Asia, Countries, Food & Wine

Cocktail Millionaire Hour

We’d been seduced by a rooftop viewing over Cannes but I baulked at a $16.50 Aperol Spritz… before I learned this week about Cocktail Millionaire Hour.

They must have heard about me at Pay Day Loans because why else send me news of a $22,600 cocktail, Diamonds Are Forever?

And so if you’ve got that down the back of a sofa then get yourself over to Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo.

What a sparkler

Glitzy: The Ritz-Carlton

We’re told the DAR in the skyscraper hotel is a Grey Goose vodka and a twist of lime…

And a $16,000 diamond on the side of the glass, and helpfully they advise not to swallow the diamond.

Not wanting to stymie any future chances of a stay at the Ritz-Carlton but that’s one expensive voddie and lime at $6,600.

Vegas mixers

Oh yes: The Ono

Now you pay for the celeb watching in Vegas too.

Although thankfully I had the good services of my hosts the Las Vegas Convention Board to thank for introducing me.

The Ghostbar in the Palms Casino is where you’d find everyone from Matt Damon to Paris Hilton.

But you always had to take your passport to The Ghostbar, Palms Casino to get in… they’d want verification that it’s really you.

Or you can check in at the XS Nightclub, Encore for a $10,000 Ono.

Which is a Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie 1981 and Louis XIII de Remy Martin Black Pearl cognac.

Plus the drink comes with a pair of men’s silver cufflinks and a woman’s 18k white-gold chain.

Playboy of the Cocktail World

Let’s shake on it: The Playboy

Now us playboys need a drink that best reflects our lifestyles.

And the $9,000 Salvatore’s Legacy at the Playboy Club in Mayfair, London, does just that.

It is made from a 1778 Clos de Griffier Vieux Cognac, 1770 Kummel Liqueur, Dubb Orange Curacao circa 1860 and two dashes of Angostura Bitters circa 1900s.

We don’t know what the tip is here but at 10% that’s $700 so be prepared when you hit the Big Smoke.

And the others

What every woman wants: The fast set

We’ve just extended our knowledge of Connecticut following our trip to Dublin for the VisitUSA Thanksgiving get-together.

And they were keen to flag up their rich casino tradition.

Usually if you’re gambling you’ll be offered a comp drink, but not alas a Sapphire Martini at the Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Now Hemingway sure loved his cocktails and the Bar Hemingway in Paris channels the Great Man.

Through its $1,670 Sidecars.

And one we made earlier: With my Cocktail Girl

When I go high set in Belfast I head for the Grand Central Hotel and the highest bar in Ireland, the Observatory.

Alternatively the Merchant Hotel will keep you in maraschino cherries.

They do an Original Mai Thai at $1,270.

While as coral and atoll islands have been in the news with COP26 et al we’ll finish off in the Maldives.

It’s a favourite place and I’m glad to see some Irish friends who had yet to have sampled its charms are over there now.

At $312 for a Hennessy Cognac it’s to be sipped and swirled around the mouth.

Yes, you’ll feel like a high-roller In Cocktail Millionaire Hour.

 

 

 

Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Ho Ho Holyland

Bah Humbug to all those who whinge about Christmas decorations being out… in Israel it’s Ho Ho Holyland already.

Now, we won’t get too hung up on the wherefores.

Just to say that Jerusalem Santa Issa Anis Kassissieh, the official Ambassador of the Holy Land Santa, has been filming in Israel’s Golan Heights.

And, of course, with Israel being a little warmer than Lapland JS has parked the sleigh for a kayak.

Jolly Golan Christmas

Sticking his oar in: Santy

Santa’s journey began at sunrise, on a kayak on the River Jordan, a waterway I know well from my G Adventures trip.

Adaptable JS carries his Christmas tree and presents.

And he then strolls through the citrus and almond orchards typical of the Golan landscapes.

Sporty Santy

Froome, Froome: Getting on his bike with Chris Froome

Sporty Santy then gets on his bike to cycle with British four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome.

And his fellow team members of the Israel Start-up Nation professional cycling team who are currently touring Israel.

Santa’s little helpers: Israel style

JS ended the day at the Kursi National Park, site of the Miracle of the Swine.

And there as the sun set overlooking the Sea of Galilee, he spread love, peace and joy to the children of the Golan Heights.

JS will be back too later in the year when for those who don’t know The Promised Land will be unaware there will be snow on the ground.

Israel deal

Santa Pause: Where to go next

El Al, as we all know, has its route now out of Dublin, with a sample four-day return trip In January from €625.

And out of the UK from London from £287.

So, it’s Ho Ho Holyland and Go, Go, Holyland.

Countries, Deals, Europe, Food & Wine

Winter from Amsterdam

It’s at this time of year that I sing again Winter from Amsterdam.

Spring will come in due course and the clocks and nature will burst forward.

But as florid as the first season of the year is in the Netherlands’ biggest city why would you wish these last months of the calendar away?

November is a month special to us as it’s birthday season.

And as The Scary One plans where to take me, back at the start it was Amsterdam.

A ferry long time ago

Ferry cross the North Sea: To Amsterdam

When we took the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland

It’s an option we are all being prompted to consider to help the environment.

And a cabin and a soppy film (Ghost, yes that long ago) made it an unforgettable date night.

We’ve been back since in the searing heat of late summer, and I’ll never complain about the sun.

But there is something special about the winter when the canals in Amsterdam freeze up.

It’s a prospect which was presented to us that last time at the Dylan Hotel when we stepped out into the balmy Dutch air on the Keizersgracht.

What a picture

Arch of triumph: The Dylan

The old photographs of Amsterdammers skating on the canals mark the city out as special and to be seen.

And special too the Dylan, home to George and Amal when they’re in the Netherlands, and Annie Lennox, and us

The Light of Amsterdam

Reflections… on Amsterdam

Amsterdam Light Festival is an annual event during the winter holidays.

Dutch and international artists transform the city every year into a light spectacle.

The Light Festival starts at the end of November and runs until mid-January.

Two beautiful ice-skating rinks are set up every Christmas season in Leidseplein and Museumplein.

The first is surrounded by Christmas market stalls, and the second is by the Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk museum.

Swansterdam

RAI Theatre in Amsterdam will host the biggest Swan Lake Ballet between December 23rd and 27th.

The innovation of this spectacle is that instead of 16 swans, the performance expands to 48 swans.

Christmas Markets

In the frame: As part of Rembrandt’s art

Amsterdam is full of Christmas Markets during this time of the year.

Markets are not only spread across the city but also in nearby places like Haarlem and Leiden.

And why not be part of Rembrandtplein, and Leidseplein?

Food for thought

Flavours of the world: And Amsterdam is all about fusion

And Amsterdam is, of course, more than just cheese, crepes and tulips (yes, they eat them too).

The holidays cannot be experienced without trying Dutch delicacies.

Dutch hapjes (snacks) ) to try would be olieballen and appelbeignets; both traditional Dutch sweets deep fried (and I am a Glaswegian)!

They are part of the Christmas menu for the local people and easily found at this time of the year.

Wine and dine

Putting her on a podium: With my Flower Girl

Top off the festive period with High Wine at The Dylan,

It features a selection of four different wines from the cellar and four amuse-style bites selected by the Executive Chef Dennis Kuipers.

And to stay at the Dylan it’s €425 a night including breakfast excluding tax.

So, it might not be Spring again but let’s sing again Winter in Amsterdam.

 

Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, UK

Herr of the dog

Ja, it’s the Herr of the dog.. an Oktoberfest followed by a Pilsener piss-up.

Welcome to my boozie world.

Oktober in Edinburgh I’d forgotten in my 13 years in Ireland turns itself over to resemble the famous Munich Beerfest.

Or at least the party in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle does. 

And that’s where I was with my neighbour (in our Bavarian pigtails of course) clinking steins, dancing on the wooden benches to the oompah band.

And echoing the invitation from the bandstand which all of you who have been to Munich for the Beerfest will know.

Prost

Ja dancer: Beerfests

Die Kruge Hoch

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit

All of which means ‘Raise your glasses, a toast to wellbeing’.

Followed, of course, by Oans, zwoa, drei, gsuffa! or one, two, three, drink.

The best Beerfest of course is the original in Germany and I was there for the 175th in 1985 and again in 1986 with a Topdeck busload of Aussies and Kiwis.

Fun and games: And drinking

And I have left it all this time because I think they might still remember me, the Scot who got up on the bandstand and sang ‘My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean’.

The Beerfest is probably Munich’s greatest export and alas was cancelled this year.

We’ll be back with pigtails on and slap the thighs even louder next year.

Czech this out too

In the Strahov Monastery Brewery in the Czech Republic

And so heavy of head but bright in spirits (that’ll be the schnapps) I Czeched in with my old pals from the Czech Republic.

For a catch-up on how they’re progressing.

And the good news is that they’ve got the red carpet out for us again.

Now I know this from old from clinking glasses and crying Na Zdravi in Prague and Hoptown Zatec.

And all spots in between.

This time around we were treated to the delights of Pilsen too.

Now the Pilsner brewery is one of the top ten most visited tourist attractions in the country and no surprise.

Let’s workshop it

Look at the head on that: Zatec, Czech Republuc

The good folk of Pilsen advise the Pilsner Urquell Draft Beer Workshop, where you can master the correct principles of beer tapping, taught by experienced barmen, during this three-hour course.

The Brewery even offers you the chance to rent a place for yourself in a traditional “šalanda” (a room where beer workers once ate and rested)

And with the kind and wise soundings of our tapman showing us how to do it I glugged my favourite Czech beer down.

It had all started at the Edinburgh Oktoberfest so it was a Herr of the Dog with a Pilsner chaser.

I really am the first among Urquells!

 

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, Countries, Culture, Food & Wine

Ethiopian Enkutatash an d another year younger

Doesn’t it roll around quickly? Ah yes, Ethiopian Enkutatash and another year younger.

I’m fortunate to have the woman I title Ethiopia’s First Lady, Meseret Tekalign Bekele, Ethiopian Airlines‘ Sales and Service Manager (Middle East And Asia) around to remind me.

Out of Africa: Meseret and a well-dressed Bandanaman doppelganger

I broke bread, ate authentic Ethiopian food (with my hands) and drank wine with the elegant Meseret on more than one occasion in Dublin when she served there.

Enkutatash is, of course, the best New Year of them all.

Because it’s on the Gregorian Calendar you end up gaining back seven years.

Farewell 2013

Safety first: For Ethiopians

Ethiopians will be glad to see the back of their 2013.

And the hostilities that have gripped the country, and the pandemic which grips us all.

And they truly deserve the respite that Enkutatash gives them.

The festivities mark the end of the three-month rainy season.

And on the eve of the celebrations each household lights wooden torches in groups called ‘chibo’ to signify the coming of the new season of sunshine.

And so say all of us.

A land steeped in history

Let’s dance: How the locals do it

Ethiopia is a country steeped in history.

Wth our touchpoints for our Western Civilisation, Lucy, the first woman, the Queen of Sheba, Emperor Haile Selassie and Olympic great Haile Gebrselassie.

While for this aspiring Eighties schoolboy long-distance athlete Miruts Yifter, or Yifter the Shifter, was an idol.

Enkutatash celebrations usually begin with church activities.

One more cup of coffee

Get your hands in: And scoop up a feast of food

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an integral part of the celebration.

And the ritual of coffee serving and drinking can last for hours.

It is a social occasion which if you’re lucky enough to be invited to is a great honour.

And one which I’ve savoured.. and the coffee is well worth the wait.

There is a lesson here that we all need to slow down and allow things to take their sweet, natural time.

Which is why I’m waiting for when I can reconnect with my Ethiopian friends.

And finally visit the East African country and cradle of civilisation.

Melkam Adisi.

 

Countries, Cruising, Europe, Food & Wine

Vin, biere et Le Supermarche

Vin, biere et Le Supermarche. For many the first port of call, or the very reason to visit France.

Back as a cub reporter the big newspaper promotion was cheap car ferry deals to fill your boots with booze.

But the Francophiles for a day, of course, missed the point… you need to stay and enjoy the country for a while.

Irish Ferries to France

Irish Ferries is bringing back its wine mini-breaks.

Across Le Manche to France, with a special wine-tasting in Cherbourg from €99pp each way pps.

And a detour here on our journey, as is our wont, down La Voie de Mémoiire.

Back as a schoolboy on my first trip abroad with my pals and my palette hadn’t evolved enough to appreciate the grape.

Which meant I had to seek out bier from Le Supermarche to drink by our tent and on the beach.

Only all the lesser-known, cheaper brands are en francais.

And so what I thought were 24 bottles of bier ended up being shandy. Un faute d’élève.

Of course I couldn’t admit it to my wine-drinking pals.

Stop that train

Ra boys: Chris, Mackie, an early Bandanaman and Adam

Another challenge presented itself when we were heading for the train back from Saint Raphael.

And while the boys had stocked up on vino… moi? I had to find some take-away beer.

It being Gaul and not Glasgow there were no off-licences and Le Supermarche was on the other side of town.

Which meant me only getting back to the train to see it pulling away and Mackie, Adam and Chris at the window, glasses of red in hand.

How did I get back? That’s another l’histoire.

Norman request

Stormin’ Norman: Normandy

You wouldn’t want to have to find your own way back to Ireland… nor should you.

When you’re chasing down vin, biere et Le Supermarche.

Particularly as Irish Ferries will give you two nights in Normandy at €99pps each way.

And a special wine-tasting ceremony in Cherbourg in conjunction with Wine Beer Supermarket.

Sailing dates available are September 9, 16, 23, 30.

Poetry in motion

Just a prompt: Get the drinks in

You’ll be sailing on the swanky WB Yeats (or WB Yachts) as I like to call it.

Where you don’t have to rush around town or chase down trains.

There’s vin, biere et Le Supermarche. 

 

 

Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Food & Wine

Blue blue Curacao

And as The Scary One likes to remind me she has sailed the world, and drunk in Blue blue Curacao in the Caribbean.

In a lyrical sense, she was only seven.

We’ve made up for that since when I’ve turned cocktail waiter for my Saturday night Jocktails.

Drink it in

They’ve got the moves: Curacao

And Blue blue Curacao is my entry point for the Caribbean island.

Through a Mai Tai, a Blue Lagoon or a Blue Hawaian.

All of which will be on order at your pool bar at my first entry point to the Caribbean – Sandals.

Open-toe Sandals

All-inclusive: The Royal Curacao

The all new Sandals Royal Curacao is offering a 45% saving on all room categories for travel from April 12.

You want to get out around the island.

Well, you can pedal around on a Dutch bike (without the Amsterdam canalside shouts of BIKE).

Curacao is one of the Dutch Leeward Islands.

Dutch of class

Blue blue Curacao

If bikes are too much energy in the 84 degrees heat then Sandals will give you your own comp Mini Cooper.

For those staying. In the Kurason Island Suites and Awa Seaside Bungalows.

Every Caribbean island is unique.

Caribbean cheer

Ri-Ri and Me-Me: In Barbados

Whether it’s Rihanna’s Barbados and its Crop Over carnival.

Or Robinson Crusoe’s island Tobago and its goat racing.

And Curacao in the Dutch Antilles is no exception.

Capital Wilemstad is known for its colonial pastel-coloured architecture.

While where else would you get a floating bridge, the Queen Emma bridge?

Or a sand-floored synagogue, the 17th Century Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue?

Oh Coral

Blue is the colour: Curacao

Of course the Caribbean has some of the best coral anywhere so for those of you who can hold your breath under water…

You’ll get a warm welcome all across the Caribbean.

But only in Curacao will you get a Bon Bini at the airport which is Papiamento, the islanders’ language.

Welcome, welcome, welcome

Nightlife: Curacao

Which is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, African and Arawak Indian.

No polyglot me but I expect Mai Tai will get me by.

And a Blue blue Curacao speaks for itself.

 

 

America, Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Who is beerier than Prague?

Whisper it around the Czech capital but they’ve relinquished their boozy crown. So who is beerier than Prague?

In a word Asheville. Ashe-where?

Asheville is a city in western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

And it’s renowned for its arts scene.

Carolina on my mind

Asheville: In the Blue Ridge Mountains

Well they know already that they have more breweries per capita than any city in the US… that’s roughly 100 local beers.

But now they can add the prestiguous title of Best City in the World for Beer Drinkers as compiled by money.co.uk.

The researchers mark the cities on breweries per 10,000 people, bars, pubs and clubs per 10,000 and average price per pint in sterling.

Asheville scores 2.80, 7.86 and £3.58 from which I can only draw the conclusion… get me out there!

Czech out the beer

In the Strahov Monastery Brewery in the Czech Republic

Particularly as second and fourth on the list are beer cities I know well, Prague and Fort Collins, Colorado.

While the third beeriest is one The Son and Heir knows well, Krakow, Poland.

Where it was more ale than hail when he was a youth leader for World Youth Day.

While in Prague the most exercised you’ll get is walking back up from Wenceslas Square to The Castle.

But get this… £1.34 a pint.

Wade in with Colorado beer

Beertown Fort Collins

In Fort Collins you’ll be required to do some white water rafting although you’ll get the reward of a local brew at Paddler’s Pub.

And in FC that’s £2.87 a pint although you’d probably double that with the American tip.

It wouldn’t be a beery list, of course, without Dublin, and the Fair City comes in eighth.

Pure Genius: Guinness Storehouse

The Guinness Storehouse is on every tourist’s list in Dublin’s capital.

Although some local knowledge here and pick your way through tourist trap Temple Bar.

Where you can pay nearly double the £4.70 money.com relays.

Islands of beer

Auld Boozie: In Auld Reekie, Edinburgh

It seems we’re well off too in my local city Edinburgh too although the doors are only a few weeks reopened.

Auld Reekie comes in 16th and will glory in coming in well ahead of London, back in 39th of 40.

Beer bucket list

Blowing a trumpet for Denver

So, who is beerier than Prague? Well, maybe the question should be let’s set a beer bucket list.

And tick off all 40.

Amsterdam, Boston, Denver, Philadelphia, Rome (all again) and a number of others.

We’re only here for the beer.

Countries, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

A wee Irish breakfast?

It’s the question every Irish guest house landlady or hotel waitress will ask you… a wee Irish breakfast?

Of course no Full Irish breakfast is ever anything like wee.

So to celebrate the reopening of Irish guest houses and breakfasts this week on top of hotels last week a celebration of The Wee Irish.

And a Sunday confession from where they do it best… Northern Ireland.

Tis Grand

The Grand Central menu

The Grand Central Hotel Belfast puts on one of the best breakfasts you’ll find anywhere on the island. Or anywhere anywhere.

Alas the Observatory Bar with the best views of Belfast does the best cocktails too.

The wine flows like water at the Europa Hotel.

Where if you’re lucky you can take in a cabaret dinner watching Van Morrison and his jazz pal Joey DeFrancesco at the Europa Hotel.

While the combination of two Scotsmen abroad finishing off with an orange stout nightcap in the iconic Crown Bar…

Full Irish

Soda bread: With Irish fairy dust

And so when the Full Irish arrived the next morning my eyes quickly sent a message to my belly.

And I could touch neither pork sausages, crispy bacon, scrambled or poached sausages or black pudding and mushrooms.

All of which nearly saved me for my reunion with The Son and Heir at his digs and a walk around town and through the Botanical Gardens.

Now while the Grand Central offers up an Irish Breakfast for inclusivity, a couple of words more here on The Ulster Fry.

The Ulster Fry

One night in Belfast: With Tom

The Hairy Bikers point us in the right direction.

And for those who want to know how an Ulster Fry might deviate from a Full English, well…

Potato farls anyone? Well they’re a delicious potato and flour flat fried savoury cake.

Soda bread? And there was always this slice of Ireland on our breakfast table in our Scots-Irish house growing up.

It’s pretty much as it says on the packet, if the packet is in the shape of a wee Ulster mammy, of which my Dear Wee Mum is one.

The Nine Counties

Belfast boys: With the Son and Heir in Belfast

The secret ingredient is, of course, magic Ulster fairy dust.

More too here on Ulster and I’m not being political here but the province is bigger than the country Northern Ireland.

So that’s the six counties of the North, Armagh, Antrim, Down, Derry, Fermanagh and Tyrone.

And the three from the South, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, with my Mum’s county Donegal in the South but further North.

Irish logic

Well, that’s Irish logic for you.

Only to mention this because I did manage to get my Ulster Fries of my Donegal youth.

And when on best behaviour with the Scary One elsewhere in the Northern Irish capital, and in Monaghan.

So a wee Irish breakfast anyone?

Well, yes, but watch out for the wee night out the night before and the invitation for a wee drink?