Posted in Travel

Edinburgh Festival “Fringe Benefits”

If you’re in the UK (or anywhere, really) and looking to escape the Olympics or you just aren’t that into sport, check out the Edinburgh Festival Fringe aka Fringe. The 65-year old arts festival kicks off tomorrow, Friday, August 3rd, and runs through August 27th in the Scottish city. With its origins stemming from eight renegade theatre groups refusing to take no for an answer, Fringe is now the largest arts festival in the world. Groups from all over the world enter to perform theatre, opera, dance, and comedy, just to name a few.

What may be a draw for some and a caveat emptor for others is the constitutionally-written rule that the organizing group shall not vet any of the performers. Seasoned veterans mixed in with new up-and-comers. Anything and everything could be a flop or be the next big thing. I found this added an air of excitement as I walked up and down the Royal Mile and down into the West Princes Street Gardens below the Castle.

There were street performs every few meters and tons of people passing out adverts for their performances. Jugglers, acrobats, break dancers, classical musicians, drum circles, and people on stilts as far as the eye could see. The overload of sights and sounds were in stark contrast to the old, dark stone buildings lining the narrow roads. The oddity was a spectacle itself.

If you aren’t sure what you want to see often those on the street are giving you a free preview of their shows. See something you like – ask one of the group members for information on their show. There are also a number of free shows to check out if you aren’t sure or you’ve spent all your pounds on accommodations.

I’ve been fortunate enough to do Fringe twice (so far). The first time was with my parents. We attended a Sherlock Holmes performance which took us around to different locales near the castle where new pieces of the story were played out. It was sort of like a haunted night walking tour but less creepy and with more actors.

The second time was while I was doing my Masters in London. A friend and I met up, toured the town, and took in some shows. The diversity of acts catered to our differing tastes. There was something for him and something completely different for me.

As there were just so many to choose from, I sought acts that dealt with my interests in hip hop and murder mysteries. Fitting the bill well were The Rap Canterbury Tales and Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. The Rap was a funny, modern, one-man and one-turntablist performance by Canadian Baba Brinkman. Brinkman took three of the stories told by the pilgrims in Chaucer’s work and turned the situation from a storytelling contest to past the time into a rap battle – so up my alley.

The Real Inspector Hound perfectly suited my love of dramatized armchair detective novels (Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery, anyone?). Written in the early 1960s, this parody of the genre allowed me to laugh at myself and my obsession all the while still guessing whodunit.

From my experience, Fringe is a very user-friendly festival. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, at the festival, and even the day of a show if not sold out. I purchased my tickets in advance and picked them up at the ticket and information office when I arrived in town.

So come on. What have you got to lose? Head to Edinburgh this August (or any August) to experience a multitude of arts, tour an enchanting city, and have a lot of fun at Fringe.

Posted in Travel

Searching for Nessie

Stop four on my post-thesis solo European mini-tour. So far I had visited Florence, Siena, and Glasgow. Now I was on the hunt to find Nessie in Loch Ness. Having spotted a Doctor Who police box in Glasgow, I took that as a good omen in the realm of fantasy, so I was feeling pretty confident that she’d make an appearance for me.

The only Nessie I saw

I hoped I could just spot her from the shores and not need to take a boat ride. I don’t have issues with boats and I can swim but I get creeped out a bit thinking about what’s underneath the water’s surface particularly after the top 10 yards. And, well, Loch Ness is old and deep – 744.6 feet at its deepest. There could have been large intact vessels dating back hundreds of years in that Loch. Gives me the willies. But my curiosity won out so I signed up for the last boat tour of the day. Late afternoon seemed like a great time for the Loch Ness Monster to come out and play.

I didn’t know whether he was doing an impression to please the tourists or if he just actually talked that way but our guide and Captain sounded a wee bit like Mr. Sean Connery. Regardless, I enjoyed it. Aside from his voice and the motor, we small handful of folks with our eyes peeled and cameras flashing were treated to the added touch of the boat’s sonar pinging. Should Nessie be near we wanted to know what direction to head to find her. (All very scientific, I assure you.) Probably to my enjoyment only, the combination of the Captain’s voice and the sonar added a The Hunt for Red October tinge to our voyage.

Urquhart Castle

The tricky part about looking down at the water was the constant distraction of the beautiful mountains that plunged into the Loch. There was also a castle to gaze up at, which is probably why this area has been the hotbed of Nessie sightings. She too likes the views. Urquhart Castle, near Drumnadrochit and Lewiston, with its speculative origins dating back to a settlement in that location in the 6th century, eventually became one of medieval Scotland’s largest strongholds. The 6th century also happens to be when the first referenced Nessie sighting took place.

Having had no luck on the boat, I returned that evening with my newly made friends to the grounds of Urquhart Castle. I met Bronwyn, her mate, Ian, and their friend, Unke, at the dining room table at the hostel. We got chatting (during which they told me I wasn’t like most Americans they had met as I actually had a sense of humor – thanks!) and soon we were on our own hunt for Nessie.

Though technically the Castle was closed, there were no gates or fences to keep people out. I really enjoyed being able to wander the grounds without the crowds. And we weren’t the only ones there taking in the Loch, the mountains, and the Castle as the sun set. I decided to record the Loch in the event I could be like those ghost hunters and Bigfoot chasers who stare at footage only to catch a glimpse of something in the upper right-hand corner of the monitor and for only a second. I haven’t studied the clip extensively, but I’m pretty confident in saying that I did not capture Nessie that day. However, the film is pretty poor quality so doesn’t that increase the chances that she might be on it?

The next morning I went for a walk on some trails in the woods by the water. Even the map of Urquhart Bay Wood gave the Woodland Trust Scotland’s input on the matter of Nessie to visitors. Apparently they are a bit skeptical of the notion of a sea monster living in the waters.

Though there were no sightings for me that trip, I enjoyed partaking in the centuries-old search. Today, living in Upstate New York, I might next take my chances on trying to find Nessie’s cousin, Champ, in the waters of Lake Champlain.