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

Africa, America, Asia, Countries, Culture

Happy World Kindness Day

And on this, World Kindness Day, a shout-out here to those who have shown me random acts of kindness on my travels… and sometimes me them.

And firstly a recommendation… if you ever leave your mobile phone back in your Mississippi hotel on my American Trilogy in the Deep South.

You only realise it when you’re 50 miles along the highway then here’s your go-to guy.

Hit the road Zach

Zach is back

Zach arranged to get a courier to bring it from Jackson to Cleveland and the Two Mississippi Museums.

The next year Zach sought me out at the American Travel Fair, IPW, in Denver when I left my mobile phone down as I went for a coffee and he tut-tutted. Legend!

Zuhair, a hero

Ramadan the Man….Zuhair

And a shout-out here to all who observe Ramadan which puts a Christian’s Lenten fast into sharp focus.

Zuhair, our G Adventures host on our trip to Jordan, was the ever-welcoming face for his country.

Despite not being able to let a drop of water or morsel to his lips despite the travel and 30+ temperatures and desert until early evening.

When even Petra camels could.

Rachel, a ray of sunshine

Sometimes when you travel the world for a living you forget how lucky you are.

And that’s when you need a star like Rachel to pick you up.

Often it’s wine and a prehistoric South African valley which will remind you that whatever’s happening at home can wait.

And which is why I’m delighted for her (and me in the future) that South Africa is opening up again for international travellers with a negative test.

Your honour, Onur

I’m going where Onur goes… in Istanbul

And I’ve reserved this place for my favourite Turk, Turkish Airlines’ Onur, and very nearly favourite person in our industry.

Which is why he, like me, is also a past recipient of Irish Travel Media’s Pleasure To Work With Award.

Now if there was an award too for Most Accidental Tourist I’d win that too… every year.

I’ve enjoyed Onur’s company on the little island of Kuramathi, too small even for me to get lost.

Though Istanbul is and when I did get waylaid somewhere around the Blue Mosque who cane to collect me?

And I’ll carry your cross

And Finisterre after the Camino

And sometimes I’ll be your hero on your travels.

Just as I was when I carried a tearful American’s backpack on her final steps of a stretch of the Camino with CaminoWays.

Only for her to have to remind me to give it back.

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

WTM Holiday Snaps and a beautiful wrap Donald

And the last word is from Donald, a bit of a scoop from your favourite Travel blog.

While the rest of the world has been trying to talk to the Big Mouth we got him… well, we are old pals.

And Donald has a message for the world: ‘I love you all and I want you all to come and see me again soon in America.’

The Happiest Place on Earth is now also the Safest on Earth with reservations, social distancing, alternate rollercoast carts and new hospitality measures.

While Mickey, Minnie, Donald and the Gang aren’t about to let the virus turn their smile into a smell.

And are dancing, waving and welcoming us all in their own inimitable way.

Watch this space for new Disney features coming along soon.

While Visit Orlando also flagged up what’s happening up at Universal Orlando and particularly their Jurassic World feature.

All of which, and SeaWorld and Busch Gardens I’ll give you a taster of what’s in store… in my rollercoaster whizz around Florida.

Golden vision: Florida Kets

I had all planned to take a whizz around the Florida Keys before the other Donald closed America off in March but hope to put that right when I get the chance.

And it’s those areas with natural distancing like the Keys and island nations (and yes a lesson here to the UK and Ireland too) who have an advantage.

Sail away in Croatia

Water wonderland

And when you’ve got 1200 islands then there’s ‘one for everyone in the audience.’

As they like to say in the world’s longest-running TV chat show, Ireland’s The Late Late Show, or whatever the Croatian equivalent is.

But here is a country which, as a Balkans state, dealt better than the rest of Europe with the virus.

And which is perfectly placed to host the tourist’s new requirements during and post-Covid.

One area is in small boat holidays and yachting around the islands, another adventure in the Great Outdoors.

Kayak attack: In Croatia

My go-to people in Ireland for Croatia are Croatia Tours, and I went on pilgrimage with them to neighbouring Bosnia & Herzegovina where I started out on the road to Dubrovnik.

They have a seven-days Rivers by the Sea package, making the most of where the area where the Krka River enters the Adriatic, on June 26 £1255pp.

Where you’ll get to sea kayak, cycle, canoe, rock climb, hike and raft.

The Tuscan Islands

And Firenze too

We’ll also be spreading our wings more next year even when we do visit our favourite cities.

And that’ll help hotspots like Firenze breathe as we explore greater Tuscany, its adventure trails, cycling opportunities and thermal waters.

And its seven islands, chief among them Elba, the first island of exile for Napoleon, and Montecristo, it of Alexandre Dumas’ Count.

Able was I ere I saw Elba.

As every schoolchild, well, at least those of  certain age and lexical bent, will tell you.

And Tuscany was, and is, ere able to thrive in ‘il novo normal’.

And, of course, the Caribbean

Daddy’s Little Girl, as all our little girls do these days, is wont to show me amusing things she finds on the internetty thing.

And one we both find funny is a Jamaican tour guide who extols the benefits of inhaling the island’s plants.

I grab every chance to hook up with my Caribbean friends, Barbados, Tobago, Anguilla (heck, all of them) albeit these days over Zoom, if only to hope that I can draw some sun out from the screen.

And as usual their warmth came flowing us out as they reminded us that in their island their neighbourliness has helped them through this crisis and referred in passing to London where ‘people don’t know their neighbours but had been getting to know each other this year.’

Los Filipinos

For those of us too who in the second half of the century of years some of us are blessed to live, our cultural touchpoint for the Phillipines is the Thrilla in Manila, the nation’s capital which hosted Ali-Frazier III.

And of course the Philippines are knockout and our old friends at G Adventures are all over it.

Manila is on the island of Luzon, one of 7,641 in the archipelago.

And you’ll not be surprised to learn then that out of 7,641 islands that it should have boasted the world’s most beautiful island, courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler in 2016.

The exotically-named Atty. Maria Anthonette C.Velasco-Allones, the Tourism Promotions Board’s COO has an equally lyrical way about her.

As she described her islands and what they have to offer.

‘When the dark night is over and the sun rises, wake up in the Philippines.

 

 

 

 

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe

WTM Holiday Snaps Israel – The Promised Land in 2021

There was great excitement in 2020 with the new EL AL route from Dublin to Tel Aviv.

And it is a route we can all look forward to taking in 2021…

After all patience is a virtue as the Bible likes to remind us.

That’s those of us who have got to see Israel up close from Jordan with G Adventures but are yet to cross (me and Moses)…

It really does look a land of milk and honey.

My Israeli friends are forging ahead with their plans for 2021.

And they continue to promote their Two Cities One Break campaign.

While they are also encouraging us to explore their desert, which is two-thirds of the country (who knew?) and the Red Sea.

And for those who love a pilgrimage (guilty, but then aren’t we all, we are all sinners after all).

Then our experience in the Holy Sites will actually be enhanced.

Because we will be required to provide social distance and not jostle.

The Promised Land II

And when the ball drops on Times Square in New York at midnight on December 31.

America will herald in a new year with even more gusto.

Of course which of America’s great calendar events will go ahead, and in what format, is in the hands of the gods, the politicians and the scientists.

With us not even knowing what the Presidential inauguration will look like in Washington DC.

Or who will be sworn in… then it truly is a case of watch this space.

One thing I do know is that I’ll do my utmost to get there.

And with the Peabody Duckmaster in Memphis

And who knows it might be the Promised Land Martin Luther King well promised us.

Which I got a feel for in my American trilogy in the Deep South for MLK50 in 2018.

Our friends in Louisiana regaled us with the kind of news we love, a new Louisiana Civil Rights Trail across the greater state.

We talked, naturally, about Mardi Gras in February.

And the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in May with neither having made a decision.

In these different times when the Spring Masters up the road in Georgia is being held in November for the first time, here’s a thought.

Can you just hold off until I can get out there?

Adventure, Africa, Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals

What the world really looks like… Africa and South America

Empiricists love to boast about how the sun never went down on the British Empire which is probably why our little island is on steroids on atlases.

But not just us… the US obviously but also China and randomly Greenland.

So who loses out here? Well Africa and South America mostly.

Well this site is nothing if not a vehicle to change the world so let’s do just that and flag up to why these two continents should be on our radar.

Wendy Wu Tours have been telling us for years.

They have just released their 2020-2021 Treasures of South America brochure.

And they have put in some incentives just for us.

Their Essence of Argentina & Brazil is a 12-day tour from £4,090pp with flights which, of course, includes Rio, Buenos Aires and Iguazu. Pure redemption!

Hit the peaks in South America

Twelve days, of course, is never long enough, 28 is a bit more like it.

That’ll give you more than enough time to see…

Lima, Urubamba, Agues Caliente, Cusco, Puno, Huatajata, La Paz, Uyuni, San Pedro de Atacama, Santiago, Mendoza, Buenos Aires, Iguazu and Rio.

Fancy a waterfall?

And if some of those names are new to you it’s because they reduce the size of those countries on your map.

Ultimate South America, 28 days from £8,690pp, including flights.

Who hasn’t whiled away a coffeetime looking at our atlas, and picking out African names, say?

G Adventures will take you there… they laid me on my back in Jordan and came back for me.

And I promised to come back for them!

Now having dipped my toe into the Muddle East, and North Africa on a memorable trip to Morocco.

The pride of Africa

And realised a dream by visiting South Africa, I just have to do the bit in between.

So picking out Tanzania here which as you can see would dwarf Germany if we would only let it…

The sun also shines: Kilimanjaro

It’s all about the safari, the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro but there are beaches too, and exotic Zanzibar.

They have 19 days Kilimanjaro, Serengati & Zanzibar from £3356.65.

Tanzania was calling me in South Africa when my hotel in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape played Toto’s Africa on a constant loop.

Wild beasts of South Africa

I know that I must do what’s right. As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.

Famously, writer David Paich had never visited Africa when he penned the song….

Perhaps he too had been looking at his atlas with a magnifying glass, of course, to pick out the names!

MEET YOU ON THE RESERVE