Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals

Turning Gardenese

And our Japanese Garden business is going so well that we’re downsizing. Bonsai… we’re Turning Gardenese!

With my own little Charlie Dimmock venturing into the gardening business herself there is a constant flow of plants to our home.

And pots, clippings and books scattered around.

Mountain excitement: Fuji

So it’ll not surprise you to know that we’re zooming into a Japanese gardening special from our friends at Travel Department.

Frances, our flower

Horticulturist Frances McDonald, an alumni from Ireland’s National Botanic Gardens, is running us through what’s made in Japan.

Frances has been leading garden tours for 25 years home and abroad and has compiled TD’s tours for this year and next.

Big in Japan: Pagodas

We learned too to love our Japanese gardens living in Ireland’s Garden County, Co. Wicklow.

And its piece de resistance, the Japanese Gardens at Powerscourt.

Cherry Blossom

Frances, who leads many of the tours herself, is a blooming marvel with her knowledge of all things flowery.

And that obviously at this time of the year means the Sakura.

O flower: And we’re in the pink

Cherry Blossom, to you and me, which heralds the arrival of Spring.

TD offers a 12-night Gardens and Sights of Japan holiday departing in March 2022. From €512pp.

You’ll take in the ancient city of Kyoto with its memorable gardens and temples.

You’ll overnight near Mount Fiji and visit the seaside town of Kamakura to see more foliage and the Great Buddha.

Pink rain: Keep falling on my head

Tokyo may be skyscrapers to you and me but TD will guide you around its wondrous gardens.

The showcase of which is the Imperial Palace East Garden.

Flower arranging

You’ll also visit Happo-en for Ikebana (flower-arranging) and a traditional tea ceremony.

You can’t go to Tokyo, of course, without going on a shopping spree (I’d live to regret that).

Sakura serenade: Across Japan

The Asakusa Kannon Temple, one of the oldest shopping areas of Tokyo is your go-to.

So that’s our evening sorted tonight.

Or Sakura Sadie’s… I’ll catch up later after I watch 22 men run after a ball on the green, green grass of a football pitch.

While she’s Turning Gardenese.


America, Asia, Countries, Europe

From Missouri to happiness Israel

I’m on my way from Missouri to happiness today, uh huh, Israel, uh, huh, Israel, uh huh!

Nothing against Missouri, and it has long been an ambition to visit Chuck Berry’s St Louis, but this is what I’d be singing if I were Missourian.

I suspect though that it will be more Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer for Pastor Tom Zelt’s party of 12 from the Concordia Seminary in Missouri.

Pastor master

We’re off to Israel: The Missourians.

And why the focus on the Concordia Seminary?

Because it’s the pilot tourist post-Covid party touring Israel and they are two days into their fortnight trip.

I’d also be billing this the Missouri to Messiah trip but perhaps that’s why I never progressed to the Seminary.

Our Concordia friends will be taking in religious sites in Jerusalem, the Negev, Masada and Nazareth.

Pastor Tom, we are told, is a past (or pastor if you like) master in leading tours.

And he also trains other pastors to become tour leaders in Israel for their own communities.

The Way, the Truth the Life

I can recommend too from pastor (stop it) experience that following a robed holy men on the path is the Way to go on pilgrimage.

2021 has been building up into being Israel’s Year of Travel ever since they got out of the blocks quickest on vaccination.

All tourists will need a Health Ministry approved vaccination and be arriving from a sanctioned country.

And they will be required to perform two PCR tests with one up to 72 hours before entering Israel and one on arrival.

Uh-huh, Israel, uh-huh

So give yourself a treat as I aim to… whether you want to do the Holy Land or the Land of Milk (well wine) and Honey.

We’re on our way from Missouri to happiness today, uh-huh, Israel, uh-huh.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Food & Wine

Water into wine Israeli delicious

Jesus and the Apostles at the Marriage Feast at Cana. Jesus announces ‘I’ll turn this water into wine.’ Peter pipes up: ‘No, you won’t. You’ll buy your round like the rest of us.’

Just a wee joke as old as the Bible to illustrate that wine dates back to The Chosen People themselves.

And to ask where is the Israeli wine on our supermarket shelves?

Glass act: Israeli wine

Thankfully my Israeli friends sent me a bottle of the golden nectar to celebrate Shavuot with them.

Cheese and wine party

Shavuot marks the wheat festival in the Land of Israel.

And the commemoration of the anniversary of God’s giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai in 1312 BCE.

So how do Jews celebrate this, the Feast of Weeks?

Kibbutz in Israel

Well with dairy and the fermented juice of the grape, making it one of the oldest cheese and wine parties in history.

This, and more, we learned from our Israel hosts who warmed us all up on a cold mid-May morning.

Israeli delicious

Land of Milk and Honey they say.

Well each varietal of this elegant First Page 2017 wine from Givat Yeshayahu in the Judean Hills is separately fermented for seven months before blending.

Then 50% is aged in French oak and 50% in stainless steel producing a perfectly balanced and aromatic wine with hints of citrus and green apple.

The blend is 50% Pinot Gris, 40% Riesling and 10% Semillion.

And that bit about the Land of Milk and Honey… well, Israel is also the soil of Terra Rossa, clay and limestone.

No wonder the wedding guests turned to Jesus when they ran ou of this.

Kibbutz for hippies

Israeli trad music

The winemakers at Sphera focus solely on white wines.

Now for many an old hippy, like me, Israel and its communal kibbutzes truly represented a Promised Land.

And an Israeli tour guide from Kibbutz Ein-Carmel on our conference call and tour gave us an insight into the best of Israel.

And showed us how to dance a Hora.

Israel is  Promised Land I have still to set foot on although I have viewed it from 100ft away on the other side of the River Jordan.

On my G Adventures odyssey in Jordan.

And from atop Mt Nebo where Moses looked out onto the Land of Milk and Honey only for God to deny him access.

Worth the wait

Mt Nebo, Jordan

It famously took the Chosen People 40 years to reach The Promised Land following their release from Egypt.

And centuries longer after the various Falls of Jerusalem.

These are challenging times for an Israel which has in so many ways shown the way to the world in Covid vaccinations.

And where Travel routes have just been restored from England.

Promise us a miracle

Site of Jesus’s baptism on the River Jordan

So in this Feast of Weeks, we lift our glasses and toast each other, all of us and the power of miracles.

Water into wine Israeli delicious.

Now back to my First Page 2017 although I will be back to tell you more about Ancient wine.

And give a nod to my old friend from Colorado whose a  specialist in ancient food and wine. 


Africa, Asia, Australasia, Countries, Deals

The PIGS, the big winners on the UK Green List

All countries are created equal but some are more equal than others… let’s hear it for the PIGS, the big winners on the UK Green List.

We will all now be able to visit Portugal, Israel, Gibraltar and St Helena from May 17 from England.

Make a break for it

Keeeeep dancin’: With Judy Murray in Portugal

Portugal has always been a personal favourite and it’s also fun for all you sporty types too.

And they are being rewarded for their Clean & Safe project with this green light.

Temple of history: Jerusalem

Israel have been frontrunners from the get-go on the vaccination programme and I will be back communicating with the Promised Land through the week.

Vive Napoleon

Gibraltar and St Helena too.

I am indebted to my old colleague from the American Travel Fair Britain’s Young Travel Writer of the Year Lottie Gross for road testing Gib for us over the pandemic.

And to Napoleon for doing the same.

Through countries

Get the Braai on: Port Elizabeth township, South Africa

The one niggling issue though is the status of the through countries to get to Gib and St Helena with neither Spain nor South Africa on the green list.

St Helena remains unfinished business.

With my walk in the footsteps of Le Petit Caporal ahead of this month’s 200th anniversary of his death there cancelled at the last minute.

Ice, ice baby

Bracing: Iceland will invigorate you

But while the PIGS pushed themselves out, as they do, as the big winners on the UK Green List there are others celebrating today.

Iceland also makes it onto the list and a long-promised visit to the Iceland Phallological Museum where all the Big Dicks hang out.

While the Faroes too, between Iceland and Norway, await and are tempting us with nature and wellness and hairy Vikings.

Further afield Singapore, and Brunei are long-haul bucket list favourites.


Of course it used to be that being sent to Australia and New Zealand was a punishment.

And the poor peoples on those islands are still suffering, albeit different hordes now of English Gap Year students… see The Inbetweeners 2.

Falklands awe

The Falklands natives

The good folk of the Falklands and South Georgia came onto our radar 40 years ago next year when the Argentines laid their beach towels down.

It’s a long way to go for a penguin but we’re here to serve.

And so are our friends at G Adventures who have a 22-dayer from Montivideo, Uruguay to Ushuaia.

No me neither, nor how it works with Uruguay not being on the list, and near pariahs Brazil, but G Adventures will be all over it.

And we should just be glad we don’t have to go to war to get a holiday.


Africa, America, Asia, Canada, Countries, Europe, Flying, UK

The Lego has landed in Scotland

Travel’s resumption is all about building blocks so we’ll reboot at the Museum of Flight with the toy Wonders of the World… the Lego has landed.

The Scottish attraction in East Fortune is 17 miles south of Edinburgh as the crow flies…

Or the click of your fingers if you’re on Concorde, the Museum of Flight’s most famous exhibit.

Flying high

This flight tonight: Concorde

We’ll give The Big Bird its own slot in a coming post as it should be but for today we’ll flag up Brick Wonders of the World.

The Lego masterpieces are the creation of Edinburgh-based artist Warren Elsmore.

The Wonders break down into Ancient, Modern, Historic and Natural.

The Wonders I’ve seen

Shape of things to come: The Pyramids

The Green-Fingered One is doing her best to recreate The Hanging Gardens of Babylon in our demesne in nearby North Berwick.

While she didn’t even entertain an invitation to Sharm-el-sheikh in Egypt. She wants pyramids.

The journey around the perimeter of the hangar is one through time and is a reminder of what we haven’t seen.

The Great Wall of China, the Easter Island excavation as much as those we have enjoyed… Old London Bridge and Petra.

Sweep of history

Tis Grand: The Grand Canyon

Few would disagree that the Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s natural wonders and it is my favourite of the exhibits.

The Grand Canyon, of course, is tough to capture in Lego but they do a great job with glistening blues and whites for the Niagara Falls and recreate the scope of an African savanna.

While the Modern sweeps up Hoover Dam, the Panama Canal, a number of technological, aeronautical and social advances.

Of course the signature piece among the exhibits is Concorde which sits in front of its big brother.

Deal me in

Everything in the Hanging Garden is rosy

Your Brick Wonders display is free with .

Half a million Lego pieces have been fitted together for the display and you really should get down to the National Museum of Flight.

The exhibition which runs until June 27 is free with entry to the museum which you can pre-book for £12.50 (top price).

Now I need to get back and keep an eye on The Green-Fingered One’s Hanging Garden while I try to dig out those ‘talls’ building blocks the Son and Heir loved so much.

The Lego has landed!


Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Happy St George’s Day

Happy St George’s Day. And nowhere in England will the dragon-slaying saint be celebrated more than in Fordington, Dorset?

Who knew?

Well, the Fordingtonians, obviously, who reference St George back to King Alfred the Great’s will, where he also mentions them.

And they have a stone over the south door of their church marking St George’s appearance to the Crusaders. See

Tie a ribon

St George’s association with England is long, dating back 1200 years to the Venerable Bede.

Morris dancing

And he had to see off the rival claims of Thomas A Beckett and Edward the Confessor, before he was made patron saint.

St George’s Day, I am happy to report (my own English rose has told me to say that), is making something of a comeback in England

With Morris dancing, village fairs and pageants.

The best knight of all

And the best national anthem that never was… William Blake’s Jerusalem.

England being the birthplace of my very own Scary One, and our first meeting place, it was the natural holiday for us as a family.

And it is one of the most varied, cultural, historical and fun countries you will ever visit.

Green and pleasant land

From the Lake District of the north-west to Hadrian’s wall and Lindisfarne and the buzzing town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north-east.

To the Bard: Stratford-upon-Avon

To Liverpool and The Beatles and Mad Manchester…

Shakespeare’s Midlands and Birmingham and the best chocolate factory and village you’ll find anywhere Cadbury.

Sherwood Forest may not be the Wild East anymore but any visit to the East Midlands should include a trip to the Robin Hood Museum.

Mother Thames… and Mother Sadie

Samuel Johnson opined (he never just said) that the man who tired of London tired of life

London town, oh London town

And there is history and entertainment aplenty Carole King… you’re Beautiful The London life and for royalists kings and queens too.

And Berkshire where their main home Windsor Castle is, and my own little princess.

Onion-topped Moscow is appealing

St George is celebrated around the world, particularly in Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Portugal, Brazil, Ethiopia and Serbia and Montenegro and Iberia.

Now here’s a thought during this lockdown… plan a St George’s list, ticking off each country on the way.

Next port of call

I’ve got Portugal and Secret Portugal and SPORTUGAL under my belt.

Columbus shows the way: In Barcelona

And Barcelona and Catalonia Messi around on the water so I’ve got a bit to go yet.

But whether I get around some, or all of them. I know a green and pleasant land where a knowledge of St George will get you a long way.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Flying, Ireland, UK

Travel to the Promised Land Israel close

And travel to the Promised Land Israel close before the end of the year.

Israel, as we all know, has been the real leading light in vaccine roll-outs.

With half its population now having had their second jags.

And boy have they been celebrating with this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day a real cause for celebration.

It has brought people out on the streets to sing, dance and watch the fireworks display.

Dublin is El Al City

Israel, of course, was the shiny new El Al route from Dublin for 2020, only for it to be interrupted by Covid.

The good news is that Sharon Bershadsky, Director at the Israel Tourism Office in London made real connections on her visit to Dublin last year.

And she is keen to get the Irish out to Israel as soon as we can.

A land of our childhood

From May 23 vaccinated groups of international travellers will be allowed out to Israel initially in a pilot scheme and then through a phased approach.

And don’t we all want to get out there but again our political leaders continue to drag their feet.

I’ve said it before that I’ve got real close to stepping on holy land.

I have seen Israel from Mt Nebo, Moses’s last resting place, and by the Jordan where John the Baptist baptised Jesus with G Adventures.

Israel is over there: Atop Mt Nebo

And I’m determined to step across into Israel. And yes, you can do countries with G Adventures.

This ancient land of Israel, and all its previous incarnations, is the one country we all know from childhood.

Even if we have never been there, through our religious classes.

So it’s a real challenge to present it anew but one which Sharon succeeded in consumately.

Best of both worlds

No place like dome

The appeal of the Promised Land is obvious, it’s not called that for nothing.

And its historical and religious sites will always draw us there.

But Israel is a diverse country of peoples, cultures, geography… and of course culinary.

There is more than milk and honey although both are to be recommended and used in many of their best dishes.

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is a combined trip which will give the traveller the best of both worlds.

Modern hip beach Mediterannean Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where three religions meet.

Hotting up

Good to go

Jews, Muslims and Christians all come together too in Haifa on the northern coast in a model of co-existence.

Israel really is a country of contrasts with the traveller able to lie back and think of…

Well, nothing on the Dead Sea, or take a boat out on the Dead Sea and snorkel or tuck into the barbecue and Israeli wine.

In fact the water may just be a blessed relief.

From the heat of an Israeli summer with temperatures hitting the high 40s… great for me, I must admit.

Because of the year that’s in it, it may be the Autumn or Winter when we all get out there which is real good by me.





Adventure, Asia, Countries, Culture

Hello Dubai

And as Paul McCartney put it… I don’t know why you say hello, I say Dubai.

The morning begins as it so often does these days with Zoom meetings with Meet Travel Media bringing the world to all us Travel professionals… and first up was our friends from Dubai.

And Lila who is confident about getting us all back out to the desert dreamland.

They have in fact been open to us all since last summer (it’s just our politicians who are dragging their feet).

We just need a PCR test withing 72 hours of deparature which I’ve done myself when I visited Bergamo last Autumn.

And I can confirm that it really isn’t that much of an inconvenience and is worth it to get away.

Dubai, as across the UAE, is also progressing well with the vaccine so all good.

Expo experience

And there is a lot to look forward to this year in Dubai with the postponed Expo 2020 which will welcome 190 countries (and you and me) from October 1 through to March 31.

We know too from almost 30 years ago when we drove from the Algarve to Seville.

And because of the vagaries of the Spanish road system almost found ourselves in Madrid. But Expos should not be missed.

So where do you stay when you get there?

Just desert?

Camel ye out to the desert

Well, the desert obviously. No better place, looking up to the stars as we did in Jordan with G Adventures.

So carry on glamping where the only noisy neighbours you’ll have are the gazelles, oryxes and camels.

Of course you can combine that with city living if you love to wake up to views of the skyscrapers and the awesome 1,921ft Burj Khalifa.

Floating on air

Dubai high: The RIU Dubai

May we recommend the RIU Dubai, opened in December, with 800 rooms and a splash water park and whether it be Majorca or Florida, we all love fun on the water?

We love an oul’ infinity pool too and Address Beach Resort has that at 694ft 2 ins. And, of course you’ll get the feeling that you’re floating or swimming on air.



America, Asia, Countries, Culture

Holidos and don’ts – suitcases

And I am indebted to my friend and Travel mover and shaker, French-based Irishman, Michael Collins for sparking me to revisit an old series, Holidos and don’ts.

Michael flagged up that at his local supermarché the aisles selling suitcases and headrests are interdit, or blocked.

Mad hatters: And when I used to take a full suitcase to America

Which beggars the question: how essential are suitcases?

And who doesn’t have one anyway?

Nothing to see here

As all Travel professionals do I like to take advice from seasoned pros, like doyen and Americanophile JP Thomson, erstwhile of the Sunday World.

JP always packs a half-full suitcase to leave space for what you take home.

Half full

Irish Travel professionals, nay all Irish people, love few things better than hitting the shops after they get off the plane.

Possibly the afternoon after they hit the bars.

Anyone got scissors?

And so when our Irelando party hit Aaawlando, and they set aside a couple of hours at a shopping mall, it was like the Olympics 100m final.

Needless to say they all returned with half the mall in their bags, while I bought a tee-shirt.

New suitcase

The fact is though that shopping in America is great value.

Irish and Scots on tour in Orlando

So why not take the opportunity to update your wardrobe and send the outdated clothes you’re standing up in to the charity shop.

The same applies, of course, if you go on a sun holiday.

Pack light

So that the members of my party who took full suitcases to the Maldives found they only needed their swimwear and summer clothes.

Who needs a suitcase? The Maldives

Some of us, of course, found that all you need on dry land is a sarong and flip-flops.

While we’ll not talk about those women who took heels.

And make it snazzy

And in the last instance why not just go out with hand luggage, or better still a rucksack that doubles as a wheelie?

Here’s to hitting the airport again

And buy a suitcase when you’re out in a country where, Zut Alors!, they don’t stop you buying suitcases from their supermarchés.

And for more Holidos and don’ts advice here’s a reminder of how we roll from where we last rocked up… Bergamo.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

Easter in Israel

Easter in Jerusalem would normally be a throng of pilgrims.

But it has been reassuring, if a little surreal, to see masked worshippers following the Path of the Cross.

But it does give us a sense, both metaphorical, and real, of revival, of resurrection.

Israel, and Britain for that matter, have been the great success stories of the vaccine roll-out.

The Promised Land has vaccinated half of their population

While 1 in 12 Britons have had both jabs, although there  are more than six times as many of us.

Common cause

But let’s celebrate both our countries and talk up the preliminary discussions of the UK-Israel route opening up from August.

Yes, May 17, has been mooted for a Travel review but late summer remains more realistic.

A British Government source was quoted in the Sunday Times.

They said: ‘There will be a system of travel corridors to green-list countries with good vaccination rates. Israel, here we come!’

So where are we with our Israeli friends who we touched base with at the digital World Travel Market at the end of last year.

Well, several airlines have added limited routes and slowly increased flights in June and July.

Easy does it

That would then be in line with an August return for Britons so keep an eye on all our old favourites.

EasyJet offers two nights room only at the American Colony Jerusalem on July 2.

Leaving from Luton (hint to our Government to get a move on) £396pp, which means £792 for two.

While Virgin Holidays has tempted us of a Scottish persuasion, and now living up here in Braveheartland.

With seven nights at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem from £3381pp (well, you deserve it) for October 26.

Kayak is many a traveller’s second point of contact (after obviously). And what about the Queen of Sheba for my Queen of Sheba?

The Dead Sea

Three nights and flight at the Hilton Eilat Queen of Sheba Hotel three nights and flight for £1,079

And, of course, our friends at G Adventures who have been trying to get me out to Israel these past few years (you have, you have, you have).

G whizz

They have 15 days from £999 Jordan and Israel Adventure from £1954, valid on December 10 (plenty of time to be super-vaccinated). And this was £2299!

Mt Nebo, Jordan

Now teasingly, as you’ll all know by now, I’ve been taken right to within 50 metres of Israel from the Jordan side at the site of John’s baptism of Jesus.

And so I’ve seen the Promised Land… only the Israeli soldiers on the banks were looking suspiciously at us from the other side.

I’ll just have to leave it to our holiday providers to look after us as always.