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The Meadows is a public park that nestles beautifully in the centre of Edinburgh and unlike parks in many other cities throughout the UK it has a positive and family friendly reputation. Overlooked by the famous Edinburgh Castle to the North, Bruntsfield and the churches of Tollcross to the South and Causewayside and Nicholson Street to the West it is very accessible and provides a welcome stretch of breathing space when strolling through the city.
Encompassing a fairly broad area The Meadows is home to a variety of different pursuits there is room for various different cricket matches (these are still played on a weekly basis in full cricketing whites!) as well as extreme frisbee games, 5-a side football and there is even an amateur golf course that sprawls onto the adjoining park - Bruntsfield Links. Despite these various sporting pursuits there are still plenty of opportunities to source an oak tree along one of the many tree-lined paths that sprawl throughout the park and find a quite spot to have a good read on a dry day.
Having spent the last 3 years living in Edinburgh as a student it became clear that as soon as there was even a hint of sunshine there would be an influx of fellow students to the Meadows adorning 12 packs of cider, a disposable BBQ and on occasion - a boules set. However, despite the potential for widespread chaos when thousands of students are gathered together in any one place and alcohol is added to the mix, there is rarely any sort of bother or disquiet and people are able to meet friends, play music and generally enjoy themselves in a relaxed and safe environment.
On Saturdays the Meadows are home to a huge number of recreational groups that range from 'slackliners' who practice tightrope walking between the trees and performers honing their art whether that be juggling or later in the evenings the Beltane (a local Edinburgh Fire Festival) group bravely and impressively throwing flaming torches and fire balls.
During the 1960s there were plans to build a huge 'fly-over' trunk road through the middle of this park and I'm pleased to say that such plans were forcibly resisted and we're lucky to have had such a beautiful place preserved.
It was always a pleasure to walk through the Meadows, whether that would be on my way home from work in the evenings, on my way to the National Library of Scotland first thing in the morning or just going for a leisurely jog on a Sunday afternoon. It is a space that provides an opportunity for everyone to enjoy green open spaces whilst it serves as a constant reminder of how Edinburgh is a city that never fails to surprise and delight.
Early on this year in June 2011 I spent just over a week in Barcelona quite unexpectedly. On arrival in Spain friends of ours announced that the road-trip that we'd been planning was not going to be possible as we weren't all going to fit in the car - alas! So a backup plan had to be instigated, and quickly as we had no accommodation and not much time to find any given that we'd arrived from Scotland on a late-ish evening flight.
Our first port of call however did not disappoint; 'Hostel Urbany Barcelona' which is located about a 2 minute walk from the 'Glories' Metro station. My friend and I were given a private room which was great even though we hadn't actually requested one. The room was cleaner and better equipped than many hotel rooms that i've stayed in and for a fraction of the price. It was a stunning, modern building with 11 floors but it still managed to feel cosy and the staff were so friendly that it added a really personal touch. The hostel, as is standard, provided many different options for evening entertainment but also free wi-fi and a well equipped computer suite that is located next to huge windows overlooking the rooftops of Barcelona - the views were so stunning I couldn't concentrate on my search for another hostel, which unfortunately we were required to do as Urbany was full the coming night so we were going to have to move on. This was a big disappointment as it was such a fantastic place to stay and really well placed for metro access which meant you could be anywhere in the city and be travelling for a maximum of around 20 minutes to go to the outskirts. With free reign of the sports centre next door (literally - it was free!!!) Which had a huge swimming pool, sauna and gym facilities in addition to the cleanliness of the rooms and efficiency of the staff I cannot fault this hostel.
The second place we stayed was closer to the centre of town, amazing location near the Barrio Gotico which is a stunning district and home to the most amazing eateries and a mixture of stylish and cute bars. 'Itaca Hostel' was slightly pricier than many hostels that we looked at but we chose it on the basis of its central location and on the understanding that we'd save on metro tickets if we were within walking distance of the centre of town. Having stayed at Urbany the night before Itaca had a lot to live up to but the staff were supremely helpful, very friendly and so welcoming too. What Urbany lacked in personality and character because of its size Itaca had in boundless supply, it's a relatively small hostel and in no way polished but it certainly has a charm to it, the staff were very accommodating and perhaps it could have been a little cleaner but it certainly wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, I would certainly recommend it to a friend. One thing I would highlight is the confusing bathrooms, I ended up in the men's bathroom twice before I noticed that I'd misread the sign on the door!! That could have resulted in a seriously awkward situation but thankfully I noticed before I had any unforeseen encounters.
To conclude, I would return to both of these hostels tomorrow. Urbany for it's slick efficiency and Itaca for it's quirky character. I would however recommend booking well in advance for Itaca as we ended up sharing with a huge number of people in our dorm. All in all, thank you Barcelona for providing an unexpected week of sheer loveliness and to your friendly residents for extending a warm welcome.
The Places in Between is a memoir that tracks Rory Stewart's passage on foot in 2002 through the ever volatile country of Afghanistan. The text follows the authors progress on a path initially walked by the infamous Moghul emperor Babur several thousand years earlier, what initially strikes the reader is just how little seems to have changed in that time. As the author battles dysentery, temperatures 20 degrees below zero, hostility and violence it is a miracle that he survived his journey from Herat to Kabul.
The book is written in Rory Stewart's unique and utterly unpretentious style, it is simplistic without being sparse or dull and the reader is constantly struck by Stewart's bravery without his need to brag about it. The text is interspersed with fragments of Babur's own retelling of his walk through the country so the reader is able to follow his and Stewart's parallel journeys, this contributes to the reader's understanding of just why the author is making this extremely dangerous trek.
Every page is steeped in Rory Stewart's love of history and his deep understanding and appreciation of people and different cultures. The author is now the local MP in Penrith, England and having read the book it is quite evident that he has a great understanding of people which is sure to stand him in good stead in a political environment especially when tasked with representing his constituents.
Perhaps one of the most touching elements of the book, certainly the one that stood out for me was that of Stewart's relationship with the dog which he managed to accidentally acquire on his travels. The author's use of prose allows us to be drawn into this meteorologically hostile and politically unstable environment and see his canine companion as one he takes solace in when things are challenging (as they often are) and holds great affection for.
All in all, this is travel writing as it should be: an exploration of relationships both with the people one comes across and with the very landscape itself. It didn't make me want to go to rural Afghanistan - it made me feel as if I'd already been.