Travel to Edinburgh, Scotland

I woke up in a haste, grabbed my things and my very special tri country sandwich from the day trip previous (this specialty would act as my travel day nourishment.) The train to Geneva airport is about two hours and my flight left at 2pm for the haggis loving country I was sure I would hold dear to my heart.

But that is getting ahead of ourselves…I must admit I am in shock. Scotland is my last country. A sign this travel banaza is coming to a sad sad ending. I was waiting around the Easyjet counter to find a great surprise. Revolutionary new travel technology. About twenty orange kiosks line the walls. The traveler rushes up to the kiosk and presses the name of their travel destination. Then they either insert their visa or input their reservation number which brings up their name. You declare the pieces of luggage for check in and at the top a little orange boarding card pops out and at the bottom one of those long luggage stickers drops from the slot. This is the future of travel people, self automated everything. With all your luggage tagged you walk up to the lovely lady in Easyjet orange and she throws you luggage on the scale and you are good to go.

I wanted to use up the last of my Swiss francs so bought a six bar set of toblerone bars with a few coins for souvenirs. At the security gate I was greeted by a hilarious man. I tried to keep from laughing. He had the most evident toupee I have ever seen in my life. It looked like a rug on his head as the white hair from above his ears did not blend so well with his jet black hair piece. I found my seat and opened my bag to find my book when to my horror I realized my precious Swiss 6 pack of yogurts had exploded. Yogurt (the smell of coconut and hazelnuts in this case) was smeared all over the bottom of my back pack. I quickly ran into the washroom and did a good clean up (the best I could do considering the circumstances).The flights lasted around two hours. It was brutal as I was sitting behind the loudest death screaming baby on earth. The mother just stared at it as though she was trying to figure out if “it” had a mute button. I wanted to grab that baby and lock it in the water closet. I jammed my ipod into my head and tried to drown the screams with a bit of chilled out music.

Arriving at the airport the weather was cloudy and a bit warmer than Switzerland. I grabbed my bag which arrived in tact thanks be to God. Hopped on the aerobus and hoping for an easy search to my relatives new apartment. I asked the bus driver if he stopped at the place I had been indicated to exit. He said I chose the worst day of the year to arrive. I soon noticed that the streets were gridlock. It took us over twice the amount of time to get into the city as it was the Edinburgh Festivals first day Parade on Princess Street and a big Football Match and, get this, an international pie eating contest. The driver was awesome and gave me a personal stop 5 minutes walk from the apartment. I walked up the largest roundabout on the planet earth and then found the street, buzzed up, and introduced myself to the Macdougall’s. Their new apartment is incredibly lovely. I have a grand guest room with plush pillows and an amazing view of the city streets. It takes about four minutes to walk right into the heart of the city. Tired as ever, I found my way to this computer to write you…

I organized my things and then joined the Macdougall’s for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. We walked down the main street which houses the cities best charity shops (as if I need anymore cloths). The walk through the main park was breathtaking. The sun was just setting and glistened through the lush green trees that overlooked the main city center. I had a great panorama of Edinburgh Castle and the plethora of Cathedrals that surround the cityscape. We walked back to the apartment along the Water of Leith (little creek full of bright green, long river grasses) and started to prepare dinner. Dinner consisted of champagne, salted salmon, asparagus, fried mushrooms, rice, salad and a cucumber yogurt dill concoction. We chatted until 11pm about family life and art art art. I am so lucky to be in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival with a family who has an artist extraordinaire.

Mrs. Macdougall is an avid artist. She teaches at the Scottish Royal Academy of Dance (her husband has his PhD in Geology and teaches and writes academic papers). Her stories about “real space art” (also known as “pieces”) that she performs is beyond fascinating. It is called the “Six Point Perspective” and the idea was invented in the 70’s as a tool and method for artists, dancers and actors. She has a drama troupe called The Invisible Drama Society which she is currently working with to construct her newest “work.” Simply put, all of her works consist of people in small public places, acting and interacting with the environment in an “invisible way”.

She gave me an example of her past work in an art gallery in Edinburgh. The idea is to have “artists” who interact with the environment, incognito. They act but you don’t know they are acting around you (they appear to be fellow art aficionados just visiting the gallery for the day). She explained that if you were at the art gallery you wouldn’t know they were acting as the concept is interactive and hidden within time and space. Her last theme was “luggage and travel” so as you walked through the art gallery and would subtly notice “actors” walking up and down escalators with painted luggage. The art is supposed to be unobtrusive. If you want to watch it you can, it is all around you. I found this absolutly fascinating. She said that the gallery had three floors so each floor had a different theme and the actors would perform a ritualized natural play for the gallery guests.

The famed Janners Department Store (comparable to Harrods in England) is the oldest privately owned department store in Europe. She told me a great story of her piece that she did in the store window with her friend over a period of five days. They had a three cycle going, each was practiced extensively a week in advance. She walked around the department store with her co artist and gathered items sold in the store and got inspiration for her performances from that. The act appeared in the National Newspaper and was a huge hit. One of the sequences involved her and her friend wearing Scottish kilts and Janners Purses around their necks. They slowly went through the routine of taking off their purses and then slowly removing their kilts. Placing them in the purses and then stepping into the purses (this is what you call modern dance). Another one of the sequences involved deconstructing the action of highland dancing and the last involved “the life of a mannequin”. This is the kind of art that people rarely hear of, yet alone get to experience. There isn’t much money in it, but its thrilling as ever.

Apparently, I don’t require “sleep” anymore. I went to bed around 11pm and woke up this morning at shortly after 5am. I opened the large white shutters and looked over into the UNESCO world heritage community in which I now lived. The sun was rising golden pink and yellow over the horizon. I headed straight to the New Town which is located five minutes walk from the apartment. I arrived first at Edinburgh Castle and the beautiful water fountain and flower gardens bellow. It was such a treat to watch the sun rise over the cliff and be alone in this traditionally chaotic area of town. I walked up to Princess Street and stared at a very drunk couple who were screaming at each other about their relational indiscretions. Once they started approaching me I decided it was time to move on and walked onto High Street which is the famous main street which leads up to Edinburgh Castle. I popped by the Whiskey Experience museum which details everything you could ever want to know about the malty beverage. I then entered the Military Tattoo theater which is a relatively small square right in front of the Castle entrance, surrounded by bleachers. The tattoo sold out this year in 10 minutes (rivaling U2 and Madonna concerts). This is the closets I was going to get to the Tattoo so I took a 360 degree tour view and played bag pipes and drums in my head (a low cost option). Before leaving the Castle I took a moment of silence for Mary Queen of Scots (I was actually giving my respects to the late, brilliant, Katherine Hepburn who played the role oh so well). I walked back down High Street, walking by many old churches and cathedrals (many of which are restaurants, clubs and theaters now). Today is the second day of the “festival” however the “fringe” has been going on for a few days now. The ticket booth opened at 10am so I had two hours to see more of the city. In that time I walked in and out of little side streets, peaked into tartan shops and fancied buying a kilt. I ended up walking all the way around the castle to get a view of the other side. Just bellow was a cute little spot called “Wee Jock Todds Cafe” where I had a lovely hot Scottish Breakfast. The girl who worked there asked me where I from and when she found out she went crazy. She lived in Pickering for a year so we chatted as she made me my breaky. The running joke in Scotland is that every local has been to Canada, loves Canada and has family there. The people are so excellent, warm and have a sexy accent to boot. Breakfast included a piping hot cup of white coffee and a plate of toast, fried egg, double sausage, haggis (yes I have now had haggis) bacon, hash browns, beans, Irish potato scone and grilled tomato.

Leaving the cafe the sun had finally come out and it was officially “morning” (9am, which means I had been walking around the city already for 3 hours, which is crazy in retrospect). I waited in the fringe ticket line and bought tickets for four shows over the next three days. I plan on blowing money at this festival as I may never make it back and it is the worlds most fabulous “everything festival”. The Fringe Guide is literally the size of a Christmas Vogue mag (the ones the size of encyclopedias). In the newspaper they announced that if you went to every show offered this year it would take 5 years, 7 months, 21 days and 9 hours to watch everything! The fringe is known for its comedy (which I am so excited for) dance, music and theater. I threw my ear plugs into my head and blasted Scissor Sisters as I walked down the morning glow street, bustling with people and headed back to the apartment. I had a quick shower and an unscheduled 30 minute nap. I did a bit of calling around to find out where my Grandma and Aunty are staying (they are in Edinburgh right now but I have no clue which hotel. It is killing me I want to see them so bad!) I spent an hour or so walking through the neighborhood in which I am situated. It is famous for being the specialty food shop and charity shop area of town (brilliant). I strolled down the street popping into a “Cheese monger Shop” and a “Specialty Game Dealer.” The charity shops are thrilling for those who like thrift. Some of them specialize (there was a music and dvd Oxfam and a specialty Cancer Society book store). The funniest (can I say this politely?) shop was called “Age Concern” and inside there are pictures of 60-70 year old couples smiling. It looked like a big advertisement or something. I have no clue where the money goes, but I am sure it makes its hands into those who are concerned about the aging issue. I bought “Hollywood Wives” my second go at Jackie Collins and headed back to the Old Town.

I stopped first at the Royal Academy where an amazing exhibit of Ron Muecks famous “larger than life” sculptures were on display. The short five second walk across the very busy promenade ended up taking about twenty minutes as I was surrounded by hoards of tourists checking out the many buskers and art dealers. A Japanese Dance company who has a fringe show going on was walking and singing down the street handing out flyers (they looked like space aliens, or something from Cirque de Soile) I finally arrived at the National Gallery of Scotland and spent just over an hour looking through the very diverse collection of works. A vast collection of important pieces by Poussin, Cuyp, Valasquez, Titian, Botticelli and Degas could be seen on the first floor. The bottom floor houses the Scottish art collection and special exhibits (which was showing a very interesting “400 years of Rembrandt ink sketch collection). The Scottish art was very warm, nice landscapes of the Highlands, cute little girls in tartans and kilts and interesting war scenes and fairy tales.

I exited the Gallery and walked along the large sidewalk that overlooks Princess Street and the huge gardens and park bellow. I saw a few crazy buskers dressed up as neon space aliens trying to make an honest buck (doing the robot and throwing sticks in the air). Unfortunately they were barking up the wrong tree as they were doing this little routine in front of an entire bleacher of grey haired cane toting seniors. I don’t think they really got it, in fact, I think they were scared. I suddenly felt incredibly faint. I realized I had finally hit travel exhaustion, barely any sleep recently and four months on the road is hard. I decided to spend the late afternoon in the apartment so made some lunch and had an amazing nap. I headed back out into the city at 9:30pm and simply fell in love (even more) when the main street is shining bright in the night sky. The castle was aglow and you could see the Military Tattoo going on at the west side of the cliff. I found the venue after a 30 minute walk and was pleasantly surprised. This venue was called Pretence Court and is part of the University of Edinburgh campus. The entire courtyard was bustling with people hanging out in beer tents as well as chick out door, leather plush seated and glow light decorated wine bars. My first Fringe show was a very “off off off Broadway” sketch musical comedy called “The Gaydar Diaries”. Gaydar is apparently a popular gay dating website so the entire musical centered around funny stories. I was sitting in the front row and didn’t realize how interactive it was going to be. The six actors, at some points, were literally two inches from my face, and spitting. I sat beside three traveling actors from Liverpool who are in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I was sitting in between the “covers for Lumiere and Gaston”. I thought that was a hoot. I read in my little pamphlet a shocking stat. Every day of the festival, get this, 1400 shows are performed across the city! It is like clockwork. The show before mine came out at 10:50pm and my show started at 11pm. The new actors, producers and directors all have to run in and get ready for their one hour performance. The show was one hour long and had most of the audience in stitches the entire hour (besides the lady beside me who I think had so much plastic surgery on her face she was physically incapable of exuding happiness). After the show I plugged in “Shiny Toy Guns” and danced along the midnight glistening streets as I walked by flame throwers and drunk buskers. A brilliant evening on the town.

The following day was absolutely perfect. Just before I headed out the door for the day I had a call (finally) from my Aunt Susan who was in town with my Grandma on a Scottish tour. I was thrilled on the phone and heard they were planning on going on a bus tour of the city so I told them I’d meet them in 20 minutes. I arrived to big hugs and kisses and hopped on the double decker bus for a very informative one hour view of the city on wheels. After the bus romp we walked to Janners famous department store and bought a few things (Scottish broaches and Walkers Shortbread). We were hungry by then so we found a nice little pub in which I had a pint of beer and a plate of fried potatoes and tempura battered chicken. We walked to the Edinburgh Castle Garden Terrace and left Grandma by a nice garden beside the Scott monument. Sue and I walked down to the fountain and took some pictures. The gardens at the Castle are very important to the family as my grandmother sprinkled her mothers ashes in the blue flowers of the gardens. We walked back to the Welsley Bridge and met our company for the afternoon and evening. The two lovely folks are “my great grandmothers cousins daughter and husband.” An interesting connection, they took us on a private drive around the outskirts of the city. Beautiful views of the city and “Firth of Forth” (overlooking the kingdom of Fife) can be seen from the hill top Observatory at the Calton Hills Nelson Monument. We drove around the famous Salisbury Crags which is an ancient dormant volcano gracing the city as a noble hill.

We arrived at their home and sat down to a pot of tea and shortbread. Grandma and her dearest friend chatted about the history of tartans, clans and the family tree (in which some confusion occurred. Who married who way back when?) We looked up a few family names in the Scottish Dictionary and discovered with much zeal that the name Isabelle means “dingy, mingin, filthy and yellow grey”. Please, do not name your next daughter Isabelle. The meaning stems from Queen Isabelle of Spain who apparently did not change her sheets for three years (nasty reputation). We all enjoyed a shimmering crystal glass of sherry before dinner and then sat down until our tummies were full. I most enjoyed the Sherry, bottomless glass of white wine and the dessert which consisted of sliced strawberries drenched in Grand Marnier and drizzled with fresh cream. I bid the family farewell and got dropped off at “the Meadows” for my evening show.

The Lady Boys of Bangkok has been playing at the festival for nine years. It is the most successful, hardest ticket to get and most talked about show every year. The venue is the most impressive. I giant red and white striped old fashioned circus tent. The twist here (and there are many) is that the entire circus theme is laced with a hint of Thailand. Huge golden Buddhas and a zen bar full of misty soft rocks and trickling fountains. I entered the tent performance area and my mouth dropped. The inside was absolutely gorgeous. Amazing stage with ornate wood carvings and red velvet curtains. The seating is organized by table groups and I ended up sitting with six lovely ladies from Edinburgh (who insisted on buying me a Strongbow, I did not protest). The show was absolutely amazing, here is a short description of the two hour show:

The show is organized like a Moulin Rouge type cabaret show with a bit of comedy. The real “special aspect” of this famous dance company from Thailand is that every one of the dancers is male. There are several men who play the role of men but every female is a drag queen. However, only two of the performers look like actual drag queens (big hair, yadda yadda). These two were the comedians who would act as the short transition between the huge dance pieces. One of the songs they had us sing along to was called “Muff Diving While She’s Driving” as well as one that goes like this “My ding a ling, My ding a ling, I want to play with my ding a ling.” Uproarious laughter, crazy elaborate costumes, the works. The buzz about the show (and possibly why it is so popular) is that it mystifies most people to see these beautiful Thai “woman” who are actually men. They are honestly look like supermodels, even I was amazed. Apparently the dancers go through extensive auditions in Thailand and only the best of the best get into the production. The songs were a plenty, many classics like Tina Turner and Judy Garland with a nice mix of modern fun (Lady Marmelade, Dirty by Christina Agulara, Thriller by Michael Jackson, Queen and The Beach Boys {in which huge beach balls were thrown out into the crowd a la strobe lights}.

The special moments worth mentioning were the huge can can lines dancing to the Moulin Rouge upbeat version of the song. The second last song was of a woman in a ball gown singing a song called “I did it my way”. She slowly takes off her dress and puts on men’s cloths. Finally at the very end of the song she rubs her face off of makeup and turns to the audience when everyone gasps to realize this beautiful woman just 10 minutes ago is actually, very surely, a man. He got a standing ovation for that ever so brilliant transition (and very passionate lip synched ditty). As always I seem to get myself into a scandal. Several of the songs involved dancers coming into the crowd and grabbing men and women who are fully humiliated at their own expense. To my horror the dancer stops right in front of me, winks at me, the spot light hits me, and I cry. I froze in my chair and everything went deaf around me. Before I could remember what happened the dancer had given up and found someone else to torment on stage. The next song was “Its raining men” that dancer found me in the crowd again and shot a huge stream of wet from her water gun right at my face. The entire table pointed and laughed at me. What a wonderful humiliation moment (which I will never forget)! The final show had the entire tent in ecstatic energy. The entire dance company came out onto the stage in green and pink kilts dancing to Old Lands Eye as well as the final encore show of “My Way” (you take the high road and I’ll take the low road…). As the curtains closed I was in a dizzy. I had just seen about 50 men in drag from Thailand dancing about in kilts. What a riot that show was. I walked back to the apartment and chatted with the uncle and aunt before heading to bed. They told me to keep my shutters open tonight so I did, and what a surprise that was. The Military Tattoo had just ended and I discovered that from my bed…PICTURE THIS: A full moon shining over Edinburgh Castle (Union Jack waving in the night sky). Fire works bursting into brilliant colours into the black and the bright yellow and red flames coming off the castle walls from the fiery beacons. I fell asleep to this amazing show in the sky.

The following day was the best weather of the summer. It felt just like autumn as a nice cool breeze blew over the city with partly cloudy sunny sky. Today was my planned art tour and started at the National Portrait Gallery. The entrance of the gallery houses a huge white marble statue of Robbie Burns, the famed Scottish poet. A special exhibition called “The Face of Craft: Portraying Scotland’s Makers” was a photo exhibit of various craftsman around the country. Each craftsman had two pictures; one of their hands holding their tools, and the other a picture of them in their workspace. Craftsman ranged from carpenters, jewelers, glass blowers and my personal favorite “surrealist children’s toy maker”. My favorite portrait in the whole gallery was the two by Calum Colvin. His paintings are all inclusive, for instance, he painted a picture of a famous composer and the portrait was painted over carpet, desk, computer, wall, ceiling and flower pot. He never uses canvas. He paints portraits in living spaces and then pictures are taken and hung up in galleries, simply splendid. The famed portrait of Mary Queen of Scots hung on the top floor among other stuffy paintings of noblemen wearing kilts.

I walked along the entire Water of Leith and enjoyed the lovely cool weather, stopping to read on a nice patch of grass along the way. I finally made it to the Dean Art Gallery which is housed in an old castle like estate. The front of the gallery has a huge grassy park which was perfect for a wee mid day nap as the grass was perfectly short (they know what they are doing. They did invent golf you know). The permanent collection here is small but stellar. The gallery focuses on Dada and Surrealism with excellent works by Dali, Miro, Ernst, Picasso and a very special recreation of Paolozzis sculpture studio. Right across the street is the National Modern Gallery of Scotland. In front of the gallery is an amazing modern landscape simply called “Landform” by Charles Jencks. My favorite pieces from this gallery include the humorous prints by Damien Hirst. He associates food with drugs and his art consists of enlarged prescription drug labels that boggle when read. My favorite had the following on the label: “100 tablets, Steak and Kidney, 400 mg to be taken by mouth. In a small little box that would normally have the drug company name it said “Pie”. AKA Steak and Kidney Pie. Other artists well represented were Warhol, Lichenstein, Dali, Klee, Kokoschka and a room full of modern Russian artists such as the stunning works by Goncharova.

The Double Header evening consisted of two amazing Fringe Festival shows. My first started at 5:20pm and was located at the St. Stephens Church. An amazing venue, the entire interior has been converted into a dance theater. The show was called “Kataklo” and is a production from the Italian Athletic Modern Dance Company who performed at the Turin Winter Olympics. All I can say is, I am SO glad I went. My mouth was on the floor most of the show. They have been compared to Cirque de Soile in the media as their dancers have strong acrobatic backgrounds. The show consisted of four females and three males. Two of the females were Olympic Gymnasts and the other two have a history in acrobatics and ballet. Two of the men were Dolce and Gabbana models and members of the National Gymnasts Squad. The final guy is a gymnast, acrobat, diver and surrealist painter! I couldn’t get over how muscular, fit and incredibly attractive these dancers were! Staring at half naked dancing genius for an hour is always a treat. Each dance consisted of a different inanimate object which was used as a central theme and a prop or aid in the show. The opening dance was of a couple playing tennis. They did some incredible contortions on a white wooden park bench. The show got weirder and weirder, here are some of the other interesting highlights:

The three men danced around as warriors from New Zealand. Two men dressed as if they were in the 1920’s did an entire acrobatic show on old fashioned bicycles. The crowd gave a standing ovation for the ultra modern show that included all four woman dressed in tight white latex ski suits. They all had skis on their feet and they bended, pulled and stretched in every possible direction. The most amazing part was when they all leaned so far forward on their ski’s that their faces were an inch or so from the floor in front of them! A show consisting of two girls dancing around a floating Japanese lantern. A humorous one man acrobatic triumph which represented a football goalie (this was one of the DG models and he was able to hang his body horizontally from the goal post with three fingers, incredible). Near the end of the show the entire cast participated in a dance that dramatized a marathon. They all ran in a circle, determined, yet harmonious like gazelles. Then one of them falls and the rest of them fall into a spastic acrobatic tumble. Then the most exciting part of this dance was when you think it is over but all the dancers slowly get up and do the entire routine BACKWARDS! A fantastic fencing dual between two of the females. They seemed to be one and the same person, bouncing off each other and flowing through the sky. The last dance was between the best male and female dancers who were high up, perched on a square barred platform in the sky. The dance symbolized the physical interaction of sex. It was incredible to see the man hook his foot under her armpit and hang her from his ankle over the audience. At some points she was holding onto his body with what seemed to just be her pinky. An amazing display of human physical strength, athleticism and modern artistic movement.

The next show started at 8:20pm and was half way across town. I was looking forward to this one all week as I have heard so much about it and missed it when it was in Toronto.

Puppetry of the Penis is a show consisting of two wacky men from Auz who have crafted “The Ancient Art of Genital Origami.” The line to get into the show was two blocks long so that gives you an idea of how popular it is. I got a seat in the 4th row on the aisle (the benefits of being a loner!) The room was full of 40 to 50 year old woman, some with their husbands. A slew of 20 and 30 something couples were also present. The guys come out onto stage with big capes and spend the next hour performing contortion tricks with their members. By the names of: hamburger, lock ness monster, sail boat and the fan. The entire room was in hysterics, especially when one of the nude boys (sporting sneakers and high socks) jumped into the crowd and sat on an old ladies lap. They also had an interactive portion of the show when they got a 45 year old secretary to come up on stage as it was her birthday. She was in charge of holding up the gentleman’s legs while he did a handstand. I walked home on the Princess and passed the castle which exuded the sound of the Tattoo, pelting drums and whining bag pipes. I marched home as regally as possible to these Scottish vibes.

My last moments in Edinburgh were made up of a nice brisk walk in the morning to the scandalous modern Parliament building. A passer by would never have a clue that the building was of all things the house of Parliament for a country. You either love it or hate it, most Scott’s hate it as the price to build it skyrocketed and ended up costing 10 times the original planned costs (many locals walk by and spit at the front doors screaming and ranting about their blown tax dollars. I think they wanted a Haggis Museum instead). Adjacent to the Parliament is the spot where Mary Queen of Scott’s loved to hang out. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is a small yet beautiful little palace now used to house Queen Elizabeth when she visits each year. I walked a little closer to the “Firth” and took some beautiful pictures of the Salisbury Crags before I decided it was time for me to rush home, lug my 20 kg bag of “stuff” to the bus station and head to Glasgow…the rival city.

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