Edinburgh – the final installment

Day 3 of our city break dawned with less promising skies than those that had preceded them and so we opted for a somewhat lazier approach. Having read great things on other blogs about Urban Angel, we waited in a 45 minute queue for brunch.  Given that we had strong coffee and our books to pass the time, it really was no hardship and I am always impressed by places that can get people to wait for their products. They are getting something very right – the food, the marketing or the service. Best case scenario – all 3.

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The main dining room is welcoming with lots of wood, candlelight and some old iron work for a unique appearance. They have a beautiful healthy brunch menu that champions local suppliers and is served all day, from which we chose a couple of smoothies, granola with yoghurt and berries and a scrambled egg on granary toast. It was delicious yet virtuous and nourishing – a kind of dream breakfast after an indulgent few days.

The lazy theme then continued as we explored some of Edinburgh’s atmospheric, and it turns out inexpensive, second hand book-shops. As two unashamed book worms this is always an appealing way to while away an hour on a dreary day.

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Our favourite, although not pictured, was Armchair Books on West Port an absolute treasure trove for readers of any interest and any age.  Do not miss it if you are a book lover in Edinburgh.

We upped the ante on the ambling late morning as the weather brightened temporarily and walked to the Leith area of the city for a late lunch, stopping along the way at the stunning portrait gallery.

Arriving just as the rain did, we had a quick drink in the very popular Kings Wark followed by a very traditional Scottish lunch in The Granary.  I tried Scotland’s smoky answer to chowder, Cullen Skink, comfort food at its best.  My husband opted for an enormous Full Scottish, allowing us to finally sample haggis, similar in all but texture to Ireland’s black pudding.

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With weather conditions continuing to deteriorate we decided to focus our sight-seeing on cocktails and food for the remainder of the day and after a bit of a search entered the charming and jam-packed Speakeasy, Panda & Sons, a basement bar on Queen St. It was lots of fun and I would recommend it to any visitor to the city.

To find Panda & Sons you need to find the red barber shop, the legitimate front for the prohibited venture.

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Enter through the bookcase…

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Admire the barber shop inspired decor as you peruse the menu.

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Relax and sip your cocktail of choice while listening to a very cool soundtrack.

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We finished the day, and indeed the trip, with dinner at the trendy and popular Beer Kitchen situated directly across the road from our hotel.  So in case there is any doubt – yes, I wholeheartedly recommend a city break in Edinburgh. In fact I can’t wait to return xoxo

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Edinburgh Day 2 – Travel Diary

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Today I am continuing my update on Edinburgh in the hope of inspiring a few future visitors to Scotland’s stunning capital city. As we entered Easter weekend it was a cold, but thankfully dry, Good Friday morning when we emerged from our hotel and grabbed a quick breakfast “butty” to set us up for a day of exploration. Actually, we quickly detoured to Oliver Bonas before the real exploring began, just because it is the kind of store I could browse in for hours and then we became bona fide tourists for a few hours.

We rambled through the Prince’s St gardens to the spectacularly imposing Scott monument. This tribute to Sir Walter Scott is the largest monument to a writer in the world and if you feel so inclined you can climb right to the top. A fitting tribute for the man who coined the immortal phrase, “O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!”

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We wandered from there right around the Old Town, marvelling yet again at the level of history and preservation which surrounded us. It really is a fairytale city in places.

Eventually, we looped around to Greyfriars Kirk, to read the very sweet story of inspirational loyalty between a dog and his master. If you happen to be unfamiliar do take a minute to google the now fabled actions of Greyfrairs Bobby. Of course we stopped in to the local for a pint of ale, sure it would be rude not to before taking a wander through the Kirk itself and then we headed off to do a little more weaving through the Old Town before considering a lazy lunch.

While the stunning architecture and notable literary links in this UNESCO site are not lost on me, my favourite part of Edinburgh was actually the quirky, independent shops and cafes and the beautiful almost romantic lane ways that snaked off the main streets, leading to who knows where.  It really is a city designed for the aimless wanderer. Couple this with the musicality and friendliness of the locals and you are on a winner in terms of a fun weekend destination.

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Finally after all this walking around in the cold, it was time to consider a late lunch, and we decided to head to the Stockbridge area to indulge our appetites. We ended up in the warm and welcoming Scran & Scaille just before the midday menu was terminated. I personally loved this place. It was bustling, the menu was comforting yet a little classy and the drinks offerings were none too shabby either. After much deliberation I had a fish pie and a Style of Scotland beer flight. Both were very enjoyable.

My trusty travel companion was slightly, but only slightly, less enthused with his bangers and mash and Scottish ale.

After this long and lazy lunch we wandered through the beautiful neighbourhood of Stockbridge, again admiring the vintage and retro feel of a city that mixes the modern and the classic effortlessly.

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After a well deserved siesta we ate pizza and drank cocktails on the buzzing Rose St in the heart of the new town that evening. It was another great day in a city I would highly recommend.

Edinburgh Day 1 – a travel diary

An early morning arrival in Edinburgh and a skinning breeze from the North made me glad that we were staying in a really nice hotel like The Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa. Firstly, it was great that a room would be available despite it being only 10am and hours before official check-in. Secondly, the city centre location meant that there was no major effort required in doing a little exploring, returning for a siesta and strolling out again. Thirdly, it is fabulous – the rooms are great, the bar serves a fantastic selection of drinks in a really relaxing environment and the general vibe is welcoming and efficient. The type of hotel where no request seems a hassle, like dropping toothbrushes, tooth paste and mouth wash to the room at 8am. All told, the place felt like a welcome refuge, something all good hotels should aspire to. Here’s a quick look at the room.

Having freshened up, it was time for a little sustenance and some exploring and so I wandered the short distance to Lovecrumbs, a cake café that I had read a lot about.  It was so cute and there was a very interesting array of cakes. Wifi, a book, strong coffee and a fresh slice of white chocolate and lavender cake – the perfect scene for a lazy late morning pick-me-up.

Then a little more rested and a little less hungry, I started to explore Edinburgh, particularly the area around the Castle and the Royal Mile and basically I just marvelled at how well the Scottish capital has preserved its heritage. It is quirky, historic and a photograph lies around every corner. And so I took lots of photos….

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Later after a relaxing cocktail in the hotel bar, we wandered to the fun and funky Civerinos for pizza and Italian beers.

It was simple, relaxed and the pizza was very well executed – a positive end to a positive day.  Hope you are also having a great Easter weekend.

An Evening in Cork City

On Day One of our little Easter break away we spent the evening in Cork city, booked in to an airport hotel as a result of a very early morning flight. Rather than passing the evening in a perfectly fine, but generic and somewhat soulless hotel, we opted instead to venture into the city centre for a few hours and catch up with some great friends for dinner.

Arriving late in the afternoon we took a stroll through Cork’s English Market, admiring everything from vintage clothes to bizarre looking fish. It was buzzing as always and remains a place of endless charm for locals and tourists alike. I love the vintage store fronts and of course it is foodie heaven.

This is a place not to be missed on a trip to Cork.

Having stopped by Waterstones to purchase a few books we then went for a quick drink before it was time to think about sustenance. Having been to The Woodford for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I decided it warranted a return trip as it boasts an impressive drinks list, pleasing decor and friendly staff.

We then went to out chosen restaurant and popped our name down for a table, before spending the 45 minute wait in a very cool nearby wine bar.  It was lovely to sample the wines and craft beers in Meades, this funky and welcoming Georgian style wine bar.  I will definitely be back.

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Having received a friendly call to say our table was ready, we popped back across the street to Elbow Lane, a micro-brewery cum restaurant, specialising in steak and ribs.  The concept of local beer teamed with food is appealing and the place, although tiny, was buzzing. However, having read rave reviews of this place, I was not blown away.  The food was good, but not exceptional.  The beer rates the same. The staff were great and genuinely knowledgeable about their menu and it was a really fun place to hang out. But as far as the food goes I have definitely eaten better and more interesting food in Cork. I remain just a little on the fence about this one.

Fed and watered and remembering our early flight time to Edinburgh, it was back to the hotel for a few hours sleep.  Next update will be from Scotland xoxox

Clowns, Candy Floss and Retro Charm

Few things roll in and out of a town with the speed and dexterity of a circus. It is almost as if it just appears, magically, in the night. Silently. Unnoticed. A giant tent erected by a team of fairytale characters who will remain only a little while, before trundling back out of town again under the cover of darkness. It is this mystique that surrounds the spectacle of the Big Top, that continues to lure me to the circus, even as an adult. And so yesterday, my brother and I took a step back into our childhood and spent an afternoon with the clowns and dare-devil performers of Circus Vegas.

Everything about the circus is sensuous. Smells, diverse and incongruous, mingle effortlessly together – the sweet melting sugar for candy floss, the salty deliciousness of popcorn, the strange sweetness of slightly damp sawdust and the farmyard musk of little circus ponies. Primary colours and bright lights illuminate thousands of sequins, as children wave fluorescent toys in a haze of giddy excitement. It would be so easy for it all to seem tacky – but this is the circus, so leave your inhibitions at the tarpaulin door please. This is no place for sophistication or pretension. Instead, expect cheesy music with an easy rhythm to clap along to, clowns blowing whistles and ringmasters with an exaggerated American drawl. It is wonderful in its excess and its predictability. It is the ultimate retro experience, that seems to have changed very little in decades, despite its place in a world that advances at break-neck speed.

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And then there are the performers…..the stars of the ring, the glittering diamonds of the circus tent.  To me this is where there is true artistry and genius. It is so close, so daring and yet almost invariably elegant.  Even the mistakes are graceful and there are always mistakes, another huge part of the vintage charm the circus holds.  E.E. Cummings once wrote, “Damn everything but the circus!. . .The average ‘painter’ ‘sculptor’ ‘poet’ ‘composer’ ‘playwright’ is a person who cannot leap through a hoop from the back of a galloping horse, make people laugh with a clown’s mouth, orchestrate twenty lions.”  Given that it is more than thirty years since my first circus experience, I of course remember when exotic animals took centre stage but I find the experience loses nothing and gains everything from their general omission in recent years. Because it is the tightrope walkers, the acrobats, the motorcycle riders in a wheel of death, and the fire jugglers that make the circus a really special afternoon’s entertainment.  Their form and grace, their sense of timing, their complete lack of fear amuses and amazes me every time.

I mean seriously – how long must it take to perfect tiptoeing across a tightrope?  It is that combination of practice and performance, talent and showmanship, concentration and charisma that will see me (and most likely my brother) remain fans of the magic of the Big Top throughout our lifetime.

So with or without a child to accompany you, the next time a red, white and blue tent appears to rise from the ashes of your town, pop in through the enchanted canvas door, suspend your disbelief and enjoy some true theatre from a ringside seat. Have a great day and look out for the clowns in your coffee xoxo

Cup, Coffee, Clown, Clown Face, Face, Circus, Foam

 

5 Great Cafés and a Poem.

Wild Geese, Geese, Formation Flight

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

As a lover of Sunday morning poetry, I was sipping my coffee this morning, pondering the spiritual, if almost pagan message, of Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. It seems in many ways the antithesis of the traditional Catholicism, that is an almost intrinsic part of the fabric of Irish society.  Catholics love some penance and sufferance, Oliver seems to suggest something entirely different – follow you heart, trust your instincts, accept your mistakes and move on. For me, there is a suggestion that prioritising yourself is not necessarily selfish – maybe it is just human!!!

There is real wisdom to be found in the unpacking of the metaphoric here. And it is an exceptional composition in its ability to speak to every reader differently and to mean completely different things at different points in life. Creative, challenging and contemplating life’s big questions – a work to revisit throughout our lives?

And then there was the coffee!!!  Having received a very generous gift of a Nespresso machine from my favourite Scottish chef, I was enjoying a particularly good cup.  It led me to wishing wistfully that there were no bad cups because paying for bad coffee or bad food irks me more than most things.  And then, in a glass half full frame of mind, I realised that things have improved on Ireland’s café landscape and that I have been lucky enough to experience some high quality brewed beans in recent weeks. Here are some of my favourite places to pick up a coffee on my travels.

  1.  La Cucina. Limerick.   

Without question, one of Munster’s gems for a coffee and cake to break a long journey.  I almost dream of their strong Italian coffee and a fresh Toblerone cupcake.  If my visit coincides with lunch, the decision between pizza and pasta causes me real problems, as to choose one means missing out on the other.  Food is fantastically fresh, ingredients are carefully sourced and the place buzzes at any hour of the day.  I love it.

2.  The Good Room, Adare

Nestled in one of Ireland’s prettiest villages, on a ridiculously cute street of thatched cottages, The Good Room also offers welcome respite for a weary traveller. The wonderful array of baked goods is difficult to resist and so coffee accompanied by Rocky Road or Biscuit cake is the norm.  It is also lovely to pick up some chocolatey treats for my mother in law, a self-confessed addict for anything derived from the cocoa bean.

3.  The Roast House, Tralee

In a town that was guilty of serving a lot of very mediocre coffee over the years, things are improving significantly in Tralee.  Not only does The Roast House have quality coffee, brewed well, they are generous with the refills, an all too rare treat.  They do the best breakfast in town if you are in the market for pancakes or porridge.  As recently as yesterday, I relished a perfectly prepared pulled pork sandwich that was well priced and very satisfying.  Noticing our dog was with us and offering him a little bowl of water and some gentle affection, definitely secures some bonus points for service.

4. Rogue, Roscommon

Moving to the other town that currently serves as home, I love the urban city vibe of Rogue for a weekend coffee with the paper, or a quick cup to take away after shopping.  The place is modern and vibrant, the food is fresh and the menu just a little more ambitious than is normal for a small market town.

5. The Bookshelf, Cork

My final selection, is a new find but I am anxious to return. A cafe, in an old library, celebrating books, what is not to like.  Add in an uber-trendy breakfast of smashed avocado on toast with a soft poached egg, coffee and the Sunday papers and you may be in coffee heaven.  A city centre location, with a real neighbourhood vibe, what is not to love?

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Have a great Sunday – read some poetry, sip some coffee and wrap up for a long walk in the great outdoors.  Well that’s my plan at least xoxo

Simple Store Cupboard Supper

Easter holidays have arrived here in Ireland and so my husband and I (and of course our trusty canine companion) decamped from the Midlands to the South of the country for a couple of weeks of chilling out and catching up with friends and family.  After nearly four hours in the car and little mind for shopping, I flicked through some cookery books in search of a tasty but low maintenance pasta dish.  Thankfully, Catherine Fulvio’s, “The Weekend Chef”, provided the perfect inspiration – minimal grocery shopping but maximum comfort.

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The recipe was for Tagliatelle with Chicken and Creamy Lemon Sauce.  It had a very simple ingredients list and the only deviation I made was to add a handful of fresh basil, because really everything tastes better with basil (except crème brulee but that’s a story for another day). I also held off on cooking the tagliatelle until just before I needed it. Otherwise, I did exactly what Catherine said to do.

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Served with a twist of black pepper and a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan from warm bowls, it was a perfect flavoursome but casual supper for two.  Pop on some music, add some crusty bread. a crisp cold white wine and eat in front of a log burning stove to create an exact replica of our evening.  Enjoy xo

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Mother & Daughter Night Away

In a long overdue blog update, it is a pleasure to recall a lovely night of food and frolics with my mum in Killarney recently.  Arguably the jewel in Kerry’s crown, the dull misty afternoon did nothing to dampen the spirit of the bustling tourist town.  A blazing fire and friendly smile provided welcome refuge from the relentless drizzle in The Ross, a town centre hotel with a feminine and funky charm.

Check in was smooth and who could argue with an assortment of sugary treats and a glass of something bubbly (adult style), to begin a stress free relaxing evening.

The rooms are modern and furnished to a very high quality, and while I just don’t get the need for a window into the en-suite, there was a least a blind to protect one’s modesty!!! The room scores bonus points for quality toiletries, great pillows and free water.  A nice view of the little neighbourhood church and the gentle clip clop of passing horse and carts, were a lovely backdrop for a Prosecco toast.

After a wander around the gift shops and the purchase of a few little treats, we decided that a pre-dinner cocktail was well deserved. Back at the hotel, and glammed up a little, we passed through the Pink Lounge (a comfy space specialising in gin and champagne) to The Lane Bar, which sports an impressive cocktail menu.  A Daiquiri and a Mojito later and our appetites were ready to be sated.

 

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Dinner was just a little wander downstairs to the Cellar 1 restaurant.  With the soft sounds of the piano in the background and a crisp cool SauvignonBlanc, we were looking forward to seeing what culinary delights were on offer.

To start we went for Chargrilled Lamb Patties and steamed Asian style mussels.  Both were well executed and the lamb dish in particular was a huge hit.

We followed this with one pasta dish and a cod and calamari main course. The quality of both was high and it was a lovely relaxing meal, with attentive service and generous portions. We wondered if we would have room for dessert, but chose unsurprisingly to be martyrs to the sweet treats.  Sticky toffee pudding and an exquisite rhubarb and strawberry crumble were a lovely end to a satisfying meal.

And then, on a Friday night in Ireland, all that remained to be done was track down a trad music session where tourists and locals combined to sip a pint of black, tap feet rhythmically and clap hands vigorously.  It was a really enjoyable night away in a hotel that I would heartily recommend.

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