Countries, Culture, Europe, Food & Wine

Hungry and Thursday – Schnapps

When it came to breakfast on our Oktoberfest booze bus in Munich it had to be schnapps.

We all had to take turns at cooking.

But Rambo, a New Zealander with a party trick of putting his false tooth in his beer when he went to the loo, was having none of it.

Put your hat on it

And he led a revolt of fellow heavy bevvy merchants… with this the result.

Slovenian life

All of which nostalgic meanderings are because of a Zoom meeting with Slovenia

We were tempted by some culinary guides and one speaker who was extolling the virtues of all things pumpkin seed oil.

While one Slovenian with an unpronounceable name showed us hay lofts we could book.

A taste of Slovenia

But, of course, it was the booze experts who drew me in, the Pale Ales and sparkling wines.

And especially the man with the pear schnapps.

We’ll leave Slovenia there and thank them for making nary a mention of the most famous Slovenian of all, Melania Trump.

Schnapps ja

And return to Germany where the schnapps is drunk like water.

As chasers with beer.

An Austrian yodeller

And coming in all fruits and with whole apples and pears in bottles soaking up the alcohol what’s not to love.

Central Europe is home to the best schnapps so a shout-out to Switzerland and hiking in the hills and Swhisskey on the rocks.


Or apres-ski in the Whiskey Mühle in Söll in Kaiser Welder in Austria with Soll Mates.

A handle on schnapps

Schnapps bottles too are works of art.

And you can marvel at the designs in the Ehrwald in the Tyrol with Top Flight for Schools

Peachy: A fruity little number

Of course Austria specialises in eccentricities and

But it all starts with the food and drink and with water so damned expensive I’d always recommend the sausages, beer… and schnapps.


Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Europe

The end of different loo signs?

Life after COVID-19 and the queues for the unisex toilets are snaking down the corridor.

And those men’s and women’s toilet signs will get eased out to be replaced with such as this…

Social distancing?

Although I’ve never seen a desperate woman hold herself like this.

So with the British Toilet Association saying rest rooms will soon become rush rooms…

Here’s a nostalgic look back at funky loo signs around the world.

It’s all Greek to me

Athens, Greece: And you can see that these signs are modelled on Socrates and Mrs Socrates although they both need a good feed.

Visit and My Greek odyssey.

Two loos from Amsterdam

Amsterdam, the Netherlands: And in the converted mosque restaurant that is Bazar in the great Dutch city the theme is Arabic.

See and Pictures of Amsterdam and George Clooney and Amal’s Amsterdam hotel.

Washed out in Austria

Ehrwald, Tyrol: And the backdrop naturally is the snow.

They love a loo in Austria so much so that a new revolving loo is an occasion… and I’m not making this up.


Split toilets

Croatia: And forget the manspreading, they womanspread in Split (well, that figures).

They’d be a bit more demure in holy Medjugorje.

Visit Croatia Tours, Marian Pilgrimages and

Too much to drink?

Prague: And a shining example of Prague design which is eclectic between Baroque to grim Communist to modernist David Cerny.

Visit and Hope springs eternal and

T&T pee and pee

And you’re asking your Tobagonian lady to stand still.

This woman on the sign is either coming from Sunday School (that’s a dance).

See and

Auf Wiedersehen pet!

Munich: And then there’s the one-legged woman. You must be really desperate.


What’s your favourite loo sign from around the world? Tell me and I’ll share.

And one to ponder on in the queue, a sign on a wall in a bar in the IFC, Ireland’s Financial Centre…

‘Men left, women always right.’


Adventure, Countries, Culture, Europe

Rainy Days and Songdays – yodeleeeee!

I’ve been known to sing songs aloud going down a crowded street and can do a whole concert these days.

Try it… you’ll feel liberated and you can belt out a lot of frustration.

Why do you think our friends in the Alps are so chilled?

One word: Yodelling.

Brigitte, our forever young walking guide from our Interlaken and Jungfraujoch perambulations and Swhisskey on the rocks could warble with the best.

Ehrwald Presley

And by the best I mean Arthur our legendary warbler from the Hotel Sonneburg in Ehrwald in the Tyrol.

Hot the floor: At the Sonneburg in Ehrwald, Austria

Octogenarian Arthur stepped in when their house singer had to pull out because of a fracture.

Being an Irish walking group we ratcheted it up by getting him to do Neil Diamond and Elvis Preskey.

The other Elvis

And Arthur became forever immortalised as Ehrwald Presley.

Eine kleine Nachtmusik

Back to yodelling and it would seem that it can carry a danger when you ‘climb every mountain’.

Which I did when stumbling upon a black run on our ski through the SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser… Soll Mates.

And had to walk down, skis in hand.

Tired, I fell asleep that night through the football on the telly in the Whiskey Muhle.

But awoke to hear Alex Johnson’s turn at the mic.

When he would bang out classic after classic while apres ski fans would pour shots into his mouth.

The Real Thing

My favourite of his set was Paolo Nutini’s Candy while he swore by The Real Thing’s You To Me Are Everything.

And so in tribute to Alex, who incidentally was back on the slopes the next day skiing away despite drinking the bar the night before.

Here it is…

Topflight and Topflightforschools are all over Austria.

Which songs are your souvenirs from your holidays. Share them here and we’ll have a good sing-song.


Countries, Culture, Europe, Pilgrimage

Italy – Il Bel Paese, the beautiful country

They’ve thrived and survived the Caesars, volcanic eruptions, the Vandals and the Goths, Napoleon, the Nazis and Mussolini… and Italy WILL survive Coronavirus.

The Italians have been at the Travel Fair, IMM2020, in London, this week.

Out doing what they do best… putting on their best front to the world.

It isn’t time now to deliver blame for Italy being in lockdown.

Rather it is best to dig out our holiday snaps, put on those old Dean Martin records and maybe a Fellini film.

Maybe go to our favourite Italian restaurant where your restaurateur is your best friend and you get the best pasta and risotto al funghi and Chianti.

And guess who knows how to make pasta from scratch now… thanks to my pal Catherine Fulvio at her Balkynocken Coikery School

With Topflight, the Italian specialists Also visit

Because if Italy can’t bring us out to them at the moment let’s bring Italy out to us.

The Roman Empire

Of course what the Romans did for us was only to give us all in the Western World the building blocks of civilisation.

I saw much of that on my walk along the Via Francigena, the last 100kms from Viterbo in Lazio into Rome Small roads lead to Rome and

Where every small town boasted an antiquity, a fresco.

It wasn’t built in a day and Italy and Italians won’t be destroyed in a day either.


Adventure, America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

Women’s Day – my own heroines

And by order of the management my heroines are – The Scary One, Daddy’s Little Girl and my Dear Old Mum.

All of whom have been wonderful (and challenging) fellow travellers on life’s unpredictable journey. Never my fault, of course.

Love boat in Amsterdam

Where do I start? I give her one thing to do, remember my dates for our weekend away in Monaghan Monaghan’s country roads.

While we almost ended up by taking the wrong bus from Hamburg, to east Germany rather than Kiel.

Springtime in Bergen

En route to our MSC cruise up the Norwegian cruises where we almost missed our ship in Bergen. Moi???

It was always going to be a challenge on the slopes with Topflight to Soll Soll Mates.

Hamburgers on the menu

But we stayed out of trouble in Central Portugal, Secret Portugal all down to our perfect host Jose

While we were on the same wavelength this time in Amsterdam Pictures of Amsterdam and George Clooney and Amal’s Amsterdam hotel.

My Queen of Dragons in Belfast

Because the previous time, 23 years earlier, when there was a fork in the cycling route and we ended up going 10kms out of the way.

Then there was the adventure of 13 and a half years in Ireland with The InterCon… what a Ledge! a particular highlight.

Mum Champagne

Get a grip

My first holiday companion… I was in her belly en route to her homestead, Co. Donegal and we’ve been back countless times.

Latterly when I would take her up from my home in Co. Wicklow.

On one occasion I was tasked to drive her and my Auntie Ronnie who was grieving her husband, my Uncle Tom, up from Dublin… in Ronnie’s automatic sports car!!!

My Mummy… and just as old

Then when I accompanied her to New York for my cousin’s wedding… and suddenly I was back to 12 years old again.

While she wimped out of the Red Hot Chill Pipers concert when we were VIPs in my home town of Glasgow at the World Pipe Band Championships

Daddy’s Little Drinking Girl

Piping hot

Now there are only good memories… from the time in England’s Lake District when she asked me to find a friend for her.

To a family camping trip in Co. Wicklow… when she was nine and she swigged from my whisky flask and claimed that she thought it was tea!

With my trekking pal Big Jim Gallaghet

There was no pretence when we attended a cocktail night at the Dylan

Well, she is her Grannie’s grand-daughter… and don’t even get me started on the other Grandma, the storied Bamba.

*And now I’ve got started I’ll move onto my heroines from my own personal Travels.


Give us this Day – Oberammergau

God, the all-powerfuly deity, is a vengeful God, a loving God, and what I’m learning with every passing year, a needy God.

He likes, or needs, constant reassurance, acknowledgement and, in olden days, sacrifice.

Which is what Oberammergau is made for… the acknowledgement bit although their meat dishes are also delicious.

The good burghers of the Bavarian town have been running a Passion Play since 1634 when they made God a bribe.

To hold a Passionsspiele in his name if only God would just stop smiting them down with the Black Plague.

Good as his word then the Great long-bearded, white-robed, sitting-on-a-cloud One then spared them the Plague.

Oberammergau is on the eve of its latest iteration of Passionsspiele which is held every ten years.

And its shops are pedalling religious memorabilia, walking sticks and crosses that the world’s most famous carpenter, sorry Gepetto, would have been proud of.

Oberammergau is a constant reminder, whether you’re in Passionsspiele or not, of the Plague.

They are beautifully displayed on the intricate murals of its walls and its fountains.

Which is why it’s surprising that the church I pop into, the Lutheran one, is so minimalist.

Half a million people will attend Oberammergau which has become even more inclusive in modern times.

With input even from Muslim artistic creators.

You’ll need to get a shoogle on to get tickets.

Pilgrims book well in advance for the Play and accommodation is limited.

The Play’s the thing

If you can make it, and My Dear Old Mum and my Godmother did, then it will be memorable.

But if you can’t then Oberammergau is still a captivating visit any time.

I took it all in on my trip last week with Topflight to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Southern Bavaria and Austrian Tyrol

And if it’s on the 150th anniversary of its fire service then you’ll know it will go with a bang.

If you love Germany as much as I do then here are a couple of love letters… Dresden’s renaissance and Hamburgers and ships.


Give us this day -Padova

As calling cards go it does the job – simple, functional and just what is needed if your stock painting will be halos.

With a swish and a brush of red paint Giotto di Bondone had announced himself to the Papal envoy with his freehand circle.

And within a few years he would announce himself to the world with his magnum opus.

His fresco in 1305 in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova would in turn inspire Michelangelo when he came to adorn the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

For all of us who have attempted a still life and ended up with an egg in a basket of fruit instead of an orange you will know how difficult it is to draw the perfect circle.

But only perfect circles would do as Giotto’s patron Enrico Scrovegni had let his halo slip and needed a grand gesture.

To gain absolution and enter through the gates of heaven.

Enrico’s crime was usury – charging excessive interest on loans.

A crime so serious that it resulted in the banker being damned the fires of Hell.

Worth a shot in Ireland.

Rather than appealing straight to Our Lord, though, Scrovegni had the bright idea of asking Jesus’s mother to intercede on his behalf.

Mary cradles Christ

And then dedicated the chapel and the frescoes to her life with a celebration of her role in human salvation.

And just to leave nobody in any doubt of his devotion he had Giotto paint him into the main scene.

Presenting a model of the chapel to her in the fresco The Last Judgment.

The Scrovegni Chapel is Padova’s calling card but it is only a hint of a more expansive canvas.

I am in Padova (Padua), 38km west of Venice in the Veneto region and 209kms from Milan.

St Anthony’s Basilica

As well as looking upwards – Padova is the City of Frescoes – it looks outwards.

It has been home to the Venetians, French and Austro-Hungarians over the last millennium and embraced all their influences.

Today it is looking westwards which is where we Irish probably come in.

But more immediately to Milan’s Expo 2015, a showcase for feeding the planet and energy for life.

Padova has a rich history of doing both.

The Brenta River which leads right down to the Grand Canal teems with life.

While the Venetian Plain attracted the mariners of that great city to avail of its rich agriculture.

And build grand villas and palaces to entertain dignitaries.

It is also home to the oldest botanical gardens in the world.

On this trip, we will get to witness all of this.

But today it’s Sunday so Church and a visit to the Basilica of St Anthony of Padova.

The Piazza dei Signori

Yes, that St Anthony, the one who helps you – for some coins in his charity box – to find your keys,

St Anthony we are told has a wider reach than just those objects that fall out of your rucksacks and handbags.

He is also the patron saint of people who have lost their way in life or lost or fear losing something or someone close to them.

St Anthony’s bones are kept in an altar tomb in the basilica and people pass it in veneration, touching the side.

Which is adorned with photos of their loved ones.

A little bit more of St Anthony

The image of a young man, his head bowed and his hand placed on the side in silent invocation was truly moving.

I have to confess that this simple devotion touched me more than the veneration to St Anthony’s tongue and the bottom of his teeth in elaborate gold reliquaries further up the church.

The story goes that when St Anthony’s body was exhumed his tongue was still moist in recognition of his great preaching prowess.

So the Padovans decided to place it on show for veneration.

St Anthony hailed from Lisbon, but had he been Italian then you’d have to think his hands would have been on display.

Water, water everywhere

They are a famously expressive people, the Italians.

And while in the big cities there is less of a willingness to indulge those who wish to try out their Italian.

I found the Padovans and, in particular, our guide Mariaclaudia charmingly engaging.

Perhaps it is because this is a university city but not just any old university city, among the top ten oldest in the world.

And where Galileo taught.

Naturally the statue to him which is among 78 in the Isola Memmia in the Prato della Valle portrays him with his hands outstretched.

It is also where the first woman anywhere in the world graduated.

Piazza special

An inclusive place then and one where you can, if you don’t have two left feet like your writer, get up to dance the tango.

With dozens of other Padovans in the piazza at night.

The Villa Pisani

Perhaps with another glass of Venetian Spritz – the local speciality of Aperol (think Campari), Prosecco and mineral water.

Well, next time.

My own personal foodie

A word on the food and drink.

I had the good fortune to have accomplished Travel writer, food expert and bon viveur Peter on our trip.

I’m insisting that he come on all my future expeditions with me.

To describe in erudite fashion how good the likes of regional favourite Risi e bisi is.

A merely English translation as rice and peas clearly doesn’t do it justice.

So it’s best left in Italian.

A work of art on a plate

I’m sure other restaurants do Risi e bisi just as well as Taverna degli Artisti but my dish came at the end of an enchanting visit to Cittadella.

It is a 13th Century walled city which stands 14-16ft high and 4,793ft around.

Taverna degli Artisti stands opposite the quaint old we entered behind a market stall.

And through what looked like a lock-up door.

A treasure more memorable because it feels hidden away.

A touch of colour

There is nothing shy and retiring though about the baroque Villa Pisani in Stra on the banks of the Brenta.

Built by Alvise Pisani, the 114th Doge, or leader, of Venice in 1735, there would be 114 rooms.

Villa thriller

With frescoes of gods and men and women living and loving lustily.

With vino flowing as copiously as the water on the nearby Brenta.

And without the dams that that river employs to hold it back.

In the pink

Pride of place in the villa is Napoleon Bonaparte’s bedroom – the little general bought it in 1806.

Bony’s bed

Bony’s bedroom is surrounded by empirical emblems and deliberately is the first the sun hits in the morning.

Not to be outdone, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler met here in Villa Pisani for the first time.

One imagines there must have been a fight to get Bony’s bed.

The Villa Pisani comes with its very own maze, the Labyrinth of Love.

Where we are told a young cloaked woman would stand in the centre at the top of a spiral staircase.

Amazing maze

She was, of course, the prize for the man who managed to wend his way through the maze.

There is no historical record that Bony, Benito or Adolf burrowed their way manically through the maze.

But you would imagine that like us, they did.

We can only assume too that the young woman was on a day off when we visited!

But anyway it was time to get back on our burchiello – or boat.

As we skirted along the river at a gentle pace, gurgling wine and scoffing hors d’oeuvres we feel like those nobles of old.

Energy of the water

We are informed that many of the villas along the banks are also richly blessed but lie empty, still needing to be renovated.

It is a theme that keeps recurring: that the Italians, having finished what they had set out to build during the Renaissance packed up early.

And laid back and enjoyed the fruits of their labour.

So with dragonflies gently skimming along the water by our side I contemplate how the energy of life sometimes has to come in great rushes.

But it is often best captured in quiet moments and in water colours.

A gondola by the banks suggests Venice is drawing nearer but that is for another time.

Merchant of Menace

And besides the Brenta boat voyage runs both ways and it was inland to Padova and its environs that the Venetians, after all, came for their pleasure and sustenance.

So, who am I to argue?

Travel facts

How to get there: Aer Lingus flies to Venice on Fridays, returning Sundays.

From €657.80 Or depart for Treviso, depart and return Thursdays. From €297.80.

Package: The Only Weekend Padova option offers a double room in the central Hotel Europa which offers a comfy night’s stay, a balcony and breakfast. For two nights at €155.

And some extras

Extras: Padova Terme Euganee Convention & Visitors Bureau offers the PadovaCard for free

The Padova Card is valid 48 hours (€16) or 72 hours (€21) and valid for one adult and child under 14

Besides free admission the Padova Card also provides discounts on attractions and allows visitors to use urban transit buses for free.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail.

And why not check out some other Italian adventures And

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