America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

China in your land

Happy Lunar New Year, a day when we celebrate China in your land.

And rabbit on about the Chinatowns we’ve known.

With our favourite roast duck with orange sauce and egg fried rice.

Other dishes are available.

The first Chinatowns

Magic lanterns: Chinese New Year

The first Chinatown was established by the Spanish in Binondo, Manila in the Philippines in 1594.

And as Chinese influence and the Chinese spread across the globe so too did those big gateways.

Bunny love: The Year of the Rabbit

The port city of Liverpool is known for many things, The Beatles, its football teams, the Grand National Aintree course…

And the oldest Chinatown in Europe dating back to the 1850s.

All courtesy of the silk, cotton and tea trade between the north-west English city and Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The Chinese thrived and became an integral and valued part of the city.

Particularly after Chinatown was bombed in World War II and the Liverpudlians opened up Newton Street for them.

Yen in the USA

New York, New York: And its Chinatown

Chinatowns have long been high up on the list of must-visits on city breaks.

And when a food and wine editor is set the challenge of taking a family of four out in Manhattan it’s Chinatown she heads for.

Chinatown’s distinctive arches are also a Godsend as landmarks for the new visitor to a city.

So that when you’re on the clock on a day trip in Philadelphia and you need to get back to Washington.

Then the Philly Gate from where your bus takes off is a welcome sight.

You don’t have to be a metropolis like a New York, San Francisco, Melbourne or London (and Soho sharing tables are a culinary must).

Small town Chinatown

Dress-up: Chinese New Year for kids

Because even the smallest towns can dine out on their Chinatowns.

With my neighbouring town in my 13 years in Ireland putting on its own Chinese New Years along its back street next to the rail track.

All of which earned Bray the nickname Brayjing by the quick-witted Wicklow wags.

So as we celebrate the Year of the Rabbit and China in your land hare’s to peace and prosperity in all your lives.

And to our go-to dream maker and travel provider Wendy Wu… happy Wu Year.

Wendy is only offering savings on up to £1,650pp in their New Year Sale!

Plus, you can enjoy savings on your 2023 or 2024 China holiday when you book by 31 January



Countries, Ireland

Clock out Dublin’s Clerys again

It was the iconic meeting place for first dates and young lovers so there‘s anticipation in the air that you can clock out Dublin’s Clerys again.

The 170-year-old department store in the heart of O’Connell Street was taken over in 2015.

With a refurb starting in 2019 which is at last nearing completion.

The old store and an adjoining building The Clerys Quarter is springing up.

As a retail, office, bar and restaurant complex and hotel.

We’re particularly looking forward to the Clerys Rooftop Restaurant.

Where you’ll get views of Dublin to match, maybe even the Guinness Storehouse’s Gravity Bar.

Ticking the right box

Curtain-raiser: The Clerys unveiling

Hence the symbolic reunveiling of the clock and an exhibition of the history of the store.

And for anybody for whom Dublin isn’t a new trip they’ll recognise the clock.

With its Roman numerals which have been restored with gold leaf.

While the mechanical system has also been modernised.

Making an exhibition 

Glittering: What it will look like

To mark the occasion there will be a free exhibition Clerys: The Archives.

And that will include documents, objects, and images to tell the story of the capital landmark.

There will be rescued artefacts dating back to 1847, images and tales throughout the years.

And personal stories from the documentary ‘Under the Clock’.

Streets ahead

Tea time: Rooftop eating and drinking

Clerys’ return to O’Connell Street removes an eyesore facade from the landscape.

And it breathes new life and a much-needed elegance into the capital’s thoroughfare.

Like many a main street around the world O’Connell Street has fallen prey.

To the tacky, tawdry and tasteless over the decades.

But this Clerys renovation will revive some of the street’s glitz in keeping with its statues down the spine of the street and we do love to put deserving people of pedestals.

The redevelopment has involved restoring the collonaded facade, internal staircases, columns and ceilings… and the clock.

Rare gold times

Streets ahead: The great Dublin street

We expect the Great and the Good who reside on O’Connell Street, the heroes of Irish history…

Daniel O’Connell, Jim Larkin, Charles Stewart Parnell will all look across at the new Clerys with pride.

And because the dial always moves forward.

Then we can celebrate Dublin in the rare gold times.

As we clock out Dublin’s Clerys again.







Countries, Ireland

Mary Christmas Ireland’s women

Nollaig na Mban (Women’s Christmas) is how the Irish celebrate Epiphany… or Mary Christmas Ireland’s women if you will.

When it’s more about two million women than three wise men.

And who can blame our womenfolk for reclaiming the day because Christmas, like everything else in the Church, has been hijacked by men?

With Mary’s part her labour, with her builder husband leaving it to the last minute, and asking her to deliver Babba in a cowshed.

And not even Broken Britain’s beleaguered National Health Service would put Mum in a barn.

Coming out of the kitchen

A meal in itself: Guinness

Nollaig na Mban then is the day when Irish women can come out of the kitchen.

And forget about the scullery or under the stairs because the chores are passed over to the man.

And the women head to each others’ houses and drink tea and finish off the rest of the Christmas cake.

Yeah, right, that’s fine for your grandma but these days it’s shopping and cocktails… with Grandma at the front!

Some mothers

Write on: Irish women

We doubt either if mothers still rub the tail of a herring across the eyes of their children to give immunity against disease for the rest of the year!

Most though still leave taking down the Christmas until after Twelfth Night, Epiphany.

While the Irish Writers’ Centre run an annual event for Nollaig na Mban.

Marking celebrating women writers worldwide, with the theme of this year’s night marked as “Home”.

European Epiphany

Ole, ole, ole: Spanish Epiphany

Of course the Three Kings idea still persists around the world with Dia de los Reyes celebrated with gusto in Spain.

And in Germany children going from house to house on Epiphany Eve or Dreikonigsfest

Singing carols and chalking the year and initials of the three kings near the entrance of each home.

All of which we’re spared in heathen Britain which means I’m off chores and on football.

And it was the way too in my 13 years in Ireland when I kept the idea of Women’s Christmas well away from The Scary One.



Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

Fifty years on EU have it wrong UK

It passed many by that the turn of 2023 marked half a century since Britain, Ireland and Denmark joined the EEC which prompts the response, fifty years on that EU have it wrong UK.

Not for joining the countries of the continent then and remember that the UK had twice tried unsuccessfully in the Sixties to get in, but for turning their back on Europe in 2016.

Brexit has, of course, impacted the whole of British society and industry, but at its more primal level, it has felt like a direct threat to those of us who work in tourism.

At least it did to my group of mostly English travel professionals in Interlaken in Switzerland.

I’m not suggesting that it should lead to sons not talking to their fathers as it did then.

Although I expect that they would have got over it and gone on to learn to live with each others’ different views.

Swiss days

The rail thing: Jungfraujoch in Switzerland

At heart, it probably comes as little surprise that my new English friends were so shell shocked and disheartened.

Because, at heart, everybody in our sector is instinctively an internationalist at heart.

My English friends were particularly keen too to pick the brains of our Swiss hosts about life outside the EU.

At the time I had no such worries, living in Europhile Ireland.

With nary a thought about returning to the land of my birth.

Scotland, incidentally, which had voted unanimously to stay under the blue, star-framed, flag.

The UK’s decision to leave the EU had the effect too of Britons rushing to re-engage with their Irish roots.

And trying to get Irish passports which Daddy’s Little Girl, a proud export of the Irish education system, is now doing.

Where, of course, it is most obvious is in the queues at airports where you are streamed separately.

And British exceptionalism comes to the fore.

Best of both worlds

Crowning moment: The British passport

The British passport I dare say has come in handy over the years particularly where it comes to the amount left on your document when travelling to certain countries.

And I was relieved to see that that worked in my favour the first time I went out to Barbados.

But I can’t guarantee that it will always be so.

The best solution, other than Britain going back into Europe.

Me returning full time to Ireland or Scotland becoming independent, would seem to be getting two passports.

Which, of course, would reflect my background, half-Scottish, half-Irish.

Getting the second passport would look to be the quickest option.

Cross to bear: Medjugorje

And this time I promise to look after the second one better.

After I took my old British passport with me (the one with my five-year US visa in it) on the bus from Medjugorje, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

To Dubrovnik, only to realise minutes into the journey that my current one was back in my hotel bedroom.

And I had to get off for fear of being stopped at the Croatia border and return to my Medjugorje base.  Be warned!

And other countries too, my old stomping ground of Ireland in particular.

Because fifty years on EU have it wrong UK

Asia, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

Lying in state around the world

And a word (or 400) on those titans we’re seeing lying in state around the world from one who lies in a state around the world.

Pele and Pope Benedict have little in common on the surface of it.

But both are getting the full treatment.

With the footballing great laid out in his open coffin in Santos in Brazil.

Braziliant: Pele

And the holy man in open view in the Vatican State.

All of which draws the millions, probably more in truth in Pele’s case.

While the Vatican and Rome is always a throng of humankind.

And well, a Pope, even if he is an Emeritus, is still a Pope.

The Queen’s been

Life force: The Queen

Of course it is a big outlay to pay homage to those whose deeds and words in life earn them such homage in death.

But possibly one worth making if the spectacle is limited time only.

And plans are in place for their burial or cremation.

All of which a lot of Brits and royal lovers around the world were prepared to pay big.

And queue long for the privilege of seeing the prostate Queen last year.

Now, history watchers too would know that it is the last time any of us would be able to see her in person.

There are those dearly departed though who we are able to see any time of the year.

If we just happen to be passing by who are lying in state.

In from the cold

Bolshie belly laugh: Lenin

Lenin, Moscow: Imagine being able to see Lenin in his goatee beardie pomp.

Well, millions have long after he departed the commune on account of him being embalmed.

The mausoleum is open to visitors every day in Red Square except Monday, Friday and Sunday, from 10am to 1pm, and admission is free. 

Toot and come in

Pharoah tale: Tut

Tutankamhun, Egypt: OK, the boy pharaoh looks as if he has seen better days.

But then he did die in 1323BC and his mummy was only rediscovered in 1922.

You can see him in his glass box in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of the Nile River, near Luxor.

Philosophy of life

Hat’s the boy: Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham, London: One way of preserving your legacy if you’re a mere philosopher and not one of those famous ones like Socrates.

Bentham, who formulated the theory of utilitarianism, basically the happiness of everyone, can be found in the University College London whom he championed.

While the skeletal remains and wax head of Bentham remain in the Student Centre.

His actual head remains out of public view elsewhere at UCL.

The head was once stolen in a prank by students from the rival King’s College, and has ever since been kept under lock and key.

Cat and mouse game

Got away: The cat and mouse

Dublin’s Tom and Jerry: And a curio of that most curious and fun city, my old stomping ground, Dublin, is the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral.

And best described by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake.

When he described the cat and the mouse who were mummified in the church organ.

‘As stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ.’.

A delightful time tunnel and a great place to watch classical concerts and corporate and travel events.

It’s €6.00 for the rest of you adults and €4.00 for kiddies.

Cats and mice go free.


Wave power: Mao

Mao Zedong, Beijing: There were few, if any, who would go against the Chinese leader’s wishes when he ruled the Communist country with a rod of iron.

But when he was dead they mummified him against his wishes when he wanted to be cremated.

Chilling, well he is well cold by now, Mao lies draped in a crystal coffin.

In a red flag at the southern end of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Me, I wouldn’t be so vain as to be lying in state around the world…

Just a statue will do, in my alma mater Aberdeen and instead of yon Millennium Spire on O’Connell Street in Dublin.

And anywhere else you want to remember your Bandanaman… come my time.





Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

How happy on the mountain

How happy on the mountain are the feet of He who brings good news… that today is International Mountain Day.

And yes, of course, while there is a day of the year for almost everything, our mountains are there every day.

It took the United Nations until 2003 though before they advanced our peaks for an International Day.

Of course being from the mountainous top half of this septic island they call Britain I’d been to the roof and looked down.

You dancer: In the Pyrenees

And admired Scotland’s valleys and glens and looked out and wondered of the view from other peaks.

Nothing as adventurous or backbreaking as mountaineering, or bagging Munros, those Scottish peaks, of which there are 282.

Border force

Cross country: At the Austrian-German border

But leaving it to our dream makers, our holiday makers, to take us up where the air is fresh and sweet.

For some who are lucky enough to live in the mountains then gorges can be part of their daily routine.

And so it is nothing to locals who cross the border through a mountain gate between Austrian Tirol and the Bavarian Alps.

While others will trek across the Alps into northern Italy.

The mountains have long been routes through which people have traversed for trade, adventure, or in flight.

Although, as we’ve tracked already in these pages the most famous fleeing family most certainly never climbed every mountain.

But rather the Von Trapps took the train into Italy instead.

Mountain people

Only way is up: Jungraujoch in Switzerland

The most romantic way through the mountains is of course by foot but we’ve hit the peaks in all of those… trains, planes and snowmobiles.

Trains… on the Jungfraujoch Railway, the highest train route in Europe.

Planes and helicopters in the mountains above the Grand Canyon.

By coach up the Rockies on Colorado and Graaf-Reinet in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

In the frame: With my fellow Jim in the Pyrenees

And with half the Atlas Mountains descending on your Scooby Doo van during a rainy Ramadan.

Mountains are to be admired, of course, but to be respected too.

And we continually wonder at the skills of those who keep an eye on them when they are stirring.

And point out nonchalantly when we’re in the Pyrenees that there’s an avalanche in the distance.

Slope off on your hols

The Snowy One: Herself in Soll

This time of year is, of course, reserved for those who put planks on their feet and zig-zag down the mountains.

And whether that’s in our northern tip of Britain, my favoured ski slopes of Soll in Austria and Val D’Isere in France.

And on the dry slopes of my other land, Ireland, at Kilternan.

We’re all on the same page…

How happy on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news.

Our dream makers, our holiday providers.



Countries, Ireland

Once upon a time in fairytale Wicklow

I’d always tell everyone of its magical qualities and it seems the message has got back to the good people at Disney+ so without further ado… once upon a time in fairytale Wicklow.

The Garden county of Ireland where I flourished for 13 years and my children bloomed into adults is the backdrop.

Every Irishman’s home: The oul’ castle in Co. Wicklow

For the musical comedy Disenchanted, starring Amy Adams, the sequel to the box office hit Enchanted.

Bobby Ewing, no less (or his alter ego Patrick Dempsey at least), and Maya Rudolph, James Marsden, Jayma Mays and Idina Menzel all talk up the county.

In a Tourism Ireland short video which is going around the world.

A corner of New York State

Forty fields of green: Greystones in County Wicklow

In Disenchanted, Enniskerry represents ‘Monroeville’, a fictional suburban town in upstate New York.

Monrroeville is then magically transformed into ‘Monrolasia’, a fantasy and magic-filled version of the town.

And what’s even better is that an 1850s period house in Greystones was the location for Robert (Patrick Dempsey) and Giselle’s (Amy Adams) ‘Monroeville’ home.

With timing being everything we must have just missed out then in offering the homestead we lived in.

In our days in the beautiful town of Greystones.

You might have seen Adrian Dunbar extol about in his most recent travelogue.

The Power of Ireland

Roll back the years: Enniskerry

Filming also took place at the Powerscourt Waterfall and Powerscourt Estate.

And, of course, that is a favourite romantic getaway for the great and the good, and obviously ourselves.

A word from the sponsors

Twirl power: With Patrick Duffy

Speaking about Ireland, Patrick, who plays Robert, said: ‘It’s just breathtakingly beautiful.

‘You see the woods and the fields.

‘and the architecture of all of that is very magical. It really lends itself to a fairy-tale life.’

While Maya Rudolph, who plays Malvina, added: ‘I feel like I got in on a little secret of such an incredible place and I’ve just fallen in love.

‘It feels like a fairy-tale.’

All roads lead to… Greystones

And my old pal Niall Gibbons, Chief Executive of Tourism Ireland, naturally was delighted to bring the Hollywood cast to Wicklow.

He said: ‘The fact that ‘Disenchanted’ was filmed here is a fantastic coup for Irish tourism.

‘Following the success of ‘Enchanted’, this highly anticipated film is a great way to bring Ireland.

‘And, in particular Wicklow, to the attention of viewers around the world.

‘We are delighted to share this behind-the-scenes video with our fans and followers on social media, celebrating the film’s connections with Ireland.’




Asia, Countries, Europe, Ireland

Nollaig Shona or a Feliz Navidad

Perhaps it’s familiarity but my eyes always light up when I see banners illuminated in a language not my own… a Nollaig Shona or a Feliz Navidad.

Or any of the 7,000 languages in the world.

Although understandably there are more than their fair share there that don’t celebrate Christmas.

Heck, half the gospels don’t reference the Nativity at all, but we’ll pass over that…

After all it’s a long time since Christmas was ever anything to do with Christ anyway.

Instead then here we’ll shine a light on a handful of special lights shows around the time the world switches on.

To what are now called instead the Holiday Season.

Dublin’s flair city

Streets ahead: Grafton Street

Dublin (Nollaig Shona): And Dublin’s narrow shopping hub Grafton Street is where the Nollaig Shona banners stand out most.

And where Bono has been known to occasionally busk, but don’t let that put you off.

Cathedral of lights

Crystal clear: Malaga

Malaga (Feliz Navidad): Now the time was that the best Christmas party was with with my Spanish friends from their tourist board in Dublin.

But, of course, better still would be to enjoy the festivities in Espana.

And I’m told that Malaga is the place to go.

The city has a new design this year with 16 celestial angels on 32 columns that stretch the entire length of Calle Larios.

Santa’s home

Toast Turkey: With Onur in Istanbul

Turkey (Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun): Patara, St Nicholas (or Santie as we’d call him today) is just a Roman ruins now.

With ne’er a chimney to come down.

But they do mark this time of the year in the muslim country, with Istanbul, its largest city being one of the most cosmopolitan hubs in the world.

We’re reliably told that Istiklal is especially strung out with stylish festive lights.

Between buildings with chestnuts roasting on an open brazier fire.

Lap it up

Sky’s the limit: In Lapland

Lapland (Hyvaaa joulua Lapissa): So how has a Turkish holy man come to be relocated in our minds to Lapland.

Or more specifically Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland?

Well radio broadcaster Marcus Rautio claimed it for the Finns.

When he said that Santa’s workshop had been discovered in 1927.

While the earliest reference to him living in the North Pole is from a magazine cartoon from as 1866.

The best lights here though will be the heavenly dancers, the Northern lights.

O little star

Jesus was here? Bethlehem

Bethlehem (Khag molad sameakh/Eid Milad Majid): And for those who believe that Jesus was born in the Little Town.

And only Matthew and Luke carry the story while Mark and John skip his birth.

But Bethlehem does light up at this time of year with the historic Moravian district slated as the place to be.

So whether it’s a Nollaig Shona or a Feliz Navidad or whatever your language Happy Holidays everyone.




Countries, Ireland

Adrian Dunbar in Greystones

Jesus, Mary and Joseph and his little donkey… is that Adrian Dunbar in Greystones, my old stomping ground?

Adrian has long been a national treasure in Ireland, and much loved too now in the UK on the back of his award-winning performance as Hastings in cop series Line of Duty.

All of which Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland naturally know and have got behind him as he promotes the island in his latest venture.

Harbour delights: Greystones and Da Boss

Adrian Dunbar: My Ireland is the Fermanagh actor’s new series which goes to air on Channel 5 this evening, 23 November (8pm).

The two-part series will follow Adrian, who introduced the wider world to some choice Irish phrases such as the above, as he returns to his hometown of Enniskillen.

We’ll join the ever-likeable Adrian as he visits places that hold fond memories for him.

And he will also check out some places he has always wanted to visit but has never before found the time.

Garden of Ireland

Power of Ireland: Powerscourt

And I guess that is where the word went up of Adrian Dunbar in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, the Garden of Ireland.

Mind you there have been one or two celebs there over the years, Ronnie Drew out of the Dubliners, Damian Rice and ahem, yours truly.

Of course, we didn’t need any steer that Adrian was visiting the jewel of Wicklow.

As we recognised straight away the train, its destination and the platform.

From almost 14 years of standing on it… and that’s not far off as the DART (the Dublin Rapid Transport) is notorious for its poor efficiency.

But friendly staff, and I got to know the guards there well.

Dart and craft

On our way to the train: Greystones

So much so that they shared their idiosyncratic Irish wisdom with me on my first Christmas works do.

When I turned up at the DART station at 6pm one evening and booked a return ticket to Dublin, 15kms away.

The guard was insistent that I should get a taxi home or stay the night in Dublin as the last train back was 11.30pm.

Back to Adrian and he will kick off by visiting the towering cliffs of Slieve League, Glenveagh National Park in my mum’s own Donegal and Devenish Island in Lough Earne.

While the world will be his, well… he’s off to the Carlingford Oyster Company in County Louth and visit MacNean House & Restaurant in Co. Cavan in the midlands.

And meet celebrity chef Neven Maguire.

Train of thought

The world’s our… Carlingford

In episode two, which will air on 30 November, he will meet artist Jim FitzPatrick in Howth and another well-known chef, Richard Corrigan – who will give Adrian a tour of his Virginia Park Lodge.

Viewers will see Adrian visit prehistoric Newgrange, verdant Powerscourt Estate and the remote Hook Lighthouse.

They’ll also see him taking that trip on the DART in Wicklow… and remember Isambard Kingdom Brunel (and Michael Portillo) were all over the Bray-Greystones tunnel along the Irish Sea.

And he will cycle across the Kilmacthomas Viaduct on the Waterford Greenway.



Countries, Ireland

Steamin’ in Ireland

I’ve had more than my share of fun getting steamin’ in Ireland but today’s offer comes with a difference.

And a choo choo… with Steam Dreams literally taking you steamin’ in Ireland by train.

With the only railway bar in the world to serve draught Guinness.

Steam Trains has chosen the 40 Green Fields as its destination for its 10th ‘Explorer’ tour.

A voyage of exploration

Fly the flag: Kilkenny Cats’ hurling team

A nine-day Emerald Isle Explorer holiday starting in Dublin on Wednesday, 3rd May.

Hauled by historic steam locomotives, there’s a range of ticket and accommodation options from seating in Premium Standard to luxurious Pullman Style Dining.

The Irish odyssey includes one night in Dublin, two nights in Galway, three nights in Killarney and two nights in Kilkenny.

Highlights include a stop at the charming city of Athlone, which lies on the banks of the River Shannon (Ireland’s largest waterway).

A tour of the Ring of Kerry passing its lakes, rivers and waterfalls.

And free time to explore the castle city of Kilkenny.

The science bit

Full steam ahead: The Emerald Isle Explorer

So it’s full steam ahead and for those who like to don the Casey Jones like the father-in-law this loco will be right up their track.

The mainstay for the tour will be old favourite V Class No.85 Merlin, sporting sky blue livery and built in 1932 for express passenger trains.

Merlin will be joined by No. 171, Slieve Gullion, an express passenger locomotive built in 1913 which will be making its debut on the tour.

And the price bit

Driver of the engine: A modern-day Casey Jones

Prices start from £1995 for Premium Standard, £2995 Premier Dining and £3995 Pullman Dining Style.

Price includes eight-nights’ hotel B&B and luggage porterage service between the train and hotel and coach transfers.

Pullman Style Dining passengers will stay at some of the best accommodation available in Ireland.

And that includes the fabulous Glenlo Abbey Hotel near Galway and the Mount Juliet Estate outside Kilkenny.

Sit back and enjoy

Lovely jubbly: And join the Champagne Set

Passengers will be welcomed on board with a glass of Champagne.

And they will receive a light meal on board the train on days two, four, seven and nine, served with a half-bottle of wine per person.

They will also receive dinner in their hotel on days two, four and seven.

Premier Dining passengers will be welcomed on board with a glass of Bucks Fizz.

And they will be treated to a light meal on the train on days two, four, seven and nine.

They will also receive dinner in their hotel on days two, four, and seven.

And if you’re coming from England, Steam Dreams give you the opportunity to journey to Dublin from England via ferry.

And enjoy an extra night’s stay in Dublin at the end of the holiday (supplement applies).