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.

 

 

 

Countries, Europe, Sport

Me-biking at the worlds in Ischgl

How many sports do you get to compete to be the best on the globe… well, how about me-biking at the worlds in Ischgl in Austrian Tirol?

Anybody who has seen me fall off bikes from Islay in the Scottish Western Islands.

To Quinta da Lago in Portugal might think again.

About allowing me to line up alongside other two-wheeled fans.

Or maybe I’ve tricked them with my triumphant picture at the top of a Pyrenees Tour de France stage.

EVERYONE’S a winner

Keep up: At the top of the Pyrenees

Fact is that you, me, or anyone is invited to the E-Bike World Championship from August 31 to September 2.

Where a world championship title for professional athletes and occasional cyclists from the age of ten will be up for grabs.

The rules of the world’s biggest E-Bike race they say are simple.

‘The fastest biker is crowned world champion in the ‘ELITE’ category,’ explains Dr Markus Mitterdorfer (E-Bike World Federation).

‘Participants in the ‘EVERYONE’ category compete against three riding time limits (gold, silver, and bronze).

‘If they fall below one of the three defined limits, the e-bikers will receive an official EVERYMAN World Championship gold, silver or bronze medal,’

Whoever falls short of the gold limit may call themselves world champions.

The most outstanding performers in each age group will be recognised according to gender and classification class.

So, in the words of Hot Chocolate’s Errol Brown ‘everyone’s a winner baby, that’s no lie.’

Although probably more apt in my case would be ‘we’ll put you together again.’

Fantastic Mr (and Mrs) Fox

Look, no hands: But I’ll be holding on tight

If being a world champion and telling everyone when you get home has whetted your appetite.

Then you’ll be ready for the other fun and games they have in store. 

The Ischgl Ironbike Fox Hunt Challenge will take place this year as part of the E-Bike World Championships for EVERYONE on Thursday, 31 August.

E-bikers try to overtake two ‘foxes’ on the uphill course towards Idalp.

The foxes are on the road with a lead run and without electricity.

The participants will follow a little later with electricity running through their bikes.

In two starting blocks, the aim is to catch up to one female and one male fox – the foxes are still a secret.

E is the magic number

Making a splash: And the wheels to handle the puddles

The highlight of the weekend will be the race to the E-Bike World Championship for EVERYONE taking place on two different courses on Saturday, 2 September.

The world championship route for the “EVERYONE” classification class is the longest in length with a distance of 27.1 km.

Participants in the “ELITE” classification class will be asked to do their best on a 37.1km long technically demanding course.

‘Over 1,250 metres in altitude, which has been newly extended, with steep climbs and spectacular single trails.

Trick of the trade: The skills team

Also introduced in both classification classes is the team classification.

A team must consist of at least four people to be classified with the fastest three counting.

And I have form here, even if it is on two feet and cross country or road racing and 40 years ago when my school team ruled Scotland.

There is no upper limit to the number of people in a team.

Those who do not have their own E-Bike can rent one on site for a fee.

It is also possible to book a rental E-Bike for two days.

Registration is now possible online.

Apres-E

Strumthing else: The post-race entertainment

And stick around too for the apre-E (you can have that one) with trick bike artists and live bands on show.

If you register by 29 April, participation costs €59 without a rental E-Bike and €108 with a rental E-Bike. E-Bike rentals can also be booked for two days.

Those who register by 25 August will pay €69 euros. From 26 August, €79 euros will be due.

Further information available at www.ischgl.com. World Championship for EVERYONE 2023

So that’s me, me and you and a dog named Boo are all in for a spot of Me-biking at the worlds in Ischgl.

 

 

Canada, Countries, Cruising

Rideau of your life with Le Boat

The French called the twin waterfalls curtains, Le Rideau, and you’ll have the rideau of your life with Le Boat.

Now unless you’ve got a family name behind you, like say a Trudeau.

Then you’ve got to do the whole nine yards.

Or more seeing that this is the second biggest country on earth to get a seat in the Canadian parliament.

State of the art: Le Boat

Better then getting a relaxing seat on your own boat meandering into Ottawa.

And that’s what Europe’s largest self-drive boating company is offering with its fleet of 32 Horizon cruisers in Canada.

All of which can access the new base on Ontario’s Rideau Canal.

Parlay at the parliament

Eternal flame: Ottawa House of Commons

Le Boat has included Ottawa in its self-drive itineraries since its launch on the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal in 2018.

And the new base is a response to demand generated by Le Boat’s guests to include more convenient one-way trips to the Canadian capital.

And for those who don’t know the capital it’s more than just the parliament, regularly named one of the top ten parliaments in the world.

With its huge clock tower, the Peace Tower, which stands in the middle of the building.

Ottawa features world-class museums, beautiful scenery and a variety of unique neighbourhoods.

On the horizon

And on dry land: Get off your boat and bike it

Le Boat’s guests will benefit from six new itineraries, including convenient one-way trips to Ottawa from its main base in Smiths Falls, Ontario, or vice versa.

For the 2023 Season, Le Boat will be accepting delivery of two new Horizon Plus Cruisers (Horizon 1 Plus and Horizon 4 Plus) from Delphia Yachts.

Bringing their fleet on the Rideau to 32 boats.

The boating season on the Rideau Canal starts on 19 May and ends on 9 October 2023.

Clients will be able to cruise on the Horizon 1 Plus, Horizon 2, Horizon 3 and Horizon 4 Plus from Le Boat’s new base in Ottawa.

Justin time: Justin Trudeau

And will have the option of choosing short breaks (three to six nights).

Or longer journeys (seven-ten nights one-way or round-trip cruise options) starting in Ottawa or Smiths Falls.

Boating holidays start from just £1,121/€1187 for a four-night cruise.

Or from £1,874/€2161 for a seven-night cruise. Le Boat (+44 (0) 23 922 2177, www.leboat.co.uk)

You’ll certainly have a Rideau of your life with Le Boat.

 

 

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.

 

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, 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.

 

Countries, Europe, Food

Matters of the custard tart

Romantics everywhere listen up, head for Lisbon for matters of the custard tart.

Well, they do say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and the Portuguese speciality is likely to go right to it.

We have the monks of the Hieronymites Monastery in the parish of Saint Mary of Bethlehem to thank for our pasteis de nata.

The monks using the left-over yokes from their eggs for the pastry delicacy having used the whites to starch their habits.

On such good husbandry did Portugal earn its stripes in the bakery world.

Phallic baking

Top tip: The phallic sweet treats

Though they do do a roaring trade in a line of pastry penises (or doces falicos) or cakes (bolos).

Not made of course by mucky monks.

But a matchmaking priest from the 13th century called Sao Goncalo, or Saint Gonzalo.

Whether God had blessed him handsomely in the phallic department has been lost to history.

But the good people of his town Amarante at the western mouth of the Douro valley, celebrate him thus with these delicacies.

Twice a year… in January and the first week of June.

The pastries are given as gifts at the start of the year.

So that the recipient will have a fertile year.

And again around his saint’s day in the first week in June.

With a procession, fireworks, penis bunting, fetching penis deely-boppers and a lot of pastry penis gifts to single women.

Capital cooking

Obrigado: With the Scary One in Portugal Centro

All of which cake miscellany which I discovered along the way in Secret Portugal is just by way of getting into the spirit of Valentine’s Day early.

Which the European-based yacht charter group Catamaran Charter Croatia (no us neither) have also shown a particular interest in.

Catamaran Charter Croatia looked at each capital city in Europe.

By analysing Trip Advisor data on the number of romantic restaurants and hotels per million people in each city.

And yes, that’s right, Lisbon came out on top.

Side dishes

Dutch of class: Amsterdam Middle Eastern fare

All of which will come as a severe blow to the French who still insist they invented cooking.

And who come in second (Paris) and third (Monaco).

While the Italians who treat food with suitably less reverence and more fun have San Marino in fourth and Rome fifth.

Andorra is more than budget skiing (who knew?) and places sixth.

While look beyond their crepes (delicious though they are) and Amsterdam, in seventh, boasts eclectic Middle Eastern fare.

Athens, with its table-long banquets would turn even the most carniverous vegetarian.

While if your idea of food heaven is mixing two of three great pleasures in life then ninth-placed Prague with its beer soups is well super.

And if you’ve got money to burn then Reykjavik, in tenth, may be worth stretching the budget a bit.

The Five ‘Fs’

Fin and games: Portuguese love their fish

But it’s Portugal that’s tops, the land of the 5 Fs.

And you thought it was three… Football, Fado and Fatima but add to that Fish and Fertility fare.

And remember too to head for Lisbon for matters of the custard tart.

 

Countries, Europe

Happy Eva after in Algarve

She was a restless spirit, a TV health expert with wanderlust whose travel needs were entrusted to me… so I’m glad she’s finally found her Happy Eva after in Algarve.

Straight-talking Dr Eva Orsmond made a name for herself with her honest appraisals of contestants on RTÉ’s Operation Transformation.

But our paths only crossed when il capo di capi, no not the Scary One but the bubble-permed CEO of my company, deigned to seek me out on her behalf.

To ask me to organise a week’s 5* holiday in the sun for her and her mum at four days’ notice… and all gratis.

And yes, it was one of those offers you can’t refuse.

Well, you know what they say about making a rod for your own back.

Moroccan stroll

Souk it up: Morocco

I called around my contacts and four days later the bould Eva and mum were heading off for Morocco.

Of course, my work wasn’t finished there and I had to call on all my editing skills.

To extract out of her a story for my award-winning Travel section beyond the mechanics of food recycling… her own recycling.

As you know I normally like a challenge.

And I managed to prise out of her the tale of Ireland’s scariest diet doctor and the only woman she reported to… her Mum!

My mercy mission complete I kept my head down in the hope that Eva’s compo holiday would sate her.

And I could get on with the rest of my job.

Eva’s back

Hamam bam: Istanbul

Only Eva had a hold on the CEO and I worked for the Man, the Bubble Perm Man.

And so a few months later she came asking again… only my options of France, Spain or Turkey didn’t appeal.

With Eva saying she couldn’t possibly go to one of those (I can’t remember which) because it held unhappy memories for her.

Eva has naturally gone off my radar since returning to Scotland after my 13 years in Ireland.

Next port of call

Tranquil: Eva’s place

Only for news to come my way that she has only found a hotspot which she doesn’t need a Travel Mr Fixit to sort.

Her own establishment in Algarve, a place we love, is the Solar Alvura Health Hotel.

The blurb tells us it’s ‘a destination for transformation (channeling her breakout show).

‘The health hotel offers a welcoming environment that enables visitors to unwind, reset, and turn their health aspirations into tangible results.’

And the woman herself says: ‘We believe in creating a relaxed atmosphere at Solar Alvura.

‘Where you can meet like-minded people, experience an array of fun activities, and feel inspired to embrace a healthy lifestyle.’

Fare play

Fly high: Ryanair

Nestled between the stunning coastline of the Eastern Algarve and Sao Miguel Mountain, Solar Alvura is adults only.

The elegant health hotel located a thirty-minute drive of Faro Airport.

The Solar Alvura Health Hotel will re-open on 10th February 2023.

And you will be under strict orders to transform yourself when you’re there.

And find your happy Eva after in Algarve.

Fly Ryanair from £26.

 

 

 

 

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 rodeohouston.com.

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