Star Spangled Spanner

I’ve lived outside the US for several years and often write about my cultural, business and gastronomical experiences in other countries.  It’s with great pleasure then, that I put a different spin on things today – and share a perspective on my own country through the writing of my dear Irish friend and newspaper columnist Suzanne Brett. july 4 #3

(and if you’d like to read her column as it appears in the on-line version of the Cork Independent, click here!) 

After enjoying a few hours of premier class treatment, I again touched down on American soil last week after an absence of a few years. Like so many others, I’ve endured a heavy dose of Celtic Tiger blues but I’m beginning to feel like I’m in remission.

Anyway, myself and G, (my very well connected American bestie, who’d accompanied me and arranged the whole shebang) quickly checked into our hotel, changed into our glad rags and grabbed a cab.

Security was tight as we approached the residence (hint – it’s completely painted white) and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive but also a lot excited.

The scene was so surreal. Only a few hours earlier I’d been elbow deep in laundry back home in Cork and now here I was, dressed to the nines, sat in the back of a taxi watching as US security personnel, using those mirror on a stick thingies, checked out the undercarriage of the car.

And by the way girls, I’d be lying if I said I’d have taken offence to these lads checking out my actual undercarriage … if you know what I mean. But I digress.

After examining our invitations and passports, checking us off against their list and confiscating our phones, the cab was finally waved through and we made our way up the beautiful winding driveway. Everything was pruned, landscaped and shaped to perfection.

It was kind of everything I’d expected it to be from years of watching programmes like ‘House of Cards’ and ‘The West Wing’. Those Americans certainly know how to impress, I’ll give them that.

G was taking it all in her stride and remained utterly un-phased by the entire adventure. Granted though, she’s a past master at this kind of thing having actually sat down and interviewed Clinton and Bush among others over the years. However, she handled me with consummate skill and ease and any feelings I had of being the country bumpkin visiting ‘the big shmoke’ were entirely my own, as she couldn’t have been more supportive and understanding of my awestruck-ness.

Being 4 July, the event we’d been invited to was taking place on the back lawn, and as much as I was desperate to have a nose around inside, I knew it wasn’t going to happen on this occasion. We were escorted around the side of the house and invited to partake of the spread of different foods and beverages sourced from the fifty states of the Union.

As I enjoyed a glass of delicious Kentucky bourbon (and I don’t even drink whiskey) and munched on a New York burger I simultaneously made small talk with the Kenyan Ambassador.

In between bites and sips, I was introduced to captains and captainesses of industry, all of whom seemed to have Irish connections of one kind or another. And pretty soon I started to feel like I actually belonged in such rarefied company and august surroundings.

I finally realised I’d become separated from G and in the process of searching for her, I happened to bump into a charming man who introduced himself before asking if I was enjoying myself.

We got to chatting and spent a wonderful half hour before he excused himself and disappeared into the crowd, shaking hands with people as he went.

The following day I Googled the names of some of the people I’d met. Finally, I searched Kevin O’Malley, the lovely gentleman I’d chatted with, just to see if he was anyone of note.

I really don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling I experienced on discovering he’s the American Ambassador to Ireland!

And me, having spent the evening in his beautiful Phoenix Park residence and enjoying his hospitality without so much as a go raibh maith agat! #Cringe #Gobdaw

Thanks, Suzanne! We had great fun, (or “craic” as you Irish would say), didn’t we?!  Let’s do it again next year!


I’m so grateful you are reading my essays. I train, consult and speak about leadership, better communications, business and life empowerment. Please click ‘Follow’ (at the top of the page) and reach out to me directly to support you or your organization via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and at


Guest blog series “Travel Memories” #8 – Olumo Rock, Nigeria

Greetings fellow travelers! If you’re ready for an adventure, you’ve come to the right place!  Last time we took you to Bulgaria and today, join me as we go to Nigeria.

Today’s guest blog is from radio personality, speaking coach and, I’m happy to say, my new friend – Ayo Owodunni.  


When he is not busy co-hosting his dynamic and fresh morning radio program from Nigeria’s capital city, Lagos, Ayo loves to travel and explore locations that make his country unique. 

Now, then, let’s marvel together at Olumo Rock – a place that once protected warriors, and which in turn, recently needed protection itself. 

Here’s Ayo: 

 olumo rock

A safe haven for those who looked beyond its majestic beauty and focused, instead, on its strength and protective power, Olumo Rock is located in Abeokuta, Nigeria, about 60 miles north of Lagos.

Abeokuta literally means “Under the Rock.”  The natural fortress may have protected a variety of people over the centuries, but it was during the 19th century, as it served as refuge for the Egba tribe during a series of tribal wars, that its protective qualities are most known for.

The Egba land warriors discovered Olumo and realized the enormous heaping pile of boulders naturally provided them the perfect strategic place. The wide flat top of the rock gave the warriors a fighting advantage, not to mention a great view of enemies below.


It was so strategic, in fact, that the Egba warriors lived on Olumo for more than three years.  Lookout and living space, the rocks reportedly even served as a place to bury their dead.  It seemed nature had designed a unique citadel for the Egbas to help them survive.

The wars eventually came to an end and the Egbas climbed down, settled into the valley and established the town with the name forever honoring the rock: Abeokuta.

olumo rock top

Till today, the Egbas prides themselves in their rich history and their tribe-saving rock.

As a child, I visited Olumo Rock, but admit I was never fascinated by its significance.  I was more interested in using it as my natural playground, than learning its dramatic role in history.  But, as I grew older and did more research on my country, I came to discover more about the historical site and have since fallen in love with the rock and its warrior-filled story.

olumo rock2

Sadly, however, one of the biggest frustrations I’ve also come to discover about my country is its lack of conviction in preserving historical landmarks: from media reports about the dire state of the first prime minister’s burial site, to the deteriorated condition of Badagry Slave Port (used to ship out slaves from Nigeria to the western world – where I was shocked by the horrible state of the museum with broken windows, uncared for artifacts and untended lawns outside), national monuments had become national embarrassments.

Following suit, a few years ago, Olumo Rock faced similar neglect until the federal government decided to step in and finally turned it into the treasured monument it is today.


For me, Olumo Rock is a reminder that the universe will always conspire to give you your heart’s desire.

But we must do our part as well. Olumo Rock, which once saved people, has now been saved by people.

Thank you, so much, Ayo, for an inspiring story of an inspiring place.  

Where do you go for inspiration?  A natural wonder? A church, temple or synagogue? Your backyard?  Share your story as a comment here or write a longer essay to me at 

I’ll happily post it!  And if you’re looking for inspiration, I’m also happy to remind you that “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” – a book of wondrous conversations and adventures – is available on – With nearly two dozen rave reviews already, I’m sure you’ll love it too!

Ciao, tutti! Till next time,

Baci, Gina

Guest blog series, “Travel Memories”: Belogradchik Fortress in Bulgaria

Ciao tutti,

Spring is almost here and my thoughts are turning to possible places to go for Spring Break!  So, it’s a perfect time for another guest writer get-away adventure.  Today, I am pleased to introduce fellow author, Ellis Shuman.

Ellis has been traveling ever since he was 15 years old, when his family moved from Sioux City, Iowa, to Jerusalem, Israel. Ellis served in the Israeli army, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on a cooperative agricultural community known as a moshav.

 In 2009, his job in an internet marketing firm was relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria, for two years. During that time, Ellis and his wife traveled all around Bulgaria and fell in love with the country. After their return to Israel, Ellis couldn’t stop thinking, or writing, about Bulgaria. He has just published a suspense novel, “Valley of Thracians,” which is set in many of the places Ellis visited during his Bulgarian years.

Let’s now go to Bulgaria with Ellis: 

When I think back to the two years I lived in Bulgaria, there are so many travel memories. My wife, Jodie, and I arrived in Sofia in January 2009 on a two-year relocation of my job in internet marketing from our headquarters in Tel Aviv to our Bulgaria support center. We decided to make the most of our Bulgarian experience, and traveled extensively around the country at every opportunity.

One journey stands out, however, and the places we visited would play a major role in the suspense novel I wrote upon our return to Israel. One weekend, when our friend Iris was visiting from Israel, we drove to the northwest. We stopped in the town of Montana to pick up Ivelina, a colleague and friend of mine from the office, and she served as our travel guide as we headed through the lush countryside to our destination.

We arrived in Belogradchik, a town whose name literally means “small white town.” We were not far from the Serbian border, and about 50 kilometers south of the Danube River, which forms Bulgaria’s northern border with Romania. The town was built on the slopes of a steep hill; we drove up its winding streets to the top.

Belogradchik Fortress 2

Belogradchik Fortress is a man-made construction set against a stunning outcrop of rocks. The combination is so unique and picturesque, that it seems to have been lifted straight out of a Disney fairy tale. The initial fortifications at the site date to Roman times, with the rocks serving as natural protective walls.

Belogradchik Fortress

Initially, Belogradchik Fortress was a surveillance post, as it overlooks an extensive area. In the 14th century, the Tsar of the nearby town of Vidin fortified the walls, extending the fortifications and building additional garrisons in the protective shadow of the rock massifs. The fortress fell to the Ottomans in 1396, and they further strengthened the stronghold.

Belogradchik Rocks 2

The Ottomans upgraded the defenses of the fortress in the early 19th Century, and they used the fortress to suppress a Bulgarian uprising in 1850. The stronghold last saw combat in the Serbo-Bulgarian War of 1885.

Belogradchik Rocks 3

More unique than the fortress is the surrounding countryside. The Belogradchik Rocks, seen from above when standing inside the fortress compound, are a stunning arrangement of strange-shaped sandstone and conglomerate rock formations. Some of these rock buttes resemble human figures, and the area is full of legends as to how they were created. Sculpted shapes form rocks known as the Madonna, and the Schoolgirl.

Belogradchik Rocks 4

To fully appreciate the beauty of the fortress and the views of the rocks, we made our way up a series of ladders. There were railings to protect us from the sharp drops down rocky cliffs. The view from above, overlooking the town and the distant mountains, was stunning.

Belogradchik Rocks

The Belogradchik Rocks were named in 2009 as Bulgaria’s candidate to be selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. The site is hardly known outside Bulgaria, and it was quite strange to walk around the fortress in the total absence of other tourists.

Ellis at Belogradchik

Bulgaria has so much to offer visitors, and it is all available at very affordable prices. The Belogradchik Fortress is just one of many amazing destinations in the country. For me, the visit to Belogradchik will always form one of my most memorable travel memories.

Thanks, Ellis!

As I mentioned,  Ellis is the author of Valley of Thracians, a suspense novel set in Bulgaria. The book is available at Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions. Ellis continues to write frequently about Bulgaria, Israel, and other interesting things at his blogEllis and Jodie’s Bulgarian Adventures.

Till next adventure, tutti, where are you planning to go this Spring Break? Perhaps not as far as Bulgaria – or maybe you’ve already been there and have a favorite memory from it as well. Would love to hear!

Safe travels – here, there and in life!

Baci, Gina

Little Adventures, One Postcard at a Time

Today’s Guest Blog “Travel Memories” series post is from my dear friend and fellow travel-writer, Lila Fox Ermel.  

constant tourist

She not only runs a luxury travel agency, and writes an incredible travel blog, The Constant Tourist,  but she makes many of her recommendations based on her and her husband Chad’s own amazing explorations and adventures. 

Lila travels with the greatest of gusto. And I’m delighted to share with you her heartfelt essay of why one of the best things about traveling – is mailing post cards back to the waiting loved ones at home.  

Take it away, Lila!

I’ve always admired the way Gina shares her love of travel with her daughter, Lulu. Incorporating travel into every aspect of her family’s lifestyle. Love it, love it. Children are such little sponges, ready to soak up every experience that is cast in front of them. For this, I’m a huge fan of exposing young children to various cultures. Whether you’re a parent or not you can share the magic and intrigue of travel with children. The simplest, coolest way that I know how is the handwritten postcard.


My grandparents were kind of non-traditional, sailing around the world in their sailboat. Growing up, my brother and I would receive postcards from their travels. We’d see them during the holidays and then they’d be off on another adventure. Some would say I missed out on a typical grandparent-grandchild relationship, but the relationship that I did have taught me from a young age that there is a big, big world out there.

As I transitioned from child to teenager, the postcards from my grandmother kept coming. They became even more special, probably because of my maturity and ability to understand the gesture. Whether she knew it or not at the time, she was fueling my desire to see the world.


So during my very first trip overseas, I remembering rounding a corner to come upon a boutique with a postcard carousel tipped out into my path as if to say, “Hello. You were looking for something?” I grabbed a stack of those cards and early the next morning, I sat in the breakfast room of our hotel next to a little open window overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In between nibbling pastries, I scribbled postcards to friends and family back home, wanting so badly to put into words what I was seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting, and experiencing. I wanted what I was writing to entice, the way that my grandmother’s words enticed me to explore faraway places.



Words can be powerful like that. That was nearly ten years ago.

Today, postcards – especially postcards to my young nieces and nephews – are just part of the deal. Also part of the deal is a special card to the grandmother that inspired me to travel in the first place.

If you have children of your own, the next time you’re all on vacation encourage them to write postcards to their friends back home. If you don’t have kids, drop a few hand-written postcards in the mail to your nieces, nephews, even your best friend’s children. It really doesn’t take much time out of your vacation, and you never know who you may be inspiring. To the point, my ten-year-old niece recently told me that she keeps the postcards I’ve sent her in a “special box.”

Enticing the next generation to explore faraway places.


Lila Fox is owner of New Orleans-based Constant Tourist Travel, a travel agency specializing in luxurious travel experiences and accommodations worldwide. Follow her on Facebook @Constant Tourist Travel & on Twitter @lilathetourist.

Thanks so much, Lila! I am sitting here at typing at my dining room table with a postcard Lulu just received from my mom – her “Gramma Sheila”  – from Hawaii – where my parents spend every February.  We, too, save our postcards. Such a simple thing, midst a world of tweeting, skyping and instant messaging, that can last and inspire for a life time.

And for more travel and life inspirations, give yourself – and friends!! – a smile by ordering my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.”  It’s adventures in parenting and life-overseas! Because we’re all travelers. 

bookcover press release (2)

If you have a travel memory or philosophy to share – please write to me and submit your guest blog post at  I look forward to it!

Until next time, Baci, tutti!



Guest blog series: “Travel Memories” #4 A Real Mystery in Istanbul

Irish author Laurence O’Bryan is a noted crime and thriller author and today’s guest blogger. 

His first novel, “The Istanbul Puzzle,” was released in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Irish crime novel in that same year. The Irish Independent said this: ‘This stylish conspiracy thriller is a Turkish delight. O’Bryan’s compelling debut thriller combines plenty of stirring action with fascinating historical detail.’

I know I’m thrilled to have him write the following mystery essay for you to ponder – and for becoming my friend. 

Now, let’s travel to Istanbul – and to the iconic Hagia Sophia.


Hagia Sophia is one of the most important buildings in the world. It has been in continuous use since the seventh century.

No other building has been the headquarters of both Sunni Islam, the seat of its last Caliphate, and before that the seat of a major Christian denomination, Orthodox Christianity. Hagia Sophia, the seat of two great religions, was turned into a museum bythe first President of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, in 1935.

Hagia Sophia was named after Sophia, Holy Wisdom, a Greek Orthodox concept that reaches back to a time before Christianity. Its present incarnation is largely the structure dedicated on the December 27th 537AD. The purpose of this post however is not to reiterate a litany of facts about Hagia Sophia, but to explore one of its greatest mysteries; what lies beneath it?

And there is a real mystery here. This is the only building designed as a great church not to have extensive and well-explored underground areas, whether they be crypts, burial chambers or catacombs.

The original Hagia Sophia church, the present building is the third, was inaugurated on the site of the current building on the 15th February 360. It was the largest church in the new capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople.

Both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, constructed at a similar time, in 326-330, and Old St. Peter’s in Rome, constructed 330-360, have original and extensive underground areas.

And the underground areas are the most sacred parts of these buildings. It seems odd to me that there are no underground areas that the public is aware of, aside from a few drainage tunnels, under Hagia Sophia.

So did the famous designers of Hagia Sophia, physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles, (known for constructing flood defences) simply forget to design underground levels for Hagia Sophia? Or is there another explanation, were the underground areas in Hagia Sophia hidden?

The Black Death was one of the most destructive epidemics ever to strike humanity. It raged in Europe around the year 1350. Constantinople was one of the largest cities on the European continent. It fell victim to the Black Death early, in 1347.

One of the first places to be used to bury victims, especially senior members of the clergy and the aristocracy would have been in any underground crypts in the Hagia Sophia complex. The complex included the hospital of Sampson, where some underground areas have been revealed within metres of Hagia Sophia.

I suggest therefore that any original crypts under Hagia Sophia may have been used for the burial of prominent plague victims. Such crypts would then have been sealed up, for obvious reasons.

A proper modern investigation, a geophysical survey using ground penetrating radar and the latest magnetometer equipment would likely reveal significant underground areas at Hagia Sophia. So far the Turkish authorities have not permitted such a project.

It is true that there has been some limited small-scale explorations under Hagia Sophia, a few narrow tunnels and cisterns have been discovered, but isn’t it time for the whole area to be properly explored and documented? The publicity, and increase in tourists alone, would justify the costs. What is everyone afraid of? Hagia Sophia has been a museum for seventy five years.


Thank you so much, Laurence. It is indeed fascinating to learn that the area under the Hagia Sophia has never been extensively explored.  And to think that when I visited it, way back in 1996, all I could think of was how much the inside of the great former mosque stank of feet – due to the fact that visitors had to remove their shoes before entering. (Note: A wonderful reader who lives in Turkey, just pointed out I made a mistake – You don’t have to take off your shoes at the H.S.  – that’s the Blue Mosque across the street. So my apologies at my poor memory!) 

To read more about mysteries in Istanbul, you can purchase Laurence’s first book by checking out your local bookstore, or going to  Laurence O’Bryan’s second book in his on-going series of mysteries, “The Jerusalem Puzzle” has recently been released and, some say, even more thrilling than the first! 

For those of you who have ever traveled to Turkey, did you visit the Hagia Sophia? What did you think?  If you have a travel story you’d like to share, mysterious or not, please write to me at I’d love to hear. 

Safe travels and happy writing.



Guest Blog Series: “Travel Memories” #3 Tomato Road Goes on Forever, and the Party Never Ends

Attention everyone, like a vibrant and spicy jambalaya, you’re in for a special treat!

Today’s guest blogger is my dear friend Joey Bunch.  Former CNN colleague and current Denver Post reporter extraordinaire – he is, in fact, a man much more compelling than any collection of biographical factoids can tell. 

Joey Bunch, Denver Post Reporter Extraordinaire
Joey Bunch, Denver Post Reporter Extraordinaire

His story of childhood in American’s deep south juxtaposed with his travels now as a reporter for a major daily is vividly funny, thought-provoking and poignant. 

Joey may be a professional writer, but he’s also a natural-born story-teller. 

Take it away! – Joey Bunch. Wandering shepherd, journalist, bon vivant – friend.

“Don’t put all the good ones in one basket,” my grandfather said as
the summer night fell on Alabama when I was 7 years old. “Give
everybody some.” The old man raised an eyebrow and smiled with one
corner of his mouth, winking with his entire face as we stocked the
truck to sell tomatoes in nearby towns the next morning. Five big
tomatoes fit the small wooden baskets that cost a dollar apiece, and
10 in the $2 baskets. I turned blemishes and flat spots toward the
bottom, the neater, the rosier, the better. I think of that planning
sometimes today when I’m packing a bag for work trip as a newspaper
reporter or my latest expedition in life.

Joey, Granny and Pop,  And yes, the dog was named "Lassie"
Joey, Granny and Pop, And yes, the dog was named “Lassie”

Sand Mountain tomatoes were regionally famous — grown on hot days and
cool nights in the rich sandy soil left by glaciers as they plowed
toward the Gulf of Mexico 300 million years ago, a journey from the
time reptiles first slithered onto land to that night, when the fruit
was readied to leave.  Our route took us to stores, curb markets and
restaurants in larger towns that had those businesses. Ours didn’t. We
had one traffic light, and it blinked continuously yellow at the
crossroads of Alabama Highway 75 and the nameless two-lane blacktop
that connected farms and people I knew like the string in a popcorn
garland at Christmas.

These were the trips that made me a vagabond soul. Going somewhere —
anywhere — to meet strangers and do business was adventure come to
life for a boy who only knew the world through a black-and-white
television screen. We left before dawn. Pop said daylight was his
favorite part of the day. The schedule put the working man ahead —
the early bird and the worm — with a lagniappe of a colored sky most
of the world chose to sleep through. We knew things about the day that
other people didn’t.

Pop had a favorite ritual. He would cut off the engine at the crest of
Sand Mountain. “Saving gas,” he would announce, pitching his voice
like a sideshow barker, as the powerless pickup coasted down the
mountainside. “We’re saving so much money we’ll be rich by supper.”
Sometimes he’d switch off the headlights, too. I clutched the
dashboard’s padding and pretended to be terrified as we sailed through
the darkness. We giggled louder and stretched out the “whoa” in
harmony around the deadly hairpin curve of Snake Gap Road.

I was endlessly curious about the people we met on the route. Where
did they go after we left? What did they do with our tomatoes? Did
they get different cartoons on their TV, and if so could I watch their

Traveling, to me, has always been about the people in small pockets of
the world and how they live – not the commuters in airplanes. Freeways
seem anything but free.  We climb inside a four-door rented rocket
ship and fire ourselves through strange lands, crossing what might as
well be empty space. We hope for satellite radio, so we won’t get
bored with AM stations with its Swap Shop or Eleanor’s weekly report
about what’s new at the library, too bored with the towns to learn
what’s the same, what’s different, or which cartoons are on their TVs.

Once on a Navajo reservation in Arizona, I stopped at a Tom Thumb
convenience store.  The  air-conditioning kissed my face as I swung
open the glass door to go inside. A B major chord thumped out
Hollaback Girl” on the store’s muzak. Everyone was Native American
with raven hair and dark skin, except for me, a twangy Southerner with
fine brown hair and a sunburned nose. The store looked exactly like
the Tom Thumb near my old house in Pensacola, Florida. The Navajo
clerk wore the same green smock as the guy from Gulf Breeze who had
sold me coffee on the way to work. I pulled a Diet Coke from the
cooler, turned around and realized, “My God, we are one world.”

Joey at the Grand Canyon
Joey at the Grand Canyon

Still today, I try to start trips before sunrise, wherever I am in the
world. It was tough that summer in Alaska, when the sun was up for 20
hours a day. In Mexico, on a long trip down the Baja Peninsula to
punctuate turning 40, I decided on a whim to turn around to go home
one morning outside Guerrero Negro. The rising sun warmed my back on a
vast white beach, as I gazed on the bluest Pacific I can imagine still
today. The surf both thundered and whispered in the tug-of-war with
the sea. I imagined it was the voice of God. I imagined it said a new
day had risen and my life was headed down a different road. The people
in town were friendly. A man asked five pesos, about 50 cents, for a
small watermelon he sold from his truck. I was bearded and a dazed
from a few days outdoors. I cracked open the melon by smashing it on
my knee. The juice hardened on my shin while I gobbled breakfast from
my hands a few feet from its provider. I wondered if he wondered about
me the way I wondered about those people in Alabama. I thought, “My
God, we are one world.”

Joey at the base of Mt. McKinley, Alaska
Joey at the base of Mt. McKinley, Alaska

I don’t believe in this “trip of a lifetime” nonsense. Your lifetime
is the sum of your trips –  people we meet near and far, and the
things we go through. Every trip we leave a little of ourselves and we
take away more. “Don’t put all the good ones in one basket,” my Pop
said. “Give everybody some.”

 Thanks, so much, Joey.  I couldn’t agree more. We all are a sum of our travels, our experiences. I often describe my life as one big patch-work quilt that (hopefully!) just keeps on getting bigger and more colorful!  If you’re out there reading this, and would like to share a travel memory and/or what traveling means to you: please write to me at 

As my new book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me” illustrates – we’re all travelers – no matter where we go!  

Love to all of us travelers,



Guest blog series “Travel Memories” #2 “Traveled with a teen – and liked it!”

Ciao, tutti!  and welcome to the second edition of my Guest Blog Series: “Travel Memories.” 

Today’s wonderful essay comes from my blog-reader, seasoned traveler and new friend, Kim Ives – an American who creates custom itineraries for world-wide travel experiences – beyond the standard travel guide.  Check out her website! 

Kim also happens to be the mom of two college students (a girl and a boy) – Whew! Here she shares a touching tale of making a lasting memory with her daughter – in London AND in Paris. 

Take it away, Kim! 

My daughter was fifteen and growing up fast. It was time to do something to capture those last moments with her before driving, dating, and college grabbed her attention. Thus, I planned a ten day trip to London and Paris for just the two of us.

Upon arriving in London, we had to do the London Eye first with its magnificent views of the city followed by a leisurely cruise down the Thames River. Dinner was al fresco in Covent Garden amid the buskers and crowds.

Busker in Covent Garden

In the following days, we saw all the sites such as the Tower of London with its dark history alongside its magnificent crown jewels. We saw iconic Big Ben,  the Tower Bridge lift up for a sailing vessel and “Romeo and Juliet” performed at the Globe Theatre. We entered St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, the sites of royal marriages, along with taking an unforgettable tour of Buckingham Palace.

Big Ben in London

We were able to slow down and relax with afternoon tea. This consisted of a pot of tea, small finger sandwiches, scones and small cakes while sitting in some of the fanciest hotels in London. How delightfully British!

Tea in London

Then, it was onto Paris via the Chunnel where you can travel nonstop under the English Channel from downtown London to downtown Paris in just a few short hours.

Paris was a delight. We spent the first evening atop the Eiffel Tower watching the sun set over the city. The local custom is to watch the Tower’s evening light show while having a picnic in the park. We had to try this before we left.

Eiffel Tower

The museums of Paris are unequalled. The Louvre, of course, holds some of the world’s finest and best-known pieces. We said hello to the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and other incredible masterpieces. We followed this with a visit to the Musee d’Orsay which had works by Renoir, Manet, Monet, Degas, and many others. Finally, we visited the home of Rodin which is now a museum and saw “The Thinker.”

Rodin's "The Thinker"

We spent one day visiting the unbelievable Palace of Versailles along with its endless gardens.

Versailles Gardens

Everywhere you looked there was gold, elaborate paintings, and mirrors. The formal gardens are unequaled in their scope and variety which has been maintained since the French Revolution.

Hall of Mirrors-Versailles

Of course a visit to Paris is not complete until you visit Notre Dame. This magnificent church with its stained glass windows, soaring interior and elaborate gargoyles is not a sight to be missed. Its placement on the Île de la Cité in the middle of the Seine makes this the center of Paris.

On trip concluded with a magnificent cruise down the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to theÎle de la Cité. While dining on French specialties such as duck ala orange, foie gras, and chocolate soufflé, we were serenaded by a live quartet. This was the perfect end to an unforgettable trip.

I got to spend ten days with my teenager in two unforgettable cities and that makes these travel memories my best.

Thanks, again, Kim!  Those days will be memories that you and your daughter can share for a lifetime. I hope Lulu and I will also one day be lovely ladies who have tea in London and a picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower together!

In the meantime, as she’s only five-years-old, I’ve chronicled the adventures and conversations we have shared thus-far in my new book, “Because I’m Small and You Love Me” available NOW for pre-order sales in the US and worldwide in just 10 short days on (appropriately) Valentine’s Day! 

Buy my book please!
Buy my book please!

How about you? Do you have a travel memory you’d like to share? With kids in tow or without! Exotic or the backyard!  Email me at 

With love for all of us travelers,