This week I'm chatting about my home town. Why? Because it's bloody brilliant and this is the perfect time of year to visit. At the end you'll find a pick & choose 3-Day itinerary. Even if you take in just a few of the suggestions you're guaranteed to have an absolute blast.
Once seen never forgotten - Edinburgh truly is a city like no other. Over the centuries the great and good have waxed lyrical over the Scottish Capital. No surprise then that both the Medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town were designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1996.
In Prince Charles’ opinion it is ‘the most beautiful city in Britain’ while Christina Aguilera observed ‘the people here are brilliant’. They’re both right. Edinburgh has the intimate friendly feel of a small town matched with the credentials of a great European City. It is at once awe inspiring and comforting, a city that mirrors the increasing confidence of a proudly independent nation that many would say is on the cusp of breaking away from the United Kingdom. Certainly if Scotland’s wily First Minister Alex Salmond has his way this is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Edinburgh is a place for the visitor to savour like a fine Single Malt Whisky. Contrasts and nuances greet you at every turn, from the spine-tingling magnificence of Edinburgh Castle dominating the skyline as it looms precipitously on its craggy perch to the radical modernism of the New Parliament building. Welcome to a city and people at once comfortable with and immensely proud of the past while striding boldly into the future.
Birbeck's Brilliant Days:
Balmoral Hotel – traditional hearty Scottish Breakfast - cross the North Bridge – Royal Mile – Edinburgh Castle – Camera Obscura - Lunch - Mary King’s Close – Museum of Childhood – Dunbar’s Close Garden – Bow Bar for ‘Malt o’ the week’ - Witchery Restaurant for the best in Scottish fine dining
New Town & Leith
Breakfast - Princess Street / Princess Street Gardens – Jenners Department Store – National Museum of Scotland – Lunch at Towers roof-top Restaurant – Visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia – Dinner at The Kitchin Restaurant – Drinks at the beautiful Café Royal Bar
Breakfast at Scotsman Hotel Brasserie - Holyrood Palace & Gardens - Arthur’s Seat & picnic lunch from Valvona & Crolla (season dependent) - Forth Road Bridge – Firth of Forth – Cramond village and coastline – The Shore Bar for food, drinks and live music
Hope this has whet the appetite for all Edinburgh has to offer. It's a stunning city, full of friendly folk and incredible things to do and see. Pay a visit - you won't regret it I promise.
Oddly enough demonic deeds and death bring a place to life. We're all gore-mongers at heart. I told my kids this story as we fought our way through throngs of bewildered sweaty tourists in Florence. They gobbled it up with gusto and frankly it saved the day. Well, that and the terrific pizza we had afterwards on the Piazza di Santo Spirito.
Medici and Florence go hand-in-hand. Particularly everyone's favourite Renaissance Prince, good old Lorenzo ('The Magnificent' no less). But Pazzi? Who the hell were that lot?
On Sunday April 26th 1478 Lorenzo de’ Medici (Il Magnifico) and his sickly younger brother Giuliano attended High Mass at the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or as it's more commonly known the Duomo. Guiliano was ill (again) and arrived late having been coerced to attend by a couple of particularly fair-weather pals (as we'll soon discover). When the priest raised the ceremonial host all hell broke lose. A more fiendish signal could not have been imagined. The brothers were attacked by Francesco de’ Pazzi, Bernardo Bandini Baroncelli and two armed priests. Giuliano died almost instantly from multiple stab wounds. Lorenzo was injured but managed to escape his attackers and lock himself in the north sacristy.
The alarm was raised and soldiers loyal to the Medici descended upon the Cathedral. Lorenzo fought his way out and over the coming days what can only be described as a bloodbath ensued. Francesco de’Pazzi initially made good his escape and galloped through Florence calling for his fellow citizens to rise up against the Medici. Sadly for him his plea fell on somewhat unsympathetic ears.
This was no ordinary inter-family medieval feud. Involved in the plot were the King of Naples, His Holiness Pope Sixtus IV and the Archbishop of Pisa Francesco Salviati amongst others. Over the days that followed numerous bodies, including those of Francesco de’ Pazzi, Bernardo di Bandino (see side image - Da Vinci - 1479), and the Archbishop of Pisa would be strung from the top windows of the Palazzo Vecchio. It was rumoured that the Archbishop, while dangling alongside him, sank his teeth into Francesco de'Pazzi's festering flesh before gasping his last. Sporadically corpses would be cut loose and allowed to drop to the crowd below. They were then dragged through the streets, or thrown into the river Arno only to be recovered downstream and brought back to the Palazzo for further mistreatment. Francesco's Uncle Jacopo, the family patriarch and commonly seen as mastermind of this most sordid of episodes, met a particularly gruesome fate. His rotting skull was placed by the door of the cathedral where it was used for many years as a makeshift door-knocker (the kids loved that one).
Here endeth the lesson - don't mess with the Medici.
When you've had enough of death and dismemberment Florentine style try this place: Osteria Santo Spirito - www.osteriasantospirito.it - on the piazza of the same name. Good value & service - wide choice of dishes. Pizza highly recommended. If possible visit Florence early or late in the year. Best explored in the mornings too - then you can relax over a leisurely lunch and rest those weary feet. Skip the queues - pre-book the must-see Uffizi Gallery & others online: www.florence-museum.com
I was born under a Wandering Star was my favourite song when I was three. Nothing's changed.