Cassata

Traditional Sicilian painted wagon

Before having a siesta after lunch last week I came across something on Face Book that a friend had posted.

http://www.custonaciweb.it/i-dolci-piu-buoni-del-mondo-sono-siciliani-ad-affermarlo-e-il-new-york-times/

It’s an article that appeared on the village webpage of Custonaci, a small town outside Erice. The article references a piece published at the end of last year in the Los Angeles Times about the best pastries in the world being made in Sicily.

While in general I would agree, as soon as I saw the article I was struck by deja vu. To finish off our lunch of roast chicken and panelle we had …. one of the very same pastries featured above.

Cassatina Sicilianathe classic mini Sicilian cassata

The ones we bought were from a local pasticceria in Erice, while not the best that I have eaten they were a nice way to finish our meal.

Cassatina is a small cake, that’s how I think it’s best to describe it. The nearest thing in UK supermarkets are the famous Mr Kipling French Fancies – small sponge cakes that are covered in icing.

Selection of Mr Kipling French Fancies

Personally, I like the Kipling cakes though do not feel the sane sense of satisfaction after eating them that I get from cassatina’s.

The Sicilian cassatina, if well made, has that level of satisfaction that only comes with freshly made cakes made with great ingredients and the passion of a good pastry chef.

The traditional cassatine are made with a sponge base soaked in fruit juice (or alcohol, eg marsala), with a layer of ricotta cheese and candied fruit, topped with a thin covering of marzipan. Delicious and possible to make at home (though I will write about this at a later date).

Dar El Medina

Dar El Medina

This little restaurant advertises itself as a specialist in couscous and pizza. While the food is decidedly good I always feel that there is something missing here. That “something” is, for me, the absence of an atmosphere promised by the name of the restaurant.

Window display promoting couscous and pizza

The parents of the owners were Tunisian while the owners, born and raised in Trapani, regard themselves as Sicilians. Dar El Medina, which translates as Gate (or door) of the Town in English, offers a hint that you are about to enter a corner of Tunisia in Sicily. Had they called the restaurant “Porta da Citta” I would automatically assume the food to be Sicilian, or Trapanese, or even Italian.

While I can understand the owners wish to both assimilate yet offer the type of food they obviously know how to prepare well, the execution comes out as neutral at best and disappointing at worst.

The ambience

The decor is modern and clean, though bordering on clinical. White walls and square white plates, few plants, simple overhead lights and splashes of colour in the form of nameless decorations.

The tables were white with inset aqua-coloured ceramic tiles that remind you of clear green seas. However, these were then covered in yellow tablemats, thus losing a touch of Mediterranean colour in the process. One could sit at high-backed dark brown bench seats or on modern yet simple armless chairs. The music was modern Italian and American.

The food was good. Very good.

So two things that I would recommend. The first is a quick fix that would help the ambience. Music. Traditional Tunisian songs or folkloric dance music. The sort of stuff that can play quietly in the background while creating a sound that allows diners to imagine they are in Tunis.

The second thing to do is to use genuine Tunisian decorations: cushions, wall coverings (optional, could keep it white as many restaurants in Tunis do, but add colour). While the restaurant did have some colourful serving dishes the crockery was modern, square and white. There are plenty of moroccan imports that are similar in style to Tunisian designs. Even so, importing direct from Tunisia would not be expensive.

The food

To be honest I wouldn’t dream of eating pizza at Dar El Medina. Their pizza may be good, though I haven’t tried them, but if I want pizza I go to a pizzeria. The reason they do so is probably because in the evening many people like to eat pizza, especially tourists that stay in the vicinity or those on cruise liners visiting the town.

As a starter I ordered an octopus salad. My mother wanted the burik but settled on buying a couple to eat at home and sharing the octopus with me. We still over-ate despite sharing!

A basket of fresh Tunisian bread to accompany the octopus salad

Octopus salad. The octopus had most likely been caught that morning a couple of hundred metres from the restaurant

Sauce to pour over the couscous

The best options are seafood dishes and, of course, couscous. The dish I liked most, to date, was a fish couscous but various types of fish and shellfish dishes are available and served in a variety of ways – but why not go for couscous?!

Fish couscous

The fish was perfectly cooked, and the sauce that accompanied the couscous was tasty to the point of wanting to take some home!

I have also had vegetable and lamb couscous that I enjoyed, though not as much as the fish.

This restaurant is highly recommended. It is walking distance from the port, near to the main piazza in the heart of Trapani, and is there is ample car-parking close by.

Dar El Medina

Via Marchese Enrico Platamone, 12

Trapani

91100

Sicily

 

+39 0923 196 4100

The restaurant can also be accessed from via Regina Margherita opposite the Villa Margherita park entrance.

Dar El Medina entrance from via Regina Margherita

Entrance to the Villa Margherita park gardens

Erice to Erice – the cable car

Funivia – upper station

There are days when the queue to embark the cable car to upper Erice is so full of tourists that you feel like giving up the idea of travelling on it. But the cable car system is on a loop, each car carrying up to 8 passengers, so the queues move quickly.

Although referred to as Funivia Trapani-Erice the lower station is located in the Casa Santa neighbourhood of Erice – or Lower Erice as I refer to it. (I wrote a three-part article about Erice some time ago: first part here)

It costs €9 for the round trip to the top and back. Journey time each way is about 10 minutes. The cable car station at the top is on via delle Pinete across the road from the car park.

Trapani Gate

Up the hill, on the opposite side of the road, is Porta Trapani (Trapani Gate) one of the two arched entrances to the medieval town.

Madre Chiesa

From here you can explore the sights of old Erice, including the Norman castle, the cathedral, numerous churches and chapels, the gardens and the Spanish quarter.

Small chapel near the Cathedral

One of many lanes to explore

How to get there

Taxi, bus (need to check but bus number 23 may take you all the way) or by car.

If you are on a cruise then the cruise line can arrange transport and Funivia tickets (package cost is, I believe, €40). The advantage of arranging this on the cruise boat is that it won’t leave without you!

If you enjoy walking it takes about 45 minutes at a reasonably brisk pace:

To reach the Funivia station from the port of Trapani one heads inland on via Mazzini, past Trapani railway station,

Gardens on the platform, Trapani railway station

turn right onto via Fardella which later becomes corso Mattarella and later still, crossing into Erice, becomes via Manzoni.

Via Fardella, Trapani

Near the end of via Manzoni turn left onto via Cosenza at Cafe delle Rose, where I usually stop for a coffee or glass of wine, or to pop into Ciuri-Ciuri on the other corner for excellent ice cream and cakes. Alternatively, carry on for a couple more street, turning onto via Capua. If taking via Capua, the Funivia station is about three block on the right hand side. If taking via Cosenza, continue along the road for a couple of blocks then turn right onto via Avellino and the Funivia is dead ahead.

Sicilian Food – Panelle

Panelle

Reminding me of polenta in appearance only, panelle are fritters that are typically, though not always, eaten in a bun (U’ pane chi panelle in Sicilian).

It is very much a Sicilian speciality, perhaps more so in the capital of Palermo where it is regarded as street food in Palermo, sprinkled with lemon juice.

Panelle is often made at home to be eaten as a snack or an accompaniment to a meal.

My first impression, years ago when I tried the panelle sandwich for the first time, was that it seems as counter-intuitive to treat this snack as appetising as a traditional British “chip butty” but after the first bite I was won over. I also like chip butties!

The panelle recipe is detailed at the end of this article.

Nutrition

Firstly, panelle itself can be used in vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free diets. Chickpeas are a type of legume so, unlike cereals, contain no gluten.

When making panelle sandwiches, however, care needs to be taken to use vegan and/or gluten-free bread. But that’s obvious!

Chickpeas are a rich source of protein, low in fat.

Chickpeas, mature seeds, cooked no salt.

Nutritional value per 100 g

Energy 686 kJ (164 kcal)

Carbohydrate. 27.42 g

Sugars 4.8 g

Dietary fibre 7.6 g

Fat2.59 g

Saturated 0.27 g

Monounsaturated 0.58 g

Polyunsaturated 1.16 g

Protein8.86 g

Vitamins – A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B13, C, E and K

Minerals. – calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium (trace only) and zinc.

Recipe

  • 500gm chickpea flour
  • water (1.5 l)
  • 10 gm finely chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

The principal ingredient of panelle is chickpea flour. The flour is mixed with water, salt and pepper until it becomes lump-free. The mixture is then placed on a low heat, finely chopped parsley added and stirred continuously to avoid it sticking to the pan. When it has the consistency of thick runny cream it is poured onto a plate or tray (coffee saucers are often used since the size of the panelle will be ideal for placing in a bread roll). The mix should be about 3mm (1/10 inch) thick.

Allow to cool and refrigerate till ready to cook.

The panelle may be cut into shapes (squares, triangles etc) about 2 cm x 4 cm, or left round if left to set on a small saucer, and deep fried in vegetable oil till golden brown.

Remove excess oil from the panelle with paper towels, place 3 or 4 in a bread roll, squeeze lemon juice over the panelle and eat while hot.

Enjoy!

A long and winding road

04-05JUN19

I left Edinburgh on the 24+hour trip to Trapani that I’d booked on my Kiwi.com app.

The schedule was:

08:00 Edinburgh to Dublin

15:55 Dublin to Luxembourg

02:50 Luxembourg to Frankfurt Hahn

06:40 Frankfurt Hahn to Trapani

The journey began at 5 am with a short walk to the bus stop outside Slateford railway station in Edinburgh. I took the 300 bus. It was a quiet journey as it was still early. The bus left at 05:20 and arrived at the airport at 05:55 – in plenty of time for the 8:00 am flight.

Edinburgh Airport

On entry to the airport I found it difficult to find the appropriate check-in desk since there were no boards indicating to which desk to go. I found the right one by conducting a physical check of all desks.

After check-in I went up to the departure area where there was a long queue for the security check. I joined one of the queues for the automated boarding card gates but when it was my turn all of the gates were turned off owing to the huge crowds waiting to pass through security.

Once I got to the x-ray area I was obliged to separate my iPad from my bag and to remove my shoes and belt.

After this ordeal was over I walked briskly through the Duty Free shop, ignoring the temptation to buy whisky, and headed to Nero’s were I had a coffee and muffin while waiting for the departure gate number to be advised.

Punctually at 07:00 the electronic notice board informed me to go to gate 29. It was not immediately apparent in which direction to head but I found my way. Edinburgh Airport needs to improve its signage generally. Apart from that it is quite a nice airport.

Is Edinburgh a place worth visiting? Absolutely. But I will write about Edinburgh separately.

Hainan Airlines to Dublin

Hainan Airlines didn’t provide the “luxury” of on-line check-in, but the in-person process was quick and easy. Generic local Swissport check-in staff.

Boarding was orderly and timely. First call for business and parents with children. Then the call for Economy passengers. As I was seated in one of the few seats reserved for old or infirm passengers I was one of the first in the queue.

Hainan Airlines boarding card

On boarding I was welcomed by one cabin crew member who politely checked my boarding card and gave directions to my seat while another handed me a sandwich and a bottle of water.

I had been allocated seat 36G on the 787-9 Dreamliner which was located just forward of the wings. Leg room was ample but storage space was limited. The power-points did not seem to function when I tried to charge my iPhone.

The aircraft, perhaps 15% occupied, left the gate at exactly 08:00 as scheduled.

The flight from EDI to DUB was 50 only minutes so we were obliged to keep our seatbelts on, tray tables closed and seats upright for the duration of the flight.

Adequate leg-room but very little space to store anything apart from a book

Not a full flight – plenty of empty seats. I had a row to myself.

We touched down at 08:50, twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled time. It was raining. The aircraft taxied then stopped and sat on apron for 20 minutes while Air Traffic Control decided where it should park. An announcement was made after 15 minutes to apologise for the delay. In the meantime I found a USB jack under the tv screen that charged my phone a bit. A second announcement was made 35 minutes after landing.

Forty minutes after touching down the plane started to make its way to a vacant bridge and another 10 minutes later the plane was parked. We spent fifty minutes waiting to park after a 50 minute journey! Not good but not Hainan’s fault.

Would I fly with Hainan again? I doubt if there would be a situation in which I would go out of my way to use the airline. However, if there was a need to use Hainan again I wouldn’t complain.

Dublin Airport

I didn’t have any hold baggage to worry about so I was able to exit quickly. I tried to follow the Connecting Flights trail but the security guy politely explained that Ryanair flights don’t participate in transit arrangements so I had to go back the way I had come, exit the baggage area and reenter the terminal. Very polite and patient guy👍.

Security was not as bad as that at Edinburgh. Thorough but much shorter queues. I bought a small backpack to replace the cumbersome box (Ryanair regulation cabin bag size) that I planned to use for the trip. It is squishable so hopefully will not cause the Ryanair bandits to give me grief at the boarding gates.

It was close enough to lunchtime for me to decide on having some food. I found the Garden Terrace on the upper floor and chose the Full Irish Breakfast (fried egg, two sausages, two rashers of bacon, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, hash briwn potatoes, a couple of slices of toast and what appeared to be two slices of blood pudding. And a mug of black coffee. €12.50)

Full Irish Breakfast (Vegans avert your eyes!)

I had to try this. Full breakfasts can be quite healthy though some possibly count as heart-stoppers! I have had the Full English, Cornish, Scottish, Vegetarian and Vegan breakfasts, and now the Irish version. The best non-English breakfast I have tried so far was the Full Scottish Breakfast served at the Spylaw Tavern, Colington, Edinburgh. More about that at another time. The Irish breakfast was tasty though didn’t score much on presentation.

Full Irish Breakfast at Garden Terrace:

⁃ 2 sausages

⁃ 2 rashers of bacon

⁃ 2 slices of black pudding (?)

⁃ Baked beans

⁃ Fried egg

⁃ Hash brown potatoes

⁃ 2 slices of toast

⁃ Coffee

The fried egg had been sitting for a while. It had a glazed alert look about it, as though it had been freshly fried, but once I cut into it it proved to be tired and dry ie held under a heat source after it had left the pan.

The coffee was good.

Ryanair planes in the rain at Dublin Airport

My next flight, on Ryanair, was scheduled at 15:55 which left me plenty of time to relax.

Would I visit Dublin again? Yes, and would consider an overnight stay so that I could look around the city. But only en route to another destination.

Ryanair to Luxembourg

There aren’t many people that have a good word to say about Ryanair. Jokes abound about the extent of their extra charges – a darker one for example about having to pay for oxygen in the event of cabin depressurisation. I had carry on baggage which meant I had to have the bag under the seat in front of me. Priority passengers get to take a small suitcase and one item of hand baggage.

I was seated next to a window on the right hand side of the plane (seat 14G) but there was cloud most of the way and nothing to see. It was an uneventful flight apart from a bit of turbulence over France on the approach to Luxembourg. The plane was a bit late.

Would I use Ryanair again? It’s a no-frills budget airline. I don’t like their baggage policy but aside from that I will probably use them unless there is a better option available. Leg room is tight – made worse by having hand baggage stored under the seat in front.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg airport is not very big, though not surprising considering the diminutive size of The Grand Duchy.

Luxembourg Airport

I exited the building with the idea of finding the bus stop for the next leg of my journey and found it right outside. Next plan was to find a way to get into the city. The number 16 bus was the answer. €2 ticket valid for two hours was adequate to take me to the main railway station. The journey took about half an hour. I had a quick look around but the light was fading so no decent opportunity to take pictures other than a couple of record shots on my iPhone.

Luxembourg railway station

I had something to eat at the station (just a granary roll with parma ham and cheese) then caught the bus back to the airport. There seemed to be a few photogenic locations along the bus route that might occupy me in the event of a return visit to Luxembourg, but I doubt that I would come back.

The airport, at 9pm , was pretty well deserted. The silence in the terminal building was broken only by background chatter, the occasional loud phone call (interestingly two separate calls: one, a woman chatting on speaker with her friend in Portuguese; the other a man also on speaker chatting in Portuguese to his wife or I think his lover – she with a Brazilian Portuguese accent – about missing his flight.

Oberweis cafe at Luxembourg Airport

At one point a woman, who appeared to have some problem with the world at large, began talking very loudly in French. She had a good stage voice, catching the attention of the entire terminal but directing her complaints at one woman seated in the cafe! The cafe staff encouraged its patrons to ignore the woman who, it seemed, was a regular visitor. That was the extent of the evening’s entertainment.

The bus to Frankfurt Hahn airport

My bus was scheduled to leave the airport at 02:50. I had somehow managed to keep myself occupied for over 5 hours with just one cup of coffee.

The air outside the terminal was cool, slightly humid and had a pleasant smell reminiscent of woodlands. It had rained lightly for about an hour from midnight. I sat outside the bus stop on a piano stool at 2:30 am. Within a few minutes a bus arrived but it was to another destination. My bus arrived shortly afterwards, driven by a middle aged blond German woman who seemed to like modern rock music.

At the scheduled hour she started the engine and reduced the volume of the music. I settled down with a plan to nap. The first stop on the way to Frankfurt Hahn airport was in the centre of the town of Trier, on the Mosel river, that I remembered from my school German lessons. At 3:30am, after a few minutes waiting, the bus continued its journey. The autobahn was smooth and quiet. We stopped at another town though I was in a sleepy state, taking little notice of the surroundings until the dawn light broke close to Frankfurt. I managed to nap a bit but not nearly as much as I wanted.

Frankfurt Hahn Airport

Frankfurt Hahn, in comparison to the large modern complex of Frankfurt am Main airport is little more than a glorified shed! Considering how Germany is noted for its Teutonic organisation this airport was a bit slapdash.

Frankfurt Hahn airport

It was clearly an old airport and very clearly catered to budget airlines, though it did have a couple of nice cafe/snack bars, a duty free area and a souvenir bookshop.

The departure gates were chaotic! Two lines existed: one for Priority passengers and one for non-Priority. There didn’t seem to be room enough to support a single queue but the two ran in parallel. It seemed to work but I would have relocated some seating to create decent queuing lines.

Once through the boarding process we had to walk a fair distance to the airplane. When I got to the plane there were two long queues snaking away from the fore and aft stairs.

Long queues to board the aircraft at Frankfurt Hahn.

Ryanair to Trapani

The flight was about two hours in duration though scheduled to take 2 hours and twenty minutes. As ever on Ryanair there was applause on landing. I suppose passengers are just grateful to arrive in one piece! Enough said about Ryanair!

Trapani

The airport at Trapani has been in use for decades. It is a compact airport with a runway shared with the Italian Air Force.

It has a small cafe where one can buy coffee, wine, spirits and snacks. I had an espresso and a cannolo. However, despite the sign indicating that cannoli are prepared on request, I was served with a made up cannolo in which the biscuit had become soft. If you want a cannolo insist the it is freshly filled.

Unfortunately, it seems that local politics have obliged airlines to move to Palermo Airport – an hour away from Trapani – with a consequence that tourism in Erice/Trapani has declined significantly. Ryanair still flies to Trapani but the number of flight options has been severely reduced. Hotels, restaurants and taxis have suffered.

Would I visit Trapani again? Absolutely – though primarily because my mother lives in Erice. I have always liked Trapani and Erice and the surrounding countryside. Lots to see and lots to do.

Conclusion

Long journey. Four legs in each direction but it was the cheapest option available. It also enabled me to review a number of aspects connected with the trip.

Kiwi.com? I’m still deciding!

As a frequent traveller I have collected a number of travel apps that cover everything relevant to my travel needs from airline bookings to weather conditions. I group these on my iPhone and iPad so that I can access information quickly and, when necessary, make reservations at short notice. The apps that I have are the best travel apps as far as I am concerned.

I tried Kiwi.com for the first time earlier this year in order to get from Edinburgh to Florianopolis in the south of Brazil. Ordinarily I would have booked the intercontinental leg through TAP Portugal and the other connections via local airlines but on this occasion I didn’t like the prices.

It was my first time using the Kiwi app. Downloading and registering was straightforward, as it should be, and the search for the best flights was simple. I booked a route that took me from Edinburgh to Venice on Easyjet, Venice to Lisbon and Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro with TAP Portugal, and Rio de Janeiro to Florianopolis on Avianca (a Latin American airline that suffered financially in Brazil last month and no longer operates there!).

I didn’t like Avianca as it was the only airline that didn’t accept on-line checkin so I had to go to the counter – luckily a short queue for us over-60s*.

I am used to doing my own online checkin but discovered that Kiwi does this for you with, in this case, the exception of Avianca. In theory that saves a bit of effort for travellers but caused me some anxiety as I can be a control-freak at times.

All went smoothly though I decided I probably wouldn’t use Kiwi again.

Until last week!

I wanted to get from Edinburgh to Erice (Trapani, Sicily) as cheaply as I could. I know that Ryanair goes to Trapani as I have used them many times in the past – usually requiring an overnight stay in Bologna or Bergamo, Italy. However, the Ryanair app showed only flights from Edinburgh to Palermo while Trapani didn’t even appear on their list of airports. So I looked at the Kayak app where I found a number or routes.

Next day I opened up the Kiwi app and booked the cheapest flights from Edinburgh to Trapani. Kiwi. Not Kayak! Too many apps. Still, I managed to get a flights from and to the cities I wanted.

Cheap sometimes does come at a cost. Over the course of 24 hours I shall have taken 3 flights and a bus trip that, in total, will allow me to visit Eire, Luxembourg, Germany and Sicily on the route from Edinburgh.

The itinerary is interesting I suppose: Edinburgh to Dublin on Hainan Airways (!). Dublin to Luxembourg on Ryanair. A bus from Luxembourg (a city that I haven’t visited since hitch-hiking there from London in 1971) to Frankfurt, and a plane from Frankfurt to Trapani on Ryanair.

The return journey will be almost as spectacular. Trapani to Karlsruhe, then to London (Stansted), then Dublin (yea, yea, fresh Guinness!) and finally to Edinburgh.

I received the booking acknowledgement and confirmation by email – the first within minutes of making the reservations, the second after Kiwi had confirmed each of the flights. I also received the bus ticket for the trip to Frankfurt. The Ryanair boarding cards will be emailed to me on the day before I travel, which leaves me a bit jittery, while the first flight requires me to check in at the desk in Edinburgh.

Kiwi included connection insurance between flights. I didn’t used to take travel insurance when offered but on my trip from Brazil to Edinburgh in February this year I did – luckily! My flights from Lisbon to Gatwick was delayed by 6 hours (for which I received statutory compensation) while the insurance cover got me onto a later flight, having missed my connection. The insurance arrangement worked smoothly – staff at a desk in the departure area at Gatwick made all the arrangements quickly and efficiently.

The Kiwi experience, so far, has been good so I shall keep the app on my iPhone/iPad.

My journey begins at 5am today. I shall update tomorrow on arrival in Sicily.

* In Brazil it is, for any commercial/customer arrangement, a legal requirement to give queuing priority to the disabled, persons over 60 years of age, pregnant women and mothers carrying infants. At airports this group ranks ahead of Business Class passenger boarding. Persons over the age of 80 do not need to queue and get first priority. I think Europe ought to adopt this policy.

Cobbs for Brunch

Outdoor enthusiasts can have a pleasant time browsing and/or buying clothes, accessories or gear for camping, mountaineering or sport at a well-stocked specialist .

Combine such a shopping experience with a good Sunday brunch and you have, potentially, a great way to spend half a day – even better if the other half of the day is spent trekking in the hills.

I had a very nice brunch at Cobbs located at Craigdon Mountain Sports store. It was the second time that I’d had brunch there, very pleased with the food quality and ambience on both occasions.

I ordered the Cobbs Works – essentially a full Scottish breakfast.

Cobbs Works – a full Scottish breakfast

Grilled bacon, leek and pork sausages, black pudding, haggis, baked beans, tomatoes, toast and an egg (fried for me). (£8.50 with a hot drink included – I had an americano). I think the toast may have been an extra (£1).

With apologies to vegans and vegetarians I found the two rashers of bacon to be grilled to perfection. The mushrooms,too, were great – I don’t like overcooked mushrooms. The egg was a bit over-fried but I did ask for it to be well done as I am not keen on under-cooked whites. The rest of the items were good.

Anericano coffee

On the last occasion I had the vegan full breakfast which was really good. I have already posted about that so won’t repeat here.

There are lots of options on the menu which is great for families and other small groups. The place is both child friendly and dog friendly so a great option if you like taking walks before or after lunch.

Where

Situated next to the Pentland hills at the roundabout joining Biggar Road and Swanton Drive off the A702.

44, Biggar Road, Edinburgh, EH10 7BJ

Phone: +44 131 445 4581

A visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.57.01

Palm House at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

Nature was in a good mood. The day proved to be relatively sunny and mild, sandwiched by cold wet days that prompted me to think about cancelling my visit to the gardens.

I arrived at the East Gate entrance, a gate festooned with metal flowers on a wire background. After purchasing a ticket to enter the Glasshouses I bought a coffee and snack before starting my photographic tour of the gardens. The first subjects were the colourful crocuses and daffodils near the gate.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.52.26

East Gate (pedestrian) entrance to the gardens

My walk took me, with the bright winter sun in my eyes, up to the left of the entrance and among bushes at either side of the path. The gardens are, in the main, wheelchair friendly with signs indicating which paths were, or were not, accessible.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.53.09

Direction signs on path

The only real issue with photographing the gardens at this time of year is the fact that some plants are not yet in bloom, and many trees were still bare. That said there were plenty of colourful plants to see and photograph and I came away with about 400 pictures for the day.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.54.24

As I reached the Nepalese garden the clouds gathered overhead so I made haste to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. I arrived just in time as the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily for an hour. Although hot food was available I decided to have a Coronation Chicken wrap, followed by a cherry slice and a cup of hot chocolate. At £10 for this simple meal  I was not unhappy but have heard comments that the food is regarded as expensive by some people.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 10.56.01

    Terrace Cafe near the Nepalese Garden

The rain cleared as I finished my lunch so I then made my way towards the Glasshouses, passing the huge beech hedge and the Queen Mother’s Memorial garden, then the rockery and finally the Glasshouses themselves. I entered via the Palm House which has palm trees (obviously!) and orchids.

Screenshot 2019-03-13 11.16.30

One of the many species of orchids on display

One then passes (after the ticket desk) into the series of 10 huge glass houses, a couple of which are very hot and humid!. A note here to those with cameras – the lenses will steam up as the camera/lens units will have come from the cold outside ambient temperature to a hot humid environment. I had to hug my lens for about 15 minutes, to bring up its temperature, and wipe the front lens with a micro-fibre lens cloth to clear the condensation. I also had to remove my jacket as I too was suffering from the heat (ironic considering I live in Brazil where temperatures are high).

Screenshot 2019-03-13 11.20.42

Amorphophallus konjak, also known as the Corpse Flower, in bloom

The exciting feature of the visit was the Amorphophallus konjac, also known as New Reekie or the Corpse Flower, which was in bloom for the first time in many years – a rare event. I have a poor sense of smell so did not notice the famed bad odour. Interestingly the plant is used as a source of vegan food in its native home in Indonesia. New Reekie was in the last of the 10 glass houses so I then retraced my steps back to the reception area.

A day trip to Dundee (part 2)

As mentioned in my last post, I went to Dundee for a day trip at the end of last month which took about 90 minutes by train from Edinburgh. It was a cold grey day with a light rainfall starting as we crossed the road from the station. We first visited the newly built V&A Museum on the Riverside Esplanade, where we had lunch, before moving on to visit to the SS Discovery, now known as (Royal Research Ship) RRS Discovery, an exploration ship built about 115 years ago to undertake research in Antarctica.

Discovery Point, in which the history of the Discovery is exhibited, is located in an octagonal building on the Riverside Esplanade, across the road from Dundee railway station, with the ship itself moored between the museum entrance and the V&A Dundee.

After paying the entrance fee, which entitles visitors to unlimited return visits for a year, one follows the history of the Discovery via a series of multi-media exhibits that include films, pictures, models and relics that illustrate aspects of the construction of the boat, its crew and the research voyage.

The exhibition is well organised and informative.

Life-size diorama of the ship’s construction

Once through the final display area, one exits the building to board the Discovery, crossing via a gangplank.

Helm of the Discovery

Full-size diorama of the biologist, Thomas Vere Hodgson, “fishing” for marine specimens through the Antarctic ice

Tour guide providing information about living conditions in the dining area if the Discovery

The route takes one around the main deck of the ship, onto the upper deck, and through various sections below deck, including the coal store, food store, galley and sleeping quarters. In the dining space, bounded by senior staff quarters, was a long table surrounded by comfortable wood and leather chairs. The guide, who was in this area, explained that many of these furnishings were upgraded after the first World War since the vessel was partially stripped for action during the war.

On returning to the building we entered the souvenir area. Plenty on offer in respect of mementoes relating to the ship, the town, and Scotland. Across the lobby is a cafe (Cafe at the Point) that serves refreshments.

The visit was educational and informative – well worth visiting.

How to get there

Train from Edinburgh to Dundee. Exit the station and cross the road. The Discovery and the V&A are immediately visible from the station.

A day trip to Dundee (part 1)

Literally the only thing I knew about Dundee, till now, was that the city had given its name to a marmalade and a cake. In fact someone mentioned that the city was founded on jute, jam and journalism (the latter referring, I believe, to the Beano and Dandy comics!).

It took about 90 minutes to reach Dundee by train from Edinburgh. It was a cold grey day with a mist hiding the horizon. Exiting the station we crossed the road and entered the newly built V&A Museum on the Riverside Esplanade, next to SS Discovery, an exploration ship built about 115 years ago. The museum opened just less than six months ago (SEP18).

 

Water feature near the entrance to the V&A

The receptionist indicated that there were just two exhibitions on, both free admission: the Scottish Design Galleries covering elements and examples of Scottish design through the ages, and Rules of Play which featured work and interactive displays by a local artist.

Spacious cafe area on the ground floor

Downstairs, ahead of the reception area, was a cafe that seemed to provide self-service snacks, drinks and light lunches. We decided that it woukd be better to see the exhibitions first and then have lunch.

Across from the cafe was an area selling books, writing and drawing materials and souvenirs of the V&A visit.

We took a lift up to the second level where we found a restaurant – Tatha Bar and Kitchen – where we booked a table for 12:45 before heading off to see the exhibits, starting at the Design Exhibition.

Inside the Design exhibition

The Design exhibition was interesting as it provided examples of everything from traditional tartan designs to modern dresses, architecture and electronics. Some designs were modern but some dated back hundreds of years, thus highlighting the important contribution of Scottish designers in the world.

The Rules of Play featured the artist Gabriella Marcela creating her own unique wooden structures using KAPLA planks. Visitors were encouraged to construct towers or bridges or whatever they wanted, with one man building a tall tower than ither visitors secretly hoped would collapse!

Colourful structures produced by Gabriella Marcela

At 12:40 we arrived at the entrance to the restaurant where a menu stand provided us with an idea of what food choices were available. Our table was ready so we were soon seated and able to order. It proved to be a good idea to make reservations as the restaurant was full.

I ordered an americano coffee while, to eat, I decided on the Arbroath Smokie Royale featuring a small smoked smoked fillet of haddocka speciality of the town of Arbroath (though actually in the fishing village of Auchmithie, a few miles outside Arbroath) served on a tatti (potato) scone topped by a couple of poached eggs with hollandaise sauce and spinach.

I then had a traditional fruit scone with strawberry jam to fininsh.

Arbroath Smokie Royale

Nicely cooked poached eggs sitting on the Arbroath Smokie

Traditional fruit scone with strawberry jam

After lunch, before leaving the V&A, we had a look at the open plan shop area in which one can buy souvenirs, books, art materials etc. One of the featured momentos was a print of the original design sketch of the V&A building, designed by Japanese architects Kengo Kuma & Associates.

View of the shop space on the ground floor 

 

The V&A Dundee is a new, airy and interesting building. It has almost 8,500 m2 of space with a mixed yet simple decoration comprising black floors, plain white wall and oak panels. There are stairs and glass lifts that provide nice views all round.

Worth visiting

Part 2 to follow – visit to the SS Discovery museum.