In Scotland, I’m Home: Musings on Edinburgh

As the train pulls out of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and we speed towards the border, my excitement grows. Almost there. The thoughts running through my head take on a Scottish accent. The sun is shining – of course it is. The sun always shines in Scotland. At least, according to family legend, it always shines on women of the Kinloch clan. The men, especially the English ones who’ve married in, only get rain. So we leave them behind when we come. Edinburgh comes into view, and my heart leaps. The smile, which has been inanely on my face since Dunbar, grows even wider. I’m back where I belong. This gothic beauty, with all her refinement and finesse, may not be as cool and as edgy as Glasgow, but I adore her. I walk out of the station with the confidence and pride of someone who lives there. I swish past the tourists with their cameras and dazed expressions, feeling smug, until I catch sight of the Old Town skyline, the domes, the spires, the turrets of the castle, and I can’t help but whip out my phone to snap a picture. I have this very picture already, I remind myself, taken on a previous trip. But the light is different today. I’m sure I could live in Edinburgh for the rest of my life and still be unable to resist taking pictures from outside Waverley Station. Up into the Old Town, and onto the Royal Mile. The bagpipe player is playing the Flower of Scotland, competing with tinny strains of Scotland the Brave coming from the souvenir shop next door. It’s...

The little joys of Lisbon in three seasons

I could spend ages talking about the things to do in Lisbon – admiring the almost optically-impossible Sé cathedral, touring the castle, taking a literature tour… but we would be here all day, and it’s hardly groundbreaking stuff. It’s funny, but when I think of Lisbon, which is at least several times per day, it is the little experiences, the feather-light moments of magic, which cause my skin to tingle. So these are the little joys of Lisbon, through three seasons of the city.  Winter   Sink your teeth into a warm, smoky chestnut Be lured by the tendrils of smoke emanating from the many stands, and by the shouts of ‘castanhas, quentes e boas!’ (chestnuts, hot and delicious!) Gaze upon the rich, nutty beauties, roasting in the flat pan. Hand over your two euros, and clasp the warm cornet with anticipation. Peel off the first hard shell, licking the salt from your fingertips. Take your first, much anticipated bite. Gaze at chestnut-less passersby with a mixture of pity and smugness. Linger over coffee No self-respecting Lisboeta drinks anything other than espresso coffees. Learning to take your time and savour the tiny cup is a skill best learned on a dull winter day, when the light and warmth of a small, family-owned cafe is the most inviting thing in the world. When your espresso appears on the bar, treat it like a fine wine, allowing it to settle, and drinking in the rich aroma first. Allow it to cool a little, making conversation with the bartender. Then sip, slowly, pausing to gaze out of the window at the grey,...

An Amelie Tour of Paris

Thirteen years ago, an off-beat French film captured the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world and propelled Audrey Tatou to stardom. Le Fableux Destin d’Amelie Poulain remains an iconic Parisian film, with such a sweet story at its heart that you just can’t help but fall in love with Amélie and her city, and there’s no better way to relive the film than with an Amelie tour of Paris.  If you’d like to know more about the film, read the review here. These days, though the Amélie obsession there once was in Paris has quietened, the film is still deeply intertwined into Paris life. Stand long enough in the Gare du Nord, which was one of the locations used in the film, and the tinkling, melodic music of Yann Tiersen’s soundtrack will fill the air, courtesy of an amateur pianist at one of the public pianos. But it is in Montmartre that the film really comes to life. Walking up Rue Lepic, close to the Moulin Rouge, the Café des 2 Moulins is an unprepossessing sight at first; one street café among many along this stretch. Patrons sit in the wicker chairs beneath the scarlet awning, sipping coffee and flicking through the morning paper, keeping one eye on the hustle and bustle of life around them. But it is unmistakably Amélie’s café. Inside, the long bar, and even the layout of the chairs and tables, is exactly as it looks in the film. The only thing that is missing is the hypochondriac waitress, and you can’t help but watch the glasses on the shelves behind the bar,...

Seduced by Seville

Like the iconic flamenco dancers of this city, Seville is a tantalising temptress made up to perfection. Deep red lipstick, hair tumbling in artful waves, dress swishing beguilingly, she is a flawless beauty. Every street sign here is made and displayed with care and artistry; the buildings are tiled with Moorish designs, much like Portuguese Azulejos. Church exteriors seem to be made up of paintings pinched from the Museo de Bellas Artes. The deep Andalusian sky provides the perfect backdrop for the elegantly-painted buildings – russet and ochre, white and blue, dusky pink. I was worried that Seville was one of those places I had spent too long dreaming about, and that it wouldn’t match up in reality. But in the five minutes it took for me to walk from the bus station to the cathedral, timed serendipitously with the first rays of dawn bathing La Giralda in a pale golden light, Seville had already outdone even my most outlandish imaginings. The city had seduced me in an instant, and it was no mistaken first impression of a sleep-deprived traveller. Even after a strong coffee and a mars bar (hey, after three broken hours of sleep on a night bus, there are no rules about breakfast), Seville was still unbelievably beautiful. The grand buildings – the gothic cathedral with the famous Giralda, its Moorish tower, and the crenellated, russet-toned Alcazar Palace – bask in the adoration of tourists’  cameras, photogenic at every angle, and they transport you to worlds beyond the confines of the space and time of the modern-day city. But it’s Seville’s ordinary streets which I find even more...

Greenwich and the Old Royal Naval College

This guest post comes from Dan Perdomo, a blogger who enjoys discovering underrated parts of London. Enjoy!  I was lost in London; and not for the first time. This was my fifth time in London since moving down south and I had decided to wander around Canary Wharf. I was walking along the Thames Path which should have led me to the O2 Arena… but I must have gone in the wrong direction. Ending up in Isle of Dogs (I had no idea where that was in relation to The O2’s location) in a park called Island Gardens, I stumbled upon a view across the river that made my jaw drop. Little did I know I was looking at the Old Royal Naval College. The grand buildings looked enormous, even from across the Thames. I looked up and down the river but couldn’t see a bridge in sight in which I could cross to get a closer look at the palace. Heading for the exit to try and find the nearest tube station, I saw a domed entrance with a sign saying Greenwich. I entered, not really knowing what to expect, and after walking down some stairs I found myself in an eerie tunnel with no light at the end in sight! Luckily, there was an end. I exited through a similar domed building and laid eyes on a huge ship – is everything huge in Greenwich, I wondered. I had heard of Cutty Sark but did not know it was a ship – and it’s a beautiful one at that. Towering above me, it reminded me of something...
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