While conducting research for this post, I was half-expecting to find all manner of blasphemous links between the New York City Easter Parade and Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter. My assumption was based on how crazy the hats have become over the decades as they bob down Fifth Avenue perched on the heads of thousands taking part in the Bonnet Festival, an essential component of the Easter Parade. However, aside from a few photographs of those intentionally (or maybe not?) dressed as The Hatter, I discovered that the event is still seen by many as a very religious and spiritual event, falling on Easter Sunday. The Easter Parade also holds a special place in the hearts of not-theologically-inclined New Yorkers as a unifying event where people from all over the city and the world descend on downtown Manhattan to celebrate new and fresh beginnings; a new season, a change in the weather, the birth of new things and yes, maybe the felting of a new crazy hat.
If you’re thinking it’s a bit early to be looking at ways to celebrate the Irish Saint of Green Face Paint and Guinness, let me explain. St. Patrick’s Day might be a few weeks away (17th March, just so you know) but the world’s a vast place and Irish Bars are many. So I thought I’d get a jump on the big day itself, do some background research and point you in the direction of a few places where St. Paddy himself would not feel out of place having a Craic and a pint of the black stuff – if he wasn’t a saint, obviously. But, before you go off dismissing my efforts as a thinly disguised excuse to trawl the drinking dens of Dublin, not one of my suggestions for this year’s celebrations is on home soil. They’re spread far and wide, but have one thing in common: a deep and enduring reverence for ‘the auld country’.
Someone once told me that all you needed for a traditional Irish Band was three chords and a Begorra. Working on that logic, it seems the only requirement for an Irish Pub is a leprechaun bobble-head, a liberal sprinkling of shamrocks and a road sign. There was even a tale doing the rounds about Dublin having to spend a fortune replacing street plaques removed by unscrupulous visiting publicans and hived off to add a touch of authenticity to Irish Pubs in less than Irish locations (Mongolia anyone?). That may be so, but my search goes far beyond the superficial window dressing of the Irish Pub to the heart of the true spirit of St. Patrick’s Day – drinking, dancing and telling complete strangers that you’ve always loved them.
And where else would I start my arduous quest, but Boston? The city’s keeper of the flame when it comes to Irish heritage and has the pubs to prove it. Steer clear of the ‘theme’ bars (a green drink does not an Irish pub make). And if it’s part of a chain, I don’t think I need to tell you how that’s going to go. No, my money’s on the Brendan Behan Pub or ‘The Behan’ as it’s known locally. Four times winner of ‘The Best Irish Pub in Boston’ and loved for its wide range of stouts and ales, ‘craic-centric’ philosophy, live music and traditional (for Boston) atmosphere, The Behan’s named after the poet, Republican, political prisoner and hard drinker Brendan Behan. The Brendan Behan, 378 Center Street, Jamaica Plain (a trolley ride from Downtown Boston).
London’s tiny Tipperary is the city’s oldest Irish pub and has held its ground on Fleet Street since 1700 (the original pub is older but not Irish, so doesn’t count). Supposedly this was the first place in England to sell Guinness and it’s been upholding that fine tradition ever since. It’s small and very friendly and has the kind of cosy atmosphere you might expect if you really were celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Tipperary and not in fact in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities. The Tipperary, 66 Fleet Street, London EC4Y.
If you’re a diehard traditionalist and you find yourself in Athens on March 17th, despair not, the James Joyce Irish Pub is celebrating like it’s Dublin on a Friday after 5. Everything’s where it should be from the draught Stout and whisky selection to a dark wood long-bar and Steak & Guinness Pie. But the music’s more DJ than Ceilidh and the folks you get to declare undying love for are of the younger variety. James Joyce Irish Pub, Astiggos 12, Thiseio 105 55, Athens.
No one’s going to accuse the world’s Irish pubs of imagination when it comes to names, so you’ll have to forgive Istanbul’s one and only for also heading down the route of James Joyce Irish Pub. But if you’re dying for a long, black drink and some Irish Dancing Classes you’ve arrived. The James Joyce, Istanbul is a bit of a favourite on a city pub crawl and does boisterous as standard so I’m thinking all stops will be pulled for St. Patrick’s Day. James Joyce Irish Pub, İstiklal Caddesi, Balo Sokak 26, Beyoğlu, Istanbul.
If an ‘Open Mike Night’ with Siggi Porbergs isn’t likely to have you weeping into your Jamieson’s, you’ll be right up for the Irish pub experience Reykjavik style. The Celtic Cross is one of two Irish pubs in the city both owned by the same Icelander (he makes no claims to Celtic roots) and while it might not focus on authentic music, the booze is plenty traditional enough to distract you. The Celtic Cross, Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavik.
Paris has always been a pull for Irish ex-pats and has more than a few literary and artistic connections to its Celtic counterpart, so finding an Irish pub is never a problem. For very traditional music, warm atmosphere and a great bar I recommend The Quiet Man, in Le Marais. A lot more authentic than the John Wayne movie it’s named for, The Quiet Man is open from 5pm to late, almost always has live music and will definitely be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. The Quiet Man, 5 Rue des Haudriettes, Paris (close to The Pompidou Centre).
I couldn’t write about Irish pubs without including at least one ‘tavern’ – I love a tavern. It’s New York, of course, and if you like your Guinness surrounded by flat-screen sport The Kinsale Tavern is the place for you. Not that New York City’s lacking in Irish pubs (there’s even one at JFK, if you’re desperate). But The Kinsale Tavern does a mean Shepherd’s Pie and a Full Irish Breakfast. And everyone knows how important it is to max the carbs if you’re going to do St. Patrick’s Day justice. The Kinsale Tavern, 1672 3rd Avenue, New York, NY10128.
And come the 17th March, when the Guinness is flowing and the Craic is crackling, feel free to have at my all-time-favourite bad Irish Joke:
Q. What did St. Patrick say to the snakes when he was driving them out of Ireland?
A. ‘Are you all right in the back there lads?
Yes, that’s quite enough St. Patrick’s Day nonsense from me. I know.
Finland in the Bronze Age must have been a grim, cold, pitiless and mostly an incredibly boring place.
Hunt, farm, fish then hunt again. Skin some animals, eat what’s left, wait for a few hundred years so the Swedes and Danes can invade and bring something to do with them. That’s pretty much it. Not even any runes to read before turning off the night campfire. So it’s easy to imagine a fur-draped, fluffy Finnish individual in this time, finally done curing a reindeer or something. Looking up, he sees just how far he has to trek back to his hut over a frozen lake, with his fragrant new carpet dripping down his back, and hurrumphs in a manly fashion. As he starts trudging across the ice – which hopefully won’t break like it did underneath poor Aantero two moons ago – he slips on a bone, travels a metre and lands flat on his behind. And lo, ice skating was born. Strapping bones to each precursor Ugg Boot, our hero invented ice skating and noblemen, farmers, royalty and first daters have been slipping and slaloming over patches of frozen water (also animal fat in some warmer places before refrigeration) to greater and lesser success ever since.
In honour of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia next month; here are ten of our favourite outdoor rinks and lakes to strap on some stainless steel (or bone, if the story made you feel a little medieval), laugh and lazily trace circles in the ice with your family. Or if you like to live a bit faster, carve a furrow like you’re being chased by Danes. On horses. Take your pick.
Red Square Ice Rink, Moscow
Brilliant for tourists, skating in the Red Square allows you to combine visiting one of Moscow’s most famous and picturesque landmarks with acting like a complete child, gaily slipping and sliding all over Russia’s biggest skate rink. And if you’re in town while the Winter Olympics are on, even though Sochi is over a thousand kilometres away, winter sports will be especially popular and exciting.
FlevOnIce , Netherlands
The longest ice skating rink in the Netherlands at 5km, if you like marathons then FlevOnIce is where to go. It’s a one hour drive from Amsterdam (you can also get a train) in the town of Biddinghuizen, so you should make a day of it.
Central Park, New York
New Yorkers and visitors alike agree, there’s nothing quite like serenely meandering over the ice of Wollman Rink in Central Park, with the famous Manhattan skyline right behind you. Frozen for your skating pleasure on the south side of the park. Trees and panoramic cityscapes included.
Beaver Lake, Montreal
Lac des Castors if you’re French speaking, which Montrealers of course are. This is the locals’ favourite place to skate, and it isn’t hard to see why. Beaver Lake is on top of the mountain from which the town gets its name, Mount Royal, and the fact that the city stretches out below you is brilliant. Best enjoyed with the family, skating at Beaver Lake is an amazing day out with the kids.
Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Valencia
This year the shopkeepers around Valencia’s most famous square clubbed together to build an ice rink in the heart of town. While the rink closed a few days ago for the year, make sure to keep your ears to the ground (don’t get frostbite though) to see if it will make a return in 2015, because it’s a unique and beautiful place to skate.
Hotel de Ville, Paris
The most popular rink in town, and for good reason. The ice skating outside the Hotel de Ville in Paris is free, has a smaller children’s area and opulent 19th century architecture as a backdrop. We advise coming in the evening, when the buildings light up in all their glory. As a night-time skate here is possibly the most romantic thing to do in Paris, and Paris is the most romantic city on earth, this is a top contender for the single most romantic thing you can possibly do. Valentine’s Day idea-seekers take note.
Honourable mention must also go to the Eiffel Tower Ice Rink. It isn’t in action every year however, the last one was 2012, but who knows? You may be able to ice skate atop Paris’s most famous landmark next year.
Munich Ice Magic, Munich
credit: Mark Simons
Grab your earmuffs, pull on your big clumsy gloves and head to Bavaria’s favourite frozen puddle for figure-eights. Muenchner Eizsauberi in Munich’s frankly beautiful to behold shopping district is a huge hit with locals and visitors. Delicious and warming cups of glühwein from the stalls that encircle the rink probably help too.
Tower of London, London
There are a few contenders for best ice rink in London (our other favourites are at Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum and Somerset House), but the Tower of London comes out trumps because of being a singular and unique location. With the ancient and forbidding walls of the ancient Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress looming over you, you can almost feel the thousands of years of history seeping into your feet through your skates.
For as long as humans have been rearing children, we’ve known that getting kids to do something fun and physical will send them to bed quickly and happily. If you find yourself in Copenhagen then make sure to take them to Genforeningspladsen for a day of twirling, chasing with snowballs and collapsing into an exhausted pile of childhood memories. It’s a really big area so they’ll have plenty of space to flail wildly, or whiz passed you.
So we’ve come full circle and ended where we begun, with a Fin and some skates. Helsinki’s Ice Park is the hottest meeting point in town, and a great way to experience Finnish culture and meet its people. And as the people of Finland drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a coffee shop afterwards to warm up.
So there it is, ten of our favourite places outdoors to skate. Make sure to check opening times, especially for non-Scandinavian places as they are open for shorter periods every year.
There are two certainties this time of year: no one loves turkey enough to eat it three days running and holiday adverts are ready to roll the minute midnight strikes on December 26th. And why not? If you weren’t one of the lucky ones who found their stocking filled with ‘get out of winter free’ cash on Christmas morning, planning a holiday could just be compensation enough to make up for the disappointment.
But if you’re as cynical as I am about the endless ads where sweet, cherubic toddlers daintily sip organic juice on remarkably deserted beaches while their equally gorgeous parents lounge nearby looking so relaxed they could quite possibly be dead, you’ve probably already been on a family holiday or two. You’ll know that for every romantic dinner and charming child photo-op there’s a sun, sea and surveillance flipside. And experience will tell you, the secret of harmony, peace and relative calm, is good forward planning and choosing the best spots early.
credit: Jess Pac
So – with still a few shopping days till Christmas – here are my 5 top family holiday destinations for 2014. I’ve mixed it up with beaches and cities, picked with an eye on a wide choice of family-friendly holiday rental accommodation and tried to cover most of the bases.
NEW YORK CITY – FOR TEENS AND TODDLERS
New York basically looks as if it was built for the sole purpose of training superheroes and does attitude as standard so it couldn’t be more perfect for the average world-weary teen. Think they’ve seen it all? Take them up a few of the taller buildings, into Lady Liberty’s hat or for a compulsory sail on the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) and your teen can think again. And that’s before you even get started on the stores, streets, snacks and the utterly self-assured New Yorkers themselves. What might be a little less obvious is how good New York can be for tinier travellers and teens-in-training. The city’s approach to parenting is as determinedly competitive as just about everything else it does. So you can’t swing a buggy without hitting puppet shows, ferry rides, zoos, funfairs, circuses, bike rides in Central Park, gargantuan toy shops and an almost endless supply of interactivity.
DUBROVNIK – FOR ALL ROUNDERS
Between the beautifully quaint prettiness of its Medieval Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), ideal Mediterranean climate and Adriatic beaches, Dubrovnik’s a grown-up city where children fit perfectly too. Don’t let the relaxed, shorts and sandals dress code deceive you, Dubrovnik is ancient and cultured and has a 45 day Summer Festival of art, music, drama and spectacle to prove it. When it’s not actively entertaining, the city is still walkable and wonderful to explore. Beaches, islands, forests, gardens and parks tick all the child-friendly boxes. And a few days in the company of the unfailingly polite and charming people of Dubrovnik and you’ll soon see why one of the city’s most historically renowned exports is Diplomacy.
CRETE – FOR ESCAPISTS
Crete might be the largest of the Greek Islands, it’s certainly one of the best known, but if you avoid the big beach crowds there’s still plenty of unspoiled adventure to be had. Mountains of all shapes and sizes make the perfect escape routes for hiking, walking and climbing. The main beaches come complete with cafes and bars but, pack a picnic (local food markets are part and parcel of a Cretan holiday), and you’ll find coves and bays to call your own. There are safe waters for swimming, caves to explore, gorges and valleys to conquer, cycle routes for all types of cyclists and countless places to just stop and stare. The Greek Islanders are famous for their child-centred lifestyle and that easy, relaxed attitude is effortlessly extended to visitors.
VALENCIA – FOR CITY TYPES
Spain’s third largest city used to languish in the shadow of Madrid and Barcelona but that’s all changed. Valencia is as fresh and smart as Barcelona, with just as much going on as Madrid and – because third always comes with a complex – the city tries harder every which way. Sure you’ll find all the galleries, museums and monuments you could possibly wish for, but if you’re with tech-savvy small travellers Valencia goes all out to interactively entertain. I can guarantee you’ll be roped into more than one visit to the city’s innovative Biopark, you might as well get a season ticket for the aquarium and if you’re not renting next to the Science Museum make sure you’re on a direct transport route. And – like all Spain’s major cities – Valencia loves to shop, eat out, party and stay up late, so grown-ups get a big chunk of a holiday here too.
CORSICA – FOR THRILL SEEKERS
credit: cremona daniel
Cliffs, coves and corniches are the three ‘C’s’ that define Corsica. It’s one of Europe’s most exciting destinations for travellers who like their cycling with hard climbs and hairpin bends, don’t want crowded beaches and won’t give a village a second look unless it’s precariously balanced on a crag. A small enough island to enjoy every aspect, Corsica does resort style beaches as easily as secluded coves. Sea caves and sailing are almost compulsory. Towns, characterised by elegant plazas and pristine architecture , are very French but with plenty Italian in there too. Small villages range from remote and mysterious in the heart of the mountains to hanging over the sea round the island’s rugged coastline. And because eating is second only to climbing and cycling here, the food is wonderful, fresh, local and you’re expected to make a meal of every meal.
So here ends my top five family holiday recommendations for 2014. But since it’s not even Christmas 2013 yet, I’m bound to think of a few more to add to the list before the year’s out.
Featured image by jonmartin ()
A new year is just around the corner so obviously it’s time for me to ask; have you started stretching yet? Have you bought that brand new pair of running shoes you promised yourself? I hope you’ve also invested in some elbow pads and a helmet.
Am I talking about preparations for a new year’s fitness challenge? Nope. I’m wondering how ready you are for the January Sales.
With words like “scrum”, “horde” and “mob” often being used to describe the crowds that descend on some of the world’s biggest and best sales, the winter sales are not for the faint-hearted, but done right they are a great way to enjoy a new city. I did a little research and here are ten of the best January Sales around the world I recommend. On your marks, get set, go!
Visitors fly in to London from all over the world for the UK capital’s January Sales, which strictly speaking start on 26th December. The day after Christmas is also called Boxing Day locally, though I assure you this does not relate to the tactics you need to employ to beat your way through the crowds in Harrods in Knightsbridge or Selfridges on Oxford Street. My best advice for avoiding the crowds is to head to high streets in the suburbs and be sure to check how late the shops stay open.
New York City, USA
The January Sales begin a little later in The Big Apple with famous department stores like Bloomingdales and Macy’s chopping prices from early January onwards. However, for the best bargains follow those in the know upstate to Woodbury Commons a huge outlet mall that sells designer and luxury brands at eye-poppingly low prices.
Despite having enough museums and art galleries to keep any visitor happy for a year or two, Paris is as much a shopping destination as a sight-seeing city-break. With historic department stores like Galleries Lafayette and Le Printemps and smaller shopping enclaves like Les Halles, Passage de Grand Cerf and Viaduc des Arts, come 8th January 2014, Paris will have reduced shopping for everyone.
credit: *Crazy Diamond*
Never outside the top five shopping cities in the world, Dubai may not celebrate Christmas, but it’s happy to indulge in the seasonal sales. Considering the city’s airport has more shops than the average shopping centre, the one month-long Dubai Shopping Festival – which starts on January 2nd – is only for the fittest and most experienced shopping pro.
In addition to the usual reductions across all goods, Rome is a haven for accessories shopping with more than its fair share of boutiques selling beautiful shoes and designer handbags – a good or bad thing depending on your budget and luggage restrictions! The other upside of shopping in Rome is that the main shopping district is littered with many of the city’s most famous sights including the Spanish Steps and Campo de’ Fiori. January Sales begin on 5th January 2014.
If you’re a little slow to get pennies saved in time for the January Sales, Hong Kong may be the shopping Mecca you should head thanks to the biggest reductions coinciding with Chinese New Year at the end of the month. With a 10% increase in retail sales for the last few years and up to 50% off prices in Hong Kong’s huge malls, expect a shopping experience on a grand scale.
Singapore’s biggest sales actually take place in the summer, thanks to a city wide event called the “Great Singapore Sale”, but that doesn’t mean January doesn’t see some worthy reductions in the city’s many designer and department stores along Orchard Road, which also have special sales to celebrate Chinese New Year. For more independent boutiques head to Haji Lane, and Bugis Lane is your best bet for a bargain.
The UK’s second most visited city, Edinburgh is another great shopping destination disguised as a historical hub of culture. The main shopping area is around Princes Street and you should definitely pop your head in Jenners just to admire the 19th century interior of the grand hall. Sales start at the end of December and reductions will continue throughout January.
credit: Bert Kaufmann
Not known for its shopping as such, Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities to go shopping in thanks to the sunlight bouncing off the marble mosaic floors and white stone buildings found along the pedestrianised Rua Augusta, the city’s main shopping district. Alternatively, head to the upmarket Príncipe Real, where you can find more independent stores and a picturesque park and gardens to grab a coffee in. January Sales begin in late December and will carry on into February.
Last but not least is Tokyo, not just home to the world’s best electronics shopping in Akihabara, but also a pioneer of winter sales thanks to Japan’s new year’s tradition of “Fukubukuro” a unique concept of giving out “goody” or “happy” bags which are filled with a mystery collection of the shop’s produce, bought at considerable discount. As popular as the sales themselves, many shops will see people queuing up for hours on New Year’s Day to carry away a Fukubukuro from their favourite store.
Are you feeling strong enough to face the January Sales of 2014? If so, where will you be heading? I’d love to hear your tips for surviving the retail madness and still walking away with some bargains.
Featured image by World of Good