Friday, 2 May 2014

In Edinburgh...

I haven't been to Edinburgh for a long while; in fact, I can't remember when I was last in this great city, it was certainly a long time ago. One thing, however, was noticeable by its absence: a bike share scheme. Now, there's the phrase, 'bike share scheme'. I no longer have to put 'Boris bikes' in quotes because the whole Boris bike thing is just that: a bike share scheme.
King's Cross Station – a vast improvement on the old concourse.
Anyway, never saw any bike share scheme in operation in Edinburgh and I walked from Mansfield Traquair to my hotel on the other side of the city beyond Tollcross. Oddly, while on the train from King's Cross, I did see what looked like a bike share scheme on Alnmouth railway station as the train pulled out. I know Alnmouth fairly well, having travelled there back in the mid-90s to interview a fire eater, and it's a pretty remote place, albeit a fantastic place (if you like that kind of desolation, like I do) and it's not the sort of place you'd expect to find a bike share scheme as once you're outside of the town there's nothing but rural country lanes.

So, no bikes to ride, but then again this was one of those packed trips consisting mainly of spending two days sitting down in a conference – a conference held in a church, which was a pleasant change from the usual conference hotel. As I mentioned, I managed a long walk from the church (Mansfield Traquair) back to my hotel (see review below, which is also published on TripAdvisor) but that was about it.
Room 37, the Bruntsfield Hotel, Edinburgh...
I messed up a bit on the train front, proving that it pays to actually read itineraries properly when you get sent them; I should have been on the 1300hrs train going out (and left my house at the right time to catch it) but when I pulled my tickets from the envelope in which they'd been sent, I clocked the time as 1530hrs (the time of my return journey from Edinburgh the following day). So, thinking I had time to kill, I had lunch at Prezzo and only realised my mistake when I found somebody else supposedly occupying my reserved seat. Then I clicked and later had to pay a hefty excess fare of £73. Why? Because I had a Super Off Peak Return and the train I was on didn't accept them – I had two options: pay the money or wait on Peterborough station for four hours, which would have gotten me in to Edinburgh some time after midnight. I paid up and made sure that I didn't make any more silly mistakes.

Incidentally, King's Cross has changed dramatically since I was last there – and I mean dramatically. The dowdy old concourse of old has been replaced by something truly amazing with plenty of decent coffee shops and restaurants and a futuristic ceiling (see photograph above).

The view from room 37 of the Bruntsfield Hotel, Edinburgh
I love the train journey from King's Cross to Edinburgh as once you pass Newcastle the scenery gets pretty dramatic. First you spy Alnmouth, a kind of poor man's Berwick-upon-Tweed and then, of course, Berwick itself before the train runs along the cliff tops and you get some fantastic moody views of the North Sea and the crashing waves as they roll in. I love it and I will always find it truly inspiring.

Edinburgh hasn't changed a great deal, which is good. I took a taxi to the Bruntsfield Hotel, had dinner and went to bed and then, after the conference two days later, I headed back to London, managing, somehow, to miss the tube drivers' strike and sailing along the Victoria Line to Victoria where I picked up a train to Sanderstead and home.

Here's my review of the Bruntsfield Hotel, Edinburgh, which you can also find on Trip Advisor.

The Bruntsfield Hotel, Edinburgh
One of the worst things about reviewing anything, be it a book, a film, a restaurant or a hotel (perhaps that should be ‘an hotel’) is that there is a tendency to feel that you can’t simply say something was good. Unfortunately, there is always that urge to add something negative, possibly for the sake of authenticity or, perhaps, simply to show that you’re hard and won’t take any nonsense, you’re not easily bought.

Well, that’s how I felt about the Bruntsfield Hotel before I’d even visited the place – although, if the truth be known, I knew it would be good before I checked in for the simple reason that I have stayed here before, back in the angst-ridden early 90s. And that’s why I’m here again because whenever I think of Edinburgh, I think of the Bruntsfield Hotel and walking along Princes Street towards Glenogle Street and Henderson’s and Bert’s Bar. I don’t even know if those establishments are still there, but I don’t think I could stay anywhere else in this great city than the Bruntsfield.

The reason I was going to add something negative was down to an email I received from the hotel once I’d booked a room on-line. They sent me an email saying that, for an extra £20, I could get a larger room with some fruit in it or, for £25, a bottle of wine and some hand-made canapés. Well, nice try, but when I think about how many oranges I could buy with £20 or how, for £25, I could get two decent bottles of red wine and have change for a copy of the Economist, I simply ignored what amounted to an opportunist marketing ploy. How was I to know that the larger room I was being offered was any bigger than the room I would have got without paying extra? Not that I should have adopted that attitude; they were, after all, just doing their job.

So, I travelled by train from King’s Cross, took a cab to the Bruntsfield and, as expected, it is still the most wonderful hotel in Edinburgh: the staff are friendly – so much so that I looked forward to passing the time of day with whoever was on the reception desk. Room 37 was excellent and the food in the Bisque restaurant was absolutely fantastic. After a day in a conference on the other side of town I was looking forward to dinner, a glass or two of wine, some dessert and, of course, a good book (go and buy Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, it’s fantastic).

I’ve been here for two nights. For dinner the first night I enjoyed chicken breast stuffed with haggis, mashed potato and carrots; the following evening it was venison,pheasant and duck stew with mashed potato and brocolli and I really wished I had another night here – with my family – or maybe a week. The problem, however, as always, was loneliness (it gets to me after a day or two).

The Bruntsfield, however, is such a homely, comfortable hotel and, fortunately, it lacks the anonymity of some of the bigger chain hotels I've stayed in. What's more, everything works, nothing niggles and I couldn’t recommend it more highly. When a hotel has that ‘home from home’ feeling about it, you know you’re on to a winner.

Breakfast was good too: plenty of choice and just nice and pleasant and perfect to wake up to.

One bugbear: the WiFi. It’s very slow. That needs to be addressed. Everything else is absolutely first class. Well done, Bruntsfield people. Keep up the good work. As Arne once said, “I’ll be back.”

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