29 November 2017

Edinburgh on Sunday

Arriving in Edinburgh early on a wet Sunday morning with a suitcase, the Booking Office (Wetherspoon), above Edinburgh Waverley station, proved a good place to spend some time before checking in to my hotel.
An indoor spot by the patio area gave views towards Edinburgh castle and passing tour buses.
The unlimited refills of Lavazza coffee kept me awake and gave me a 'seat ticket'.
The Edinburgh DAYticket (£4 for City zone) for trams and buses is good value especially if your budget hotel is near Gyle Centre tram stop, only a few miles from the airport.
The trams run frequently and there was always a seat available on the journeys I made.
Heading back to Edinburgh, after leaving my suitcase at the hotel, involved a slightly shorter journey - to Haymarket.
Thomson's Bar doesn't open until 4pm on a Sunday but I took an external photo of this Morrison Street pub which is included in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide 2017.
Edinburgh Castle from Grassmarket Square
Making full use of my DAYticket, I caught a number 2 bus up the hill to Bristo Place, passing Grassmarket and Greyfriars Kirkyard.
My research had shown that traditional music sessions are held at Sandy Bell's including one on Sunday afternoons from 4pm.
All the seats were taken so I stood by a window facing the bar with a pint of Dark Island from Orkney Brewery, a 4.6% ABV ale which has twice won CAMRA's Champion Beer of Scotland award (£3.80 pint).
While waiting for the music to start I looked around the pub and noticed the musical instruments above the bar.
An article about Sandy Bell's had been framed which mentioned how people used to phone the pub just to hear the traditional music being played on the other end of the line.
Gradually a music session developed where some musicians were seated at the far end of the pub.
Interest was also generated by the dog who appeared to be a regular fixture and comfortable in any position.
I returned to the bar and was impressed by Williams Brothers Joker IPA from a keg font (£2.20 for a half pint).
As the music session got going and more people joined in, there were also new customers arriving at the bar with a friendly atmosphere of general appreciation for the talents displayed. I was pleasantly surprised when new arrivals mistook me for a local on what was my first visit! Perhaps Sandy Bells is my natural home? I only wish there was a similar pub near Newbury!
Although I would have been happy to stay longer there were other bars to be visited and next for me was The Hanging Bat Beer Cafe, 133 Lothian Road, passed earlier in daylight.
The interior was suitably gothic and dimly lit. Here I enjoyed Tryst Brewery APA on cask (4.2% ABV, £3.40 for 2/3 pint - the standard measure here).
While I sat at a table, near the bar on the ground floor, there was the unusual but well-remembered sound of a typewriter being used from a lower floor.
It was now time to find an evening meal and I headed to the recently opened Caley Picture House for some typical Wetherspoon value.
The entrance hall features an antique piece of projection equipment somewhat in keeping with its previous role as a cinema.
The ground floor interior is impressive and spacious with a long bar.
Caledonian Deuchars IPA was an unadvernturous choice but a suitable beer to match my meal.
My only complaints here were that a visit to the toilets involves the time and effort of an heroic ascent to the balcony! At least this visit provided a view of the bar from a different perspective.
However, the tidying zeal of the staff meant that the balance of my pint had disappeared after returning to my table on the ground floor. Thankfully, an immediate complaint at the bar allowed me to be reinstated with my beer glass and no beer was lost on this occasion!
Suitably nourished and refreshed it was now only necessary to find a tram back to Gyle Centre from the West End - Princes Street stop.

28 November 2017

Edinburgh - The Oxford Bar

With its legendary status, derived from being featured in Inspector Rebus crime novels by Ian Rankin, the Oxford Bar was an Edinburgh pub to be visited with respect.
However, coffee and culture were first on my list for Monday 2 October, 2017. I walked from Haymarket station to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Two) and found a table in the respectable setting of Cafe Modern Two.
This is a pleasant place to savour a coffee with its high ceilings and windows. Suitably refreshed, the True to Life exhibition, featuring British realist art from the inter-war period, was a rewarding treat.
The 13 bus to Queensferry Street saved some walking on the way to Young Street.
The Cambridge Bar, Young Street, Edinburgh
The Cambridge Bar was passed on the way to the nearby Oxford Bar. Burgers and sport on TV can be found inside as well as three ales from Scottish breweries.
The Oxford Bar, Young Street, Edinburgh
The Oxford Bar (The Ox) is situated on  a corner of the cobbled street in Edinburgh's New Town.
The sign over the door is recognised as an Edinburgh landmark. It is listed as number 100 in Edinburgh's 101 objects, a mapped project that reveals the city's history by This is Edinburgh.
The text from the leaflet displayed in the window explains that the inverted commas around Oxford are due to the original presence of an Oxford University Press depot along the road.
The pub looked closed but the door opened and I went into the simple bar on the left to order my beer before taking to a table in the room on the right. The half pint of 3.9% abv Pentland IPA straw-coloured session pale ale brewed in Loanhead, Edinburgh by Stewart Brewing cost £2 and was welcome refreshment.

The plain but attactrive fireplace is the main feature in this room which has dark furniture. A small TV sits on an elevated corner shelf but was switched off.
To reach the airport from here, involved a tram from Princes Street with an opportunity for the obligatory photo of Edinburgh Castle.
Once through security at Edinburgh airport, there was time for a pint at the Sir Walter Scott (Wetherspoon).
My table was near an ornate mirror which made the space more like a pub and less like an airport lounge.
However, an hour or so later, there could be no disguising the fact that I was in an aircraft as the Norwegian flight to Providence, Rhode Island, USA, flew west giving a good view of Edinburgh's three Forth bridges.
See the Dave's Bar & Grille blog post in BeerNorthAmerica for details of the next bar I would visit soon after landing in the USA.

The Oxford Bar,
8 Young Street,
Edinburgh  EH2 4JB

Open daily from 12 noon (11am Fri / Sat, 12.30am Sun)

'The Ox also manages to be centrally-located yet not easy to find' - Ian Rankin

02 August 2017

Belgian Beer Trip 2017 - Day 1

My first trip on new Eurostar stock was from London St Pancras International to Brussels Midi, before an Intercity train to Bruges, on Wednesday 21 June, 2017.


On a hot and sunny day there was precious little shade for the walk from Bruges station to Hostel Lybeer.
A winding staircase led to my room on the second floor where thankfully the window was open providing a breeze.
My original plan to find a table at 't Brugs Beertje was stymied by discovering that the famous beerhouse is closed on Wednesdays.
Plan B involved meeting up with Mark and Dave / Bod at the new home of the Bourgogne des Flandres brewery at Kartuizerinnenstraat 6 where entry through the red door leads to a courtyard.
Mark and Dave had enjoyed the brewery tour earlier that day but my first concern was to enjoy a Belgian beer as soon as possible!
We ordered a round of Bourgogne de Flandres (Brune / Bruin - 3.20 euros for 25cl) at the modern bar with windows overlooking a canal.
It was a relief to find that the canalside terrace enjoyed the shade at this time of day. It was a pleasant spot to hear about the brewery tour and watch the canal cruisers, full of tourists, pass by.
The second draught beer, Martin's Original Pale Ale (3.60 euros / 30cl) was even more suited to my palate and earned a 4.5 score for my log on Untappd.
We agreed to return to our respective hostels before meeting up at Le Trappiste later. The bar at the Hostel Lybeer with its high ceiling was attractive although the music choice was strange.
This was an appopriate spot to enjoy a bottle of Brugse Zot although Mark and Dave had improved on this with an earlier visit to Brouwerij De Halve Maan itself. They discovered that the sign to the underground 'beer pipeline' there may be purely for tourists and should not be trusted!
We met up again at Le Trappiste (Kuipersstraat 33) which opens daily at 5pm and descended the steep stairs into the vaulted basement.
Mark and Dave posed with copies of Ullage, the West Berkshire CAMRA magazine, which I had brought with me from Newbury.
My first beer here was from the long list of draught beers. The Belgian Coast IPA from Brasserie St Feuillien (4.50 euros 33cl) was pleasant.
Next a familiar extra hoppy pale ale from visits to Brussels - Taras Boulba by Brasserie de la Senne.
My third beer was surprisingly dark and redolent of blackcurrants - Troubadour Westkust IPA by Brouwerij The Musketeers. The basement was not too busy but Mark recognised a honeymooning couple at the bar who had been on their brewery trip earlier.
After a memorable first day in Belgium it was enchanting to walk back through the cobbled streets and past buildings dating from the 17th century on the way back to my hostel.