Tuesday, January 31, 2012

United Kingdom, The Glory Hole Belfast


I have already been in Ireland several hours and I find myself a bit disappointed that I have not executed one of the main reasons that I am here. My delay has somewhat been because I am in search of the proper place to carry out my doing. From Traveller, the easyJet inflight magazine, I have the right place in mind and set out in search of it after my self-guided partial night tour of Belfast.



IMG_5962I arrive at my selected location to discover another disappointment. The John Hewitt is closed for the evening.





I am not alone in my disappointment as a couple of locals have just disembarked from a taxi to face the same music, well in reality no music. However, our combined fate becomes my good fortunate.



IMG_5965I am told they know of another place just down the street that may serve my purpose just as well.

I gladly follow them.






SAM_1531Coming in from the cold, I quickly realized that I have been pointed in the right direction.

Although hundreds of options are now available to me, my target was chosen many years and thousands of miles ago.





IMG_5973I am so excited, I find an encoding machine and immediately send a message back to the home office to confirm my findings and take final orders.





As I wait for confirmation, I am doing my best to remain calm. I hope I have not blown my cover by visibly foaming at the mouth. Then it happens, I am approached by a local gentlemen with just a wooden bar separating us and he has just one question for me.




IMG_5966I respond, “I'll have a pint”.




SAM_1518Guinness, “Gives You Strength”.

“Is Good For You”.

“Wonderful This Time Of The Year”.

Can you believe, I am having a fresh pint of it in the land where it has been made since 1759.

Nothing else compares!






IMG_5972The Glory Hole Bar



Thanks to The Glory Hole Bar my almost life long mission is accomplished. I also discover the reason behind one of life’s greatest drinking mysteries while at this very cool local pub that claims to have largest selection of Irish Whiskeys in Ireland.


IMG_5969Do you know why God created alcohol?

To stop the Irish from conquering the world!







United Kingdom, Intro To Belfast Northern Ireland



SAM_1481Thanks to easyJet, going to Belfast is affordable and less than an hour away from Edinburgh.






Another bonus I get from flying easyJet is the fact that it's Inflight magazine, Traveller has some travel tips about the city that will help me make the most of my brief visit.


SAM_1486An afternoon flight from Edinburgh to Belfast International Airport and with a rental car I am headed to an apartment in the city center for dinner.

Located next to the Belfast City Hall this is no ordinary apartment.






IMG_5940Belfast City Hall




IMG_5924Arriving in the area, I am quickly impressed with the City Hall building which is nicely decorated for the Holiday Season.






IMG_5935Knowing a little about this city's history, I am in awe of it's night time beauty and peacefulness.

On this first evening of the New Year only restaurants, pubs or bars are open and the streets are relatively quiet and mostly free of cars and pedestrians.





IMG_5928At 2 Donegall Square West I arrive at the place to see and be seen in Belfast. Sitting at a table with a view of City Hall, I am at “The Apartment”, claimed as Belfast's most stylish bar and restaurant.




Although it is still early evening, judging by the atmosphere, food and crowd that is starting to gather here, I don't think the claim is too far of the mark.

The Apartment offers many of it's menu selections in two portion sizes which works well for me. This evening’s special is a smoked fish seasoned with Indian spices served on top of a fresh and flavorful salad.



IMG_5930Smoked Indian Flavored Fish



I follow this up with a small portion of Haddock Cakes served with a pea puree. Although a beer or glass of wine would be nice, with the cold weather outside, cups of warm tea make a nice compliment.



IMG_5933For me, no dinner is complete without desert.

A Peanut Butter Parfait sandwiched with a homemade Chocolate Chip cookie graciously does the trick.




The sliced parfait is so smooth and creamy with just the right of peanut butter flavor that even someone with peanut allergies might be tempted to take a stab at it.

My evening is off to a good start and I think it can only get better by touring around the city even if it is at night.



IMG_5934It is a beautiful cold night to do so as some of the streets have a movie set shine to them that reflects the surrounding holiday decorations.







IMG_5941Albert Clock Tower



My first stop is at Albert Clock Tower, one of Belfast's most beloved landmarks built for Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert. Do you have Prince Albert in the can? Then let him out and tell him I have found his clock tower!


IMG_5949For the sin of that lame joke I need forgiveness so I head to St Ann's, Belfast City Cathedral then a brief visit to St Patrick's Cathedral, the patron Saint of Ireland.







IMG_5957St Patrick’s Cathedral Belfast




IMG_5959Walking the streets, I am surprised to come across an “Occupy Belfast” camp but in a way I happy to see a peaceful protest means for this city that has known so much strife.






SAM_1553Although I imagine there is still more progress to be made, it is nice to have peace, especially this time of the year.








IMG_5946St George’s Church



Facing St George's Church, I light a pipe as I learn a little about the building’s history. A famous detective once had his coats made here and I find it not only interesting but quite elementary. 



IMG_5948Over a pint of Guinness at The Glory Hole Bar, I just might solve the mystery for you.

Yes indeed, quite elementary my dear chap.








Sunday, January 29, 2012

United Kingdom, New Years Eve In Edinburgh


I check into my hostel accommodation across the river from Edinburgh with about five hours to go before the New Year 2012 begins. Nonetheless, the celebrations have already began and plans are made with other guests to join in the fun.

Although I have a rental car, not knowing the parking situation in the city and wanting to be free of the need to drive, I opt to take the train into the city. The train station is a short distance from the hostel and with a light rain falling a group of us take the brief walk.



SAM_1451It's about 9 pm as we arrive in the City Center and even as the light rain continues to fall it does not even begin to dampen the spirit and joy of the already started jubilation.





I am told that the New Year celebrations began four days ago with an ongoing street party called Hogmanay. For about US$25, I am going to find out what this “Hog” thing is all about.

As we enter the “Street Party”, colorful bright fireworks are exploding in the nearby night sky. I am being pulled in all directions by lively and energizing music.



SAM_1452As I watch a Ferris wheel turn up the fun, a crowd to my right is enjoying the sounds of traditional Scottish music from a live band set up on a stage at the end of a street.





With food and drink vendors lined on both sides of the street, I am drawn to a basket of warm chips and a cold bottle of Crabbie's, a ginger flavored beer.


SAM_1457Not to be confused with French fries these chips topped with a mild curry sauce are much better tasting.

Although they are a bit overpriced, the Crabbie’s makes up for it.







SAM_1463Rock Music Venue




Walking towards another music venue the streets are beginning to become seriously populated as The Old Year is slowly coming to a close. Another round of fireworks explodes into the night air as I can now see the dimly lit Edinburgh Castle on a hill above us. In a crowd filled garden park below us a live concert is going on that is available for an additional charge.



SAM_1462Edinburgh Castle At Night







For one or two reasons I wish I were wearing a kilt as tonight it seems to come with a special rear reward slapping benefit. Very touching to say the least. All around me, this place is filled with jubilant energy that is exciting.

The crowd at my next stop is so vibrant and full of vigor that I decide this is where I want to ring in The New Year. The music has me hopping like a frog and singing along like I am a party animal then the countdown begins 10, 9, 8, 7…..




SAM_1474Edinburgh Fireworks



With a colorful bang we welcome 2012 as an unbelievable fireworks display explodes in the distance and fills the Scottish night skies. It is one of the most awesome fireworks shows that I have ever seen.



SAM_1468Combined with smiles, cheers and “Happy New Year” salutations makes this a heart warming and joyful experience that I am fortunate to witness.





Applauds go up as the fireworks display ends and we all join in singing Auld Lang Syne, the traditional New Year song that is from an old Scottish poem which roughly translates “Days Gone By”.

Should old acquaintance be forgot,and never brought to mind?

Not as long as we intended to “Party All Night Long” and celebrate another year with hopefully new dreams, joy and friendships.

Edinburgh, you have made this New Year celebration one that I will never forget and in the paraphrased words of one of your countrymen.

There's a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o' thine !
And we'll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Happy 2012!




Thursday, January 26, 2012

United Kingdom, Coastal Drive To St Andrews Scotland


I arrive in Edinburgh Scotland on the last day of 2011. The city is still asleep as my Continental flight from Newark, New Jersey makes a touchdown under the early morning cover of winter darkness. We have arrived so early that I find myself roaming the airport before I pick up my Thrifty Car rental.


IMG_5853It seems the morning sun is slow to arrive as I begin a coastal route drive to St Andrews. Although it is cold and the skies are overcast, the late rising sun makes the colors soothing.




I have crossed one of the many bridges from Edinburgh and I am now looking across a body of water towards the city.

What a surprise, I think I have just spotted the Loch Ness Monster lurking in the dark and still waters off shore below me. I am hesitant to call out the media and as it turns out, I am glad I waited.




IMG_5854Loch Ness Monster?


My “Nessie” is nothing more than a small marine navigation beacon that is sticking up out of the water. Darn it, I could have been famous!



IMG_5860The coastal route to St Andrew is very picturesque with many coastal communities with colorful houses and some surprising beautiful wide beaches.






IMG_5856I am overlooking one of these beautiful beaches from a hillside parking lot and can imagine it being even more stunning in summer.





I descend a steep guided path and it is quick to discover why no one is out for an early morning swim, the water is near freezing. However, with a low tide this is a nice area for a morning jog or stroll.



IMG_5879It is not long before I arrive at St Andrew the town that give birth to the sport of golfing. Quaint shops and restaurants that line both sides of main street make walking around the town fun.




My favorite, a candy shop that only allows 2-3 school kids inside at a time. So now I know why it’s like being a kid in a candy store.



IMG_5867One of the most historical building in town is St Andrew's Cathedral.

However, all that remains of this 14th century place of worship is it's still impressive exterior walls.






IMG_5863St Andrews Cathedral



IMG_5869Standing inside of them I am still in awe of it's medieval grandness.








IMG_5874Nearby, there is also a sea wall where it is believed one of it's gates is haunted.






In St Andrew's cemetery is buried the ultimate golf legend, Tom Morris. My next stop will take me to what made Tom Morris famous or some may say it is what he made famous, St Andrew's Golf course.



IMG_5875Tom Morris



Sunday, January 22, 2012

South Africa, Zandberg Food & Wine


With just a few hours left in Cape Town, I plan one more brief visit to the nearby Stellenbosch wine region. A cellar tour and lunch would be nice before flying back to Johannesburg.



JNB Trip 542My first stop is at Zandberg Winery and it becomes my only stop.







JNB Trip 532Impressed with the ambiance and the menu at it's restaurant, I decide to have lunch first then tour the winery afterward.

The menu offers so many wonderful options that I am secretly wishing I was a cow with a four chambered stomach.





JNB Trip 525Trio Of Puglia’s Mozzarella



For starters, The Trio Of Puglia's Mozzarella Pin Wheels is ordered. Traditional mozzarella, grilled vegetables, basil pesto, Italian anchovy, olive tapenade, Parma ham and sun dried tomatoes make taking these wheels for a spin tons of culinary fun.

While waiting for my starters to arrive, slices of a fresh warm sweet bread is served. If this bread is available in the prisons here then I am ready to start serving a life sentence. It is so, so delicious.



JNB Trip 526Next it is a bowl of Roasted Red Pepper soup that is so flavorful I am already scheming a way to steal the recipe.

Who knew a soup and red peppers could be so palette pleasing.




Even before my main course arrives this is turning into a 5-Star dining experience. Zandberg not only offers great food but it is also the first winery in South Africa to produce a white Merlot.This wine makes a nice compliment to my meal and I can already tell one glass of it is not going to be enough.




JNB Trip 534Lamb, Rosemary and Garlic Kofta



Angels are singing when my main course, Lamb, Rosemary and Garlic Kofta is presented. Organic pasture lamb, homemade linguine with an olive, anchovy tomato sauce and I am in culinary heaven.

Sing Angels, Sing!

The thought of visiting the winery is long gone as what time I have left in Cape Town needs to be spent enjoying this fabulous meal. Another glass of wine is poured and I kindly beg for more bread even if I commit a fine dining sin in doing so.

With such excellent starters and main courses, I have no doubt that a desert selection would not be just as spectacular.



JNB Trip 536Three different servings of Italian ice cream topped with a peppermint leaf finishes off a perfect lunch time meal.





Just above my table is an autographed wine crate to the owners of Zandberg restaurant that states “To the best little restaurant in the world!”. The signer, Martin Meinert is unknown to me but I would have a hard time disagreeing with his sentiment. If you dine at Zandberg you just might too.



JNB Trip 530Zandberg Compliments



Saturday, January 21, 2012

South Africa, Cape Town By Night And Day


It is Tuesday evening and already I know I have made the mistake of not allowing myself enough time to visit this beautiful part of South Africa.

I must now make the most of my time left before I catch my flight back to Johannesburg tomorrow afternoon. With that in mind, I take a drive up to Table Mountain even as night is falling.


JNB Trip 472As I drive up the dark and  whining mountain road the wind is blowing as an almost full moon is making it's way from behind thin gray clouds.

The lights of Cape Town sparkle below as I continue to the base of Table Mountain.



The night air has a damp chill to it as I exit my car to get an unbiased view of the night scenery. The illuminated mountain hillside looks almost spooky and unreal as it is beginning to be covered by moist evening clouds.

Distinct sharp jagged edges, highlighted by artificial lighting gives this part of Table Mountain a very cool effect.




JNB Trip 474Table Mountain



A close drive from Table Mountain and I am looking down at a darken coastline spotted with tall buildings still visible before the evening fog rolls in from the ocean. What I have seen so far has wet my appetite to return to Signal Hill in the morning.

A light rain is falling as I begin my drive on Wednesday morning back towards Signal Hill. Driving in and out of mountainous fog banks, I am beginning to think my trip back will be fruitless.

Arriving at the viewing point from the previous night, I can barely see my hands in front of me as I exit the car and stand in the cold damp morning air. Disappointed, after a few minutes I return to my car and then a miracle happens.



JNB Trip 482I turn around and the fog clouds have disappeared right before my eyes. From left to right and near to far I can see as clear and as far as my eyes will allow me to see.




The views are just as beautiful today as last night but with more colors and clarity. A white surf dresses the coastline and cars can be seen moving along the streets below. Cape Town is waking up nicely.



JNB Trip 491Leaving the viewing point and following a path along the mountain top an inviting sound can be heard in the distance. Even as I approach the area where the sound is coming from I cannot see the producers as they are hidden behind dense bushes.



Accompanied by musical instruments, the vocal sounds are definitely not English but seem African. I am intimidated to approach any closer but then from an inquiry, a young man gives me an open invitation.



JNB Trip 503On a Wednesday morning, what a treat to stumble upon a group of locals worshiping on Signal Hill when all I thought I was doing was coming here to take in another view of Cape Town.







JNB Trip 507Robben Island


Returning to my car, the weather has improved so much that I can now clearly see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held as a prisoner for 27 years. For about R$200 you can take a scheduled ferry from Cape Town waterfront to visit the island. I understand it is a popular journey and tickets sell out fast. So book early.



JNB Trip 512Leaving Signal Hill is bitter sweet as I take in views of the Waterfront, Futbol Stadium, Downtown and Lion Head Mountain.

All places that I will not have time to visit.







JNB Trip 487Lion Head




JNB Trip 517Cape Town Waterfront








Either way my visit here has planted a seed for me to visit Cape Town again as this is one city that has a lot to offer.