Africa, Countries, Deals, Food & Wine

Moroccan cookin’

If only they’d taught me Moroccan cookin’ then I might have avoided being up all night star-gazing in the Sahara Desert.

But then I hadn’t been introduced to the vibrant Medina of Marrakech, Hotel La Maison Arabe by then.

Or the good services of Tropical Sky.

I can recommend a riad which is far more preferable to a makeshift loo.

In the Sahara with a corrugated roof which was missing when I got there.

Maison around

Tagine by the pool: La Maison

La Maison offers traditional cooking classes in the hotel restaurant which will come in useful later (believe me)!

At the half-day classes participants can learn the secrets of Moroccan cuisine.

The workshops are run by a dada (a traditional Moroccan chef).

And they include a visit to a nearby spice market and communal bread oven.

The rest of us of course, in the Western World, were taught at a stove by a mama…

Worth remembering with Mother’s Day around the corner.

A little local knowledge

A wrap: Know your tajines

Knowing your way around a tajine will come in handy during your stay in Morocco.

Particularly if you stop for one in a roadside cafe on the Atlas Mountains.

You’ll know what to look out for.

And you’ll avoid Marakech revenge from the rumbles and the tumbles down the dunes.

Even though your camel will try and make it as smooth as possible.

A little local knowledge to know how to avoid false guides and hawksters will also come in useful.

A seven-night stay at Hotel La Maison Arabe is priced from £825pps on a B&B basis, including flights and transfers.

And you can become a tajine genie and learn Moroccan cooking.


Africa, America, Countries, Europe

Bet on these casinos

You can put your money on a good night on the tables and that means having a bet on these casinos.

You bet that includes Monte Carlo and Las Vegas but our friends at Online Casino have given us the skinny on the other great gambling towns.

And who’d have thunk that top of the table was old New England, cultural Connecticut?

Connect the casino

D’oh: Everyone loves a flutter

Where Foxwoods Resort Casino is the most googled casino, with an average of 91,000 per month worldwide.

The casino stretches 344,000 square feet and has over 5,500 slot machines and 250 gaming tables.

Good Baden-Baden

Red carpet: For casino guests


In second place is Casino Baden-Baden, with 22,000 Google searches.

Germany’s oldest casino, it features roulette, poker cash games, blackjack and over 140 slot machines.

You might associate Portugal more with fado and football and fancy custard tarts but it is also the place for a flutter.

The Third Force

Portugeezers: Lisbon

Thirteen thousand googlers sought out Casino Lisboa in Parque das Nações.

The casino offers 1,100 slot machines, live table games such as Blackjack and roulette, and free entry.

And WinStar World Casino, Thackerville, Oklahoma 73459, shares third on the list and is the biggest casino in the US (who knew?)

Despite being attached to a hotel, the total gaming space is 370,000 square feet.

It is filled with over 8,600 electronic games, 100 table games and a 55-table poker room.

Bok to the tables

A little bit of Rio: In South Africa

In fourth with 5,700 searches is Rio Casino, in Klerksdorp in fun South Africa with a Rio de Janeiro Carnival theme across 266,000 square feet.

While fifth with 5,600 searches is Sun City Casino in the North West Province.

With over 40 table games and is perfect for both experienced and first-time gamers.

And that would include one Bandanaman shooting craps so forcibly he earned himself the nickname Hannibal.

The top ten table

One slot: In Las Vegas

The most popular casinos in the world

1 Foxwoods Resort Casino: 91,000

2 Casino Baden-Baden: 22,000

3 Casino Lisboa/WinStar World Casino: 13,000

4 Rio Casino: 5,700

5 Sun City: 5,600

6 Wynn Casino: 4,200

7 Marina Bay Sands: 4,100

8 Casino de Monte-Carlo: 4,000

9 MGM Grand Casino: 3,900

10 Grand Lisboa Casino: 2,600

Africa, Asia, Countries, Europe

I left Boy George in Kuramathi

I left Boy George in my bedroom in Kuramathi in the Maldives and I dare say someone’s finished him off since.

And the Leon Uris Irish epic Trinity in Malta.

And countless other biographies and tomes around the world… and you’re welcome.

I’ve also returned with guidebooks, histories and diaries from musical Mississippi through classical Kythera in Greece to Springbok South Africa

And browsed some bazaar books in Istanbul.

As well as the odd page turner by the pool.

All of which just makes me just a typical traveller as our friends at TUI Blue have revealed in a survey of their customers. 

Stat attack

Pure Culture: Boy George
  • One in five of us only read when we go on holiday getting through an average of 1.9 books each time
  • Mystery and thrillers top the poolside reading list, romance novels are the nation’s guilty holiday reading pleasure
  • 8% of us admit to reading things whilst away we’d be too embarrassed to pick up in front of friends and family at home
  • We’re happy to be personal lending libraries with 91% willing to pass on our reads.

And all of that is a trend which TUI Blue is celebrating with the announcement of its TUI Blue Book Swap Scheme at hotels this summer the research also revealed our top poolside reads and guilty holiday reading pleasure.

We read an average of 1.9 books on our annual holiday with favourite genres including romance (45%), mysteries (41%) and thrillers (37%).

And they say women are more avid holiday readers compared to me (probably our scintillating conversation).

But across the board 30 per cent of us admit to changing it up and reading different types of books on holiday.

Share the love

Upside down world: On the Dead Sea

We’re also avid book lenders and borrowers with 91% per cent happy to donate a book they have read and loved for someone else to enjoy.

And 73% per cent happy to hit up friends and family for some fresh reads before they go away on holiday.

And so the book swap scheme is encouraging readers to pick up a pre-loved book and share a few words of recommendation – or warning.

With a personal note saying why you loved or hated your read.

The TUI Blue Book Swap will be operating in selected hotels across Europe this summer.  

Mind you I don’t know how welcome this dog-eared book I’m reading here in the Dead Sea would be as welcome.

And there’s a clue in the way I’m holding it that I might just have been using it as a prop.


Africa, Countries, Europe

Shirley Valentine’s Day

If WFH has got you talking to the walls why not give yourself some love like Sheridan Smith and pencil in a Shirley Valentine’s Day?

The much-loved Sheridan (Gavin & Stacey, Cilla) has been earning rave reviews for her reinterpretation of Shirley Valentine in London’s West End.

A performance, first mastered by Pauline Collins in the Eighties, and recalled with affection to this day.

Now we live in a very different world to Eighties Shirley.

But in some ways our need to get out and see the world is even greater.

Shirley some vino: Shirley Valentine

Now more and more of us have been consigned to our own four walls because of Covid, the post-Covid world and the Digital Age.

Good then that our dream makers, our Travel providers, have been channeling that need.

And laying out the dream holidays and destinations at hand.

For Shirley, her getaway, her bolthole, was Greece and it truly is epic.

We’ll leave you with our own thoughts here.

Before letting Friendship Travel give you theirs

Nile go on my own

Shape of Sphinx to come: Egypt

This Cairo & Nile Cruise begins with two nights in Cairo before guests begin their journey down the Nile.

Visit the Pyramids of Giza and the Valley of the Kings, with excursions also including trips to the Temples of Horus and Hatshepsut.

Nine nights from £1695pp with Heathrow and internal flights in Egypt.

Slopes to yourself

Norway ski points: Trysil

And if it’s better for all that you ski on your own, like me then Friendship Travel have the very thing.

New for 2023 is Skiing in Trysil, Norway.

Solo skiers will enjoy the vast pistes of Trysil and enjoy the apres-ski with their Friendship Travel holiday buddies.

Trysil has 31 lifts and 68 slopes perfect for all levels.

Guests will enjoy the ski-in/ski-out of the Radisson Blu Resort Hotel Trysil which boasts fjord views.

Seven nights from £1995 with Gatwick to Scandinavian Mountains Airport flights.

Your own Caribbean island

Mat finish: Among the palm trees in St Lucia

And having partied on my first visit to the Caribbean I chose solitude in the Windies the next time up.

And that’s what is on offer with Friendship Travel with their 5* BodyHoliday in St Lucia.

Where you can jump into three pools, four restaurants, a watersport centre and a spa.

So there will be pilates, archery, tennis and more.

And a complimentary spa treatment included every day.

With the peak charms of the Pitons and a tropical rainforest nearby.

And a day trip to Diamond Falls or the drive-in volcano.

Seven nights from £2,990pp with flights from Gatwick.

And for all those working from home and talking to the walls.

Give yourself some love with a Shirley Valentine’s Day.


Africa, Caribbean, Countries, UK

Counting crows and other feathered friends

And there my knowledge of the San Fran rockers ends and my knowledge of birdwatching begins as I go counting crows and other feathered friends.

The weekend that’s in it is the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

And so twitchers up and down Britain and those who flock (sorry) or nest (soz again) here from abroad have been getting their binos out.

The ornithologist in our family is, of course, the tweet Mrs M.

And she has spotted, and chronicled, more birdies than I’ve had hot dinners – not that I’m advising eating any of them.

Apart from maybe pigeons, it’s the only way to shut the ‘rats with wings’ up.

Save our birds

There is though a very serious side to this weekend.

Shockingly 38 million birds have been lost from British skies in the last 50 years,

And no feather-brains our twitchers with last year almost 700,000 people taking part in Big Garden Birdwatch.

If you’ve not already done so you have until 9pm tonight to spend just one hour to twitch.

Probably best in the morning but if you haven’t already then you can always pop outside after the football.

Centre of featherness

Bird group: It’s child’s play

Where then is best? Well, here where we are is probably as good a place as any, North Berwick, east of Edinburgh.

Where golf (maybe it’s the birdies) and gulls are put on pedestals.

And an everyman twitcher takes pride of place by the Seabird Centre, looking out through his binos to Bass Rock.

Where once Robert Louis Stevenson, who would holiday in North Berwick, would look out to the lighthouse his brother David designed.

Bass Rock, only housing the Northern gannet colony in the world.

Twitch away: On the binos

Once home to a hermit, a castle and a prison now the gannets have marked their territory.

In a very distinctive manner, the smell of which hots you in the back of the throat as you near the rock.

Not that that should put you off, the spectacle more than making up for the odour.

Bass class

Puffin thrilly: Seabird Centre tours

The Seabird Centre offers a Bass Rock trip for £140pp including landing fee.

The east coast of Scotland is, of course, a long long way from the East Cape of South Africa.

But just as choppy (no pain, no gain) and best not negotiated after a night on the booze.

Not a problem, of course, for the furry kind with this Raggy Charters mascot leading from the front on their tours out.

To the hub for blue-finned dolphins and penguins in the Southern Hemisphere.

I’ve not been back on such choppy waters since but am requisitioned by my own tweet ornithologist for Bass Rock this year.

Wagtail hour

Birdwatching then can be as sedentary or as adventurous as you like.

And I do prefer the birdies to come to me like they did in Tobago.

Maybe just start with an hour chronicling today and then recording your findings on the RSPB website.

Me, I’ll start by counting crows and other feathered friends.

And leave the big stuff to the happy snappy Mrs M.


Africa, Asia

Your Year’s Day around the world

We’re probably all nursing sore heads today but the good news is that this isn’t the only New Year’s Day celebration, we’ve got Wu Year’s Day to look forward to now… or Your Year’s Day around the world.

And a bunch of other New Year’s Days for those who love a good oul’ firework.

Which is where the Wu comes in with Wendy Wu all over the Chinese version.

And us all over her annual legendary get-together.

Which believe me keeps us fed and watered for an entire week.

Happy New Hare

Wu to go: Wendy Wu and her people

Well, we don’t have to wait long for Chinese New Year which is on January 23 and is the year of the Water Rabbit.

Rabbits are said to be vigilant, witty, quick-minded, and ingenious.

I’m a snake (behave)!

More of rabbits and snakes later in the month.

Feast of the senses: Wendy Wu fare

But what of the other new years around the world.

Because not everyone looks at the world through Western eyes.

Jewel of India

Shake it: Indian dancing

Or the skies with those on the Indian subcontinent disagreeing.

On the place of the sun and the moon in setting their calendar.

And so in India, West Bengal celebrates their New Year, or Pohela Boishakh, on April 14 or 15.

Whereas Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and few other southern states celebrate Ugadi and Puthandu on April 6.

In Maharashtra state, New Year, or Gudi Padwa, is celebrated on April 14.

We’ve always been a little jealous of those who live in the Southern Hemisphere who get to enjoy their January 1 in the sun.

Forever young

Queen of Ethiopia: Meseret and me

Across the Islamic world the big dates are in July or August.

And this year it ranges from July 19-21 depending on which country you’re in.

The calendar is a lunar one and so is only 354 days long.

Islamic New Year is celebrated on the first day of Muharram, the first Islamic month.

And compared to Western calendars the Islamic year goes backwards by about 11 days every year.

All of which sounds great as you get time back.

Just like they do in Ethiopia and Eritrea where you can become seven years younger.

And which I saw first hand in the company of Ethiopian Airlinesevergreen Meseret Tekalign who would lay out a feast for us every year in Ireland.

So whether you’ve had your New Year or it’s still to come then we hope you enjoy Your Year’s Day around the world.



Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

How happy on the mountain

How happy on the mountain are the feet of He who brings good news… that today is International Mountain Day.

And yes, of course, while there is a day of the year for almost everything, our mountains are there every day.

It took the United Nations until 2003 though before they advanced our peaks for an International Day.

Of course being from the mountainous top half of this septic island they call Britain I’d been to the roof and looked down.

You dancer: In the Pyrenees

And admired Scotland’s valleys and glens and looked out and wondered of the view from other peaks.

Nothing as adventurous or backbreaking as mountaineering, or bagging Munros, those Scottish peaks, of which there are 282.

Border force

Cross country: At the Austrian-German border

But leaving it to our dream makers, our holiday makers, to take us up where the air is fresh and sweet.

For some who are lucky enough to live in the mountains then gorges can be part of their daily routine.

And so it is nothing to locals who cross the border through a mountain gate between Austrian Tirol and the Bavarian Alps.

While others will trek across the Alps into northern Italy.

The mountains have long been routes through which people have traversed for trade, adventure, or in flight.

Although, as we’ve tracked already in these pages the most famous fleeing family most certainly never climbed every mountain.

But rather the Von Trapps took the train into Italy instead.

Mountain people

Only way is up: Jungraujoch in Switzerland

The most romantic way through the mountains is of course by foot but we’ve hit the peaks in all of those… trains, planes and snowmobiles.

Trains… on the Jungfraujoch Railway, the highest train route in Europe.

Planes and helicopters in the mountains above the Grand Canyon.

By coach up the Rockies on Colorado and Graaf-Reinet in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

In the frame: With my fellow Jim in the Pyrenees

And with half the Atlas Mountains descending on your Scooby Doo van during a rainy Ramadan.

Mountains are to be admired, of course, but to be respected too.

And we continually wonder at the skills of those who keep an eye on them when they are stirring.

And point out nonchalantly when we’re in the Pyrenees that there’s an avalanche in the distance.

Slope off on your hols

The Snowy One: Herself in Soll

This time of year is, of course, reserved for those who put planks on their feet and zig-zag down the mountains.

And whether that’s in our northern tip of Britain, my favoured ski slopes of Soll in Austria and Val D’Isere in France.

And on the dry slopes of my other land, Ireland, at Kilternan.

We’re all on the same page…

How happy on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news.

Our dream makers, our holiday providers.



Africa, Countries, Deals

Paying for the jerseys in Marrakech

And as Morocco roar in the riads and the Portuguese souk it up a personal tale of paying for the jerseys in Marrakech.

Twas back in the day when I was playing five-a-sides and awaiting the inevitable call-up from the Scotland national manager.

And I would collect football tops on my travels to show off to my pals when I got home.

And so I’d channeled my inner Cristiano Ronaldo by buying a Sporting Lisbon top in Portugal.

And my Pierre Van Hooijdonk with my Fenerbahce jersey in Turkey.

Marrakech express

Moroccan roll: Exotic Marrakech

I don’t know who I’d be following with my Morocco top from Marrakech.

The only Moroccan player I knew being a little-known winger Hicham Zerouali, plying his trade with Aberdeen.

Following Morocco’s heroics in the World Cup quarter-finals we’ll know a lot more of their players.

Back to Marrakech though and I was on a mission.

And having had an early introduction to bartering in Turkey earlier that summer I was ready for the Moroccans.

Only I wasn’t.

Square deal

Fantastic: Moroccan fans

Marrakech’s main square Jemaa-el Fna is Barter Central.

Where savvy traders play tourists for every last dirham.

And send you on your way with a polyester jersey which wares in the wash.

While you’ll always lose out to the market hustlers in Jemaa-el Fna then it’s good that there’s always someone you can fall back on.

And when it comes to Morocco then Sunway certainly know one end of the camel from the other.

Sunway to go

Take it as red: The Moroccan national team

As it happens Sunway is offering a band of offers this month.

With three night breaks from €448, seven nights from €396.

Or 10 night breaks from €495.

Or next month three night breaks from €214, 7-night breaks from €310 or 10-night breaks from €382. 

Who knows where we’ll be by the time you get out to Morocco this month?

You may be on the lookout among the fez-wearers for a World Cup winning top.

But be wary that could mean paying for the jerseys in Marrakech.


Africa, America, Asia, Countries, Cruising, Europe, Oceania, South America

Swanning about the world

So all we do is go swanning about the world. Wrong, we let somebody else pilot the ship.

And that somebody would be Swan Hellenic who will show you the Arctic, Antarctic and rest of the world – from Brazil to Papua New Guinea, Norway to New Zealand, Australia to Africa, and Madagascar to the Mediterranean.

Swan Hellenic are introducing a new lady to the fleet for next year with SH Diana joining SH Minerva and SH Vega from the past two years.

So as with all things cruise let’s see the numbers.

There are 192 guests across 96 staterooms and suites, many with balconies.

Diana rules the waves

Ice one: And total peace

Diana’s passengers features a multifunctional room next to the observation lounge, a private dining room and two tenders.

And so the polar class 6 ice-strengthened hull plus extra-large stabilisers make the journey as smooth as silk for you to enjoy the Arctic and Antarctic.

There are new itineraries too on the roster, such as New Zealand in Depth and immerse yourself in its Maori culture and its Long White Cloud.

Dip your toe in: Luxury on board

Then there’s Papua New Guinea with its active volcano and Eclectus parrots.

For Japanophiles then you can explore the Land of the Rising Sun further than ever before.

And its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples and the forested island of Yakushima.

Of course, all these exotic destinations bill themselves as the Land of something or other.

Dance away: Maori culture

And that is no different with Iceland, the Land of Ice and Fire.

In Iceland in Depth you can cruise along the fjords, something we’d encourage anybody in the Nordic or Scandinavia, nations. 

And so to the Land of Carnival, the Spirit of Brazil will give you those rhythms, beats and buzzing cities.

But you’ll also get to see humpback whales in the Abrolhos Archipelago.

While if Africa is more your thing then you can check out their Unspoilt Wilds of Southwest Africa.

And talk to the animals… the elephants, buffalos, lowland gorillas and chimps. And you’ll feel good.

Before learning about the wonders of voodoo in Benin.

Deal us in

Antarctic explorers: Off to see  wildlife

Prices range from £2,500pps to £19,000pps depending on the length and location of the expedition cruise.

That includes return regional flights to the port of embarkation and/or disembarkation (where specified)…

Group return transfers from the airport to the cruise port, one night pre-cruise accommodation with breakfast in a four/five star hotel or onboard, all meals onboard, 24-hour room service, coffee, tea, soft drinks and selected alcoholic beverages available 24-hours per day.

There will be a lecture programmes by Swan Hellenic’s experienced expedition team and guest speakers, Wi-Fi, onboard gratuities and port taxes.

And one selected shore excursion/expedition activity per port of call, and branded Swan Hellenic expedition parkas and use of rubber boots in Polar Regions.

Phew. So get swanning about the world.


Africa, Countries

Cheetah’s day

It comes around swiftly at this time of year… cheetah’s day.

And on this day which is designated to the big cat, my thoughts naturally turn to Thandie and her cubs.

Not sure how much Santie figures in animal reserves.

But I’m hoping in this season of giving her little ones get spoiled.

It’ll be four years in a couple of months since I left Thandie mothering her new-borns.

In the Mount Cambedoo Reserve in Graaf-Reinet in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

Power Ranger

Made it: With Hewart and Reserve owner Iain

Of course being such speedsters, they can hit 70mph in just three seconds, cheetahs can be hard to keep up with.

And that’s where rangers come in.

Zimbabwean Hewart uses guile and knowledge of Thandie’s movement and electronic equipment.

To track down the majestic pussycat to her shelter under a tree.

Until we are looking in awe at this wonderful specimen in her natural lair, ensuring that we don’t venture too closely.

Protective animals and their young, and all that.

And more so as their men folk don’t tend to stick around.

Male cheetahs prefer to live in a band of brothers known as a coalition.

While it may be difficult to spot a cheetah, if you do it’s easy enough to identify the spots on the big cats.

Laying a Marker

Cloak and dagger: With Thandie

The chita, from the Hindi word ‘chita’ or ‘the spotted one’, they have between 2,000 and 3,000 such markings.

Now every day is worth celebrating the cheetah, I think we’d all agree, but why this day?

Well, we have Dr Laurie Marker who founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund in 1991 to thank.

In 2010, she designated today, December 4th, as International Cheetah Day choosing it after the birthday of a cheetah named Khayam.

Save our cheetahs

Spot her: Thandie

Dr Marker trained this cheetah for her first research project on teaching captive-born cheetahs to hunt.

When she reintroduced Khayam to the wild, she realised how endangered the cheetahs were becoming.

With less than 8,000 cheetahs living in the wild, a 50 percent decline in the last four decades, and still being hunted for fur.

All good reason to celebrate Cheetah’s day, and we’re sure you’ll be spoiled Thandie.