Although Central East Florida’s LGBT offerings are not as plentiful as they are in other parts of Florida, the LGBT community in this area is rapidly growing and new activities are planned all the time.
Based out of Port St. Lucie, the non-profit organization Pride of the Treasure Coast strives to advance LGBT acceptance by playing a large role in the community and hosting numerous events throughout the year. Dining with the Stars is a fundraiser where attendees are treated to dinner and a celebrity impersonation show. For 12 years running, the non-profit has organized the annual highly anticipated PrideFest, which takes place at St. Lucie’s Civic Center in April. Admission is free and it is the Treasure Coast’s only pride festival. Pride of the Treasure Coast also regularly hosts family beach days and breakfasts.
Space Coast Pride is Brevard County’s LGBT group, founded in 2007. The Space Coast Pride Parade and Festival takes place in the Eau Gallie Arts District of Melbourne every September. Although the festival itself lasts only seven hours with live music, entertainment, food and a kids’ zone, festivities actually span an entire week and include events such as the Rainbow Run 5K, Disco Brunch, Cold Keg Nightclub Fundraiser, Colors Prom Party, Miss Space Coast Pride Pageant, Hangover Beach Party and a parade. This annual event draws people from around the world to Melbourne.
Another draw in Melbourne is the rather new Project Nebula meet up, a Space Coast LGBT community, which organizes events in an attempt to transform Florida’s culture and bring people together. It is a source of support and connection that meets at the Space Coast Wellness Center.
The Volusia Pride Festival has taken place at Old Fort Park in New Smyrna Beach since 2012. Two women (Lisa-Marie Mueller and Kristen Colesanti) had a dream for Volusia to organize a pride festival and, with the help of their community, they pulled off the first festival in just eight weeks. This new annual October event features food, entertainment and more than 70 vendors.
PUPPETS AT RAJESH BHAT NAGORI’S
Find all kinds of string kathputli (puppets) at Nagori’s workshop to dress up corners of your home: here a snake charmer, there a village belle, everywhere a king and queen. If you can look past the humble nature of the set, you’ll soon find yourself enthralled by the colourful puppets, and the dexterity with which they can be used to tell stories (if you request a show). Rajesh’s family gets involved in the singing and the accompanying instrument playing; and, if you like what he does, you can also request to enroll in puppet-making classes with him.
TRUNKS AT RAJASTHAN TRUNK COMPANY
When you’re ready to be an adult again, Rajasthan Trunk Company, along this same covered stretch of market, does all manner of storage trunks. That they call themselves the ‘pioneers of the Rajasthan industrial age’ makes you grin as you browse a riot of colourful storage spaces, of varying sizes.
KITES AT ROYAL KITE CENTRE
Visit Patang Market to re-kindle the spirit of adventure that is rife when kites pepper the sky at Makar Sankranti in Jaipur. Available in a range of materials, from paper to cellophane, and in a riot of designs, you will find a kite that suits your mood or your walls.
BLUE POTTERY AT NEERJA
You’ll find things you didn’t know you wanted until you got here. A wee tea set, a penholder, fish-shaped earrings, whimsical pale-blue eggcups, doorknobs and more, crafted of the blue pottery clay so typical of Jaipur.
ALL KINDS OF EVERYTHING IN THE JAIPUR SHOP
If you look a bit deeper than what, at first glance, seems to be a lot of kitsch, you’ll make some intriguing discoveries. Block-printed pouches, printed cotton dresses and bags, and colourful mojdis are just some of the treasures here. It’s not a place for bargain buys, but you’ll find quality products with a story and there’s nothing better, since the sales of some of the crafts go to support charities, like Help in Suffering, an animal aid organisation in Rajasthan.
Doheny & Nesbitt’s – One of the oldest and more venerable pubs in Dublin, and traditionally the spot where politicians of old would juggle figures before swinging round the corner and into the Dail to present the next budget. It has now been extended both back and up, so that without sacrificing any of its illustrious history, it is now significantly roomier.
The Gravediggers – “John Kavanagh The Gravediggers, established in 1833 and still run by the Kavanagh Family today. One of Dublin’s finest bars and best pint of Plain. No music no TV but fine pints and fine food served. Beside the old cemetery gate hence our local name The Gravediggers’’
Tap House – Be prepared to enter into the world of true beer artistry, where friendly knowledgeable staff will guide you to that perfect beverage, served in the especially designed Munique glass, which optimises the aroma, retaining carbonation and cooling until the last drop. With possibly finest bar food and cocktails in town, your whole party will be catered for in this wonderfully unique establishment.
Grogan’s – This is the regular hangout for Dublin’s finest writer s and painters, or the great unwashed, and the walls in side are decked out with paintings and drawings which can, for a small sum, be purchased. Improbably, it is also part of one of the most fashionable mini crossroads in the city centre. And at weekends, the place is humming.
57 The Headline – Situated only a short walk hora St Patrick’s Cathedral and Teeling Whiskey Distillery, 57 The Headline is the ideal spot to sample the best of Irish Craft Beers and Whiskeys. With 24 taps dedicated to the best of Irish and International beer s, you won’t be stuck for choice They offer Beer tasting trays horn 3 to 9 choices and 5 Whiskey trays. They also serve the best bar food in Dublin 8 and you won’t be paying city centre prices. Visit their website for all products, opening times and more.
Sin E – Sin E on Ormond Quay is Dublin’s original late night alternative music venue. Whether it’s bluegrass, ska, alternative rock or open mic night’s that you’re looking for, Sin E caters for a range of eclectic tastes. The staff are warm and friendly and will serve you a range of incredible craft beers and cocktails at agreeable prices. If you’re looking for a great atmosphere and some of the best musicians in Dublin then Sin E is definitely the place to be.
Dingle Whiskey Bar – The Dingle Whiskey Bar is a delightful bar nestled beside Porterhouse Central on Nassau St. Walking into the bar, you are welcomed by a beautiful oak interior and a warm welcoming feel. The bar staff are very helpful, recommending many whiskeys and offering samples. And every Tuesday they host a Whiskey Tasting Class horn 7 pm with whiskey guru Fionnan O’Connor. Learn everything you ever wanted to knew about the brown stuff and enjoy some delicious whiskey. Tickets available at the bar for €18.
A TASTE OF RAJASTHAN
The no-frills Rawat Misthan Bhandar has you standing by tall tables, sampling the pyaaz kachori that is a welcome mat to any visit in these parts (see Where to Eat for ail details). The crisp, deep-fried pouches of flaky pastry, stuffed with caramelised onion, potato and masala, are captivating spell-casters. A good way to tackle the spice kick is the juicy, super-sweet, piping-hot jalebis, but, remember, if you’re planning a morning visit, drop in before 11am to be able to savour these treats. Foodies vote with their feet at the not-so-imaginatively named Lassiwala, on nearby Ml Road, where you’ll get a glass of lassi only as long as stocks last – it starts running dry around 4pm. Served in an earthen kulhad (glass) and topped with a dollop of malai, the lassi itself re-writes the rulebook on creamy freshness.
Which is why, although the city is sprinkled with other copycat sellers of this sweet-and-sour cooler, the Lassiwala at 312, Ml Road that’s been around since 1944 still sweeps the votes.
In a city that spoils you for choice when it comes to vegetarian fare, it comes as a surprise when locals visit Colcha Cinema for a fix of arguably the best samosas in town. Wash down these extravagant potato-and-pea snacks with tea from Sahu Chaiwalla, who slow-cooks his milk. The other great equaliser is to be found at Mahaveer Rabri Bhandar, whose single-minded focus on selling this thickened, sweetened milk with layers of cream and a sprinkling of nuts on top reveals itself in the smooth finesse of his rabri.
Putting meat back into the equation is a meal at the Islami Kallu Hotel, which has been around for years. Once you’ve had a bite of the mutton nihari, you forget the grungy ambience and the desire to wipe every greasy surface with a table napkin. The meat (cooked for six or 10 hours, depending on if you visit in the morning or at night) clings to the bone only long enough to be lifted into your mouth. The biryani, sprinkled liberally with chicken, bursts with flavour.
A meal at Saba Haveli reveals the complexity of traditional Rajasthani cuisine. Edible theatre unfolds around the central courtyard of this over-270-year-old haveli, as silver thalis dotted with katoris brimming over with assorted meats and vegetables arrive.
In the variety on the thali is a reminder of the elaborate meals of times past. In the kersangri – a mix of berries and dried beans cooked with yoghurt and spices – you taste food born in arid desert conditions. In the laal maas, with the spicy and tender meat, the tradition of the royals who feasted after their hunt. And in the crisp, sweet, fried aubergine lies Jaipur’s ability to be responsive, and create world-fare with a hybrid twist to suit just about every palate and preference.
An eating jaunt through the Pink City is truly a revelation for your tastebuds!
New Delhi, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Agra
Food, glorious food
While the weather’s conducive to gluttony.
Food Trail Through Jaipur, Rajasthan – FACT SHEET
Closest metro: New Delhi (270km)
Closest airport: Jaipur International Airport (11km). Jet Airways, Indigo, Air India and Spice jet fly to Jaipur from Indian metro cities.
Closest railhead: Jaipur Junction Railway Station (JP). Take the 12015 Ajmer Shatabdi and return by the 12016 Ajmer Shatabdi.
It helps to have a car at your disposal on this trip. We used and liked the services of Kaustubh Holidays
WHERE TO STAY:
Arya Niwas: For a no-frills, no-fuss option, Arya Niwas satisfies. Breakfast? Check. Good location? Check. Family- friendly? Check, check.
Dera Rawatsar: This family-managed boutique hotel ticks quite a few boxes. Not far from the city centre, it also has a swimming pool and garden. Each room has its own personality and reflects aspects of traditional Rajasthan. Yoga sessions and ayurvedic massages are also available at a few hours’ advance notice.
Saba Haveii: This hotel is a good pick for its large, spacious rooms in a traditional haveli setting, with a great rooftop terrace from which to take in views of the surrounding area. The Rajasthani thali here is what draws most travellers, but a stay here is just as sweet.
WHERE TO EAT:
Rawat Misthan Bhandar: Station Rd, near Polo Victory Cinema; 6.30am – 10.30pm;
Sahu Chaiwalla: 365, Chaura Rasta (next to Shah Building); 5am -11pm;
Mahaveer Rabri Bhandar: Mishra Rajaji ka Rasta; off Chandpole Bazar; 9am-11pm;
Islami Kallu Hotel: 135/136, Ramganj Bazaar; 6.30am-12am;
Saba Haveli: see Where to Stay; 11.30am-2.30pm; 7pm-11pm, reservations preferred.
WHAT TO PACK:
Antacids, hand sanitizer, toilet paper
Shankar Nam keen Bhandar’s reputation precedes it for crisp, fried savoury snacks. Although the namkeen, bhujia, laung sev, chivda and dalmoth are delicious on their own, try them together for an explosion of salty crunch. Not far from here is Ishwar ji Gajak Wale, which does a good gajak. This brittle sweet, created from a mix of sesame seed, jaggery and ghee, comes in variations on the main ingredients here.
CLEAN LOO GUIDE:
It’s best to use the loo at your hotel before you head out. Spend a leisurely afternoon at Saba Haveli, where loos are spotless.
Jaipur is a relatively safe city, but conservative, so dress modestly.
Fortis Escorts Hospital is proficient at dealing with any emergency.
GOOD TO KNOW:
It’s best to make a reservation at Saba Haveli at least a day in advance. The meals are fresh and home-cooked, and prior notice is needed to organise supplies, especially if you’re keen on sampling a more traditional Rajasthani thali (and not just hearty North Indian fare with a few Rajasthani dishes).
Be sure to ask for the excellent ker sangri and laal maas when you book.
The Bahamas consists of 700 individual islands and roughly 2,400 cays, or coral reefs, spread out across 100,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean near Florida and Cabo. Still, it can feel a bit tight during tourist season, which runs from December to April.
Some find peace and quiet by leaving the resort and sailing to a private beach. Others escape the crowds by booking their own villa, rather than a hotel room. But those with more considerable means rent a private island.
The 13-acre Bonefish Cay is located in the Abacos chain of islands, which sits approximately 175 miles east of Florida and 100 miles north of Nassau. The 5,000-square-foot main lodge features a 28-foot maple bar, pool table, and professional kitchen—which comes complete with a private chef. There are also three individual bungalows, with a total of nine fully furnished guest suites (and one gym). You can expect complete privacy on Bonefish Cay, unless you venture to one of the neighboring islands, Treasure Cay and Spanish Cay, for a bit of golf or tennis. Rates begin at $53,530 per week.
Illusionist David Copperfield’s personal island, Musha Cay, can be yours for $39,000 to $57,000 per night, with a five-night minimum stay. The 150-acre atoll’s five houses accommodate you and up to 23 guests. Choose from Highview, a 10,000-square-foot hilltop spread with two kitchens and a sauna, a five-bedroom beachfront villa called Palm Terrace, or one of three beach houses. Or if you like, stay in all of them. Located 85 miles southeast of Nassau, Musha Cay has a staff of 30—a staff-to guest ratio of 5:4 at maximum capacity. Amenities include a private chef and outdoor movie theater. Google cofounder Sergey Brin got married here in 2007.
A 15-minute flight from Nassau, Little Whale Cay’s 93 private acres will set you back $12,000 to $15,000 per night. Once owned by American financier Wallace Groves, who developed resorts and casinos on Grand Bahama Island following his release from federal prison in 1941 (he was there for mail fraud), Little Whale’s three guesthouses accommodate up to 12 people at once. Groves, who died in 1988, originally conceived of the island as a bird sanctuary, and 34 species, including the Bahama woodstar, flamingos, domestic peacocks, and the endangered West Indian whistling duck, can be found there. Three tortoises, named Tomasina, Dixie, and Henrietta, also call Little Whale Cay, one of the 30-odd Berry Islands, home.
The Darby Islands—which consist of Big Darby, Little Darby, Bette Cay, Goat Cay, and Guana Cay—are available for a comparatively reasonable $2,500 per night. Accessible only by boat or aircraft, Big Darby was once a working plantation producing cotton and palm oil. The main house features a 4,000-square-foot great room, formal dining room, two sundecks and verandas, and a pool table. Share the crystal-clear waters between Big and Little Darby with wild eagle and leopard rays; feast on locally caught seafood upon your return. Comfortable though it may be, you’re still very much off the beaten path—communication between the Darbys and the rest of the world is more or less limited to mobile phone and marine band VHF radio.
Bridges Cay, a 29-acre private island located 13 miles south of Marsh Harbour, has been in the Pitcairn family for more than 50 years. The main house, called the Lookout, sleeps eight to 10; the Beach Villa sleeps two to four. As it sits squarely in the Bight of Old Robinson, Bridges Cay is protected from the open ocean. There are lush stands of mangroves a kayak ride away, and some of the finest snorkeling in the world can be found here. Check out the bat caves and historic lighthouse in Little Harbor, followed by rum punch and fish sandwiches at Pete’s Pub. Rates available upon request.
How to get there: Seaplane service can be arranged through various charter companies. Seabird Air (800-468-8639) is based in Nassau and operates a fleet of air-conditioned Cessna Caravan Amphibian aircraft. If you’re boating in, Seabird will send a seaplane to meet you wherever you tie up. Trans Island Airways (242-362-4006) of New Providence flies Cessna 402C seaplane charters year-round. Tropic Ocean Airways (800-767-0897) flies both three- and nine-passenger Cessnas between Florida and the Bahamas and was founded by a former U.S. Navy Top Gun fighter pilot.
Nassau’s quieter cousin is the place to go for gorgeous nature, all-inclusive tranquility, and exceptional seafood
For vacationers who prefer a slower pace to Nassau’s hustle and bustle, Grand Bahama Island is a laid-back alternative that still has shopping, golf courses, upscale restaurants, and of course, beautiful beaches.
Old Bahama Bay offers the convenience of a full-service resort with the intimacy of a secluded boutique hotel. Be prepared to stay on the grounds, though, as the hotel is located on the island’s westernmost tip, 26 miles away from the main city of Freeport. The quiet isolation means guests mostly have the pristine beach to themselves, and the property is furnished with everything they need—a restaurant, bar, basketball and tennis courts, snorkeling, paddleboards, and fishing. It’s not a bad idea to go during lobster season, August through March, when guests can catch their own meals.
The sprawling Grand Lucayan is an all-inclusive resort with 542 guest rooms, several restaurants and bars, a world-class 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., four tennis courts, and water sports.
For the best restaurant on the island, venture into Freeport to the modern seafood spot Flying Fish, the only restaurant on Grand Bahama Island with four diamonds from AAA. Husband-and-wife duo Tim and Rebecca Tibbitts run the restaurant; Rebecca is the commonwealth’s only female certified sommelier, and Tim, the executive chef, is a Bahamas native. Expect gastromolecular dishes like serrano-ham-wrapped wahoo over squid-ink risotto and local lobster with romesco sauce.
For a cheap and cheery night out, head to Fish Fry at Smith’s Point on Wednesdays for dancing, cold beer, fried fish, broiled lobster, and conch, right on the beach. Sabor, a restaurant that is part of the Pelican Bay Hotel, offers more of a nightclub vibe in the evening, with stylish cocktails on the water.
Grand Bahama Island might not have the same star power as Nassau, but what it lacks in name recognition it more than makes up for in natural beauty. Don’t miss sights like Lucayan National Park, which houses underwater caves, a mangrove, and the stunning Gold Rock Beach, which remains undeveloped thanks to its protection by the Bahamas National Trust. Less spectacular is Taino Beach, which is the place to go for water sports.
The Garden of the Groves is the lushest part of the island. The 12-acre garden boasts tropical trees and flowers, butterflies and birds, four waterfalls, lagoons, and a hilltop chapel. Walk the limestone-boulder surrounded labyrinth for a contemplative experience.
World-class beaches, five-star restaurants, and posh hotels will have you indulging like the pirates who once called it home
Nassau’s reputation might be most tied to the all-inclusive Atlantis resort that sits on its satellite, Paradise Island, but the capital boasts plenty of natural beauty and history of its own that’s often overshadowed. Don’t be turned off by Nassau’s popularity—the famous Cable Beach is still beautiful and fairly uncrowded, and water activities like snorkeling and glass-bottom boating abound on New Providence, the island on which Nassau is located. Just a three-hour flight from New York, Nassau also has a robust food scene featuring heavy-hitting names like Nobu and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, not to mention unpretentious haunts that serve delicious local fare.
Stay at the gorgeous Graycliff Hotel, a 20-room colonial mansion conveniently located in the heart of Old Nassau, which features a sprawling estate and an eponymous restaurant that earned the Caribbean’s first culinary five stars. The Graycliff derives its name from pirate Captain John Howard Graysmith, who built the structure amid the ruins of a 17th-century Anglican church. The Graycliff dates back to “the days of the golden age of piracy in Nassau,” explains Anna Bancroft of Tru Bahamian Food Tours. “There are said to be secret passages leading to the harbor—perfect for smuggling.”
Take in a tour at the Graycliff ’s cigar factory and its chocolatier. Cigar enthusiasts can learn how to roll their own and pair them with rum, while those looking for something sweeter can explore the bean-to-bar chocolate-making process and make some goodies themselves.
The most indulgent experience available at the Graycliff, though, is at its Bahamian-influenced European restaurant. Take a cooking class that begins with a tour of the property before heading into the kitchen with executive chef Elijah Bowe, who leads an intimate cooking experience for six to 12 people at a time. That’s followed by a visit to the wine cellar—the third largest in the Western hemisphere—before returning for a threecourse meal with wine.
For a spirit that’s a little more local, rum lovers should head to downtown distillery John Watling’s for Bahama Mamas made with small-batch rums. Nearby, foodies can dine alfresco in the verdant courtyard or on the veranda at Café Matisse, an Italian favorite with colorful decor.
Those who prefer urbane modernity to colonial charm stay at One&Only Ocean Club, which is rumored to be a favorite spot of Beyoncé and Jay Z. The sleek hotel offers an 18-hole golf course, 35 acres of stunning gardens, an immaculate beach, and a restaurant, Dune, by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, which serves French-Asian cuisine with a Bahamian touch.
For a truly authentic local food experience, head to Bahamian Cookin’ Restaurant & Bar. “It’s really, really special because the downtown area doesn’t really have traditional Bahamian restaurants,” Bancroft says. “They’ve sort of cornered the market, and it’s owned and operated by three generations of Bahamian women who still cook to this day.” Bancroft recommends conch fritters and steamed chicken that falls right off the bone. Another good option for local fare is Lukka Kairi, overlooking Nassau Harbour.
Potter’s Cay, a market under a bridge to Paradise Island, is home to several food and drink stands, where tourists and locals alike flock for fresh conch salad and local cocktails like Sky Juice, a coconut drink with gin.
Zaytoon – Zaytoon gives you the chance to choose a healthy eating option and indulge in the guilty pleasure of treating yourself to a scrumptious kebab. More a casual diner than a fast food place, they offer the very best of Persian cuisine. And as well as the one in Temple Bar they’ve opened a second one at the top of Camden Street.
Thornton’s Restaurant – This one star Michelin restaurant is, as they say, reassuringly expensive. Which is only as it should be as the man in charge is Ireland’s finest chef, Kevin Thorton. If you have any intention of cementing a relationship, or of instigating a new one, this is the place to take them.
The Blind Pig – Want to know where to find the best cocktails in Dublin? We know the place but you have to keep it secret. The brainchild of award winning mixologist Paul Lambert and named after the police who turned a blind eye to speakeasies in the prohibition era in the U S, The Blind Pigis Dublin’s best kept secret and the perfect place to go to enjoy the finest cocktails and the best food that Dublin has to offer. Originally a pop-up speakeasy bar, The Blind Pigis now in permanent residence and has developed a loyal fanbase thanks to the unique experience that this venue offers.
Chez Max – Peel the spirit of France right here in Dublin! Chez Max Baggot Street is renowned for its outside seating area. There is a smart garden at restaurant level as well as a sizable terrace on the upper level. The outside areas are well-heated and covered to allow customer s to dine outside all year round! In summer, diners Rock to Chez Max, Baggot Street to enjoy lunch in the sun shine.
Salamanca – Located on Andrews Street, near the new home of the Molly Malone statue, Salamanca was one of the first Tapas Bar s in the city and remains one of the best. Their Tapas dishes are served by authentic Spanish chefs and they use only the finest quality fresh ingredients. Diners can choose from a wide range of quality Tapas and carefully selected Spanish wines for a truly authentic taste of the Mediterranean in the heart of Dublin City.
La Ruelle Wine Bar – Tucked in opposite the Man sion House, on Joshua Lane, La Ruelle is the ideal venue for an intimate drink, with over 100 different international wines of which 40 are served by the glass. Their menu includes a variety of mouth watering nibbles, tapas and bites served small or large to accompany your wine of choice. Catering for private parties with free car park facilities in R.I.A.C for all customers. Perfect for the festive season or any events.
Pacino’s – Ideally situated on Suffolk Street, just off Grafton Street and opposite Trinity College, Pacino’s offers authentic Italian food in an old world vibe of stylish brickwork, wooden floors and soft lighting. The restaurant offers authentic, rustic Italian cooking with ingredients sourced from only the best local butchers, fishmongers and artisan producers.
ASADOR – A Spanish word meaning barbecue, grill or spit. ASADOR Haddington Road opened its doors in November 2012 to great critical acclaim. The idea behind ASADOR is simple – take the best meats our fields can provide, the freshest seafood landed on our shores and cook this great Irish produce over a bespoke built 7 foot barbecue or Asador’ ASADOR was the first restaurant operation to bring premium level barbecue to the Dublin dining scene. Customers flocked to sample signature dry aged steaks, lobster, fish and game cooked in the most ancient of ways. Guests can expect the best of old and new world wines, craft beers and of course a range of cocktails from the experienced team of mixologists the perfect partner for premium barbecued food.
Zaragoza – The Spanish city of Zaragoza is any food lover’s idea of paradise. Zaragoza have taken some local delicacies along with some of Spain’s authentic specialties to create a unique dining experience…. seasoned with a generous helping of the homegrown hospitality they are famous for. So come down, sit back and explore the tantalizing recipes created by their chef and enjoy with friends a glass or two of their exquisite handpicked wines.
Camden Kitchen – A culinary gem in Camden Kitchen is the place to go to for lunch or dinner. Their menu changes daily to reflect the best seasonal ingredients available, meaning you know that you’ll be served fresh, seasonal food every time. Diners can choose from beautiful starters such as Irish Line Caught Mackerel, Connemara Crab Meat or Whipped Goats Cheese and then move on to delicious main courses, like Breckland Duck Leg, Irish Rib Eye Beef and Smoked Haddock Risotto, all served up in a wonderful cosy atmosphere by the friendly staff.
Leading up to Christmas, Dublin literally bristles with seasonal street lighting. Large Christmas trees stand at prominent intersections and shop windows are gaily decorated with traditional themes. Adding further spectacle and atmosphere to the streets, carol singers brave any inclement weather for their selected charities. Festival markets (the largest one is in Docklands) offer mulled wine and craft goods, pubs and restaurants provide a cheerful welcome from the winter cold and companies hold parties as their staff prepare for a holiday which for many will last until the New Year Families gather for joyful reunions.
This might be a good time to look at the past and to even go back to a pre-Christian epoch which might suggest that the Irish may even have been partly responsible for the whole idea in the first place! At least 5,000 years ago, the ancient peoples of Ireland celebrated midwinter; a time when the harvest was gathered and one could look forward to the growing season again.The great monument of Newgrange in County Meath, 600 years older than the pyramids of Egypt, was the famous site where the ancients gathered (and modern folk still do) on the 21 December to observe (if Fortune provided a cloudless sky!) a shaft of sunlight filling the burial chamber.
This was thanks to its calculated alignment with the sun. This event triggered a week-long orgy of celebrations. The Celts in Ireland continued such mid-winter traditions for millennia but elsewhere festivals such as these were snuffed out in Roman-conquered territories. The Romans themselves had the feast of Brumalia, or the ‘unconquered sun’, also around the 25 December. Vikings had their feast of Yule (meaning ‘wheel’ or the turn of the season). By the 5th century, the Christian church was determined to stamp out these pagan rites and so instituted the feast of Christ’s birth to replace them, even though Jesus was likely born in late September or October.
Christmas in my childhood was a special time in the otherwise harsh economic legacy left after the Second World War. Britain was still in the grip of rationing and I can remember what was called the annual Great Turkey Airlift when many tens of thousands of the birds were dispatched to emigrant relatives in the U.KL. At that time, charities spent endless hours collecting and delivering gifts to the thousands of impoverished families living in Dickensian tenements. While those terrible living conditions are long gone, there are still people in distress from financial difficulties homelessness, loneliness or bereavement who need and thankfully usually receive special help and support at this time of the year. Up to 60 years ago very few people in Ireland had a Christmas tree in their house but rather a crib showing the nativity scene and a candle burning in the window, symbolising that you welcomed the Christ-child or indeed any weary traveller into your home.
Incidentally, Dublin boasts the worlds oldest hand-made candle factory; that of John G Rathborne, founded in 1488. The Christmas tree was first introduced into England in the 1840s by the German Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, and no household or prominent public place today would be without one. The idea of the crib has not entirely died out and one famous example, complete with live animals (they are stabled at night-time), stands every December in aid of charity in front of the Lord Mayor’s house on Dawson Street.
When we look back we think of snowy Christmases but in actual fact it rarely snows in Dublin in December so don’t expect a romantic white holiday season but it could happen! There were times in history when the River Liffey froze over but today’s ice-skaters gather at purpose-built ice-rinks like the one at the RDS in Ballsbridge. Popular since medieval times and still a must for families is to take in a Christmas panto (pantomime), held in theatres and parish halls. Attending one of the several performances of George Frederic Handed Oratorio Messiah, first premiered in Dublin in 1742, is a firm Christmas favourite for thousands as are the many carol concerts in cathedrals, churches and concert halls in the lead up to the Big Day.
Customs of times past included Midnight Mass which is still celebrated but is now usually around 9.00pm. Christmas Day in an increasingly secular society is still thought of in a special way from a traditional religious point of view or as a day for visiting family graves. But, even more so, it is the most important day in the year for families to get together and the city virtually closes down, including the airport and all public transport, so don’t be caught out! One unusual tradition in Dublin for the morning of Christmas Day is the charitable swim at the Forty Foot in Sandycove near Dun Laoghaire outside Dublin when hundreds of hardy souls take the plunge regardless of the weather.
Well maybe the Irish didn’t exactly invent Christmas after all but we have certainly made it our own. But there could be just a grain of truth in an old legend that the saint associated with Christmas and the very spirit of Santa Claus, St Nicholas of Myra, is buried in Ireland! Don’t scoff at the idea (at least not out loud). Nicholas the Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) was buried there in the 3rd century. His remains, in the face of the advancing Muslim army, were lifted by two crusading knight sand brought to be reburied near Jerpoint Abbey in Co Kilkenny. Of course this story flies in the face of a more accepted account that his relics were brought by other knights to Italy But we in Ireland never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Happy Christmas!
There are plenty of ways to experience the Virgin Islands without being inundated by cruise ship crowds and fanny-packers. Spend an afternoon at Virgin Gorda’s Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, a sister outpost of the famed Mediterranean marina in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. With 38 slips that accommodate megayachts up to s00 feet long, the harbour is a haven for avid boaters and yachties. It also provides the perfect backdrop for lunch at the clubhouse or a cocktail at the poolside bar.
Just across the sound, you’ll see the Bitter End Yacht Club, another great home base for a day of Caribbean revelry. A decidedly more laid-backyacht club, BEYC looks like a luxury tree house on water, furnished by a hippie with really great taste. If quiet leisure is what you’re after, Anegada Island is where you’ll find it. The remote coral atoll is the second largest island in the BVI but has a population of less than 300. Stop by Anegada Beach Club for an ice-cold Carib before embarking on a more ambitious endeavour, like the six-hour “Zero to Hero” kitesurfing course through Tommy Gaunt Kitesurfing.
Since Anegada’s beaches are truly secluded, there won’t be anyone judging your moves. The island is also a mecca for bonefishing — fly-fishing for kings in the shallows of the Caribbean — and the local experts will soon have you addicted to the sport. Go with Garfield’s Guides or Danny Vanterpool of Danny’s Bonefishing, who has taught notable figures like President Jimmy Carter.
The Virgin Islands are home to some of the best beaches in the Caribbean — namely Magens Bay (St. Thomas), Cane Bay (St. Croix), Smuggler’s Cove (Tortola), Spring Bay (Virgin Gorda), and White Bay Beach (Jost Van Dyke). But after sunning in the sand, the must-do BVI activity is scuba diving: Book a private charter through Blue Water Divers or Dive BVI and they’ll take you to some of the more off-the-grid sites, plus wrecks like the RMS Rhone at Salt Island, where the 1977 thriller The Deep was shot. The companies also offer diving tours of the wreck by night which cater to underwater adrenaline junkies. The wreck of the Chikuzen is equally impressive for diving devotees.
The 246-foot Japanese refrigeration ship sank in 1981 and remains virtually untouched — save for the schools of barracuda, stingrays, and nurse sharks that call it home. For snorkellers, Leinster Bay and Watermelon Cay on the northern tip of St John are flush with sea turtles and coral rock formations; and on the British side, the Norman Island Caves reveal hidden wrecks and bays by underwater flashlight. Rumor has it the uninhabited island was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Above the sea, there’s heli-golfing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which sadly does not involve hitting balls out of a chopper but rather being picked up on the island of your choice and flown to the Virgin Islands’ best tee: Garambola Golf Chib in St Croix. The internationally recognised par-72 course is as challenging as it is beautiful, with rolling fairways and tropical greenery. As you fly back, there’s a good chance you’ll be tempted to pilot the chopper yourself. And that’s when Caribbean Buzz Helicopters will come in handy. The St. Thomas-based company offer a flight training lessons on helicopters with dual-operated controls, throughout the Virgin Islands.
If you’re looking for bottle service and thumping nightclubs, you’re better off in Ibiza. You won’t find much of it in the Virgin Elands, and most people don’t seem to mind, This is the land of private soirees in the sand, like Oil Nut Bay’s invitation-only beach party for yacht owners and their guests. The over-the-top event takes place every March during the Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta & Rendezvous and sticks to an overall theme (last year’s was Old Hollywood Glamour).
For a vibe that’s a bit more down-to earth, go native and try the mushroom tea at the BVI’s infamous full moonparty. At the monthly bash — which takes place at Bomba’s Shack, a beachfront bar made out of driftwood in Tortola — Bomba himself doles out hallucinogenic beverages to guests. It’s a zero-frills experience, but one you might not want to miss.