It’s become a bit of a tradition in the Cook’s household, that the weekend before Christmas takes us to Edinburgh. So 9am Saturday we wandered into London’s St Pancras Station for our breakfast to behold this.
Well what’s so special about a Christmas tree at this time of year I hear you ask? Well it turns out that this particular item is made out of Lego bricks, trunk, branch, needles and decs, not only that it’s also the biggest Lego tree in the world.
Now the trains to Edinburgh go from Kings Cross, which is the station next door to St Pancras, but (top traveler tip) St Pancras has better places to eat, a branch of Foyles and free to pee toilets, which makes it a much more civilised place to start our journey. The more eagle eyed of you may also have noticed the Olympic rings by the clock at St Pancras, this is to remind Londoners that they will be paying for the 2012 Games for many years to come.
I enjoy the train journey to Edinburgh much more than flying. From home to the city centre it takes about the same amount of time, but it’s much more pleasant without all the palaver that accompanies air travel. At this time of year the countryside is often quite magical with scatterings of snow and white horses breaking on the Northumbrian coastline on the stretch between Newcastle and Berwick upon Tweed.
One of the highlights of my journey this time was just as we left York, where we saw The Dominion of New Zealand getting up some steam just outside the National Railway Museum. The Dominion of New Zealand was one of five A4 Pacific Class locos, similar to the streamlined world speed record holder Mallard, that were designated Coronation Pacific Class for the crowning of Edward VIII that was due to take place in 1937 had Edward not chosen Wallace Simpson over the crown. The loco is now in the heritage train business hauling luxury trips up and down the UK and we noticed her in the sidings outside Kings cross on the way back on Sunday.
Bags dumped at Dr Caligari’s, we met up with the daughter and headed for The Dome in the New Town hoping to get a Christmas cocktail, only to find the queue out of the door. Instead we paid a visit to the Parish Church of St Andrew’s and St George’s opposite.
Back in the 18th century Captain Andrew Frazer and Robert Kay designed, what was then, St Andrew’s and the building was completed in 1784. It was the first church in Britain to be built to an elliptical plan and in 1843 it earned a place in Scottish history, when it held the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. A third of the ministers present, alarmed at what they saw as civil meddling in church affairs, walked out to constitute the Free Church of Scotland. This became known as the Disruption. In 1964 the congregation of the Church of St George’s joined St Andrew’s. The original building of St George’s Church is now used by the National Archives of Scotland.
St Andrew’s and St George’s has some fine stained glass windows including works by Alfred Webster and Douglas Strachan although these are much later than the church itself.
Edinburgh’s Frost Fair takes place in Princes Street Gardens. It’s funny to think that at one time Princes Street Gardens was Nor Loch, a foul stinking lake filled with the sewage and effluent run off from Edinburgh Old Town’s tanneries and slaughter houses. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that Nor Loch was drained.
In the run up to Christmas the place is transformed into Edinburgh’s Winter Wonderland, with a funfair, skating rink and German market. It was packed solid, especially around the stalls serving mulled wines fortified with liquors.
Maybe that was because it was also freezing cold, so I was ready for some tasty tapas by the time we reached Alba Flamenca for our evening meal. The Alba Flamenca dance studio is tucked away in East Cross Causeway, not quite the centre of town, but well worth seeking out. Adjoining the studio, and also used by the dancers and performers is El Bar. For my money this is the best Spanish joint in Edinburgh, the food may not be quite as fine as Barioja, but El Bar more than makes up for that in atmosphere and value. Many of the waiting staff also perform so if you are lucky you might get some improvised Flamenco singing and dancing for free.
We settled into the sofas around our table and tucked into Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, olives, Patatas Bravas, Albondigas a la Jardinera (meatballs in a vegetable stew) , fried chorizo in wine, Escalivada ( cold roasted peppers, aubergine and onion in olive oil), spinach cooked with pine nuts, garlic and raisins and chicken croquettes, followed by churros and chocolate, washed down with Spanish beer and wine and a nightcap of Sol Y Sombre (brandy and anis,the Sun being the clear anis the shadow being the dark Spanish brandy). Absolutely delicious and only £110 for the five of us.
It was all we could do to waddle back to our hotel!