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A Look at Dracula’s Castle

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Bran Castle in Transylvania is the tourist attraction also known as “Dracula’s Castle“. Although there are other Romanian castles that have as much of a connection with Vlad III and Bram Stoker, Bran is the one marketed as such.

Whether or not this structure has anything to do with Dracula, it HAS seen a bit of history, beginning with the Teutonic Knights in 1212. By the 1400’s the fortress was used in defense against the Ottoman Empire. It later acted as a WWI hospital and remained a royal residence until the communists seized the property in 1948. It is said that the structure lacks bathroom facilities because they were ripped out during this time. So, it’s not perfect.

In 1956, the communists transformed the castle into a museum but it was in terrible disrepair. Restoration began in 1987 and was finally finished by 1993. By 2009, the castle was returned to it’s rightful heirs Archduke Dominic, Archduchess Maria Magdalena and Archduchess Elisabeth. It was reported earlier this year that the castle was placed on the market to the tune of $80m.

Other possible Dracula Castles include Poenari Castle and Corvin Castle.

But enough talk. Let’s look at pictures!

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Fitzpatrick, Dublin. Redrum.

Fitzpatrick, Dublin. Redrum. published on 1 Comment on Fitzpatrick, Dublin. Redrum.

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Our final stop on the Irish castle tour was Fitzpatrick Castle in Dublin. After thinking each hotel got better as the trip when on, we went backwards with this one.

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Fitzpatrick was probably once a grand hotel but it’s my impression that it’s seen better days. My thought is that Dublin has more competition that the other areas we stayed, so Fitzpatrick may have lost some business to the modern boutique hotels. That being said, they still do get business. It just seems like they are trying to save money.

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Our room was a bit run down. Nothing like the website photo above. More like something out of the 1980’s rather than 1880’s. My husband thought it was an old school hotel box room without any flow. He also insisted that this was the kind of place that Dublin businessmen used for affairs. Not sure if he meant a “by the hour” hotel as much as an impressive place to have a shag with one’s mistress.

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We were supplied coffee (yeah, instant) and tea in the room but we suspected that the “bottled” water was tap as it was refillable bottles. What’s the point when we could go to the sink and fill a glass ourselves? No hair conditioner or moisturizer. I also had gotten used to the robes and slippers in the other hotels and was bummed to have to walk around butt naked until I had enough coffee to dress myself. There were crazy passwords and codes on the free wifi. Who do they think is going to come and steal their bandwidth?? Electrical U.S. adapters, supplied for free at other hotels, were being sold, but they were out of them at the time. The pool required a bathing cap that had to be purchased if you didn’t have one.

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After being spoiled in EVERY hotel along our journey, the staff at this one couldn’t be bothered. The dinner and breakfast servers kept us waiting to a point that we wondered if we should walk out. It was the only time I felt right about this non-tipping culture in Ireland. The chamber maid grunted when we said “Good morning”. Hey, at least she didn’t ignore us. We moved our own bags around without being asked if we needed help…which was fine for me! The front desk clerk was nice enough.

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With exception of the first Shining photo that I took, all of these photos, like those of the other accommodations, are from the hotel’s website. Looks like we got stuck with the only shoddy room in this joint. We didn’t get to use the spa facilities so I can’t comment on that. Looked nice from the window overlooking the pool.

Here’s why Fitzpatrick can get away with it: Unlike the other castle hotels, this is located in a city where you wouldn’t be hanging around the hotel anyway. We used it as a place to crash, that’s all. It’s located in one of the better “suburban” neighborhoods in Dublin, right next to a wonderful park where we hiked up the hill to get a fabulous view of the city. The Dart (train) is within walking distance to get into city center and explore Dublin. Taxis are about €30 to get to center so make sure to catch the last bus or train back or it can be pricey.

Here’s my rundown of the entire Irish castle package tour: Would have been better if we flew directly to Shannon and skipped Dunboyne. Two nights at Glenlo, 2 nights in Dromoland, two nights somewhere else in city center of Dublin. You can’t use the rental car in the city. Worse than Manhattan. Fly home from Dublin. Maybe I’ll become a travel agent in my next life.

Dromoland:Now THAT’S a Castle!

Dromoland:Now THAT’S a Castle! published on 3 Comments on Dromoland:Now THAT’S a Castle!

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The Irish castle tour continues. It’s as if each one gets better as they go along, although Dromoland Castle in County Clare will be a tough one to beat. It’s clear that this one is da shit as you pull up to the gorgeous main entrance where not one, but two bell hops literally run out to greet you.

Sucker for the fine architecture that I am, I’ve gotta say that the quality of service here actually made me a bit uncomfortable. I’m not sure if it’s something I could get used to. From the bellhops who wouldn’t let me carry my own bag to the wait staff who had to pour my coffee for me in the dining room, this place is a challenge for the self reliant sort. Not that I’m complaining. I’m just not used to it.

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That being said, one night was not enough for this place. I could have put up with the discomfort of having people wait on me hand and foot for another day or oh, a week would have been nice. There’s much to do at this hotel. There’s an awesome looking spa that we didn’t get to use. There are about 400 acres of property where we took a 30 minute walk before we left. Golf is a big thing here. The tennis courts would have been great during good weather.

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Staying indoors isn’t the worst thing in the world. Much of the woodwork and paintings are reproductions but still amazing quality. Between the stained glass and vaulted ceilings and stone walls, I couldn’t keep my jaw off the ground.

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Dinner was worth the splurge. Not $2000 bottle of wine splurge but you can get away with cheapo bottles for around 50 bucks. The food was incredible and I was delighted to find a separate vegetarian menu. Again, service was over the top. We had about 4 servers on our table.

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If it was up to me, the rooms would have been dark and antique. I can see that they don’t want to depress people though. The decor reminded me of a tween girl’s room with the painted white traditional style furniture. It was all very comfortable. They even had a US outlet near the desk. My one complaint is that there was no coffee or tea in the room…not even instant! I guess that’s because they don’t want their guests lifting a finger to do something for themselves, but I was too cheap to pay for the €6.50 room service charge so I suffered until everyone was ready for breakfast.

So here’s the deal. If you ever find yourself on this side of Ireland, I suggest you make an effort to stay here. If you take one of these package tours, do an extra night extension for Dromoland. That place is stellar!

Glenlo Abbey, Galway

Glenlo Abbey, Galway published on 2 Comments on Glenlo Abbey, Galway

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Firstly, I’d like to let it be known that I do not travel in style. A cheap motel is sufficient for me as it’s an upgrade from my backpacking days of staying in crowded hostels.

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Common areas of the hotel above and below.

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Last night we stayed at Glenlo Abbey in Galway, thanks to a discounted package deal. The 5 star hotel is a step up from County Meath’s Dunboyne “Castle” of our first night…and not because it’s got that one extra star but because it’s actually a historic property.

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The view from our room (overlooking the parking lot) is the amazing grounds with the River Corrib in the distance. If golfing is your thang, this is a great place to be. Since we don’t golf, a muddy walk down to the river and a run back before the next rain was sufficient.

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The biggest bummer was that the Pullman Restaurant is currently closed for the season. The antique train car restaurant doesn’t have heat or air conditioning so it only opens when the weather is perfect…which is never in Ireland. I so wanted to eat here!

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We went for a pre-dinner drink in the bar downstairs that looked like a dungeon. I mean “dungeon” in the best possible sense. I would live in a dungeon if I could!

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Dinner was in the abbey instead of the usual restaurant because of a private event. We thought this would be way cooler than dining in just the restaurant, but the wait staff must have been concentrating on the event and we ended up with the gardener or bell hop as our waiter. Whatever he was, he wasn’t a waiter and this vegetarian ended up tasting some liver dish. Ugh! Smooth out the consistency and slap some fancy name on it, but this old Jew can still recognize chopped liver after 27 years. Anyhoo, this fella was nice enough and the food was ok once they got the dishes right.

So, this hotel gets a thumbs up from me. Decor kind of reminds me of Mohonk Mountain House. Very helpful staff too!

Duboyne Castle, County Meath

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As promised, reporting on the castles of Ireland as we crash at these hotels. Ok, Dunbyne Castle….NOT a castle!! WTF? Why call it a castle?

There is an old manor house on the property, but the hotel itself is just a modern facility. Sure, it’s nice. A highly rated hotel with a great spa and an even better restaurant where we had dinner last night.

Lovely staff. Clean. Nice sized rooms. Not a castle.

So, although these accommodations provided a relaxing first night after a sleepless flight, it was a disappointment for a “castle” package.

Oh and PS: I know Ireland is a tea drinking country, but a 4 star hotel with instant coffee in the rooms? I’ve had better at Days Inn.

Today we move on to Galway where the place better be a historic property!

Irish Castles

Irish Castles published on 4 Comments on Irish Castles

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So, tomorrow I’m off to Ireland to visit the in-laws. This time, instead of staying at the mother in law’s house in Dublin, I grabbed a package deal that includes castle accommodations.

Groupon alerted me to a great package trip via email but the crappy thing about Groupon is that they get you all excited only to find out the deal is sold out when you go to book it. Well, Aer Lingus was offering a similar Irish Castle package, so screw you, Groupon.

Since November in Ireland is pretty dreary and we’ll be schlepping around the countryside with an 87 year old with two bad hips, I’m thinking that I may actually be able to keep up with the blog. Check in this week for irregular postings on castle designs, renovations and garden ideas (no post tomorrow).

That is….if there’s wifi and I’m not out actually enjoying my vacation.

See back home next Wednesday!

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Silo House

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People convert churches and barns into homes, but a silo? Why not? I was adoring this listing when I saw it last month but Shandaken is out of my 2 hour radius so I didn’t even go look at it. It may already be off the market as the only thing I can pull up is an old listing. Oh, but let’s swoon over the pictures anyway, shall we?

The silo house is only 750 square feet of claustrophobia but sits on nearly eight acres. It was built in 1975 and taxes are only $1379! It’s located about three miles from Belleayre Ski Center. Sweet. Oh yeah, it’s $158k. Not bad.

Crown Heights North House Tour

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What’s better than looking at internet house porn? Participating in house porn! Yes, all you house whores, it’s time for the 5th Annual Crown Heights North House Tour!

When? Saturday, October 1. 11am-4pm

Where? The kick off ceremony and breakfast starts at 10:45 at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church. Brooklyn Avenue and St. John’s Place.

What? A self guided tour of nine homes, one church, one community garden and a nonprofit location.

Tix? $20 in advance, available at Barbara’s Flowers, 615 Nostrand Avenue and Yanatiba,714 Washington Avenue or on-line from Crown Heights North Association. Tickets can be purchased for $25 at door on October 1st.

Goodbye, Dream Home

Goodbye, Dream Home published on 2 Comments on Goodbye, Dream Home

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In a few hours we’ll be closing on the sale of our Beacon house. Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated that I’ll have one less headache. You know the saying “The more you own, the more it owns you”. We’ll take weekends off instead of working on the house and we’ll buy toys for ourselves because we won’t be paying two mortgages. It’s all good!

I can’t help but feel a bit melancholic though. This was our dream house and it took us a long while to arrive at a place where we were able to afford our perfect house. We thought we would stay forever. We stayed for six years.

So, goodbye huge backyard. Goodbye spectacular antique woodwork. And stained glass. And awesome wrap around porch. So long, pocket doors. Turret.

It’s not you that we’re leaving, House. Don’t feel bad. As of today, you’ll get a fresh blast of love from someone new. If we could transplant you to Brooklyn, we would. But alas, it isn’t to be. We needed to be back in the city at this time.

We are fortunate enough to be living in another architectural dream of ours: The Brownstone.

But between you and I, House, Queen Anne Victorian trumps narrow brownstone living any day of the week.

I’ll miss you! 🙁

PS: I’m keeping the logo.

Crown Heights North House Tour

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The 4th annual Crown Heights North house tour is this Saturday, October 2nd. There are 8 houses and two churches this year. A St. Marks Avenue mansion that most people thought was unsalvageable will be included. It’s still a work in progress and the committee promises it is spectacular.  Other fab homes include the double duplex Kinko house, an American classic Colonial Revival, a new house that rose in an old shell, plus more.

Meet at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, at 991 St. Johns Place, on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue. Representatives of various city agencies and local non-profit groups will be on hand to answer questions. There will also be local vendors selling crafts, art, books, and other products.

The Tour kicks off at 10:00 am with a welcoming ceremony. The self guided tour commences from 11-4pm, rain or shine.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Tickets will be on sale at Barbara’s Flowers, 615 Nostrand Avenue, Brownstone Books, 409 Lewis Avenue and online.

Lefferts Manor House Tour on Sunday!

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When people think of the antique housing stock Brooklyn has to offer, they usually think of the brownstones. Or the Victorians in Ditmas. But Lefferts Manor historic district in Prospect Lefferts Gardens is all that and more. It has been described by NYC Landmarks Preservation as one of the finest “enclaves of late 19th- and early 20th-century housing in New York City”.

Tucked away right in the heart of Brooklyn, it’s what us old timers used to refer to as Flatbush, along with a gazillion other neighborhoods. The housing stock consists mainly of single family homes that were never used as rooming houses because of a covenant.

The 2010 house tour, sponsored by The Lefforts Manor Association is this Sunday, May 23rd from noon to 5pm. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door.

There are nine homes on the tour ranging in various architectural style and interior design. It’s an excellent way to steal ideas for your own home projects! If that’s not enough for you, there will be music, refreshments and wine.

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

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Four months ago we embarked on a major renovation to get our Beacon house on the market by Spring. April 30th is the target date. We went over room by room, taking up some floors and taking down some walls. Nobody thought we would be ready in time, including (especially) the broker.

“That’s a tall order!” “April?! Good luck!” “That’s impossible.”

Ha! They don’t know who they’re dealing with. We are rocking this house and kicking it’s gorgeous ass into shape! So much so, that we have to get out of here quick because it’s so museum-like that’s it’s no longer habitable by slobs like us.

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Behold the three downstairs rooms that are totally finished. Yeah, I know you’ve seen them, but I changed stuff around and took new pictures. All but one of the upstairs rooms will be finished today. It’s just a matter of me cleaning them up enough to take pictures.

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Yes, we moved the dining area to the room just off the kitchen. Makes more sense than the way we had it.

Go ahead, tell us how great we are. Pat us on the back.

Oh, and PS: Dimas the contractor? Ever since he and his assistant John read my blog post about how slow as shit he is….they picked up the pace!!

Wilma! It’s the Flintstone House!

Wilma! It’s the Flintstone House! published on 2 Comments on Wilma! It’s the Flintstone House!

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To this day, my favorite cartoon is The Flintstones. Yeah, I’m even more fond of them than The Simpsons or South Park or Ren and Stimpy. It’s been a dream of mine to live in a stone house in a town like Bedrock and have a husband like Fred. (Actually, I had a crush on Barney as a kid.)

Anyhoo, there’s a house in Portugal that was built in 1974 (AD) that very much resembles our beloved house of flint stone. In recent years it’s become a tourist attraction and magnet for burglars. (not Kissing Burglars) So much so that the house now has bullet proof windows and a steel door.

And yes, the house does have log and stone interiors!

Via Treehugger. Check out the video if you can speak Portuguese.

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Cave Home in Danger of Foreclosure

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I’ve always wanted to live in a cave! Even more so than in a trailer. The Sleeper family are in danger of losing their Missouri cave dwelling because they took a 5 year adjustable mortgage, which is due this year. The bank won’t let them refinance and so their story goes just like every other foreclosure in the country.

Anyway, they put the 17000 square foot house on Ebay with a starting bid of $300k. What they’re really looking for is an investor who will let them stay there. They’ve had so many hits and inquiries already that it caused their Caveland website to temporarily go kaput.

If the cave was located in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn, I’d totally beg, borrow and steal to get my hands on it. But alas, it’s in Festus, Missouri.

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