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.

America, Asia, Countries, Europe, Music, Pilgrimage

Rainy Days and Songdays – Happy Hanukah

And I’ll light a candle in unison for a Happy Hanukah though, in truth, The Scary One and Daddy’s Little Girl have the place looking like a Meatloaf video already.

Hanukah’s status has grown in modern times.

Mainly in North America as part of a better recognition of other cultures and religious observances in December.

So it’s commonplace now, and rightly so, to wish your Jewish friends Happy Hanukah.

Which, in fact, Matisyahu does more tunefully than I ever could, even if I were swollen with sweetened Israeli wine.

Matisyahu’s song touches all the right points, to be fair, King David, Maccabee, Mount Zion, and, of course, candles.

Matisyahu means ‘gift of God’ .

He has, as you might expect from one who terms himself thus, a confidence about himself.

Gift from God

Matthew Miller is actually a Pennsylvanian who is a foremost proponent of Jewish rock, Jewish hip hop and fusion reggae.

We all have our images of Judaism.

And, in truth other than my own home address the place names in The Promised Land’ from the Bible were the most familiar of my childhood.

Anne Frank Statue, Amsterdam

The Jewish story I learned in my early years has infused a lifelong interest in the Chosen People.

Alas that has mostly meant visiting Holocaust markers, Dachau concentration camp on a booze bus trip to Oktoberfest in Munich.

Charles Bridge in Prague

And the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

In every city around the world, as much as the Irish or the Scots, or more, there has been a Jewish diaspora.

Venice ghetto

I found it in the first ghetto in Venice and again in the Jewish quarter in Prague.

But it is to modern-day Israel that I am drawn most.

And saw up close and personally at the Site of St John’s Baptism of Jesus in Jordan on my G Adventures trip the other side.

When Russian Orthodox pilgrims doused themselves in the River Jordan from the Israeli side just 50n from us in Jordan.

I’ll make it over one day, and hopefully soon, but in the meantime give Happy Hanukah an oul’ lesson.

It’ll make a change from Marish Carey and The Pogues.

Asia, Countries, Cruising, Culture, Deals, Europe, Flying

Flyday Ferryday Friday

I’m channelling my inner Oleta Adams (the darling of the Gulf War soldiers) by saying I don’t care how I get there I’ll get there if I can.

And so I’m flagging up airplane, sailboat and maybe even camel too today although Oleta it’s not just an Arab man who uses the ‘ship of the desert’.

Canary Orange

The future is orange

And obviously this caught our attention. Prosaically because the latest map for the European Centre for Disease control has classified Ireland and the Canaries orange.

Which means that anyone returning from the Canaries doesn’t have to restrict their movements upon their return, having done a pre-departure test 72 hours before departure.

Unlike the canary Aer Lingus isn’t flying out there until December 27.

But from then you can be sure of availability out to Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and my old fave Tenerife.

A word on canaries and the Canaries and, no they’re not named after the birds but after the latin name for dogs because they had big mutts.

And as for orange canaries, well they’re really Red Canaries which can have an orange hue. Now you know.

French fancy

We are sailing

France, we’ve missed you. Like so much else this year I had my bag packed ready for an arts and culture trip to see you when this pesky bug got buggier.

But we and my ferry friends aren’t going to let this beat us and Irish Ferries are preparing for a better year next year.

Irish Ferries will operate daily overnight sailings from Dublin to Cherbourg with their new cruise ferry WB Yeats (or WB Yachts as I call it) throughout next summer.

I’ve met WB, the ship that is, but that was in Dublin Port… next stop Cherbourg 2021.

And it truly is a pleasure to sail around French shores

Cruise away to 2022

Enchanted Princess

And the thing about cruises is that you usually have to save up for them.

So Princess Cruises are giving us plenty of time to do just that with their 2022 brochure.

They will have five ships on the seas.

Pick of them (heck they’re all mouthwatering) is Enchanted Princess which will be sailing around Russia snd Scandinavia from Copenhagen.

While we’re intrigued about their festival packages.

So you can take the Crown Princess to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo,

And I promised you a camel

He’s got the hump

Now this is the one I rowed back on, the 15-day G Adventures Jordan and Israel Adventures trip.

Because I didn’t feel it was right to leave my work without me for that length of time!

It’ll take you from Amman whose charms and that of Jordan I did enjoy, to Jerusalem and every stop in between. From £1954 (was £2999). Valid from January 15.

And as I now know after making new Israeli friends at the World Travel Market you’re just as likely to need a camel here too.

Because the land of milk and honey is a half sand.

MEET YOU IN THE SKIES, SEA AND SAND

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.

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe

WTM Holiday Snaps Israel – The Promised Land in 2021

There was great excitement in 2020 with the new EL AL route from Dublin to Tel Aviv.

And it is a route we can all look forward to taking in 2021…

After all patience is a virtue as the Bible likes to remind us.

That’s those of us who have got to see Israel up close from Jordan with G Adventures but are yet to cross (me and Moses)…

It really does look a land of milk and honey.

My Israeli friends are forging ahead with their plans for 2021.

And they continue to promote their Two Cities One Break campaign.

While they are also encouraging us to explore their desert, which is two-thirds of the country (who knew?) and the Red Sea.

And for those who love a pilgrimage (guilty, but then aren’t we all, we are all sinners after all).

Then our experience in the Holy Sites will actually be enhanced.

Because we will be required to provide social distance and not jostle.

The Promised Land II

And when the ball drops on Times Square in New York at midnight on December 31.

America will herald in a new year with even more gusto.

Of course which of America’s great calendar events will go ahead, and in what format, is in the hands of the gods, the politicians and the scientists.

With us not even knowing what the Presidential inauguration will look like in Washington DC.

Or who will be sworn in… then it truly is a case of watch this space.

One thing I do know is that I’ll do my utmost to get there.

And with the Peabody Duckmaster in Memphis

And who knows it might be the Promised Land Martin Luther King well promised us.

Which I got a feel for in my American trilogy in the Deep South for MLK50 in 2018.

Our friends in Louisiana regaled us with the kind of news we love, a new Louisiana Civil Rights Trail across the greater state.

We talked, naturally, about Mardi Gras in February.

And the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in May with neither having made a decision.

In these different times when the Spring Masters up the road in Georgia is being held in November for the first time, here’s a thought.

Can you just hold off until I can get out there?

America, Asia, Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Sir Sean’s iconic sets (or should that be shets?)

Resht in peash, Shir Sean. And I hope Shaint Peter understandsh your acshent.

Living in Portobello, Edinburgh’s beach suburb for ten years I never heard anybody spik like Sir Sean.

But maybe thatsh moviesh!

Preparing for the role: In Portobello. www.twitter.com

First Porty of call

Portobello: And Porty is as good a place as any to talk about Sir Sean’s sets.

Because it was here in his hometown, and as a lifeguard at Porty’s outdoor swimming pool that he had his first stage.

The pool is now a five-a-side football complex, and we have both moved on.

Visitors to Edinburgh rarely go any further out of the city than Leith where the Royal Yacht Britannia is kept.

But they should. Porty is bohemian while still being grounded “, and if you can’t get to those beaches Bond did you can walk in Sean’s sandsteps here.

Bahama Mamma

Bahamas: And it’s fitting that Sir Sean saw out his days in the Bahamas.

He clearly enjoyed the island lifestyle as much as Ian Fleming who penned the spy which would propel Connery to fame just down the road in Jamaica.

We’ve all, of course, been reminiscing about who until today was the second Greatest Living Scot (it’s Billy Connolly now).

And my old pal, Rebecca Lee, who I sent out to the Bahamas reminds me of how she stayed at the hotel where he still played the tables.

And was beloved by the locals which is as it should be.

The daddy of them all: Indy’s Dad in Jordan. www.pinterest.com

Jordan and crusaders

Jordan: Sir Sean was always unmistakably Scottish… all Jocks look like movie stars after all.

And share his dry wit.

Sir Sean upstaged Harrison Ford in the Last Crusade, the climax of which is staged at The Treasury in Jordan.

Hardly surprising that proud nationalist Sir Sean should star in an Indy film!

For hire: With Kevin Costner

Untouchable in Chicago

Chicago: And the film for which he won his Oscar as Best Supporting Actor above the wooden acting of Kevin Costner.

You can truly believe Sir Sean as a gritty Chicago cop.

So we’ll pass over that he’s meant to be Irish.

Whodunit: In Orient Express. www.imdb.com

Murder on the Orient Express

Istanbul: The Albert Finney version of course where Sir Sean plays Colonel Arbuthnot.

And Istanbul is the terminus for the Orient-Express, although we all know that Poirot and his fellow passengers were on their way back to London.

And an example of how less is more… with Sir Sean, the upstanding stiff military man rather than than the dashing, reckless Bond.

Anyone for Venice? James and Tatiana. www.pinterest.com

From Russia (really Istanbul and Venice) With Love

Istanbul and Venice: And this being released in the mid-60s and in the middle of a real Cold War the filming was done in the West.

There are some iconic scene in this my favourite Bond.

I love Commie kicker Hleb’s kickathon with Bond and who can forget Bond and Tatiana sailing under the Bridge of Sighs in Venice.

There’s definitely something about James… or should that be something about Murty!