Wow – this year’s Edinburgh Festival is turning out to be the biggest of all time. And with that the streets are VERY crowded. But after you’ve had time to check out some of your festival favourites (did you see our best of the free fringe?), here are some tips of where to go to get out of town and stretch your legs.
Go for a hike in the Pentlands. If it’s a clear day you can see for miles and miles, and there are a number of tracks to suit all. The offical website has an excellent map. The fastest/easiest route is to take bus 4 to Hillend (the dry ski centre) and then walk up. ;-)
Walk across the Forth Road Bridge. This is one of my favourite walks because you get uninterrupted views of the magestic Forth Rail Bridge. You can picnic over on the north side at North Queensferry before returning back to South Queensferry for some shopping and time in the pub. First Bus X43 from Waterloo Place runs express to South Quesnferry.
Go to the Beach. Well – Crammond Beach isn’t for swimming, but it’s where the locals go for shoreside strolls. It’s not as crowded as in town, and its easy to get to from the city centre. Be sure to check the tide times – on low tide you can walk across to Crammond Island.
In this guest post Rachel Cotterill gives us the lowdown on planning an island hopping trip around the The Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland,
“When you think of an island-hopping adventure, I’d wager that for most people, what springs to mind is more likely to be the Carribean or Greece than Scotland. But whether you’re more interested in hiking up mountains or relaxing on white sand beaches, avid bird-watching or just spending some time in a very different culture, there’s something for everyone in the Hebrides.
Uist, The Hebrides
I’ve just got back from a two week Hebridean holiday, and thought that Europe A La Carte’s readers may be interested in the logistics of planning a trip to some of Europe’s wildest islands, where all the shops close on Sundays (Lewis & Harris) or Catholic shrines are common along the roadside (the Uists & Benbecula).
There are a few small airports on the islands, so you can choose to fly from Glasgow or Inverness, but for flexibility (or if you want to take a car) you’ll struggle to beat the ferry services, which are operated by Caledonian Macbrayne (CalMac for short) and run several times a day on most routes.
CalMac have a monopoly on the ferries, but amazingly this doesn’t translate to poor value. Indeed, we planned our trip based on last year’s charges, expecting to pay a little more in reality – and found that most fares this year had actually gone down due to subsidies designed to promote tourism! So there’s probably no better time to visit than this summer.
Booking ferry tickets is easy – you can walk into any of the ferry terminals, or book in advance by phone or online. “Island Hopscotch” tickets cover popular route combinations and can mean some hefty savings – for example, we used two Hopscotch tickets (route 6, for Mull, and route 11, for Skye, the Uists, Harris & Lewis), a pedestrian return to Iona, and one Saver return with the car (to get down to Barra), which took us everywhere we wanted to go and still cost significantly less than the price of a Rover ticket (which allows unlimited journies within a seven- or fourteen-day period, and may be worth the extra if you don’t like planning ahead).
You don’t need to commit to specific times when booking tickets, but for many routes, a reservation is strongly recommended if you’re travelling with a vehicle. We were slightly before the main summer rush, and found that we could always get the reservation we wanted by calling a day in advance.
The islands aren’t really equipped to deal with tourism yet; tourist sites don’t feel crowded (with the exception, in our experience, of the Abbey on Iona) but many guesthouses were full. We took a tent (Scottish laws allow for wild camping in most areas), but if you’re hoping to find bed-and-breakfast accommodation, it would be worth calling ahead to reserve a room. Alternatively, it’s worth being aware that a small (up to 5m) motorcaravan costs the same price as a car on the ferries, and there are quite a few campsites dotted around.
So if you’re interested in going somewhere a little bit different this year, I hope you can see that it’s easier than you might have thought to reach the Outer Hebrides or other Scottish islands. (Note that the information I’ve given doesn’t cover the Orkneys and Shetlands, where I haven’t yet been, and where CalMac don’t run the ferries – so if you know something about getting there, I’d be interested to hear it!)”
In this guest post, Liam Sinclair, director of the Edinburgh Mela Festival, describes what’s on offer at this year’s multicultural festival which runs from 7 – 9 August 2009.
“It’s nearly that time of year again where the streets, parks and buildings of Edinburgh will be filled with festival goers from all over the world. 2009 is also a year to remember as Scotland celebrates its year of Homecoming, so why not join me in the celebrations at one of Scotland’s most talked about multicultural festivals – the Edinburgh Mela.
August is one of the busiest times of year for me as the Edinburgh Mela gears up to showcase talent and performances from different parts of the world from as far away as Iran and Africa. The programme has just been printed and we are now ready to reveal one of Scotland’s most eagerly awaited culturally diverse Festival programmes.
Why not take a trip to Pilrig Park, Leith on either the 7, 8, or 9th of August and be welcomed by the lovely aromas of Indian, south Asian and Bengali cuisines, the sound of Bollywood singing, beats and drums of bhangra and Japanese Taiko drumming and the laughter of Mela goers as they make their way around the array of stalls at the park. These are just a few of the performances and goodies the Edinburgh Mela has to offer.
It’s a family event and great value for money where children under 12 go free, so why not bring them along and let them explore the dedicated children’s area at the park which is supporting the theme of ‘Through the Forest’ this year giving children the opportunity to becoming familiar with the outdoors. Various workshops will be running over the weekend where children can learn how to henna paint, make Chinese knotting baskets and also watch various shows such as the forest creature’s puppet show.
Where else other than Edinburgh can you immerse yourself into a bazaar like atmosphere picking up bargains and at the same time hear eclectic Iranian Jazz with singing in French, Farsi, Arabic and Scottish. Not only that but one of my favourites which I can’t wait to see is our Homecoming project called Yatra Journeys Home where Scottish, Bhangra and Japanese music collaborate to produce a profound mix of cultures and with the added element of dance by Dance Ihayami and film this piece is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
One area of the festival which is out of bounds even for me is the Big Top on Friday where Sakhian Ladies only night takes place. Women can get up and dance all night long to a top Bhangra artist and indulge into the Indian buffet on offer”
When we were in Sitrling last week we were looking for a quick, cheap meal before an evening appointment so the Brewers Fayre 2 main courses for £9 offer sounded like it fitted the bill.
The Brewers Fayre restaurant near Stirling, called the the Pirnhall Inn is a couple of minutes drive from the services roundabout at Stirling, following the signs for Bannockburn. So if you need to stop in the Stirling area, you’ll get a much better ambience and value for money at Brewers Fayre than at the services restaurant. The Pirnhall has a kids outdoor play area.
This offer is available from 12.00 – 18.30 Monday to Friday. There are fourteen main courses on the offer menu. We ordered the Steak Pie and Chicken Tikka Masala. At Brewers Fayre you order and pay at the cash desk and your order is brought to your table.
Our meals arived within ten minutes. The servings were generous and the food was pretty good. The Steak Pie was made with shortcrust pastry, I prefer puff pastry but I imagine shortcrust stores and heats up better. There was no gristle or fat in the beef. However the meal was served with a tiny portion of peas, I’d have liked more peas or preferably two veg. The Tikka Masala was served with a small nan bread and two poppadoms.
Unfortunately I only thought that I should write a blog post about the offer once we’d eaten our food, so I’m using a Brewers Fayre photo in this post. Sometimes I just act like a “normal person” and eat my food when it arrives without thinking about taking photos and writing blog posts.
I asked Brewers Fayre how long the offer is scheduled to run and was informed “for the forseeable future”, so it’s probably a good idea to contact the restaurant before you visit to check that the 2 for £9 offer is still available.
Overall, I say the 2 main meals for £9 is good value if you want a cheap meal in pleasant surroundings. Brewers Fayre have restaurants all over the UK.
Well, it seems tradition that we highlight the free events and activities in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (you can see our 2008 list here). So here’s our recommendations for free stuff in this year’s festival – the links point to the official Edinburgh Fringe website, where you can read more about each suggestion. Some events are first-come, first-served while others require a reservation so be sure to book where it is required in order to avoid disappointment.
The 80s Movie Flashback. Find out what’s happened to your favourite 80s stars. Not ticketed, first-come first-served basis.
Absolutely Free Live Music. Not sure what the difference is between absolutely free and just free but love Whistlebinkies and the vibe here during the festival is great. Check it out. Not ticketed, first-come first-served basis (but this is a bar, not a venue, so just jump in with the crowd!)
We visited Chillies West End in Woodlands Road in Glasgow for lunch on a week day at the beginning of July 2009. The restaurant chefs Jansey and Saumitra won the BBC Good Food Scotland award for the best Asian dining chefs in 2008/2009.
Chillies West End, Glasgow
The restaurant is billed as a contemporary Indian restaurant serving “small portions of exquisite food”. The idea is that you can sample a wide variety of dishes. You should be aware that the restaurant operates a no alcohol policy.
Between 12.00 to 15.00 and 17.00 – 18.30 (tables must be vacated by 19.30), there is the option to select three little dishes from the day menu for £9 to include either nan bread, rice or a tandoori roll. We chose:
1 Machil Nariyal Masalah – mixed seafood
2 Gosht with Mint & Yoghurt – lamb
3 Chooza Goan – chicken with honey
4 Tarka Dall – lentils
5 Saag Paneer – spinach with cheese
6 Gosht Karachi – lamb with peppers
Chillies West End, Glasgow
Chillies West End did live up to its promise of exquisite food. The dishes were much lighter than you often find in a Indian restaurant, with subtle flavours. The restaurant has a pleasant ambience, with dark wood tables and red chairs to echo the chilli theme. The toilets are very clean and had lovely scented soap.
I’d recommend the restaurant, especially at lunch time or early evening, when it’s excellent value for money.
I stayed at the Edinburgh West End Travelodge for 2 nights, 22 – 24 June 2009. I paid £9 per room per night for a family room, booked 5 months in advance during a £9 Sale. Travelodge bought this former four star hotel a couple of years ago and have carried out a massive refurbishment, turning the function rooms into bedrooms. There is a cafe/bar which serves breakfast and evening meals.
Edinburgh West End Travelodge is located at Belford Bridge, close to the Dean Gallery and the Gallery of Modern Art. The hotel is right on the Water of Leith Walkway so you can be on the tranquil footpath within a minute of leaving the hotel reception. It takes around 10 minutes to walk to Haymarket rail station or Princes Street. The hotel has a free (at the moment) car park but I heard they are going to start charging. It can be hard to find a parking space when the hotel is busy. Update 8 December 2010: Parking is now charged at £3 for 24 hours.
I stayed in Room 522, featured in the video. I loved this room as it had views over the Water of Leith and Dean Bridge, yet was far enough away from the road so that traffic didn’t disturb me. My room still had the 4 star fittings, much grander than the usual Travelodge minimalist approach. Many other rooms have been redone in the usual Travelodge style.
I’d rate the Edinburgh West End Travelodge very highly, mainly due to its location and low price, if you can find a room at the £29, £19 Saver rate. You have to be realistic, you’ll only get the cheap rate if you book in advance, avoiding weekends and peak season. However it’s always worth checking out the price at the Edinburgh West End Travelodge for your stay in Edinburgh and doing a search on the HotelsCombined metasearch for your dates to compare rates available at similar hotels in Edinburgh.
We stayed at the Edinburgh Learmonth Travelodge for one night on 21 June 2009. Travelodge bought the hotel around a year ago and have carried out a refurbishment. The hotel is located in a beautiful terrace, parallel to Queensferry Road. It’s around a 10 minute walk to Princes Street.
There is pay and display parking right outside the hotel (charged at £1.30 per hour). However if you go down the hill, it’s a cheaper parking zone priced at £1.00 per hour for a maximum of 4 hours, Monday to Friday 8.30 – 17.30. The Edinburgh Learmonth Travelodge has a cafe/bar which serves breakfast and evening meals. It’s cheaper to book breakfast online in advance.
It’s hard for me to rate the hotel objectively as I paid for £9 for our room, booked in December 2008 during one of Travelodge’s £9 promotions. At this price it’s an absolute steal. You can find rooms at the saver rates of £19 and £29 for much of the year, except weekends, if you book in advance but at short notice, weekends or peak season rooms will cost a lot more.
We requested a room at the back of the hotel which is quieter. I was allocated a room at the front of the hotel during an earlier stay and found the traffic noise disturbed me. Although the hotel is set back from the main road, the large. original windows don’t offer much soundproofing. We were allocated room 110 on the first floor which was spacious and airy.
I’d rate the Edinburgh Learmonth Travelodge very highly if you can find a room at the £29, £19 saver rate or even less in a sale. If the price is higher, you should do a search on the HotelsCombined price comparison site for your dates to make a check out prices with similar hotels in Edinburgh.
The future of our cities lies with young, creative minds. I was fascinated by the projects on display by students of the Edinburgh College of Art to transform existing buildings at the 2009 Degree Show. I focused on two Edinburgh projects.
The first is the proposal by Elizabeth Keenan for a boutique charity shop and cafe bar in Stockbridge to be called Pink Ribbon. Elizabeth wants to lose the dowdy, dull atmosphere of the traditional charity shop and launch an airy, trendy environment. There are already many charity shops in Stockbridge but I think that Pink Ribbon would be real crowd puller, greatly benefitting the Breast Cancer Charity coffers.
The next project by Naomi Farrell, involves the refurbishment of the upper floors above shops in Princes Street into a Centre for Scottish Youth. At present there is a shortage of places for young people aged 11 – 17 to hang out, they’re too young for bars or pubs and looking for something more than a youth club session in a local community centre. You can contact Naomi by email, naomifarrel |(at) hotmail.co.uk.
Here’s to some innovative uses of existing buildings to make Edinburgh an even better place.