Countries, Culture, Europe

European Thermal Cafe

That’s me saved from any gardening after pulling my back… so I’ll just lie back in the bath instead and drink in a European Thermal Cafe.

Today’s Thermal Cafe Zoom invitation was the chance to reengage with the Rediscover Europe’s Thermal Towns campaign.

Thermal resorts have, of course, been with us as long as we’ve had thermals… and I’m not talking vests and long-johns here.

Pawmper time

And everyone from royalty to the Great Unwashed have taken the waters around Europe to heal their bones.

Becherovka coffee

More the latter category than the formal although I have cleaned up my act for my forays into Central Europe.

The conversation soon got round, as all good cafe meet-ups do, to coffee.

And our hosts regaled us with recollections of Becherovka coffee in Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic.

Take the waters in the Czech Spa Triangle

All of which I’ve grown to love except that I haven’t put the Becherovka in with the coffee with cream on top. Yet!

They all usually go into my belly separately.

I’ve unfinished business with the Czech Republic and a return to Hoptown Zatec is on the cards for their Hop Festival.

The route to wellness

Our friends at the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns, Simone and Catherine, appraised us of how European spa towns are reopening again.

A meeowssage

And Southern Europe has 80% bounce back bookings.

There are challenges in Germany though with 16 states with 16 different sets of regulations.

While in France we were informed that they’re allowing only 20 at a time into their thermal baths.

Gee, get G7 leaders moving

The European Route of Historic Thermal Towns lobbies the powers that be hard.

And it was Cultural Route of the Council of Europe certified in 2010.

So seeing that we’re all so well connected then we’ve naturally got onto Boris, Biden, Macron and Angela et al ahead of G7 in Cornwall.

Becherovka time

Where we just know that they’ll be sharing a thermal spa.

We all arranged to meet again for another Thermal cafe later in the summer.

The Dead Sea, Jordan

When hopefully these Dead Sea bath salts from my G Adventures trip to Jordan will have worked their charms.

And we can meet outside for the next European Thermal Cafe, and I’ll promise to keep my top on.

MEET YOU IN THE SPA

 

 

Countries, Europe, UK

Life’s a tent pitch

We had to pack up our tents and leave town by order of the local youth gang after I had moved in on the leader’s moll. Life’s a tent pitch!

These badlands you ask? Well, Castle Douglas, near Stranraer in the south-west of Scotland.

I was 15 and it was an unpromising start to my camping days.

A year later I would be sleeping outside the tent on the French Riviera.

And under the stars because the four of us thought a two-man tent would fit us all (and our rucksacks).

There have been scrapes aplenty in the subsequent years.

Like the time when Daddy’s Little Girl slugged from my whisky hip flask in Donard, Co. Wicklow when she was 8.

She then blamed me saying I’d said it was water.

Canvassing opinion

The camping has evolved into glamping, or at least better canvassed accommodation.

In Morocco and in Jordan.

Mind you I saw precious little of my bed in the Sahara Desert after a run-in with a dodgy Atlas Mountains tagine.

My G Adventures expedition through Jordan was much more palatable although again I had a sleepless night.

With tootache… and earache as my neighbour in our party had the snores.

All of which reminiscing is prompted by news from my old friend from our unforgettable trip to Tobago, Yogi SLM.

About the camping craze taking over the UK.

Carry on camping

SLM tells me that such is the demand for camping breaks in the UK that tents are in short supply.

As well as gas barbecues, Calor gas bottles and camping tables and chairs. And electric bicycles!

Over to Matt Sims, managing director of the Motorhome Holiday Company, cites Brexit as one of the culprits.

He said: “We are observing how the new customs regulation following Brexit has affected the import of essential camping equipment.

“That mean that many large retailers are now out of stock as their bulk buying power has been impacted.

“However these goods can still be purchased by smaller independent camping equipment retailers as they are less affected.”

Deal us in

Matt has been busy doing the homework for us and estimates that more than 50% of campsites will still have availability over the summer season.

For Ceredigion and Powys in Wales, the Isle of Wight, Leyland, Lancashire and St Columb, Cornwall.

Matt is expecting a 700% rise in demand for its motorhome rentals this summer, compared to two years ago, yet is keeping prices frozen at 2019 levels.

All Wight on the night: The Isle of Wight

A three-night rental with the Motorhome Holiday Company starts from £400 and includes rental, Camping and Caravaning Club Privilege membership for the duration of the hire.

You also get fully comp insurance for the first driver, unlimited mileage, breakdown cover, complimentary essentials and telephone support.

A week in the summer holidays from £1260. Shorter breaks are also available in the summer priced from £180 per day.

Life’s a tent pitch… so get out and enjoy your summer.

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, Food & Wine

Water into wine Israeli delicious

Jesus and the Apostles at the Marriage Feast at Cana. Jesus announces ‘I’ll turn this water into wine.’ Peter pipes up: ‘No, you won’t. You’ll buy your round like the rest of us.’

Just a wee joke as old as the Bible to illustrate that wine dates back to The Chosen People themselves.

And to ask where is the Israeli wine on our supermarket shelves?

Glass act: Israeli wine

Thankfully my Israeli friends sent me a bottle of the golden nectar to celebrate Shavuot with them.

Cheese and wine party

Shavuot marks the wheat festival in the Land of Israel.

And the commemoration of the anniversary of God’s giving of the Torah to the Children of Israel on Mount Sinai in 1312 BCE.

So how do Jews celebrate this, the Feast of Weeks?

Kibbutz in Israel

Well with dairy and the fermented juice of the grape, making it one of the oldest cheese and wine parties in history.

This, and more, we learned from our Israel hosts who warmed us all up on a cold mid-May morning.

Israeli delicious

Land of Milk and Honey they say.

Well each varietal of this elegant First Page 2017 wine from Givat Yeshayahu in the Judean Hills is separately fermented for seven months before blending.

Then 50% is aged in French oak and 50% in stainless steel producing a perfectly balanced and aromatic wine with hints of citrus and green apple.

The blend is 50% Pinot Gris, 40% Riesling and 10% Semillion.

And that bit about the Land of Milk and Honey… well, Israel is also the soil of Terra Rossa, clay and limestone.

No wonder the wedding guests turned to Jesus when they ran ou of this.

Kibbutz for hippies

Israeli trad music

The winemakers at Sphera focus solely on white wines.

Now for many an old hippy, like me, Israel and its communal kibbutzes truly represented a Promised Land.

And an Israeli tour guide from Kibbutz Ein-Carmel on our conference call and tour gave us an insight into the best of Israel.

And showed us how to dance a Hora.

Israel is  Promised Land I have still to set foot on although I have viewed it from 100ft away on the other side of the River Jordan.

On my G Adventures odyssey in Jordan.

And from atop Mt Nebo where Moses looked out onto the Land of Milk and Honey only for God to deny him access.

Worth the wait

Mt Nebo, Jordan

It famously took the Chosen People 40 years to reach The Promised Land following their release from Egypt.

And centuries longer after the various Falls of Jerusalem.

These are challenging times for an Israel which has in so many ways shown the way to the world in Covid vaccinations.

And where Travel routes have just been restored from England.

Promise us a miracle

Site of Jesus’s baptism on the River Jordan

So in this Feast of Weeks, we lift our glasses and toast each other, all of us and the power of miracles.

Water into wine Israeli delicious.

Now back to my First Page 2017 although I will be back to tell you more about Ancient wine.

And give a nod to my old friend from Colorado whose a  specialist in ancient food and wine. 

 

Asia, Countries, Culture, Flying, Ireland, UK

Travel to the Promised Land Israel close

And travel to the Promised Land Israel close before the end of the year.

Israel, as we all know, has been the real leading light in vaccine roll-outs.

With half its population now having had their second jags.

And boy have they been celebrating with this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day a real cause for celebration.

It has brought people out on the streets to sing, dance and watch the fireworks display.

Dublin is El Al City

Israel, of course, was the shiny new El Al route from Dublin for 2020, only for it to be interrupted by Covid.

The good news is that Sharon Bershadsky, Director at the Israel Tourism Office in London made real connections on her visit to Dublin last year.

And she is keen to get the Irish out to Israel as soon as we can.

A land of our childhood

From May 23 vaccinated groups of international travellers will be allowed out to Israel initially in a pilot scheme and then through a phased approach.

And don’t we all want to get out there but again our political leaders continue to drag their feet.

I’ve said it before that I’ve got real close to stepping on holy land.

I have seen Israel from Mt Nebo, Moses’s last resting place, and by the Jordan where John the Baptist baptised Jesus with G Adventures.

Israel is over there: Atop Mt Nebo

And I’m determined to step across into Israel. And yes, you can do countries with G Adventures.

This ancient land of Israel, and all its previous incarnations, is the one country we all know from childhood.

Even if we have never been there, through our religious classes.

So it’s a real challenge to present it anew but one which Sharon succeeded in consumately.

Best of both worlds

No place like dome

The appeal of the Promised Land is obvious, it’s not called that for nothing.

And its historical and religious sites will always draw us there.

But Israel is a diverse country of peoples, cultures, geography… and of course culinary.

There is more than milk and honey although both are to be recommended and used in many of their best dishes.

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is a combined trip which will give the traveller the best of both worlds.

Modern hip beach Mediterannean Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where three religions meet.

Hotting up

Good to go

Jews, Muslims and Christians all come together too in Haifa on the northern coast in a model of co-existence.

Israel really is a country of contrasts with the traveller able to lie back and think of…

Well, nothing on the Dead Sea, or take a boat out on the Dead Sea and snorkel or tuck into the barbecue and Israeli wine.

In fact the water may just be a blessed relief.

From the heat of an Israeli summer with temperatures hitting the high 40s… great for me, I must admit.

Because of the year that’s in it, it may be the Autumn or Winter when we all get out there which is real good by me.

 

 

 

 

America, Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe

Spring forward, fall back – time zones around the world

I always keep my watch set at the time of the last country I’ve been to so today that’ll be the Czech Republic.

The idea is to keep something of that destination and wanderlust with me though it can cause problems in the morning.

Beer O’Clock in Zatec

My strange habit all chimes with the Czechs, of course, with their love of an astronomical clock.

Prague‘s biggest attraction, in the Old Town Square obvs but also the clock in Hoptown, Zatec, and its homage to beer.

Scot late the Great

You’re late… but that’s OK in Edinburgh

Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh: And, of course, today I’ve been all over the place, and logging on for work that was a full month ago.

Now the fastidious and ever-so-decent people of Edinburgh look after people like me.

By setting their clock three minutes fast to allow people rushing for their train at nearby Waverley Station enough time.

Set in the New Town, staring across Princes Street Gardens and up to Edinburgh Castle it also allows you more time to take it all in.

Philly’s hour of need

Billydelphia

Philadelphia City Hall, Philadelphia: And it will come as little surprise to you that I turned up for my Zoom meeting from Washington DC five hours early.

I make only a few apologies for resharing Philadelphia’s Curse of Billy Penn because clocks and times give me that opportunity today.

The 21-year curse on Philly‘s sports teams arose because of the construction of One Liberty Hall.

It exceeded the height of Billy’s statue atop City Hall… a real no, no.

It was all resolved when a statuette was affixed to the final beam topping off the Comcast Cener, now the city’s tallest building.

And the Phillies took baseball’s World Series

Tenerife timing

Give me a bell: Tenerife

Iglesia de la Concepcion, San Cristobal de La Laguna: You’ll be breathless after saying all this.

And breathless from the steps, particularly if you’ve been hiking through rain forests and hills on your CanariaWays trip.

But the views are spectacular. Just don’t ring it too early. Too late.

Ancient times

Time goes slowly: Im Petra

Petra, Jordan: And it may look like a temple to you and me but it’s actually a Treasury.

The same thing to the Nabateans.

It’s also though a timepiece with coded messages.

You won’t need Indiana Jones to decode them though.

Zuhair, G Adventures, expert man on the ground will give you the full lowdown… and Jordan Jimmy will do the rest.

Ben O’Clock

The Elizabeth Tower, Westminster, London: And, of course the tower with the most famous clockface in the world.

Only everyone thinks it’s called Big Ben.

But that is the name of the largest of its five bells.

So who was Ben? Well, either ‘Big’ Ben Hall, the first Commissioner of Works or the boxer Benjamin Caunt.

Ring-a-ding ding!

Countries, Culture, Europe, Food & Wine

Czeching back in for the beer – a year on

When the good people of Prague built their bunkers it was to protect themselves from the atom bomb.

But they were way ahead of the game for lockdown too.

Maybe it was prescient that I spent a couple of hours in a nuclear bunker in Prague this time last year as I’ve been confined to something similar for most of the last year.

And I’ve often thought the food would be better in that Czech bunker too!

I have become good friends with the Czechs over recent years on their many visits to Dublin and also on my trips out there.

Look at the head on that: Zatec, Czech Republuc

Zoom session

And it was little surprise that they were one of the earlier destinations off the block to run a Beer Zoom session.

While early summer saw long tables laid out on the Charles Bridge for the locals to feast.

Like the rest of us though that proved a false dawn and we’re all doing our eating and drinking back indoors now.

Mind you the wonderfully resilient Czechs have been getting on with it, fuelled of course by their water of life, their beer.

Beer, of course, as they have long known isn’t just for drinking, although they do plenty of that.

They consume more of it per head of population than any other country in the world.

Call me keg: In Zatec

Hoptown

But it is also the centrepiece of a Beer Festival in Zatec where among the competitions is the biggest beer belly contest… I’ve been practising during lockdown.

There is an astronomical clock there too themed around beer.

In fact Hoptown Zatec is so engrained (sorry) with beer that they have a Hops Museum there.

And they have a history of foregoing water in times of drought to make sure that the beer harvest doesn’t suffer.

The one beer pleasure I have missed out on my visits to Czechland, and just another reason to go back soon, is a beer spa.

On my knees praying for beer: In the Spa Triangle

Spa Triangle

Now while we went from tap to tap in Karlovy Vary in the Spa Triangle it wasn’t beer we were supping but lukewarm, salty age-defying spring water.

While unbeknown to me then there was a Beer Spa in town.

The First Beer Spa is the place to go where you will recline in a royal oak whirling tub filled with brewer’s yeast, varieties of hops, malt and peat extract.

While bathing you can drink unlimited dark and light beer which the experts tell us will hydrate us (we’re not arguing).

They insist it will release tension, fatigue and stress, wash out harmful substances and regenerate our skin.

Lennon would have liked it here: In Prague

Only here for the beer

Other spa towns boast beer spas, and all I can think of is that the Czechs had heard of my reputation before my first visit to their country, with Jesenik in Moravia standing out.

Now I know what you’re thinking… if I mention Prague and the Czech Republic she’ll know that I’m just going out there on the lash.

Well, the answer is take her with you. They do a double bath in the Novosad Harrachov Beer Spa in the apron of the Krkonose.

If you’re only staying in Prague (and I’d recommend you veer further afield) then ZOTO Beer Spa is where you want to go.

Fill the bath up… with beer

Hello duckie

While going underground again the Sladovna Beer Spa in Cerna Hora has a rich selectio of beer procedures.

As it is I’ll just fill up my bath as I do every Sunday with my Dead Sea salts and my rubber ducks.

And sip my Strahoven beer and dream of getting back out to the Czech Republic for a spa weekend.

Now that should fool her!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Countries, Cruising, Flying, Food & Wine

New Year Revolutions

And as the Alt-Right tries to wage a Second American Revolution in the US a look at the revolutions we do need.

The air

United we atand

And clearly the challenge is carbon emissions where EasyJet can take a bow.

The budget airline topped a London School of Economics report in a top five which also includes Alaska Air, Qantas, my old friends at United who flew me to the Deep South and JetBlue.

The seas

Norway wood: In the Norwegian fjords

And high up for the haters in this Covid and Climate crisis are our cruise ships.

Where my old faves MSC whom I sailed with around the Norwegian fjords, Royal Caribbean who showed off their wares in the English Channel and in Barcelona.

And Celebrity Cruises who treated us all like, well Celebrities, off the coast of Florida on their $1bn state-of-the-art Edge.

A nod here to Princess Cruises who had us on board when they stopped off in Dublin on their way round Britain and Ireland.

And Paul Gauguin Cruises who drew us a picture of tantalising Tahiti who have been keeping us going through lockdown with their images and news.

The food

Food for thought: A tajine

And now more than ever we have to watch what and where we eat.

So that means avoiding markets we know little about in countries we are visiting for the first time.

So for me that was Morocco and I should have gone with the professionals.

Northern Africa and the Middle Eastern food is bright, spicy and often new for Western palates so don’t be afraid to ask.

And if you can find Zuhair, G AdventuresJordanian host extraordinaire then all the better.

All our cultures and culinary ways should be celebrated around the world and animal welfare should be central to our approach.

A joint resolution

I’ve probably already broken my own personal resolutions already so it might be presumptuous to ask my Travel pals to take on these targets.

But, in truth, we’re all in it together…

This past year’s challenges have brought opprobrium upon Travel professionals but lockdown has only reaffirmed how vital it is to us all.

So let’s build it back even better this year.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Deals

The Land of Milk and Honey and Vaccines

They know all about plague and pestilence in Israel and how to address it which is why they will vaccinate ALL their citizens by the end of next month.

Israel has pledged to do what every country’s leaders are required to do, and that is, look after all its near 10 million citizens.

Which beggars the question why can a nation of that size offer security from the virus this quickly when the countries closest to my heart can’t?

That’s Ireland and Scotland – combined population 11 million.

The good news then is that Israel is living up to its own billing as The Promised Land.

Or if you like The Land of Milk and Honey and Vaccines.

Wall to wall coverage

And you can visit The Holy Land safely when of course you provide your negative test,

The Holy Land

Which we’ve been dragging our feet on, or just plainly getting wrong, despite what our leaders have been claiming.

Western perceptions about other countries have often been misleading throughout the Pandemic, fed often by digital fake news.

And I recall the feeding frenzy last year over a fake news picture of thousands of pilgrims worshipping at the Waiting Wall in Jerusalem.

For my authority on such matters I check with my old pal Arthur who runs a news fact-checking agency.

And I push out the facts and info on Travel, and for Israel.

Over there

The land which I yearned for from the banks of the Jordan at the site of the Baptism of Jesus.

And Mt Nebo where Moses looked out on the Promised Land but could not visit on account of him falling out with Yahweh, or the Big G.

Dead cool

Another G here, and heaven-sent too, are my friends at G Adventures

They have the Middle East covered and are offering Israel Explorer, Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an eight-day tour from £1274, valid on August 13. Was £1499.

The best of both

Or if you want to tie it with Jordan, and you will, then the 15-day Explore Israel & Jordan is from £3049, depart March 21.

Israel that-a-way

And G Adventures will find you the best option for flights when you call.

G Adventures remain close to my heart… and my health with my G Adventures snood my go-to mask this past year.

MEET YOU BY THE WALL

Asia, Countries, Culture, Pilgrimage

O Little Crown of Bethlehem

We can, of course, take historical re-enactment too literally but there are deffo no inns open today.

Like at the start of Covid when Palestine locked down for 30 days.

Which meant the holy sites.

Although for the Palestinians lockdown was nothing new.

Because as occupied territory Palestinians have become used to having to stay at hime and having their travel restricted.

Silent Night

The red flag was waved in February when a group of Greek tourists visited a Bethlehem.

The Church of the Nativity, on the site where Jesus was born, was shut then, and is shut again today….

To Wise Men from the East, shepherds in the fields… and us.

But it won’t always be.

There was much fanfare when EL AL rolled out its route from Dublin to Tel Aviv at the start of the year.

Holy flight

Joining the aerial map of lines into the Holy Land.

Today the Christmas Tree which was hoisted into position in Manger Square brought some much-needed cheer to these most resilient of townsfolk.

Some had attended a much more subdued Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity.

And Betlehem is across the faiths

Most though mark the day with their own kith and kin in their own domicile, which of course is what the Holy Family did.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph (as they exclaim in Ireland)! I got within 50 metres of Palestine!

G Whizz

When I visited the Baptismal Site of Jesus on my G Adventures tour of Jordan

And I witnessed a group of Russian Orthodox pilgrims duck each other in the Jordan from the other side.

Intermingled on the banks. of course, by rifle-wielding female soldiers.

Which would put anybody off trying to swim across.

Promised land

I’ll have to get there by more conventional means.

Which I would have done had I taken up the invitation to extend my Jordan tour with a trip around Israel and Palestine.

And where the Jordanians say Jesus was baptised

That I didn’t was because I didn’t want to leave my workmates with my workload for the two and a half weeks I’d been away.

A month later I had left said work.

And that’s my lesson for 2021.

Take up every opportunity, and for me that’s visiting Bethlehem and all the holy places.