I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Exit condition

William Wallace
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
So, hmm. Aberdeen. Bit grey. But hey, maybe that's just because it was the early evening, the skies being grey, maybe first impressions aren't always accurate. After all we hadn't made it to the beach, hadn't made it to Old Aberdeen, in fact let's face it we'd done very little other than wander up the main shopping drag. Aberdeen, after all, is a city with a sightseeing bus tour from a chain company, which to my mind implied that it must be a decent tourist city.

So, our plan was to get that bus. At the very least it was a form of 24hr bus pass for the bits which were likely to interest us. Yes, our London attitudes may have been a little patronising towards the place -- we had already learnt, courtesy of a tourist city map given to us by reception staff at our hotel, that one of Aberdeen's claims to fame is that there are over 30 places called Aberdeen in the world (another is that it has the largest permanent funfair in Scotland; the council website has a list of amazing things about Aberdeen) -- but we were trying to rectify that.

First though, a Diet Coke. An easy purchase, but not a quick one, thanks to untold grief being had by the woman in front of us in Somerfield. She was about 150, being served by an under-18, and there was a little communication issue going on. The girl behind the till had mistakenly typed in 2 quid instead of 20 quid, and the resulting odd-looking receipt made the old woman desperately confused and convinced she had been short changed. To top it off her fags had had to be put through the till separately, so she had to hand some money back, and, oh, it was just so traumatic. Noticing this, a supervisor opened another till and we got through. I suspect the difficulties are still going on at the other till a week later.

Up to tourist information and, hmm, it's all still very grey, isn't it. Even with a blue sky, it seemed to kind of just accentuate how grey the buildings were. But we'd still not been elsewhere... and were destined not to venture far for an hour or so, because we missed the sightseeing bus by one minute. D'oh! So after getting our leaflets etc we went for a wander around some back streets and, fucking hell, we found some colour. Not immediately; first we found some more grey buildings, but less square, on a less straight road, basically some character and stuff. We found sculptures and things, and then we found a big park, in the middle of the city, leading towards the bridge on Union Street which would have been lovely if it was over a river, but in fact was over a busy road and a railway line.

At the end of the path in the park we went up the steps, which was a mitsake. Heading back the way we came might have taken an extra 10 minutes, but at least it wouldn't have had the strongest stink of piss this side of the old coach station in Manchester. By christ it was awful.

Right. The bus. It starts outside Marischal College, a building that looks like a church but as the name suggests is not. However, it also isn't a college (any more); there's a bit of scaffold around it, as it's being refurbished for use as the council offices. This is great, because as they told us, the current council offices -- built in the 60s with no respect for the surroundings -- are going to be demolished when it's completed. Those offices are fucking horrible, and hide Provost Skene's House as well. There's a photo on flickr.

After setting off the bus goes first past stuff we'd already seen, so rather than take much notice I instead spent a bit of time trying to work out what the bloke in front of us was all about. This was a man on an Aberdeen sightseeing bus, in Aberdeen (duh), wearing an Aberdeen FC shirt and 2 Aberdeen FC wristbands. So presumaby he knows the city already, which probably meant he wasn't missing much by putting his (red, possibly Aberdeen FC branded) headphones on so he didn't hear the commentary.

beach at Aberdeen
Aberdeen beach
Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
He didn't get off. We did, after going first through Old Aberdeen (which looked very very nice) and getting to the beach, just beyond Pittodrie, Aberdeen FC's ground. Just opposite was the most terrifying looking bar this side of Gibraltar, and I intend to never go in it even if for some reason AFCW play up there one day. It makes me shiver to remember it. And I can't find a photo of it anywhere, except as a tiny part of this one (about halfway up, on the right, in the car park).

The stop at the beach was just beyond "the Aberdeen Eye", which offended Ruth. It's a big wheel in a small seaside funfair, probably 1/8th the size of the London Eye. Ruth was not impressed with the whole Eye naming therefore. She'll be glad to know that googling for "Aberdeen Eye" in quotes gets no results other than for opticians, at least on the first page; though without quotes it led me to discover that its real name is the Grampian Eye Big Wheel.

She was impressed, perhaps worryingly so, with the 2p machines (which seem to be called "Penny Pushers", but I can't find a decent page about them anywhere, only gadget sellers with nostalgia-fest desktop versions for sale) though, and we spent the best part of 90 minutes in the arcade, heh. Then we wandered along the seafront, took a few photos, had an ice cream, and got back on the bus 2 hours after getting off it.

The Aberdeen bloke was still on the bus. In a different seat, but still on the bus. Perhaps he had got off at some point, but even if so it meant he'd got off later than us and got back on again, having done more than a full circuit. That seemed odd to us. Still had his headphones on too.

After the beach the bus winds through the harbour area, full of working boats off out to either fish or do stuff at the oil rigs. It's not pretty. But after that, it heads out past some old city walls, across the Dee, near an old prison, and then to a big park. There was a pony show on that day, coming to a close at the time we got there, and we'd pretty much decided not to bother getting off until we got all the way back round to Old Aberdeen.

At Marischal College we were kicked off. Everyone was, even Mr Aberdeen, because the bus was broken. Not some trivial thing like a broken exhaust or engine or something, no; the CD player was fucked so there was no commentary. Rather than have a person do it, they were just piping a recording through the speakers (and badly, as it was about a minute out of sync with where were were for most of the journey). Being broken they just took the bus out of service and told everyone on board to come back in an hour. The buses are only once an hour, and they finish at about 4.30pm, so an hour is a big chunk of the day lost!

Mr Aberdeen wandered off down some side street while we went back to the tourist board, but first a phone call. Despite what we'd seen on the tour, and were about to go and see, we were still pretty keen to get out of the city. I had booked 4 nights at the Holiday Inn Express and we'd only stayed one night so far, but we wanted out. Ruth phoned up and asked them if we could check out in the morning with no penalty, and thanks to my having booked a flexible rate we were told we could. So, tourist information board it was and within half an hour we had a room booked at a B&B in Ballater, some 40-odd miles inland, in the Cairngorms national park.

Diet Coke bought, we got back on the bus (as did Mr Aberdeen!) and got off in Old Aberdeen. The main thing here is King's College, nowadays part of Aberdeen University. It's lovely and we spent 45 minutes or so doing the tour our leaflet suggested, taking loads of photos and feeling invigorated -- the weather had been great all day, we'd loved the funfair and now found something really nice in this city, and best of all had an escape route sorted. Aberdeen is not somewhere to stay for 4 nights, but 2 nights was spot on.

Walked back to the city rather than wait for the bus and do the whole circuit again, went for a pint in a decent pub in the city then went back to the hotel. Booked ourselves a table in the Indian we'd been turned away from the previous night, had a fantastic curry, then went to a WORLD FAMOUS pub just down Union Street that neither of us had ever heard of before, and whose name now escapes me (lasting impression that it left). Played a lot of quiz machine, then back to the hotel. The Untouchables was on TV! Senior.

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