRILLIANT companies in the world.

Recognition and Awards

Neil was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and one of the top 100 entrepreneurs under the age of 35 by the United Nations. He was also awarded Congressional Recognition from the United States House of Representatives.

And, yes, Neil Patel is a busy man with a family and full schedule that requires him to travel for business. I interviewed him bright and early one morning a few weeks ago via Zoom. He resides in California with his wife and daughter.

Welcome to Neil Patel, my first guest in the Everything, Everywhere, Travel Guest series.

The Perfect Getaway

As you know, our podcast is about travel. But first, how’s life in California today?

California is great. It’s sunny and it doesn’t get too hot or too cold. It’s a nice place to be.

Let’s talk about travel, Neil. In one of your marketing school episodes you and your co-host, Eric Siu, talked about your work schedules. I’m wondering if you allow time from your hectic schedule to get away and relax. Or is work always a part of your life?

Neil Patel: Work is always a part of my life and even when I’m relaxing, I still work because if I don’t work I’m not able to relax. I need to get a bare minimum of work done each day. I do set aside time to spend with my family and travel but not really much with vacations. A lot of times I’ll have to go to countries like Indonesia and random places like that or places in Europe like Germany, London, or Paris. A lot of times, depending on where I’m going, I’ll consider taking my family as well and we’ll try to do some family activities as well as doing my work-related stuff.

Your answer brings me to my next question. What is your idea of the perfect getaway or vacation?

Neil Patel: My idea of the perfect getaway is to stay at home, watch TV, and relax with the family. You’re probably wondering, WAIT! That’s not a getaway but I’ve been on the road so much, and I’ve been to so many different countries that sometimes being at home is really relaxing. There were times when I was on the road for literally 40-plus weeks out of the year.

I imagine you get tired of it (travel).

Neil Patel: Definitely, it’s exhausting. It takes a lot out of you. That’s why staying at home is quite nice.

I read you were born in London and your parents moved to Orange County, California when you were about two-years-old. Was traveling a part of your life as a child and young adult?

Neil Patel: When I was younger, we didn’t really travel much. My parents didn’t have a ton of money so travel really wasn’t a part of my life as a child or even when I was a teenager.

Overall, how would you say travel has affected your life?

Neil Patel: Travel has affected my life in a good way, which has opened me up to new cultures and experiences. I’ve learned a lot just from traveling about in the world and how different things work.

Where are some of your favorite places you’ve visited?

Neil Patel: I like New York City although that’s just in the United States. I like going back to India. I’m of Indian descent so that helps. I love going back to the U.K. France is amazing. If I had to pick one, I’d probably say Oslo or Italy. Those would be my top two choices.

This brings me to my main question. Is there a particular trip or adventure you’ve recently taken that has changed or altered your life?

Not recently but there was one in the past years going back four or five years ago. I went to Brazil and it really opened my eyes. I really was in awe. There are so many people all over the world and there’s so much opportunity. Going to Brazil didn’t make me think I could only do this in Brazil but it opened up my eyes to business. I don’t know why it was so much more on that trip. It could be because there are different people from parts of the world but it made me realize I need to start doing more overseas. I’ve been to all these countries, so why not start working with a lot of the companies there. There are so many talented people and so much to learn from being in different countries.

Was that trip for business or pleasure?

Neil Patel: It was business but I tried to make some fun out of it. Business and some sightseeing and some tours but it was literally almost all work.

What were some of the sites you visited while you were there and what would you say about that country overall?

Neil Patel: In Brazil, there are a few things I ended up seeing. First off, there’s this place called Ouro Preto. There’s also this city with a lot of artwork. It was an art scene but also a big farming town and they have a lot of museums. The farming town was pretty close to Belo. Those are the two main things I saw on my first trip.

Neil Patel family spending time together
Neil referred to his idea of the perfect getaway as spending time with his family. Photo courtesy of Neil Patel.

Outside of work, what are some of your other interests? Outside of digital marketing?

Neil Patel: Hanging out with friends and family. I love watching basketball games. I love walking and talking with my wife. Catching up with her…And going to the library quite often with my daughter. It’s fun as well for me.

Neil Patel and his daughter spend time together during the holidays
Spending time with his family is at the top of his to-do list. Photo courtesy of Neil Patel

Is there anything else you’d like to say about your Brazil trip or any other one you’ve taken that have affected your life.

Neil Patel: If you’re going to travel, I’d say be open-minded and try to experience the country as the locals would. I think a lot of people are very close-minded and they’re stuck in their ways when traveling. You can understand the culture and the community if you’re open-minded.

What is your favorite culture you’ve visited? You mentioned Italy.

Neil Patel: For Italy, the culture is amazing but my favorite part about it was walking around.

What is one travel tip or advice you give my readers?

Neil Patel: If you’re going to travel, experience things as a local. If you do, you’ll have a better understanding of the culture versus doing the touristy type of stuff.

End of Interview

Heartfelt thanks to Neil for his time and interest in the Everything, Everywhere, Travel Guest series. Excerpts from his podcast will be available next week.

Visit Neil’s website to learn more about the digital marketing services he offers.

Did you enjoy the interview? Leave a comment here.

Learn how to interview with a course I’ve created that’s loaded with essential interviewing skills and tips.

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