Perth is the one city to which anyone living on mainland Scotland can travel there and back in one day by public transport with time enough in the middle of the day to attend a conference or a forum.
(I find that Perth is technically no longer a city, because pesky people in the 1990s decided that some cities in Scotland didn’t merit the word “city” even if they’d been referred to as cities since time out of mind. Bah, humbug.)
So although I’d been there several times before, I’d never really spent time there. It was a good place to go for a short break.
We stayed in the Queens Hotel – it wasn’t expensive, but it was genuinely nice. The staff couldn’t have been friendlier, the hotel itself was a little shabby-looking and our room wasn’t very big, but it didn’t lack anything you’d want (besides the usual furnishings, including tea / coffee / shortbread, the flatscreen TV was brand-new and fantastic, and the hotel wifi was free, easy to access, and excellent) and it was spotlessly clean. We’d booked the Queens Hotel because it advertised a spa, and that was pretty damn fantastic – a swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna. Fully-equipped gym. The equipment in the gym was a little bit elderly, but it all worked. Helpful staff on hand. We got a voucher that gave you £5 off the main course if you ate in the hotel restaurant, and we took advantage of that on the first night – not the most exciting meal I’d ever had, but freshly cooked and very tasty and definitely good value. Breakfast was again not terribly exciting – a standard Continental-type buffet, plus the usual range of hot cooked meats/eggs/baked beans. But it was fine – perfectly good value for money, and again: friendly helpful staff, prompt service. Mostly we’d come there for a night off, an afternoon and a morning spent swimming, gym, jacuzzi, sauna – and that we got.
After we checked out, we left our bags in the hotel and set out to wander around Perth for a few hours before our train back to Edinburgh. We planned basically to window-shop and browse charity shops for the odd things that occasionally you find there. About elevenses time we found our way to Hetties’ Tea Room, which is a fabulous place.
We ended up both ordering the English breakfast tea (there were a lot of other good teas on the menu), which arrived in a pot sized for two, a promise of more hot water if we wanted it, and a timer to make sure the tea brewed for just so long as would make a perfect cup. Readers, it was the best cup I’d had in ages.
We also had a cinnamon-apple scone with cinnamon-apple jelly, and a slice of cake. I regret to say I do not have a photo of the scone, because it got eaten too fast. It was delicious plain, and really delicious with the jelly – a proper homemade made-that-day scone. The cake, though. OMG, the cake. We… may have noticed it in the window before we went in:
and we ordered a slice to share, which was huge:
It’s on Princes Street. You should go there. Unless you don’t like tea. (They do also serve coffee. Can’t speak to the quality of that, though.)
We browsed onwards down the street until we reached the Tay. I found a peculiar sculpture which looks like nothing recognisable from the angle at which I first saw it:
but as I walked round it to look, suddenly the subject became clearer:
On the way back up, I investigated a side-street and discovered we were walking by the old kirk where John Knox preached his sermon against idolatry 453 years ago and started a riot. (He did not blame himself for the riot: he said it was the fault of the unruly citizens.)
I do not like John Knox. There is a wooden statue of him in St Giles, and it is a great pleasure to me that the man who preached against idols has become an idol himself.
Finally, having browsed through probably every charity shop in the city centre, and window-shopped at many of the rest, we were ready for lunch. I’d looked up Perth in the Happy Cow, and found one restaurant, which I cross-referenced at Tripadvisor, so that was where we were going for lunch – Tabla, South Street, and wow was it worth it.
We had onion bhajis and hara bhara tikka for starters – the bhajis were delicious, not patties but crisp individual slices of onion with coriander and chilli in the batter. The hara bhara tikka, potato patties with peas, spinach, and chillies, were the best I’d ever tasted. (We’d also ordered salt lhassi to drink with, a good idea.) We both ordered jalfrezie curries for mains, one chicken and one vegetable, and garlic naan and a pilau rice, and it was all excellent – spicy hot, full of flavour. This is a restaurant worth travelling to. (We ate off the set lunch menu, were brought a jug of iced tap water without having to ask for it, and didn’t have dessert or coffee: lunch for two cost us just under £20.)
We’d timed it to be able to spend a comfortable time over lunch and take our time getting back to the station for the train, stopping off on the way to pick up our luggage. About halfway there, it occurred to my friend that she didn’t have her hat, and as the only place we could think of she might have left it was Hetties’, we walked back there – to find it safely tucked behind the till. We still had plenty of time to catch the train.
The last bit of history I noted was the old hospital, founded by James VI in the 16th century (James Stewart granted the charter acting as the boy’s Regent 443 years ago). The present building is only 262 years old, though. And it’s not a hospital any more.