The Times Cities fit for cycling

There’s few things I get ‘mad’ at and am insistently passionate about when it comes to politics. A handful of social policy issues though fall into this category That is of course until I agree with the 8-point manifesto but i believe there also needs to be a 9th point relating to pedestrians. I’ve been cycling in London since the congestion charge came in – when the roads were definitely safer to cycle (less traffic at peak times) and, as cycling was really starting to take off at this time, vehicles and pedestrians alike were more aware and more tolerant of cyclists. Now, with London traffic back to higher levels and an even bigger volume of cyclists, it seems that we have become almost invisible and an annoyance to others.

In terms of buses/lorries/cars, I find central London is often safer to cycle than parts slightly out of the city centre, due to ‘safety in numbers’ and slower speeds on congested roads. However, it is pedestrians in central London who are really quite shocking – that’s not to say there are also disgraceful cyclists going through red lights etc – but I have a feeling that many pedestrians just don’t realise that bikes hurt when they hit them and that it is actually hard for a cyclist to stop suddenly if someone walks out in front of them.

Too often pedestrian cross the road when the ‘red man’ is signalling or cut through stopped traffic withot seeing that a cyclist is in motion between two lanes of traffic. The Strand is notorious for this! Out of the city centre it’s definitely vehicles which i find more dangerous as the roads are emptier and many cars/lorries take advantage of being able to drive fast. I also know friends who have been hit on several occasions by people getting out of their parked car and opening their door without looking to see if a cyclist is coming.

Unfortunately, as a cyclist you have to be on guard constantly and believe that every single car/lorry/pedestrian has not seen you. Not such a pleasure for something that is something that is supposed to be pleasurable.

A short guide to Edinburgh and a tale of two hostels
Edinburgh, a multicultural metropolis (a small one at that compared to other major cities in Britain), a city with sole that oozes wisdom and self-assurance combined with a chic and student-like playfulness and carefree attitude. A city that provides an ever-emerging underground scene, in both senses of the word. Half of the goings on in the city seems to be underground – a good thing when you’re trying to escape the cold weather, discover a new band or immerse yourself in a good book in a historic pub – a bad thing when you’re desperate to make a phone call or check your emails.
It’s a city that’s big and happening enough to hold it’s own with the tourist trail – Hogmanay, Fringe Festival, the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to mention but a few. Yet small enough to retain it’s individuality and charm and is home to friendly, chatty and helpful people who on the whole seem to enjoy life and are proud of the city they call home.
Haggis Hostels (plural by name, single by nature) is a newborn to the world of budget accommodation. Located just off Princes Street and a stone’s throw from the prestigious Balmoral Hotel, Haggis is wedged in-between a ground floor pub, first floor social club and a top floor ‘other’ backpackers. Upon my arrival I admit, I had apprehensions that the noise coming from the floor above and floor below was going to rock the bunks at Haggis all night long. But alas, these buildings are built like Fort Knox and I didn’t hear a single sound other than my own breath.
The first obvious appeal of Haggis Hostels is that it’s bright, sparking clean, fresh (I should mention that the bathrooms give off a lovely aroma of apple) and a proper family run establishment. Alan and Chris, the two head honchos have had the talented hands of close family and friends to make the place what it is. From hand-made bunk beds to the spiffy privacy curtains featured in one of the cosier four-bed rooms – the hostel has a range of rooms on offer out of a total of six – you really get the feeling that this place is a carefully considered venture.
Guests are asked to recycle and respect the environment and to respect each other at that. There’s free Wi-Fi and computer facilities plus a good range of information about the city, tours, days out, nightlife etc. Yet the real source of knowledge comes directly from the hairy coos’ mouths – Chris and Alan. With proper Scottish accents they know Edinburgh inside out and it’s refreshing to be informed about the city’s abundance of up and coming restaurants for example, instead of just the booziest and cheapest pub-crawls on which to embark.
Other facilities worth mentioning and perhaps which set this place apart, are all the little extra features that are so simple yet make life ten times easier when traveling. Each bed comes with its own power point – a proper savior when you need to keep your mobile phone plugged in and close to you. There is a hairdryer available for hire – all women will be with me on this one, as even though we’re happy to assume backpacker status, we’re also still female! A full operating kitchen with ‘with two of everything’ so to avoid any frustrating delays at the toaster/kettle/microwave in the mornings. And speaking of mornings, the breakfast spread is a bit of alright at that. Porridge in a range of flavours (obviously a national dish of Scotland), pastries, breads & spreads are provided as well as all the tea and coffee you need for your day of exploration ahead.
Areas of consideration: The bathrooms and newly painted walls are so clean and white that you almost need sunglasses to navigate your way around the place. Being only weeks old, Haggis can afford itself to such high standards. However I do wonder how long the place can stay so immaculate given the fact that it is, after all, a place where much human traffic will pass. With all the showering in the world, backpackers are still backpackers and will inevitably over time grubby up the walls and shower cubicles. Having said that Chris and Alan have opted for a robust choice of flooring – those carpet squares which are especially good for charging your body and giving electric shocks to unsuspecting others – and seem entirely equipped to maintain their high standard of guest accommodation.
All in all I feel rather excited for this new kid on the hostel block and I’d be more than happy to go back in the future (solo travelers, groups of friends and even families with children are welcomed) to see how the place has come into itself, indulge in porridge and most importantly to get a secure, comfortable and restful night’s sleep. Watch this space as well, for they are looking at securing some hot discounts for guests, in the future with a range of local businesses.
Must do in Edinburgh:
• Grab a copy of Skinny magazine (popular with the student crowd and available online and in hostels/cafes/pubs etc). Students and backpackers have one thing in common, which is being short of money. Therefore this publication makes for good reading for finding out inventive ways to survive on a budget, places to eat and drink, music gigs, and cultural events etc in Edinburgh and other Scottish cities.
• Drink tea and stock up on ‘extra cushioning for one’s bottom half’ at one of the hip and utterly adorable (if not somewhat girly) teahouses. Eteaket (do try the chili rooibos brew), Loopy Lornas, The Chocolate Tree but to name a few.
• Have a day off from the Royal Mile. There’s no denying that the Royal Mile is a must see in the city but Edinburgh has much more to offer than what the usual tourist trail provides. There’s a new flavour of IRN-BRU in town (the national drink second to whisky), and it’s called Leith. A district in it’s own right north of the city, Leith is an eclectic arrangement of historic waterfront, council estates, new-build apartments and typical high street stores and supermarkets. Harmoniously mixed with independent business, cafes, charity shops, fishmongers, barbers, pubs and a string of warehouse-come-award winning restaurants and swanky bars. Over recent years there’s been a lot of regeneration in the area and you’ll even see signs dotted along Leith Walk saying ‘I love Leith’. Or take a stroll through the district of Morningside, south west of the city centre and browse the handful of boutiques, lovely delis and cafes.
If you still want something a little closer to the Royal Mile, you could eat your way along the GrassMarket which, although is in the old town, has a much more local feel to it. When you’re all haggis and whiskied out I recommend Petit Paris for some classic French dining complete with French staff and one of the most spoon-licking crème brulees I’ve ever had. Big enough for two people to share…but well worth the tummy ache afterwards if you’re not the sharing-is-caring type.
Give it a miss:
• A visit to Ocean Terminal shopping centre in Leith. Despite being Edinburgh’s largest shopping centre it lacks shops, character and customers. Although, if you’re in need of a good massage while visiting the area, I recommend the Herbal Inn on one of the upper levels. I was left in lovely drooling state of sleep afterwards; it was that satisfying after a day on my feet.
By Kathryn Louise Geels

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