André Rieu in Maastricht

Maastricht only featured in my knowledge of European cities as the “one where the Treaty to introduce the Euro was signed”. However, it was as the birthplace of André Rieu who created the Johann Strauss Orchestra that it went on my “bucket list”. Late night TV brought him to my attention. He and his orchestra turned classical and waltz music into a worldwide concert touring act, as successful as some of the biggest global pop and rock music acts.

Stein Travel advertise Rieu concerts regularly and I decided the best place to go was his traditional end of concert season in his own Maastricht.

SATURDAY

The flight to Cologne was uneventful and we were collected there and bussed to Maastricht. The Apple Park Hotel (nicknamed Apple Tart by a group of Dubliners), although situated outside the city, provided a regular free shuttle service. I decided to eat in the hotel that first night and was more than pleased with choice and standard of menu and friendliness of staff.

Salmon and Asparagus on Sesame Toast -YUMMEEE

SUNDAY

Knowing that walking is not my forte, I headed for the Stiphout jetty, a local boat company recommended at reception. There I opted for the historic trip through the inland harbor, ‘t Bassin (built in 1826). Some passengers had booked brunch – and it did look delicious – but I sat out on deck and enjoyed the sunshine. The captain kept us amused his ‘light’ historic descriptions of boat life and industry through the ages as well, as the management of water to allow trade and prevent flooding. We passed through Bosscherveld, a modern and mechanized lock that dropped the boat 3 metres.

A riverboat garden

We passed by the river boat community and witnessed their great pride in their homes complete with gardens, sun decks and playgrounds. The favourite lock was a restored and manually operated Lock 19 one where tea and buns were passed to the lock keeper on completion of task.

Lock 19 – Mr and Mrs Lock Keeper

We sailed through a tunnel that was once part of the fortification of Maastricht with his hook lined walls for boat owners of pre-engine days had to pull the boats with hooks along the canal. The inner harbour ‘t Bassin is still surrounded by the old quay cellars where ships used to unload their cargo. Now they are shops and restaurants. Via Lock 20 we ended up in the Maas again and returned to the jetty. I would certainly recommend the trip.

Afternoon tour of Maastricht

I decided on a small roadside café to have a selection of “Dutch snacks” for lunch and at only €6 I could not believe how appetizing they were. The meal comprised of BITTERBALLEN and KROKETTEN (deep fried crispy balls and tubes filled with meat), KIBBELING (battered and deep fried fish bits), FRIKANDEL (deep fried skinless sausage, naturally accompanied by a glass of Dutch beer.
And now for the walkabout:

Augustinian Church Maastricht

The Augustinian church by the river was built in the 17th century and was not open today. Onto the Tourist Office – The Dinghaus: built in 1470 it has functioned as a court, a prison, a torture chamber and an administrative centre. Staffed be very friendly people it was quite expensive – there wasn’t even a free map.
Next stop was the Dominican Black Church which now houses the Dominican bookshop next door to a coffee shop. Both were way too hot for exploring.
Having invested in ECHO runners for this trip and finding them reasonably comfortable, I ventured into the Echo shop on the Grote Staat and bought runners (on sale). I wound my way through some little streets to the Market Square – there are numerous little shops and boutiques all along the streets, very different to the usual city shopping.

Mooswief, Maastricht

The Mooswief statue of the patroness of carnivals announces your arrival in the Markt. In the centre of the square is the Town Hall on the Market – quite an impressive building with a statue of JP Minckelers, the inventor of the gas light, close by.
It was now time to hit back for the shuttle, through Mosae Forum, a large shopping centre again with very different shops.

The Concert

The group had booked the Pre-concert dinner in the hotel so we all met in the restaurant in our finery. After an excellent meal we boarded the coach for the trip to the summer evening concert in the Vrijthof, the most romantic square in the Netherland. I had an excellent seat (row 6) with the Dublin crowd.

They were festooned in Irish regalia – boas, flags, hats – determined to catch Andre’s attention. They were actually interviewed on the way in by Dutch Television and I was included in the many photos taken as we awaited the arrival of the Maestro.

You cannot imagine excitement of thousands of fans, especially us, as he paraded only feet away with his orchestra, singers and dancers to the stage. The concert was everything that I expected and more – the music, André’s personality, the involvement of the audience, I even did some dancing – it was all just amazing. I might well make another trip!!!!

MONDAY

After delicious breakfast, I hit off on the shuttle again to Maaspromenade, this time for a trip on the Zonnetrein, the little solar powered tourist train. The best part of the ride was through the city park, only allowed because the train is solar powered. We only toured one area, the Aldenhofpark but there was also a sunbathing area, a zoo, a deer park and an aviary. It was just gorgeous and definitely worth a visit. You can see remnants of Maastricht’s old walls as well as many art works.


I had not realized that d’Artagnon, one of the famous Musketeers, died in the Siege of Maastricht. We passed his statue.
Another interesting piece of artwrk, set in sunken cage which was once a bear pit, shows a naked woman caressing the head of a dying giraffe. A zebra walks around the pit and looks pleadingly up to viewers. The piece was created to highlight the plight of endangered animals, questioning how long it will be before even familiar creatures make it on to the at risk lists. Seemingly the artist arrives from time to time and dresses her!!!

Save our Planet

Lunch again consisted of another Dutch delicacy – the WAFFLE – you can smell them everywhere as you walk around the city. Two Welsh ladies I had met on the boat the day before said a visit to Wijck and Ceramique on the other side of the river was worth a visit. So off I het across (the very long) Wilhelminaburg Bridge (called after a favourite Dutch queen)from which I could see the church of St Martinus– hundreds of steps below the road, so I just took a look! Instead I wandered along some really old streets admiring the lovely facades with their historic numbering! Amazing! I also found myself at the back of St Martinuses’ church and strolled through there.

Even Echo runners didn’t dissuade me from hitting straight for the shuttle back to the hotel this time via St Servaas Bridge (called after first bishop of Maastricht and supposedly the oldest bridge in the Netherlands, built to replace the old Roman bridge). If André had been playing tonight I might have been tempted to go back into town and listen to the concert free from a distance – but he wasn’t so I opted for a few glasses of wine and dinner and bed.

TUESDAY – HOME via Cologne

Kildare Retirees in Slovenia

Another great Kildare Retired Teachers trip – my first one abroad – and it lived up to all expectations.

Even the Ryanair delay in Dublin airport followed by a “mirror of Naas bypass” between Treviso and Trieste couldn’t dampen the spirits of the Kildare retirees.   Following check-in  in  Ljubljana’s  City Hotel, we  took off in packs to find late dinners. It’s quite a small city so we had the geography of the place almost before bed.

Day 1

We started with a walking tour of the city with Yuri our Slovenian guide, taking in the highlights, the many bridges  that cross the Ljubljanica River- the Dragon bridge, the Triple Bridge,

The Triple Bridge

Building decorated in Slovenian colours




the Cobblers’ Bridge, the Fountain of the Three Rivers outside the Mestna Hisa (Town Hall) and finishing with a cable car ride to Ljubljana Castle which dominates the skyline of the city.

Posing on the Triple Bridge with Franciscan Church behind
Ljubljana Castle

The group broke up  then for an afternoon of leisure. Leisure my eye!!!! Our crowd found a lovely place in the Market Square for lunch before dashing off to the Urban Train (a little electric train that took us around the city again to see some of the morning’s missed sights – Plecnik’s (the architect of Ljubljana) House, the Tivoli Gardens, some theatres and churches.

The Embankment

The river is the landmark in the city and so a group of us took a river ride  and it was amazing to see the embankment and hear the many interesting stories of the past. Plecnik designed most of the city with great thought – the willows along the banks were sown as swings for the youngsters to launch themselves into the water as well as to mimic the women who came down to the river’s edge to wash clothes; a cage hung from beside the Cobblers’ Bridge to dunk cheating bakers; Emperor Franz Josef paid for the Dragon bridge so that his Eagle emblems could be displayed, instead the Mayor had 4 copper dragons, the symbols of Slovenia, sneaked in.

Day 2

What a lovely surprise this morning – clear blue skies although a storm had been forecast!!! An early start (really hearty buffet breakfast in hotel) as we headed off to the Postonja Caves, reputedly, Europe’s most spectacular caves, 12 miles of chambers and tunnels.

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path through Postojna Caves

Luckily, it can be viewed from a subterranean railway that swerves through the stalactites like a fairground ride with passengers ducking at times to avoid overhanging rocks. One could exit the train for an hour’s walk through some of the chambers; however a few of us decided to carry on by train and relax with ice cream by the Pivka river.

We had time for a  little retail therapy before boarding the bus for the Adriatic coastal town of Piran.  A free shuttle service was available to take us into the centre of the town where there was a market square (Tartinijev trg after the local born violinist and composer Tartini – another famous Slovenian I had never heard of) and lovely restaurants along the sea front for a well-earned lunch. Piran was quite a wealthy little town, its wealth based on the salt produced here. Now it is more a fishing or seaside village.

Vinekoper in Koper was our next port of call. This celler owns most of the vineyards in Slovenia and specialises in a wide range of wines.   My favourites, Refosk was available to “taste” and purchase. There’ll be a few of us checking out O’Brien’s and Aldi and Lidl for Slovenian wines after this!

Our crowd went down the town tonight for dinner – lovely restaurant beside the river where suckling pig (my choice) and veal were served with roast potatoes (unavailable last night!!!) and veg.

Day 3

The mountains beckoned today – another early start and another glorious morning as we headed first for Lake Bojin, the largest lake in Slovinia. The cable car ride to Mount Vogel gave us spectacular views of the lakes and rivers.

Sitting out in the wooden chalet type restaurant brought the story of Heidi or the Sound of Music to mind. Vogel is a ski resort and there was still some snow with many Alpine flowers peeping through to add to the picture card effect.

Church on island in Lake Bled

Back to the bus for our trip to Lake Bled with its fairy tale scenery – an island church in the middle of the lake which can only be reached by traditional canopied rowing boats, and a castle located on a sheer cliff overlooking the lake and Tito’s palace at the boat jetty (now a hotel).

Tito’s palace

It was well-worth the efforts of climbing the 99 steps to the Church of the Assumption to ring the Wishing Bell inside. The climb to the Castle was more demanding with its uneven surface and extremely steep incline. But there were many helping hands and almost all the crew made it to the courtyard.

Lunch by the lake shore before hitting back to Ljubljana was well earned.

Day 4

We may have wondered why an umbrella hung in every room in the hotel – today we wondered no more – the rain was bucketing down from early morning. Luckily today we were left to our own devices and many chose indoor activities – shopping, galleries, museums. The Emporium (a Kildare Village lookalike including prices) was a favourite. But we thought a Blanchardstown look alike would suit our purses better and it was only a taxi ride away. The weather cleared somewhat in the afternoon allowing for some more outdoor sightseeing.

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Rena ( and helpers) sussed out a local restaurant Sokol (the Eagle) for our group tonight – lovely meal followed by a sing song. Great way to end the holiday!

HOME

A great few days – lots of laughs and stories – however “what happens on tour stays on tour” is a good motto for a blog and there were many funny incidents that will not be recounted here. Our guide Yuri was excellent. The hotel was clean and friendly and located centrally which is a big plus. Food was good but different – Slovenians don’t seem to eat at night and many places were closed by eleven. Everyone noted the cleanliness of the city and the good manners of its occupants. Those who visited the churches were impressed with the respect and participation in the services and reported the most beautiful music. Slovenian wine was excellent and very cheap. The city centre is “car-free” and that certainly lends to the calmness. Small electric bus/cars are available free, originally designed for the elderly but now used by anyone.  Otherwise you cycle or walk.

Well done Rena – where are you going to bring us next year???

Western Med: Days 3-5 ITALY

GENOA DAY 3


It was lovely to wake up to sun and sea and our view from the balcony was stunning as we sailed into Genoa, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. No BIG BUS or open Top Bus for us! Instead we got a lovely taxi driver who brought us on our own personal tour of the city stopping at the Palazzo San Giorgio, Piazza de Ferrari, the San Lorenzo Cathedral.

Sitting on the back garden wall of Christopher’s house


The piece de resistance of course was Columbus’ house, situated in the old town beside the Soprano (upper) gate.

DAY 4: La SPEZIA
Fiona took off on her own today while I sat by the pool with kindle – soaking in the rays. As most of the passengers were ashore (gone to Pisa or Florence which were ours away!) it was peaceful to just lie and relax!
Our only regret is that we didn’t realize that a short train ride would have taken us to Cinque Terre (Five Lands) a breathtaking stretch of Italian coastline. It’s named for its 5 villages which are wedged into a series of coves between sheer cliffs.
Fiona bought me the guide book – so perhaps a return visit will be in order sometime! And what about La Spezia – she got the LITTLE TRAIN and passed the Castle of St George she thinks! Rather under-impressed I think!
Rumba classes by the pool were a bit loud for our liking so we moved to pool at back of ship (aft I think it’s called!!!) and sun soaked some more.

DAY 5 CIVITAVECHIA
This is one of the largest ports in Italy. The name means “ancient town”. We decided today to the “Rome on Your Own Tour” on our own. So we partnered up with a couple from Australia and a brother and sister and their 2 kids from Latvia and hired “an English speaking Taxi” to take us to Rome. To guarantee that we would be returned to the ship, payment was promised at end of trip. A brochure showed us the sites we would visit.
The English-Speaking-Taxi consisted of a lovely driver with about 3 English words and a CD that was played during the drive about the sites of Rome. Price was agreed and off we hit for the Eternal City.

Over Looking the City of Rome



What a trip … it was like having our very own chauffeur who dropped us at the entrance to all the more important sites – parking and traffic meant little to him as long as he got us to the entrances.

St Peter’s Square

A visit to St Peter’s Square was a must – some of the more able- got up to and into the Vatican for a few minutes – I just enjoyed being in the square and seeing the famous Basilica, watching my bag as there are pick-pockets and street sellers everywhere. Our second stop was to the Pantheon, again right to the door. Long queues that moved quite quickly allowed a view inside.

Vitoriana Monument

We stopped in the middle of a very busy roundabout to visit the Vittoriano , a colossal mountain of white marble , modern by Roman standards as it was built at the turn of the 20th century to honour Italy’s first king. Since 1920 It encompasses the tour of the Unknown Soldier.

The Coliseum was our next port of call before the Trevi “three coins in a “ Fountain. The place was mobbed and we were lucky to be able to get a photo without half of Italy in it!!!! Some time for retail also and a quick cup of coffee before the return trip to the boat. It was an excellent trip and for those who don’t/can’t walk about much THE ONLY WAY TO DO ROME.
Almost last onto the boat!!!!!
Lovely dinner (well I thought so but then I’m not too fussy and a show – Songs of Tina Turner. One of our many losses tonight – mobile phone – but luckily handed into reception and it was retrieved in the early hours of the morning!!!! Another story for the dinner tomorrow!

WESTERN MED Days 6-8 France and Spain

DAY 6 CANNES
Was in Cannes a few years ago and it was lovely to return – we knew exactly where we wanted to go – the main shopping street.
The place was gearing up for the Festival and the place is just as glitzy as I remember. We spent a lovely afternoon shopping and eating gateaux.

Image result for macaroons


Russell headed for the mountains while Indu and Brian hit off along the coast to Monte Carlo so we had great exchange of stories over dinner.
Did some ship shopping tonight only to have it forgotten with a jacket in the bar!!!! Hoping that we’ll be as lucky as last night and someone will hand in the lost items!!! Our dinner crowd will never believe this!

DAY 7 PALMA DE MALLORCA
Hard to believe that after 43 years I return to the site of my honeymoon. We landed in Palma before hitting off into the wilds of the island to a very under-developed ‘resort’ called Alcudia. Alcudia now is like Palma – row upon row of hotels and shops along the beach front and stretching back into the slopes of the mountains. There was a promise of good weather for the day and departure from Palma was late, we decided to spend the morning by the pool. Times like this when you return to a place from your past, you have to wonder where time goes?????

Palma de Mallorca


By the time we went ashore for the shuttle bus to city centre / Cathedral there was a deluge. We just got back on the shuttle and returned to port.
But what a story for dinner – as we tried to explain how someone, thinking they were in Barcelona. decided against visiting the great gothic cathedral as “ they had already seen it”! At least my reason of “weather, climb, distance, mobility” were understandable!

This is NOT Barcelona!


Some fond/nostalgic memories of my only previous trip here: my honeymoon. Weddings now are so different and the expectations are so high. We were married in my Parish church in Walkinstown, our reception was the Sports Hotel, Enniskerry- within easy driving distance for all guests- early departure from reception for bride and groom: it was almost “mandatory” to leave to allow guests to go home!!!! Now weddings are two and three day affairs. We had scraped together the money to go “abroad” and got a special in Alcudia, Mallorca. NO WONDER – it was like a building site: our apartment block was the only completed building in the resort! But the beach was great, the weather wonderful, food different, we hired a car and went to the Caves, life was good – we were young and in love!!!

DAY 8 BACK TO BARCELONA

Bags had to be outside cabin at midnight to be brought ashore. We had our last “hearty” breakfast at the buffet before disembarkation at 9.30. As flight was not till late we decided to send bags ahead to airport and spend the day in Barcelona. We had both been here before and opted for a ramble on Las Ramblas with some retail and refreshments rather than sightseeing. Cities now are so alike re shops; I think they call cosmopolitan!!! Yet it’s amazing that “foreign” branches of home stores still hold an attraction – probably stocking different goods to the ones at home and purchasing will be done?

Great to see the mime artists, the local craftspeople, flower stalls, street-side bars and the new pavement mosaic in the centre of Las Ramblas designed by Barcelona-born artist Joan Miro – the spot where 2017 tragedy occurred, a poignant reminder of how quickly tragedy can strike.

It took us the day to walk the 1.2 km of La Rambla from the Christopher Columbus statue to the Placa de Cataluya where we discovered a gorgeous Spanish restaurant. Taxi back to airport for return flight; a

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Western Med DAY 2 Azaccio

After a hearty breakfast in The Marketplace – an all day buffet of every type of food you could want from fast food to carvery, Chinese to Italian, starter to dessert. We spotted “our” LITTLE TRAIN from the balcony and so knew exactly where to head for when ashore.

We spotted the Little Train

I’m a big fan of traveling through a city and not having to walk or drive, stopping at some of the important attractions and having a roadside coffee. All at an easy pace! The Little |Train offered two types of trip – long and short – and we chose the longer route and had to haggle seriously to get places when eventually the particular train arrived.

AROUND AZACCIO

The town is famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte who was born here in 1769 and there are few places that do not pay testament to his life – his home, where he was christened, where his brothers lived, etc. Other landmarks such as the Citadel are a memorial to the many wars fought here. Ajaccio was the first French city liberated from the Nazis at the end of
WW2. However, the train buzzed by most sites with little explanation only to stop at the top of the hill at Napoleon’s Grotto.

OUT ALONG THE COAST

The “LONG” trip was about to begin, out along the coastal Routes des Sanguinaires (the road of the Bloodthirsty!) to Pointe de la Parata passing houses of famous actors and singer – none of whom we knew (though they drew Aws and Ahs from the French tourists). We also passed an amazing cemetery, Cimetière d’Ajaccio (a replica of that in the film Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd was incarcerated in a tomb by her husband). In Ajaccio, the houses of the living are alongside those of the dead and so the dead are interred in rows of monuments. The cemeteries are so much like a city that at the time of the war, the Germans, by mistake, bombed the cemetery.



It was a journey of “musical seats” as the little train swayed from side to side along the road, making sure to hit ever pot-hole! But what a treat at the end: The story told in French about the tower that regulated maritime traffic and the harbor that was used to quarantine the African coral traders was lost on us but the view at the end of the promontory was awesome. And there was some great HOMEMADE NOUGAT for sale in a little van!!!
Back to Ajaccio for coffee and some retail therapy (hat and bag) before embarkation!

We enjoyed sharing stories of the day with Russell, Indu and Brian and hearing about their exploits in Corsica.

CRUISIN’ THE WESTERN MED – all aboard

BARCELONA

The indomitable duo (Fiona and I) hit off again, this time TO BARCELONA (at the crack of dawn as usual). Heartiest thanks and well done to the OCS team of helpers who not only check in your bags but transport you quickly past/through queues, passport control and  security to the step of plane (and beyond if necessary!) Even offer to help you with shopping in Duty Free. Big thanks to you guys – it’s very much appreciated.

We were met by MSC courier in Barcelona, a very pleasant girl who translated all our jokes for the (my) Spanish transport assistant. Only two Irish couples on flight for cruise, one a honeymoon pair from Laois – Fiona knew her father from school and the other a Dublin couple (she originally from the Tenters who went to school in Warrenmount!) We’re a very small island.

Our home from home!

MSC Seaview is a massive ship and our cabin is right at the back – aft I think they say – on the 15th deck. We had barely settled in when we were called for mandatory evacuation drill – heartening! Then we did the quick obligatory tour of the boat to get our bearings ( even though I frequently got lost after). An elevator almost our own private on, outside cabin, brings us to most of the ship’s facilities easily – pool on back deck, buffet, etc

Back to the Cabin to bling up for dinner – it’s always interesting to see who you’re seated with as more than likely you’ll be there every evening with them.

We were lucky – Brian and Indu from Trinidad and Tobago and Russell from Naples in Florida and two no shows (they did on the third night – a young couple from Miami who quickly assessed our age and interest profile and never returned) .

Glasgow for Strictly

I cannot believe that that the sixteenth season of Strictly Come Dancing has finished. Mam and I started watching Strictly in 2004, cheering Natasha Kaplinski and Brendan Cole to victory in that first series. The routines were very much of the dancing style she enjoyed, an extension of her old time dances in the hall in Crumlin. Year by year the dances became more involved and the final show dances tended towards gymnastic routines. I was unaware that “the live shows” started in 2008 but in more recent years when some of the stars brought their own shows to Ireland (Anton du Bek, Giovanni Pernice and Vincente Simone) I was niggled by the desire to see the larger cast perform live.

As the tour is British based, I needed to find an easy to reach location preferably serviced by “cheap” carrier Ryanair: Glasgow became my choice of destination and I booked the concert and flight tickets and accommodation.
I arrived in the Millenium Hotel in the iconic and historical Georges Square just in time for breakfast following which I headed for the Hop-on Hop-off tour of the city. It was lovely listening to the humorous stories of the city sites in the lilting Scottish accent.

View of Georges Square from Millenium Hotel

THE TOUR

I was amazed at how many of the statues around the Square I knew: The famous “George” for whom the square was named is marked by his absence. He had died before his statue was placed on the central plinth and Sir Walter Scott who wrote many famous poems took his place. Also recognizable were Queen Vicoria, her consort Albert, Robbie Burns, Robert Peel, James Watt and Gladstone.

CITY MURALS

I was very impressed with the many murals about the city.
The Glasgow coat of arms is linked to the stories of Saint Mungo, the city’s patron saint. It contains a shield framed by two salmon having rings in their mouth. In the shield, you see the same fish, a tree, a bird and a bell.

Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam

St Mungo and the robin Mural

This verse refer to four stories that are told about Saint Mungo
The Bird: Saint Serf, a teacher of several children in Mungo’s youth had a robin (roodborstje) as a pet. Mungo, a good student, was disliked by his classmates who decided to kill the robin and blame Mungo. Mungo, however, miraculously restored life to the robin.
The Tree: Mungo fell asleep while charged with minding a fire in Saint Serf’s monastery. The fire went out and Mungo miraculaously restarted the fire without using only a nearby tree.

The Bell: the bell is thought to have been brought by Mungo from Rome. It was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased.
The Fish: The salmon and the ring relate to Queen Longuoreth’s affair with a young soldier and Mungo’s saving of the Queen. The Queen gave a ring (a present from her husband) to her secret lover. However, a servant informed the king of the affair. The King retrieved the ring when the young man fell asleep and threw it into the river Clyde. He then demanded that his wife show him the ring and when she failed denounced her and threw her into prison to await execution. In prison, she sent a messenger to Mungo asking for forgiveness and help. Mungo told the messenger to go fishing in the Clyde and to bring back the first fish he caught. It was a salmon, which on being cut open, contained the ring. It was immediately brought to the queen. When the King saw the ring he forgave his wife.

BILLY CONNOLLY
I always enjoyed Billy Connolly’s Glasgow stories of childhood life in the tenements of Glasgow and work the shipyards. It was particularly interesting on the tour to see the tribute the city paid to him on his 75th birthday – 3 giant muras were painted in his honour. The shipyards have now disappeared from the Tyneside- their only memory now is the giant crane.

Memory to the Clydebank Shipyards

SCOT-FREE
I loved the story of Madeleine Smith and how her trial for the murder of her lover tied to the peculiarities of Glasgow justice system – findings of “Guilty”, “Not Guilty” and “Unproven”. Madeleine got off “Scot free” a term associated with the “unproven” verdict that a court can deliver.

SHOPPING
Buchanan Street was a dream shopping area and I found some great bargains in the many sales- good sterling rate at the moment too!!! It was also great to visit Weatherspoon and cheer on the Scottish Rugby team to victory.

STRICTLY COME DANCING
After a busy day, I put on the glad rags and headed to the SSE Arena for the Strictly Live Tour. The atmosphere was brilliant as over 80,000 fans gathered to cheer on their favourites from the show and to watch spectacular dance routines.

Strictly – Darcy Routine

My favourite group routine involved a ballet routine with Darcy Bussell. After an hour queuing in minus 6 degrees for a taxi back to the hotel I thought I was more than entitled to “A Glasgow Kiss” as a nightcap!

TASTING, FELTING, CRUISING

Funny that even though retired, I still regard July and August as holidays so getting away in September is like an extended holiday season. And September 2018 has certainly been busy.

TASTE OF WEST CORK

Liss Ard House

I started with a few days at the Taste of West Cork Festival – following good advice booked into a “nice” hotel: Liss Ard House just outside Skibbereen where everyday started with a delicious breakfast and finished with drinks and chat in the drawing-room.

 

 

Kileena House, Baltimore

Taking everything at a very leisurely pace I savoured the fairy and ghost stories of the area in Killeena House just outside Baltimore, with a gorgeous fish lunch overlooking Sherkin.

 

I followed Michael Collins’ eventful last journey to Béal na Bláth as well as taking in his home place and other places relevant to his history starting with a wonderful lecture on his life.

Church Restaurant, Skibbereen

I shared a wonderful evening with in-laws in the Church Restaurant in Skib. Finally spent a morning in Glandore exploring perfume making using natural ingredients, coming away with many samples including “an elixir of youth” which claims to “take years off any face”!!!!!!!

BOOT CAMP WITH NATALYA BRASHOVETSKA

I returned just in time to attend a four-day Boot Making Workshop in Kilteele. I ended up with the dearest pair of boots I’ll probably ever own but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The felt makers are a great group and Natalya was excellent – sharing her many tips and also a lot of labour so that all projects were completed in the allotted time. Hard work!!!!

 Boots awaiting soles

Almost finished product!!! Boots for walking?

 

CRUISING THE ADRIATIC

DAY 1 VENICE and welcome aboard!

MSC Poesie at anchor in Venice

We set off for Venice on the 22nd transferring from Marco Polo Airport to the cruise ship – oh boy! was embarkation a lengthy process: to guarantee safety for the cruise passport checks, bag checks, photo for IDs cards, luggage collection. Eventually we got to our cabin which was huge (think mobility issues helped with assigning!!!) and it was great to sit on balcony and see all the sights as we left Venice.

Leaving Venice Port

Out along the Lagoon

DAY 2 Bari

Before disembarking in Bari, we had compulsory Emergency Drill to which of course we forgot to bring our life jackets!!!! Then we made our first use of the Shuttle bus system to bring us into the old town of Bari.

Santa Claus, the patron saint of Bari

 

We had decided to give the organised excursions a miss and we took a little train through the old town (Bari Vecchia) where we visited the Basilica of St Nicholas (Santa Claus, Bari’s patron saint. The tasting of local produce (which I missed) was a bit over-rated.

 

 

I hadn’t realized the Normans had made their way so far south but we saw the 12th century Castello Normanno-Svevo before a glass of vino and back to the ship!!!

Tonight was our first Gala evening on the ship so we put on our finery and off to the restaurant. We had changed to First Sitting and as we were quite close to the kitchen our food was piping hot ( it had been a bit disappointing last night). Also the wine list had been improved – all making for a lovely evening! Ending up in the Zebra Bar

In disguise? in the Zebra Bar

DAY 3 Katakolon (MOUNT OLYMPUS)

The Isles of Greece

Overnight we crossed the Ionian Sea and were able to view from the balcony some of the Greek Islands before arriving in Katakolon. Again we decided to give official excursions a miss and proceeded to the taxi rank where we met 2 other travelers of like minds and we shared a taxi with them to Olympus. The heat there was unbelievable and luckily we able to hire a horse and carriage for a trip around the ancient site, this time-sharing with a very loud but funny Portuguese group who were convinced the Irish were very wealthy!!!! We were lucky to get back to the taxi in time but glad to have seen Temple of Zeus, the Hippodrome and the Stadium. It’s a UNESCO site and worth even the short visit. Our taxi driver returned us to the town (again at breakneck speed and with NO regard or road signs) where we had some  retail therapy followed by ice cream!

DAY 4 Mykonos

Disembarkation by tender

Today we had our first experience with “Disembarkation by tender” procedures. The little port of Mykonos was lovely, quite like a fishing village and we both explored at our own rate(!!!!). I  stayed pretty close to the port, paddling in the sea, sunning myself on beach and some “linen” shopping with a group of American ladies.

Seemingly the town was designed to confuse invaders and thwart pirate attack with its layout and it certainly flummoxed some of us who were lucky to get back to port for return to ship. This proved to be a pretty painful process as we all arrived at the port together and had to queue for tenders, many of our fellow travelers having no concept of THE QUEUE. I had to avail of the “free sea sickness tablet scheme this evening as the ind rose and the sea got pretty rough! And the captain informed us that due to stormy conditions the port of Piraeus was to be closed for a few days and we would now be sailing to Nafplion(?????) The sea was very choppy during the night with howling gales – thank God the pills worked and I slept like a log!!!

DAY 5 Nafplion

Tenders again today to get into the town of Nafplion, passing the Bourtzi.

What’s a Bourtzi? you might ask!

A Bourtzi is a fortified islet. The Bourtzi in Nafplion was built by the Venetians in 1473 and protected the entrance to the harbor from Pirates. In the 19th century this is where the executioners for the prison at the Palamidi fortress lived since it was bad luck to have them live in the city itself. We could have taken a taxi to the top of the Palamidi fortress but thought the only access was the hundreds of steps!!!! After a short spell ashore we hit back for the tenders before the crowds. We also wanted to be sorted ‘style-wise’ for the 2nd gala night!!!

DAY 6 Saranda

Saranda on the Albanian Riviera was our port of call today. We had no plans for the visit but were met at the entrance to the port by a taxi driver who showed us the sights available – 4 postcards.

Amphitheatre at Butrint

Roman ruins at Butrint

By luck rather than design! we picked the Butrinti ruins. Amazing! And no wonder they are a UNESCO site. We strolled around at our leisure through the ruins of a number of successive civilizations and supported some local artisans by buying knickknacks. Once again we got our driver to drop us back to the town for some shopping and eating before embarkation. It proved very difficult to find a restaurant that served food – “sorry only drinks!!!” We eventually found a little jewel where it was suggested we have a local dish. We think it might have been a stew veal ( an animal that mooed!) washed down with a FULL glass of local wine! A walk along the sea front market indicated the great poverty in this country and we purchased some bits and bobs just to add to the weight in the cases and support the local economy!!!!!

DAY 7 Dubrovnik

As we are both Game of Thrones fans we had to come ashore today in Dubrovnik. (I think it might be the setting for the fictional capital of Westeros????).

Franciscan Monastery Crucifix

 

 

We came in through the Pile Gate and visited the Franciscan Monastery. I strayed a wee bit up the Stradun (main Street) but friend went as far as San Blaise Church and had her throat blessed! We found a lovely alleyway restaurant and had the most delicious shrimp risotto. We did some quick packing on our return to the ship before the farewell dinner. Our cases had to be out before 1am for collection.

Statue of St Frances In Dubrovnik Franciscan Monastery

DAY 8 BACK TO Venice

Scandinavia Hotel, Campo S Maria Formosa

We had an early start this morning and our first sit down breakfast of the cruise – we had availed of the buffet breakfast up to this. There was massive confusion on disembarkation about water taxis, water buses, shuttle buses and the usual difficulties with queues. Eventually we landed on the quay side in Venice and hired a porter to take us the Scandinavia Hotel for our stay here! We took a ramble to get our bearings and find a Trattore for dinner – no dressing up tonight.

 

Grilled prawns- Yum

We found an amazing seafood restaurant whose owner remembered the Ireland/Italy game of the 90s and their hero Scillachi. Our hotel was situated quite centrally on the Campo S. Maria Formosa and we sat out well into the night (once we fetched our jackets!!!) with an Irish/Scottish/N Ireland group.

DAY 9 Murano and Burano

Glassware display in Murano

 

 

Murano and Burano were on the cards for today. The islands are gorgeous and well worth a visit: Murano to see the glass works and Burano for its (very expensive) lace.

The coloured houses along the canals of Burino

The water buses are filled to capacity and beyond but as long as you ignore the aspects of safety AND you get a seat, the trip out through the lagoon is lovely.

At the Bridge of Sighs

Taking a break outside the Doge Palace

Above the door of St Marks

While it was getting late when we got back, we had to see the Bridge of Sighs, The Doge Palace and St Marks and take a few photos. We made a return visit to our Trattore before back to hotel.

DAY 10 HOME

SCOTLAND WITH THE CKAS 2018

 

The Titanic, Belfast

 

The CKAS trip began
As we climbed aboard Sean’s coach
Belfast bound for a city tour
Before sailing to Scotland’s coast.

 

 

 

An empty Stormont!

 

Across the Irish Sea we sailed
From Belfast to Cairnryan
Some studying the itinerary
Others talking, eating, buying.

 

 

The Doubletree Hilton, Dunblane

 

Fine dining at the Doubletree
A back-door bag collection
A weary crowd hit off for bed
With Edward’s first edition.

 

Edinburgh Castle

 

Scottish history based in Edinburgh
We heard from Scot guide Mike
All about the Castle, Giles Cathedral
And of course the Royal Mile

 

Inveraray Castle

 

Day 2 we took “the high road”
To Loch Lomond and wee Luss
Inveraray in the afternoon
Back to Dunblane on the ‘bus’.

 

 

The Grouse Distillery, Crieff

 

Wednesday’s tour of Stirling
In well-known Cook’s we’d buns and tea
Then off to taste some whisky
In the Grouse Distillery.

 

Roslyn Chapel

Made famous by Da Vinci Code
Roslyn Chapel and its crypt
A stroll at leisure around Dryburgh Abbey
Completed Thursday’s trip.

JMG Coach driven by Sean Ferry

 

 

An early start on Friday
For the coach trip to Stranraer
Our thanks to Hugh and Bernadette
Put my name down for next year!

Castle in the Highland

 

MADRID – A CITY BREAK March 2018

The joys of retirement – a trip away without too much preamble!

Flew into Madrid on the VERY EARLY Ryanair flight on Monday morning. The assistance at the airport is brilliant especially as Ryanair gates seem to be at the furthest end of every airport! The plan was for a restful break, a little bit of sightseeing, some retail therapy and nice food and wine! We were armed with some recommendations from a previous resident of Madrid, which is always helpful.

 

Our hotel, the Petit Palace Hotel in Plaza del Carmen was a find – really central (close to Sol which is the main centre and from which many streets radiate with plenty of shops and bars and restaurants) with lovely staff, a nice sized room with a balcony overlooking the plaza.

We did some unpacking on arrival, before hitting out for a look around. I was particularly fascinated by the clear blue skies – not a cloud – and as we were staying in Old Madrid, some gorgeous architecture.

We allocated Tuesday to city sightseeing. The hop-on-hop-off bus is a super way of seeing the city and it allows for stopping at the sites that interest you most. We hadn’t factored in that this was Easter holidays and a major event on Madrid’s calendar, so there were lots of queues. We were quite happy to sit in gardens and read about what was inside!!! A return visit at a quieter time to explore these culture areas.

Statue of Goya, outside Prada

 

Unfortunately Retiro Park was closed due to a tragedy and it would have been great to get in there as there is usually daily entertainment.

 

 

 

We opted for the Templo de Debod instead – a haven of tranquillity in a busy city. We were only sorry we hadn’t a picnic but found a lovely restaurant nearby for a bit of lunch.

 

 

 

 

A plate of seafood paella is a must in Spain! Although Madrid is located in the centre of the country we were assured that the fish is brought in daily from the Northern coast.

 

We arrived back in Sol and found ourselves in the middle of Argentinian celebrations – before a friendly football match planned for the evening. Very colourful and cheery.

 

It’s always nice to see somewhere outside the city, so we headed for Toledo on Wednesday. Really impressive and worth the trip. The tourist Office recommended an audio visual presentaion, “Toledo in Motion” as a quick and easy way to get an idea of the history of what was the capital city of Spain and is now a UNESCO site.

 

 

It was great to sample the Toledo speciality dish, “DEER BURGER” and a pitcher of Sangria as we sat on a terrace overlooking the city.

We took the metro back to Sol, again the centre of celebrations. This time is was the passion procession – hundreds of people were gathered to view the procession of bands behind the cross, a very joyful approach to the Passion and the reason so many Spaniards were in the city this week! We did not realise the celebrations would continue well into the night- our room gave us a prime viewing platform.

Retail therapy up around Grand Via was planned for Thursday and we arrived back to the hotel with our purchases, hoping they would all fit into the cases going home!!!! We booked a really nice restaurant, Casa Alberta, reputedly where Cervantes completed Don Quixote for that evening, a really atmospheric old restaurant with great food, accompanied of course by a bottle of Rioja!!!! Had a vino in Plaza Santa Ana on way home – coolish so glad there was a heater!

 

Case packing on Friday morning before we went out for breakfast. We obviously made a good impression on our waiter as he treated us to a glass of champagne. A nice finish to a lovely break!