Category Archives: Scotland

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

borders book festival2

The Borders Book Festival in Melrose

The Borders Book Festival was held in the Harmony Gardens in Melrose from the 12 – 15 June 2014. It was free to enter, but you did have to pay for most of the talks and presentations, with adult tickets costing an average of  £10 – £14.

borders book festival sign

We had a look around the Festival before going for a walk along the River Tweed. The backdrop of Melrose Abbey afforded a unique setting.

borders book festival

Andy Stanton, author of the ‘Mr Gum’ series, was signing his books.

borders book festival andy stanton

There was a good selection of children’s books, including the Scottish favourite ‘Oor Wullie’, a comic strip character from the Sunday Post, who’s usually portrayed sitting on an upside down bucket.

borders book festival book selection

There was some free kid’s entertainment. Free WiFi was advertised, but I didn’t try it.

borders book festival kids entertainment

The beer tent wasn’t doing much trade, but it was before 1pm.

borders book festival beer tent

The portaloos at the Borders Book Festival were the poshest I’ve ever seen.

borders book festival portaloos

SAMSUNG

Crash in Customer Service Levels at Edinburgh Airport

It seems to me that Edinburgh Airport is getting too big for its own boots. As the airport has expanded, levels of customer service have taken a nosedive.

It started with the introduction of a £1 drop off fee in 2010. It was previously free to drop off passengers close to the terminal building.

edinburgh airport drop off charge

When we returned to Edinburgh Airport from Prague in late April 2014, the pick up points for the transfer to car parks had been moved further away from the terminal, to make room for the new tram stop. However, there was only one small shelter for all the bus stops. Woefully inadequate for the Scottish weather.

When I returned to Edinburgh Airport from Bratislava in mid  June 2014, only one bus arrived to transfer passengers from the plane to the terminal. There was a wait for another bus to turn up.  When that second bus arrived at the terminal drop off point, the passengers from that bus couldn’t get into the covered walkway as passengers from another flight had entered further down the walkway. Just as well the torrential rain which was falling during landing had stopped by that point.

There was a massive queue at Border Control. Despite this, not all of the e-gates were open. The e-gates which were open seemed to be operating very slowly. The size of the Border Control area doesn’t appear to have increased, despite the expansion of Edinburgh Airport.

All in all, very poor customer service at Edinburgh Airport for international arrivals, giving the impression of a disorganised and badly managed facility.

It’s time to pull your socks up Edinburgh Airport.

the howff art show1

Art Show by Zydrune Auksoriute in the Howff Cemetery Dundee

Although it was lookng as though it might start raining at any moment when i was walking from the McManus Galleries to pick up my car from the car park at Dundee Travelodge Central, I decided to have a quick look around the Howff Cemetery.

The Howff was originally the garden of the Greyfriars Monastery, which was destroyed in the 1540s. It was granted licence as a burial ground a few years later by Mary Queen of Scots. Strangely, it was concurrently used as a meeting place (howff) for the Dundee Incorporated Trades until 1776, although it continued to be used for burials until 1857.

the howff entry

The Howff has one of the best collections of tombstones in Scotland.

the howff skull and cross bones

Parts of the perimeter walls date back to 1601.

the howff

I’d observed padlocks on the cemetery gates. There was no information given on closing times, so I was a bit concerned about getting locked into the cemetery, as it was approaching 5pm. Therefore, I was relieved to see some other people around a cherry blosson tree.

As I approached, I could see some art work resting on some headstones under the tree. I had stumbled upon a photo session of the ‘Living Legends’ by painter Zydrune Auksoriute (on the left in the photo below), a Lithuanian studying in Dundee. She, along with her paintings, was being photographed by fellow countrywoman Justina Smiles Photography (on the right of the photo below).

the howff art show

It’s further proof of why you should allow time for wandering around on your travels, you never know who you might bump into.

hms frigate unicorn

Exploring Dundee’s Waterfront

I had a walk around the waterfront in Dundee on the afternoon of a holiday Monday in May. I was amazed that it was so quiet, as when I’d passed the shops there were plenty of people about. The weather was reasonable with some warm sunshine, although you could sense rain wasn’t far away.

I started off on the banks of the Firth (estuary) of Tay.

waterfront quayside

I thought that the standng stones installation was a bit drab. It was almost the same colour as the surrounding pavement and the estuary.

waterfront sculpture1

I had the viewing platfrom on the quayside to myself.

waterfront viewing platform

Then I had a walk on the Tay Road Bridge. The pedestrian/cyclist section of the bridge is in the centre, which would make it pretty noisy and difficult to see the views if traffic were heavy.

waterfront looking toward dundee from tay road bridge

Dundee from the Tay Road Bridge

To the west, I could see the Discovery Centre and the Tay Rail Bridge.

waterfront view from tay bridge

Unfortunately, Dundee didn’t exactly look at its best as there are enormous piles of rubble where Tayside House, the former local authority HQ, used to stand. This is all part of the revamp of the Waterfront prior to the construction of the V&A Dundee.

You can see one of these rubble piles in my close up of the Discovery Centre from the bridge. These works have closed off the walkway along the estuary.

waterfront view of discovery centre from tay bridge

Next, I had a wander around the City Quay.

city quay1

City Quay is home to two ships. One is the North Carr Lightship, which is currently used by a maritime training charity.

waterfront carr lightship

A bit further along the dock, HM Frigate Unicorn is moored. It was constructed as a Royal Navy frigate in the early 1820s.

hm unicorn

If you’re feeling a bit peckish, both the Taza Indian buffet and the City Harbour Chinese Buffet offer good value food, with views across to City Quay.

kelpes1

The Kelpies at the Helix, Falkirk

I went to see ‘The Kelpies’, two huge sculptures of the mythical Scottish horse water spirits, at the Helix in Falkirk, central Scotland, in May 2014. The Helix is a new green space between Grangemouth and Falkirk, which encompasses a section of the Forth Clyde Canal.

kelpes looking at you

I first saw the macquettes (sculptor’s models) at a roundabout outside Edinburgh Airport in April 2012. I didn’t have time to photograph them, so I took a photo (below) of the information board inside the airport terminal building .

SAMSUNG

I managed to photograph the start of the construction of the Falkirk Kelpies when passing in July 2013. I could see that the sculptures were going to be enormous from the scaffolding.

kelpies construction july 2013

I was fairly well informed prior to my visit to ‘The Kelpies’, as I’d watched an one hour BBCdocumentary about the installation narrated by the sculptor Andy Scott a couple of days earlier.

I didn’t spot any signage to ‘The Kelpies’ or the Helix, from the M9 motorway. Plus there were roadworks at the roundabout just off the motorway. I turned down the first road I could see that lead in the direction of ‘The Kelpies’. I ended up in an industrial estate. Fortunately there was a footpath into the Helix from the bottom of the industrial estate.

The car park in the Helix closest to The Kelpies was free of charge. It looked almost full when I walked past on a weekday afternoon. I’d imagine it’d be hard to find a space at busy times. There was a portocabin ticket office selling tickets for a guided tour plus toilets. I believe that a Visitor Centre is being constructed.

kelpies approach

As I approached ‘The Kelpies’ there was a sleeping cygnet. It must’ve been brought up with all the construction and people around, because it was oblivious to passersby.

kelpies cygnet

The colour of the sculptures was totally different from the orther side due to the position of the sun.

kelpies against the sun

I loved the expression on the face of the horse which faces down. From on angle the expression was almost coquettish.

kelpies close up

From the other side, I felt a  benign presence towering above me.

kelpies close up1

It was much harder to relate to the other horse with its head sticking up, as you couldn’t see its face.

kelpies head up reflection

It was very appropriate to see these water spirit horses reflectied in the pool at their bases.

kelpies reflections

I’d like to go back after dark to see the sculptures when they’re floodlit.

kelpies

I’d recommend a visit to ‘The Kelpies’. They are really impressive in the flesh, or should I say metal?

ashoka buffet restaurant edinburgh main course jpg

Review of Ashoka Buffet Restaurant in Edinburgh

I had lunch for £6.95 at the Ashoka Buffet Restaurant in Edinburgh’s Hanover Street (a five minute walk from Princes St) on a Thursday in late Febrary 2014.

I received a warm welcome upon entering the restaurant and attentive service throughout my meal.

ashoka buffet restaurant edinburgh exterior

I liked the decor in the restaurant, but I thought that the tables were a bit too close together to allow easy movement in and out to the buffet.

ashoka buffet restaurant edinburgh interior

There was a fair selection of tasty starters including ‘Tomato & Onion Bhaji’ and ‘Chicken Pakora’.

ashoka buffet restaurant hot plates

After everyone from a table of six diners had taken starters, two of the choices had been finished. They were replenished within a few minutes.

ashoka buffet restaurant edinburgh starters jpg

I found the chicken in the main courses to be very bland, as though the meat hadn’t been cooked in the sauce. I had two pieces of lamb; one was tender, the other pretty fatty.

I enjoyed the’ Jalebi’ (like donuts in syrup) and the milky ‘Vermicelli’ desserts, but wasn’t keen on the ‘Carrot Pudding’. There was also vanilla ice-cream.

ashoka buffet restaurant edinburgh desserts

Overal, I was happy with my lunch at the Ashoka Buffet Restaurant. I thought it offered good value for money in a central location. I’ll probably go again to either eat either on my own, or with one other person. However, I’d give it a miss with a party of four, as I think it would be too cramped and awkward to get in and out to the food.

Keep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

bella italia north berwick interior front

Review of Bella Italia Restaurant in North Berwick, Scotland

Althought we like eating at the Grange when we visit North Berwick, we decided to try somewhere different, the Bella Italia in the High Street, on our most recent visit.

bella italia north berwick exterior

I was attracted by the three course set lunch for £8.95, which seemed to offer great value for money, as the average cost of a plate of fish and chips in a pub was around £8.

bella italia north berwick interior

We both had the Meatball starter which was served with garlic bread.

bella italia north berwick meatball starter

My husband had Scampi, served with chips & salad, for his main course.

bella italia north berwick scampi

I had the Spinach & Ricotta Cannelloni.

bella italia north berwick cannelonni

We both ordered the Cheesecake for dessert.

bella italia north berwick cheesecake

As there was only one portion remaining, we ordered a Chocoate Fudge Cake. It turned out to be a good thing. Although the Cheesecake was good, it was more like a moist sponge and quite sweet. The Chocolate Fudge Cake was excellent; very chocolatey but not too sweet.

bella italia north berwick chocolate fudge cake

It was a good decision to eat at Bella Italia, as the food was really tasty and freshly cooked.  If you’re visiting North Berwick, I recommend that you check if the £8.95 three course lunch is on offer, as it isn’t mentioned on the restaurant’s website.

Review of Bella Italia restaurant in North BerwickKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

old gala house front page me as astronaut

Front Page Exhibition at Old Gala House in Galashiels

The ‘Front Page’ exhibition of iconic magazine covers runs until 8 June 2014 at the Old Gala House museum and gallery in Galashields in the Scottish Borders. The exhibition is made more fun by the various related masks and head gear that you can wear.

old gala house front page radio times dalek

 Dalek cover on Radio Times

old gala house front over nme beth ditto

Beth Ditto cover on NME

old gala house front page sunday times magazine margaret thatcher

 Margaret Thatcher cover on Sunday Times magazine

old gala house front page see marily monroe

Marilyn Monroe cover on SEE

old gala house front page elvis mask

 Me as Elvis by Elvis cut out cover on Time Out

old gala house front page rolling stone john lennon and yoko ono

 John Lennon & Yoko Ono cover on Roilling Stone

old gala house front page nixon tapes newsweek

 Nixon Tapes cover on Newsweek

old gala house front page private eye face transplant

Tony Blair/David Cameron Face Transplant cover on Private Eye

old gala house front page everybody's gene tierney

 Gene Tierney cover on everybody’s

old gala house front page dazed bjork

 Bjork cover on Dazed

old gala house front cover fhm gail porter

Gail Porter cover on FHM (beamed onto Houses of Parliament)

It’s a good idea to double check the opening hours at Old Gala House by phoning 01896 75261101896 752611 before you visit, as they vary from month to month.

  • March to May and September – Tuesday to Saturday 10.00am-4.00pm
  • June to August – Monday to Saturday 10.00am-4.00pm and Sunday 1.00pm-4.00pm

 

cosmo buffet main course1

Review of Cosmo Restaurant in Edinburgh

I had lunch with one of our sons at the Cosmo Restaurant, beside Edinburgh’s Omni Centre, on a Friday in late February. We’d tried to have lunch there on a Saturday a couple of weeks earlier, after it’d been recommended on Twitter, but gave up when we saw the long queue to get a table.

cosmo buffet exterior

As I had to check out of the nearby Travelodge Edinburgh Central Waterloo Place at noon, I decided to walk straight to the restaurant to ensure we’d get a table by the time our son arrived at 12.30. When I arrived at 12.15 there was no queue. I was thoughtfully given a table by the wall so that my luggage would be out of the way.

Arriving early also meant that I could take photos without being in anyone’s way.

cosmo buffet interior

There’s a good selection of Thai, Chinese, Indian and Italian food. However, a couple of serving stations were empty with signs saying that they were only open in the evening.

cosmo buffet main course selection

With the exception of a fatty piece of lamb, all the chicken, beef and seafood that I ate were of very good quality.

cosmo buffet starters

By 12.45 the Cosmo restaurant was full, resulting in lengthy queues at all the serving stations. As it’s a large restaurant, it was getting a bit chaotic with so many people wandering around with platefuls of food. Both our son and I selected food with the easiest access, versus a considered choice, to reduce queueing time.

cosmo buffet main course

The desserts were good, with a selection of Profiteroles, Banoffee Gateau, Toffee Apple Tart, Chocoate Cake, fresh fruit and ice cream.

cosmo buffet desserts

It costs £7.99 for lunch on weekdays. I’d recommend that you either arrive around noon or 13.30 on a weekday; lunch is served until 15.00. The price for lunch goes up to £10.99 on Saturdays (served until 16.00) and £13.99 to eat at any time on Sundays. The website says there is normally a time limit for table occupation of one hour and 45 minutes, which may be reduced to one hour and 30 minutes at busy times, but I don’t know if that’s enforced.

In summary, I thought that the Cosmo Restaurant offered excellent value for money for a tasty, quality selection. I’d prefer to have a larger plate, to reduce the number of times I’d have to queue up for food at busy times and to have more space between the tables.

Keep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

scott's view2

Scott’s View near St Boswells in the Scottish Borders

Scott’s View was a favourite viewing point of the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy. It’s located close to the village of St Boswells. scotts view1 It’s another of these places in the Scottish Borders which I’d been meaning to visit for ages. Seeing Scott’s View featured on a TV programme about walking St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose to Holy Island spurned me into action. A couple of weeks later, we were admiring the view down over the River Tweed with the Eildon Hills on the horizon. scotts view bench There’s a fair bit of parking available, leading me to assume it could get rather busy on a sunny weekend. We were there in late February and had the place to ourselves. You can also visit Smailholme Tower when you’re in the area.