Countries, Deals, Europe

Athens an epic city break

Any city where the cabbie asks you how much you want to pay has a jump start on others… yes, it’s Athens an epic city break.

But don’t just take my word for it (well do) but the Post Office’s annual City Costs Barometer makes Athens your alpha city.

The beta, gamma, delta and epsilon (I knew Greek would serve me well one day) are outliers Lisbon, Krakow, Riga and Budapest.

The Post Office took a dozen common holiday purchases.

From a travel card and entrance to a museum to a cup of coffee and two nights in a three-star hotel.

And Athens came out on top at £207.18.

Metaxi

Spoiled and ruined at the Acropolis in Athens

Now famously the Greeks bankrupt themselves partly because they supposedly saw underground fares as optional.

I don’t know about the veracity of that having enjoyed the services of my old Athenian pal George’s driving.

And Athens’ peculiar taxi service.

Where they’ll quote a fare of €15 or €10 or whatever you’ve got to get up from your downtown hotel to the Acropolis.

And then if you get the right return driver it could be €10 to get back to your hotel.

Or as my own chilled cabbie put it pay if you can.

Dublin’s fare city

The Travel pack in Dublin

T’wouldn’t catch on in Dublin though where the latest incomers bag a licence.

And then take you halfway around the city just to ramp up the fare.

That and the think of a number drink fares around Temple Bar put Dublin down at 17 on the list at £436.12.

Just behind Pricey Paris at £423.42.

And only ahead of Copenhagen (£455.75), Venice (£456.92) and Amsterdam (£592.79).

Some local knowledge is, of course, helpful which is what you get over 13 years living and working in the Irish capital.

Some personal favourites

On the King Charles Bridge in Prague

We’re pleased to see, of course, that some personal favourites make the top ten.

With Prague at £248.50 which leaves plenty in your pocket for Pilsner.

And Rome at £347.17, although we can show you some short cuts around La Citta Eterna.

The top 20

I’ll be back: The Trevi Fountain in Rome
  1. Athens – £207.18
  2. Lisbon – £218.03
  3. Krakow – £218.55
  4. Riga – £220.32
  5. Budapest – £220.95
  6. Prague – £248.50
  7. Madrid – £298.81
  8. Berlin – £316.97
  9. Dubrovnik – £318.30
  10. Rome – £347.17
  11. Barcelona – £384.80
  12. Bruges – £389.05
  13. Florence – £397.87
  14. Vienna – £401.64
  15. Stockholm – £421.16
  16. Paris – £423.42
  17. Dublin – £436.12
  18. Copenhagen – £455.75
  19. Venice – £456.92
  20. Amsterdam – £592.79

So that’s the alpha to the omega from your local post office.

And if you didn’t know it before then here’s confirmation what we already know about Athens an epic city break.

 

America, Central America, Countries, Europe, UK

Out the box pugilist statues

And ahead of the unveiling of the Ken Buchanan statue in Edinburgh we’re thinking today. Out the box pugilist statues.

Tartan terrier: Ken Buchanan

Rock’n’roll in Philly

Rocky, Philadelphia: And with apologies to Tim Witherspoon, Bernard Hopkins and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien (the clue is in the title…

It’s all about Rocky Balboa… and you can get your selfie with the Great Man at the top of his steps in Philly and you don’t have to the run.

On a pedestAli

Let’s Rumble: Ali and Frazier

Muhammad Ali: And the best Ali statue is in sports-mad Philly which immortalises the great duel with adopted Philadelphian, Joe Frazier at the Joe Hand Gym.

Being Ali, we’ve counted 85 statues of Ali around the world, and of course you’ll want to see him in his hometown of Louisville.

And that means the Muhammad Ali Center in the Kentuckian town.

Alexis the Great

On the shoulders of giants: Alexis in Nicaragua

Alexis Arguello, Managua, Nicaragua: And the late great Nicaraguan was a man difficult to worked up to dislike.

No trashtalking here with Alexis always making a point of asking his opponents how their family is… before beating them up.

And on one occasion, Glasgow’s own, Jim Watt, who I’d fanboyed in a record store and wished good luck for his next fight.

Which was… Alexis Aguero.

The Merthyr Matchstick

Here’s Johnny

Johnny Owen, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales: And we’d probably never have heard of Merthyr Tydfil, 23 miles north of Cardiff, were it not for one brave Welsh fighter.

Owen was given his idiosyncratic nickname on account of him being 5ft 8ins and 8st.

And his courage was his undoing when he was knocked unconscious in a world bantamweight title fight in LA and died from his injuries.

Johnny though lives for ever in the hearts of Merthyr (population 50,000) where he shares centre stage with Howard Winstone and Eddie Thomas.

Classical fighters

Fighting Romans: Boxer at Rest in Rome

Boxer at Rest, Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome: And, of course, we’ve been boxing the ears off each other since when Cain struck Abel.

And our Greek (Olympics) and Roman friends loved their prize fighters.

With the statue Boxer at Rest still captivating and informing us about the ancient Romans.

Of course, the Romans were bare-knuckled fighters and it’s how we all start in the playground.

Knuckle down: The Bareknuckle Hall of Fame in NY

Of all places Belfast is where you’ll find the Bare Knuckle Boxing Hall of Fame… Belfast, New York, that is.

The most famous stock of bare-knuckled boxers on the planet are, of course, the Fighting Furys.

Now it’ll probably take years to sculpt a 6ft 9ins and 20st statue.

Just the Jab: Tyson Fury and his statue

But we rather like this interpretative statue of the Gipsy King in his hometown of coastal Morecambe in Lancashire.

Just a sample then of our faves. Out the box pugilist statues.

And remember none of us are free of anachronistic statues until all of us are free of anachronistic statues and we get the icons we want.

Africa, Asia, Countries, Europe, Ireland, UK

The 22 Committee and all things 1922

We’ve heard of little else in the UK all week so let’s do a deep dive into the 22 Committee and all things 22.

The 22 Committee, or 22 as it’s come to be shortened to.

It’s the group of backbench, or rank and file, MPs who have hastened the leadership contest.

In Liz they Truss: Liz Truss

Put aside that there’s something arcane about a committee called the 1922 in charge of the direction of travel in 2022.

Or not…

Let’s time travel and compare where we were in 1922, where we are now, and where we can compare.

The Irish Question

The Big Fellow: Michael Collins

Dublin: As 1922 dawned, Ireland was still in the UK, was about to become a Free State and halfway in was engaged in Civil War.

Irish history breathes from the streets.

With one of the most dramatic statue-lined thoroughfares anywhere in the world.

The GPO where the Proclamation of the Republic was announced in 1916 is halfway up O’Connell Street and has a museum.

While the Collins Barracks where Michael Collins oversaw the transfer of power from Britain should be on your route.

As should Kilmainham Gaol where the rebels of Easter 1916 were held.

And in whose exercise yard the Scot James Connolly was shot strapped to a chair.

The Scottish Question

Bloomin’ Rosé: Nicola Sturgeon

Edinburgh, Glasgow: And in 1922 Scotland had parked its self-government ambitions promised them in 1914.

Like the Irish they put it on hold because of The Great War.

But unlike their Celtic cousins they took a different fork in the road.

Scotland’s bloated cities, particularly its largest Glasgow where living conditions for most people were a heath risk, rose up.

There was a riot in George Square in Glasgow in 1919.

And three years later Red Clydeside socislist MPs had got a foot in Westminster.

These days their descendants, Nicola Sturgeon et al are more pink or rosé than red.

They sit in the devolved Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh.

It is open for visits, tours and gawking at the MSPs.

All roads lead to Mussolini

Pass the Duce: Benito Mussolini

Italy: And Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, heralded in an era of Fascism.

When his March on Rome led to him taking power.

Mussolini still has a rather big footprint in Italy in a way unthinkable say with Hitler in Germany.

I’m reminded by my guide Ingrid in the rebuilt Renaissance City of Dresden.

Where a mural of Communist icons survived the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

That if we airbrush history we open ourselves up to repeat it.

And Mussolini’s stark self-aggrandising architecture in Bergamo, my last Italian pit stop.

It only reaffirmed the beauty of the Renaissance art around it.

While dark tourists, of which I am one, will learn more of Italy between the wars.

In his home town of Predappio in Emilia-Romagna.

Hello Uncle Joe

No ordinary Joe: Joseph Stalin

Georgia: And on the other side of the great political divide Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin in charge of the newly-created USSR.

The first Soviet Union including Belarus, Ukraine, Belarus and the Transcaucasian Republic of Armenia, Azwrbaijan and Georgia.

Stalin had started out on his reign of terror in Georgia.

As a Russian Mafioso fixer (who does that sound like?) and bank robber.

Fly the flag: With Irish Georgian ambassador George

And despite his history of repression and cull of his own people Stalin is still marked in his own republic of Georgia.

But don’t let that put you off.

Georgia is the original home of wine, has a rich culture and Black Sea coastline to savour.

Toot and come in

Ya big Egypt: Tutankhamun

Egypt: And in 22 the British unleashed some dark forces.

No, not in the return of its latest Tory PM, a Scots-educated leader in Bonar Law (now you know).

But in Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and its riches in the Valley of the Kings.

It was a momentous year for the Egyptians.

With the ancient land gaining independence from the UK and Fuad I crowned king.

Whether the Tories elect us a Mummy PM, a first BAME Premier or someone who again is too male, too stale a thought here.

Bonar Law lasted but a year.

His successor Stanley Baldwin a year too, before Britain got its first Labour PM Ramsay MacDonald.

All things to consider for the 22 Committee and all things 1922.

 

America, Caribbean, Countries, Europe, Ireland

Five republics to escape the Platinum Jubilee

And continuin our series, and because we’re not all pliant subjects, here are five republics to escape the Platinum Jubilee.

There are 159 republic in the world and only 43 sovereignty ikstates with monarchies. Go figure.

Vive La Republique

The new Emperor: Emmanuel Macron

 

France: Mais oui, there were republics before the French, only they shout Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité a little louder.

So much so that the French are onto their fifth since We the First in 1792, followed we should remember by Emperor Napoleon.

And there is more than a touch of the regal about the French President’s official residence, the Élysée Palace in Paree.

The Battle Hymn

Mr President: Issy Conway, George Washington and the Pres’s right-hand man

America: And some 16 years before the then-royalist French helped the colonies form mthe Republic.

George Washington and his Vice-President John Adams had discussed how the new Pres should be addressed.

Adams had leant towards His Excellence but Washington insisted on just Mr President.

And he rejected his pal jGeneral Lafayette’s idea to erect an ornate monument in DC to him complete with horses.

Instead he had an obelisk, the Washington Monument installed instead. Pure class.

Italy’s republics

The holy of holies. At the end of the Francigena in Rome

Rome: Now La Citta Eterna is credited as the cradle of Republics although Athens might have something to say about that.

We all associate Classical Rome, of course, with the Caesars, but the Republic ran Rome’s affairs from 509BC to 27BC.

While the lyCaesars looked down from their plinths from 46BC-476AD.

YNow I was more a Latin student than a maths expert but that seems roughly the same and the Republic won out in the end.

The Irish Republic

On a pedestal: With Charles Stewart Parnell in Co. Wicklow

Ireland: And because the Free State didn’t scream self-determination (OK, it was a bit more complicated) they became a republic in 1949.

They had formed an ya constitution in 1937 with an elected non-executive president before breaking with the crown in 1949.

After a fractured relationship in the 60-odd years after the Irish brought back the Queen… but only for a visit in 2011.

Barbados, the new Republic

Barbados: And on November 30, 2021, Barbados took the momentous decision to replace the uQueen with a Bajan, President Sandra Mason.

Y the After 396 years, although Barbados had taken the first step with independence in 1966… and I even saw the seal in the Archive Offices.

The date, November 30, was arbitrary but in my wee country it is our national day, named for St Andrew, our patron saint.

Just returned from a third visit to Barbados I reacquainted myself with our joint heritage which includes a region of the island called Scotland. I

We sang Scots and Soca songs, ceilidhed and jumped and toasted the Barbados republic with rum and whisky.

My reason for going, well I didn’t need one, but it was to celebrate the renewal of the Barbados Celtic Festival.

And thought dreamily of a Scotland having their day one day.

U

Countries

Crosses we bear around the world

It’s a truism to help us on life’s journey and never more so than today when we consider the crosses we bear around the world.

Now we’re not going to get all heavy on you… we hope to lighten your load in this space.

But it is intriguing to see how the rest of the world marks Jesus of Nazareth’s death in Jerusalem 2,000 or so years ago.

On a hill in Jerusalem

This is my son, my beloved: Jesus on the cross

And that hill which we might remember from the Bible is Golgotha in Aramaic, or the place of the skulls, or Calvary in Latin.

Eerily the Jerusalem mound where Jesus and the two robbers were crucified is shaped like a skull.

Join the pilgrims in the Holy Land (get there early) on the walk up the Via Dolorosa and go through the Stations of the Cross.

I’ve been practising all my life (Lourdes, Fatima, the Camino, the Via Francigena, Medjugorje and all stops in between) and God willing, will get there.

When in Rome

This way, that way: The Pope

And, of course, when in Rome and on Good Friday, the Pope takes centre stage.

Francis leads a torch-lit procession, the Via Crucis from the Colosseum to Palatine Hill.

And yes, it wouldn’t be worth a denarii without stops for prayers at the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross.

Francis also likes to carry a cross at least part of the way. Of course he does.

Good Eggday Jamaica 

Good fortune: For Jamaicans

Yes, it would probably work better as Good Fryday but I won’t let the facts get in the way of a good Easter story.

No, our Jamaican friends bring a new spin on the Easter Egg story with this Good Friday tradition.

You add an egg white to a glass of water before sunrise on Good Friday.

And then look at it as the sun goes up to see if the white settles into an image that may hint at the future.

Now, if only they’d tried this at the Last Supper.

And Judas is carried out in Trinidad & Tobago

Take that you Judas: In T&T

Further down the Caribbean and Trinidad & Tobago zoom in on the treacherous Judas Iscariot.

With their stuffed clothes effigies, the Bobolees.

And that’s when the Trinidandian and Tobagonians go to town on them with sticks.

It’s not just Judas though with other hate figures getting stick too.

Carrying it too far in the Philippines

Too realistic: In the Philippines

And isn’t it always the case that someone takes it too far.

We’ve all seen them, at this time of the year, on our TVs…

Those have-a-go-heroes who literally get themselves nailed to the cross to show their devotion.

The Catholic Church discourages this practice but still the zealots of Pampanga persist.

Oberammergau

Do you need any extras? Oberammergau

And not forgetting too God’s own children of Oberammergau in Bavaria in Germany.

With this year being particularly special as the ten-year iteration of the Passionspiele will go ahead.

After it took an abeyance two years ago because of Covid.

Yes, they are all crosses we bear around the world.

 

 

 

 

Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

Yappy 150th Anniversary Greyfriars Bobby

Yappy 150th Anniversary Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog who slept by his dead master’s grave, and let’s put more animals on pedestals.

There were pipes and prayers to mark the milestone in the Edinburgh kirkyard.

And I dare say a whisky or two in his memory at the local inn, named after the West Skye Terrier who Walt Disney brought to the world.

Bobby’s statue is, of course, the best in the Scottish capital, nay the world.

And, yes, those no-name figures of Empire should be taken off their plinths.

Replaced by popular and cultural figures of our age and recent memory.

Pets on plinths

Pups: An earlier Jimmy, and Bobby

And let’s be radical here… women.

And animals.

So here’s our menagerie of all creatures great and small.

And on the grounds that we’ve got the best wee doggie, here in Scotland.

And that all God’s creatures have a place in my choir let’s sing the praises of…

The Puck stops here

King of Ireland: Puck

King Puck, Killorglin, Ireland, Now we’re not acting the goat here.

And I’m all about the goats, from my time racing them in Tobago.

In Kerry, in the south of Ireland they have been crowning a goat and throwing a festival around it since the 17th century.

When a goat alerted the village of Oliver Cromwell’s coming.

King Puck is in truth a better fit than any of the chinless wonder monarchs England imposed on them.

Before they broke free a hundred years ago.

On the Bosfurus

Turkey treats: For Tombili

Tombili, Istanbul: And no, I’ve not lost my dictionary… and if I had I’d always return to the book section of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

How Bazaar: Cats in the Grand Bazaar

Cats have a special place in the hearts of Turks, and none more so than diva Tombili.

Tombili became a global hit after she was photographed reclining on a pavement… give her some Kite-Kat turkey treats.

Bear with us here

Bear hug: The Winnipeg statue

Winnipeg the Bear, Canada: The silly willy-nilly all stuffed with fluff is, of course, more prone to napping than scrapping.

This is the real Winnipeg, a Canadian military mascot bear cub, whom AA Milne and Christopher Robin visited at London Zoo.

The Wolf of Rome

Suck it up: The Wolf and the Babes

Capitoline Wolf, Rome: And where’s a she-wolf when you need her?

Rome, that’s where. And lucky that she was for Romulus and Remus.

Because she rescued the babes from the Tiber and they went on to found Rome.

The Romans have never forgotten, and you’ll see fountains adorned with wolf taps around the city.

While they’ll wish each other well with the time-honoured greeting: ‘In bocca al lupi (in the mouth of the wolf).

Those wacky Germans

On the shoulders of giants: Bremen

The Town Musicians of Bremen, Germany: And why celebrate one when you can have four?

The story goes that four old domesticated animals, a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster, escape their mistreatment.

To go in search of their fortune in Bremen as musicians, obvs.

They get distracted by a house robbery, take over the gaff and live there happily ever after.

And so as we say Yappy 150th Anniversary Greyfriars Bobby and all your furry and feathered friends.

All of whom are deserving of being pets on plinths.

 

Countries, Culture

Vive La Republic of Barbados

I must have been one of the very few kids in Glasgow to be lullabied to sleep with old Republican songs… and because of that and my own journey I’m an avowed internationalist republican which is why today I say Vive La Republic of Barbados.

Now you’ve heard me wax lyrical already many times about the magical island of Barbados and my Kiss With Rihanna  and Rumba  there.

And Bim, as it is affectionately known (hence me being known on the island as Bim Jim) is the talk of the Scottish and British Travel scene with the Bridgetown route rolling out from Edinburgh next month.

Now to celebrate Barbados becoming the latest country to throw off the shackles of monarchy and go out on their own, here’s to all those nations who have taken their destiny in their own hands.

And decided to be governed by one of their own.

Now a true republic, just like a true democracy or a true anything these days in double speak, is a moveable object.

But you’ve got to start somewhere which is why we’re going with 160 (now Barbados have signed up).

All republics lead from Rome

And if you know you’re Classic History, and my Latin is better than my Ancient Greek then you’ll know that republic derives from the two Latin words res and publica (public thing).

So that’s one of the famous things that ‘the Romans did for us’ although, of course, if you’re British then it’s an experiment from which we’ve run far away.

Apart, of course, from a brief period from 1649-1660 when these islands of Britain and Ireland entered into a Commonwealth which was really a theocracy.

But while Westminster claims to be the mother of all parliaments (doubtful, and Europe’s oldest in Iceland might have something to say about that).

It’s Rome which is the mothership of all republics, and we have the good fortune that the Forum, the hub of Roman public life is still there.

No fools those Ancient Romans though with their togas as I found out when I almost fainted in the Eternal City heat in my modern clothes.

An Italian fixture

Venice: And let’s catch a gondola back to Padova

Now where Rome led the rest of Italy followed.

And chief among them was the 1100-year Venetian Republic which still styles itself thus and is hewn into every gondola and the very bricks of the Campanile.

Florence, Siena, Amalfi, Pisa and Genoa all saw what the Doges were doing and how fetching their hats were and followed suit.

But the republicaniest of all the republics and the longest-standing is San Marino.

And so what they lack in football skills (0-10 v England) they more than make up for in their political skills.

La Republique, mais oui

Je suis L’Empereur: Napoleon

Ah, yes, the French. like so much, would have us believe that they are the shining light of Republics.

So much so that they have had five of them ever since Corsican Napoleon got le ball rolling.

Notre ami soon decided though that L’empereur sounded so much better…

And he did that with one arm behind his back (or affectedly tucked in his jacket then).

It must be a poncey royal thing because the UK’s Prince Charles who very graciously decided to attend the signing-over papers to the Bajans (and bag himself some sun at the time) does pretty much the same thing.

And on a tangent we’ll not say anything about the carbon footprint, Prince Save The World.

None of us are perfect, of course, it’s just the rest of us don’t bleat on about it and preach to the rest of us who do hop on planes.

Middle Ages and Middle Europe

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

The breeding ground for republics in the Middle Ages was what we now know as Germany.

And a quick count chronicles 62 in the northern European powerhouse.

All of which would be a good exercise and excuse to traverse modern-day Germany with a Michael Portillo type notebook.

I’d have to start in my favourite German city Hamburg first of course.

There are some who have gone the opposite way to the Bajans and jumped from republic to monarchy like the Dutch.

Others who have had a brief dalliance with republicanism, Catalonia, and still have hopes of a return to those halcyon days.

Battle hymn of the Republic

Southern men: At the statue of Stonewall Jackson at Manassas

Yes, their eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

And while the North eulogised its Republic, the South too held its close to its bosom, albeit for just five years.

That said the Confederate States of America still exist in the hearts and minds of many in the Deep South.

As I found at the Manassas memorial to Stonewall Jackson in Virginia.

And you don’t need me to tell you that that was the first battle of the US Civil War.

Post-colonial

Cool for cats… in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

There were, of course, a rash of republics in the post-colonial world which is where Barbados join us now.

While in Africa and Asia the cry went up for the ‘public thing’ which alas all too quickly became the ‘dictator thing.’

And because of these precedents it ratchets up our hope that the South African Rainbow Nation experiment proves successful despite its challenges.

And the USSR and its satellites

The voice of Dresden: With Ingrid in Dresden

Dogmatic ideologists, of course, think nothing of hijacking the word republic for something that looks nothing like it.

And hovering up previously self-governing nations, which is where Russia came in and formed the bloated Union of the Soviet Socialist Republic.

Unless I find me a time machine a trip back to those days will inevitably elude me, although that’s where museums and heritage come in.

And you can still immerse yourself into the spirit of those days on any trip out there.

Which is exactly what you get when you visit the old DDR.

Now we all know of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie but more of us should visit the mural to communism which stands as a reminder of Russian misrule and occupation in Dresden.

Irie, Barbados

It’s a republic, now: With Ruby in Barbados

And so good luck to the incumbent President of Barbados. Sandra Mason, incidentally also the last governor-general.

Vive La Republic of Barbados.

I’ll raise a glass of rum punch to you on the official date of handover tomorrow.

Which is a shared holiday, Barbados’s National Day, and Scotland’s too.

In Scotland, Barbados: Honest

And until my own native land becomes a republic (I’m not holding my breath) I’ll. mark yours, and America’s and France’s.

And the whole lot of you, 160 or so, who have taken the revolutionary step of deciding that you wanted to be ruled by someone of the people.

 

 

America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Food, UK

World Ice Cream Day

If you’re slurping an ice cream on World Ice Cream Day you’re in good company with King Tang of Shang, Marco Polo, Nero and Ronald Reagan.

With temperatures in the UK the hottest for 45 years ago ice cream vans are doing a roaring business.

China ices

And even Chinese bears love them

Our favourite cool treat dates variously back to ancient China, Greece and Rome.

But it is now a truly global obsession which should be on your to do list when on holiday.

Here’s some of the best to mark World Ice Cream Day:

Made in Japan

Little balls of fun

Mochi ice cream, Japan: And the adventurous among the Olympic athletes in Tokyo will be digging into Mochi.

As we are with Little Moons Creamy Coconut and Passionfruit & Mango mochi desserts, drawing in 45 million TikTok followers.

The Tesco mochi bites are gluten free. You wrap blue-sized balls of gelato in soft mochi dough.

Na-na-na

Let’s split: Banana splits

Banana Split, USA: One banana, two banana, three banana, four… the sundae which spawned a cult kids’ TV show and punk anthem.

We owe it all to 23-year-old Pittsburgh pharmacist David Strickler for giving us…

The Banana Split… a scoop of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate nestled between a sliced banana with cream, chopped nuts and a cherry.

And the Pittsburghers have honoured David with a statue and plaque.

Gelato spirit

Ice one

Gelato, Italy: And I know the burning question you’re asking while you burn: how is a gelato different from an ice cream?

I’m indebted here to website Healthline for filling us in… and what I took from them is that there’s more air and milk in a gelato.

Anywhere in Italy is good to eat gelato but I’m channeling my inner Nero in the Eternal City.

Yes, with a tang in it

You’ll want some ice cream for afters

Tang, China: Yes, ice cream with a tang.

Ice cream is said to date back to 200BC (Before Cornettos?) when a milk and rice mixture was frozen by packing it in snow.

Tang, who reigned from 1675-1646, had 94 ice men help to make a dish of buffalo milk, flour and camphor.

Porty time

And you can have yours on top

99, Scotland: And who would have thought our little corner of Scotland gave us the 99.

Our old homestead of Portobello, Edinburgh’s town beach, spawned the 99.

When Stefano Arcari broke a flake and inserted it into the ice cream at his shop in 99 Portobello High Street.

Next year is the centenary of his breaking of flake… just saying!

Reagan’s scoop

Sundaes are on us: Ronnie and Nancy

And as for World Ice Cream Day we have former US President Ronald Reaganj to thank.

The Gipper championed Ice Cream Day in 1984 and it just snowballed after that.

 

Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Music

Rainy Days and Songdays my Oscars favourite songs

In no particular order, and for the day that’s in it, it’s Rainy Days and Songdays – my Oscars favourite songs.

It was something daring, I guess, to award a Best Original Song at the Academy Awards in 1934.

But it was probably a dancing shoe-in for Hollywood superstars Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’ The Continental.

Dance away

If Fred and Ginger were around today then they’d glide easily down the fabled stairs of the Dolby Theater.

But they are there out front in the Walk of Fame.

All of which we can channel, and which every waiter dreams of aspiring too, in Los Angeles and his environs.

The Continental is one of my Oscar favourite songs and set the standard for every Best Original Song to come.

And in truth for every Over the Rainbow and White Christmas there is a Chim-Chim-Cheree and an I Just Called To Say I Love You too.

Gong with a song

The standard is off the chart which is why the usual Fab Five becomes a Top Ten this week for My Oscars favourites.

10 When You Wish Upon A Star, Pinnochio (1940): 

Pure Disney, and what’s wrong with that.

But this is the craftmanship of Florentine Carlo Collodi so let’s give the Tuscans a shout-out as ‘anything your heart desires will come to you.’

Take it away Cliff Richards as Jimmy Cricket.

9 Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Song of the South (1947): 

One of Disney’s more forgettable films and ‘containing outdated language’ though I just dwell on the Deep South music.

James Baskett’s deep anthem is about as happy a song as you’ll ever hear.

And in a cutesie overload Mr Bluebird’s on James’s shoulder too. Everything truly is satisfactual!

8 Three Coins In The Fountain (1954): 

No me neither, nor the singers Clifton Webb, Dorothy McGuire and Jean Peters who each sang the titular song.

But anyone who has ever been to the Trevi Fountain in Rome will either hear someone singing it there while throwning coins over their head into the water.

Or they will be encouraged to do so.

Singing Cowboys

7 Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969):

And if you love the Wild West  then you’ll love the scene where Paul Newman (Butch) and Katharine Ross (Etta) mess about on the bicycle in Utah.

And Burt Bacharach’s velvety lyrics and BJ Thomas’s smooth delivery set it all off.

6 The Time Of My Life, Dirty Dancing (1987): 

The beauty of a good song is trying to recreate it in your bedroom which is what hairbrushes were made for, although Patrick Swayze’s quiff just came naturally.

But if you truly want to channel your inner Johnny and Baby then you’ll want to get out to Lake Lure Inn & Spa in North Carolina.

And have Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes on the boom box.

5 The Streets of Philadelphia (1993): 

You’re probably exhausted after that (I know I am) so let’s slow it down with the Boss’s evocative and powerful Streets of Phladelphia.

Of course, the actual streets of Philadelphia aren’t as gut-wrenchingly emotional as this song and are actually fun-packed as this vid shows.

Better still if you go to Philly the City of Brotherly Love, and find out for yourself.

Drum roll please

4 Born Free (1966): 

And another to pull on your heartstring with the story of Joy and George Adamson, played by real-life couple Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers.

They released Elsa the Lioness into adulthood and released her into the wilds of Kenya.

All of which brings back warm memories of meeting our lioness out in the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

And yes, I sang Matt Monro’s classic in my head then… I didn’t want to stir my lioness.

3 White Christmas, Holiday Inn (1942):

Many of us are probably unaware of Irving Berlin’s inspiration for the best-selling song of all time (I was).

Berlin, a Jew, who didn’t celebrate Christmas had all the more reason to get maudlin on December 25.

His three-week-old son died on that day in 1928. Bing Crosby gives it a timeless uplifting feel.

2 Over The Rainbow, The Wizard of Oz (1939):

And the ultimate in what Daddy’s Little Girl so beautifully puts it, a Happy Sad Song.

And layering on the sentamentality it was the first movie my Dear Old Mum saw in her nearest big city, Derry.

She recalls the switch from black and white to colour seemed like magic to an 11-year-old country girl.

A country girl like Kansas lass Dorothy.

And the winner is…

1 Moon River, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961): 

Tiffany’s in New York is no more magical than any other jewellery store methinks.

But perhaps that’s because I’m an alpha male bloke, while Breakfast to me is a bagel.

Put them together though and Breakfast At Tiffany’s carries you off to a wonderful escapist world.

It’s the adventurer in me andyou had me Audrey Hepburn at ‘there’s such a lot of world to see.’

So these are my Oscar favourite songs. Now what about you? 

 

 

Countries

Here comes Frankie, Siena and the Italian cavalry

Ciao tutti… and they’re off.

We bring you good news from Italia courtesy of Frankie Dettori, Italy’s brand ambassador for their new promotional campaign.

Race time in Siena

Frankie is Italy’s most famous horseman since well, ever.

Only the most devoted racing fans, or Italians, though would be able to name you another Italian jockey.

Medieval jewel: Siena

But, in truth, Italy has a rich tradition with the cavalli.

It goes back to the days of the Romans and the superstar chariot drivers.

Champion jockey Frankie is a proud Sardinian and waxes lyrical about his island, particularly the beaches.

While he also extols the virtues of Rome all of which I share.

Rock god

Being the rock god that he is, of course, Frankie namechecks other iconic Italian cities, fashionable Milan, Venice and cultural Florence 

Horsing around in the Circo Maximo in Rome with my Laurie

While he also bigs up the Amalfi Coast and Capri, and for the winter Cervinia 

If it’s horses you want then the Palio di Siena on July 2 andd August 16 is a horse of another colour.

The Palio like all traditions in Italy has its origins in religion with the first running of the bareback race in the mid-1600s in honour of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Oh, Frankie: Frankie Dettori

The jockeys are kitted out in the colours of their districts, the Contradas of Siena as they race around the square.

Our friend Frankie has his English subtitled in the promotional video which is something Scots and Irish have become used to over the years so our sympathy.

Wait for it

For the women (and the men) it’s not what Frankie says but how he says it anyway, and how he looks and the background of Italia.

But wait for it, Frankie’s pay off is Italia Wait For It. And we will.

And when we get back it’ll be with our old favourites Topflight, the Italian specialists.

Now all I need are some suitable colours.