The day I got to Edinburgh, was according to people here the first day they had good weather in a while. It was sunny. Over the course of the next few days I will come to realise that Scots talk about the weather with a lot of humor, like someone said we either have “July or Winter” weather. They do seem to have a sense of humor about it, which is nice.
So I landed up at my hostel after a bit of a walk. The hostel has a great strategic position in Old Town. Edinburgh is divided into Old Town and New town as one might have guessed. This is my first time staying in a hostel, so I was vary and had booked myself into a 4 bed women’s dorm. (You can read more on my post about tips for traveling solo for the firs time. Watch out for that one.)
The streets were really crowded, because it is festival season in the city. Every year in the month of August, Edinburgh hosts a massive cultural festival which has multiple genres ranging from a book festival, comedy shows, theatre, music, international artists and the military tattoo* among other things. There are things going on all day long, you would be spoilt for choice. The best thing if you’re coming for the fest, and if you’re like me and don’t like collecting gazillion flyers passed around by people all around the city and littering, you can download the Fringe app. It has been very useful, especially since it let’s you know via GPS the nearest venue to you or it can sort through according to time of event. The one thing that it may not give you is all the events, in the sense that there are multiple parties organising things, so for some you need to be aware of their website.
*Military tattoo. … The term comes from the early 17th century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”), a signal sounded by drummers or trumpeters to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving beer and for soldiers to return to their barracks.
The book festival has its own website, as does the international fest, there is also the hub and the one most would like to know about – Free Fringe. Yes, a lot of things in the fringe festival are free. They do however work on tips, so be prepared to give out something at the end of any performance. It is not necessary, you can be one of those people who just leaves, it is ‘free’ after all, but since the organizers of the event apparently don’t get paid and all the money they earn are through tips, it’s good to give something.
The first day was just to get the lay of the land. It’s not such a confusing city, its interconnected pretty well actually. But with the fringe, you can sometimes get lost, with the hoards of people possibly covering the entrance you got in and out from. As there are many levels in the city and winding roads, there are always short cuts you can figure out. Since I came here with the particular interest in the book fest, I decided to go there first.
My hostel was in Cowgate (ironic, I think), and you need to cross Grassmarket, then the stables and come to Princes street to get to Charlotte square. The reason I wrote that down is that, I already feel like I am in another era, considering these names. One comes to understand something about the Scots, they were never into naming things in a fancy manner, they just named things as they were. Pretty lazy, some would say. I reached Charlotte square which is at a T junction on George street, it was pretty crowded. I reached at 3pm and each day at 3pm there is a story telling session by different authors. This was in a famous tent called the Speigeltent which has been around since 1985. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon setting and the light inside the tent was magical.
Having got my dose of book therapy, I walked around for a bit, figuring out the city and seeing if I could catch a show or two. I did catch two. The venue was a place called the Laughing Horse at the Hanover Tap pub on Hanover Street. The first was a Pakistani comedian, who did a show for literally 7 of us who showed up. It wasn’t so bad honestly, but I had no idea that free meant tips, so with no lesser change than a 10 pound note, I gave that and felt it wasn’t really worth that, but she kind of made me sit in the front row, talked to me one on one constantly because she kept talking about arranged marriages and the like, similarities that both India Pakistan share, so the Indian in me, couldn’t just bow my head low and leave, I did give her a generous tip considering the rest of the people had left 2 or 5£. Right after though was stand up comedy where there were 5 comedians over the span of an hour. The first was the best, the rest kept getting weirder and weirder. This one, I did not pay for. Thankfully it was a packed house and I was in the last row. In my head, I had paid one lady for 2 shows.
After the show, I went back to the book fair for a series that I would follow the rest of the week called Unbound. It’s pretty cool because it intersperses readings with different musical forms each night. The theme is different and so are the kind of musical influences for the night. And yes, it’s free. You do though have to line up before the event. And as an advice, if you are keen to attend anything specifically attempt going at least 15 min before entry.
The evening light was beautiful. And like always, I left a post it to the city while walking.
I was back at the Speigeltent and it looked completely different from the afternoon. I hadn’t even noticed the tent part i.e. above me, in the afternoon, the afternoon light streaming in was enough to hold my attention at the time, but sitting there in the evening, the aura was so spectacular, I could feel something amazing will happen here. And I was not disappointed. The theme, wasn’t my favourite, the was and I quote from their website ” A night of unsettling stories and music – when the thrills become terrifying, dark, brooding shadows grow and our dreams become nightmares.” Honestly, the story telling was pretty interesting, I didn’t think it would be. There were two Argentinian writers, Mariana Enriquez, (author of the gothic Things We Lost in The Fire) and Samanta Schweblin, (her book Fever Dream is a haunting tale of broken souls). After the first reading, the musician Rachel Newton came up. You just had to smile when you looked at her. She seemed like such a kind soul, had an amazing laughter and it almost seemed like she kept talking to herself. Somehow every time I hear a woman speaking in a Scottish accent for me, I am reminded of the animated film Brave. Rachel Newton revitalizes traditional Scottish folk tales and I lived every moment of listening to her. It was eerie, chilling and soul filling all at the same time. I downloaded her album from iTunes immediately. The second reading was good too, but the music or whatever it was that followed was not to my taste and I left.
Now, maybe this is the Indian in me, but I think since I am a solo traveller and I was heading out in the dark, I decided to take the longer route which was through the main roads while coming back to my hostel at around 10.45pm. There are buses and Ubers running, but since it was my first day, I didn’t want to take a chance. Though the route I had taken while coming to the event was much shorter, but it was through a tunnel. And as you can guess, I wasn’t sure it was safe, so I didn’t take that route. For 11pm there were enough people on the road, due to the fringe festival, so it was actually alright. Got back to the hostel, safe & sound.
Though I have to mention, at the end of the night, while walking back, I did manage to see the fireworks from the street, these were part of the tattoo festival. So I guess, in a way I got lucky.
The rest for the next post.