Shownotes for "Travel with Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show (TWSA!) with Travel Expert and Radio Talk Show Host Stephanie Abrams - MM DD, 2011
"Travel with Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show - May 29, 2011
Western Wall And Omar Mosque Jerusalem, Israel. Safe, Spiritual, and Guaranteed Tours of Israel from GoIsraelUSA and SkyLink Holidays; Irish Artist Michael Hanrahan Meets Queen Elizabeth II; President Obama's Link to Ireland Discovered in Templeharry Church, Moneygall, County Offaly, Ireland; President Obama's Visit to Moneygall, Ireland, Led By Eighth Cousin Henry Healy; Sleep in Charm and Comfort in County Offaly at Ardmore Country House Bed & Breakfast, Kinnitty, Birr, County Offaly, Ireland; See 1200 Years of Turkish History for $1200 with SkyLink Holidays.

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Hour 1

Topics Include:

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Dina Aharon, Director, Heritage & Middle East Programs, Skylink Holidays.
www.skylinkholidays.com
www.goisraelusa.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show explore a spiritual destination with Dina Aharon, Director of Heritage and Middle East Programs for GoIsraelUSA.com and SkyLinkHolidays.com. "Israel is a place that will unquestionably alter your life," says Stephanie. "For many people, a trip to Israel is only the first trip, not just THE trip."

SkyLink Holidays is the parent company of the GoIsraelUSA heritage division. "Back in 2003, the company decided to establish a heritage decision because, according to recent studies, Israel is one of the most desirable destinations worldwide among Americans," explains Dina. "Nearly 20 million Americans expressed a desire to plan a heritage tour to Israel. Basically, people want to follow their roots, explore their faith, or explore the roots of religion. So that's when we decided it was time to have one division that focused on these kinds of trips."

Israel, according to Dina, has it all: holy sites of 3 religions and a "fascinating mosaic" of new and old spiritual sites. "You can walk where Jesus walked and explore all the holy sites you read about in the Bible," says Dina, "not to mention the beautiful modern sites – the vibrant cities. Israel goes back thousands of years, but is a very Western, modern country, too. It's the size of New Jersey but has 4 seas, 4 climates, and archaeology is like a national sport! There are digs wherever you go, and every time you dig, you'll find something that's related to one of the layers of history of the country."

To ensure that everyone has access to this historic destination, GoIsraelUSA offers several different choices of accommodation. "We want everyone to enjoy our programs and be able to afford them," says Dina. "Some people can stay at 5-star hotels; others can stay in tourist-class accommodations. But all are experiencing the exact same program." Dina adds that tourism in Israel is divided evenly between travelers who want to explore the country in a group led by a guide or community leader and those who prefer to go individually.

SkyLink Holidays offers guaranteed departure tours for both kinds of travelers. "We have guaranteed departure tours twice every week," she continues. "That's how popular they are." Tours usually include stops at Bethlehem, the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth), and Tel Aviv. "You're staying in the most extraordinary spiritual places," Dina says. "And you don't need to commit to a certain day because you know that the program operates every week, every month throughout the year."

Stephanie points out that guaranteed departure tours can be a big relief for travelers. "Years ago, there was a company called TWA Getaway that was notorious for canceling tours, especially Middle East tours," she recalls. "People would sign up 9 or 10 months in advance and 2 weeks before departure, they would find out that the tour wasn't going! For many people, this meant they were not going to get vacation time for another year. Sure, they got their money back, but then they had to scramble to find something else to do." Dina adds that even if just one couple signs up for a tour – which often happens in the low season – the program will still run.

Dina has plenty of experience both in tourism and in working with American travelers. "I'm Israeli and had the privilege of working for Israel's Ministry of Tourism for 25 years," she explains. "That included diplomatic service in the U.S., so I got to know American expectations when traveling abroad. I also know the product in Israel inside and out – the hotels, the sites, and the rest. I try to know all the history related to the different sites, too, because we offer Christian, Jewish, and classic tourism, which combines different cultural aspects and nature.

"We even have Bar Mitzvah and interfaith tours, which are my favorites," Dina continues, "all of them guaranteed. People call and tell us their budget and what day they want to go. It's a turnkey solution. And because we belong to SkyLink, a big group of travel companies, we provide air and all related services. So if someone doesn't want to go on a customized tour, they can rent a car, consult with us regarding different hotels, and go explore the country on their own."

Although many Americans think of Israel as a far-off land, it's just a 14-hour flight from LA – the same length as a flight from the East Coast to Hawaii. "But the energy when you walk the streets of Jerusalem is magical," Dina says. "It's not just like walking Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. You're overwhelmed with history; the walls are talking to you." Stephanie points out that many destinations suffered during the economic crisis, but Israel was not one of them.

Dina believes it's because Israel is a dream trip for many people. "The typical traveler to Israel isn't a person with a lot of money, but someone who has saved to fulfill the dream of a lifetime," she says. "We have groups that didn't have much money to begin with. They'll go regardless of the economic situation because they feel it. One priest told me that this was one trip he hadn't planned – he felt called to go."

Dina also reassures travelers who may have safety concerns about Israel. "I was with a big group – 90 people on 2 buses – back in 2008 when the operation started in Gaza," she says. "I'm Jewish, but when I visited the Christian sites, I cried along with the visitors, because it was so moving. It was only when we arrived back at the hotel and turned on the news that we realized something had happened." Stephanie agrees, saying that the Gaza Strip has nothing to do with tourists who visit Israel.

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Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
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For more information visit www.goisraelusa.com and www.skylinkholidays.com


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Michael Hanrahan, Artist, County Clare, Ireland.
www.michaelhanrahan.net

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show hear about a royal visit Michael Hanrahan, Artist, from Lahinch, County Clare, Ireland. Although Michael calls Ireland home, he spends winters on Koh Samui, an island off the coast of Thailand, and travels the world as the artist-in-residence for Cunard Lines. He's back in Lahinch now, though, and was just invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II during her first visit to Ireland.

What did Michael think when he got an invitation to meet the Queen? "I got an email last Friday week from the Department of Foreign Affairs," he recalls, "confirming my accreditation for the royal visit. This was part of the Irish government; they were handling all the arrangements for her visit. We've had nearly 100 years to prepare for this visit, so they were well set up. It was the first royal visit since Ireland gained independence in 1922, so it was very symbolic and historic.

"For 800 years, we've had our tussles with the UK, and there have been very difficult times," Michael continues. "But the president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, felt it was the right time to invite the queen to Ireland. And 99.9% of people were overjoyed with the fact that she was coming for 4 days. When she came, she landed outside Dublin and was brought straightaway to Aras an Uachtarain, the president's residence, where she met Mary. It was an amazingly colorful occasion."

There was also plenty of symbolism to the visit. "The queen visited places like the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin, which honors the men who fought for independence in 1916," Michael explains. "Both the queen and Mary [McAleese] laid wreaths there; it was a hugely symbolic occasion. It only lasted 10 minutes, but the queen of England was there, basically honoring people who fought against British forces. She then went on to Trinity College and a state dinner in Dublin Castle. When she spoke, her first words were in Irish; tears came to people's eyes. And as she described in her speech, we cannot change the past, but we must live for today and for the future."

Michael had the privilege of attending an event for the queen along with some 1200 journalists, and believes it showed Ireland at its very best. "Despite being hard hit economically, we're a proud nation, and we intend to get through all this difficulty," he says. "The queen won many thousands of Irish people over; her visit gained momentum by the hour. When she finally arrived in Cork on her last day, there was a walkabout and she met the prime minister, who asked whether she would like to come back. And she answered that she would, and soon."

How did Michael wrangle a royal invitation? It actually started 6 weeks ago on a voyage from India to Dubai. "I was on the Queen Mary II, Cunard's largest liner, when I heard about the queen coming to Ireland," he recalls. "So I wrote to Buckingham Palace. It took a little bit of time, but I suppose the connection with Cunard gave me an added edge. And last Friday I got the email to say that I was in and to get my paints, pencils, and sketchbooks ready and get to Dublin! I'm busy now in my studio in Ennistymon, producing 3 paintings to record the visit. I hope to have them up on my website very soon."

Not only did Michael just travel from India to Dubai; in the last 12 months, he's been to South Africa, South American, the Caribbean, New York, Greece, Turkey, Singapore, Thailand, and Egypt, thanks to his position as artist-in-residence with Cunard. On board, Michael is given a stateroom and treated as a full fare-paying passenger. In exchange, he teaches watercolor painting every day from 10 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 4 p.m. Each cruise is 3 to 4 weeks long, and Michael takes 2 or 3 cruises each year.

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Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3448

For more information visit www.michaelhanrahan.net


Guests Include:

Dina Aharon, Director, Heritage & Middle East Programs, Skylink Holidays.
www.skylinkholidays.com
www.goisraelusa.com

Michael Hanrahan, Artist, County Clare, Ireland.
www.michaelhanrahan.net

Hour 2

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Canon Stephen Neill, Rector, Templeharry Church, County Offaly, Ireland.
www.paddyanglican.com
www.modreeny.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show learn about the heritage of 'President O'Bama' with Canon Stephen Neill, Rector of Templeharry Church in County Offaly, Ireland. Stephen was the lucky man who found documents connecting President Barack Obama's family to the village of Moneygall in County Offaly, which is one of the midland counties.

"The story started in 2007 with an email from a researcher in Salt Lake City, working on behalf of ancestry.com," Stephen recalls. "They were looking for information on the Kearneys of Moneygall – there was a tombstone in Ohio that mentioned the family had come from the village. So they were doing a hoovering operation, calling all the churches to try to find the one where the family had worshipped. They asked to look through my records and they hit pay dirt. It was a huge thrill when I realized what I had in my hands; I was aware of Obama's potential and knew he was a rising star."

Though it's not unusual for Americans to have Irish connections, Stephen says there was no local knowledge of any link to Obama's family. The discovery was made after researchers worked backwards from the tombstone in Ohio. Eventually, the trail led to Moneygall, where the president's 4th great-grandparents baptized their three children: Marianne, William, and Falmouth, who was actually baptized as Timothy. Records at Templeharry Church gave the family's occupation as shoemakers.

Templeharry Church is about 2 miles down the road from the village of Moneygall, in what Stephen describes as a "very isolated rural location." He adds that the name 'Templeharry' means 'house on a hill' or 'house on a rock,' which fits the church's spot on a hill on top of a rock. The church is also close to the little town of Ballantemple. How do you get to Ballantemple? "You find Moneygall, which is on the main Dublin-Limerick road – the old road, as opposed to the motorway," says Stephen. "You turn right at the end of Moneygall, then turn left after about 2 miles and you'll be at Templeharry Church."

Stephen adds that as part of the preparations for the president's visit, most of the local roads received upgrades. "There's not a pothole in the area, and all the markings were redone," he says. "In Moneygall, the whole town was repainted – they had all the paint donated – and the same company sent painters to redo the church. Ulster Carpets gave us new carpets, but we had so many offers, it was so nice. There's just a wonderful community spirit here; people still have time for each other. We saw that in the leadup to the presidential visit – people found a story to gather around and share."

Another happy discovery about the president's relations was that they came from both Anglican and Catholic families, which, according to Stephen, helped unite the community even more around the visit. "I had a conversation with the First Lady during the visit," Stephen says, "when we were looking at the records together. She observed that while it's extraordinary that the president found his Irish roots, it's also an illustration of how we're all interconnected throughout the world and how important it is to remember that – finding richness in diversity rather than something negative. The more we all bring to the party, the richer we are."

Finding the Kearneys' records in Templeharry Church reveals a little-known side of the Irish-American connection. The church is affiliated with the Church of Ireland, which is the Irish equivalent of the Church of England. "It wasn't just a Catholic movement from Ireland to the U.S.," Stephanie points out. "Clearly there was tremendous persecution of Catholics in Ireland, but there were many from other churches, too. If you go to the Ulster American Folk Park, you can find out which emigrants had Protestant roots. You know all the names, but until you go there, you don't make that connection."

How did Stephen actually find the documents on the Kearney family? "When I got the call, the documents were in the home of a parishioner who had died a month previously – the custodian of our parish records," he explains. "His son recovered the documents for me. There were two ledgers, one quite large, with the binding falling asunder. But it's going off for rebinding shortly." Stephanie advises Stephen not to leave the ledger overnight, lest it mysteriously disappear.

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Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3843

For more information visit www.paddyanglican.com and www.modreeny.com


Link to this segment

Henry Healy, Eigth Cousin to the Forty Fourth United States of America President Barack Obama, Moneygall, County Offaly, Ireland.

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show follow the trail of 'President O'Bama' with Henry Healy of Moneygall, County Offaly, Ireland. Henry Healy is the 8th cousin of the president, but only learned about the connection recently. "Back in 2007, ancestry.com discovered a connection between the then-Senator Obama and the Kearney family in Moneygall," Henry explains. "I knew there were Kearneys in my family history as well, so I looked at the dossier and made the link.

"It was actually an uncle of mine who kept records," Henry continues. "If not for that, and the records in the family home in Moneygall – which has been in the family since 1750 – I wouldn't have been able to make the connection." Although the records indicate that the Kearneys of old were shoemakers, Henry himself works in account management for a local company. When President Obama came to visit County Offaly, however, Henry had the chance to play tour guide.

"On St. Patrick's Day, the president announced his intentions to come to Moneygall," Henry recalls. "Then he actually visited on 23 May. I was informed a week prior that I would be among those greeting the president and that it would be my duty – my honor! – to bring him through the village of Moneygall and make sure he saw the sites that were important to his ancestors."

What was it like to introduce Obama to Ireland? "It was unbelievable," Henry says. "To be perfectly honest, I was a little bit nervous going down to the greeting area. As I was going down, though, there were 3,000 people – friends and family – lining the streets waiting for the president. As I walked down, they started chanting my name and clapping. My nerves calmed when I knew I had that many people cheering me on to shake the hand of the president!

"I said, 'Mr. President, welcome back to your ancestral home,'" Henry continues. "And he said, 'I believe you're my cousin, Henry. From now on, you're Henry the Eighth' and gave me a hug. The First Lady said I was definitely family; I had the same height and build as the president. Then we started greeting the crowd, walked a little ways along, and came to the ancestral home from which Falmouth Kearney left in 1850. The president was more than delighted to step inside, on the same floor that his ancestors had left behind here.

"It's amazing that you can come back to Ireland and be able to trace your roots after 160 years or be able to walk back into the same building," Henry adds. "It's fascinating to be able to do that. I think it's one of the great things about my country." From the home, the Obamas and Henry visited a souvenir shop, where the couple purchased gifts for their daughters and locally made Shannonbridge pottery for the First Lady's mother. "That made a nice gift for the most powerful man in the world to give to his mother-in-law," Henry remarks.

The Moneygall home that once belonged to the Kearneys was actually vacant until the president announced his visit to Ireland. "The house had been leased for many years, but it was between tenants," says Henry. "So work began to restore it to the way it would have been in the 1850s, on the off chance that he might want to go in. On the walls, there's an artist's impression of the house as it would have been. It's a 2-room bungalow with a thatched roof. The original 4 walls are still standing, but from the front of the house, you can see the supports for a second story that was later added."

The house is on the main street of Moneygall, a few stores down from Ollie Hayes pub, where the president famously shared a pint of Guinness with the locals. "It was a really relaxed atmosphere," says Henry. "It was as though the president was off duty and had really come back home. Seeing him going around and chatting to everyone, it really was part of Irish pub culture. We're always sitting around chatting with family and friends; it's a great social atmosphere to meet and greet with everybody.

"So he definitely experienced the atmosphere of a rural Irish pub, and we had some traditional music to raise the glass by and call out 'slainte!'" continues Henry. He was also impressed by the president's Irish. "It was amazing that his Irish was so good," he says. "We were intrigued by his way of pronouncing it, following after the queen who also had sound-perfect Irish the week before. It's amazing, the interest in the native tongue and taking the time to learn it."

Related Photo Galleries:
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Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
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Guests Include:

Canon Stephen Neill, Rector, Templeharry Church, County Offaly, Ireland.
www.paddyanglican.com
www.modreeny.com

Henry Healy, Eigth Cousin to the Forty Fourth United States of America President Barack Obama, Moneygall, County Offaly, Ireland.

Hour 3

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Christina Byrne, Owner, Admore Country House, B&B, Kinnitty, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland.
www.kinnitty.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show discover a midlands county with Christina Byrne, Owner of Ardmore Country House Bed & Breakfast in Kinnitty, Birr, County Offaly, Ireland. "If you came to Ireland, made a figure 8 around the country, and think you saw Ireland, you probably had a wonderful time and saw wonderful things," Stephanie says. "But you haven't even scratched the surface. We've probably driven 30,000 to 40,000 miles in Ireland and we're still discovering new things – and it's a teeny tiny country!"

One of Stephanie's new discoveries is the Ardmore Country House, a bed and breakfast just down the road from the village that President Obama just visited. Christina taught home economics at a secondary school before starting the B&B 17 years ago. "I did some traveling and then bought this house, which was built in 1840," she says. "I've been working on turning it into a B&B. It's taking off now because people are coming back more and more. It takes a while to get known, but when you do, it pays off."

Christina is originally from a town 20 miles from Kinnitty on the River Shannon. "I used to drive past this old house and say that if it was ever for sale, I would buy it," she says. "It's a doctor's residence dating back to 1840. And I liked the village, too; it's like a little slice of old Ireland. The architecture is very nice, plus we have the cairn just across the road that was built as a burial chamber in the 1800s for a family. We're also at the foot of the Shingle Mountains, which is a great area for walking. I'm into Irish music, so of a night, we'll get together in a pub and listen."

Ardmore Country House has 4 bedrooms over 2 floors and can sleep 10 people. "It's a country house, and decorated in that style," Christina explains. "We have a turf fire where guests can sit around and have a chat. And all the food I use is local; there's organic cheese that's made just down the road. [First Lady] Michelle Obama was very fond of that cheese and had some sent out to her."

Further afield, daring travelers can visit Leap Castle (pronounced 'lepp'), supposedly Ireland's most haunted castle. "Leap Castle was once the home of the O'Carrolls, one of which became a signatory of the Declaration of Independence: Charles O'Carroll," says Christina. "This was once the family's area when there were chieftains locally. There's some history about one of the brothers murdering another – who was a priest – at the altar.

"And another story has them hiring mercenaries to do battle for them," she continues. "They won the battle, but they had no money to pay. So they gave them a nice dinner, something to drink, and threw them all into the murder hole, which was a hole that had spikes sticking out. A bag of bones was taken out of there later. There's also a lady and little girl who are said to haunt the castle. But now, Sean Ryan is the owner; he's a very good football player and delighted to give people the story of the ghosts they've encountered."

Guests of the Ardmore Country House can take walks in the Slieve Bloom mountains, where there are plenty of short trails and 1 to 2-hour walks. Christina recommends a visit to the gardens of Birr Castle, which once housed a telescope that was the largest in the world for 75 years. Dublin company Martello Media is currently working on an exhibit there, which Stephanie is eager to visit. Though the gardens are open to the public, the castle is not, as the Rosse family still lives there.

Other area attractions include Lough Boora Parklands, an old peat bog that has since been flooded and used as a nature preserve. Visitors can enjoy walking and bike tracks through the reserve. Christina also suggests a visit to Ballinahown, a craft village featuring local work from Westmeath- and Offaly-based artists. "A lot of the sculptures there are made from bog oak or bog pine," she says. "These are pieces of trees that were preserved in the peat and dug out when they cut peat to burn." Ballinahown itself is close to Clonmacnoise, a monastic site that dates back to the year 550. Many of Ireland's high kings are buried there.

Ardmore Country House is near the Tullamore Dew heritage center as well. "It gets its name from D.E. Williams, one of the owners who started the distillery there," Christina explains. "So it's the home of Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey and Irish Mist liqueur. After a tour of the heritage center, which shows how the whiskey was made and the history of the town, you can have a taste of some of the nice mountain dew!"

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Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
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For more information visit www.kinnitty.com


Link to this segment

Dina Aharon, Director, Heritage  & Middle East Programs, GoIsraelUSA.com, SkyLinkholidays.com. 
www.goisraelusa.com

www.skylinkholidays.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travel With Stephanie Abrams!" Radio Show finish the hour with Dina Aharon, Director of Heritage and Middle East Programs for GoIsraelUSA.com and SkyLinkHolidays.com. In addition to tours of Israel, SkyLink Holidays offers programs in other Middle East destinations, including Jordan and Turkey. Stephanie suggests combining a trip to Israel with a trip to one of these other destinations, since travelers are already in that part of the world.

"When you go to Turkey, you're going back 1200 years, back to the sultanates, the Crusades, the Byzantines, you name it," says Dina. "You can have a tour of Turkey just following the 7 churches or following the letters from St. Paul praising the early believers for their faithfulness. It's not just about culture, religion, or roots, but about nature, too. Imagine the city of Cappadoccia, one of the world's natural wonders. It's a very unique place where the work of men blends into the natural surroundings. Or imagine overlooking the Bosphorus. There are so many places and cities to see."

SkyLink Holidays offers 5 to 10 night trips to Turkey, with guaranteed departures from the U.S. every week. "We want to accommodate everyone, so you can decide to focus on culture, nature, religion, or a combination," she says. "It starts at $1200 for a package – and you're exploring 1200 years of history!" Why should travelers choose SkyLink Holidays over other tour companies? "What we have, on top of our knowledge of destinations and the right product, is that we cater to each traveler," Dina explains. "After 30 years in the business, we have passion. And we have the buying power of a big company that's been in the industry and can get the best value for money."

Stephanie adds that, in addition to being a multi-billion-dollar company, SkyLink is known for having experienced staff in every destination. "Pick the destination and you'll find someone at the company who really knows their stuff," she says. Dina believes this is what makes the company so strong. "People at SkyLink come from the place and know how long it takes to get from one site to another," she says. "Our manager from Mexico is from Mexico, knows the country, and knows where you should be going. That's our added value. In the era of the Internet, you can search and get all the information you want, but if you don't speak to a person, how do you really know what you're doing?"

Related Photo Galleries:
Coming Soon!

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3847

For more information visit www.goisraelusa.com and www.skylinkholidays.com


Guests Include:

Christina Byrne, Owner, Admore Country House, B&B, Kinnitty, Birr, Co. Offaly, Ireland.
www.kinnitty.com

Dina Aharon, Director, Heritage  & Middle East Programs, GoIsraelUSA.com, SkyLinkholidays.com. 
www.goisraelusa.com

www.skylinkholidays.com

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