A No1 Finnday Funday

And for the fourth year running it’s the happiest place in the world, it’s a No1 Finnday Funday.

So what do we put Finland’s joy down to… all those icy dips and saunas?

Well, yes, according to the Finns themselves who credit their love of nature.

He’s started so he’ll Finnish

Roll in it: Finland

Heli Jimenez, of Business Finland, explained: ‘We appreciate the small things in our daily lives.

‘Such as sitting quietly on a bench and staring at the empty lake after a relaxing sauna session or taking a morning dip in the sea before starting the working day.’

If you now live in the frozen north of Britain, or Scotland as it’s sometimes called, then it’s a victory for chilly places.

Cry freedom

Happiest place on earth: Paula in Orlando

The UN World Happiness Report looks at perceived freedom, honesty, welfare, good health and generosity.

And a trust in their leaders which has been reciprocated over Covid with that ‘helping to protect lives and livelihoods during the pandemic.’

Now we’re all of us ambassadors for our countries when we live abroad.

And among my most treasured possessions is the Pleasure To Work With Award that hangs proudly on my wall.

From the Travel trade from my 13 years in Ireland.

And indulge me here but I’d lavish my own praises on unofficial Finnish ambassador to Scotland, and part-time Disney character Paula Murray here.

Among the friends from around the world who I got to meet through Ireland were those who also scored highly for happiness.

Happy talking

Walking on air in Copenhagen

Ireland themselves obvs and it will come as no surprise to our Paddy Party People that they come four places higher than the UK.

The Nordic and Scandi countries and be sure to know the diff.

Denmark, Sweden and Norway are in both alongside Finland, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

The Danes and the Icelanders occupy second and third spots and Sweden and Norway seventh and eighth.

And what they lack in low drink prices which sees cruisers stay dry on on-shore excursions, they make up for in spirit.

And a smile on their faces

žCan I be trusted on a bike? In Amsterdam

Making up the rest of the top ten are the swish Swiss (4th) and the liberal Dutch (5th),

Tiny Luxembourg (6th) you can get around in a day while Israel (9th) isn’t called the Land of Milk and Honey for nothing.

While the New Zealanders (10th) will be doing the Haka in celebration at being two places above Australia.

It is though refreshing, much like the Nordic air, to see that it’s still a No1 Funday Finnday

Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Bergamo unmasked

It was Europe’s COVID-19 Ground Zero when the virus spread to the continent. but Bergamo in Lombardy rallied and is putting on its best, beautiful face again.

And here is an initiative that we are really getting behind… adopting a city through travel booking platform Omio.

In with the bricks: Bergamo

Money is being given to the Bergamo Support Fund based on customer bookings to there between September and December.

A tavola: Italian food is up

The holiday provider are promoting a lifestyle tour created by blogger Federico di Nardo.

The art of the matter

With a visit to Citta Bassa and Citta Alta with alleys, historic squares and shops, restaurants, cafes and stunning views.

Room with a view

While YouTuber and author Nicolo Balini, founder of Human Safari and SiVola, is luring us with treks in the Val Brembana Mountains.

That would like nice in my house

Where you can enjoy overnight stays in lakeside lodges.

For more on Bergamo look at their website.

While we’ll be getting under the skin of the destinations around the world in this Unmasked series.

The Venice Regatta

By bringing you the societies who are opening their doors and their hearts to us.

We kicked it off with Sweden Unmasked and will be unmasking another one real soon.

And tell us, where would you like me to unmask?

Countries, Culture, Europe, Food, Food & Wine, Ireland, UK

Sweden unmasked

Bork, Bork, Bork… and for those of you under the age of 50, that’s the indecipherable Swedish Chef from the Muppets.

I reckon what he’s actually saying is Told You So, Told You So, Told You So!

It went almost completely unnoticed but the UK put Sweden back on the exempt list this week.

Perhaps because their much derided ‘no lockdown strategy‘ to Coronvarius is proving to work with rates right down.

Which makes it the perfect place to travel to find out how they’ve done it.

It’s got to be Swedish meatballs

Perhaps because they have the self-discipline to be able to keep a social distance from each other.

And that is even more difficult when you look like them.

Although I guess Swedish men probably take their Swedish women for granted and vice versa.

I’m reminded here of the Irish football fans’ song in defeat to Sweden at the European Championships… ‘go home to your gorgeous wives.’

Hello flower!

Of course, you’ve worked out that this is mainly an excuse to show some gorgeous Swedish women.

More than 850,000 British nationals visit the Land of Agnetha every year.

And despite how virulent we are (and it has to be repeated how welcoming the rest of the world are to welcome Britons) the Swedes are still happy to see us.

The closest I’ve got thus far to Sweden is seeing the 16km Oresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden.

On my MSC trip around the Norwegian fjords.

So what’s so great about Sweden?

Stock in trade

StockholmAnd what do we know? Yes, it’s got the Abba Museum, but also the Viking Vasa Museum and the Fotogrofiska. And 30,000 islands.

And although I feel I’m being intrusive and was on the Hollywood Walk of FameGreta Garbo‘s grave who really only wanted to be alone.

I’m here for the beer

Gothenburg; Yes, and it’s got water too, waterways, and try them on a kayak or paddle board, and I mastered the last, right?

While you should also check out their craft beer Poppels or Stigbergets.

And, of course, more ships… the 17th century Goteborg. Aye, aye Cap’n.

Have a sauna

Malmo: And because it’s Sweden, and I love a sauna, Ribersborg Kallbadhus at the end of the pier.

There are actually five saunas, a steam room, a sun deck and access to the ocean.

Fika is Swedes’ cafe downtime and great for people watching. I fancy that cinnamon roll hes having.

And further afield:

Work out Wallander

Ystad is Wallander country and you can check out Greyfriars Abbey and the Church of the Virgin Mary.

Lap it up

Swedish Lapland: Drive the 223-mile route up the Wilderness Way from the canoeing centre at Stromsund to Vilhelmina via Fatmokakke with its wooden huts.

You want reindeers? Well, Jokkmokk must appeal to Scots!

And then there’s also the James Bond Museum in Nybro. We’ve been expecting you.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines  is who to go with.


Africa, Countries, Culture, Europe

Olof Palme and a South African township

On the face of it you wouldn’t imagine that a Swedish politician would pose much threat to Apartheid South Africa.

Or that his assassination would kickstart enduring links between Sweden www.visitsweden.cim and a Port Elizabeth township.

Olaf Palme, one of the greatest leaders anywhere of his generation, is being talked of again as his killer is on the point of being identified.

Olof Palme Street back in the day in Port Elizabeth

Some 34 years after he was gunned down coming out of a Stockholm cinema after watching a film with his family.

A different time

Olof’s crime – he supported the ANC and wanted to shut down oil and arms supplies to Durban.

At a time when the West was either complicit or diffident in their dealings with South Africa Olof said, and did, the right thing.

Man of peace: Olof Palme.

And the black South Africans have never forgotten that.

In New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, the country’s oldest township they named the street on which the Red Location Museum sits Olof Palme Street.

To the Rainbow Nation

The only residents in South Africa to do so.

Olof’s legacy

Olof’s family have become firm friends and benefactors to the poor, but proud, residents of the Red Location since.

To Nelson Mandela: In PE with Siseko

Which I discovered when I visited Nelson Mandela’s home state, the Eastern Cape last year. and Day in the life of a township and What’s new pussycat?

Further research (and I do go the extra mile for you) reveals that there are two dozen countries where Olof is thus honoured.

Just why Stoke-on-Trent in the English Midlands are the UK’s standard-bearers I’ll just have to get back to you on.

Countries, Cruising, Culture, Europe, Flying, UK

Sweden, mooses and no lockdown

There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose – Lord Rockingham’s XI

Now what has ‘Hoots Mon’, a UK No.1 from 1958 to do with the price of Irn-Bru?

Only that the moose is considered a measure of distance in northern Sweden.

Which we’re all looking at enviously because there’s no lockdown there.

In the region of Norbotten locals are warned to stay ‘one moose length’ away from each other.

Check out the lights. Photo by Jonathan Petersson on

While in the rest of the country they’re still eating meatballs, smorgasbords and pickled herrings and highly-priced beer in bars and restaurants.

All the time following Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s guidance to keep social distance.

The Swedish hinterland

So what is it that Sweden is doing right?

Well, in a nutshell, they believe it is not sustainable to keep its people in open-ended lockdown.

A night out in Sweden

And that they are prepared to accept certain restrictions on movement and interaction over a prolonged period.

Rather than to take the pain today for jam tomorrow.

She and her fellow Swedish politicians recommended this on internal travel at Easter.

The government exhorted Swedes not to travel to their summer cottages or relatives but did not ban them from doing so.

Which was 90 per cent lower than in previous years.

The Abba Museum

All of which progress and good husbandry focuses our attentions rightly on Sweden…

And talking about husbandry I’m reminded of what a good husband I would have been to Agnetha Faltstog, my first love.

Alas her husband Bjorn Ulvaeus was on the scene… and I was only 11.

ABBA’s Greatest Hits was the first album I ever bought.

And it was my love of Abba that got me innocently into trouble in my Jesuit Catholic all-boys school when I brought copies in of The Sun newspaper.

The ABBA Story

All because they were serialising The ABBA Story… I even used my lunch money to pay for the newspapers.

Easy ahopping

However my teacher suspected that I was ogling the bare-breasted Page 3 girls instead. All of which landed me with a belting.

I will continue to make it one of my life’s missions to track down Agnetha in her retreat.

And the best starting point is to actually get out to Sweden.

SAS Scandinavian Airlines is your best bet, and they fly out of Dublin, and in the UK from London, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle.

A tour around Scandinavia

Now I dipped my toe into Scandinavia when I cruised with MSC and around Denmark

And Norway, getting within touching distance of Agnethaland and

Finnish forest huts

While I’m continuously being tempted by my old Finnish and adopted Glaswegian Paula from our Disneyworld

And to go our to her home country, which is more culturally Scandinavian than geographically.

But the UN named it the happiest place on earth so the Scandinavians will claim it gladly.

Iceland for geezers

Ah, those Northern Lights

Heck, so that I’m not accused of not including the other Scandinavian countries, I’ll flag up Iceland here.

With Iceland Airlines and

Although again it is probably more culturally Scandinavian than geographically traditionally so.

Greenland in demand

Shifting plates

The Faroe Islands is a self-governing Danish territory and Greenland which is a Danish territory will also qualify.

Mind you Donald Trump has had his eyes on buying the world’s biggest island

In what he would probably tag a beautiful, beautiful deal.

So we’ll just have to watch this space.

Countries, Ireland, UK

Scotland-Ireland – Other bridges of highs

Blowhardery from Boris Johnson or another feat of Scottish engineering to match the Forth Road and Rail Bridges?

The proposed £40billion bridge between Portpatrick in Scotland and Larne, all 20 miles of it.

Above Beaufort’s Dyke which was a munitions dump from the Second World War.

Is this all being blown out of all proportions… let me know.

In the meantime, here are five bridges which connect countries.

Svinesund Bridge

Sweden to Norway: The Svinsund is more straightforward, connecting Norway with Sweden.

Opened in 2005, its total length is 2310ft.

Sweden felt tantalisingly within reach when we cruised from Kiel in Germany to Copenhagen and up the Norwegian fjords The call of the fjords.

See and

The Oresund Bridge

Sweden to Denmark: These Scandinavians really do love their bridges.

Opened in the Millennium year 2000 the Oresund is a bridge that turns into a tunnel.

The idea is that it runs nearly five miles to the artificial island Peberholm in the middle of the strait.

Before it transfers to the two-and-a-half-mile Drogden Tunnel to the Danish island of Amager.

Also see

Guadiana International Bridge

Spain to Portugal: Or more precisely from Ayamonte to Castro Marim.

Opened in 1991, there’s more of it on the Portuguese than Spanish side. All in it’s 2185ft.

And, of course it’s the oldest continuous border in continental Europe.,. Secret Portugal.

And see and

Libertador General San Martín Bridge

Argentina to Uruguay: And this one runs between Puerto Unzué snd Fray Bentos.

Opened in 1972, it spans 3.7 miles and means you get your Fray Bentos meat pie all the quicker.

See!/global/home?lang=en and

Tancredo Neves Bridge

Brazil to Argentina: Another that bridges two South American rivals… and is better known as the Fraternity Bridge.

Crossing the Iguassu River it stretched 1604ft and was opened in 1985.

And was inspired by the construction of the Friendship Bridge between Brazil and Paraguay in 1965.

And back to an Ireland-Scotland bridge, don’t tell Stena, a Swedish firm remember, who are my bridge between my two countries.