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

Carole King… you’re Beautiful

There are some mornings I wake up without a smile on my face to show the world all the love in my heart.

Today though is not one of them.

Today, I have the widest smile on my face.

Because today I am going to see Beautiful The Carole King Musical.

She’s Beautiful (as is my wife).

Carole King and her breakthrough 1971 solo album Tapestry has been something of a soundtrack to my adult life.

Since I first heard it in a record store as an 18-year-old and asked them to play it again…

You’ve got a friend

Before buying it there and then before going on to wear out the needle.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow? summed up my feeble attempts at wooing… of course, they didn’t even love me that night,

Then it was You’ve Got a Friend when She came along,

So Far Away was when she was pregnant with the Son and Heir in Aberdeen.

And trying to sell the house and me starting a new job in Liverpool.

Close-up? Selfie time

And since then Home Again as we have taken an Oydyssean journey around these islands.

It is the beauty of this timeless album that I won’t be the only one for whom it tells a personal story.

Of course, it’s Carole King’s story that Beautiful tells.

It is a story that begins with her selling her first song while still at school.

Through the ups and downs of her marriage to songwriting partner Gerry Goffin.

To her grand redemptive performance at Carnegie Hall in her native New York.

Hands on decks: Some ambient music at the Radisson Blu

Along the way we thrill to the Sound of the Sixties which she and Goffin and their friends Cynthia Wiel and Barry Mann shaped.

With such classics as On The Roof, Locamotion, One Fine Day, Pleasant Valley Sunday and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, On Broadway and a bunch of others.

At the end of a fast-paced joyful paean to Carole who has inspired generations of singer-songwriters and still performs to this day, she had performed Tapestry in full with her daughter Louise.

I feel the earth move

Up the road at Hyde Park in the summer, I’m up dancing and clapping wildly to I Feel The Earth Move.

While I’m here at the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End to pay homage to Carole King there’s time enough for some other kings.

And some queens and princes too at the Tower of London.

Pasta master: Fill yourself up

William the Conqueror built it nearly 1,000 years ago to fortify the capital of his new kingdom, King Henry VIII had two wives beheaded here.

Near to where I’m standing by the Bloody Tower where King Richard III had his two nephews suffocated in their sleep,

Another queen, Lady Jane Grey, was also executed here…

She spent only five days as monarc.

Before she had to make way fro Queen Mary, or Bloody Mary if you will who then made way for Queen Elizabeth.

Beefeater anyone?

It’s another Queen Elizabeth we’re chiefly here to see, the current queen, Britain’s longest serving monarch at 64 years and counting.

Or more accurately we’re here to see her bling, the Crown Jewels.

Talking of counting, try counting the number of gems in her crown.

On your walk around or the number of salt bowls or how many drinks you could get out of that punch bowl.

All of which can make you quite thirsty.

Fat as a king

I feast like a king at my palace for the weekend, the Radisson Blu Edwardian in Mercer Street, Seven Dials, near Covent Garden.

Our breakfasts are king-sized.

Instead of choosing buffet or continental they do both while evening meal is a Peruvian/Italian tapas fusion.

It works and the DJ with his decks and his ambient music add to the vibe.

A watery grave: Olde London

Fat as a king, I need to work off the half a dozen meat, fish and pasta tasting dishes and rich Peruvian chocolate dessert which means a stroll around the city of Westminster.

It is a ten-minute walk from Seven Dials across Waterloo Bridge and along the South Bank.

I try to ignore the garish and overpriced Dungeon and Shrek tourist traps and opt instead two read William Wordsworth’s thoughts inscribed on the walkway.

What a Wordsworth!

The great Romantic poet loved London and waxed lyrical about the Thames gentled gliding by.

I despair then at what today’s town planners are doing to this great old city.

With their London Eyesore and Gherkin (and who builds something in the shape of the bit of the burger nobody wants?)

The West End: And that boy Potter

I avert my eyes and, of course, am drawn instead to the Mother of all Parliaments. I cross Westminster Bridge and think on Wordsworth’s Upon Westminster Bridge.

And I consider knocking on Downing Street to give Theresa May a piece of my mind.

But Big Ben’s chimes tell me it’s too late, baby, it’s too late. I have an urgent appointment with another wordsmith.

What a picture: Herself

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly to Gatwick airport with Ryanair… http://www.ryanair.com

WHO TO GO WITH

We had two nights on a SuperBreak https://www.wowcher.co.uk/travel/hotels/uk-hotels/ package in 2016 and took in the Beautiful: The Carole King Story at the Aldwych Theatre in the West End of London.

Don’t despair though there are one or two other offerings still running!!!

Visit https://www.nederlander.co.uk/aldwych-theatre

Save, save, save

Save 30% on theatre tickets with a hotel and ticket package from SuperBreak. http://www.superbreak.com. Also visit www.radissonblu-edwardian.com/MercerStreet‎.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in November 2016.

And don’t you know I only got to see the next best thing to Carole, Jessie Mueller, who sang three songs from the musical only centimetres from the American Travel Fair in Washington DC… https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/obama-washington-dc/.

While for more Tales from the Thames… The London life

America, Countries, Culture, Food, Food & Wine

Old New York: Hamilton

There is much more that’s old about New York than new.

It’s just that we don’t always see it.

Walk through Broadway as I did en route to my Kimpton Hotel in Little Brazil, or 130 W 46th Street and you can’t fail to notice the giant billboard for Hamilton.

It is, of course the hip-hop musical that has taken the world by storm and it is playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

It’s the hottest ticket in town and you’d almost need to be the President or Vice-President to get one.

Where dreams are made of: Manhattan

Veep Mike Pence did, and such is the status that the actors in Hamiton have that they felt empowered enough to lecture him on his politics.

His big pal, the Greatest Living New Yorker, wasn’t impressed and dissed their stand on Twitter demanding – hilariously – that they apologise.

Shame there’s no evidence he’s ever seen the production because The Alexander and The Donald have much in common.

Messing about on the river: On the Hudson

Both are big business, both half-Scottish and both ladies’ men, both egotists and both bestrode their age.

And yet just before the musical reconnected Americans with Hamilton, appartchiks were planning to have him replaced on the $10 bill.

It would have been a particular kind of humiliation for the man who saved the nascent Union from bankruptcy and set up the financial system.

The one that has served The Donald and countless others so well.

The city that Alexander built

And yet other than on Broadway and on the $10 bill where in New York will you find ‘The Greatest Ever New Yorker’?

The best place to start is Central Park.

Another Central Park celeb

You’ll see a steady flow of tourists stopping by to pay tribute to John Lennon who only actually lived here for a few years.

He was always going to go back to England anyway and wouldn’t have been any good in a war.

He’d be lying back in bed talking about, well ‘giving peace a chance.’

Where would the New Yorkers and the Americans have been with someone like him?

My relatives came by here

Hamilton, by contrast, fought bravely in the defence of New York.

And represented them proudly in government, both here when New York was the nation’s capital from 1875-1878.

And in Philadelphia and Washington DC.

Where is Hamiton, though?

He’d appreciate a visit.

His statue is in Central Park, on East Drive, opposite 83rd Street, on the way to Harlem.

And seeing as you’re in the neighbourhood and it’s a Saturday then why not sign up for Jimmy Napoli’s Outside In Hamilton tour http://www.hamiltonsnewyork.com in Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights.

But not on this ship: A submarine on the Hudson

And find out more about this larger-than-life character.

Visit the actual Morris-Juliet Mansion that Washington chose as his HQ at the Battle of Harlem Heights.

And where Hamilton was by his side.

Hamilton history

It was later the home of one-time Vice-President and our hero’s nemesis Aaron Burr.

And it was from here that Washington and Hamilton looked down the peninsula to Manhattan burning in the distance.

Some bigger buildings would block their view today.

Jimmy’s hour-long, one mile walking tour will take you to other important landmarks in The Great Man’s life, including the restored Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

The McNultys, my mum’s people (Irish and American).

If there’s anything he’s missed out – and there won’t be – you can always catch up at Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on 226 W 46th Street.

My VIP pal

Again you’d probably need to be pals with the President or Veep to get a ticket.

Good job I am.

The Commander-in-Chief has a pitch on Times Square, near the Naked Cowboy, but more appropriately near Hamilton.

And it’s a beautiful pitch… a beautiful pitch.

Travel facts

How to get there: New York is served by airlines from airline.
And you can get pre-clearance from Ireland. And by bus and trains if you are in the US. I took a Peter Pan bus from DC. It takes nearly five hours.

Where to stay: Kimpton Muse has an executive room, one king bed, two adults from the equivalent of €307.66 for the sample dates of Friday, August 4, to Saturday, August 5. See http://www.kimptonhotels.com. Also visit http://www.nycvb.com.

I’ll revisit New York, mine and my Irish family’s entry like so many others, to America in this blog.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in 2017.

It is part of a series America’s Capitals that also includes Washington DC http://Easy DC and https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/philadelphia-freedom/

Adventure, Countries, Europe, Food, Food & Wine

SPORTUGAL

It’s the footwork, dahling… turn your toes in. And keep the hands open, and dahling, trust your partner.

I half expect to see Craig Revel Horwood sitting opposite, giving out and holding up a 2.

Thankfully I’m not being judged on my dancing but my tennis by my mixed doubles partner Judy Murray.

Yes, that Judy Murray, tennis supercoach, mum-of-two Wimbledon champions, and just as importantly in our house a Strictly Come Dancing legend.

Europe’s new four ball: John and Jim

Judy has had half an eye on Ashley, Faye, Lauren, Stacey, Joe, Charles, et al this series.

Only half an eye though as her main focus has been making tennis players out of the flotsam collection of wannabe racquet tyros I’m assembled here with.

In the new Campus sporting development in Quinta Do Lago in the Algarve.

Judy is running a series of tennis coaching lessons for young and old, good and bad, studious and messers, which, er, would be me.

That cow’s still got his name on it

In my defence her starter hooter was too inviting not to play keepie-uppie with.

Judy, though, as well as being very good at sport is a very good sport and even allowed me to waltz her around at the end.

Another very good sport and one that you won’t have heard so much about is padel which is more popular in the Iberian Peninsula than tennis.

Former rugby international Max Evans who with soccer great John Terry took to the game on a trip to the Algarve, describes it as the baby that tennis and squash would beget.

And wash it down with some Portuguese vino

Played to the same scoring system as tennis, the big difference is in the non-string bats, the underhand serve, the fact that you can play off the side glass walls.

And, dare I say it, that it might just be better fun than tennis.

Judy’s work done, she gets a deserved breather. Me, I’m off to bother the gold pros.

For four days I will have a team of experts tasked with trying to make an athlete of me, just as they can for you too.

With a Paralympian legend: Me and Brian Rohan

The professional at the Paul McGinley Golf Academy shows off the latest golf technology, tracking machines, sensory guides et al.

It can turn the most ordinary club member into a Rory or a Tiger, or at least on the odd shot.

If you concentrate that is.

But there’s always one messer who gets distracted.

Water trap: Have a chip with your dinner

In this case drawn to Paul McGinley’s buggy from when he captained Europe to Ryder Cup success at Gleneagles.

There’s a good reason why the big boys and girls in our party get to play The South Course, one of three Championship courses here at Quinta do Lago, while yours truly is kept to the driving range.

I do get to drive me a buggy, though not Paul’s Ryder Cup cart, which sensibly is kept where it is.

And I get to see the course, safely for me and the golfers, or at least that’s the plan before the boy racer in me kicks in.

My boat comes in

And I cut up the buggy in front and almost drive into the lake that skirts one of the greens.

I dare say I would have come up with my pockets bursting with stray golf balls.

Maybe I’ll fare better on two wheels.

Quinta do Lago means Farm by the Lake and Quinta is at great pains to keep human athletic exertions and the natural world in perfect harmony.

Or a dip after your lunch

The Ria Formosa reserve which runs parallel to the course, is more geared to Shiny Ibises and Spoonbill birdies.

And yes, get off your bike, get your binos out and you really will see these fascinating birds scoop up their prey with spoonlike beaks.

I’d like to say I planned my disembarkation but the truth is I took one sandy corner too many and too sharply in my obsession to lead the party.

Eyebrows may have been raised as to my suitability to go back with the sensible ones on the roads, but hunger called.

The new mixed doubles

That hunger was sated as it invariably is in these parts by the harvest of the seas.

The world literally is your piscine pleasure in Portugal and no fish is safe, so I felt not a pang of guilt in devouring Dory’s pals, the lobster, prawns, clams, seabass both here at the island restaurant Casa do Lago at the Campus.

And more of that later.

For golfers, there is a green in the water for diners to shoot at but it was wisely out of bounds for us on the day. 

If the Scotland manager is watching

The appeal of The Campus is its infrastructure and expertise.

Why else would it attract Premier League side Burnley, Champions League winners Olympique Marseille and Rio Ferdinand who runs a soccer camp.

While Irish Paralympian, road race great Brian Rohan runs The Bike Shed, which is so much more than just that.

Ask him kindly and he might even let you hold one of his Olympic gold medals.

And I’ve got my goal celebration sorted

Of course when it comes to sport we’re all of us experts, and so my last night was spent at a sports bar where I watched THREE soccer games simultaneously on the big screens (and who said men couldn’t multi-task?).

I’d like to say all the games were thrillers but I was in my element all the same.

I was tackling (cleanly) a chicken casserole for two, to soak up the beer you understand, while exchanging sporting trivia with my Portuguese hosts.

I was less good at the Halloween pub quiz I have to admit but always back myself against any Dancing Dad when the house band appears. 

Get the yoga in

There’s always a price to pay of course for revelry and that is invariably a sore head the next morning.

Yes, the art deco style Magnolia where we are staying specialises in fixing that too…

The Mag burger, beef, bacon, cheese and lettuce burger and fries, with a special peppery sauce the secret of which the Chef, naturally wasn’t sharing, and a pineapple, OJ, coconut and SPINACH smoothie.

Are you watching Craig Revel Horwood?

I felt invincible again and was ready to show off to my new No. 1 fan with my moves, a dive into the pool (yes, strictly against the hotel  rules).

But nobody was watching apart from Judy Murray that is.

Keeeep practising!

IMPORTANT WEBSITES: The Campus, Quinta do Lago https://www.quintadolago.com/en/sports-wellness/the-campus/ with costs for the night at the Magnolia Hotel at €105, and Ryanair http://www.ryanair.com with prices from €39.99.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in January 2019.

Adventure, Africa, Countries, Culture, Food, Food & Wine

Los Lounges Story… and other word games

Don’t worry about me, I’m enjoying the Los Lounges life… in my boardies, pulling my surf stunt, with my Beach Boys music on, and a Strawberry Daiquiri waiting for me.

They are memories and pictures that I can pull up to transfer myself to a favourite place.

And just one of the distractions to being holed up indefinitely.

Surf’s up: In Surf City, Huntington Beach http://www.surcityusa.com

Which has at times happened on my travels.

West is best… West Hollywood

Obviously when I’ve been struck down like the time when I got food poisoning on my LA break https://www.discoverlosangeles.com and www.visitcalifornia.com and www.ticketsdirect.com and had to stay in bed for a day.

Peerless: Kimpton La Peer Hotel, West Hollywood

With diversions to the toilet.

Still if you are forced to remain in barracks then I’d recommend the Kimpton La Peer Hotel https://www.lapeerhotel.com/?utm_source=Google%20My%20Business&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=GMB&utm_term=lapeer. In West Hollywood https://www.weho.org.

While, yes. I missed that day’s itinerary which had involved a trip to the Warner Bros Studios and their sets https://www.wbstudiotour.com.

Budge up Sheldon

And the chance to sit in Sheldon’s spot but I did get to do just that when Hollywood My Weekend With Marilyn came to Anaheim for the American Travel Fair, IPW.

And to check out Disneyland’s https://disneyland.disney.go.com/destinations/disney-california-adventure/hollywood-land/ newest residents Stair Wars.

Formidable Four: With Mark, Issy ad Rachel in South Africa http://www.southafrica.net

It won’t surprise you that today’s conversation has gone off on a tangent… a bit like Alan, one of our coach drivers snd guides in the Eastern Cape in South Africa… http://mobi.alantours.co.za.

Alan’s magical mystery tour

Of course with five wordsmiths in the coach we were never short of a word game or two to while away the time we spent lost in the South African national park…

And enjoyed the delights of South Africa What’s new pussycat?. And Day in the life of a township

Those arrows should point upwards: In Tenerife https://www.visitingtenerife.com

While in Tenerife A walk through the ages… Tenerife we ratcheted it up after stumbling upon a Franco-themed pub in Afur.

Franco and the dictator grocery game

At the end of a particularly challenging climb on our CanariaWays.com trip…. www.CanariaWays.com.

And started a game of ‘supermarket dictator’ after I’d suggested somebody ask the owner of the Franco pun is he had any Tito crisps.

By hook or by crook: In Tenerife

The best of our offerings came from our friend and host Maria with… Lennoncello.

So let me know your suggestions for our parlour game of destinations around the house.

My Finnish pal Paula from our trip to Orlando Why I love The Donald and https://www.disneyworld.co.uk got us going on this one… with Los Lounges.

I weighed in with Ayia Crapper..

Now it’s over to you. Tell me your favourites.

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

Hungry and Thursday – the off-sales

It’s what I use my one walk a day for… to go to the offie,

No. that’s not a misprint… I’ve been isolating from the office for nigh on a year since branching out on my own.

You may know it in your country as the liquor store or the wine store.

I was relieved then to hear that the offie ranks along the chemist and the supermarket as one of the stores that can stay open during the Coronavirus crisis.

Ned in Glasgow and NZ

Now we each do things a little bit differently and, at its rawest, the Glasgow offie is a cultural touchpoint in itself.

Now unsurprisingly I never saw a bottle of this New Zealand Cabernet Sauvignon, The Ned, in my offie when I was growing up.

It has gooseberry tastings don’t you know.

The drink du jour of The Glasgow Ned (the Non-Educated Delinquent) was, and still is, I dare say, Buckfast tonic wine.

Buckie is best drunk from out of the bottle and wrapped in brown paper while sitting on a park bench.

Not perhaps what the monks in the West Country of England had invented it for I should imagine.

The sight of a Ned. or Dublin gurrier, or whatever you call them in your country, swigging booze on a park bench might not be what you’d want to see…

When you’re pushing a pram.

Boston, full of beans

And I was reminded of how the good folk of Boston deal with that dilemma when I was watching the movie Ted 2 the other night.

Mark Wahlberg was drinking his can, which was wrapped in brown paper, with his Teddy bear on Boston Common.

And it took me back to the English guy who had attached himself to our group, Nick, on our post-University summer in Boston.

And didn’t know about the rule about drinking in public and the need to cover it in wrapping which he had some trouble in explaining to the cops.

‘OK to throw tea into the harbour and blame it on the Indians but God help you if you drink a can of beer without the brown paper covering it!’ Officer.

That Boston summer remains a glowing memory and Beantown came back on the radar yesterday when I was invited out for August, COVID-19 allowing.

With a tour of Fenway Park included and the chance to sit on the Boston Red Sox Green Wall. See https://www.boston.gov/visiting-boston and https://www.discovernewengland.org.

South African township

Of course while I say that every country’s off-sales is different my eyes were opened by the familiar grill bars at the South African shebeen.

In the Port Elizabeth New Brighton township in South Africa where we stopped off for a braai Day in the life of a township and https://www.southafrica.net/uk/en/.

And a braai is a barbecue and a shebeen what started out as an illegal Irish drinking den.

More high-brow perhaps is the Tenerife wine shop https://www.visitingtenerife.com on our walking trip with CanariaWays www.CanariaWays.com where we ordered Shakespeare wine…. A walk through the ages… Tenerife

Is that a Malmsey I see before me?

That’s the court wine Malmsey, or Malvasia, which the Bard references in his plays and is still sold there.

Me, I’ve finished off my Ned wine and have resorted to draining the schnapps miniatures in my globe drinks trolley.

From the schnapps shop in Ehrwald in Austria https://www.tyrol.com.

So whether it’s Prost, Failte, Salute, Na zdravi or just Cheers I’m looking you right in the eye and toasting our holiday providers… #DontCancelPostpone.

America, Asia, Caribbean, Countries, Europe, Flying, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

In defence of… air travel

If you’re reading, Greta Thunberg and the Flygstam (or flying shame) brigade…

I can’t tell you how many air miles I racked up last year.

I was away more than a dozen times with everywhere from Tobago www.visittobago.gov.tt and Ready, steady GOAT… racing in Tobago

Through the Oo Es of Eh www.visitusa.ie and https://www.visitusa.org.uk and living the California life www.visitcalifornia.com My Weekend With Marilyn and Stair Wars.

Down to South Africa www.visitsouthafrica.com What’s new pussycat? and up to Jordan www.visitjordan.com The water of life, Petra, and the sands of time.

I only mention them over the other equally fabulous and welcoming destinations who hosted me because they were at the extremities of my Travel footprint.

Do I feel guilty, or should you? Well, yes. How could we not the way Greta goes on?

Of course there’s a multitude of evidence out there on the world wide web to back up Greta.

And like everything on the net you can find anything to support your view.

But I wax taken by the research done by https://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/how-bad-is-air-travel-for-the-environment-51166834/ on the subject.

And their contention that air travel was better for the environment than car travel.

They estimate that the world’s drivers go through 1 billion gallons of fuel a day against 750 million gallons for air passengers.

Of course the fact that one form of transport is less harmful than another is not a strong enough argument.

Against that I would propose the positive effects of air travel… in expanding our minds, our frontiers and our appreciation of other peoples.

While fielding the accusations of the Flygskam brigade that the world is only in lockdown because of selfish air travellers who carried it across the globe…

In big monstrous metal birds.

Just imagine though a world in which our possibilities were restricted by a lack of air travel, or if you will, the past.

A world where we only learned about other peoples through the books and information we are given.

Now I’m not suggesting Boris Johnson or Donald Trump are feeding such a narrative but here is a cautionary tale of what could happen when we close ourselves off from others…

Legend has it that the people of Hartlepool in the north-east of England hanged a monkey who they mistook for a French spy during the Napoleonic Wars.

I have always believed that we are at our best as humans when we are being progressive rather than regressive.

While obviously being respectful of the world around us and those with whom we share it.

And being aware of our limitations with many a salutary tale out there from time immemorial of when to pull back.

Such as the tale of Icarus who flew too close to the sun only for the wax on his wings to melt.

This, and many more moral fables of how we should live with the natural environment around us, are all around you in Greece.., https://athensattica.com and My Greek odyssey.

But like Odysseus I have gone off on a tangent.

I will deal with the other forms of transport in the next parts of my ‘In Defence of’ series which will include cars,.

And no car hater me… how could I be? I should by rights be driving through the Florida Keys right now.

But to leave you on an up… the South Africans have discovered a balancing solution to carbon emissions under their feet.,, This plant can save the world.

And our shared history has shown too that our medicinal cures too can be found in the natural world.

So here’s to when we can all travel again.

And a shoutout to all our friends in the aviation industry who are our dreamcatchers… #DontPanicPostpone.#loveairtravel.

Countries, Cruising, Europe, Food, Food & Wine

Messi around on the water

Only one man walks on water in Barcelona.

He’s everywhere – in every shop window, on the backs of every family of tourists or parading his skills before 100,000 worshippers at the Cathedral of Sport, the Camp Nou.

Only on the day I visited the Spanish city, he’s not.

The ubiquitous Lionel Messi is back in his native South America on International duty playing for Argentina rather than curling in free-kicks for his adopted Barca.

Barcelona has a vacancy for a sporting hero then…

And I’m thinking if I nail it I might just get my name on the back of the football top that big fluffy bear is wearing.

He’s sitting in a sports car on the shopping area of a cruise ship in port at the foot of La Rambla.

Such are the trappings of fame… and I want some of it.

And I have the chance.

To walk on water on Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas’ surf simulator FlowRider.

And I only have the best in the business to get me up to speed, Irish surfing superstar Gearoid McDaid.

We’re lucky to have Gearoid here, his feet rarely touch the ground.

Gearoid is not ling back from a couple of months surfing in Chile, was in Indonesia before that and is on his way to Portugal.

Gearoid is not what I expect though, no man bun, goatee beard, tattoo sleeve… just a regular Sligo boy.

Although he is pals with Kian Egan.

Thankfully there is one Fiftysomething who keeps up appearances with his bandana and windswept beard.

But boy can he surf… Gearoid, that is!

The simulator is on the 15th deck of the €1.4bn Oasis of the Seas cruise ship which is on its way to Majorca, France and then Italy…

With 6,300 passengers. enjoying five pools and numerous bats, restaurants and shows… and a park, ‘Central Park’ (you’ll forget you’re at sea).

But alas without us who’ll have to get off kicking and screaming before sail time, if they can find us hiding away down in the staff quarters.

The idea of the simulator which is 40ft long, is that a rush of water shoots out to build up the swell.

Which you then surf against.

It’s all in the knees, back and arms – and the trick is to sway and not panic.

Too late, the board went that way and the bandana and everything under it the other way.

It’s official. I don’t walk on water (but my family could tell you that). Maybe I’ll have better luck on my knees.

Eureka or ‘goooooal’ as Lionel Messi might shout.

I manage to master those waves in the prayer position on a boogie board with more than a little help from Mauritian teacher Kai.

Suddenly I feel indestructible. And here I was worried that I’d be caught with my shorts down.

And quite literally I almost was at half-mast.

I hadn’t pulled the cord tightly enough before the surfing class and the waves carried me away.

To be avoided – particularly if you’ve booked up for my next challenge, the 82ft Zip Line.

Nobody nine decks below on the Boardwalk wants to have Stars and Stripes boardie trunks land on them, believe me.

When they’re out shopping having an early-afternoon drink or are on their way to lunch.

Thankfully I can’t do much damage in the Spanish restaurant, other than embarrass myself and my party by getting my maracas out (steady!)

Well, once in we weighed into the plates and plates of tapas and a big jug of sangria (when in Spain).

Fuelled with patatas and shrimp al ajillo we swagger off the ship, only taking time to pass by an eight-year-old boy twisting and turning on the other simulator..

And onto the famous La Rambla shopping and market thoroughfare.

Christopher Columbus is still there where I remember him from the last time I visited Barcelona 15 years ago.

And drew back the curtains of my balcony cabin.

He is proudly guarding the city and pointing out to sea.

To be fair, the arm is right, though I’d maybe bend the elbow and those legs are way too straight.

Sorry, Chris, but you’d be no use on a surfboard either.

TRAVEL FACTS

The deal: Sail the Western Mediterranean for seven nights on Oasis of the Seas from €1049pp based on two sharing, departing Barcelona. Visit Palma, Marseille, Florence/Pisa, Rome (Civitavecchia), Napless and arrive back at Barcelona. www.royalcaribbean.ie. Flights not included.

How to get there: Aer Lingus www.aerlingus.com and Ryanair www.ryanair.com.

Where to stay in Barcelona: Hotel Concordia www.hotelconcordiabarcelona.com is a central hub and has a rooftop pool that will tempt you to linger. Pride was on when we visited and the neighbourhood was jumping. €135 per room per night.

Caribbean, Countries, Cruising, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine

In defence of… cruises

The world is a book. And those who do not travel read only one page – ST AUGUSTINE

And I don’t remember the page where it says pandemics were God’s message to us to stop travelling.

In defence of Travel

So while we are confined to barracks let me get some things off my chest and address why Travel is essential to our very existence in my Defence of Travel.

Despite what the naysayers, who are dancing a jig because some dolphins have been seen in the Grand Canal in Venice, are saying.

You’d think cruise ships were parking at the Rialto Bridge than far off.

While I know one or two who would only be too happy to discuss cruise ships too… and you’d want to keep your social distance for your own safety.

We’re all of us seafarers

Of course those of us who are Travel professionals, and those for whom it’s their life investment, are in the frontline when it comes to this release of schadenfraude.

Cruises: There is a fanatical, almost religious zeal which drives those who want to remove cruise ships from the face of the earth.

Who mock cruiseheads as ‘overfed, newly-wed and almost dead’ and guess what cruise chiefs have a sense of humour snd cams up with that themselves.

It’s not a sin to have fun

While they moved on from that years ago and we now have cruises for every age and every niche…

While also providing the best food, drinks, entertainment, activities, shows and stop-offs.

And for whom the sight of cruise companies docked in port and suspending operations because of Coronavirus was seen as vindication.

Dolphins in Venice

And which reached fever pitch with the return of those dolphins to the Venice lagoon, seen by many as divine retribution for the ‘sins’ of cruising.

I never have felt stained by taking the decision to cruise, and nor should you.

Because don’t we celebrate the journeys of Odysseus My Greek odyssey, Sinbad, Marco Polo, Drake, Magellan, Columbus Messi around on the water, Francis Chichester, Ellen MacArthur.

And we should never forget today’s sailors…

Let’s hear it for the crew

The crew’s untiring work, their distress at the loss of passengers, the 24/7 work done back at base to compensate customers and the loss too of their livelihoods.

And that people are at heart seafarers… after all didn’t we all come from the sea anyway, haven’t we been harvesting it since the day dot?

And for all those divine retributionists I guess they would have been screaming for Health & Safety to burst down the doors of Noah’s Ark.

To arrest the oul’ fella and release the animals two by two.

#DontCancelPostpone

So #DontCancelPostpone, and support our cruise companies.

Be rest assured that I’ll be hopping on board to promote cruise companies when we get back on board with…

MSC https://www.msccruises.co.uk and https://www.msccruises.ie, Celebrity Cruises https://www.celebritycruises.co.uk and https://www.royalcaribbean.com/gbr/en. http://www.princess.com

All of whom I’ve sailed with… The call of the fjords, I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out To Here and A Royal Party.

While I’ll also flag up those I haven’t sailed with, but you have, and I will.

I love a dolphin too

And now to show you that I love a dolphin as much as the next man, or woman, I’ll talk to you tomorrow about how we can tackle Flygskam, or ‘flying shame’.

I hope you’re reading, Greta Thunbetg.

MEET YOU ON THE SEAS

Adventure, America, Caribbean, Food, Food & Wine

Fort Lauderdale and Miami – a tale of two sittings

Early morning deep midwinter and the rest of the rest of the world is huddling under the duvet.

The rest of the world can go whistle! I’m up with the larks.

Because of the jetlag, yes, but also because rate are the chances to see winter in Technicolour.

It’s 32C outside, the sunny Miss America weathergirl on the box cheerfully tells us and the light streaming in through the curtains is beckoning me outside.

Fort Lauderdale in December

5.45am. Time to hit the Fort Lauderdale beach I fall out of bed and onto the Strip. It’s that close.

Nothing is open, obviously, well the 24/7 store, but you’ll not find one of those on Fort Lauderdale’s showpiece front.

What you will find is a stretch of untrodden glistening sand and sea and barely a soul to break the peace.

Out there on the horizon, cruise ships are bound for the Bahamas and the Caribbean (Fort Lauderdale is a cruise hub), and down the road in Miami the party people are just tuning in.

Here in Fort Lauderdale though they are more retiring.

Everyone’s fit

Fort Lauderdale does, it’s true, attract its fair share of senior citizens who choose the Sunshine State for their autumn years.

But it is also a magnet for American families also here to escape the northern chill… snowbirds.

Meanwhile, off the Strip and you’ll find condos and holiday homes, all with swimming pools and community programmes.

The Stars and Stripes flutter in what little wind there is.

George HW Bush has passed on when I visit and flags are at half-mast.

Florida has been kind to the Bushes. It was here that the 2000 Presidential election swung in George W’s favour and here that his brother Jeb was Governor.

Reflections of Miami

Every news bulletin and morning conversation references ‘this man of honour’.

To gauge how Floridians feel about the Bushes, weather, sport, the traffic and any other topic under the sun the best place is the diner.

And the best is the Primanti Brothers Pizza & Grill, just off the Strip.

Bluff it and ask for over easy eggs or sunny side up, spitball with the server who refills your coffee mug…

And let the night owl on the next stool tell you his life story.

This is the America you’ve seen in every road movie.

Only for the wall of heat outside, and the palm trees.

Breakfast in Fort Lauderdale… it must be lunch in Miami then.

Haven for seniors

Which means Little Havana.

The thing is though that our concept of size is rather different to the Americans.

While navigating all those double-digit street names scramble your brain in the December heat.

And so what looks like a brisk walk is in fact never tackled by any American on foot, other than perhaps Forrest Gump.

The Marriott on Biscayne Boulevard to Little Havana, I’m told is 7km though I’m sure I walked just that to get to Downtown.

All this, of course, after giving up on ever getting to South Beach.

Miami architecture

I guess the huge causeway between us and the Beautiful People should have been a clue.

The answer is a hop-on, hop-off bus, believe me!

The thing though about being an accidental tourist is that you stumble upon hidden treasures.

Take, for example, Caja Caliente on 2634 NE 2nd Avenue… see what I mean about the numbers.

I’d rather presumed that this was Little Havana although it looked an awful lot littler than I had imagined… just a stall and a yard and a couple of bars.

Floridians, though, and most Americans I’ve met on my travels, even in the big cities, are very polite to visitors.

And are devoid of our sarky gene.

The signora was very welcoming, the tacos were fabulous, there were all kinds of chilli sauces.

Golden skies

And sombreros and ponchos scattered around, guitars on tables and a makeshift sand pit.

And a Cuban flag.

A holiday and a city isn’t always what you expect. Make of that what you will.

The Caja Caliente is my Little Havana though.

Now. It’s yours too. Heck, I don’t mind sharing.

Areeba, Areeba, Areeba!

And Herself gets in in the act

TRAVEL FACTS

How to get there: Multiple airlines fly Dublin-Miami return. Aer Lingus flies to Miami from €227.99 each way as part of a return trip.

Where to stay: I stayed in W Fort Lauderdale (www.marriott.com). The Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay (www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/miabb-miami-marriott-biscayne-bay)

Where to eat: Primanti Brothers, Fort Lauderdake Caja Caliente.

Adventure, America, Countries, Culture, Food, Food & Wine

My Weekend With Marilyn

Goodbye Norma Jean!

So, this is where Marilyn finally found her rest from the lascivious attentions of the manipulative men who hounded her to her death.

Unsignposted and in an unassuming square at the back of a Los Angeles office block lies the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery.

But who’s this lying next to her?

Norma Jean

Only Playboy owner Hugh Hefner who bought the drawer next door for $75,000… he was surely the last man she would have wanted to spend eternity with.

Marilyn and Hefner had history.

It was Hefner who bought the nude pictures that she had posed for in her sallow youth before she became famous for just $500 and put them on his first cover of Playboy.

She never got a dime.

Stars align

Marilyn doesn’t deserve this company.

She should be shining brightest in a galaxy of stars.

And on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, she is.

The actress is one of 2,600 famous characters, human, animal, animated, immortalised on a mile and a half of sidewalk along 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street.

Her hands and feet are outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with the imprints of a century of Hollywood celebrities. 

Hers are worn out from the millions who have wanted to touch a bit of her.

If you feel her presence on the stairs of the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are held then her spirit is playing tricks on you as her only appearance was at the nearby Pantages Theatre.

Still we all pose for a diva’s shot in homage to her anyway.

Marilyn seems to be everywhere I turn. I see her looking down, smiling from out of a window on Venice Beach.

And I’m wearing Bandanas by Murty

Brightly dressed and warm as the sun. We lift our heads from our catch of the day in Larry’s diner off the boardwalk, in my case the lightest calamari, and smile back.

Jim Morrison is all swagger on the other wall. 

Today’s Venice Beach though has its own characters, a rasta artist on rollerblades playing guitar, an old man who wheels his grand piano up the strand to tinkle the ivories.

And a random Latino Conor McGregor who is punching and kicking the hell out of a punchbag in the square.

In Southern California, or SoCal, it is all about the image, the Body Beautiful.

My kicks on Route 66: The end in Venice Beach

And this is where Californian body builders come to work out, at the outdoors Muscle Beach Gym, once the home of Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘The Hulk’ Lou Ferrigno.

There’s always a show on, even if it is only the tourists posing by a muscleman mannequin on the boardwalk. Guilty!

Up the road in Santa Monica the busy pier gives little clue that this is the beach used for Baywatch.

All these nuggets and more are at the fingertips of our driver Chris from Starline Tours provided by our hosts Attraction Tickets Direct.

Muscle man

He tells us of a loose association with David Hasselhoff and a girl who was the Hoff’s Proms date.

I would be more impressed if Chris had dated Sandy… well, we do pass Rydell High.

And he shows us too the site of the party hotel, the Garden of Allah where Joni Mitchell hung out, and ‘they paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.’

You’ll find today’s Hollywood celebrities hanging out in West Hollywood, so where better to bunk down?

Aye, aye Cap’n

The La Peer Hotel, just a couple of blocks down from Beverly Hills, its cop shop and Rodeo Drive, is a Kimpton.

It is a boutique hotel which is much more than that as befits West Hollywood, with its heated outdoors swimming pool as an extension of the bar.

The hotel’s restaurant Viale dei Romani serves up the best Italian food if you want to stay inhouse.

And I’d also recommend the Wood Grilled Octopus and its garden of warm potato salad, oil cured olives, preserved lemon and saffron aioli.

Hollywood party

But there are no shortage of great restaurants too to sample in West Hollywood where best of all you can also indulge in the favourite pastime of celeb-spotting.

And so we also visited Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump’s eponymous lounge and restaurant PUMP.

Where Lady Gaga made the news a few years back after falling outside on the sidewalk.

Lisa is there the night we dine on truffle mushroom chicken (well, you would, wouldn’t you?)

Now where’s that cop? Beverly Hills

Though no sign of Gaga. Perhaps the gay icon will be back the following week for Pride.

West Hollywood is already putting out the bunting for Pride when up to 200,000 will take to the streets.

Although, in truth, it is always in a state of readiness with its rainbow zebra crossings.

I’d recommend a night in one of the many friendly gay clubs, I even managed to walk, rather than fall out of.

Old LA

Although a bulky cop, or I think he was, reminded me that I couldn’t drink on the sidewalk.

If you want to get closer to the stars, get onto the right tours and get on the sets of the TV shows and movies we watch.

Our hosts Attraction Tickets Direct will help with pre-booking which will save precious time and money.

They will take you to Warner Studios where you can sit in the very same couch used in Central Perk in Friends or visit the Ellen set.

A day in Universal Studios Hollywood will immerse you in movie history and the future now.

We take a coach tour through the sets of Pyscho, Jaws, a Mexican town and through a tunnel where a scene from Fast and Furious is simulated all around us. Great fun.

Psycho anyone?

Great fun too the Kung Fu Panda: The Emperor’s Quest cinema show with vibrating seats and water mist effects,.

While fans of rollercoaster rides will love The Simpsons and Harry Potter rollercoasters.

I prefer to sit back and watch others take the heat although I didn’t expect to see a stuntswomam set on fire in the Special Effects show.

All your favourite animated and sci-fi characters are here and all in great form, all happy to pose up.

No, he hasn’t a Scooby either

Shrek, Scooby-Doo, the Transformers, a dinosaur, no, not me, but a ‘real’ T-Rex which is trailing Jurassic World – The Ride.

We all have our favourites but it is the Boy Wizard who will always cast a spell on me.

Muggles, myself included, are besides themselves at the prospect of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure storycoaster in the sister resort in Orlando.

Universal Hollywood’s Potter experience feels smaller than its Orlando world but it is still intimate and enchanting.

And its Dark Arts light show is a thundering good jape with a cascade of creepy crawlies climbing up to attack a crumbling Hogwarts Castle in the dead of night.

Magical: The Potter show

Only for the forces of good to prevail, all against a heart-pounding musical score and moral message.

And that it seems is Hollywood and the LA story in a nutshell, an aspirational, illusory dream sequence.

Where you can stand in the Hollywood Hills, and you can hike up to the Griffith Observatory and view the iconic letters.

Or take a waitering job and hope to serve a Steven Spielberg.

Or get your star on the Walk of Fame.

A couple of proper Charlies

It’s a rollercoaster journey all right and you can’t pick who you’re next too but I did spot four stars unfilled…

And I reckon I’d be a more than deserving candidate for one of them.

I’ve been an angel

HOW TO GET THERE

Jim flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin Airport with pre-clearance to LAX.

WHERE TO STAY

La Peer Hotel is quintessentially West Hollywood with bright, funky finishings, spacious and comfortable bedrooms and fine and filling food. As well as a heated swimming pool and fitness centre. Doubles from approximately €315 per night. Visit www.lapeerhotel.com.

She vants to be alone

ACTIVITIES

Deluxe Grand City Tour with Starline from €73pp.

Hollywood Hills guided hike – departing from the Greek Theatre. It’s a 2.5 hour gentle hike, offering mountain and city views and photo opportunities of the Hollywood sign. The tour ends at the Griffith Park Observatory (admission included). From €46pp.

Starlight Dinner Cruise from Marina Del Rey’s. From €107pp (not including drinks).

Universal Studios Hollywood – one-day admission ticket from €96pp/Express Pass from €167pp/VIP Experience from €305pp.

Visit www.attractionticketsdirect.ie or call free on (01) 6498558.