Afternoon Tea ~ A British Delight

I lived in Cambridgeshire England for nearly 2 years. The old city charm, combined with the prestige of being just outside the University’s campus made living here a true privilege.

On the eve of the Referendum, where UK citizens will vote to leave or remain in the EU, I felt it only fitting to showcase beautiful traditions and experiences that have shaped Great Britain through the centuries and have become essential inclusions to many traveller’s itineraries.

 First on the list: Classic Afternoon Tea.

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Afternoon tea. It’s an occasion, an experience, an array of delicious and delectable fancies that everyone, not just the posh, can enjoy.

Originating in the 1840’s, and observed initially by the upper class, afternoon tea is a meal served usually in the afternoon between 2-5 pm. By the end of the 19th century, this delectable repast became available and adopted by everyone and not just the wealthy.

There are several variations of traditional afternoon tea. Back when it was considered a meal for the privileged, it consisted of mini savoury sandwiches aesthetically presented without crusts; such flavours as cucumber, egg salad, and cress sandwiches were the most popular. Following these was a selection of scones accompanied with clotted cream and jam. Once the sandwiches and scones were devoured, fancies and cakes would be presented. The favourites and most traditional sweets included the Battenberg cake and the Victoria sponge.

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Nowadays, afternoon tea is typically observed on special occasions, including hen parties, Mother’s Day, and in some occasions, wedding receptions. That is not to say that a day of sightseeing in London cannot include an indulgent tasting of several pastries delicately presented on a tiered bone china dish.

During my time in England, I was spoilt with experiencing afternoon tea in many settings – the posh swanky hotel where all is served on silverware, bone china and is complete with a visit from the cake trolley; the cozy independent bakery making its version of the quintessential fancy; the deliciously different and sublime experience on a vintage bus (Yes. You read that correctly. A Moving. Vintage. Bus.); and in famous homes of iconic women whose literature has shaped the libraries of today.

 All afternoon tea presentations were different, but kept up the prestige, charm, sophistication and decadence. Below are three of my favourite places I have experienced afternoon tea, which would delight any traveller, tourist, resident, or simply the curious.

 Enjoy!

1).  Fortnum & Mason

Afternoon tea in Fortnum’s Jubilee Tea Room is a real treat.  Frequented by the royal family, I too felt regal when I walked through the door. The ambiance of sophistication is set as the pianist plays a soft selection of jazz. Your table adorned with beautiful linens, bone china, and silver flatware awaits as you choose from a variety of over 80 loose leaf teas, some of which have delighted patrons for over 300 years.

The overall experience at Fortnum’s leaves you feeling like one of the Royals. The menu was extensive with High Tea and Afternoon Tea options, depending on your appetite. The High tea menu included hot eggs Benedict, scones with preserves and clotted cream, savouries, pastries and a choice of cake from the dessert trolley. This was the heartiest of meal choices, with the afternoon tea offering all the above minus the first course (eggs) and dessert trolley.

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Presented on three-tiered dishes your scones, preserves, savouries, and pastries arrive for a second-to-none presentation; a completely sublime fusion of flavour and style. I particularly loved the rosewater eclair. Subtle sweetness of the icing mixed with the rose extract made this a delicious conclusion to my meal.

Prepare to pay approximately £100.00 for two people. If you wish to have champagne with your meal, a popular addition to the spread, this will cost you extra.

Don’t forget to make a reservation. As Fortnum and Mason is a popular for locals and tourists, it would be a shame to miss out. If you wish to have piano music as your backdrop, book an earlier time slot as the pianist leaves mid-afternoon.

 2) The Berkeley Hotel

Berkeley pastries

Another option for those wishing a posh afternoon tea is the Berkeley hotel. The Berkeley combines traditional afternoon tea with fashion. Located in Knightsbridge, The Berkeley prides itself in offering the Prêt-à-Portea afternoon tea menu, influenced by chic trends in Milan.

A personalized place card shaped like a stiletto welcomes you as you browse the menu detailing the season’s inspiration. When I went for tea, the featured designers included Tory Burch, Oscar de la Renta, Yves St Laurent, and Gucci. To learn more about the current selection, details can be found on the hotel’s’ website.

berkeley card

The tea selection here is also second to none. An assortment of about 20 to choose from, you will receive your chosen blend in your own designer bone china pot. I chose the pear caramel blend and it was incredible- definitely a tea that is unique with strong infused flavours. A gem of a beverage.

The portion here is ample and perfect for a girls luncheon, business outing, or simply a nice afternoon out. The menu doesn’t include scones or a dessert trolley, but you don’t miss those seemingly obvious items, thanks to the delicious fashion-inspired pastries you receive.

Prepare to spend £80-100 for two regular afternoon tea meals. A glass of champagne is extra.

 3) BB Bakery Vintage Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

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This afternoon tea without a doubt is my favourite. The uniqueness of being served on a vintage 1960’s bus, combined with a guided tour of London makes this an experience unlike any other. On the bus you are greeted with your servers who guide you through the various sites. The bold spread includes delicious savouries, partnered with such decadent fancies as cheesecake, macaroons, tarts and of course, scones with clotted cream and jam.

The selection of beverages is small, but this is understandable with the kitchen being mobile. That being said, the tea, lattes, and brewed coffees were satisfying and they are presented in travel-style cups, ensuring safety.

The tour lasts approximately 2 hours depending on traffic conditions and takes you past many iconic landmarks in London including Parliament, Notting Hill, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Harrod’s, and Piccadilly Circus.

The cost for two is approximately £100.00. Seats fill up quickly, therefore, it is essential to book in advance for the day you wish to go to avoid disappointment.

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Brooklyn Bridge~An Iconic Beauty

I sometimes cannot believe that I got engaged on this iconic piece of architecture in the heart of New York City. A bridge that is featured in handfuls of movies, the popular Sex in the City HBO series amongst other shows, and in many a photographer’s portfolio. On National Bald Eagle day (it seems that there’s a day for everything nowadays!) I acknowledge this beautiful American landmark.

Plan your visit today and see it for yourself 🙂

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The French Riviera: A posh treat on the Mediterranean

The French Riviera.  When someone suggests a trip here, one usually thinks of sheer luxury. Truth be told, envy probably is added to the mix of emotion as you sense the feeling of importance being surrounded by the rich and famous.

Nice, France is the capital of the posh French Riviera, deemed a favourite holiday destination for Europeans since the 18th century complete with luxury resorts, swanky hotels, boutique shops, and elegant restaurants fit for royalty. I mean, here it is an everyday occurrence to spot an Aston Martin drive by, fully loaded with an optional convertible top. Can you really blame anyone for feeling slightly regal when visiting?

The French Riviera is a vacationer’s dream with its clear sea water and stretch beach. When planning your day at the beach, double check with your hotel on whether they have a private area strictly for guests. Many areas on the beach in the heart of Nice are reserved for guests of particular hotels. If your hotel does not have a secluded area, there are many public sections for you to settle in and relax.

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The beach is pebbly with large stones. It does not have sand. Since the stones can be painful, it is best to rent a lounger and wear a good pair of water shoes to avoid foot injuries. For the moderate price of € 35 approx. (Shop around as the price may differ depending on the hotel or public section offering the service) the package includes a lounger, towel, umbrella and use of the change rooms for the day. Servers are ready and waiting to take your drink orders, but those, of course, are extra. Choose your spot wisely and anchor for the day where you can snap breathtaking photographs, taste the sea salt of the crystal waters, and admire the ritziest of yachts sailing by.

If lazing by the sea is your cup of tea for only a short time, there is much more to enjoy surrounding the shore. There is an array of shops – both boutique and budget to suit all visitors. Heck, a highlight of my time here was finding a beautiful “one size fits all” peach dress for €10 Euros…proof that glamour is possible at any price.

As you shop, stop in to one of the many artisan coffee shops and have a talented barista craft you a latte; always a welcome treat with a fresh baguette.

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To balance the beach time with sightseeing, there are many points of interest in the area. If museums are on the list, the Musée de Picasso is an ideal stop in the quaint town of Antibes, a short drive from the seaside.

While in Antibes, take a short trip to the castle Château Grimaldi, named after the Grimaldi family, who reigned over Antibes from 1385 to 1608. The castle is a 10-minute drive from the centre of Nice and offers accommodations at a luxurious price of €12000 Euros a night in low season and up to € 22000 Euros a night in high season. If you are considering this haven for a holiday accommodation, keep in mind that their the minimum stay is 4 days/3 nights!

Chateau Grimaldi

If the € 12,000-22,000 price tag is not in your budget, there are many other options for beautiful accommodations in the area. The Hotel Villa Cosy is rated the #1 hotel in the region by Trip Advisor and has suites for as low as  € 375 per night.

The cost of accommodation may prove tough to swallow, however, a visit to one of the upscale restaurants with a glass of French wine may help.  If elegance is your type of dining style, the French Riviera is home to 126 Michelin Star restaurants, with Le Mesclun being at the top of the guide for 2016. There are restaurants for all tastes and budgets. If you like Risotto, it is particularly tasty at the seaside restaurants near the beach. And, for the brave, escargots (snails cooked in garlic butter) are plentiful and available at restaurants for all budgets. Go on! Give them a try!

Le Mesclun

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After sightseeing, sunbathing or shopping, a wonderful way to cap off a day in The French Riviera is to take a trip to Monaco. Just an hour’s drive away, the municipality of Monaco is a gem of a nation under royal rule of Prince Albert. Here in this tiny municipality, you will marvel at the beautiful palace where Hollywood actress Grace Kelly once resided, see the church where she married the prince, gaze at the famed monk statue honouring Francesco Grimaldi who seized the castle with his brother in the 1200’s,and sadly view the cliff where Grace Kelly met her end in a tragic car crash.

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As much as the tourist’s list of key landmarks provides a history-filled sightseeing itinerary, most make the trip to Monaco to rub elbows with the wealthy in Monte Carlo. One of the ritziest casinos in the world, The Monte Carlo, truly showcases glam and luxury. For starters, outside in the surrounding lot, every luxury car from the Aston Martin, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce and others, is parked as owners attempt to win their down payments back. I, of course, just had to pose beside a stunning silver Ferrari; we do dare to dream.

The Monte Carlo entertains thousands of visitors yearly with gamblers, curious tourists and Formula One fans, who watch the cars zoom by in a split second. Others visit the venue for a touch of nostalgia as the complex has been a movie set choice for a handful of movies. Notable films include 007’s Never Say Never Again and Goldeneye, Monte Carlo starring Carey Grant and Grace Kelly, and most recently in 2012 Madagascar 3.

Entering this iconic building, you cannot escape being mesmerized by the gamblers in tuxedos crossing your path (there is a strict dress code) and quickly grabbing a seat at a private table. I was amazed how the dapper men would balance a cigar in one hand as they placed their €25.00 minimum bets with the other hand. That definitely took skill. The women in elegant floor-length gowns pass by elegantly, keeping their designer clutches close to their belts as they swig cosmopolitans and touch up their lipstick. The scene emulated the 1950’s as these glitzy blonde bombshells bet (and prayed upon) the roulette ball, hoping it would win them millions while clasping their cigarette extenders.

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The French Riviera  is a wonderful place for visitors to escape the grind of everyday life. It has something for everyone and definitely serves as a sunny sanctuary. It is warm, buzzing, exciting, ritzy and full of surprises…

Ice Cream. A Frozen Favourite for Centuries!

The day we have been waiting for has arrived – the first day of summer. With cold winters and unpredictable springs, it is no wonder we are in countdown mode until the warm and reliable weather arrives in the northern hemisphere. As the days grow longer and the patios start opening, many of us need a pick-me-up in the afternoon between meetings or while out exploring. Besides water, ice cream and variations of this age-old dessert tops the charts in popularity and is usually the treat of choice in the hot weather. It has become so popular that Good Humor trucks circle the streets to attract school children (c’mon, you have heard their music playing miles away) and theatres now include it on their refreshment menus.

The evolution of ice cream is quite incredible. Dating back to the 5th century BC, Ancient Greeks used to indulge in frozen snow mixed with honey for a sweet ending to a delicious meal. Since then, cultures have adapted the dish to suit various tastes and traditions. China created their own version of the sweet by freezing milk and rice to create a tartufo-textured dessert, while the British created a recipe back in 1718 which we have adapted over the centuries to what we now enjoy today.

The British created their variation of ice cream by taking a tin pot of cream, mixing it with sugar, eggs and a flavouring of choice, letting it freeze and thicken. Sound familiar?  After the British recipe was tried, tested and widely replicated, variations were developing, allowing for the creativity floodgates to burst. By the 19th century, chefs began experimenting with this basic recipe and expanded the variety with such delights as floats and sundaes.

The ice cream craze expanded worldwide in the 20th century once it was possible to freeze food at home. The boom followed with keen entrepreneurs taking this trendy treat and opening parlours worldwide. The first two companies were Howard Johnson, a hotel chain bringing the traditional family values to the dinner table and advertised an impressive selection of 28 flavours, and Baskin Robbins who went one step further with 31 flavours, and now, still scooping today, boasts the development of 1000 varieties.

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Later in the 20th century soft-serve was developed. Shops including Dairy Queen and McDonald’s introduced the soft ice cream swirl cones to customers as an alternative to the scooped texture.

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As history indicates, everything in life evolves and we are constantly attempting to improve the current market. As summer is in full swing, I have compiled a list of 10 incredibly satisfying ice cream parlours, based on personal experience and reputation, that are worth a stop on any foodie’s itinerary:

1. Slickers Ice Cream – Bloomfield, Ontario, Canada
Visitors of this parlour rave that this ice cream is hard to beat. Chefs make the ice cream from scratch in small batches with local ingredients. With any ice cream parlour nowadays, in order to compete a large flavour selection is necessary, and Slicker’s doesn’t disappoint with a large variety. Local favourites include burnt marshmallow and apple pie.

2. Scrumdiddly’s – Dublin, Ireland
If a sundae is your indulgence of choice, Scrumdiddly’s is the place for you. It is situated slightly outside the city centre, and for €2.50 your sundae will include two hearty scoops, your chosen filling from their varieties (chocolate bars, cake pieces, candies…possibilities possibilities!)

3. Morelli’s – Broadstairs Kent, England
A family run business since 1932, Morelli’s has remained a favourite for gelato and unique ice cream flavours for decades.Chef Giuseppe Morelli is world renowned and has been featured on BBC’s “Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites,” They have expanded to London, accross the UK, The U.A.E, Bahrain, Malaysia, and the Philippines,  but the original location on the boardwalk in Kent will delight any visitor.

4. The Creamery – Capetown, South Africa
The creamery has prided themselves in making delicious artisan-quality ice cream in Capetown since 2011. They are continuously developing new flavours and are proud of their unique hot cross bun flavour.

5. Gelato and Coffee Lab – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Rated the #1 eatery in Siem Reap on Trip Advisor, this little gem of a parlour boasts delicious gelato and a variety of flavours including the fan favourite coconut.

6. Four Winters – Amman Jordan
Truly a magical experience, this ice cream parlour presents customers with a masterpiece of sublime flavours since 2013. The Jordanian company has now expanded to London, England and serving up ice cream using the latest of technologies.

7. Serendipity Cafe – New York City, USA
This cafe became a household name and major attraction in New York after being featured in the blockbuster film of the same name, starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Visitors flock to the cafe and order their famous Frozen Hot Chocolate, big enough to feed three guests.

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8. Ristoro Della Salute – Rome, Italy
With the Colosseum as your backdrop, stop in to this patio restaurant and have a gelato. This little eatery has delicious flavours and serves your dessert in a cute touristy Colosseum cup. Delizioso!

Colosseum ice cream

 9. Gelato Messina – Sydney, Australia
Boasting revolutionary ice cream flavours and dessert offerings, Gelato Messina has been the Achilles heel of every dieter’s sweet tooth since 2002. Visit their parlours across Australia to delve into a gelato cake shaped like a Super Mario Mushroom, one of five weekly flavours, or to learn their techniques at one of their classes.

 10. Sorveteria – São Sebastião Brazil
Considered an ice cream haven in South America, Sorveteria has been serving delectable frozen treats since 1947. Family run, Sorveteria has been delighting customers with its original 61 flavours since its grand opening. Visit today and enjoy a delicious sundae complete with acai ice cream,  sprinkles, marshmallows, and hot fudge.

This list is not exhaustive and thousands of other shops will cross every nomad’s path as each travels the world. Drop me a line and tell me about the ice cream artisan/parlour you discovered and why it left a lasting memory!

 Stay cool out there!

Dad. Father’s Day. James Bond?

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Fathers are being celebrated this year in some parts of the world on Sunday June 19. It’s a day to put fathers on a pedestal and show appreciation for all they do. This 107-year old holiday originated in the United States by a lady named Sonora Smart Dodd. Sonora was sitting in a Mother’s Day sermon at her church in early May thinking her dad needed to be celebrated too. Since that day in 1909, all papas, granddads, appreciated men, and single Mums playing both roles, are showered with new ties, share silly jokes, and of course, fire up the barbecue for the season.

Father’s day is a celebration that the world embraces at various times of year. While North America crowns dads this Sunday, countries such as Australia and New Zealand honour fathers at the beginning of September.

When in London this past March, my husband and I visited Bond in Motion – the largest display of Original James Bond vehicles and artifacts in the world. For a limited time, these film props and vehicles would be on display to touch, photograph, simulate and enjoy.  While I was there, I kept thinking how much my father and other dads would enjoy seeing this extravaganza.

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The exhibit features vehicles from most of the films, plus an exclusive showcase from the most recent blockbuster “Spectre.” Each display includes footage from the film, and in some cases, wax figures of the corresponding actors. There are informative plaques providing details about every piece, and the convenience of Free WIFI allows for quick check-ins on Facebook and quintessential Instagram posts to make your friends jealous.

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Fathers will enjoy this day out as the admission is reasonable, the exhibit is child-friendly, and is conveniently located in the heart of London at Covent Garden.  Adult admission is £15.00 and £10.00 for concession. You can buy tickets online or at the door. Be sure if you are commuting on theUnderground Tube to check the schedule as quite often Covent Garden station is bypassed. If it is closed, get off at Leicester Square, a 5-minute walk away.

 The Gift shop at the exhibit can serve as a go-to haven for Dads and a perfect solution to finding that unique gift. Everything from shirts, key-chains, limited edition prints, complete DVD sets, and much more is available.

Currently, the exhibit will be running until the end of 2016, but this is subject to change. If you wish to experience this special event, you have at this time until December 31st.

james bond airplaneJames Bond movies were first introduced with the release of Dr No in 1962, starring Sean Connery. Since then, most of Ian Fleming’s works have been adapted for film with various actors playing the leading roles. This exhibit brings all the 007 films, actors, scenes, and trivia together; six decades of film history.

Once you have concluded your visit, why not treat Dad to a martini- shaken, not stirred, at DUKES Pub in London- the venue believed to be where Ian Fleming penned the 007 stories. How thrilling to be sitting in the same pub, and possibly the same table, where the ideas were born.

DUKE’s pub is located near Green Park Station on the Underground train line. Reservations are recommended to avoid disappointment in getting a table. DUKE’s also adopts a strict dress code of smart causal style. They will not permit patrons into the pub wearing leisurewear.

I wish fathers all over the world a wonderful day. I hope if you are in the London area, you will consider this limited time exhibition as it will please any James Bond fan from the past six generations.

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Paris is Always a Good Idea…

Paris’s love story is captured by millions yearly. People flock to Paris to wed, propose, renew vows, find love, or just fall in love with it’s atmosphere. But even with the pages and pages of memories it fills in the millions of travellers’ diaries, everyone can still find something new to discover.

Whilst in Paris, be sure to visit the most iconic landmark in the city: The Eiffel Tower.

There are a few ways to ascend the tower for the spectacular views – elevator, walking, and a combination of both. The method you choose, influences the cost of your admission.

The admission is as follows for adults:
Lift to the top: €17.00
Lift to the second floor: €11.00
Climbing to the top: €7.00

There are gift shops within the tower as well as washrooms cafés. Double check the opening hours and for any unexpected closures during your trip. For more information to help plan your visit to the Eiffel Tower, visit: http://www.toureiffel.paris/en.html

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As the entrance lines can be quite long, many tours recommend travellers visit in the evening to experience the tower lit up to its beautiful brilliance. You can get breathtaking photographs of the Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe from the top. A truly magical experience that nobody should miss.

In the past year France has sadly been a target for terrorism. Paris has been victimized by acts of evil, but its appeal has not tarnished and it remains one of the most visited cities in the world. It is a city that everyone should visit within his or her lifetime.

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Discovering the Republic of Ireland’s Glorious Capital

The Republic of Ireland is definitely a jewel. A bustling city similar to my hometown Toronto, I didn’t feel as if I were outside my comfort zone when I arrived and collected my baggage.

The feel of Dublin is very eclectic, combined with culture and a sense of freedom. The Irish people are so welcoming and offer you their city openly, whilst indirectly expressing their joy of independence. The Irish flag flies proudly as the sound of jigs fills the storefronts.

There is something for everyone in Dublin. The history buff in your group would enjoy visiting the Trinity College campus. In this historic institution, you will find the famously influential and incredible Book of Kells- the ancient manuscript, containing verses from the four Gospels of the New Testament, together with various texts and tables. Historians believe that the Book originated in an Irish monastery c. 800. Trinity College has the Book of Kells on display year-round to tourists and visitors for a nominal entry fee of €14 online for adults and €11 if you pay at the door. Check online before your visit for unscheduled closures. Whilst I was on my visit over the Christmas holidays, the exhibit was closed for the two-week break, and I was lucky enough to venture into the College in the morning before my flight home on the 4th of January!

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Unfortunately, they do not allow any photographs of the priceless manuscript, so if you wish a memento from your visit, you will be relegated to purchasing souvenirs from the College’s official shop. That being said, the shop is refreshing with more to offer than the cheesy replica college buildings and bookmarks. Take away with you a collectible book retelling the historian’s research on the books, combined with the significance of the College. Or, if you wish something less traditional, you can purchase some beautiful jewellery including Celtic crosses, charms and pocket watches to remember your visit.

 After you have reveled in the legendary and beautiful Book of Kells, take a stroll a few blocks down the way to get a photo with the infamous Molly Malone statue, located on Suffolk Street just outside the Tourist Information Office. After taking the Molly Malone selfie, leave the statue humming the unofficial Dublin song name after this legendary fishmonger.

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If you are staying for a couple of days, and have a moderate budget, you may want to try staying a night or two at the Clarence Hotel. Owned by U2 members Bono and Edge, the nostalgia and idea of staying in a hotel owned by these musical icons, may just be the highlight to your Irish vacation. Book ahead as the hotel tends to book early due to its celebrity ownership. Prices per night start at €230 for a standard double room. The penthouse is rarely available, but if luxurious accommodation is your travelling style, inquire ahead of your journey so you are not disappointed.
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To cap off your experience in Dublin, why not take in a traditional Irish dancing show? The Arlington Hotel just a few doors down from the Clarence Hotel, offers a delightful dinner and dancing evening 7 days a week. tickets are approx. €69 and for this price, you get priority seating, a 3-course meal, and non-alcoholic beverages. If you decide to splurge with some wine or beer, the €5-10 price tag will not break the bank. At the end of the performance, which includes Riverdance-style tapping, the legendary broom dance, singing, fiddles, flutes, and audience participation, you can purchase the usual CD, showcasing the performer’s talents, whilst supporting their careers.
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There is so much to this beautiful city, including where James Joyce wrote the famous Ulysses – deemed the most difficult book ever written. Few students, scholars, and adults alike have been able to tackle the story from cover to cover, and those who have, definitely should celebrate their accomplishment proudly.

 There are also hop-on, hop-off tours operating daily for everyone wanting to hear more about the city and learn about these landmarks above an more. Enjoy your trip and the ink in your passport! This is where my love and curiosity for travel began, and I hope yours will flourish too.