Chuffin Puffins at Planet Gannet – The Return to Bass Rock

Just off the east coast of Scotland and only a few miles from the centre of Edinburgh is the largest breeding colony of Atlantic Gannets in the world.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock

Bass Rock is one of a group of volcanic islands  off the coast of North Berwick that also include Fidra and Craigleith and during the spring they are host to 300,000 pairs of nesting seabirds. On a previous visit I joined the Scottish Sea Bird Centre’s RIB boat excursion out to the island (read about it here), which was pretty exciting, but now the RIB has been joined by a high-speed catamaran which gets you as close to the birds as the RIB, but in much more comfort and with no need for those alluring oilskins! It’s also cheaper at £16 per adult.

It only took a few minutes to speed out to Craigleith where the puffins were perched along the heights, just like Red Indians in a Western movie,

Puffins

Puffins

while out on the sea rafts of puffins were fishing for sand eels

Puffins all at sea

Puffins all at sea

to take back to their island burrows and feed their young.

Puffins Craigleith

Puffins Craigleith

Further down the rock face guillemots were nesting upon the precarious cliff face,

Guillimots Craigleith

Gillemotts, Craigleith

along with kittiwakes, fulmar, cormarants, eider ducks and shags.

Shag, Craigleith

Shag, Craigleith

From Craigleith it was about ten minutes to Bass Rock.

Bass Rock

Bass Rock

As I’ve said before there is something pretty primal about Bass Rock. Every space on the rock surface is occupied by these majestic seabirds.

Gannets Bass Roak

Gannets Bass Rock

The noise of 300,000 birds is incredible, (as is the smell of their fishy poo).

Nice bit od seaweed for the home

Nice bit of seaweed for the home

The catamaran was soon surrounded by birds searching for nesting material and fishing. Gannets are Britain’s largest seabird with an eight foot wingspan and you really get to appreciate the size of these birds as they take to the air around you.

Gannets Bass rock

Gannets Bass Rock

As we rounded the island a small voice piped up ‘seals’ and there in a cave were a group of around five or six grey seals bobbing around in the water.

Seal

Seal

It was the icing on the cake for our trip and to think it was only half an hour from the centre of Edinburgh. (off peak Scotrail Day Return from Edinburgh Waverley £6.80)

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Amsterdam 2013 – We go Dutch at De Roode Leeuw

Having sampled some traditional Dutch snack food at Cafe Hoppe for a late Sunday lunch and an Indonesian rice table meal on Saturday night, we decided to try and find somewhere that offered traditional Dutch food on Sunday evening. This turned out to be more difficult that we anticipated as, like in many other northern European cities, there are plenty of restaurants offering overseas menus, everything from Chinese to Uruguayan, although Argentine seemed to be the most popular.

Undaunted we got a recommendation from the hotel receptionist and set off for a place called the King William steakhouse. I think we must have misunderstood the directions as when we arrived in Rembrandtsplein all we could find were pubs full of celebrating Ajax fans, who had been drinking since lunchtime. We asked a friendly cop, who was most surprised that a group of 50 somethings didn’t have a smart phone between them, for directions and he sent us up to Centraal Station. Passing yet more pissed up Ajax fans we found the restaurant and promptly decided it looked both expensive and not that authentic, with just a couple of pancake dishes tagged onto some international dishes.

The Eleventh Commandment

The Eleventh Commandment

Marginally brassed off we realised that we were pretty close to Het Elfde Gebod at the top of the Red Light District so we dropped in for some Belgian beer, Dutch gin and cheese. While ordering the drinks we got chatting with the  barman and asked him if he knew anywhere where we could get some real Dutch food. He suggested a place called in English the Red Lion or De Roode Leeuw (Damrak 93-94) as he helpfully scribbled on the back of a beer mat.

So setting off down Damrak from Centraal station we passed several groups of Ajax fans, a couple of groups of riot police and the War Memorial, before tracking the place down. to be honest it didn’t look much from outside, but inside we discovered a dark wood panelled interior with crimson and gold upholstery and wooden carvings of carriages hanging from the ceiling, while neatly uniformed waiters flitted between tables laid with crisp white linen.

After going through the ‘have you booked’ routine we were shown to our table and presented with the menu. I chose the herring with beetroot to start and it was lovely, beetroot and herring is a perfect partnership especially when it is served as creatively as it turned up on my plate. However as far as presentation goes that was only a taster. Nick and I had both ordered the hash of beef with black pudding which dully arrived in four separate serving dishes on a trolley pushed by a very attractive young waitress.

Artistry on a plate

Artistry on a plate

As we waited she crafted the mashed potato into perfect quenelles with a pair of spoons then created an appetizing design on the plate with the hashed beef, red cabbage and black pudding.

Perfectly crated hash

Perfectly crafted hash

It tasted as good as it looked, especially the crisp black pud which together with the red cabbage and apple was a match made in heaven. Needless to say our attempts to help ourselves to seconds were not quite as visually appealing, but we wolfed them down nonetheless.

As you can imagine we were all pretty stuffed, but I still found room to polish off some cinnamon ice cream.  If you fancy some good hearty cuisine served with panache De Roode Leeuw is certainly worth searching out and it’s not bad value either . For four we paid €166 for starters, mains, wine and water, plus two desserts and tip.

Amsterdam 2013- Windmills, Cheese and a Fat Cat

You can’t bring someone on their first trip to Holland without showing them a windmill or two or even three.

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

On our previous visit we had taken an afternoon excursion from Amsterdam that took in the towns of Zaanse Shans, Marken and Volundam. This time we took one that left at 9.am and it turned out to be a much better trip. We booked the trip (€36 each) at the tourist Information Office just opposite Centraal Station and arrived at our pick up point outside the Tours and Tickets shop at Damrak 34 in time to get a pretty good English Breakfast (€7.45 plus latte for €2.50) at the Allstars Steakhouse next door (Damrak 32). This worked out to be much cheaper than having the breakfast buffet at the Ibis (€16) and it was cooked fresh to order too.

Houses - Marken

Houses with royal changeover bunting – Marken

Hunger satisfied we boarded the bus and within about twenty minutes we were driving along the dyke that links the former island of Marken to the Dutch mainland. Thankfully the weather was glorious and I spotted hares, lapwings, greylag geese and herons on the polder land while on the lake there were lots of great crested grebes. Now one of the reasons the morning tour is better is that it works in the reverse order, so after our demonstration of hand-making clogs on a traditional electric pattern lathe,

Clogs hand-made by machine!

Clogs hand-made by machine!

we didn’t have too long to hang about in this pretty, but not very exciting town,

Sadly the Duck and Clogtree wasn't a pub

Sadly the Duck and Clogtree wasn’t a pub

before boarding the ferry to Volundam. As we cruised the Ijsselmeer there were plenty of local sailing craft out on the waters of the former bay as well as some massive Rhine cruise ships.

Traditional Dutch sailing boats

Traditional Dutch sailing boats

Disembarking at Volundam we were taken to a cheese factory for a demonstration of cheese making

Cheese Factory Volundam

Cheese Factory Volundam

and more importantly a chance to sample the local cheeses with various jams and mustards. Unlike the cheese factory at Zaanse Schans that we visited last time they were a lot more generous with the samples too. I have to say that the aged cheese goes very well with mustard, if only there had been some beer and old jenever to wash it down.

I don'tthink this fellow is lactose intolerant

I don’t think this fellow is lactose intolerant

Cheesed out we had time for a swift pint before getting back on the coach to Zaanse Schans and the windmills. You can read about them on our previous trip here

Windmills Zaanse Schans

Windmills Zaanse Schans

Of course the object of the trip was to see the windmills, but I could not resist taking a snap of this little fellow,

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh

Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggghhhhhhhhhhh

who was sweltering in his fleece or this chap enjoying someone’s dropped ice cream.

Everybody likes ice cream

Everybody likes ice cream

So after a brief walk around the windmills we were back on the bus heading back into Amsterdam for an appointment with a big plate of Old Amsterdam cheese at Cafe Hoppe.

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Bittabalen

Old Amsterdam Cheese and Bittabalen

Amsterdam 2013 – Arrival

It’s been a busy old week for the residents of Amsterdam, what with a round of royal musical chairs, the Dutch remembrance weekend and Ajax playing at home. To cap that we turned up.

Canal boats decked out in royal orange.

Canal boats decked out in royal orange.

When we arrived there on Saturday afternoon there was so much orange bunting around that you could even have concealed someone in an easyJet uniform. We’d booked into the Ibis at Waterlooplein this time rather than take a risk at a booking site as we did last time. You know what you are getting with an Ibis and as soon as I managed to get myself up from the floor (why can’t they put the in room safe at eye level?) we were ready to sink a Head Knock (lager with an Old Jenever chaser) at our favourite Amsterdam pub de Sluyswacht (Jorddennbreestraat 1)

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Sunset from the Rear Terrace of De Sluyswacht

Like the British as an imperial power the Dutch developed a taste for the cuisines of their overseas colonies and we’d taken the precaution of booking a table at our favourite rice table restaurant Tujah Maret (Utrechtsestraat 73) in advance to give the Powder Monkey her first taste Indonesian food.

The table groans under 25 different dishes at Tujah Maret

The table starts to groan as 25 different dishes arrive at Tujah Maret

I’m glad that we did book, there’s something quite gratifying about seeing other people being turned away as you tuck into 25 different tasty dishes of chicken, beef, fish and veg, all tastefully arranged in degrees of fiery flavour from left to right (unless you were on the other side of the table that is). We even had room to share two deserts between the four of us . With wine, beer and water the bill came to €157 which allowing for the exchange rate is a lot less than you’d pay in London.

The Nightwatch

The Night Watch

So hunger assuaged we headed off into the night for a rendezvous with the Night Watch who are now back on guard in front of the statue of Amsterdam’s most famous painter at Rembrandtpein.

So do I get the job?

So do I get the job?

The bronze figures by Russian artists Mikhail Dronov and Alexander Taratynov returned in 2012 from a trip to New York and Russia, hopefully they are now home for good.

 

Tenerife 2013 – A Tale of Two Parks

Being an old hand at the Canary Island of Tenerife I had a pretty good idea about what trips we should do once we arrived. Now two of the top attractions fall under the same management, so as someone with an eye for a bargain we saved a few Euros by purchasing twin tickets for the Siam Park waterpark and the Loro Parque zoo.

One of the Loros of Loro Parque

One of the Loros of Loro Parque

We saved even more by buying them from Rab at the TicketBox. Rab was able to do us a deal on the twin ticket with coach transfer for Loro Parque for €70 per person. This saved €5.95 each over our tour operator’s price for an identical product, thus proving that it’s well worth shopping around for excursions, even if the admission prices had gone up quite a bit since our last visit.

Siam Park

Siam Park

Siam Park is nestled in the hills above Los Christianos. Fortunately there is a free open top courtesy bus from the town centre and Playa de Las Americas. That’s about your only freebie as your baggage will be searched for contraband picnic items before they let you in. As we had twin tickets we were also thumb printed to prevent us trying to sell on our discounted Loro Parque admissions, all a bit 1984 if you ask me!

Monster Wave Pool - Siam Park

Monster Wave Pool – Siam Park

Siam Park has plenty of things to keep the adventurous happy with various water rides and an amazing wave pool capable of producing breakers big enough for a spot of exhibition surfing. Not really my scene, but the Powder Monkey had a great time splashing about as I got stuck into Varney the Vampire on the artificial beach made from imported Portuguese sand. The Thai themed park also has beautifully landscaped gardens, but be warned, take plenty of cash as refreshments are a bit steep. I paid €3 for a small tin of lager and a whopping €5 for an indifferent burger. They even charge for sachets of ketchup or mayonnaise which is downright mean in my opinion.

Roseate Cockatoo at Loro Parque

Roseate Cockatoo at Loro Parque

Loro Parque of course means parrot park and that is what it was when it first opened many years ago. We generally make a point of taking the bus (included in Loro Parque ticket) over the island to Puerto de La Cruz in te north to visit Loro Parque every time we are in Tenerife as there is usually something new to see there.

Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up

This time it was the new walk through aviary, where it was possible to get up close to many of the parrots and other birds that live there. Fortunately this chap was out of reach though.

Emu

Emu

Out and about in the park, typically the jaguars were behaving just like any other cat enjoying the Sun.

Jaguar

Jaguar

While I was so taken by this snoozing gorilla

Time for a nap

Time for a nap

that he is now my Facebook avatar. We stopped for a very good lunch at the Casa Pepe Tapas Bar, which is Loro Parque’s hidden gem. I’m glad not too many folks know about it because, unlike the other self-service restaurants and fast food joints, it is a small haven of peace, even if you do get the odd visitor eyeing up your lunch.

Crowned Crane

Crowned Crane

I think he particularly fancied the boquerones which were very good but the octopus vinaigrette, Spanish omelette , stuffed peppers and Canarian potatoes baked in sea salt were also quite delicious (tapas for four with beer, coffee and water €59)

My favourite exhibit at Loro Parque has to be Planet Penguin, a climatically controlled Antarctic environment complete with overhead snow machine.

View from the moving sidewalk at Planet Penguin

View from the moving sidewalk at Planet Penguin

There are four species of penguin living together in Planet Penguin;

King Peguins

King penguins

king, gentoo, rockhopper and chinstrap.

Chinstrap penguins

Chinstrap penguins

There’s also a very good aquarium with various marine and fresh water creatures and a fantastic shark tunnel.

We are about to launch Stingray

We are about to launch Stingray

Not to mention sea lions, anteaters, chimpanzees, white tigers, alligators and dolphins

Mind you the animals that make the biggest splash at Loro Parque are the killer whales at Orca Ocean.

Killer whale

Killer whale

The killer whales do put on a very good show and they are obviously well cared for by their trainers, judging by the evident love shown to them by the whales, but I have to admit that I have very mixed feelings about keeping cetaceans like whales and dolphins in captivity.

Killer salute

Killer salute

Probably more so about killer whales (I’m not going to call them orcas, they are not fluffy little critters that only eat greens!) than dolphins because they are so large and really need lots of space. Still Loro Parque’s killers are breeding so they must be doing something right.

Go on Give us a fish

Go on Give us a fish

 

Photos copyright QueenMab/Shipscook Photographic. contact simon.ball3@btopenworld.com for commercial reuse

Lisbon – Some Random Decorative Art

One of the things that impressed me about our visit to Lisbon was the wealth of late 19th and early 20th century decorative art on the shops and other buildings. Perhaps this is because Portugal’s neutrality in World War Two saved them from the destructive power of the air raids or maybe it’s because Portugal has never been wealthy enough to bulldoze as much of its past in the quest for the new as other nations. Either way there is some good stuff on display.  This post is a random selection of stuff I snapped as we wandered around.

Tabacconist's shop front

Tabacconist’s Shop Front

These Art Nouveau shop fronts were shot around the Praca dom Pedro IV.

Art Nouveau Jeweller's windows

Art Nouveau Jeweller’s Windows

Almost a Belle Epoque Cafe

Almost a Belle Époque Street Cafe

This jeweller’s shop was close to the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Another Jewelers windows

Another Jewelers windows

Of course from the Praca Dom Pedro IV you get a great view at the platform that used to house the steam engine on the Elevador with its crowds of sightseers.

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

While the elevador itself was built to be not only functional, but also beautiful in the Victorian tradition of William Morris who said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Okay it’s not inside anybody’s house, but its Art Nouveau cast iron and wood panelled lift cars are quite lovely.

Detail of cast iron work friom the Elevador de Santa Justa

Detail of cast iron work friom the Elevador de Santa Justa

There are also some fine Art Deco buildings like the Eden Theatre complex

Theatro

Theatro Eden

And of course the grand railway stations are the expected temples to power and movement.

Rossio Station

Rossio Station

Even if they do conceal a Starbucks within in country with otherwise great coffee already. Trouble with stations as with temples, cathedrals or anything really big, is that the wealth of detail is often difficult to capture in its full glory.

Detail Cais de Sodre Station

Art Deco Detail Cais de Sodre Station

Of course smaller artworks are much easier.

Butcher's Van

Butcher’s Van

But often nowhere near as impressive as a whacking great mass of cast iron!

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

Lisbon – We get Hammered and Ride the Tram Cars

From the Restauradores area of Lisbon there are two funiculars that you can take up the hillside. On day one of our Lisbon adventure we took the Elevador da Gloria up to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, so after our trip to Belem on day two, we decided to cross the Avenida da Liberdade and ride the Elevador  do Lavra up to the Jardim do Torel.

Elevador do Lavra

Elevador do Lavra

This is the oldest of Lisbon’s funiculars having been built in 1884. The area at the top was a bit run down, but we found the Jardim and enjoyed a few beers watching the storm clouds gathering over the Lisbon skyline as the night drew in.

View from the Jardim do Torel

View from the Jardim do Torel

Personally I don’t think the view from this side is a pretty as that from the top of the Elevador da Gloria, however man can not live by beer alone so we jumped back on the funicular to look for somewhere to eat back in Restauradores. The previous night while we were still pretty knackered from travelling we had eaten in the very nice, but hardly Portuguese , Italy Cafe (Avenida Duque D’Aila 26B), but tonight we fancied something local. Finding somewhere with Portuguese cuisine wasn’t as easy as we expected, but eventually we discoved the Restaurant do Calcada (Calcada do Carmo, 35) behind Rossio Station.

After the obligatory starters of olives, bacalhau (salt cod) fritters and bread I tucked into a hunter’s sausage with a fried egg, rice and chips.

Hunter's game sausage with egg

Hunter’s game sausage with egg

Although it might not sound very exotic, it was delicious, the pork in the sausage could hold its head up to any barbecued pulled pork I have ever tasted. Nick’s mixed grill looked pretty good too.

Mixed Grill Restaurant do Calcada

Mixed Grill Restaurant do Calcada

Complete with starters, beers, water and a litre of house Vinho Verde the bill only came to about €70 for all four of us and we got a free aguadente to aid the digestion  from the waiter who proudly told us that he used to live in Canning Town!

Hunger satisfied the night was still young and since the rain was holding off we decided to go for a drink at the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara.

Elevador do Gloria

Elevador da Gloria

There’s something very Jules Verne about the solid engineering of these Victorian funiculars that makes me think of films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Ruler of the World. It would have been so cool to have found the tramcar driven by James Mason or Vincent Price!

Where's Catain Nemo?

Where’s Captain Nemo?

By the time we got to the top of the Elevador it had started to rain, by the time we settled under the umbrella at the kiosk in the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara it was bucketing down. In the vague hope that the weather would ease off we stayed for a couple of drinks before braving the downpour back to the funicular and dashing to the Metro to get back to our hotel.

Elevador do Gloria

Elevador da Gloria

Lisbon – Westward Ho to Belem

Some of Lisbon’s most popular and iconic tourist attractions are in its western suburb of Belem.

Dragon Gargoyle, Mostereiro dos Jeronimos

Dragon Gargoyle, Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

So day two of our Lisbon adventure took us down to Cais do Sodre station where we boarded the train to Belem (and yes it was included on our Lisbon Card Huzzah!). Now before we left the UK we had been given lots of recommendations about the most important thing to do there and it had nothing to do with the region’s history.

Custard tarts and samozas at Pasteis de Belem

Custard tarts and samosas at Pasteis de Belem

No it was cakes. Pasteis de Belem (Rua de Belem) looks like a small pastry shop from the outside, but inside it opens out into a vast cavern of blue tiled dining rooms where locals jostle with tourists for tables. Even at 10am it was packed, but we managed to get a table and were soon tucking in to spicy samosas (a legacy of Portugal’s Indian colony at Goa I imagine) and exquisitely gooey custard tarts with excellent coffee (have to say we never had a bad cup of coffee in Lisbon) and a half bottle of wine. Considering there were four of us the bill came to a crazy €16, how brilliant is that?

Gimme Cakes - Pasteis de Belem

Gimme Cakes – Pasteis de Belem

Suitably fortified we went to explore the Jardim Botanico Tropical. These splendidly decayed botanical gardens were not included on our Lisbon Cards so we had to fork out €2 to get in and explore the themed areas based upon Portugal’s colonial past. Despite the run down appearance of many of the buildings, a peak through the broken window panes of the central greenhouse revealed that research is still being carried out inside. If Dracula had ever wanted to take up horticulture he’d have been right at home here.

The Hammer Greenhouse of Horror? - Jardim Botanico Tropical

The Hammer Greenhouse of Horror? – Jardim Botanico Tropical

By the time we had finished in the Jardim it was starting to get a bit overcast so we made a dash for the Mosteiro dos Jeronmos. Construction of the monastery and church began in 1501 funded by King Manuel I’s taxes on goods from Africa and Asia and the opulence of its late Gothic (AKA Manueline) architecture is testimony of to the wealth derived from the new sea routes opened up to the east by Portuguese explorers like Vasco de Gama, who is buried in the church here.

Tomb of Vasco de Gama - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Tomb of Vasco de Gama – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

There is no charge for visiting the church itself, but to get the best view of the interior you have to see it from the balcony that is only accessible from the monastery itself. (admission €7 or free with the Lisbon Card)

Church - Mosteiro dos Jeroniomos

Church – Mosteiro dos Jeroniomos

Within the monastery cloisters there is a wealth of carvings of strange beasts and monsters.

Cloisters - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Cloisters – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Whether these creatures were derived from reports of the far off lands opened up by the Portuguese merchants or drawn from the inner recesses of the Medieval mind are open to question, but the imaginations of the masons involved must have been quite scary places.

Gargoyles - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Gargoyles – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

I was particularly taken by the gargoyles, there were all kinds of creatures, including dragons, wild boar, sheep, monkeys and even a grasshopper.

Grasshopper Gargoyle - Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Grasshopper Gargoyle – Mosteiro dos Jeronimos

Opposite the monastery, on the bank of the River Tagus is a more modern monument to Portugal’s seafaring explorers, the Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Padrao dos Descobrimentos

The Padrao dos Descobrimentos was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator, who bravely stayed in Lisbon while people like Bartolomea Dias did the dangerous sailing over the edge of the world thing. The monument is in the shape of a ship with Henry at the prow.

Prince Henry at the prow - Padrao dos Descobrimentos

Prince Henry at the prow – Padrao dos Descobrimentos

It’s a fair walk along the windy banks of the Tagus to the Tower of Belem (Admission €5 or free with the Lisbon Card).

Tower of Belem

Tower of Belem

This Gothic pile was also built on the orders of Manuel I to protect the river mouth from invaders. The architect was Francisco de Arruda and the tower was completed in 1519. I think the batteries last fired in anger at the French fleet supporting the claim of Maria II to the throne of Portugal during the Liberal Wars of 1828 to 1834. We had a poke around the batteries, dungeons and climbed the tower before heading back towards the station.

On the way we stopped to admire this replica of the Fairey seaplane the Santa Cruz that made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922,

Santa Cruz Seaplane- Belem

Santa Cruz Seaplane- Belem

and to have coffee, beer and more cakes at Pasteis de Belem, before catching the no 15 tram back into Lisbon.

Lisbon – Europe’s Steampunk Central

It’s been a year since our last ‘lads’ city break (for lads read adults only, one of the lads is Queene Mab AKA Mrs Shipscook). Unlike our previous Spring jaunts to Tallinn and Prague, we had chosen a destination that didn’t require thermal underwear this time, so at some ungodly hour we arrived at Luton Airport on Wednesday morning ready for our flight to Portugal’s capital Lisbon.

As you can see we flew easyJet

As you can see we flew easyJet

Having swotted up on the city before we left I’d determined that we would be using public transport a fair bit, so our first port of call was the Airport’s Tourist Information Office to collect our Lisbon Cards. For €39 they gave us the use of Lisbon’s Metro, trams and trains, plus free or discounted admission to lots of tourist attractions for the 72 hours we’d be in the city. Being a bit of a skinflint I kept a running total in my head as we went, with the Lisbon Card getting its first hammering for €1.25 as we boarded the Metro from the Airport to Saldanha to drop off our bags at the Holiday Inn Lisboa (Avenida Antonio Jose de Almeida).

Lisbon's Metro stations are very arty!

Lisbon’s Metro stations are very arty!

Having got up at 3am by the time we got to the hotel we were starving, but the nearby Pastelaria Flor des Avenidas,

This pink deco concoction housed the Pastelaria flor das Avenidas

This pink deco concoction housed the Pastelaria flor das Avenidas

proved to be the ideal place to recharge and plan our assault on Lisbon’s attractions. Our first meal in Lisbon was pleasingly cheap, for about €7 we got a hearty stew of pork and sausage with rice and chips. The beer at €2.20 a pint was particularly welcome.

Pig bits stew, quite subtantial for €7

Pig bits stew, quite subtantial for €7

So with a bellyful of food and beer we hit the Metro heading for Baixa-Chiado and the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

Like Edinburgh, Lisbon is a city built on hills and this huge cast iron contraption was completed in 1902 to save little Lisbonites legs. It was designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, who was a pupil of Gustav Eiffel. Inside the cast iron shaft are two wood panelled lifts that take you 145 foot above the city (€5 or free with the Lisbon Card kerching).

Praca Dom Pedro IV as seen from the Elevador de Santa Justa

Praca Dom Pedro IV as seen from the Elevador de Santa Justa

When you get to the top another €1.50 (free for us) will buy you access to the observation platform via a very tight spiral staircase. From here you can get a magnificent view across the city. This platform used to house the steam engine that operated the lift cars before the elevator was converted to electricity in 1907. A cast iron bridge links to the top of the elevator to the hillside and the Parca Lius Camoes. From there it is a short walk down the Rua do Loreto to the Elevador da Bica

Elevador  da Bica

Elevador da Bica

Also designed by Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, this elevador is a funicular that links this part of Lisbon to the riverbank 245 metres below. It was opened in 1892 and costs €3.60 for a one way trip (again free for us with the Lisbon Card).

here we goooooooooooooo

Here we goooooooooooooo

From te Elevador terminus we walked along the riverbank back towards the station at Cais de Sodre. I thought this part of Lisbon was a bit grim, but when we got to the station we soon found a pleasant, but pricey bar in the Praca do Commercio for a well received pint. Guidebooks, maps and reading glasses were fished out of pockets while we decided what to do next. Obviously the novelty of riding the funiculars hadn’t worn off yet so we hopped on the Metro back up to Restauradores to take the Elevador  da Gloria to the Bairrio Alto.

Elevador da Gloria

Elevador da Gloria

This is the most famous of Lisbon’s funiculars and was opened in 1895. At the top of the funicular we discovered the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Acantar, a small park with an amazing view over the city.

Late Lisbon from the Miradouro

Late Lisbon from the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Acantara

There was also a bar kiosk with tables and very welcome gas heaters, since it was starting to get chilly in the early evening. What with the fantastic view and a few glasses of local red who could ask for anything more as the Sun dropped below the hills.

Bairro Alto station

Bairro Alto station

The Tolbooth, The People’s Story and the Museum of Edinburgh

About two thirds of the way down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile in Canongate is the Tolbooth Tavern.

Tolbooth Tavern and the People's Story

Tolbooth Tavern and the People’s Story

It’s one of our regular Edinburgh boozers and you can read more about the Tolbooth’s history here. The pub only occupies part of the building. Sharing the former tax office and jail is The People’s Story (163 Canongate), a museum that celebrates the lives of ordinary Edinburgh folk.

The People's Story

The People’s Story

Oddly enough we had never strayed inside the museum until last week, but it was quite an interesting way to spend an hour or so. Inside there are a number of displays  illustrating the city’s trades and social activities from the 1700s right up to the present: everything from bookbinders and fishwives to Trade Unions, the foundation of the Labour Party and life in the worker’s hostels is neatly brought to life. Some of the exhibits could do with a bit of loving care and some clearer labels, but it is free to get in.

And while we are on the subject of free stuff, on the opposite side of the road is The Museum of Edinburgh (142 Canongate).

The Museum of Edinburgh

The Museum of Edinburgh

This is another place we hadn’t got around to visiting before the weekend, but I’m really glad we did. Although it doesn’t look that impressive from the front it does extend quite a long way back through a maze of 16th to 18th century buildings set around a central court. In Victorian times over 300 people lived within what is now the museum in very cramped conditions. Today it is home to an eclectic collection of things from the historical to the decorative.

Arts and Crafts Ceramics

Charles Bellfield Arts and Crafts Ceramics

I was impressed by the collection of 19th century ceramic ware from local potteries like Wemyss Ware from Fife. This fabulous carp tureen is very rare particularly because it still has its lid.

Wemyss Ware Carp Tureen

Wemyss Ware Carp Tureen

Amongst the historical displays we were horrified to discover that Greyfriars Bobby, far from being the wee dog who pined over his owner’s grave was actually a mutt trained to turn up at Mr Trial’s Coffee House for his lunch when the Edinburgh midday gun went off, what’s more the first Bobby was such a tourist draw that when he died a second lookalike was secretly procured to carry on the tradition! See the shocking fibs here.

I think my favourite set of exhibits were in the gallery devoted to Britain’s World War One General, Earl Douglas Haig. Set amongst his uniforms, trophies and photos was a fabulous set of Toby Jugs featuring the Allied war leaders.

Lloyd George and Admiral Jelicoe

Lloyd George and Admiral Jelicoe

Naturally King George V took pride of place in the centre.

King George V and Earl Haig

King George V and Earl Haig