Caribbean, Countries, Cruising, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine

In defence of… cruises

The world is a book. And those who do not travel read only one page – ST AUGUSTINE

And I don’t remember the page where it says pandemics were God’s message to us to stop travelling.

In defence of Travel

So while we are confined to barracks let me get some things off my chest and address why Travel is essential to our very existence in my Defence of Travel.

Despite what the naysayers, who are dancing a jig because some dolphins have been seen in the Grand Canal in Venice, are saying.

You’d think cruise ships were parking at the Rialto Bridge than far off.

While I know one or two who would only be too happy to discuss cruise ships too… and you’d want to keep your social distance for your own safety.

We’re all of us seafarers

Of course those of us who are Travel professionals, and those for whom it’s their life investment, are in the frontline when it comes to this release of schadenfraude.

Cruises: There is a fanatical, almost religious zeal which drives those who want to remove cruise ships from the face of the earth.

Who mock cruiseheads as ‘overfed, newly-wed and almost dead’ and guess what cruise chiefs have a sense of humour snd cams up with that themselves.

It’s not a sin to have fun

While they moved on from that years ago and we now have cruises for every age and every niche…

While also providing the best food, drinks, entertainment, activities, shows and stop-offs.

And for whom the sight of cruise companies docked in port and suspending operations because of Coronavirus was seen as vindication.

Dolphins in Venice

And which reached fever pitch with the return of those dolphins to the Venice lagoon, seen by many as divine retribution for the ‘sins’ of cruising.

I never have felt stained by taking the decision to cruise, and nor should you.

Because don’t we celebrate the journeys of Odysseus My Greek odyssey, Sinbad, Marco Polo, Drake, Magellan, Columbus Messi around on the water, Francis Chichester, Ellen MacArthur.

And we should never forget today’s sailors…

Let’s hear it for the crew

The crew’s untiring work, their distress at the loss of passengers, the 24/7 work done back at base to compensate customers and the loss too of their livelihoods.

And that people are at heart seafarers… after all didn’t we all come from the sea anyway, haven’t we been harvesting it since the day dot?

And for all those divine retributionists I guess they would have been screaming for Health & Safety to burst down the doors of Noah’s Ark.

To arrest the oul’ fella and release the animals two by two.

#DontCancelPostpone

So #DontCancelPostpone, and support our cruise companies.

Be rest assured that I’ll be hopping on board to promote cruise companies when we get back on board with…

MSC https://www.msccruises.co.uk and https://www.msccruises.ie, Celebrity Cruises https://www.celebritycruises.co.uk and https://www.royalcaribbean.com/gbr/en. http://www.princess.com

All of whom I’ve sailed with… The call of the fjords, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out To Here and A Royal Party.

While I’ll also flag up those I haven’t sailed with, but you have, and I will.

I love a dolphin too

And now to show you that I love a dolphin as much as the next man, or woman, I’ll talk to you tomorrow about how we can tackle Flygskam, or ‘flying shame’.

I hope you’re reading, Greta Thunbetg.

MEET YOU ON THE SEAS

Adventure, America, Countries, Culture, Food, Food & Wine

Stair Wars

I wonder what Mickey thinks of this Science Fantasia.

The Galaxy’s Edge is far, far away from Walt Disney’s vision.

And its centre-point, Millennium Falcon even further from my standpoint.

Which is at the back of a snaking queue in the bowels of the new 14-acre €1bn Star Wars section of Disneyland in Anaheim, California on the very weekend it opens.

Stars align

It has taken me half an hour to get even this far.

I have passed by the inviting diversions of Walt’s Main Street USA, a jazz band on an island next to the Mark Twain Riverboat.

Something to chew on

And a host of our favourite smiling, singing, hugging Disney favourites before arriving in this dark place.

Chewbacca does envelop a middle-aged Asian woman in his arms but I am too slow off the mark to get my picture taken.

While the Storm Troopers brush me aside.

Rasta Masta

Personally, I’d have a welcoming party of Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, Princesses Leia and R2-D2 instead.

Still I persevere and hang on the words of those in the line, a grown man with a light saber among them, who have been waiting light years for this moment.

They point out the fine details of the futuristic world we are passing through in hushed, reverential tones.

Apparently, we are in the middle of the Black Spire Outpost which is on the Outer Rim planet of Batuu.

They could be speaking Yoda for all I know.

And on and on we go, scaling the ramps. Whole battles don’t last this long.

Screen time

Star Wars? This is more like Stair Wars.

And finally we are ushered through to a holding area, a hangar where a rasta dude intergalactic pirate. Honda Ohnaka, clues us in on our mission.

With a reprise from Chewbacca.

Smugglers’ Run

And informs us that the more we succeed the more rewards he gets. I bet.

The idea is that Chewy needs some supplies for the Resistance but Rasta Dude has borrowed the craft and is using the opportunity…

To get us to smuggle some coaxium from Corellia for him which is hyperfuel from Han’s homeland obviously.

Thanks Brad from Texas for that.

But still the anticipation and the exhaustion (it’s now been an hour and a half) builds as we have to trudge further.

Before finally being given our briefs for the starship’s mission, Smugglers’ Run.

Who put those meteors there?

A little more about this 114ft hulk of flying saucer which has grown men and women clicking away…

It was manned by Han Solo and Chewy….

And was the second fastest in the Star Ward pantheon at 105kph and is a highly modified YT-1300.

But then, you know that yourself.

The action is set between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker and played out on a video screen before us.

Poetry in Motion

Myself and Hiro are gunners and Jill and Lesley are the pilots.

I can’t remember the names of the two engineers at the back of the cockpit but one had to be Scotty…

Or is that the other Star one?

And finally we are hurtling through space, dipping and swooping, dodging enemy battleships and giant asteroids.

Mine’s and Hiro’s job is simple, press square and round buttons to fire laser beams at the foe until the light goes out.

It is an interactive experience but I’d be surprised if my efforts are making a blind bit of difference.

And this is what I spent five years at Space University for.

And then our ten minutes on the motion simulator are over.

Donald and the Mexicans

I guess it’ll all make more sense when I actually watch the movies – I was never going to admit that in the queue.

I know how privileged I am and that there are millions who would gladly climb over me.

And queue a whole day to get to see Millennium Falcon and play Smugglers’ Run and the Rise of the Resistance.

Which will follow hard on its heels later this year.

And that it will be a huge success particularly when they space out the waiting times.

But it’s just that get I don’t Stars Wars.

I retreat instead to simpler pleasures and a star who never lets me down, the original, and still the best, The Donald.

My pal The Donald

I find him outside the Golden Horseshoe saloon with Jose and Panchito, the Three Caballeros, playing it for laughs.

And I’m sure The Donald remembers me from Orlando a couple of years ago, he even wrote to me when I got back and signed it too.

And when your ask… yes, he really does love Mexicans.

My Travel Buddies

In this part of Disneyland there are only smiles.

The Jazz band are belting out ‘Everybody Wants to be a Cat’.

I am nibbling on my fried chicken, corn and rice. I’m truly at my happiest.

This is one place where a middle-aged hiply won’t be glowered at.

Here. And on the Pirates of the Caribbean water ride where I’m almost mistaken for Jack Sparrow.

The ride is gentle, more my style but if you want seat-of-the-pants thrills.

Fireworks

Disneyland has no shortages.

Splash Mountain, the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Indiana Jones… too many to mention.

But in your cart, going through Jack’s world, you’ll get just gentle drops.

I’m all right, Jack

What really makes a ripple on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride through caves and coves are the intricate fun sets which immerse you in Jack’s world.

Look out for the old rogue popping up on the islands, semi-hidden from view.

Keen eyes will see him in a vat of rum though and I want to join him.

Harking back to the Star Wars section of Disneyland that really is the best thing about it – Disneyland, which has rightly prided itself on its family-friendly image.

And kept alcohol outside its doors for 60 years for the general public, is now allowing you to have a snifter in Oga’s Cantina.

I could have used my time more profitably.

This being a corporate launch, I took a rum punch earlier from the tray of a passing waitress to settle my nerves for the simulator.

And have gone back to stock up long after I got off the ride.

There is no shortage of choice of diners to line your stomach for those hairy rides if you don’t want a rumbly tumbly, and alternative entertainment if you want to take a weight off.

Duelling pianos meld in well with the Classical surroundings of Olde Worlde buildings and the open spaces simplify the sound.

The Castle

Nowhere is this better evidenced than the Disney Castle.

We sit down on the benches and grassy banks off Main Street to watch Mickey’s Music Extravaganza flash up on the Castle.

Mickey introduces his pals, Aladdin, King Louis. Elsa from Frozen among them, and they take over.

Light show

You can’t take your eyes off this light show or your hands from clapping along.

It is a kaleidoscope of colour and crescendo, of sound, a Mickey Mix of Magic.

All the standards are there but for a younger audience.

It has been sassed up with modern tunes getting us all up on our feet.

Of course, it’s all about Da Mouse in Da House though and he brings the party to a spectacular climax.

The fireworks pop off into the night sky and all eyes shoot upwards.

While in a galaxy far, far away – or across the park at least – the lights have long gone out.

Get your Mickey out

TRAVEL FACTS

How to get there: I flew Dublin to Los Angeles LAX with Aer Lingus with Aer Lingus, Ireland’s only 4-star airline. It operates a daily service from Dublin direct to LA.

With fares starting from €259 each way including taxes and charges when booked as a return trip.

The year-round service reduces to five times weekly during the winter season.

Where to stay: I stayed at the Hilton Anaheim, a 15-minute walk from Disneyland Resort. King bed Disneyview for the sample dates of June 28-July 1 from $347 (€281).

Where to go: Attraction Tickets offers a range of offers and discounts and help with pre-booking which will save precious time and money.

Its two-day Disneyland California 1 Park Per Day Ticket is from €198 per adult and €186 for a child including Star Wats: Galaxy’s Edge.

The three-day Disneyland California 1 Park Per Day Ticket including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is from €266 for an adult and €249 for a child.

America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

A big Squeezy for Mother’s Day

I kid my Dear Old Mum that she IS Nan, the Catherine Tait character who is as sweet as pie one minute and then lays into that person the next.

I came up with the nickname ‘Squeezy’ Teasy (short for Teresa) for her after one incident.

She had let one young family through in the ice cream queue in the local park.

Only to then turn on them a second later. I knew it was coming when she raised her hand to give me a squeeze on the shoulder.

And on this occasion she was regaling that woman from the poorer side of the park and their accent… ‘Brendan, stay away from the wahhhhter!’

We’ve had our moments, me and Mum and on this Mother’s Day when I’m not allowed in to see her at her Nursing Home…

Here are some of our adventures…

Home for the holidays

Ireland: My mother’s homestead and more adventures than clumps of peat in her beloved Donegal www.govisitdonegal.com

Of course she always gets bold when she’s back among her own people.

Like the time we were staying in our go-to hotel Jackson’s In Ballybofey.

And my Mum turned to my cousin and said: ‘I have four brothers and three sons and James (my Sunday name) is the most selfish of the lot.

All within earshot of me… me who had brought her all the way up from my home in Co. Wicklow www.visitwicklow.com.

Star in stripes

America: The Oo Es of Eh was always the Promised Land for my Mum.

Whose aforementioned four brothers had emigrated there in the late Fifties.

She only abandoned me when I was just 13 for three weeks so she could go out to see them.

Never mind that she cooked three weeks of meals for us… the cleaning woman who came in to look after us while Dad was at work made off with half of them.

We went back, Mum and me, together ten years ago for my cousin’s wedding in New York… www.nycvb.com and www.visitusa.com.

Where she insisted on paying for every meal (a very Irish trait) and treating me like a wee boy) – see above.

We had promised to get down to see Fave Cousin in Washington, and I did… Easy DC. Mum had been there before and the National Guard remembered her!!!

Viva Espana

Spain: One year it was Ireland the next it was Spain, that was how it was with summer holidays as a kid.

My Mum is more than likely Black Irish, a descendant of Spanish Armada sailors who were washed up and intermingled with the locals.

And she liked little better than tanning herself on a Spanish beach.

When she wasn’t trying to stop my elder brother teaching me to swim by throwing me in the deep end.

And, of course, it has left me with a lifelong love of Spain… visit https://www.spain.info/en_GB/.

And walk this way A pilgrim’s prayer and A walk through the ages… Tenerife with www.CaminoWays.com and www.CanariaWays.com

Scotland the motherland

Scotland: And she has been repeating her desire to come home to Ireland, and that Scotland isn’t her place despite being 70 years away.

There’s been a lifetime of experiences from her rearing me in Scotland where I’ve now returned to to live.

But as I’ve relocated to Scotland’s Golf Coast then here’s one from when I took her to the Open at St Andrews.

And my Mum sent a randomer into the Portaloos because I was taking too much time.

I got my own back by giving her the slip at the Swilcan Burn when I rushed with the crowd to the apron of the 18th to see Tiger Woods sink the winning putt.

See www.visitscotland.com and My Sporting Weekend – Golf and social distancing

HAPPY MOTHERS DAY TO ALL OUR MUMS

And remember…#DontCancelPostpone.

America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

My Sporting Weekend – Golf and social distancing

Because I’d often be deep in rough when my playing partner was down the fairway – yes, golf is the best sport for social distancing.

And also because nothing makes you want to keep your distance more than having to listen to your boss on the course talk about his share options or his new car.

Ir’s not that I dislike golf, or professional or amateur golfers. In fact I used to cover golf.

And was happy to revisit the Open when it returned to Northern Ireland www.discovernorthernireland.com last summer for the first time in neatly 60 years.

And even joined the legendary Gary Player around Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, as he played a round of golf for Japanese television.

North Berwick

It’s just social golfers that I try to avoid like the, er COVID-19.

Not the social golfers like my Dear Old Mum and Dad, you understand, who used to play on my Dad’s half-day.

The Golf Coast

Not that my Dad seemed to enjoy it all that much… he’d mutter away to himself and shake his head all round.

Here in North Berwick on Scotland’s Golf Coast https://scotlandsgolfcoast.com and www.visitscotland.com. you can play on 21 of 30 coasts.

Another home of golf

There was little that my Dear Old Mum and Dad liked better than playing golf in my Mum’s homestead of Co. Donegal www.visitdonegal.com and www.tourism.com.

While my old stomping ground of Co. Wicklow www.visitwicklow.com is more than a match.

If you like your golf then join me as I swung my way through…

The Old Course in Mandelieu-La Napoule in the French Riviera www.france.fr and The Boat D’Azur.

And at the Paul McGinley Golf Academy in Quinta do Lago www.quintadolago.com and www.visitportugal.com.

Just off the Strip in Las Vegas www.lvcva.com and Strip… the light fantastic.

And in the Turkish Airlines Business Lounge of Istanbul Airport www.turkishairlines.com and Wham bam, thank you Hamam

MEET YOU ON THE COURSE… AT A SAFE DISTANCE

#DontCancekPostpone.

Africa, America, Countries, Culture

#DontCancelPostpone

I was supposed to have been driving around the Florida Keys https://www.fla-keys.co.uk this weekend… #DontCancelPostpone.

And San Francisco https://www.sftravel.com and Las Vegas www.lvcva.com and Strip… the light fantastic in May/June #DontCancelPostpone.

Chicago some time in between. #DontCancelPostpone.

While there’s St Helena, Napoleon’s final refuge, squeezed between. #DontCancelPostpone.

And New England for this year’s Mayflower celebrations #DontCancelPostpone.

And a number of other planned adventures… #DontCancelPostpone.

#DontCancelPostpone is the Travel industry’s response to the worst possible thing that can happen to it… the suspension of Travel.

And it is a mantra that I and my fellow Travel scribes will be taking up.

Because for anybody who has stepped out their door (something we no longer take for granted) then there has been a Travel provider there to hold your hand.

So this is what we’ll do… our friends in the Travel industry will keep sending me their destinations and we’ll make a pinkie promise to advise people #DontCancelPostpone

I’ll satisfy myself with the memories of times spent in California last year… www.discoverlosangeles.com and www.visitcalifornia.com.

As a post-University bus boy in a Mexican restaurant in Boston https://www.bostonusa.com and visiting Manchester, New Hampshire https://www.visitnh.gov and New England https://www.discovernewengland.org

St Helena, for those who didn’t get their atlases out at school, is off the coast of South Africa and my trip to the second most inhabitable island in the world will involve…

A stop-off in South Africa where I dipped my toe in the Eastern Cape… https://www.southafrica.net/uk/en and

Chicago https://www.choosechicago.com/explore/chicago-style/first-time-visit/? Well, the lure of it has only grown as it is dangled in front of me and then draws further out of my grasp.

My second attempt at going out to Windy City has stalled because of that COVID-19.

After my first invitation had to be turned down because of the sheer selfishness of an oul’ woman who only went and turned 90 the day of the trip.

I checked in on her yesterday on a business (remember that) trip to Glasgow https://peoplemakeglasgow.com where there is restricted visiting.

It didn’t happen because I was too late but God help the nurses there… they’ll be praying that THEY could self-isolate.

The statues in Glasgow, my home city, were standing proud, the buskers singing their hearts out.

And the chippies who fed the populace during the War still dispensing fish and haggis suppers (that’s with chips).

More tales of that oul’ woman tomorrow with a Mother’s Day special.

Now back to home life and the Scary One wants me to do some chores… #PostponeDontCancel.

America, Countries, Culture, Europe

Life’s a drag… queen

There’s no photographic evidence that it ever happened and I don’t know what it says about the ‘nurse’ who agreed to date the drag queen me.

Nursie clearly had second thoughts the following day and didn’t turn up at the bar.

Although my much-storied Australian flatmates had great fun in telling me every five minutes that I’d missed her.

All of which diva prancing around (the occasion was a student ‘Tarts and Tramps’ party.

Oh Nicki, you’re so fine: Ms Minaj

Where the guys dressed as women and the women as hobos) brings me to RuPaul’s new season of Drag Race which also showcases Nicki Minaj and Michelle Visage.

Which is, thanks to Daddy’s Little Girl, a big fave in our house.

I particularly love RuPaul and the beautifully pink Trini, that’s Trinidadian and Tobagonian to you and me Nicki Minaj.

And as you know I love a bit of colour and make-up and slapped it on in Tobago in December.

While Nicki also likes to tear it up at Tobago carnival… www.tobago.gov.tt and Ready, steady GOAT… racing in Tobago. And https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lt9dXQ-YmZ8.

All of which stuff and nonsense allows me to talk about the divine divas I’ve sashayed with on my travels.

Sugsr bum-bum: The Drag Race girls

Vegas baby

Cami, Las Vegas: What happens in Harrah’s in Vegas stays in Harrah’s in Vegas.

Dance the night away

And when that mad. glad joint off the Strip kicks into life again then myself, my travel companions and Cami who comes down from Utah will be there.

Now who wants a shot… and a drink too?

Visit www.lvcva.com and Strip… the light fantastic

Pride of Barcelona

Pride, Barcelona: Barca. the football team may be the pride of the Catalonians.

And Lionel Messi… but how about Lionel Missy?

I’ve been watching too much Drag Race… my favourite is Heidi N Closet from Missouri.

While my Drag Name is Shirley Brassy.

But sun on your back, on the streets of Barcelona with a Sangria Familia is where to spend Pride.

And it’s the perfect place to kick off your cruise when we get back on the water.

Visit https://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/, and www.msc.com.

Dee-Dee and Me-Me

Purple reigns in Barbados

Dee-Dee, Barbados: Don’t smudge my make-up, mon.’

But the husky-voiced Dee-Dee broke out a smile that was as warm as the Barbados night on Crop Over at Barbados Carnival.

I was in for a dime in for a Bajan dollar with my purple painted beard.

Visit https://www.visitbarbados.org and My kiss with Rihanna.

LA is my laddie

LA -La

LA ladies, Anaheim: ‘At last my man has come along’… she could have been singing to me at Platinum Triangle in Anaheim on Pride night.

We stole a moment later and a pic for my scrapbook.

But what kind of gentleman am I… I forgot her name and didn’t call.

Visit https://visitanaheim.org www.visitcalifornia.com and My Weekend With Marilyn.

Adventure, America, Countries, Culture, Food, Food & Wine

My Weekend With Marilyn

Goodbye Norma Jean!

So, this is where Marilyn finally found her rest from the lascivious attentions of the manipulative men who hounded her to her death.

Unsignposted and in an unassuming square at the back of a Los Angeles office block lies the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

But who’s this lying next to her?

Norma Jean

Only Playboy owner Hugh Hefner who bought the drawer next door for $75,000… he was surely the last man she would have wanted to spend eternity with.

Marilyn and Hefner had history.

It was Hefner who bought the nude pictures that she had posed for in her sallow youth before she became famous for just $500 and put them on his first cover of Playboy.

She never got a dime.

Stars align

Marilyn doesn’t deserve this company.

She should be shining brightest in a galaxy of stars.

And on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, she is.

The actress is one of 2,600 famous characters, human, animal, animated, immortalised on a mile and a half of sidewalk along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street.

Her hands and feet are outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with the imprints of a century of Hollywood celebrities. 

Hers are worn out from the millions who have wanted to touch a bit of her.

If you feel her presence on the stairs of the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are held then her spirit is playing tricks on you as her only appearance was at the nearby Pantages Theatre.

Still we all pose for a diva’s shot in homage to her anyway.

Marilyn seems to be everywhere I turn. I see her looking down, smiling from out of a window on Venice Beach.

And I’m wearing Bandanas by Murty

Brightly dressed and warm as the sun. We lift our heads from our catch of the day in Larry’s diner off the boardwalk, in my case the lightest calamari, and smile back.

Jim Morrison is all swagger on the other wall. 

Today’s Venice Beach though has its own characters, a rasta artist on rollerblades playing guitar, an old man who wheels his grand piano up the strand to tinkle the ivories.

And a random Latino Conor McGregor who is punching and kicking the hell out of a punchbag in the square.

In Southern California, or SoCal, it is all about the image, the Body Beautiful.

My kicks on Route 66: The end in Venice Beach

And this is where Californian body builders come to work out, at the outdoors Muscle Beach Gym, once the home of Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘The Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.

There’s always a show on, even if it is only the tourists posing by a muscleman mannequin on the boardwalk. Guilty!

Up the road in Santa Monica the busy pier gives little clue that this is the beach used for Baywatch.

All these nuggets and more are at the fingertips of our driver Chris from Starline Tours provided by our hosts Attraction Tickets Direct.

Muscle man

He tells us of a loose association with David Hasselhoff and a girl who was the Hoff’s Proms date.

I would be more impressed if Chris had dated Sandy… well, we do pass Rydell High.

And he shows us too the site of the party hotel, the Garden of Allah where Joni Mitchell hung out, and ‘they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.’

You’ll find today’s Hollywood celebrities hanging out in West Hollywood, so where better to bunk down?

Aye, aye Cap’n

The La Peer Hotel, just a couple of blocks down from Beverly Hills, its cop shop and Rodeo Drive, is a Kimpton.

It is a boutique hotel which is much more than that as befits West Hollywood, with its heated outdoors swimming pool as an extension of the bar.

The hotel’s restaurant Viale dei Romani serves up the best Italian food if you want to stay inhouse.

And I’d also recommend the Wood Grilled Octopus and its garden of warm potato salad, oil cured olives, preserved lemon and saffron aioli.

Hollywood party

But there are no shortage of great restaurants too to sample in West Hollywood where best of all you can also indulge in the favourite pastime of celeb-spotting.

And so we also visited Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump’s eponymous lounge and restaurant PUMP.

Where Lady Gaga made the news a few years back after falling outside on the sidewalk.

Lisa is there the night we dine on truffle mushroom chicken (well, you would, wouldn’t you?)

Now where’s that cop? Beverly Hills

Though no sign of Gaga. Perhaps the gay icon will be back the following week for Pride.

West Hollywood is already putting out the bunting for Pride when up to 200,000 will take to the streets.

Although, in truth, it is always in a state of readiness with its rainbow zebra crossings.

I’d recommend a night in one of the many friendly gay clubs, I even managed to walk, rather than fall out of.

Old LA

Although a bulky cop, or I think he was, reminded me that I couldn’t drink on the sidewalk.

If you want to get closer to the stars, get onto the right tours and get on the sets of the TV shows and movies we watch.

Our hosts Attraction Tickets Direct will help with pre-booking which will save precious time and money.

They will take you to Warner Studios where you can sit in the very same couch used in Central Perk in Friends or visit the Ellen set.

A day in Universal Studios Hollywood will immerse you in movie history and the future now.

We take a coach tour through the sets of Pyscho, Jaws, a Mexican town and through a tunnel where a scene from Fast and Furious is simulated all around us. Great fun.

Psycho anyone?

Great fun too the Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest cinema show with vibrating seats and water mist effects,.

While fans of rollercoaster rides will love The Simpsons and Harry Potter rollercoasters.

I prefer to sit back and watch others take the heat although I didn’t expect to see a stuntswomam set on fire in the Special Effects show.

All your favourite animated and sci-fi characters are here and all in great form, all happy to pose up.

No, he hasn’t a Scooby either

Shrek, Scooby-Doo, the Transformers, a dinosaur, no, not me, but a ‘real’ T-Rex which is trailing Jurassic World – The Ride.

We all have our favourites but it is the Boy Wizard who will always cast a spell on me.

Muggles, myself included, are besides themselves at the prospect of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure storycoaster in the sister resort in Orlando.

Universal Hollywood’s Potter experience feels smaller than its Orlando world but it is still intimate and enchanting.

And its Dark Arts light show is a thundering good jape with a cascade of creepy crawlies climbing up to attack a crumbling Hogwarts Castle in the dead of night.

Magical: The Potter show

Only for the forces of good to prevail, all against a heart-pounding musical score and moral message.

And that it seems is Hollywood and the LA story in a nutshell, an aspirational, illusory dream sequence.

Where you can stand in the Hollywood Hills, and you can hike up to the Griffith Observatory and view the iconic letters.

Or take a waitering job and hope to serve a Steven Spielberg.

Or get your star on the Walk of Fame.

A couple of proper Charlies

It’s a rollercoaster journey all right and you can’t pick who you’re next too but I did spot four stars unfilled…

And I reckon I’d be a more than deserving candidate for one of them.

I’ve been an angel

HOW TO GET THERE

Jim flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin Airport with pre-clearance to LAX.

WHERE TO STAY

La Peer Hotel is quintessentially West Hollywood with bright, funky finishings, spacious and comfortable bedrooms and fine and filling food. As well as a heated swimming pool and fitness centre. Doubles from approximately €315 per night. Visit www.lapeerhotel.com.

She vants to be alone

ACTIVITIES

Deluxe Grand City Tour with Starline from €73pp.

Hollywood Hills guided hike – departing from the Greek Theatre. It’s a 2.5 hour gentle hike, offering mountain and city views and photo opportunities of the Hollywood sign. The tour ends at the Griffith Park Observatory (admission included). From €46pp.

Starlight Dinner Cruise from Marina Del Rey’s. From €107pp (not including drinks).

Universal Studios Hollywood – one-day admission ticket from €96pp/Express Pass from €167pp/VIP Experience from €305pp.

Visit www.attractionticketsdirect.ie or call free on (01) 6498558.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine

Hungry and Thursday – pasta masta

Was it you who took all the pasta from the supermarket shelves?

Who knew that that was our go-to food in time of crisis.

Italian Mammas, of course, have been serving pasta as a cure-all since Julius Caesar were a lad, with that special ingredient of love.

And with Bandanaman’s l’amore to Italia and to flag up our friends, the travel providers, who have taken us there for years www.topflight.ie, www.tuiholidays.ie and www.sunway.ie among others.

Here’s a dishy Italian treat…

Aperitivo

Now this one is the easiest of the lot with Prosecco or Campari as a kicker… or my choice the Venetian favourite, the Aperol Spritz: Prosecco, Aperol and soda water.

Antipasto

Bruschetta, Central Italy: Or maybe as far back as Classical Rome with the Latins’ verb ‘bruscare’ meaning ‘to roast over coals’.

But you knew that?

The bruschetta is what you make it, and you will have all this around your cucina.

Garlic-rubbed grilled bread, salt, pepper, tomatoes, basil leaves and oil.

Primo

Risi e Bisi, Padua: Now it’s always good to know that you have the Anthony Bourdain seal of approval.

I was also guided to Anthony’s fave Risi e Bisi by my hosts in Padua.

It looks easy too and in fact is so this is something you can rustle up in double jig time.

Now I’m reliably informed by Anthony that the peas and rice float in a vegetable broth made from a simple base of onion and pancetta — the fatty, cured-pork cut.

And that it was always served at the Doge’s Banquet on April 25 which sounds like a good idea for an Italian-themed night at home.

Visit https://www.venetoinside.com/discover-veneto/plan-your-holiday-in-veneto/top-10-places-to-visit-in-veneto/ and http://www.italia.it/en/home.html.

Now this is where I get confused… my Italian friends variably tell me this is a main course.

But my old Italian teacher Donata said that it’s a primo and that the secondo be chicken, meat or fish along with the contorno of vegetables.

Secondo

Chicken cacciatore, all across Italy: Should you decide a bistecca is not for you and object to, or just don’t like, veal then pass up on the Bistecca alla Fiorentina.., besides its serving suggestion isn’t well done enough for mio.

The simple to make (and most Italian dishes are) chicken cacciatore which involves frying chicken cuts with base ingredients of onion, garlic and tomato is something even I could cook.

Particularly as I’ve been shown my penne from my tagliatelle by my friend Catherine Fulvio at her Ballyknocken House & Cookery School https://ballyknocken.ie.

Dolce

Fragola Gelato, Rome: Now, you might be expecting a tiramisu here but I’m not a coffee, creamy signore… in fact the only cream I like is ice cream.

So dish me up a fragola (strawberry) gelato and you’ll not get a peep out of me (well, maybe!). See https://www.rome.net.

Caffe

And I’m going to deviate from the script here with una ciocolatta calda densa, a hot chocolate that is more of a thick chocolate pudding.

Digestivo

A Grappa perhaps, or a Limincello… and the latter has made it over in our move from Ireland to Scotland.

And returned to our freezer. And now that mia moglie has gone into the distilling business with her alcohol sanitiser then it’s a small step surely to making Limoncello.

Now we just need some lemon trees and a Mediterranean diet.

Vino

Of course a full Chianti or Valpolicella is usually what il dottore ordered.

But instead I’ll opt for a pinot grigio seeing that it’s a white meat dish.

And seeing that I want to evoke Rome and an al fresco family meal just outside the Pantheon.

Then I’m going to plump for due bottiglie di Lazio Pinot Grigot Cantina Gabriele.

And we’ll maybe slap on some Vivaldi and look up at our painting of the Castello Sant’Angelo in Rome and know that we’ll be back.

Because, of course, we threw some coins into the Trevi Fountain.

Lire, naturally… I am Scottish!

And here’s my love letter to Rome… Small roads lead to Rome and https://www.rome.net.

Adventure, Africa, America, Countries, Culture, Europe

The Old World – a salute to Seventysomethings

I’ve always hung on the words of the old because they’ve got more, not less, life than the rest of us, and that is even more so abroad.

Where the elderly retain more respect than we give our senior citizens in the Ooo K.

And so as the UK wrestles with what to do with its Seventysomethings – and locking them away at home is being proposed…

Here are some of the older people who this energetic 54-year-old struggles to keep up with.

The Tobago touche

Auntie Ali and Uncle Kenneth: Tobagonians have more uncles and aunties than the rest of us on account that everyone who is old is… it’s a form of respect.

Auntie Ali and Uncle Kenneth run the Blue Crab in Robinson, Scarborough where Ali wiggles her bum-bum and Uncle Kenneth (and me) make the chicken curry.

For more on Tobago see www.visittobagogov.tt and here’s my take on it Ready, steady GOAT… racing in Tobago.

The Barbados walkers

Geraldine and Betsy; The American sitcom King of Queens has Carrie’s pal Holly walk Arthur… for us it at Club Barbados it was Angela around the Platinum Coast.

That’s me and Betsy from the Virginia Ski Club of America.

An education on Virginia and Barbados and Angela even went the extra mile when she burnt a soca CD for me. See www.visitbarbados.org and My kiss with Rihanna.

Swiss seniors

Brigitte the yodeller, Switzerland: It was a stroll in the park on our summer walking trip around Interlaken.

Where 72-year-young Brigitte put us through our paces, stopping only to let us skim our stones and for her to yodel (no, honestly!)

Visit https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/ and Swhisskey on the rocks.

Prague pensioners

Czech your stride, Prague: I’m just getting feeling back in my legs after My guide had walked the bones off me and my colleague Elise in Prague.

She also had a typically Americanised and underplayed way of describing those who had left a trail of destruction through her city… Stalin, for example, was a ‘bad guy’.

See www.czechtourism.com. And Hope springs eternal.

Over the hill in Austria

Ehrwald Presley: And they’re off… the walking groups from Ireland I trekked with in Austria, bombing ahead up the hills as I was just limbering up.

Before settling down at night for some oompah music with Austria’s answer to Elvis Presley.

See https://topflightforschools.ie.

Vegas neon

Liberace’s pal: Well, it wouldn’t be Vegas without the bling.

And Beverley didn’t disappoint, sporting the jewels given to her when she worked at Li’s gaffe while also telling her lots of tales of Neon City.

See www.lvcva.com and https://www.neonmuseum.org and Strip… the light fantastic.

Dresden’s fraulein

A walk through history, Dresden: Schoolchildren wanting to know about history, and Dresden, would do better to talk to Greta.

Than dig out a history book… because Ingrid and her family straddle the Nazis and the Communists.

Visit https://www.dresden.de/en/tourism/tourism.php and Dresden’s renaissance.

Pioneering pensioners

Colorado: There’s a message on a blackboard at the white-water rafting centre near Boulder, Colorado which flags up a nonagenarian

Barbara was in already to go without that challenge… alas, in the churning rapids. And broke her ribs.

Visit www.colorado.com and here’s my ride through the Wild West… The New Frontiersmen.

Even African dictators

South Africa: And in Africa too where no matter who you are you deserve respect when you are an elder statesman, or woman.

Even when that elder statesman is Robert Mugabe.

Which was our big game drive ranger in South Africa Hewurt’s reasoning for why Robert Mugabe still held power.

While it is always worth stopping people in the course of their work, to ask them about themselves.

Like the charming old hotel worker Amos in Cradock in the Eastern Cape who had fought with the resistance and Nelson Mandela.

Visit https://www.southafrica.net/uk/en/ and here’s a nod to those South Africans who really do respect their elderly…. What’s new pussycat?

Countries, Culture, Food, Food & Wine, Uncategorized

Ready, steady GOAT… racing in Tobago

You would easily miss the ‘No squatting’ sign on Englishman’s Bay in the Caribbean island of Tobago.

The fictional seafarer Robinson Crusoe did, before going on to spend 28 years doing just that, as a castaway here.

Daniel Defoe’s literary hero has been a source of enduring fascination for the past 300 years.

Defoe, who drew on many shipwreck stories of the time – tells us that Crusoe’s vessel sank within sight of ‘the great island of Trinidad’.

Logic dictates that can only have been its sister island Tobago.

The same logic means you can discount the rival claim from the island formerly known as Mas a Tierra, off the coast of Chile.

Which the Chilean government opportunistically renamed Isla Robinson Crusoe in 1966.

Beach life

It’s hard to know if Crusoe would recognise Tobago today.

His first challenge, of course, after making shore back in 1719 would have been to find food.

And through fortune, or good judgment, he managed to avoid the yellow berries on the beach – the ones my host warns me to stay away from.

Instead, Crusoe would have shaken the trees for coconuts and bananas.

Fruits of land and sea

And picked from mango groves, gladly living off the fruits of the land and the sea.

I’m a guest of the Tobago Tourism Agency and enjoy similar spoils at a range of restaurants.

The sort where the fish are close enough to jump out of the sea and onto your plate.

And where the owners are friendly enough for you to call them Auntie Alison or Uncle Kenneth.

The island of Tobago has been ‘settled’ 32 times including, randomly, by Latvians.

In an island just 12kms wide you’re never too far from the sea, or a breathtaking view of it.

In search of locals, whose ancestors were here long before Crusoe, we head for the rainforest, and its bird and animal sanctuaries.

Where hummingbirds, mockingbirds, back hawks and woodpeckers are in good voice.

Attenborough‘s pal

And where Crusoe would have learnt, as I do, of the natural healing power of plants.

My guides include rainforest expert William Slim, who counts David Attenborough as an admirer; bird expert.

Ean Mackay www.adventure-ecovillas.com and animal conservationists Ian Wright and Roy Collins.

I am particularly taken by the magical properties of the cocoa plant.

And by another called ‘roucou’ or achiote (Bixa orellana) which contains a dye which will turn your beard ginger (I bet Crusoe did the same).

Plus a plant that cures the flu.

In February, Tobagonians come out for carnival, the Caribbean’s oldest of its type, dating back to the slave trade era.

During which they go limin’ (pre-drinking), and chippin’ (a rhythmic sliding strut performed by revellers as they follow a band).

They practise for it all year round.

Every visitor to Tobago should make time to stop at Sunday School in Bucoo on the south of the island.

Not a true Sunday school, but a vibrant street party featuring steelpan and soca (soul of calypso) music.

For which the whole of the island comes out to dance and drink rum punch into the wee small hours.

Soca star

Soca, the soundtrack to Tobago, comes in many guises – from old-school kaiso (west African-influenced)…

To power Soca (fast-paced) and the Christmas favourite Parang, heavily influenced by nearby Venezuela.

Waterholics, a local water activities company, brings tourists by boat to Princess Margaret’s honeymoon spot, Nylon Pool.

Which she once declared were as clear as her nylon stockings (€109pp ilovetobagott.com)

Nylon Pool has the added advantage of being a raised sandbank amid deeper water, so you can have a bit of fun.

Standing around in the sea fir afternoon drinks, and I guess this is exactly what the party-loving royal did.

Christmas party

Amid Tobago’s 30C temperatures don’t be surprised to find a Santa in a festive T-shirt on the beach, and a No Man’s Land…

A small, sandy island which my boat party drops anchor on for our own bespoke Christmas party.

I suspend disbelief and indulge in rum punch instead of a sherry and mahi-mahi (like swordfish) instead of turkey.

Perhaps Tobago’s biggest distraction comes in the form of racing goats, who during my visit are in training for the Buccoo Goat Race Festival that takes place each Easter.

The ways of a nanny or billy goat were well known to Crusoe, of course, whose efforts in raising the big kids were chronicled in his adventures.

In Crusoe’s absence, though, we are fortunate to have jockey Levi, who shows me the ropes, and how to handle my giddy goat Bandanaman.

Which has a loose-fitting cord around its neck.

The starter shouts: ‘Ready, Steady. Goat’, or at least I do, and we’re pff.

I’m a natural, letting Bandanaman lead me 100 metres up the grass track near the football pitch.

Which just happens to be the hallowed ground upon which former Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke first paraded his skills.

Today, though, it is Yorke’s former mentor Terry Williams holding the fort, flying kites with his young son Elijah.

Lie down and think of Tobago

It looks hard work in this heat, but after my exertions with the goats, I welcome the prospect of a cool down.

On an island where all beaches are public, you are spoilt for choice – from Lover’s Bay and Pirate’s Bay, to Crown Point’s Store Bay Beach.

Where the Trinis (Trinidadians) will pop over on a 20-minute flight, just for the afternoon.

It is on Pirate’s Bay beach that I meet a German party, who emerge, almost Crusoelike from the thickets, having walked the width of the island.

From Scarborough, its largest town.

A kindlier man might have given up their hammock but I have difficulty in getting out of mine.

My last day I spend as Crusoe might have done, in reverence to the Divine Creator – partaking of a full-throated spiritual singalong at the Bread of Life Ministries.

Which is a Pentecostal church near my hotel in Crown Point.

But while Crusoe’s most solemn wish would have been to be rescued, mine is that no big bird ever arrives to fly me off my fantasy island.

The brief

Getting there:

Fly from Dublin to London Gatwick and onwards to Tobago with British Airways (from €560 return www.ba.com) or Virgin Atlantic (from €586 return) www.virginatlantic.com.

Getting around:

Drivers and guides can easily be arranged at hotels to get you around Tobago. Car rental starts at about €50 per day.

Where to eat:

Mount Irvine Bay Resort has its own seaside golf course while for those whose favourite hole is the 19th, the resort serves the best rum punches on the island (doubles from €84 www.mtirvine.com.

Castara Retreats is a hidden gem with its hammocks on the balcony, buzzing village feel and bonfire parties on the beach (doubles from €777) www.castararetreats.com.

Kariwak Holistic Haven is near the airport, the bars, restaurants and casino of the ‘strip’ (doubles from €263. www.kariwak.com.

Where to dine:

The Blue Crab is Robinson, Scarborough, once featured on television chef Ainslie Harriott’s show, Caribbean Kitchen. Try the chicken curry www.tobagobluecrab.com.

Jemma’s Tree House on Fourmi Road, Hermitage, where you’ll share your table space with hummingbirds but that’s what comes when you dine in a treehouse.

Order the swordfish – so good they named it twice.

For more information on Tobago see www.visittobago.gov.tt.