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Two of Donegal’s best chill-out spots

November 4, 2013 1 comment

County Donegal – in the northwest of Ireland – was formerly known as Ireland’s ‘forgotten county’. Even though it’s becoming a more popular destination, there’s still not much choice when it comes to accommodation. Here are two of the best bases from which to explore this remote and spectacular part of Ireland.

Base 1: Southern Donegal

Lough Eske Castle, Donegal's only five-star hotel sits on 43 acres of woodland with the Blue Stack mountains in the background.

Lough Eske Castle, Donegal’s only five-star hotel sits on 43 acres of woodland with the Blue Stack mountains in the background.

The only five-star hotel in Donegal, Lough Eske Castle outside Donegal Town, combines an antique ambiance with all mod cons; its stunning location and top service have earned it a place in the World’s Best Luxury Country Hotels.

The castle is owned by Pat Doherty – a local Donegal man who purchased the castle ruins in 2007 and spent EUR 40 million restoring it to its former glory – and run by US-based Solis Hotels. Driving up the winding entrance to the castle, it’s hard to believe that, in 2006, the hotel was just a ruin with trees growing through the walls.

Lough Eske Castle is perched close to the shores of Lough Eske – which is not a particularly well-known lake in Ireland but is one of the few places where you can fish for arctic char.

“If you’re lucky enough to make a catch, the hotel’s chef will smoke it for you and you can eat it the next day,” says Mark Knox, Sales Coordinator.

For active visitors, there are plenty of hillwalking trails around the hotel in the Blue Stack mountains and 12 golf courses within a one-hour drive. The famous Slieve League sea cliffs, pretty Donegal Town, dolphin safaris are all within an hour drive.

After a long hike, fishing trip or sightseeing, unwind by the fireplace with an Irish whiskey.

After a long hike, fishing trip or sightseeing, unwind by the fireplace with an Irish whiskey.

To wind down and warm up from the crisp Donegal weather, enjoy the spa with its Ogra products made from peat which has body preserving qualities. Or savour a Connemara peat-smoked whiskey beside the fireplace in one of the castle’s cozy living rooms. Or, enjoy the sumptuous afternoon tea as it were in the old days.

Lough Eske Castle opened at the peak of the Irish recession but according to Knox, business is going up. “Donegal traditionally didn’t get many tourists but this is starting to change, now people are coming again.”

So what makes Lough Eske Castle stand out from any other Irish castle hotel experience? Without a question, it’s the friendliness and professionalism of the staff which is trained to ‘Serve from the heart’

Base 2: Northern Donegal

Once you have discovered the sights of southern Donegal County, it’s time to head to the most northerly part of Ireland.

The cozy family-run Rathmullan House on the shores of Lough Swilly.

The cozy family-run Rathmullan House on the shores of Lough Swilly.

On the banks of Lough Swilly, you’ll find Rathmullan House, a family-run country-style house with landscaped lawns, old world charm and direct access to a long sandy beach.

The property was built in 1820 as a summer residence for Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Knox but was later purchased by a wealthy banking family from Belfast. The current owners – the Wheeler family – bought it in 1962.

Now, your first impression – like ours – might be of disappointment when you step foot inside as the furnishings and décor have not changed much in the past forty years so don’t expect modern or designer-style perfectionism despite the quite pricey room rates. Instead, it’s all about slightly worn wallpaper, antique furniture and creaky floorboards.

However, once you have admired the landscaped lawns, the sun setting over the long golden beach, and enjoyed chatting on a sofa by the fireplace with your fellow guests over a nightcap, you’ll feel the stress lifting and your mood changing.

We met two lovely elderly ladies from Dublin – Maureen and Rosaleen – who have been coming to Rathmullan House every year for the past 25 years since their husbands passed away. They were thrilled to share their memories and give us tips on the local art galleries and sights.

The beauty of Rathmullan House is that time stands still and you can reconnect with yourself and your fellow guests. The location is a fantastic base to explore attractions like the Fanad Head, Glenveagh National Park and Derry City.

After four nights spent enjoying the beach, swimming pool, good massages and tennis court, and exploring the vicinity with long chats in the evening about our adventures, we were ready to venture back into our hectic ‘9-5’ world again.

The Slieve League cliffs in southwestern Donegal are amongst the most spectacular sea cliffs in Europe.

The Slieve League cliffs in southwestern Donegal are amongst the most spectacular sea cliffs in Europe.

Conquer your fear of flying

November 4, 2013 Leave a comment
Fear of flying courses, hynotherapy, red wine and Rescue Remedy are just some of the 'cures' to help anxious passengers.

Fear of flying courses, hypnotherapy, red wine and Rescue Remedy are just some of the ‘cures’ to help anxious passengers.

The doors and seatbelts are fastened. The crew is halfway through the safety demonstration. Do you get an adrenalin rush at the thought of being 10,000 metres high in less than ten minutes? Or, is your heart racing and your palms sweating at the thought of putting your life in the hands of the guys in the cockpit?

Read the full article published in The Sunday Times, October 27, 2013

The mystery around hypnotherapy

November 3, 2013 1 comment

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Part of the problem with hypnotherapy is that people don’t understand it. “It doesn’t mean I will transport you into a comatose state of mind and control your mind and thoughts,” says Deborah Marshall-Warren, who has been in the business for 17 years and written two books on the subject. Increasingly, hypnotherapy is becoming a popular treatment for mental and physical conditions.

Why is hypnotherapy becoming more popular?
Marshall-Warren:
Hypnotherapy is now becoming seen as a first resort as a treatment option instead of a last resort. It’s also being extended to treat physical problems like skin complaints whose cause can often be emotionally triggered.

The techniques used allow you to access information that could take six months to get out in psychotherapy sessions. Bright intelligent people can talk and talk but their subconscious doesn’t often get a chance to come out. A session with me ‘cuts out the crap’ in a short period of time.

What kind of people do you treat?
Marshall-Warren: The most common issues are anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, depression and low self-esteem.

I have treated teenagers who have stuttered since they were three years old. Once we have discovered the cause of the stutter, we can rebuild the person’s confidence and self-esteem. By addressing the emotional root cause, we can reduce the symptoms.

One woman left a job for shyness. It was getting to the stage where she didn’t even wanted to get married because she was too shy. Now, she will speak at her sister’s wedding.

Sometimes people have gone through so much as a child – poverty and abuse -and they overcome it and grow into fantastic people. They can forgive and forget themselves; others need help.

I’m a great listener and sometimes people speak with very little consciousness of what they are saying. Sometimes in language, people almost self-sentence themselves by saying something negative over and over again. For example, ‘it’s such a nuisance to do this or that’ or ‘I’m afraid I could never do that. I’m afraid of X’. They pre-program themselves and some minor things become magnified into dramas.

Do you ever tire of meeting people suffering from anxiety, depression etc?
Marshall-Warren: This is a fascinating subject, my work is never done. Even if it is the 300th person coming for help with confidence building, it is always different.

How many sessions are needed to treat an issue?
Marshall-Warren: The average is three sessions, maximum five. The only exception is maybe weight loss, maybe they come once a month.

Have you had any unique or bizarre cases?
Marshall-Warren: I had one lady who was terrified of vegetables. I saw her once and during the session we turned her into a bright eight-year-old cooking vegetables; it emerged that her mother had cooked soggy vegetables. Later she went out for dinner and ate broccoli, carrots and peas.

Then there was the mother who was terrified of stinging nettles. It was causing a problem for her because she was afraid if her child would run off into a field full of nettles that she would be too afraid to go and catch her.

Many people might be scared to try hypnotherapy for fear of losing control of themselves. Do you really put them into a ‘coma’?
Marshall-Warren: Contrary to belief, I don’t put people to sleep. They are fully conscious of what they are doing. My sessions guide people to relaxation. You cannot relax a person forcefully, you can only guide them. If a person wants to resist, they can.

After bringing a person to a state of relaxation, I create a sense of respect for the subconscious. I always ask permission – for example, ‘self conscious would you agree to go back to …’ The subconscious can always say ‘no’. I do this so you feel comfortable with the new journey and know that you are in control. I don’t do anything without your permission.

How exactly does a session work?
Marshall-Warren: I try to create esteem around you – determination, self-love, self-confidence, the choice comes from you and helps you to design your own labels.

I describe myself as a cheerleader – you create an orchestra and I am like a chorus, respecting, repeating, reacting to the sentences you chose to liberate yourself. I encourage the best and brightest of you so parts of you are owning your own solution.

By supporting you in forcing your words and repeating, repeating, repeating things like confidence, positivity, self-esteem etc, we can override the old patterns of thinking. It’s like installing new software on the hard drive on your computer!

This is not a typical 9-5 job. How did you end up in this business?
Marshall-Warren: Originally, I worked as a teacher for 16 to 19 year olds. This job went beyond teaching; I also had to help them with their confidence, self-belief etc. As multimedia training emerged in the UK, I moved from being a class teacher to a multimedia designer as I loved the creative side of the job – delivering an interactive training program.

After a few years, I began to travel along on my own yellow brick road in a spiritual way. I wanted to do something more aligned with my spiritual growth and development.

I can’t say I chose this path but somehow it came to me. I seemed to have a healing gift but I just hadn’t realized it.

How did you end up in Malta?
Marshall-Warren:
I came to Malta in 2005 when I was writing my second book and put myself in isolation in a hotel in Mellieha. Then, I came here to live and never looked back. But I do still spend seven or eight days in London each month.

There are plenty of other hypnotherapists out there. What is different about your work?
Marshall-Warren: Most therapists do direct suggestion which is like reading a script. But I think you might as well listen to a relaxation CD, you don’t need me for this.

The way I work, you are creating your own solution and I am encouraging you to gain your outcome but in a way that you hold on to the power. It’s a very clean therapy which doesn’t work on any assumptions. You design and sing your own song.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Marshall-Warren: It is exciting to see a turnaround in people. I never lose that excitement. It’s like going on stage day after day and experiencing the freedom, liberation and turnaround in people.

Hypnotherapy is drug-free, that’s the best thing about it!

What is your source of inspiration?
Marshall-Warren:
I realized that language is as important as the food we put into our mouths. It can be nutritional or toxic. It is amazing what a small detail can make such a big difference.

Interview Alannah Eames More information http://www.marshall-warren.com/

Expats and escargots

September 8, 2012 1 comment

escargotAccording to Wikipedia, the official definition of an expat is “a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing. The word comes from the Latin terms ex (“out of”) and patria (“country, fatherland”).

So, if you go to an expat club, you expect to meet other expats in the same situation as you, right?
Wrong. In some countries and cities anyway.

In Yerevan, Armenia, expats tend to hang out in the “Wheel Club”, a sociable restaurant cum bar which is not difficult to find as there are only a handful of such watering spots in town; and within a few quiz nights or dinners there you will have met all the expats living in the country.

In Nairobi, Kenya, expats (and tourists) flock to popular spots like The Carnivore Restaurant and Pavement restaurant and bar. You’ll also find them easily if you hang out in any of the luxury hotels in town.

In Stockholm, you can read The Local or visit any Irish bar and you’ll find a healthy mix of expats and locals. Attend an event organized by The Local and the chances are that you’ll meet plenty of people in the same situation as yourself bar a handful of Swedes or foreigners with Swedish roots.

In Malta, there are several expat clubs and you won’t find many Maltese there – simply because they already have their own social and support network in place. You might find the occasional Maltese person who is of Maltese descent but a blow-in from abroad, or, occasionally, a local friend of an expat member who was invited along for a drink.

In large cities i.e. over one million inhabitants, and capital cities, you’ll usually be spoiled for choices with British societies or embassies, American Chamber of Commerces, Aussie clubs and much more to choose from so you can sift through and find one that matches you and your interests best.

Then, we come to Lyon in France, a city of almost two million and France’s third largest. InterNations is probably the largest expat club in town; it sells itself as an “Expatriates Community for Expats Worldwide” which helps you to get to know ‘like-minded expats in your city’ but, unlike in Malta, it is run more like a commercial venture than a warm and welcoming place to socialize.

Expect to pay entry for the events, unless you upgrade your status, and expect the drinks at the event to be pricey as the organizers and venues are obviously making money from ‘poor lost expats’ instead of welcoming them with a cheery complimentary cocktail, two-for-one offers and nibbles (like you get at expat events in other countries).

The major difference: in Lyon you will find yourself rubbing shoulders with far more Frenchies than foreigners. Do they consider themselves expats because they are not Lyonnais i.e. they come from another part of France? Does that make them qualify as an ‘expat’? Apparently, it does. Or else they have proudly bestowed themselves with the title of ‘expat’ because they have lived in a former French colony such as Togo for a few weeks, or they have been on vacation a few times to Guadeloupe and Mauritius. These people consider themselves extremely superior and more international than ‘normal French’ people and believe they even qualify as expats because ‘they have been abroad and like to speak English’.

Their other objective for being at these ‘expat’ events is to learn English. So, the role of the homesick expat at these events is not the chance to share experiences and moan about the ups and downs of living in a strange country, no, it’s to offer the ‘locals’ a chance to put their English skills into practice, and give them a taste of our culture so they can become international, just like us expats.

Disillusioned with Internations ‘expats’ , some foreigners try another equally popular  “English club” Act4 and MeetUp.

In all fairness, Act4 does market itself as an English-speaking club and caters for Frenchies who want to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of us Anglophones.

The invitations to English lunches, trips to original version English language movies, trips to the Angloworld pour in. Inevitably, the lunch on Wednesday at 14.00 is often venue-less – that’s decided a day or two before the event. Often, events are cancelled, rescheduled, people put on waiting lists or confirmed and then de-confirmed. In other words, it’s mass confusion. Expect to be bombarded with ten emails every day if you sign up for one event. The latest endeavor is a ‘news club’ which would imply it is a networking club for people who work in media to hang out with other journalists and to immerse in the media world. No, the idea is that you bring a copy of an English news article with you and discuss it … a great exercise to improve language skills, and if you are a ‘ real English-speaking journalist’, then the organizers have hit a jackpot and you should come ‘to see, you’ll probably like it’  – yes, it definitely adds a touch of authenticity to the ‘news club’.

The Act4-ers and MeetUp-ers seem to love everything about us Anglophones – our culture, our language, our way of doing things and even seem to dream of being like us (for all our faults). But, they’ll never be like us – the two cultures are miles apart. Arranging events without an exact time or venue, cancelling last minute, confirming and then de-confirming, that’s not the Anglo way of doing things. But, if you dare to question their way of doing things, or challenge them … then you’ll realize that this is an Anglo-loving club to a certain extent, dare to criticize or raise an eyebrow, or challenge their way of doing things …  and the French culture kicks back in.

Such is the life of an expat amongst escargots!

Taking comedy seriously

June 29, 2011 1 comment

Is the summer heat making you feel lethargic? It’s time to wake up, have a good laugh and make every muscle in your upper body ache at the annual Laugh Out Loud stand-up comedy show in Malta this weekend.

On July 2 and 3 the Laugh Out Loud stand-up comedy show returns to Malta for the seventh year running. This year it features three London-based comedians – Tiernan Douieb, John Fothergill and Dana Alexander.

Dana Alexander

Originally from Canada, Dana was named a “Best Discovery” by NOW Magazine in Toronto who also commented on her “delicious dry delivery” and the fact “you can tell she’s got demons”. Considered a bit of a “tomboy”, she draws her inspiration from her gay friends, quirky Jamaican upbringing and the culture shock of moving from North America to Europe.

Tiernan Douieb

A regular performer on the Edinburgh comedy circuit, quirky Tiernan Douieb is not easy to figure out and he’s pretty uninterested in sharing his background, preferring to focus on what he’s good at – making people laugh. He ran the world’s first-ever Twitter Comedy Club which attracted 14,000 viewers. Regarded as highly energetic and full of enthusiasm and life, he’s considered “refreshing” for his portrayal of everything from zombies to James Bond.

John Fothergill

From the north east of England, the quick-witted John Fothergill has done just about every odd job from working on gas platforms in the North Sea and dabbling in acting to bongo player and soundman at Quaker’s meetings.  He’s a regular on the Newcastle comedy scene in the UK, and has toured Ireland and Hong Kong. He obviously likes Malta- it’s the second time he is participating in this production.

Practical information
The XFM Stand-up Comedy Show takes place Saturday, July 2, and Sunday, July 3, 2011, at the Dolmen Resort Hotel in Qawra (pronounced ‘Ow-rah’, close to Bugibba). If you want to be in the thick of the action and to be waited on hand and foot, choose the EUR 23 Inner Circle cabaret-style seating, or if you are more of a shrinking violet, opt for the gallery theatre-style seats which are just EUR 15 and without waiter service. But, if you’re already wondering how to get to this north-easterly corner of Malta or want to enjoy a few drinks without driving or want to avoid the hassle of finding parking, you can pre-book transport from the “LOVE” sign in Spinola Bay at 18.45 and I.T.S. Pembroke at 19.00 at just EUR 4 per person.

Visit the website for more info, or check it out on Facebook.

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