Adventures in Scotland – Aug 2011

It fits that I should start the editing process of my book in the same city I start writing it, 16 months ago. Having said that, these few days are more of a ‘Worliday’ as coined by San Sharma of Enterprise Nation fame. This is a perfect mix of work and play or in my case editing, going on coffee shop crawls and taking in an Edinburgh Fringe show. Even though I go to Scotland for solid writing days, I always come back refreshed and raring to go as if I’ve been on holiday.

It’s the first time I’m going to Scotland in a car so I can delight in the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign that I had hoped for by train, not to views of the rolling hillside as we go through the Pennines. You know, the view the Americans think the whole of England sees every day out of their window.

Apart from being able to shop at Ness for my beloved tartan flavoured clothes, the highlight is not just being in the city for the Edinburgh Fringe but catching a show too. It’s the last day and we hover at the half price ticket stand just long enough for one of the artist’s to pimp his show to us. We buy. The show was as funny and silly as I had hoped and all I can say is I will never look at a red sofa the same again.

The coffee crawl over two days in the city included two Bean Scenes, Peters Yard, Kilmanjaro and a new one on me, the Wellington – all fantastic experiences.

CUP

There are also two great meals in Edinburgh but I am looking forward to lunch at Cup when we hit Glasgow’s West End; same table, same view and two cupcakes to go as always.

Of the three Glasgow Bean Scenes’ I write in, my favourite has gone. It’s still there as a similar independent coffee shop named Rudi’s but it’s slightly smarter, more bar than coffee house. If I wasn’t looking I may not have noticed but despite similar ideas and almost identical menu, it’s not Bean Scene. It’s the reason I discover my favourite vintage shop, more because the lady who runs it – who always remembers me – inspired me to run Birmingham Vintage Festival.

I didn’t make a purchase alas, having already bought Victoriana boots in Glasgow but we did find the men’s paisley shirt I’d been looking for in the shop opposite.

Lakes

On the long and beautiful detour towards Lake Windermere where I, mentally at least, have bought a cottage on the main road, in ‘Black Moss’ which I run as a boutique bed & breakfast filled with vintage finds as I write my (next) book overlooking the fields at the back of the house. Very Miss Potter.

I rarely eat ice cream but the draw of the 99 cone as we pull up to take in Lake Windermere is too much. As if this isn’t perfect enough, on the way back the planned stop is Westmorland services which everyone I have mentioned to since has been to but a new heavenly discovery for me. A glorious lunch with a view and a week’s shopping money spent in the farm store before we finally return home to Birmingham.

Today at Cafe Blend – Adventures in Birmingham

September 20th 2010

My fondness for Urban Coffee Co is very well documented. Nevertheless, particularly when I’m having a full on writing day (that is a short day with two breaks) the day is generally more productive with a change of scene so 2-3 coffee shops is ideal.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh where until now I have gone for all my full on booking writing jaunts it’s easy as each has two or three of the fabulous Bean Scenes plus a couple of other places for lunch. In Birmingham, as yet, there is only one Urban so when I’m recommended Cafe Blend by two people, I decide to go and investigate.

My first guess that this is going to pricier because it’s opposite Harvey Nicholls is correct.

Verdict

Con – View is the car park opposite and it’s on a very busy road near a very busy New Street Station

Pro – nice vibe

Con – Unsatisfactory service; I’m assuming the young lady was an untrained student but the words ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t trouble her lips once. My planned greeting of ‘here you are, I’ve heard all about you!’ seemed inappropriate. The student never offered me any choice and I was automatically served a small coffee.

Pro – they offer NY cheesecake

Con – they don’t stock Kissme CupCakes (but hopefully will do soon)

Pro – I love the comfortable bench seating with a table by the window. It’s a huge plus to have comfort and a desk

Con – the coffee is average but I get used to it

Pro or Con – Cafe Blend is way too close to Harvey Nicks

Glasgow May 28-31st 2010 (Part Two)

Light Rain

Breakfast is included and although I’m not one for early eating, I’m not one than can resist food either. I feel a little self-conscious walking into breakfast with a kilt-like skirt, probably not the best choice for an English girl in Glasgow. I’m a little irked that the waitress assumed I did not want haggis but it’s a pleasant enough experience and demonstrates even better value for money. Scottish breakfast minus haggis apparently equals Irish breakfast, complete with potato scone. Or bread as I know it.

Light rain is projected and I find myself pulling on my in case it’s really cold, roll neck sweater. The strange this is last night I was cold coming back from the coffee shop but I knew I would be. Glaswegians were walking around like it was summer without coats. Curious.

The rain is mightily strange; there’s one drop every six seconds and it feels like walking under a shop canopy and drops fall of the end so hardly worth bothering with.

I’m too full for more coffee so a walk is called for, past Bean Scene, clocking potential coffee shops in the West End, specifically in area called Partick although of course I thought it was Patrick for first 20 minutes.

With the rain coming I settle for Big Mouth Coffee Co and finally get cracking on the book before discovering a bit more of the West End. I lunch at Off Shore by Glasgow University.  More book is written accompanied by lovely sweet potato, coconut and something soup and big chunks of brown bread. It was just what I needed both the meal and discovering this area. Glasgow is looking up and when I get back, I have a new attic room, twice the size with a decent bathroom. Although it’s another floor up, I have a bath.

I stroll the shops and grab a cinema ticket for later. After 2 weeks without a film to watch, I’m left with CopOut with Bruce Willis which is actually very funny and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

I head back to pick up recharged laptop and head out for night cap and heading towards my word target at the local Bean Scene.

Cup

Sunday is a gorgeous day and I set off after a lovely bath and light breakfast to another Bean Scene in the Hillside area of the West End. Glasgow doesn’t seem to have many road signs and my map had a big subway line going over all the main road names. I didn’t even realise there was a subway until I saw an entrance this morning. Eventually I get there; it’s hidden away in a lane. Another thing that Glasgow has lots of and explains where people walking in front of me disappear into.

Pea & Mint Soup

Pea & Mint Soup & Cheese Scones

I love this neighbourhood. There is a Marks & Spencer Simply Foods and a Waitrose which I went in just for the fun of it. They have St Georges flag cakes just randomly placed in bakery. Un-sold I may add. Even though there is a Waitrose a couple of miles from my home and another 20 minutes drive away, I don’t have a car so it’s the novelty value. I saw someone carry a Waitrose bag the other day and assumed then there must be one in the city centre John Lewis. Disappointedly not but I found this when I took a wrong turn this morning. That’s pretty much how I discover most things; walking onwards even when I’m not where I thought I was going to be, what’s to lose?

That’s how I finally realised the steeple of the church like building I have been looking at from afar was indeed part of glamorous Glasgow university. Actually the rest of it composed of horrid 1970s tower blocks and more pleasant modern buildings but it is the size of a small village.

Hillhead also has a delightful place called Cup which offered afternoon tea but it’s a little early for that so I have soup; pea & mint with cheese scones. I’m able to sit upstairs which I note is quieter and thought it was as good as place as any to carry on writing so ordered a long cold drink to sip on. An hour later, it got much busier for late lunchers and it was time for me to get to the cinema for the only other film that I want to watch, the Bad Lieutenant with Nicholas Cage. Bad indeed. That’s 2 hours I’ll never get back.

I needed cheering up after that. I could have stayed in a gorgeous part of Glasgow, enjoying both the sun and the scenery whilst cracking on with the writing. I catch the last rays whilst walking back and get to the local Bean Scene again.

Sun with no rain

On the last, the warmest day I skip breakfast and have a bagel at one of the two final Bean Scenes. I just love this place and it has made my trips to Scotland all the more worthwhile. I found it strange that both wide doors at Bean Scene were open and they felt the need to put a fan on too. It’s 9 in the morning and barely 10c!!

Glasgow had emptied the ATMs on Saturday night at I had to visit three to get some cash, which it only dispensed in £20 denominations.

Still, I love this area. It reminds me of New York in that the houses are similar, with stoops and basements but then we have that in London. There’s a big social culture in NYC but the Scottish version involves drinking. Best of all, the decent coffee shops (the now famous on this blog, Bean Scene) open till late but not till midnight as they do in NYC. Just like one of my early visits to Starbucks (I know, gahhh!) in 2000 on Broadway that featured live music. This was my first solo visit to NYC so it was nice to hang out till way past 10pm and feel both safe and entertained. I was unfortunate not to experience such melodic pleasure in Bean Scenes either here in Glasgow or previously in Edinburgh.

I notice a fair few recycling points in Glasgow and it feels like there is one for glass on every corner. I‘m surprised they are not next to every regular trash bin given the amount of merry people in the streets each night. I have to say, it’s the drinking that made me slightly uncomfortable in Edinburgh and more so here.

Given the number of friendly Glaswegians I have met, heard, listened to and ready about over the years, I didn’t get the warmth I’d expected from the local people.

I imagine I will one day, but at the moment, I’m not sure when I may be back.

Cup

Glasgow May 28-31st 2010 (Part One)

Book Writing, Round Two

It’s a bank holiday so I must be in Scotland.

I’m going for my second book writing trip (that’s first book, second trip). The train is just as busy and this time I have a table seat but quickly realise there’s three distractions on three seats right there. Unfortunately that wasn’t all. There is only one thing louder than a noisy child and that’s a hen night. They were polite enough talking to us civvies but as loud and colourful as you would expect otherwise when conversing with each other. I was just grateful not be going to Blackpool.

Not much writing gets done. Instead I’m defending the otherwise excellent Virgin Trains to a couple who live in Spain as for some reason, there were problems reserving seats. I had to be persistent to get mine but still bought rare full price tickets.

I’m not looking forward to Glasgow as I had Edinburgh and have already lowered my expectations after that primary Scottish adventure. The taxi driver who stays silent throughout the £5, not £3-4 journey I had been lead to believe didn’t change my opinion.

After checking in and realising I was on the third floor of walk-up, I discovered there was no bath. It was an even smaller room than Edinburgh but less than half the price so it’s still fantastic value but no bath. Noooo!

Luckily, they are able to move me but not till tomorrow so I don’t unpack but step out into the street to get acclimatised. Turn left for city centre and right for the West End were my instructions from the staff, who I’m warming to now. I have a good feeling for going right as that’s where the university is and experience has told me, universities equal lots of coffee shops of the non-Starbucks variety.

However, already feeling weary, I went to investigate the city centre first.

It’s a standard city centre, with more bars. Many, many more bars, right there amongst the shops.

No Smoking Sign

No Smoking Sign

Having got a good grip of where everything is; cinema, train station for return and Marks and Spencer, I turn back to find the recommended fish & chip place. There are the standard amount of outlets in Glasgow, compared to none in Edinburgh so as much as I’m not a fan of chip shop chips; fish is my Friday tradition whenever possible and the salmon sandwich on the train doesn’t really count.

The Sandyford Hotel is an old fashioned family run hotel and they have real keys that actually work every time complete with a huge tag so you cannot walk out of the hotel with it and have to hand it in. It’s quaint and it also forces the staff to talk to you each time so they quickly got to remember my room number.

BBITW

As I walk, I’m thinking about the fantastic music scene that was so persistent in the 1980s and still plentiful now. The BBITW, GUN came from here and I go past the well known small, live music venue, King Tuts that everyone plays at.

When I return to the hotel, I check on the status of El Presidente, the band formed by ex-bassist who I loved but hadn’t heard anything form since the brilliant first album in 2006. I had looked up El Pres recently and there was still no word on any new material. Back in the day, junior members of my staff were riotous in their collective jibes of my supposed shrine to them. Brilliant new bands only come along once every few years and perhaps I was a little over excited and imitated a slightly younger music fan.

Things I learnt: Mark Rankin, former singer of BBITW is the cousin of Sharlene Spitteri of Texas, El Pres are still not ready with a second album and GUN have reformed.

I said Gun reformed!

Wikipedia of all places told me Gun had reformed and started playing gigs last year and despite my listening to the radio all day and paying close attention to social media, OK just Twitter, no-one had told me!

However, excitement was quickly over as they are without, although with the blessing, of their lead singer. Could you have the Stones without Jagger, Beatles without McCartney, Guns N Roses without Axel Rose? No.

So whilst they will play the old stuff and the new tracks are so far so good, I’m taking the attitude it’s a new band and I’ll follow with interest. They have got an established new singer, Toby, who used to be with Little Angels and is voice is nicely similar so he can cover the old classics. I could probably cope with that but of course we’re all 10 years older and Joolz the guitarist, who I rate being up there with the best and certainly a mesmerising musician to watch used to have de rigueur long messed up hair as befits a guitarist of such stature. Sadly he is now shaven headed but it is the first time I have actually seen his face! And he looks happy.

Boy it was exciting for a while there.

West End

I learn I’m staying in the right area as I can walk to all three Bean Scenes, my favoured discovery in Edinburgh. This small independent chain promises coffee, food and music. I never got to hear any live music but what they played was always excellent. And they open until at least 10pm which is great for the solo traveller in a city that likes to DRINK alcohol.

The nearest one was around 10 minutes walk in the West End direction, opposite a lovely looking, but un-attempted museum and park. That was my destination each evening until around closing time.

Bad Service

Gratitude – April 2010

Project – my first project with Springboard was a bigger challenge than anyone expected and in different ways. Thankfully it launched and I’m 70% through training the group.

I’m also grateful to the staff of the Y Centre, the community centre where I am training a group of long term/disadvantaged unemployed. Not only is finding the building a stroke of luck, but the staff are unbelievably lovely.

All this made me even more grateful for a long weekend to Edinburgh. After all these years of transatlantic holidays, I finally jump on a train for the five hours to Scotland. Admittedly I can get to New York in six but that’s after the journey to the airport and the three hours waiting at both ends not to mention baggage reclaim and delays. This little trip meant walking 15 minutes to the train station, jumping on a train, seeing the also undiscovered north east of England and jumping off 5 hours later, having written 700 words and straight into the Edinburgh sunshine for the two minute walk to the hotel. It was glorious.

Book The point of disappearing for a long weekend was to start on the long awaited – by me, anyway – book. The target 5000 words duly achieved against a magnificent backdrop of discovering yet another city on this fine planet.

There’s also one more thing; I’m grateful for a little crush I have developed. There is nothing to tell, I am blissfully ignorant of his situation and not looking for anything to happen. I’m just grateful to have my mind taken off the ex-BF. At least for some of the time.

Edinburgh – Part 3

Sunday Brunch

I find the last coffee shop on the list, Kilimanjaro which was only a little further up from where I finished yesterday but I couldn’t see any breakfast dishes and so just have coffee and scone to keep me going. It was some while later when I looked at the menu on my table and realise I could have had Eggs Benedict, something I have had a craving for months, the last I had being on my birthday in Montreal. Afterwards I walk towards the other favourite coffee place, the Elephant Cafe when I hit upon a lovely looking Italian restaurant just before it, serving all day breakfast, including Eggs Benedict.

I would never have come across this place if I’d already eaten but I needed a long walk to get over the two, yes two cups of delicious standard white coffee and let me tell you, there was nothing standard about it. A lovely place with great service and productive writing time. I may go back.

Perfect for a second cup

By now I was full so went past the Elephant and discovered a gorgeous park with the brand new Quartermile development on the edge. I’m not sure if it’s for students although it seems a like more luxury than they need. I didn’t want to walk too far from civilisation with the morning’s three consumed coffees at the forefront of my mind but I loved the look of this neighbourhood despite the Starbucks, it also had a another cafe and the now thankfully ubiquitous mini city style Sainsbury’s.

Despite my plans, I did manage to lose my bearings in the park and instead of heading towards another undiscovered neighbourhood, West End, I came back to where I had started the day but sprinted back to the hotel, via a shopping centre I had noticed a few doors down for quicker bathroom access. These ladies had a coin operated GHD hair straightner machine; a genius idea although probably more welcome in late night establishments.

Having refreshed and dropped my unnecessary belongings at the hotel, I walked purposefully to the other end of town. What is this West End they speak of?

The shops lined the street pretty much all the way although the big stores ceased just before it became a tiny bit more residential, I’m guessing more for students as having of course bypassed Starbucks, I found an almost camouflaged, Bean Scene. I’d seen of these before in the old town near the coffee shops and loving the idea of ‘music and coffee’ and the fact that this seemed like the edge of the city, went in. It’s another great discovery; they do bagels, chai, proper big slices of cake and music with a variety of seating. This being the end of the day, there were plenty of seats and as my lemon cake and chai were being bought to me, I sunk down into a big sofa area all to myself and got the laptop out. Sadly no live music but I love this place!

Sunday night was a bit dull in that shops closed at 6, an hour later than England and this being a bank holiday; the streets were still full of drinkers. The Scottish reputation proceeded in that even when I spotted an organised Literary Walk being advertised in Robert Burns land, it turned out to be a literary pub crawl. Maybe not right for me but for any return trip, I will need to pre-organise some evening entertainment.

  • Coffee AM: full of beans
  • Coffee PM: Chai, best served with lemon cake
  • Words total: 4025

 A Taste of New York

Once again I set out for the Elephant Cafe but with nought pounds in my purse, Scottish or otherwise (I love having Scottish money, it still feels like I’m abroad) I stopped at the Bank of Scotland on Bank Street, all names that lead me into believing I was going to obtain some cash here. I swear this is true; the cash point would only give me notes divisible by £200 so not the £20 I asked for.

As I didn’t see any other cash points, for the second time this weekend I go past the intended, Elephant Cafe and towards the park and on to a cash point next to Starbucks. Money in hand, I go past the second Starbucks and Sainsbury’s into the enticing looking cafe I saw yesterday. Again my first impression was right; it’s exactly like my favourite little chain in New York, Dean & Deluca.

Peter’s Yard seems to be modelled on the Dean & Deluca look, very high ceilings, bare metal pipes elevated over head, ridiculously expensive branded souvenir goodies displayed minimally on chrome wire shelving and well trained staff. There has to be a connection.

I spot a corner table right at the back so the stools at the front weren’t necessary although almost every seat here is by a window and once again, I take my cinnamon pastry whilst my drink is freshly made and bought to me. Quite honestly I wanted to move in.  I start spotting the few residents that already occupy the buildings on the shiny new complex outside amongst all the advertising signs for homes, offices and retail spaces. When I walked past yesterday I thought it was odd that they put shiny tower blocks next to the gorgeous old gothic style buildings and didn’t make them blend in but I do surprise myself by falling for it all. Despite spotting a young woman clearly coming back from the gym on a bank holiday Monday and the Starbucks two doors down, I am not put off.

I go past my target of 5000 words for the weekend on the new love of my life, the Samsung netbook, (and a couple of thousand on this journal in between times) and decided not to move in right now but go and explore a little more, this time going straight towards the West End and then back to do some window shopping on the way to the hotel and the train home.

  • Coffee: full of beans
  • Words total: 5198

 I walk the way I should have gone yesterday and pass two Premier Inns which didn’t come up on my search for a hotel but were a welcome sight. I walk through what appears to be more of the business district with many shiny new buildings and a huge Bank of Scotland (how do they dispense the money at this cash point, in £500 increments?) but not far from the Bean Scene I was in yesterday, just as the few spots of forecast rain start so a perfect time to stop for a light lunch before heading back.

It may have been just the moment I was enjoying but quite frankly it was the most beautiful tomato and basil soup I have tasted, and tomato soup isn’t a favourite of mine.

It came hot in a large mug with spoon and deliciously hot Panini bread with butter. It was just gorgeous and a wonderful end to my trip.

 I’ll be back.

Castle in the city centre?

Edinburgh – Part 2

Saturday

Harry Potter

I only spotted one potential coffee shop so researched more whilst watching Jonathan Ross last night. By the way, this is the first hotel in many years I have stayed where there were only five channels on TV, remembering that I mostly go to America.

I found four coffee shops in 2 adjoining neighbourhoods in the old town which I though gives me the reason to explore this ancient city. What I hadn’t reckoned on is that J K Rowling author of the uber-successful Harry Potter is from these parts and lo and behold, there is a coffee shop to recognise that she frequented it, The Elephant Cafe. Just as I added that one to my list, I had a tweet from @kissmecupcakes to tell me so. This was just meant to be so is my first point of call this morning for breakfast and first writing stint – the reason for this long weekend of solitude.

I do like a window seat and this is one of those narrow establishments so there were only 2 window bar stools, of which I grabbed one whilst waiting for my sausage (in a) roll. The view of the castle they speak of Ms Rowling enjoying must have been at the back somewhere but I wasn’t going to risk losing my window seat to find out. Plus I am not writing about mystical worlds so don’t need the castle as inspiration.

  • Coffee: full of beans
  • Words total:1483

Elephant Cafe

Chocolate Soup

I took a break in the National Gallery of Scotland and noted their Cupcake bakery before heading to no: 2 in the coffee shop list, Chocolate Soup, for lunch. My hunch was right and I enjoyed a little writing with some potato and leek soup with tomato bread before moving onto no: 3. I had a window seat but I didn’t feel too comfortable writing with a laptop actually on my lap plus I was hogging a table made for four and now really fancied a decent coffee, something I imagined the chocolate connoisseur wasn’t going to be as good at so I quickly moved onto the Medicine Coffee Company and the first disappointment of the day.

I didn’t plan on visiting three of the coffee shops in one day but it gave me a chance to see which I wanted to return to. I found it easily enough and even though there was no-one in front of me and three members of ‘busy’ staff, it took a few minutes for me to be served. Then I was told I couldn’t have my coffee in a takeout cup, inside, – a first for me and I visit a lot, I mean a lot of coffee shops. Even though I offered to pay whatever the extra charge is to ‘eat in’, it was the owners policy. So it’s the owner’s policy to a) make me drink my coffee quickly before it gets cold and order more or vacate my chair b) make me have cold coffee at my leisure.

Tartan

This should have been quaint and old worldly, as the name suggests but was uncomfortable as I find cold coffee and productive writing are not a match. I got a cute but rough window nook and as sitting on a tree trunk is never easy for a long time, a decent hot coffee would have made it infinitely better. There is no customer care here but they did warm up the milk for me. Still half way through the measly little cup, its cold.

I wonder back via a little look at Edinburgh Castle, or more importantly, a little retail discovery called Ness that sells all things tartan. In all the excitement of the dual first of starting my book and coming to Scotland, I forgot one my old loves, tartan. As both my kilt and tartan trousers are currently residing in New York, I should have one memento of this occasion and set about finding a kilt in another colour.

As I have done on many a trip, I swap the Friday fish and chips to Saturday and pop to Harry Ramsden’s for an accompaniment to Dr Who. Later I do watch Match of The Day despite the big end of season games being played tomorrow.

  • Coffee: instant
  • Words total: 2389