USI On The Move: Belfast City

Travel Insurance Services is more than a set of select travel insurance products. We take pride in having experienced world travelers working with us to guide our customers through choosing the perfect coverage options for them. For this part of the #USIontheMove blog series, we sat down with USI Affinity’s Arielle Eaton to hear about her experience traveling in Northern Ireland.

Giants CausewayLike so many places around this incredible world, it is hard to describe in full the emerald, earthen beauty of Ireland. The movie scenes and travel photos I had mooned over for years, I found, could never do justice for the wild sea of green and the rolling waves of ancient hills and valleys. For me, as for many Americans, setting foot in this unfamiliar place is more than just a holiday--it’s an adventure in retracing family roots. Reconnecting with a place that once was home to your family nearly two centuries ago is an incredible lens through which I could see this country from a different perspective than most anywhere else I had traveled to before.

When I stepped out of the Belfast Airport, I was afire with excitement and curiosity in anticipation of the days ahead- a fire that was all but extinguished by the reality of a cold rain that seemed to fall relentlessly from the signature grey clouds hanging low across the horizon. And yet, despite this cold and wet welcome- the hearty warmth of the local people who smile their way through the dreariness is inspiring. This was how I began my trip to one of Northern Ireland’s largest cities- Belfast. It was not until I was riding across the countryside on one of the many shuttle services that take you directly from the airport to the heart of the city that the sky cleared and I fully understood why the rain didn’t seem to bother anyone around me. It turned the landscape into a gorgeous sea of green.

Travel Tip: Know before you go! It seems like common knowledge to check up on the weather forecast before you travel to a new place- but it also pays to research typical weather patterns for that time of year in your travel destination!

The city of Belfast became well known as a successful industrial hub and was an internationally recognized shipbuilding port- it was here that the infamous RMS Titanic and its two sister Olympic Class ocean liners  were crafted in the early 1900’s. Commemorating Belfast’s connection to the Titanic is the famous Titanic Belfast, an interactive visitor experience bringing to life the ocean liner’s journey from start to finish. Despite its continued success as a center of industry, Belfast was spotlighted for what locals refer to as the Troubles- a reference to a violent conflict among the unionist and nationalist parties that tore apart the city between 1968 and 1998. Today, it is incredible to see a city that has not only found harmony socially but has reshaped itself into a booming, exciting and vibrant destination for locals and visitors alike.

While there is so much to do in the city itself, do not pass up the numerous, affordable travel coaches and tour services that take you off to nearby attractions in Northern Ireland. Each of the attractions listed below can be visited easily through one of these guided tours or by going into the city itself.

Travel Tip: Don’t judge a book by its cover! This tip goes both ways--do your research before jetting off to a remote tropical island you saw an ad for or before nixing a new place entirely. It pays to read about other travelers’ experiences to really get the most out of a destination, save money and/or stay safe.

  Carrickarede1Carrick-a-Rede

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge is more than just a ‘touristy’ experience, it is an interactive insight into Irish history complete with my favorite staple of every turn in my Ireland journey--a story. According to the National Trust site, Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge was originally erected in 1755 by salmon fishermen. This bridge crosses the Atlantic ocean at 100ft above sea level to the cliffs of Carrick-a-Rede Island, which is inhabited only by a single fisherman’s cottage.

Salmon was fished at Carrick-a-Rede starting as early as 1620. About 350 years ago, Irish fisherman put up the rope bridge in order “to reduce reliance on a boat to reach the island.” The salmon industry boomed until the 1960’s and in 2002, the last salmon at Carrick-a-Rede was caught. Though there are no longer any fisherman to be seen casting off their nets from the cliffs of the island, the history of the area remains with hundreds of tourists coming to cross the same route each year.  I am here to assure you that the bridge is now much more safe than what these traditional fisherman would have rigged up, and the experience (especially the view) is well worth it.

Giants Causeway6Giant’s Causeway

There is such a rugged beauty here, brought to life by the local story tellers and their tall tales of the giant, Fionn mac Cumhaill. It’s as if this place has only been touched by imagination and the sea.  Giant’s Causeway is a shore at constant war with the sea. It is a truly spectacular sight when you start the path down to the shore from the tall, rocky cliffs.

The Causeway is set at the bottom of the towering cliffs marking out a dramatic edge to Northern Ireland’s Antrim plateau. What makes this shore so incredible are the estimated 40,000 polygonal basalt columns that cover the area. This unique formation is the result of volcanic activity some 60 million years ago and has served as the basis for local legends quintessential to Irish heritage. It felt as though the sea had erected this staircase for some greater purpose as I hopped from column to column, which brought to life the story of the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill- otherwise known as Finn McCool- who used those very columns to build a bridge across the water to Scotland. Learn more about Finn’s story here.

Travel Tip: Don’t forget to take a selfie! The ‘selfie’ may be a recent phenomenon with the rising popularity of the front facing smart phone camera, but snapping a photo of yourself in a location or having someone take a picture of you makes it a more personable memory to share with others.

Ireland_pubsThe Pubs Of Belfast

Nothing seems more quintessential to the Ireland experience for a tourist than trying out the local pub fare. As I learned very early on in my U.K.  journey, the pub is more than just a bar as we know them here in the U.S. A pub is a meeting place for members of the community to come together, talk, play a card game or two, and enjoy neighborly company. As my tour guide referred to pubs, they are sort of a “village living room.” Though there are numerous pubs nestled in the cracks and crannies of Belfast’s rising infrastructure, each one that I popped my head into while ducking out of the rain felt just like that--a living room, often complete with couches, televisions and people of all ages laughing heartily.

Kelly’s Cellars is one example of such an establishment, honored as one of the oldest traditional pubs in the city having been built in 1720. Of course it is great fun to have a pint in a place older than your home country’s formal establishment by over half of a century. But that aside, this pub brought to life that aforementioned sense of community for me. Another of my personal favorites was none other than Maddens Bar, a long-established Irish pub that fills with traditional music every night of the week.  I walked in looking for a quick stop out of the rain and ended up sticking around for hours enjoying friendly conversation with fellow pub patrons and listening to more of the city’s history.

Travel Tip: Take advantage of local tour groups! Many hotels or hostels offer deals on various tours and sightseeing experiences. If you aren’t sure which ones are worth while, don’t be afraid to check with a local staff member at your lodging!

Mural 1The Murals

The Troubles have left behind a visible mark on the city by way of Belfast’s famous murals. Just by walking through the city, any passerby takes a stroll into the dark history, hopeful future, and other iconic figures or scenes of Belfast through the numerous mural paintings. Mural 2 Each one is unique in meaning and style. Collectively the pieces have become a key part of Belfast’s culture. If you’re interested in learning more about the murals during your stay in Belfast, you can check out one of the guided tours of the murals specifically.

Travel Tip: Exploring somewhere new is why we travel- but make sure safety is your main priority. When traveling alone, be sure to have someone to check in with, whether that is the front desk of your hotel/hostel when you come in and leave, or someone you can message on your phone letting them know where you are.

Everyone I met along the way during my stay in Belfast had a different perspective based on their experience. Belfast is a long standing industrial powerhouse, it is a battlefield of sorts rich with history, and it is a vibrant tourist destination beautifully blending traditional Irish charm with a modern flair. As the city continues to grow and thrive, I have no doubt that it will hold on to its history, its stories, and the warmth of its local people--all of which make it a truly special travel destination. Until next time, Travelers!

 EATON2USI On the Move- Meet the Team: Arielle Eaton is a Marketing Project Manager for USI Affinity. Born into a military family, Arielle has been an avid traveler “since day one.” She is a 2014 graduate of Norwich University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications. In her spare time, Arielle enjoys exploring new places through trail running, baking and writing.


USI on the Move:

Travel Insurance Services Staff Spotlight – Karen Johnson

  Karen Johnson_Machu Picchu 2Travel Insurance Services is more than a set of select travel insurance products. We take pride in having experienced world travelers working with us to guide our customers through choosing the perfect coverage options for them. We sat down with Karen Johnson, Head of the Travel Division at USI Affinity Travel Insurance Services, to hear about her experience in the travel and insurance industry as well as her passion for exploring the world in an exhilarating way.

 1. Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in the travel industry.

    I had the good fortune of getting involved in the travel insurance industry in 2000 as an underwriter for a managing general underwriter, later becoming Senior Underwriter and then Program/Project Manager. I then worked for an insurance carrier spearheading the startup of their Travel Division. Once that endeavor was complete I had the opportunity to come full circle and transitioned to the broker side of the business with USI Affinity.

 2. Where have you traveled?

    I have hiked, biked and camped in all but 9 states in the US and have traveled to many foreign countries seeking all types of adventurous activities. I have ventured to New Zealand, Australia, India, Costa Rica, Niagara, Peru, Belize, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Germany, several provinces in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen Johnson_Machu Picchu 3. Any unique or favorite stories from your travels?

    One of the most notable hikes I have done was a 4-day backpacking trek on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Discovering one of the world’s most renowned archeological treasures is an amazing experience. The views, scenery and history are bar none. The trek itself is not that long, but the high elevation challenges you, and at the end of the day you feel a great sense of accomplishment. It inspired me so much, I now make sure to do a back-country backpacking trip every year.

4. What destinations are on your bucket list and why?

  • Alaska and Iceland – Hiking, natural beauty, wildlife
  • Honduras – Diving!
  • Norway, Sweden, Finland – Adventure & family heritage
  • Africa – Safaris, African plains & animals
  • Egypt – Pyramids, unique history
  • Outstanding 9 US states – We have some of the most diverse and beautiful scenery right here in our own backyard… Take advantage of it!

What’s your favorite travel story? Create new stories on your next vacation, but don’t forget to pack your travel insurance! Learn more about our products at www.travelinsure.com.


Where it began, where it continues: 242 Years of Celebrating July 4th in Philadelphia

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On July 4th 242 years ago, a room full of delegates and appointed officials signed into being a new nation built on ideals now nearly synonymous with the American way of life.  On that day, there was no certainty that the United States would win their battle against England but there was trepidation, determination, and courage. Little did the Founding Fathers know what they would create with their signatures when they signed into being the Declaration of Independence. This Wednesday marks July 4th- an annual holiday commemorating the birth of America and celebrating the American people. 

Where history began and where it continues

In 1682, nearly one hundred years before the historic signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, William Penn arrived seeking to settle a land of religious tolerance for himself and his fellow Quakers. This vision was realized through the formation of his namesake Pennsylvania and, within it, Philadelphia- a name combining the Greek words phileo – meaning ‘love’- and adelphos- meaning ‘brother’- which has led to its famous nickname as “the city of brotherly love.”1

Today, Philadelphia still holds its place as a major American city. It is both a modernized tourist attraction and a glimpse into its history as the birthplace of the United States of America. Being that USI Affinity’s headquarters is located in this remarkable city, we are presenting you with a list of five (out of the many) must see locations in Philadelphia for the 4th of July.

Top five places to visit in Philadelphia

1. Christ Church

Nestled among the busy streets of Philadelphia’s Old City, the tower and steeple of stand tall against the backdrop of high-rise office buildings and skyscrapers. An anachronism serving as a bastion for American history, Christ Church was Founded in 1695 as the first parish of the Church of England in Pennsylvania2.

Once the tallest building in America until 1856, the current structure was erected in 1744 with its steeple and tower added in 1754 with funds collected by famous parishioner Benjamin Franklin2. It was in this church that many important figures in American history- such as William Penn, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington- met and worshiped. This common gathering space played a crucial role in the Revolutionary era as it not only served as a common ground for these American figureheads but it also welcomed the Continental Congress, hosted President George Washington and other legislators during national days of prayer, and symbolized the new nation’s break from the Church of England. According to the church’s website, it was in Christ Church that “the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States was created from the ashes of the Church of England.”3

Today, approximately 250,000 visitors each year come to see the historic church and its burial ground, wherein seven signers of the Declaration of Independence and five signers of the Constitution are buried. It is open for tours and also serves as an active Episcopal Church with weekly services. 3

Fun Fact: Christ Church is where the American Episcopal Church was formed.

2. The Museum of the American Revolution

The Museum of the American Revolution has recently been opened in the city that the war for independence began- Philadelphia. The new 118,000 square foot museum not only showcases its collection of artifacts from the Revolutionary War and the Revolutionary Period, but immerses visitors into the historic time period.4

The museum has thirty-one audiovisual experiences, twenty life-like figures and ten theaters among its hundreds of artifacts4. In addition to highlighting the stories of the Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War soldiers, the museum provides an “inclusive picture of the American Revolution that is often overlooked by other institutions” 4 by including stories from both enslaved and free Africans, Native Americans, and women.

For more information about the museum, click here.

Fun Fact: According to the Museum of the American Revolution’s website, one of the most “anticipated pieces in the museum is General Washington’s Headquarters Tent, an iconic piece of history where President George Washington slept and made world-changing decisions.“4

3. The Delaware River Waterfront- Penn’s Landing

In 1682, visionary William Penn first docked on the shores of what would become the foundation of his place in American history- Pennsylvania.1 Today, Penn’s arrival in what would become his namesake state is celebrated through Penn’s Landing, a stretch of the Pennsylvania bank along the Delaware River Waterfront. Despite its name, the Penn’s Landing that exists today as a popular tourist attraction is not exactly where Penn landed or made the infamous treaty with the Lenape Indians granting him the land that is now Pennsylvania. That location is actually several miles north of Penn’s Landing. Regardless, Penn’s Landing blends in with the historic district of Philadelphia along the edge of Old City. It hosts numerous concerts and events all throughout the year- including movie screenings, open air concerts, ice skating and fireworks for the 4th of July.5

Fun Fact: Today, a historic marker commemorates the real spot where Penn first set foot on what would become Pennsylvania soil, located in Chester, PA

4. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (and the Rocky Statue)

Hailed as the third-largest art museum in the nation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in central Philadelphia and overlooks the Delaware River. Founded in 1876 as a museum for decorative arts located in Memorial Hall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art was relocated in 1928 to its current Greek-inspired building6. Today, the museum features a wide variety of Renaissance, American, Impressionist, and Modern art.6

In connection with the famed museum is another celebrated Philadelphia must-see attraction. At the bottom of the stairs leading to the East Entrance of the museum is the famous Rocky Statue. This bronze statue was created in the likeness of actor Sylvester Stalone’s character Rocky Balboa for the filming of Rocky III. Stalone donated the statue to the city of Philadelphia where the movie took place and it has become a popular tourist attraction.7

Fun Fact: The stairs leading to the East Entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are well known as the “The Rocky Steps”, an attraction that, like the Rocky Statue, was made famous by the Rocky movies. The steps have even been declared as the second most famous movie filming location in the entire world.7

5. Independence National Historic Park

What better way to celebrate the birth of a nation than at the very place the Founding Fathers signed the country into being? Philadelphia’s Independence National Historic Park is widely known as the “birthplace of American democracy”.8 Its grounds see approximately 4.3 million visitors per year and host multiple historic treasures, such as Independence Hall wherein the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of the Confederation and the U.S. Constitution were signed.

Originally erected as the State House of the Province of Pennsylvania in 1732 until 1756, Independence Hall hosted “historical milestones” including meetings of the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1783, the ascension of George Washington in 1775 as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.8 With its time as an operational hub for legislative action long since passed, Independence Hall now serves as a historic monument and is open regularly for guided tours.

Outside of Independence Hall, the Independence National Historic Park includes the popular Liberty Bell Center, the First Bank of the United States, Franklin Court, National Constitution Center, and Independence Visitor Center among others. The park in it’s entirely, as does each of the historic sites that it is comprised of, preserves the foundation upon which the United States was built. For more information about the park, click here.

Fun Fact: Now the largest city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital from 1790 until a permanent capital was established in Washington, D.C., in 1800.1

Ready to see American history unfold before your eyes on your next travel excursion? Contact Travel Insurance Services for all of your travel insurance needs by clicking here or calling 1-800-937-1387. 

 

References:

  1. History.com Staff. (2009). Pennsylvania. Retrieved June 27, 2017, from http://www.history.com/topics/us-states/pennsylvania
  2. Christ Church. (2016, August 09). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.visitphilly.com/history/philadelphia/christ-church/
  3. Church History and Those Who Attended. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2017, from http://www.christchurchphila.org/Historic-Christ-Church/Church/Church-History-and-Those-Who-Attended/86/
  4. Museum of the American Revolution. (2017, May 24). Retrieved June 23, 2017, from http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/museum-of-the-american-revolution/
  5. Penn's Landing. (2016, August 16). Retrieved June 21, 2017, from http://www.visitphilly.com/outdoor-activities/philadelphia/penns-landing/
  6. Philadelphia Museum of Art — visitphilly.com. (2017, March 28). Retrieved June 24, 2017, from http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/philadelphia-museum-of-art/
  7. The Rocky Statue And The Rocky Steps. (2017, June 15). Retrieved June 24, 2017, from http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/the-rocky-statue-and-the-rocky-steps/
  8. Independence National Historical Park. (2016, June 13). Retrieved June 25, 2017, from http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/independence-national-historical-park/

Travel Insurance Services Staff Spotlight: Patti Kirkpatrick
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Travel Insurance Services is more than a set of select travel insurance products. We take pride in having experienced world travelers working with us to guide our customers through choosing the perfect coverage options for them. We sat down with our very own Patti Kirkpatrick, USI VIP Travel Insurance Specialist, to hear about her experience in the travel industry as well as her passion for a jet set lifestyle.

  • Tell us a little about yourself and your experience in the travel industry.

“I primarily assist people traveling on National Geographic Private Jet trips and their Expeditions as well as people traveling with Academic Arrangements Abroad.  I’ve been in the travel industry for 35 years, the last two of them selling travel insurance as well as being a travel advisor.”

  • Where have you yourself traveled?

“One of the biggest blessings of working in the travel industry has been my opportunity to see the world. I love to brag that I’ve been to every continent except Antarctica. (It’s still on my bucket list!) My most recent trip was to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador!”

  • Any unique/interesting/favorite stories from your travels?

“When visiting Rome a few years ago, I reserved a tour of the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel before it opened to the public. It was a thrill of a lifetime for someone who went through 12 years of Catholic schools and who studied Italian Renaissance Art in college.  I felt as giddy as a school girl when I walked into the Vatican immediately on the footsteps of the Swiss Guard as he opened the doors for the day.  Just thinking about it again brings a big smile to my face and raises the hair on the back of my neck.”

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What’s your favorite travel story? Create new stories on your next vacation, but don’t forget to pack your travel insurance! Learn more about our products at www.travelinsure.com.


Women’s History Month: Celebrating the Past and the Future

This March, people across the nation will celebrate Women’s History Month- a month long holiday celebrating the achievements and contributions of women throughout history across nearly every industry. One does not have to look far to see the influence women have had in medicine, politics, technology, literature and nearly every industry or aspect of society. This month is a time of reflection as much as it is an opportunity to look beyond the glass ceiling and into the future for women. To further continue the social, economic, and professional growth of women, there are countless organizations, events and initiatives. Take a look at our short list for inspiration:

1. Forbes Women’s Summit –June 18th-19th in New York, New York: NYC

“Forbes Women’s Summit celebrates the doers and the doing; a source of inspiration and support that connects and empowers women around the world, helping them to realize their potential and reach new heights.” The Big Apple is once again serving as the backdrop for the annual Forbes Women’s Summit. This empowering event, coming up in 2018 on June 18-19th, opens up the dialogue among its attendees by offering keynote conversations, interviews, and panel discussions that focus on pressing topics. “[T]he Forbes Women’s Summit brings together the voices and insights of a diverse range of female luminaries from the worlds of business, entertainment and politics.” This summit will pull together 300 women, 45% at the ‘C-level’, from across over 20 industries with 27 U.S. states represented.

For more information about the Women’s Summit, click here.

2. Stand Up Lift Up 29th Annual Conference for Women in Business – April 24th in San Francisco, California: Sanfran

The Professional Business Women of California (PBWC)’s Stand Up Lift Up 29th Annual Conference for Women in Business will take place on April 24th in San Francisco, offering attendees opportunities to hear keynote speakers, participate in “cutting-edge” seminars, be involved with panels of experts, and take advantage of networking opportunities. This PBWC conference is an “annual opportunity to reflect, recharge, refocus and renew your commitment to achieving your ambitions and supporting others to achieve theirs.”

For more information about the Stand Up Lift Up 29th Annual Conference for Women in Business, click here.

  3. 2018 Professional Women in Advocacy Conference – October 9th-10th in Washington D.C.:DC

Professional Women in Advocacy (PWIA) focuses on the belief “that when women are involved at the highest levels of policy making, everyone benefits.” PWIA focuses primarily on women who work on various advocacy roles. The organization’s 2018 Professional Women in Advocacy Conference provides “professional development and leadership training to women in all areas of advocacy…” The conference attendees will have the opportunity to listen to a variety of women from across many different industries, including lobbyists, elected officials, and public policy specialists. Topics for these speaking engagements during the conference include a large variety of “how-to topics relevant to legislative and regulatory advocacy.”

To learn more about the 2018 Professional Women in Advocacy Conference, click here.

4. National Women's Business Conference 2018 – September 23rd-25th in Spokane, Washington: Spokane

“Work Well, Live Well” is the theme driving this year’s National Women's Business Conference 2018, taking place on September 23-25th. National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) focuses on representing and “propelling” over the 10.1 million women business owners across the nation and working in all industries. Keynote speakers at this event will include Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic! and Shabnam Mogharab, SoulPancake’s CEO/Executive Producer.

To learn more about the National Women's Business Conference 2018 and/or to register, check out the event’s webpage here.

  5. Twin Cities Women’s Leadership Summit 2018 – June 6th in Minneapolis, Minnesota:Minn

“Women Get Big Things Done.” Put on by the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), the Twin Cities Women’s Leadership Summit 2018 will take place on June 6th in Minneapolis. Attendees, consisting primarily of women in or looking to moving into leadership positions, will learn about such concepts as “Connectional Intelligence” - a term referring to a “modern, feminine leadership skill” helping professional in their careers by drawing upon valuable relationship building skills and networking.

To learn more about the Twin Cities Women’s Leadership Summit 2018 and other upcoming NAFE events, click here.

There are many conferences across the nation geared specifically toward the education, development and empowerment of professional women. Wherever you travel to this year, whether for work, professional development or vacation, don’t forget to pack your travel insurance! Find the right policy to fit your needs here.