Countries, Culture

Vive La Republic of Barbados

I must have been one of the very few kids in Glasgow to be lullabied to sleep with old Republican songs… and because of that and my own journey I’m an avowed internationalist republican which is why today I say Vive La Republic of Barbados.

Now you’ve heard me wax lyrical already many times about the magical island of Barbados and my Kiss With Rihanna  and Rumba  there.

And Bim, as it is affectionately known (hence me being known on the island as Bim Jim) is the talk of the Scottish and British Travel scene with the Bridgetown route rolling out from Edinburgh next month.

Now to celebrate Barbados becoming the latest country to throw off the shackles of monarchy and go out on their own, here’s to all those nations who have taken their destiny in their own hands.

And decided to be governed by one of their own.

Now a true republic, just like a true democracy or a true anything these days in double speak, is a moveable object.

But you’ve got to start somewhere which is why we’re going with 160 (now Barbados have signed up).

All republics lead from Rome

And if you know you’re Classic History, and my Latin is better than my Ancient Greek then you’ll know that republic derives from the two Latin words res and publica (public thing).

So that’s one of the famous things that ‘the Romans did for us’ although, of course, if you’re British then it’s an experiment from which we’ve run far away.

Apart, of course, from a brief period from 1649-1660 when these islands of Britain and Ireland entered into a Commonwealth which was really a theocracy.

But while Westminster claims to be the mother of all parliaments (doubtful, and Europe’s oldest in Iceland might have something to say about that).

It’s Rome which is the mothership of all republics, and we have the good fortune that the Forum, the hub of Roman public life is still there.

No fools those Ancient Romans though with their togas as I found out when I almost fainted in the Eternal City heat in my modern clothes.

An Italian fixture

Venice: And let’s catch a gondola back to Padova

Now where Rome led the rest of Italy followed.

And chief among them was the 1100-year Venetian Republic which still styles itself thus and is hewn into every gondola and the very bricks of the Campanile.

Florence, Siena, Amalfi, Pisa and Genoa all saw what the Doges were doing and how fetching their hats were and followed suit.

But the republicaniest of all the republics and the longest-standing is San Marino.

And so what they lack in football skills (0-10 v England) they more than make up for in their political skills.

La Republique, mais oui

Je suis L’Empereur: Napoleon

Ah, yes, the French. like so much, would have us believe that they are the shining light of Republics.

So much so that they have had five of them ever since Corsican Napoleon got le ball rolling.

Notre ami soon decided though that L’empereur sounded so much better…

And he did that with one arm behind his back (or affectedly tucked in his jacket then).

It must be a poncey royal thing because the UK’s Prince Charles who very graciously decided to attend the signing-over papers to the Bajans (and bag himself some sun at the time) does pretty much the same thing.

And on a tangent we’ll not say anything about the carbon footprint, Prince Save The World.

None of us are perfect, of course, it’s just the rest of us don’t bleat on about it and preach to the rest of us who do hop on planes.

Middle Ages and Middle Europe

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

The breeding ground for republics in the Middle Ages was what we now know as Germany.

And a quick count chronicles 62 in the northern European powerhouse.

All of which would be a good exercise and excuse to traverse modern-day Germany with a Michael Portillo type notebook.

I’d have to start in my favourite German city Hamburg first of course.

There are some who have gone the opposite way to the Bajans and jumped from republic to monarchy like the Dutch.

Others who have had a brief dalliance with republicanism, Catalonia, and still have hopes of a return to those halcyon days.

Battle hymn of the Republic

Southern men: At the statue of Stonewall Jackson at Manassas

Yes, their eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

And while the North eulogised its Republic, the South too held its close to its bosom, albeit for just five years.

That said the Confederate States of America still exist in the hearts and minds of many in the Deep South.

As I found at the Manassas memorial to Stonewall Jackson in Virginia.

And you don’t need me to tell you that that was the first battle of the US Civil War.

Post-colonial

Cool for cats… in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

There were, of course, a rash of republics in the post-colonial world which is where Barbados join us now.

While in Africa and Asia the cry went up for the ‘public thing’ which alas all too quickly became the ‘dictator thing.’

And because of these precedents it ratchets up our hope that the South African Rainbow Nation experiment proves successful despite its challenges.

And the USSR and its satellites

The voice of Dresden: With Ingrid in Dresden

Dogmatic ideologists, of course, think nothing of hijacking the word republic for something that looks nothing like it.

And hovering up previously self-governing nations, which is where Russia came in and formed the bloated Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic.

Unless I find me a time machine a trip back to those days will inevitably elude me, although that’s where museums and heritage come in.

And you can still immerse yourself into the spirit of those days on any trip out there.

Which is exactly what you get when you visit the old DDR.

Now we all know of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie but more of us should visit the mural to communism which stands as a reminder of Russian misrule and occupation in Dresden.

Irie, Barbados

It’s a republic, now: With Ruby in Barbados

And so good luck to the incumbent President of Barbados. Sandra Mason, incidentally also the last governor-general.

Vive La Republic of Barbados.

I’ll raise a glass of rum punch to you on the official date of handover tomorrow.

Which is a shared holiday, Barbados’s National Day, and Scotland’s too.

In Scotland, Barbados: Honest

And until my own native land becomes a republic (I’m not holding my breath) I’ll. mark yours, and America’s and France’s.

And the whole lot of you, 160 or so, who have taken the revolutionary step of deciding that you wanted to be ruled by someone of the people.

 

 

Countries, Culture, Europe

Alpha to Omega of variants and travel

Ever wondered why the latest viral threat is called Omicron… well here’s the Alpha to Omega of variants and travel.

We have the World Health Organisation to thank for improving our Greek… and Zeus knows I’ve forgotten almost all my Classical Greek from school.

And anything that shines a light on Heroic Hellas and its culture has my vote.

The WHO plumped for the naming system so as to remove stigma from countries after the media jumped on the first Covid variant.

And our news gatherers lazily called it the South African variant.

Now we here at TravelTravelTravel being internationalists fully support their motives, particularly because jingoism and racism can run as wild as pandemics.

And it is to the Greeks that we have turned for wisdom and philosophy.

Lay off the Spanish

With queen of Spain Teresa, Eoghan Corry and Sharon Jordan in Dublin

Back in 1918 when the last global pandemic broke out it was tagged the Spanish Flu, the name by which it is still referred.

And this wasn’t because it broke out in the Iberian Peninsula (we still don’t know its origins).

Rather it was because that was where the information first started emanating about the virus.

On account of Spain being neutral in the First World War and its media generously sharing the information.

While, of course, the virus was taking its toll across the world.

Going for a walk: In Tenerife

And war-concerned countries were killing information at home just as freely as they were needlessly destroying each other.

As it is the first reported death was in the USA but let’s not quibble.

I only say this to set the record straight and correct a historical wrong in favour of my Spanish friends.

And we well know that they have had their own troubles to seek either natural or political as is all too real in one of our favourite Spanish destinations, the Canaries.

And my last port of call in Spain, Tenerife.

Alphabetti spaghetti

Next year? When I’ll be back in Vegas

Now, Omicron as it’s coming back to me now is the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet which means that w’ve had 13 variants.

Delta we all know, and this pesky letter put paid to my trip to Oregon at the last minute…

And led me to pull out of the earlier working assignment to Las Vegas.

But beta, gamma and epsilon thankfully passed us by.

As did their friends zeta, eta and theta… who sound like the intake of a modern-day creche.

The next one barely registered an iota (and yes Greek letters have entered our lexicon before all this pandemic nonsense).

Kappa (no, not an American college sorority), lam(b)da (not a Tex-Mex dance), mu, nu (the other discarded Teletubbies) and Xi (a Chinese dynasty) soon followed unheralded.

Until we got to our Omicron.

Omicron, not Armageddon

Dip your toe into Kythera in Greece

And although our leaders are scaring the bejaysus out of his by interchanging Omicron with Armageddon it’s not.

The narrative is that it’s more infectious but haven’t we been told that the vaccines and the boosters are there to protect us.

And is it just me who is cynical.

That at a time when our politicians want to distract us from restricting our liberties the seriousness of Omicron gets ramped up.

And so we in the UK are told that we must now get a PCR test on arrival back in the UK and self-isolate until we get the result.

Which again sounds scary until you realise that we’re all Working From Home now anyway.

Isn’t it about time that we challenged these assumptions.

Particularly as everything our politicians have told us since the pandemic was called has blown up in their faces?

Democracies on trial

Now we might not go as far as Socrates who attacked Greek democracy (roughly translated as power of the people) in favour of meritocracy or elite rule.

But it is well seen that democracies are on trial.

And while it was the legacy of the First World War which all begun with the assassination of a royal in Sarajevo in the Balkans which heralded in the Fascists of the Twenties.

And of course the Wall Street Crash.

But it was also the failure of democracies in a crisis. We have been warned.

The good news

The good news is that there are only another nine Greek letters to go so we should be through all of this soon.

That’s the Alpha to Omega of variants and travel then.

See you on a plane or ship soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countries, Cruising, Europe, Music

Malta’s Cirque de Soleil

Yes, they’ll be bending over backwards for Malta’s Cirque de Soleil, the first by the troupe in Europe since lockdown.

Now I’ve been entertained by the super-bendy acrobats on a couple of occasions and it was tickety-boo (I was told).

And in time-honoured fashion I’ll go around the subject, like Cirque de Soleil do, until returning to the matter in hand later.

At any rate the world’s leading producer of high-quality live entertainment, and Visit Malta have got together.

For a brand-new production created exclusively for Malta.

FIERI spectacle

A drop of Malta: Back in the day

FIERI will be presented in the capital, Valletta starting November 25.

And it’s the ideal backdrop for any production with Valletta harbour equal to any anywhere.

‘We are delighted to return to Malta, a country steeped in history, to pay tribute to this resilient nation and its people” said Diane Quinn, COO of Cirque du Soleil Entertainment Group.

‘Now more than ever in our absurd world, Cirque du Soleil’s power to bring joy and hope to our audiences is not only welcome but necessary.

‘So I welcome you to this show and to the magic that descends as the artists take the stage.’

Special treat

Ship of dreams: And MSC and Cirque de Soleil are pals

Now magical it is and I’ve enjoyed their show on MSC Cruises stop-offs in Dublin Port.

And, of course, MSC is all about the entertainment as we found in the Norwegian fjords.

Back to FIERI and Malta is clearly thrilled.

From the sponsors

Night spectacle: Malta

‘FIERI by Cirque du Soleil will be another opportunity to showcase Malta’s credentials in the cultural and entertainment sector,’ said Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection Clayton Bartolo..

While Johann Buttigieg, CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority weighed in.

‘Having a month full of uplifting shows inspired by the cultural roots of Malta is a stamp in quality for our country’s hospitality industry.’

‘The last time that the majestic auditorium of the Mediterranean Conference Centre welcomed audiences for a musical production was March 8, 2020.

‘Countless sacrifices were made since then.’

Return to Malta

I was scooting along: In Gozo and Malta

Now our Maltese friends have been holding court at the World Travel Market in London this week.

And they are backing all this up in a destination I know and love.

I did make a certain lovestruck young woman’s dreams come true there.

When I bent down to tie up my shoelaces after all and she screamed yes.

And I returned there to the Med’s jewel, alas without her, 20 years late.

And I found that the same restaurant still there although the free Champagne offer had lapsed.

It was all a dream

Back to our Cirque de Soleil pals and I must confess that I slept through their bells and whistles performance of The Beatles LOVE in Las Vegas.

In my defence my body clock was Back in the UK.

So do what I say rather than what I do… and get bending over backwards for Malta’s Cirque de Soleil.

Tickets for the 75-minute performances of FIERI by Cirque du Soleil in Valletta from November 25 to December 19 are available online at www.visitmalta.com

Asia, Countries, Culture, UK

Atoll target of 1.5 or die

We’re all holding our breaths over COP26, and few more so than in the Maldives where it really is an Atoll target of 1.5 or die.

The 1500 Maldivian islands only exist because of a delicate balance between Man and Nature.

And we’re reminded by the Maldivians ahead of the climate change conference that their critical time has arrived.

The prognosis is not helpful though that we can keep the rise in the world’s temperatures down to 1.5 degrees.

And it all looks like a hollow promise as the mission statement from COP26.

A Maldivian speaks

Flagging it up: Aminath Shauna

‘The difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees, for us, really is a death sentence,’ Aminath Shauna, the Maldives’ minister for environment, climate change and technology, warned ahead of Glasgow.

Tbs Maldives are, of courset, caught between a rock and a hard place.

Reliant on us tourists to keep the economy alive it’s that very influx of visitors which is threatening their very existence.

Ingrid spoke passionately about sustainable tourism when we met far away from our Irish and Black Forest, Germany roots.

Marine Research

Vanessa, or Mother Turtle as I christened her, had come to the islands to lead the marine research there in Kuramathi.

And that means protecting the coral.

And so when you’re snorkelling around its neighbouring island of Kandolhu be careful where you put your feet.

The advice is to relax, be floaty, and take in the marine life.

And resist the temptation to take a breather by standing on the coral seabed.

Mother Turtle and Murty Turtle

The thing though is that not all of us are born with fins on their back.

And some of us, the swarthy ones, come into this world with hair on our lips.

And that’s what will keep you back as my guide in the Red Sea informed me as it blocks your nasal ducts.

Modern Maldives

Sea playground: The Maldives

None of which will stop me returning to either Jordan or the Maldives.

Nobody knows bette than the Maldivians of course in how to progress their islands.

And the hotly anticipated island resort Siyam World is being flagged up as a game changer.

Siyam World islanders had an opening ceremony before the arrival of the first guests,

A different world

Spelling it out: Siyam

The first arrivals were warmly welcomed with a traditional Maldivian dance and bodu beru.

Guests are invited to make the most of the resort’s WOW! 24hrs Premium All-Inclusive with an ever-expanding A-Z of WOW! experiences.

From mastering the waves with unlimited access to the Indian Ocean’s biggest floating water park, Siyam Water World

To finessing their footwork on the resort’s international FIFA-standard football pitch.

The resort offers a dozen restaurants and bars.

Just eat

A bitta Pitta : And a light breakfast

Breakfast is served at beachside buffets Tempo and Baraabaru, while Jungali, Mint, The Orchid and Together form a quartet of all-day pool bars.

As evening falls, guests can dine their way across culinary continents, with à la carte Spanish, Japanese, Indian and Thai cuisine at Andalucia, Arigato*, Kurry Leaf and Takrai.

All of is complemented by Siyam World’s signature contemporary Maldivian restaurant, The Wahoo Grill.

Night owls

Heron good things about…

Night owls can head on to the island’s 24hr sports bar KulhiVaru, while underground wine cellar and fine dining room, Barrique, is also available at an additional charge.

Veyo Spa, a natural haven set within the lush tropical jungle, is the jumping off point for a journey of continual healing.

Spacious treatment villas, relaxation areas, hydro facilities and self-service health bar Himeyn Bageecha which translates to relaxing garden form a nurturing space in which to restart, refocus and reconnect.

Guests can test their limits with the ultimate beach gym workout, Seashore Bootcamp.

Or soothe body and mind with sunset meditations, Asana yoga and Pilates.

Beach life

The sun will rise again: For the Maldives

Exuberant adults meanwhile can live their best lives at Siyam World’s epic beach pool and foam parties,.

Or get wet and wild with exhilarating seabob and banana boat rides, electric jet surfing, flyboarding, snorkeling and diving at the resort’s watersports centre,

Shipwrecked. Kids will be in their element with an array of excursions and activities at the Little Explorers Kids Club, for children aged 3 to 11.

So, to sum it all up, this is a 54-hectare haven blessed with more than four kilometres of white sandy beaches and six kilometres of house reef.

How to get there

Let’s swim for it: That’s the Indian Ocean

Siyam World, Maldives is located in the popular Noonu Atoll, a mere 40 minutes’ direct seaplane ride from Velana International Airport.

It is also accessible via a 30-minute domestic flight to Maafaru Airport followed by a 10-minute speedboat trip.

For more information, visit Siyam World or follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitteror TikTok.

For booking enquiries email: stay@siyamworld.com or check out the latest offers at www.sunsiyam.com/siyam-world/offers.

So, back to the Messres (or should that be Messers) in Glasgow this next month it’s Atoll target of 1.5 or die.

 

 

 

America, Countries, Culture, Deals

Remember, remember 8th of November

Remember, remember the 8th of November when there will be fireworks in America when the US allows us all back in again.

As soon as I’d taken the decision to park Vegas, which hosted a very successful American Travel Fair ) without me (imagine!) thoughts turned to Orlando.

Then again they always do in the winter, with Orlando the most visited destination in the US.

And with theme park holiday events and outdoor shopping with flights/hotel packages starting at just £729.

Now the theme park capital of the world has been spinning throughout the year for American visitors.

And now that we can return, it promises to be even better than it’s ever been.

So let’s have a scoot around Disney, Epcot and Universal Orlando.

Walt Disney Resort

Ears looking at you Mickey: Disney time in Orlando

Beginning 8 Nov., Disney Very Merriest After Hours will debut at Magic Kingdom Park.

Running for 24 select nights through 21 Dec. from 9pm. to 1 am.

It is the separately ticketed, after-hours holiday event which will bring festive food and drink offerings, dance parties, nighttime spectaculars.

And “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.” And my pal Donald will be front and centre, no doubt.

Epcot Festival of the Holidays

International family: Epcot

The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays (26 Nov. to 30 Dec.) takes guests on a global holiday celebration.

With costumed performances, seasonal food throughout 11 World Showcase nations.

Along with wondrous sights, sounds and flavors of the season celebrated by cultures near and far

Universal Orlando Resort

Ticket for Murty: The magic bus

Grinchmas at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (13 Nov. – 2 Jan.) will bring holiday charm to Seuss Landing with The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular.

It’s a live retelling of the classic tale starring the Grinch.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Christmas in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ (13 Nov. – 2 Jan.) will bring festive decor to both Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure and Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.

Guests can cap off their evening in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade to enjoy “The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle”.

It’s a spectacular transformation of Hogwarts castle with a stunning projection.

Macy’s Balloons

Ogre madness: I’m the one on the right

Universal’s Holiday Experience featuring Macy’s Balloons (13 Nov. – 2 Jan.) is a festive walk-through experience bringing Universal Studios’ guests closer than ever to larger-than-life Macy’s balloons and colourful Christmas floats.

With all our favourite characters from Shrek, Madagascar and Despicable Me, along with Santa.

SeaWorld Orlando

During SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration(12 Nov. – 2 Jan.), over 3 million sparkling lights will shine throughout the theme park.

Festivities include live performances, seasonal food and meet-and-greets with Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer.

And entertainment like the Winter Wonderland on Ice.

So remember, remember the 8th of November… and the fireworks to come this winter in Orlando.

 

Adventure, Countries, Culture, Europe

Thrillsrael

There’s little record what they did for kicks in the Old Testament but it’s always been right there for them in Thrillsrael.

Our time-out from travelling because of the pandemic has only increased our appetite for foreign shores.

And allowed us to expand our horizons or dip our toe in a different part of the sea.

Best foot forward: In outdoor activities

And so while most of us in Western Europe know the Med from its northern shores there is a beautiful south too.

With Israel leading the way in vaccinations and being at the head of the queue in opening up our attentions switched there.

And the news keeps getting better with Israel announcing today that from Monday it will be accepting individually vaccinated visitors.

Shalom Sharon

The Southern Med: From Israel

Sharon Bershadsky, Director of the UK & Ireland Tourist Office said “I’m very excited to be able to share the news.

‘the Ministry of Tourism along with our colleagues in the industry have been working tirelessly over this difficult period and we are thrilled to be able to welcome visitors back to Israel”.

Now Israel is obviously about the Holy Sights and there will be plenty of us giving thanks for emerging safely from this crisis.

But we’re due some rewards too.

And it’s worth remembering that for all its antiquities Israel is a relatively young country at a sprightly 73 years old.

And an outdoorsy people with plenty of opportunities to indulge in general sportiness.

Float On

Dead handsome: Jerry and Jimmy

The Dead Sea: Now they’ve kicked us off with the floatathon which is the Red Sea.

Which we enjoyed from the other side in Jordan with G Adventures when we got all muddied up.

And a shout-out here to St Lucia’s finest, Jerry, the Big Rapper who said he was plenty black enough.

Madder for Masada

If the rocks could talk: Massada

Masada: And yes, we promised you Biblical history and Masada is, of course, where 960 Sicari rebels committed mass suicide.

All rather than surrender, in the First Jewish-Roman War.

Abseil away

Give me enough rope: Abseiling

Rappelling in the Nachal Tamarim Canyon: And full disclosure here I had to check that abseiling and rappelling were the same.

Which they are.

Now having wimped out in the Rockies in Colorado I couldn’t back out of this canyon.

You’ll encounter amazing scenery and panoramic views of the Dead Sea and the Moav and Adom mountains.

Zig zag through waterfalls and trek past fig trees for a day’s hike with a difference.

For a new twist try the night hike, which is particularly atmospheric with a full-moon!

Mammy Dolphin

Smile: You’re on camera

Dolphin Reef: When it comes to swimming with dolphins you’re probably thinking more SeaWorld in Orlando but did you know you can find the finned ones swimming away in the Red Sea.

I didn’t get far enough down in my snorkel in the Red Sea (my guide told me my moustache got in the way) to see them.

But you can. Get down to Eilat and get up close and personal with these remarkable creatures.

Up, up and away

Watch out for the hang gliders: When you’re ballooning

Ballooning in Israel: Now just like the kiddies’ balloon that gets let loose… hot air ballooning has always floated out of reach.

In England, in Orlando, in South Africa.

Of course all of the above look beautiful from the air. And it is worth reflecting that our forebears weren’t able to see their world from the skies (unless they were birds). 

If you like exploring places you haven’t been before, try 500 metres up in the air! See Israel from a whole new vantage point from 500m up in the air.

With breath-taking views of the country’s rolling green hills and valleys, famous historical sights and the hustle and bustle of the cities.

For a truly unforgettable ride, book a sunrise tour to see the stunning landscape coated in the morning sun’s pink and orange hues.

Whichever activity you choose make sure it’s in the Promised Land.

And particularly now with the new more tourist-friendly regulations. Enjoy your Thrillsrael.

 

Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

European Spa Towns springing forward

It felt like I should have been letting all this seep into me in my reviving bath… European Spa Towns springing forward.

And indeed I’m remembered for attending our last European Thermal Cafe seminar from my tub.

Our friends from the European Thermal Towns’ visit to Chez Murty corresponded with its Heritage Day.

In truth they were in Wiesbaden but you get the picture.

It is indeed timely with the world coming together soon for COP 26 in my home town of Glasgow.

Water is, of course, the source of life, but it’s worth repeating that spas were the first tourist resorts.

Our hosts mapped out their First XI who have World Heritage Status as the Great Spa Towns of Europe.

Of course we all know that they just trip off the tongue.

The First XI

Crystal clear: Spa

But here’s a reminder.. 

1. Baden bei Wien (Austria)
2. Spa (Belgium)
3. Františkovy Lázne (Czechia)
4. Karlovy Vary (Czechia)
5. Mariánské Lázne (Czechia)
6. Vichy (France)
7. Bad Ems (Germany)
8. Baden-Baden (Germany)
9. Bad Kissingen (Germany)
10. Montecatini Terme (Italy)
11. City of Bath (United Kingdom)

And while it’s the Czech Spa Triangle I know best they all have their merits.

Belgium’s other watering hole

My kind of watering hole: With Simon in Belgium

Now I’d be more used to the Belgian bars and the kinds of beer experience which remind you of the paucity of good ales back here in Scotland.

Now as water is core to beer it’s worth flagging up Belgium’s spa sector, and particularly the town which gives the whole business its name.

Spa‘s springs we are told date back to the 14th century and you’ll get some good exercise in walking from the town to the forest to get your water.

For a town of just 10,000 Spa does punch above its weight with its grand prix and it’s status in beauty pageants, Concours de Beauté, as the first in the world back in 1888.

Beethoven on a roll

Beethoven got around: In Czechia

And the Great and Good of European society would flock to spa towns. 

With our old friend Ludwig Van Beethoven a frequent visitor to Baden bei Wien in Austria

We tracked him down at the hotel named in his honour, Beethoven Spa in Teplice in the Czech Republic on our Hops and Health tour. Complete with his hearing horns in a glass cabinet. 

That ain’t half Bad

Kaiser Wilhelm: In Bad Ems

The Germans are the only other country which has three spa towns on the list.

And yes, that ain’t half bad… but in truth, bad is just another example of the Germans having a word which means something completely different from ours.

Bads are baths and Kaiser Wilhelm I loved them (no, not the Bad Wilhelm of First World War Fame).

It was in Bad Ems where the Kaiser mixed with the Great Unwashed, before they were cleansed, and there’s a statue of him in Bad Ems in his civvies.

All of which we’re told just emphasises that in spa towns everybody mingled freely, away from the social dividing lines elsewhere.

V for Vichy

Mais oui: Vichy

Now the wars do get in the way and alas we do associate Vichy in France with the Second World War.

But get close and personal and you will see that it is one of our glorious Spa Towns with a drinking hall and a Celestins Spring.

Que Sera la spa

L’Aqua Italia: Montecatini Terme

Yes, another tortured pun brings us to Italy’s offering, but one with a funicular railway which is always a selling point with your favourite blogger.

We’re told too that Mussolini was here in Montecatini Terme... and I guess he got all the funiculars to run on time. 

We’re told there is a strenuous walk up to the springs but we’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to trek to the Alto, high part of the town.

Why not do both? 

Bath, English for Bath

Let’s get steamin’: Bath

And yes, we’ve kept the best for last, Bath

The English city with the Roman roots is twice blessed with a UNESCO stamp for both the city and also as a Spa Town.

A great lead with European Spa Towns springing forward.

 

Central America, Culture, Europe, UK

The totemic Mexicans off to COP26

The world is coming to Glasgow at the end of this month which gives us a reason to focus on the totemic Mexicans off to COP26. Every day is a school day.

Why totemic Mexicans I hear you ask.. well, why not?

And the proud hombres have never been backward in coming forward… Pancho Sanchez anyone?

And so to the mission in hand..

An indigenous community in Mexico is sending a message to Biden, Johnson, Putin, Xi Jinping, Merkel, Macron et al and let’s hope they stand up and take notice.

And it is shaped in the form of a hand-carved totem that is travelling 9000km from the Totonacapan region.

A little bit of Mexico

Things are looking up: The totem

Totem Latamat is travelling to cultural hubs across the UK before being placed in The Hidden Gardens in Glasgow which will host Indigenous elders and the Sacred Fire for the duration of the conference.

Who knew?

Well, the totem is cut from a single cedar tree and stands 4.5m tall.

After COP26 the totem will be returned to the earth in a ceremony hosted in Dumfries.

All of this is part of ORIGINS, a year-long Indigenous and art and culture festival showcasing the work of leading  artists and activists exploring the themes of climate, Covid and colonialism.

And the man behind it all is artist Jun Tiburico, a painter, earth sculptor, and poet in the Indigenous language of Totonac.

A language apart

I’ve got my eye on you: Mexican culture

Jun has exhibited his work across the globe and is the ambassador of the Totonac language.

And if that’s not enough, he is also the founder and artistic consultant of the Cumbre Tajin Papantla Cultural Festival, in the state of Veracruz (and, no she’s not Penelope’s sister).

So, a lot to absorb there.

And as usual, I suppose you want me to fill in the gaps.

And it’s one of 68

Looking at you Xi: And a warning to the world leaders

Totonac is one of 68 native languages in Mexico with more than 350 linguistic variants.

Just so you know should you think that a burst of La Bamba or an arriba, arriba andale arriba, will draw some interest from the central Mexicans.

And the Cumbre Tajin Papantia Cultural Festival?

Well, our amigos (and excuse me for falling into lazy Spanish) give us the lowdown.

‘Cumbre Tajin is an annual spring equinox festival that takes place in Papantla, Mexico. It’s a celebration of Totonac culture as well as indigenous cultures from around the world.

‘With more than 5,000 activities and 300 artists, it has workshops, craft shows, holistic healing, music, dance, and spectacular light shows at the El Tajin archaeological zone.’

A word on the totem

Blessings on you: The ritual

And maybe a word from Jun: ‘For the Totonac people, birds are our messengers.

‘In the totem, they tell us that we must take care of all life…

‘At the top of the totem are hummingbirds, representing the aspiration for a new consciousness: they are messengers of peace between humans and nature. And I’ll vouch for that as I found in Tobago.

‘The face on the reverse represents the state of emergency in the world.

‘We are so close to reaching the peak of this crisis and the raised arms of the Totonac culture represent the
balance that we must find in the mind and the heart.

‘We need to act quickly to care for the world through prayers, thoughts, connections, and laws.’

Mexican wave

Give it a shake: The maracas

So we’ll be keeping an eye on the passage on their way, the totemic Mexicans off to COP26.

And here’s where it’s going…

18th – 21st October
Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

21st – 24th October
Manchester University

24th – 27th October
Hexham Abbey

27th October – 14th November
Hidden Garden, Glasgow

From 14th November
Return to Earth Ceremony
The Crichton, Dumfries

Speedy ye back: And it had to be Senor Gonzalez

And we expect to see them in Dumfries when they meet up with the totemic figure of travel.

 

Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Food & Wine

Jamaica? No, she came of her own accord

And apologies for the old schoolyard gag: I took my wife on holiday to the Caribbean… Jamaica? No, she came of her own accord.

You see nobody needs a second invitation to Jamaica.

Unless, of course, you’re me.

And herein hangs a tail with me being off in another corner of the world when the first invitation came in.

I had sent a colleague to Orlando at the same time the second invitation came in and I had to stay back in the office to cover for him.

My old buddie Kevin Gleeson was the beneficiary of that mix-up.

Going back to that old joke (groan) and our friends in Yeah Mon Island are shining the light on the romantic side of the island.

Social island

Jamaica reached out across social media to invite followers to share their special romantic memories.

And understandably Negril Beach, one of the best beaches in the world was namechecked.

Rockhouse was highlighted as one of Negril’s most scenic dining venues.

Overlooking the volcanic cliffs on to the brilliant Caribbean Sea. Also named as an ideal spot

While the Martha Brae River through Jamaica’s breath-taking greenery is another favourite.

And the Rio Grande River is a fave boating route, specifically along the aptly named ‘Lovers Lane’.

Strawberry Hill Forever

Got it all: Strawberry Hills Hotel

 

Strawberry Hill Hotel  is just as beautiful as it sounds, with beautiful views of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.

And it was the location of choice for musical legend Bob Marley’s romantic getaways, set in 26-acres of vivid mountaintop gardens.

From Bob to Bond and GoldenEye, the home of Ian Fleming was  named the ultimate proposal spot.

The resort was designed as an idyllic retreat attracting artists, writers and musicians from around the world.

With beautifully appointed villas enclosed in a lush jungle of tropical plants and trees.

Montego Bay

Shining light: The Half Moon

Now Jamaica seems to have the copyrwright on lyrical names (and a good few Scottish and Irish ones too).

And few are more recognisable than Montego Bay.

For foodies, the Sugar Mill Restaurant at the Half Moon counts the Queen  and John F. Kennedy amongst its previous guests.

And for you lovebirds (no, not those two icons… I don’t want to end up in the Tower)

There are secluded spots for a proposal such as the candlelit overwater Sunset Gazebo.

So Jamaica? No, she came of her own accord. Of course.

 

Africa, America, Countries, Culture, Music, South America, UK

Paul Simon, 80 years young today

I often think I was born out of my time… not ahead of it, more behind it, which is why when my peers were expressing their angst through Joy Division I was finding meaning through Paul Simon, 80 years young today.

As the youngest of three boys with a five and eight year gap between us my early influences were The Beatles, The Stones, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Pink Floyd, Heavy Metal… and Simon & Garfunkel.

And as a gangly shy adolescent I find solace in the longing, introverted, wanderer music of Paul Simon… I still do.

The man: Paul Simon

Now there have been rockier, wilder concerts (The Killers, The Proclaimers), equally as iconic singers (David Bowie). and more celebrated venues (OneRepublic in Red Rocks, Colorado) but there have been no more rewarding gigs than Paul Simon on his farewell tour which touched down in Dublin.

So how does your favourite Travel blog mark the 80th birthday of the Poet Laureate of Pop?

Well, by shining a light on the places Rhymin’ Simon loved the most and whose musical influences burst out in his timeless songs.

Apple of his eye

Remember him: ‘The Donald’ in New York

New York: A proud son of Queen’s borough, Simon’s songs about New York are some of the most recognisable about the Big Apple.

The Boxer is a plaintive exploration of down on your luck New York life which includes a reference to the ‘whores on 7th Avenue’.

Simon told the story at a concert of a fan who told him she would sing the song to her child only she changed the words to ‘toy stores’.

There’s something quite playful too about the 59th Street Bridge Song and I referenced it too on my route to the RDS for that 2019 concert.

You’ll find, in truth. New York references in numerous Simon and Simon & Garfunkel songs, some with NY in the title as in The Only Living Boy In New York and the Statue of Liberty in my own favourite, American Tune.

Rainbow Simon

Cool for cats… in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

South Africa: Now, how many of us, hand on heart can say that they knew much South African music before Paul Simon introduced it to a Western audience with his seminal album Graceland.

And, before we get to that, let’s just reference the titular song Graceland, a tribute to Elvis, which Simon revealed was his favourite piece of song-writing (few arguments here).

Of course none of us outside of South Africa knew of Ladysmith Black Mombasa either… but once heard never forgotten.

Simon also opened up the joy of South Africa at a time when understandably we associated the country with injustice, bigotry and hopelessness.

But which lit a fire for many of us to go visit the Rainbow Nation. We give you Simon and the band’s Under African Skies.

Samba music

Get into the beat: In Brazil

Brazil: And once Simon had got on a roll (or a rock’n’roll if you like) he was off to South America.

Who can forget those huge drums on The Obvious Child. Nothing obvious though about the drummers’ talent or Simon’s songwriting.

And finally in an English train station

He was here: Widnes Railway Station plaque

Widnes, England: And, of course, unless you’re a Rugby League fan, you’ll never have been to Widnes in Merseyside.

Unless you’re a budding New York musician (Paul Simon) who was feeling homesick here and penned the classic Homeward Bound. There is a plaque there now.

Or if you’re another budding wordsmith, en route to Liverpool from Scotland (you have to wait here for the next connection) to take the next rung in his celebrated writing career.

But that’s another story.

Happy Birthday Paul Simon, 80 years young today.