Author Archives: Karen Bryan

About Karen Bryan

Hello, I'm Karen Bryan, I created Europe a la Carte in 2002 to highlight the best places to visit in Europe with travel tips, photos and no fluff reviews. I’m also an artist; my artworks are often inspired by my travels

Personalized Items for Your Journey

Although travelling is a great experience, it can sometimes also be a stressful and difficult experience. Everyone loves a holiday, everyone loves seeing new places. Getting there, however, can be a nightmare. If you’ve never experienced the miserable process of losing your belongings, you doubtless know someone who has. There is a way to mitigate this risk, though, and ensure a more comfortable travelling experience. How? By using personalized travel items.

At specialist online printing companies, like www.helloprint.co.uk, you will see a wide variety of personalised printed items available. This allows you to minimise the risk of your property being wrongly identified or lost while you’re travelling.

Having your things taken by mistake is never fun. It’s not always malicious, either, not everyone is out to steal. When you have a sea of thirty similar shaped and shaded cases it can be difficult to know at a glance which is yours. The same applies to items such as caps, jackets, and even water bottles. They can all be easy to lose if you’re not careful. Custom printing these items allow both you and other travellers to identify who they belong to, easily. It also reduces the risk you forget something yourself. If you see a cap with your name or design on it, you are more likely to notice it if you leave it laying around somewhere.

Enjoy plenty of choice

Nowadays online printers are not only useful for businesses; also as a customer you can enjoy the benefits of custom printing. There is a wide variety of items that can be custom printed at a specialist printing website. This means that custom printed goods aren’t just useful for holidaymakers. Those who regularly find themselves travelling for work, for example, will also find many useful items available for custom printing. Even down to the smallest items such as a pen, you can personally identify your possessions to ensure they don’t get pilfered.

Affordable and easy

Something else to consider about personalised printing is that when it’s done online it’s very easy and quick. It’s a process that takes mere minutes; you can do it on your lunch break or settled on your favourite chair in front of the TV. Simple choose your items, choose your design options, check out – done! Your goods will be printed to your specifications and delivered to your door. It’s as simple as that. With no overheads from physical store locations, it’s much cheaper, too.

The next time you travel, make sure both you and everyone around you can identify what’s yours easily thanks to custom printing.

Review of Premier Inn Dundee Centre

I stayed at the Premier Inn Dundee Centre for two nights in October 2018. My stay cost £60 for a double room, booked several months in advance on the non-refundable Saver rate.

I’ve stayed at the hotel in the past, you can read my review here. The hotel was closed for in 2016 for a year long renovation and extension. When it reopened in early 2017, the number of rooms had more than tripled from 40 to 148.

Premier Inn Dundee Centre is in a great location on the Tay estuary, next to Discover Point and close to the V&A Dundee (which you can just make out at the end of the esplanade in the photo below).

An unwelcome change, is that you now have to pay to park at the Premier Inn Dundee Centre. It costs £3 per night, which very reasonable for city centre parking.

It’s pretty confusing in the car park, especially if you arrive after dark.  The The car park is meant to be for Premier Inn guests and customer of the adjacent Beefeater restaurant. However the car park is not run by the hotel or restaurant (owned by Whitbread0, but by a private car park firm.

There are machines in the car park, but they  are for Beefeater customers, who pay £2 for three hours, which they can reclaim when they order in restaurant.

Premier Inn guests should use the machines the hotel lobby. The strange thing is that you don’t get a ticket to put on your windscreen. You enter your car registration number as part of the payment process. Be sure that you enter the registration number carefully. If you enter it incorrectly, you could end up with a £100 parking infringement charge.

I arrived at Premier Inn Dundee Centre around 9.30 with the intention of making the most of the day. Check in time is !4.00.  I checked with the receptionist, that paying the £6 for my two night stay would cover parking until noon checkout time, two days later. She said that it would.

I attempted to phone the hotel the day before arrival to request a room with an estuary view. But I wasn’t put through to the hotel, it was a customer relations office. They said that my request would be passed onto the hotel, but could not be guaranteed. When I asked the receptionist about the parking, I also asked if my request had been received. She said that they didn’t accept requests in advance, that I would have to make the request at check in. To increase the chance of my request being granted, I decided that I would need to return to the hotel at exactly at check in time of 2pm.

I arrived back at hotel a couple of minutes after 2pm. I couldn’t see any spaces in the Premier Inn/Beefeater car park. I think that some visitors to the V&A Dundee are parking in that car park. It’s cheaper than the adjacent Discovery Point car park, which quickly fills up with museum visitors. This made me think that it would be wise not to move the car, as I might not find a parking space upon my return.

At reception, I was allocated an estuary view room on the third floor. I was so glad that I had persevered to achieve my goal, as the hotel remodelling included the fitting of floor to ceiling window, so the views were great despite the grey, wet weather.

The room was great; tastefully furnished, spacious and comfortable. There was plenty of desk space. My beef with Premier Inn is that they are still so mean with tea and coffee supplies. You only get two teabags, two sachets of coffee and four little milk pots in a double room. Everything’s Premier, except the hot drinks supplies.

You can request more supplies at reception, but you might not feel like trailing down there. It seems such a penny pinching policy when it feels like a lot of money has been spent on the room.

I liked the fact that there was a sofa, so that could have a comfy seat without having to sit on the bed.

The bathroom was spotless with lovely tiles.

It was nice and quiet in the room. I heard no external noise, not even the hotel banging fire and room doors.

I spent most of the time in the room sitting by the window admiring the view. Fortunately,there was a small table by the bed, which I was able to move over to the window, which was ideal for laying he Chromebook so that I could work with a view.

In summary, I thought that the Premier Inn Dundee Centre was very good value for money at £30 a night. The room was of a high standard. But I think that the car parking policy needs to made much clearer to guests in their booking confirmation and on the machines in the lobby. Plus, Premier Inn need to be more generous with tea and coffee making supplies.

Hidden Door Festival in Leith, Edinburgh

The Hidden Door Festival in Leith, Edinburgh ran from 25 May to 3 June 2018. I attended the event on the second Saturday the 2nd of June.

I mainly attended to see the contemporary art exhibitions. Most of the art was exhibited the State Cinema.

I liked the copper panels in the foyer.

It was very colourful in the colonnade of Leith Theatre, across the road from the State Cinema.

I also saw a few performances.

Hagit Yakura – Air Hunger was wonderful.

photo courtesy of Hidden Door

I also enjoyed Claricia Kruithof – Untitled (labyrinth), which was performed outdoors in the courtyard of Leith Theatre.

I made my Edinburgh stage debut at Alice Mary Cooper’s Bean Counter, when I was selected from the audience to play the part of the bean counter’s oath taking official.

photo courtesy of Hidden Door

Review of the Old Manor Hotel Lundin Links

I stayed at the Old Manor Hotel in Lundin Links (in east central Scotland) on a Tuesday night in October 2018. I paid £36 for a single room including breakfast, booked on the eBookers website.

I was looking for lodgings for the night when I was in Fife to visit several art exhibitions. I knew of the Old Manor Hotel, having driven past it many times over the years. I was attracted by the location with views over the Forth Estuary. But I wasn’t willing to fork out an additional £20+ for a sea view room. I reckoned that I might arrive after dark, so wouldn’t see the view and at least, I would have the view during breakfast in the dining room.

I arrived at the Old Manor Hotel around 5.30pm. There was plenty of space in the car park. But the surface of the car park was like fine gravel, vs tarmac, so I decided to carry, as opposed to wheel, my suitcase.

The public areas were attractive.

I was upgraded to a double room, but not to a sea view room (fair enough). My first floor room faced the road outside the hotel, but I didn’t hear any exterior noise when the window was shut.

I was impressed by the room.  I believe it had been recently refurbished. There was a large wardrobe with a light. The TV was in a corner, as opposed to above the desk. There was a cafetiere and a ground coffee bag, a sachet of luxury hot chocolate and various teabags.

The bed and the char at the desk were very comfortable. In addition to the thick curtains. there was a roller blind, so it was nice and dark in the room for sleeping. The WiFi was good.

The bathroom was a good size, with lovely toiletries and soft towels.

The one improvement I’d like would be electrical sockets above the desk. I ended up having to put the kettle on the carpet.

The following morning, I arrived in the dining room in time to see the sunrise.

My table was in the corner, so I had an expansive view.

There was a buffet table with a selection of fruit choice, cereal, yoghurt, fresh fruit, pastries. You could make your own toast in the toaster. Tea or coffee was served to your table.

There was a good choice for the freshly cooked breakfast. I found it hard to decided whether to have the smoked salmon with scrambled egg or the smoked haddock with poached egg. I opted for the salmon, which was very good.

The waiting staff were very friendly and attentive.

In summary, I’d recommend the Old Manor Hotel in Lundin Links. The quality of the accommodation and food was high.

Click here to check availability and price of the Old Manor Hotel on the HotelsCombined price comparison site.

Harbour Arts Centre Irvine

When I stopped in Irvine, on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland, to visit the Scottish Maritime Museum. I decided to take a walk along the harbour road. It was a pretty dull day, but thankfully dry after earlier rain. I had a quick look in Harbour Arts Centre. I really liked the sculpture opposite the centre.

Inside, there was a painting of Harbour Street.

When I visited in August, I saw the Futureproof 2018 exhibition by Street Level Photography. It was the tenth exhibition of work by emerging artists who graduated from Scottish Fine Art and photography courses.

There’s a cafe in the Harbour Arts Centre. It’s wise to check opening hours before visiting, as it’s closed on Mondays and may be closed at the weekend. It’s generally open Tuesday to Friday 9.30 to 16.30.

Scottish Maritime Museum

The Scottish Maritime Museum is located in Irvine on the Ayrshire coast. It’s not a state run museum, so there is an entry charge of £7.50 for adults (aged over 16), the concessionary price is £5.50. Up to three children enter free with one adult (full price or concession).

I decided to visit the Scottish Martime Museum for two reasons. It on my way to Dumfries and Galloway for the Arts and Crafts Trail in Kirkcubright and I wanted to see the Maritime Perspectives art exhibition, which was on at that time.

As I have an National Art Pass, I didn’t have to pay the entry charge. There’s a free car park in front of the museum.

There were some exhibits in the grounds of the museum.

I spent most time in the Maritime Perspectives art exhibition, in which you weren’t permitted to take photos.

The art theme continued in the museum. The ‘Propping Through Riverside’ architectural installation, a collaboration between an artist and an architect, illustrates the processes, techniques and construction methods used on the River Clyde.

I was interested to ready about George Wyllie’s ‘QM’ installation. His 80 foot long paper boat, lamenting the loss of heavy industry in the west of Scotland, toured the world for seven years, before being dismantled.

The last remaining piece of the installation is displayed in the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine.

Tom McKendrick’s ‘Hole Borer’ installation is a altar dedicated to the trades and mythologies of the shipbuilding industry.

I liked the posters for ferry trips.

The museum in Irvine is housed in the Victorian glass roofed Linthouse, the former Engine Shop of Alexander Stephen and Sons shipyard in Govan in Glasgow. The building was dismantled and rebuilt in Irvine. This vast building is very appropriate for the large industrial exhibits.

The Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine makes a good effort to engage young visitors. There is a wardrobe full of clothes for dressing up in period custume.

You can also try your hand at various nautical knots.

The models of ships were very intricate.

I believe that visitors interested in engineering, seafaring and industrial heritage would get a lot out of the Scottish Maritime Museum than me.

The Advantages of Renting a Car in Glasgow

While there’s a lot to see and do in the Scottish city of Glasgow, you can have some wonderful day trips from the city if you have a rental car.

Advantages of Hiring a Car

  1. Flexibility – You are not bound by public transport destinations and timetables.
  2. Cost – It could be cheaper to rent a car than pay public transport fares, if there are at least two people in the car.
  3. You Don’t Have to Carry Your Gear – You can be prepared for the Scottish four seasons in one day, or take a picnic/BBQ to eat at a scenic spot.

Finding a Hire Car in Glasgow

I believe that May is a good time to visit Scotland. The days are are long and the weather often pleasant, although you never know in Scotland.

I had a look at prices to rent a car in Glasgow on the Discover Car Hire website for one week in mid May next year. The website compares prices from many different car rental firms.

The lowest price was £146 for an economy grade of car e.g. a Renault Kangoo through Alamo. Strangely, the cheapest mini car cost more than this, coming in at over £200 for the base price.

If you would prefer a slightly larger car, I found a compact car e.g. a Peugeot 308 for £168 through SIxt.  An intermediate car e.g. a Skoda Octavia cost £269 through Alamo. For a standard car such as Vauxhall Insignia, which could very comfortably seat four adults, the price was £288 through Sixt.

When my husband and I rent a car we generally go for a compact. We never have a lot of luggage, just two carry on suitcases, so they can easily fit in the boot of a compact car.

You can opt to pay an additional fee to full coverage. This means that you don’t have to pay any excesses for damage, breakdown expenses or lost keys. I always select this option when renting a car. For the compact car that added another £48, approximately 40%, bringing the price up to £173.

When you make a booking on the Discover Car Hire website, you pay a deposit of around 30% of the total price at the time of booking, You can cancel free of charge up to 48 hours prior to pick up time. You pay the balance when you pick up your hire car.

Some Driving Tips for the UK

In the UK,  we drive on the left hand side of the road. If you are from a country in which you drive on the right hand side, it can take a little time to get used to the gear stick being on your left side instead of your right. There are lots of roundabouts in the Scotland, so remember to give way from the right.

In general, the road signage in Scotland is very good. Google maps is a very useful navigation tool. However, as you may lose your mobile broadband signal is some rural areas, I’d recommend that you also have a map. Look at the route on the map before you set off on a journey, writing down the destinations and road numbers.

Ideas for Days Out by Car from Glasgow

Oban

Oban is a coastal town which lies in a horse shoe shaped bay. It takes around two hours to drive there from Glasgow.

The first part of the drive takes you along Loch Lomond. There’s a nice parking area at Inveruglas at the north of the loch.

You’ll drive through Glen Coe as you head west on the A82.

Once you are in Oban, you get some great views over the bay from McCaig’s Tower (a folly built as a job creation scheme by a banker).

Stirling/ Callander Circular

The city of Stirling, where I live, is a 30 minute drive by motorway from Glasgow. It’s well known for Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. But I suggest that you also visit Cambuskenneth Abbey and the Battle of Bannockburn.

As you head towards Callander, you can stop to see Doune Castle. The castle was one of locations used in the Outlander series. There’s a level walk along the old railway line in Callander if you feel like stretching your legs. From Callander the return route to Glasgow is on the A811 passing through Garmore and Killearn.

Ayrshire

Ayrshire is reached by driving down the M77 motorway from Glasgow. The recently renovated Burns Birthplace Museum is in Alloway, just south of the town of Ayr. There are two buildings. Burn’s Birthplace and the museum. You can walk between them along Poet’s Walk on which there are several sculptures related to Burn’s poems.

If you are an art lover, Rozelle House, is worth a visit. It’s only a few minutes drive from the Burn’s Birthplace Museum.

Culzean Castle lies further south. It’s located in a beautiful spot on the coast. There’s a walled garden, a lake and extensive grounds to explore.

If you don’t want to drive too far south, you could head east from Ayr to visit Dumfries House. The Queen Elizabeth Garden there is fantastic.

I hope that you find my tips for days out by hire car from Glasgow useful and that you have great holiday in Scotland.

Dr Neils Garden Edinburgh

08Despite driving past many times, I had never had of Dr Neils Garden prior to attending an art exhibition there. The location is very scenic on the shore of Loch Duddingston a the foot of Arthur’s Seat.

The garden was created in the 1960s by a wife and husband, Drs  Nancy and Andrew Neil, who were local GPs. Some patients of the GP practice volunteered to work in the garden, while others spent time in the garden during their recuperation. The Neils both died in 2005, but had already set up Dr Neil’s Garden Trust to ensure the continuation of the garden.

Not only was there an art exhibition on the Saturday morning when I visited, there were also members of a local art club painting in Dr Neil’s Garden.

The art exhibition was held in Thomson’s Tower on the shore of Lake Duddingston. It was designed by the architect William Henry Playfair, as a storage facility for Duddingston Curling Society.

In 2012 the Physic Garden was created to commemorate the Neils.

Below are some more photos of Dr Neils Garden.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Dr Neils Garden in Edinburgh and plan to visit regularly.

Neil’s Garden is open every day from 10am to dusk. It’s usually free to enter, with donations welcomed. But there may be an entrance charge during special event, so check before you visit.

Paisley Thread Museum

At present, the Paisley Thread Museum is located in Abbey Mill Business Park.

You can park free of charge in the business park when visiting the Paisley Thread Mill Museum. But you must give the receptionist the registration number of your car, or you may receive a penalty notice from private car parking firm which monitors the car park.

The Paisley Thread Mill Museum exhibits are spread out over the foyer and the first floor mezzanine and corridor.

I loved the installation on the ceiling of the lobby at Abbey Mill, which consisted of hundreds of spools of thread of every colour and shade.

There are also a couple of machines from the former thread factory in the lobby.

There is a mural on the wall opposite the mezzanine level.

On the mezzanine level, there are several glass cabinets pictured below.

In the corridor, there are some more glass cases, predominantly filled with more reels of every imaginable colour of thread.

 

It appears that you can visit the museum during the opening hours of the Abbey Mill Business Park. However, the museum is staffed by local volunteers on Wednesdays and Saturdays from noon to 3pm. In my opinion, you get more out of your visit to Paisley Thread Museums if you visit when a volunteer is in attendance.

Threave Castle and Garden

05I planned to visit Threave castle and garden in late May on my drive down to to attend Spring Fling in Dumfries and Galloway.

I had visited Threave in 2009. What I wasn’t aware of is that the castle and the garden are a couple of miles apart, and that I had previously only visited the garden.

On my recent visit, I followed the sign to the castle, assuming that the garden would be at the castle. I didn’t recognise the car park at the castle. I then saw a signpost for the path to reach the ferry to cross to the castle. My recollection was of walking straight from the car park into the garden.

I walked to the ferry, but decided not to cross over. It was a small boat and I wasn’t confident about stepping onto the boat. given that the last time I had boarded a small vessel in Vigo in Spain, the boat had moved and I had almost fallen through the gap into the water.

It’s a bit of strange arrangement as it appears that Threave Castle is managed by Historic Scotland, but members of the National Trust of Scotland (of which I am a member) are offered free entry. I have come across that arrangement before. I have often wished that Historic Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland would merge.

Upon my return to the castle car park, I had a closer look at my map and worked out the driving route to Threave Garden.

You enter the garden through the Visitor Centre, where there are toilets and a cafe with garden views.

I had my flask with me, so stopped for a cup of tea at a bench under a tree. I wanted to be in the shade as it was a warm day. I was also attracted by beautiful bluebells under the tree.

There’s another cafe with outdoor seating the former stable building.

I remembered the slate features in the fountain.

There were several types of fruit trees in blossom in the walled garden.

The greenhouse was full of colourful flowering plants.

I was tempted to cool my feet in the water feature in the rock garden.

There were lots more bluebells in the woodland walk.

There were some blue poppies close to the pond.

The rhododendrons were in full bloom.

I really enjoyed my visit to Threave Garden. I would have liked to stay for longer, but I also wanted to visit Broughton House in Kirkcubright that afternoon.