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Monday, 16 August 2010

Things to do in Leeds: A Brave and Noble Trip Across the Pennines

Now, before we start, I should make it clear that I realise a weekend in Leeds is not necessarily an obvious choice for a romantic break to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Certainly not for my husband, a staunch Lancastrian who eyes anything or anyone from the other side of the Pennines with much suspicion. Yet the Amsterdam trip we priced up was ludicrously expensive, as was Brussels, Rome, Barcelona, etc etc...then an email arrived offering us two nights at The Queens in Leeds for sixty five quid a night. Sold.

And do you know what? Leeds is IMMENSE. We had a truly great time, and so for a limited period only, Things to do in Manchester is honouring its Yorkshire sister and becoming....Things to do in Leeds (never, ever, accuse me of having little or no imagination.)

First off, Leeds is only 55 minutes from Manchester on the train, ideal for those who still view the unchartered territories of Yorkshire with trepidation. Secondly, The Queens is an ace hotel, right by the train station (a necessity for those cruelly abandoned to carry their own luggage), overlooking the beautiful City Square and exuding the kind of faded 1930s glamour that I always welcome (sadly, I had left my fake-fur coat behind, otherwise I would have thrown it on over my fishnets and smoked a cigarette in a long holder at the bar. Next time, next time.)

Thirdly, there really is loads to do in Leeds which, like Manchester, is conveniently sized so that you can walk to most places (always useful for burning off the 8 sausages and two types of egg consumed at breakfast.) With so many lovely things to do and see, it is a complete mystery to me how I ended up spending two hours of my life in The Royal Armouries; something to do, no doubt, with the basic drawback of a wedding anniversary trip having to involve things that boys like doing as well as shopping and champagne-drinking.

Anyway, there are SOME interesting things here, such as various suits of armour sported by Henry VIII at different points in his life (a steadily increasing girth size seems to be far from a modern phenomenon), and there IS a bar nearby that sells champagne. I was able to recover quietly here from my ordeal, and experience the thrill of drinking Moet while sitting on Moet cushions under a Moet umbrella (see? I am immune to their sneaky product-placement!)

Foodwise, Leeds has some great restaurants, although it is surprisingly tricky finding one that doesn't also have a branch in Manchester (which would, of course, be a little like those embarrassing Brits abroad who whinge about foreign food and insist on Marmite and ketchup.) Friday night was easy: we fancied curry, no doubt due to the large amount of ale consumed in Mr Foley's real ale pub first, and bar staff were happy to point us in the direction of Akbars. This is quite possibly the biggest, noisiest curry house in the known world, and is utterly fabulous - great food, reasonable prices, cheerful staff, and giant naan breads brought to table hanging from what looked to be large instruments of medieval torture.

Saturday night was a more "grown-up" night, and we took advantage of the glorious weather to visit the River Plate, an Argentine steakhouse with a lovely waterside balcony. This lacked the atmosphere of Akbars but the food was pretty good; we weren't brave or greedy enough to try the big steaks, plumping (ha!) for the 225g and 300g sirloins respectively, but the menu does offer a steak weighing a whole kilogram. Having seen the size of a 750g one that was being cooked on the grill I can only say: shame on you if you even CONTEMPLATE such gluttony *conveniently glosses over breakfast sausage-frenzy*

The shops in Leeds are also most impressive, offering the classy Victoria Quarter as well as more familiar high-street behemoths, although sadly I had failed to grasp the logic that anything purchased in Leeds had to be carted back on the train. Add to all of this a trip to Leeds Art Gallery to admire the Henry Moore and Antony Gormley pieces on show, a perfect afternoon tea at the hotel with dainty sandwiches, scones and cakes, and a sneaky bottle of pink champagne lugged all the way over from Manchester, and it all made for a pretty much perfect weekend. The icing on the cake? We ran out of time to do all the things we wanted to do, and my husband actually said, without use of headlock, "don't worry - we can do that when we come back to Leeds again." Mission accomplished.

- The Queens Hotel is at 1 City Square, Leeds LS1, tel 0113 243 1323
- Akbars is at 16 Greek Street, near to Mr Foley's AMAZING real ale pub on The Headrow
- River Plate is at 36-38 Call Lane, Leeds LS2, tel 0113 391 2792

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