IMG_20180307_142908Courtesy of snowmageddon cancelling a trip to London last week, I unexpectedly ended up going to Bath in Somerset a little earlier this week. Given that I was booking just a few days before departure, I was pleased to find that it was possible to book a return trip with EasyJet from Edinburgh to Bristol for just over £60. Capacity is decent on this route, with up to 5 flights per day in each direction – passengers (based on my observations of travelling this route a couple of times) appear to be a mix of business and leisure travellers.

IMG_20180306_091614On Tuesday, various diary clashes meant I had to take a morning outing to Stirling before going to the airport. While the snow was all gone in Edinburgh, I found there was still a lot on the ground in the central belt of Scotland. I ended up on a train earlier than the one I was aiming for, which was fortunate given ScotRail were still struggling to get back up to speed and it transpired the one I had been aiming for was cancelled. Once I was done in Stirling, I got a lift from my father in the car to the Ingliston Park and Ride. My father needed to be at a meeting in central Edinburgh, so then hopped on the tram. Meanwhile, I decided to experiment with walking from the park and ride to Edinburgh Airport. It is all of 2 minutes on the tram from Ingliston to the airport, but the nature of the fare system means it costs £6 for a single. It only took me about 15 minutes to walk it – and there are pavements all the way, even if the route isn’t all that direct. Here is a photo of the exciting trail I followed, and another shot of two trams at the Airport terminus – without me as a passenger.

I was travelling light, and the airport was quiet. This meant I was through security and airside in under 5 minutes – even though I had to remove my shoes. After a quick lunch in the lounge, it was time to head to the gate. It was obvious that there was a fairly light load on my 3pm flight – just 80 passengers according to crew on board. I was seated in a row of three on my own. The flight pushed back on time and was uneventful. In fact, I took the opportunity to listen to the recent Radio 4 documentary Inside the world of the frequent flyer. Well worth a listen if you’re intrigued by the way frequent flyer schemes work. While I had hoped for good views of snow, there was cloud cover almost all the way en route. However, there were great views of the Severn on approach to Bristol. This was great to see, as the last time I flew to Bristol in 2015 I arrived in dense fog and saw nothing from the air!


IMG_20180310_141805After swift disembarkation, I headed to kerbside outside the terminal to find my onward transport, which was running late. While waiting, I got to see many many passengers board a bus to Plymouth. In contrast, very few people were waiting for the bus to Bath – I would estimate around 12 of us got on at the airport at 4.30pm. The Air Decker is the only operator of bus services from Bristol Airport to Bath – a journey of about 18 miles, which takes a little over an hour. I paid £18 for a return ticket to Bath with a student discount (it’s £20 for normals) – cash only. The buses used on this route vary – on the journey to Bath I benefited from a new double decker with good seats, and multiple tables. The tables featured USB charging (although no on board wifi so I had to use my phone), and given how quiet it was I got to have a table to myself, which was useful for work purposes. On the return journey, the older bus was far less appealing for the worker on the move. Being the middle of rush hour, the bus not only left late but the journey took an age – getting stuck in traffic in all sort of exotic outer suburbs of Bristol as we slowly made our way to Bath. Eventually, however, I made it – and checked into my pleasant but cheap guest house (booked hours earlier using the HotelTonight app – possibly more on that in a future blog.IMG_20180306_163650

IMG_20180307_201358I had a lovely time in Bath, which really is a beautiful city – with lots of good coffee. However, all good outings must eventually come to an end. I hopped on a bus at 7pm heading back to Bristol Airport, which was a much smoother run outside of rush hour. Upon arrival at the airport (just 15 mins before the gate closure time for the final departure of the night from Bristol) I headed up through the deserted terminal and cleared security – along with a handful of other stragglers – in 2 minutes. The gate had just been announced and I headed there, joining the pen. It wasn’t long before we had embarked (via a remarkable looking ramp contraption!) and we were informed we were running 15 minutes early.The flight north was smooth, with great views on a very clear night. Pictured below are the ramp and views of Liverpool.

We arrived in Edinburgh ahead of schedule on a central stand, which meant that from pulling up to the gate to my taxi pulling away took all of 5 minutes. I was home by 10.15pm, which meant I had managed a door-to-door journey from Bath to south Edinburgh in just 3.25 hours. This isn’t necessarily something I’d willingly replicate – I cut it far too fine getting to Bristol Airport – but I was impressed that it could be done. EasyJet really does provide a steady service on the Edinburgh-Bristol route, which can be used in a number of ways. However, I look forward to visiting Bath in future using the train!




Taxis in Edinburgh

Darkness in a taxi
All too often, I end up in the back of a taxi cab to or from the airport at times when any sane person is in bed.

I thought I would post a few thoughts about taxis in Edinburgh to mark my one-year-anniversary of (sporadically) using Gett. Edinburgh has traditionally used black hackney cabs, which are now dominated by City Cabs and Central Cabs, with the remainder made up by independent street cars. Nowadays, there are obviously plenty of minicab operators out there, with Capital Cars being the biggest provider. More recently, these have been joined by Uber and Gett. What strikes me as most peculiar is the fact that the rates for all of these are set by the City of Edinburgh Council. Consequently, what you pay is effectively the same across the board – with some minor variations.

I tend to use City Cabs for bookings from home, as it is easy to make a booking via their app (or on the phone) and they turn up. The app is a little idiosyncratic – it was recently ‘relaunched’ which meant I had to re-register to keep using it. But it comes with what you would expect. There’s GPS and live tracking of cars and you can arrange card payment through the app and so on. For me, the most useful thing is that a booking made in advance generates a confirmation email, which makes it feel more certain than simply an app-based system. City all, theoretically, take cards for payment, but they still charge 5% for this. You also run into the occasional driver who doesn’t want to, or whose card reader isn’t on or working. Most of the cabs also have free onboard WiFi, although I haven’t tried this as I rely on my own 4G. In terms of the vehicles used, it’s the usual range of black hackney cabs, although I would say that cabs in Edinburgh are typically newer and of a better standard than in many other provincial towns and cities outside of London. City often end up being the ride home as well, as they hold the contract to provide vehicles for the cab rank at the airport. This is something they struggle with at times, as they often have insufficient cars available late at night.

I’ve taken to using Gett for most other, smaller journeys around Edinburgh by taxi. I find the app is easy to use, the ability to update and amend journey details while the journey is taking place is a bonus, and paying by card through the app automatically speeds up arrival. (I suppose this sounds like Uber!) However, drivers are street car providers – which means they’re licensed black cabs but not with any radio support. Traditionally, they would drive around town waiting to be hailed, and Gett is an updated version of this. The cabs tend to be a little older than those used by City, but drivers still know what they’re doing and where they’re going. Oddly, Central Taxis often have cars providing Gett services. The biggest frustration is that there are often no cars available at all – you cannot solely rely on Gett. This is a big part of why I have not yet attempted to book a cab with Gett in advance for anything ‘important’ (like an early morning airport run).

As I found a couple of weeks ago, hailing cabs still works just fine. We were in the Old Town and needed to be at the Foot of the Walk in Leith 5 minutes ago. A cab going the wrong way was hailed, and despite it being a tricky route to navigate due to the closure of Leith Street, it made good time without needing directions or prompting. On the flipside, cars like this rarely take card payments – so you will need cash with you.

So what don’t I use? Well, I’ve tended to avoid minicabs, even from the big providers. I have an inherent preference for black cabs, whose drivers (in Edinburgh at least) tend to have a good sense for the city and don’t need directions. We may not have The Knowledge in Edinburgh, but drivers need to know a lot if they’re not to spend all day in traffic jams. Nominally, the minicab providers can only charge the same as the black cabs – in practice most run various discount schemes, although on those few occasions I have used them, they never seem  cheaper. The most common occasion for using them is from the airport if there are no black cabs available, where they offer no discounts at all. Uber, which is, in Edinburgh-terms, simply another minicab company, is something I’ve avoided. They aren’t cheaper and there have been reports of availability issues in Edinburgh. While the app-based system appeals to me, the way that Uber conducts business and treats people does not – as I have a choice I’ve exercised it.

Despite having many, many taxis, Edinburgh does suffer from availability issues. As already noted, the airport is problematic. They struggle to drum up enough black cabs to come to the airport (pick ups are expensive due to airport charges and the distance from the city, while drivers are concerned they may only get a low value job to South Gyle). This often leads to long queues in the evenings. Sometimes, the solution is to use the minicab ‘rank’ – an office will take your advance booking, but is often able to allocate you a car that happens to be standing outside. This has paid off on some occasions, but recently I arrived at 11pm on a Sunday evening to find that it too had a huge queue and no cars. The airport is worst for this, but the railway stations also suffer from the same difficulties.

I suspect I’m going to keep up the same approach I’ve been using. As of October 2017, I no longer have a Ridacard for use on Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams (more on that in future), which has meant that I now evaluate each local trip I need to make on the basis of cost/speed/convenience. City Cabs works well for pre-booked trips, while a mixture of City, Gett and hailing cabs works for everything else. I’d like to see the airport work out a way of getting its contracted taxi providers to get more vehicles out there, especially at peak times, but I suspect there’s more chance of pigs flying.

Late evening departures from Copenhagen


Two recent trips to Sweden have seen me return on late evening departures from Copenhagen. In both instances, the primary draw has been the departure time itself, with the added benefit that the fares have been highly affordable. In early November, I was booked onto Ryanair’s 22:50 departure to Stansted on a Wednesday night. In late November, I was on the 22:05 service to Edinburgh on a Sunday night.

IMG_20171101_211229For the first trip, I did it all from Haverdal by public transport. I didn’t have to leave the house until just after 6pm, and I took the bus to Halmstad. (After the only other passengers got off in the town centre, the driver turned off the GPS and drove me to the station front door instead of the bus station!). I ended up on a delayed Pågatåg to Helsingborg, where I then changed onto an Öresund train on to Copenhagen Airport. A perfectly smooth run, and I did Haverdal to the airport in 3 hours flat. Unsurprisingly, the airport was more or less dead. The lounges close early in Copenhagen, so I was left to wander the rather eery terminal before heading out to the F gates, which were similarly quiet. The Stansted flight was the last to go. After a rapid turnaround of the inbound aircraft, we made an on time departure, and actually arrived at Stansted 30 minutes early. Fortunately, my booked minicab had arrived early, and I was in my cosy Travelodge in Finchley before 1am. Under 8 hours from rural Sweden to north London seems good, especially as I managed a full writing day beforehand.

The second trip in November actually saw me leave at around the same time – 6pm – but this time in a taxi. I could probably have gone later, as the taxi to town was very fast. I put myself on a fast SJ service to Malmö, where I then changed onto an Öresund for the final hop across the sound. I managed to get it down to 2.5 hours from Haverdal to the airport, really not bad. The terminal was busier this time, but still not a patch on other occasions. Ryanair once again delivered a fairly prompt departure that had us in Edinburgh ahead of schedule. In true Edinburgh fashion, we were put onto buses to the border, which meant I was slowed down a bit. However, even after a wait there and for a cab, I made it home just before midnight. Door-to-door from Haverdal to Edinburgh in under 7 hours is pretty great – and even better given that I was able to do a full day on the ground in Sweden before leaving.

I always have mixed feelings about late flights – on the one hand, it can be exhausting to be up late, especially if delays occur. On the other hand, the benefit in terms of more daytime for other activities, and cheaper fares, often makes it worth considering. In both these cases it served me well. The biggest downside was the need to sort out a car transfer from Stansted (which went off without a hitch, as it turned out), while in Edinburgh you know that any late international arrival will see you waiting for ages at passport control and that cabs are hard to come by. In conclusion though, I was glad to discover that the travel experience can be streamlined somewhat, and I was really pleased not to have to surrender 8 hours from the middle of my day.

Lothian Buses on Doors Open Day

Edinburgh’s Doors Open Day, organised by the Cockburn Association, is an opportunity once per year to see inside some of the city’s architecturally worthwhile buildings, as well as other buildings of public interest. This year’s programme can be seen here. For several years, Lothian Buses have opened up their Central Garage on the Saturday and each time I’ve missed it. This year, they were pushing it particularly hard via various social media channels, and I managed to round up some company to head to the north side of Princes Street.

We walked over from the Southside, which gave us ample opportunity to catch sight of a few of the vintage buses that were being used to operate the number 26 in honour of the big day. Below is a 90s throwback sighted at the foot of the Mound…


Meanwhile, we captured this beauty at the top of London Road.


Once we got down to Annandale Street, we discovered an enormous queue to get in (easily 1/4 mile long), but it was making steady progress, and we probably only waited 10 minutes before we were inside. As we came past the front of the depot, we saw what lay in store for us – bus tours!

Inside there was quite the hoopla going on, with people everywhere and all sorts of buses (and quite a few other vehicles) to look at. You could generally go inside the newer ones, while the vintage ones (pulled in from museums and the like) were for outside observation only. Of particular interest was seeing a bus used by East Coast Buses on services to Dunbar (no good photos, sorry), which really sets the standard for a high quality bus for use on rural services. From an Edinburgh-centric perspective, these brand new Volvo electric buses looked interesting. You could even walk underneath one! They were rather stumpy and it remains to be seen which routes they will be used on – they look most suited to use on regular circulators, but Edinburgh doesn’t have any of those…

Here’s an attempt to show a wider spread of the buses on show.


Some buses seemed to be a long way from home…


IMG_20170923_132106And finally the moment we had all been waiting for. Obviously the bus wash tour was fantastic fun – although it was rather like getting onto an evening rush hour bus in heavy rain really.

All in all, it was great to have the chance to see Lothian HQ. It’d be fun if they consider opening the doors to the tram depot at Gogar in future years.

Haverdal to Edinburgh via Denmark

IMG_20170911_083242Our trip to rainy, rural Sweden was almost at an end and decisions had to be made about how to get ourselves back home to Edinburgh. Unlike on the way, we had most of the day to make our way to Copenhagen airport for a 17:05 departure to Edinburgh. We settled on using the Helsingborg-Helsingør ferry as a variation on the direct train. It is possible to buy a through ticket from the bus driver when boarding at our local stop all the way to Copenhagen – and by either the ferry or bridge route. Our driver hadn’t sold a “via ferry” ticket before, but it didn’t stop her from doing so! You even save around £2 per person by buying the ferry option. So, we joined the 08:41 to Halmstad, which is fairly busy bus – including passengers going to Halmstad Airport for flights to Stockholm. Despite several passengers needing to top up their travel cards onboard (ourselves included), we made good progress to town and arrived at the bus station just 3 minutes behind schedule.

This gave us ample time to loiter at a rather grey, chilly Halmstad station. What do you do once you’ve consumed your coffee and bun from the ubiquitous Pressbyrån? Why, you wander around the platforms watching the other trains come and go. Halmstad is where the fast SJ services bypass the slow Öresundståg services – and it is quite impressive to watch it happen. The SJ train arrives just a couple of minutes behind the stopper, and manages to be away in around 90 seconds (no platform dispatchers in Halmstad either, so this is all done by the conductor).


Eventually, our train, the 10:12 turned up. It was pink! (In Helsingborg, they join a second set on which was green on this occasion!). We managed to secure seats, which isn’t always a given on these trains. The journey was unremarkable until just north of Helsingborg, where there remains a stretch of single track – we had to wait for a delayed northbound train, and the minutes ticked away. So much so that we did not make our connection to the Scandlines Aurora in Helsingborg.

On the upside, this gave us the opportunity to poke around the departures area for a few minutes. It is an overwhelmingly exciting place, as can be seen from the photos.

Instead of the fancy Aurora, we ended up with the former HH Ferries vessel, the Mercandia VIII at 11:30. It is much smaller than Aurora, and rather less shiny. It was by far the choppiest crossing I’ve had in several years, and even the coffee was poor (almost unheard of in Scandinavia). The silver lining is that upon arrival in Helsingør, foot passengers disembark through the front of the cabin, providing the below view. I particularly like the juxtaposition of the prominent Danish flag and the Swedish flag-coloured markings on the car deck. In short, the Mercandia is much boatier than the other ferries plying this route – but there is little else going for it.


Upon arrival in Helsingør, there was an outside chance we could catch a train with a very short connection, and we duly paced our way along the corridors from the ferry. Unfortunately, an obstructive fellow passenger – also rushing but not quickly enough – stopped us from making it. Nevermind! A chance to poke around Helsingør station instead. Seen below is our train on the right, bound for Kalmar on the Baltic coast of Sweden, next to a local service bound for Hillerød.


Our train made good time into Copenhagen and we got off at Østerport to change onto the Metro, which we took 3 stops to Amagerbro station where I had spotted a lunch opportunity. No decent photos of the metro to share, but I remain impressed by Copenhagen’s interpretation of a metro system, which seems to work very well and has consistently decent ridership. Bear in mind that we were still travelling on the ticket bought from the bus driver in Haverdal at this point! It was about 13:10 when we arrived at Amagerbro, meaning it had taken around 4.5 hours from Haverdal. We might have cut 30-40 minutes off that journey time if we had gone on the direct train from Halmstad, but it would have been far less interesting.

After a rather good lunch at Halifax, the sun had come out, so we decided to walk the 5.5km to the airport through the Amager suburbs. Once we reached the airport, we headed for our usual hang out, the Aviator Lounge, for a quick cup of tea. Normally, it’s been a favourite for the wonderful views of aircraft on the apron and lots of daylight. As it was, the work on the new extension to the terminal meant that the lounge was very dark and that when secured one of the few seats by a window, this was our view…


Nevermind! We only had 20 minutes to spare, so we set off for the charming F gates shortly after we had finished our tea. Apparently feeling the urge to hurry things along, ground staff were already pushing the Final Call button when we appeared despite the absence of an aircraft, which turned up 10 minutes after we did. It was a decent example of how EasyJet can get it right when they try – the plane spent 28 minutes on stand between arrival and pushback – and both flights were full.


It was an unremarkable flight, but we got some wonderful views of the Scottish borders and Edinburgh as we approached our destination. Seen below is the Port of Leith.


We decided we’d take the tram to the city centre on what had turned into a beautiful evening – and it even ran quicker than usual! A quick change onto the number 33 on Princes Street had us home at 19:20 – a door-to-door travel time of just 12 hours (including a leisurely lunch and walk in Copenhagen).


Edinburgh to Haverdal

For a variety of reasons, we had booked to spend a week in Haverdal, a rural community north of Halmstad in western Sweden. This was done at short notice, but there were still good fares available a fortnight before departure for travel on EasyJet and we were able to redeem some Nectar points to take advantage of them. A 13:55 departure seems like a pleasant, middle-of-the-day flight but in reality I ended up feeling a little annoyed as we couldn’t really go to work but had to kick our heels during the morning.

In the end, we made a start from the house at about 10:30 and took the 14 to South Bridge. We then stopped in the Milkman for a good cup of coffee to kill a few more minutes, before popping round the corner to catch a 100 to the airport. I’ve already discussed the new buses to the airport,  but one feature I hadn’t noticed previously was the inclusion of live airport departure screens showing flight statuses, which I think is a good touch.

The upside of travelling in the middle of the day is that the airport bus is definitely not impeded in the way it is during the rush hour – we made good time out to the airport. Travelling with hand luggage only, we were able to pop straight upstairs and we were through security in under 5 minutes. While there were teething issues with the new security hall in Edinburgh, it really does seem to have found its rhythm. We headed for our usual hang-out, the No 1 Lounge only to be told it was full. Instead, we headed for the Aspire Lounge, which was so busy it felt like people were hovering waiting to take seats. We eventually found some nice seats by the window where we could watch the buses coming and going outside the terminal. Before long though, we headed for the gate and boarded. Departure was prompt and on-time, and we headed to the west, with a a good – if rainy – view of the three Forth bridges.

We arrived at Copenhagen Airport on time and made quick progress through the terminal. After buying a ticket to Halmstad (a source of frustration is that the Skånetrafiken vending machines won’t sell tickets to bus-only destinations in Halland), we took the first available train across the Öresund Bridge to Malmö. While border controls are no longer in force, the train still stops for an extended wait in Hyllie, which seems a little futile. Our stop at Malmö C gave us time to pick up some groceries and dinner, before we caught our onward train to Halmstad. We had a clear run up and despite picking up some delays in Skåne, we actually arrived in Halmstad on time, demonstrating that there is a fair bit of leeway in the timetable.


We easily made our 15 minute connection onto the 350 bus to take us to Haverdal. Fortunately, the buses have returned to the bus station (having been in exile on my last visit), making it easy to catch. The ticket sold to us was very cheap – I can only assume that the system calculates what we should have paid to buy a through ticket and charges the difference, but details about this online are scant. While the run to Haverdal drags a little, especially as the bus does a loop through Harplinge, it was quick enough. Living in Edinburgh, it is a novelty to be on buses doing 50mph on dark country roads.

While it felt like the journey dragged out, the door-to-door travel time was only a little over 9 hours. Even if we had driven at the Danish/Swedish end, we wouldn’t have cut much off that.


Last weekend we headed to Durham to celebrate a friend’s wedding. We travelled down on a Friday to ensure we weren’t rushed. My partner wanted to visit the Open Treasure exhibition at Durham Cathedral, which called for a departure earlier than mid-afternoon. I enjoy nothing more than a hot breakfast on the train while cantering through East Lothian and then down the coast, so we booked ourselves onto the 09:00 departure for King’s Cross in 1st class (£20.65 each with a railcard). Despite being rush hour, we had an unusually quick run into the city centre on the 33 giving us time to find fancy coffee before departure.

2017-09-01 09.50.30

We settled into two of my favourite seats, L27 & 29. Window/aisle, facing each other across a table, with the wider aisle in the middle of the carriage. And of course, on the sea view side of the carriage. We were well looked after by the crew, although breakfast took longer to make it to us than it often does. We were almost at Berwick by the time we got to eat – the vegetarian option was a bubble and cheesy squeak – seen here with an unadvertised poached egg. Very nice! On the whole, it was a smooth, uneventful journey just as they should be.

The one thing of note to happen was a kerfuffle regarding a party of nearby passengers visiting from South America who had no tickets. All they had was a printed confirmation of their itinerary from their travel agent (which stated they should collect their tickets at the station), but they managed to bluff their way into staying in 1st without valid travel documentation. Quite probably a genuine mistake on their part, but I can’t imagine a situation in which I would blindly ignore a one page confirmation in favour of a travel agent’s say so…

Durham was looking rather splendid over the weekend, and we spent plenty of time wandering back and forth along the Wear and poking around the narrow streets. Here are a few photographic highlights.

We quickly realised we had made a mistake in booking our return tickets for such a late time on Sunday afternoon and set about attempting to rebook. Virgin has changed how this worked, as well as their online booking system, causing no end of issues. In the end I coughed up for new tickets on the service we wanted and will sort out the refund due on the old tickets later. Pleasingly, the cost of the new tickets was still very reasonable in 1st, and my favourite seats were available with just 24 hours’ notice.

Late on Sunday morning we checked out of our accommodation and headed back up the hill to Durham station, where there’s always plenty to see. Just a few minutes before our own train, there was an alternative service to Edinburgh on Cross Country. However, we hung on for the 12:20 which arrived on time. We had a very pleasant run up to Edinburgh, with the early-September light providing some nice photos. Service on board was the usual weekend fare, all provided by one crew member, but it was friendly enough.

I shot some video upon arrival into Newcastle – quite easily one of my favourite station approaches in the UK.

Never tire of arriving by rail in this city. #newcastle #trains #north

A post shared by Ian Giles (@scandinavianist) on

A footnote to our return journey. Frustratingly, our seats were occupied by someone else. I don’t like to cause a scene, so we duly shuffled off to sit somewhere else. As it happened, we ended up sat on top of the bogie at one end of the carriage – my first time in ages. I almost felt like I had whiplash by the end of the journey! What is the protocol in a sparsely populated carriage – is it okay to turf someone out of your (excellent) reserved seats?