A City Break in Edinburgh

My elder son is currently a student at Edinburgh University. We drove him and the essential equipment that all students seem to need to his halls in September, staying a couple of nights in a hotel to make the long journey from Wiltshire more worthwhile. There was so much to see we determined to return and enjoy it fully as tourists. Thus, on Friday of last week, we boarded an early morning flight which took us north of the wall.

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Starting our break with an airport breakfast

The hotel we selected, Ten Hill Place, is owned by the Royal College of Surgeons and uses profits to train surgeons worldwide. It is situated close to many of the university buildings and within easy walking distance of the Royal Mile. It proved an excellent choice.

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A comfortable base

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Tasty food in the No. Ten Restaurant

I was delighted to find a lovely bookshop just around the corner. Blackwell Edinburgh is well worth a visit.

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With window displays such as this how could any book lover resist?

The weather started off cold and clear so we climbed both Calton Hill and Arthur’s Seat to enjoy the views. The former is an easy ascent and provides a number of interesting constructions to admire. The latter proved more challenging. We tackled it on a frosty morning and the stone pathways were very slippery underfoot. I was grateful for my husband’s assistance in reaching the summit and then making our way back down.

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Calton Hill

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Arthur’s Seat 

The weather then turned dull and bitterly cold so we enjoyed some of the many indoor attractions offered around the Royal Mile. Having toured the wonderful castle on our previous visit we opted for Holyrood Palace this time around. The castle was better value, although we did enjoy our stroll through the palace gardens. For the cost of entrance there just weren’t enough rooms open inside, and all seemed too structured, impersonal and lacking in atmosphere. I suspect my lack of interest in the royal family, other than as historical figures, may be a factor in this assessment. I could not relate to the unctious tone of the guide.

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The ruined abbey and gardens were of more interest than the house

There are a large number of places to visit in the city centre, many of which are free of charge. We enjoy museums and chose to explore the Museum of Childhood, Museum of Edinburgh and The Writers’ Museum. These were of interest as much for the old town houses in which they are located as for the displays.

We also spent several hours exploring the National Museum of Scotland. There were many interesting galleries in this impressive building although their arrangement appeared somewhat eclectic which added to our entertainment as we pondered why.

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Writers’ Museum and National Museum of Scotland

We particularly enjoyed the Museum on the Mound which offers a history of money as well as a chance to crack a safe. We failed.

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Who would you like to see on a £20 note?

The most interesting place visited on this trip, and one which we regret not giving more than two hours, were the Surgeons’ Hall Museums, also owned by the Royal College of Surgeons. Avoid the pathology displays if you are inclined to hypochondria, but we found it fascinating.

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In the evenings, as well as eating in the restaurant at our hotel, we enjoyed delicious meals at Howies and Apiary. Each day we walked for miles around the city’s cobbled streets and hidden alleyways, admiring the impressive local architecture and grand buildings.

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Old College, one of the many university buildings 

The new Scottish Parliament Building with its bizarre modern architecture and eye wateringly expensive construction cost is closed to visitors on a Sunday, the day we had allocated for a tour. We had also been advised to visit The Real Mary King’s Close but ran out of time.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city and we feel fortunate that we had only the cold to contend with rather than the wet and windy weather that arrived as we left. There is still much to see and we hope to return.

A City Break in Belfast

I was born and raised in Belfast during the height of The Troubles. When I left in 1988, at the age of twenty-four, it seemed that the ingrained prejudices ran too deep and there could never be peace. The Good Friday agreement was announced a decade later and I questioned if it would hold. How delighted I have been to see the city of my birth emerge from the rubble and ashes of conflict to become a place worth visiting for its history, culture and for the welcome given to visitors by its people.

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For my most recent stay, my husband and I checked into the Europa Hotel which is located in Great Victoria Street in the heart of the city. We flew into the International Airport and caught a bus which drops passengers at a terminus just behind this hotel.

Check in was swift and we soon found ourselves in a small but comfortable bedroom, impressively insulated from the sounds of the nightlife below.

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Of course, we had to sample a little of what was on offer. We enjoyed cocktails in the hotel’s Piano Bar, and then crossed the street to the iconic Crown Bar where we were lucky enough to find an empty booth within which to enjoy a carefully pulled pint of Guinness.

Over the course of our three night stay we ate out at a variety of restaurants: Flame in Howard Street, Deanes Deli Bistro in Bedford Street, and Villa Italia in University Road. In all three the food and ambiance were excellent. The attention to detail in the eclectic decor at Flame and Deanes especially appealed to me. Villa Italia was perfect for the evening my parents joined us.

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During the day we were tourists, visiting just a few of the many attractions now available within walking distance of our hotel. For us, the most interesting of these was the Crumlin Road Gaol. Our tour guide was informative and entertaining. My husband was particularly amused by the fact that the official opening of this facility as a visitor attraction was conducted by the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, both of whom are ex-residents. We learned that many famous names have done time behind these walls.

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With working class family connections to the linen industry and the shipyard I was keen to visit Titanic Belfast. This attraction was very busy and tells a story I am familiar with but was worth the time just to stand alongside the fabulous building in which it is housed.

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As a graduate of Queen’s University Belfast  I was also eager to wander around the University Quarter and explore the changes that have been made to my alma mater over the years. There were many impressive, new additions to admire but I was pleased to once again stand before an unchanged Lanyon building.

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And finally I got to visit the Linen Hall Library. We could not fit the tour into our schedule so instead enjoyed a short stroll around the stacks. The gallery located in the back stairway was a highlight, as were our brief chats with the informative librarians.

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Ireland may have a reputation for being a tad soggy but the weather was kind to us throughout our stay enabling us to wander at will and enjoy the many changes. New buildings have appeared and old ones unwrapped from their security blankets. It was lovely to see.

As we picked up our luggage, helpfully cared for by the hotel until we were ready to leave, the heavens opened. We bid Belfast a fond farewell and journeyed home bearing the gift requested by our teenagers. However popular artisan crisps may become, it is still hard to beat a bag of the best crisps & snacks in the world.

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