Legend has it, Scotland got Hogmanay as compensation for bagpipes. The Great God of National Identity looked down, realised the Scots were condemned to an eternity of mournful dirges and said, ‘Here, have an insane party once a year to make up for it …. I am not without mercy.’ And Hogmanay was born.
credit: capn madd matt
Admittedly my details are a bit vague. But the bit about the bagpipes does have a certain ring of truth. And there’s no doubt that the Scots do have a tradition of seeing in the New Year like they don’t intend to live much past the 1st of January anyway.
credit: Ben Cooper
A bit of a ‘do’ for the bells is compulsory from Orkney to Stranraer. There are a few isolated spots where ‘insane party’ translates as ‘a wee sherry and a slice of fruit cake’. Certain restrained types even make do with some light ‘first footing’ (365 days of good luck befalls you if a tall, dark stranger pitches up at the door on the stroke of midnight, but it’s Scotland, so no guarantees). And then there are the Letter-Of-The-Legend-Die-Hards who don’t recognise the start of anything, let alone a New Year, unless the music’s loud, the partying fierce and you can’t move for fireworks, food, drink and much, much, much reeling and birling – Welcome to Edinburgh!
Scotland’s capital starts celebrating Hogmanay as soon as it can on New Year’s Eve with the annual Carnival on Market Street kicking off at 11am to let little Hogmanayers have all the fun of the fair before the festivities get too grown-up. This year there’s a giant Ferris wheel, all the usual ‘win an unfeasibly large furry creature’ type stalls and a seemingly endless supply of sugary snacks. After dark the Carnival lights up the Old Town’s tenements and towers spectacularly and rides with height restrictions and death-based names come into their own. This is probably the time to start thinking about alternative events if your Hogmanay companions are small enough to look genuinely cute in a onesie.
credit: Sarah Ross photography
My money’s on the Torchlight Procession this year. Reinventing the idea of ‘spectacle’ completely, upwards of 35,000 people gather at 7pm on the city’s George V Bridge and walk en-masse with flaming torches to Calton Hill for the annual Son et Lumière Finale. And all you have to do is buy a voucher (£8 in advance at www.edinburghshogmanay.com) pick up your torch on the day and be there. Calton Hill’s closed to all but Torch Carriers, so the walk and the £8 also entitles you to arguably the city’s best view – if getting to carry a big, lit torch through Edinburgh at night wasn’t quite exciting enough.
If you don’t make it to the Torchlight Procession, you could always head to Edinburgh’s venerable St. Gile’s Cathedral on the Royal Mile for the Hogmanay Candlelit Concert. Haydn tops the bill this year, along with Baroque classics and some essential Bach. You’ll find St. Gile’s Cathedral Choir in good voice as ever and they’re joined in force by several celebrated, young, international soloists. Tickets are £16 and bookable online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com.
credit: Lee Carson
Sounds a bit sedate? You’ll be wanting the Street Party then. This is one of the original and best in the UK, so it’s understandably very popular and tickets only – really, no ticket, no party, it’s the rule. But for your ticket price (£20) you get DJ’s, bands and non-stop party right through midnight and on into the wee small hours (as they possibly don’t say in Edinburgh). There’s also food, drink and thousands and thousands of people – if you were ever anxious about having no one to kiss at Midnight your worries end here.
Traditionalists might want to get in the party mood with a few reels and jigs courtesy of the UK’s biggest outdoor ceilidh, The Keilidh. Part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Street Party the all singing, all dancing, ceilidh calling, strip the willowing Keilidh is a perfect warm-up or an event unto itself, depending on how you like your dancing. Tickets for The Keilidh are £37 and give you access to the Street Party too – and it’s on the Mound Precinct so pole position for the city’s incredible midnight Firework Display.
Speaking of midnight. This year Edinburgh has taken ownership of the whole kissing, teary-eyed, sentimental, over-emotional shooting match and even given it a name: Midnight Moment (it doesn’t sound so bad if you think of it in context, sort of). Calton Hill and the Castle will be setting off a ferocious amount of fireworks as usual and, as I said before, no shortage of people to celebrate with at the Street Party. But Midnight Moment’s real hook is Edinburgh’s ambition to achieve the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne – you’ll find the lyrics online at www.edinburghshogmanay.com, so no excuses I’m afraid.
The Street Party isn’t everyone’s dram at Hogmanay, but don’t be despondent. Pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants all over the city are heralding in 2014 in their own way. And there’s no shortage of things happening that don’t involve being outdoors – Edinburgh is not warm on January 1st!
If you are outdoors, wear warm clothes – the Torchlight Procession’ torches are wax, so you might want to dress down for that event. Tickets for everything should be bought or booked in advance (things do sell out). And if you’re in doubt about anything at all, visit www.edinburghshogmanay.com, they’ve got a downloadable events programme and that’s where you’ll find the Auld Lang Syne lyrics.
credit: The Queen’s Hall
What else can I say? Clearly Edinburgh’s got Hogmanay organised so in Woody Allen’s words, ‘All you have to do is turn up’, or something like that. Have a wonderful Hogmanay (even if you’re somewhere that doesn’t call it that) and here’s to a great 2014!
Featured image by Chris Watt.
Happy New Year! (just getting ready, don’t worry you haven’t drifted off and skipped December)
It might be a bit early to be hurling streamers and kissing complete strangers, but New Year’s these days is all about preparation. Because, at some point in the past couple of decades, the mysterious ‘cash in on anything’ crew spotted New Year and thought, kerching!
It started small: a few bands, a few fireworks, a few clubs, a few dj’s then it just grew and grew. Now there isn’t a city on the planet that doesn’t have a New Year party. And most of them are ticketed in some way, hence our kindly advance warning – leave it too late to decide what to do at New Year, and you’ve got more chance of getting a taxi at 3am on January 1st than finding a place to party.
Naturally everyone says they’ve the ‘biggest and best’ event but, despite tireless efforts, we couldn’t come up with a reliable benchmark. So we’ve based our choice of New Year Celebrations 2013/14 on budget – from low to high (ish) – missed out the parties that start crowd-herding at 2pm on New Year’s Eve and there isn’t a single one that’s only low-cost because it’s you, three crofters and an illegal Still.
Bulgaria’s capital might be Europe’s best value travel destination 2013 but it certainly doesn’t come across as cheapskate, especially not at New Year. Turning the entire city centre into a ‘people only’ zone would be inspired enough even if Sofia didn’t score 100% on our ‘TRANSPORT PUMPKINOMETER’ (based on Cinderella’s cautionary tale of carriage woe, this is an official measurement of late night/early morning transport for revellers who didn’t think they’d ever be too tired to walk). Not only is there public transport in Sofia for New Year party people until 3am, it’s free and plentiful. The importance of this might only become truly apparent after you’ve spent 12 hours with the live music, fireworks, dancing and general Bulgarian-style New Year carry-on. Almost every nightclub in the city is partying but the main celebrations (crowds of 80,000 last year) take place in Batenberg Square and Knyaz Aleksandar I Square. No tickets needed but get there early it gets busy!
It’s plenty cold in Budapest in December, so a rule of ‘eat lots and keep moving’ is liberally applied to the 3-Day Party the city hosts to celebrate New Year. Starting on 30 December and running through to midnight on the 1st of January, everything centres on the fireworks, music and outdoor events at Nyugati tér and Vörösmarty Square. Cafes, bars and restaurants on Liszt Ferenc Square are teeming with locals on the 31st December. And if you want to take a step back and quietly observe the old year’s demise, New Year’s Eve Danube cruises are very traditional and very romantic.
The annual Hogmanay Street Party in Edinburgh promises the biggest ‘Midnight Moment On The Planet’ this year. 80,000 plus are expected to descend on Scotland’s capital on 31st December 2013 with Street Party tickets clutched in their excited little hands. It’s no ticket, no party for this huge event but just £20 gets you hours of live music, fireworks, lots of people to kiss at ‘the bells’ and one of Europe’s most gorgeous cities all gussied up and looking amazing. Edinburgh’s also the venue of the UK’s largest outdoor ceilidh ‘The Keilidh’ – buy tickets for that and you get into The Street Party too.
Apart from the strange worship of all things sausage, Berlin is pretty much always given to achingly cool and New Year is no exception. The Brandenburg Gate is where you’ll find the fireworks and kissing crowds at midnight on the Eve itself. DJ’s love Berlin so if you love DJ’s this is your place to party. And there’s obviously some unwritten club code in the city with high scores given for endurance, so be ready for some long, long, long nights of New Year partying – stoke up on sausages is our advice!
Dublin’s not a city known for restraint so you won’t be surprised to find it celebrating New Year as if the end of the world was nigh and the best partyers were the only ones with a chance of salvation. Getting down to business as soon as darkness falls with the traditional city-wide Torchlight Procession, Dublin then goes all out with as many fireworks and projections as it can manage for as long as it can manage. And, for the big midnight moment itself, it’s over to College Green and the massive, annual Countdown Party with live music, dancing and all sorts until all-hours. College Green Countdown Party is tickets only.
Venice is one of the most romantic cities on earth, so naturally it bids farewell to 2013 with a celebrated ‘Group Kiss’ on St. Mark’s Square, accompanied by fireworks, champagne, live music and thousands of beautifully dressed people. But if you’re looking for the ultimate, splurgy, extravagant, once-in-a-lifetime New Year in Venice, you want tickets to La Fenice Theater on December 31st for the Concerto di Capodanno. Not cheap (tickets live on another continent that hasn’t heard of cheap) the Concerto di Capodanno is part of one of the city’s most celebrated New Year traditions and worth every penny for the outrageous theatre alone.
Bagpipes and reels, DJ’s till dawn and beyond, classical Venice, over the top everything Dublin, generous Sofia and eat all you can Budapest – that’s our pick for New Year this year. But, wherever you go, whatever you do and whoever you’re with, have a great time and don’t do anything we wouldn’t do – which leaves the field wide open!
Featured image: Torchlight procession in Edinburgh, credit deradam…
Summer’s here, traditionally the time for British sport’s enthusiasts to get serious about stretching and bending and re-hydrating, preferably in front of a monster TV at the nearest pub offering a fine selection of beer and salty snacks.
Everyone watches the Wimbledon Men’s Final. The Tour de France is for dipping in and out over three weeks (mostly for edited highlights and the big crashes). The Ashes is quintessentially English and enjoyed at its best with real ale we believe. And as for golf it’s more often than not up to Scotland for some of that fine, bracing weather, magnificent scenery and The British Open.
If watching men in pressed slacks and pullovers spend an inordinate amount of time crouching down to eyeball an almost invisible hole in the ground is your thing, then you should be glued to Muirfield this week. That’s where the caddies and competitors are quietly fighting over the coveted Claret Jug and (although it’s not really about the cash obviously) several hundred thousand pounds in prize money.
Muirfield, Gullane (pronounced ‘Gull-In’) is home to ‘The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers’ and one of the most celebrated golfing links in the world. Now what we’re about to say here might disturb the ardent golfer: not everyone understands your obsession. It’s hitting balls with sticks, right? Well if anywhere could convince a cynic to take up clubs and book a tee-time it’s Muirfield, a course with so many distractingly beautiful sea views it’s almost worth dressing like a 90 year old South Florida retiree just to enjoy them. But not quite …….
In honour of this year’s British Open at Muirfield, the enduring tradition of fine Scottish links courses and the undeniable fact that not every wants to play ‘the true sport of kings’, here’s our own brief guide ‘to golf or not to golf’ for summer 2013. No course is more than 30 miles drive from Edinburgh city centre, they’re all open to visitors, they all look great and they all come with alternatives.
Dunbar, East Lothian (Edinburgh 30 miles)
The first East Lothian course on what’s now known as ‘Scotland’s Golf Coast’ is Dunbar. With sea views towards the dramatic Bass Rock, a lighthouse, a very picturesque little East Coast town and a breathtaking route from Edinburgh, Dunbar is also the ‘Final Qualifying Course’ when The British Open’s played at Muirfield. Dunbar’s open to visitors all year round and on-line booking’s available http://www.dunbargolfclub.com.
OR NOT TO GOLF
East Links Family Park, Dunbar
This 20-acre family park has everything from pony rides and a petting zoo to go-karting, pedal tractors and a small gauge railway. The park’s open all year round and is just a few miles from the town of Dunbar. There are regular events throughout the summer months, the atmosphere is really relaxed and friendly and you’ll find activities for children of all ages http://www.eastlinks.co.uk/.
North Berwick, East Lothian (Edinburgh 27 miles)
Just along the coast from Dunbar is North Berwick Golf Club. Like The Royal Course, St. Andrews, North Berwick is a ‘traditional links’ so the course begins and ends in the town and a very pretty town it is too. The sea views from the course are vast and some of us with golfing dads remember many a happy childhood summer spent ‘caddying’ North Berwick – and we won’t admit that about many golf courses. North Berwick is open to visitors all year round and online booking is available http://www.northberwickgolfclub.com.
The Scottish Seabird Centre Boat Trips, North Berwick
A great boulder rising sheer out of the sea just off the coast of North Berwick, the Bass Rock is one of the town’s most iconic sights. It’s a protected bird sanctuary and every day from March to September The Scottish Seabird Centre has a range of Bass Rock sailings. For speed choose the super fast 1 hour RIB trip or cruise at a gentler pace for a few hours, take pics and be glad you’re not playing golf. http://www.seabird.org/book/boat-trips/16/54
Musselburgh Old Links, Musselburgh (Edinburgh 6 miles)
What golfer could resist playing on the ‘World’s Oldest Course’? Musselburgh Old Links has recorded games as far back as 1672 and the challenging (often with a stiff wind) links are still healthily in play today. If history and golf go hand in hand for you, Musselburgh Old Links can be played using traditional ‘hickory’ clubs – you don’t have to bring your own, you can hire them at the clubhouse. Musselburgh Old Links is open to visitors all year round and online booking is available http://www.musselburgholdlinks.co.uk
NO GOLF THANKS
Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh
If you’re round and about Scotland’s capital during the first two weeks in August it’s the Edinburgh International Festival. For 14 days every year the city behaves as if a performance famine was imminent and uses almost every inch of space for some kind of entertainment. The Edinburgh Fringe is almost completely free of charge, there are loads of children’s events and activities and most of the city’s famous museums and galleries have festival exhibitions. http://www.eif.co.uk/
Gullane Courses 1,2 & 3, Gullane (Edinburgh 20 miles)
For a relatively small town just outside Edinburgh, Gullane lucked out on golf. Not only is it home to Muirfield, it also has another three distinguished courses and, unsurprisingly, it’s one of the most desirable places to live on the East Coast of Scotland. Gullane Course 1. is famous for its views and its 3rd hole is listed in the world’s top 500, Course 2. is popular for challenging ‘short holes’ and Course 3. is known to demand exacting levels of accuracy and precision from even very experienced players. Gullane also has a free 6-hole Children’s Course. All three courses are open to visitors all year round and online booking is available http://www.gullanegolfclub.com.
Greywalls Hotel, Gullane
The only Lutyen’s house in Scotland and the only house to sit right on the edge of Muirfield Links, Greywalls is also the best place to have Afternoon Tea in the summer. With its stunning Gertrude Jekyll influenced gardens, beautiful architecture and outstanding location Greywalls is now one of Scotland’s finest hotels. And if it’s not The Open and it is Tuesday or Thursday and you have a recognised handicap of 18 or under, you can play a round on Muirfield Links while Greywalls is setting the table for tea. http://www.greywalls.co.uk/ http://www.muirfield.org.uk
To golf or not to golf, it’s entirely up to you but bear in mind if you are swinging clubs and striding greens, most Scottish courses have strict (or strict-ish) dress codes for visitors. It’s a given that trainers aren’t on anywhere, but you might not have known that Muirfield only allows players to wear white socks with tailored shorts! If in doubt, ask when you’re booking.
Featured image by zaza_bj.
In this week’s Photo Friday we are casting off and exploring some boats around the world where you may hang your hat. Everybody knows that a houseboat in Amsterdam is one of the best ways to enjoy this city if you like the canal life, with the water gently lapping beneath your hull and rocking you to sleep. But did you know that Paris also has a huge selection of boats docked along the banks of the Seine?
Next time you’re thinking of somewhere unusual to stay for your break, then maybe a spacious, luxurious houseboat is the answer.
Have a great weekend.
Zeeburg, Amsterdam. By Myra.
Bastille, Paris. By l’amiral.
Alapphuza, India. By BudgetHouseBoats.
Key West, Florida. By Sleep Afloat.
Westerpark, Amsterdam. By Myra.
Portsmouth, UK. By wendybarry.
Key Largo, Florida. By Chanoch.
In the heart of Edinburgh. By The Four Sisters Boatel.
One of the five best houseboats in the world, Amsterdam. By Hans.
La Defense, Paris. By Cathy & Fred.
Featured image by Jacob.
It’s a funny thing. Love, the most inconvenient and unpredictable of all emotions, is neatly celebrated once a year on Valentine’s Day. Because of course that’s the day the world at large feels romantic. Apparently every single one of us wakes up on the 14th of February with nothing on our minds but roses and hearts and kittens and chocolate and strangely inflammable looking lingerie. Well here’s a handy Valentine’s Day tip: ‘if it’s supposed to be romantic, it probably isn’t’.
Romance is imaginative, sincere, memorable, unexpected – not rings in pudding, that’s just silly and dangerous. Romance isn’t about a gesture or a day, it’s a shared experience that no one else can have in quite the same way.
So in the true spirit of romance we’re leaving Valentine’s Day to the Divine Order of Retailers and laying claim to the rest of the year instead.
Romance is wherever you happen to be. By yoga – photowork.
Giudecca Island, Venice
When it comes to romantic experiences that just aren’t, The Gondola has to be right up there with a carriage ride round Central Park. We defy you to find a pic. (not posed by models) where the ‘happy couple’ don’t look as if they’re thinking, ‘Please Venice sink faster and take us with you’?
True romantics catch a vaporetto and cross the lagoon to Giudecca Island. Giudecca is the best place to see an uninterrupted panoramic view of St. Marks, its breathtaking Campanile and the skyline of Venice itself. The island’s also home to the world famous Hotel Cipriani and, since you saved a fortune foregoing a gondola, you could afford a cocktail and the pleasure of the hotel’s seductively beautiful gardens.
Hotel Cipriani, Venice. By sabinaharlacz.
The Giant Pandas, Edinburgh
We can’t vouch for any romantic entanglement between Tian Tian and Yang Guang themselves as yet, but we can tell you that Edinburgh’s Giant Pandas are now so popular with everyone else you need to book a time to see them. Good news is you don’t pay extra and you can choose your 20 minute Panda Experience time slot on-line and print your pass. Plus you’ve got the rest of one of the world’s best zoos to enjoy while you’re waiting.
Tian Tian. By afcone.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris
If anything can kill the spirit of romance quicker than a sweltering summer afternoon spent creeping along in a queue at the base of the Eiffel Tower, we’d love to know.
You’ll find us at 16 Rue Chapital, at the foot of Montmartre hill, taking tea in the garden of La Musée de la Vie Romantique. Once famous for its Friday evening salons where Chopin, Delacroix, Georges Sands, Ingres and even Charles Dickens were guests, 16 Rue Chapital is one of only three Literary Museums in Paris. Small (by Louvre standards) the museum is like a perfectly imagined Parisian home filled with eccentric and intriguing art and ephemera where you can wander around for free any day of the week – except Monday.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique. By eraritjaritjaka.
Orange Blossom, Seville
In spring the streets of Seville are filled with the scent of oranges and orange blossom. It’s not too hot just warm and pleasant. And the streets aren’t crowded with tourists ticking one after another of the city’s Moorish masterpieces off the ‘Must See’ list. If you want to make Seville the setting for your own particular romance, Spring is definitely the time to do it.
Orange lined street. By Simon & Vicki.
Vienna On Ice
When it comes to romance Vienna doesn’t make such a song and dance about things as Paris. It’s quite happy to let the city speak for itself. This is where the waltz was born, home to Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, chocolate cake is considered part of a balanced diet and just about everyone looks confident, happy and almost unreasonably attractive.
Plus, every winter from January to March the kindly Viennese freeze large parts of the city to let you, and your love, skate. So if you want to leap and whirl or just stumble about try the grand rink in front of Vienna City Hall. Take to the frozen paths of City Hall Park. Go classical at the Wilhelminenberg Palace. Or join everyone else on Friday night for in-line skating – we think you may need to practice this first. It’s outdoors, very Viennese and who doesn’t look desirable in a beanie?
Skating on the Danube. By trbuh.
Wild and Wanton Winter Beaches, Cornwall
We’re the first to admit to a bit of a winter crush on wild British beaches. The weather doesn’t matter because it’s not August so we don’t (foolishly) expect too much sun. And crashing surf make us feel rugged and explorer like.
From windswept Godrevy on the North Coast to the gentler sweep of Praa Sands in the South, Cornwall does beaches – lots of them. And, as an added bonus, almost every Cornish beach comes with a cosy pub not too far away. So once you’ve braved the elements, faced down your fears and made it back from the wild, you can cuddle up and have tea.
Fresh, clear and cold. By grakki.
Night and Day Amsterdam
It doesn’t really matter what they’re showing at Amsterdam’s Theatre Tuschinski book a Love Seat. Then sit back with some food and wine and enjoy the old fashioned romance of this wonderfully grand and eccentric Art Deco cinema.
A Saturday picnic is a bit of a tradition and the best place to pick up supplies is De Negen Straatjes, the city’s irresistible shopping district. Just a short walk from Dam Square and spread out over the network of 17th century canals, De Negen Straatjes is where the very tall, very elegant and very charming citizens of Amsterdam gather at the weekend to make the rest of us feel like a sub-species. For your picnic spot choose nearby Vondel Park; sitting on the grass, holding hands and looking picturesque is almost the law here.
Tuschinski Theatre, Amsterdam. By Kees van Mansom.
Birthplace of Aphrodite, Paphos is known for beaches, glorious weather, secluded swimming coves and wonderful walks. What better way to worship the Greek Goddess of Love’s bounty than by making the most of her home town? Best time to visit is Autumn or Spring when the Mediterranean climate is only perfect for cycle rides, lazing in the sea, long picnic lunches and touring the Temples.
Cyprus sunsets. By sweenpole2001.
Horseshoe Bar, The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
The most famous thing about Dublin’s most famous hotel is the iconic Horseshoe Bar. Name checked no less than four times in James Joyce’s Ulysses, just having a drink here gives romance a glamorously louche and Worldly edge.
Horseshoe Bar. By aj842.
A Moment in Barcelona
At about half past seven on a late summer’s evening the crowds, queues and postcard sellers have moved on, La Sagrada Familia is silent and Barcelona is in between day and night. There’s a little park just opposite the Cathedral where you can sit and have a glass of wine in the last warmth of the sun. The Passion Façade is yours alone for just that very brief time. It’s an almost perfect moment.
The Last Supper, The Passion Facade, La Sagrada Familia. By bobcat rock.
Happy Valentine’s Day – and the rest!