Newly single? A beginner’s guide to the best dating apps | Life and style


Swiping singles are big money – it is estimated that the dating market is worth $12bn (£9.3bn) globally. But how do we navigate the glut of options available to help us find love? With about 25 million people in the US alone thought to have regularly used dating apps this year, the sea is stocked with fish aplenty – so should we Bumble, Tinder, Happn or perhaps Grindr our way to success?

Tinder

The Tinder app



Photograph: SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

What is it? The most popular and enduring of the first wave of dating apps, Tinder was founded in 2013 as a way to help US students meet each other; in other words, a social network for friendship as well as dating. By 2015, however, Tinder had moved far beyond the campus and was registering a billion swipes on the app every day (left for “no”, right for “yes”), with users spending an average of 90 minutes a day scanning through their geographically defined options. Despite having added “super-likes” and paid-for profile consultancy, the app has become known for one simple reason: hooking up.

How do I use it? All you need to do is upload some (ideally well-lit) photos. Personal information can be as minimal as you want it to be, although men may want to be judicious in their use of dog pics: some users were accused of “dogfishing” – posing with furry friends in an effort to attract more dates – on the app.

Who will I meet? Tinder is where you are most likely to find anyone and everyone in your local area: the person you see on the train platform each morning who you swear wears a wedding ring; the primary-school friend you lost touch with 15 years ago; your boss; or maybe your ex. Either person can make the first move to start a conversation on the app, so it is anyone’s game.

Word of warning If you meet “the one”, merely removing the app from your phone won’t be enough to delete your profile – you will still be roaming the ether looking for love. You have to delete your profile as well as the app to be fully off-grid.

Use it if you are looking for … a late-night rendezvous.

Bumble

The Bumble app



Photograph: Jaap Arriens/Alamy

What is it? Billed as the female-friendly version of Tinder, Bumble is very similar except for the fact that only women can start the conversation. When it comes to same-sex matches, either person can make the first move.

How do I use it? Again, users swipe left or right depending on their preference and the requirements for signing up are minimal: images, your name and your age.

Who will I meet? With more than 55 million users, Bumble has become many people’s first port of call in the digital dating world; Tinder’s open door and hookup-centric reputation puts off some new users.

Word of warning Despite taking the lofty position of promising a platform for relationships rather than encounters, Bumble still exists for the same purpose, no matter what your matches may tell you. Watch out for the “softbois” here (alternative-minded emotional manipulators who draw you in with their promises of late-night chats about Lou Reed and Ocean Vuong then leave you high and dry).

Use it if you are looking for … flirtatious texting.

Hinge

The Hinge app



Photograph: Optura Design/Alamy

What is it? Here is where things get a little strange. Hinge’s USP is limiting your pool of potential matches to friends of friends (as gleaned from your Facebook account) or friends of friends of friends, and so on. In theory, you or someone you know should be friends with your match.

How do I use it? There is no swiping – instead, users have to answer an array of questions that are posted on their profile page, along with their (again ideally well-lit) images. Question prompts range from the basic (“Most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done” – for some reason, always a holiday) to the aspirational (“A life goal of mine”) and the bizarre (“You should not go out with me if …”).

Who will I meet? Hinge’s tagline is “Designed to be deleted” and the tenor of the conversations on the app makes it feel more relationship-focused than others. It is also prime territory for stumbling upon previous matches from other apps who have matured to Hinge’s aesthetic.

Word of warning Hinge founder Justin McLeod’s romance with his wife has been turned into an episode of Amazon’s Modern Love series, after the journalist Deborah Copaken’s column on him in the New York Times in 2015 went viral – but it could also be a Hinge cautionary tale. McLeod and his wife met in college, broke up and spent eight years apart before Copaken encouraged him to take action before it was too late. If they had used Hinge, they might never have found their way to each other again.

Use it if you are looking for … the one (or are ready to settle for less).

Happn

The Happn app



Photograph: Happn

What is it for? Things get even stranger here. Happn is designed for you to meet someone in your vicinity, ideally someone you have just brushed past on the street or made awkward eye contact with on the train (perhaps like Michael Fassbender’s opening scene in Shame).

How do I use it? You need to be on the app all the time. Every time you see someone who catches your eye, you check the app to see if they are also on it. Then, rather than approach them on the street, you strike up a digital conversation, where you painstakingly recount your non-encounter in the hope that they will agree to a planned meet. Basically, a meet-cute for the socially anxious.

Who will I meet? Anyone within a 1km radius, from colleagues to commuters and – God forbid – family members.

Word of warning You are likely to bump into your matches again, so it may be harder to live down embarrassing first dates.

Use it if you are looking for … convenience.

Raya

The Raya app


What is it? There are plenty of apps for those with a more rarefied taste – see EliteSingles, which caters for “professionals”; Luxy, which describes itself as a “millionaire dating app”; and Uniform Dating, for people whose jobs usually involve wearing a uniform (firefighters ready yourselves). But none has the cachet of Raya – the private members’ club of dating apps.

How do I use it? You can join only after being nominated by an anonymous “global committee”, which means Raya has become known as the dating app for celebs.

Who will I meet? While you may find Made in Chelsea or Hollyoaks cast members on Bumble, celebrities said to have been spotted on Raya in the past include Cara Delevingne, Teri Hatcher and Diplo.

Word of warning “Journalist” probably isn’t on the list of Raya-friendly professions, so there is no way to verify these rumours – unless you are able to join yourself.

Use it if you are looking for … a story to sell to a gossip magazine.

Lumen

The Lumen app


What is it? Tinder, Bumble and Hinge are generally targeted at 18- to 35-year-olds. Lumen is the dating app designed for over-50s. The statistics suggests that this demographic needs such a service: the ONS expects 42% of marriages to end in divorce, while 12.9% of 50- to 64-year-olds in England and Wales were single as of 2017. Perhaps as a result of all of this, STI rates among over-50s doubled between 2002 and 2012.

How do I use it? Founded in September 2018, Lumen reached 350,000 users in just six months with its canny reinterpretation of the swiping format. The interface is minimal but clunky – designed for the least tech-savvy Boomers – and has few market rivals.

Who will I meet? Late bloomers, divorcees and basically any singleton over 50 with functioning knowledge of a smartphone.

Word of warning Facebook Dating launched recently in the US. Since 72% of all online 50- to 64-year-olds use the social media site, Lumen could have a rival on its hands.

Use it if you are looking for … a partner for a single parent, or love later in life.

Grindr

The Grindr app



Photograph: Alamy

What is it? The ultimate, utilitarian ideal of the dating app world. Grindr is marketed as a “social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people”.

How do I use it? The app removes any frivolous pre-date agonising from the equation and has been serving all manner of location-based meetings since its launch in 2009.

Who will I meet? From the curious to the adventurous, all are welcome.

Word of warning The anti-Hinge, Grindr isn’t designed to be deleted, but rather to be a quiet fixture on your phone’s home screen, always on hand, no matter the time, place – or relationship status.

Use it if you are looking for … anything and everything.

Guardian Soulmates

Guardian Soulmates app

What is it? The Guardian’s dating app. Eighty per cent of users are Guardian readers, so your political opinions and environmental consciousness will probably be reciprocated. And it is free (to start).

How do I use it? This is a website and an app, so you can use your desktop to register your profile, images and personal details, then message away with other singles in your area. If you pay for a subscription, you can see more photos of potential soulmates, plus find out about their hobbies.

Who will I meet? The diverse range of single Guardian readers (and maybe even some journos). With Soulmates flaunting marriages on its home page, this app is one for those who are in it for the long haul.

Word of warning Do soulmates exist?

Use it if you are looking for … someone to gaze at over your morning copy of the Guardian, of course.



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I was a virgin until I met my girlfriend and I’m finding sex painful. Is this normal? | Life and style


I’m a 24-year-old man and, until recently, a virgin who had never had a girlfriend. I have started dating a girl (20) who really likes me. She told me she had had sex before meeting me and, out of embarrassment, I haven’t mentioned to her that she was my first. The first time we had sex, it was great, and very comfortable. However, it is gradually starting to feel more and more uncomfortable for me, and actually quite painful. I am worried she could have a sexually transmitted infection or something (I searched on Google), but maybe I’m being paranoid. I’m worried that she isn’t attracted to me and it’s throwing my confidence. I am quite a confident person, but this has hit me. What should I do?

You need to understand that you are at the very beginning of you and your girlfriend’s sexual partnership. At the moment, you are expecting yourself to be a perfect lover from day one, but erotic learning takes time and patience – and a lot of trial and error. You have much to learn, and the sex lesson you most need to get to grips with is to be able to talk openly and honestly with your girlfriend. You need to be able to ask her to help you to know exactly how to please her. If you can learn that skill, you will always be able to help her become aroused. In the meantime, do not expect her to respond perfectly. Be kind to yourself, and understanding and respectful towards her. Stop getting your information about sex from internet searches, and instead focus on real-time human connection.

Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.

If you would like advice from Pamela on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns to private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.

Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.



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Tell us about your experiences of finding Christmas love | Life and style


Christmas can be a good time of year for romance.

Cuffing season runs from 1 December – 15 January and is said to be the time when single people are more likely to want relationships. Psychology Today reported that pressures from romantic christmas films, family, social media and those festive parties where people ask about your dating life are contributing factors.

Some argue there is no solid scientific evidence to this behaviour but others believe you feel more lonely during winter months. But Christmas nights out can be a perfect time to met new people. Finding love is not always easy but it can happen unexpectedly. We want to hear stories from people who met their partners at Christmas.

Share your experiences

Did you meet your partner under the mistletoe? Was your first date on Christmas Day? What was special about finding love at Christmas?

We are looking for your sentimental, unusual and funny tales of finding Christmas love. You can share your stories in the encrypted form below. One of our journalists may be in touch to discuss your contribution.


If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.





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I’m 50 and disillusioned about love. How should I be in my next relationship? | Leading questions | Life and style


I am an energetic, capable, intelligent woman of 50. I earn a good salary, I am good at DIY and all other household chores. I am loving, caring and supportive with a good sense of humour. However, I have had a 20-year marriage and an eight-year relationship both end. Men (or at least the ones I choose) say they love independent women, but all they really seem to mean is they love women who will support them. How should I be in my next relationship? Should I pretend to be a pathetic helpless female who needs a man to save her? I am so disillusioned, I wonder what I am doing wrong.

There’s a Japanese folk story about a crane who tricks a man into marrying her by pretending to be a woman. She knows that her beloved won’t want her if he discovers she’s a bird, so at night she stays awake and tears out her feathers with her beak. CJ Hauser wrote a beautiful memoir recently that called on the story: “To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work.”

It looks like a deal. If you do the self-erasure then in exchange you won’t be alone.

You shouldn’t take it. Partly just because it’s so horrifically sad. You say you’re caring, capable, intelligent, and you say these things with an energy that tells me you love them about yourself. Don’t pull them out at night.

But the other reason you shouldn’t take the deal is that it doesn’t do what it says it will. Even if you paid up by forfeiting your dignity you wouldn’t get what you thought you were buying. Love borne of pretence doesn’t make us any less alone.

Whatever love you’d trick someone into giving you would be love for an act, and it’s hard not to feel contempt for people you can trick like that. So you won’t really like them, and what they like won’t really be you. It’s a reverse Midas curse, turning what should be gold into dust. You’d get love in the same move that would make it worthless.

The thing is, I think you already know that. I love how you talk about yourself. You know you’re great. I bet you have a drawer with a bunch of string and tape measures in it and a particular way of banging flour off your hands. You know you don’t want to change.

The real problem is that when we realise the choice between modifying and being alone was always just a choice between two ways of being alone, we’re left with just being alone.

I could say all the usual things about how love comes when you give it to yourself, and how the thoughts that say “no one will ever want me” are liars that speak most loudly in the silence after a recent love has closed the door.

But the truth is you might not get the thing you really want. You might not find love with someone who values you as you are. It’s hard.

What I do know is that women like you keep me going; remind me of the joy and the strength it takes to spend decades refusing to capitulate to a world that wants you to be less.

There’s no way around the fact that it will hurt if being yourself means being unloved, but love has been wildly overstated as the key to a valuable life. It’s disappointing not to get it, but it’s worse to disappoint yourself. Keep your feathers.

*************************************

Ask us a question

Do you have a conflict, crossroads or dilemma you need help with? Eleanor Gordon-Smith will help you think through life’s questions and puzzles, big and small. Questions can be anonymous.


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Brilliant winter holidays in Europe: readers’ travel tips | Travel


Winning tip: Dickens in Deventer, the Netherlands

The historic city of Deventer, a 1hr 20min train ride from Amsterdam, holds a two-day Dickens Festival every December (weekend of 14-15 this year, free entry, though be prepared to queue). Nearly 1,000 costumed Dickens characters, from gentry to urchins, play their parts with real enthusiasm in the spruce-tree decked streets. You might bump into Bob Cratchit, say hello to Miss Havisham or share a stuffed potato or bag of roasted chestnuts with Scrooge. The picturesque Bergkwartier with its pretty shops twinkles with lights. Orchestras and choirs fill the churches with seasonal music, in addition to the outdoor carol singers.
dickensfestijn.nl
roderic

Wine bar with a sauna, Copenhagen

sunset at banchina cafe and sauna copenhagen


A little-known gem amid Copenhagen’s many harbours and waterways is on the outskirts east of the Christiania free state. La Banchina is a cosy natural wine bar, with a small but tasty evening menu specialising in seafood. The cafe faces west, with superb sunset views over water. The pièce de résistance is the garden with crackling bonfires and a sauna, which for only 50 krone (£5.70) can be used throughout the day and into the evening. Bring shorts and brave the icy Danish water by diving off one of the jetties before retreating to the sanctuary of the sauna. Reinvigorated, grab a wine or coffee after in the cafe.
labanchina.dk
Joe

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a £200 voucher from hotels.com. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

Snowshoeing, Finland

Family explore woodland on cross country skis



Photograph: Andrew Bret Wallis/Getty Images

We stayed in a little house in the woods in Äkäslompolo in Finnish Lapland, where there are lots of relatively cheap rental options with private saunas (cottages for two from about €400 for three nights at yllaslogcabins.com, for example). There were snowshoeing, winter biking and crosscountry skiing trails from our doorstep, with all equipment available to rent in the village (on a beautiful snow-covered lake) along with several restaurants. The trails led to magical cafes, often adorned with puppets, and there were trail-side fire pits where you could barbecue sausages and the like. We saw reindeer daily, and the northern lights. To get to Äkäslompolo, take the sleeper train to Ylläs from Helsinki, then a bus .
Rachel

Snow holes in the Cairngorms

two men in sleeping bags on snow-holing holiday


Deciding where to go for a winter trip with my son, I judged snow and reindeer were still the way forward, even though he’s way past Santa-loving age. So we headed up to Cairngorm for a three-day snow hole expedition led by Scot Mountain Holidays (£460 including all meals and transfers from Aviemore or Inverness) where we spent one of the nights in a communal snow hole we’d dug. Wrapped up in sleeping bags and taking a wee dram, we reflected on just how unbelievably cosy a room made of snow could be. While there, we were told that reindeers had been reintroduced to Scotland 60 years ago and now about 150 totter around nearby, so we took a 90-minute trip up into the dramatic hills run by Cairngorm Reindeer to see them: daily hill trips leave at 11am (£16/£10) but only once the herd has been found!
Luke

Brilliant bar-restaurant, Bruges

customers at tables ans live musicians at Zwart Huis in Bruges



Zwart Huis bar

Bruges may seem too obvious, but it’s small, easily walkable and its food and drink are perfect for cold weather – the obvious hot chips and waffles, but also delicious waterzooi – a creamy chicken (sometimes fish) stew. Most of the restaurants and a lot of the bars have roaring fires in the cold weather and there is nothing finer than spending an afternoon working your way through an impressive beer menu while you toast yourself. Our favourite bar is ‘t Zwart Huis, in a tall merchant’s house built in 1482 which has a beautiful interior with wood sculptures and wonderful medieval windows. It’s just so cosy and atmospheric you never want to leave – and there’s often top- quality live music, too.
Ruth Govindarajah

Walking in Andalucía

Scenic View Of Snowcapped Mountains near Parauta



Photograph: Eugenio Segura Del Real/Getty Images

Winter is brilliant for long walks between whitewashed Andalucían villages, hidden from the world, through fields of chestnut trees and across crystal-clear streams, surrounded by the mysterious hills of the Alto Genal. Parauta is a delightful small town in Málaga province. There might be a dusting of snow on the ground, more snow on the peaks of the nearby Sierra de las Nieves, maybe the sighting of a vulture above. Night skies are so clear you’ll wish you’d packed Prof Brian Cox in your case. Relax in front of an open log fire at Casas de Parauta, and in the morning have a coffee on your patio before doing it all again.
Two nights in cottage sleeping two from about €110, casasdeparauta.com
Antony

Coastal strolls, Norfolk

view of snowy coast and water, Brancaster Staithe


We’ve spent several weekends in Brancaster Staithe, at the beautiful White Horse Inn right on the coastal path, so perfect for long walks with your pooch, who is allowed in the bar, and catered for in the garden rooms that overlook waterways wending their way out to sea. Dalegate Market in Burnham Deepdale, a short walk away, has lots of independent retailers, and runs special events throughout the year, as does the White Horse, specifically mussel and oyster festivals. A visit to nearby Holkham beach is a must, so wrap up warm, then grab a much-deserved hot chocolate afterwards.
Doubles from £120 B&B, whitehorsebrancaster.co.uk
Clare

Brilliant cafe, Scottish Borders

Christmas Patisserie at Cocoa Black in Peebles



Christmas patisserie at Cocoa Black

The welcoming, high-end patisserie, Cocoa Black, serves great coffee and hot chocolate and is a huge reward for a winter walk in and around Peebles. It’s run by Ruth Hinks, who has made the top five of the World Chocolate Masters competition and who teaches chocolate and pastry skills at the site. The town is a well worth a visit at any time of year but the shorter days of winter encourage bracing, atmospheric walks by the mighty Tweed, which runs though the town and in the easily manageable surrounding hills (which offer plenty of bang for your buck in terms of views).
cocoablack.com
Gavin Pearson

Traditional feast, Vilnius

Gediminas tower, Vilnius, at dusk



Gediminas tower at dusk. Photograph: Luis Dafos/Alamy

The Lithuania capital is a magical winter destination. Last year our family enjoyed tobogganing with locals down the city’s Tauras Hill; walking through Bernardine Gardens; admiring bare trees dressed in frosty filigree, with views of Gediminas Castle and the surrounding hills; and sampling the hearty local cuisine. Ertlio Namas’s six-course taster menu from down the centuries was particularly memorable, including a 15th-century dish of duck with gingerbread, celery porridge and dried apple sauce, and 18th-century quince sweets with poppies and cranberries. The bright building and cosy dining rooms were lovely too. We followed this with a 30-minute train trip to the historic town of Trakai to explore its hauntingly beautiful island castle and skate on the lake. And, possibly our favourite, a hot-air balloon ride, looking down on Vilnius’s snow-covered roofs and spires.
Sherry

Snow biking, Austria

A woman on a snow bike in the Alps



Photograph: Stuart Forster/Alamy

We decided to try snow biking as an alternative to skiing after suffering a few aches and pains on previous ski trips. The shock absorption in the bike means you glide more easily over the bumps and it’s a lot less strenuous. The delightful Austrian village of Obertauern, in the Salzkammergut, was our base. I must admit being rather hesitant, but it proved to be an exhilarating experience and incredibly easy to master. We went on a couple of taster sessions and even a midnight guided tour. It’s a great alternative to skiing for those of us less agile and something our kids loved too. We learned with the SchiSchule Kokh whose taster two-hour sessions are €79pp.
Lisa Anderson

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips



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A local’s guide to Aberdeen: 10 top tips | Travel


Welcome to Granite City

Scotland’s third-largest city is known as Granite City, and has a wealth of beautiful architecture: either on the Granite heritage trail or just by having a wander around and looking up. Styles and eras vary greatly, from the three Victorian domes of His Majesty’s Theatre, the Central Library and St Mark’s Church, to the neo-gothic Marischal College, and the brutalist tower blocks – which have inspired accessories by local design collective Look Inside. While you’re taking in the refurbished Aberdeen Art Gallery (among other events, a Martin Parr photography exhibition runs until 23 February 2020), check out the 28 different-coloured granite columns in the main hall – they came from quarries around the area.

Stroll the sandy shore

Balmedie beach at sunrise, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK



Balmedie beach at sunrise. Photograph: Dan Tucker/Alamy

Aberdeen is also called “the silver city with the golden sands”, and has fantastic beaches. You can walk the coastal stretch from Footdee, a fishing village at the mouth of the large harbour, to the dunes at Balmedie in around three hours, then get the 54 bus back into town. Close to the harbour, Aberdeen Maritime Museum (free) offers a great way to learn about the city’s relationship with the sea – from the early days of clippers and shipbuilding to the North Sea oil and gas industry – and includes a 1:33 scale model of an oil rig.

Independent eating

Food Story Cafe in Aberdeen



Food Story Cafe. Photograph: Scott Arthur

For a vegan dinner Foodstory Cafe on central Thistle Street is a laid-back space, with live music, workshops and pop-up shops, such as plant sales. It serves wraps, soups, raw brownies and bowls filled with chilli, sushi or falafel – and it’s BYOB in the evening. Spin-off zero-waste cafe, Food Story Zero, is on the university campus in Old Aberdeen, an area that’s worth a wander. More centrally, Melt 2 calls itself the “home of grilled cheese” and does toasted sandwiches with gooey cheese, pickles, meats (including haggis) or veggie chilli (from £4). The Green is home to the monthly Inspired Nights street food market in warmer months (restarts April 2020); Cafe 52 serves tapas and modern British (mains £10) in an atmospheric old building; and try Contour for coffee and cake.

Walk the arty streets

Hold Fast Hope mural by Snik on Shore Brae, Aberdeen



Hold Fast Hope mural by Snik on Shore Brae. Photograph: Sally Anderson/Alamy

There is a wealth of street art across Aberdeen, a lot of which was created as part of the Nuart street art festival, which takes place every April. It has been a big deal for Aberdeen since it started three years ago – with works created around the city by an array of international artists. Download a map of the art here and look out for (in particular) Jan Vormann’s Dispatchwork – several small Lego installations in the walls around The Green, the city centre marketplace – and the Glöbel Brothers’ mural on Willowbank Road gable end, in the style of a retro advertisement. Free walking tours also run from January to September. Other festivals on Aberdeen’s calendar include the Spectra festival of light in February, Dance Live in October, and the Sound festival of new music in November.

Seasonal (and very local) ice-cream

Mackie’s minted brussels sprout ice-cream



Mackie’s minted brussels sprout ice-cream

For a taste of something truly Aberdonian, ice-cream maker Mackie’s has a cafe on Marischal Square, called Mackie’s 19.2 after the distance in miles to the family farm and factory in to the north-west. The company is always coming up with new seasonal flavours – for Burns Night this year it created a remarkable haggis and orange marmalade edition, and last Christmas it was minted brussels sprouts, gingerbread and Christmas pudding flavours. There was also a special rowie (a buttery roll, like a savoury croissant) and jam version, made for Aberdeen Performing Arts, which runs three local theatres.
mackies.co.uk

Discover indie designs

Look Again Project Space



Look Again Project Space. Photograph: Grant Anderson

Lesser-known art spaces have been popping-up around the city in recent years. Among them is the Look Again Project Space on St Andrew Street, which was an empty shop that has been repurposed as an exhibition space. It showcases contemporary art and design by local artists through an initiative with Gray’s School of Art, part of the Robert Gordon University. Five minutes away on Queen Street, the Anatomy Rooms artists’ studios run public events, such as makers’ fairs and workshops, as well as classes and performances by in-house contemporary dance company City Moves. On Rosemount Place, the independent, artist-run Kekun Studio runs exhibitions and workshops.

Go to hospital

Treasure, by Stacey Hunter, at Suttie Arts Space.



Treasure, by Stacey Hunter, at Suttie Arts Space. Photograph: Mike Davidson

You wouldn’t normally think about going to see art in a hospital but Aberdeen Royal Infirmary has a fantastic changing collection on display on its corridor walls, as well as a dedicated in-house gallery, the Suttie Arts Space. It’s run in conjunction with the Grampian Hospitals Arts Trust and is open to the public as well as patients.

Unique shopping

Aberdeen Art Gallery



Aberdeen Art Gallery. Photograph: Mike Davidson

Curated Stories on Claremont Street, at the western end of main drag Union Street, does a range of Scandi-inspired gifts and clothing, plus antiques – and hosts pop-up shops from the likes of vintage homewares seller Hume. Back on The Green, independent clothing boutique Hanon sells limited-edition trainers and T-shirts printed for Nuart. There are also lots of unique items being sold in the new Aberdeen Art Gallery shop – prints from Martin Parr’s Think Of Scotland exhibition, as well as jewellery made from reclaimed granite from the old, pre-refurbished gallery space.

Beer and bicycles

Six°North Aberdeen exterior Micro- Brewery



Six°North Photograph: PR

With beers called Peloton, Velo and Bombini, it’s no surprise that the owner of Belgian-style microbrewery Six°North, Robert Lindsay, is a keen cyclist who also runs a cycle sportive as part of the Midsummer Beer Happening, which takes place a few miles south in Stonehaven each June. The brewery first opened south of the city in 2013, and five bars followed across Scotland, starting with the one on Aberdeen’s Littlejohn Street. The intimate bar serves bar snacks such as poutine and brisket wraps. This is a good area for a mini local-brew crawl, with two Brewdog joints nearby, as well as a bar run by Fierce Beer, which also does daily tours of its brewery close to Aberdeen airport.

Dolphin spotting

Aberdeen Bay Bottlenose Dolphins



Photograph: Rick Wood/Alamy

Last used for defence in the second world war, the historic Torry Battery site is now a popular spot for dolphin watching. A pod of bottlenoses live at the mouth of the harbour and can be spotted throughout the year. The view from here also takes in the promenade, where Aberdeen meets the North Sea. It really feels like the edge of Scotland – the next stop is Norway. There are also seabirds, seals, otters and whales to spot. A project called Greyhope Bay is planning to add a viewing platform, a cafe and outdoor exhibits to the battery, and hold special events.

Where to stay
In a listed building off Union Street, the new Citi Hotel has en suite twins from £30. Citi Hostel next door has dorm beds from £15.75. Rooms and dorms are modern without being corporate (breakfast £5 extra).

Best time to visit
Summer months at this latitude mean long, light-filled days. But winter can be great for (sometimes snowy) walks, perhaps with a wee dram to keep warm. The east coast of Scotland is drier than the west.

Getting there
Trains from York to Aberdeen take five hoursfrom £67.50 one-way; from London King’s Cross around 7½ hours, from £36.50. The Caledonian Sleeper from London takes 10 hours, from £100 return in a reclining seat, or £280 return in a cabin.

Margaret Sweetnam is the communications manager at Aberdeen Art Gallery

Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips



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10 of the best live music pubs in the UK: readers’ travel tips | Travel


Winning tip: Greystones, Sheffield

The Backroom venue in the Greystones pub is such a small and intimate venue that the audience can converse with the musicians. Earlier this year we saw a Canadian folk duo Pharis and Romero who blew our socks off with their beautiful harmonies and banjo playing. We have also seen Wreckless Eric there and a singer-songwriter called Sarah Jarosz from Texas whose Americana and contemporary folk also blew us away. The added bonus is that Greystones is the flagship pub for a local brewery, Thornbridge, and so there is a wide range of delicious craft beers and ales to sup while enjoying the tunes.
mygreystones.co.uk
Penny

Hare and Hounds, Birmingham

The Hare and Hounds


We were off to see the Bootleg Beatles. A number 50 bus from the city centre took us to the Hare and Hounds in trendy Kings Heath. On the wall is a plaque proclaiming that this was where UB40 played their first gig (9 February 1979). Downstairs a traditional, Victorian bar and a modern, minimalist bar serve craft beers and good choice of Purity IPAs. The atmosphere was friendly with an eclectic mix of punters, some there for the gig, others just to drink and chat. The music was in an upstairs room with another bar. The atmosphere was buzzing and the band superb. Gig tickets from about £7 – a small price to keep music live.
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Carole

Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a £200 voucher from hotels.com. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage

The Grayston Unity, Halifax

Grayston Unity


This tiny venue with a superb atmosphere is where excellent local indie band the Orielles launched their debut album, Silver Dollar Moment, in 2018. My personal highlight was seeing post-punk Manchester band the Blue Orchids with the brilliant Martin Bramah (ex-the Fall). Most gigs are free and you can listen to the likes of blues rocker Tom Hingley, indie covers band Zenit and others a matter of inches away, while supping on a pint of Chinook or a gentleman jack cocktail.
thegraystonunity.co.uk
Steve

Claghaig Inn, Glencoe, Highlands

Clachaig Inn, Highlands


This wonderful pub is my favourite for live music. There’s a large selection of real ales and over 400 whiskies. The bands usually play Scottish folk music and the audience joins in with the best-known songs. Surrounded by mountains – the west face of Aonach Dubh looms over the pub – the place is unsurprisingly popular with walkers and climbers. There is hotel and self-catering accommodation, a campsite and youth hostel nearby. It’s my favourite pub in Scotland – once discovered, never forgotten.
clachaig.com
Seona Stevenson

Duke of Cumberland, Whitstable, Kent

The Duke of Cumberland Whitstable Kent


When I moved to Whitstable I was so pleased to come across “Dukes”, which showcases original music in lovely surroundings. The Grade II-listed venue’s walls are covered in art by artist Chris How. The Sugar Hill Gang, Lee Scratch Perry, Roy Ayres and Sticky Fingers are just some of acts to have played here. Sunday afternoon gigs are always free, but the quality of the musicians never seems to drop. There is a lovely garden and restaurant, and the venue attracts some famous faces from the music world – I once bumped into Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason here.
dukeinwhitstable.co.uk
Craig Avery

Blue Peter Inn, Polperro, Cornwall

Blue Peter Inn Polperro Harbour



Photograph: Ingolf Pompe 63/Alamy

Last summer we stayed in Polperro for a month, kept there partly by the energising atmosphere of the music nights at the 16th-century Blue Peter Inn. Local singers belting out Cornish sea shanties and folk music, with the participation of the customers – often involving some friendly coercing – created an irresistible, feelgood vibe. Gigs – some planned, some impromptu, sparked the cosy pub into life, even spilling outside in front of the quay.
thebluepeterinn.com
Nick

Charters, Peterborough

Charters floating barge Public House



Photograph: Dave Porter/Alamy

Just beyond the spires of Peterborough Cathedral, there’s an idyllic spot by the river alongside a bar on a moored Dutch barge named Charters. This venue has live bands throughout the year (outdoors in summer, on the barge now), with families, couples and hipsters young and old enjoying the music. The free gigs include covers bands and local bands such as Austin Gold blasting out their own infectious rhythms and tunes. The food is pretty decent too, with classic Thai and Indonesian dishes.
charters-bar.com
Annie Carter

The Junction, south London

The Junction, south London

In a relatively unknown part of London, between Brixton and Camberwell, the Junction offers a wonderful array of live jazz, acoustic, latin and blues music every night of the week. During the jazz jams the musicians, always excellent, will usually be sitting in the pub among the crowd, only getting up for their turn, making it feel very spontaneous and friendly. The owners’ brilliantly eclectic jazz band plays on a Friday or you can pop down on other days to see musicians from across London. There is a lovely atmosphere, great tapas, board games on offer and it is dog-friendly. The pub is two minutes’ walk from Loughborough Junction station and there is no entry free.
thejunction.london
Emily

Chums, Bristol

Chums is a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it neighbourhood boozer bursting at the seams with character. The windows steam up, the locals stream in, and you can expect to have a thoroughly lovely evening. Couple this with Chums’ regular live folk, gypsy and bluegrass musicians and you’re onto a winner. Best of all is Ponchartrain – a gorgeously ramshackle seven-piece band playing Americana meets Hillbilly meets honky tonk meets blues. Chums, don’t ever change.
On Facebook
Alice Howells

The Lismore, Glasgow

Every Monday at the Lismore, a folk band slowly assembles itself through the evening. You might start with a fiddle, an accordion and acoustic guitar – but by the end of the night a multitude of musicians will have assembled and be in full flow. It feels profoundly Scottish to be sipping a pint of Tennent’s lager at such a beautiful little local pub and listening to traditional music. The dark wood interior, many nooks and crannies and stained glass windows help create a traditional atmosphere but attract a really mixed crowd. As a bonus, each urinal is dedicated to one of the perpetrators of the Highland Clearances so the men, at least, can pee with pride.
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Thomas

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Oh what fun! 20 of the best Christmas days out around the UK | Travel


Garden lights

Royal Horticultural Society gardens’ winter sculpture walks, lights and fairs are very popular so book a long way ahead. From 7 Dec to 5 Jan, RHS Wisley, Surrey, has a new light trail with giant floral illuminations for its Glow event and an Enchanted Botanical Christmas in a glasshouse (£11/£7). Near Harrogate, RHS Harlow Carr (£10/£5, Thur-Sat until 28 Dec) has an illuminated walk and sculpture trail; at Essex’s RHS Hyde Hall (£12/£6, weekends until 15 Dec) children can make Christmas crafts and meet the bearded one (£14 extra). In Devon, Rosemoor’s Glow illuminations run through a winter garden (£10.62/£5.31, until 4 Jan) and Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden (from£17/£11, under 4s free, until 29 Dec) has a 70-metre “cathedral of light”.

Sherry tasting, Yorkshire & London

Sherry and tapas



Photograph: Alamy

Sherry, the most festive of British tipples, is now the preferred nectar of many a connoisseur. Get some practice in before the big day so you know exactly which to sip when The Snowman comes on by tasting a few in a specialist bar. Ambiente is a tapas restaurant with branches in York, Leeds and Hull, offering sherry flights, a sherry menu and staff trained to advise on sherry pairings. In London, Bar Pepito in Kings Cross has a great sherry menu and serves taster flights, or download the London Sherry Trail map and tour 47 bars specialising in the fortified wine all across the city.

Sustainable Christmas fairs

Buyagift London Sustainable Christmas Fair at the Core centre in Clapton



Sustainable Christmas Fair, London

Stockings full of plastic tat, bins full of rubbish … Christmas can be shockingly wasteful, but new sustainable festive fairs make green-gifting easier. Those near Manchester today can make it to Christmas Shouldn’t Cost the Earth (11am-7pm) at Hatch on Oxford Road, featuring 25 zero-waste brands and makers. Brighton hosts its first Zero Waste Christmas Market on 15 Dec (entry from £5.98) at the Old Market in Hove; in Godalming, Surrey, the Vegan and Eco Living Christmas Fayre brings ethical gifts and sustainable Christmas food to Surrey on 8 Dec; and Warrington, Cheshire, hosts The Sustainable Living Christmas Market on 14 Dec.

East London’s Sustainable Christmas Fair (1 Dec, book workshops in advance) at Core Clapton has wreath-making, jumper upcycling, soap- and terrarium-making, plus conscious fashion, skin care and jewellery stalls. Also in the capital, the Zero Waste Christmas Market (7 Dec, entry from £7.49) is at the Boiler House on Brick Lane.

Messiah, Belfast

Classical favourite Handel’s Messiah oratorio is being performed at the city’s modern Waterfront Hall (14 Dec, tickets from £20) by the professional Ulster Orchestra and the 120-strong Belfast Philharmonic Choir, with four acclaimed soloists led by conductor Ruben Jais. While you’re in the city, make time to visit the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland, Hillsborough Castle and Gardens (£11.40 adult, £5.70 child), 12 miles south of Belfast, where winter events include a natural wreath-making workshop (13 and 14 Dec, £45), and festive family weekends with storytelling, arts and crafts, dancing and drumming, historic characters and Father Christmas (14-15, 21-23 and 27 Dec-5 Jan).

Classic Christmas films, Buckinghamshire

The Muppet Christmas Carol.



The Muppet Christmas Carol. Photograph: Allstar/Disney/Sportsphoto

Snuggling on the sofa to watch classics such as It’s A Wonderful Life, or Home Alone or the Muppet Christmas Carol is all well and good, but it’s more fun to make a proper night of it with a trip out to Neighbourhood Cinema’s seasonal set-up, The Ice Palace, in a new venue at St Michael’s Church in Beaconsfield. Guests can book a date night bundle, which includes a bottle of prosecco, popcorn, ice-cream and a blanket; or a family bundle, including two cocktails and two “elf” boxes with snacks for kids.
Screenings 16-21 Dec, adults from £19.50, date night bundle £69 for two, family bundle (2+2) £89, neighbourhoodcinema.co.uk

The Christmas House, Hastings

The Christmas House, Hastings @ the Tudor House by AG Hendy



The Christmas House

The Tudor House is a restored, 16th-century half-timbered home filled with antiques, taxidermy and not a single mod con. The creation of local photographer/design shop owner AG Hendy, it opens to visitors several times a year, and in December becomes The Christmas House, with old-time decorations and greenery accentuating its rustic, pared-back style. Sit by the fire in a wingback chair to read a specially written fairytale, The Elves and The Baker, or come on Christmas Eve for spiced wine.
It’s a holiday let, too.
Open 14, 15, 21-23 Dec, £5 adult, £3 child, Christmas Eve £7/£3. From £1,200 for three nights, with champagne and breakfast

Carol-oke, Liverpool, London & Manchester

Bar Hutte


Think your Good King Wenceslas blows away your mate’s Ding Dong Merrily? Book a group into a private wooden “hutte” booth with a Carol-oke machine for a seasonal sing-song at one of three Bar Hutte venues, in Liverpool, London’s Hyde Park, or Manchester’s Spinningfields. Order a hot gin with gingerbread to soothe the vocal chords; get into the après ski vibe with a “shot ski” – a real ski loaded with shot glasses; or classic Alpine cocktail, such as a creamy custardy bombardino, hailing from the Italian Alps.
Huttes from £40 in Liverpool, £45 in Manchester and £80 in London, for 1¾hours for 6-10 people, barhutte.co.uk

Tea dance and Winterland, Kent

Tea Dance Winter Wonderland at Dreamland Margate


Embrace the kitsch of Christmas at Margate’s Dreamland theme park, which becomes Winterland Margate for December. After a mulled wine or three you’ll be ready for the vintage rides or Roller Disco. Makers from Kent’s branch of handcrafted and vintage website Etsy supply many of the Christmas fair stalls, and others are stacked with vegan homebakes. For another gift option, there’s a journal or album-making workshop on 15 Dec. Children can attend readings by local author Tim Johnston of his new book My Penguin Family. There’s also an afternoon Christmas tea dance on 10 Dec.
Admission to Winterland Margate is free, 7, 8, 14, 15, then daily 21-31 Dec, tea dance £4, dreamland.co.uk

Festive light trail, Wiltshire

Tunnel of Light at Stourhead National Trust Gardens in Wiltshire


Festooned with 100,000 pea-lights, a new Tunnel of Light at Stourhead National Trust gardens forms part of a one-mile light trail, with twinkling hedgerows, a laser garden, a scented fire garden and a “fibre- optic lawn”. Visitors can toast marshmallows at fire pits, take a spin on a Victorian fairground ride and drink spiced cider as they explore the exotic trees, temples and a vast tree-lined lake.
Runs until 30 Dec, £18/£12 nationaltrust.org.uk

Twilight trains in the Forest of Dean

Twilight Trains at Perrygrove Railway in Coleford, in the west of the Forest of Dean


Many steam railways run Christmassy events: Perrygrove Railway in the small town of Coleford, in the west of the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, has a series of twilight departures through illuminated woodlands (Fri and Sat between 6-21 Dec and on 22 and 23, from £10.50pp). Nearby, the spectacular Clearwell Caves (from £14), where iron ore has been mined for 4,500 years, will be decorated with Christmas lights from 29 Nov-24 Dec.

Ice rinks

Hampton Court ice rink, london



Hampton Court ice rink. Photograph: Charles Bowman/Getty Images

As well as the spectacular rinks at Hampton Court, Somerset House and the Natural History Museum, London has a new ice rink at the recently opened London City Island, a new development of homes and creative hubs close to Canning Town (12-22 Dec, £8 adult, £5.50 child, under-5s free). From 12-15 Dec, a Christmas market features craft workshops – from pom-pom baubles to Christmas crackers, plus festive wine tastings (starting at £20pp). Liverpool’s waterfront has a 30-metre ice slide and ice rink as part of its Ice Festival (£12 adult, 3-12s £10, slide £6 for three rides). The Belfast SSE Arena (21 Dec-3 Jan, from £4) has skating, including seats to see the Belfast Giants ice hockey team. The Eden Project will host Cornwall’s only indoor ice rink in one of its biomes (£7 adult, £6 child, until 23 Feb) and a festival (until 30 Dec, £26 adult, child £13.50, under-5s free) that includes a Christmas jumper swap, Luke Jerram’s Gaia Earth artwork, and 21 musicians playing three shows every night.

Gig, dance show and panto in one!

The Lock In Christmas Carol Lawrence Batley Theatre



Photograph: Bryan Ledgard

Currently touring the UK, The Lock In Christmas Carol combines music, dance and theatre with a tale about the regulars of The Olde Fighting Cocks pub planning a folk and hip-hop night, only to be scuppered by the Scrooge-like landlady’s plans to run a community-upsetting techno night instead. Remaining dates include Barnsley Civic (30 Nov), Norwich playhouse (7 Dec), Gateshead Sage (11), Bury Met (12), Cambridge Junction (18), Basingstoke Haymarket (19) and London Stanley Halls (20).
Seven years and over, tickets from £17, thedemonbarbers.co.uk

Robins’ nest box workshop, Carmarthenshire

Robins nest box workshop, Carmarthenshire


At the Llanelli Wetland Centre, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is running workshops to teach nature lovers how to help our favourite Christmas bird species to survive through the predicted harsh winter. Participants build their own robins’ nest box, to accommodate springtime chicks, then can head off to wander the wooden walkways across 450 acres of lakes, ponds and reed beds. The centre is home to rare species such as the Hawaiian (or nene) goose, which visitors can fatten up by feeding by hand (though not for the Christmas dinner table).
15 and 22 Dec, £10 per box, admission £8.81/£5.54, wwt.org.uk

Christmas ghost tales, Portsmouth & Hull

Hull City Hall.



Hull City Hall. Photograph: Neil Holmes

Festive ghost stories were an essential part of dark winter nights for centuries, particularly in Victorian times, and this Christmas tradition has been revived for a spooky candlelit reading session by the fire at Wymering Manor (3 Dec, £15). It’s the oldest listed building in Portsmouth, and claims a number of resident ghosts. Similarly, at Burton Constable Hall (15 Dec, £20pp), an impressive Elizabethan country house near Hull, there’s a ghostly Christmas play, Festive Spirits, with time to explore the hall, plus mulled wine and mince pies. The show moves to Hull City Hall on 18 and 19 Dec (£7).

Carols in castles

Christmas Party at Highclere Castle.



Christmas Party at Highclere Castle. Photograph: Adam Hillier Photography

With opulent rooms full of antiques and oil paintings, 800-year-old Fyvie Castle, 25 miles north-east of Aberdeen, has hosted King William of Scotland, Robert the Bruce and Charles I. It’s a suitable setting for a carol concert by the St John Festival Choir, conducted by composer Paul Mealor (7 Dec, £12 entry). In the rather more ruined Corfe Castle near the Dorset coast, welly-wearing carollers will be on song in the grounds on 8 and 13 Dec (admission £10 adult); while at Highclere Castle in Hampshire, AKA Downton Abbey, a posh evening of champagne and song (18 Dec, £120pp) includes a tour of the firelit rooms before carols round the tree.

Celtic festival, County Armagh

Navan Fort.



Navan Fort. Photograph: Alamy

The Celtic archaeological site of Emain Machan at Navan Fort, a pre-Christian archaeological site, is holding an evening dedicated to Celtic Yuletide traditions, covering the importance of mistletoe to druids, the symbolism of the moon and stars, plus music and seasonal snacks. Sadly the dawn winter solstice event is already sold out, but consider for next year. Meanwhile the city of Armagh has a Georgian Christmas Festival this weekend, with stalls, guided tours, workshops on silhouette cutting, “lofty letter writing” and wax sealing, twilight tours of the grand Milford House, and evensong in St Patrick’s Church.
6 Dec, £18 adult, £10 child, visitarmagh.com

Harbour lights, Cornwall

The christmas lights at Mousehole in Cornwall.



Photograph: Kevin Britland/Alamy

The winter festival in the cute harbour town of Mousehole, near Penzance, sees coloured lanterns and lights strung across alleyways, reaching up into the surrounding hillsides and adorning bobbing sailing boats in the harbour. Even St Clement’s Island, 500 metres off shore, is decorated with an illuminated Celtic cross. For the launch day on 14 Dec, local choirs will join the Pendeen Silver Band for a concert on the North Quay.
14 Dec to 4 Jan, mouseholelights.org.uk

Vegan Christmas cookery courses, Birmingham & Stroud

Vegan Christmas Cookery Class


Nut roast isn’t the only option. Unusual ideas for vegan feasts are on the table for a class at Birmingham’s Better Bites Cookery School (10 Dec, £65pp). Christmas tunes and fairy lights will lend fun, and there’ll be tips on plating up with style, and a sit-down meal at the end. Another meat-free option is the Natural Cookery School (7 Dec, £95pp) near Stroud, Gloucestershire, for A Very Vegan Christmas, learning dishes such as brussels sprout and shitake dumplings, and squash, mushroom, chestnut and kale filo wreath.

Alice in Wonderland, Oxfordshire

Alice in Wonderland at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire


A new Christmas light trail at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, features a mile-long glittering path with an aerial light show, illuminated waterfalls and trees, and vines embedded with colourful LEDs. Inside, things are just as spectacular, with the house’s lavish rooms transformed and decorated on an Alice in Wonderland theme. Back outside there’s a woodland laser garden, trails of glowing flowers and illuminated tunnels, while textiles, ceramics and handicrafts can be bagged in the Christmas market. Christmas celebrations run until 5 Jan.
Combined ticket for trail and palace £40.50/£25.50, blenheimpalace.com

Panto with a twist, Edinburgh

A performance at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh



Photograph: Andy Catlin

Family-friendly pantos – produced by theatre company for young people Strange Town – at the Scottish Storytelling Centre depart from the “oh yes it is!” norm. In the “Insta-inspired” tale of Sno Wite & the 7 Dickensians (13 and 14 Dec, 9pm) characters include a selfie-obsessed Prince Charming and biker-booted Sno Wite, while for Cindy (13 and 14 Dec, 7pm) the star plots her escape from a Poundland far far away via a TV talent show. There’s also a reworking of Jaq and the Beanstalk on 14 Dec, 3pm and 15 Dec 11.30am.
Tickets from £9, scottishstorytellingcentre.com

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A local’s guide to Cork, Ireland: top 10 tips | Travel


Best of the black stuff

There’s a pub on George’s Quay called Callanan’s. It’s one of my favourite places to take someone who’s from out of town to have a pint of Beamish and watch the old men playing rings in the back room. I’ve taken Steve Reich there, and Aidan Gillen and Camille O’Sullivan. We use it in the Sounds From a Safe Harbour festival for some of the acoustic shows on the music trail we run through the city. It’s real, unpretentious old Cork. The family who run it live upstairs, so when you go to the loo you feel like you’re going through their house. And it does the best Beamish in the city: the atmosphere adds to the taste.
24 George’s Quay, on Twitter

Cafe and culture

Bobo Café at the Glucksman Gallery.



Bobo Café at the Glucksman Gallery.

The Glucksman gallery is a stone’s throw from the southern arm of the River Lee, and it’s always nice to have brunch at the Bobo Café there and then go up and peruse the exhibitions. It’s part of University College Cork, where I studied, so I have a real connection with the place. They often make an academic context for their exhibitions and a dialogue between the artwork and the campus – a recent one was called Circadian Rhythms: Contemporary Art and Biological Time, and it brought together artists and designers such as Suki Chan and Maarten Baas with the university’s microbiome research centre. The brunch menu at Bobo has dishes like homemade granola with yoghurt and fruit (€6.50), shakshuka, and chilli tempeh with beans and patatas bravas (both €9).

A night at the opera

Cork Opera House



Cork Opera House. Photograph: Into The Light Photography (macias-lordan.com)

There are great venues all over Cork: the Opera House, the Everyman, Live at St Luke’s, the Kino … You’re never short of work to go and see. I was chief executive at the Opera House for five years. So many people said it was a poisoned chalice but I have zero regrets, and it’s how I ended up doing what I’m doing now. It’s 165 years old (rebuilt in 1963), the largest venue in the south of Ireland but still an incredibly intimate room, with 1,000 seats, and not a bad one in the house – wherever you are, you always feel close to the action. And acoustically it’s beautiful. I used to love standing in the room after a show, when the atmosphere was still hanging in the air.

Morning coffee

Soma coffee shop.



Soma coffee shop.

The Sounds from a Safe Harbour festival was created in the Soma and Filter coffee shops; I didn’t have an office when I started, so I used to settle myself in one of them each day, put my headphones in and work. Filter is the long-established coffee house in Cork and stocks coffee from roasters such as 3fe in Dublin and Square Mile in London. Soma roasts its own coffee: it also has a wine licence and serves lunch, brunch and evening tapas.
Filter, 19 George’s Quay, on Facebook. Soma, 23 Tuckey St, somacoffeecompany.ie

Michelin-star Japanese

Chef Takashi Miyazaki at Ichigo Ichie restaurant.



Chef Takashi Miyazaki at Ichigo Ichie restaurant.

Chef Takashi Miyazaki started with a tiny Japanese takeaway, Miyazaki, in 2015 before he opened the more upscale Ichigo Ichie, and within months he had won himself a Michelin star. He’s always there, cooking in front of everybody. Originally from Fukuoka in southern Japan, he trained in fusion teppanyaki cooking and moved to Ireland in 2008. The original takeaway is on a residential street and daily specials might include lemon ramen, hake hotpot and sweet and sour cod nanban don (from €13.50). Ichigo Ichie seats 25 and offers a set 12-course kaiseiki menu (€120 a head), where dishes might include pistachio tofu with beetroot miso, apple blossom and gold leaf; Bantry Bay sea urchin; and Asian pear with sanshō in rosé wine and nasturtium with “shiso fluff”. Miyazaki has also won a string of awards and participated in food festivals across Cork. I used to programme the Mitchelstown Cave concerts, about an hour outside of Cork, and he cooked at a pop-up there.
Miyazaki, 1A Evergreen St, on Facebook. Ichigo Ichie, 5 Fenns Quay, ichigoichie.ie

River and park walk

Young woman walks past the fountain in Fitzgerald’s Park Cork



Photograph: Andy Gibson/Alamy

A beautiful walk follows the northern arm of the River Lee from town to Fitzgerald’s Park. It’s a special place for me – we used to live in a house right on the park, and there’s a massive big old tree there that my mother used to say was a fairy tree (she used to run ahead and put presents in it for us kids to find). There’s a stage in the park now that’s used throughout the summer. I did one event there where we used GPS to install Music for Wood and Strings, by Bryce Dessner, the American composer and guitarist with rock band the National – as you walked through the park the music would evolve.

Famous food market

The English Market in Cork, County Cork, Republic of Ireland



Photograph: Ian Dagnall/Alamy

The covered English Market in the city centre has been trading since 1788. It was given this name to distinguish it from the St Peter’s Market, which once stood nearby. We go here every single day – I pick the kids up from school and we go and get stuff for dinner. There’s a different stall for everything: red meat here, chicken there, fish from the other end. You can buy “duck” loaves (tapered at both ends), local raw milk and fresh oysters. I recommend the cured, spiced joints of beef from Tom Durcan – they are really good for slicing up at Christmas.
englishmarket.ie

Veggie paradise

Cafe Paradiso in Cork



A dish at Cafe Paradiso

Cafe Paradiso is one of Europe’s best vegetarian restaurants, founded by chef Denis Cotter. He used to be a banker, set up the restaurant in 1993, and is now the author of several cookbooks including Wild Garlic, Gooseberries and Me. Cafe Paradiso is known for using seasonal, local produce and cheeses, working closely with Gort-Na-Nain Farm, near the coast south of the city, and the current menu includes celeriac and crozier blue dauphinoise, and rosemary set custard with figs and damson port (three courses €46.50, starter and main €38.50). In 2017, the festival put on a secret gig: audiences had to follow signs written in chalk along the pavement to reach the venue, where there were performances by Lisa Hannigan and David Kitt, and dancers led by Jessica Dessner, followed by Denis Cotter serving you a plate of food.
16 Lancaster Quay, paradiso.restaurant

Happy hour … any time

River Lee Hotel, Cork, Ireland



River Lee Hotel.

Visit the River Lee Hotel for a pre-anything cocktail. Before breakfast even. This year they made us a Safe Harbour cocktail for the festival. I can’t remember exactly what went into it – things that shouldn’t go well together, like rum, Guinness and lime. It was a dirty brown colour. But I tried it on the Thursday night with Jon Hopkins and it tasted fantastic.
Western Road, doylecollection.com

Classic clothing

My wardrobe’s full of Miss Daisy Blue, an incredible vintage shop off one of the market arcades, curated by Breda Casey. It’s small, but has two floors – upstairs is more evening wear. We once did a fashion show in the market called Fable and all the clothes were from Miss Daisy Blue. Irene Buckley composed the music, there was poetry from Doireann Ni Ghriofa, and we brought dancers instead of models. They finished with a performance by the dancer Stephanie Dufresne around the market fountain.
Unit 12-14, Market Parade, on Facebook

When to go

An impromptu performance for the public on Grand Parade during the Cork Jazz Festival.



An impromptu performance for the public on Grand Parade during the Cork Jazz Festival. Photograph: David Creedon/Alamy

Cork hosts festivals aplenty, and as it’s a relatively small place, the whole city buzzes when one hits town. Just three of the highlights are the Cork Harbour Festival (5-24 May 2020), a celebration of Ireland’s maritime heritage in the second largest natural harbour in the world; the Cork Jazz Festival (22-26 October 2020); and the Cork Film Festival in mid-November.

Where to stay
The historic Metropole Hotel (doubles from €98 room-only), on trendy McCurtain Street, has had a tasty makeover. The city’s newest hotel is The Clayton (doubles from €98 room-only). The Vienna Woods Hotel (doubles from €98 room-only) on the outskirts of town has plenty of old-world charm and is in a lovely woodland setting.

Further information at purecork.ie

Mary Hickson is the director of Sounds From a Safe Harbour festival

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Journeys from your sofa: 10 great travel book gifts for Christmas | Travel


Elsewhere, by Rosita Boland

Doubleday Ireland, £8.99

Elsewhere by Rosita Boland


It’s not entirely a travelogue nor is it a memoir. Rather, it’s the point where the two intersect, and that for me is the essence of enlightening travel. How exactly does meeting new people and seeing new places affect you, change your attitudes and increase your self-knowledge? Sometimes it’s faraway and exotic travel (in New Zealand: “it fascinated me that people had Antarctica as a word in their ordinary, everyday lexicon.”) and sometimes it’s time spent for work in a city nearer home. Boland is an observant and thoughtful traveller, who is also grateful for and aware of what her own “home roots” have given her.

Books Paper Scissors bookshop, Belfast



Books Paper Scissors bookshop, Belfast

Over several years as an enthusiastic amateur traveller, I’ve tried to keep a journal of experiences and journeys. Boland’s determination to write diaries and notes, instead of taking hundreds of photographs, resonates with me. Do I ever look back at old holiday photos? Rarely. But I get pleasure from re-reading my own notebooks. I’d say to anyone who likes to travel, please read this book and start “noticing” your own journeys – even if you can’t be persuaded to put down your phone and write notes!
Chosen by Linda Murray, owner, Books Paper Scissors, Belfast

Between Stone and Sky, by Whitney Brown

Constable, £9.99

Between Stone and Sky by Whitney Brown


This beautiful memoir really got under my skin. At 26, Brown is studying for an MA in the US and thinks her career path is mapped out – until chance brings drystone waller “Jack” from Wales to Washington DC. Fascinated by his craft, she accepts an invitation to visit his home in Wales. Mere months later, she is working alongside him. Delighting in the physicality of the job and the shifting beauty of the Welsh countryside, Brown discovers that she doesn’t need to be on native soil to feel a sense of homecoming. She deftly sketches the local topography by listing the gear changes required to navigate its valleys, revels in the local language and discovers the joy of elevenses. Her quest to build a life from her craft takes her to Italy, North Carolina, Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, and back to rural Wales. Her evocation of place is pitch-perfect, from mist-shrouded hillsides to the “gorgeous throb” of the thick summer air of North Carolina. This is a tale of finding harmony between body and soul, between the heft of stone, the inspiration of good friends and the joy of travel.
Jenny Tattersall, bookseller, Cogito Books, Hexham

Footnotes: A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers, by Peter Fiennes

Oneworld, £16.99

Sunrise at Corfe Castle from East Hill, Dorset.



Fiennes writes of Enid Blyton’s delight on first seeing Corfe Castle, Dorset. Photograph: The National Trust/Alamy

Jostling to the front of a rather crowded pack of recent nature writers, Fiennes’ 2017 Oak and Ash and Thorn was justly revered for its lyrical prose and literary bedrock. Honing his easy-going and often witty style in this new book, Fiennes takes us on journeys of writers from 12th-century cleric Giraldus Cambrensis to Beryl Bainbridge, by way of Enid Blyton and Charles Dickens.

Footnotes- A Journey Round Britain in the Company of Great Writers by Peter Fiennes


Though literary travelogues aren’t a wholly novel genre, there’s an infectious enthusiasm and self-deprecating authority to Fiennes’s insights and he’s a most agreeable companion. Recounting a visit to a Welsh barber, he talks of “my scalp being kneaded and delicately teased by an early middle-aged, handsomely coiffed blond man from Neath”. Likewise, there’s a neat line about the invention of the footnote, in a footnote. There will be many nature titles vying for a place on Christmas lists this year, and no doubt a cornucopia of literary anthologies and travelogues to boot. This one should be towards the top.
Tim Batcup, owner, Cover to Cover, Mumbles, Swansea

Travellers in the Third Reich: the Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People, by Julia Boyd

Elliott & Thompson, £10.99

Travellers in the Third Reich. The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People by Julia Boyd (Elliott & Thompson)


In the 1930s, Germany was the most popular tourist destination in Europe. Yet few travel books were written about it at the time. Julia Boyd has tracked down those accounts and, together with descriptions from private letters and diaries and from public archives, produced a fresh view of between- the-wars Germany. This is land of friendly people, beautiful countryside, vineyards, forests, medieval villages and impressive culture. A female journalist notes how a woman could do what she liked in Weimar Germany. A New Zealand Rhodes Scholar writes of “the emergence of a new type of person, sunburnt, wearing sensible clothes and of splendid physique”. Other accounts, especially those from journalists, politicians and diplomats, convey a sense of unease, of menace. Chilling stuff. This book will earn a permanent place on people’s bookshelves, rather than being shipped out to a charity shop to make room for next year’s batch. The hardback, already out of print, is becoming scarce with secondhand copies for sale on Amazon at almost twice the original price.
Evelyn Westwood, co-owner, Westwood Books, Sedbergh, Cumbria

Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, by Madeleine Bunting

Granta, £9.99

Standing stones on the Isle of Lewis.



Standing stones on the Isle of Lewis. Photograph: Getty Images

Love of Country- A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting (Granta)


The first thing to say, and this is important in the book world, is that it has a terrific cover. The second is that old classic of it just being “a good read”. Bunting writes evocatively about the Hebrides and, for the most part, gets the details and description right. The best thing about it is that it made me want to revisit the islands I know, as well as visit the ones I haven’t been to yet. The book has a lovely balance of autobiography, literary references, history, politics, religion and culture. I opened the shop in September 2018 – this is my retirement project – and though we don’t carry many new books (we focus on secondhand), I’ve had to restock this a number of times because it’s so popular.
Ruth Anderson, owner, Well-Read Books of Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway

This Tilting World, by Colette Fellous

Les Fugitives, £13

This Tilting World by Colette Fellous (Les Fugitives)

Translated from French by Sophie Lewis, this beautifully elusive book mixes biography, travel memoir, fiction, essay and journalism to weave a lyrical account of identity and its ambiguity. Fellous’ writing carries an innate intelligence that never feels contrived. With it she observes the rituals and language that fabricate an identity, focusing on what happens when these things dissolve or become fragmented. It is punctuated with photos taken on a phone and infused with poetic descriptions of Tunisia, Paris and Normandy, among other places that the author has passed through and allowed to pass through her. This piece of autofiction has a strange and perfectly balanced duality of softness and seriousness. The text is melancholic and nostalgic, but also urgent and of its time. Perhaps it is the value of living within such paradoxes that I took from this novel, memoir, text – whatever it is.
Callum Churchill, store manager, Stanfords, Bristol

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands, by Judith Schalansky

Penguin, £16.99

Typewronger Books, Edinburgh



Typewronger Books, Edinburgh

Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands by Judith Schalansky (Penguin)


My favourite travel book is As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee. It’s beautifully written and filled with adventure and hope, though Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes is also high on my list. His language is surprisingly modern for a Victorian and we discover he invented the sleeping bag! I know a lot of the travel writing stuff I like is rather old, so how about, for gift-giving, Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will by Judith Schalansky. It’s a gorgeous wee book and the perfect thing to browse through in a spare hour.
Tom Hodges, owner, Typewronger Books, Edinburgh

Waymaking: An Anthology of Women’s Adventure Writing, Poetry and Art, edited by Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe and Camilla Barnard

Vertebrate Publishing, £17.99

Cover of Waymaking: An Anthology of Women’s Adventure Writing, Poetry and Art, edited by Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe and Camilla Barnard


This is a collection of musings, poems and illustrations from a wide range of women worldwide, all of whom share a great passion for the outdoors, adventure and the wild. Their pieces will transport you on incredible journeys from the majesty of the Cairngorms through to the glacial domes of southern Chile, from capturing underwater photographs in Fiji to shivering through a blizzard in Canada’s Baffin Island. These amazing, intrepid women have captured the beauties of our world through their pens, brushes and lenses. The elegantly designed book includes both colour and black-and-white artwork to accompany the text. Enlightening and hugely inspirational, this is a book to treasure.
Cate Simmons, bookseller, News from Nowhere, Liverpool

Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country, by Edward Parnell
William Collins, £9.99

Cover of Ghostland, by Edward Parnell


After a family tragedy, this author turned for comfort to British literature, particularly literature that involved ghost stories. This inspired him to travel to haunted places mentioned in stories and, in turn, be inspired by them. Ruins, fens, seaside, forests and waters all have mysteries and ghosts. Folklore and natural history come to life as Parnell travels the country in search of the mystery, loneliness and strangeness the British countryside has to offer – if you know where to look. This is a wonderfully evocative book, creating a sense of place and invoking the power of literature and nature.
Adam, bookseller, Hewson Books at The Kew Bookshop, Kew

The World, by Michael Poliza

teNeues, £225

The mangrove forests of Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, in an image from Michael Poliza’s The World.



Phang Nga Bay, Thailand, in an image from
Michael Poliza’s The World. Photograph: Michael Poliza

The World, by Michael Poliza


Michael Poliza’s new book is, for me, this year’s outstanding travel book. Four hundred pages of beautifully detailed photography are an eloquent answer to the notion that the coffee-table book has no place in an Instagram world. The book is physically huge, and the photography – of landscapes, people and animals – is so good that the effect is truly immersive. The sense is always of a traveller making personal discoveries – a beach where swimmers share the pristine water with sharks, or a stunning azure ice cave. Manmade vistas and patterns attract Poliza too – in his hands a car park becomes a beautiful pattern, and a ring of Vietnamese fishing boats exquisite. Poliza, who made his name photographing Africa, has created a dazzling testament to a disappearing world. At £225 for a limited edition, £265 signed, The World is not cheap – but it is very special indeed.
Brett Wolstencroft, manager, Daunt Books, London

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