A postcard of Johnstown Castle “wishing you were here” was probably sent annually, in the days that sending postcards was in vogue, when we holidayed in Cahore as kids. It was a kind of iconic pic. But I had never been there. So during my sojourn in Wexford this year I decided to remedy that. The museum of life in Wexford in the 1700s and 1800s was fascinating, the famine, the workhouses, forced emigration of women to South Africa, and also the models of houses within my ‘historical’ era showing twin tubs, prams and go-cars, statues on mantlepiece, etc.
Best of all was being able to walk the 5km around the lakes and see a different aspect of the iconic castle.
Actually thought I had posted this and then realised it was on another platforms!!!!! Would you call that a broadening of media knowledge or just confusion!
Any way, at long last I got to stay in the Doll’s House, Rathaspeck where the Lamberts spent some time between their return from Australia and move to Fairfield House in Dublin. Every visit to Wexford town as children entailed a trip out to Rathaspeck and stories of the Lamberts life there- dreams of fairy princesses, adventures to the manor House, naughty children, games, neighbours,…all conjuring up wonderful images of a life long ago. And so a stay there was on my bucket list, and ticking it off was everything I thought it would be and more. My words would be inadequate to describe the wonder, the joy, the nostalgia. Even the dozens of photos cannot recreate the aura of the house.
Covid-19 restricted travel this year. My usual annual getaway to sun, sea and foreign exploration had to be scrapped. For much of the year, travel was actually designated by Government decree-often limited to a set number of kilometers from home. For a newly mobile person, this was not a huge constraint.
Naturally, I was disappoint to have to cancel a planned week in Lanzarote (of recuperation!) but as it meant staying well, exploring my town on foot was (almost) as good a foreign venture – so much to see for the first time and a freedom to be relished. The weather in March, April and May was glorious and conducive to neighbourly gatherings albeit across a garden fence to share coffee and sometimes something stronger!!! So isolation was not a problem.
‘Released from captivity’ in June and July, I savoured the joy of travelling to Cork to spend time with my beautiful grandson – it was tremendous. I loved the days spent ‘fishing’ and building dams in the Lee, hurling in the park, paddling in the garden pool, arty activities, make-believe stories with toys (learning paw patrol character names) – all the activities a granny dreams of!
It was short lived however and Kildare soon went into lockdown again in August. This time it was not so easy. So by the time September arrived, cabin fever was beginning to set in and a break to anywhere was needed. A travel planning sister organized a trip to the sunny south east which had to be cancelled at short notice as Covid numbers in Waterford rose.
However, undaunted she explored more private and easier regulated destination and at the beginning of October we headed off to the East Clare Golf Village outside Bodyke.
DAY 1: South Clare was the destination today – Loop Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is located at the furthest point west on the Clare coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way, with the rugged and wild Atlantic on one side of the peninsula and the more sheltered Shannon Estuary on the other. The weather was wild but that didn’t stop us walking around the point and taking photos.
We continued up the coast, visiting Kilkee, sneaking over the dunes to see Donald Trump’s Doonbeg Golf Club (as ostentatious and lacking in class as its owner) and stopping in Quilty for lunch before cutting across county to get home.
I spotted this mosaic work along the sea wall in Quilty.
DAY 2: It was another wet and wild day for today’s visit to the Cliffs of Moher. But maybe this is exactly the weather when the cliffs should be viewed – a gale that would almost take you off your feet on the cliff walk and a surging sea below. And while there was only a glimpse to be had of the Aran Islands (no five county view today!) it was invigorating to experience what existence might be like on this western seaboard. The Visitors Centre is a unique structure, set into the hillside and offers an insight into the archeology, flora and fauna of the cliffs.
We travelled on through Doolin and Lisdoonvarna and talked about the memories we had of younger and hardier days spent here, pre camp sites and their facilities. The music and the craic sustained us.
DAY 3: The country went into Level 3 Lockdown today – no pubs or restaurants open unless for outside dining or take-away, and travel restricted to within your own county. This did not disrupt our travel itinerary for today, a lake drive around Lough Derg. The weather started off pleasant enough and allowed us to view the lake from a number of lookout points on the eastern shore. Stories of a brother’s trips to Drumineer prompted a stop there and allowed a leisurely walk on the pier and by the lake. The place is so well maintained, clean and with facilities open to the public it was a pleasure to be able to stroll around. The weather quickly changed and we hit back for home.
DAY 4: Although we knew Covid restrictions would limit the extent of the visit, we continued with our plan to visit Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Our sat-nav got a bit confused with our choice of the “shortest route” and decided to extend the tour. However we arrived safely at our destination. Despite the restrictions, we had a lovely visit. There was only one guide on duty, dressed in medieval attire and he gave a wonderful historical description of the castle. He also whet our appetite for a visit to one of the medieval banquet nights with his stories of the merriment and song one can experience there. We had a great walk around the Folk Park which is a living reconstruction of the homes and environment of Ireland over a century ago. Rural farmhouses, a village street complete with school and shops and Bunratty House with its regency gardens are all recreated for the visitor.
DAY 5: Homeward bound, refreshed after a lovely stay – accommodation, tourist sites and take-away meals were all excellent. Best of all, however, was the company – after so many months of lockdown the chat and banter was great. Only one Garda Checkpoint on journey and as I was “going home” it posed no problem!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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!!!!
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!!!
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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???
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?????
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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) .
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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