Africa, Asia, Australasia, Countries, Deals

The PIGS, the big winners on the UK Green List

All countries are created equal but some are more equal than others… let’s hear it for the PIGS, the big winners on the UK Green List.

We will all now be able to visit Portugal, Israel, Gibraltar and St Helena from May 17 from England.

Make a break for it

Keeeeep dancin’: With Judy Murray in Portugal

Portugal has always been a personal favourite and it’s also fun for all you sporty types too.

And they are being rewarded for their Clean & Safe project with this green light.

Temple of history: Jerusalem

Israel have been frontrunners from the get-go on the vaccination programme and I will be back communicating with the Promised Land through the week.

Vive Napoleon

Gibraltar and St Helena too.

I am indebted to my old colleague from the American Travel Fair Britain’s Young Travel Writer of the Year Lottie Gross for road testing Gib for us over the pandemic.

And to Napoleon for doing the same.

Through countries

Get the Braai on: Port Elizabeth township, South Africa

The one niggling issue though is the status of the through countries to get to Gib and St Helena with neither Spain nor South Africa on the green list.

St Helena remains unfinished business.

With my walk in the footsteps of Le Petit Caporal ahead of this month’s 200th anniversary of his death there cancelled at the last minute.

Ice, ice baby

Bracing: Iceland will invigorate you

But while the PIGS pushed themselves out, as they do, as the big winners on the UK Green List there are others celebrating today.

Iceland also makes it onto the list and a long-promised visit to the Iceland Phallological Museum where all the Big Dicks hang out.

While the Faroes too, between Iceland and Norway, await and are tempting us with nature and wellness and hairy Vikings.

Further afield Singapore, and Brunei are long-haul bucket list favourites.

Bonzer

Of course it used to be that being sent to Australia and New Zealand was a punishment.

And the poor peoples on those islands are still suffering, albeit different hordes now of English Gap Year students… see The Inbetweeners 2.

Falklands awe

The Falklands natives

The good folk of the Falklands and South Georgia came onto our radar 40 years ago next year when the Argentines laid their beach towels down.

It’s a long way to go for a penguin but we’re here to serve.

And so are our friends at G Adventures who have a 22-dayer from Montivideo, Uruguay to Ushuaia.

No me neither, nor how it works with Uruguay not being on the list, and near pariahs Brazil, but G Adventures will be all over it.

And we should just be glad we don’t have to go to war to get a holiday.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

Asia, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Happy St George’s Day

Happy St George’s Day. And nowhere in England will the dragon-slaying saint be celebrated more than in Fordington, Dorset?

Who knew?

Well, the Fordingtonians, obviously, who reference St George back to King Alfred the Great’s will, where he also mentions them.

And they have a stone over the south door of their church marking St George’s appearance to the Crusaders. See https://www.visit-dorset.com.

Tie a ribon https://www.cotswolds.info/blogs/morris-dancers.shtml

St George’s association with England is long, dating back 1200 years to the Venerable Bede.

Morris dancing

And he had to see off the rival claims of Thomas A Beckett and Edward the Confessor, before he was made patron saint.

St George’s Day, I am happy to report (my own English rose has told me to say that), is making something of a comeback in England www.visitengland.com.

With Morris dancing, village fairs and pageants.

The best knight of all https://www.tamworth.gov.uk/St-George-Day-Timetable-2019

And the best national anthem that never was… William Blake’s Jerusalem.

England being the birthplace of my very own Scary One, and our first meeting place, it was the natural holiday for us as a family.

And it is one of the most varied, cultural, historical and fun countries you will ever visit.

Green and pleasant land

From the Lake District of the north-west to Hadrian’s wall and Lindisfarne and the buzzing town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north-east.

To the Bard: Stratford-upon-Avon

To Liverpool and The Beatles and Mad Manchester…

Shakespeare’s Midlands and Birmingham and the best chocolate factory and village you’ll find anywhere Cadbury.

Sherwood Forest may not be the Wild East anymore but any visit to the East Midlands should include a trip to the Robin Hood Museum.

Mother Thames… and Mother Sadie

Samuel Johnson opined (he never just said) that the man who tired of London tired of life

London town, oh London town

And there is history and entertainment aplenty Carole King… you’re Beautiful The London life and for royalists kings and queens too.

And Berkshire where their main home Windsor Castle is, and my own little princess.

Onion-topped Moscow is appealing

St George is celebrated around the world, particularly in Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Portugal, Brazil, Ethiopia and Serbia and Montenegro and Iberia.

Now here’s a thought during this lockdown… plan a St George’s list, ticking off each country on the way.

Next port of call

I’ve got Portugal www.visitportugal.com and Secret Portugal and SPORTUGAL under my belt.

Columbus shows the way: In Barcelona

And Barcelona https://www.barcelonaturisme.com/wv3/en/ and Catalonia Messi around on the water so I’ve got a bit to go yet.

But whether I get around some, or all of them. I know a green and pleasant land where a knowledge of St George will get you a long way.

Adventure, Countries, Deals, Europe, Sport

Holiday Snaps – United for Malta

I’m in good company, with footballers Paul Pogba, Victor Lindelof and Brandon Williams all fans of my honeymoon island… we’re all United for Malta I guess.

The three Manchester United players were only too happy to flag up the jewel of the Mediterannean.

With Malta the club’s official destination partner.

Gozo views

French World Cup winner Pogba said: ‘It’s beautiful, there aren’t a lot of people and I can go there with my family.

He picked out St Peter’s Pool in Delimara.

While Lindelof is rightly taken by Comino.

Valletta you better you bet

The idea is to put together a postcard (remember them) of Malta.

And you can check it out on https://www.manutd.com/en/videos/detail/pogba-williams-and-lindelof-create-their-perfect-postcard-with-visitmalta#

The jewel of the Med 26 years ago was my wee treasure… only what they don’t tell you is that gems have rough edges!

A cheeky wee Algarve

The loved-up Miss F dragged me away to the Algarve for our first summer holiday together although in truth I didn’t need much dragging.

On a budget then we were taken by the Algarve tradition of taking your litre plastic bottle down to the local wine shop in Cabanas.

Algarve wine country

Where the owner would fill it up with house wine for a few escudos (yes, it was that long ago).

As Portugal awaits the green light for us to return to its shores we welcome too the push for Algarve wines.

With Cliff in the Algarve

And what’s more they’ll even share their art with you on the Quinta dos Vales estate.

Get a three-hour induction in winemaking in the Bottle Blending Workshop from €62pp.

Even better stay the night, you’ll need it to put your boozy head down, from €75 per night.

And here’s a toast from past travels in Quinta do Lago.

Our bit for charity

Charity begins at home and seeing we’re all holed up at home let’s all do our bit.

Bike4tourism is a multi-continental charity ride which is hoping to break the Guinness world record for numbers of participants.

Register for the event, on May 30, Fees start from €18 and free for under-18s.

With part of the money raised going to an environmental cause and helping Travel companies affected by Covid-19.

Now my cycling has come on a lot since collapsing on the roadside in the Algarve way back then.

Probably the vino collapso!

And Machu more

If running, or swimming, is more your thing and you want to help out, say, the Machu Picchu porters, then join me in this challenge.

This month we’re being invited to run, swim (OK, or bike) 25 miles to help out the Machu porters who are currently packless.

Twenty-five miles is the length of the famous Peruvian trail.

And £25 provides funds to purchase one essential food parcel for a Peruvian porter and their family for a month.

If like me you’ve taken your foot off the pedal during lockdown then this is your chance to rectify that.

Or alternatively you can donate £25 to Peru 25for25. Visit the Lata Foundation.

And when you do get out to Peru then it’ll be with our old pals at G Adventures.

They are offering seven days Cusco to Cusco from £620, down from £729, Valid on November 1.

MEET YOU ON THE ROAD

Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, Sport, UK

My Sporting Weekend – Kitmastime

And for many a parent the go-to Christmas present for kids (and maybe vice-versa) was a football top.

My most memorable was, and this is pertinent in a week when we lost Diego Maradona, La Albiceleste.

Or the sky blue and white stripes.

Truth was that my attempts at long hair never came close to the chic cool of the hero of that year’s World Cup, Mario Kempes.

And physical evidence still exists in a picture album of a rather angst-ridden teen standing by the tree.

In truth I hadn’t asked for Argentina and would have preferred the Dutch shirt.

And I did rue the day I left the World Cup winners’ top behind in a changing room.

So in recognition of Diego and also to flag up a very good cause comedian Mark Watson’s Kitmas appeal for donations of old football tops here are my five faves.

Which will, of course, draw you to these countries.

Dutch of class

Argentina and the Netherlands in the World Cup final in 1978.

The Netherlands: And it was probably just as well that my parents didn’t give me the Dutch top in the Glasgow of the Seventies.

Because an orange top is identified in Scotland with King William of Orange and the Protestant team Rangers.

And that wouldn’t have gone down well in my Catholic school.

Thing was though that as an eight-year-old and uncluttered by such nonsense I was dazzled by that colour.

And the Netherlands of Cruyff and Krol.

And I did manage to blend in with the Oranje Army when I treated the-then Miss F to a night out.

Amsterdam to Rotterdam where the Dutch beat the Greeks 1-0.

Portuguese man of awe

Team of all talents: Portugal in 1986

Portugal: And while it’s mostly always the top you get sometimes you need the whole shirt and shorts ensemble.

So that Portugal‘s red top with the addition of green shorts becomes the Portugal flag.

Our guide Jose Madomis told us from the off that Portugal in the days of the dictator Salazar was run on Football, Fado and Fatima.

So much so that among all the stands of Our Lady merch in Fatima you’ll find the Portuguese shirt and Cristiano Ronaldo towel!

Moroccan roll

Green is the colour: Morocco

Morocco: And not just because they were Scotland’s last opponents in the finals of a major competition, a 3-0 defeat in 1998.

But because of the lengths I went to to get myself a Morocco top

On my travels in Marrakech. I picked the green one rather than the red.

Where I got roped in by a trader after some pointless bartering.

To buy his threadbare top off his stall for more than its worth.

Which set in motion a tragical mystery tour from Jemaa el-Fna around the souks.

And that was just the start of my rocky Moroccan roll.

Roman holiday

Hotti Totti: Roma legend Francesco Totti

Roma: And we’re still waiting to get to see the Gods of calcio after Dad here promised the Son and Heir a match only to forget his passport.

But we did get a Giallorossi (red, more of a maroon, and yellow piping) top snd pencil case.

Calcio too is a religion in Rome

And as you come out of the Vatican you’ll find the shops on one side of the street bedecked in yellow and white, the other in Roma red.

Dynamic Zagreb

Blue for you: Dynamo Zagreb

Medjugorje: And, no, you didn’t read that wrongly…. the Balkans Wars just across the Croatian border in Bosnia & Herzegovina is solidly Croat.

Particularly in the Irish Centre, the focal point for your Marian tour.

Where your barman cranks up the volume when his faves Dynamo Zagreb play.

And with my Croatia friends on World Cup final day in 2018

And will accompany it with a tape of his best supporters’ songs.

Outside on the stands and in the shops and the only thing competing for space with Our Lady is…

Yes, you guessed it Croatia’s distinctive red and white checked tops.

And one just for me

Put your shirt on me

Quinta do Murto; And a postscript here… before I was invited out to Quinta do Lago to visit the hi-tec Campus.

I was asked my shirt size.

And when I was taken into the changing rooms where English Premier League sides set up camp there on the peg was…

My own black top with white sleeves with my name on the back.

America, Countries, Culture, Europe, UK

Driving entertainment in lockdown

It’s all come a long way since the days when a drive-thru was getting out of the car and picking up the family’s takeaway.

Now because of COVID we can stay in our hermetically-sealed cocoon and enjoy all manner of thrills.

Park by the Pole

Steamy windows

Lucky Devil Lounge, Portland, Oregon: And here’s where you can get extra with your bun… two buns actually!

Customers who order food can pay $30 per car and driver (plus $10 for any passengers in the car) to use the drive-thru and watch a show.

In normal years I find myself in the US around Gay Pride.

And my friends at the American Travel Fair, IPW, put on a fabulous Gay Pride night… Washington, Denver, Los Angeles/Anaheim.

Bless me, Father

Two Our Fathers and Three Hail Marys

Limoges, France: Maybe you’ve not been out enough over these lockdowns to have compiled enough sins but come on, all that food and drink.

And Sainte Jeanne d’Arc in Limoges will hear your darkest secrets from your car.

When all this is over, of course many of us will be going all Medieval and giving thanks to the Great Redeemer.

In France, that’s Lourdes, in Portugal it’s Fatima, Italy is Rome, Spain the Camino and Medjugorje in Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Probably the best gig

Mads for it

Denmark: And Mads Langer doesn’t let a small thing like lockdown make him down his mic.

Mads sold 500 tickets for a concert at Tangkrogen outside Aarhus, Denmark’s second city after Copenhagen.

The cars were rockin’ and rollin’!

Airport movies

Bringing some colour into our lives

Edinburgh AirportAnd all of this drive-thrumania has been triggered by the news that my local airport Edinburgh is putting on a Halloween offering.

Drive-ins were always the stuff of James Dean movies (the first drive-in cinema was actually New Jersey, not LA).

You never forget your first time though and that for me was Toronto and a Bond movie, The Living Daylights. And while our first albums are usually embarrassing I’m happy with that choice.

Anyhoos back to Edinburgh. You’ll get Ghostbusters, Hocus Pocus, Coco, The Lost Boys, Jaws (not nearly as terrifying at Universal Studios Hollywood) and Halloween.

November brings us Back to the Future, Rocketman, Mamma Mia and more.

There’s entertainment galore, food and drink from local producers Cold Town Beer and Alandas plus DJ Captain Calverto will entertain you before each film with car discos. singalongs and quiz fun.

They’ve offered me (and I guess you too) the chance to win tickets.

And you might even see a plane flying overhead… and hopefully I’ll be on it.

 

 

 

America, Caribbean, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

The travel pack – the birds of the world

Does anyone else here feel like Burt Lancaster in the Birdman of Alcatraz? Oh, to be that little birdie with his freedom.

So let’s take wing and celebrate our feathered friends around the world.

The Spoonbill

Scoop of the day. www.algarve-birdwatching.com

Rio Formosa, Quinta do Lago, Algarve: And anyone who didn’t think that God has a sense of humour hasn’t paid attention to how he made us all.

For every pink flamingo there’s a Spoonbill.

I found these fancy snouted fellas in the Via Formosa in Quinta do Lago in the Algarve…

Their bills, of course, are purpose-built to scoop up all that pond life to give them fuel for the skies.

Yes, Pink Flamingoes

In the pink: In Busch Gardens

Pink Flamingoes, Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay, Florida: And for those Fiftysomethings among us the opening shots for the Florida soap Flamingo Road made us fall in love with these birds

Yes, and Morgan Fairchild, to be fair.

I got up close with a flamingo out in SeaWorld and again he is a reminder of God’s Grandeur.

Heron good things about you

You’ll have a long wingspan then

Herons, Kuramathi, The Maldives: And you know when a bird has her eye on you.

She even came into the pool with me every morning.

Kuramathi is a bird-watcher’s dream, big, small, skinny, plump, and every colour.

And as bird-watching is a stationary pastime isn’t it a relief that you don’t have to freeze your whatsits off either?

Caribbean wood doves and mockingbirds

The West Indies: Rihanna, my wood dove used to join me in my hot tub in Barbados of a morning… and leave a mess in the bedroom.

I would forgive Rihanna anything though.

The West Indians take their nature very seriously, just as seriously as their rum and their music.

And Ean The Birdman of Tobago will show you around his Adventure Eco Villas where the birdies will twirl and tweet around your head.

You can stay too and awake to birdsong.

And not forgetting the Duck

Ducks everywhere: Whether they’re the rubber ones in your bath at Hastings Hotels in Northern Ireland (or in mine).

Or with The Donald in Epcot in Florida or in Anaheim.

Following the Duckmaster and the quackers down to the fountain in the hotel lobby in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

MEET YOU WITH YOUR BINOS

Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

Greek plate-smashing

Never mind the dishes, I’m smashing the whole cabinet after Scotland jumped the gun and took Greece off the exempt list.

Plate-smashing dates back to classical times when it was seen as a display of ostentatious wealth.

Quite why modern-day dictator Georgios Papadopoulos banned it from 1967-1974 you’ll have to get there and ask yourself.

But alas, those of us of a Scottish variety, or who live in Scotland, will have to wait.

In this disunited kingdom of ours we all do things differently and we are now waiting to see which way the English go.

And while we expect they will bring the hammer down on the Greeks.

Kythera’s charms

There is a glimmer of hope in the west where the ancient Britons went.

Yes, Wales, where their assembly is employing a selective approach.

With two COVID tests for those returning from Zante, one in 48 hours and another in eight days.

Bending over backwards for Greece

And this breakthrough in common sense is something to sing about.

Which is, of course, why it will be ignored by everyone else.

With TUI putting Zante on hold, if only there were any other Greek islands to visit.

As we contemplate going through England and Wales.

Funky Portugal Centro

Oh, and in this game of hokey-cokey, as my friends in the Scottish Passenger Agents Association coin it, Portugal is set to follow tomorrow.

I’m intrigued to see that the lowest rates are in the less-visited but captivating Portugal Centro.

Where my old friend, Jose ‘The Special One’ Madomis, will tell you that everything good which ever happened in Portugal started in his home town, Coimbra.

America, Countries, Europe, Sport, UK

My Sporting Weekend – Le Tour de Friends

You’d think you’d get splendid isolation at the top of the most cycled climb, Le Col du Tourmalet, but you don’t. It’s the Tour de Friends!

I have a chequered history of cycling which shouldn’t qualify me to join my fellow Scot Robert Millar in that chequered shirt as King of the Mountains.

Hiring bikes with the-then Miss F in Cabanas in the Algarve I was eating dust yards into our ride.

There’s always another mountain

While I also took a turn too sharply in the Ria Formosa in Quinta Do Lago and almost ended up in the lake.

But that didn’t put me off when I started working nights and opted to cycle in and, out of Edinburgh, through Holyrood Park to the office.

And I’ve got the lead

Never mind the Tour de France, the Tour d’Edinburgh is the real endurance test!

I’ve had lads party spray paint me when I was on my bike, been waterbombed and been knocked off my bike.

And I even had time to drop off for a bier

But I got there in the end… ‘on top of the world, Ma.’

With a little help from my friends.

I’ll let you into a secret here. I only borrowed a real rider’s bike at the top of the Pyrenees… don’t tell.

Mind you this is the Tour where the rules are there to be bent.

Whaddya mean? This is refuelling

The Tour started this weekend and I’m thinking they’ll have a devil of a time stopping the public come out to cheer.

Vive Le Tour!

And newsflash here from A Queer in Provence who has sent me his vlog on Le Grand Depart from Nice…. https://youtu.be/XQ2Udd7rcLg

Paralympic heroes

Prize guy: Ireland’s Paralympic hero Mark Rohan

As a young lad running around the UK’s boggy fields and dirty streets I always envisaged that I would get my hands on Olympic gold.

The Olympics’ loss was Newspapers’ gain.

But destiny was calling when I met Irish Paralympian hero Brian Rohan at The Campus in Quinta do Lago.

I’d thought of running off with his medal but he’d have hunted me down in that dream machine.

The Paralympics were due to have started this weekend… but it will be back in Japan next year. Don’t miss it!

Chuck me a hot dog

Fan-tastic… the Angels in Anaheim

With two thousand fans being allowed in at Brighton’s ground for their friendly with Chelsea.

And Scottish rugby bringing back a sprinkling of supporters into Murrayfield for the Glasgow v Edinburgh match.

It beggars the question… how do we get fed?

Well, here’s something we could take from American sport… the chucked hot dog.

Where’s the mustard?

As I lapped up (including the mustard) at the California Angels game in Anaheim.

Maybe pass the Bovril along the line though.

MEET YOU AT THE BALL GAME

Africa, Countries, Culture, Europe, Ireland, UK

My cousin, the Chief of the Igbo tribe of Nigeria

So, the Chief of the Igbo tribe of Nigeria, my cousin, Father Donald McGlynn, has gone back to the Great Spirit in the Sky.

And I will never get to ask him of his life with the Nigerians and what powers being chief of the Igbo gave him.

Which is, of course, a pity.

The saintly seven.., and their parents

It strikes me that I have two choices.

Try and find out from his relatives at his funeral or go out to Nigeria and discover it for myself.

Happen, I’ll do both.

Father Donald was that most impressive of men.

Nigeria

You know the type… smart as a tack, well-travelled, well-balanced and non-judgmental.

And somebody who would let someone else take the floor and vent their spleen.

Without any knowledge of the subject on which he would have been an authority.

Don’t I look monkly? In Medjugorje

And so it was when he told us of his empathy for the Palestinians as he discussed a recent tour of The Holy Land.

After the Mass that he officiated at at my parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary.

Father Donald and his Brother and five Sisters (and I cap them deliberately) were a regular presence in our house growing up in Glasgow.

And that vestment would certainly fit me

The progeny of my Mum’s Uncle and Auntie, Danny and Norah McGlynn of Brockagh, Co. Donegal.

The patriarch was even personally blessed by Pope John Paul II when he visited Ireland.

And all of that rubbed off on me. Because like every Catholic boy in Glasgow I flirted with becoming a priest.

Before I discovered girls.

I have though made it my life’s mission to get round the Marian sites… Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje

But Father Donald, missionary extraordinaire, you did and you were the best of us.

And as they say in Ireland…

Go raibh mile maith agat.

Countries, Deals, Europe, Flying, Ireland, UK

Holiday Snaps – Lisbon lie-ins

Paris or Munich players will wake up with sore heads tomorrow morning in Lisbon after tonight’s Champions League final.

Just like many a thousand Scot did 53 years ago when Celtic’s Lisbon Lions became the first British club to win the European Cup.

Scots have long had a special relationship with Portugal with it truly being for many back in the day their first foray off this isle.

So amid all the gloom Portugal’s return to the UK exempt list where we don’t have to self-isolate on our return is truly welcome.

And it is good to see that my new local, Edinburgh Airport is reaching out.

To flag up the delights of Lisbon from £128, Porto from £72 Faro from £172 and Madeira from £452.

All on my list and a next stop after our adventures in the Algarve and Portugal Centro.

Where a lie-in in Fatima is disturbed by the Church bells beckoning you to give praise to Our Lady.

Make ski and mend

And a shout-out here to my old pal and contributor and multi award-winning ski writer Catherine ‘Murphski’ Murphy.

For whom lockdown has been torture because she had to spend half the year down here in the valleys with the rest of us.

Catherine has though flagged up some skiing in Ireland.

Sands slaloms

No, she wasn’t hallucinating.

Rather it is sand skiing in the west of Ireland in Co. Mayo.

And if you thought that was mad then in outdoorsy Colorado I only looked out the coach window to find a woman skiing along the road.

On the lay-by in the heart of summer.

The Ski Club of Ireland

Skiheads will grab their pleasures where they fond them.

And in Ireland, that means the Ski Club of Ireland in Kilternan in Co. Wicklow. And you can always ski home down the road.

A day at my Turkish barber’s

With my old friend Onur on the Bosphorus

The conversation turns at the barber’s, as it always will, to where you’ve been, or are planning to go, on holiday.

Only in these COVID days even the most intrepid traveller is mostly confined to barracks.

But while we wait around to get back on the road we can reminisce.

Up, up and away in Cappodocia

Which is what I’ve been doing with my new Turkish pals at the barber’s shop in North Berwick, south of Edinburgh.

About Istanbul and the new airport (Mohammed raised it).

Mohammed flagged up the virtues of the capital, Ankara.

Which I’ve long known about from my old buddy Ireland’s Mr Turkish Airlines himself, and fellow Ankara native Onur.

The cat’s whiskers: Turkey’s ancient ruins

All of which reminisces are well and fine but we must look to the future and researching a trip I’ll keep on the lowdown for now I came across…

My friends at Intrepid Travel are offering £1 deposits for holidays for 2021.

Which includes 15 days Turkey Encompassed from £1186 (down from £1475) starting and finishing in incredible Istanbul.

And taking in Cappadocia, the islands off Kepova, the ancient ruins of Ephesus, the hot springs of Pammukale and the war memorial at Gallipoli.