Prague is pretty much the centre of Europe and it has been central to changes in Europe for centuries.
And again these proud people who have been occupied and reoccupied by invaders and hostile political forces on countless occasions have risen up against their rulers to claim back their country for themselves.
About 250,000 people gathered in Prague over the weekend to direct anger at prime minister Andrej Babiš, who has been labelled a threat to democracy.
In Communist times they gathered at the Lennon Wall where their graffiti sent out a message to the outside world that they are central to Europe and they should be central to our thoughts.
Apropos nothing really, but here’s a selection of piccies from the Broadway stars whom Universal Studios brought to the American Travel fair just for our lunch entertainment over the last couple of years.
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.
Unisignposted and in an unassuming square at the back a Los Angeles office block lies the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery,
But who’s this lying next to her? 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.
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 and 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 There where the Oscars are held then her spirit is playing 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, brightly dressed and warm as the sun. We lit 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 has its own characters too: a rasta artist on rollerblades playing guitar, an old man who wheels his grand piano up the strand to tinkle the ivories and a randomLatino Conor McGregor who is punching and kicking the hell out of a punchbag in the square.
In Southern California, or SoCal, it’s all about the image, the ‘body beautiful’, and this is where Californian body builders come to work out, at the outdoor 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 Ross from Starline Tours, provided by our host Attraction Tickets Direct who tells us of a loose association with David Hasselhoff and a girl who was the Hoff’s prom date.
I would be more impressed if Ross had dated Sandy… well we do pass Rydell High.
And he shows u 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 celebrities hanging out in West Holywood, so where better to bunk down?
The La Peer Hotel, just a couple of blocks down from Beverly Hills, its cop shop and Rodeo Drive, is a Kimpton, a boutique hotel which is much more than that as befits West Hollywood, with its heated outdoor swimming pool as an extension of the bar.
And the comfiest suites which were welcome after our 11-hour flight, although it literally flew by on our pleasant Aer Lingus journey here.
The hotel’s restaurant Viale dei Romani serves up the best Italian food if you want to stay in-house, and I’d also recommend the wood-grilled octopus and its garden of warm potato salad, oil cured olives, preserved lemon and saffron aioli.
But there are not shortage of great restaurants 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?) though there’s 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, although a bulky cop reminded me that I couldn’t drink on the sidewalk.
If you want to get closer to the stars, get on to the right tours and get on the sets of the TV shows and movies we all watch, our host 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 both movie history and the future.
We take a coach through the sets of Pycho, Jaws, a Mexican town and through a tunnel where a scene from The Fast and the Furious is simulated all around us.
Great fun too at 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 other take the heat, although I don’t expect to see a stuntwoman set on fire in the Special Effects Show.
All your favourite animated and sci-fi characters are here, all in great form and happy to pose up: Shrek, Scooby-Doo, the Transformers and a dinosaur, no, not me, but a ‘real’ T-Re which is trailing Jurassic World: The Ride.
We all have our favourites but it is the Boy Wizard who always cast a spell on me.
Muggles, myself included, are beside themselves at the prospect of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure story coaster in the sister resort of Orlando.
Universal Hollywood’s Potter experience feels smaller than its Orlando World counterpart but it is still intimate and enchanting.
And its Dark Arts light how is a thundering good hope with a cascade of creepy crawlies climbing up to attack a crumbling Hogwarts Castle 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, hike up to the Griffiths Observatory and view the iconic letters, or take a watering job and hope to serve Steven Spielberg.
Or get your star on the Walk of Fame. It’s a a rollercoaster journey all right and you can’t ice how you’re next to, but I did spot four stars unfilled. and I’d reckon myself and my family would be deserving candidates.
*Jim Murty is Ireland’s Travel Editor of the Year and a multi award-winning Travel writer. See next week for part tow when he takes us to Disneyland and a galaxy far, far away.
HOW TO GET THERE
Aer Lings, Ireland’s only four-star airline operates a daily service from Dublin direct to Los Angeles with fares starting from €259 each-way including taxes and charges when booked as a return trip. The service reduces to five times weekly during winter. Visit http://www.aerlingus.com.
WHERE TO STAY
La Peer Hotel is quintessentially West Hollywood with bright, funky finishings, spacious, comfortable bedrooms and fine food, a heated swimming pool and fitness centre. Doubles from about €315 per night. Visit http://www.lapeerhotel.com.
It’s the final straw. Well done Emirates for introducing eco-friendly paper straws this month. And binning plastic swizzle sticks and stirrers and replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives.
And from August plastic bags used for Inflight Retail purchases are to be replaced with paper bags.
It reckons it will be able to remove an estimated 81.7 million single-used plastic items from landfill each year.
And that’s not all! It has introduced onboard blankets made from 28 recycled bottles, saving 88 million plastic bottles from landfill by the end of 2019.
The airline is also segregating large plastic bottles on board to be recycled in Dubai and the rest of the world. This diverts an estimated 3 tonnes or about 150,000 plastic bottles from landfill in Dubai each month.
There are some things on our doorstep which we just take for granted… and obviously just shouldn’t.
One such is London.
London is one of the great cities of the world and so familiar yet so new… no matter how many times you visit you will always find something you either never knew was there or you just hadn’t got round to yet.
For me one of the great joys of London is Theatreland. It’s Beautiful! Cue for me to dig out my weekend there when I caught the dazzling and fun-filled Beautiful: The Carole King Story a couple of years back. Bear with me and I’ll post it soon.
Congratulations to Ethiopian Airlines which has just been named the Best Airline in Africa for the third year running at the Skytrax 2019 World Airlines Awards in Paris.
Ethiopian also won Best Business Class in Africa and Best Economy Class in Africa at the awards. Ethiopian has 120 destinations worldwide. For best rates visit http://www.ethiopianairlines.com.
I missed out on the pleasures of flying out with Ethiopian this year to Addis Ababa, preferring to send a female colleague instead…. well, it was World Women’s Day… they were going to ‘meet’ Lucy, the world’s ‘oldest’ woman.
And it is a pleasure I will certainly be keen to enjoy in the future. The Ethiopians are a wonderful friendly people and have the secret of good ageing… as shown by Lucy.
But also because everyone there is seven years younger on account of them using a different calendar as they explained the first Enkutatash I celebrated with them at Dublin Airport… and such was the hospitality of Ethiopian;s Country Manager for Ireland, Meseret Tekalign and her team, and food I went back for seconds this year.
Now I’ve been a customer of Mr O’Leary in the last week and intend to be again next weekend. It is an acquired taste but there is no denying that he has added to the gaiety of the nation and that his fares are darned reasonable.
Just back from Lourdes, and I will tell you about it in the coming weeks, and at just two hours it isn’t far to go for a miracle.
Ryanair is offering Lourdes at €22.98 one-way among a tranche of other great offers.
And this will leave you lots of spare change to buy those holy trinkets, candles, holy water and Virgin Mary statues because if my Dear Old Mum is anything to go by you can never have too much holy stuff around the house to bring you luck.
A Galician piper belts out a Celtic tune by the lighthouse of Finisterre, the westernmost point of their world.
A sign with the Camino shell marks 0.00km.
Many pilgrims continue by foot from Santiago to Finisterre.
Wendy and I, or Waspwoman as you will know her from our Camino adventures when I accidentally swotted a wasp in her direction and it stung her foot, take a three-hour coach ride from Santiago (€26 return) on our last day, Wednesday.
Any trip to the Edge of the World should not be rushed, there is much to see, from quiet cove to golden beaches and coastal villages with azure and terracotta-washed cottages.
As I look out on the horizon from atop the cliff on this clearest of clear days I can see why my Celtic predecessors refused to countenance that there would be anything beyond or above this.
Purple reigns, purple reigns… in Minneapolis, Barbados, LA. Everywhere.
You heard it here first… the twin cities are THE American cities to go to this year.
You can rock to Prince at his Paisley Park home just as I did with Di-Di, above, at Barbados Crop Over, visit great shopping malls, eat at top restaurants with delicious craft beer and go out into the Great Outdoors and enjoy more wonderful Park life.
I also partied with Natasha Bedingfield who gave a stirring version of Purple Rain to us in LA at the American Travel fair IPW. She picked me out in the crowd and stroked her chin in reference to my purple beard and we wound down afterwards at the after-party.
Our friends at Ryanair have compiled a Seven Wonders of the World guide for us. I’d recommend my Jordan musings which I will compile for multiple media outlets soon and also in this blog over the coming weeks.
The other Wonders you’ll be wanting to tick off on your way… you can go by camel if you want too… are the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, the Colosseum, Rome (tick), the Dead Sea (tick, tick), La Sagrada Familia Barcelona (tick, tick, tick), Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia (they’ve been onto me) and Lagoa do Fogo, the Azores (big fan of Portugal).
Congratulations Laura McGrory and Graham Woods who won an upgrade to Business Class and two complimentary Aer Lingus flights from North America to a European City of their choice with Aer Lingus.
And what did they have to do? Only be the 1 millionth transatlantic guest to fly with the national airline carrier this year. The recently married couple from Dunleer in Co. Louth made the milestone trip travelling from Dublin to Seattle.
All of which begs the question. 1 millionth means one person. Ah, true love when two becomes one.
Enough song titles already?
Daddy’s Little Girl is just back from Amsterdam and absolutely loved it… it is one of my favourite short-hop city breaks too.
Sassy and classy, it has the perfect mix of high and low culture.
The food and drink are also great and I’m always won over by idiosyncratic ways of serving booze, with the Dutch custom of skimming the heads of beer with plastic knives always a winner. And mayo on chips? You should try it.
Aer Lingus likes a list too… as do I, unless of course it’s a shopping list.
Its top ten picks starts with Amsterdam, I guess it always will, and also picks out Barcelona, Birmingham, Berlin, Dusseldorf, London, Milan, Madrid, Manchester and Vienna.
And keep the hands open, and dahling, trust your partner.
I half expect to see Craig Revel Horwood, sitting opposite and holding up a 2.
Thankfully I’m being judged on my tennis and not my dancing 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 champion.
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 is making tennis players out of the flotsam collection of wannabe racquet tyros I’m assembled here with in the new Campus development in Quinta do Lago in the Algarve.
Judy is running a series of coaching classes for young and old, good and bad, studious and messers, which, er, would be me.
In my defence her starter hooter was too inviting not to play keepie up with.
Judy, though, as well as being very good at sport, is also a very good sport.
And even allowed me to give her a waltz at the end.
Another good sport and one you won’t have heard 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 child that tennis and squash would have spawned.
Played to the same scoring system as tennis, the big difference is the non-string bats, the underhand serve, the fact that you can play off the glass walls, and dare I say it that it is more fun.
Judy’s work done, she gets a deserved breather. Me, I’m off to bother some golf pros.
For four days I will have a team of experts tasked with trying to make an athlete of me, just as they can too.
The professional at the Paul McGinley Golf Academy shows off the latest golf technology, tracking machines, sensory guides et al, which can turn the most ordinary club member into a Rory or a Tiger, or on the odd shot at least. If you concentrate that is.
But there’s always one messer who gets distracted, in this case drawn to Paul McGinley’s buggy from when he captained Europe to victory at Gleneagles.
There’s a good reason why the big boys and girls get to play the South Course, one of three Championship courses here at Quinta while yours truly is kept to the driving range.
I do get to drive me a buggy, though not Paul McGinley’s golf 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 until the boy racer in me kicks in and I cut up a buggy in front and almost drive into the lake that skirts one of the greens.
I dare say I would have come up with dozens of stray golf balls in my pockets.
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.
The Rio Formosa Reserve which runs parallel to the course is more geared to Shiny Ibises and Spoonbill birdies, and yes, get off your bikes and 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 be raised as my suitability to go back with the sensible ones on the roads, but hunger called.
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 these parts no fish is safe, so I felt not a pang of guilt in devouring Dory’s pals, the lobster, clams, prawns, seabass here at the island restaurant Casa do Lago, and more of that later.
There is a green in the water for diner/golfers to shoot at but it was wisely out of bounds for us on the day.
The appeal of The Campus is its infrastructure and expertise.
Why else would Premier League side Burnley, former Champions League winners Olympique Marseille and Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand who runs a soccer camp come here. Or Irish Paralympian road race great Brian Rohan who runs The Bike Shed which is more, much more, than that.
Ask him politely and he might just allow you to hold one of his Olympic gold medals.
Of course, when it comes to sport we’re all of us experts and so I spend my last night at a sports bar, Dano’s, where I watch three matches simultaneously on the big screen (and who said that men could not multi-task?)
I’d like to say that all the games were thrillers but I was in my element all the same.
I was tackling, cleanly, a chicken casserole, to soak up the beer you understand while exchanging sporting trivia with my Portuguese hosts.
I was less good at the Halloween quiz but back myself against any Dancing Dad when the House band appears.
There’s always a price to pay though for revelry and that is invariably a sore head in the 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 Chef, naturally, wasn’t sharing, and a pineapple, OJ, coconut and spinach smoothie!
I was feeling invincible and dived straight for the pool (yes, strictly against the rules).
And there by the poolside who was watching but Judy Murray.
This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail.