Countries, Culture, Europe

European Thermal Cafe

That’s me saved from any gardening after pulling my back… so I’ll just lie back in the bath instead and drink in a European Thermal Cafe.

Today’s Thermal Cafe Zoom invitation was the chance to reengage with the Rediscover Europe’s Thermal Towns campaign.

Thermal resorts have, of course, been with us as long as we’ve had thermals… and I’m not talking vests and long-johns here.

Pawmper time

And everyone from royalty to the Great Unwashed have taken the waters around Europe to heal their bones.

Becherovka coffee

More the latter category than the formal although I have cleaned up my act for my forays into Central Europe.

The conversation soon got round, as all good cafe meet-ups do, to coffee.

And our hosts regaled us with recollections of Becherovka coffee in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

Take the waters in the Czech Spa Triangle

All of which I’ve grown to love except that I haven’t put the Becherovka in with the coffee with cream on top. Yet!

They all usually go into my belly separately.

I’ve unfinished business with the Czech Republic and a return to Hoptown Zatec is on the cards for their Hop Festival.

The route to wellness

Our friends at the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns, Simone and Catherine, appraised us of how European spa towns are reopening again.

A meeowssage

And Southern Europe has 80% bounce back bookings.

There are challenges in Germany though with 16 states with 16 different sets of regulations.

While in France we were informed that they’re allowing only 20 at a time into their thermal baths.

Gee, get G7 leaders moving

The European Route of Historic Thermal Towns lobbies the powers that be hard.

And it was Cultural Route of the Council of Europe certified in 2010.

So seeing that we’re all so well connected then we’ve naturally got onto Boris, Biden, Macron and Angela et al ahead of G7 in Cornwall.

Becherovka time

Where we just know that they’ll be sharing a thermal spa.

We all arranged to meet again for another Thermal cafe later in the summer.

The Dead Sea, Jordan

When hopefully these Dead Sea bath salts from my G Adventures trip to Jordan will have worked their charms.

And we can meet outside for the next European Thermal Cafe, and I’ll promise to keep my top on.

MEET YOU IN THE SPA

 

 

Caribbean, Countries

Saint Vincent and Grenadines appeal

The Caribbean has given me so much since I first started visiting which is why I am now keen to give something back, at this their time of need, through the Saint Vincent and Grenadines appeal.

Each of the Caribbean islands is unique but they are all bound by the shared experiences of slavery, poverty and Nature’s wrath.

One love

I have witnessed how they have rallied to each others’ causes when hurricanes have hit, and now that the La Soufriere volcano has taken out its anger on the islands.

La Soufriere

Glen Beache, CEO of The Saint Vincent and Grenadines Tourism Authority, reported that the scientists predict the crisis could last for another few months.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is the one entity, which is not uncommon in the Caribbean.

Twin islands

It is the best way to go for island collectors – Antigua and Barbuda, with Antigua, home of the great Sir Viv Richards carrying more swagger than its calmer twin island

We caught up too with St Kitts and Nevis where they make a virtue of the two-mile stretch of water that separates the islands.

See you on the other side

Their annual swim between the islands was alas cancelled last month but all the more time then to practise for next year.

Goat and the GOAT

I’ve already savoured the pleasures of Trinidad & Tobago when this GOAT went local and went kidding about.

Island sharing

While these twin islands are a Caribbean island thing so too is island sharing.

Hailing from a divided United Kingdom and having spent 13 years in an Ireland of two parts I have always been obsessed with a split island.

Hispaniola olé

The island of Hispaniola houses Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and as they say in the Caribbean, there’s no division, just one love.

And so the Dom Rep was the first to answer Haiti’s call after the earthquake of 2010.

Living with Nature

Of course our Caribbean friends have all learned to live with Nature.

And in St Lucia their volcano is the centrepiece of the island and a wonder to admire as well as respect.

Careful there

Which is why you as a visitor too will be able to drive through.

Henna do?

And take of the soil of the land, the mudbaths and wash it off in the waterfalls

And if you’ve got the stomach for it here’s a muddy mess from across the world in The water of life, Petra, and the sands of time

With my pal from that unforgettable G Adventures trip St Lucian Jerry ‘The Big Rapper’.

Thanks to all who organised the Caribbean Virtual Meet the Media event and of course every island is a friend and we’ll be sure to cover you all.

MEET YOU IN THE CARIBBEAN

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

 

 

 

 

America, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe

Spring forward, fall back – time zones around the world

I always keep my watch set at the time of the last country I’ve been to so today that’ll be the Czech Republic.

The idea is to keep something of that destination and wanderlust with me though it can cause problems in the morning.

Beer O’Clock in Zatec

My strange habit all chimes with the Czechs, of course, with their love of an astronomical clock.

Prague‘s biggest attraction, in the Old Town Square obvs but also the clock in Hoptown, Zatec, and its homage to beer.

Scot late the Great

You’re late… but that’s OK in Edinburgh

Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh: And, of course, today I’ve been all over the place, and logging on for work that was a full month ago.

Now the fastidious and ever-so-decent people of Edinburgh look after people like me.

By setting their clock three minutes fast to allow people rushing for their train at nearby Waverley Station enough time.

Set in the New Town, staring across Princes Street Gardens and up to Edinburgh Castle it also allows you more time to take it all in.

Philly’s hour of need

Billydelphia

Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia: And it will come as little surprise to you that I turned up for my Zoom meeting from Washington DC five hours early.

I make only a few apologies for resharing Philadelphia’s Curse of Billy Penn because clocks and times give me that opportunity today.

The 21-year curse on Philly‘s sports teams arose because of the construction of One Liberty Hall.

It exceeded the height of Billy’s statue atop City Hall… a real no, no.

It was all resolved when a statuette was affixed to the final beam topping off the Comcast Cener, now the city’s tallest building.

And the Phillies took baseball’s World Series

Tenerife timing

Give me a bell: Tenerife

Iglesia de la Concepcion, San Cristobal de La Laguna: You’ll be breathless after saying all this.

And breathless from the steps, particularly if you’ve been hiking through rain forests and hills on your CanariaWays trip.

But the views are spectacular. Just don’t ring it too early. Too late.

Ancient times

Time goes slowly: Im Petra

Petra, Jordan: And it may look like a temple to you and me but it’s actually a Treasury.

The same thing to the Nabateans.

It’s also though a timepiece with coded messages.

You won’t need Indiana Jones to decode them though.

Zuhair, G Adventures, expert man on the ground will give you the full lowdown… and Jordan Jimmy will do the rest.

Ben O’Clock

The Elizabeth Tower, Westminster, London: And, of course the tower with the most famous clockface in the world.

Only everyone thinks it’s called Big Ben.

But that is the name of the largest of its five bells.

So who was Ben? Well, either ‘Big’ Ben Hall, the first Commissioner of Works or the boxer Benjamin Caunt.

Ring-a-ding ding!

Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe

G – On track to see my Son and Heir and China

We’ve all got our suitcases packed and labels filled out… and for my Son and China (plate… mate) that’s Chong Cheng.

We’ve been mapping out our itinerary since The Son and Heir announced that he was off to teach English in China last year.

That’s been pushed out to Easter.

But that gives us time too (and our politicians) to plan how we’ll get out there to see him.

Our go-to people in such odysseys are G Adventures  .

And they have the very thing a 16-day Trans-Mongolian trip from Moscow to Beijing, valid on April 23, 2022, from £1799, to lure us in.

Take it as Red in Moscow

I’ve been mugging up on all things Mongolian in the many Travel programmes I’ve been taking in during lockdown.

And I can thoroughly recommend the excellent the Misadventures of Romesh Ranganathan when he dons one of those onesies for a bit of Mongolian wrestlng… which is me all over.

Your journey will kick off in Moscow where you’ll get a day to yourself to check out Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Kremlin, the Hermitage.

Or you can always head for St Petersburg first and make your way to Moscow along the St Petersburg Express.

Siberia is VERY big

You ever been 88 hours on a train? Well it’ll just fly by as you cross the Ural Mountains and Siberia.

Enjoy the charms of Irkutsk on a walking tour before driving to the village of Listvyanka.

You’ll overnight on the shores of Lake Balkal and dig into local cuisine…

And try a banya, or Russian sauna to you and me.

Mongolia, yes we Khan

Before you enter Genghis Khan’s Mongol kingdom of.

And you’ll be able to fulfil your life-long ambition to stay in a traditional ger, or yurt, and channel your Genghis with a spot of archery.

Nothing finishes off a day better in Mongolia of course than a bit of throat-singing… best leave it to the locals though.

A yen for Beijing

You’ll get two clear days plus time either end in Beijing.

And, of course, no trip to China would be complete without a trip to the Great Wall, and yours will be a walk along the Mutianyu section.

For most of us that’ll be enough train travel for a while.

But for others, we’ll be taking another eight-hour journey to Chong Cheng…

After all the Son and Heir will want his Mammy there to do his washing!

 

 

Asia, Countries, Ireland, Sport

Sri Lanka, 73 years and more a Resplendent Island

Happy Independence Day to all my Sri Lankan friends.

It’s been 73 years since you took back your ancient island from British control.

And although today’s National Day won’t have the colour and spectacle that any of the 47 before I’m sure that you’ll make the most of it all the same.

A more solemn affair this year it was marked with a tree-planting ceremony as part of the theme this year which is ‘Prosperous Tomorrow – Prosperous Mabimik.’

It was under Palm Trees that I became an honorary Sri Lankan. No, not in the Resplendent Island, but others south of the Sub-Continent, in the Maldives.

The Sri Lankans populate the teardrop Atoll islands in the Indian Ocean where they work in the resorts.

In the Palm of my hands

And it was to the Sri Lankans that I graduated in my time off from my party in Kuramathi in the Maldives.

The staff would spend their spare time in their favourite pastime of cricket.

And following my mantra of seeking out those who play and pray whenever I’m away I asked for a game.

They welcomed me with open arms which is what I did too letting the ball come between bat and pad and landing me LBW.

But not before I had broken my previous best score of 0 from my schooldays.

Did I say though that I had scored two in my previous innings before running myself out and grazing my knees and hands on the synthetic pitch?

Of course us of the Scottish variety are more adept at kicking a round leather ball around the pitch so I was confident that I would be able to hold my own in their football game.

Football crazy

Wrong again as I hadn’t factored in my age compared to these athletic Asians, and the fact that they were more used to the 30C heat than this native of a frozen Northern European land.

And so when my opponent whose multi-syllable first name I hadn’t a chance of pronouncing took up the ball on the wing he just glided past me and left me doubled over and gasping for air.

All of which they took in the most magnaminous manner and with the kind of manners that we could all do with emulating.

And so when I hooked up with my party again the word came back of the Sri Lankans who wanted to know when ‘Mr Jim’ was returning to the island to play cricket and footall with them.

Of course the best place to see Sri Lankans is in their own backyard.

Our Little Corner of the Earth

And anybody in Ireland who may have considered visiting Sri Lanka will immediately have been advised to go to the most famous Sri Lankan/Irish citizen Tess de Kretser.

Tess is the owner of Olcote in Ceylon, which stands for Our Little Corner of the Earth, and is a fusion of Sri Lanka and her adopted home of Ireland.

Tess has regaled me about her hotel both at her Sri Lankan nights in Dublin and also when we lunched together.

We could all do with a little corner of the Earth right now, and I’m sure I could find myself a cricket pitch nearby. I would even make up the numbers for the local team, as long as it’s a children’s team.

 

 

 

 

Adventure, Africa, Countries, Culture, Deals, Food

Holiday Snaps – Capes of good hope

And, yes, you read that right. I’m talking of the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa and the Good Hope of returning ine day.

TV chef Gregg Wallace has been conjuring up memories of the Eastern Cape foe me in his ITV travelogue series, sponsored by Saga Holidays.

Where last week he went on safari at the Amakahla Game Reserve, just north-west of Port Elizabeth, and this week goes west to Table Mountain et al.

Chin chin: Gregg Wallace in South Africa

Of course Gregg got stuck into biltong, the dried cured meat they all eat out there.

The promo video shows Gregg toasting us with a South African white you can almost taste.

But a piece of advice, Gregg, if you really want to go native then you need to put ice in the wine.

Bergamo stands alone

Bergamo Molamia: Stay strong

Mola Mia… and I’m glad to see that Ryanair is giving Bergamo back its name in its latest tranche of offers and not just aa an appendage of Milan.

They flag up the medieval jewel of Lombardy at up to €30 off which takes you to their €23.99 one-way deal for Milan Bergamo.

Bur hey, Bergamo wasn’t built in a day… and I’ll share all its history and how it has rallied from being the doorway for Covid in Europe.

Una ciocolatta di calda densa: In Bergamo

Book foe Bergamo and a raft of destinations by January 13. Travel between April 1 and October 31.

Ryanair helpfully shares where you can get a Covid test near you.

Sandals in the sand

Blessed: Saint Lucia

Or more accurately on the runway. Actually the plane on the runway but then my hour in Saint Lucia just whetted my appetite.

My Saint Lucian pal Jerry, the Big Rapper, from my G Adventures tour of Jordan had given me the skinny on his island.

And how he had plans for writing a guide book.

Look out for that when you’re out in Saint Lucia at Sandals who have a January sale on.

They have seven nights at the Sandals Regency La Toc with travel dates in September and October.

Fly with British Airways and stay in a honeymoon luxury.

Now I’ve experience of a couples hotel in Barbados and a Sandals on the south of the island too,

While, if you want to island hop, Saint Lucia is the stop-off for another prize destination Tobago.

Countries, Cruising, Flying, Food & Wine

New Year Revolutions

And as the Alt-Right tries to wage a Second American Revolution in the US a look at the revolutions we do need.

The air

United we atand

And clearly the challenge is carbon emissions where EasyJet can take a bow.

The budget airline topped a London School of Economics report in a top five which also includes Alaska Air, Qantas, my old friends at United who flew me to the Deep South and JetBlue.

The seas

Norway wood: In the Norwegian fjords

And high up for the haters in this Covid and Climate crisis are our cruise ships.

Where my old faves MSC whom I sailed with around the Norwegian fjords, Royal Caribbean who showed off their wares in the English Channel and in Barcelona.

And Celebrity Cruises who treated us all like, well Celebrities, off the coast of Florida on their $1bn state-of-the-art Edge.

A nod here to Princess Cruises who had us on board when they stopped off in Dublin on their way round Britain and Ireland.

And Paul Gauguin Cruises who drew us a picture of tantalising Tahiti who have been keeping us going through lockdown with their images and news.

The food

Food for thought: A tajine

And now more than ever we have to watch what and where we eat.

So that means avoiding markets we know little about in countries we are visiting for the first time.

So for me that was Morocco and I should have gone with the professionals.

Northern Africa and the Middle Eastern food is bright, spicy and often new for Western palates so don’t be afraid to ask.

And if you can find Zuhair, G AdventuresJordanian host extraordinaire then all the better.

All our cultures and culinary ways should be celebrated around the world and animal welfare should be central to our approach.

A joint resolution

I’ve probably already broken my own personal resolutions already so it might be presumptuous to ask my Travel pals to take on these targets.

But, in truth, we’re all in it together…

This past year’s challenges have brought opprobrium upon Travel professionals but lockdown has only reaffirmed how vital it is to us all.

So let’s build it back even better this year.

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.

Asia, Countries, Cruising, Culture, Deals, Europe, Flying

Flyday Ferryday Friday

I’m channelling my inner Oleta Adams (the darling of the Gulf War soldiers) by saying I don’t care how I get there I’ll get there if I can.

And so I’m flagging up airplane, sailboat and maybe even camel too today although Oleta it’s not just an Arab man who uses the ‘ship of the desert’.

Canary Orange

The future is orange

And obviously this caught our attention. Prosaically because the latest map for the European Centre for Disease control has classified Ireland and the Canaries orange.

Which means that anyone returning from the Canaries doesn’t have to restrict their movements upon their return, having done a pre-departure test 72 hours before departure.

Unlike the canary Aer Lingus isn’t flying out there until December 27.

But from then you can be sure of availability out to Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and my old fave Tenerife.

A word on canaries and the Canaries and, no they’re not named after the birds but after the latin name for dogs because they had big mutts.

And as for orange canaries, well they’re really Red Canaries which can have an orange hue. Now you know.

French fancy

We are sailing

France, we’ve missed you. Like so much else this year I had my bag packed ready for an arts and culture trip to see you when this pesky bug got buggier.

But we and my ferry friends aren’t going to let this beat us and Irish Ferries are preparing for a better year next year.

Irish Ferries will operate daily overnight sailings from Dublin to Cherbourg with their new cruise ferry WB Yeats (or WB Yachts as I call it) throughout next summer.

I’ve met WB, the ship that is, but that was in Dublin Port… next stop Cherbourg 2021.

And it truly is a pleasure to sail around French shores

Cruise away to 2022

Enchanted Princess

And the thing about cruises is that you usually have to save up for them.

So Princess Cruises are giving us plenty of time to do just that with their 2022 brochure.

They will have five ships on the seas.

Pick of them (heck they’re all mouthwatering) is Enchanted Princess which will be sailing around Russia snd Scandinavia from Copenhagen.

While we’re intrigued about their festival packages.

So you can take the Crown Princess to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo,

And I promised you a camel

He’s got the hump

Now this is the one I rowed back on, the 15-day G Adventures Jordan and Israel Adventures trip.

Because I didn’t feel it was right to leave my work without me for that length of time!

It’ll take you from Amman whose charms and that of Jordan I did enjoy, to Jerusalem and every stop in between. From £1954 (was £2999). Valid from January 15.

And as I now know after making new Israeli friends at the World Travel Market you’re just as likely to need a camel here too.

Because the land of milk and honey is a half sand.

MEET YOU IN THE SKIES, SEA AND SAND