Leap Year Travel: Single ladies, get thee to Ireland!

As far as I could determine, there is only one real connection between leap year and travel, but since it also involves saints and vintage-style kitchiness, it counts as a suitable topic for a travel blog. Specifically, this travel blog.

If you’re a lady fixin’ for a gentleman in your life, I have terrific news. News which has largely been spoiled by a terrible-looking movie I didn’t see. There’s a leap year “tradition” in Ireland which states a man must accept a proposal he receives from a woman on February 29. Legend has it this was an agreement between Ireland’s patron saints, Saint Brigid and Saint Patrick to serve as a lifeline to single women withering on the vine while waiting for men to propose. Saint Patrick wanted such a travesty to occur every seven years, but hard-bargaining Saint Brigid got him down to four.

This leap year remedy for spinsterhood spread to other parts of Europe and has yielded some interesting consequences. In some cases, men who refuse these leap day proposals were subject to fines or required to purchase ladies pretty, sparkly things to atone for their rejection: a dozen pairs of gloves, silk dresses, or material for a skirt.

This tradition has also generated some pretty awesome images depicting the plight of these helpless men. Happy Leap Year!

Watch out, bachelors, the ladies are gonna get ya!
Watch out, bachelors, the ladies are gonna get ya!
Tragic spinster preys on helpless bachelor
Tragic spinster preys on helpless bachelor

Trenhotel: An Overnight Train in Spain

Update April 2015: I took the Trenhotel again in September 2014 as part of my Camino de Santiago journey, read all about my second trip!

Over a couple of months of planning, I narrowed down my preferred destinations in Spain to specific areas: Barcelona, Andalucia, and Madrid. Flying in to Barcelona and out of Madrid meant I had some options for getting from A to B. To hit all of places I wanted to go, a long-haul journey between Barcelona and Granada was inevitable. The train seemed the best option to see a lot of the country, enjoy relative comfort, arrive in the centre of town, and move around freely during the journey.

RENFE, Spain’s national railway, had a couple of options: travel all day or travel all night. It would be pricey, but not a budget-buster. Research indicated two things:

  • A small portion of tickets are nicely discounted if you buy them online in advance.
  • RENFE’s website has, well, user-friendliness challenges.

Continue reading Trenhotel: An Overnight Train in Spain

Please explain: All-inclusive resorts

Every year around this time, Canadians fly away from the unrelenting wackiness of winter to sunny spots in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Mexico, to spend their precious vacation time and kids’ March Break at an all-inclusive. Getting away from winter sounds great, but when I hear “all-inclusive resort,” I think one thing:

The last thing I want to be is a travel snob, and if there’s something fun or interesting to be had from an all-inclusive, I want to learn more. To that end, I canvassed my Facebook friends for insight. While I greatly appreciated the feedback, their responses can be sorted into several categories:

  • it’s easy
  • it’s cheap
  • you don’t have to think about it
  • if you need to zone out, do this
  • everything you need is in one place
  • it’s easy (there were so many of these, it’s going on the list twice)

All-inclusive travel is no joke. Statistics Canada international travel summaries show Mexico (1.3 million Canadian visitors), Cuba (1 million), and Dominican Republic (753,ooo) are three of the top countries visited by Canadians each year, and a combined total of CAD$3 billion in spending while in the country (2010).

I have concerns about all-inclusives:

  • I don’t have a good sense it does anything for the (mostly developing) countries
  • it sounds like you spend more time with other Westerners
  • winter travel is a pain in the (***)
  • it sounds boring

There’s nothing that’s going to get me to sit by a pool with a plastic bracelet on while other Canadians are woo-hooing all night. That’s just not going to happen. However, I’ve wanted to go to Havana since my parents did the Cuban all-inclusive back in 1990ish. I figured Cuba would provide my best shot at finding an appealing trip, while still taking advantage of the budget-friendliness of the destination. Plus, if I’m going to Cuba, it has to be before the doors open wide to Americans.

If you say so, Maraca Lady!
If you say so, Maraca Lady!

I totally understand the budget appeal and ease-of-use. Looking around online, I found deals that could be booked today, where I could be on a plane immediately. For a grand total of CAD$800, including taxes, I lined up some appealing packages that included airfare, an apartment-style hotel which includes breakfast and a pool, for seven days. Since the properties are in Havana, there are plenty of opportunities for wandering through streets of colonial architecture, museums (particularly the Museum of the Revolution), and learning to roll a few cigars. My recently-delivered March/April 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler is also helping with this terrific feature about Cuba and its charms.

So, it turns out I could find a way to be an all-inclusive convert. Now, cruises, they’re another matter entirely. If you have thoughts about either, please share them in the comments!