A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: IainT

Timing

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City Centre

City Centre

I have been working on a return visit to Poland for a while now. My last plan was binned in December when the Omicron variant took hold and travel restrictions kicked in again.

My last visit to the country was in 1998, so the gap was over 30 years. Even that was limited to a couple of very short work trips to Warsaw. I saw a bit of Warsaw, but nothing more.

Well, the wait is over and I spent 4 nights in Gdańsk last week. I got a reasonable deal with Ryanair from Edinburgh – “reasonable” in that my outbound flight was just 5 days away. I got a fantastic deal at the Dwór Uphagena hotel – again even more “fantastic” because it was such a last minute trip.

Hotel Space

Hotel Space

My timing was not ideal because it coincided with Russia invading Ukraine, but I think that took most of us by surprise.

So yes, Gdańsk in the first week of March, mid-week, still under pandemic restrictions, and with war raging across the border. Oh, and Russia itself just 50 miles along the coast.

The city was quiet. My hotel was very quiet (unless you count the refugees). My flights were quiet by Ryanair standards. All good as far as I was concerned, but not wonderful if you look at the bigger picture.

My flight (from Edinburgh) cost me £160 return for their fare which includes a checked in bag. Both flights arrived early. On the outward flight I had the row to myself. On the return the middle seat was empty. I could not fault them.

Gdańsk Arrivals

Gdańsk Arrivals

The hotel cost £58 per night for a spacious studio, although breakfast was extra. It was a real bargain. It is about 15 minutes walk from the city centre proper, which suited me because the neighbourhood is quiet - no noise from traffic, pubs or clubs. The food was great in the hotel restaurant, and I ate there on three nights. The staff were all efficient and professional. Several were friendly too. It is a hotel I would certainly use again if I go back.

Hotel Breakfast

Hotel Breakfast

I did wonder about the weather at this time of year in that part of the world. It turned out very well - cold and sunny, which is my kind of ideal. Perfect for walking about provided you have the right clothes.

Dawn View

Dawn View

In terms of pandemic restrictions it was much like Scotland - masks in museums, the airport and so on. The exception was the hotel where almost none of the staff wore masks. I enquired, and was told that they should, but they don’t. OK, well…

I had to get a pre-flight lateral flow test before arriving in Poland, but if my vaccine booster had been within 90 days of departure it would not have been a requirement. Passport control scanned my digital vaccination certificate but did not ask for the test certificate. OK, well… £30 I will never get back.

That is all for now. If I remember and if I find the time (being semi-retired is a busy thing) I will write something about what I did in Gdańsk.

Posted by IainT 12:53 Archived in Poland Tagged planes warsaw poland transport flights gdansk airlines Comments (0)

The First

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Comfort plus Style

Comfort plus Style

I have been away on my first trip of 2022!

I went to Edinburgh, a total of 28 miles (45 km) from home. Well, it is a start.

It counts as a trip because I stayed there for two nights, at the Residence Inn by Marriott where I stayed a few times last year.

Dawn View

Dawn View

I was going to be visiting Edinburgh anyway to meet my cousin for lunch. Then at the last minute I wondered if I could get a mid-January mid-week deal to stay the night. What was on offer was so cheap I decided to stay 2 nights. It works out at £80 per night for a studio, and that includes a buffet breakfast.

I paid twice that much last year and still thought it was a good deal (for Edinburgh, in the summer). The Residence studio provides a large living/sleeping/working space with a small kitchenette - microwave, fridge and cooker. It is very spacious and comfortable. I was happy with all their pandemic protections when I was here last year (or I would not have come back) and it was the same this time.

It is located adjacent to Edinburgh University’s city centre campus, a short (15 minutes) walk from the route of the bus I took into the city from the park and ride. If you know the city a bit, think of Greyfriars Bobby and it is about 400m from there. One of the attractions for me is the huge choice of pubs, cafes and restaurants within a 10 minute walk. It lies within an area which is largely pedestrianised, so traffic noise is close to zero.

McEwan Hall

McEwan Hall

Between the darkness of a Scottish midwinter, the renewed pandemic restrictions after the Omicron variant arrived, and the cumulative effect of almost 2 years of pandemic restrictions I had reached the point where even a short escape to somewhere close by seems like a gift from above. I was doing these Change-of-Scene escapes last year, but had put them on hold when the Omicron variant arrived around the time of my Belfast trip at the start of December.

It is just about getting away from the house - when, where, and how are almost irrelevant. It has to be somewhere pleasant obviously, and the price has to be right, but apart from that…

Royal Mile

Royal Mile

Inevitably the question of risk has to come into my decisions - I would not do anything which breaks the rules or guidance, and in fact my work (in politics) really precludes it.

My experiences - bus, pubs, cafes, restaurants and the hotel - were overwhelmingly positive. They were all doing what was required to keep themselves healthy and their customers too. As for the customers, I would put compliance at 95%. I was positively impressed. I was only irritated by a Covidiot once, and that was in Waverley Station as I passed through on my way to the family reunion lunch.

Advocates' Close

Advocates' Close

I am happy to confess I broke the rules once. In the middle of lunch I went to the toilet and forgot to put my mask on. It shows how easy it is to make a mistake especially when you are distracted by being in company and after a couple of drinks.

Our lunch was in Joseph Pearce’s on Elm Row at the top of Leith Walk. It describes itself as “shabby chic… with a Swedish twist”. It is a gastro-pub rather than a restaurant. When I was a boy it was just plain shabby, but the beer was good and it was cheap. A “sawdust on the floor” type place.

Joseph Pearce's

Joseph Pearce's

We enjoyed our lunch there. The food was good and the service too. It has a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere.

Pearce's

My next challenge is to plan my next Change-of-Scene escape. Paris? Amsterdam? Rome? Dundee?

Posted by IainT 12:28 Archived in Scotland Tagged food scotland edinburgh restaurants transport Comments (0)

Portugal - What Else?

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Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, Coimbra

Museu Nacional de Machado de Castro, Coimbra

Apart from travelling about and eating, what else did I find to do in northern Portugal at the end of October?

I was lucky because the weather was very kind to me, and placed no limitations on what I got up to. In Porto it was sunny and around 20º. It was a little warmer inland in Coimbra, and a bit warmer still (25º) in Lisbon.

Dusk. Douro. Porto

Dusk. Douro. Porto

Another factor was how content I was just to be somewhere else, and somewhere outside the UK as well. It was a massive factor, to be honest.

Everything else was almost a bonus!

The first day in Porto I dug out my Lonely Planet and followed one of the walks it recommends. As well as seeing stuff, I thought it would help my general orientation in the city. It took me a couple of hours - slowly so I could soak up the rhythm of the city, and without going into any of the sights along the way.

Torre dos Clérigos, Porto

Torre dos Clérigos, Porto

The next day I took a wander around the Centro Português de Fotografia. Entry was free. It has a wonderful collection of old cameras, and even a Photomaton! We are always learning (assuming we choose to) and on this visit I learned the Photomaton’s inventor was born in Russia but had migrated to Hungary at an early age.

Centro Português de Fotografia, Porto

Centro Português de Fotografia, Porto

Those of us who are old enough will have lots of memories of cajoling those machines into producing the instant (well almost) passport sized photos we needed.

A real highlight of Porto was visiting the Livraria Lello. I invested in a priority ticket, and was glad I did. At 5 minutes before opening (09:30) on Sunday morning the other queue was 150m long. I love a good bookshop, and this one is special.

Livraria Lello, Porto

Livraria Lello, Porto

I had my food tour and port tasting on other days.

Coimbra is another city where just wandering around is sheer pleasure. I covered the University area that way on my first day, without stopping for anything more serious than coffee (and pastéis de nata). On the second day I visited the botanical garden, and enjoyed my meanderings there.

Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Coimbra

Faculdade de Letras, Universidade de Coimbra

Easily the highlight of my brief time in Coimbra was a guided tour of the University by Sara from Go Walks Portugal taking in the Biblioteca Joanina, Paço das Escolas, Capela de São Miguel and Prisão Académica.

University of Coimbra

University of Coimbra

Her knowledge is amazing and gave me some fascinating insights.

Coimbra is certainly on my list of “places to go back to”.

I only had an afternoon and evening in Lisbon. I saw quite a bit of the city during my previous visits, so I was content to relax in and around my hotel while trying not to get anxious about my flight home the next morning.

Posted by IainT 16:42 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon portugal porto coimbra Comments (0)

Portugal, Episode 3

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Taxca

Taxca

The food is one of the things I was really looking forward to – drooling over, almost – ahead of my holiday in Portugal last month.

This is normal for me, but the feeling was enhanced by distant memories of visits to the country in 1994 and 2003. Added to that was too much of my own cooking over the last 18 months, especially when we were under restrictions and not even able to go out to a restaurant.

I was not disappointed.

One particular highlight was a food tour I took in Porto. We visited the market (Mercado Temporário do Bolhão) and after touring the various sections we sat down to eat petiscos and drink vinho verde. I think we learned a lot from guide Alex from Porto Walkers and one of the stall holders who explained the local love of tinned fish like sardines, cod and mackerel.

Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde

Then we hit nearby Confeitaria do Bolhão to have green soup and rissoles, and learn about how a place like that works in terms of offering a good, cheap and quick lunch. More vinho verde was consumed. Alex explained it would be rude not to. I was satisfied with his explanation.

Our next stop was Taxca in Rua da Picaria, a bit to the west on the other side of Avenida dos Aliados. On offer was papas de sarrabulho (“blood soup”), chicken gizzards and bifana. We drank espadal*. We were told Taxca is a modern version of the traditional Porto “taberna” which are now rare.

From there we staggered downhill a bit to Manteigaria to sample their pastéis de nata straight off the production line.

Popular

Popular

Our last call was Pao Quente Muralhas Do Olival Porto for coffee and (another) dessert. Needless to say the coffee had a shot of ginjinha in it.

A tour programmed for 3 hours somehow slipped over the 5 hour mark… Fun, educational and delicious.

The same could apply to the port tour/tasting I took with the same company – and also with Alex guiding as it turned out. We visited 3 houses and sampled 7 ports over 4 hours – Calém, Piano and Porto Cruz.

Porto Cruz Tasting

Porto Cruz Tasting

The food tour set me back €47.70 (£41.73) and the port one was €37.10. Both were great value for money.

Porto Cruz Views

Porto Cruz Views

In Porto I stuck to local restaurants close to my studio rather than head closer to the city centre. One was literally next door, and another just 50m away. I loved the food at all the three which I tried out – Glutenfreak, Real Hamburgueria Portuguesa and Zé De Braga. Each very different to the others, but great in their own ways.

Glutenfreak

Glutenfreak

When I was in Coimbra the stand out restaurant I tried was Giro. It is just a little local place with the menu in Portuguese only, and entirely populated by locals eating during their lunch break. I had a marvellous fish soup followed by stuffed roast veal.

Giro, Coimbra

Giro, Coimbra

  • A sparkling rose wine from the Minho region, just north of Porto. Taxca sells it on draught.

Posted by IainT 02:16 Archived in Portugal Tagged food beer restaurants portugal porto coimbra Comments (0)

Portugal, Part 2

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São Bento Station, Porto

São Bento Station, Porto

The travel arrangements for my 9 nights in Portugal worked out very well.

I flew from Edinburgh to Porto with Ryanair (yes, I know) paying £52.47 for their deal which includes an extra legroom seat, 20kg of checked in bag, a tiny cabin bag, and fast track at security. The plane was about 70% full, so it did not feel cramped. Passenger compliance with distancing, masks and so on was mixed. Good with masks. Less so with the rest.

The whole process from bag drop to luggage retrieval at Porto reflected very well on the airline, apart from one glitch which left us all standing on an airbridge at EDI for 20 minutes after passing through the gate.

My Lisbon to Edinburgh flight with easyJet was a very similar experience, without the airbridge nonsense. I paid £170 for their Flexi fare, which includes an extra legroom seat, speedy boarding, a 23kg bag in the hold and some kind of bag in the cabin. I forget their rules.

In both cases we walked to and from the plane from the terminal, and did not get stuffed onto one of those transfer buses to catch whatever nasty virus happens to be going around.

I took the train from Porto Campanhã to Coimbra B (70 minutes) on one of Comboios de Portugal’s Alfa Pendular services. It cost me €11.50 (£9.76) in 1st class - very affordable because I got a discount for booking in advance and another discount (50%) for being old. The carriage was not busy and the journey was very relaxed and comfortable. On time, too.

The fare included connecting urbano/regional trains from São Bento to Campanhã and to Coimbra from Coimbra B.

Porto Campanhã

Porto Campanhã

To travel from Coimbra to Lisbon I took the train as well. I paid €17.50 (£14.86) this time for 1st class on an Alfa Pendular service. It took 90 minutes. Again it was very relaxed and comfortable. On time, again.

Alfa Pendular to Coimbra B

Alfa Pendular to Coimbra B

Those routes are also served by intercity services, which seemed to be a bit cheaper but slightly slower. The Alfa Pendular trains offer a café service which I did not try.

Alfa Pendular 1st

Alfa Pendular 1st

I did use the station cafes at Coimbra and Coimbra B. They were delightful. To a Brit it was lovely to be able to buy real food at reasonable prices in a railway station, and in a very traditional setting. An espresso and a pastel de nata sitting outside on a terrace in a railway station – I had to pinch myself to check I had not died and gone to heaven.

Coimbra to Coimbra B

Coimbra to Coimbra B

I was apprehensive about my travel to and from Portugal under all the pandemic restrictions, both in terms of the paperwork and testing required and the risk of catching the virus in the close contact situations of being on planes and passing through airports. As for the former, it all turned out fine and I would be less apprehensive in the future armed with that experience of doing it for the first time. Whilst flying is highly regulated in terms of keeping us safe from infection, I still rate it as high risk on account of the stupidity and selfishness of other passengers.

I had to take and submit a Covid 19 test within 48 hours of getting back, at a cost of £68. It produced a negative result.

Posted by IainT 15:11 Archived in Portugal Tagged trains lisbon portugal porto airlines coimbra Comments (0)

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