Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Sport, UK

My Sporting Weekend – Aberdeen postponed

My Sporting Weekend normally addresses what is going on… not what’s not, but this weekend I’m kicking off with Aberdeen postponed.

Now Aberdeen is a city I adore.

It’s where I grew up through four years at university while I returned in my mid-20s.

To work as a sports writer and cover the local favourites, Aberdeen FC, the Dons.

Aberdeen’s Pittodrie Stadium backs on to the Aberdeen Links golf course and seagulls clack above you when you sit in the stands.

Listen to me: And Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes is leading by example

It is the first all-seater stadium in the UK and is a fulfilling experience.

Except when the Dons lose which is a lot more regularly when I covered them.

And they were the unchallenged second best team in the land, behind Rangers.

The Granite City

So just why a number of their players were in a bar after the match and contracted COVID-19 is beyond me.

Because the legends from Alex Ferguson’s teams of the Eighties which conquered Europe would have gone home and hidden.

In a dark room if they had been beaten by Rangers.

Today’s scheduled game with St Johnstone has been postponed.

Which I hope will give the players some time to think about how they have let their club down.

Neigh Dublin Horse Show this year

Ship ahoy/ The Stena Dublin Horse Show

The summer highlight in the exclusive Dublin 4 area of the Irish capital is the Dublin Horse Show.

Out of rugby season (the only winter game in this part of town) it’s all about the Horse Show, sponsored by Stena.

Now to say that Stena put on a show for their friends is selling them short.

Because after being wined and dined and schmoozed you’ll be as floaty as their ferries.

While there’s nothing like getting up close and personal with those wonderful horses and seeing them leap over those huge fences and skyscraping wall.

This might seem like a refusal at a fence just now but surely we’ll get some movement for next year.

Snooker, a longer cue

And in a former life too I was a snooker writer.

I annually covered the Rothmans Grand Prix and the local Reading scene in the south of England.

In those days in the Eighties the snooker world was smaller, British and white Commonwealth countries.

Asia was beginning to embrace the game with James Thaiphoon Wattana the standard-bearer.

The game has exploded in the Far East since and it is surely only a matter of time until we have an Asian world champion.

Which will be a bit like the game coming home as it was India where it was born.

Golf, but no galleries

You’re the man: Vegas

The USPGA Championship is being played out in front of only the birdies at the TPC Harding Park, San Francisco.

San Fran is a city I had intended to visit for the first time this summer.

Having ticked off West Hollywood and LA last summer when I joined the galaxy of stars and Star Wars with Visit California.

And I reckon I have game too which I showed in Las Vegas.

No crowds means no crush although you only really appreciate the contours of a green when you get to the course.

But you are spared a fat polo-shirted and shorted balding guy shouting ‘You the Man’ from behind the tee.

I’ll just have to do it from the sofa instead.

 

 

 

Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, UK

Can I visit a great French island? Of Corsican…

There are some islands our politicians have forgotten to ban so for fear of alerting them here’s one I can get to… of Corsican!

Flights from the UK are resuming to Figari from tomorrow, August 9.

Because despite their veiled threats, and let’s remember Lyon, the epicentre of the spike is 822kms from Corsica, they haven’t quarantined them yet.

So get on this quickly.

Self-catered accommodation experts Pierre & Vacances have only increased their offerings with three new first-class residences.

Premium residence Vesna Rossa

Vensa Rossa, Les Villas de Porto Vecchio and Les Terrases d’Arsella are close to beaches and cooling pools.

Each holiday rental has a private heated pool and guests can access the Wellness Centre for a fee.

A week’s stay is from €1317/€1187 total for four people sharing a two-bedroom villa.

We all know Corsica, of course, as Napoleon’s home island.

And failing me getting to his last resting place St Helena where I was lined up for I would gladly visit his birthplace.

Les Villas de Porto-Vecchio

Les Villas boasts among other other features a barbecue area, three swimming pools and four beaches.

A week’s stay from €660/€595 total for four sharing a one-bedroom apartment.

Les Terrases places nature at the forefront while also offering creature comforts.

If you want your own private pool book one of the private houses which sleep up to eight people.

Lea Terrases d’Araella

A week’s stay from €1445/£1302 total for six people sharing a three-bedroom house.

Direct flights from London Heathrow cost from £116pp return with British Airways.

And because of our amour for France let’s revisit some favourites from the vaults.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

Holidos and don’ts – the exempt list

I never thought the fortunes of Brunei and Malaysia would mean so much to me.

But the half-island country and the peninsula in south-east Asia are giving hope to deflated travellers.

Because they are back on the exempt list of countries from where you don’t have to self-isolate on return to the UK.

Brilliant Brunei

Which means that those countries that have been stuck back on the exempt list, most notably Spain and Portugal have a way back.

And I am still spitting that the Covid-lite Canary Islands, 1500 miles south of Spain, are on the list.

And the same goes for Portuguese islands Madeira and the Azores

Splendid isolation in Tenerife

Both are known for their lush gardens, and the mother-in-law has long been hankering to go out to Madeira, mentioning it again only yesterday.

With the current lightning changes you can find yourself rushed away from your destination, or forced to sit it out until things change.

Madeira is a piece of cake

So when you do get out there Even Scarier One then don’t feel you need to rush back. Enjoy yourself.

Most of us wouldn’t have noticed.

But the UK Government slipped the change in Brunei and Malaysia’s status into their most recent pronouncements on the exempt list.

Which saw Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas put back on the naughty list.

Normandy landing… get me there

Us Francophiles are now getting nervous about our plans for France.

And again our politicians are stubbornly ignoring the option of selective lockdowns.

Because Lyon, Paris and the Riviera aren’t Normandy. I said they aren’t Normandy!

Now back to those exotic destinations Brunei and Malaysia, if they want me to sample their wares they know where to find me.

Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland, UK

Holiday Snaps – Vienna top of the pops

When will you realise Vienna waits for you? – Vienna, Billy Joel

No, I’m not plumping for the maudlin Ultravox song as I mark the survey that puts Vienna top of the pops for quality of life for newlyweds and families.

The Austrian capital which has eluded me thus far pips Orlando and Amsterdam in the top ten study by Purely Diamonds

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And there’s always a beautiful sculpture

I took Miss F to Corfu for our honeymoon where she only had eyes for me as did the hotel keyboard player!

But Vienna has always been on our radar and Austrophiles that we are, I will waltz her around the square yet… to work off their famous hot chocolate and cakes, of course.

A two-film trip… to Australia!

Many of us are put off travelling to the other end of the world by the time we have to spend in the air.

For airplane (and movie) fans like myself I love it because it means I can see all the latest releases.\

My longest continuous trip has been to Los Angeles where I reckon I got to see all the Oscar nominations for that year.

Now Virgin Galactic are raising the bar by releasing details of their most ambitious airplane ever, their supersonic route from London to Sydney… in only five hours!

The Virgin Group Space flight company announced the first stage design scope for the build of its Mach 3 plane yesterday.

And he’ll be there waiting

They’re also teasing us with less than two-hour flights to New York. So that rules out a Martin Scorsese film then!

Easy does it

How are you all down there?

The more our politicians try to stop us travelling the keener we are to do just that.

And EasyJet are saying that they will fly at 40% capacity, 10% higher than their projections because of better than expected bookings.

And with 84% of its flights full. All of which should leave a spare seat for me.

Automatic for the people

No one to disturb us

Because this is where to come for all your musical touchpoints…  though there will be no REM, or Rapid Eye Movement, here as you’ll get a great sleep in this Automatic hotel.

Just up the road from my old stomping ground of Greystones in Ireland’s Garden County of Wicklow.

Firefly Bray, which is a sister hotel of The Martello, offers the latest in self-service check-in technology with your room key downloaded directly to your phone. And there is no on-site staff.

Firefly is close to the promenade front and the dramatic Bray Head from where you can walk the cliffs to Greystones.

Rooms start from €70 per night. Tell them I sent you!

And as is the way of it you wait for one Holiday Snaps and two come along in quick succession. I’ll be back with more. 

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

 

 

 

 

American Holidays Jamaica

Ireland’s first automatic hotel

Surfing and beach holidays in Switzerland.

Emirates to Seychelles

Visit Portugal

Florida’s Paradise Coast

Adventure, Countries, Europe, Ireland, Music, Sport, UK

Rainy Days and Songdays – Austria you to me are everything

I could move a mountain when my hand is in your hand – The Real Thing

Whether The Real Thing had the Alps in mind I don’t know but they know the band all right in Soll… and Austria you to me are everything.

Songs often jump up and hook us randomly in the places we hear them the most.

And You To Me Are Everything rocked out every night at the Whisky Muhle.

I skied some of those mountains… yeah, right!

Where Alex Johnson, the singer, belts out rock classics, while the locals pour Jagermeisters down his gullet.

And he announces every night that You To Me Are Everything is the best song of all time.

And Alex does the ‘best song of all time’ justice, and a bunch of others with his ‘Candy’ well worth a mention.

I even forgave him saying that Paolo Nutini had ripped it off REM.

I’ll be in one of those huts

All this, and did I say that they have a game where you hammer a nail into a block of plywood with the acute end?

Which funnily enough you won’t see in the pubs of Glasgow, Liverpool or Dublin.

We travelled to Soll with ski specialists Top Flight and I have hiked up the hills with them too since.

And that’ll be the beer then

Top Flight, who also with good reason call themselves the Italy specialists, are suffering like so many in Travel.

And they had to make the heartbreaking decision to let some staff go last week.

Which I know from dealing with them would have been the last thing they would have wanted.

It may seem like all uphill right now while downhill doesn’t seem too appealing either.

And the locals are real friendly

But skiing proves that we can ride the bumps and come out still standing at the end of it all.

And there’s a Jagermaester at the end of it all at the end of it all and a rocking music set. It’s apres-ski and it’s everything.

*Everything – The Real Life Story which chronicles the career of the first all-black British band to reach No.1 in the UK charts screens on BBC Four on Friday at 9pm.

Adventure, Africa, Countries, Culture, Deals, Ireland, UK

Give us this Day – Ramadan a ding-dong

Whatever you’re doing I hope you’re having a good Eid and a good feed Abdullah, after our Ramadan a ding-dong in the Atlas Mountains.

Because I know that Abdullah, just like all my Muslim friends, has earned it after all that fasting.

I don’t know how they do it, and I don’t know how Abdullah did it as he whizzed around the Atlas Mountains.

We still love Morocco… we think!

On not even a drop of water or a water biscuit.

Fast and furious

There was water though, and when it falls in Morocco, it does so in epic proportions.

And as quickly as Abdullah swept the rain off his minibus window than Allah chose to drop more rain on it.

What’s all the fuss?

And all this while negotiating his way around the narrowest and highest bends with cliffs eroding and crumbling on us.

Quite what he thought of us piling into a chicken tagine while he starved he was courteous enough to keep to himself.

A light show in the sky

But Abdullah would have the last laugh only he was spiritually cleansed.

I’m all right, Jock

Because your favourite Travel writer took sick in the Sahara Desert.

I did though get to ride my first camel (my second would come on my G Adventures trip to Jordan).

And see a light show in the sky, complete with shooting stars, as I spent the night on the toilet seat.

And the train moves on

Looking out above as there was no roof on the shack… and no flush either.

I’ll be coming round the mountains

And I was still paying for it the next day when my host Alice came looking for me in my tent.

It’s all well and fine the Berbers singing on

And as punishment I had to ride my camel back to the minibus and back around those winding mountain roads.

The rains had abated though… Praise be Allah!

I would, of course, now go with my friends at G Adventures, while equally Sunway in Ireland pride themselves in being all over Morocco.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

Eid celebrations around the world

The best way to learn about a culture is to go where they play and pray so the disruption to the Eid celebrations around the world diminishes us all.

I have a special connection with Eid.

As it was one of the early stories I covered as part of a column ‘Church News’ which I broadened beyond Christianity.

Eid ul-Adha, to give it its first full name, means ‘the celebration of the sacrifice’.

And it brings to an end the holy month of Ramadan.

All our story

It marks the story of Allah asking The Prophet Mohammed in a dream to sacrifice his son Ismael.

Which Jews and Christians will know as the Abraham and Isaac story.

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The way it usually is

It should come as little surprise to us that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have the same roots and stories.

But it is nowhere more evident than at the crossroads of the great religions in the Jordan valley and in Israel.

Ever the diplomat

Where I would readily recommend my G Adventures host Zuhair Zuriqat.

His diplomatic prowess in managing our international party surely marks him out.

To broker the peace in this part of the world.

Now you know I love a festival as much if not more than the next man or woman…

And that those festivals normally involve drink.

Festival time

But not always.

I am transfixed by religious festivals too and will gladly travel the world to witness or take part in them.

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Joy in our hearts

Of course, the world being a smaller place, particularly now, we should also acknowledge that many of these festivals are on our doorstep.

Which is why it is alarming to hear that the lightning lockdowns in the north of England on the eve of Eid weekend may be deliberate.

Eid is all about extended families coming together at each others’ houses.

And there is more than a hint of mistrust from our politicians here who do not think that Muslims can adapt their customs accordingly to the pandemic.

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Our cup of tea… and I love reship

When in fact they are already doing so around the world with Turkey a prime example.

Of course Istanbul as we saw on our televisions with the Hagia Sofya celebrations last week is even more epic when its citizens come out to pray.

But they too are adapting their Eid to the current circumstances.

Sing out

That means communal prayers are cancelled to be replaced with broadcast prayers from the minarets of mosques.

Now just think about that… would our Government cancel Christmas, and with just a few hours’ notice?  Time will tell but you have to think not.

EID MUBARAK OR (AS THEY SAY IN TURKEY) BAYRAMINIZ KUTLU OTSUN

 

Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Flying

Hanging on their Croattails

Are you British, Irish, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch… well, we’re hanging on their Croattails?

As we all mourn the heavy-handed shutdown of Spain and particularly its islands…

Isn’t it reassuring that Croatia is open to 30 European countries?

Sun-kissed

Maybe though not tell Boris Johnson that Forbes has flagged up Croatia (27.8 cases per 100,00) as one of the safest European destinations.

Your own Croat island

Or that Croatia has 617 islands, because he’d only pick them off as he has the Canaries and the Balearics.

I dipped my toe in Croatia although alas not its islands nor indeed Dubrovnik but that’s another story.

If you’re travelling from Ireland go with Croatia Tours through Split as I did on my way to Medjugorje with its sister firm Marian Pilgrimages

And here don’t we know that Ireland’s national airlines carrier Aer Lingus will save me from myself by flying me straight to Dubrovnik’s front door from €39.99.

What’s the Croat deal?

As luck would have it we have some Croatian deals here for you.

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British Airways has three routes to Croatia to Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik, with flights from Heathrow and Gatwick.

Ryanair has also resumed flights from London Stansted to Pula twice a week, and to Rijeka once a week.

And because we love an island… Losinj, known as a healing resort, can be reached by private plane or luxury car transfer with Losinj Hotels & Villas.

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From many European airports, with Pula, Rijeka and Zagreb the closest options.

You’ll want to check out the Boutique Hotel Alhambra, an Austro-Hungarian Art Nouveau villa built in 1912 in Art Nouveau style.

And which also boasts the world-class Alfred Keller Restaurant which specialises in seasonal and local produce.

Spend fur nights at the Boutique Hotel Alhambra and enjoy one complimentary night from €954 (£866) based on two adults sharing a Deluxe Park Side Room for B&B. Valid for stays until October 3, subject to availability,

 

America, Asia, Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Europe

Happy World Friendship Day Pt 1

Happy World Friendship Day and this post is dedicated to the friends we make around the world on our travels.

And whom we’re all missing so much.

Winnie the Pooh is the patron of World Friendship Day.

And who better than the silly willy-nilly old bear all stuffed with fluff.

I’m forever indebted to Mississippian Zach who looked after me (and the rest of the group but mostly me).

On the second leg of my American Odyssey in the Deep South.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King and honouring the two other Kings, Elvis and BB King.

Hit the road Zach

If it had been left to me it would have been more Tragical than Magical Mystery Tour.

With me leaving my mobile phone back in Cleveland, 124 miles from state capital Jackson.

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Zach keeping an eye on me

Where we were assembling for the opening of the Two Mississippi Museums, the Museum of Mississippi and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

Zach only organised for a friend who he said was travelling up to the opening himself, but who may very well have been enlisted to help this dopey Scotsman, to take the mobile with him.

The story doesn’t end there though.

And when I put my phone down in the huge hall in the convention centre in Denver Zach appeared to warn me:

’We’re not getting someone to travel 100 miles if you forget your mobile phone this time!’

Geraldine, my Soca friend

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We binge-watched American sitcoms when the children were younger (whaddya mean? we still do).

And that meant following the misfortunes of old divil Arthur who had to be walked by his daughter Carrie’s friend Holly.

I’m obviously too young for any of that only I’m not.

And Geraldine walked me and my new Virginian friend Patsy when I went in search of Rihanna at Club Barbados in Barbados

As well as being a reason for getting up early Geraldine went the extra mile for me.

When I showed an interest in Soca music by singing King Bubba tunes.

And on the last day of my trip a CD of her favourite Soca music was waiting for me at reception.

Ich bin ein Dresdener

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If only I’d had Ingrid as my teacher when I was young.

Ingrid took us on a walk through Dresden and Saxon history at the German Travel Mart.

Her grandmother had talked to her about the Red Heaven firestorm that set alight their city at the end of the Second World War.

And told us of life under Communist rule. So good I went back for the same tour after my booze cruise on the River Elbe.

I wear the wrist band pass for the tour to this day.

And also others from my Travels which includes Denver, Los Angeles, the Czech Republic and Portugal.

Jose, the real Special One

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Life’s a beach

I can’t take her anywhere.

Jose Madomis  is taking us around Portugal Centro , wining and dining and us.

And explaining at any given opportunity why his home town of Coimbra is the centre of the Portuguese (and wider) world.

When El Scary One pipes up about how she doesn’t like Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho.

Suck-up that I am I mentioned how inspiring they both were and got my wine glasses filled up and beers bought for me.

What Amann, what a man, what a mighty good man

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Do I pass as Jordanian? With Zuhair

It’s Zuhair, as in zoo hair, our Jordan guide told our G Adventures party.

It’s never easy being a guide and even tougher when you can’t eat and drink while the rest of your party are stuffing their faces and lubricating.

But Zuhair cheerfully took us all around Petra, the Dead and Red Seas and the baptism sites of Jesus, Mt Nebo.

Where Moses looked out onto the Promised Land and Wadi Rum.

And waited for the end of the evening Call to Arms before putting fork to food.

We were an interntational party and it’s well seen that Jordanians are the peacebrokers in the Middle East if Zuhair is anything to go by.

Friends all and friends for life…

And now I’ve begun I’ll bring you more of the guides who have made my trips and the friends from the parties I have been on.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

 

 

 

 

Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Europe, Flying, UK

Holiday Snaps – We’ll all be safer in Tobago

Life was so much simpler and safer in Tobago in December when I was standing in the Nylon Pool… and it is again.

After the Tobagonian island was granted a ‘Safe Travels’ stamp by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

Which means it is a standard-bearer for health and hygiene.

In fact judging by my own experiences out there you’re more likely to have your goat run away from you or fall out of your hammock.

Give me a call next time Boris

Everything in the garden is rosy

I could give you five minutes if you didn’t waffle and got to the point… Boris Johnson should make a special case for the Canaries and Balearic Islands.

So when will our politicians start following the best practices of our neighbours over localising quarantines?

The Canary Islands have had just 2,483 COVID-19 cases over the pandemic, while the Balearics have recorded just 2,290.

And have been proportionately below UK rates.

I just hope the rest of the world don’t think we’re all of us Europhobes in the UK.

And where else?

Of Corisican

And hard on their heels France, Germany, Greece were flagged up by scaremonger broadcasters.

A daily increase of 931 in France, 305 in Germany and 31 in Greece have spooked our communicators of information.

The two European superpowers are mainly mainland but Corsica is proudly independent if not politically so.

While France owes the Med island for giving them their biggest hero Napoleon.

There’s an island over there

There are a plethora of small islands too and St Patrick and the Cistercians had the right idea setting up a monastery in Saint Honorat, off Cannes.

And a scattering too of German islands in the Baltic too which you can spot in your Fjords cruise from Kiel. Oh,, they’re off to.

An island of my own… on Kythera

And Greece. Well, this is the best argument of all.

Six thousand islands. And while Greece has been ahead of the curve our politicians would surely be only too quick to shut tem down too.

And who would visit my honeymoon island Corfuhttp://www.visitgreece.gr/en/greek_islands/ionian_islands/corfu and my getaway island Kythera.

Stars of Ireland

And this garden too

Ireland has a galaxy of stars and in the 13 years I was there one shone brighter than any!!

But it also has beautiful uncluttered and unpolluted skies where the night sky lights up.

The Mountgreve Gardens in County Waterford is one such place. And they are hosting their first Star Gazing night in their 70 acres site on August 15.

Why then? Well why not?

But also because that’s the date of the most spectacular meteor shower of the year, the Perseid Meteor Showers.

Tickets are €12. The Harvest Shop will provide hot drinks and snacks.

The evening runs from 8.30pm-11.30pm and is for over 12s. Pre-book.