It was our anniversary recently, so we decided to have a few days away. Having been to Manchester earlier in the year, this time we plumped for Leeds. I had been there at a conference a few years ago, and quite liked the look of the place, and noted that it - like Manchester - had a fairly compact centre that is easy to walk around.
We went up on the train, oddly via Stevenage. After dropping our bags off at the Quebecs Hotel, which was nice and central and close to the station, we set off for a little explore.
It wasn't long before we were sipping our first cocktail at Epernay. It's in the Electric Press building, so you can sit outside the bar, but inside, if you know what I mean.
We then wandered across to the Merrion Centre. Apart from the general look around, we were searching for LAB. Despite there being adverts on the hoardings, we wandered round the whole shopping centre twice and completely failed to find it. Upon checking later, we found it had closed down and had turned into Homage 2 Fromage. Why nobody bothered to put notices up is beyond me.
Continuing our stroll, we had a wonderful afternoon tea at Just Grand, one of those classic old places where none of the crockery matches.
After checking in at the hotel and freshening up, we hit the town. We had done some research, and the list of interesting pubs, restaurants, and cocktail bars was far longer than we were likely to be able to fit in. But we managed distrikt, where the staff were incredibly helpful, and I had a tasty plate of whitebait (after the afternoon tea, we really didn't want a full blown meal). And also visited Mook, which is highly recommended - a little hidden away, reasonably priced, and very friendly.
Saturday morning started a little damp. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant or even breakfast room, which is great because we intended having breakfast out anyway. So we went to Le Chalet, where I stuffed myself with the croque monsieur.
First tourist stop was the Leeds Art Gallery, which I found hugely disappointing. OK, so I'm not a pure art afficionado, but the permanent paintings were pretty poor quality, and the travelling exhibition was, well, odd and uninteresting. Fortunately, admission is free.
Then to the Leeds City Museum, also free, and also nicely located right in the centre. This was far more interesting, with a little bit of local history, the traditional stuff like an Egyptian mummy, and the 'Tailored' fashion exhibition was very good.
We headed off through the shopping center next, through the arcades and the Victoria Quarter, to the Kirkgate Market and the Corn Exchange, full of small independent vendors.
In the evening, a quick cocktail at Las Iguanas before dinner at Hotel Chocolat. Yes, dinner at Hotel Chocolat. Mussels in cacao beer, burger with chocolate flavoured accompaniments. Not something you find manay places, although the Cambridge Hotel Chocolat is just moving to new premises with a Cafe, so they're clearly pushing into markets beyond just selling boxes of posh chocolates. To finish, we went to The Alchemist - heaving, noisy, crowded, but with a good vibe, and just watching the cocktails being mixed is entertainment in itself.
Breakfast on Sunday was a sausage butty at Riveresque. We then wandered up to the bus station and took the bus out to Kirkstall Abbey. It's very impressive, but I would recommend a warmer day when you could wander along the river or sit in the park and do some sunbathing.
In the afternoon I put together a little pub crawl. Tapped, Friends of Ham, The Brewery Tap, and The Head of Steam, all very close to the hotel, and all excellent establishments well worth a visit.
Smartened up for the evening, stopped off for a coffee at Bilbao before the main meal of Fazenda. For those unfamiliar with the idea, they bring skewer after skewer of steak to your table, and cut you a piece. You have a little card which is red or green to let them know whether you want more, or whether you want a break to let some go down. Stuffed, we took in the Sky Lounge at the Hilton before heading back to the hotel.
Monday breakfast was at a wonderful little place called Burgundy. They have an all you can eat buffet, the quality was superb. Then a long walk over to the Royal Armouries, where we spent a few hours browsing armour.
Walking back into Leeds we had got a couple more cocktail bars lined up to try, but they were closed on Mondays. So when we went past Ambiente and saw the sign up about sherry tasting, we had to go in - someone round here is rather partial to a tasting flight of Pedro Ximenez.
After a bit of wandering round the shops, we ended up at Decanter to have a taster platter - they have a good range of meats and cheeses on platters, we were just looking for a little top-up before heading for the train.
Arriving at the railway station, we were greeted by a large "cancelled" sign on our train. Drinking time wasted! On the next train, which should have got us back into Cambridge only shortly after the original, due to changing at Peterborough instead of Stevenage. It didn't, of course, delays due to cattle on the line delayed that train as well.
Would I recommend Leeds? Yes, absolutely. If you're into food and drink and shopping, the centre will be fine all year round. If that's not your scene, then there are plenty of houses and museums in the area but, like Kirkstall Abbey, those would probably be better when the weather is a bit warmer.