Friday, 29 August 2014

The Grand Tour: Episode 1

Snug in my dressing gown, cuddling my cup of hot chocolate the memory of gelato and sunshine seems like a dream. But it happened, a mere 2 weeks ago, I have the photos.

 (Big floppy hat, medicinal ice cream, Venetian skies)

In a mere 10 days we clocked up 1050 land-miles, 1382 air-miles, 3 countries, 5 cities, the Alps, the Adriatic, snow and olives (those last four in just one rail journey).

(my journey as plotted by go-pro travelling)

My father and I flew to Germany and then inter-railed after that. There is something magical about exploring Europe by train, watching the terrain change shape before your very eyes. Our second holiday inter-railing and the last one where I will be cheap (boo hiss!); 2 years ago we travelled from Amsterdam to Poland and back via Hamburg and Berlin, catch up here.

(The Dolce Vita, the first of many railway stations)

On Day 5 of the adventure (points 3-4 on the map) we caught the train to Vienna and I got my first sight of the Alps to John William's soundtrack to 'The Book Thief'. That experience was unforgettable. When we travel together, the journeying is as important as the city we eventually arrive in. 

(Innsbruck, with a mountain at the end of every street)

We used a variety of different accommodation; 2 IBIS hotels, a private hotel, and 2 air b'n'b places. I think our rental of a flat at Campo Mauritz in Venice was my favourite.  Food was a clear priority for us, I always want to 'eat the view' and roughly every 2 hours we'd pause for coffee and a sticky bun of some sort.

(St Maria of Salute Basilica, Venice)

The following posts cover accommodation, sites of interest, what we ate (and where) and some info on transport. I've arranged the info according to location:

Come along for the journey!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Edinburgh 2: East Lothian

As we were camped outside Edinburgh near Wallyford (classic name I know) and with four wheels we were really at liberty to explore the wider area around Edinburgh. Here are some things we ever props to photographer friend for photos.

Goblin Ha!
Some of the castles in East Lothian are jolly in point Edinburgh Castle. So I did some research into places that were free and stumbled across this beauty. The sat-nav refused to take us there, the bemused Scots we encountered questioned our intentions and told us it was 'bloody spooky', we thought it was wonderful. Goblin Ha! is the remains of Yester Castle, the home of Sir Hugo de Gifford aka 'The Wizard of Yester' who is said to have built his castle with the assistance of some hobgoblins. To get to the castle we parked on the road beyond Castle Park Golf Course, walked through a private farm, through a field of grass with accompanying dovecote which we pondered, through a second gate, through a wood and then we arrived. Photos of the journey below. 2 things of note here: 1. turns out you can just park at the golf club, its probably an easier walk, 2. turns out you can get into the creepy subterranean hall, for more info see this video. Turns out Goblin Ha! is also the inspiration for several stanzas of Sir Walter Scott's Marmion.

Yellowcraig Sands
Now I have to admit to a) being tipped off about this dear little cove that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island, b) getting a tad hyperbolic because the beach was beautiful. We got to eventide and I decided that a half hour drive to watch the sunset at Yellowcraig was the perfect way to end a long day. We were not disappointed. When we parked the car it seemed everyone was walking in the opposite direction, but we walked the 5 mins across some bluffs to this exquisite setting and forgave the fairly intrusive but ultimately temporary engagement shoot, our only company for the first half an hour or so. For me there is something so calming about standing with my toes in sea water, with no noise but birdsong, and the only jellyfish beached (see below!) moments like this reset my anxiety counter and are really treasured.

Tantallon and Dunbar
We were ultimately headed south but en route I persuaded my kind friend to try one last historical haunt and a seaside town for fish and chips with mixed success.

Tantallon Castle offered buckets of atmosphere, house martins for photos and generations of earls called Archibald Douglas (great name). I really enjoyed  playing the tour guide, reading aloud bits of the guide book and generally larking about the ruin - we got a good hour and a half out of Tantallon - some amazing photos - and all for just £5.50 each.

Dunbar on the other hand was less successful. I know this may come as a surprise but I don't always guess places right. Dunbar was on our route home and seemed like the perfect place to stop for fish and chips, but to be honest, there was one bar open prepared to feed us fish and chips, and they took ages. When our food came it was proper 'eat the view', fished from the surrounding waters but I was an 9.75 on my hungry scale (eat your hand is 10!) by the time it arrived. Dunbar like Musselburgh was a decidedly average, suburban town. There are gems to be found on the East Lothian coast, Gullane looked nice from the car window, but Dunbar is not it.

Anyway, by the time you read this I'll be away again (I know, lucky girl) I'm off to Germany and beyond. Looking forward to updating you on all the best places to find beer and happiness on the Continent. Cheerio!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Edinburgh 1

Hi everyone!

I recently went on holiday to Edinburgh on a mini-break with my photographer friend (all the photos in the post are hers!). We had a great time in both Edinburgh and the surrounding area. So today in the first of 2 posts, what to do in Edinburgh city centre - I'm thinking particularly of those of you chortling in the Scottish capital right about now.

Climb up high
If you know me by now you’ll know how much I love to climb high things; Edinburgh offers lots of chances to climb up high. Arthur’s Seat, the only remains of an old volcano, twisted on its side by Ice Age activity is a 822ft treat of an afternoon. There are many theories concerning the name, many people claim its to do with the mythical King Arthur but it might just be a corruption of Àrd-na-Said (Height of Arrows) or Àrd-thir Suidhe (Place on High Ground). Arthur’s Seat requires minimal input for maximum views– the experienced walkers who photo-bombed our victory photo were in brogues! 

Calton Hill offers similarly panoramic views of Edinburgh and features many historic curiosities from Nelson’s upturned telescope to the Portuguese cannon and the National Monument of Scotland, they've even got a little art gallery up there. We enjoyed studying the city and its happy brood of bird-life from these high points.

Into the very bowels of Edinburgh
We really enjoyed exploring Edinburgh on foot, down the winding closes, the Georgian promenades and poking our noses in interesting doorways. We got a real education at the People’s Story Museum. The PSM offers a rich and engaging narrative of the lives of Edinburgians since the 18th century. The museum isn't that high-tech but telling history through individual stories is very effective, ‘Meet Joan, on a warm afternoon in 1964 she is off to the wash-house to clean her clothes’.

Once upon a time, before the Royal Mile even existed, the people of Edinburgh lived cheek-by-jowl in tightly wound ‘closes’ or lanes and disease was rife. So in the early 18th century fresh investment arrived in Edinburgh, instead of demolishing the old town, they merely built over the top of it. The Continuum Group (Jorvik, Canterbury Tales) seized the opportunity to create an effective tourist-trap, 'The Real Mary King's Close' a tour of the deserted, underground Edinburgh. The tour provided enough genuine archaeology for me and entertainment for my pal who couldn’t care less about history. Just like the People’s Story of Edinburgh, a lot of MKC’s success is built around our getting to know a person, our guide ‘Walter King’ Foul Clenger, and his life on the close. Technological advances built the tour into a real experience!

Elephants and eating
Although we were camping outside Edinburgh we ate out a few times. The Elephant Café is the much celebrated birth-place of Harry Potter, where JK wrote the novels. The food was a good price, there were elephants aplenty and there is a unique memorial to Harry Potter, concealed in the loos. The other place we visited was SX café (Southern Cross, you dirty little whatsits!) they freely offered us their power supply for our ailing phones and tasty cakes. I even tried their haggis bites, they were gooooood.

Honourable mentions...St Giles Cathedral, Canongate Kirk, Museum of Edinburgh (if you can stand the smell), and this guy (who is this guy?)

Tomorrow, Beyond the Walls of Edinburgh