A home from home in Scotland's capital; STUART GREER takes his family on a fun-filled trip to Edinburgh.
That same trip with a toddler in tow is a very different ball game. Your arrival is more a flop than a swoop, due to the staggering amount of 'essentials' you lug with you, and unless you have forked out for a hotel with a separate room or balcony, you end up trapped inside with your sleeping tots.
The solution and saviour? An apartment. And what's better is one in one of the UK's greatest cities, Edinburgh. Our trip north on the Transpennine Express was very comfortable and the staff on board great with our little boy, who was clearly excited by the mode of transport.
After a short walk through the bustling city from the Waverely station we got to Braid Apartments, a commanding block on Thistle Street in the New Town part of the city, Inside there are 20 modern and stylish apartments which can accommodate up to four adults.
Although from our experience of one of the two bed apartments, if it was allowed, you could easily fit in a camp bed in each of the rooms for the kids and squeeze in two families, as there's plenty of living space.
On arrival I get a quick tour of some of the other apartments, which while having identical facilities, including well-equipped kitchens, enjoy unique decor.
As well as a warm welcome we found a well stocked fridge, nibbles and snacks to tide us over before we did a shop. That allowed us to unwind and gave us the chance to plot our assault on Scotland's second biggest city while our toddler bounced on the giant beds. We were also aided by the free WiFi, which helped with our research.
Braid, one of eight apartment blocks in the city run by Fountain Court, is billed as a home from home, is a spot-on description.
With only a few hours before our dinner reservation we set out to explore some of the sights. The beauty of Edinburgh is that you are never far away from a stunning view of the city and all the time the castle looks down on you like a historic sentry.
Wanting to conserve our energy we took a stroll through Princess Street gardens, taking a turn on the big wheel, which was as fun as it was terrifying.
While our visit came before the city's main crowd-puller, the Festival, we were fortunate to stumble across the tale end of its annual Jazz Festival at St Andrew's Square where a series of marquees had been set up near to a Spiegeltent (an elaborately decorated tent of wood and canvas). Inside some bands were sound checking before the night's show, so we got a free taster of the fun.
Dinner was at Cote on Frederick Street, a French chain, which produces classic French cuisine which was nothing short of divine. I had the French onion soup followed by the chicken in wild mushroom sauce, while my wife had the butternut squash risotto. Our little boy was won over the cod goujons, frites and beans.
The next day was all about one thing, well two to be precise, Edinburgh Zoo's giant pandas. In truth I am not sure who was more excited about the possibility of seeing them, us or our son.
A simple and cheap bus ride from the city centre and we were outside the zoo within 40 minutes, passing the famous Murrayfield rugby stadium en route.
The zoo has a stunning entrance, which makes the most of its stars, Tian Tian and Yang Guang. Despite the warnings of how elusive the pandas could be, to our utter delight we saw them running around between naps, which was a magical thing to experience.
There are plenty of other weird and wonderful creatures. including the hilarious penguins and the impressive Greater One-horned rhinoceros. One thing I wasn't accounted for though, was that the zoo was on a hill and it was a pretty steep climb to the top with lovely views back to the city and coastline.
After almost a full day at the zoo there was time for a quick pit stop at the apartment for a change before dinner at the award-winning Fishers' restaurant.
I tried scallops for the first time and loved them, before a delicious main of wild halibut, samphire, brown shrimp, wild garlic and feta salad, and new potatoes.
With our train booked for mid-afternoon there was enough time to walk to the castle, via Royal mile to the National Museum of Scotland which is a free walk around a diverse range of exhibitions of the natural world, science and technology and history.
It made for the perfect end to the perfect weekend.