America, Countries, Culture, Europe

Kiss a Ginger Day

I was crimson-faced the day I mentioned to my auburn-haired cousin  that I didn’t care who my kids wed as long as it’s not a carrothead… so I’ll redress that because take it as red it’s Kiss a Ginger Day,

Yes, it’s a thing, and while the rest of the world has its tanned and toned carnivals in the sun, us Celts (Scottish, Irish, Welsh) and Northern Europeans have our fiery festivals.

Red raver: Irish legend Maureen O’Hara

Because with the most gingers anywhere in the world, and Scots are out front, then gingers like nothing better than getting together to celebrate all things red.

With us Celts and Northern Europeans having gone out and multiplied around the world you can even team it with a holiday.

So there’s where they shout… come on you Reds.

A reddy night in Georgia

Chat-up lines: Do you fall for them?

Ginger Pride Parade, Rome, Georgia, USA: And when a ginger in Rome, Georgia, in March then it’s all about the Annual Ginger Pride Parade.

The free parade kicks off in the morning from Broad Street in Downtown Rome.

The spectacle which has been running since 2011 is described as a lighthearted approach to anti-bullying.

A dab of rouge

Let’s hope he’s not playing: Ed Sheeran

Festival des Ch’tis rouge, Arras, France: In France’s northern city of Arras, redheads galore gather for two days.

They have a fashion show, a ‘redheads got talent’ show,stall and more.

And in 2019 Miss France the raven-haired Maeva Coucke flicked her mane in Arras to show that red est magnifique.

An Italian red

Da Vinci code: Leo was a redhead

RossItalia, Milan/Redhead: Sicily And, yes, of course we love a full-bodied Italian red.

RossItalia has been running since 2012 in the fashion capital of Italy, the perfect backdrop for redheads to gather, mingle and celebrate their ginger hair come May time.

In Sicily, in Favignana to be precise it’s all about la famiglia.

And the ginger family lets their red locks down in July/August with a party filled with music, stalls, games, photography, a parade.

And even a ‘Miss and Mister Red Head Sicily’ contest!

The future is oranje

Come ear red: Vincent Van Gogh

The Redhead Days, Tilburg, Netherlands, August: And in the land where they celebrate the Oranje Army, who follow their national soccer team, then it’s not surprising that your colouring is popular.

Redhead Days, or ‘Roodharingendag’ is known as the world’s largest ginger weekender.

And it holds the world record for the largest number of natural redheads in one place.

Red for Hamburg

Look who I met on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg

Redhead Days Germany/Das Rothaarigentreffen Deutschland, Hamburg, Germany, September: And yes, we all know about the Reeperbahn, the Red Light District in Hamburg.

So, I guess too we shouldn’t be surprised that redheads are looked after too.

With hundreds of redheads and their friends attending previous events, Redhead Days Germany is expected to once again bring you group photo opportunities, a pub crawl, exhibitions, talks and plenty more!

But, of course, you don’t have to wait for any of these events because we’ve got today.

So get out there because take it as red it’s Kiss a Ginger Day.

 

 

America, Countries, Music, UK

Hank Williams in Alabama

As with so much in life where my great hero Billy Connolly goes I will follow which means to Hank Williams in Alabama.

Billy oft tells the story of how he first got into the banjo, his great musical love.

And the start point of his legendary entertainment career.

The Barras street market in Glasgow might seem an unlikely place to discover a Country legend.

But then many of the best people (Billy and Bandanaman) grew up in these streets.

And it was on one such stall that Billy’s dad bought Hank’s I’m So Lonely I Could Cry which prompted Billy to buy a banjo.

Hank’s for the memories

Music man: Billy Connolly

Billy, whose television travelogues are among the best anywhere, takes us to Hank’s gravestone in his Tracks Across America.

And texts his children and gets a photograph to tell him he’s there. 

This year is a very special year for Hankophiles.

Hiram ‘Hank’ Williams was born on September 17 in Mount Olive, Alabama.

And Alabama naturally makes a big deal of their favourite son with a Hank Williams Trail.

It kicks off with a visit to his childhood home preserved as a museum in Georgiana, where he learned to play guitar from Black street musician Rufus “Tee-Tot” Payne. T

Then drive an hour north to Montgomery, where Hank moved in his teens, and pick up lunch as he did at Chris’s Hot Dogs.

Alabamaversary

Poster boy: Hank Williams

Visit Montgomery’s Hank Williams Museum to see his stage costumes, guitars, and the 1952 blue Cadillac in which he died, aged just 29.

You can pay your respects at his grave, like Billy did in homage to Hank Williams in Alabama.

In nearby Oakwood Cemetery, marked by a marble cowboy hat.

Of course, in a state where music is in the very air, there is always an anniversary.

Muscle memory

Memorial: Hank’s graveside

And April 23, 2023 marks the 60th anniversary of Rick Hall’s FAME studios in Muscle Shoals.

The studios have attracted artists from Alabamian Wilson Pickett, who recorded “Mustang Sally”, Aretha Franklin and Etta James to Alicia Keys.

A new behind-the-scenes tour takes visitors into Hall’s personal office and showcases his collection of instruments.

Respect: Aretha Franklin

Of course this being the Deep South then music is all around you so why not make an odyssey of it in neighbouring states.

And take in Tennessee and the best that Nashville, Memphis and Dollywood have to offer.

And Mississippi and its Blues trail and its Grammy Museum.

 

 

 

America, Countries, Deals, Music

Elvis – How Great Thou Art

And I shall bow in humble adoration

Elvis – How Great Thou Art

Happy 88th birthday Elvis – How Great Thou Art.

And if there is a heaven then Elvis will be on a cloud singing to Gladys and Vernon and his twin Jesse.

It was to How Great Thou Art, one of Elvis’s favourite hymns, that The Great Man was guided to his rest at his funeral service.

All of which was fitting as The King of Kings was at heart a gospel singer.

And How Great Thou Art was one of his gospel standards.

Elvis’s last stand

Key to the door: Graceland

There is surprisingly little evidence of how important faith was in the life of the Southern Baptist Boy around his home Graceland.

And visitors’ attention is mostly focused on the Jungle Room.

But the most moving corner of his Memphis home is outside in the Memorial Garden where Elvis lies for all eternity.

Next to his parents and the twin who did not survive birth.

Green is the jungle: Graceland

And in the Games Room where Elvis, his girlfriend Ginger, and his cousin Billy and his wife Jo kicked back on his last day.

And played racquetball,

But more importantly where Elvis played two songs on his piano, Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain and Unchained Melody.

It is poignant to reflect that were Elvis still with us today then none of us would get beyond the big black door.

Priscilla’s promise

Your Scary Bear: The Jungle Room

And, of course, we have Priscilla Presley to thank for that.

Alas, with every passing year there are fewer of those in Elvis’s inner circle to relay how Elvis lived.

With Billy Smith, the last survivor of the Memphis Mafia.

Although Priscilla, Lisa Marie and her kids are regular visitors where they stay in the roped off quarters upstairs.

For the rest of us, of course, there is Downtown Memphis within easy reach of Elvis touch points.

Sun Studio, Marlowe’s restaurant, where he had his own booth (well, you would) and Beale Street.

Be our guest

In the building: Sun Studio

Or you could stay at the Guest House Graceland where you can attach a Graceland package.

With a stay, VIP tour + planes package for two from $335 or a Graceland Experience Package from $269.

All of which will mean you can devote the whole day to Elvis’s home and the warehouses which house his clothes and cars.

Of course music is always in the air as a reminder of his enduring appeal. Elvis – How Great Thou Art.

 

 

 

Caribbean, Countries, Culture

Benedict, Barbados, reparations

Sometimes you find yourself going off track on a Caribbean ceilidh tour and become immersed in all things Benedict, Barbados and reparations.

St Nicholas Abbey and Steam Railway sits inland in the north-east of the island in the St Peter region.

And little about this tranquil location betrays its links to an Oscar winning actor other than the framed painting of Joshua Cumberbatch, his seventh great-grandfather.

Something which on our visit there they wanted to play down… naturally.

And particularly because the Cumberbatch/Caves no longer own the former plantation and its grounds.

That responsibility is now Bajan architect Larry Warren and his wife Anna’s who bought it in 2006.

Brave Bajan

Thoughtful: Benedict Cumberbatch

And their sons Simon and Shae who have overseen a meticulous restoration of the property as an operating sugar plantation.  

You’ll likely see Simon at the climax of the tour when you sample the rum.

The St Nicholas Abbey rum may take you by surprise, or the one I imbibed did… more of a liqueur but a glorious addition to the range.

Simon is as warming as the rum and delightfully self-deprecating.

Simon says: Our host Simon, Michael, Corrie and your Bandanaman

Joking to groups that he doesn’t blame us for thinking from the sound of his voice that he’s pissed.

The truth though, as he’ll tell you, is truly heartening as he was in a coma for months after a driving accident and which you can read on his alma mater’s home page.  

Back on track

I’ll drink to that: St Nicholas Abbey

If the St Nicholas rum has whetted your appetite then you can wind down in the Terrace Cafe after your visit to the house.

And refresh yourself with rum punches and a fish cutter (my fave, but the menu is extensive).

In the sanctum of the overhanging trees overlooking the plantation’s lush tropical gullie.

We’re all working on this: The St Nicholas Abbey railway

St Nicholas Abbey is a hell of an addition to Barbados’s visitor experiences… 

And as you wend your way up to the house your mind may drift to Benedict Cumberbatch‘s forebears.

And think too about the sweat and toil of those working here.

Cat’s the way: The St Nicholas Abbey house

They still are on the steam train, but it’s refreshing to see that today’s staff will be heading for a beach bar at the end of their shift.

The house is a charm too, only one of three Jacobean-style mansions still in the Western Hemisphere.  

We can point too about the history of the house, Benedict, Barbados and reparations.

But anyone who has visited will know who has the real claim on the house…

The cat, whose name I didn’t get but I’m thinking maybe, Nicholas.

 

 

Culture

Bruges to Mayo

It’s been more than a decade in the making but Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are back together again for another black comedy from Bruges to Mayo.

Of course we all of us will be hoping the bromance, or brom com if you will, does the same for Mayo as it did for the medieval Belgian canal city.

And well done for Brendan in persuading Colin out to see its charms.

Although both being gangsters we thought they would have wanted to see the fabric of the cloth Joseph of Arimathea used on Jesus in the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Canal city: In Bruges

Film buffs and proud natives of Mayo will, of course, tell you that the Maritime County is already on the cinematic map.

With Cong drawing fans of The Quiet Man to its village religiously.

And Linnane the setting for The Field among others.

Of course Tourism Ireland are all over the possibilities from Mayo being showcased on our big screens.

And in conjunction with Searchlight Pictures they have created a behind-the-scenes featurette.

W
ith footage shot during filming for The Banshees of Inisherin.

All Ireland

I have a hunch: Colin Farrell

Director Martin McDonagh, Farrell (Pádraic), Brendan Gleeson (Colm), Kerry Condon (Siobhán) and Barry Keoghan (Dominic) all talk us through the locations.

The Banshees got a 14-minute standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival.

And it is expected to do the same when the film hits picture houses in Ireland, the UK and the US on October 21.

Farrell and Gleeson have, of course, done much to promote the whole of Ireland.

Where East and West shall meet

An Irishman abroad: Brendan Gleeson

With many remembering a cherubic-faced Farrell negotiating the mean streets of Dublin in Intermissions.

And country village life in my old bailiwick of Co. Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland in Ballykissangel, near Avoca.

While Gleeson has been out West before.

Most notably in The Guard opposite Don Cheadle, and Calvary.

All in all we can see just why the Venetians and the international film audience would want.

To spend 14 minutes clapping Colin and Brian.

Because anything they do from a black comedy from Bruges to Mayo is right up our street.

 

 

 

 

Asia, Countries, Culture

Japan for old times’ sake

And the cherry blossom will look even better this year as the Land of the Rising Sun reopens again… Japan for old times’ sake.

See what we’ve done there… sake as in meaning purpose and sake (pronounced sakky) as in rice wine.

All of which I got a taste for, breaking the boxes with Japanese friends at a kimono-adorned wedding in Islay, off Scotland.

And a hankering to see first hand.

Brad in Japan

Fare play: Brad in Bullet Train

As we all knew already but have been reminded of by Brad Pitt the bullet train is the way to get around.

Although remember that that film is just a gangster romp, and the Japanese really are very friendly.

Our own pals and Far East specialists Platinum Travel have put together some itineraries which highlight the best of Japan.

Land at peace

Made up in Japan: Tokyo

Embrace the timeless tradition and modern spirit of Japan’s iconic sites, from the neon skyline of Tokyo to foodie Osaka.

Spend the night in a traditional ryokan.

And take a peace pilgrimage to Hiroshima.

And enjoy genuine Japanese hospitality in the mountain hot springs village of Kotohira.

Learn how local artisans make Japanese washi paper in the UNESCO village of Gokayama.

Enjoy a kaiseki lunch near Kyoto where you will learn about local customs.

Circle of trust

Cherry on top: Cherry blossom

And what I’ve learned from my Japanese friends here is that making a circle with your hands above your head is your go-to.

It’s sake OK and when I do get out to Japan I’ll be trying it out for myself.

Platinum have 13 days from €6,225 during cherry blossom season.

It includes 12 breakfasts, three lunches, one Be My Guest, one welcome reception, one farewell dinner, one regional dinner and four dinners.

 

 

Countries, Europe, Music, UK

Liverpull of Euro music

It is little surprise Merseyside has won the race to host Eurovision for Ukraine because it’s always been a Liverpull of Euro music.

It may have been a surprise surprise (well that’s our big-up to Liverpool’s favourite daughter Cilla Black done).

Yes, Glasgow put together a good bid but who can realistically compete with The Beatles as host ambassadors?

And lifelong supporter of Liverpool Paul McCartney will doubtless be front and centre when Eurovision kicks off next year.

Love me do

Strawberry Fields: Forever

It’s apt too that Liverpool should get the nod 60 years on from the release of The Beatles’ first single Love Me Do.

The tens of thousands of Eurovision fans descending on Liverpool next year will flock to The Beatles story on Albert Dock.

They’ll get a picture taken with the statues of The Fab Four at Albert Dock and the Eleanor Rigby monument on Matthew Street.

And channel our inner Beatles at their old stomping ground The Cavern Club.

Tour de four

Want a support act? At the Cavern

Take one of the tours around the city and tick off Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane and The Beatles birthplaces.

And you may be lucky too to have a driver with a pop link (everyone in Liverpool is a musician).

Ours was Holly Johnson’s brother on the Magical Mystery Tour.

The invasion of European music fans to Liverpool then is nothing new.

And its place in the continent’s thinking existed too back in the late 50s.

Hamburger thrill


Hitting the right cord: Stef

When talent spotters headed to the north of England to find bands to feed American servicemen’s appetite in Hamburg for the new rock’n’roll music.

The thinking was that they would be cheaper than the London bands.

The Beatles were a late pick but they honed their skills on the Reeperbahn with exhausting sets.

While days of seeing and enjoying Beatles music in the German port city are long behind us.

The Stef of dreams

Star status: The Beatles in Hamburg

The best Beatles experience you can have there is signing up for Stefanie Hempell’s Beatles tour.

Where she will take you around Hamburg’s Beatles’ landmarks.

And strum her way around their hits on George Harrison’s favourite instrument, the ukulele.

That’s the Liverpull of Euro music for you and why we’re endorsing Merseyside as the best choice for Eurovision 2023.

And that’s coming from a proud citizen of Glasgow.

America, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

I spy Bond over 60 years

We’ve all got our fave 007 moments but here’s how I spy Bond over 60 years through his exotic travel.

I was there where it started in Casino Royale. Not when (steady), but there at the casino where James first cashed in his chips.

Pupp love

Grand Man: At the Pupp

At the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Spa Triangle.

The world’s most famous spy has only stayed in the swankiest hotels since.

And all you need is a tux/cocktail dress and a bundle of cash to live like Bond.

Bite-size Hamburg

Knot bothered: Pierce Brosnan

Or know your way around Marriott Autograph Collection… and Hotel Atlantic Hamburg from Tomorrow Never Dies.

Where 25 years ago James seduces Paris, girlfriend of his nemesis Elliot Carver.

Not for James the Reeperbahn which of course is the heart of Saint Pauli.

Good manners: Roger Moore

And what Hamburg is best known for although Germany’s Port City has high culture too with the Elbphi.

And spy culture too with the Alter Elbtunnel which would be ideal for a Bond chase.

Anyone for Venice?

Leave the car James: Sean Connery

This James has also crossed swords with 007 in the shadow of The Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

Where like myself I went back for a second helping.

The action switches in From Russia With Love at the end to Venice where Sean Connery’s Bond checks into the Hotel Danieli.

Roger Moore outdouble entendres Big Sean in Moonraker ten years later delivers the line “Bollinger? If it is a ’69 you were expecting me” to Dr. Holly Goodhead in the lavish Suite del Doge.

London calling

Get dressed: Daniel Craig

Now we all know that James is a man for all seasons so it’s probably little surprise that like us he is a fan of the Four Seasons.

For Londonwatchers they’ll spot the location trickery with the Four Seasons Hotel Canary Wharf doubling for Shanghai.

When Daniel Craig swims in the turquoise rooftop pool with water views.

Before showering and sizzling (if you like that sort of thing).

Miami advice

Golden vision: Jill Masterson

Of course perhaps the most memorable hotel scene was in Goldfinger though not perhaps for Goldie’s girl Jill Masterson.

Who James found dead on the bed covered in gold paint.

This being Miami Beach and the Fontainebleu Hotel nobody’s asking what you want to do in the privacy of your own room. Just enjoy.

No doubt we’ll find the next Bond whoever that is living it up in fancy rooms around the world in the next six decades.

It’s just these are the ones where I spy Bond over 60 years.

 

 

Culture, UK

London’s Crowning Glory

If like the millions of others watching the Queen’s Funeral you would like to get up more close and personal to the British throne then of course you can at London‘s Crowning Glory.

The Crown Jewels which you see on the Queen’s coffin won’t, of course, be going with her to her final resting place.

As they’ll be needed to put on Charles’s head at the coronation.

While in between they’ll be encased back in the Tower of London.

Royal watchers will see the significance that the new British king has kept his birth name of Charles (he didn’t have to).

Because the crown jewels which we all gawk at were first put on the head of Charles II (his dad Charles I had his chopped off).

The new Crown Jewels

What a gem: The Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels were destroyed at the Tower after the Civil War.

But they were remade for Chuck’s Coronation in 1661, which more respectfully was known as the Restoration.

Royalist or Republicans alike can marvel at the aesthetic of the Crown Jewels.

And the greater collection of 23,578 gemstones.

As we have on our travels in Britain’s capital.

Many of which are still used in royal ceremonies today such as the State Opening of Parliament.

And for those who want a greater insight into the new King then his coronet from his investiture as Prince of Wales from 1969 has also been on display since 2020.

It’s gold and platinum and set with diamonds and emeralds with a purple velvet and ermine cap of estate.

Yes, it’s true that Charlie has been preparing for this job all of life and he really will be down with the kids as the King of Bling.

Now if you let your imagination run away with you.

And wonder what they would look like on you, better keep it in your head rather than try and put in on it.

Because security though you might not see it is off the scale.

An Irish heist

Pocket it: Blood and his pals

Not that that stopped Colonel Thomas Blood (I guess the clue is in the title) try to make away with the crown in 1671.

Yeoman Warder Darren Hardy will tell you the whole dastardly story of London’s Crowning Glory on YouTube.

Of how the turncoat and his companions managed to outwit the Jewel House Keeper in the Martin Tower and snatch the jewels.

Blood, nicknamed ‘The Father of Treasons’ was Irish (naturally) and as they might say in modern parlance was ‘known to the authorities’.

A parliamentarian during the Civil War he had his lands taken after the Restoration and did not take that well.

He and his accomplices tried to seize Dublin Castle only for their plot to fail and his pals get executed…

Blood got away, well they do say Blood will out!

Obviously a man of derring-do he took it to the crown again.

When he hatched his plot to make away with the Crown Jewels.

Bloody Hell

Casing the joint: In London

On May 9, 1671, Blood, disguised as a priest duped the Jewel Housekeeper to hand over his pistols.

His three accomplices then emerged and forced their way into the Jewel House.

Only to be caught by the keeper’s son who raised the alarm.

One of the gang shoved the Royal Orb down his breeches.

While Blood flattened the Crown with a mallet and tried to run away.

The gang was arrested and Blood was brought before the king.

Who lucky for him was in a good mood that day…

Perhaps Nell Gwynn had lavished him with oranges or more.

And far from punishing Blood, Merry Monarch Charles restored his estates in Ireland.

And made him a member of his court with an annual pension.

Now we wouldn’t advise testing this Charles as the outcome might be very different this time.

A bit of Blarney

To the Tower: With a Beefeater

Blood, who had obviously used some Irish Blarney to win Charles around became a bit of a celebrity of his day.

And when he died his body had to be exhumed because the public didn’t believe he was dead.

This and much more, of course, you can find out.

From exploring 1000 years of English and British history at the Tower.

It is without doubt London’s Crowning Glory.

 

 

  

America, Music

Detroit callin’ out around the world

Here’s Detroit callin’ out around the world… and to us, Scotland’s travel elite, to get back to Motor City and Pure Michigan.

And follow in the Fingertips of Stevland Judkins who 60 years ago next year exploded into our musical consciousness.

We know him best as Stevie Wonder although back in 1963 he was just 12 and was introduced to us as Little Stevie Wonder.

Walking in Stevie’s Fingertips

Candy baby: Stevie’s candy machine

His debut release for Motown label Tamla, the jazzy Fingertips, still stands the test of time.

With Stevie wowing us with his mastery of bongos and harmonica.

Stevie became the youngest artist to reach No.1 in the Billboard charts.

And the world wanted to know more about the boy wonder from Detroit.

Stevland was born in Saginaw near Lake Huron and an hour and a half’s drive south to Detroit.

Where his musical Motown family took him to their hearts.

And to his favourite candy.

Best bar none

The Wonder of you: Stevie

Stevie, who in a different Bluesier age, would probably have gone by the moniker (or harmoniker in his case) of ‘Blind Boy Stevie’, loved a nutty nougat Baby Ruth bar.

And staff at the Hitsville USA House would be sure to leave the bar in the same place in the machine so he could feel for the slot.

And they were even said to leave coins there for him too.

The Hitsville House has undergone major million-dollar changes completed this year to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of visitors.

All of which our friends from Visit Detroit and Pure Michigan updated us on as we renewed our friendships.

At the plush Dakota Hotel in Glasgow.

And where Michigan State’s greatest ambassador Kelly revealed how she would regularly pass the blind school.

Where Stevland would learn to be Little Stevie.

The next generation

Marching to Freedom: Berry Gordy with Martin Luther King

At Hitsville they are still inspiring the youth, the next generation and practically as well as aesthetically.

Founder Berry Gordy is 92 years young and still as wide-eyed about music as ever he was.

And he vowed: ‘Not only will the expanded museum entertain and tell the stories of talented and creative people who succeeded against all odds, but it will also inspire and create opportunities for people to explore their dreams the way I did mine.

‘I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of that.’

And that’s where Hitsville NEXT, the educational center of Motown Museum’s newly expanded campus comes in.

In the Motown Museum‘s words it is the hub of our programming efforts, it is the place in Detroit for talent cultivation, entrepreneurial training and empowerment, music making and professional development for those aspiring to be in the music industry.

Are you ready for a brand new beat? Martha Reeves

I’ve seen first hand on my travels in the States how bringing young musicians from challenging backgrounds and giving them back opportunities can yield huge awards.

And the joy in the young artists’ performance on stage for a group of European travel writers at the Stax Music Academy in South Memphis.

And their euphoria as we broke bread with them afterwards when they were told they were to tour Europe.

The water city: And the Motor City too… Detroit

Just the same glee I feel every time I know I’m going America, every bit of which the Vandellas name check in Dancing in the Streets.

And with Martha Reeves championing the Hitsville reconstruction this year.

And Detroit callin’ out around the world I definitely won’t forget the Motor City.