America, Countries

North Dakota is capital

It was my wake-up call on my observation on American insularity that North Dakota is capital.

I had just returned from my first visit to America to stay with cousins and had enrolled in an American History module at university.

The Great Outdoors: North Dakota

And in the knowing way of a student I was regaling my class with my New York rellies.

And asking how could they not know that Edinburgh was the capital of Scotland.

My tutor, a hippy, far removed from the Jesuit priests who had taught me, gently pulled me up.

Bismarck leaves his mark

Danke: The other Bismarck

By asking me if I knew the capital of North Dakota which I learned then and have used as an example to others to this day.

General George Custer certainly knew of Bismarck the day he left the North Dakotan capital to face down the Native Americans.

And he undoubtedly soon wished he’d stayed home rather than seek out.

North Dakota, a growing hub for German immigrants, had reached out to that country’s Otto Von Bismarck.

And renamed their town Edwinton after him in the hope that he would help with the costs of the railroad.

They got a danke but no marks but didn’t hold it against old Otto.

Custer’s North Dakota

History lesson: On Custer

You can get your fix of Wild West history (yes please) at the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park just outside Bismarck which overlooks the Missouri river.

You’ll be glad to know the settlers and the Native Americans all rub along a lot more nicely now than back in the day.

And visitors in September can witness authentic tribal dancing at the United Tribes International Powwow.

Travel further back in time, say 600 million years.

Living history

Across the ages: 5,000 years of North Dakota

At the newly expanded North Dakota Heritage Centre and State Museum which houses four galleries.

From a life-size T. rex skeleton cast to a 1950s soda shop to rare beadwork, the State Museum covers all the bases.

North Dakota is one of America’s least populous states with only 780,000 citizens across its 70,705sq miles borders.

And it is those Great Outdoors which drew no less a personage and adventurer than President Teddy Roosevelt.

‘It was here that the romance of my life began,’ he said.

In your stride

Timewarp: And an Olde Worlde charm

Getting to North Dakota is easy.

Minneapolis in Minnesota is the perfect gateway into the state.

And it is just under a four hour-drive away.

Or for closer access there are frequent flights into Fargo in the west of the state.

And so I’m more than happy to get the message out… North Dakota is capital.




America, Countries, Food

Jimbalaya in New Orleans

Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the Bayou as we go Platinum Jimbalaya in New Orleans.

Or if you’re being particular Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and a fillet gumbo but I took to Cajun cuisine the first time I sampled it.

On the forecourt of the American Travel Fair in Washington DC where the New Orleans delegation held their liquid breakfast.

Food for thought

Jambalaya today: Get stuck in

That liquid being the famous local delicacy Sazerac.

And the jambalaya being a spicy rice pot of chicken andouille sausage, shrimps and veg.

Crawfish pie, well being crawfish which tastes a bit like lobster under a crust.

While gumbo is the Louisiana state dish, a soup of meat or shellfish, or maybe both.

With the Creole Holy Trinity of celery, bell peppers and onions.

New Orleans Saints

Easy as: Crawfish pie

All of which was consumed with relish and all before 10am.

Before the Saints came marching in and led us into the conference room.

Those Saints being the famous Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Well we’re being seduced again by the tastes and sounds of New Orleans.

As the Big Easy delegation are the first out of the traps with details of their American Travel Fair party.

Which this May is being held in San Antonio in Texas.

And where helpfully their gig will be at the Westin Riverwalk where we’ll be staying…

Well, we are always where the party is at.

Rhythm in the heart

Souper: Gumbo

Of course New Orleans is just eight hours by road across the Deep South and served by road, rail, bus and air.

Or you could go Platinum with a 14-night fly-drive Southern Rhythms trip from €1519pp.

And what’s best is that this offer takes in and ticks off five states, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

But let’s get the Irish Travel providers and American experts to give us the highlights…

Their pitch is that we will get to tap your feet to the beat in Nashville, Memphis, Lafayette and New Orleans, the region that gave rise to every form of contemporary American music.

And visit Natchez, perhaps the best preserved antebellum town in the South.

As well as historic buildings in Atlanta, where the spirit of Scarlett O’Hara is still in the air.

Although for all her fineries we’d be more Downstairs and all that jazz.

And Jimbalaya in New Orleans.



America, Europe

Democrats voted Hitler

On this National Holocaust Day lest we forget democrats voted for Hitler.

And while we rightly have the notion of the Great Dictators ruling at the point of a bayonet and a pistol.

It was at the ballot box 90 years ago, on January 30, that the Nazis officially won power.

And if that’s not a reminder for us to constantly be vigilant about who we vote for.

And what checks we put on them then we will, and do, pay the consequences.

Chilling: Auschwitz

Now if you thought that your cosy country was immune to being taken over by megalomaniacs authoritarians.

Then that’s just what the Germans thought about Adolf Hitler back in 1933.

And they believed too that he could rid them of a greater Communist threat and then they could put him back in his box.

Nor should we be blindsided by the threat from within or without as the Germans were back in the 30s.

Seduced as they were by a sense of grievance, common bogeymen enemies within the State.

And a zenophobic hatred of foreigners.

Bavarian barbarity

The first: Dachau

Sound like Germany of the Thirties… and America of the late 2010s, Brazil now, Brexiteering Britain and a fascist stream in the French Far Right.

All touchpoints for us as we travel through history and the world.

My first introduction to holocaust history was as an offshoot to a very different holiday, the Munich Beerfest in the Eighties.

But Bavaria was where Hitler had his first putsch and where he installed his first concentration camp in Dachau in March 1933.

All under the noses of Bavarians going about their daily business.

While the ‘disreputables’ were packed away to what were presented to the rest of the world as holiday camps.

It is challenging tourism but vital and rewardingly now memorials are now marked across the globe.

With permanent Holocaust centres, the biggest being the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin and the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam.

But also in towns and cities in every civilised country.

To remind us that racism exists on our doorstep too and genocide grows from unfettered populism.

Cry Freedom

Inspiration: Anne Frank

And that was driven home to me not in Germany, Poland or any of the major arenas of the Holocaust last year.

But in one of the most liberal states in America, the Commonwealth of Massachussets, and its capital Boston .

Where the New England Holocaust Memorial  stands next to the Freedom Trail.

And that marks the key points and figures in the American Revolutionary Story.

Alas, the openness which defines our free societies means that racist zealots can broadcast their vile racism.

As happened when neo-Nazis took a selfie of themselves and put it up on social media.

Of course that should never put civilised people off paying our respects wherever we are and steel ourselves.

Because lest we forget democrats voted for Hitler… we who are still democrats.




America, Countries, Sport

Drivin’ outta town to Arizona

A bag of balls and a bucket of booze and I’m drivin’ outta town to Arizona.

No, I’m not advocating drink-driving unless it’s golf-range driving in Las Vegas where the Grand Canyon State is on the horizon.

And where fast food and craft beer oils the joints and helps you grip it and rip it and hit it towards open Arizona.

Where you can reach not just in the mind but in a helicopter or in an open car.

And if you reach rough where noone has gone before then the expanse of Arizona feels appealing.

The golf zone

Tee it up: Arizona in the distance

Our friends out West must have seen something in me out in the Las Vegas Top Golf range to invite me out.

To golf near the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona.

Elephant… never forget

Watch out for the trees: Elephant Rocks

At Elephant Rocks in Williams only an hour away from the canyon.

The course’s quirky name originated from the elephant-shaped lava rocks that greet guests on their way to the public 18-hole course.

Closed in the winter, the course is the perfect getaway during the spring and summer.

Stay in Williams to dine in a retro diner along Route 66.

And I’m working backwards here having reached the terminus in Santa Monica.

On the right track

Get outta the way: Photobombed in Grand Canyon

Or ride the Grand Canyon Railroad for a scenic ride to the natural wonder.

Just make sure you don’t have someone photobomb your Grand Canyon shot.

So however you get there get drivin’ outta town to Arizona.


America, Countries

Houston we have a rodeo

The countdown is on for the best bucking show in the world… Houston we have a rodeo.

RodeoHouston draws 30,000 livestock and horse show entries every year to Texas.

And I’m only surprised my own entry for next month hasn’t arrived yet.

As news of my derring-do from my heroics in Colorado five years ago must have reached the Houstonians.

Smile High

My posse: At the Mile High Stadium

When my bull-taming exploits were shot up on the big-screen at Denver Broncos’ Mile High Stadium.

The famous gridiron was opened up for us, the delegates of the IPW American travel fair in Denver.

Where a bucking bronco machine was for use in the foyer.

Along with line dancing lessons and a giant Kerplunk… all for our entertainment.

Going native: With the First Nation

While on the field Native Americans put on a song and dance performance for us.

Only my party was more interested in the buck eejit being thrown around the mechanical bull in the stadium.

Bigger and better

Hold on tight: Hey, ho Bronco

RODEOHOUSTON being Texas then everything is naturally bigger.

And two million fans will be Y’alling their way to the biggest rodeo show on Earth from February 28-March 19.

Where they’ll also be entertained royally by a host of stellar singers.

The Rodeo & Houston Livestock Show takes place beginning throughout the day followed by a live concert every night.

This year, 20 artists will take the stage during the rodeo representing an array of genres.

And not just country but R&B and pop too.

Hello Houston

Kids are all right: New Kids on the Block

And so, of course, you’ll be well acquainted with New Kids on the Block, Machine Gun Kelly, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley.

But Rodeo president and CEO Chris Boleman gives us the skinny on the local talent.

He waxed lyrical… ‘We are thrilled to welcome back so many talented artists including some fan favorites such as Houston rap legend, Bun B.’

‘The level of talent we have in this line-up will get the fans excited.

Ain’t half Brad: Brad Paisley

‘Including Texas’ own Parker McCollum, who is helping us kick off this 2023, star lineup on Opening Day.’

Individual RODEOHOUSTON tickets are being sold in two waves, 10am and 2pm at

Ticket prices start at $25, plus a $4 convenience fee.

Houston, no problem

Hand it to me: Game for a laugh

I’ll be hopefully twirling my left hand and riding that bull for all its worth (behave) again.

When my Travel fair party reassemble in San Antonio in May.

Of course come what May… there’s a bucking good show next month.

When Houston we have a rodeo.

British Airways flies London to Houston from £549 return in its sale.


America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

China in your land

Happy Lunar New Year, a day when we celebrate China in your land.

And rabbit on about the Chinatowns we’ve known.

With our favourite roast duck with orange sauce and egg fried rice.

Other dishes are available.

The first Chinatowns

Magic lanterns: Chinese New Year

The first Chinatown was established by the Spanish in Binondo, Manila in the Philippines in 1594.

And as Chinese influence and the Chinese spread across the globe so too did those big gateways.

Bunny love: The Year of the Rabbit

The port city of Liverpool is known for many things, The Beatles, its football teams, the Grand National Aintree course…

And the oldest Chinatown in Europe dating back to the 1850s.

All courtesy of the silk, cotton and tea trade between the north-west English city and Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The Chinese thrived and became an integral and valued part of the city.

Particularly after Chinatown was bombed in World War II and the Liverpudlians opened up Newton Street for them.

Yen in the USA

New York, New York: And its Chinatown

Chinatowns have long been high up on the list of must-visits on city breaks.

And when a food and wine editor is set the challenge of taking a family of four out in Manhattan it’s Chinatown she heads for.

Chinatown’s distinctive arches are also a Godsend as landmarks for the new visitor to a city.

So that when you’re on the clock on a day trip in Philadelphia and you need to get back to Washington.

Then the Philly Gate from where your bus takes off is a welcome sight.

You don’t have to be a metropolis like a New York, San Francisco, Melbourne or London (and Soho sharing tables are a culinary must).

Small town Chinatown

Dress-up: Chinese New Year for kids

Because even the smallest towns can dine out on their Chinatowns.

With my neighbouring town in my 13 years in Ireland putting on its own Chinese New Years along its back street next to the rail track.

All of which earned Bray the nickname Brayjing by the quick-witted Wicklow wags.

So as we celebrate the Year of the Rabbit and China in your land hare’s to peace and prosperity in all your lives.

And to our go-to dream maker and travel provider Wendy Wu… happy Wu Year.

Wendy is only offering savings on up to £1,650pp in their New Year Sale!

Plus, you can enjoy savings on your 2023 or 2024 China holiday when you book by 31 January



America, Asia, Countries, Europe, UK

World’s ugliest building!

So Scotland’s Holyrood is the world’s ugliest building in the world! But we ask about yours and how’s that for a parliament?

It feels a bit unfair to Holyrood at the foot of Edinburgh’s most famous street, the Royal Mile.

Yes, it may not have the river vista of a Houses of Parliament or the Mall walkway of the Capitol in Washington DC.

Capitol idea: On the hill in Washington DC

But Enric Miralles’s £414m edifice with its boats theme (no, me neither) is hardly the Scott Monument rocket eyesore on Princes Street.

Of course beauty is always in the eye in the beholder.

Not that I put much faith in the Buildworkd twitter survey.

And who chose Holyrood ahead of the likes of the J Edgar Hoover Building in Washington DC and the Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea?

Brit hit list

Sick building: Royal Liverpool Hospital

On the surface the British entrants in the survey surely should be less aesthetic than Holyrood…

Newport Train Station, Preston Train Station, the Royal Liverpool Hospital and the MI5 Building in London among them.

But then again in this strangest of surveys there are some odd picks among the American buildings.

Some probably more politically motivated, like with Holyrood.

American scream

Golden Vision: Trump in Vegas

And Trump’s name in glittering gold in his titular hotel in Las Vegas will do that for many.

I’d argue too against dissing Denver Airport having spent 12 hours there and availed of their putting course on the roof.

Or the Watergate Complex, other than its association with Nixon’s crimes.

And it seems politically even-handed with liberal Boston City Hall in the cradle of the American Revolution.

On the hit list for the twitter haters.

Now perhaps that’s it that the twitterati dislike more what’s inside Holyrood than what it looks like outside.

Something to Prague about

Ugly Pretty: Prague

But what about you do you think Holyrood is the world’s ugliest building!

And maybe leave you with this… the Prague television tower with its climbing babies was once the world’s second ugliest building.

The Czech capital edifice surpassed by the North Koreans again. And so there’s hope for Holyrood yet.



America, Countries

Three generations of The Exorcist

Fifty years after the release of the scariest film of them all it’s worth a revisit to Georgetown, Washington DC to reveal three generations of The Exorcist in Maryland.

The movie of William Peter Blatty’s masterpiece turned heads and forced priests to flee picture houses when it was released in 1973.

Fans of the movie know of course that the action is set in Georgetown.

Fright night: The Exorcist

And that the stairs where Fr Damien Karras, possessed by Regan and the Devil, hurls himself out of the window, has become a movie buff’s must-visit.

And one site alas I didn’t get to on my ramble around the nation’s capital…

Probably still spooked by the revolving Regan.

By Georgetown

Capitol idea: On the hill in Washington DC

Georgetown, of course, well worthy of your time in DC.

Once you’ve done Ford’s Theatre, the National Mall, the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol, and all the Smithsonians.

You’ll probably be deadbeat but try to save some energy.

For the 75 steps between M Street and Prospect Street

And while in the neighbourhood check out the oldest house in the district.

Honest Jim and Honest Abe in Washington

Built in 1765, the Old Stone House is the oldest standing building in DC.

A simple, 18th century structure, the outside of the house was made with local blue granite.

And it is reputed to have been used as George Washington’s engineering headquarters.

While those who are still interested in exploring American and modern world history (me, every time) then Dumbarton Oaks will be on your list.

It was here that the historic meeting of world leaders took place in 1944.

When they gathered to draw up the United Nations charter.

Dead interesting

Zion mighty: Mount Zion Cemetery in Georgetown

This being Washington the dead vie with the living for pride of place.

With, of course, Arlington Cemetery on every visitors’ itinerary.

Which, of course, the Mount Zion Cemetery, overlooking Rock Creek Park in Georgetown, should be.

This historic cemetery dates back to 1808.

And is one of the city’s oldest all-black burial sites – once reserved for the burial of free blacks.

While just a few blocks away Oak Hill Cemetery should also be on your list.

Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, was originally buried here until being re-interred with his father in Illinois.

While other luminaries here included Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s secretary of war, Dean Acheson and Harry S Truman’s secretary of state.

And Philip and Katherine Graham, publishers of the Washington Post.

The real Regan

Problem child: Regan

For you though the sight of Fr Karras’s demise on the Exorcist Steps may be the memorial you most want to visit.

The story of Regan MacNeil owes its origins to the real-life story of Robbie or Roland Doe from 1949.

Thought to be Ronald Hunkeler, who died only three years ago.

In his home town of Marriottsville in Maryland.

The appeal of The Exorcist endures to this day and a 50th anniversary sequel of the movie is coming out in October.

And it will be the first of three follow-ups in the franchise.

The father of a possessed child, desperate for help goes in search of someone who has had similar experiences.

And that’ll be Chris MacNeil, played again by Ellen Burstyn.

So that’s three generations of The Exorcist in Maryland covered.

Just be careful on those steps in Georgetown.





America, Countries, Cruising

To Miss With Love From Lulu

A twist on the old favourite To Sir With Love… To Miss With Love From Lulu.

This Miss is Mississippi and the good news is that Sixties icon Lulu will be rolling, rolling, rolling down the river.

On a cruise along the river and through the American heartland.

Imagine Holidays bills its 12-night package thus: ‘From its rich complex history to its multitude of dialects, bubbling mix of cuisine to its colourful neighbourhoods and passion for music…

Dolly’s bridge: Memphis

‘The bold and beautiful Deep South is a region that dances to its own unique rhythm.’

For anyone who has witnessed the journey of Marie Lawrie (her real name) from wee Glasgow lass to transcontinental superstar will know. 

Forever young: Lulu

That she has a multitude of dialects as she showed in one return for the 1990 New Year’s Day celebrations in George Square in Glasgow.

Of course, I couldn’t talk… no, literally, I was too far gone to. And when I did find my voice I was speaking in tongues.

Rolling down the river

Shout, shout: Lulu back in the day

Lulu, of course, is the consummate professional and she will of course nail it.

The Mississippi is very much on the radar of my own little songbird here at home.

And I have promised to take her out there to Memphis which of course is a hotbed of music.

And that is embedded in the very river itself where one of the bridges is named the Dolly Parton bridge (you work it out yourself).

Memphis magic

Welcome to the Jungle: Elvis’s Jungle Room

You’ll get three nights in Memphis before the off staying in a swanky hotel.

Arriving during the vivid and thrilling Carnival Season, you’ll be immersed in Memphis’s colourful streets, with bunting and festival decor.

Naturally you’ll visit Elvis’s Graceland and learn about the birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll during a visit to the Smithsonian Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum.

From here, you’ll embark American Queen, the largest steamboat ever built, for a journey along the Mississippi.

The Big Easy

Dance away: New Orleans

Take in the antebellum mansions, the historical port of Vicksburg, the oldest city on the Mississippi.

St. Francisville boasts a lifestyle of a bygone era, and Nottoway, an exclusive stop where you’ll visit the largest standing antebellum mansion in the south.

Your cruise ends in the unique New Orleans and enjoy two nights in the Big Easy.

Exploring the French Quarter and the charming neighbourhoods of the Garden District and Treme.

Learn about city culture and history as you venture along Frenchmen Street and Esplanade Avenue, and marvel at magnificent sites including St. Louis Cathedral, Cabildo, The Presbytere.

Queen of ships

Bridge of Highs: The Mississippi

The American Queen certainly lives up to its name judging by the specs.

We’re encouraged to dine on delectable flavours in the elegant J.M White Dining Room.

Soak up the sun from the top deck and enjoy live music performances including the lovely Lulu.

And expertly crafted cocktails in the Engine Room Bar.

While there’s also award-winning, Broadway-calibre entertainment in the Grand Saloon.

So why not take up the offer To Miss With Love From Lulu. Prices from £3499pp, depart February 16 2024.



America, Countries

Drive for Martin Luther King 55

They are the gift that keeps on giving, the National Civil Rights Museum who are running a blood drive for Martin Luther King 55.

This year marks 55 years since Dr King was assassinated.

On the balcony of his Lorraine Motel room which is now incorporated into the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

While tomorrow, January 16, is The Great Man’s birthday.

When Stevie Wonder, who championed a day especially for the Civil Rights leader, invited us…

‘To have a world party on the day you came to be.’

It runs through the blood

Marching to victory: The Civil Rights movement

Only for those who need blood for health conditions every day is a challenge.

And Dr King would be proud that the Museum are putting the plight of ordinary people first as he did.

I’ve seen first hand too how the NCR Museum holds firmly to Dr King’s inclusive vision for his society, all colours, and all classes.

The museum is encouraging guests to bring non-perishable food items to support the Mid-South Food Bank.

And the blood drive for Martin Luther King 55 is all to support the Vitalant blood drive.

King Day will kick off a year of observances themed ‘Freedom Can’t Wait’.

As the Museum focuses on major civil rights milestones with anniversaries in 2023.

With, of course, the 60th anniversary too of his I Have A Dream speech from the March on Washington.

King Day

Sit next to me: With Rosa Parks

There will be time too to mark the 55th anniversary of his assassination (I was there in the year of the 50th) on April 4.

But for tomorrow, January 16, the doors of the museum will be thrown open free for those who give.

With a full day of entertainment on The Main Stage, including performances by Karen Brown, Gerald Richardson and the Cordova High School Choir.

And remember that Dr King was a music nut and friend of all the legends of the time.

While I’m glad to see too that the Satellite Band of Stax Music Academy.

And whom I broke bread with and listened to their performance around MLK50, will be singing too.

Fun for the family

King and I: With MLK in Washington DC

And he was also a family man, down to his shiny shoes.

So he would welcome too that the children are being entertained too.

‘And that his dream come true that “black girls will be able to join hands with little.’

That will all play out on The Pavilion.

With activities and entertainment including magic shows, balloon making, face painting, African drumming, craft activities, music, community resources, and more!