Welcome to the A to Z challenge, a blog post everyday of April apart from Sundays, covering every letter of the alphabet. My theme is travel, that thing that we haven’t been able to do over the last 12 months, so it seemed appropriate to reminisce about past travels we’ve taken, looking forward to when we can travel freely again.
Today we’re visiting the Scottish city of my ancestors, a popular city for weekend get aways in Europe, and an unexpected holiday spot in the middle east.
In 1925 my maternal grandfather left his home in Aberdeen, a major city in the north east of Scotland, and sailed towards a new life at the bottom of the world in Australia. Nicknamed the Granite City, as the buildings are built from granite and it was a major industry in the city’s past – my ancestors even worked in a granite quarry. The flecks in the granite make the city glisten beautifully in the sunshine but also in the rain – my beloved who is from the west coast of Scotland thinks it looks grey and miserable, but he would be wrong.
One of the must sees in Aberdeen is the street art, and prepandemic there was an annual street art festival – http://2020.nuartaberdeen.co.uk/ which I really hope continues in the future. These pictures are from the festival in 2019, which was the last one before lockdown.
We watched this gorgeous art piece being completed by Smug, an Australian artist who is well known for his photo realism street art around the world.
Aberdeen has a lot of interesting historic buildings to visit, not least is the Cathedral Church of St Machar. There has been a place of worship on the site of the current building since the late 500’s AD. There’s a really long beach and plenty of hotels to stay in to suit every budget. For us it’s great as it’s only just over 2 hours away by car.
There are also some fabulous restaurants in the city, with our favourite being Topolabamba which is the best Mexican restaurant I’ve ever been to. Great food, atmosphere, decor, staff, and fabulous cocktails..
This picture was taken in the Aberdeen cat cafe which unfortunately has since closed. This cat was trying to convince my beloved to give him some of his scone.
Amsterdam is somewhere we’ve been twice since moving to the Scottish Highlands, as it’s one of the few places in Europe that we can fly direct to from here. It’s a beautiful city with so much to do and see that I’m sure we’ve still only scratched the surface. The things I knew about Amsterdam were that there’s lots of pushbikes, there’s a thriving sex industry, and that marijuana is sold openly.
There are definitely pushbikes – according to the I Amsterdam website there are 881,000 bikes with 767km of cycle paths and bike lanes. They are everywhere – as a tourist you have to have eyes in the back of your head and watch all directions to make sure you don’t get flattened by two wheels.
There is a very open sex industry with shops and a very visible red light district. I’ve never really thought I was a prude, but even I was shocked by how in your face it all is. This is the least shocking picture of a sex shop that I took as I was focusing more on the cat – my beloved was worried the cat might confuse some of the objects as cat toys.
Marijuana/cannabis is everywhere – chocolate, jelly beans, cookies, cakes, tea bags, and medicinal cannabis oil. Again I was slightly shocked, even though I had expected it, it was still more open than I had imagined. There is even a museum dedicated to it – we didn’t visit.
That is the other great thing we discovered about Amsterdam, the amount of fabulous museums – we walked for miles through three that I would definitely recommend, the Rijksmuseum which is very traditional, Moco Museum which is more modern art including an exhibition of Banksy art, Kattenkabinet which is a museum dedicated to cats and even has cats living there, and I’ve included some street art as in a way the city itself is a gallery/museum.
There are too many great places to eat to mention here, but you’ll definitely find great food to match any budget – you must try the pancakes as they are scrumptious. The first time we visited we stayed at the Max Brown Hotel canal district which is a really quirky place created out of three canal houses, and has lots of lovely arty touches. The next time we stayed at Room Mate Aitana which is a modern design hotel but still has some really lovely arty features. Amsterdam is really easy to get around by foot, pushbike (if you’re brave enough), canal taxi boats, and trams.
Al Hada – I’m quite shocked that I’m including this but it now seems that Saudi Arabia is being advertised as a tourist spot. I lived in Al Hada for a year in the 90’s whilst working there, and tourists definitely weren’t allowed. There’s even an ad that comes on the tv here promoting it – who knew this would happen. Below are two photos I took from the top of the escarpment – we used to walk there from the hospital, buy spit roast chicken and flat bread from roadside stalls, and then sit together eating and enjoying the view.
Apparently, at the top of the escarpment there is now a Ramada Hotel which looks very posh and as it’s right on the edge it has amazing views. There is also a 4.5km cable car that travels from the hotel down to the base of the mountain.
There are certain things I do whenever I travel, and communing with the local cats is probably top of the list. This is BC, a stray cat that my friend Elaine and I sort of adopted whilst we were in Al Hada. This was taken in front of the female accomodation block and you can see I’m wearing my very fetching abaya – black coverall that we had to wear over our clothes when we weren’t in uniform.
Please don’t think that because I’ve included Al Hada here that I’m suggesting you go there, as Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is appalling, and explained really well in this Amnesty International story from last year.
So visit Aberdeen and Amsterdam if you get the chance, and stear clear of Al Hada.
Thanks for stopping by and make sure you visit other bloggers who are crazy enough to be doing the challenge with me – Click Here to visit the master list of participants.
Stay safe & have a great day.
Previous A-Z posts:
2018 – A is for Adventure
2017 – A is for Aviemore
2016 – A is for Australia