Meeting Jamaica

The island of Jamaica is the third largest in the Caribbean. It is ideally located, capturing trade winds that assist in maintaining a near constant temperature between 77 and 82 degrees and which bless the mountainous island’s northeast coast with abundant rain. Jamaica supports a wide diversity of plant and animal life. More than half the island is higher than 800 feet above sea level. The economy depends heavily on the tourism business, and some of the Caribbean’s finest resorts and elegant boutique hotels are found on the beaches of Jamaica.But Jamaica offers more than lovely beaches and crystal clear water. As wonderful as those things are, they are in plentiful supply in the Caribbean. Jamaica is more – much more. Jamaica is deep emerald green rainforests, waterfalls and mountain streams. Jamaica is an array of birds – colorful parrots, macaws, and hummingbirds with tails that curl three times their body length. Jamaica is reggae and intricate wood carving. Jamaica’s culture does not lurk around its edges. You do not have to go looking for it in museums. Jamaica’s culture permeates the island. It drifts through every breeze and wafts through every moment on the island, whether in the smell of roadside food preparation or in the rhythm and sound of the music present everywhere. Jamaica dances and invites you to dance with it. The Jamaican culture has endured slavery, oppression and bad times. Its culture, like its people, not only survives, not only endures, but thrives.

The island is not without its scars. There is poverty and the street and beach merchants can be aggressive in plying their trade. However, the population as a whole possesses a warmth and a humor that is characteristically Jamaican and visitors miss a real opportunity for adventure if they fail to engage the people beyond the boundaries of the hotels and resorts.

History and Culture

The English wrested Jamaica away from the Spanish in the mid-1600s and used the island as a base throughout the Caribbean. They permitted pirates to hold sway over some areas of the island like Port Royal to continue to threaten Spanish interests in the rest of the Caribbean. Sugarcane and banana plantations, worked by slaves, became the economic base of early Jamaica. But in the mountainous interior, free and runaway slaves, known as Maroons, lived and routinely attacked the British. Two great slave rebellions finally ended the ignoble institution of slavery.

Thus, the cultural heritage of the island has its origins in the slave trade. As the slaves learned the language of their colonial masters, they melded and mixed it with their own. African dialect and English flowed between Spanish and French to find expression in “patois” spoken with the distinctly Jamaican accent mimicked by so many but found only here.
The general consensus is that Jamaica has more churches per square mile than any other place in the world. Every denomination finds a home here, as well as Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Rastafarians. The latter group, the Rastafarians, first appeared in the 1930s, and worships the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. The dreadlocks worn by the group is indicative of their belief that hair should not cut or combed. It is well known, and overly emphasized, that Rastifarians use marijuana as a sacrament, but the focus of the religion is on inward spiritual development.

The arts, woodcarving, music, and dance of Jamaica are uniquely distinctive and immediately recognizable. Reggae has found an audience worldwide, its beat a fusion of African and Caribbean rhythms. Its most famous artist, Bob Marley, achieved international fame and remains an influence many years after his death. Jamaican religions have greatly colored the folk music, and the lyrics express the deep spirituality of the people.

Jamaican cuisine is likewise unique and richly flavored with the fusions of tastes both familiar and strange. Jerk marinade, created from island spices, is added to fish, pork, chicken and beef. Seafood, breads and native fruits are island specialties: ackee and saltfish with roast breadfruit, peas and rice, escoveitched fish, and bammy, a pancake shaped, deep-fried cassava bread.

Seeing Jamaica

Surrounded by crystal blue and green waters with high mountain peaks and a lush jungle, visitors find much to do and see – layer on top the country’s thick culture of food and music, and the temptation to shoot off in any direction in search of the authentic Jamaica is strong. Vacationers have the option of commanding their own transportation for day-trips to see the countryside up close and personal.

Driving in Jamaica can be challenging, especially in rural areas. The roads are narrow and winding, often pitted with potholes half the size of the tire of any 4X4. Washouts and rockslides are not uncommon, and at night, the roads are pitch black in the countryside. Close encounters with pigs, cows and chickens are common. But the drive is worthwhile, especially through the Blue Mountains. The tropical rain forests of African tulips and the mango and breadfruit trees are amazing to behold.

If you decide to self-drive the island, ask your travel agent to rent a vehicle that is dependable in all circumstances, such as a good SUV 4×4. A U.S. or Canadian driver’s license is valid in Jamaica, but the driver must be at least 21 years old to drive and 25 to rent a vehicle. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road in the British fashion. The speed limit is 30 MPH in towns and 50 MPH on highways. Drivers should proceed with caution and drive slowly until they get the rhythm of traffic flow.

For the most part, traffic in rural areas is light, but local drivers are fearless, so most visitors find it best to cede the right of way to others to be on the safe side. Cars frequently stop for pedestrians, animals or to hold a conversation, so drivers should travel slowly and be prepared for frequent interruptions and stops. Horn-honking is not unusual and is typically either a greeting or a warning of an upcoming traffic problem.

Rental car offices are common, and rentals can typically be arranged in advance. The local companies may be less expensive, but larger franchise operations will offer roadside assistance and other services to assist visitors, as well as more locations throughout the island for greater flexibility in returning the vehicle. You can anticipate a relatively large security deposit if you do not take out insurance. For driving directions, obtain a copy of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s “Discover Jamaica” map. Finally, remember that many of the petrol stations in rural areas will accept only cash â?? no credit cards, so be prepared.

Of course, automobiles are not your only option. Renting a bicycle or motorbike provides a fun, easy way to explore. Jamaica requires the use of a helmet on motor bikes, and given some road conditions and the ever-present hazard of free-roaming livestock, this is a good idea in any event. Many vendors rent both bicycles and motorbikes at excellent rates.

In addition to driving, most resorts and hotels will arrange for guided drives around the island. It is a great way to get off of the beaten path, see the real Jamaica, and to slowly acclimate to a side of the island not found behind the gates. A visit to Jamaica stays with a traveler. Unlike other islands, the experience of Jamaica is somehow deeper and more transfixing. A longing develops deep inside that is curable only by way of a return visit.

Roman Holiday

Rome can not be seen in a day, a week or a year. No, a city with this much history takes centuries to get to know. It is literally a city of layers, one generation, one millennium building on top of the next. It is the ” Eternal City”, and we are mortals. Since time is not on our side, consider moving Rome higher on your list of places to visit, and start planning now. With a little organization and a good travel consultant, your trip to Rome can be not only fun, but even deeply rewarding.

This brief overview is not comprehensive… it just represents a few, favorite “must see” spots in the city that you’ll find filled with the very essence of Rome. Take other guides and see other sights. This little stroll presents you with highlights to make sure you have the time to see Rome at the pace it is meant to be seen: at your leisure.

The key to experiencing Rome is to visit everything on foot – and just a little bit “off-hour” (early-morning or late evening when possible) to avoid the sometimes overwhelming crowds of tourists. Everyone agrees that Rome is a city to be walked, and if you are in reasonably good shape, it will not be a problem. Do not travel without your most comfortable, already broken-in walking shoes and carry plenty of bottled water and a hat for shade. You’ll be ready in no time to set off of your own, private archeological and cultural excursion in a city of antiquities, art and monuments.

First, let’s get oriented. Early on, develop a sense for the Italian titles of the common English, as they are often exchanged freely (i.e., the Foro Romano and the “Roman Forum”). The Centro Storico is on the east side of the Tevere (the Tiber) and is the center of the historical city, set amongst the Seven Hills on Rome; here you will find the Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) and the nearby Foro Romano, Trajan’s Markets, the Imperial Forum, the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. Just south of the Centro Storico are Palatine Hill, the Circus Maximus, and the Baths of Caracalla, the city’s famous catacombs.

The Foro Romano, though a mass of tumbled stone and ruin, still provides a glimpse of what was once the center of the great city, and perhaps the entire Roman world. Romans conducted their public business in the Forum, and the road leading into the Foro Romano is the “Via Sacra”, the route for sacred processions. The Arch of Septimus Severus is in the center of the Forum, and nearby, you’ll find the reconstructed Senate House. The footing here is uneven, so if you or your companions are physically challenged or travel with a baby carriage, plan accordingly, allowing for extra time or assistance.

The Colosseum, or more properly the “Flavian Amphitheatre” seated 60,000 people and could also be canopied to shelter the crowds on rainy days or from the hot summer sun. The floor of the Colosseum could actually be flooded to float small boats. The numbered seats, rows and sections allowed spectators varying views of the gory, bloodbath battles between gladiators. Over the centuries, the walls of the Colosseum began to crumble, the result of earthquakes, neglect and the need for stones to build the walls and other structures that surround Rome, but lighted at night, the structure still emits a stately glow. The hours of admission to the Colosseum are staggered throughout the year, but during the height of tourist season in April – June, it is typically open from 9am to 7pm. For your convenience, elevators can take you to the upper tiers and you can rent audio guides for a few dollars. Guided tours in English are also available throughout the day. It costs approximately twelve dollars to visit the Colosseum.

The Arch of Constantine is the largest arch in Rome, constructed in the 4 th century. It stands to the side of the Colosseum, just before you tackle the heavily cobbled road of Via Sacre that leads to the Forum.

Trajan’s Markets and Forum, immediately east of Piazza Venezia and the Capitoline Hill, included a massive basilica, libraries, a temple, Trajan’s column, and the open marketplace. Trajan’s column and the markets are in excellent states of preservation. You can pay a fee for admission to the complex, or you can view it from the street on Via Alessandrina.

If you walk north of the Foro Romano, you will see the Piazza Venezia and Piazza Campidoglio. Take the Via del Coroso from the Piazza Venezia to the Piazza del Popolo, and just a bit further south you will find the Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish Steps. No trip to Rome is complete without seeing the Spanish Steps. Early in the morning the steps are relatively empty, providing a great opportunity to view them without large groups of tourist covering their beauty. The incredible sweep of architecture lifts from the Piazza di Spagna up to the Trinita’ dei Monti (Trinity of the Mountains). The Spanish Embassy was at one time at the bottom of the Steps, influencing the sites’ names – the “Piazza di Spagna” and the Spanish Steps.

Piazza del Popolo was originally the site of both festivals and public executions. It is home to four lion fountains and one of Rome’s twelve Egyptian obelisks. At one end of the square, you’ll find two churches that many mistake for copies of each other. However, the space available for the construction of the ‘Santa Maria de Montesanto’ was less than that available for the ‘Santa Maria dei Miracoli’, and as a result, the Montesanto has an oval dome, as opposed to the round dome on the Miracoli.

The Campidoglio, perhaps the most beautiful piazza in Rome, sits on top of the Capitoline Hill, the smallest of the Seven Hills of Rome. It is home to the amazing Capitoline Museum, housed in the two palazzi on opposite sides of the piazza. The “Cordonata”, designed by Michelangelo, is the elongated, elegant stairway to the piazza. The building, which will appear directly in front of you, is the Palazzo Senatorio that now houses the office of the Mayor of Rome. The view from this spectacular Renaissance piazza is one of the best, especially at sunset and in the dark night. Here, you will also find a bronze statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback.

In the Villa Borghese, start with a visit to the Galleria Borghese. A twenty dollar admission fee and a prior reservation (required) restricts the size of the crowds in this lovely museum, where you’ll find paintings by Titian, Rubens and Raphael, along with a collection of marvelous sculptures. The Villa Borghese’s physical and cultural endowments are overwhelming. The Borghese family amassed one of the greatest family fortunes and art collections ever assembled. The Villa Borghese was built to display the great art pieces owned by the family, and Napolean used a part of the collection to form the cornerstone of the Louvre’s own portfolio.

On the west side of the Tevere is Vatican City. See St. Peter’s Basilica on any day other than Saturday and Sunday and you’ll avoid the crowds that line up on the weekends to hear the pope (if you’d like to see the pope yourself, then line up early). Tradition tells us that Peter was buried here in 64 A.D. near the place of his crucifixion. Constantine, the Roman emperor that made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, commissioned the basilica to be built over Peter’s tomb. The present basilica was completed during the late 16 th century. Inside the massive church are the works of the great masters and many holy relics, including a piece of the Cross. Tombs tours of past popes lying in the church can be arranged in advance at the Ufficio Scavi. Note that you must abide by a very strict dress code: no shorts or bare upper arms.

If you want a great view of the city, take a taxi or a nice stroll to Piazzale Garibaldi, or the Janiculum Hill, where a cannon goes off every day at noon. The skyline here is magnificent, and you’ll discover an idyllic view of practically all of Rome’s monuments. Walk along the road to the Fontanone and then down the staircase into Trastevere. You will not be disappointed.

The Trevi Fountain is a center of tourist adoration, but if you go to see it late at night or very early morning, you will better understand its attraction. The crowds have largely vanished and the lights on the water give the fountain a pleasant glow. The Fontana di Trevi dominates the small Trevi square located in the Quirinale district. The water for the fountain is the product of the Aqua Virgo, an aqueduct constructed in 19 BC. It brings water all the way from the Salone Springs, where legend has it that a virgin maiden showed soldiers where to find the water’s source. The central figure of the fountain, in front of a large niche, is Neptune, god of the sea. He is riding a chariot in the shape of a shell, pulled by two sea horses. One of the horses is calm, the other one agitated, symbolizing the moods of the oceans.

If you catch the famous Pantheon early in the morning, before 10:00, you will miss the morning rush that starts around 10:30. The Pantheon is the best preserved of the ancient Roman buildings. Its dome is more than 130 feet high and at the top is a large opening, the oculus, which is the only source of light. Built in honor of “all gods”, the structure has survived largely intact.

Remember that much to see and do in Rome is always free – totally without charge. Here are just a few examples:

  • Roman Forum
  • Capitoline Hill
  • Trevi Fountain
  • Spanish Steps
  • Pantheon
  • Mouth of Truth
  • Piazza Navona
  • St. Peter’s Basilica

Note, too, that the exterior of many of the monuments such as the Colosseum and Castel Sant’Angelo are free to visit, even though there is a charge, and well worth it, for the interiors. Churches, their paintings, vaults and relics are typically free as well.

Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the Trevi fountain, you will return to Rome. It’s a good place to deposit your spare change in any case, so give it a toss. If you have visited everything on this short list of favorites, you’ll still find much more to do in the Eternal City.

Ireland Off-Season

Everyone wants to go to Ireland, and it seems that everyone wants to go in the summer. Now don’t get me wrong. There is much good to be said about the warm days of summer on the greenest of islands. However, fall, winter, and spring offer their own special charms, as well as being amazingly affordable times to travel. The scenery is still stunning, the people are still friendly (and maybe more so, relieved of the pressure of so many tourists) and the pub life is especially warm and friendly.

Most destinations have a prime season for travel that coincides with excellent weather. Throughout this “peak season”, the crowds tend to be heavy and the prices high. Ireland’s peak season is the summer months: mid-June through mid-September. When the weather is typically less than balmy, destinations experience a “shoulder season” and a “low season”. Shoulder season in Ireland is April, May, early June and early October. Shoulder season has the distinct advantage of retaining many summer travel perks: longer days, good weather and extended shopping hours. Low season is November through March – the winter-weather months in Ireland.

Rates and crowds lessen proportionally as you travel farther from the warmer months. Airfares are often hundreds of dollars below peak season rates, and hotels offer bargain discounts. But for many, one of the best advantages of traveling in the so-called “off season” is that it’s much easier to enjoy and absorb Ireland’s renowned culture and avoid getting lost in crowds of tourists. Off-season visitors often find that their hosts, hoteliers and shop keepers engage easily in conversation and provide individual attention, increasing the odds for a fascinating and flawless vacation.

Off-peak Ireland is one of the best travel bargains worldwide… short daylight hours and cool weather provide a new, moody perspective on the country. Celtic architecture and cool seascapes fill mornings of exploration, and crisp afternoons call for cozy Irish sweaters and refuge in a warm pub, where visitors mix with the locals.

One of the great attractions of Ireland is that many of its amazing sites are in the wide-open: the cliffs and shores, castles, cathedrals and great stone circles are accessible throughout the year. The countryside, too, holds its famous green, even in the winter when visitors can trace the landscape of long stone walls against a leafless sky and emerald-colored hillsides.

To ensure your comfort while you wander through Ireland, bring heavy sweaters and outdoor clothing and hats. Warm, comfortable (and preferably waterproof) shoes are a must, and pack turtlenecks and windbreakers for good measure. The good news is that because Ireland is situated on the eastern Atlantic side of the Gulf Stream, temperatures are typically more moderate than in continental Europe. Ireland’s average winter temperature is a relatively mild 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

A good travel agent familiar with Ireland is the best resource for planning your off-season itinerary to ensure that you experience the best aspects of traveling during this time. Travel agents can connect you to highly regarded tour operators who are financially sound and have a reliable history of taking care of the agent’s clients; Ireland can be equally enjoyed through a fully escorted or independent tour, and often at additional savings over already low rates. In addition, an agent is an invaluable source of insider tips and research materials that take the worry and hassle out of planning an enjoyable, quiet, and affordable trip to Ireland.

So pack a sweater and have the Emerald Isle to yourself!

Beer and Pub Tours – Soaking up a Culture

When deciding on a short holiday or tour, it can be hard to choose between soaking up a destination’s culture and going out to have fun and party. If you like beer, you can do both at once. Beer has never been more popular than now, and brewery and pub tours give you an opportunity to enjoy great companionship while discovering an area’s culture and history. Beer festivals and tours are becoming increasingly popular additions to a holiday, especially with groups of friends who travel together. You no longer need to separate your holiday time into culture and entertainment. Beer tours come in many forms, from tasting exotic brews at a small pub to tours of large breweries, or even full scale beer festivals. Whatever you fancy trying, there is something to tickle the taste buds of all beer enthusiasts.

No visit to many of the great cities of Ireland and the United Kingdom would be complete without visiting their famous and historic pubs. The culture surrounding pubs is a tradition in many countries and an important part of the social order. Pubs are often community meeting places where all manner of politics, religion and important matters are vigorously debated.

Although you might love beer and have sampled most varieties, you may not have much of an idea about the processes involved and the history behind a manufacturer. Beer and brewing has helped in part to shape many societies across the world. Beer and pub tours can provide a solid history lesson, which is why many tour operators also offer literary pub tours, walking tours and day tours centered around a city’s pub culture. You will also, of course, get to try some great beer and food along the way. Whether you are mad about beer or just enjoy the odd pint, a beer tour or holiday is for you if:

  • You like to try new beers and would like to learn more about the brewing process
  • You enjoy socializing with new people and having a good time
  • You want to experience the atmosphere and traditions of a country or city, including their food and drink
  • Oktoberfest sounds like heaven

You can choose from so many different types of beer tours and holidays: whether you want to take a few days and relax while sipping a new drink in a pub or you want to really learn about how beer is made and the culture and history behind it, making a pub or brewery crawl part of your holiday is the stuff of many a great travel tale. Wherever you go, have your travel consultant check into organized pub and beer tours as well as find the best areas to sample the local flavor. In either scenario, your agent should be able to find excellent travel opportunities and rates to help simplify your choices. Packaged prices for hotel accommodations and airfares are typically available to travel consultants at discounted rates through tour operators. In addition, your agent will have plenty of resources to help make your time on vacation efficient and well spent.

 The many types of beer tours cater to a variety of different needs, budgets and appetites. If you are short on time and want to tour an area, then a simple pub or bar tour where you can sample the local products is a great way to get started. You can organize these tours yourself by doing research, or just strolling from one place to another. Many tour operators provide beer and pub tours on a designated tour route. In some countries, such as Ireland and Scotland, stops can be made at local distilleries to sample whiskey -; or whisky -; depending on your location. Old Middleton Distillery close to Killarney, Ireland, is where you can taste some Jamesons. Edradour Distillery in Pitlochry, Scotland is the place to sample a fine single malt whisky from that country’s smallest distillery.

Many cities in Europe have organized “pub crawls” (“pub” being a shortened form of the term “public house”, indicating a tavern licensed to sell alcohol) that use the atmosphere of the pubs as a way to meet new friends and introduce patrons to new bars. The most famous of all the pub crawls may be the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl, themed around the haunts of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Brendan Behan. These highly festive occasions are led by professional actors performing the works of the writers in various pub venues around the city.

If you are looking for something with a bit more information regarding the history of beer itself, then taking a brewery tour is a great option. In Dublin, for example, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse is great fun. Arthur Guinness began brewing in Dublin in 1759, and Guinness has grown to be one of the most successful brands in history, generating modern day revenues of two billion pounds a year. As you travel through the St. James Gates into the Storehouse, head up to the Gravity Bar for a free taste and magnificent views of Dublin, and along the way learn about the brewing process from start to finish in all its glorious details.

Deciding on when and where to go can be a difficult decision, and your decisions will focus on how much of your vacation you want to be centered around beer. If you simply want to go on a few brewery tours or are curious about beer, then negotiating the crowds of Munich during Oktoberfest might not be the best idea. Instead, go where you can experience as little or as much beer culture as you want. Destinations like Dublin, London or Brussels are ideal and permit others in your party to indulge in plenty of other activities like shopping or sightseeing. Ask your travel consultant about “shoulder” and “low season” rates. During off-peak travel times, rates are almost always available at a sizeable discount over high season. The crowds are fewer, the prices better and the atmosphere in many destinations is much more intimate. However, the trade-off in weather and climate may be more than enough for you to decide to do your beer and pub studies during peak travel times.

Although many beer tours will allow younger people on tours of their facilities, there are often prohibitions on the consumption of any alcohol by persons under the age of 18. Also, be aware that while the US has a higher drinking age than most of Europe, this is not universally the case. Generally, holidays centered on beer festivals are only suitable for adults. If you intend on visiting breweries and pubs and you have children, definitely ask your travel agent to help you consider the proper logistics for your visit.

Need we suggest to a worldly person such as yourself that one of the first considerations of a beer and pub tour is that you drink in moderation? Overdoing it on the first day will only reduce your enjoyment of the holiday, as well as damage your health and potentially your relationship with any non-drinking traveling companion. Beer outside the United States often contains a higher alcohol concentration, so enjoy in moderation or suffer the consequences! But with that in mind…

So many beers, so little time.

Celtic Knots – Irish Destination Weddings

Ah, weddings. Dreams and decisions. White dress, or ivory? Tie and vest, or cravat? 20 guests, or 200? Chapel or castle in Ireland? Really? With some planning a destination wedding in Ireland seals the deal in an amazing country surrounded by centuries of heritage.

More and more brides and grooms, as well as couples renewing their vows, choose to take a different path than the chicken dinner for two hundred, and celebrate with an intimate group of close family and friends in a wonderful, exotic, romantic setting. The focus is on quality of experience, not quantity of guests. The celebration and vacation can be planned with every detail in mind – from choosing the perfect setting, means of transportation, hotels, meals, sightseeing – all the way to the rarest and most perfect flower on each table – with the right travel partner at your side.

An experienced travel agent and tour company can help you through the process from faintest dream to final reality. The right travel partner needs to be able to provide a myriad of services that will support that celebration: first, to help you pick the perfect hotel, garden or castle –one that has extensive experience in fulfilling every bride’s dreams; second, to be able to plan your itinerary so that your group can enjoy all of the sites in your special location; third, to be able to transport you and your guests to and from and around your dream destination in style; fourth, to be diligent, thorough and hands on so that when you step onto that plane to start your journey, you can focus on your partner, your family and your friends. Perhaps your family heritage will shape your decision as to where to tie the knot – the Celtic knot?

What separates Ireland from its neighbors is the arresting beauty of the land, the turbulent history of the island, the broad smile that welcomes your arrival and the heartfelt farewell that signals your departure. This is a land of history and folklore, of ancient ruins and modern trade, of misty landscapes and hearty fun. This is a land that will embrace a new couple with open arms and will make your wedding a fairy tale. With a castle as your backdrop, and the spectacular scenery of the Cliffs of Mohr, or the Ring of Kerry, or the gardens of Wicklow, the hardest decision will be to settle on the perfect spot. Pick a location as grand as Glenlo Abbey in Galway, or as intimate as Ballyseede Castle in Tralee, or as wild and wonderful as the fields of Connemara or the Cliffs of Mohr at sunset. Each location is as beautiful and as awe-inspiring as the grandest of cathedrals.

The official marriage process will start with your local minister, priest, or rabbi. The rules and regulations of having an actual legal civil or church wedding abroad can be daunting. Many couples choose to fulfill their legal and church requirements at home at a simple service, and then plan a personalized ceremonial celebration abroad. If you choose, however, to have a legal or church ceremony, the following information from the website of the Consulate General of Ireland may be useful in preparation for the process:

Getting married in Ireland is complicated but worth negotiating. Here are some tips to help you get through the formalities from a distance.

Three months’ notice – To marry in the Republic of Ireland, three months’ written notice of the parties’ intention to wed must be given to the registrar for the district in which you wish to be married. Occasionally, exceptions are given, but they must be applied for at the Circuit Family Court Office or the High Court Office. There is no cost for this service.

Residency – Residency is a must, whether for a religious ceremony or civil marriage, and requires at least one visit to Ireland prior to the actual ceremony to complete all the administrivia. Both parties must be over eighteen years of age on the actual wedding day to be married in the Republic of Ireland. To establish residency qualifications for marriage by license, one of the parties needs fifteen full days of residency, the other party need to reside in the area seven days before notice is served, and then the wedding can take place eight days later.

If the parties choose to get married without a license, the residency requirement is shortened (seven full days for each party), but the waiting period is much longer. Notice is served on the eighth day, but the marriage cannot take place until twenty-two days later. These requirements apply to the county of Dublin. Interested parties planning to be married elsewhere need to ask about the residency requirement in the district of their choice.

Registrars – In all cases of civil weddings, both parties must make an appointment with the registrar in their county of choice and produce all necessary documents which might include: Birth Certificates, if divorced, a copy of the Divorce Absolute (in English) and Birth Certificate. There are two sets of registrars, one for Roman Catholic marriages and another for Protestant and civil marriages. A list of registrars for the former is obtained from the health board of the area concerned, while the other is made up of a list of solicitors in each county. (Ask for form FLA.1.96.) Both lists are available from:

The General Register Office
Joyce House, 8/11 Lombard Street East
Dublin 2, Ireland

After making the registration, the planning of the ceremony may commence. For marriage in a Catholic church, it will be necessary to establish some linkage with that particular parish and church. Some residency will be required, so immediately after the registration is made would be the time to contact the parish priest who will know details of any other diocese qualifications. Of particular importance is the fact that divorced persons may not marry in a Roman Catholic Church; however a Church annulment permits a ceremony in the Church.

Marriages in a Roman Catholic Church proceed by one of four means: by Episcopal license; after the publication of banns; by ordinary ecclesiastical license, or on production of a certificate from a register of civil marriages.

The process is a bit different for Church of Ireland marriages where at least one of the parties must be Protestant Episcopalian. It should be noted that the Church of Ireland strongly discourages persons coming from abroad just to get married in Ireland.

A civil ceremony is an alternative to a religious ceremony and is more administratively convenient, if lacking in atmosphere. Aside from the three months’ notice of intent to marry, the residency requirements for the area in particular must be met.

Cost of the ceremony is relatively cheap–£32.50. This applies to both civil and religious ceremonies.

Listed below are some addresses which may be useful. Note the Dublin City and County Marriage Registrar’s office is scheduled to move. It is not listed in the telephone directory, however, a recorded message with the new address and telephone number should be on the line, and letters will be forwarded to the new address.

Dublin City and County Marriage Registrar
31 Molesworth Street
Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel.: (01) 676 3218

Circuit Family Court Office and High Court Office
Four Courts
Dublin 7, Ireland

Department of Foreign Affairs
80 St. Stephen’s Green
Dublin 2, Ireland
Tel.: (01) 478 8022

Daunted? Don’t be. A few formalities puts you on course for for a much more challenging venture – the first year of marriage!

Gorilla Safari in the DRC

I crawled like a leopard, hand after hand, and received the signal to rise slowly to my knees. As I began to lift myself up, a copper snake slithered across my fingers. I stifled a scream by sinking my teeth into the quilted collar of my jacket.

At the prospect of being educated by African game rangers in a tropical rain forest, with the added promise of an experience I knew I’d never forget, I embarked on a gorilla trek through the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Armed with a camera and several packs of cigarettes to ease us over any road block issues, I headed north out of Goma (east DRC), towards one of the last remaining mountain gorilla sanctuaries in the world.

Nearing the Virunga National Park, the road narrowed and twisted through forests punctuated with bougainvillea flowers, adding dashes of pink, orange and fuchsia.

Twenty minutes later I arrived at what I perceived to be the entrance to Virunga National Park. A guide promptly frog marched me to the administration hut. Here I produced my pass and paid the US$250 fee for the gorilla hike before joining a small party of travelers who had already registered and were eagerly waiting. We received a briefing about where we were going and the procedures we needed to follow. A short while later a goliath, ebony-skinned ranger, aptly named Maximus, appeared. His silent grinning sidekick, Rambo, shepparded us into single file line and then fell to the back.

Maximus led the way, marching us for several hours at a frightening pace, up the mist-covered mountain.

Gorilla numbers have drastically diminished as a result of war and lawlessness in game parks in the eastern DRC. It is only in recent years that forest rangers have been allowed to resume work in parts of the reserve and begin the odious task of assessing the state of the animal population.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that approximately 700 mountain gorillas live in central Africa, of which Virunga National Park holds 380. The Virunga gorillas’ entire world consists of 285 square miles of mountainous rain forest that straddles the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

Mountain gorillas are gentle, affectionate giants and one of the most endangered animals in the world, nearing extinction through loss of habitat and poaching.

In our assent, I quizzed Maximus about his experiences.

“No one who has ever looked a gorilla in the eyes can come away unmoved,” he said.

Maximus spoke of his work and told us that ranger patrols had to commonly caution off refugees seeking to camp in the national parks and forest reserves. They also made for good poaching grounds.

The scenery was spectacular, and after the initial grassland we headed into the dense jungle with Maximus constantly hacking a clear path with his machete. The deeper we ventured, the darker and muddier the jungle became.

During a short break, the rangers explained that they were tracking the gorillas by way of their dung which, they claimed, was not too arduous a task, bearing in mind that an average adult gorilla consumes around 65 pounds of vegetation daily. Rambo mentioned that the good-natured vegetarians lived in small, cohesive family groups and did not travel more than two or three miles in a day.

A few hours later and much further up the darkening mountain, I became aware of unfamiliar animal sounds filtering through the blackness. All at once, the jungle fell silent. Maximus raised his muscular forearm and balled his fist, signaling us to halt. He crouched and we followed suit. He began walking on his haunches towards a thicket, and we did likewise. He signaled for us to drop flat, which we did – me into ankle deep mud the color of dark chocolate.

A few moments later his still-clenched fist signaled for us to rise. Scraping the mud off my face, I raised myself to my elbows and into a cloud of stinging insects. They burrowed into my ears, nostrils and eyes, and when I blinked, I could feel their legs squirming and tearing down my cheeks. Vermin or bug shrieking was forbidden, so under the circumstances, I did the best I could and wedged a tissue up each nostril and did the same to my ears. It later dawned on me that this was in fact, an ingenious idea, as the lightly aloe-oiled tissue paper warded off the insects.

The ground mist was thick and the jungle’s density allowed only a few shafts of light to filter through the canopy above, but it was enough to make out the gleaming white teeth of Maximus grinning at me, a few feet away. He stifled a chuckle with difficulty and whispered hoarsely, “Missy, you cannot see my gorillas looking like this. You will frighten the children. They will flee when they spy a wide-eyed, muddy, wild-haired female rising up out of the undergrowth, with wads of tissue paper coming out of her nose and ears.”

We moved forward slowly and soon we were again signaled to stop and fan out. Maximus looked back at our party and indicated a bush, violently shaking, just ahead.

Ten hours of air travel, a four hour hike up one of the highest mountains in Africa and a brief encounter with a snake afforded me my first glimpse of the legendary mountain gorillas of central Africa.

In this group there were perhaps ten gorillas, with one dominant, and amazingly large, silver-back male.

I sat on a tree trunk near a female gorilla who was nursing an infant. Beside her sat another gorilla grooming a youngster. She used her fingers and teeth to comb through junior’s hair. Junior was entranced.

Rambo appeared beside me and quietly explained how a gorilla builds itself a nest for sleeping. A young gorilla shares its mother’s nest until it reaches the age of three. Nest-building only takes a few minutes, as the gorilla just sits on a large branch and bends smaller branches to form a platform.

I had been warned not to approach the gorillas, but to instead wait and see if they would come to me, which a few of the younger ones did when they brushed past. One put her hand on my forearm, lifting it to inspect a scar on my arm. While I was being inspected, a male gorilla, unfamiliar to the group, appeared. We witnessed a frightening territorial display when the resident male became excited. He stood to his full height and began beating his chest and bellowing. He inched toward the stranger, growling and gnashing his teeth. Soon the stranger disappeared into the jungle.

The hour we were permitted with the giant apes passed in what felt like minutes. Rambo rounded us up and led the way out. I trailed behind with Maximus and stole a few final glimpses, the last of which was of an infant clambering up the chest of a silver-back, who patiently indulged the young one without protest.

Maximus followed my gaze. “Every tourist dollar buys our gorillas another day,” he said. Then added “but this is not enough. We need more than what money can buy. To be effective, our game rangers need motivation, equipment, training, and discipline. At this time, our government has commitments elsewhere and soon, the conservation effort will collapse. We find ourselves up against well-equipped and well-trained bandits, and unless we solve these issues now, mankind will wipe out the gorillas. In less than a hundred years after they were first discovered.”

The underrated and all too often misconstrued contribution of the African game ranger is pivotal in the struggle to save the continent’s remaining wildlife. This was made all the more evident when I was privileged to witness a female gorilla nursing her infant.

The rangers who patrol the Virunga National Park, ensuring the safety of the world’s few remaining mountain gorilla, are dedicated conservationists who understand the forest and the gorillas better than most. They prize their jobs as guardians of such a rare world heritage and regularly risk their lives to protect it.

A trip to view the gorillas could very well change your life, and your travel dollars can do more than you know to further the interest and investment that this country and its guardians are maintaining, on behalf of us all.

Planning Gay and Lesbian Travel

Travel planning for the gay and lesbian traveler is both a very similar and yet very different experience than most straight travelers encounter. After all, travel is travel and many of the issues are the same: where to go and when, budget, who you travel with. Behind each of these seemingly simple decisions, however, is the somewhat amorphous term “gay-friendly” and the issue of the extent to which a gay traveler will be allowed to travel openly, safely, and comfortably in a destination.

In general, gay and lesbian travelers travel often and have an above average disposable income, comprising approximately 10% of the traveling public. Gay travelers are as varied in their choice of destinations as any other group, but tend to pursue destinations that market to and recognize the gay community.

Naturally, a complicating factor is the absence of absolutes. Bigotry can arise in the most “gay friendly” of locations and many supposedly hostile environments fail to live up to the reputation a vocal minority has fostered. Nevertheless, some advance planning can help to ensure that your travels are trouble-free and as relaxing or engaging as you choose, without undue additional consideration.

As always, one of the best possible places to start planning is with a good travel consultant. Most travel agents have professional resources at hand to assist all types of travelers in selecting travel environments that match their needs. These resources also provide direct and unbiased information on the quality and ambiance of various destinations and accommodations and the general attitude toward gay travelers; many destinations have no concerns or laws surrounding gay travel, while others are openly hostile environments, both legally and socially. In addition, experienced travel agents will know which travel companies are capable of delivering quality services and have a history of providing reliable travel arrangements for gay clientele.

Choosing a vacation destination involves seriously considering the purpose of your trip and your willingness to conform to indigenous customs. According to the Travel Industry Association (TIA), nearly half of gay and lesbian travelers said that a destination with a gay-friendly reputation is a prime consideration in leisure travel choices, and locating a destination where gay travelers can “hold their partner’s hand in public with no concerns for harassment” influenced more than half of gay men and two-thirds of gay women in their choices. This is not a surprise, since cultural norms in many countries frown on open displays of affection in any circumstance for any traveler, and for gay travelers, this can even result in legal action.

If you want to experience the culture and sights of another country, your travel consultant can give you a good idea of the local attitudes toward gay travelers. If, however, the trip is a “sun and beach” vacation, attitudes can often be more open and relaxed – in the right location.

Did you know?

  • If you’ve always wanted to visit the pyramids of Egypt, definitely seek specific advice and help with planning your vacation; Egypt, like many mostly Islamic countries, is an amazing destination but has strict social norms regarding affection in public
  • The quiet and tranquil beaches of the Bahamas may not be as easy to navigate with a gay companion as you might think – be sure to choose the right island and accommodations that market to gay travelers

In case you are wondering, the same TIA survey mentioned revealed the following United States cities as the most gay-friendly:

Good travel agents also know other less popular or commercial destinations that welcome gay travelers, including small mountain towns like Asheville, NC. Don’t feel that you must limit yourself to major destinations.

You also have the choice to travel independently or with an all-gay group. It’s up to you, of course: some people are more comfortable surrounded by other gay travelers and the opportunity to be more open and expressive. If the purpose of your trip is sightseeing and cultural exploration, then independent travel may be a better choice, as it allows the most freedom to go at your own pace, and as long as you abide by local customs, you can travel almost anywhere. On the other hand, if you are taking a trip for relaxation or romance, you will almost certainly experience more of both when surrounded by like-minded people. Speaking of being able to relax, openly discuss what you want from your vacation with your travel consultant early in the planning process – then you’ll know you can go where you want to go and do what you want to do.

Surveys have indicated that a gay or lesbian traveler typically seeks originality, excitement, dining, local culture and affordability in their travel options. Which brings us back to our original point, doesn’t it? Travel is travel, and our small differences shadow our likenesses. All in all, a bit of expert planning will make travel for gays and lesbians every bit as comfortable and fulfilling as they want it to be – just as it should be.