Countries, Deals, Europe

Whose a Cretan?

And it’s important to pronounce it properly so as not to give offence… whose a Cretan?

Cretins, not to be confused with our Mediterranean friends, of course, means a stupid person.

And it has its derivation in a medical term for a deformity which came to be short hand for a stupid person.

Which is the last thing a Cretan could be accused of being.

Homer run

Pool your talents: On the Greek islands

 

Referenced by Homer, it’s a good place to start, and theirs has been a real odyssey… and the Greeks are all about odysseys.

Crete, Greece’s biggest island, has only been incorporated into Greater Hellas since 1896.

But its history is thousands of years old.

And you’d have to be a cretin not to capitalise on that.

Cretan kings

True blue: The Aegean

Our Cretans have celebrated one of their own mythological figures King Asterion in their new Asterion Suites & Spa boutique hotel.

The Asterion is on the north-west coast with views over the Aegean Sea and Saint Theodore Island’s nature reserve.

All rooms feature a balcony or terrace with sweeping views of the sea, pool or gardens.

While all the best hotels (Sandals Barbados anyone) has swim-up suites and the Asterion is no exception.

It also has suites with private pools and the Universe Panorama Suite with a rooftop private pool.

Special spas

Swim-up pools: You deserve it

The state-of-the-art Orion Spa offers a holistic experience using traditional Cretan ingredients such as olive oil, aromatic herbs and aloe vera.

And aloe vera might just have saved my sunburnt back.

The Spa also features a seaside gazebo for bespoke treatments by the beach.

A new one on me and an extension on special spas in the Maldives.

The Asterion Suites is a great base to go on and explore the wonders of Western Crete.

From the city of Chania to historic sites to all our fave Med activities.

Deal me in

You dancer: Cretan dancing

Seven nights at the five-star luxury Asterion Suites and Spa in Chania, Crete costs from £827pps with our friends at TUI.

It includes return flights from London Gatwick to Chania and transfers.

Price based on select September and October 2022 departures. 

With these prices then whose a cretin and whose a Cretan?

 

 

America, Asia, Australasia, Canada, Caribbean, Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

The ten homes of whisky

It’s the golden seal every country strives for, to be the home of something… so where are the ten homes of whisky?

You’d probably not to be surprised at the top five.

And so it’s more of a case of shuffling that pack to see who is tops.

The next five though is a bit more surprising.

So on this World Whisky Day join me for a distillery tour.

But do me a favour please, don’t ask about distilling or the mashing process.

It just holds us up on our way to the sampling.

Scotch Wahey

Fergie’s dram: Sir Alex’s bottle in his cabinet near Aberdeen

Scotland: And the reach of Scotch (just whisky in Scotland) became clear when the distillers held a whisky-tasting in Barbados.

Now we can blind you with science and stats… 44 bottles of whisky are exported from Scotland every year.

There are five designated whisky regions… Cambeltown, Highland, Lowland, Speyside and my own fave Islay.

They’re all heavenly and 

But my No.1 is Laphroaig. It’s so peaty, just like a bowl of water in an ashtray but stick with me here.

After all you have tried haggis.

United Nips of America

Mark of a whiskey drinker: Kentuckian Mark, Cath and Mum

USA: And, of course, when the Scots left home they took their whisky and its secrets with them.

And adapted it to the new world of America and went on to produce nectar such as Kentucky’s Woodford Reserve bourbon.

But US whiskey isn’t restricted to the Deep South… branch out to Oregon.

Where Westward Whiskey have released a reimagined single malt for World Whisky Day.

Green, malt and gold

The oul’ sod: The oldest distillery in the world

Ireland: And Teeling only made it into our Barbados tastings.

While Bushmills lays claim to being the oldest distillery in the world, established in 1608.

They were also responsible for the extra ‘e’, well the Irish are the masters of using two words when one will do, and more letters too.

Land of the Rising Suntory

Made in Japan: Suntory

Japan: Now this is a love story that drams are made of.

And is the result of a relationship between a Japanese chemistry student at Glasgow University Masataka Takaretsu and Jessie Roberta Cowan.

Masataka had been dispatched by the Settsu Shuzi liquor company.

A love Suntory if you will.

Maple leaf

We’re in the Club: Canadian Club

Canada: Right, we’re told that Canadian whisky has its origins not in its big Scottish diaspora.

But because the natives, the First Nations, got a taste for what they called the traders’ firewater.

It was a meld of rum and ‘high wine’ which developed into Canadian whisky, of which Canadian Club is the most recognised.

Sikh beatha

Basket of goods: Indians love their whisky

India: Or Sikh of life, my twist on the uisce beatha which is Gaelic for water of life and is what Scots call their favourite drink.

And long may the Indians keep up their love affair with whisky which they have been producing since 1948 since Amrut entered the market.

More than half of all whisky drinkers in the world come from India. 

Wizards of booze

Bonzer: Aussie whiskey

Australia: And we should have come to expect this with our ne’er-do-wells sent over there as convicts.

Specifically Tasmania is whisky haven with the best Aussie whiskies Sullivans Cove, the best Single Malt at the world awards, and Lark based there. 

A Swede whisky

That way, Sweden

Sweden: Now here’s something you don’t get at your local Ikea with your meatballs but should.

Mackmyra was Sweden‘s first distillery and the Swedes got it right first time, winning the First Edition Gold Award in 2013.

The Isle of Tai

Gold standard: Taiwanese whiskey

Taiwan: You see what we’ve done there. Yes, Taiwan‘s connections with the West probably plays its part here.

Kavalan whiskey won the World’s Best Single Malt at the awards in 2015 and the island’s distillery produces 9 million bottles a year. 

Ja beauty

Dram busters: Germans on the whisky

Germany: Now some of us have ripped it up in Germany at the Oktoberfest where it’s lager obviously but also schnapps chasers.

The Germans though are open to everything and they have around 250 distilleries and around 130 of them are focused just on whisky production.

So, on this World Whisky Day a big Slainte to the ten homes of whisky.

 

 

 

 

Deals, Europe

Extra good time in Seville

If the city is still in one piece after the Scots football fans’ invasion of these last few days then it’s worth checking out an extra good time in Seville.

And that’s what our old friends Travel Department guarantees with their TD Active Holidays.

And so it’s off to sunny Spain and the Costa de la Luz in Andalucia.

Scots invaders

Light the blue touch paper: Rangers fans

The Scots, the Rangers army who descended on Seville for their Europa League final match with Eintracht Frankfurt, are just the latest invaders in the city’s and region’s history.

Sevillians, as I guess is as good a name as any, carry influences from the Romans to the Moors.

Gio force: Rangers boss Gio Van Bronckhorst

And they have left their imprint on the landscape and culture of Andalucía, which is far more cultural than the bottles of Buckie and Irn-Bru.

It’s unsurprising that Rangers fans took to the city… it’s the home of oranges.

Columbus and the New World

Chris cross: The Columbus statue in Barcelona

 

Seville boasts remarkable sites, including the cathedral and La Giralda tower and the vast and impressive Alcázar Palace.

Yes, we know that he was Genovese but the Spanish love him on account of discovering all those lands across the Atlantic, and the riches they yielded.

And you will see him pointing the way too from Barcelona from Las Ramblas.

His first voyage to the New World though was launched at the Muelle de las Carabelas.

You won’t be asked to set sail though (it’ll be too hot).

Deal us in

Ya dancer: Andalucia flamenco

On this trip, you can relax on the beach or visit other seaside towns in the region, with recommendations and tips from your expert guide.

Priced from €819pp, it includes flights, transfers, seven nights’ accommodation on a B&B basis and that guide experience.

There are a selection of dates right across the summer and up to 19th October.

And we can assure you that you will have an extra good time in Seville.

Asia, Countries, Deals, Europe, UK

Israeli clear of Covid regs

And it’s what they promised in the Promised Land – yes Israeli clear of Covid regs now.

Our friends in the Land of Milk and Honey will be removing on-arrival PCR tests from May 20 and letting people fly with an antigen test from May 10.

Right, we know that it hasn’t been a biblical 40 years since Israel was this open rather than just these last two years.

But it’s just made us more impatient, and that goes too for our dream makers too, our travel providers, who are lining up all manner of packages for us.

Lots of fun at the YMCA

Garden of plenty: The YMCA 3 Arches

Now our eye fell on the YMCA 3 Arches particularly when we saw that it had been designed by the architect of the Empire State Building in New York.

And that means tall with the 3 Arches a 152ft tower with views of the YMCA gardens below and historic Jerusalem vistas, many with views of the King David Street.

Not forgetting of course those modern day facilities we all expect… sports center with fitness room, pool, sauna, jacuzzi and group exercise studio.

The tour providers

Cradle of Christianity: Jesus and Bethlehem

Travel Israel helpfully do all the work for us offering flights from Edinburgh to Tel Aviv (you can also go from Glasgow and London Heathrow) and accommodation for £1,255.

With the excellent SWISS International Airlines.

And they list out a number of excursions you can add on.

Like Christmas (well, this is the Holy Land) you can go mad ticking off the trips you want.

And the excursions

Snap to it: And photograph the Old City

The Jerusalem Day Tour we imagine does what it says on the tin, and at a competitive £63 for two.

You will drive to the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the city.

And stop at Mount Zion to visit King David’s Tomb,Room of Last Supper and the Dormition Abbey.

No visit to Jerusalem would be complete without a visit to the Jewish Wailing Wall.

And channel your inner Jesus at the Via Dolorosa and visit the Church of Holy Sepulchre.

Before you’ll then proceed to the New City and a visit to Yad Vashem, the Memorial to the Holocaust.

But seeing you’re here you really should tick off as much as you can.

Two unforgettable days

Super Supper: And a bespoke Last Supper

And the 2 Day Tour of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada & the Dead Sea Small Group Tour does just that.

You’ll depart on  Day 1 and take in Jerusalem (obvs) and the Old City; Western Wall; church of Holy Sepulcher and Bethlehem. And overnight in Jerusalem.

Float on: The Dead Sea

Day 2 will take in Massada, a swim in the Dead Sea (been there, but would always go again).

Of course as comprehensive as this is there’s always more. 

So check out their Galilee offers and in Jesus’ Steps packages.

And so let’s celebrate Israeli clear of Covid regs.

 

 

Countries, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage, South America

Mary’s month of May

And I have good reason to honour Our Lady and honour Mary’s month of May.

Like much with the Catholic church the early leaders gleaned from existing culture.

And that meant transferring the worship of Artemis, the goddess of fertility, to Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary, of course, is venerated for her matriarchy and May is the month when Spring is in its fullest bloom.

Now we all have much to be grateful for or reflect on after these past two years.

And what better way than visiting any one of her Marian sites?

Marian sites

Bandanaman and Bernadette: In Lourdes

Now growing up an Irish-Scot in Glasgow the focus was always on the most famous of them all Lourdes, and Knock in Ireland.

And little did I know that Mary has shrines from A-Z around the world.

We probably shouldn’t be surprised because as the old saying goes… when you want something done ask a busy woman.

And so I made the pilgrimage to Knock in the West of Ireland as a child, where Our Lady appeared with St Joseph and St John.

Lourdes above

Our Ladies: She’s everywhere in Lourdes

I don’t know what the sell-by date is on prayers but 40 years later I was back for more favours this time, the mothership.

Lourdes is the Holywood of Marian sites.

And yes it has more candles than on a Meatloaf video (ask your parents).

Waxing lyrical: About the candles

But there is something ethereal about grasping a candle with a cardboard square holder so as the wind doesn’t blow it out.

At the vigil mass at the grotto.

While the huge candles with inscriptions carved out by small Italian and Irish villages reminds us that Lourdes was once just that.

Each Marian site clearly has Mary at its heart but each has its own USP.

Fatima faith

On a podium: Our Lady

My own Dear Old Mum was moved by her own experiences in Guadeloupe in Mexico.

Where she recalled a worshipper climbing the steps of a church on her knees.

And I saw it too at Fatima, though the pilgrim was saved the incline as the altar is situated in a square.

Magic Medge

Mother of God: In Medjugorje

Medjugorje in Bosnia & Herzegovina in the Balkans holds ambitions to be endorsed by the Vatican as a Marian site.

Without getting too liturgical the Papacy accepts organised pilgrimages to Medge are OK by them.

Although it does fall short of their authentication of Marian sites. Very Jesuitical.

This year promises to be a special one with suggestions of a Big Reveal.

And pilgrims who crowd around the Blue Cross to hear Our Lady talk through one of the original visionaries are agog with expectancy.

Prayers from Brazil

Whether the Brazilian I broke bread with at breakfast who had made his way to Ilsa will be there to hear it who knows.

But as with all pilgrims he planted a seed for the next Marian traveller (me) to visit the next shrine, Aparecida.

 

 

 

 

Countries, Europe

The Chunnel and other burrows

As we mark 28 years today of linking old enemies England and France some thoughts on the Chunnel, Germany’s tunnel king and other burrows.

Queen Elizabeth II and then-President of France Francois Mitterand cut the ribbon of The Channel Tunnel back in 1994.

And for the first time since The Ice Age the two land masses that became England and France were linked.

Chic Chunnel

Going underground: Tunneling

 

Now that’s 25 miles and each day, about 30,000 people, 6,000 cars and 3,500 trucks journey through the Chunnel.

And among them on one occasion, La Famille Murty, travelling from a Dickens of a good break in Kent to Paris.

There’s no denying that the Chunnel has made travelling between the two countries, easier, with London-Paris two and a hours.

The old romantic in me though prefers seeing the White Cliffs of Dover in my rear view mirror en route to France.

Der Bridge

Above ground: It’s up the other side

Tunnels, naturellement, are our technological solution to bringing countries and parts of countries together.

And growing up in Glasgow, the Clyde Tunnel opened up the other side of the city to us in a way it didn’t afford my forebears.

For some dirt and tunnels are in their blood.

Such as the German Tunnel King and his girlfriend we broke bread with (more like lobster) with MSC around the fjords.

Our traverse through the Alter Elbtunnel
which is Hamburg‘s most popular attraction.

A pedestrian walkway the 426-metre underpass connects the Landungsbrücken piers with the port.

And a naughty tunnel

Yes, it is: And it’s a tunnel

And while we historically celebrate our tunnel kings and are rightly proud of our joint-venture with the French…

A tilt too to the efficient Germans.

And that’s even before we heil the acclaimed Wanktunnel in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria.

We’ll get back to that another time but for now here’s to…

The Chunnel, one of the world’s modern wonders, Germany’s tunnel king and other burrows.

 

Countries, Europe, Sustainable Tourism

When I was a Tuscan farmer

The Italians parlano le mani (speak with the hands) and there was a lot of that when I was a Tuscan farmer.

And you can be one too with the nature-immersive wilderness Oasyhotel in San Marcello Piteglio.

If it had passed you by, my Italian farming background, let me refresh your memories.

When I tilled the land… at sea.

On board the billion dollar Celebrity Edge… and its sister brand Royal Caribbean which has been showing off the biggest ship Wonder of the Seas.

Farm to fork

Le Petit Chef is the conceptual experience where the diner sees their meal made from farm to fork in a film played out on your mat.

And ecco, there’s your Italian before you ready to eat.

OK I didn’t get my hands dirty but here in Oasyhotel you can become a farmer for a day on the Oasi Dynamo Farm.

Say cheese

The big cheese: And do some damage with the fromage

The farm is home to all God’s agricultural creatures as well as a wide variety of fruits, grains, and vegetables.

You’ll get an interactive farm tour and even learn how to make your own cheese for lunch.

Mangiamo (let’s eat)

Eat to the beat: Gentle living

In both of its restaurants (Le Felci and Casa Luigi), the team aim to provide the freshest and healthiest local Tuscan produce.

With the majority of ingredients being grown on the Oasi Dynamo farm itself.

Or otherwise being sourced within one kilometre from its doors.

Room at the lodge

Tranquil: The lodges

Oasyhotel offers 16 lodges on within the WWF-protected Oasi Dynamo reserve.

The 1,000+ hectares of land consists of undisturbed forest, farmland, lakes and rivers.

Nestled between Lucca, Pistoia, Florence and Bologna; Oasyhotel is easily accessible from these key Italian cities by road.

With those multiple servings of Italian food you’ll need some activity to work it off.

Stretch those legs

Causing ripples: But only on the private lake

And that’s where those great hiking and biking trails come in.

With complimentary electric-bikes included in all guest stays.

And among the guided seasonal activities are wildlife walks, wolf tracking (turn up, find out) orienteering and horse riding (I’m a natural).

Then there’s foraging, Nordic wellness walking, forest therapy, and meditation and yoga.

Oasyhotel is also home to its own beautiful private lake which can be used for wild-swimming, kayaking and paddle-boarding.

And there are three private spa lodges.

What’s the deal?

Anyone got a story: Campside living

This dream resort is open seasonally from April 14 until October 31 for its first season in 2022.

Stays start from €560 (approx. £472) per lodge per night on a bed and breakfast basis.

They include minibar access, e-bike usage, access to private lake and watersports and valet parking.

And they indulge all your creature comforts.

With the Eco-Lodge Double (with one double-bed and space for a small third-bed).

And Eco-Lodge Family (with four large bunkbeds in two separate bedrooms, and two bathrooms).

Maybe that’s more authentic then and I won’t have to bluff When I was a Tuscan Farmer.

 

Countries, Europe, Skiing

Aussie beer games and Tirol

It’s probably a more restrained affair than the carnage of Aussie beer games and Tirol that I got caught up in back in the day.

But heck, Kitzbuhel in Austria has it all.

Our friends in Tirol have alerted us to the news that they have made it easier for English-speakers to learn about their picture-postcard resort.

Through the Museum Kitzbühel and its free audio guide.

In 33 chapters, it takes you through the areas of town history, winter sports and Alfongs Walde.

And from now on, English is also available to our visitors in addition to German.

All you need is a smartphone and the Hearonymus app, which can be downloaded free of charge from the App Store and Google Play Store.

Whether the Topdeck passengers of circa 1985 and 1986 make it into the annals (more likely anals) of Kitzbuhel, or its neighbour, Kirchberg history is another matter.

Das boot

Boot-iful: The Glass Boot. http://www.hopculture.com

Centred around the festivity in the party chalet was a beer game.

It involved a glass boot filled with best Austrian beer.

Among the rules was to keep the toe centred, pass in the correct direction.

And, of course, not to regurgitate when you turn the heel and hit the bubble.

Of course just to keep you lubricated between shots was the Hexengeist schnapps which you set fire to to before downing.

Schnapps to it

Name on the frame: Schnapps in Ehrwald

A strong chocolatey taste from what I can remember it was known among our circles as an F*** because that’s what you do when you drink it.

Search for ”Museum Kitzbühel” in the app and the voices of Wido Sieberer, museum director, Michael Berger-Walde, actor and grandson of Alfongs Walde, Melanie Preston and Nevena Lukic will accompany you.

Through all the exhibition areas and onto the spectacular roof terrace.

Visitors simply listen to the background, stories and anecdotes via the smartphone speakers or the headphones they have brought along.

The  Museum Kitzbühel

For Arts’ sake: The museum

The museum is situated in the Hinterstadt of Kitzbühel and it was first mentioned by name in the 16th century.

Only the southwest tower dates from the time of the town’s founding around 1271.

Now, of course, when you’re in Kitzbuhel and Kirchberg you need to take part in the outdoorsy activities too.

We did, even though it was the autumn and we were moving on from the Oktoberfest.

Slip slidin’ away

Heart and Soll: With The Scary One in Soll

And that meant the tobogganing which, of course, I took an alternative way of negotiating…

On my back, sans my board…

And, yes, once the beer and schnapps and whisky wore off, it hurt like hell.

Particularly writhing around the bunk bend of the booze bus which also accommodated a kitchen downstairs.

I have, of course, been back since those days of Aussie beer games and Tirol.

With the Scary One skiing and sliding in Soll in the wintertime.

And on a walking trek in Ehrwald with the speedy superannuated.

And still on my back

Slippery slope: Above Ehrwald

With Top Flight for Schools where tobogganing was again on the schedule.

And despite the roll-on of years, yes, you guessed it.

I went down on my back and side, and went back again for more.

 

America, Asia, Countries, Europe

Jet lag cures

I was spooked at the movement in my en-suite, I was home with The Scary One… I should have checked my own Holidos and Don’ts. Jet lag cures.

And then I could have orientated myself on my return from my mini-odyssey to New England.

Earth to Jimmy

Wriggle those feet: And find some earth

Granted your fellow passengers or hosts might look at you funny but..

You might want to take off your shoes and socks and jump about on the earth.

Bare feet and earth: Who says so… only biohacker and Bulletproof founder Dave Asprey who discovered the trick when doing yoga in California.

Of course he did.

Turn on, switch off

Flying high: With Turkish Airlines

In flight entertainment: And you can always catch up on your sleep on the plane.

There’s the more relaxing last film which you can nod off through.

Or classical music or easy listening. And it’ll make you forget you’re up during the sleeping hours.

Water cooler

Refresh: The water

 

Hydrate: And yes that means staying off the booze… so resist the temptations of airport drinks.

On board now you will have to pay for your alcohol anyway.

And rehydrate so stay off the coffee, tea and sugary drinks.

That’s the business

Lounge back: And take in a Turkish Airlines movie in their airport business lounge

Business class: Of course if you’ve been saving your pennies, you’ll be able to treat yourself to business class.

I’ve been fortunate enough to avail of Aer Lingus, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Turkish Airlines (there are other flyers).

And the reclining seat-beds will make you feel like you’re at home in bed.

Until you turn around for a cuddle on your trip to the Maldives and Island Marketing’s stubbly boss Brian is looking up at you.

Homing in

Home again: And get some Zzzzs in

The home run: And when you get home after you’re through the all-nighter then you need to get home.

If you’re disorganised like me then it’s better not to have bought a return public transport (tram, bus, train) ticket.

Maybe leave the keys too with the neighbours.

All because these things can get lost in transit.

Get in, get a glass of water and get to bed. Will you sleep later? You bet.

And I think I’ll copywright this… Holidos and Don’ts jet lag cures.

 

 

 

 

America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, Music, UK

Mayday Bravo

And whether you’re keeping the red flag flying here, celebrating the Internationale or just twirling around a maypole it’s Mayday Bravo today.

It was, of course, an Irishman, Jim Connell, who came up with the emotive words in 1889 to go with the tune O Tannenbaum.

He had been travelling by train, where you can do a lot of your thinking, in London.

So to mark May Day we’ll revive our Rainy Days and Songdays occasional series with these May Day tunes.

Way to go, Joe

Folk champion: Joan Baez

 

Joe Hill – Joan Baez: And this workers anthem relates to a union leader, framed on a murder charge and executed in Salt Lake City.

But the organiser stands for everyman and of course returns to the narrator in a dream.

And in typical American storytelling style it covers the geography of the whole country… from San Diego up to Maine.

Lennon doctrine

Comrade Lennon: And Jimmy in Prague

Working Class Hero – John Lennon: They were more Lennon than Lenin in Prague during Soviet rule.

When they would congregate at the Lennon wall to protest.

Lennon, the Working Class Hero from Liverpool, has influenced as many if not more around the world from Hamburg to New York and beyond.

Tennessee tunes

Music town: Memphis, Tennesse

Sixteen Tons – Tennessee Ernie Ford: This ditty of a song with the catchy refrain derives from Kentucky’s Merle Travis in 1947.

And the line ‘You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt” came from a letter written by Travis’s brother John.

We’ve taken Tennessee Ford’s 1955 version which hit the top of the Billboard charts and was inducted into the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.

The New Boss

Something to say: The Who

Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who: And the Cockney Four whose shows were as much about menace as music nail it here.

And they captured the working class fascination of the Mods in Quadrophenia in their odyssey to Brighton.

But it’s this anthem against The Man and its clarion call: ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.’

Lady Donna

Summer time: Donna Summer

She Works Hard For The Money – Donna Summer: Now you might not associate the Queen of Disco with a societal message.

But the New Yorker penned this after seeing a toilet attendant asleep on her shift at a post-Grammy event in West Hollywood.

And a reminder too for all that while music is replete with messages of working men, working women have had it just as bad and worse.