Tour de Friends

Back in the day I used to scoot in and out to work to the centre of Edinburgh from my home in Portobello, the Scottish capital’s town seaside resort.

But since relocating to hilly Co. Wicklow I’ve let it slide. Until….

It took my friends at Travel Department to come up with the brilliant and masochistic idea of getting a bunch of travel professionals to cycle one of those multi-cycle trucks around Dublin.

The ghetto blaster might have been boasting about walking 500 miles but we were out of puff cycling 500 metres. Still the playlist of karaoke classics kept us going… Don’t Stop Pedalling as Journey really meant to sing.

The magic bus: And we’re doing the pedalling

We were rewarded though with refuelling stops at the pizzatastic Pizza Yard in Ranelagh with its almost yard-long wooden board of pizza http://www.pizzayard.ie and Keshk Cafe Restaurant http://www.keshk.ie on Mespil Road with its array of Egyptian, Greek and Turkish fare.

All of which made us think of the types of exciting foreign destinations TD specialises in.

A bicycle made for two… and a few others: With Ruth Marnell, of O’Hea PR

For 2020 TD is offering cycling holidays with group sizes of 6-16. Imagine then whizzing around Italy, Portugal, Spain and Vietnam.

TD takes care of flights, transfers, accommodation, expert cycling guide and bike hire. Prices start from €2,229 pp for the 8-night Portugal Azure Ocean Cycling Holiday. 

Taking a detour for a minute (and I did, trying to find my way along the canal back to my DART station), let’s talk about Albania and how I wouldn’t have been allowed in when I was a young buck.

It’s my hairy-facedness that was the problem. Then it was only a moustache but Enzer Hoxha, their mad dictator (is there any other kind?) had a downer on furry top lips.

Albania, of course, has changed and has opened its doors to the West (and that means us). We had hoped to get in when we honeymooned in Corfu, a spit from Albania, but their Troubles put a paid to that.

So we’ ve unfinished business there. And TD active Holidays do business there. Result.

Take a horseback ride in Antigone National Park, a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Berat, with its collection of Ottoman houses, and a hike in Llogora National Park. Tours start from €1,399 pp for 10 nights. 

A vineyeard sitting at the base of a mountain in the evening sun.

One of the great joys of travelling is meeting new people and particularly so if you go solo…. as sometimes The Scary one insists I do.

TD knows its solo traveller… It has launched solo twin share options.

You will share a room with a fellow solo traveller (of the same gender) for the duration of the trip. I’m remembering introducing myself to bewildered and befuddled Aussie Harry across the bedroom in the middle of the night recently in Jordan. We became great friends.

This will appeal particularly to value conscious travellers, enabling them to avoid single supplements. The most popular tours for solo travellers booking with TD active Holidays include searching for vampires on the Explore Transylvania trip.

Write your own caption above for this one who has always wanted to go there… in search of her ancestors.

Visit http://www.traveldepartment.ie and http://www.tdactiveholidays.ie.

Countries, Culture, Ireland

City delights – Dublin

Just a city boy
Born and raised in West Glasgow
Took the midnight bus
Going all the way


With apologies to Journey, but I am a city boy and these are my city delights.

Kicking off with Dublin where I have worked for the last 13 years (and hope to do so again) here is my occasional series City Delights on my favourite cities.

There will be no science to this.

I’ll just dip in and out of the cities I’ve visited and loved, ones I hope to see, and some I’m not that keen on.

The Four Courts: Photo by Picography on Pexels.com

The History

Dublin should really be called Blackpool, but thank goodness it’s not.

Not that the English pierside city hasn’t got its charms. But!

Black pool (dubh linn) was the name given to the settlement founded in 888.

Where the Poddle stream met the river Liffey to form a deep pool at Dublin Castle http://www.dublincastle.ie.

The Vikings, the Normans, the British, the Irish, the buskers have all sampled her pleasures.

And hers too…

The Tart with the Cart. http://www.lovindublin.com

Sweet Molly Malone

Molly Malone. She never existed.

And she was probably an amalgam of many Scottish/English/American and Irish traders of the 18th and 19th centuries anyway.

But Irish fishmongers did yell ‘Cockles and Mussels Alive, Alive O.’

Today you’ll find Molly, who is known locally as ‘The Tart with the Cart’, outside the Irish Tourist Information Centre. http://www.discoverireland.ie.

The Dubs have a way with words, a sharp sense of humour and a healthy mockery of their celebrities.

The Ace with the Bass: Phil Lynott

Feet of clay

The Fag on the Crag: Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square.

The Prick with the Stick: James Joyce on North Earl Street.

The Crank on the Bank: The cranky poet Patrick Kavanagh.

The Ace with the Ass: The much-loved Thin Lizzy rocker Phil Lynott.

And when the Dubs come to honour their Greatest Ever Citizen…

The Smart Ass in the Sunglasses.

Look out for the bullet holes: O’Connell statue

The fighting Irish

Dublin still bears the scars of its wars for independence.

On the plinth of the statue of Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’, the entry point to Dublin’s most historic city.

Along the street to the General Post Office where the Easter 1916 leaders proclaimed independence and holed themselves in http://www.dublinvisitorcentre.ie and http://www.visitdublin.com.

Against the bullets of the British Army,

And at Kilmainham Gaol http://www.kilmainhamgaol.ie where the leaders were shot, among them James Connolly who was strappped to a chair on account of his gangrenous leg.

The craic

The Champ and his Dad at Mary’s

The party spirit is indistinguishably Irish but the word ‘craic’ is borrowed from the Scots, even referenced in Robert Burns.

Before making its way over the Irish Sea to the Ulster Scots.

What’s most important though is where to find it.

The simplest answer is: every day on the streets of Dublin.

But here are a few pubs where it’s in great supply.

O’Donoghues, Merrion Row http://www.odonoghues.ie

Where The Dubliners, Ireland’s most famous folk band were formed and where you can still hear the best trad music.

Mary’s Bar & Hardware, Wicklow Street http://www.marysbar.ie.

It’s something of a country thing, a multi-purpose business, Mary’s doubling up with WOWBURGER upstairs.

And you can have a beer and a burger. And then downstairs again for another, and some live music.

The Workshop, George’s Quay http://www.theworkshopgastropub.com

I admit a vested interest here… my cousins run The Workshop On George’s Quay looking out on to the Liffey.

It’s the one with the squirrel mural and it’s handily placed next to Tara Street DART (train) station.

Which I and generations knew as Kennedys.

It has transferred itself into a gastropub in response to our changing tastes and how it does taste.

With the most beautifully presented and sumptuous dishes.

Get some food in you

Chai high

It may be in the national psyche because of the Potato Famine. Irish people are obsessed with food and can talk for hours on the subject.

I have been lucky enough to be wined and dined in a few..,

Chapter One, Parnell Square http://www.chapteronerestaurant.com

Dublin is not short of Michelin-starred restaurants and Chapter One is my pick.

Don’t ask to have your steak done ‘your way’ as an amateur diner posited unless you want a dismissive, lip-curling look from your waiter.

You’ll agree though when you eat it.

Chai Yo Teppanyaki, Baggot Street Lower http://www.chaiyo.ie

Teppanyaki at its best as it should be as it’s the venue for the annual Wendy Wu brochure launch.

And Wendy. Queen of Asian high-end Travel, should know.

All the Teppanyaki dishes are served with soup, fried rice and mixed vegetables.

I often go for the Chef’s Special as I reckon they know best.

King Prawns, Chicken Teriyaki and Fillet Steak. I’m stuffed. Oh, go on them.

Pizza Yard, Sanford Road, Ranelagh http://www.pizzayard.ie

When you’ve been cycling through town on one of those multi-cycle party trucks (and do) then you’ll get a hunger up.

Just as well then that we got to stop off at Pizza Yard where they will slap down a two-yard long pizza on the table.

Of course I went for the al funghi (with mushrooms). Wash it down with Italian lager.

A little local knowledge

My kind of mess

The Hugh Lane Gallery http://www.hughlane.ie

Messier than any student bedsit.

But it was that organised chaos that inspired artist Francis Bacon.

So when he died he bequeathed that his studio be recreated back in his native Dublin.

But skip…

The Book of Kellls, Trinity College http://www.tcd.ie

Maybe because I’d been dragged along to see the ancient scripts when I was a kid.

But I remember the queues being long and I couldn’t understand any of it.

And finally

Don’t say ‘Top of the mornin’ ’

Do say: ‘What’s the craic?’

Really, this is finally. And my favourite hotel in Dublin https://jimmurtytraveltraveltravel.com/the-intercontinental-what-a-ledge/.

And if you love Ireland like I love Ireland then how about Thirteen years an Irishman – My five Irish homes.