The Travel Politic

In the Summer of 2016 I was on a more than amazing Scottish roam. The itinerary I had changed and rearranged many times before departing, and changed yet again when I got there, going where the heart pulled me. Never a typical tourist, I may climb castles and ruins enthusiastically,  but I find spending time in public transit and anywhere people gathered and talked to be the best places to be. Hearing spoken Gaelic being freely used was an amazing thing. You didn’t need to understand it to see how people communicated.  It is the perfect backdrop while taking trains through the highlands, listening to happy families speaking their language in pure joy. A language of green mountains and hills you won’t find anywhere else.

After the first foray into the Highlands, I swung back down and ended up in Oban. The sea was calling me. I had been reading headlines in papers at some of the train stations. Big changes were coming for the UK. And big changes in the US. When I feel any serious emotion, I have to touch the river or the sea. I was feeling a bit guilty, a bit escapist. I was ignoring the real world. It was after the Scottish IndyRef vote had not passed, and Theresa May had just taken office. With the way the US Presidential campaigns were going, it seemed inevitable that we were heading for a repeat of the Thatcher and Reagan era.

I was sitting on the rug in a great B&B I got for a steal. Beautiful view of the bay that I had just cruised through to get to the Isle of Mull. I should have been very happy. Suddenly it just hit me. I was at a loss. So, I sat on the floor with my phone. The world was really about to go into the funnel of a maelstrom or so it felt. Into some kind of void. It was like it was the very first time I ventured into the UK as a very young teen. Back then it was Thatcher and protests, the disenfranchised youth without work and no future. This new thing called Brexit, how the UK was trying to pull out of the European Union seemed a really bizarre idea. I wasn’t so sure what I would being going home to in my own country.

I put music on my iPhone, I needed comfort from old favorites. I started with John Lennon’s Imagine, singing along and tears streaming. I fell into George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and Give Me Love. I had to have that cry out. Went to bed that night, decided not to stay the second day. I needed to get back to a city, to not be an escapist, not be in an idyllic, coastal Scottish town.  Needed that heart beat and throb. Edinburgh was calling to me, something in me said just go. So I arrived a few days early. It was one of the best decisions on that trip. 

Edinburgh has rescued many a soul. After walking the streets and climbing over and around graveyards for hours, I came out and wandered into a sprawling historic area. A protest parade had started. My internal forever university student drive kicked in and I made a beeline to it. Saltires and EU flags were flying, IndyRef badges and banners displayed. People still wanted their independence, but they didn’t want to be ripped from the EU without their say. Scotland Police were escorting and walking alongside. There were all ages present, children in strollers and on small bikes. People walking with dogs, a cat on a leash. Even a parrot. I spent a time trying to figure out the rules of the Scottish protest, can you just jump in, was there an end of the line you funnel in at. Someone said, “Come on”. It was strangely quiet compared to the American protests I had been to. So, I joined for a bit of solidarity. It was one of the highlights of that visit.

Sadly I won’t be traveling this year. I barely scratched the surface in Ireland last summer, much less Scotland. I plan to return in two years to bag my Munro. So many places I have yet to discover. Maybe I will find another parade to join.

Next weekend, June 30th 2018, is an organized protest supporting Families and Children in our refugee crisis with the Mexican border. Will you join us?

Families Together

London Protests

A Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Survival

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Edinburgh. I came for three days. I somehow survived the maelstrom that was Fringe Festival 2017. It was the 70th anniversary year, so of course I ended up going, how could I pass that up? What an amazing 3 days spent. I am surprised I survived it. To think what the performers and artists do to survive it, there have been documentaries made on it I am sure, and if there aren’t any, they have probably been filmed this year. So much material, so many great performances, so little time. It’s the frenzy and fun of a festival and in a historic city. What an amazing combination.

I had been going non-stop through my tour of Ireland and Scotland for two weeks already when I rolled into Edinburgh. I had spoiled myself a bit and taken my first ride on a Virgin Train, I figured since it was the end of the highlands tour for me, I may as well go out in style.  

I had scheduled some days in between big cities to do touring and have some down time. I am glad that I did. Edinburgh on a regular tour, is a great capital city to visit. Big and filled with much to do. Twisty winding streets (Wynds) and closes, and too many people at times. Add the world’s largest and oldest Fringe festival and you have a massive sprawl that will take you along with it, like a storm rain flooding a river. It can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time. How do you survive 3 or 4 intensive days of plays, comedies, music, and any other creative expression in an already teeming city, with a population that can explode to 3 times the normal capacity for the city? You try to have a game plan and be ready to take things on the fly, change at the drop of a show card and impromptu is the theme.Coda

Planning

Before my trip, I had tried to book a few plays or comedy routines by ticket online. The online database of 3000+ shows got to be a bit much, and digging through them really daunting. Because I was not a UK resident, of course I did not know many of the  performers at the shows. It is an international festival and acts come from all over the world to perform there. However, after years and years of watching UK shows on rerun and late night cable, often 5 years out of date, I h ad a fairly good grasp on many of the bigger names performing. But that’s the excitement, the discovery of new talent you haven’t seen before while traveling, taking a gamble on a artist or musician. I was well rewarded.

CaltonLesson learned, book one to two paid shows in advance only. There will be other shows that you will want to see. Decide your show budget. While there are a lot of half price opportunities on certain days, you may not be there those days. Edinburgh is expensive, so maybe 3 shows a day and allowing for food and drink may fit into most budgets. Free shows are available, and great fun, but bring a few pound coins to drop into the hat. Edinburgh is one of the most expensive touring cities and the artists and performers have to pay to stay as well.

Not sure who to book because you usually only see US or Canadian acts? If you have some favorite UK stars, plug their names in the search on the main website. Some artists on Twitter or Facebook announce they may be doing Fringe. Many people give Fringe a whirl when they are new artists or actors and many stars came back this last year for the 70th. Look at the many play boards up. By the second week people review shows by plastering stars up on some of the playbills. Take a chance. There is no perfect way to do Fringe, so just be open and let most of it happen. That’s what’s so fun.

The Venues

Every spare space in Edinburgh becomes a stage during the month of August. Every church with a spare room, all music venues and clubs get divided up and reworked by some really amazing planning people. The organizers of this amazing event hopefully get to go on holidays themselves when they are done. They do a bang up job. That said, you survival depends on your mindset. For the Fringe is a twisty wild ride of a beast. And it happens outside Edinburgh Castle gates on down through the wynds. The main maelstrom is in the upper Royal Mile, and spills out both sides into Grassmarket, the pub mecca of Edinburgh. Arm yourself with a map that includes where the Closes are, the small streets that are really winding, sauntering stairs that run in between and across the main streets. These are your well welcomed escape routes. For the Fringe indeed a teeming beast, and after being in it for an hour or two, you will need to take a break and look at the rest of the city. I found that if I worked in 3 hour cycles of being in it, watching shows and performers, then retreated to closes or even hiked Arthur’s Seat, it helped keep my sanity a few times. The Fringe has a handy app that you can load and check for performances near where you are. I had a few glitchy moments with it, but it was dealing with over 3000 shows and GPS locating. Don’t worry, there is something around every corner that you can see or do, and so many you may just not make it to. Tough choices.RobertsonsClose

Acts for The Non UK Audience

If you go somewhere like the UK and try to watch their drama or comedy shows without it being trickled down from PBS or Hulu, there are a lot of actors, singers, musicians, and any other artist you can imagine that you haven’t had the luck to see in action. We get a very filtered exposure to the worlds talent. I like it raw and out there, beyond the big networks.  A whole different sense of humor than in America or Canada exists and it’s quite good. The culture in the UK is nothing like how we think in the US, and there are many very talented creatives we’ve never even heard of. That’s why going to festivals like this are so great, you can see what people in another country really find funny or entertaining and get a glimpse of culture that you would never see otherwise. I went to three planned shows, and found a few free shows that really surprised me. Here’s just a glimpse.

Jocky Wilson Said

Grant O’Roarke

This show was a one man extravaganza about a Scottish darts great, Jocky Wilson. It takes place in the late 70s with the man being stranded in the Nevada desert desperately trying to get to get to an exhibition match tournament. The show was a workout and Grant took us on a journey all in one night with insight into a competitive world of dart playing and why someone would pursue that dream.

Dropping The Soap

Gary Lamont

With a title like that and well, I knew I was at Fringe, may as well get out there with the humor. I decided to take the gamble, with a star that had just left Scotland’s long running soap, River City, Gary Lamont. This show was hilarious and gave me great insight to the UK humor centered around UK drama shows, what we call the soaps here. There were guest spots with some celebrities I knew, like Graham Norton, and a few references to East Enders and some other drama shows I had seen over the years. But for the most part there were references to things very Scottish or UK centric, many shows and politics. But that is what made it delicious. Hearing people talk and joke about their lives in this way, even with slang you may not get, helps you to understand the Scottishness of something, and I found that after being in the country before, I got a lot of the slang said and was just so excited about the freshness of it. It’s totally in your face and that is what is so great about it. Very talented performer and I wish him well on his future projects.

Happily Never After

The Maydays at the Just the Tonic Venue, The Caves

I walked up, there was a poster with some very Tim Burton overtones. I know, Fringe is plastered with crazy play bills, not to mention being plied with show cards everywhere you went in the city. But this one tugged at my brain. Why? Well an ensemble promising the influence of one of my favorite directors, Tim Burton. Quirky, bizarre and Gothy. You got me. The promise was fulfilled by a great troupe of actors taking a subject cue subject from the audience and building a hour impromptu storyline. This one grew out of someone’s relative working at the post office. Not boring at all, centered around a missive that goes amiss. Engaging and twistedly Burtonesque, think Edward Scissorhands meets Big Fish, and some Gothy Fringe humor tossed in. Absolutely wicked.

HighStreetPub

Sights

Edinburgh has some amazing sights to behold, and while it is difficult to get to some during such a festival, give it the chase. Edinburgh has many themed walking tours, including underground tours for the spooky at heart. It is also the inspiration for the Harry Potter novels by J.K Rowling, and now boasts some great Harry Potter themed shops. Two of which were open while I was there, but I could not get anywhere near the doors as the lines to get in were well up the block. I was truly saddened by the many hours wait to get in. I had peeked in before they had opened and was astounded at the HP gear available, but had tickets to a show. Hopefully I can manage to make it in my next visit.

Edinburgh is an amazing city with so much to offer any tourist. There are a great many free things to do, plenty of great shops, and it boasts some great vinyl stores. I strongly recommend if you go during the Fringe next year that you plan your venues in a certain area, with a few hours between shows to go out and take in the sights. If it starts to get to be a bit much, there are plenty of escapes off the Closes or nature parks along the Leith area. Survival means join in the fray, then repose in a cafe, pub, or eatery. Then with the added excursions, you will cover every inch of this great city.

DH

The Playhouse #Fringe 2017 Line-up Announced @edinplayhouse #Edinburgh — Love Books Group

The Playhouse on the Fringe 2017 line-up announced Iconic Edinburgh venue to showcase works by five international performers, marking 70 years of Edinburgh’s world-famous festivals Tickets for sixth annual celebration at the Playhouse now on sale A unique take on rock ‘n’ roll, a musical insight into family dynamics, an improvised one-man musical, a self-retrospective […]

via The Playhouse #Fringe 2017 Line-up Announced @edinplayhouse #Edinburgh — Love Books Group

Fringe Festival at 70, Bigger, Better and Defiant

3894492440_9e61f57334_oBut will that change? Filled with politics this year, you bet.  In reading an article this morning on an interview with a founder of the Assembly Rooms Venue the Fringe festival in Edinburgh, there are fears that subsequent years will lose out in the international flare. Brexit fears and restrictions on visas will make the venue less attractive to performers from EU countries. Hard to think that something we all take for granted, such as a festival, could be so impacted by restrictions at borders. It certainly can.

The Fringe programs just got published. Last years fest was a massive beast with listings of nearly all performances. I lugged mine around with me all over Scotland. With the big 70th celebration this year, it promises to be an even bigger extravaganza. However, this can all change in the next 2 years if Brexit continues. Just think, Edinburgh expands it’s population every August to nearly 3 times it’s usual population. This includes people just touring the city and those specifically traveling to Fringe fest. In 2016, over 2 million tickets were sold in the month. So, if I massive influx this is happening, people are booking hotel rooms and spending a great deal on food, the local economy has a month of serious boom. This month is the month you have to book rooms months in advance as I discovered last year. The food offerings are enormous, and a lot of money is being made. What will happen if less acts can come to perform, if the festival loses it’s edge a bit due to restrictions on visas and performers rethinking that it may be easier to attend/perform in a festival in one of the EU countries? Will it mostly be a Scots only venue? Will the culture be less international? These are some of the questions coming up as all festival organizers in the UK brace for change. It’s not just the Fringe, but all festivals in the UK that have international performers may be affected.

The politics of the Fringe make it a great place to show union and solidarity. The festival is taking a without borders stance, celebrating the diversity of it’s performers and attendees. With current events in the world bringing a distasteful isolationism tone that is clearly against what arts festivals portray and celebrate, will the Fringe lose it’s edge? Not if organizers and performers have their say.

Secure armed police are now being seen in many public events all through the UK. There will be protests possibly and artistic political commentary throughout the fest.  This will not deter the performers and promoters. Themes promise to cover our current world state of affairs on refugees and political statements. Artists will express and share their views on the state of world affairs.

I am going with the thought in mind that this Festival is the perfect vehicle to portray all of life. I believe many of us attending will feel that this is the perfect time for this Festival to celebrate it’s 70th year, that it is a perfect symbol of cooperation and arts. You can see a microcosm of the world in a massive snow globe in a stage filled with many stages. I plan to pack in as much as I can in three days, what will you be planning for your days at the Fringe?

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2017/jun/07/edinburgh-festival-2017-what-to-see-and-where-to-go

http://www.beyondthejoke.co.uk/content/3082/news-edinburgh-fringe-2016-sales-figures-released

http://www.scotsman.com/regions/edinburgh-fife-lothians/brexit-fears-for-fringe-ahead-of-70th-anniversary-1-4468002

Accommodations Review Edinburgh Braid Hills Hotel

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Braid Hills is an area in the south of Edinburgh that is typical of a sleepy suburb in Scotland. Rows of grey stone houses and rolling hills with a great little park or two. I stayed 3 days in a hotel in the heart of it. If you like to have a quieter stay in a big city in Scotland, this is the kind of area to stay in. However, you will have to travel a while with public transit if you need to get into town. It depends on the types of views you like and if you just like quiet, not the bustle of city life. The neighborhood is mostly upper middle-class and has fairly safe streets to walk on. The hotel caters to weddings and people staying for the golf course.

Best Western South Braid Hills Hotel $$$$ ♥♥♥
134 Braid Road, Edinburgh, Lothian Scotland
After a long train ride and a cab hop from the station, I came into this well situated hotel at the top of the hill. I had a very small room in the middle of the hotel off the landing. The bed took up most of the space, but the bathroom was really nice and modernized. Have I mentioned that in Scotland the toilets are rather immaculate in most accommodations? I found that most of the places I stayed and public toilets I used were very clean and functioning, putting some American equivalents to shame.

The room had a lot of cupboard storage spaces and deep casement windows that I found I could climb up in and sit with my tea and look at the very green hills. It was also convenient while observing the scottish wedding that took place while I was there. Many larger hotels are packed every weekend with weddings and anniversary occasions in the UK. It makes for a wait time for hotel staff as they are very busy. But you do get a nice view of men in dress kilts, which can make up for it.

Pluses:
Clean rooms, great bath. Great view. Plenty of light. Bed was pretty good. Hot pot and the other tea making utensils were available. Flat screen was in order. Great little park for morning exercise called Braidburn Park. Staff was very attentive even during the extreme wedding hours, and the dining and bar area was fairly good. I ate most of my meals off site. There is an attached restaurant.

Minuses:
Long ways into Edinburgh proper, cab fares can be steep as is the hill. There is a bus stop but it is quite literally a staircase drop that is very narrow off the parking lot and would not work for someone elderly. Depending on room placement, small single rooms tend to be right on main hall and foot traffic can be a bit much. Plop a pillow at the crack.

For my next foray into Edinburgh this August, I will be staying closer in off one of the cresents to experience the Fringe Festival. Stay tuned for more reviews.