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

Visiting the Dovecoat Studios in Edinburgh

If you are interested in art, especially textiles, I recommend a visit to the Dovecoat Studios in Edinburgh. They are located in Infirmary Street, around a ten minute walk from Waverley Railway Station. The building was formerly a public baths.

I loved the installation in the stairwell.

There’s a viewing gallery where you can look down on the works in progress in the weaving studio. There’s also information on various commissions on the walls of the viewing gallery.

There’s usually an exhibition. When I visited it was Daughers of Penelope, which showcased the work of female weavers and artists. There’s also a cafe at the Dovecoat Studios.

Review of Hotels.com Rewards Loyalty Programme

Hotel.com is one of the best known hotel booking websites. Their Rewards loyalty scheme offers one free night’s stay if you book ten nights through their website.

Initially, it seems appealing to get something for nothing.

However, it’s not that straightforward once you scratch below the surface.

Not all hotel stays count towards the free one night stay. You have to check that the hotel night(s) which you are booking will count as qualifying stays.

You will still need to pay fees and taxes on your free night. To see the cost of fees and taxes, you need to press the book this room tab. The cost of fees and taxes varies between hotels, it doesn’t appear to be a set percentage.

If you use a discount coupon when making your booking, or it is part of a special promotion, that stay doesn’t count towards the the required ten nights.

Your free stay is redeemed at the average price of the ten hotel nights booked, which equates to around a 10% discount.

Therefore, you would think that a discount code would need to be for at least 10% to make it worth missing out on the night(s) counting toward the ten nights.

But you have to take in to account that Hotels.com may not always offer the lowest price for all hotel night(s) that you book. So you probably need to do a quick check on a hotel price comparison website, to see if you can find the room cheaper on another site.

If you find the room for less on another site, it’s also worth having a look for voucher codes on a website such as Voucher Butler, which can be used on the booking site which offers the lowest price for the hotel.

It all sounds like a bit of hassle. Hotels.com’s Rewards loyalty programme tempts you toward just booking all your stays on their website. Fair enough, it is a loyalty scheme. But the question is does loyalty pay for the customer?

One of the good points on the Rewards scheme is that you have plenty time to redeem your free night, as qualifying hotel nights are valid for twelve months from your last completed booking.

Personally, I’d be inclined to book my free stay as soon as possible after hitting the ten qualifying nights, just in case there were any changes to the loyalty programme.

Also, there are no black out dates for redeeming your free night, so you could use it during peak periods, although the price per night will probably be a lot higher during peak periods.

One of the best ways to get the most from Hotel.com Rewards is to book longer stays e.g. a ten night stay or two five night stays. That way you wouldn’t have to do so much price checking to ensure that you are getting the lowest price available by booking through Hotels.com.

I don’t think that the Hotels.com Rewards programme will entice me to book all my hotel stays on their website. If I could find a voucher code for Hotels.com I’d probably use it. I’d rather have a definite discount at the time of booking, than wait it out to amass ten qualifying nights in the Hotels.com loyalty scheme.

House for an Art Lover in Glasgow

I finally got around to visiting the House for an Art Lover during the Glasgow Doors Open event in 2017. The house was designed in 1901 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald as an entry for a German design magazine competition.

However construction of the House for an Art Lover wasn’t started until 1989, with completion in 1996.

There are some fantastic lights in the House for an Art Lover.

My favourite room was the Music Room, entered through doors decorated with stained glass.

The room was set up for a wedding reception taking place that afternoon.

The Dining Room was pretty impressive, if a bit dark for my taste.

I really liked the House for an Art Lover. It’s located in Bellahouston Park, which lies close the J1 of the M77.

 

A Winter’s Morning Walk in Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Wneh I stayed at the Fisherman’s Tavern in Broughty Ferry, a coastal suburb north of Dundee city centre, in late November, I decided to go for a walk along the Tay Estuary immediately after breakfast. It was a really sunny, but cold and breezy, morning.

Broughty Ferry RNLI station is located close to the Fisherman’s Tavern. There’s a private pier out to the lifeboat.

The morning sun illuminated the boat sheds at the  Royal Tay Yacht Club.

It was so different looking back towards Broughty Ferry  with the low sun shining across the water.

A bit further along in the  Dundee direction. there was a sculpture and some seats with inscriptions.

I could see the Tay Road Bridge in the distance.

On my way back I walked down to the public pier. I couldn’t get a good photo of Broughty Ferry Castle, due to the low sun.

If you’re in Broughty Ferry, I recommend a walk along the Estuary towards Dundee.

Carmen Thyssen Museum Malaga Spain

In the Spanish city of Malaga, most museums are free to enter on Sunday in the late afternoon/evening. I was torn between the Picasso Museum and the Carmen Thyssen. Both museums were free from 5pm, the Picasso closed at 7pm and the Carmen Thyssen at 8pm. I’d been warned that I might have to queue for more than 30 minutes to get into either museum. As I didn’t want to stand in queues for more than one hour, I decided to stick to one, the Carmen Thyssen, in order to see the work of a variety of Spanish artists.

I had to queue for 40 minutes to get into the Carmen Thyssen. It appeared that the staff were only permitting a few visitors to enter every few minutes.

Below are some of my favourites pieces from the permanent collection at the Carmen Thyssen.

Carmen en Malaga by Mercedes Lasarte

Landscape at Hernrn by Dario do Regoyos

Avila by Aureliano de Beruete y Moret

Seascape: View of the Bay of Palma de Mallorca by Antonio Munoz Degrain

Rocks at Javea and the White Boat by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Flamenco Dance by Ricard Canals i Llambi

Valencians by Julia Vila y Prades

Cattle Fair at Salamanca by Franscisco Iturrino

Composition Nude by Celso Lagar

The Baths at Seville by Francesco Iturrino

I could see similarities between some of the pieces at the Carmen Thyssen and paintings by the Scottish Colourist John Fergusson, one of which you can see below.

At My Studio Window at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth, Scotland

Landscape at Dusk with Denatzaris by Valentin de Zubiaurre

I had read that the Carment Thyssen had a roof terrace, so went out there to have a seat and a break.

Even if you are not into art, it’s worth visiting the Carmen Thyssen on a Sunday evening to sit on the terrace, between the flowers and under the huge bell tower.

The Port of Malaga by Manuel Barron y Carillo

Atrium of St Paula Convent by Manyuel Garcia Rodriguez

The Cordoba Fair by Julio Romero de Torres

Courting Spanish Style by Jose Garcia Ramos

Dance for the Priest by Juan Garcia Ramos

I happily spent two hours at the Carmen Thyssen and left feeling vindicated in the choice to focus on one free museum.

Review of Peebles Hydro Hotel

i stayed at the Peebles Hydro Hotel in the Scottish Borders on a Wednesday night in November 2017. I paid £36 for a single room, including breakfast, on the Amoma hotel booking website.

I arrived at the hotel around 3pm, just as it was starting to rain. I couldn’t find a space to park the car at the front of the hotel, but there were spaces in the small car park a little way down the hill.

There was a beautiful fountain opposite the entrance to the hotel.

The exterior of the Peebles Hydro is pretty impressive

As is the staircase up to the reception desk.

The receptionist who checked me in was very friendly.

I was happy with my single room, as it was a good size.

It was located at the rear of the hotel. The window looked out on some trees.

The room was quite low key with muted colours apart from the curtains. I found the bed to be very comfortable. The WiFi was very good.

The bathroom was also spacious. The bath was large.

The breakfast was much better than in many other Scottish hotels in which I have stayed recently. The fresh fruit salad and fruity yoghurt were tasty.

The restaurant was rather grand with several chandaliers.

As it was dry that morning, I had a walk around the grounds of Peebles Hydro.

There was an archery area, tennis courts and outdoor chess/draughts.

Overall, I enjoyed my stay at the Peebles Hydro Hotel. At £36 for bed and breakfast, it was good value for money. The location is beautiful. My single room was much larger than the single rooms in most hotels. The breakfast was good quality and all the staff were focused customer service.

Click here to check availability and price at the Peebles Hydro Hotel.

Do You Read Your Hotel Reviews Before Stepping Onto the Plane?

We’ve all heard the scams about cockroach infested hotels, legionnaire’s disease, unclean nylon sheets, paint peeling off the walls, dirty windows….if you’ve watched ‘The Hotel’ in the UK you’ve probably seen some of them. Fawlty Towers is not the done thing these days. There are many ways to book your holiday and choose your hotel online. Probably two of the most well-known if you are in the UK are trivago.co.uk or tripadvisor.co.uk where you can read reviews about your hotels and rate them yourself. One such example is the IBEROSTAR Anthelia hotel in Tenerife, one of the most popular all-year-round holiday destinations for Brits.

There are literally hundreds of reviews online now. The  Iberostar Anthelia hotel, for example has close to 3,000 reviews to date on Tripadvisor. The review rating is out of five stars and is classified on tripadvisor.co.uk as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’, ‘average’, ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’. If you’re wise, you can trust the people. It’ll save on the budget Budapest ‘hotel’ that turns out to be a youth hostel and doesn’t have towels any bigger than a flannel and is full of students. Mind you, if that’s your thing, you must read the reviews…

With the insurance claim culture so high, hotels and other tourist attractions are bending over backwards to get you to write good reviews for them. In a restaurant in Madrid my party gang showed the Lonely Planet review of the restaurant and got it free meal for all of us – it does have its perks. As the waiter ran off to photocopy the review for the rest of the staff, they upped their game and smiled a lot and let us stay late into the night when most people had left.

Tripadvisor and Trivago give an overview of amenities in the hotel, let you know about wifi signal availability (in the rooms or the lobby for instance), whether there’s a pool or spa – it even rates the breakfast and offers information on whether there is air-con.

The hotels are writing back too – this is their chance to put the record straight if they are criticised, or welcome the praise. Online reviews are now a two-way dialogue and reviewers can sometimes be a little too harsh with their criticism. It gives a chance for neutrality to be achieved.

Online reviews are the world we live in, we have reviews for almost everything we buy online now. Amazon.co.uk will give you feedback and offer you ideas about what other people who bought your item bought, you can review literally most things you buy somewhere online. The digital footprint just got onto higher ground and you’d be a fool not to a part of it. If you go on holiday based on a sales rep telling you it’s a great place, you’re not considered ‘with it’. The majority of people take a sneaky peek at what their hotel is like before stepping there. Don’t be a fool – make sure you are not the one with critters in your bed… join the online reviewing revolution! Vivre la revolution!

Above Below Beyond by Janeanne Gilchrist at the Fergusson Gallery, Perth, Scotland

When I visited the Fergusson Gallery in mid November 2017, it was the day before the Above Below Beyond exhibition was due to open. The photographer Janeanne Gilchrist is the recipient of the 2018 Fergusson Arts Award.

These underwater images were taken by Gilchrist when free diving off the Scottish coast.

The Above Below Beyond exhibition at Perth’s Fergusson Gallery runs until the 13th of April 2018.

A Fine Line at the City Art Centre Edinburgh

You can see A Fine Line at the City Art Centre Edinburgh until 18 February 2018. The exhibition features the work of four contemporary artists who all currently live and work in Scotland.

The exhibition was right up my street, as it questioned the line between art and craft. I don’t think that there is one.

I really liked Lizzie Farey’s willow sculptures.

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Frances’ Priests pottery was intricate and colourful.

I was also a fan of Angie Lewin’s work which consisted of engraving, paintings and screen and lino printing.

Bronwen Sleigh’s work is inspired by industrial architecture and urban landscapes.

You need to check the opening hours when planning a visit the City Art Centre in Edinburgh. At present, it is shut on Mondays and Tuesdays and opening hours vary on different days.

West Highland Line to Oban

Taking the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban is a train journey which I’d been intending to do for ages. I seized the opportunity when Scotrail announced their £17 return fare between any two stations in Scotland, available to members to Scotrail Club 50 members.

Below is a pictorial record of the railway journey on the West Highland Line to Oban.

Clyde Estuary approaching Dumbarton

Dumbarton Central Station

West Highland Line near Dumbarton

West Highland Line near Gairloch

West Highland Line near Gairloch

West Highland Line near Gairloch

West Highland Line near Tarbert

Beinn Dorain topped by cloud

West Highland Line near Tyndrum

West Highland Line near Dalmally

West Highland Line near Dalmally

Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

Loch Awe

Loch Awe

West Highland Line near Falls of Cruachan

The descent into Oban

My outward journey from Glasgow to Oban on the West Highland Line was fantastic. I had the four seats at a table to myself and the sun was shining for most of the trip.

I was a different story on the return journey. I had booked a seat on the 14.40 train from Oban for the following day. But it was such a wet day, and my Club 50 £17 return was a flexible ticket, so I decided to go for the earlier 12.11 train. I arrived at Oban station in plenty of time to increase my chances of finding an unreserved seat on the two carriage train.

A good thing that I was there early, as I managed to grab one of the four unreserved seats on the train. The train was packed, with quite a few people standing until we reached Crianlarich, where our two coaches were hooked up with a four carriage train which had come from the Mallaig.

The initial part of the journey from Oban to Crianlarich was awful. It was a struggle to get through the train to reach the one toilet. You could hardly see the scenery due to the rain and condensation on the windows, and it felt cold on the train.

So definitely a journey of two halves, with the first being infinitely more enjoyable.