Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Top Ten Pubs in Prestwick

Karen and I decided to celebrate my birthday by rounding up a few people and doing a bit of a pub-crawl. Now I cannot claim to be an expert about the night-life in and around Prestwick and Ayr since I am sure there are many clubs and disco type places that are frequented by younger crowds that I have yet to visit. I have, however, managed to visit my fair share of pubs in and around the area and many have left me with a lasting impression. 

First of all, it seems to me that an outing in Scotland for folks in and around my age seems to start rather early and I am forever impressed with the stamina and drinking capabilities of the great folk of
this country!  The pubs range from being rather modern and elegant to cave-like basement settings.  Vodka seems to be the drink of choice for many and the one thing that makes an evening is the ubiquitous Karaoke…I thought the Chinese loved their Karaoke but nothing beats the sing a long in a Scottish pub!  If you hail from Prestwick you can wander up and down the main street visiting the various establishments, having a bite to eat, a drink, and running into friends and family. If you want a change of scene a short and inexpensive taxi ride into Ayr provides one with even more choice of wonderful little drinking establishments.  Here is my top ten list of just a few of the places in and around Prestwick that I have had the honour of drinking in and alas staggering home from on one or more than one occasion…

  •      The Burns (Prestwick) – A great little bar with loads of atmosphere. The tiny space means you are forced to be friendly and socialize. There is a patio out back I believe but I’ve never actually visited it. Great place for Karaoke!  My number one pick!

  •      Newton Arms (Ayr) – Very friendly and roomy pub with live music and a nice little patio out the back. There is also a handy bookies right across the street. We did spend most of my birthday here and despite an unfortunate incident involving a disappearing birthday cake, it is still one of my favourite pubs! Unfortunately, it seems to have recently closed!

  •      The Golf Inn – Small little cottage-like place but nice atmosphere. A bit difficult to move about once it is full.

  •      The River Cottage (Ayr) – Very small and dark little tavern on the river. Very friendly and good Karaoke! Nice garden area if you are lucky enough to have good weather. I loved this place but that could have had something to do with the amount of drink I’d had before I arrived.

  •      Smugglers – Larger than some of the other establishments. I can’t comment on the food since I think I’ve only had crisps with my drink here while singing Karaoke!

  •      The Taj - Not actually a pub but you can get a drink here to have with some of the best Indian food I have ever experienced!  Some of the most outstanding chicken dishes I have ever had!

  •      Scruffy Duffy’s – very nice staff, live music, friendly atmosphere. Great central meeting place!

  •      The Prestwick Pioneer – More elegant than the smaller pubs and rather larger. It is very popular with the locals but not as friendly as other places.

  •      Elliots – I went here for High Tea with the kids and it was very nice but a bit on the upscale side for me. Very nice for a more fine dining experience.

  •      The Red Lion – Large but somewhat dreary tavern. I’ve included it because it is the first place in Prestwick that I ever had a drink in a licensed establishment.

Now being a Hamilton girl, I tend to feel more at home in the earthier, unpretentious, some might say uncouth surroundings. My favourite pubs are the small, homey places with friendly folk who don’t mind imbibing and have a little sing along.  These places are readily available in Ayrshire. The other reason I enjoy a little outing when visiting Prestwick is that it doesn’t seem to matter what age you are…everyone from eighteen on up to eighty can be found drinking, singing and enjoying a night out in the same establishments. This is a stark contrast, I find, to at home where clubs, bars, and pubs are relegated, albeit not officially, to crowds – the under 20’s, the over 25’s, the 30’s, the 40’s, and so on.  This is quite sad really.

Happy Birthday!

A Little Auld Lang Syne

View from the Brig O' Doon in Alloway, Scotland

Any trip to the west coast of Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the home of Ayrshire’s most world-renowned son, Robbie Burns.  We visited the Robbie Burns interactive museum, took a walk on the Brig o’ Doon made famous by the timeless poem Tom O’Shanter, and had a trek through the iconic poet’s birthplace. The little village of Alloway is a beautiful place to spend a day if you are exploring the west coast of Scotland but I am sure Karen is getting a bit weary of escorting visitors – she must be an expert after all of the visits she has made!  I was hoping this cultural excursion might leave a long lasting impression upon my offspring but alas, the other day Shelby and I were watching some Christmas show and the cast began singing Auld Lang Syne. I asked Shelby if she knew who wrote this iconic little ditty and she had no idea – I guess I’ll need to drag her off to the Byrne’s Centre next time for a bit more education!

Brig O' Doon
Robbie Burns Memorial
Since the purpose of the whole trip had been to celebrate my birthday we decided to have a special dinner at the Wheatsheaf Inn in Symington where Karen and Jimmy’s daughter Emma works.  Dining in this 15th century building, which has been run as a hotel since the 1700s is a unique experience. The food was excellent - I had haggis, neeps and tatties – and the rustic setting and good company made this a wonderful occasion!

Brig O' Doon View, Alloway Scotland

Wheatsheaf Inn, Symington Scotland

Sadly, the kids had to return home on the morning of my birthday. We had managed to spend an incredible five days together exploring some of the highlights of Scotland and I can honestly say I enjoyed every minute of it! As my kids get older we aren’t able to travel together as much, but I will definitely try to make the effort, as they are great travel companions!

My daughters and I at the beach in Prestwick, Scotland.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Let's See Some Real Castles!

Dunure Castle, Carrick Coast, Ayrshire

Sasha insisted that since she was in Scotland she needed to see some real castles meaning stone edifices that were broken down and in ruin. I suppose this would be a contrast to our own Dundurn Castle in Hamilton, which is less than 200 years old and actually seems just more of a large drafty house.  In fact it does seem a bit over the top that it is even termed a castle…but I digress.

A bit of a squeeze!
Our ever obliging hostess, Karen, decided to fulfill the request by borrowing her mom’s car and spending the day carting us around Ayrshire in search of broken down piles of stone.  I’m not complaining, because a free chauffeur/guide and transportation for the day is great for the budget traveller, but Aunty Mary’s car was definitely somewhat space challenging for five passengers two of whom are bordering on the six-foot mark!

Our first stop was Dunure Castle and apparently this was just

The Toilet de Rowling

View of Edinburgh from the Castle.

Street in Edinburgh that is reputedly the
inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Philosopher's Stone.
Universal Studio's Diagon Alley

The next morning our guide, Shelby, decided to take us on a bit of a tour to see some of the Harry Potter fandom must see spots in Edinburgh. She had visited these highlights the previous summer while travelling with her friend Megan. Our first stop had to involve food for the hypoglycaemic elder daughter and the younger one who suffers

Cullen Skink Anyone?

The festival, with it’s thousands of shows can be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but after grabbing a free book listing events and stopping in a pub for a pint to confer we decided to head to the ticket office to get entry to a couple of events.  Being easily distracted I was constantly being sidetracked by the ongoing free street events that were taking place but my companions kept me going and I eventually ended up in a rather lengthy queue to secure tickets.  Although I am generally a rather reserved person by nature I do at times enjoy

Wet and Soggy in Edinburgh

Some of the sights to see on the Royal
I decided to take the kids to Edinburgh to partake in the famous Fringe festival for a couple of days. If you ever make it to Scotland in August be sure to make this world famous festival one of your stops!  This is an amazing three-week event, which takes place each August with over 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues across Edinburgh (August 2015).  The venues are located throughout the city with shows taking place on an ongoing basis. The Royal Mile is packed with visitors from all over the world and the atmosphere is something I have never experienced elsewhere. Unbeknownst to me, our two-day visit to this iconic city would take place during this heightened tourist event but would also coincide with the world re-known Scottish Tattoo.  For those travellers who enjoy the crowds and mayhem of such an event this is excitement itself but to the unprepared and uninitiated, it can be an overwhelming and stress-inducing nightmare!

Castle Rock Hostel
Our claustrophobic room.
Upon exiting Haymarket train station our group headed onto the packed streets of Edinburgh. Luckily, Shelby, who has an uncanny sense of direction and an amazing memory for places she has visited, we headed off to our abode for the night. Shelby had stayed at the Castle Rock Hostel the previous summer and upon her recommendation I had booked it for our overnight. This hostel is at the foot of the famous castle and the interior, with its winding staircases and middle age d├ęcor makes the guest feel like they are staying in a medieval castle. Like all hostels the guests can book dorm rooms or semi private rooms with shared baths. I had booked a semi private room with two bunks to accommodate

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Shanghai to Scotland!

Shanghai Skyline
More than a year has gone by since I last posted but this wasn’t due to a lack of travel.  I can’t really narrow in on a particular reason…suffice it to say that sometimes life in general just gets in the way of things sometimes. Work, renovations, work, births, work, deaths, general malaise, and…work.  I’m not complaining. Well, actually, I am but work does provide the means to travel so I really shouldn’t dis it!
Honorata, Andrea and me eating street food in Shanghai.

Best Meal in Shanghai
I’m now going back and doing the last year and a bit in review just to catch up before the next big trip to Peru this coming March.

So, after finishing my stint in Gaoyou I spent some time in Shanghai with a two of my favourite fellow teachers and then headed off to Scotland to meet up with my daughters to celebrate my fiftieth.  Not being a huge fan of birthday celebrations I didn’t want to burden anyone with the