Countries, Europe, Food, Pilgrimage, UK

World Porridge Day

Someone’s been eating my porridge but I’m no grumpy bear… after all it is World Porridge Day.

The idea is the brainchild of Magnus and Fergus MacFarlane-Barrow.

And it is designed to shine light and raise money for Mary’s Meals.

Mary’s Meals is a real Scottish success as it has helped to raise money for starving children in developing countries.

It has its origins in Argyll on the West Coast of Scotland.

And in Medjugorje in Bosnia & Herzegovina where pilgrims pay homage to Our Lady.

Medge to shout home about

On pilgrimage: Medjugorje

The Mother of God having interrupted a group of children, some of whom had been watching the big basketball game on TV.

The MacFarlane-Barrows were so inspired by Medjugorje and the spirit engendered by Our Lady and the devotees as to take action.

That and the travails of the Balkans people through their renewed conflict turned the brothers’ minds to charitable deeds.

Visitors to Medge will find the Mary’s Meals hut as a centre-point of the village, just up the main street from the church.

What the Butler saw

Answering the call: For Mary’s Meals

You’ll hear the history of the movement, watch Gerard Butler endorse the efforts of the Mary’s Meals helpers and get a feed.

Now my old friends at Mary’s Meals have been in touch this week to flag up who else they have got on board to promote them.

Mother’s Pride: Ferne and Sunday

TOWIE’s Ferne McCann is a star of ITV programme First Time Mum.

And she has taken part in a cooking challenge ahead of today and also brought out a recipe.

Salt of the earth

You put sugar in mine… when it should be salt

Porridge, of course, has been a hearty favourite in these parts and around the world for ever.

Traditionalists (guilty) swear by making your oats with water.

And then serving it with milk and salt.

Although the more sweet-toothed modern diner will add almost anything.

Sweet enough: But if you want to sweeten up your porridge

All of which blinded my eyes as I eyed the blackboard in my cafe when out for my Sunday breakfast.

Of course the best place to have your porridge is Medjugorje.

And, of course, I raised a spoon to World Porridge Day and my pals in Medge from my pilgrimage there with Marian Pilgrimages.

 

 

Countries, Europe, Pilgrimage

Growing your beardie for Obeardammergau

So I HAVE been using my time productively in the last year… growing my beardie for the rescheduled Oberammergau, or Obeardammergau, for next year!

In a world of imitations and accessories the ten-yearly Oberammergau Passion Play keeps it real.

The main man

And they require of their participants to grow their hair and beards from a year out of the Passion Play.

Our friends at Der Passionspiele have been updating us on their preparations for next year’s renewal of the world-famous spectacle.

The Spanish Flu

Giddy up: Always a showpiece in Oberammergau

And our Bavarian friends have experience and precedence in these matters having been down this route 100 years ago.

When the Spanish Flu ravaged the world in 1920 the organisers gave themselves another two years before putting on the Passion Play.

That should fir me

Such prescience should come as little surprise to us.

Because as we all know the Passion Play itself was born out of The Black Death.

The Lord is a listening Lord

Giddie up: Always an occasion in Oberammergau

The villagers had promised to put on a tribute to Our Lord in their village if they were rid of the plague.

And God being a listening God, it worked.

Fast forward to today and Passion Play Oberammergau 2020 was in full flight when an all too familiar intruder knocked.

And only eight weeks out of Jesus taking his first steps they had to rearrange their plans.

All of which means that Oberammergau 2022 will be even better for the organisers having had two more years to plan.

Der youth

Medieval man: When in Oberammergau

Oberammergau 2022 will be putting the emphasis on the youth of today and tomorrow.

And they have special offers for tickets for the spectacle.

Oberammergau truly is a spectacle, in and out of Passion Play.

I saw for myself on my Top Flight trip out there on how it wears its history on the side of its buildings.

While the locals like nothing better than dressing up.

Whether it be in the fashions of Palestine 2,000 years ago or in liederhosen.

Written on the walls: In Oberammergau

And, of course, it’ll put a smile on your face to be sat opposite historical figures and be able to clink steins and say Prost, at the end of the day.

We’ll be keeping you up to date on all that’s going on as the year progresses.

But now that I’ve no place to go thanks to our politicians…

I just think I’ll sit here and watch my hair grow and dream of Germany.

 

 

 

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

Easter in Israel

Easter in Jerusalem would normally be a throng of pilgrims.

But it has been reassuring, if a little surreal, to see masked worshippers following the Path of the Cross.

But it does give us a sense, both metaphorical, and real, of revival, of resurrection.

Israel, and Britain for that matter, have been the great success stories of the vaccine roll-out.

The Promised Land has vaccinated half of their population

While 1 in 12 Britons have had both jabs, although there  are more than six times as many of us.

Common cause

But let’s celebrate both our countries and talk up the preliminary discussions of the UK-Israel route opening up from August.

Yes, May 17, has been mooted for a Travel review but late summer remains more realistic.

A British Government source was quoted in the Sunday Times.

They said: ‘There will be a system of travel corridors to green-list countries with good vaccination rates. Israel, here we come!’

So where are we with our Israeli friends who we touched base with at the digital World Travel Market at the end of last year.

Well, several airlines have added limited routes and slowly increased flights in June and July.

Easy does it

That would then be in line with an August return for Britons so keep an eye on all our old favourites.

EasyJet offers two nights room only at the American Colony Jerusalem on July 2.

Leaving from Luton (hint to our Government to get a move on) £396pp, which means £792 for two.

While Virgin Holidays has tempted us of a Scottish persuasion, and now living up here in Braveheartland.

With seven nights at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem from £3381pp (well, you deserve it) for October 26.

Kayak is many a traveller’s second point of contact (after jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com obviously). And what about the Queen of Sheba for my Queen of Sheba?

The Dead Sea

Three nights and flight at the Hilton Eilat Queen of Sheba Hotel three nights and flight for £1,079

And, of course, our friends at G Adventures who have been trying to get me out to Israel these past few years (you have, you have, you have).

G whizz

They have 15 days from £999 Jordan and Israel Adventure from £1954, valid on December 10 (plenty of time to be super-vaccinated). And this was £2299!

Mt Nebo, Jordan

Now teasingly, as you’ll all know by now, I’ve been taken right to within 50 metres of Israel from the Jordan side at the site of John’s baptism of Jesus.

And so I’ve seen the Promised Land… only the Israeli soldiers on the banks were looking suspiciously at us from the other side.

I’ll just have to leave it to our holiday providers to look after us as always.

MEET YOU BY THE WAILING WALL

 

 

 

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage

Go on, go on, go on to Istanbul

You’d expect Father Ted’s housekeeper, Mrs Doyle, to either snub the Turkish tea.

Or lay into it on Pilgrimage: The Road to Istanbul.

Mrs Doyle, aka Pauline McLynn, is yet to reveal her true self on the BBC2 show, next on on Friday, March 26 and available on Catch Up.

She, in fact, comes across as a bit ditzy and not at all religious.

Here come the girls: Edwina Currie, Fatima Whitbread and Pauline McLynn

I can vouch for that.

With Pauline effing and blinding like a true modern-day daughter of Ireland when I met her.

She was the speaker at an Australian Irish Chamber of Commerce lunch in Dublin.

My cup of tea

I was as a guest of the-then newly opened Flight Centre store in Dawson Street.

Pauline is joined on the Sultans Trail by six other celebrities, only four others who I recognise.

That’ll be javelin queen Fatima Whitbread, sports presenter Adrian Chiles, ex-politician Edwina Currie and comedian (and I use that term loosely) Dom Joly.

Here come the boys: Dom Joly, Mim Shaikh, Amar Latif and Adrian Chiles

The Sultans Trail is new to me.

But not the pilgrims who have been walking sections of the 2,200km stretch from Vienna to Istanbul.

Our super seven set out from Belgrade, and I am surprised that they didn’t check out its hidden palace.

What’s in a name?

And they make their way through Serbia and a little bit of Greece.

On their 1,000km two-week trip to the great city on the Bosphorus.

Our Lady in Medjugorje

In the first episode we see them walk through forests, pick lemons, climb castles (and one pilgrim, Amar Latif is blind).

And partake in a Serbian celebration to Our Lady. She’s big in the Balkans.

Before in a few episodes’ time we reach Istanbul and the Suleymaniye Mosque.

Cruise the Bosphorus

Istanbul is one of the great cities of the world.

And it has at various times been known also as Byzantium and Constantinople.

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It’s still the centre of the Greek Orthodox Church and is still known as Constantinople across the border in Hellas.

A bit like Derry and Londonderry… know your audience.

I’d recommend that when our pilgrims do get to Istanbul they have a blow-out then on a boat trip on the Bosphorus.

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Now you all know I love a good oul’ pilgrimage and unbeknownst to me there have been two previous series.

Where’s my invite?

Eight celebs have already been out to Santiago de Compostella and Rome following, I guess, in my footsteps.

With Onur in Istanbul

I was, of course, with my friends at CaminoWays and FrancigenaWays.

And I know the question you’re asking… why wasn’t I one of the celebs chosen to go to Istanbul to complete the set?

Yes, you’d be right… the BBC Director General has already had his knuckles rapped for that oversight.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Holocaust Memorial Day

It was a moral dilemma to test the wisdom of Solomon himself, if bombing Auschwitz would justify the loss of life.

A major consideration was that Hitler’s Third Reich would paint the Allies as anti-Semitic.

History tells us that bombs did rain down on Auschwitz but the damage and deaths to inmates and guards were collateral damage.

Behind the wire: Auschwitz

From a raid on a nearby industrial installation.

It was the Soviets who eventually liberated Auschwitz. 76 years ago today, January 27.

And in the the aftermath of the War the Poles decided to preserve Auschwitz.

Dramatic Dachau

Lest We Forget Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau and the 20+ other Third concentration camps in tbs Third Reich.

Dachau may seem a strange inclusion in a Topdeck Oktoberfest bus booze tour.

But the first German concentration camp left a lasting mark on the Aussie and Kiwi (and one Scot) hard-drinkers.

Manassas battlefield in Virginia

War tourism is not for everyone and its critics decry it as mawkish, but it is for me.

And I would much rather visit the Flanders Fields and the Somme, the American Civil War Manassas battefield, Anne Frank’s House and Dresden than sit on a beach.

Although thankfully they’re not mutually exclusive for the curious visitor.

Old Town Krakow

My passion for history has thankfully been taken up by my family (they had little choice).

And the Son and Heir sought out Auschwitz on his trip to Krakow for World Youth Day.

Of course, you can only truly appreciate the gravitas of these concentration camps by visiting them.

But since we all can’t go we must rely on the witness testimonies of those who survived its horrors.

And those of us who pay our respects.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Pilgrimage

O Little Crown of Bethlehem

We can, of course, take historical re-enactment too literally but there are deffo no inns open today.

Like at the start of Covid when Palestine locked down for 30 days.

Which meant the holy sites.

Although for the Palestinians lockdown was nothing new.

Because as occupied territory Palestinians have become used to having to stay at hime and having their travel restricted.

Silent Night

The red flag was waved in February when a group of Greek tourists visited a Bethlehem.

The Church of the Nativity, on the site where Jesus was born, was shut then, and is shut again today….

To Wise Men from the East, shepherds in the fields… and us.

But it won’t always be.

There was much fanfare when EL AL rolled out its route from Dublin to Tel Aviv at the start of the year.

Holy flight

Joining the aerial map of lines into the Holy Land.

Today the Christmas Tree which was hoisted into position in Manger Square brought some much-needed cheer to these most resilient of townsfolk.

Some had attended a much more subdued Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity.

And Betlehem is across the faiths

Most though mark the day with their own kith and kin in their own domicile, which of course is what the Holy Family did.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph (as they exclaim in Ireland)! I got within 50 metres of Palestine!

G Whizz

When I visited the Baptismal Site of Jesus on my G Adventures tour of Jordan

And I witnessed a group of Russian Orthodox pilgrims duck each other in the Jordan from the other side.

Intermingled on the banks. of course, by rifle-wielding female soldiers.

Which would put anybody off trying to swim across.

Promised land

I’ll have to get there by more conventional means.

Which I would have done had I taken up the invitation to extend my Jordan tour with a trip around Israel and Palestine.

And where the Jordanians say Jesus was baptised

That I didn’t was because I didn’t want to leave my workmates with my workload for the two and a half weeks I’d been away.

A month later I had left said work.

And that’s my lesson for 2021.

Take up every opportunity, and for me that’s visiting Bethlehem and all the holy places.

America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Music, Pilgrimage

Rainy Days and Songdays – Happy Hanukah

And I’ll light a candle in unison for a Happy Hanukah though, in truth, The Scary One and Daddy’s Little Girl have the place looking like a Meatloaf video already.

Hanukah’s status has grown in modern times.

Mainly in North America as part of a better recognition of other cultures and religious observances in December.

So it’s commonplace now, and rightly so, to wish your Jewish friends Happy Hanukah.

Which, in fact, Matisyahu does more tunefully than I ever could, even if I were swollen with sweetened Israeli wine.

Matisyahu’s song touches all the right points, to be fair, King David, Maccabee, Mount Zion, and, of course, candles.

Matisyahu means ‘gift of God’ .

He has, as you might expect from one who terms himself thus, a confidence about himself.

Gift from God

Matthew Miller is actually a Pennsylvanian who is a foremost proponent of Jewish rock, Jewish hip hop and fusion reggae.

We all have our images of Judaism.

And, in truth other than my own home address the place names in The Promised Land’ from the Bible were the most familiar of my childhood.

Anne Frank Statue, Amsterdam

The Jewish story I learned in my early years has infused a lifelong interest in the Chosen People.

Alas that has mostly meant visiting Holocaust markers, Dachau concentration camp on a booze bus trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

Charles Bridge in Prague

And the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

In every city around the world, as much as the Irish or the Scots, or more, there has been a Jewish diaspora.

Venice ghetto

I found it in the first ghetto in Venice and again in the Jewish quarter in Prague.

But it is to modern-day Israel that I am drawn most.

And saw up close and personally at the Site of St John’s Baptism of Jesus in Jordan on my G Adventures trip the other side.

When Russian Orthodox pilgrims doused themselves in the River Jordan from the Israeli side just 50n from us in Jordan.

I’ll make it over one day, and hopefully soon, but in the meantime give Happy Hanukah an oul’ lesson.

It’ll make a change from Marish Carey and The Pogues.

Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage, UK

St Andrew’s Day around the world

Happy St Andrew’s Day.

From Banff to Barbados, Turriff to Tenerife, Lewis to Limassol, Sauchie to Sochi, Keith to Kiev and Thurso to Thessaloniki.

You get the picture – it’s not just Scotland, we all celebrate Andy as our patron saint.

So let’s pick the bones out of the apostle and his links to these countries.

Scots Sandy

Relics: St Andrews

St Andrews, Scotland: We’re here at the Home of Golf and the third oldest university in the UK,

The story goes that St Regulus (me neither) brought Andrew’s kneecap, arm, three fingers and a tooth here.

And King Oengus built a holy settlement on this collection.

You’ll want to stay at the Old Course Hotel and look out at where the legendary stickmen took the plaudits.

Fly the Canary flag

A St Andrew’s Day flag lurking In Tenerife

St Andrew, Tenerife: I’m not going to spoonfeed you here though as to how St Andrew came to be associated with the Canaries island of Tenerife.

Only to say that Scotland and Tenerife where I visited with CanariaWays share the same white cross on blue background.

San Cristobal de La Laguna is more Havana (it models itself on this World Heritage site) than Hamilton.

But you will find the iconic flag flying here.

Windies’ Andy

And my old half-Scottish pal Jevan is here

Barbados: The island call Little England has an area called Scotland.

Three hundred and sixty five days of sun, a bit like the Scotland in Europe!

Barbados is split into regions named after saints…

The one where the Rooneys, Simon Cowell, Cliff Richsrd, and, er me, like is the Platinum Coast in Saint James obviously.

All Greek to Andy

Alpha for Andrew

Greece and CyprusThe old white beardie man (and there’s nothing wrong with that) is literally an icon in Greek parts.

You know those wooden framed pictures the Greeks love.

St Andrew is said to have been crucified in Patras.

It is Greece’s third biggest city, the regional capital of Western Greece in the northern Peloponnese.

And the Greek Orthodox basilica is the holy site for Andreans as we’ll call followers of Andrew.

And they’ll think nothing of the 215km trip from Athens.

Eastern Andy

Badge of honour: In Russia

Russia and Ukraine: Our adventurous Andy loved to travel. Much like us.

And our Galilea trawler got himself up to the Black Sea and beyond.

We hope too that he was more than just a fisher of men.

Now should you get on the right side of Vladimir Putin in Russia you’ll get the tap on the shoulder.

And the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle the First-Called.

It is the highest order in the Russian Federation.

Get it wrong and you’ll get something slipped in your tea and sent on a plane out of the country.

One man’s assassination is another’s martyrdom!

HAPPY ST ANDREW’S DAY

Adventure, America, Countries, Deals, Europe, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

Take A Hike Day

And no we’re not talking to you Donald… this is a real thing which like most speciality days of the year hails from America.

But we’ll get on it anyway because it’s the one thing we can all do.

Whether you’re locked down and have to channel your own Captain Tom Moore and do laps or the garden or you can get on an open track.

Whether you’ve been walking this year or not, make today your day to go for a hike.

And lucky you if you live near any of these walks.

Galician Wasp Whisperer

The gang of four… me next to the Wasp Whisperer

The Camino: And your go-to hike from (well, anywhere, but in my case 100km out) Sarria to Santiago de Compostella.

You can organise your own independent travel and stay in albergue, or hostels, or have your bags taken from hotel to hotel at Camino Ways.

I’ve retrodden this path with you with many an anecdote and it’s good to know that these stories have legs.

As Wendy the Whatsapp group I’ve joined up with after four years is still referred to as the Wasp Whisperer.

A walk in the Pyrenees

Jim and games: With my old mate Jim Gallagher

Hautes-Pyrenees: And sometimes, more than others, you’ve got to be on your toes.

Because the ground can shift from around you as when an avalanche happened in the Pyrenees around me.

I knew those holy trinkets I’d picked up at Lourdes would come in handy.

Feel the earth move in Austria

Ehrwald, Austria: Then there’ are the times when you bring the mountain down of your own accord.

Like in Austria where the foothills in the Tyrolean Alps consist of slippy limestone.

Which invariably will mean that when your experienced Topflight for schools walking group is confidently marching on

A walk through Tenerife

And my legs will be bowed too at the end of this

Tenerife: And sometimes we lose one or two along the way on the climb up to Afur in the burning sun.

We’ll call them Jim and Margaret because that’s their names.

And credit to those on our CanariaWays party who went down to pick them up.

While others cradled their Estrella and conceded through gritted teeth that it was OK to miss the wine tasting.

What the Romans did for us

Somewhere to bathe my feet

Via Francigena, Rome: And when you spot snow on the peaks on your 100kms trek from Viterbo into the Eternal City you’ll know you’ve made a wrong turning!

Which is easy to do when the signpost stickers are peeling off the trees and you have no sense of direction anyway.

I cani (the dogs) will soon tell you to get back on track.

And another writer’s trail

Appalachian Trail: Inspired by the Daddy of all of us Travel writers Bill Bryson who wrote A Walk in the Woods which was turned into a major film.

Discover North America put on a nine-day trip from my old American learning ground Boston up to Maine and back.

And you can bet if there’s a bear I’ll find it, even if it means going off-piste into another state.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

Africa, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, Pilgrimage, UK

Happy Jewish New Year

Rosh Hashanah, Happy Jewish New Year, and because we want to see off this bloody year, and pray to Yahweh for a better new year, here is when and where all our cultures see out the old and bring in the new.

Hello, Chinas

Pandamonium

The Chinese New Year: And sitting down for our annual Chinese New Year celebration with Wendy Wu Tours in Dublin in January at Chai Yo we gave sympathy and Chinese tea (and every food known to man that you can eat with chopsticks) for the plight of the poor people of Wuhan.

Little did we know, of course, that we would be suffering too within weeks. The Year of the Rat should have been a warning.

And what are you all having?

Next year when it will be celebrated in February will be the Year of the Ox and he is much more our reliable carrier of all our human burdens.

And rest assured I’ll be back in Chai Yo next year with Wendy’s friends, the Two Johns, before hopefully we follow The Son and Heir out to Wuhan’s neighbour Chongqing.

Iran the bells

Smiles from Iran. http://www.itto.org

Nowruz (Iranian New Year): And there is a diary date in my calendar which I can’t bring myself to delete – my trip to Iran which was deferred after the Americans fell out with them again and then this virus came along.

I do hope that when I do get out there it’s in a March when they celebrate Springtime when it coincides with the Northward Equinox.

They trumpet in the day, colour eggs and eat a hearty soup, Ash-e-Reshteh noodle soup.

Sri Lanka is my cup of tea

Sri Lankan New Year: And here we have two Sri Lankan cultures celebrating a date, April 14.

Aluth Avuradda, the Sinhalese New Year, marks the end of the harvest and is one of only two occasions when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka.

You’ll be eating small oil cakes called kavum and plantain dishes.

The Tamils of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka celebrate with new clothes, music, sweets and rice colour kolams (street art).

The Tamil Diaspora too celebrate April 4… so Malaysia, yes, and The Maldives too where one pasty-faced Scotsman once became an honorary member of the staff’s football and cricket teams. Yes, Mr Jim is coming back to Kuramathi.

While if you’re Irish (lucky you) you’ll know about the greatest Sri Lankan-Irishwoman, my old friend Tess De Kretser and her Olcote in Ceylon resort.

Ethiopia will take years off you

Enkutatash, Ethiopia: And this has become a fixture on my calendar in Dublin over recent years thanks to my friends at Ethiopian Airlines.

It, of course, takes years off you, not just the meaty food which you scoop up with your bread, and wine and Ethiopian coffee.

But also because it’s on the Julian Calendar which means that this will take seven years off you.

Scotland, the home of Hogmanay

Scottish Hogmanay: And in the words of the greatest dustman in television soap opera Norman ‘Curly’ Watts who decided the Scots owned New Year.

Well, they do own Hogmanay. And why Hogmanay which is what we call New Year’s Eve.

An early reference to the term is from The Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence as deriving from the Greek word agia mine or ‘holy month’.

More like a hooley though as many libations are taken to keep out the cold.

Which is probably where the tradition of bringing coal, shortbread and whisky with your when you go first-footing, being the first person to cross someone’s threshold (first-footing).

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO WHOEVER YOU ARE AND WHEREVER YOU ARE