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

Jimuary, Ginuary, Veganuary, Japanuary

And whatever you’re having yourself… January is after all what we make it.

Jimuary in Scotland

Jim O’ Shanter

And for me and all of us of a Scottish disposition then January is Robert Burns’ Month.

Burns is Scotland’s National Poet and January 25 is his birthday… he would be 252 this year.

Wherever they are in the world Scots put on kilts and start eulogising little mice and the like… ‘wee sleekit timrous beastie, oh what a panic’s in thy breastie.’

It’s all the whisky we drink you see!

Alloway Bridge

Burns’ Village is a magical place with Burns’ Cottage, Alloway Kirk and Brig o’ Doon.

Where you can let your imagination run wild.

Three Scots mice

January is also the month when Dr Martin Luther King’s birthday is commemorated.. he was born on January 15 but Martin Luther King Day is actually January 18..

I was fortunate enough to attend the 50th commemoration of his assassination and followed the MLK Trail from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi.

Ginuary in Ireland

G&T O’Clock

And you could do worse than Co. Monaghan, the border county where a ginoisseur will guide you through each gin and tonic.

The Scary One turned her nose up at the juniper when presented with a tray of samples only to then dig in and minesweep them all.

Veganuary

And if it’s good enough for Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Barry White (and he had a healthy appetite, and for food).

Veganuary has really taken off in recent years and I’ve visited the oul’ plant-based food before on this site.

But seeing that the calendar has come around again and that you’ll be performing a public service by not visiting the shops.

Here’s to all those things in your flower beds which also includes the majestic tulip.

And Japanuary

Thanks here to our friends in The Land of the Rising Sun for always keeping it fun and funky.

So Japanuary?

Well, we’re all being encouraged to get on our bikes and in Japan you can do worse than following the Tanesashi Coastline and bike hire is just £10 per day.

They advise stopping off at fish restaurants and temples while ensuring that through the cycling your body remains a temple.

If that’s too sedentary for you then why not canyon through the Sarugajo Gorge.

Talking of temples you shouldn’t go to Japan and not visit a Zen Buddhist temple.

Oh, and in the year when the Olympics are coming to Tokyo then they’re challenging us all to get our adrenaline vibe on.

And ski a volcanic crater in Niseko.

America, Countries, Cruising, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland, UK

New Year’s Holiday Snaps – Happy New Aer

And because America is at a turning point don’t we all want to get on board.

Especially when on board is with our friends at Aer Lingus who early last year had me all booked up for the Florida Keys when…!

Ireland’s national airline carrier has a January €148 sale for this summer to North America which is Toronto.

Waving the flag for DC and Aer Lingus

While my old favourites Boston, New York and Washington is pitched at €164.

And you know the deal it’s each way as part of a return trip.

Cruise into ’21

Yea, they’ve got forks too!

Or a Happy Blue Year, the kind of blue you only find on the sea

Or the blue of Greece. So let’s put them together.

Royal Caribbean have on the Eastern Mediterranean sailings we’ve zeroed in on in 2021.

Oh, how I would have loved to have spent the last year on a wee Greek island.

My pals at Royal Caribbean only have a range of Eastern Med packages as we plan to cruise again in 2021.

An old relic and the Acropolis

A six-night Greece and Croatia cruise, leaving from Venice (Ravenna) on Rhapsody of the Seas from €569pp taking in Split, Olympia and Athens.

And you know what I always say… there’s no party like a Royal party.

United in tribute to The Doc

Me and ‘Baby Doc’ Peter

And it might be apt that former Scotland manager Tommy Docherty, an old friend of the Murtys, should die on Hogmanay.

The Doc’s son Peter was one of my earliest pals in Glasgow before his Dad took the family off to Manchester.

Of course being a football man and someone who joked that he’d had more clubs than Jack Nicklaus there’s no single destination to point you too.

But perhaps Manchester United is the club he’s most associated with.

So let’s point you in the direction of a football match day package.

If you’re an Irish United fan, and there are many, you’ll no doubt know about Celtic Horizons and Abbey Travel.

And the important thing is that we will all be together again soon in a football ground.

America, Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland, UK

Holiday Snaps – Repose en paix Pierre Cardin

French Riviera: The invitation to Pierre Cardin’s Bubble house must have got lost in the post.

Seeing it from the outside would have to suffice.

But seeing it from a speed boat on the French Riviera is a pretty good vantage point.

The Palais Bullas,, or Bubbles Palace, was put back on the market a few years ago – well, fashion god Pierre was well into his 90s by then.

For £300m the specs for the 12,000sqm complex, the haunt of many a celeb, included.

Ten space-aged rooms, three swimming pools, a 500-seater amphitheatre and lush gardens.

Chic: On the French Riviera

Now Cannes is not cheap but Mimoza’s in neighbouring Mandelieiu-La-Napouke is within your budget.

And it has A golf course nearby, Continental Europe’s first, The Old Course, which Pierre’s gaffe doesn’t.

Still, repose en paix, Pierre.

Our thoughts with Croatia

Check out Croatia

Croatia: And our prayers go out to our friends in Zagreb and Croatia where they are recovering from the effects of a second earthquake in two days.

I am always drawn to a city which boasts a daily ritual…

View of Washington from Arlington

I’m thinking a Changing of the Guard, in Arlington the Beefeaters in London or the One O’Clock Gun in Edinburgh.

And Zagreb has a cannon which fires out paper.

My old friends Croatia Tours are the people to go with from Ireland.

From the UK…? I’m open to offers.

And a Happy New Air

Ryanair, flyin’ air

Flying: And we will be which is what Ireland’s national airline carrier Aer Lingus and Ryanair

Low-fare Ryanair are offering sizzling summer deals from €19.99.

And they’ve dropped their flight change fees for all new bookings made for travel before January 31.

And I’m noticing my faves Amsterdam, Hamburg and Lourdes in among the €19.99 tranche.

Lady Liberty is calling

Just because the shops are closed won’t stop us checking out the January Sales… and Aer Lingus.

They’ve got 30% off flights and checked bags to Europe, and Barcelona catches the eye.

While they’re all over North America with €149 sale deals which means I can swop Zoom for my cousins’ front rooms in New York and Washington DC

Africa, Caribbean, Countries, Cruising, Europe, Flying, Ireland

Christmas cards on the table

Joyeux Noel, Feliz Navidad, Buon Natale and a Happy Christmas to you all.

And merci, gracias, grazie and thanks a lot to all my friends who have sent me Christmas cards this year.

I’ll even let you off cancelling your Christmas parties and not sending me a Christmas hamper this year.

So here are a few of the Christmas cards I’d like to show off to you…

Christmas in my Sandals

Open-toed: In Barbados

And yes that’s just how they roll at Sandals and in the Caribbean.

Where what they lack in chimneys and fireplaces they make up for in mango trees.

And Santa can soothe his feet in a Sandals swim-up pool.

My old friends in Ireland

Top point: Harvey’s Point

And while my Dear Old Mum will be spending her Christmas in a Glasgow care home, a nod to her homestead of Donegal.

Donegal, in the north-west of Ireland has all the warmth of the peaty sod and will be wonderful this Christmas.

So here’s to all Donegallers everywhere and thanks to the award-winning Harvey’s Point.

Scandi Claus

When I was thinking of going to Sweden this year my first port of call was my old Irish pal and Scandiphile Alan.

Happy Christmas… in Swedish

And a God Jul to you too and destination specialists Hadler DMC.

I got a tantalising view of Sweden on my MSC Cruises trip from Kiel, Germany through Denmark and up to Norway.

Cruises WILL be back in the New Year and of course that means river cruises too as well as the big seabreakers. Anyone for MS Arena?

Another year younger

And how long they look: Ethiopian Airlimrs

I’ve told you once or a hundred times about the lifegiving qualities of Enkutatash, Ethiopia’s New Year.

Because they live by the old calendar.

Back in the day an invite came through for Women’s Day from Ethiopian Airlines and a trip to celebrate womenhood in Ethiopia.

From where Lucy, the first women we have bones for derives.

I offered to drag up. But in the end I sent a colleague.

Bohemian wrapsody

Prague rocks

Of course we know who looked out on the Feast of Stephen.

Only the bustling Wenceslas Square will be empty this Christmas.

The Czechs are the most wonderfully resilient people, situated as they are between Europe’s great powers.

They will be back and so will we… Urquell in hand by the beautiful Vlatva River.

We wish Wu a Merry Christmas

Panda-monium

And isn’t it just like that? You get a card in and you panic that you haven’t sent them one.

So to Wendy Wu and the two Johns thank Wu for everything this year, particularly the legendary Chinese New Year lunch in January in Dublin.

And I know you’ll look after The Son and Heir when he heads to China next year.

And a Felice anno nuovo too

These Italians have style

And in the most fallow of fallow years I will always treasure my Autumn trip to Bergamo with Omio.

Miei amici have gone back into the strictest zone as they predicted when I visited but I’m sure it will all pay off.

And we’ll all be eating stracciatella gelato soon in Citta Alta.

Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Ireland

Feliz Navi(dancing)dad

Christmas parties this year are very different from what we’re used to… but Feliz Navi(dancing)dad all the same.

The Spanish Christmas party in Dublin is always the highlight of the festive season in Ireland.

But this year scenes like this are for our social media retros.

And like a good Christmas movie they fill us with warmth and love for old friends.

The Three Wise Women

Hat’s the way to do it: With the sainted Teresa, Travel doyen Eoghan Corrie and Travel Corporation’s Sharon Jordan

Teresa, Sara and Kathryn, from the Tourist Board, were always the Three Wise Women of any Dublin Yuletide when I lived there.

While they would send us back into the cold and wet Irish night, filled with Spanish festive food and drink.

The Reyes Magos

The tradition is that the Reyes Magos, the Three Wise Men, look after the bambinos.

And as you can see they were the back-up act for our Three Wise Women and always made sure we got a gift,

TUI for two

Stick your toe in: The TUI Suneo

Our friends at TUI also look after us, and they have these deals for us for the New Year.

In our beloved Canary Islands.

Seven nights self/catering, Dublin to Tenerife on February 2, staying at the 3* Suneo Tamaimo Tropical, Puerto De Santiago,

Harbouring dreams of Tenerife

From €459pps (Covid cover and free amendments included).

Or stay half/board seven nights at the 3*+ Hotel Catalonia Las Vegas, Puerto de la Cruz from €499pps and also with Covid cover.

And Lanzarote too

Child’s play: Lanzarote is ideal for families too

While Lanzarote on February 4 comes in at €409pps for seven nights self/catering at the 3*+ Cinco Plazas, Puerto del Carmen (Covid cover included).

It’s just what we all need for the New Year… I feel one of my oul’ walks coming along.

I’m a bit of a Portugeezer too

I’m beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Now there is a story behind this… when my old boss asked if I would get my beardie pimped up for a Christmas story.

And I had been invited to the Portugal Christmas lunch that day too,

Of course the greening of the beatdie and the red Santa hat meant I was showcasing the colours of the Portuguese flag.

Portugal has always held a special place in my heart since my first holiday there, a childhood one in 1973.

Centro beach: Portugal

That’s been followed by our first summer holiday together in the Algarve, the magical trip to Fatima and Portugal Centro nine months after that Christmas lunch.

And a sports trip two years ago when Jidy Murray taught me to play tennis… and dance!

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

Bergamo, mola mia – stay strong!

Visitors have not always been kind to Bergamo.

Most of us still place it as Milan-Bergamo after its airport (actually it’s Il Caravaggio Orio al Serio International Airport), and this year we saw it as the Covid-19 gateway to Europe.

The pandemic hit Lombardy hard and early; the world watching in horror as its grip fastened last February and March – a preview of things to come.

Stay strong

It was a surreal light to shine on Bergamo, a medieval city in the Alpine foothills.

Suddenly portrayed not as a bustling cultural and historical hub, but through rolling television coverage.

Of empty cobbled streets, eerie churches and boarded shutters.

Medieval Bergamo

A sweeping landscape

Bergamo boasts rich galleries with works by Titian, Botticelli and Canaletto.

We know its Champions League football team, Atalanta.

It celebrates composer Gaetano Donizetti in its annual international opera festival.

And it has architectural dedications to revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi.

The cobbled stones of the old city

Bergamo is known as the Citta dei Mille after 1,000 of its citizens marched on Rome and helped unify Italy in the 19th century.

This year, tourists vanished and a different type of visitor descended.

International news teams flocking to the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital, named for another famous son.

Snapshot of Bergamo in the pandemic

But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as many of those who travelled to report on distress, only to find success, have discovered.

As Christophe Sanchez, CEO of Visit Bergamo, said: “Because of the situation we have been through, Bergamo is now the safest town in Europe.”

Visitors it is true, have not always been kind to Bergamo.

But Bergamo is kind to its visitors, particularly those who stay a while.

Owed to Autumn

The Autumn poplar trees

Visiting this autumn, I found the streets, which were desolate in March when everyone was locked away behind their shutters, alive again six months later.

Citizens mingled, talking at breakneck speed behind their masks and, of course, con le mani (with their hands).

Ice cream heaven

They spoke, of course, of the second wave that has now come to pass, and the closure of restaurants, cafes, shops and museums. But also calcio e cibo… football and food.

And whatever it is that a gathering of young Bergamaschi always chat about in loud decibels outside your hotel bedroom window at midnight.

My visit gave me a glimpse into the everyday life of the Bergamaschi – not as victims, although there have been far too many of them, but survivors.

A picture of our times

The testing centre

An exhibition of photographs in the piazza captured the past year.

A masked priest administered Mass; doctors and nurses cared for the sick and dying, and a father cradled his new-born son.

But the Bergamaschi, queuing at the open-air testing centre, knew that the worst had passed and what they were now having to endure is temporary.

They had been here before and prevailed – with a little help from God.

Bergamo is split into old and new towns, Citta Alta (high town) and Citta Bassa (low town).

The best way to reach the walled and cobbled Citta Alta is by funicular.

It takes you into the centre of things, Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (market of the shoes), and to that staple of any old Italian town, an Irish pub, Tucans.

Take me to Church

Stories for the Masses

For the real beating heart of Bergamo, though, I went to Piazza del Duomo – which houses Bergamo Cathedral and the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore.

Here, the Bergamaschi congregation of old could follow redemptive tales of the parting of the Red Sea, David and Goliath and Noah and the Deluge on wooden engravings.

Forza Atalanta

Deliverance was as much a part of Medieval life as it had been in Biblical times.

And when Our Lady finally spared the Bergamaschi any more suffering from the Plague in the 12th century they built this basilica to her.

Of course, all of this speaks to us in 2020 louder than ever.

Good neighbours

They’ll make a statue of me

Matteo, my Visit Bergamo guide, recalled the only sounds back in March when the city was in quarantine – the sirens of ambulances and the whirring of helicopters.

He told me of a citizen stuck in his house with his Covid-hit ageing father, unable to get help.

When he saw a report of a man who had died in the nearby town of Brescia, leaving behind a half-tank of unused oxygen.

He made his way to Brescia, found the house, asked and was given the tank, although, alas, he could not save his father.

Everything in the garden is getting rosier again

Every Bergamasque has a story of loss and suffering but for Matteo, the best response is a return to the life they know and love.

For Italians that means their famous five-course meals.

Food for thought

And there are lots more courses to come

The centrepiece of which at the Trattoria Sant’Ambroeus in Citta Alta is their special ravioli, casoncelli dei sant ambroeus.

Stuffed pasta with sausage, breadcrumbs, parsley, eggs and garlic and cheese…

All washed down with the best Valcalepio rosso Riserva doc Tenuta Castello di Grumello del Monte.

I sauntered to the city walls and La Marianna for their signature milky scoop of ice cream heaven, stracciatella.

Plenty polenta

And, of course, for Lombardy that was only lunch. Dinner in the roof garden of the plush Excelsior San Marco Hotel in Citta Bassa brought five more courses.

In future, those bustling crowds will return.

But that night, the restaurant was an encouraging two-thirds occupancy with social distancing in place.

And even a puppy at the next table enjoyed himself and heeded the rules.

He was a Bergamasque, after all.

Trip notes

Putting the fun into funicular

I was a guest of Visit Bergamo, booking platform Omio and Ryanair. He stayed at the Hotel Excelsior San Marco 

Need to know

Bergamo currently sits in the yellow zone, the lowest of the three tiers Italy has been applying since early November.

This means restaurants and bars open till 6pm, shops are open, ski resorts / pools / gym / museums closed, people can move freely. The other zones are red (strictest) and orange (medium).

Travel into Bergamo

involves providing the results of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of arrival.

Or you can get an airport test on arrival and quarantine for 48 hours while waiting for the results.

Any travellers will currently need to self-isolate on return..

America, Countries, Culture, Deals, Ireland

Empire Skate of Mind

I got a pocketful of dreams, and memories, an Empire Skate of Mind ,… with Daddy’s Little Girl.

I wonder if Jay-Z and Alicia Keys could do anything with it.

The Rockefeller is an institution in the city that never sleeps with many a movie set here.

Me and Daddy’s Little Girl are in there somewhere

And I do think Tom and Meg, who had their lovey/-dovey scene here, should reprise Sleepless in Seattle with Sleepless in the Big Apple.

For all the movie gen you need get on the full tour.

The Rockefeller is where New York is at its most festive with the best fir in the city, and the Rockefeller Christmas Tree is where you’ll want to look for your present.

The tree dates back to 1931 when all the workers pooled their money to buy a 20fr tree while their families garlanded it.

And yes you would think someone as rich as Rockefeller would have put one up out of his own pocket!

The old tree in the Thirties

The joys of a Christmas New York City will be confined to all you New Yorkers this year.

In previous years it has been something of a tradition to go Christmas shopping in Manhattan… from Ireland.

And with optimism over the roll-out of a vaccine.

And our hard-working dream-makers (our travel companies) putting trips together for 2021, it’s time to plan.

The United Skates

American Holidays have a four-night trip to NY in November from €799pp.

Staying in the Doubletree Metropolitan by Hilton, based on two sharing.

Shop til you drop

And with return flights from Dublin to New York.

When all those mad shoppers will be back from Ireland and the island next to it.

And yes The Scary One has forewarned me!

GET YOUR SKATES ON

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

All our Christmases

And because you know exactly what I want you’ve only sent me a few of my favourite places…. and how they do Christmas.

We wish you a braai Christmas

South Africa: They do things differently in South Africa which you find out early when a local puts ice in your glass of white wine.

Being in the Southern Hemisphere where Christmas falls in the summer you might find yourself at a braai, Afrikans for barbecue.

Where there’s no shortage of meaty delights, there’s plenty of fruit on the side with watermelon a Christmas favourite.

As a Watermelini aperitif… just open the link and the magic will happen.

Which the Assistant Food & Beverage Manager Ashwin Rysn (and there must be some Irish in them with that name).

At the Saxon Hotel Villas and Spa outside Johannesburg, will serve you up.

Galicious Galicia

Galicia: And you’ll not be surprised to hear that you’ll get a fishie on your dishie at A Quinta da Auga

So that’ll be the Galician clams, sea urchins and red (si) cauliflower on Christmas Eve.

This being North-West Spain, which I know only too well from my Camino you’ll be lured in with very hot capons.

In this case it’s Galician nut-stuffed capon chicken on Christmas Day.

And prawn and saffron ‘pil pil’, oysters, blue lobster and Galician beef roll on New Year’s Eve.

Rounded off with the traditional 12 grapes at midnight.

Big Appletini… or Tequilini?

Lorra bottle

New York: And a hint here for the Son and Heir.

He bas taken over the mantle of Cocktail King and has a bottle of Tequila with the cap off in the kitchen.

This one, Tropic in Wonderland, comes to us courtesy of The Peninsula New York.  And

Peninsula New York recipes copy.

And if that has you salivating, try this recipe that they’ve given us…

A Salad of Charred Chicory, Butternut Squash, Fennel, Buttermilk Dressing and Everything Spiced Prawn.

And a decadent Roasted Whole L. I Duck Pastrami with Roasted Apple Gastrique.

See, I promised you apples.

America, Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Ireland, UK

Holiday Snaps – Bring on the Nashville New Year

We Scots like to claim New Year’s Eve as our own but, in truth, it’s freezing and can be samey too which is why I’ll be seeing out 2020 with a Nashville New Year

Better Tennessee than Tillicoutry I say which sounds like a Country song, which I’ll give to my old pal Keith Urban.

Nashville’s finest came to town pre-Covid, Dublin town and treated us all like Country royalty as part of Country To Country.

Country roads: In Dublin

And Keith, who headlined the Nashville New Year big bash, was front and centre of ours, putting a Grafton Street busker on stage.

And giving a random fan one of his guitars.

Nashville meets Dublin

The good old boys in Nashville are not letting this pesky bug stop the music in Music City, or us hearing it.

Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight New Year’s Eve in Nashville from 4.30pm-5pm on WTVF-NewsChannel 5.

Country boy Jimmy

And see what I’m doing there getting a second shot at the Bells because they’re earlier.

Local favourites Moon Taxi, described as ‘a little indy, a little proggy, a little poppy, will play for 40 minutes just before midnight.

Jazz, soul and R&B combo The Shindelles will play a 20-minute set earlier.

Music to the ears and so will the green light, when it comes, to get back out to Nashville, Music City.

A better Canaries New Year

Saltire In Tenerife

And we’re not letting the latest UK block on the Canaries (they’re back off the exempt list)) spoil our hopes that we will be able to get out there again soon.

And as usual our friends at TUI are ahead of the curve.

With seven nights from December 28 at the 3* Rocamar Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria, self-catering from €579pps (Covid cover included).

While Dublin to Lanzarote from December 31 at the 3* Cincos Plazas, Puerto del Carmen, self-catering from €409pps (Covid Car included.)

MEET YOU IN THE NEW YEAR

America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

Go! Monopoly around the world

We may never know why Vincent Van Gogh lost his ear, though here is a fine crime fiction on the subject, but who is to say it wasn’t after a row about Monopoly?

Our pals at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam are the latest to join the Monopoly club.

With the release of their own Vincent board game for Christmas.

Becoming one of hundreds of Monopolys around the world.

With at the latest count, the game being licensed in 103 countries and printed in more than 37 languages.

The Van Gogh version substitutes the Great Man’s art for the traditional streets.

Just painting

While among the pieces naturally is a paint tube though perhaps tastefully no ear.

Monopoly for most of us is as much part of Christmas as Santa, who often brought it fir our stockings, and Christmas turkey.

But it was also brought out when friends came over, or relatives, from home or abroad.

And this was when it got really exciting to see the names of their streets and public transport.

O’Monopoly

So when my Irish relatives got their Dublin board out it had such names as O’Connell Street, Shrewsbury Street in Ballsbridge where I got to stay, and the Busaras on it.

It was very much a point of honour that your country had its own Monopoly.

It was a sign that you were not under the English yolk.

Although when you did get down to London when you were older you didn’t feel such a tourist as you ambled along the Strand, Pall Mall and Fleet Street.

Big Appley

Most spectacular of all was the New York edition where you could say you owned Broadway.

All us poor Scots had to dream of was buying Mayfair, Park Lane or Old Kent Road.

Until the manufacturers stumbled on the rather obvious idea of giving us all what we wanted.

McNopoly

And so we got Edinburgh, and the Royal Mile, Princes Street, the two football stadiums, Easter Road and Tynecastle Park and the rugby ground, Murrayfield.

Now, of course there are now football clubs, film and TV franchises Monopoly merchandise.

D’Ohpoly

In fact you name it and Monopoly have probably adapted it to your needs.

And so I have in my attic a Royal Caribbean cruise game as well as a Simpsons game.

From my travels in Europe and in Orlando.

Of course Monopoly, while having a deeply suspicious Property speculation message in its origins back in 1935, has really become a vehicle for imagination.

And discovering about foreign destinations…

By plane, ship, car… or my personal favourite, a wee Scottie dog.