Visit to Edinburgh

Post nightshift, dragging ourselves out of bed on a few hours sleep, traveling to Edinburgh via train on a rainy Thursday afternoon probably didn’t seem like the greatest of ideas to either of us. Getting on the wrong train because sleepy brains probably seemed like a portent of things to come. But arriving in the city after a couple of beers and seeing the Christmas market was still going, and the lights, and the sights and the sounds lifting moods and put smiles on tired faces.

I was stuck for what to get my girlfriend for Christmas but I’m a firm believer in collecting memories not things, so a trip north of the border seemed like a good idea. Arriving Thursday night we dropped off bags and then headed out into the city for food and a Ghost Tour. By a stroke of fluke genius we were the only two on our tour and had the guide all to ourselves. We passed other much larger tours all umbrellas and shouts in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and never had to struggle to hear what was being said or jostle for position. The guide was a fun young guy dressed as Dr. Robert Knox and he took us on a quick overground tour before we headed into the underground vaults. I’ve never been a believer in spirits or spooks but I enjoy the sinister stories and the ‘feel’ of these underground places. My companion, however, is sensitive to these things and found the sensations underground to be troubling. It was creepy, it was spooky, and knowing you’re stood in a place where a family were tortured and murdered to garner a witch’s confession was sobering and atmospheric. From there we toured a few of the pubs on the Royal Mile and took in some ‘traditional’ Scottish music – and some not so traditional gin & tonics and pints of beer.

Friday morning and after a late start we tackled Arthur’s Seat. It’s been on my to-do list since I first visited Edinburgh; an ancient, extinct volcano which was active some 355 million years ago. The climb was reasonably easy, and the only real challenge was avoiding as much mud as possible and managing to not slip and be dumped unceremoniously onto one’s bottom. The views from the top are spectacular with the entire city arrayed below and the Firth of Forth clearly visible to the north. We didn’t pause long; it gets chilly at the top in early January, but had plenty of time to snap a string of photos.

Despite the inclement weather, slippery surfaces, and ‘quieter’ time of the year, there were plenty of people at the top of the hill. Students, families, kids, dog walkers, and the odd Japanese tourist. It’s seemed like just about anyone could clamber up it’s well-worn paths, as the mini-skirt-clad (clearly not a local) visitor testified.

We walked back down in a different direction and took a slow walk around Holyrood Park drinking in the views and fresh air. It always pleases me to find these kind of open spaces in the middle of urban sprawl – and with it’s history, pretty scenery, waterways and wildlife, Holyrood didn’t disappoint.

I just wish we’d had more time, but a late start and a busy evening planned, and grumbling bellies conspired against us and we called for an Uber to return us to Edinburgh Centre.

Friday night I had tickets booked for us to see Shrek at the Edinburgh Playhouse. We arrived in a bit of a rush and managed to grab a beer before heading to our seats in the front row. Close enough to see the sheet music perched upon the keyboard of the band leader. Shrek was brilliant. Donkey was endearing. Lord Farquaad was a riot. Shrek lost none of it’s magic in transition from screen to stage and my girl said it was better than The Lion King on Broadway. It was a heartwarming, funny, feel-good romp and highly recommended.

Saturday morning we were both a wee bit worse for wear so opted to don our virtual anoraks and tour the city on a sightseeing bus. We stopped off at the National Museum of Scotland for a look about and a slice of cake. Time was running away from us though, and by the time we got back to Princes Street and made our way to St. Andrews Square, we discovered the ice rink just too late. It was time to head home.

Edinburgh, you were outstanding. We shall be back.

 

 

2017, a year in photo review

2017 has been a cracking year for me. Lots of travel, lots of places to go and things to see. I’ve been sat here on New Year’s Eve Eve reviewing some of the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen. And here’s a sample and a reminder. Where I have written about the experience I have added a handy link.

You can find all of these photos on my Instagram. If you’re not yet following; get to it: alsmith77x

 

January: Lindesfarne (I wrote about this!) and The Cleveland Way.


February: Brimham Rocks, Glasgow and London (I wrote about this!).

 

 


April: Auschwitz. (I wrote about this!).


June: Manchester One Love Concert.

July: Kielder Water, Devon, Bamburgh Castle.

 


 


August: Crete.


September: Portugal (I wrote about this!), Bolton Abbey (I wrote about this too!).


 


October: Berlin (I wrote about this!), High Force.

 

November: London.


December: Kielder and Hadrian’s Wall, Whitby.


 


If you made it to the end, reward yourself with a beer. Happy New Year! See you in 2018. 

Berlin

Berlin, October 2017. It’s a city which still captures the imagination of historians, involved as it was in World War II, The Third Reich, and the Holocaust. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz as part of a weekend in Krakow. I wrote about that back in April. It seemed natural to add Berlin to the destinations of interest. If Auschwitz stands as a memorial to the end of Jewish struggle in Europe, Berlin is certainly the epicentre of that struggle’s beginning.

We jetted in on a Friday afternoon and made our way to our hotel at Alexanderplatz, right in the centre of the city. Directly opposite our hotel is the famous Fernsehturm (TV Tower). We never got the chance to go up the tower, but our hotel had a viewing platform some 150 metres up affording beautiful views of the city. Everything seems so different when viewed from above.

Our first night was really a finding your feet exercise, and we spent too much time getting about from Alexanderplatz to Potsdamer Platz (and back again) looking for the famous Berlin nightlife. Eventually we ended up in a surreal re-used industrial area of bars and clubs, and got to sample the Berlin club scene. I’m no clubber and definitely felt like a fish out of water in a warehouse/garage frequented by kids in scruffs and noise which, to those with younger ears, must pass for music. We didn’t last long in this strange venue, and soon retired to find a currywurst and a taxi back to the hotel.

Saturday we started early and tackled the main tourist areas of Berlin. The Reichstag, Bradenburg Gate, Berlin Wall. Before being drawn to the Spy Museum and finally the Topography of Terror, the old Gestapo Headquarters. Berlin seems like a city in a permanent state of apology; A city of honest, pragmatic apology. “I feel I must apologise for the conduct of my nation in the war,” to borrow from Harry Enfield’s Jurgen. You didn’t have to travel far to happen upon some monument to the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s against any number of different people’s. There was no shame in these tributes and exhibits. They said quite clearly, “it happened, we accept it happened, we don’t want to forget it, but we’re sorry.”

And everywhere pieces of the Berlin Wall stand. Some in place where they stood from first erection, others moved and replanted in parks and on lawns, others tucked against the sides of buildings, each a testament to one of the darkest times in modern European history, a divided Germany. It’s this division which gives Berlin it’s flavour. it doesn’t feel like a modern western european city. It’s edges are rough, it’s shadows are eerie. The influences of the east and of communism still lay over the city. It’s not with any sense of foreboding, but rather lends a further dimension to it’s urban areas. It just felt dark. I wish I could phrase the feeling Berlin caused adequately, but it’s perhaps something to be experienced rather than read about. Like describing the feeling of concrete; words do not do justice. You have to run your fingertips over the surface and feel it for yourself.

Saturday night, all cultured out, we searched for some nightlife more in keeping with our middle-aged minds and bodies. Our taxi driver recommended a club to us called ‘Matrix Club’ and it didn’t disappoint. The one thing that sticks with me is how safe it felt. We were searched and ID’d on the way in, and the place was rammed from roof to floor with people young and old, groups, couples, individual guys looking for action. There was cages where dancers impressed with hot bodies and athletic movements. Despite all that, despite the size, the people, the music, the lack of light, it just felt safe. We partied until 4am. And it was only the threat of losing Sunday to hangovers and sleep that we eventually left that place and headed back to our hotel.

Sunday can be summed up quite simply as The Jewish Museum. A tribute to the history of Jews in Europe, and a commemoration to the victims of the Final Solution. Set across multiple levels and in multiple buildings, the museum is designed to expose you – psychologically rather then physically – to the fate of Europe’s Jews during the Second World War. I want to impress upon you the importance of this place. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t easy. It’s designed to make you think but you’re never too sure how it wants you to think, and perhaps each person’s experience of the museum will be different. We were there for several hours, immersed in history; The journey through the time-line of Europe’s Jews providing an insight into what happened in the 20th century. Jewish persecution began hundreds of years previously.

I wrote of Auschwitz:

“I believe that everyone should visit Auschwitz at some point in their lives. It needs to be a lesson that everyone is made aware of so that we do all we can to ensure such horrors never happen again.”

And this applies to Berlin, and the museum too. Go to the city, feel it, don’t just see it. And go to the Jewish museum. Understand why we, collectively as the human race, allowed such horrors and travesties to occur. With the emergence of the Far Right, and the rise of Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Golden Dawn in Greece and any number of other extremist parties and personalities, it’s vitally important we do not forget. That’s the only way to prevent it from happening again.

Holy Island of Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne, Holy Island as the sun went down on a Saturday late afternoon in January. I don’t think I ever experienced such peace. A silence fell across the place, looking out over the water towards the mainland. I’m not religious. I wouldn’t even dare to consider myself spiritual, but there was something quite special about that moment. No traffic noise, no kids shouting, not even the sound of sea birds to disturb the tranquility of that place and time.

Click here to view the photo album of my trip: Lindisfarne. January 2017.

I put Lindisfarne on my 40 at 40 list because I’d seen photos of the scenery, the castle, the views. I wanted to go and see this for myself. There was no other reason than that. I know of St. Cuthbert, I know of the significance of the place, but that’s not what it was about for me.

Friday evening I spoke to CS about taking a road trip. I looked at the tidal times for crossing the causeway and it was clear from midday until 8pm. Providence? Perhaps. We set off Saturday morning aiming to arrive after midday. I think now that it would have been cool to arrive earlier and see the causeway under water, watch the sea give way to tarmac, and our path clear. The day was unnaturally warm for January, cloudy but dry. Perfect conditions for exploring.

I’m told that Holy Island is ‘manic’ in the summer; that we’d have been swimming in tourists. We were pleased we’d come when it was quiet. Our walk around the island, past the (closed) castle, along the rocky shore, into the lime kilns and along the lonely coast was disturbed by just a handful of people. I loved that. I don’t like places ‘ruined by tourists’ (the irony of that statement is not lost on me) or to have to dodge around people or tolerate noisy children. Especially somewhere like that. I think going in the summer would have been a dismal experience, even with bright sunshine and warmer temperatures. Experiences are impaired by those also experiencing.

We completed our circuit of the island, getting lost and disorientated by the dunes at one point, and then headed back towards the village and the Priory – which was also sadly closing just as we arrived.

But then I suppose that’s the issue with spontaneous trips. No planning, just going off and doing. You’re not always going to get it right. Although to tell you the truth, I’d rather do it my way than be thrust into expected patterns of behaviour.

We stopped at the Manor House Hotel for a quick bite before going up to the lookout tower to watch the sun set. It was a fitting way to end the day. No noise, no people, no words said, just a shared moment. Calm, peace, solitude. Looking out over the water you could feel the significance of the islands.

img_4974Click to view full size.