Smoke me a haggis, I’ll be back for breakfast..

(To paraphrase Ace Rimmer from the popular television series, Red Dwarf)

If the overall theme of last year was gadgets, the theme for this year is wellbeing & travelling.  I’ve just booked all the bits and bobs for a 9 day trip to Edinburgh – one of my favourite places on this tiny island that I call home.

I’m starting in London – staying two nights at a local Premier Inn and having a full day to explore the capital.  I like doing something like this every so often – trying either annually or at least every two years to get out and about around the capital to see what’s what.  London is huge, and despite living on the outer edges of the place for approximately half my life, there are still many things to see and do.  For example, I’ve never been to the Tower of London.  I’ve not been up the Shard.  So those two are on my list.

After my full day in London, it’s first class all the way on a train up to Edinburgh. I’ll be staying at The Hub by Premier Inn again – after such a great experience last time, I’d be a fool not to – and especially when the overall cost works out at £38 a day  – including breakfast.

I’ve got a rough itinerary worked out for the nine days – including hiking up to Arthur’s Seat that overlooks the whole city.  A trip to see the Royal Yacht Britannia in Leith.  A day trip to see Loch Ness and the surrounding area.  Another trip to some whisky distilleries.  A day trip to Glasgow.  A day at Edinburgh Zoo – I’m a member, so makes sense for me to go visit when I can get in at a discounted rate.  And another trip to Edinburgh Castle.  Amongst other things.

Stay tuned – I’ll be sure to blog about it as and when.

My name is.. Slartibartfast

Over the past 16 years I’ve travelled extensively – from cross-country USA to Bora Bora and New Zealand, and a lot more in-between!  I have seen much of the world – but there is much, much more to see.  My last big adventure was in 2015 when I visited a friend in Seattle and we drove up to Vancouver, then down to the Oregon coast.

Back in 2012 I was introduced to the world of cruising.  We ventured on the Azamara Journey from Italy through to Portugal, and it was a wonderful experience (except the time I drank a little too much red wine during rough seas around Nice, but I’ve learnt my lesson and won’t be doing that again).

As I’m still single (all offers gratefully received – hehe), holidaying is a rather odd affair. Dining alone consists of a table for one while I’m checking the smartphone for new Twitter or some other social networks’ updates.  So the past few years proceeding the divorce hasn’t seen much in the way of a good holiday abroad  (the USA-Canada trip being the one exception).

So I’ve been looking at cruises over the past few months.  Based on my previous experience, dining is definitely not a solitary affair for a singleton like me.  Even as a couple you are sat at a table with other diners (often a mix of couples, families and singles) and you get to meet other people.  Where else could you meet one of Jim Henson’s neighbours (when he was growing up), an ex-New York circuit judge, an ex-representative for a major US telecoms company who personally looked after Apple’s account in its earlier days? A cruise, that’s where.

I decided that as I’ve always wanted to visit Norway (hence the HHGTTG reference) and Iceland, I’d take a two-week cruise from Southampton to Norway, then to Iceland, then Dublin, and finally back to Southampton.  There’s no flying, and getting to Southampton is mere triviality from where I am.  I’ve already put down the deposit, and to say I’m excited about it is an understatement.  And even more so, I’m going to buy myself a decent tux (how I miss thee – the last time I wore one was at the world premiere of Peter Jackson’s King Kong back in 2005).  And as the trip is a way off, I’m going to get myself in shape too.  It’s given me a goal to work towards.  This cruise is adults only, and a medium size ship – so hopefully it’ll be fairly quiet!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy my Viking helmet..

The House of Fun: Galaxy S7 Edge photo test

Last night I met up with a fellow former Google Apps Top Contributor who was in London for a few days.  Anurag and I went on a whistlestop tour of Westminister and the South Bank, stopping off at the local McDonalds for something to eat and drink.  It was absolutely boiling, but I managed to take some great photos using my Galaxy S7 Edge camera.  Clicking on each photo opens the original file, so you can see how detailed the full-size image is.

Much better than the iPhone 6S Plus in my opinion.

We did spot a large number of journalists along the South Bank setting up camera kit for their reports on the EU Referendum.  Most of them were standing against the backdrop of the Houses of Parliment.  I’d imagine today the South Bank is overrun with reporters.

Also: Android Pay, like Apple Pay, can be pretty spotty on TfL contactless readers. Sometimes you have to change to a different barrier if the one you want to use rejects the phone/card.  Do hope TfL fixes this.

Slow road to.. Woking

There has been an unusually large number of Arriva bus learner drivers on the road this week, all of them apparently on the rush hour bus from Knaphill Sainsburys to Woking train station.

Now, I can understand that drivers will need to learn the route and get used to the fare system.  But is it really a good idea to do this when man, woman and dog are using the bus to get to work first thing in the morning?  I’ve been delayed by 15-20 minutes each time.

Today was the worst day by far.  The bus turned up nearly 10 minutes late.  As we sauntered at a leisurely pace around Goldsworth Park, picking up new passengers as we went, we were eventually overtaken by another bus heading in our direction.

As we made our way along Lockfield Drive, we were rear ended by a car.  I certainly felt it being sat right at the back along the back row.  Although at first I thought the bus had caught the kerb, but nope, a car had run into us.

Mutiny on the Buses. Or rather, we were given a bit of a bashing on the bottom by a car.
Mutiny on the Buses. Or rather, we were given a bit of a bashing on the bottom by a car.

Thankfully we were able to overtake the other bus before all this happened, and therefore didn’t have to wait long before it caught up and were able to catch that for the rest of the journey into Woking town centre.

Having missed my usual train, and the following one after that, the third train was late.

GARGHHHHHHHHHHGHHGHH!

I do wish teleporters existed.

The Hub by Premier Inn: The future of the hotel

Update (14th January 2017): Have booked to stay again in Edinburgh at The Hub in a few months time. Surprisingly far, far cheaper than staying at any of the IHG owned hotels, of which I avidly collect points for.  Stay tuned for an update!

As a frequent(ish) traveller, I like my technology, and having had my fair share of staying in Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses and whatnot, it’s frustrating seeing the same old stuff every time one stays at these places: all too small TVs (at least they’re flatscreen, right?), inconveniently located light switches and wall sockets, and having to remember to stick your keycard into the wall to make sure that the lights and AC remain on. And then you have a thermostat that’s probably older than you and that it never gets the right temperature that you want, so you’re fiddling with it constantly.

Then you have to wait 600 years in reception checking and checking out.

Yawn, yawn, yawn.  But at least you get a decent bed, and a good night’s sleep, yes?  Maybe.

There’s a new kid in town, and it’s aiming to make staying a budget conscious (usually – subject to supply and demand and seasons, etc.) a tech lover’s dream.

Edinburgh Waverly station - the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.
Edinburgh Waverly station – the Hub by Premier Inn is a mere 4-5 minute walk away.

For my trip to Edinburgh, I booked The Hub by Preimer Inn.  As the name implies, it’s a sister hotel to the regular Premier Inn, but with more emphasis on technology and efficiency.  But not at the expense of either (nor comfort for that matter).  From check in through to turning the lights on and off, you’ll be exposed to the future of proper hotel comfort using a contactless keycard and a mobile app to control your room’s temperature and lighting.

But that’s not all.

You get a huge comfortable bed, a desk and chair (sometimes the desk is hidden away, sometimes you’ll get a slightly bigger room with the desk in a permanent position), a 40″ smart TV with a dedicated panel for HDMI, RGB connectors and USB in, a control panel that controls all the lights, temperature, and the “Do not make up room” and “Do not disturb” electronic signs that light up outside your room.

Check-in was simplicity itself.  There’s a QR code with your booking that you scan in the check-in machine (don’t worry – there’s staff on hand to guide you through the whole process) and you then confirm a few details on the touchscreen.  You then take a blank, contactless room card and then put it into the reader/writer.  You’re then checked in.  Two minutes!  No queues!

But you can control all that through The Hub’s own iOS (or Android) app if you wish.  It’s a tiny bit buggy, but works more or less most of the time.  It’s perfectly possible, when connected to the hotel’s superfast (and I do mean it) Wi-Fi and sitting downstairs in the deli seating area to set the temperature ready for when you get back to your room.

When you do leave the room, lights and AC are turned off/or set to a low level.  On your return, everything comes back on without you having to stick your contactless room card in a slot or do anything else.  It Just Works(tm).  No more thumbling around for that light switch.

The Hub by Premier Inn's superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.
The Hub by Premier Inn’s superfast Wi-Fi is superfast. Good enough for streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime content.

Speaking of food, I ordered breakfast for all 4 days that I was staying at the hotel.  Breakfast consists one of four choices and comes with a sandwich, bagel or muffin, a hot drink (from Costa – so I could enjoy my favourite mochas every day), and a cold drink (typically orange juice).  I tended to combine this with a pain au chocolate (£2 extra).  The Great British breakfast was delicious – bacon in a toasted sandwich.

The Great British breakfast "box". Pain au chocolate extra £2.
The Great British breakfast “box”. Pain au chocolat extra £2.

I also tried other items on the menu (a tuna/cheese toasted sandwich and a decent, hearty soup containing chickpeas) and I can attest that the quality of the ingredients is excellent, The in house restaurant/deli is effectively a branch of The Proven Dough.  It’s not a brand I had heard of before, but would certainly be happy to use again.

The rooms, by the way, don’t have any kettles (they do have hairdryers, however).  But that’s okay.  You have 24/7 access to unlimited coffee and tea downstairs in the deli/reception area.  I tested this by heading down at 1am and there were still members of staff milling around.  I went back to the room and promptly tripped, emptying the entire contents of the tea onto the floor.  Sigh.

As The Hub’s deli is that – a deli – if you want something a bit more substantial, the location of the hotel in Edinburgh puts you right at the Royal Mile.  Literally a two minute walk.  But you can also use the regular Premier Inn restaurant – which is 30 seconds away, but I would recommend booking in advance wherever possible.

IMG_0061
If you’re waiting for somebody, or need to look something up, or are holding an impromptu meeting – there are Android tablets in reception for you to play with. I struggled with the browser (which oddly told me it was a trial version).

The only downside was that I couldn’t get AirPlay to work with the Smart TV.  I suspect that the implementation by Samsung/Premier Inn isn’t quite compatible with iOS 9.3.  I still had that superfast Wi-Fi, and the 12.9″ inches of my iPad Pro to watch Netflix and Amazon.  So it was no big deal.  A nice idea from Premier Inn, however.

As you can see, The Hub by Premier Inn offers people like me a hotel that makes sense. The Hub by Premier Inn is perfect for the business traveller (the deli/seating area has built in chargers for phones, and electrical sockets for laptops).

Travelodge and Holiday Inn (Express) ought to take note.  The Hub by Premier Inn is the future of the modern mass market hotel.  While still only available in limited locations for now, I hope that Premier Inn will roll out more Hubs to other cities and towns.

I absolutely loved my stay at The Hub by Premier Inn (Edinburgh Royal Mile) and I’m already planning on going back later this year.  What was even better was the price.  For the four nights I was away, it cost me only £218.  Had I stayed at a local hotel, it’d have cost me £320, and given the experience of my manager who popped up to go to the same conference as me (I combined a working day with a holiday) had, I definitely made the right choice.