Edinburgh Adventure | Review: Angels with Bagpipes

Friday, 18 April 2014
Following on with the 'let's have a wander and see what we can find' theme of the Edinburgh Adventure weekend, after heading back from the Camera Obscura and braving the cold we decided to stop for a bite to eat. Pret, Maccies and Wetherspoon's all offered the same old same old we could get on our lunch break. So after having a stroll around the old town, a gorgeous restaurant caught our eye.

Angels with Bagpipes (what a name - well, it is opposite St Giles' Church) is located on the Royal Mile,and a prime tourist location. It looks absolutely gorgeous from the outside, and as we were dressed in jeans and tees, we weren't sure whether we'd be allowed in. After being refused entry from a MEXICAN restaurant with my parents as a child for wearing jeans, I've always been mortified at dress codes, preferring to find something more suitable than go through that ordeal again.

Amazingly we were warmly greeted by the girl working front of house. She mentioned that as it was Mother's Day, the back area of the restaurant was booked up with lunches and dinners, but we were more than welcome to grab a table at the front.

We sat at the window table, and the menus were brought over promptly. We decided for a glass of prosecco and two courses, as we still hada bit of walking to do, and went with the beef, a chocolate dessert and a rhubarb concoction. The menu was a bit limited, but what do you expect from a lunch menu?

The beef arrived soon after ordering, and was the most tender meat I've ever eaten. It was more the texture of pulled pork, but it was delicious. It looked gorgeous on the plate too, so of course there were the obligatory photos (don't hate us).

With the mains polished off, it was on to dessert. The chocolate was so, so rich, and so tasty. It was served with a refreshing Clementine sorbet type cream which balanced the flavours so well. And considering I've never understood what people mean when they say a 'balance of flavours' I'm pretty sure a trip to this place years ago would have solved that issue.

The rhubarb and custard treat was served rustically in a Mason jar, and was just the right combination of sweet and bitter. It came with two little biscuits which finished off the meal nicely.

All in all, it was a flying visit. We probably didn't stay for more than an hour, and it would have been lovely to have stopped for dinner. Still, we're so glad we stumbled upon this gorgeous little place.

A two course meal with glass of prosecco will cost £21 each.

Angels with Bagpipes | 343 High Street, Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 1PW | 0131 220 1111

Tretinoin and Retinol: Are you right to be wary about Vitamin A skincare?

Thursday, 17 April 2014

It's no secret there are a million lotions and potions out there promising the wearer better skin, from BB creams to sperm facials (seriously). But since the seventies, Vitamin A has been knows as a bit of a wonder for skin. It's anti-ageing, great for breakouts and makes skin glow.

Vitamin A and it's derivatives are found in over the counter skincare lines (an ingredient know as Retinol, a weaker derivative of Vitamin A), or can be prescribed by your GP or by a dermatologist (known as Tretinoin). If you've ever suffered with acne, you may have heard of Accutane (isotretinoin), an oral form of Vitamin A which requires regular hospital trips, dries out the skin and lips, and can cause severe birth defects.

Topical Vitamin A, though, increases the production of skin cells and thickens the dermal layer at a cellular level. So, mixed with a cleansing routine that sloughs away congestion and the top layer of skin, it promotes a healthy looking complexion. Basically, it gives you thick, soft skin.

It also helps with collagen production by stimulating the skin's fibroblasts to produce more. The more collagen your skin has, the more youthful it looks. Put very simply, it gets rid of fine lines, wrinkles, and helps scars look smoother. You probably know that collagen production slows down in our mid twenties, I've seen it myself and I'm 30 next year. OH THE WRINKLES. So anything that kick-starts collagen production is great.

It also helps reduce pigmentation from sun damage.

It's a wonder cream, surely. Who needs botox and expensive facials when you can just slap on some Vitamin A every night? Well, the reason why people fear it so much is because used incorrectly, it can cause you to look like you're a snake shedding its skin. Redness and irritation is widely reported as a side effect,  even in lowest of the low doses of 0.025%.

Clearly Vitamin A is a potent little beast.

So say you suffer from problematic skin. Say you're noticing lines appear where they never were before. How can you go about safely using Vitamin A?

If you're in no rush to get your skin looking grand, find an over the counter cream that contains retinol. It won't work as fast as Tretinoin, but it's perfect if you have sensitive skin or don't want the chance of peeling and irritation. Once applied to the skin, it takes an extra step to convert to the active ingredient found in prescriptions. But hey, those wrinkles and sun spots didn't appear overnight, right?

If you're suffering with scarring or want to see dramatic results, see if your dermatologist will prescribe you Tretinoin, but at no more than 0.3%. You'll need to apply it at night, leaving a two to three day gap between applications until your skin builds up a tolerance after a few weeks.

It should be on the top of your skincare priorities anyway, but Vitamin A does make skin more photosensitive, so a broad spectrum SPF of at least 30 should be worn every morning. Combine with a Vitamin C serum in the morning to protect the skin from oxidisation (you know what happens to an apple when you leave it out and it goes brown? That's oxidisation) and you'll be well on your way to healthy skin from the inside out.

So what do you think? Are you a fan of retinol and Vitamin A, or are you too timid to try it? Let us know the products you rate below.

REVIEW (Kinda) | London County Town Hall Club and Spa

Monday, 14 April 2014
A couple of months back, I was lucky enough to be asked to review a spa for this here magazine, and I thought I'd well and truly made it. Review! A spa! For a magazine! It was going to be epic, and I basically bragged to all and sundry (even though I wasn't really supposed to) that I was being sent away on this super lush spa day with my best mate, and it was going to be epic. I even bought a new bikini in preparation (I mean, I totally had to because prior to that I actually didn't own such a thing). A few weeks passed, and no matter how hard Laura tried to get the spa day locked in, the venue kept pushing back with a myriad of excuses; refurbishment, the dates didn't work, etc. A month or so of to-ing and fro-ing later, we popped that particular perk atop the No Joy pile and I was assured that the next time a spa-type-thing came up, my name would be atop that particular pile too.

That was fine with me. The Promise of a Massage is almost as good as the Massage Itself, and is not something you question; we left it there and I silently prayed to the Massage Gods that something would happen, and soon, because dammmmmn have I had some stress in my life.

Behold! A few weeks ago The Gods answered my prayers, by way of an invitation from the Marriot London County Town Hall Club and Spa to try their "ideal personal retreat, located over the top two floors of one of London's prestigious architectural landmarks." Errr... yes, please, sign us up at once! No spa date would be complete without the obligatory few hundred emails between PR and editor, and in this case, a date and time were agreed - and then again changed - many, many times. In the end, I'd agreed to let Laura book the thing, and I'd just go; a three way email between her and I and them and her and them and the Spa was all too brain-achey for me. Eventually though, it was booked. I was going!

And went I did. All rushed and hurried I barrelled into the hotel mere minutes before my appointment, with thanks - as always, to a slight train delay because of [choose where appropriate: leaves on the tracks/a signal failure/person under a train/adverse weather conditions]. With grateful directions from the doorman up to the fifth floor, I landed at 1pm on the dot - sweaty, but with much excitement, to the lobby of the spa. There, I was greeted by a smiling employee... whose smile began to fade as I explained why I was there.

"You didn't get my email?"

Errr... no, I have received no emails from your anonymous self today, but do go on.

"I emailed you to tell you that your appointment was cancelled earlier today as...[insert explanation about a broken wrist here]" It's not that I have no sympathy for the poor woman, but MY LORD imagine how ANNOYED I was at this point.

Look; I will admit that as she went to fetch her manager who then proceeded to show me the email she had sent the agency that morning - who clearly does not work on Saturdays - that I lost my temper and maybe my manners, and did zero work in upholding the reputation of this amazing magazine.

I flew out of there as quick as I'd arrived, all the while texting Laura the extent of my outrage. That certainly wasn't how I saw my afternoon being spent. While I stood outside the hotel, amongst the many thousands of tourists soaking up the views of Westminster bridge and beyond, I took stock and realised that maybe, just maybe, it could be worse... I could have still been on that train.

So I'll end with this:

Dear Spa Manager Lady; when you showed me the email you sent, it was evident you had the email address and contact number of the editor who could have put you in touch with me, and saved me a pointless trek to your gorgeous and delightfully-smelling spa. No amount of apologies from you was going to squeeze an ounce of empathy out of me, as, in my opinion, you didn't "do everything you could think of" to reach me to cancel the appointment..

Add to that the fact that there were three of - what I can only deduce were employees - standing around in that back 'employees only' room smiling at me while I seethed in anger, please understand I was not being unreasonable, I was being furious at your poor management, and my wasted time and expense.

Regards, Erica.

Editor's note: six out of ten are impartial when it comes to reviews, treating each and every bar, hotel and restaurant visit as fairly as possible to give you, our reader, the chance to decide whether you'd want to visit yourself. Some reviews don't make it, some reviews don't cut it, some reviews are glowing and if I could, I'd get kittens to repeatedly lick your face to get you to visit. While we generally try to avoid negative content on this site, preferring to say nothing if we have nothing nice to say, the reason for publishing this feature is as follows:

six out of ten was approached by the spa's PR agency to review a solo spa session. After much discussion and failing to come up with a week date that worked, this spa review had been arranged for a Saturday. The spa's management emailed our contact with the cancellation that morning, negating to get in touch with the editorial team despite having our contact details as well as knowing the visit was on behalf of our magazine. As there is a contact form on the website which could have been used as a last resort, we feel the spa could have done more to get in touch. We see this failure to do so as a case of not being interested in us as a customer.

The account executive emailed Monday morning after checking through her emails and apologised for the unforeseen circumstances - which we completely understand - offering an afternoon tea by way of apology. While we appreciate the gesture, it's in our personal opinion that we experienced a serious lack of customer service by the spa. While this could be an isolated occurrence and are sure other patrons will have enjoyed their visit, we sadly could not recommend the spa to our readers should the same happen to them. six out of ten declined the offer and chose to post this review as our first-hand experience of the spa.

Edinburgh Adventure: Camera Obscura and World of Illusions

Friday, 11 April 2014

I'm not one for plans, itineraries or guidebooks. Some of the best discoveries while travelling the world have been purely stumbled up after a good day getting lost. Edinburgh's Camera Obscura was one of those best discoveries. Originally we'd planned to head to a whisky tour to sample Scottish delights. But the crazy mirrors and optical illusions of the Gothic building opposite were far too enticing to resist.

What is the Edinburgh Camera Obscura?

Camera Obsura is Latin for 'dark room' which is a pretty literal really considering the main attraction of this place is a Very Dark Room. The Camera Obsura is a tower accessed by climbing five flights of stairs, with a mirror on the top which projects a reflection 21 feet below onto concave table in the middle of the room. Without too much science, it works like a periscope meaning you can see a projection of Edinburgh's streets, shops, cars and people right in front of you. You basically get a bird's eye view of the city. On a table. It's pretty impressive.

Ok, so it sounds basic to us considering we have television, computers and smartphones. But this attraction, which was opened by optician Maria Short in the early 1800s, caused people to faint at the sight of their city on a table right in front of their eyes. They could spy on their neighbours and churchgoers, and no one would ever know.

There are a few of these rooms all over the world, and it's a great interactive activity for kids. Saying that, there were no kids when we attended. Which was just perfect.

The World of Illusions is where the real magic happens. If by magic, you mean back-breaking, side-splitting laughter and hilarity. It's totally interactive, and so much fun.

Bendy mirrors transform you from short to tall, with long slender legs to stumpy feet. You can shake hands with yourself, give yourself a smooch, morph faces into a mix of you and your friend's (this was creepy), project yourself onto a shadow wall, find out just how hot you really are, and even change your ethnicity (and species) with their special photo booth.

It was brilliant. Each floor had its own delights. The lightning tube, which if you hold for a while creates a static charge (so you can shock the next person who touches you) will be the first attraction you see. Then it's hours of exploring, being freaked out at lifelike moving holograms, trying to eat disappearing Licorice Allsorts, and being beheaded. There's even a Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory style room which makes the short tall and the tall tiny.

Towards the end of the World of Illusions, there's a VERY scary mirrored maze (I genuinely thought I was going to get stuck) and the piece de resistance, a nausea inducing, trippy tunnel that'll honestly screw with your head and make you feel so so sick.

We spent about three hours there all together, but I'd have happily gone back. In fact, I really wanted to. It was so, so much fun. There weren't many people on the Sunday, and I'd imagine it could get a bit frustrating if it was very busy or there were a group of children running around. Because this attraction is fun no matter how old you are.

Admission is £12.95 for adults, £10.95 for students and OAPs, and £9.50 for children. We thought it was worth every penny. There's no time limit, you can spend as much time as you like there, and get your hand stamped if you want to come back for more later on in the day. It's well worth a visit.

Edinburgh's Camera Obscura | Castlehill, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh, EH1 2ND | 0131 226 3709

Edinburgh Adventure: Review: The Glasshouse Hotel

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Having arrived into Edinburgh's Waverley Station, slap bang in the middle of all the action (and the fog) after a five hour train journey, we couldn't wait to stretch our legs and see what Edinburgh had to offer.

First impressions? The city is one of the most gorgeous places in the world. Brimming with old stone buildings, centuries of history are woven through each little street and secret pathway. We were enchanted, left speechless by the sheer beauty of the place.

As we left the station, we planned our route to the Glasshouse Hotel. Admittedly, as mentioned in the intro feature, we didn't really know what to do, where we were going or even what the hotel looked like. So after meandering through a few little streets with suitcases dragging behind, we approached a newly built cinema and family-friendly entertainment complex. Next to a rather rowdy looking place called The Playbar. And the Mood Nightclub. Followed by The Glasshouse Hotel's church facade.

We were worried. If you've ever stayed in a hotel next to bar, you know to expect noise, vomit, and potentially lewd behaviour outside your very window.

The Glasshouse Hotel check-in

Putting our fears and judgements aside and stepping through the glass doors, we were greeted by a polished receptionist, Karolina, who welcomed us and offered us a seat at her desk in the cavernous reception area.

We ran through check in at super speed, and Karolina was happy to get out a map to introduce us to the area. The hotel is within walking distance of all the main tourist hotspots (aside from the zoo) and she was happy to recommend shopping areas, as well as places to drink. With that sorted, all that remained was the ransom: a £50 deposit is taken from your card, as in the money is taken from your bank and refunded should the mini bar remain untouched.

Once all the paperwork was done and dusted, Eduardo appeared as if from nowhere to take the room key and our luggage. We were staying on the third floor, at the end of what seemed like a mile-long corridor. The hotel's rooms all seemed to be based off two long dimly lit corridors, taking us further and further away from the worrisome bar and club. We passed the rooftop garden, however the terrible weather would mean we only really saw it at a glance. In summer it would be a great place to have champagne in the sun.

When we reached our room, Eduardo took our cases in, introduced us to the main features and said a well-timed goodbye.

The Glasshouse Hotel room: Executive Double

I can't help but feel Edinburgh is a real rival to the capital city I know so well. While London has its patches of beauty, everything in Edinburgh just seems to be so well designed, including this hotel. The room was gorgeous. Although modern and newly built, the high ceilings, central bed and shared balcony were beautiful.

The bathroom was polished and new with a huge walk-in shower, bathtub and all the little extras you'd expect from a top hotel (scented loo roll? Check).

The main room had the bed itself dominating the space, facing the wardrobes and the television. Dressing gowns and slippers were provided, as was a little welcome selection of chocolate treats and strawberries on the table. Nespresso coffee on demand was another luxurious touch. No freeze-dried packets of Nescafe for us, thanks.

The huge floor-to-ceiling windows were gorgeous - even if the view on offer was an office building and the shared nature of the balcony meant anyone could walk past at any moment.

I think the main testament to the hotel was that, although we were in a new city, we didn't want to leave. It was Just. So. Comfortable. So instead of putting on our glad rags and heading out for a drink and a dance, we put on the fluffy gowns, plumped up the feather pillows and settled in for a night of junk food and Will Smith movies. Bliss. We slept through the night with absolutely nothing to disturb us, and woke up refreshed and ready for the day ahead.

Prices for this room start from £85, which is amazing. Choose your own pillow, the room location and even a hypo-allergenic feather-free room for those with sensitive skin.

The Glasshouse Hotel Breakfast

Dragging ourselves out of bed, we got as presentable as bed head and no make up would let us be, and traipsed down to the observatory for breakfast. The host greeted us, checked our names off the list and set us a table near the window overlooking the steepest hill.

A continental breakfast was included in the room rate, but as we'd arrived towards the end of serving time there wasn't much left on offer aside from a little bit of ham, cereal and yoghurt. Plus, we felt like sampling some of the chef's offerings and went for a Scottish Breakfast (minus the black pudding) and pancakes, bacon and berries.

Breakfast was served in good time, although there wasn't any toast with the Scottish Breakfast despite it being offered.

Although the rooms had us blown away, it's sad to say the breakfast seemed a little lacking, especially at £18.50 each. The portion sizes were quite small - for someone who can never finish a meal, I polished off every crumb - although it tasted delicious. In all fairness, it probably would have tasted a bit better had we asked for breakfast to be delivered to the room, but with a £5 tray charge per person for room service, we weren't too sure what the rules were when breakfast was included.

After signing the bill we retreated back to the comfort of the room, had a warm soak and got ready to check out.

The Glasshouse Hotel check out

Check out was simple. Sat at the desk again, we handed in room keys and the £50 deposit was refunded promptly. As we planned a day on foot, we checked in our luggage to collect it later. And that was it. Simple. Quick. Efficient.

Our overall opinion

Stay here. Seriously. It's a hotel that oozes style, luxury and comfort and would be just as perfect for a group of friends as it is for a couple celebrating a special occasion. They have some great room rates if you book in advance. In all honesty, we'd probably give the breakfast a miss, especially if you're a late sleeper and like to meander down to grab a bite towards the end of breakfast serving time. Save the £37 and head over to one of Edinburgh's little cafes for a traditional bite to eat.

The location is amazing, right in the heart of the city. We spent a day wandering around the area, never really feeling that far away from The Glasshouse. We've already recommended the hotel to a couple for a special event, and we know we'll definitely be returning the next time we're in Scotland's capital.

The Glasshouse Hotel | 2 Greenside Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3AA

Edinburgh Adventure: The intro

Tuesday, 8 April 2014
We sometimes feel this little online magazine is a bit southern-centric. After all, with London on our doorstep and willing writers all being based in the capital, we don't have enough time in the day (or pennies in the account) to warrant trips here there and everywhere.

But our Edinburgh Adventure was the exception.

After being tres jealous of bloggers heading up to our northern neighbour's capital city, we decided it was time for a trip ourselves. So, after packing a bag, with not even so much as a guidebook to lead the way, we made to trip from London to Edinburgh one sunny-until-we-got-to-the-Midlands Friday.

How to get to Edinburgh

Edinburgh has one airport, which is a 25 minute bus ride to Edinburgh's West End. Tickets cost £4 one way, and the buses have plenty of room for backpacks and luggage. Great if you're staying for more than just a fleeting weekend.

Edinburgh's train stations are another option - Haymarket Station is located to the west of the city, and Edinburgh Waverley is more central, right next to the Royal Mile and it's shops.

How we did it

With one hotel booked right next to Waverley Station and the other in the heart of Haymarket, we decided to train in, fly out. A train from London's King's Cross to Edinburgh Waverley (KGX - EDB) will take just under four hours, and drops you off right in the centre of the action. Expect off peak single train tickets to Edinburgh to cost upwards of £51 each from London, though if you're savvy you can get a single ticket for as little as £30.

The East Coast train journey was lovely, stopping at my old home town of Peterborough and travelling up north through Newcastle. Seats are comfy and if you're clever, like us, you can bag yourself a table next to a huge window. Drinks aboard are pricey, so grab a bottle of Proseco before you board. You can ask for plastic cups from the on board shop.

A flight from London to Edinburgh takes an hour, and as it's internal you don't need as much time to prepare (though you also won't be able to stock up on Duty Free either...). You can fly with Virgin Atlantic, British Airways - highly recommended in this writer's eyes - flybe and easyjet. Flights can be grabbed for £76 direct. Even with the shuttle bus into town, we think it's a great way to travel.

We flew British Airways from Edinburgh to London City, and it was a great experience. We arrived at the airport to head home about three hours before gate opened. This really isn't necessary as all check in gates have super simple and mega speedy self-check in booths. Just type in your flight number, change seats if you want, and it'll print out your pass in no time. Of course if you are a nervous nelly and would prefer to get to the gate as soon as possible, there are a few little shops to keep you occupied.

All in all, we couldn't believe how pleasant a journey it was. Even though the weather left a lot to be desired, we found the train really relaxing, and the flight very quick. Edinburgh stunned us with its beauty right from the start. Keep posted to check our favourite hotels, sights and eateries encountered on our Edinburgh Adventure.