Africa, America, Countries, Culture, Music, South America, UK

Paul Simon, 80 years young today

I often think I was born out of my time… not ahead of it, more behind it, which is why when my peers were expressing their angst through Joy Division I was finding meaning through Paul Simon, 80 years young today.

As the youngest of three boys with a five and eight year gap between us my early influences were The Beatles, The Stones, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Pink Floyd, Heavy Metal… and Simon & Garfunkel.

And as a gangly shy adolescent I find solace in the longing, introverted, wanderer music of Paul Simon… I still do.

The man: Paul Simon

Now there have been rockier, wilder concerts (The Killers, The Proclaimers), equally as iconic singers (David Bowie). and more celebrated venues (OneRepublic in Red Rocks, Colorado) but there have been no more rewarding gigs than Paul Simon on his farewell tour which touched down in Dublin.

So how does your favourite Travel blog mark the 80th birthday of the Poet Laureate of Pop?

Well, by shining a light on the places Rhymin’ Simon loved the most and whose musical influences burst out in his timeless songs.

Apple of his eye

Remember him: ‘The Donald’ in New York

New York: A proud son of Queen’s borough, Simon’s songs about New York are some of the most recognisable about the Big Apple.

The Boxer is a plaintive exploration of down on your luck New York life which includes a reference to the ‘whores on 7th Avenue’.

Simon told the story at a concert of a fan who told him she would sing the song to her child only she changed the words to ‘toy stores’.

There’s something quite playful too about the 59th Street Bridge Song and I referenced it too on my route to the RDS for that 2019 concert.

You’ll find, in truth. New York references in numerous Simon and Simon & Garfunkel songs, some with NY in the title as in The Only Living Boy In New York and the Statue of Liberty in my own favourite, American Tune.

Rainbow Simon

Cool for cats… in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

South Africa: Now, how many of us, hand on heart can say that they knew much South African music before Paul Simon introduced it to a Western audience with his seminal album Graceland.

And, before we get to that, let’s just reference the titular song Graceland, a tribute to Elvis, which Simon revealed was his favourite piece of song-writing (few arguments here).

Of course none of us outside of South Africa knew of Ladysmith Black Mombasa either… but once heard never forgotten.

Simon also opened up the joy of South Africa at a time when understandably we associated the country with injustice, bigotry and hopelessness.

But which lit a fire for many of us to go visit the Rainbow Nation. We give you Simon and the band’s Under African Skies.

Samba music

Get into the beat: In Brazil

Brazil: And once Simon had got on a roll (or a rock’n’roll if you like) he was off to South America.

Who can forget those huge drums on The Obvious Child. Nothing obvious though about the drummers’ talent or Simon’s songwriting.

And finally in an English train station

He was here: Widnes Railway Station plaque

Widnes, England: And, of course, unless you’re a Rugby League fan, you’ll never have been to Widnes in Merseyside.

Unless you’re a budding New York musician (Paul Simon) who was feeling homesick here and penned the classic Homeward Bound. There is a plaque there now.

Or if you’re another budding wordsmith, en route to Liverpool from Scotland (you have to wait here for the next connection) to take the next rung in his celebrated writing career.

But that’s another story.

Happy Birthday Paul Simon, 80 years young today.

 

Africa, Countries, Culture

Our return to Africa and the Middle East

They’re the cradles of civilisations our modern metropolises still aspire to… and we’re planning our return to Africa and the Middle East.

The grand old cities of Jerusalem and Petra.

Spanning across the ages, one a living museum, the other a Modern Wonder of the World, they have rightly been honoured.

Ten out of ten

Camel ye: To Petra

In Travel + Leisure’s 10 Best Cities in Africa and the Middle East.

Jerusalem I have seen longingly, like Moses, from atop Mount Nebo on my G Adventures odyssey.

Petra, I have stood up close to, by a camel, whose ancestor would have carried a Nabataean in days of yore.

With divining rods for water to trade for the jewels of the desert… the Nalbataean that is.

At the other end of the spectrum, Tel Aviv shows Israel’s modern face.

Now being of the male variety, and so a listaholic, most rolls of honour fall into my remit.

Heroes in Capes

I’d have to see more of Cape Town than just the airport as I did on the way to the Eastern Cape

And would have had Covid not popped its head up as we were puttImg the final touches  to our trip to Napoleon’s island, St Helena.

The old perennials naturally pop up on the list.

Marrakech, the Pink City, was my first port of entry into Africa. 

And, of course, you can’t hold a whole continent against one country for an experience.

Of getting mugged in the souks and food poisoning in the Sahara.

So that the best experience of Morocco was in the airport back in Fez.

Although the good readers of Travel +
Leisure also have a penchant for the Moroccan port of Essaouira.

I’ll take your word for it.

Gulf in class

Where as a memento I brought back a camel scene handbag for my Dear Old Mum which she flashed around her Bridge club.

The Gulf has also been on the radar with visits from Dubair and Muscat delegations during my time in Dublin.

And after they got in touch and we explored opportunities in Abu Dhabi

Of course, it is pure indulgence to sit around and grade a continent and a region’s cities.

But it does serve another, healthy purpose… to travel in our imagination.

To share experiences and knowledge and plan our return to Africa and the Middle East.

Now which are your favourite cities?

 

Africa, Countries, Ireland, Sport, UK

Lions in Siya Africa

Now I know a thing or two about  Lions in Siya Africa.

The Lions are on the Mount Camdeboo Game Reserve in the Great Karoo in the Eastern Cape.

Which is just around the corner from where the British and Irish Lions are playing their Test series with the South African Springboks.

Well, a rather big corner, the Cape of Good Hope.

Heroes in Capes

OK, it’s a cheetah but the Lions were hiding

Cape Town‘s beauty and its Table Mountain are legendary.

Less well known, at least outside of South Africa, are the charms of the Eastern Cape. 

From where Springboks captain Siya Kolisi, Pride of Port Elizabeth, hails.

You’ll see his influence in the oldest township in South Africa from where he set out on his heroic journey to become Springboks skipper.

South Africa needs leadership

The pack: With SpringJock Iain and pals

And to place that in sense of importance within the Rainbow Nation…

Didn’t the Eastern Cape’s own, Nelson Mandela don a Springboks jersey to greet Francois Pienaar at the 1995 World Cup final against New Zealand?

South Africa could do with Madiba now as it wrestles with social unrest in the wake of Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment, and its Covid crisis.

But in Kolisi it has a champion.

A different Test

Panorama: With South Africanophile Rachel

It is of course a matter of regret that the Lions aren’t touring South Africa.

And an even greater one that Port Elizabeth, where the Lions have a decent record, hasn’t hosted a Test match against the Lions since 1980.

The Eastern Cape is solid rugby territory and a visit to the township reveals that the Boks are now embraced by all its peoples.

A Scot in exile

Rugby fans: Siseko, Nelson Mandela and your Bandanaman

Now mine host Iain is a proud Springboks fan and thinks nothing of taking his Jeep out to travel across country to watch his rugby.

But as his name reveals despite living in solid eastern Southern Africa his roots lie up here in Scottishland.

However the series evolves he will take take great joy from a healthier than usual representation from North Britain.

And we are not immune either from adopting Afrikaners either with Dusan Van der Merwe.

We call them SpringJocks.

It should be a great old journey with the Lions in Siya Africa.

 

 

 

Countries

Sláinte World Whisky Day

Scotland has cornered the market so much we even claim the name ‘whisky’ or ‘scotch’ but let’s share the love. Sláinte World Whisky Day everyone.

So onto a history story here.

Our preeminence in the biggest selling place in the world, America, is down to Prohibition days.

The ultimate in cool

Yes, the Far East is a much sought-after market too where this northern bit of Britain is also widely acknowledged.

But while we all know, and laud, the major whisky (or whiskey if you like) countries what of the others who love the golden nectar?

Boks on the rocks

Bain’s: The only commercial whisky distillery in Africa

South Africa: For those who know, and love, the country they might be surprised to hear that SA has a global award-winning distillery.

But then Andy Watts, the Master Distiller at Bain’s Cape Mountain whisky, knows his uisge beatha.

I’d wager that a people who put ice in their wine have their whisky on the rocks.

Belgian blend

Het Anker Brewery: They do whisky too

Belgium: Yes, you’ll not be surprised to see that the Belgians have only made their dab at whisky, Gouden Carolus, beer infused.

My old friend Tom, of the Hopperie in Ieper who proudly declared that he sold only beer, hundreds of labels, and could give you tasting notes, would not be amused.

Mind you he’d probably have a whisky-infused beer.

Probably the best

The Danish finish: Stauning

Denmark: It’s probably the best-preserved secret in the world.

We are reliably told that Stauning Whisky combines malted barley and malted rye.

And that fans of American whiskey will go for this. Probably!

Dams and drams

Dutch double: And a fancy label

Netherlands: Back to the Low Countries for this one, That Boutique-y Whisky Company Millstone.

And the Zuidam distillery produces a six-year-old single malt which if you like your dram with a cinnamon tang will be right up your street.

Dutch barmen who instinctively use their wee plastic knives to scoop off frothy heads would need retraining.

Swigging in the valleys

Boridar, is this the bar?

Wales: It’s one of life’s mysteries (or whisky’s) that Wales is the odd man out of Celtic countries with no ‘water of life’ heritage.

Their water is surely just as God-given as the Scottish and Irish wet stuff.

And having spent a year in Cardiff I can vouch that Our Lord’s tears fall more plentifully there than anywhere else on Earth.

Brecon Beacons drop, Penderyn Welsh Gold, has vanilla infusions.

Sláinte World Whisky Day

And a whisky cocktail you say…. try this whisky sour.

Africa, Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Europe

World Book Day – a leaf through the world

Happy World Book Day… I’ve been turning over a new leaf by re-reading some old favourites from around the world.

Some will be yours, others I’d recommend as they namecheck places you’ll want to visit, and the people too.

Czech’s in post for this classic

On the King Charles Bridge in Prague

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis: Or you can have The Trial.

OK, I’ve not read either, but I have checked out Kafkaesque Prague, his home city.

And he’ll be glad to know that the Czechs still retain his take on the world around him and its leaders…

Bureaucracies overpowering people often in a surreal, nightmarish way.

Anne’sterdam

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl: It’s chilling to listen to the audio of Anne‘s words in the diary she wrote in her family’s hideout in Amsterdam.

And I make no apologies in saying that I choked up.

When I heard that the vibrant young girl destined for Auschwitz had wanted to become a journalist.

Anne, of course, made a lasting impression, and has gone on to inspire generations of chlldren and adults alike.

Eastern Eden

Cool for cats… in the Eastern Cape, South Africa

Olive Schreiner’s The Story of An African Farm: Olive may not be on every, or any, schoolchildren’s radar in the Northern Hemisphere.

And athough its style is of its time, the 19th century, this chronicle of South African life in the Eastern Cape, is required reading.

A feminist and ahead of her time Olive railed against the prejudices around her .

And she also moved in some pretty famous circles. Required reading.

Crusoe in Tobago

Give ‘em rope: With Levi and Bandanaman the goat in Tobago

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Tobago: And if you’re lucky enough you can even reprise the actions of some of your favourite literary characters.

Like in Tobago where Robinson Crusoe swept ashore and took years to get off.

For all his protestations I think he probably enjoyed it. And we know that he made some friends of the local goats.

The Odyssey

Spoiled and ruined at the Acropolis in Athens

Homer’s Odyssey: And this one I did read, or at least study, and then parts of it.

As a Classics scholar (or messer) at school.

I had my own odyssey trying to make my way through Munich Airport and on way to Greece and over to its islands.

There’s nothing like walking in the footsteps of your legend’s… so there’s an invitation to you.

And it’s been flagged up that I’ve been down this road before with this book collection. See if my choices have changed and tell me your faves. 

 

 

 

Adventure, Africa, Countries, Culture, Deals, Food

Holiday Snaps – Capes of good hope

And, yes, you read that right. I’m talking of the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa and the Good Hope of returning ine day.

TV chef Gregg Wallace has been conjuring up memories of the Eastern Cape foe me in his ITV travelogue series, sponsored by Saga Holidays.

Where last week he went on safari at the Amakahla Game Reserve, just north-west of Port Elizabeth, and this week goes west to Table Mountain et al.

Chin chin: Gregg Wallace in South Africa

Of course Gregg got stuck into biltong, the dried cured meat they all eat out there.

The promo video shows Gregg toasting us with a South African white you can almost taste.

But a piece of advice, Gregg, if you really want to go native then you need to put ice in the wine.

Bergamo stands alone

Bergamo Molamia: Stay strong

Mola Mia… and I’m glad to see that Ryanair is giving Bergamo back its name in its latest tranche of offers and not just aa an appendage of Milan.

They flag up the medieval jewel of Lombardy at up to €30 off which takes you to their €23.99 one-way deal for Milan Bergamo.

Bur hey, Bergamo wasn’t built in a day… and I’ll share all its history and how it has rallied from being the doorway for Covid in Europe.

Una ciocolatta di calda densa: In Bergamo

Book foe Bergamo and a raft of destinations by January 13. Travel between April 1 and October 31.

Ryanair helpfully shares where you can get a Covid test near you.

Sandals in the sand

Blessed: Saint Lucia

Or more accurately on the runway. Actually the plane on the runway but then my hour in Saint Lucia just whetted my appetite.

My Saint Lucian pal Jerry, the Big Rapper, from my G Adventures tour of Jordan had given me the skinny on his island.

And how he had plans for writing a guide book.

Look out for that when you’re out in Saint Lucia at Sandals who have a January sale on.

They have seven nights at the Sandals Regency La Toc with travel dates in September and October.

Fly with British Airways and stay in a honeymoon luxury.

Now I’ve experience of a couples hotel in Barbados and a Sandals on the south of the island too,

While, if you want to island hop, Saint Lucia is the stop-off for another prize destination Tobago.

Africa, America, Asia, Countries, Culture

Happy World Kindness Day

And on this, World Kindness Day, a shout-out here to those who have shown me random acts of kindness on my travels… and sometimes me them.

And firstly a recommendation… if you ever leave your mobile phone back in your Mississippi hotel on my American Trilogy in the Deep South.

You only realise it when you’re 50 miles along the highway then here’s your go-to guy.

Hit the road Zach

Zach is back

Zach arranged to get a courier to bring it from Jackson to Cleveland and the Two Mississippi Museums.

The next year Zach sought me out at the American Travel Fair, IPW, in Denver when I left my mobile phone down as I went for a coffee and he tut-tutted. Legend!

Zuhair, a hero

Ramadan the Man….Zuhair

And a shout-out here to all who observe Ramadan which puts a Christian’s Lenten fast into sharp focus.

Zuhair, our G Adventures host on our trip to Jordan, was the ever-welcoming face for his country.

Despite not being able to let a drop of water or morsel to his lips despite the travel and 30+ temperatures and desert until early evening.

When even Petra camels could.

Rachel, a ray of sunshine

Sometimes when you travel the world for a living you forget how lucky you are.

And that’s when you need a star like Rachel to pick you up.

Often it’s wine and a prehistoric South African valley which will remind you that whatever’s happening at home can wait.

And which is why I’m delighted for her (and me in the future) that South Africa is opening up again for international travellers with a negative test.

Your honour, Onur

I’m going where Onur goes… in Istanbul

And I’ve reserved this place for my favourite Turk, Turkish Airlines’ Onur, and very nearly favourite person in our industry.

Which is why he, like me, is also a past recipient of Irish Travel Media’s Pleasure To Work With Award.

Now if there was an award too for Most Accidental Tourist I’d win that too… every year.

I’ve enjoyed Onur’s company on the little island of Kuramathi, too small even for me to get lost.

Though Istanbul is and when I did get waylaid somewhere around the Blue Mosque who cane to collect me?

And I’ll carry your cross

And Finisterre after the Camino

And sometimes I’ll be your hero on your travels.

Just as I was when I carried a tearful American’s backpack on her final steps of a stretch of the Camino with CaminoWays.

Only for her to have to remind me to give it back.

Africa, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Hungry and Thursday – Afrikaans pumpkin fritters

And to think the Scary One tried to palm me off with pumpkin seeds…

When being of the Scottish variety the way to my clotted heart is something deep fried.

But surprisingly you won’t find the pumpkin fritter in Glasgow, or the Deep South of America which I swear the Scots brought there!

Fritter, but not fitter

No, the pumpkin fritter is a favourite of the South Africans. They call them pampoen koekies.

I’m directed here by www.tastyrecipes.sapeople.com where you’ll find this recipe.

Ingredients:

    Two cups cooked mashed pumpkin
    One tsp vanilla extract
    One beaten egg
    One cup of self-raising flour
    Two tsps baking powder
    A quarter tsp salt
    One tbles brown sugar
    Oil for frying

Cinnamon Sugar Coating:

  • 50g castor sugar
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon

Bucket list

How to:

  • Drain the cooked pumpkin well
  • Add the beaten egg and vanilla extract and mix
  • Add the rest and mix to a soft but firm batter
  • Place a spoonful of the mixture into the hot oil.
  • Fry on one side until golden brown and turn to cook on the other side
  • Remove on slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper
  • In small bowl combine castor sugar with cinnamon and sprinkle over hot fritters before serving

Any kids coming guising around the house though will be getting deep-fried mars bars.

This is Scotland, not South Africa!

Africa, America, Countries, Europe, Ireland, Music, UK

Rainy Days and Songdays – Student Bangers

Would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our stereos? – Braveheart

As students continue to be consigned to house arrest, they’ll only get through this with the staples of Uni, drugs and rock’n’roll.

No sex please, we’re British!

And so in a nod to our future parliamentarians, pioneers and care providers.

Here are some old bangers which got me through my young days.

And the places it took me too.

Tennessee waltz

With WC Handy in Memphis, Tennessee on my Deep South journey

On highway number 19 the people keep the city clean – Tina Turner, Nutbush City Limits

Nutbush City Limits and Tennessee (Ike and Tina Turner): And Nutbush was one to get everyone on their feet in the students’ union (alas no longer there).

I little thought then that I’d be bombing along highway number 19 on my Deep South American Odyssey 30 odd years later… The Promised Land, The story of the Blues and The King of Kings.

Mine’s a 99

Ninety nine dreams I have had, In every one a red balloon, it’s all over and I’m standing pretty, In this dust that was a city – Nena, 99 Ref Balloons

99 Red Balloons and Germany (Nena): You couldn’t qualify as a student when I were a lad if you didn’t march for the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nuclear Disarmament or to Free Nelson Mandela.

And this anti-Communism clarion call by this German ball of energy played endlessly out of the window of the girls in the next flat.

The wall came down five tears ago and while I have still to make my mark on today’s wall, I have since visited behind the old Curtain.

Ich bin ein Dresdener

To see the revival of Dresden, the Venice of the Elbe, and learn about the Prague Spring and a nuclear bunker.

Mandela days

With my friend Siseko in Port Elizabeth

Are you so blind that you cannot see? Are you so deaf that you cannot hear his plea? Free Nelson Mandela, I’m begging you, Free Nelson Mandela – The Specials

Nelson Mandela and South Africa: And, no, Free Nelson Mandela wouldn’t be one for the dance floor although maybe we pogoed to it.

It really came into its own on protest marches, demonstrations and the Free Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley.

Where me and my old pal from Cardiff student days clung onto our old undergrad days for just one more summer.

And while I never got to meet The Great Man I did get out to his home province of the Eastern Cape in South Africa.

And stood in his Voting Line.

So, for every student in the land, turn your boom boxes up loud and channel your Labi Siffre

Your light will shine so brightly it will blind them.

Tell me what your University bangers and we’ll share

Africa, Countries, Culture, Ireland, UK

The grand oldest man of South Africa

They breed them tough in South Africa where the oldest man in the world Fredie Blom died this week at the grand old age of 116.

Fredie, who hailed from the Eastern Cape, lived through the Boer War, two world wars, Apartheid, Mandela and the Rainbow Nation.

And in a blow-off to the tobaccostapo Fredie had the last word, or puff, as he smoked very much up until his last breath.

In fact very nearly his last dying wish was to have a cigarette but lockdown had made it more difficult for him to get his tobacco.

Where the township meats: The braai

Fredie’s secret of longevity seemed to be hard work. He was a farm labourer and a construction worker.

And a love of cycling and walking.

And family.

Fredie lost his own, all to the Spanish Flu of 1918, but found a reason to live again.

Meeting the locals

When he met Jeanette at a dance, married her and helped over 46 years to raise her three children with five grandchildren following.

His grandson Andre Naidoo spoke for the whole family when he said: ‘Two weeks ago our oupa (grandfather) was still chopping wood.

‘He was a strong man, full of pride.’

I’ve seen first hand in the Red Location in the New Brighton Township, Port Elizabeth how families live on top of each other.

And I don’t want to leave

In conditions resembling wastelands.

But in the township wealth is measured in love, loyalty… and a good braii (barbecue).

And I’m sure Jeanette will have been waiting for Fredie on a fluffy cloud with a packet of cigarettes.

Just watch out for the falling ash.