Countries, Deals, Europe

Our schoolday Bertillons on Bastille Day

And today we’re flying the flag with our favourite French family, no, not the Macrons… it’s all about our schoolday Bertillons on Bastille Day.

Qui sont Les Bertillons?

Well, for Fiftysomethings they were the French family from the cartoon school textbook Le Francais d’Aujourd’hui.

The French of that day were very different from the multicultural Gauls of today.

Les Bertillons

La Famille: Les Bertillons

Papa (Jean) smoked a pipe and Mamon (Annette) stayed at home and crashed the car while he was at the rugby with Philippe.

Et Papa worked as a customs officer at Orly Airport…

C’est vrai that Papa is well out of the airports now where he worked as a customs officer.

Hero: Papa Bertillon

And where his shining hour was catching a thief for which he was awarded a bonus (c’est quoi).

For any Catholic lad though attending the all-boys Jesuit-taught St Aloysius College in Glasgow, Marie-Claude was the only Bertillon worth getting to know.

Ma cherie M-C

Wrong gear: Mamon

While M-C had posters of Johnny Halliday, the French Elvis, on her walls we dreamt of her and Mamon.

I can’t recall if we were invited into the Bertillons’ house for Bastille Day but I was there at the rugby with Jean et Philippe.

I was clearly distracted enough by the Bertillon women too to manage only a mere pass in my ‘O’ Grade French.

And when it came to chatting up French women on the French Riviera in my post-school holiday my best one-liner was…

‘Aimez-vous les temps?’ or do you like the weather?

Villages people

Hang in there: Villages living

The best way to improve your French (or any language) is to live among them.

And France enjoys a deserved reputation for family vacations with Les Villages Nature Paris a stand-out.

Save £120 on an eco-friendly family summer trip to Les Villages Nature Paris in France

Les Villages Nature is 32 km from Paris (and just over three hours from Calais)

It boasts five immersive worlds, the BelleVie Farm, the Extraordinary Gardens, the Forest of Legends and the picturesque Lakeside Promenade.

The fifth world, the Aqualagon, is the biggest water park in Europe to be heated entirely with geothermal energy.

L’eau mon Dieu

Slide rule: Water park fun

Home to eight slides, a wave pool, a climbing wall and a giant water tree it’s easy for families to spend hours splashing around.

Les Villages Nature Paris offers a multitude of workshops across the park too.

From bee keeping, bread baking and chocolate making to building a den in the woods and a treasure hunt.

A seven-night self-catered stay, from 5-12 August 2022, in a Comfort Cottage, sleeping up to four people, costs from €2,469 / £2,128 total.

And it was €2,609/ £2,248 total, saving £120, Eurostar offers travel from £39 pp each way.

Joyeux Bastille

No more Miserables: Bastille Day

Mais oui, whisper it around Monsieur Bertillon but France is linked to England by a tunnel though the UK has removed itself in politics.

All of which for us in Travel means that there are more ways to bypass Monsieur Bertillon’s airports.

Mind you to all the French around la monde Joyeux and especially our schoolday Bertillons on Bastille Day.

Et merci!





Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

European Spa Towns springing forward

It felt like I should have been letting all this seep into me in my reviving bath… European Spa Towns springing forward.

And indeed I’m remembered for attending our last European Thermal Cafe seminar from my tub.

Our friends from the European Thermal Towns’ visit to Chez Murty corresponded with its Heritage Day.

In truth they were in Wiesbaden but you get the picture.

It is indeed timely with the world coming together soon for COP 26 in my home town of Glasgow.

Water is, of course, the source of life, but it’s worth repeating that spas were the first tourist resorts.

Our hosts mapped out their First XI who have World Heritage Status as the Great Spa Towns of Europe.

Of course we all know that they just trip off the tongue.

The First XI

Crystal clear: Spa

But here’s a reminder.. 

1. Baden bei Wien (Austria)
2. Spa (Belgium)
3. Františkovy Lázne (Czechia)
4. Karlovy Vary (Czechia)
5. Mariánské Lázne (Czechia)
6. Vichy (France)
7. Bad Ems (Germany)
8. Baden-Baden (Germany)
9. Bad Kissingen (Germany)
10. Montecatini Terme (Italy)
11. City of Bath (United Kingdom)

And while it’s the Czech Spa Triangle I know best they all have their merits.

Belgium’s other watering hole

My kind of watering hole: With Simon in Belgium

Now I’d be more used to the Belgian bars and the kinds of beer experience which remind you of the paucity of good ales back here in Scotland.

Now as water is core to beer it’s worth flagging up Belgium’s spa sector, and particularly the town which gives the whole business its name.

Spa‘s springs we are told date back to the 14th century and you’ll get some good exercise in walking from the town to the forest to get your water.

For a town of just 10,000 Spa does punch above its weight with its grand prix and it’s status in beauty pageants, Concours de Beauté, as the first in the world back in 1888.

Beethoven on a roll

Beethoven got around: In Czechia

And the Great and Good of European society would flock to spa towns. 

With our old friend Ludwig Van Beethoven a frequent visitor to Baden bei Wien in Austria

We tracked him down at the hotel named in his honour, Beethoven Spa in Teplice in the Czech Republic on our Hops and Health tour. Complete with his hearing horns in a glass cabinet. 

That ain’t half Bad

Kaiser Wilhelm: In Bad Ems

The Germans are the only other country which has three spa towns on the list.

And yes, that ain’t half bad… but in truth, bad is just another example of the Germans having a word which means something completely different from ours.

Bads are baths and Kaiser Wilhelm I loved them (no, not the Bad Wilhelm of First World War Fame).

It was in Bad Ems where the Kaiser mixed with the Great Unwashed, before they were cleansed, and there’s a statue of him in Bad Ems in his civvies.

All of which we’re told just emphasises that in spa towns everybody mingled freely, away from the social dividing lines elsewhere.

V for Vichy

Mais oui: Vichy

Now the wars do get in the way and alas we do associate Vichy in France with the Second World War.

But get close and personal and you will see that it is one of our glorious Spa Towns with a drinking hall and a Celestins Spring.

Que Sera la spa

L’Aqua Italia: Montecatini Terme

Yes, another tortured pun brings us to Italy’s offering, but one with a funicular railway which is always a selling point with your favourite blogger.

We’re told too that Mussolini was here in Montecatini Terme... and I guess he got all the funiculars to run on time. 

We’re told there is a strenuous walk up to the springs but we’ll leave it to you to decide if you want to trek to the Alto, high part of the town.

Why not do both? 

Bath, English for Bath

Let’s get steamin’: Bath

And yes, we’ve kept the best for last, Bath

The English city with the Roman roots is twice blessed with a UNESCO stamp for both the city and also as a Spa Town.

A great lead with European Spa Towns springing forward.


Adventure, Europe

Climb every mountain and ski down them

The salopettes are out from the attic after a year and a half in cold storage (sorry) as the invites snowball ahead of the renewed ski season. And we climb every mountain and ski down them

Enough snowing and winter analogies already!

But then having set up Ireland’s only weekly skiing column in a national newspaper during my time there with the help of the award-winning Catherine Murphy, it’s hard to shake the habit.

Sloping off for a ski day?

Like an Alpine skier: In the Austrian Tyrol

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of the Ski Club of Ireland and Topflight for what they have done for ski tourism.

Salzburgerland were in town last weekend (that town being Dublin) but your Bandanaman on the slopes unfortunately couldn’t meet with the Austrians.

Drawn away on a family mission to Liverpool and the Lake District to see the Son and Heir.

But I will continue to share their news and those across the board both here in Europe and around the ski world.

For today though I’ve been clipping in the binds and talking to les skieurs de France.

And reconnecting with old friends who only know me on dry land, walking and getting into misadventures in a walking trip in Interlaken in Switzerland..


More on my rescuer Rosie in a mo but firstly let’s pop in on Les Menuires & Saint Martin de Belleville.

The Gateway to Les 3 Vallees, the clue is in the name with social distancing never a problem across that range!

For those taking a first holiday in a couple of seasons space is a key consideration and Les 2 Alpes too offers plenty.

Whoever goes up must come down which is the whole point of skiing really.

And when you do you’ll want authentic old skiing village life which is exactly what you’ll get in La Clusaz, just an hour from Geneva.

And for gastronomes it really is the big cheese with its farmers markets and that distinctive nutty Reblochon fromage.

Get on your bikes

Hurry: The ski season is back

For those who like to extend their winter fun beyond skiing Le Grand Plagne offers electric moon bikes.

All of which I got the lowdown on from Rosie the Rescuer with whom I trotted around Interlaken on the trotti bikes.

Just time too to check in on Tignes before turning to the Apres, and those miniature schnapps in my globe drinks teolley.


So we’re ready enfin to climb every mountain and ski down them.

Although technically we’ll be taking gondolas and ski lifts!


Countries, Culture, Europe

Amber lists and you’re a gem

I put my foot in it with a colleague, so just to say there will be no more gags about Amber lists and you’re a gem..

The amber threat has had holidaymakers panicking and fretting about getting back from foreign countries and then paying through the nose for self-isolation.

And the latest countries in the firing line are two of our favourites, France and Italy.

But the fossilised tree resin is something to be treasured as a precious jewel.

And also a healing property for hippies, whom I lean to….ooooohhhhhhm!

Museum pieces

Craftwork: amber

You’ll find amber really wherever you’ll find trees, or where trees once were, which is pretty much everywhere.

And among all their magical qualities they also seem to have a magnetic pull on women.

Particularly when you’re on your holiday with la famiglia in the coastal town of Southwold in England’s East Anglia.

And the evidence is somewhere at the bottom of the Scary One’s Jewellery box.

Though not the 2.2 kilo exhibit… it would only drag her neck down.

Pole stars

Shine bright: The colour of the sun


Now every day’s a school day when you’re meeting holiday providers from around the world.

And while feeding our bellies with big bowls of Polish soup and warming our hearts with their vodka, our Polish friends gave us the rundown on Gdansk.

And its impressive history with amber.

What’s more it’s even better than it was before with the new Amber Museum of Gdansk opened to the public only last week.

Amber is brilliant in tone and hue and can act naturally as a receptacle for all the things that can get stuck in trees, like bugs.

While it is a great building block for jewellery yes, but from spoons to chess sets to Fender Stratocaster guitars.

Opening gambit

The voice of Dresden: With Ingrid in Dresden

Museum director Waldemar Ossowski said: “Amber items are delicate and sensitive, and the susceptibility to damage increases with the age of the item, which is why many amber masterpieces have survived in fragments and are missing many figurines.”

We’re told too that it sits in the pantheon with the the collection of the Danish royal family, the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg and the Grünes Gewölbe museum in Dresden.

Something begotten in the state of Denmark

Walking on air in Nyhavn, Copenhagen

And if you know your Copenhagen you’ll know the museum is located in Kanneworff’s House in Nyhavn which dates back to 1606.

You’ll be taken on a 30-50 million journey and needless to say Denmark is at the heart of it.

And there will be a celebration of Scandinavian forests and their traders.

While there’s also chess too, naturally.

The Russians are coming

And take a tour of the ramparts: Kaliningrad

Whisper it around Poland where they like to claim amber as their Baltic gem but the Russians are coming with their own amber museum in Kaliningrad.

Well, like all things Polish, they’ve already settled and are flagging their own museum.

Should you be in the region then lucky you. So have a look around.

Obviously at all the amber and the many exhibitions including the Fifth Russian Contest of Gallery Art.

But also take a guided tour of the rampart to learn about the history of the growth of Konigsberg fortification power.

So that’s our Amber lists and you’re a gem all of you who are called Amber.






Countries, Deals, Europe

Bon Anniversaire Diana á 60

Bon Anniversaire Diana á 60 and here is her love letter to France.

Aujourd-hui est son anniversaire and our final images of Princess Diana are of her holidaying in France.

Princess of Smiles

Hers is a well-trodden path although none of us can afford a superyacht in the Med or the Hotel Ritz in Paris.

But there is a magnifique vacation (and that’s mon Francais exhausted) to be had in Paris/Cote d’Azur.

Diana’s City of Love

The French capital is, of course, heralded as the City of Love although for four spotty teenage lads there was nothing debonair about our overnighter.

Or Ritzy room. Instead we reposed on the floor of the Paris Saint-Lazare train station.

Fairy tale wedding

And were awoken not with a copy of Le Monde and a Mimosa but a kick to the ribs by gunned-up gendarmes.

But just to daydream a little, here’s what a fancy 218sqm Suite Impériale with a view of the Place Vendôme in the Ritz looks like.

Crowning glory

I don’t know how prescient it is to stay in the Marie-Antoinette Bedroom but here goes.


The Ritz flag it up as a replica of the Queen’s bedroom at the Chateau de Versaille with a canopy bed, draped in silk.

You can look up in the Marie/Antoinette at 6m high ceilings

And around at features including massive chandeliers, screens, an embellished chaise longue, pedestal tables and antique clocks.

Suite, sweet

A wash isn’t a swish of water from the sink at the station but a large bathtub in a room done entirely in carved wood features.

Je suis un parade

You’ll be treated like a king, just like Louis XV as an 11-year-old in 1721, as a guest of the Duchesse de Gramomt, then the lady of la maison.

Now they can’t promise a parade as the Turkish ambassador brought down below then with his procession and camels.

French cuisine anyone?

But you will see Paris life in all its élan.

Suites are from €2500 a night and rooms from €1300, although we assume the Marie Antoinette is at the top end.

Princess Diana’s last Summer of Love began on that yacht off Sardinia before taking a private jet to Paris.

Chic: On the French Riviera

For us as 16-year-olds it never got past school French on the dance floor… Comment allez-vous?

Riviera of dreams

And un petit tent in Saint-Raphael.

I’ve upgraded on my travels to the Riviera since and sped on a boat around the coast of Cannes.

And you don’t have to be a princess or a Dodi either to enjoy Cannes with the family-friendly Mimozas, Mandelieu-la-Napoule,

Bon Anniversaire Diana á 60.


Countries, Europe, Music, Sport

Favourite Euros anthems

Chances are we’ve only been able to hum along to a few… it’s Rainy Days and Songdays’ Favourite Euros anthems.

Vive La France

Allez Lea Bleus

La Marseillaise, France: And the proof is whether your song will last the test of time.

Claude Joseph Rouger de Lille is long forgotten.

Long after be penned this revolutionary rouser in 1792.

Charlie wrote his classic, not on the French Riviera but in Strasbourg.

And it is easy to see why he was so inspired by this Medieval cobbled town on the banks of the Rhine.

There is a spoof version rugby song.

About a Frenchman going to the lavatory with the pay-off (and sing along here… ou est le papier?).

Germany Wunderbar

Ja beauty

Deutschland Uber Alles: And on the right side of the Rhine the Teutons will be belting out this tune.

And when you boast the composers Germany has (they do classical music as well as der fussball) then you pick from them.

This ditty is a Joseph Haydn composition.

And, yes we know he’s Austrian but not of the sane ilk as that wee madman Austrian we’ve all came to loathe.

Azzurri Azzurri-eyed

Forza Italia

Il Canto degli Italiani, Italy: No, it’s not Nessun Dorma as stirring as Andrea Bocelli’s rendition was at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

This 19th-century call to arms gained traction around the Risorgimento and unification.

It got bumped by the monarchy for the Marcia Reale.

But thankfully was endorsed by the new republic after World War II.

The Russians are coming

The Beautiful Game: A Russian fan

Gosurdastvennyy Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii, Russia: And another revisionist anthem which oozes Russian eastern mysticism.

This stomper replaced another classic The Internationale because it’s more Russian-centric.

And in typical Russian fashion it has become deStalinised along the way.

Winning in the Valleys

Flying the flag: For Wales

Hen Wlad Fy Nadau, Wales: With three home nations from which to choose it had to be the Welsh anthem over the English and Scottish dirges.

Better too with it sung in Welsh.

And isn’t it heartening too to see all the Wales players, even those of who are only Welsh by grandparentage, giving it a go.

Which is more than arch-Brexiteer and former Wales Secretary of State John Redwood can muster.

So there’s our Rainydays and Songdays’ favourite Euros anthems…

Now if only Scotland and England could change theirs.