Sunday, January 22, 2006

Aberdeen and its myriad delights...a tie in an unexpected location...the end of an era for cyclists...and the truth about the Patio Hotel

Here I am back in grey, misty, cold, wet, blustery and on the
whole rather dreich Shetland, and yesterday saw me driving almost 200 miles in the service of the junior members of the clan.
Saturday morning music club in Lerwick as soon as I got in, then the shopping, then lunch, then back home, then Magnus to the boat so he can attend the glorious institution that is Glasgow University, then home for a couple of glasses of special Chilean anti-oxidant wine, it comes from Chile, is especially good at killing off free radicals (sorry, tasteless medico/political joke).
Anyway, back from Aberdeen (ANOTHER force eight, bow-on-to-the-weather nasty, only an hour late this time), and can you spot the school tie (actually, two tied together) high in this tree in one of Aberdeen's rather nice west-end gardens? What does it signify? Who knows?
I did a lot of walking this trip, and it must be said that Castle Greyskull is a fine city for perambulation: The hills are long and gradual (which makes them bad for cycling) and the compact-and-bijou nature of Aberdeen makes it easy to get from one side to the other; or around it if you prefer. Plus, Aberdeen has rivers, a proper beach (the only real Jersey-boardwalk Atlantic-City-type City in Scotland, not necessarily a good thing) great cafes (try the Baker's Pantry at the bus station or the legendary Inversnecky) and some splendid pubs: my choice would be Under the Hammer, the Prince of Wales, Campbell's out on the edge of Torry if you're feeling adventurous, the Blue Lamp and, much improved since my last visit a couple of years ago, the Moorings down by the docks. The Moorings doesn't look that inviting at first, but it's been thoroughly spruced up, there's some great (and genuine) rock'n'roll memorabilia lurking behind the bar, they do live music, some interesting record nights, have Blaven beer from Skye, and the clientele cheerfully encompasses goths, students, well-heeled businesspersons, sailors and hydrocarbonites of all varieties. It also has the best, most comprehensive juke box I have ever seen. And on a cold winter's Thursday night, it was warm.
I was staying (for the second time) at the Patio Hotel, down at the beach. Aberdeen has disgracefully and controversially foulled its glorious public linksland with monstrosities like Codona's "theme" park (glorified fairground), the adjoining, and truly hideous, Queen's Links leisure complex, and for that matter the Patio itself, which in architectural terms, is of the early Travelodge style. It is not, however, in that price bracket. Oh no. It's an AA 4-star (which refers, basically, to facilities on offer, not quality of service) and even for oiliness-inflated Aberdeen, it's pricy. I was paying a special Beeb rate of £80 a night b&b, for an "ordinary" room; you can pay a lot more for the same thing, and zillions more for an "executive" version. Anyway, the reason people stay there, and the reason it's nearly always full, is the leisure club, Breakers. There's a pool, sauna, steam room, gym..all excellent.
Service is good too, and the rooms - although of odd design in my case, with peculiar windows too high to see out of - comfortable. Good telly provision. Bad points? It beggars belief that anyone in this day and age is charging £15 per 24-hour period for wi-fi access. That's just taking the piss. Hotels of this standard should be providing it free. And the food I had ranged from the overpriced to the horrendous: soup, steak and chips at night in the restaurant was passable, though the house wine was awesomely expensive. But the breakfasts! Boil-in-the-bag kippers (only grilled to superhardness) WITHIN SIGHT of some of the best smokehouses in Scotland! And fish merchants! Stale croissants! Cheese hard through and through (this in a room-service breakfast at a £3.75 surcharge). Cold toast...disgusting.
Best thing about the Patio, better even than the swimming pool, is the presence next door of a giant Tesco. Yes, another besmirchment of the links, but it means you can buy proper food and eat it in your room. And a bottle of very good wine for the price of a glass of house plonk downstairs. It's Holiday Inn Express for me next time. And the public swiming pool.
Finally, I was sad to see that Anderson's, an old-style cycle shop just short of its 70th birthday, has closed to make way for a "bakery and coffee shop". I bought loads of bits there, and (cheaply and second-hand) the old Dutch hub-gear bike I keep in Aberdeen, mainly because there was none of that lycra-clad patronising you get in other, groovier establishments. It was cheaper too.
I'm on holiday this week, and am determined to take up running. Or at the very least, stumbling. Or dog walking at a fast, if you will, lick. This is called djogging. This is thanks to the incredibly helpful attitude of the staff at The Running Shop, who spent half-an-hour assessing my feet, and then supplying some of their sale shoes at a very reasonable price. and with Mellis cheesemongers just up the road, it's not such a bad old place, Aberdeen. Posted by Picasa

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