Adventure, America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland

Holiday Snaps – Hungarian heights

I christened her Funky Gold Edina which she happily went along with despite it probably going over her Hungarian head.

Edina was the ever-smiling Top Flight for Schools host on our walking trip up the Tyrolean Alps in Austria.

Which is no mean thing when everything over your head gives you vertigo.

It’s the people you meet from foreign countries when you’re abroad who inspire you to visit their homelands.

Hungary for cultureEdina’s beloved Hungary is also on Travel Department‘s radar.

Phew Danube

You’ll go right round the bend but you’ll love it on your Danube Bend Walking Holiday.

Spend five nights in the Medieval castle town of Visegard in Northern Hungary.

Enjoy five days of walking with packed lunches with moderate (7-11kms) and challenging (12-20kms) levels.

With Edina and Caroline in the Austrian Tyrol

Among the highlights are Nagymaros, Zebegeny, the Pilis Mountains and a half/day tour of Budapest.

From €1,199pp for seven nights including flights, transfers and 4* hotel accommodation, departing June and September.

Sit down next to me Rosa

Rosa and Thistle in Memphis

There is something iconic about the American bus.

Where else can you see a man in a gabardine suit who looks like a spy when you’ve gone to look for America (ask your folks)?

But not all buses are Greyhound or Peter Pan buses… in the Deep South they were awful segregated affairs.

Until a wee seamstress cast a huge Civil Rights legacy 65 years ago today by refusing to give up her seat.

Her arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, sparked the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Heroine: Rosa Parks

I had the honour of sitting beside Rosa (well kinda) in the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

The real bus is in the Henry Ford Museum in the Detroit area near where she moved, like so many African-Americans.

But the real story begins in Montgomery, Alabama.

Malta crosses

Art of Valletta: Caravaggio

Should you see a Catholic priest walking down the middle of a street in Malta or Gozo then you should veer into a ditch to miss him.

It used to be the case too in Ireland though these changed days they’d probably be stepping on the peddle.

The links to the two countries have always been strong and they’ve just been renewed.

Since the end of last month you can get back to Malta from Ireland with a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.

And when you’re there you can enjoy, the sun, sea and swally, of course, but why not the saints too?

And as I often say the best way to check out a new place is to go where they play and pray.

Grand Gozo

The archipelago boasts more than 360 churches and chapels and having visited St John’s Co-Cathedral for the Caravaggio which means only another 359!

St Augustine Church and St Paul’s Shipwreck Church are on the Malta Pilgrimage Trail and the old convert must think I’lm stalking him.

In Malta yes, but also Rome while I’ve also been on the trail of St John too, on the island of Kythera in the Athens/Attica region of Greece.

America, Countries, Culture, Food & Wine, Ireland

The Travel pack – alpha males

And aren’t we, the alpha males, the most awkward species – especially Homo Caledonius and Homo Australis?

The story goes that Caledonius and Australis squared up in the Rockies where Australis thought it right to defend the honour of a female.

Brush it off

The female in question was an elderly Jordanian woman whom Caledonius had brushed past on his way back up the coach to rescue his rucksack.

Australis puffed out his chest and lambasted Caledonius for ‘touching the Asian woman’!

And it carried on into our Colorado spa where it did mellower and we all just chilled with our party.

Calming water.

Pagosa Springs is the world’s deepest geothermal hot spring aquifier.

Which we’re told powers local businesses, the best of whom are, of course, the craft breweries.

Springs eternal

And a shout-out here to beer archaeologist Travis and his pals at Avery Brewery h here.

Hands up for the Paradise Coast

Paradise Coast, Florida: And Paradise is right there waiting for me, as in March when this peaky bug interrupted me.

The Paradise Coast is on the south Florida coast, and a Hertz car was sitting there for me at Miami only for Donald Trump to close the country down.

Ever the Everglades

The Everglades has a certain ring to it and the National Park is a World Heritage site.

And, of course, you’ll explore the tropical jungle, mangrove and cypress swamps.

Everglades Area Tours will give you the skinny on the marine, birdlife and endangered species.

Any visitor to the Everglades will grow fins themselves with the amount of water life they eat.

But always the Floridians are thinking of the sustainability of its Paradise Coast and Keys.

And fishermen detach claws at the joint and throw the crustaceans back.

Stone crabs can regenerate their claws every one to two years, making this one of Florida’s most coveted sustainable food sources.

America, Countries, Culture, Deals, Ireland, UK

Hungry and Thursday – Lobster for Thanksgiving

It was a time of plague and pestilence when frontiersmen reached out to new peoples in an act of trust.

And it is the best of America, its Thanksgiving Day.

Clouded in myth from what I can see there are two main contenders.

The 1619 religious feast on the English Puritans’ arrival in Berkeley Hundred, Virginia.

And the 1621 shared harvest meal between the settlers in Plymouth, Massachusetts and the Native American Wampanoag people.

Mass gathering

The indigenous people had helped the incomers get through the previous harsh winters.

The feast is akin to a Christmas meal with roast turkey the centrepiece.

And didn’t we all see the turkey get a pardon at the White House last week?… they’re coming back for the bird today.

But while you may go for turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, and cranberry sauce if you want to be really authentic then here’s how to party like it’s 1621.

Walk like a Puritan

And If you want to walk like a Puritan then you need to get your hands on waterfowl, venison, lobsters, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin snd squash.

Now because Thanksgiving is a celebration of Settler and Native-American unity, a fairly rare occurrence these 500 years let’s focus on the First Nations.

And other than getting out on a reservation (and I will) their representative body and my pals, AIANTA are the folks to go to for everything you need to know.

While the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC is the Smithsonian Museum which chronicles their history.

The pipes of peace: In Denver

The American story belongs to all those who have settled, been settled or resettled including more than a couple of Murtys and McNultys (my Mum’s people).

While not all got out to the Wild West, I did, as did Buffalo Bill Cody and his Plainsmen. Chief Sitting Bull was already there.

Wild West Road Trip

My friends at American Holidays know the way already.

And they are offering a Road Trip through Wyoming and my fave Colorado, who both claim Buffalo Bill’s bones, the two Dakotas, Montana and Utah.

All from €1499. They’ll give you 15 days RV rental with unlimited mileage, flights from Dublin to Denver and return from Salt Lake City.

With two nights in Mile High City, Denver, before your trip.

Buffalo Bill’s graveyard: Golden, Colorado

You’ll also get a Vehicle Provisioning Kit of cookware, crockery and utensils.

And personal kits for four people – bath towels, pillows and bedding.

And maybe in the spirit of Thanksgiving leave room for some lobster, venison, waterfowl and pumpkins.

Countries, Cruising, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland, UK

Mac Black Friday – your Scots pal’s round-up

And the first Black Friday had nothing to do with shopping and everything to do with sheeping.

The Scottish Highlanders were only 128 miles from London on Friday, December 6, 1745, when they decided to turn their army around and head back to their sheep.

It was an ill-fated retreat and their English pursuers caught up with them at Culloden, near Inverness, on April 16, and smote them, a thing they did then and very sore.

These days the only injuries you’ll pick up are sore shins in the shopping rush, although this year it’ll be ‘digital finger’.

Your favourite Travel blogger is always happy to take one for the team so here’s my round-up.

Flyday Friday

And it’s not just off-the-rail fashion or white goods that are Black Friday regulars… we all love our airline giveaways too.

Ireland’s national airline Aer Lingus carrier have a headline offer of €100 off for a family of four bringing two checked bags to Gran Canaria in May.

While also flagging up plenty of other sun spots from which to choose.

Ryanair pride themselves on giving more away more often and are championing ‘Every Friday is Black Friday.’

Friday cruiseday

And our floating hotel firms are all about the sails.

Princess Cruises are offering deals with peak season sailings from €769pp through November 30.

They have 14 UK-based voyages from seven to 14 nights, departing between May and October.

Eleven of those voyages will travel round-trip from Southampton to destinations across northern Europe (maybe taking in here), the Med (and this) and the Canary Islands (us too).

The 3,560 guest Regal Princess will be based in the UK from April to October 30.

Fares start at €769pp for a seven-night cruise during peak season and €1209pp for a 14-night cruise.

And I’ll drink to that. On board Royal

Royal Caribbean is combining Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

And they are recommending booking a cruise this weekend and get up to $400 onboard credit and save up to $150 instantly.

And why wait? Because this is what you get and here too.

Friday skiday

Slope off to the mountains, where there’s plenty of social distancing, with Crystal Ski and get €150 off any booking up to April 2022.

All 2020/2021 holidays come with Covid Cover and free amends up to 28 days before departure.

And because Andorra is a favourite of Irish skiers. Depart January 10, stay self-catering in 3* Sant Roma Apartments, Arinsal from €292pps (four people sharing).

While Italy is mine. And why not spend yours in Sainte D’ouix, at the 3* Hotel Martin, half-board, from €544pps.

Offer runs through to Monday. Includes flights from Dublin.

And I’m not stopping there… more Black Friday deals coming up.





America, Countries, Culture, Ireland, UK

Rainy Days and Songdays – MacArthur Spark

Someone left the cake out in the rain, I don’t think that I can take it, ‘Cause it took so long to bake it. And I’ll never have that recipe again – Donna Summer

And today as we mark a historic milestone, the coming of the Messiah of Travel 55 years ago, a word on cakes, songs and one particular song, MacArthur Park.

My own party piece for a family birthday is to leave the cake outside on the patio table before cranking up the song and then bringing it inside.

But what of the location of Donna Summer’s disco masterpiece cover.

Of Richard Harris’s weak croaky version?

Well, there are many MacArthur Parks in the US, all named for the war hero General Douglas MacArthur.

But this one is in LA.

Old Los Angeles

The story goes that composer Jimmy Webb wrote it about the break-up of his relationship with Susie Horton.

That they would meet regularly for lunch in the park opposite Susie’s insurance office near Downtown LA where I’ve seen first hand its cultural snd historic growth.

And that he did see a cake left out in the rain and the old men playing checkers by the trees.

Wings over Los Angeles

It’s a thing in the States, outdoors chess and checkers.

And on a family trip to New York the Son and Heir played with a dude who claimed to have played with Bobby Fischer.

And just saying in the passing Mrs M will surely find the recipe again…

It’s written on the empty box I found in the bin!

Adventure, Africa, America, Countries, Sport

JFK remembered

We have a long-forgotten aide of John F. Kennedy’s to thank on this day as JFK is remembered.

This is why the iconic US President’s grave being open for us to pay pilgrimage.

Kennedy had spoken to the aide from Robert E Lee’s house looking down on Arlington Cemetery in the weeks ahead of his assassination.

He said, with some prescience, that he would like to spend eternity looking down on this view of Washington DC and the Potomac River.

Jackie Kennedy had wanted to bury her husband in the Kennedy family homestead of Hyannis Port in Massachusetts.

The sentry never sleeps

Sentinels have continued to stand watch at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

There at Arlington House throughout the pandemic, albeit without tourists.

For history tourists it is a must as part of a visit to General Lee’s house.

You can see the recreated office where he contemplated on whose side to fight on during the Civil War.

The Arlington grounds on which the cemetery now stands was used as a military camp.

It served as a resting place for soldiers by Union forces.

A family affair

Kennedy’s grave is a simple. solemn stone, beside the eternal flame and his family

And movingly his and Jackie’s still-born child Arabella and their infant son Patrick, born in the months before his death.

Kennedy’s Irish visit in 1963

Jackie is buried here too.

She lies near his brothers Robert and Edward, and all are tended too beautifully and respectfully by the groundsmen.

Today on the 57th anniversary of his assassination focus will switch to Dallas, his Massachusetts home, and perhaps too his Irish homestead.

A view for immortality onto Washington DC

And all resonant to the man and his legend.

But today I will be reflecting on gardener Old Jorge tending the graves the day I visited.

And how Kennedy would have come to represent his champion.

Asia, Countries, Cruising, Culture, Deals, Europe, Flying

Flyday Ferryday Friday

I’m channelling my inner Oleta Adams (the darling of the Gulf War soldiers) by saying I don’t care how I get there I’ll get there if I can.

And so I’m flagging up airplane, sailboat and maybe even camel too today although Oleta it’s not just an Arab man who uses the ‘ship of the desert’.

Canary Orange

The future is orange

And obviously this caught our attention. Prosaically because the latest map for the European Centre for Disease control has classified Ireland and the Canaries orange.

Which means that anyone returning from the Canaries doesn’t have to restrict their movements upon their return, having done a pre-departure test 72 hours before departure.

Unlike the canary Aer Lingus isn’t flying out there until December 27.

But from then you can be sure of availability out to Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and my old fave Tenerife.

A word on canaries and the Canaries and, no they’re not named after the birds but after the latin name for dogs because they had big mutts.

And as for orange canaries, well they’re really Red Canaries which can have an orange hue. Now you know.

French fancy

We are sailing

France, we’ve missed you. Like so much else this year I had my bag packed ready for an arts and culture trip to see you when this pesky bug got buggier.

But we and my ferry friends aren’t going to let this beat us and Irish Ferries are preparing for a better year next year.

Irish Ferries will operate daily overnight sailings from Dublin to Cherbourg with their new cruise ferry WB Yeats (or WB Yachts as I call it) throughout next summer.

I’ve met WB, the ship that is, but that was in Dublin Port… next stop Cherbourg 2021.

And it truly is a pleasure to sail around French shores

Cruise away to 2022

Enchanted Princess

And the thing about cruises is that you usually have to save up for them.

So Princess Cruises are giving us plenty of time to do just that with their 2022 brochure.

They will have five ships on the seas.

Pick of them (heck they’re all mouthwatering) is Enchanted Princess which will be sailing around Russia snd Scandinavia from Copenhagen.

While we’re intrigued about their festival packages.

So you can take the Crown Princess to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo,

And I promised you a camel

He’s got the hump

Now this is the one I rowed back on, the 15-day G Adventures Jordan and Israel Adventures trip.

Because I didn’t feel it was right to leave my work without me for that length of time!

It’ll take you from Amman whose charms and that of Jordan I did enjoy, to Jerusalem and every stop in between. From £1954 (was £2999). Valid from January 15.

And as I now know after making new Israeli friends at the World Travel Market you’re just as likely to need a camel here too.

Because the land of milk and honey is a half sand.


Adventure, America, Countries, Deals, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

Take A Hike Day

And no we’re not talking to you Donald… this is a real thing which like most speciality days of the year hails from America.

But we’ll get on it anyway because it’s the one thing we can all do.

Whether you’re locked down and have to channel your own Captain Tom Moore and do laps or the garden or you can get on an open track.

Whether you’ve been walking this year or not, make today your day to go for a hike.

And lucky you if you live near any of these walks.

Galician Wasp Whisperer

The gang of four… me next to the Wasp Whisperer

The Camino: And your go-to hike from (well, anywhere, but in my case 100km out) Sarria to Santiago de Compostella.

You can organise your own independent travel and stay in albergue, or hostels, or have your bags taken from hotel to hotel at Camino Ways.

I’ve retrodden this path with you with many an anecdote and it’s good to know that these stories have legs.

As Wendy the Whatsapp group I’ve joined up with after four years is still referred to as the Wasp Whisperer.

A walk in the Pyrenees

Jim and games: With my old mate Jim Gallagher

Hautes-Pyrenees: And sometimes, more than others, you’ve got to be on your toes.

Because the ground can shift from around you as when an avalanche happened in the Pyrenees around me.

I knew those holy trinkets I’d picked up at Lourdes would come in handy.

Feel the earth move in Austria

Ehrwald, Austria: Then there’ are the times when you bring the mountain down of your own accord.

Like in Austria where the foothills in the Tyrolean Alps consist of slippy limestone.

Which invariably will mean that when your experienced Topflight for schools walking group is confidently marching on

A walk through Tenerife

And my legs will be bowed too at the end of this

Tenerife: And sometimes we lose one or two along the way on the climb up to Afur in the burning sun.

We’ll call them Jim and Margaret because that’s their names.

And credit to those on our CanariaWays party who went down to pick them up.

While others cradled their Estrella and conceded through gritted teeth that it was OK to miss the wine tasting.

What the Romans did for us

Somewhere to bathe my feet

Via Francigena, Rome: And when you spot snow on the peaks on your 100kms trek from Viterbo into the Eternal City you’ll know you’ve made a wrong turning!

Which is easy to do when the signpost stickers are peeling off the trees and you have no sense of direction anyway.

I cani (the dogs) will soon tell you to get back on track.

And another writer’s trail

Appalachian Trail: Inspired by the Daddy of all of us Travel writers Bill Bryson who wrote A Walk in the Woods which was turned into a major film.

Discover North America put on a nine-day trip from my old American learning ground Boston up to Maine and back.

And you can bet if there’s a bear I’ll find it, even if it means going off-piste into another state.


America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Music

Rainy Days and Songdays – Si Senor, we can boogie

We all need a certain song and for us Scots that certain song is Spanish disco classic Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.

The story goes that one of the Scottish footballers who qualified for the Euros, Andrew Considine, had sung the song on a bachelor’s party while dressed in drag.

And the squad adopted it and partied to it after they beat Serbia to qualify for the finsls.

Boogie nights

All night long: Andrew Considine (centre)

It’s not unusual for Scottish men to wear skirts, of course.

And some of us have even twirled the skirt in destinations from Ireland to France to Turkey.

And all the better when it’s to a Spanish beat.

Mad Madrid for it

Yes Sir I Can Boogie (Baccara): And Mayte and Maria are two Madridistas.

Who reached No.1 in the UK in 1977 for a week at a time when Scotland were again on a roll and preparing for a World Cup.

The two senoritas went onto represent randomly Luxembourg at Eurovision.

Where they finished seventh behind winners Israel but two places ahead of the Spanish entrant.

Maracca cracka

Where’s the hat?

Y Viva Espana (Sylvia): That’ll be Sylvia Vrethammar to you and me.

Sylvia Vretwho… well, yes, she was the chirpy Swede who held her Spanish hat coquettishly before launching into this party favourite.

Which every family sang on their way to Spain, and yes, guilty as I tagged along with my family to Ibiza.

The track which Sylvia took to No.4 in the UK charts was actually written by a couple of Belgians and did the rounds in Europe in a number of languages.

Macarena in the arena

Macarena (Los del Rio): Always better in the Spanish with Los del Rio meaning Those from the River… and Macarena, well the name of a woman

And these guys hail from Dos Hermanas, near Seville in Andalusia.

This duo, Antonio Romario Monge and Rafael Ruiz Perdigones, were formed in 1962 – and remember The Beatles first charted in the UK that year.

It took the two amigos 33 years to get their ten minutes of fame and Billboard named the best one-hit wonder of all time.

Though they had to settle for No.2 in the UK.

Wham bam Bamboleo

Bamboleo (Gipsy Kings): And this literally means wobble although it is slightly more sensual to describe it as swing.

The band are Gitano-French, Romani or gipsies, from Arles and Montpelier in the French Riviera, hence the title they gave themselves,

Can’t find the chart position here for Bamboleo, a bit of a wobble here on my part then.

And La Bamba too

La Bamba (Ritchie Valens): Ritchie Valenzuela achieved immortality through this song.

Born in LA, the son of Mexicans, Ritchie’s life was snuffed out in the same plane crash that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper.

Lou Diamond Philipps played Ritchie in the 1987 biopic where Los Lobos had a No.1 international hit with the song (Ritchie had only got to No.49).

So in tribute to the Spanish sound I’m off to practise my boogie ahead of the Euros.


America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, Sport

My Sporting Weekend – a tale of two Georgias

And the result is not long in from Georgia… at this rate we’d have had a winner of the Masters before the Georgians plumped for Trump or Biden.

As it is they decided to go for Joe who wouldn’t look out of place as the honorary starter.

As it goes 85-year-young fitness fanatic Gary Player and Mighty 80 Jack Nicklaus, the most successful golfer of all time, gripped it and ripped it.

Now as it happens I know all about Gary’s legendary fitness having struggled to keep up with him around Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) 25 years ago.

After I’d been invited to accompany him as he shot a piece for Japanese television.

A November Masters has dressed Augusta National in its autumn colours which is different but just as pretty.

Still we can only hope that the famous old major will be back in its spring date next year and that we’ll get to be there.

Golfbreaks offers a selection of flight-inclusive packages for the event which is pencilled in from April 8-11 from £2999.

With the option to extend your stay at Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head or Kiawah Island.

With bespoke packages and a round of golf or an extra day at Augusta.

And as you can see my swing only needs a tweak from when I impressed them all at the Paul McGinley School in Quinta do Lago.

While if you’re more interested in the Open.

Then you don’t have to be this year’s Champion Golfer to enjoy the oldest major of them all.

You can just pose up in the golf village which I did at last year’s Open in Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland.

A packed Sandwich

This year’s competition was due to have been played in Sandwich (Royal St George’s) and will be next year.

Which means Kent on England’s south coast, and stop me here if I’ve told you this story already.

But when I worked full-time running a newspaper sports desk…

The secretary was tasked with getting accommodation for the golf writer.

Next year: At Sandwich

Let’s call her Kate and him Paul because that’s their names.

Kate came over to the desk all excited saying she had found Paul a place just 25 miles from the course…. in France.

Which is probably as wayward as one of my tee shots.

The other Georgia

Flag happy: With Ambassador George in Dublin

Not to be mistaken for the other Georgia.

Georgia of the Caucuses and Black Sea, boasts a fascinating history.

With perhaps its biggest claim to fame being wine is first recorded here.

I left with a more recent vintage from lunch at George Zurabashvili, the Georgian ambassador’s, residence in Dublin.

With the vow that I would visit one day (and I will).

And that I would support their rugby team unless of course they were playing Scotland or Ireland.

And it was easy yesterday because they were facing England, although I didn’t bring them much luck.