Countries, Culture, Europe

Julius Caesar tour of Rome

They’re big sandals to fill but that won’t stop us. On a Julius Caesar tour of Rome.

And, yes, Brutus you can come too.

To mark the new BBC retro of the oul’ Roman emperor, Julius Caesar: The Making of a Dictator, we’re walking you through his life.

Iconic: Jules

Was With help from those who know his story best, his friends, Romans, countrymen.

So lend me your ears, or better still your eyes, and I’ll tell you the best places to soak up Jules’ La Citta Eterna.

Do it yourself

My empire: On the Spanish Steps

Now there’s always an operator quick to part you with your denarii.

But we’re about letting you keep more of your hard-earned coin.

You know the ones with Caesar’s head on it, although the taxman always takes it as quickly as you make it.

So we advise you do it yourself in the Italian capital.

And take in Caesar’s Forum, the Roman Forum and the Temple of Julius Caesar.

The march of time

My empire: On the Spanish Steps

Now because Julius Caesar’s fascination endures there is a new old landmark.

The Roman authorities have opened up for us this year,

The Largo di Torre Argentina, where Brutus and his co-conspirators cut Caesar down to size.

It has hitherto been below street level.

And includes the remains of Pompey’s Theatre and four temples, which date back as far as the 3rd century BC.

Lend me your ears: Jules’ oratory

Behind two of the temples lies the ruins of Pompey’s Curia, a hall that hosted the Senate

You’ll pay just €5 to move through a walkway at ground level and view the structures up close.

Meeow Mia

Furza Italia: Cats rule Rome

Cats, of course, pay nothing as it should be.

For the past 30 years, the fourth temple has housed a cat sanctuary.

And offers sterilisation and adoption programs for an estimated 350 cats.

So with Italy on the radar for next year we might even channel our inner Brutus on tbs Ides of March.

For our Julius Caesar tour of Rome.

America, Countries, Ireland, Music, UK

Farewell Shane MacGowan, the last of the Irish Rovers

Farewell Shane MacGowan, the last of the Irish Rovers… it was an honour to pick up your empties.

Shane probably wouldn’t remember it, he wouldn’t remember much after a slake of beer or whiskey.

But I was the glass collector the night he played the Ritzy nightclub in Aberdeen.

When he was at his most energetic and would rattle into Sally MacLennane, The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn or the Old Main Drag.

Swigging a bottle of lager before launching into his song and banging it down at the end before gargling a word of acknowledgement to me as I kept them lined up.

The Pogues’ oul rogue

Party time: The Pogues

Shane MacGowan was for so many of us Fiftysomething the soundtrack of our youth, the go-to artist and band to pogo to on the Union dancefloor.

And, of course, like all of the most treasured of artists, he is transgenerational.

He will be remembered most for his anthemic Christmas song Fairytale of New York with Kirsty MacColl which broke the mould of cheesy tinsel songs.

And many will see it as poignant that he should pass over to the other side as Christmas festivities get into full swing.

But it was as the lead singer of the band which fused the most unlikely bedfellows of Irish trad music and punk for which he will go down in music history as a pioneer.

Son of the oul’ sod

Energy drink: Shane MacGowan

Of course, Shane was like me and millions, and this is where the link ends part of the great Diaspora, a son of a son (or daughter) of the sod.

Of those who had, like my Dear Old Mum and my Dad, whose own mum and his ancestors had taken the boat across to Britain.

Few because of the poor state of the economy back in the homeland could make a permanent move back to Ireland.

But they held the Irish culture, the politics, their nationalism, the song, the dance and the craic close to their hearts.

And pass it on to the new land they found themselves in which is why The Pogues became celebrated in London and across Britain.

From New York to the world

Fiesta time: The fun boys

Of course, it is poignant that Fairytale of New York should be the ultimate Pogues standard as the bond formed between Ireland and America grows stronger year by year.

And underlined by American President Joe Biden who made an emotional return to the land of his fathers last year.

The unruffled ruffian with the broken glass teeth and the gravelly voice has gone and a million jukeboxes will blast out his hits across Irish bars around the world.

Farewell Shane MacGowan, the last of the Irish Rovers.

As he joins Jimmy from Sally Maclennane ‘who took the road for heaven in the morning.’



Countries, Culture, Europe

Give Greece her Marbles back

And as British leader Rishi Sunak has a huffy and snubs Kyriakos Mitsotakis why won’t Britain give Greece her Marbles back?

Probably because Britain likes to keep what it finds.

Even if that finding involves chiselling Classical friezes away from the original and shipping it away from its Athenian home.

Hills and thrills: The Acropolis

So that you can show it off in a museum along with all the other treasures you’ve purloined from around the world.

Of course Britain isn’t alone in this, it’s just that it’s done more of it than anybody else.

Mitsotakis’s moan

Mona Sassy: And the Greeks share the tude

Now Mitsotakis made a drama out of a crisis when he lyrically expressed what the separation of the Marbles, the other half is in Athens looks like to the world.

That it was akin to ‘cutting the Mona Lisa in two’ and giving one half to a foreign museum.

Now in what is tantamount to art treason and outing myself as a philistine I would tender that I’d rather have my own Tobago mill pic.

British Museum’s stance

One we stole earlier: The British Museum

The Marbles though are a different story in aesthetics, history and longevity.

Which is why the British Museum is so keen not to give them back.

Saying in its defence: ‘Around 50% of the original architectural decoration on the Parthenon is now lost.

‘Having been destroyed over many centuries in the ancient world and later.

‘It is therefore impossible to reconstruct the monument completely or reunite it with its sculptural decoration.’

Which, of course, comes as a great disappointment to our Greek friends.

As they have a spanking museum in their capital, the Acropolis Museum, to reunite the Elgin Marbles with its partner.

Destiny calling

Made in Scotland: Stone of Destiny

Elgin, embarrassingly, a Scot who probably learned his devious ways from his neighbours.

Of course, in this little northern part of this septic isle we call Britain we know all about the light-fingered English.

And how they stole the Stone of Destiny upon which Scottish kings were crowned in 1296 and brought it down to England.

And despite entreaties and a smash and grab by nationalistic students to get it back our English overlords decided to keep it.

Until it was finally handed back to be be houses in Edinburgh Castle in 1996, just a few years before we got her extant parliament back.

Work like a Trojan

Horsing around: To get Marbles back

Now we hope that common decency will prevail over the Elgin, or Parthenon Marbles.

And that it doesn’t take until 2512 for Britain to give back its loot.

But while Rishi Sunak plays Empire Games, backed by champion of anti-returnism Lord Cameron, a different tack is called for.

And as a kiss and make-up gift to sulky Sunak perhaps a Wooden Horse is the way.





Countries, Deals, Europe, Music

Czech Rieu out at the opera

Now if you always thought those who watched the tenors had pokers up their ariases stuffed shirt then you’ve never got to Czech Rieu out at the opera.

Because Praguers, unlike ourselves in Britain or Ireland, put the music before the formality.

Instead of penguins you’re more likely to find yourself drinking next to dressed-down monks in the bar at the interval.

Our friends at the Institute for Culture Travel in Ireland get that too that too which is why they’ve brought opera to the masses.

Rieu knew

Gimme five: Andre Rieu

The Institute are offering André Rieu and the Johann Strauss Orchestra in Prague on June 5 from €1,179pps including:

  • Return flight from Dublin, (taxes and transfers)
  • Four-nights in the Boutique Jalta Hotel with breakfast
  • Guided tour of Prague Castle Complex
  • Visit Lobkowicz Palace; featuring world-famous paintings by Bruegel, Canaletto, Velázquez and more; ceramics spanning five centuries and hand-annotated manuscripts by many of the world’s greatest composers, including Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.
  • Walking tour of Prague’s Old Town
  • Excursion to medieval town of Kutna Hora
  • Pre-performance dinner in hotel, with tea/coffee and glass of wine
  • An evening with André Rieu in concert (tickets – stalls downstairs)
  • Private transfers and local guide according to the programme
A night at the opera: In Prague

Or if you want to branch further afield then the Institute will take you to Lisbon to see Andre on October 30 from €1.389pps, with excursions and a Fado dinner show which my old pal Jose insists originated in Coimbra.

While they will also offer you Andre in Budapest too on November 7 from €1,2899pps.

Now, it’s always the performers and performances you don’t take up that you live to regret and Andrea Bocelli, an MSC cruise launch and a very overentitled freelancer in my gift spring to mind here.

Sometimes it’s best just to be selfish and I’m loath here then to tell you what I know.

Brilliant Bocelli 

Home Andre: Bocelli

That the Institute have Andrea Bocelli in Warsaw on August 22 from €1,389pps includes:

  • Return flight from Dublin, taxes and transfers
  • 4 nights in the 4* Polonia Palace hotel in Warsaw with breakfast
  • Welcome lunch (flight time depending)
  • Full day tour of Warsaw, lunch included with:
  • Entrance to F. Chopin Museum in Ostrogski Castle
  • Chopin music piano recital
  • Half day excursion to Wilanow Palace and Park
  • Full day excursion following Chopin’s footsteps: visit Zelazowa Wola (Chopin’s birthplace) and
  • Sanniki Palace, an open-air museum in Lowicz with lunch en-route at a local restaurant
  • 3-course pre-concert dinner at the hotel
  • Ticket (Lower Ring A) for Andrea Bocelli concert on 24 August 2024 at PGE National Stadium
  • Free time for independent sightseeing
  • Private transfers and local guide according to the programme

So Czech Rieu out at the opera or tell them what Warsaw in Poland when Andrea Bocelli was singing to us.


Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Music, UK

Rumble again in London’s Jungle

It was an occasion when I was just 8, and was allowed to stay up and watch, and now they’re ready to rumble again in London’s jungle.

Muhammad Ali’s world heavyweight championship fight with George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974 was a one-off global event.

Only it wasn’t a one-off… here we are reliving it through the Rumble in the Jungle Rematch.

In the Dock X warehouse in Canada Quay.

It’s billed as an immersive theatrical retelling of an event that transcended sport.

And became a cultural, political and musical focus in which we can now participate in 2023.

Get on, get on up

Fun and James: James Brown

The music fan will love getting their groove on and tap their feet.

To a soul-stirring blend of African, North American, and Latin melodies.

From the likes of James Brown, Sister Sledge, Celia Cruz, and Miriam Makeba live!

The theatre troupe will whip up the hype ahead of the fight.

Listen to Ali’s legendary press conferences and gruelling training.

And meet the locals who chanted Ali Bomaye (Ali, kill him).

As he went on his training runs in the Zaire countryside.

Best seats on the house

The Louisville Lip: Ali

Before you take ringside seats.

And experience the big fight and Ali’s rope-a-dope tricks.

Through precision performance and breath-taking physical theatre.

And just like back in 1974 when an Ali fight brought in everybody.

From grannies to kids the Rumble in the Jungle rematch is a real family affair.

Now with tickets costing £29.50 and the show running until December 9 Rumble in the Jungle rematch is one to add to your London diary.

A thesps’ playground

King for the day: Don King

Of course, the Big Smoke boasts all human life and a troupe of thesps out there to put on a show about it.

Whether it’s the West End and say, Beautiful, the Carole King Story.

Or another guilty pleasure the Son and Heir has lined up for us.

Because he knows that what use is sitting all alone in your room, come hear the music play.

Life is a Cabaret old chum… and I love a Cabaret.

America, Caribbean, Culture, Deals

Thanks a reptilian

Ever since that snake tempted Eve they’ve had the worst wrap but today is their day when we say thanks a reptilian.

And reflect that we seek out our slidey pals around the world.

How else do we explain our endless fascination with the biggest reptile of them all, the donosaur… and nothing slidey there.

Now for an extinct species Dino doesn’t half get around.

And he has adapted to our modern world, taking to the climes and surrounds of Florida and California.

Where he has been known to like petting at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando.

Dino saw it

Here Dino: Universal Studios Hollywood

While kids, and big kids alike, love to pore over their bones.

At any number of museums around the world where they are the centrepieces.

Now we all know about the Natural History Museum in New York.

With its own underground stop for those rainy days to entertain the kids and keep them dry.

Dino pals: At the Yale Peabody in New Haven

Dino, we all know looms large in the movie A Night At The Museum.

But did we know that Yale Peabody Museum inspired Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton and that New Haven in Connecticut is Dino central.

Now the big fella and his pals seem to have a habit of following us around.

Slide up: The Maldives

Where it’s reassuring to know that you can mingle with dinosaurs at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas.

While brunching on barbecue and Margaritas.

And Dino’s pals

Turtle peace: Barbados

Now there are millions of reptiles between Big Dino, Terry and Tessie turtle in Barbados.

And Mother Turtle and Gordon the Gecko, my own wee pal from the Maldives.

And they all deserve our respect as they form a key part in the natural cycle and are friendlier than you’d think.

So thanks a reptilian to all of you on your day of appreciation.

From lizards, snakes and chameleons through alligators, crocodiles, tortoises and turtles.





Countries, Culture, Europe

How to get by in Dutch Dunglish

Who even knew but on the back of learning the Netherlands is the best foreign country for English speakers… our guide on how to get by in Dutch Dunglish.

It’s not quite Monty Python’s Hungarian Phrase Book (ask your folks) but it is amusing how der wires get crossed.

Those whose first port of call in Amsterdam is their red-light district (there is so much else) will be tickled by their confusion over solicitation.

If, for example, you take Compare My Move’s advice.

That the Netherlands are the prime destination to relocate to…

Then you might be looking for a job, only know that the Dutch word is solliciteren.

And Dunglish speakers are likely to use it in this context too.

Word up

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

On such linguistic confusions diplomatic incidents can break out.

So that when Winston Churchill met Pieter Sjoers Gerbrands.

The Dutch premier greeted him with a goodbye, a Dutch interchangeable for hello.

To which the waspish Churchill opined “this is the shortest meeting I have ever had”.

And then when the Belgian football federation invited others they were to play in qualification including Scotland.

They got the Scots offside on account of their Dutch-Flemish.

When they spoke of eventueel qualification, meaning potential and not inevitable.

But not this Scot for whom the Low Countries are among my go-to destinations in Europe.

Nordic Anglophiles

Walking on air: In Copenhagen

While the Netherlands score highest on the Compare My Move list with 95% of the Dutch speaking English.

They are part of a general pattern for Northern Europeans.

Iceland’s expense is something that doesn’t put those people looking to live at one with nature off moving.

With last year the highest on records for those looking to relocate to the Land of Fire and Ice.

Helped no doubt by the 90 per cent English-speaking rate.

Malta, with its rich links with Britain right down to its red telephone boxes, is no stranger to the English tongue with 88% proficiency.

The Nordic countries too are known for their Anglophile ways with Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland all recommended.

That’s der business

Common language: Football fans in Dortmund

And while there are outliers in Slovenia we shouldn’t be surprised that business haven Luxembourg is also comfortable with English.

While good news for football fans going from this island to Germany next year.

Three out of every five Teutons are proficient in English.

Now just to work on how to get by in Dutch Dunglish, or other hybrids.

Ahead of Scotland getting paired with international rivals at next year’s Euros.



Africa, America, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Living art in leading hotels

I might well have been in a time warp seeing Oscar Wilde getting arrested in Cadogan Hotel in London’s Knightsbridge but then that’s living art in leading hotels for you.

Oscar, as we know don’t we, had rooms at the hotel around the corner from his marital home…

And his next abode would be less fancy, a cell in Reading Gaol.

It was all there in glorious colour as I descended the stairs for my breakfast.

And I flirted with being arrested too after arguing about the price of the food with the staff worried I’d do a runner.

Leading the way

Dali delights: Salvador

Now not all hotels have such history but clearly the more prestigious have and our friends at the The Leading Hotels of The Word’s  have compiled the hotels with the best artwork ahead of art week next week.

The collection offers a variety of hotels which house numerous contemporary and traditional pieces including one with similar lineage, we assume. L’oscar in London.

While the Dolder Grand in Zurich is home to around 100 works of art by 90 renowned artists.

And Le Negresco in Nice has a collection of artwork spanning over five centuries.

Hôtel Swexan takes influences from Texas and Switzerland, whereas The Saxon stays true to its South African roots.

Dodder around the Dolder

Wall of fame: The Dolder Grand

Dolder Grand, Zurich: Around one hundred works of art by ninety celebrated artists are on display throughout the hotel with most accessible to all guests.

With others reserved for hotel guests on particular floors.

The diverse mix of artists includes Ferdinand Hodler, Urs Fischer and Max Bill.

While at the entrance to the ‘The Restaurant’ lies “Femmes métamorphosées – Les sept arts” by Salvador Dalí.

And “Le Monde” by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely, can be seen en route to the hotel spa.

L’Oscar goes to…

Wilde nights: At L’oscar London

L’Oscar, London: And that’s not the only connection with the effervescent spirit of Oscar Wilde vividly captured in the portraits that adorn the walls in this central London hotel.

While there is a prized picture here of Frank Cadogan Cowper and his “Venetian Ladies Listening to the Serenade”.

Equally enchanting is the original 1861 painting by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, “Diva Vittoria Colonna”, a work of art that radiates grace and timeless elegance.

Oil paintings of Virginia Woolf further enrich the ambiance with a sense of literary history.

Nice decor

Museum of art: Le Negresco

Le Negresco, Nice: It feels much like entering a museum.

One in which artists’ Picasso, Dali and Chagall were regulars.

A Baccarat chandelier with over 16,000 crystals hangs in the Royal Lounge, commissioned and in later years gifted by Czar Nicholas II.

Modern sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle are juxtaposed with historic works from Louis XIII’s reign, including a portrait of King Louis XIV.

Swanky Swexan

The Lone Art State: The Swexan

Hotel Swexan, Dallas: The Swiss/Texas art story of Hôtel Swexan began over a century ago.

With the first of what is now four generations of the Barbier-Mueller family art collection.

The hotel’s Samurai Art Collection is also the largest of its kind in the world outside of Japan.

With more than 1.5 million visitors worldwide.

In addition, Hermès scarves designed by Aline Honoré for the family’s Samurai Collection are on display throughout the hotel.

Saxon call

Stairway to heaven: Saxon Hotels

Saxon Hotels, Villas & Spa, Johannesburg, South Africa: The collection has been selected from both established and emerging artists from across Africa, Europe and the East.

The hotel also offers guests suggested itineraries.

With an art focus that encourage them to explore whilst visiting the city of Johannesburg.

This includes visiting well-known South African art galleries.

Along with giving them the chance to meet with local artists in person.





Countries, Culture, Ireland

The story of Ireland

It’s the story of Ireland, their story, written by those who were there and left it here for us in books, plays, films and the land.

With Paul Lynch and Paul Murray upholding the tradition of Irish storytelling with Booker prize nods, Fáilte Ireland have mapped out the nation’s literary landmarks.

And it is by visiting those places beloved and referenced in the literary giants’ works that we get inside their minds and see their souls.

Some that no matter how much inspection still take some untangling, but it’s still fun to try.

The Joyce of Dublin

Home James: The James Joyce Centre

James Joyce remains the most universally-acclaimed Irish writer and proudest promoter of Dublin of any of them.

Joyce sets the first chapter of Ulysses around the old Martello tower of Sandycove, half an hour from the city, where Joyce once lived.

Joyceans can climb the winding stairs of the James Joyce Tower and Museum and read letters, photographs, rare editions and personal possessions.

Before, of course, you head into Dublin and relive Leopold Bloom’s day.

And then check out the original manuscript of Ulysses and much more such as Samuel Beckett artefacts at the Museum of Literature Ireland.

Super Yeats

Poet WB Yeats, shares with Joyce and Beckett the accolade of a Nobel Prize for Literature and he has left his mark.

From Sandymount in leafy South Dublin to his beloved west coast.

The building named for him in Sligo where you can take in a permanent gallery.’

And the ‘Stand where he stood’ tours which combine poetry, drama, history and the landscape of Sligo.

The Tree of Life

Now our antecedent authors were so aware of their own genius that they literally carved their names into the country’s furniture.

At the Autograph Tree and Coole Park Visitor Centre & Gardens, Gort Co. Galway.

And so the greats of the Irish Literary Revival at the start of the last century, Shaw, Synge, John, Hyde, Russell, Yeats, O’Casey and Lady Gregory.

Ulster says yes

Seamus Heaney too reached the pinnacle of the literary world as a Nobel Prize winner and the best place to feel his spirit is in his beloved Ulster.

Donegal is the same landscape that inspired Seamus Heaney.

And a stay in The Song House, previously The Poet’s House Teach na nAmhrán, will likely release the poetry in you.

Heaney’s fellow Ulsterman Patrick Kavanagh is hailed the island over and his statue on a bench by the Grand Canal in Dublin is a personal favourite spot.

But for Kavanagh fans there is more, much more than Raglan Road which you can discover.

Up those country roads at the Patrick Kavanagh Centre, Co. Monaghan.

The Kavanagh Trail follows Paddy’s footsteps down winding lanes and through his beloved back fields.

While a guided tour is available, booked in advance.

Peig it

Of course, for all the charms of Nobel Prize winners and the masters of the Irish Revival the one author every Irish schoolboy and schoolgirl knows is Peig Sayers.

Peig’s story of her life is a staple of the Irish school curricular and shorthand for everyone who has been through the system (take a bow my two) when they meet anywhere in the world.

Writers Wall in Dingle Town, Co. Kerry, pays tribute to authors from the Chorcha Dhuibhne Gaeltacht and Blasket Islands.

It features quotes from the famous Irish language writers of that region

While you can also take a detour to Listowel, ‘the Literary Capital of Ireland’ to visit Kerry Writers’ Museum

So wherever you go in the island you can see the story of Ireland in its landmarks… and that’s what they wanted.



America, Countries, Music

Don I love you so and Nashville

People ask me why, well maybe not but stick with me because Don I love you so and Nashville.

We’re delighted to hear that the home of country music is to honour The Don on their Music City Walk Of Fame next month.

To go alongside his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the 2,700th recipient of such a glittering prize.

Duck tales: With the Donald in LA

Producer John Waters will become the 2,763rd tomorrow although I can’t say right now which number I’ll be.

While the Hollywood Boulevard markings have stood out in our conscience for walks of fame they proliferate now… and more of that later.

The Music City

Everyone’s a singer: In Music City

But it is only right to focus on The Don as he is honoured in Music City Nashville which prides itself as a musical crossover hub.

Now if some people only know The Don for his anthem American Pie then they’ll miss his country roots.

What we shouldn’t miss, of course, is that The Don’s heritage is a Scottish one.

Rootsy: The Don

Celtic folk, Scottish and Irish infuses country music and the offshoots.

And so those who have delved further into The Don’s back catalogue will know yeThe Don knew his Old Country standards.

With his rendition of Mountains of Mourne spreading that way and beyond its origins.

Yes, Don I love you so and Nashville.

And Don, of course, joins a stellar list which randomly in alphabetical order includes…

And in Music City the Music himself Buddy Holly under his band, The Crickets.

The Don will be joined in the naming ceremony by Darius Rucker (Wagon Wheel), Duane Eddy (Peter Gunn) and music executive Joe Galante.

Footsteps of legends

Of course we can walk in the footsteps of the legends by getting out there to Nashville.

With British Airways offering return flights from £499 return.