Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Weekending: Edinburgh (March 2015)

Edinburgh is one of my favourites. I've been there with friends and with boyfriends, for romantic trips away and to the festival. I have been there enough times to have my favourites that I always visit as well as always having a list of new places to try. On our most recent trip we (me, my boyfriend, my friend, her husband) were there mainly to visit a friend, but my boyf and I decided to make a long weekend of it to get the most out of the city.

We got the train there and back - going up at around 11am on the Friday and returning about 2.30pm on the Monday. My friends who joined us got the sleeper train up overnight arriving Saturday morning and then flew back Sunday evening. Like most UK cities, Edinburgh is easy to reach via a number of travel options, and if you book well enough in advance then it's more than affordable.

Once again, we stayed in the Nira Caledonia hotel - one of my favourite hotels in the world. This was my third stay there, and we definitely had the best room I've stayed in there so far as our bathroom had a bath with jets rather than just a shower that I've had in previous stays. The bed was as big and comfortable as I remembered, and I gave the huge bath a go (and used the jets, though be advised to not try and figure out how to turn them on until the bath is full) which was delightful. The hotel gifted us a bottle of wine as well which was a lovely touch. We ate there for breakfast all three mornings during our stay, and also ordered some room service on Sunday night, and each meal was exactly what we were after. I cannot recommend the Nira Caledonia highly enough - with the lovely staff and relaxing rooms I can't imagine staying anywhere else in Edinburgh.

Friday night - burgers at Red Squirrel - one beef and one chicken. They were awesome. We also shared a beetroot salad which was deffo in my top ten salads.
Saturday morning - breakfast at hotel (I believe I had poached eggs on toast, followed by some fruit and yoghurt)
Saturday evening - Hanams. We left it until that afternoon to decide where to eat, and after some googling I came across Hanams, which serves Kurdish and Middle Eastern cuisine. It's also BYOB with no corkage fee, which definitely made it a cheaper meal. Definitely one I would return to if I was in the mood for that type of food.
Sunday morning - breakfast at hotel (think this was my scrambled eggs and smoked salmon day)
Sunday lunch - Set-menu at Wedgwood. This was delicious, and such good value! I'd eaten there before on my birthday last year, and the food was just as inventive and interesting as I remembered. I believe I had goats cheese with curried lentils to start, then sooomething for my main (i'm annoyed I can't remember this) and then sticky toffee pudding. The food here is delicious, and the set lunch menu costs £12.95 / £16.95 for 2 / 3 courses. You can't really go wrong!
Sunday evening - room service. I had a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich, with some chips. Obviously.
Monday morning - final breakfast at the hotel.
Monday lunch - train picnic!

As we had all visited the city before, we didn't feel the need to do any of the touristy sight-seeingy bits this time around. Instead, we did a few geocaches along the Leith River Walk, and visited the Camera Obscura museum, which, although pricey, I would definitely recommend.

The main shopping street in Edinburgh is Princes Street, which is full of all the standard high street shops. A couple to look out for though are Zara, which has a huge section upstairs of their child and baby clothes; Russell and Bromley, which has a great selection particularly from their mens range; and HMV, which has a really awesome vinyl section (I picked up Purple Rain and Blue whilst I was there).

Writing this all up now it doesn't seem like we did much aside from eat. But that's the great thing when you visit a city you know so well - you can just relax and wander and have a lovely time without feeling like you have to be go-go-go all the time. For me, that's what Edinburgh is all about.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Book Review: Three Men In A Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

I should probably start by saying this is not my sort of thing. I find this sort of rambly around-the-houses humour tiring rather than enjoyable, and more often than not I was rolling my eyes at this rather than tittering along. I found a lot of the sections long and uninteresting (though boring would probably be a step too far) and it was rare that I found myself speeding through the pages. I finished it a couple of weeks ago and to be honest there aren't many bits that I can still recall, though I did enjoy the disparaging remarks about Reading (I inadvertently got punched in the face there once). I don't want to be super negative though, so here are some of the plus points for me:

* I thought that the characterisation was good - it was easy to make sense of who was who by the behaviours being described.
* I appreciated the concept of the novel that it wasn't about anything in particular, and just about the everyday mundane intricacies of life.
* Montmorency is a good name for a dog.
* Short chapters - good for commuting.
* I enjoyed the way it ended - the way they just decided to finish up their trip when they did made it more accessible and, actually, this was the part I found most humorous.

To sum up! This just isn't a book for me. There was nothing wrong with the writing or characters or fundamental idea of the story, it's just that taking so long to get round to the point over and over again bugs me. I felt a few times when reading it that it would have worked better as a series of short stories, though, actually, I guess that's exactly what this is.
3 / 10

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

#ExploreTheElements Thomas Cook Travel Challenge

I'm not usually one for entering competitions on my blog, but when I saw this on Angie's I suddenly found a load of ideas popping into my head. The idea of this competition is to present four photos that represent the four elements. The photos I ended up going with don't take the themes too literally, but I really enjoyed reminiscing and writing about them.

Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.

Apparently, in part due to origins in greek mythology, the jellyfish is associated with the idea of feminine wrath. Being feminine myself, I can definitely say I can be defensive and emotional, but more importantly I can be adaptable. When I was looking for a photo to represent the element of water, I found myself inundated with pictures I had taken of various beaches (I love a wave shot) and waterfalls, rivers and lakes, but then I came across this one and it struck me as the perfect accompaniment to water element because the focus is on the jellyfish, rather than the water, one of the most flexible and supple creatures there is, along with the connotations mentioned above. Although needing it to survive, a jellyfish will also of course use the water for its own purpose, moving smoothly (and dangerously!) around it at its own will without a care in the world. [Disclaimer: I don't actually know if jellyfish have many cares, but I suspect if they do they're quite minimal.] Jellyfish have that combination of being beautiful to look at but risky (!) to touch, and I think they symbolise this element perfectly.
Picture taken in the Monterey Aquarium, California, USA.

Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.

What represents fire better than a massive, flaming ball of it? Everyone loves a sunset picture, but what I love about this picture - taken in Dubai - is that it captures all the elements of the city that make it what it is. What first stands out in the background of this picture are the outlines of all the super-yachts, however there are also some smaller fishing and tourist boats there - showing the contradictions Dubai represents. On the one hand you have the huge global businesses occupied by ex-pats, and on the other you have the smaller businesses of the local population. What they both have in common though is their motivation and desire to thrive and succeed in a place that has changed so much in the last 50 years it is almost beyond comprehension. When we talk about energy and moving things in a travel sense, the history and legacy of a place like Dubai must be included in that conversation. While it's definitely not for everyone, it's definitely a sight to behold.
Picture taken in Dubai, UAE.

Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.

This picture was taken in Jemaa el Fna in Marrakech. We'd visited the square earlier that same day when it is pretty much just an empty space (minus the tourists) and returned that evening to see the spectacle of it once it had grown into the enormity that it is at night. There are so many things I love about the pictures I took that night - the steam in the air from the heat of all the people and smoke of the cooking food; the blue lights in the left of the picture in the crowd that aren't smartphones but locals selling light up toys to tourists; the sheer amount of people moving freely, and the fact that you can only really appreciate everything that's going on when you're sitting above it all looking down. I think this picture is a great one to symbolise air, as you can tell by looking at it that the air is thick with smoke, steam, heat and anticipation. Marrakech was somewhere I felt really out of my comfort zone, but at the same time felt like it was somewhere really important to see. The market really highlighted these parallels to me - understanding and feeling compassion for the people working there, at the same time as being an elusive and different world to my own.
Picture taken in Marrakech, Morocco.

Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness , physicality and gravity.

My final picture in this series was actually not taken too far from my own home, but to me this is what makes it the perfect picture to represent earth. To me, the earth element means being grounded in knowing who you are and where you come from - after all, it's only when you know these things that you can really start to think about where you want to go. Home is where I feel most together, there is a physicality to knowing your place that is hard to find elsewhere. In this picture we are cycling from our own village to the next, riding through country lanes and woods - the hard, solid parts of the earth that I always associate with being close to home. It is this part of the world that I truly feel I can connect to the stubbornness, collectiveness, physicality and gravity of the earth.
Picture taken in Kent, UK.

As part of the competition, I have to now tag five other bloggers in to complete this themselves.
Unica & Tigris

If you want to enter, you need to…

1) Publish an Explore the Elements post on your blog with an image for each element
2) Spread the word and nominate five of your fellow bloggers to take part
3) Let Thomas Cook know you've entered by tweeting @ThomasCookUK
4) Keep an eye on the Thomas Cook twitter account to see who's won!