Category Archives: Scotland

What to do in Scotland; attractions in Scotland and the best places to visit in Scotland.

Glasgow Versus Edinburgh: Which Gets Your Vote?

There’s a long standing rivalry between the Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh over which is top dog. Although Edinburgh is the Scottish capital, Glasgow is the country’s largest city. Reserve Apartments have entered the fray with their Glasgow vs Edinburgh infographic.

It you click on the infographic below, it’ll take you to the original article. There, you can vote for your favourite city under the categories of food and drink, attractions, music and culture by clicking on the score charts.

Looking at the current scores, Glasgow is winning on most fronts. But you can change that with your votes.

glasgow vs edinburgh

Here’s my opinion on each of the categories.

Food and Drink

As I’m a teetotaller, I can’t comment on the beers. Foodwise, neither toffee or haggis get my vote. Regarding restaurants, we don’t frequent relatively expensive establishments such as the Devonshire Gardens or the Witchery. However, Glasgow gets my vote on the food front for a great selection of restaurants at very reasonable prices, e.g. Cook and Indi’s World Buffet in Sauchiehall Street which costs £10 per adult all day on Sundays.

cook and indi

Attractions

While Edinburgh Castle is an intergal part of the city, the £16 adult admission fee is a bit steep.

edinburgh castle

Edinburgh Castle dominates the city’s skyline

Whereas, Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is free of charge and full of interest for all ages.

glasgow kelvingrove art gallery and museum

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

I prefer the intimacy of the Greyfriars Bobby sculpture in Edinburgh, to the tall Duke of Wellington sculpture wearing his traffic cone hat, in Glasgow.

greyfriars bobby

Greyfriars Bobby

Music

I’m not a fan of any of the singers or bands mentioned in the infographic. Being a typical proud Mum, I have to mention our sons. Simon is a DJ in Glasgow and has written about the Glasgow music scene for Europe a la Carte.

simon bryan dj

Simon in action by Subcity Radio

Our other son Gary is in the heavy metal band Winter Lizard, based in Edinburgh.

gary winter lizard

Gary on guitar

Culture

Although Glasgow’s Robbie Coltrane may be best known as Hagrid in ‘Harry Potter’, my favourite Coltrane character is the lead in the ‘Cracker’ TV series.

robbie coltrane

Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid in ‘Harry Potter’ by Karen Roe

In my opinion, Edinbugh born Sean Connery was the best James Bond.

sean connery as james bond in you only live twice

Sean Connery as Bond in ‘You Only Luve Twice’

Review of Mr Basrai’s World Cuisines Restaurant Edinburgh

We had Sunday lunch at Mr Basrai’s World Cuisines Restaurant in Edinburgh’s Fountainpark Centre at the end of October 2014. The restaurant had been recommended to our son, who lives in Edinburgh, by one of his work colleagues.

mr basrai's view of edinburgh

I liked the fact that the tables had a bit more space between them than in other buffet restaurants in Edinburgh, e.g the Cosmo. There were also discrete sections in the restuarant, which made it feel less like a large canteen.

mr basrai's interior1

The way that the  buffet selection was laid out down two sides and in smaller central counters meant that it was easier to access the food.  The food displays were very attractively presented.

mr basrai's starter display

My favourte starters were the Goat’s Cheese Salad and the Butternut Squash Pate.

mr basrai's starters

You can order freshly cooked food. You place your order, giving your table number, and it’s brought to your table. I opted for the fish selection.

mr basrai's catch of day fish

However, putting a limit of two on the Tiger Prawns seemed to be in contradiction to the supposed “all-you-can-eat” buffet. Now you can return to the live cooking station to order more food, but if it’s busy you’d have to queue up again.

mr basrai's fish

My favourite main couse was the Prawns in Mongolian Sauce. I wish that the prawns had been shelled, as it was messy getting them out of the shells.

mr basrai's mussels and prawns

The dessert selection was impressive.

mr basrai's dessert display

The Passion Fruit Cheesecake was a bit disappointing, as it was a bit fluffy. I enjoyed the Apple Crumble with custard, and the Mint Ice Cream. The ice cream wasn’t self service. I can appreciate that it makes easier to keep the serving area clean, but we had a wait a while for a member of staff to appear.

mr basrai's desserts

It costs £13 per person all day on a Sunday. On Friday and Saturday,  lunch costs £10, Monday to Thursday it’s £7.99.

In summary, I thought that the quality and selection of food at Mr Basrai’s World Cuisines Restaurant was excellent. But I do think they should lift the restrictions on food at the live cooking stations. Next time I’ll go for lunch on a Saturday, to pay £3 less.

Review of Mr Basrai's World Cuisines Restaurant in EdinburghKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Review of Traveldoge Edinburgh Central Queen Street

I stayed at the Travelodge Edinburgh Central Queen Street on a Friday night (Boxing Day) in late December 2014. I paid £34 for a family room, booked in mid October on the Flexible Rate (which means you can cancel without penalty until noon on the day of arrival). It’s unusual to find a low price room in Edinburgh on a Friday night. I did think about staying for a couple of nights, but the price tripled for the Saturday night.

travelodge edinburgh central queen st entrance

It takes fewer than 10 minutes to walk to the hotel from Edinburgh Waverley rail station. The Ashoka Indian Buffet Restaurant is just around the corner in Hanover Street, where you can have lunch from noon until 4pm on Mondays to Saturdays for £7.

The hotel receptionist was very pleasant. I was allocated a room on the first floor overlooking an internal courtyard. I was happy with this as it meant that that I couldn’t hear any traffic from Queen St, althought the one small window did make the room a bit gloomy.

travelodge edinburgh central queen street

The room was large, clean and comfortable. This Travelodge had been madeover, which meant a new ‘Dreamer’ bed and pillows.

In summary, the Travelodge Edinburgh Central Queen Street is in a handy central location for exploring the city. However, you’ll probably need to book well in advance and stay in the low season to find a cheap room there.

Visiting Floors Castle in the Scottish Borders

Floors Castle in Kelso, is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland. It’s the home of the Dukes of Roxburghe. It was designed by the Scottish architect William Adam in the early 18th century. It was remodelled by William Playfair, another Scottish architect, the following century.

floors castle san carmen

Although we visited in late September, it was a warm day so we were appreciative of the shady carpark.

As we arrived in the early afternoon, we walked straight to the Terrace Cafe as we’d been offered a complimentary lunch. The Cafe was very busy and the staff were apologetic about the estimated 20 minute wait for food.

We decided to eat inside as it was a bit breezy. However, the outside area offers larger tables and a lot more space that the interior seating.

floors castle terrace cafe

My pear, walnut and blue cheese starter was worth the wait. The filling in my husband’s salmon fishcake starter seemed to be a bit runny. I loved the spotted teapot, milk jug, saucers and cups and the freshly baked bread which was served in what looked like a flowerpot.

floors castle terrace cafe starters

My husband’s venison sausages were tasty.

floors castle terrace cafe venison sausages

My pork casserole was very filling.

floors castle terrace cafe pork main course

We didn’t have any space left to sample the tempting desserts.

The Terrace Cafe is open all year round from 10am to 5pm daily.

Unfortunately, it’s not permitted to take photos in Floors Castle. There are some beautiful 15th century tapestries and a collection of porcelain. We found the collection of stuffed birds very interesting. It allowed us to see the difference between various members of avian families.

The courtyard at the exit to the Castle contains a lovely sculpture.

floors castle courtyard

From the flower beds at the back of Floors Castle, there’s good view of the castle’s turrets and chimneys.

floors castle flower bed

Floors Castle is closed until Spring. You should check the opening hours before visiting.

Review of Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge

I stayed at the Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge for one night in early June 2014. I originally booked the Ibis Budget Edinburgh Park priced at £35 a night on an unrestricted rate (which could be cancelled without penalty up until 2pm on the day of arrival). I planned to drive up to the hotel the afternoon before my flight and then take the car to an airport car park the next morning.

However, when the opening of the Ibis Budget Edinburgh Park was delayed, I received an email offering to transfer my booking to the Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge for the same price of £35 for the night. It’s usually a lot more expensive for a room in the Ibis hotels in Edinburgh city centre.

I decided to go to Edinburgh the day before my flight to stay at the Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge. I reckoned that walking from the hotel to the express airport bus and the bus journey straight to the airport terminal would take 30-40 minutes. This would be around the same time as driving from the Ibis Edinburgh Park hotel to an airport car park and the transfer to the airport terminal.

ibis edinburgh centre south bridge exterior

Check in time at the Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge is noon, much earlier than most other hotels. This was great, as I could drop off my luggage on arrival in Edinburgh. You have to pay £2.00 per item to use the left luggage facility at the hotel.

The lobby area was pretty small for a such a large hotel.

ibis edinburgh centre south bridge lobby

At check in I requested a quiet room. The receptionist informed me that I’d already been allocated a quiet room on the top floor. The views to Arthur’s Seat and over the Forth Estuary to Fife gave the room the wow factor.

ibis edinburgh centre south bridge view of arthurs seat

The room was fresh and bright. Initially I could only find one electrical socket, but then I noticed a double socket at at the side of the wardrobe. There’s free WiFi throughout the hotel. You have to give your name and email address to get connected . I found the signal in my room to be excellent.

There was only one chair in the room. There wasn’t a desk area, but I used the coffee table to work on my netbook.

The windows were sealed, but the room had air conditioning. I would’ve preferred to have been able to open the windows. I needed to switch on the air conditioning, as it was a warm June day (by Scottish standards).

ibis edinburgh centre south bridge room1

Although the prefabricated plastic bathroom unit was small, I thought that there was more room in the shower than in many standard hotel shower cubicles. I did think that the step up the bathroom door could be a trip hazard.

I was very happy with my room for £35 a night. However, I noticed that rooms were advertised at £134 for that night when I checked in. I think that this was way overpriced for a rather basic room which didn’t even have a safe or include breakfast.

I’d only recommend staying at the Ibis Edinburgh Centre South Bridge if you can find a low rate.

Review of Ibis Edinburgh Centre South BridgeKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Edinburgh Airport’s New Lounge Should Aspire to Having Toilets

I won two United BusinessFirst return tickets from Edinburgh to Chicago in a business card prize draw. These tickets offered us free-of-charge access to the new Aspire Lounge in Edinburgh Airport prior to departure.

aspire buisness lounge exterior

As our flight departed mid morning, we were looking forward to breakfast in the Aspire lounge. There was fair selection of food including cereals, yoghurts, bacon rolls and croissants. The staff were very friendly.

aspire business lounge drinks selection

The lounge had a good mix of seating; comfy sofas, seats at tables, work stations and bar-type stools with plenty of electrical sockets. The WiFi signal was good.

aspire business lounge interior1

However, I was amazed that the Aspire lounge didn’t have its own toilet facilities. You had to exit the lounge and walk down to the nearest public facilities.

I thought that this coming and going of users must be confusing for staff at the lounge reception. I suggested to the receptionist that users’ hands should be stamped on arrival,  a bit like when attending a gig, to provide a quick and easy way to verify legitimate re-access.

In opinion, lack of internal toilet facilities lets down this new lounge at Edinburgh Airport, which should aspire to get its own toilets.

Review of the Roxburghe Hotel in the Scottish Borders

We stayed at The Roxburghe Hotel near Kelso in the Scottish Borders for one night in September 2014 on a complimentary basis. The hotel is located around three miles south west of Kelso.

roxburghe hotel exterior

The public areas are very impressive.

roxburghe hotel lounge

We stayed in a four-poster feature room. When I checked into the room, I didn’t want to go out again, but we’d arranged to visit Floors Castle.

The large double bed was comfortable. The room had an open fire. Although it was late September, it was warm outside, so the room didn’t require any heating. I liked the fact that there was a sofa to sit on to watch TV or read.

roxburghe hotel room1

The room had a balcony overlooking the garden. As the room had two large windows, you could see the views when sitting on the bed or the sofa.

roxburghe hotel balcony

The bath was large enough for me to lie in. My husband said that he had one of the most enjoyable showers ever under the rainhead shower.

I had a couple of minor niggles with housekeeping. There wasn’t enough toilet paper in the bathroom, fortunately there were tissues in the room.  There were only sachets of Nescafe instant coffee and Tetley teabags and no biscuits, I thought there should have been a bit more choice of drinks, e.g. hot chocolate and herbal tea. Some biscuits would’ve been nice too.

We had a pick and mix selection from the three course set and the a la carte dinner menu. My husband started with mussels from the set menu.

roxburghe hotel mussel starter

My scallop starter, from the a la carte menu, served with cauliflower, golden raisins and olive tapenade was delicious.

roxburghe hotel scallops

My husband’s main course was bass served with vegetables, from the set menu. I had chicken with beans, also from the set menu.

roxburghe hotel bass

My husband’s selection of six UK and French cheeses served with quince jelly and walnut bread, from the a la carte menu, was almost a meal in itself. Although I was tempted by the raspberry and chocolate trifle, I went for sorbet selection from the main menu. But I did try all my husband’s cheeses too.

roxburghe hotel cheese board

For breakfast there was a buffet selection of cereals, dried fruit and nuts and fruit juice.  Freshly baked croissants, pastries and toast was brought to our table. From the menu, we both went for the smoked salmon and scrambled egg.

roxburghe hotel breakfast

I’d rate the food at The Roxburghe Hotel very highly for quality, flavour and presentation.

All the staff at the hotel hit the right balance of being attentive, professional and friendly.

In summary, I really enjoyed our stay at The Roxburghe Hotel. Our room was a perfect example of a Scottish country house hotel, spacious, beautifully furnished and with an open view.

Review of The Roxburghe HotelKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Photo Tour of the McManus Galleries in Dundee

The McManus Galleries, one of Dundee’s most distinctive landmarks, was built in Gothic Revival Style.The gallery and museum, which opened in 1876 as the Albert Institure, was closed to the public for four years between 2006-2010 for major renovations.

mcmanus galleries entrance

Upon entering the building, I was drawn to the stained glass windows in the Cafe.

mcmanus galleries cafe

The beautiful stained glass continued with the depictions of well known Scots, including Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, on the staircase windows.

mcmanus galleries sir walter scott

mcmanus galleries robert burns

On the first floor, the Albert Hall, there was more magnificent stained glass.

mcmanus galleries albert hall stained glass windows

mcmanus galleries albert hall stained glass

I found the ‘Making of Modern Dundee’ section very interesting, although it was rather sad to read about the decline of so many industries in the city.

In the 1870s Dundee was the UK’s largest whaling port. However, that industry had declined by the early 1910s. There’s a collection of whaling equipment, including the harpoons depicted below, in the gallery.

mcmanus galleries harpoons

The Tay Rail Bridge opened in 1878, connecting the East Coast line from London. Two years later, the bridge collapsed when a steam train was crossing during a storm, resulting in the death of all passengers and crew.

mcmanus galleries old tay rail bridge

NCR first started manufacturing cash registers in Dundee in1946, later moving onto the making of ATMs. In its heyday it employed more than 6,000 workers. The manufacturing side of NCR ceased in Dundee in 2009.

mcmanus galleries NCR ATM

Dundee publisher DC Thomson is best known for the Dandy (which ceased publication in 2012) and Beano comics. Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, pictured below, are two of characters in the Beano.

mcmanus galleries dennis the menace

Dundee became known for video game development with the launch of ‘Lemmings’ in 1991 and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ in 1996 by DMA Design. In the late 1990s DMA Design changed ownership three times and the Dundee office closed.

mcmanus galleries computer games

There was a Dundee United football strip from when this local team won the Scottish Premier League in 1983. Known locally as the ‘Tangerines’ the colour of the strip reminded me of the infamous Scottish ‘Irn Bru’ fizzy drink.

mcmanus galleries dundee united strip 1983

The McManus is open Monday to Saturday from 10am – 5pm and Sunday from 12.30pm – 4.30pm. Admission is free of charge.

If you’re in Dundee make sure that you visit the McManus Galleries, even if only to admire the interior of the building.

Review of Hot Flame Restaurant in Edinburgh

Update 11 July 2015 – The Hot Flame restaurant in Edinburgh’s Quartermile was closed when we went there to eat today. I says on the notice that it’s for refurbishment, but that’s very strange as it only opened last year.

We had lunch at the Hot Flame Restaurant in Quartermile district of Edinburgh on a Saturday in September 2014. Gary, our son who lives in Edinburgh, had heard about the recent opening of this international buffet restaurant, so we thought we’d give it a try.

hot flame restaurant cooking area

It’s not that easy to find the restaurant as it’s tucked away in Lister Square, sandwiched between Lauriston Place and the Meadows. The Hot Flame Restaurant was very quiet for a Saturday lunch time, This was good for customers, as I could see it getting pretty difficult to access the food during busy periods.

hot flame restaurant interior

I really liked the double aspect of interior which made the restaurant bright and airy. The windows at one side overlooked Lister Square. However, I thought that the booths were too small, I assume to pack in as many diners as possible.

hot flame restaurant salads

There was a good choice of food, but the majority was Indian style, despite the restaurant saying it offered ‘world banquet dining’. The Mexican counter inappropriately had chicken nuggets and potato croquettes. There were a few Italian dishes, which Gary said weren’t that great. There was a ‘live cooking’ station but the only thing being cooked there was nan bread.

hot flame restaurant starter choice

I enjoyed the salad selection and the vegetable dumplings from my starter selection.

hot flame restaurant starters

My favourite main course was the shrimp curry. The meat in the lamb curry was very tender and lean.

hot flame restaurant shrimps

The cakes were a bit disappointing. The banoffee gateau was still partially frozen with rather foamy filling. The ice cream was very good, with a large selection of flavours.

It cost £10 per adult for Saturday lunch. It’s £1 cheaper Mondays to Thursday, but £14 all day on Sundays.

I’d recommend the Hot Flame restaurant in Edinburgh if you are a fan of Indian cuisine.

Review of Premier Inn Stirling City CentreKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Why I’m Relieved Scotland Voted No to Independence

I’m in Chicago. As the time here is six hours behind the UK, I was able to see that Scotland had voted in favour of staying in the UK before going to bed last night.

The whole Scottish Independence Referendum Campaign has been frustrating for me. I was born in Scotland and lived there for most of my life. However because I currently live in Berwick upon Tweed, three miles south of the Anglo-Scottish border, I couldn’t vote.

I would’ve voted for Scotland to stay in the UK. There were too many unanswered questions such as currency, border controls, EU membership, the size of oil reserves and the public spending deficit for me to vote for independence.

With Scottish independence, I had visions of having to allow twice as long to drive to Edinburgh Airport from Berwick upon Tweed in case there was a queue at border control on the A1 upon entering Scotland. I thought that I might need to get two passports, a Scottish and UK passport, to make crossing easier in both directions.

I thought that the infographic below from Sykes Cottages highlighting the geographical implications of a UK minus Scotland was fun. Fortunately, the UK won’t lose these parts of its landscape.

The Scottish Referendum: How The UK's Landscape Could Have Changed
The Scottish Referendum: How The UK’s Landscape Could Have Changed by Sykes Cottages

I laughed at the idea that, with the loss of Ben Nevis as its highest peak, the UK would’ve been 366 Shetland ponies lower.

shetland pony and foal

Shetland pony and foal

I hadn’t realised that more than half of the UK’s coastline was in Scotland. The beaches in Scotland are some of most beautiful which I’ve seen in Europe. My favourite is St Ninian’s in the Shetland Islands. You can see that I’m a big fan of the Shetlands.

st ninians beach 640

St Ninian’s Beach

Both  of the Scottish National Parks, Cairngorm and Loch Lomond, are really beautiful. You may even be able to do some skiing or snowboarding in the Cairngorm Mountains Resort if the weather plays ball.

loch lomond

Loch Lomond from Inveruglas

I recommend that you organise a trip to Scotland to enjoy its natural beauty. If you’re travelling from another part of the UK, there’ll be no concerns about border crossings and a different currency.