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Reviews, Features, Articles

London to Edinburgh: Train or Plane?

This post is for visitors to Edinburgh or London, preferably if you are staying in the centre of either of the 2 cities. I am also obliging those who constantly ask me about my preferred route to travel up north. If you live near an airport, you are entitled to skip this post!

The Terrific Train Trip

I have always preferred a smoother train journey as opposed to the hassle of flying. It is a much more comfortable journey, and you travel from the centre of the first city (Edinburgh/London) to the centre of your destination. You can settle down straight away on the train with a book or laptop, order food and drink. There is beautiful scenery to take in travelling up the east coast.

It is easy to imagine the 4 1/2 hour train journey can drag without being broken down into too much activity (walking towards your gate in an airport, browsing the shops) but there is free wifi connectivity if you have work to do. You may watch a film if you fancy, play cards or chat to the friendly stranger beside you if they oblige conversation.

I have had great train journeys with a book, sipping on Prosecco and taking in the wonderful sea views. Hardly any interruptions at all; I do not have to deal with any airline staff requesting me to stow away my hand luggage, I do not have to switch off any digital devices for take-off and I can take 2 bottles of wine in my hand luggage if I so desired. You only have to deal with the ticket inspector just the one time and s/he leaves you alone.

As mentioned above, the train journey takes 4 1/2 hours. Add to this the travel to and from stations. In total it takes around 5 hours. I can entertain myself during the trip, and time passes quickly enough for me. One can always appreciate the free tea or coffee and shortbread offered in First Class if sustenance is required, otherwise there is also the onboard catering service.

My favourite view is emerging from Edinburgh Waverley station onto Princes Street via Waverley Steps because you are immediately treated to full views of Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town, the Scott Monument and the monuments of Calton Hill. As of this writing, these steps have been undergoing refurbishment as a glass roof is being built over the stairway. You can still get the same views, including Princes Street Gardens, by ascending straight onto Waverley Bridge.

I put in a complaint quite some time ago about travelling up to Aberdeen on the train. To cut a long story short, the staff from Edinburgh Waverley put us on the train knowing full well it was going to be delayed due to a non-working train stuck on the track approaching Leuchars. We were given a satisfactory compensation amount, plus a First Class return journey for 2, anywhere on the East Coast line. Needless to say their service was redeemed in our eyes.

The Annoying Airport Journey

I flew to London from Edinburgh recently and it certainly confirmed my view that flying to London spells h-a-s-s-l-e for me.

First of all, one must travel to the airport which is mainly based outside the city, around 30-40 mins. travel time. You have to be at the airport roughly 1.5 hours before the flight. Counting in the time to travel to the airport + checking-in (queues) + going through security (queues again) + waiting around, this can be just under the time it takes to travel via train.

The security queues at London Luton airport were massive during my recent trip, and for a busy Sunday evening I was slowly shuffling forwards in the queue for 45 mins. On the subject of security, we now know we cannot bring liquids over 100ml in your hand luggage and if you are in London for a short spell (like I am most of the time) you would normally prefer to carry hand luggage. Receiving a box of perfume as a present meant I had to leave this behind and take it back with me on my subsequent train journey.

If you enjoy the hustle and bustle of an airport + plenty of activity + don’t mind waiting around then by all means, take this form of transport.

I have heard so many horror stories about complaints to airlines unresolved and I sadly have one of my own. KLM issued a travel voucher to me as compensation for a 4-hour delay and I thought, “Great, I can use this for my next trip to London.” When I phoned to make my booking, they suggested the following route: Edinburgh – Amsterdam – London. For a brief weekend trip to London this was certainly not convenient due to the time constraints and they would not entertain my request to travel directly to London (take note this is supposedly to pacify me after having made a complaint already!)


If you want to experience the drive to/from Edinburgh/London then it takes 6 hours with no breaks to travel, and up to 8 hours with around 2 scheduled stops. Weather-permitting all the time, of course.


The Best of Both Worlds (previously published)

The following is an article previously published on the website of Philippine newspaper Philippine Star on the experience of Filipino & Scottish worlds. The original link is here.

The Best of Both Worlds

( Updated February 02, 2010 09:55 AM

It shocks me when a Scottish person I meet tells me they do not know where the Philippines is.

I do not live in the remotest part of Scotland. I am based in Edinburgh, its enchanting capital. This vibrant, historical city is where the very first skyscrapers graced the skies. The place is a fascinating blend of “old meets new” with its ancient and modern feel within the clusters of closes (narrow alleyways) and tenements (apartments). A grand castle and dormant volcano lie at the heart of the entire bustle, and yes, this is where J.K. Rowling is famed to have created the world of Harry Potter.

It is truly more beautiful than any city I have visited in Europe.

When I hear that some poor soul has not heard of Pinas, the country that I love, the land I was raised in, I always think they are missing out. There is a wealth of scenery and more that our beautiful country owns, sure. Yet it is the tiny details that our own tropical paradise revels in, also making it stand out in my view.

I am a second-generation immigrant, born in the UK and raised in Manila. I go through life in a state of “uprootedness,” which is a general neither-here-nor-there feeling. Now that I am back in the country of my birth, I join the millions of kababayans who are nostalgic for home from time to time. I am constantly lovesick for my other country.

In the six years that I have stayed in the UK, once more, I have learned that I cannot brag about the pristine beaches enough, or the scent of ripe mangoes in the heat, the different types of orchids that bloom, the warmth and extreme kindness of the Filipinos.

I hear envious sighs when I speak of how we can freely step out of the house with flip-flops and sunglasses on, as the tropical climate mostly allows. The Scots would love for the sun and 29 degrees (Celsius) temperature to take up permanent residence in Scotland.

Weather is a big deal in this country. It is not an exaggeration when I say there are times when you experience all four seasons in a day. You get the complete package: snow, rain, bright sunshine, and cloudy skies all in just one day. And I smile to myself when I remember some old Pinoy schoolmates asking me if snow is always a star attraction in the UK. The answer is, not after the first few days when you have to venture out and cars in front of you start moving diagonally on the icy roads that resemble glass.

I find it ironic how the white Brits I know wish to avoid the “pasty look” by covering themselves head to toe in tanning sprays or lotions, even going to lengths of owning a sun bed at home.

They raise their eyebrows in disbelief when I tell them of the whitening lotions for sale in a Filipino supermarket. It is quite absurd how they do everything and anything for their roasted skin to remain on the golden standards barometer. Note the love/hate attitude towards “fair skin” from a Pinoy and Western standpoint.

With these illustrations, I have learned that wherever you are in the world, either as a result of your choices or circumstances, there will always be people owning the notion that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. They would always tend to believe that “people are luckier abroad” or that “life is easier in a different country”.

Pride is elusive for some people. However, the lucky ones are those who have tremendous pride in their culture. It saves from nostalgia and homesickness. This Filipino dignity takes center stage when we show off Pinas to the world.

The Scots are comparable to the Pinoys in so many ways, I am happy to report, being universally well-loved, and very easy to feel at home in their company. Their sense of humor reminds me so much of the Pinoy’s.

Their culture is displayed in full glory when they don their tartans and kilts. They are an outstanding country, with a long list of inventions under their belt: the ultrasound, refrigerator, penicillin, insulin, cures for tuberculosis and typhoid fever, golf. Despite these achievements and more, they remain humble and down-to-earth.

In a way, the saying “ignorance is bliss” supports the people I encounter who have no inkling of the tropical paradise on the other side of the world. The less they know, the happier they are. I, on the other hand, am blissful knowing that the tangible experiences of eating lechon, listening to the musical Tagalog spoken around me, coursing down the street in a jeepney covered in streamers are an authentic feeling of being home.


Hope for the Scottish Wildcats


These magnificent creatures epitomise freedom, passion and independence. Bigger and more powerful than their domestic cousins, the “Highland Tiger”, scientific name Felis Sylvestris Grampia, are naturally shy and elusive.

It is staggering to know that there are only around 400 wildcats remaining in Scotland. They are Britain’s rarest wild mammal. The situation to save them is desperate.

The above video by Coffee Films Productions says it all, really.

The imminent threat that they could be wiped out within less than a decade is shocking, and made more real by the dilution between domestic and wildcats, accidents and disease.

There is hope. It was announced last month that the scientist Dr Bill Ritchie who was involved in cloning Dolly the sheep 15 years ago is working on a technique to clone Scottish Wildcats. This is breaking news, and promises a future for the preservation of these indomitable creatures. You can read more about this here: BBC News.

On Letter Writing

The art of letter writing is much adored by everyone I know. It has sadly long been in decline and only a handful of people I know practice it. The majority resort to the convenience of text messaging, e-mail, Facebook messaging. In my eyes the art beats those modes of communication on so many levels because of the figurative message it delivers.

Imagine receiving a card or a personal handwritten letter through the post. This certainly brightens up my day, adds a smile to my face. It is above par with having muffins baked for you, receiving a bottle of wine or box of chocolates out of the blue. It is always such a wonderful, special surprise. Perhaps my love for the written word explains why I enjoy receiving and sending letters. Nonetheless I get pleasure from writing a personal message on stationery using a good pen, and imagining my recipient’s reaction upon opening it.

This was spurred from my school days when I exchanged monthly correspondence with a penpal in grade school, talking about random things such as our hobbies and the outings our families went on. One has plenty of spare time as a child, and that is really the key even in our busy schedules nowadays: making the time for it.

My dear mother also kept up correspondence with me when I moved back to the UK, sometimes writing 7-page letters containing everything from recipes to her tips when visiting Spain. We still continue our letter writing, alongside our regular Skype sessions.

In high school, wee notes were furtively handed around in the middle of dull calculus class, in all its glorious forms: post-its, scented onion-skin paper, pad papers written with coloured pencils, black paper scribbled with gel pens (which were glow-in-the-dark, marvellous); or your own name in fancy lettering by skilled classmates. If you were lucky to be friends with an artist, they tirelessly created special postcards and birthday surprises with creative finishes. The card below is one of many produced by my best friend Telly, a very talented artist who creates personalised cards for friends. These are always welcomed with delight. Note the date which shows the timeframe of our exchange.