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?

Christmas in Montreal – Part 3

Christmas Eve
It’s positively warmer today so I finally get the BF to the mountain and its well worth it. Even more gorgeous than my last trip as the snow makes it postcard perfect complete with chocolate box houses in the background. I get a rare photo taken.

As is the tradition in many parts of the world, the BF gives me one of my presents this evening.

Christmas Day
Completely traditional: We watch the NY Knicks in a bar with Chicken Wings for him and Spaghetti Bolognese for me (they’d stopped serving breakfast!), a walk in the snow followed by the newly released Sherlock Holmes followed by an lovely Indian meal on the way home.

OK, up to now not traditional although for the last 4 years in NY, I have gone to either the cinema or theatre on Christmas evening. The glimmer of hope I hold out for a turkey meal in one of the ‘pubs’ does not pan out but I do have another present waiting for me under the tree. I love this tree.

Boxing Day/Anniversary
Canada recognises Boxing day which is a surprise as Americans call it ‘the day after
Christmas’. More importantly, one year today marks the anniversary of our first date and a present follows in the evening.
Before that we have our second breakfast at our favourite, Eggspectation and we manage to find a pleasant turkey dinner, much better than I’ve had in New York although we did have to eat in the diner of a shopping mall.

After a blissfully happy 8 days, that’s it for now. I take BF to the bus station having grabbed a taxi in the Sunday morning rain with over an hour to spare. After the week we have had, this parting is a 1000% happier than last time, tinted with just a little sadness but with increased confidence, appreciation and awareness of what we have together. For the first time since having to return from NYC in April, I feel my old optimism coming back and I can’t wait to kick 2009’s butt and welcome 2010. Roll on Spring time.
Happy New Year!

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The Journals of Alexander Mackenzie: Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacif

Gratitude List – December 2009

Thankfully it’s over and I’ve survived.

Yes there were some good bits in 2009, three of the months were spent in New York after all. I attended writing school, wrote almost daily, made some New Yorker friends and got to know the BF. Other than that, I never want to relive any of it.

Not one normally for wishing my life away as I treasure every minute, this month I’m mostly grateful that the year is over and 2010 has started. The only way now is most certainly up and I can’t wait to get going.

However, albeit very different this year and hardly recognisable, Christmas is still my favourite time of the year. Christmas day is just part of the festive period; the days leading up to it are much more special to me and always have been. For the last four years, I have celebrated the big event 3300 miles away in New York after all.

This Christmas, I spent 8 gorgeous days with the BF in snowy and festive Montreal so I’m most grateful for that.

Finally, I’m extremely grateful to all of you who have read and especially those that have commented on this blog over the last few months. And those of you that will in 2010!

Wishing you a fantastic new year with 365 wonderful days to come x

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Christmas in Montreal – part 2

As expected after the fiasco last time, the BF and I communicate brilliantly and he keeps me posted on his journey up from NYC. He even arrives an hour or so early leaving me just enough time to find lights for the mini Christmas tree I have taken with me, get glammed-up in my meeting-the-BF-from-the-bus outfit and get to the station. Once the taxi had dropped us back at 1 Rene Lévesque Apartment hotel, BF unpacks, carefully tucking my Christmas presents under the tree and we go across the street to get some food before having a couple of beers in the bar we had gone to in October.

As we are on the corner of Rue St Laurent, the road that leads all the way up to Little Italy, we start walking. It’s freezing. I’m wearing leather gloves rather than woollen today and my hands are dropping off, finger by finger. My hair is frozen. If it had not been -16, the walk would have been very pleasant but it’s a long long way and no amount of stopping to duck into a shop at every opportunity gives us a long-term solution. We make it, and have a scrumptious, hearty Italian lunch served by a Toronto Italian. We stroll a little more before succumbing to our first Canadian subway ride and the end the day watching Avatar. Interesting.

Moved to our more luxurious Christmas hotel in the neighbourhood I discovered on my last day on the birthday trip. Maritime hotel doesn’t have the microwave and fridge we had got used to in the apartment hotel but it is definitely 4 star luxury as far as comfort goes and the area is as good as I had remembered. More importantly, BF loved it. I chose it as you could request the microwave and fridge but when I did, they said I’d have to upgrade the room for it. If I’d known, I would have stayed a couple more nights in the other place but never mind, it all worked.

Still freezing today as we discover picturesque Westmount, as the name suggests to the west of the mountain and the furthest West we go to the ‘English’ side of the city.

Our second subway – actually metro – ride to discover the huge Plateau neighbourhood to the east and foot of the mountain. Not as much there as the guide books stated so perhaps the area comes into it’s own in the café culture of the summer. It’s still freezing so the trip to the base of the mountain is postponed.

Later we go to our new ‘local’ cinema in the famous (to ice hockey fans) Forum, previous home to the uber-successful Montreal Canadiens and see BF’s choice of Up in the Air. The film is OK but the company is lovely.
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The Journals of Alexander Mackenzie: Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Laurence, Through the Continent of North America, to the Frozen and Pacif

Christmas in Montreal – glorious (part 1)

Up, up and away
The trip is seamless. I go by coach from the new-look glamour-filled Birmingham coach station, officially opened by Fabio Capello on this very day. Unfortunately some time after my prompt departure.

Unfortunate too that the depot, designed successfully to look more like an airport has a dreaded Star – bucks. I make do without coffee and amuse myself with the view of what is now being termed the ‘Irish Quarter’ (more Americanisms); you can take the coach station out of Digbeth but you can’t take the sex shops out of the Irish Quarter.

I arrive effortlessly at Heathrow T5, BA’s exclusive terminal. Not being a fan of BA but not wanting to pay over £200+ more for Air Canada, especially as this trip is sooo expensive anyway, I’m still fairly impressed by T5 although get the distinct impression they are trying to be upmarket with the lack of McDonalds, Burger King etc.

What’s not particularly impressive is the service on board. We the passengers are mightily pleased to be taking off, given the snow and threat of strike but the staff, I feel are saddened not to have 12 days off over Christmas once the strike is called off.

Sure they provide the usual friendly service but there’s absolutely no going the extra mile. The Montrealean next to me asks three times for extra food and not only is he refused even a packet of nuts point blank, he’s not offered an alternative such as being able to buy some duty free snacks. Quite frankly a cold drink once airborne and one meal followed by coffee is not really enough even for my small palate. You get ice cream with Virgin which makes up for pretty much anything. What happened to 2 bite sized snacks AND a meal when flying transatlantic?

At the other end, immigrations and luggage collection were as painless as two months ago and I was on the hotel shuttle within about thirty minutes of walking off the plane.
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Montreal Diary November 4th 2009

Wow that holiday went by faster than a Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey player hitting the puck across the ice. (I don’t know the Montreal team’s name)

You can’t imagine how nervous I am on the flight over. Not that I have developed a fear of flying, although it is my first flight in six months, just a deepened fear of passport control. I keep telling myself I’ve taken every precaution, made enough re-assuring calls to the Canadian Embassy (unlike the US one, on a normal rate phone number) and done my research. And then some. I even put my cross back around my neck for the first time since coming back on that heartbreaking journey from New York.

I smartly walk into immigrations hall with my head held high, replicating an air of confidence and trying to look guilt-free – even though I have done nothing wrong. I estimate a nervous 30 minute wait in the quietest airport I have ever visited but happily find myself at the front of the line within a few short minutes, not enough time for me to get into a real state. A friendly officer politely gives me a choice of desks to head towards and I choose desk five. I figure if one bald man likes me, this one may too. He did.

I was invited up with a smile and waved through with a ‘have a good stay’.

I’m in Canada!

I almost want to punch the air and I’m tempted to walk straight out without collecting my luggage just in case they change their mind but instead I casually walk towards the carousel.

It’s only when I’m on the already waiting bus that I text the three people who may have been nervous too. I was glad to find that my shuttle bus took me to another bus that drove me straight to my hotel. The journey has been faultless.

Having exchanged messages, the BF was meant to text me an ETA the next day. By 11.45 I am literally worried sick and the usual scenarios are going through my head as I can’t get through on his phone. I’m physically ill for the next few hours but when I cannot be ill no more, I make myself go out and wander around the shops in fresh air. Today is meant to be to acclimatise and research places for us to go and eat and chill. I don’t notice much except the lack of beeping coming from my phone.

At the time I hoped he was arriving, I walk to the bus station having already rehearsed the journey this morning and find that the NY bus is invariably late. I decide it’s better to mope at the bus station than anywhere else but as I sit motionless at Gate One, I’m unable to eat, drink, read or converse with the others waiting.

Around 45 minutes later the bus arrives. He comes out and waves through the window. I’ve never been so pleased to see him but I’m also inwardly upset at his explanation; his signal disappeared soon after he left New York but I don’t understand why he couldn’t borrow a phone and at least call the hotel with a message, even if he didn’t recall my number.

Still, I’m so happy and after we grab a taxi, whereupon two were fighting over our fare for some reason, we unload at the hotel and walk to the bar around the corner that I had spotted last night, when peering through the window to see that United were 1-0 up.

I’m disappointed that I haven’t changed into my planned glamorous ‘waiting for my boyfriend’s bus’ outfit complete with long, shocking pink, leather gloves but the relief over-rode that.

My sickness could have come from the breakfast this morning which included uncharacteristically a very rich pumpkin latte that was advertised on the plane, when I wondered 10 minutes the wrong way on St Catherine’s Street into ‘gayville’ after rehearsing the walk to the bus station. Or it could have been the dodgy pastry I had at different coffee shop late last night. All of this food is wasted anyhow and now is the first time I have felt like eating all day.

More than likely it is the worry as now we’re both happily tucking into sizzling fajitas whilst the BF catches up on the start of the basketball season and the ‘world’ series featuring Yankees v Phillies.

Next day, I have a lovely birthday although both the holiday and spending it with BF are much more poignant than the big day. The only real birthday tradition we uphold is the gorgeous Italian meal in the old town although I did start the day with Eggs Benedict in a restaurant close by, same as my breakfast in San Francisco two years ago and I’ve been pining for it ever since.
The evening is planned to be spent watching the ‘world’ series but I promptly fall asleep for much of it.

Any similarities since our last time spent together end here. I don’t want to harbour on the bad stuff but there is a definite a shift in mood. The honeymoon may be over but the ‘real’ relationship has started. It may have been just the pressure of so few days together but we did have a few ‘words’, quiet, but definitely words. It appears the BF was holding back on some irritations so as hurtful it was too hear, it’s good that we have it in the open but it would have been nicer if he sugar coated in his usual style. He wasn’t his 100% supportive, caring self, maybe 90%.

Each barrage of criticism felt like I’d been caught in the line of machine gun fire but that’s because I’ve had ten months of him being so gentle and caring. And he still is but on these days, what happened to being sweet and attentive? What happened to women are always right and we men have to just work around that? (Jokingly said but a half truth if you want a happy relationship!). What happened to the beautifully crafted Valentines Day surprise versus nothing for my birthday, a more important celebration?

Each mini battle results in a lovely, if emotional heart-to-heart and we work though everything just like grown ups do. It’s been a rollercoaster few days but I’m quite proud of us.
And each day is lovely except for these short moments which seem spoil the tail end.

I figure the things he said wouldn’t be hurtful if I didn’t care for him but to have a falling out on the last day when I’m taking him back to the bus depot is truly shattering as we have no make-up time left. We do squeeze it in the last five minutes and many expensive texts ensue from me to him ending with a phone call when he’s back in the city on Sunday night.

But by now I’m hopelessly desolate in my despair as I have 28 hours on my own whilst he is only a few hours away, wondering how we got to this and feeling like I’d wasted precious moments not being completely with him. One thing I’m certain of is he definitely does not want me to be upset but he is and should be, honest and open.

The packing is awful but going back to an empty hotel room where we had been together is mightily upsetting.

London, Paris
I feel better in the next morning’s sunny daylight and go out shopping and try hard not to reach the desolation again. Finally I discover a nice new part of town and have a lovely coffee after shopping. My last day and there’s still no sign of cheesecake or cupcakes which I find unbelievable.

All day, I keep the texting going to ease the isolation and keep the communication open.
I call him from the airport after I have been bumped off the over-booked Air Canada flight. It’s expensive but it’s worth it as we clear the air with our apologies and I now feel good enough to chat to all the others that have been bumped off, all awaiting our fate.

Most of the rest are awaiting the Air France to Paris so I chat to an ex-pat Canadian-Indian returning to her family in France and also hear the first British accent in Canada. I get on the flight, text the BF and fall asleep after my lovely meal. All is good.

Roll on Christmas!
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Diary – Countdown to Montreal October 18th 2009

The countdown to Montreal is well on its way; I’m going next Tuesday on Air Canada and no doubt will be trying to recall my schoolgirl French on route.

The two months since the boyfriend came over to the UK have sure gone quicker than the 5 months we had apart before then.

This is my favourite time of year, not just because the trip is to commemorate my birthday; although this day is celebrated in a different way to the last 15 years of big parties. I still want to acknowledge another precious year on this planet so I now go away every year. And it seems wasteful to go away somewhere I can’t see the BF!

I love this season anyway; I like the climate, the gorgeous fall colours and the clothes. Changing from summer dresses to wool, cropped jeans to flared tweeds, sun hats to warm caps, denim to (fake) fur and best of all shoes to boots – not that I have any pairs here – they are all in New York along with my coats.

I give the BF one of the keys and key card to the Manhattan Mini storage unit – just in case. With hindsight it’s a good idea as he offers to go and get some bits for me. However, he gallantly travels from 42nd to 107th Street for me on Saturday, armed with spare bags and the keys.

90 minutes of tense conversation with me trying to be as patient (not my best virtue) as possible in his ear, we realise that he needs both keys for the padlock and they are not duplicates! Oh dear! Poor guy. And poor me, as I’m going to freeze without all my lovely collection of coats, winter kilts and knee high boots!

I don’t give him both keys as he has admitted to losing at least two items of clothing since I have known him. And I do wish (as I’d suggested) he’d have just asked the guy on reception to assist him then we would have known immediately.
But I still call him a couple of hours later to apologise as he’s so good to go for me and try to figure out what ‘tweed’ and ‘emerald green’ are in trying to find the items I need (would like).

I put the other key in the post pending postal strike and US post office efficiency – and if he has time, he will go back as I could really do with my super dooper, brand new straightners I left there.

Otherwise I will continue to look a mess and be cold until at least Christmas. Or, I have a feeling I’ll be shopping for at least 1 coat and pair of shoes in Canada. It’s a shame the exchange rate is almost as bad as the US.

BTW I have been doing more writing than ever but not blogging as I’m trying to get articles published on Powder Room Graffiti first. I have at least 5-6 articles written and at least that many more ideas. If you have any more, please check out the website (it’s anti reality TV, selebs & all I dislike about our current society but full of grown up (women’s) issues and lots of fun) let me know via comments!