America, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland

Every story tells a picture – from Caravaggio to Van Gogh

Surrounded by our four walls in lockdown one of the few ways to transport ourselves to exotic shores is through our pictures.

It is after all  what our Vincent did when he struggled for his sanity.

Van Gogh had developed a taste for all things Polynesian from housemate Paul Gaugin.

Van Gogh also had his demons to exorcise too, particularly when incarcerated.

And he would explore such existential themes in his art as the Reaper himself.

Manic twirls: Van Gogh

Now I’m not saying that I obsess on the same even during lockdown.

But a print of his Wheatfield with a Reaper hangs proudly in our guest room, hopefully not spooking out our visitors (when they come).

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

But reminding us of the captivating Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on our tour of Amsterdam.

All of which meanderings has prompted me to share some of the finer art I’ve enjoyed on my travels.

Beheading for Malta

Lose your head: Caravaggio in Valletta.

Beheading of St John the Baptist, Caravaggio, Valletta: There’s always something a bit unhinged about artists.

And the meeting of brushmeister and subject comes together in this classic painting, described as ‘the painting of the 17th century.’

Caravaggio was on the run and took refuge with the Knights of Malta in Malta.

But he fell out with them, was imprisoned and then escaped from their dungeons.

A theory floated in 2010 has it that Michelangelo Merisi, for it is he, was killed by poisonous paints.

Caravaggio’s Malta

And suspicious has since fallen on the Knights.

Caravaggio’s masterpiece hangs in St John’s Co-Cathedral and shows real insight into the shady side of life.

Valletta with its stunning harbour is a real jewel.

And and you can picture the intrigue and the underworld of Medieval Mediterranean life.

When we’re all able to get out again then Malta should be on your radar.

Monster Munch in Bergen

Keeping warm: A troll in Bergen.

The Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen: And you’ll gasp at what those naughty trolls are doing in the drawings in this gallery.

Up a fjord in mystic, fabled Norway you’ll find this artistic curio.

It wouldn’t be a Norwegian gallery without a host of Edvard Munches and Bergen doesn’t disappoint.

And the story notes give you a real insight into the travails of the Great Man.

Dark Secrets: Munch in Bergen

Bergen is also the place for the travels of JS Dahl whose paintings first popularised cruising in the fjords

The Real Dahl: In Bergen

A must visit on your MSC Cruises stop-off while, of course, you simply have to pull a Munch Scream pose.

Paint the ceiling in Padua

Giotto down your ideas: In Padua

Scrovegni Chapel, Padua: And it’s doubtful you would have a fresco ceiling of the Sistine Chapel without a Scrovegni Chapel.

Well, you probably would, but it might have been the Medieval version of Dulux!

Giotto was something of an inspiration for Michelangelo and you can see his halo work here.

And yes we know the finesse of Firenze, the merits of Milan, the riches of Rome and my own recent favourite, beautiful Bergamo.

But Padua, often in the shadow of Venice, should be praised to the heavens which in fairness to Giotto he does.

Masters and Mississippi

The settlers: The Mississippi Art Museum

Museum of Mississippi Art, Jackson, Mississippi: Yes, when we think art and America we immediately focus on MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York Art, the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

The First Nation: In the Mississippi Art Museum

But in truth America is a sweep of wonderful art, so take it in wherever you find it.

Which in Jackson, Mississippi is the Museum of Mississippi Art where you’ll see early Frontier art and much more.

Dirty old Lane

Art for arts sake: The Francis Bacon Studio

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin: And it’s the Francis Bacon studio you want to see here.

Bacon bequeathed his studio to his home city on the understanding that it would be recreated in every detail.

All of which means it is messier than any student bedsit…

To think I was probably sitting on a goldmine back in Aberdeen in the Eighties.






America, Countries, Culture, Deals

The Duckmaster of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis

They’ve got all their ducks in a row in the penthouse suite at The Peabody Hotel, Memphis

But these ducks are going down on the lift for their morning swim and the rest of the hotel’s guests, yours truly included, will just have to wait.

Meet the Peabody Ducks.

Every day since 1940 they have been marched to the lift down to the lobby, along the red carpet and into the fountain before being marched back up again later.

Legend has it that the General Manager Frank Schutt and a friend Chip Barwick had let ducks loose in the hotel after a hunting trip in Arkansas.

Double Quack time

Whiskey was taken

Our intrepid adventurers had, of course, drunk too much Tennessee whiskey. That’s the two men, not the ducks.

Today’s Duckmaster Anthony is kitted out appropriately.

He is carrying a cane with a duck head at the top and keeps us all entertained with Duck tails.

If you’re very lucky he will pick you out.

He might even give you the very special role of Honorary Duckmaster which entitles you to help guide them into the fountain.

It’s all quackers but I love it.

The Peabody, just down from Beale Street, is a Memphis institution and treats its guests almost as well as its ducks.

Love a duck

Good ol’ Southern Hospitality

Southern Hospitality is not a myth.

We stayed in three hotels on our Deep South odyssey.

So as well as the Peabody we enjoyed the luxury of the Hampton Inn in Cleveland, Mississippi and the signature Westin in Jackson, Mississippi.

In Cleveland we dined at the Airport Grocery which is actually a bar/diner as big as a ranch.

Appropriate really as I ended up watching rodeo on the TV.

One good ol’ Southern Boy in our company playfully lassoed in one of the gals and the diner resident dog as we watched.

The Southerner’s idea of B&Bs are really more glorious antebellum country houses.

And you might even bump into the cast of The Help who had stayed in the one we visited when they filmed here.

You too will be treated like a lord or lady.

Good ol’ Southern fried food


The Iron Horse Grill in Jackson served up the best Barbecue.

Wash it down with Dr Pepper or local craft beer (Old Miss is my favourite) and has a fascinating exhibition.

Talking of exhibitions you have Mississippi’s Two Museums, the Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

While you should also check out the Mississippi Museum of Art in the boho part of Jackson.

And learn of the Mississippians journey through art. After the tour and steak and wine-fuelled dinner that is.

Here on this our last night Yolanda, our Jackson host, serenaded us with Merry Christmas To You and gave us all a hearty hug and farewell. ‘Now, come back y’all’.

Try and stop me!

Seasonal greetings

Going South

I flew return with Aer Lingus to Newark and United Airlines to Memphis, via Newark, returning Jackson, Mississippi to Houston, Texas, Newark, New Jersey and onto Dublin.

Car hire

3 nights Memphis – Peabody

1 nights Cleveland – Hampton Inn

2 nights Natchez – The Burns B&B

2 nights Jackson – Westin

Costs may vary.

Lead in cost per person £1655.

Visit for more information.

And here is my American Trilogy, and

And if you love a duck as much as me then have a read at and

While here’s the duck of ducks…