A Travellerspoint blog

The North

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AC Hotel

AC Hotel

My sports travel adventures resumed last weekend with the start of the ice hockey season.

It was a modest adventure, but very successful. Belfast.

The city is 40 minutes flying time from Edinburgh, and using Belfast City Airport it is a whopping 8 minute bus journey from airport to city centre. FlyBe uses that airport, and easyJet flies to Belfast International so the competition keeps prices down. I paid £98 return, booking quite late.

Purple FlyBe

Purple FlyBe

The reason for the trip was Belfast Giants v Augsburger Panther in the Champions Hockey League. I watched a bit of German ice hockey during the Ingolstadt phase of my life, and loved it. The quality is high, with an emphasis on speed and skills. The crowds are electric. Indeed I remember going to at least one Ingolstadt v Augsburg derby.

Fans Assembling Pre-match

Fans Assembling Pre-match

The game in Belfast was tremendous, ending as a 2-3 win for Augsburg in overtime. I reckon 1,000 out of the 5,000 crowd were Augsburg fans, and they generated a wonderful atmosphere. I started as a neutral and they won me over.

Panthers Fans

Panthers Fans

I stayed in the AC Hotel (a Marriott label) across the river from the SSE Arena, as I did last time I was in Belfast. It is not cheap, but Belfast is plagued by stag and hen parties so a cheaper hotel brand increases the risk of late night/early morning noise. The riverside location is convenient and pleasant, and quiet.

Belfast Dawn

Belfast Dawn

I have walked past McHugh’s many times over the years and never gone in. I rarely venture into pubs these days, but this time I took the plunge. I recommend it. They have a great range of beers - I had Guinness - and even on a busy Saturday afternoon the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Like most pubs they have caved in to the TV addiction (I counted three - two normal size and one massive) but they also had a folk music trio playing in a corner.

Pub Life

Pub Life

The North has belatedly come to feature a lot recently in the media in Little Britain after London realised the Brexit plans (or lack thereof) have major implications for Ireland as a whole. I will not wade into that controversy.

EU Funding

EU Funding

I will just mention it is the only part of the UK where police officers all carry guns all the time, and travel in armoured cars. You will find a “Peace Wall” in West Belfast which keeps the two sides of the community apart.

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Belfast has changed enormously for the better since my first visit in the mid 1990s, well before the peace agreement was signed in 1999. Anyone in London who risks that progress and the relative peace since then has my total contempt.

Posted by IainT 11:53 Archived in Ireland Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises planes ireland transport flights ice_hockey airlines belfast brexit Comments (0)

Holyrood

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The last few weeks might look like a blank page in my travel journals, and it is true I have not been anywhere very interesting - with a notable exception - but I have been busy with planning for a holiday in September.

The exception was a visit to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for a work meeting. It was 100% work, but in some ways a privilege too.

Visitor

Visitor

It was the kind of meeting my boss would usually attend, but he was away on holiday. It was a briefing from a Cabinet Secretary on a particular issue, and while a few other staffers like me were there, mostly it was MSPs and MPs around the table.

I have been to the Parliament as a visitor a couple of times, and for work several times, so any novelty about the place has worn off. It has been replaced with a sense of belonging coupled with a familiarity which does not obscure the unique architecture

Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

Part of the experience is its location in such a historic part of the city, opposite Holyrood Palace. For me it means a 10-20 minute walk from the railway or bus station down the Canongate (part of the Royal Mile) either dodging the tourist throngs, or enjoying the fact that it is winter.

Entrance Hall

Entrance Hall

Some part of the building are open to the public, and guided tours are available. You will find a cafe and gift shop in the ground floor public areas. They often have exhibitions in this area over the summer when Parliament is in recess and the building is quieter. All visitors have to go through airport type security at the entrance.

Merchandise

Merchandise

The Parliament’s future is in doubt at the moment. The Conservatives hate it because under the system of proportional representation used for its elections, they will always be a minority. They see it as a platform for the SNP and the independence movement. They would love to shut it down, or emasculate it, and Brexit may be their perfect opportunity.

Saor Alba!

Saor Alba!

The current (minority) government in the Parliament is an SNP one and with support from the Scottish Greens (also pro independence) most legislation can be passed.

Posted by IainT 00:03 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh brexit Comments (0)

Airbnb

Tbilisi - My Balcony

Tbilisi - My Balcony

Tourism overload is a hot topic every summer in Scotland, and it takes several forms. One of them is Airbnb.

Whilst it may be a problem in some parts of the country, and great for others, the situation in Edinburgh is what often catches the headlines. People who live in apartment buildings (usually what we call tenements) lose neighbours and gain transient visitors who may just stay one night.

They may arrive in the early hours, and keep “holiday” hours, returning noisily after the pub shuts to wake up the other residents.

Owners can make more profit out of these short term lets than from longer term rentals. Businesses have grown up to service them for absentee owners.

I have read of similar issues in Barcelona and Toulouse.

Toulouse Apartment 2018

Toulouse Apartment 2018

I have been an Airbnb user (and fan) for several years. If I am staying somewhere for more than a night or two, I like the space and privacy of a studio or apartment. I like being able to live like a local rather than in a homogenised hotel. I have had great stays in Airbnbs from Rīga to Tbilisi and from Amsterdam to Reykjavík.

Girne - Living Room

Girne - Living Room

Very few have been operated through agencies. I remember two in Toulouse where owners were very clearly absentee. In one the agent was awkward - for example he wanted to meet to give me access at a precise time - not easy when you are arriving on a flight and then taking a bus from the airport.

In the other the agent was super pleasant and helpful.

Oslo Airbnb

Oslo Airbnb

In several places I was quite clearly living in the owner’s home - their clothes and other personal possessions were there, with some space cleared for mine. In the one I used in Girne (North Cyprus) the owner had just rented/bought an apartment specifically for Airbnb. However, he did all the work involved in checking me in and out.

In Reykjavík I was in the basement apartment of the owners’ house, and their teenagers’ job was to do the Airbnb tasks.

Home from Home, Vilnius

Home from Home, Vilnius

I know the Scottish Parliament has considered legislating to control short term rentals. I know Airbnb has lobbied MSPs against it. I suspect some form of regulation will arrive sooner rather than later. I will continue to use Airbnb, and I will continue to be a good neighbour for the other residents wherever I am. I will try to avoid the units which are obviously absentee owned and agency operated.

If you have any thoughts on the upsides and downsides - either as a user, an owner or a neighbour - please comment.

Posted by IainT 23:23 Comments (0)

Orkney - Basics

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Stromness Sunday

Stromness Sunday

Time for a summary of the nuts and bolts of my visit to Orkney in July 2019.

I flew from Aberdeen to Kirkwall (and vice versa) with Loganair. Aberdeen is not the closest airport to home (it is Edinburgh) and whilst Loganair does fly between Edinburgh and Kirkwall, the flight times from Aberdeen suited me better.

Loganair's Saab 2000

Loganair's Saab 2000

The flights cost £146 return, and that ticket class includes a checked in bag.

Kirkwall Airport Terminal

Kirkwall Airport Terminal

It is possible to drive to Orkney obviously, with several ferry options from the north coast. However, it is a journey of close to 7 hours each way and for a short weekend break, that makes no sense.

I stayed overnight at Aberdeen Airport on the outward trip, at the Moxy Hotel. It cost £51, with breakfast (£12) and parking (£5) extra.

Moxy Decor

Moxy Decor

I arranged parking at Aberdeen Airport with Park and Depart whilst I was in Orkney. It cost £20 from first thing Friday until Sunday evening.

Moxy Lounge

Moxy Lounge

In Kirkwall I stayed two nights at the Storehouse, which I did a stand alone review of.

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

I took the public bus between the airport and the town centre. It runs every 30 minutes most of the time - less on Sunday. The journey takes less than 15 minutes.

Kirkwall Airport

Kirkwall Airport

I also used the public bus to visit Stromness - a 30 minute trip each way. I am the proud owner of a Scottish Government bus pass (free to all over 60s), so I paid nothing.

I had booked flights to and from North Ronaldsay for the Saturday. It is the most northerly of the islands, with Loganair’s Inter Island service being the alternative to the twice weekly ferry. It cost £18 each way. Sadly, they could not fly that day due to mist and low cloud on North Ronaldsay.

Posted by IainT 02:25 Archived in Scotland Tagged planes food scotland restaurants flights aberdeen airlines orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

Kirkwall

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View Orkney on IainT's travel map.

The Storehouse

The Storehouse

Careful observers will be aware I spend a lot of my trips in airport hotels, Airbnb places and chain hotels.

It makes little sense to write reviews of those types of place.

I will not bore everyone with the reasons, but it is unusual for me to stay in routine hotels these days. If I am in Scotland, I am always seeking out a classy guest house or bed and breakfast. It has worked for me recently in Stornoway and on Tiree, Islay, Gigha and Seil.

When it came to planning my visit to Orkney in July ’19 I latched onto a relatively new place in Kirkwall - The Storehouse. The owners describe it as a restaurant with rooms. I suppose that intrigued me.

I chose well.

As the name suggests it is a converted warehouse, right in the centre of Kirkwall. My room was a delight, in terms of comfort, amenities and style. To be honest I did not switch on the TV, but I do not watch at home and have lost the habit.

Many years ago I stayed in a hotel in Copenhagen which had retained the old beams and pillars, and avoiding the pillar on the way to the toilet in the middle of the night was a bit of a challenge. I did better at The Storehouse. No black eye to explain away.

Bedroom

Bedroom

I had dinner in the restaurant on my first night, and it was one of the best meals I have had for a long time. I had a crab cake as starter, followed by scallops with monkfish. The service was excellent too.

Restaurant

Restaurant

My room rate included breakfast, and being used to just a smoothie and maybe a crispbread at that time of the day, I enjoyed letting myself live a little. The end result was a shortage of appetite for the rest of the day, but you cannot have it both ways.

The Storehouse is convenient for the bus station (to get to and from the airport, or further afield) and those inter island ferries which leave from Kirkwall. The airport is a 5 minute taxi ride away.

Shower Room

Shower Room

My room was £150 per night, inclusive of breakfast. Comparing like with like - although I do not remember staying in a “restaurant with rooms” before - I paid that much on Barra last year for a hotel which was 3rd rate. The Storehouse is top class.

Bedroom

Bedroom

My dinner cost £41, including a large glass of white wine. Like the room, it was not in the budget category but top class.

If you are heading for Kirkwall, I recommend it.

Posted by IainT 23:20 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland restaurants orkney kirkwall islandlife Comments (0)

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