This month, the Irish Fireside sits down to chat with Michele Erdvig, travel expert and author of the “Best Little Guide to Ireland”. She and her husband Barry make their home in Atlanta, GA where she has enjoyed a successful career as an assistant editor, photographer, illustrator, publisher, web designer and travel consultant. Michele’s first visit to the Emerald Isle came in 1973 and she and her husband have since returned repeatedly over the years. She has been certified by Tourism Ireland as an expert on the country, has moderated numerous online forums and is rated as a leading expert on Irish Travel at both AskMe.com and AllExperts.com. But it is moderating her travel forum on her own website, www.irelandyes.com, that gives this Irish-American the greatest sense of pleasure. Welcome, Michele.
What is your idea of a perfect day? It would start with a champagne brunch with my husband, followed by a nice long walk through a beautiful garden. Afterward, I would spend some quiet time reading. In the evening we would get together with all our friends and family for a big barbecue, which I would have catered so no one would have to cook or do the dishes. We’d all enjoy the meal, the company and talk the night away.
What historical figure do you most identify with and why? Lady Augusta Gregory was one “Coole” lady. Not only did she mentor and bankroll some of Ireland’s most famous writers (Yeats, Synge, O´Casey), she was one of the founders of the Irish Literary Revival, the Abbey Theatre and Irish Literary Theatre. Add to her talents folklorist, playwright, writer and theater manager and you have a true Renaissance lady. I suppose I identify with the multi-faceted aspects of her vocation since I have become a jack-of-all-trades in my career. I recommend anyone passing through Gort (on the main road from Limerick to Galway) to take time to stop by Lady Gregory’s beloved Coole Park. The Autograph Tree – signed by the famous writers of her day – in the walled garden is a must. In the springtime, the woods where Yeats wandered is a riot of bluebells.
Which living person do you most admire and why? My mother, Diane Dorion. She raised five children with incredible patience and gentleness, while working full-time. She is still the most caring and wonderful mother who is the bedrock and heart of our family.
What is your morning ritual? I don’t do mornings unless I am jet-lagged and in Ireland (did I choose the perfect job for a night owl or what?) Otherwise, my afternoon ritual is to turn on the computer, put on the coffee and answer essential emails. I then allow myself two cups of java and a bowl of porridge while watching TV and catching up on world events.
The perfect place to live is… Exactly where I live in Cobb County, Georgia. I have all the hustle and bustle of a first-class city (Atlanta) at my doorstep and non-stop flights to Ireland from the airport. I am also within walking distance of shopping, restaurants, banks, etc. Yet my house is tucked away in a tiny, quiet neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else and looks out for one another. Would you believe that my neighbors own several bison that I can watch roam from my kitchen window? Even though I live in a large metropolitan city, I feel like I live out in the country – the best of both worlds. Since I spent most of the first half of my life in Miami with perpetual summer, I really enjoy Georgia and the gently changing seasons. I would love to have a vacation home in Ireland but alas, the prices are too dear there now. I should have jumped at that cottage in Dingle thirty years ago for 500 pounds!
Name an off-the-beaten-path destination in Ireland you think more visitors should visit. Achill Island, Co. Mayo. It is easy to get to since it is connected to the mainland by a bridge, but it is like going back to old Ireland with a slower pace and genuine hospitality. The scenery is fantastic – pristine beaches, towering cliffs, mountains, castles, bogs, green hills, wandering sheep and the sea omnipresent. Try to visit it before it changes.
How would you describe your sense of humor? Eclectic. I like all kinds of humor -even my husband’s corny jokes that I have heard ten times before. I love the quick wit of the Irish, but I don’t like gutter humor.
What music are you listening to today? Classical. When I am working I cannot listen to music with words for obvious reasons. Classical is soothing and fits the bill.
What three things are you most grateful for? This is a total cliché but so true: family, friends and health. All three are priceless.
In the event you are reincarnated, what would you like to return as? A rainbow. I would flit around Ireland putting on a colorful display for everyone to enjoy. It would let people know that the rain is as fleeting as the rainbow.
Name one trait you most deplore in yourself. I am not a morning person.
Name one trait you most deplore in others. No common sense.
What do you consider the most important qualities of a good Irish B&B? I have a long list of things that must meet my expectations before I will recommend a B&B. The list to get reviewed in my book is even longer. However, the first three are cleanliness, comfort and good hosts.
What is one of your most treasured memories? My wedding day. I met my husband when I was sixteen and we waited several years to marry. So far, it’s been 36 years and counting – he’s a keeper!
What is your favorite meal? For starters, I would have a Caesar salad. My entrée would be poached salmon with a nice sauce accompanied by champ, baby carrots and French green beans, along with a glass of wine. For dessert it would be a slice of banoffee pie and a cappuccino. If I was feeling really decadent, a bit later I would indulge with a Bailey’s and some Thornton’s mini caramel shortcakes.
Your philosophy on life is… Follow your dreams. You never know where they will lead you!
How did you get your start in the Irish travel resource business? My husband worked for an airline so we could travel anywhere in the world cheaply. In 1973 we had a two-week vacation and decided on Europe. He chose Norway where his father was born for his week, and for my week I chose Ireland where my ancestry was (though I could have chosen Italy or France too). We were enchanted with Ireland and have since returned multiple times a year.
When you work for an airline and have been somewhere other employees have not been, they tend to pick your brain for travel tips. I started out by helping others plan their trips. It was fun. Later, my husband transferred from the airport to a big reservations office where everyone would stop by his desk for info on Ireland. Eventually, he asked me to devise a list that he could loan out. You could say that the first “Best Little Guide to Ireland” started life as a 7-page list of recommendations for B&Bs, sightseeing and restaurants.
A few years later, a light bulb went off in my head and I decided to elaborate on that list – write reviews and descriptions of my recommended places in Ireland and see if people would actually buy it. The endeavor was an experiment and I had no idea where it would lead. A college professor friend whose expertise was finance didn’t think much of the crazy idea. Who would I sell to? This was pre-Internet and I had to find an audience. Airline employees! Most of the airlines had employee newsletters with a column dedicated to discounts. I priced my now 32-page tome, discounted it by 10% and contacted the editors of all the airline newsletters. Voila! “Best Little Guide to Ireland was born.” It has taken on a life of its own and has grown to over 300 pages.
Some people look down on the fact that my book is self-published, but that is just the path it took on its own. Besides, if self-publishing was good enough for Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Beatrix Potter and Stephen King, it’s good enough for me. It allows me to cut out the middleman and keep the info very fresh and up-to-date. Most traditionally published books are already six months to a year out of date by the time they hit the bookstore.
Doing custom itineraries and getting paid was a natural offshoot of becoming a travel expert on Ireland. A local Marietta Georgia dentist suggested it. He was putting together a dentists’ convention in Dublin and all those dentists needed my help badly.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to start a business? Start small, get to know your business clients inside-out and then expand gradually. You will learn the ropes as you go.
What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in Ireland since your first visit? Since 1973 I have seen Ireland transform from one of Europe’s poorest countries into one of its wealthiest. They have gone from bicycles and donkey carts to cell phones and BMWs. I am so glad to have been along for the ride!
What is the most common question you are asked from prospective visitors to Ireland…and how do you answer that question? Where should I go and what should I see? Only YOU know exactly what you want to see in Ireland and THAT will determine where you will go. Do your homework first. Read up at the library, bookstores and on the Internet. Take time to thoroughly look at my website because there is a lot of good info there. Take advantage of my free Ireland Travel Forum where you can ask anything you want to know. Contact Tourism Ireland for a free travel kit (see sidebar). Buy a good, up-to-date guidebook that fits your style and that you feel comfortable with. Better yet, buy a couple of guidebooks. Don’t give up when your first itinerary flops. Keep doing it ‘til it’s perfect – or give me a call!
How many editions of your book have been published? “Best Little Guide to Ireland” is in its 15th edition. I am currently working on the 16th edition for 2007. Where does the time go? I may have to change the title since it’s not “so little” anymore!
Chicken or Beef? Are you practicing to be a flight attendant? Usually chicken.