Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

A year on – Ireland and Scotland and further afield

That was the year that was – it’s 12 months now since I left my beloved Ireland for my first love Scotland.

I had though little intention of spending all my time in Scotia.

And instead had a long list of destinations to fill out the year.

So to mark the anniversary I’ll share the year that never was.

Off to a flier in Czech Hoptown

In the Strahov Monastery Brewery, Prague, in the Czech Republic

The Chinese lady with the mask on in the airport in Prague Airport seemed a curio at the time, a reminder of the latest virus that only affects Asia.

A few weeks later the fun and intimacy of the Czech Republic  were but a warm embrace I clung onto as I entered lockdown in Scotland for the first time.

As I came out of isolation I engaged with my Czech friends again over the new-fangled Zoom app we were all compelled to use and toasted each other in time-honoured fashion Na Zdravie.

I was heartened to see them lay out a table for a feast along the Charles Bridge in the early summer and wished that I was back there again in Prague or in the Czech Republic’s Hoptown, Zatec.

I know this though that the Czechs will get through this because they have the best beer in the world, Pilsener Urquell.

Trump steals my Keys

Limin’ at a Key Lime shop in the Keys

Suitcase packed, bandana on, I was all set for my fly-drive around the Florida Keys when Donald Trump (remember him) closed the country to visitors while encouraging Americans to gather… at his rallies.

And so Hemingway’s six-toed cats, key line pie, Florida sunsets and easy living will just have to wait.

Of course the beauty of it is that Papa’s pussies won’t have had any idea that anything was even different about the past year.

Exile me in St Helena

Napoleon was here

And another on the back-burner is Napoleon’s island. No, not his birthplace, Corsica, or the one the British sent him to initially, Elba, but the one where he ended his days, St Helena.

St Helena, 1200 mile west of southwestern Africa is one of the most remote inhabitable islands in the world and is an ecological dream.

All of which makes you think that exile was a pretty good option back in the day. And if I end up needing to self-isolate anywhere then I’ll be back in touch.

Vegas or bust

What happens in Vegas: With Cami

Now I’ve always felt bad about leaving Cami from Utah at the bar at Harrah’s Las Vegas a few years ago and knowing she goes down there every weekend knew that she’d be there when I revisited in June.

The American Travel Fair was scheduled for Neon City and I was all booked and ready, my chips at the ready to make my million.

But alas I had to leave Cami waiting again and to get my fix of Vegas I had to make do with watching the world’s greatest band The Killers perform from the ceiling of Caesars Palace on YouTube.

The fair, IPW is slated for the Fall, and I’ll be expecting an Access All Areas ticket, Brandon.

And maybe even reprising my Mr Brightside from the Rising Star Karaoke Bar, CityWalk at Universal Orlando a few years ago.

The Norman request

Perfect for a selfie?

I would have put my Monet on getting to Normandy

for the Monet festival back in late summer.

And even get a painting lesson in his back garden.

But as the UK travel corridor policy became as chaotic as the Spinal Tap boys trying to get to their gigs, again I found myself blocked.

Now what is the French word for cup-de-sac?

Bergamo go, go, go

Bergamo fountains

And just as the year was petering out and I was resigning myself to my best chance of a trip down to North Berwick beach, Mamma Mia but one came off.

And in spectacular style.

The journalist in me had me tracking the evolution of Bergamo through the pandemic, it being the gateway to the virus in Europe.

And just in time I got over to Northern Italy to talk to the Bergamaschi and ask how they had got through it all and their advice on how we should all progress now.

There was specialist Lombardy food and wine, culture, history Donizetti music and art aplenty.

But the most beautiful picture was that of the emboldened Bergamaschi in the backdrop of their historic city, both in Citta Alta and Citta Bassa, the High and the Low City.

Now there are worse places to have spent this last year, with the view of the Firth of Forth from my window, Bass Rock bookending the beach and Edinburgh just along the road.

I’ve chosen to live by the sea all my adult life. It’s a primal thing knowing that exciting lands lie beyond.

I know that we’ll visit them again soon, and hopefully I can fill in the blanks above and add San Francisco, Chicago, New England and a host of other trips I had planned last year, and many to come.

All for your enjoyment.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

 

 

 

 

Asia, Australasia, Countries, Deals, Europe

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Day oi oi oi

G’day my Antipodean friends and good to see you’re able to celebrate it publicly.

Which no doubt Smutley, Brownie, PC, Roscoe, Brad et al will mean getting shitfaced.

I never got to Australia but Australia got to me in the Eighties when I did back-to-back Oktoberfests in Munich.

I had booked me a seat and a bed (which were pretty much the same thing) on a ten-day Topdeck bus trip to Bavaria.

But innocent abroad that I was I neither knew that Earl’s Court in London was an Aussie enclave nor that Top Deck was an Aussie firm.

Aussies in Aberdeen

Forward fast three months and the Hilton district of Aberdeen was also an Aussie enclave.

When Smutley and Brownie turned up and asked to stay for the weekend…. and stayed for a year.

And they brought their pals too much to the pleasure of the female student population of Scotland’s Granite City.

Aussies abroad

Now Aussies show us the way when it comes to travelling and Topdeck know what’s most important to them.

That it’s cheap and cheerful, and my two Oktoberfest trips at just £84 were the best value holidays I have ever purchased.

Now knowing that you’ll want to get back out on the road when all this virus eases up Topdeck have you covered.

Europen odyssey

Of course we can’t jump in a Topdeck machine to go back and get 1985 prices but they are offering 25% off.

Spirit of Europe is an 11-country, 24-day odyssey starting and ending in London coming in from £2,193 down from £2,924.

You’ll see England, France, Monaco, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands.

Japanese promise

All roads lead to Japan this year with the Olympics, or at least this one road we hope.

Japan Highlights is a 12-day tour leaving and returning to Tokyo, down from £3,278 to £2,485.50.

Indian treasures

While if India is more your thang… Namaste India is a ten-day trip, starting and finishing in New Delhi, down from £1,429 to £1,071.75.

And if you should ask the whereabouts of the person you first meet on the bus and he says he’s from Perth…

Then it’s Perth, WA, not Perth, Scotland… ‘and we’re all from Australia or New Zealand, mate.’

Happy Australia Day, mates.

And while we’re here a rousing call to arms from the original Aussie singing superstars The Seekers and I Am Australian.

And tell me too your fave Aussie bands and singers.

Caribbean, Countries, Culture

Rainy Days and Songdays – Jamaica sings Burns

Robert Burns’s greatest creations Tam O’ Shanter and Soutar Johnny sit with their tankards in the Burns Monument Gardens.

Alongside them is a carved tabletop map of the world with mini-Burns statues depicting where the poet is celebrated.

On this his birthday it is worth considering that Burns is lauded by as vastly opposing cultures as America and in Russia.

Because he was an everyman, ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’ and all that.

Ode to the Caribbean

But also in the old countries of Empire.

My guys and Burns’ guys in Alloway

Burns, proud Scot though he was, had set his sights on the Caribbean.

And he had agreed to a position as a bookkeeper in Port Antonio in Jamaica.

You see Burns’s wild lifestyle was beginning to catch up with him.

A new start

A hard drinker, he was facing penury while he was impregnating women all over Scotland.

Robert Burns

Although there was one, Highland Mary, whom he wished to take to the Indies.

O sweet grows the lime and the orange, and the apple on the pine, but a’ the charms o’ the Indies, Can never equal thine – Will ye go to the Indies, my Mary

Only for his poetry to take off at home which made him change his mind.

And continue juggling his women.

All of which took its toll, of course, and he died, still beset by money worries, at just 36.

My bonnie lassie

Now if only there had been a digital work abroad scheme for Burns like we have today in the Caribbean.

Scots have left their mark all across the West Indies.

Scots in the Indies

The region of Scotland in Barbados being testament.

Glasgow Bar with owner Karl in Tobago

While any excuse to namecheck Glasgow Bar in Tobago.

Now for the day that’s in it, and your regular feature, Rainy Days and Songdays here’s a site with Burns in Jamaican patwa.

And check out this collaboration between Scots producer Kieran C Murray and Jamaican singer Brinathe 2015 Jamaica Sings Robert Burns.

Oh ye Jamaicans by name, lend an ear, lend an ear!

SLAINTÉ

Asia, Countries, Europe, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Jimuary, Ginuary, Veganuary, Japanuary

And whatever you’re having yourself… January is after all what we make it.

Jimuary in Scotland

Jim O’ Shanter

And for me and all of us of a Scottish disposition then January is Robert Burns’ Month.

Burns is Scotland’s National Poet and January 25 is his birthday… he would be 252 this year.

Wherever they are in the world Scots put on kilts and start eulogising little mice and the like… ‘wee sleekit timrous beastie, oh what a panic’s in thy breastie.’

It’s all the whisky we drink you see!

Alloway Bridge

Burns’ Village is a magical place with Burns’ Cottage, Alloway Kirk and Brig o’ Doon.

Where you can let your imagination run wild.

Three Scots mice

January is also the month when Dr Martin Luther King’s birthday is commemorated.. he was born on January 15 but Martin Luther King Day is actually January 18..

I was fortunate enough to attend the 50th commemoration of his assassination and followed the MLK Trail from Memphis to Jackson, Mississippi.

Ginuary in Ireland

G&T O’Clock

And you could do worse than Co. Monaghan, the border county where a ginoisseur will guide you through each gin and tonic.

The Scary One turned her nose up at the juniper when presented with a tray of samples only to then dig in and minesweep them all.

Veganuary

And if it’s good enough for Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Barry White (and he had a healthy appetite, and for food).

Veganuary has really taken off in recent years and I’ve visited the oul’ plant-based food before on this site.

But seeing that the calendar has come around again and that you’ll be performing a public service by not visiting the shops.

Here’s to all those things in your flower beds which also includes the majestic tulip.

And Japanuary

Thanks here to our friends in The Land of the Rising Sun for always keeping it fun and funky.

So Japanuary?

Well, we’re all being encouraged to get on our bikes and in Japan you can do worse than following the Tanesashi Coastline and bike hire is just £10 per day.

They advise stopping off at fish restaurants and temples while ensuring that through the cycling your body remains a temple.

If that’s too sedentary for you then why not canyon through the Sarugajo Gorge.

Talking of temples you shouldn’t go to Japan and not visit a Zen Buddhist temple.

Oh, and in the year when the Olympics are coming to Tokyo then they’re challenging us all to get our adrenaline vibe on.

And ski a volcanic crater in Niseko.

Countries, Culture, Food & Wine, UK

Brew’s up – the perfect Covid beer cure

The Blood Service give you a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive but maybe they’ll now follow Brewdog’s lead of giving beer after a Covid vaccine shot.

The Aberdeenshire beer chain have come up with an inventive and public-spirited way of getting us all to get our shots.

I’ll take all four

They plan to throw open their closed bars as vaccination centres.

And they have asked the public for help in naming the new vaccine-themed beer.

Only here for the beer

As a steer they have mocked up a Vaccine Canteen, Little Prick, Community Immunity and Jab Lab.

All good, but why in the 13 years I was away from Scotland did we start saying jab instead of jag?

Breweries are a staple on tour itineraries and it is always welcome to sample a region’s or a brand’s beer.

I’ve sent many a Wish You Were Beer message from my travels around the world.

Interior decorations

And listened through the spiel from the Master Brewer about the mashing process and the like.

And prayed silently that nobody would ask a question which would require an answer that would eat into the drinking time.

The same goes for any vaccinations.

I mean, do you really want to be left waiting for your complimentary beer because somebody is firing off questions.

That would be a little prick.

Serve it uo

BrewDog Dog Tap in Ellon, near Aberdeenis one if your more accessible brewery tours.

And you get an insight into what must be one of the better places to work.

You can bring your per to work… and, oh, all that beer!

Africa, Countries, Europe, Sport, UK

My Sporting Weekend – Subbuteo, yabbuteo!

It seems the more technological we get the more we hanker after more simple pleasures which is why the sporting toy hit this Christmas is Subbuteo.

Table football where you flick a football piece on a semi-circle stand at a mini-ball to a fellow player, on up the green felt pitch and into the goal is back.

It’s not as real as the latest FIFA iteration but that’s much of the charm.

Teams of all talents

I first learned about other countries through sporting competitions and replicated that through Subbuteo.

Why we had the Uruguay team I still don’t know other than the Brazil team was probably sold out.

Your traditional Subbuteo box came with Scotland and England teams and here’s where this gets current.

And Scotland’s greatest ever goal

John Motson, the doyen of English TV commentators is plugging Subbuteo and he is the ideal man for the job.

Because he, and his sheepskin coat, are instantly recognisable and made the perfect accessory for your kit.

You could also get grandstands, fans (remember them), floodlights, the World Cup, and probably a wee VAR room now too.

And England’s glossy kit

The beauty of Subbuteo is that you could get it in other sports too.

And I would often play out the-then Five Nations Rugby Championships.

Anyone for rugby

And the iconic touring New Zealand All Blacks, Australian Wallabies, South African Springboks and Argentine Pumas.

The passing behind made it a little pedestrian but the rugby kicker and scrum machine more than made up for it.

Subbuteo offered cricket too which obviously had its challenges for bowlers but they uses a chute?

While they even did hockey and, get this, soeedway.

And there were some sports which obviously beat the imagineers such as swimming and horse racing!

Watch the lampshades… it’s cricket

There is a Subbuteo World Cup which was lined up for Rome this year but will now take place next year when Spain will defend their title.

And maybe I’ll combine it with a trip to the Olympic Stadium to see Roma after arriving with the Son and Heir there a few years ago without my passport.

We did get to play giant fusbol outside the stadium… but that’s a whole different game.

MEET YOU ON THE FELT

Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

Haunted houses – Dracula and Scotland

I can’t recall what brought my short-lived Cubs career to an end nor much about what we did in the Scout Hut, but I do remember the Haunted House next door.

In these less innocent and imaginative days haunted houses seem to have gone out of fashion.

But the ghosts and ghoulies haven’t gone away, and with all of us consigned to our houses these days you’d better not have been ignoring them.

Scotland’s Scary One

Bram Stoker was certainly alive to their presence and spirited up the Dead when he was inspired to write Dracula on a visit to north-east Scotland.

And placed the nocturnal room in Slains Castle in Cruden Bay as the dwelling of one Count Dracula.

As spooky houses go it is certainly more frightening than the lot in a Dublin shopping centre where you’ll find Bram Stoker’s Castle Dracula Experience.

Although much like his crypt if you delve inside you’ll find there’s lots to sink your teeth into.

Dublin’s Bram Stoker Festival is always finding new ways of reinventing themselves and they’re billing this year’s digital offering as a Grave New World.

Slains Castle

Which is what we’ll all be doing too, turning our homes into Haunted Houses… and The Scary One and her Mini-Me have been dressing up for the part.

Now I don’t know where the Scout Hut is in my new hometown of North. Berwick but my mother-in-law never sees a guising.

Pumpkin time

And here’s an Irish Halloween blessing to keep away the gremlins…

At all Hallow’s Tide, may God keep you safe,

From goblin and pooka and black-hearted stranger

From harm of the water and hurt of the fire

From thorns of the bramble, from all other danger,

From Will O’ The Wisp haunting the mine,

From stumbles and tumbles and tricksters to vex you,

May God in His Mercy, this week protect you.

Countries, Culture, Ireland, UK

Fit like? An Aberdeen Saga

Who said university is one big holiday and students never leave their rooms… or was that just my old Aberdeen Uni pal Jim?

All joking aside my heart goes out to our students who continue to be scapegoated through this COVID-19 crisis.

Fact is that people, senior people, go to University halls on holiday in the summers and get attended to by students.

Granite City of Aberdeen

And we serve them, clean their rooms, entertain them and make up packed lunches for their tours around Aberdeenshire.

There will always be a special place with me for Saga for employing me then in the Aberdeen halls of residence.

And they didn’t forget me either, sending me their literature when I turned 50.

We’ve all been reacquainting ourselves with our own cities and countryside again during this lockdown.

Aberdeen, the Granite City, in the north-east of Scotland is one of the hidden jewels of the UK.

Saga offers Aberdeenshire, the Cairngorms and Balmoral (the Queen’s summer gaffe.

Charms of Cornwall

Which you’ll recognise from Mrs Brown) two passengers, five nights from £519pp.

You might be happy to know that guests have been upgraded from students’ rooms which was their billet back when I worked for Saga.

Lakeland: The Lake District in England

You’ll be staying at the 4* Macdonald Norwood Hall Hotel and among your excursions will be:

A half day around Balmoral Castle, a full day in Cairngorms National Park and a half-day Dunnottar Castle and Stonehaven.

You’ll need a Jersey

Check out Saga for terms and conditions.

Look out too at their Scottish Highlands Escape from £669pp.

While across the border there’s Charms of the Cornwall Coast from £469pp, Jersey Island Escape from £599pp and Little Boats of the Lake Districts from £610pp.

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

Happy Jewish New Year

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

Hello, Chinas

Pandamonium

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

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

And what are you all having?

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

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

Iran the bells

Smiles from Iran. http://www.itto.org

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

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

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

Sri Lanka is my cup of tea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ethiopia will take years off you

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

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

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

Scotland, the home of Hogmanay

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO WHOEVER YOU ARE AND WHEREVER YOU ARE

 

 

America, Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Hungry and Thursday – super soup

My Dear Old Dad would never tire of telling us that he studied Higher Spanish.

So when the gazpacho was served up in the hotel in Ibiza on our family holiday he insisted he knew that it would be cold.

A meat and two veg man, my Mum was up all night with him, cradling him as the gazpacho came back up.

Anyhoos, here are five soups around the world…

Vietnamese please

Vietnamese Beef Noodle soup: In Belfast

Vietnamese Pho: No, that particular pleasure awaits me but who knows as we plan to visit the Far East next year?

So, Son and Heir get yourself out to teach English there so we can come visit.

Ally introduced us to a Vietnamese speciality Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup in, of all places, Belfast at Madame Pho’s.

And when we do get out there we will, of course, go to our friends Wendy Wu first.

Bustin’ Boston

Catch of the day

Boston chowder: American diners give a special flavour to food.

And while San Francisco has its harbour and Florida its Keys, you never forget where you had your first chowder.

And for me that was in Boston where I spent a summer after university and would set myself up for night work.

With Boston chowder and a sealed packet of crackers.

Johnnie Fox‘s. the highest pub in Ireland, up in the Dublin hills, runs it a close second. With a pint of Guinness, of course.

Life is a minestrone

Yes to the second bowl www.bbc.co.uk

Minestrone: As Manchester 70s band 10CC said…

And that staple of your Mum’s cupboard is unrecognisable from the real thing.

Try any trattoria you like but mine’s is in Padova, upstreaam of Venice.

Onion bag

Ooh la la

French Onion soup: Talking of your Mum, or maybe it was just mine but French Onion soup was always her go-to for dinner parties.

Not too heavy to fill you up before your main meal.

And if you want to get really fancy then top it off with bread and gruyere cheese.

It should be gooey. Like it is in Biarritz.

Cock a leggie

And you want a third bowl

Cock-a-leekie: Now anything that conceals the taste of leeks which seem like just a green receptacle for water.

This is eaten at traditional dinners like Burns Suppers and I’d recommend the Sheep’s Heid in Duddingston, Edinburgh.

And the Yacht Club in Bray, Co. Wicklow particularly when Yours Truly is giving his Toast to the Lassies.

Out of India… and England

Creme de la creme

Mulligatawny: Now that surprised you, yes!

But as Indian curry is the English national dish then this isn’t such a big leap.

Its got carrots, potatoes, celery and much else as well but most important is the curry powder and that it’s creamy.

MEET YOU AT THE FIRST COURSE