Tom and Linda’s 2008 Europe Trip

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Finding the Festival

We got to Edinburgh about midday. Couldn’t find anything about the festival until we got right downtown. This is the largest ticketed event in the world and it doubles the population of Edinburgh for a month. People who live there seem to not even know about it!

After more than 2 hours we finally found a place to park, walked around for a while and found a place to get Fringe information.

This is actually inside the main train station, a huge glass-roofed area with shops and escalators.

Princes Street Gardens, the Central Park of Edinburgh, lined with festival-goers escaping the throngs and enjoying the unusually beautiful weather.

We tended to look for shade, but the natives were soaking in the sun.

The Festival Fringe

The main Edinburgh Festival is a large and historical Tattoo, a military celebration that has been a tradition here for centuries. At some point, the crowds coming to the Tattoo inspired The Fringe, a theater festival that grew around the main Festival.

Before long The Fringe outgrew the Festival. It’s a positively huge event. I had been to Edinburgh before, but during the festival it’s a different place.

Much of the Royal Mile (which stretches from ancient Edinburgh castle down a long hill to Holyrood House, still used by the Royals) is closed to traffic and full of people, with a few little stages in the middle for small musical performances

There are hundreds of performances going on, of all different kinds, all day long, and people in costume out on the streets handing out flyers to get you to come to theirs.

Some of them are playing statues, some are playing dead, some are doing acrobatics or bits from their plays, or playing instruments or wandering about in costume and in character, generally regaling the crowds. It’s Halloween on steroids with an audience mingled in.



Finding the Venue

We finally found the venue where PNME was playing, walked the 15 minutes or so to get there, bought tickets, and then Kevin walked up, mostly in costume and on his way in.


Just Out of Reach

PNME was doing a performance piece called Just Out of Reach, written by Kevin and composer Kieren MacMillan. It’s a story involving the mythical figures of Narcissus, Tantalus and Sisyphus, and the Gods interviewing them in their purgatories.

We were there early and watched them set up the stage. Because the venue had other performances going on, they had to set up and break down every day as part of the process.

Tom had helped design and build the marble run that represented Sisyphus’s mountain.

Kevin had recommended that we see it at least twice, so we made our plans that way. We watched the show the first time in a small audience of about 10 people, and were quite impressed.

The second night the audience was about 30, and we discovered the advantage of a larger audience. People are more likely to laugh, for one thing, so comedy works better.

I have no words to describe "Just Out of Reach." You can read the review at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where they do have them.

Here's Narcissus, singing to his reflection, sometimes in duet.

Tantalus presides at a feast of invisible friends who speak with the voices of the gods.

The gods sit in red robes at the back of the stage and offer the penitents the option of death to relieve their purgatory, then try to understand why the offer is refused.

They also fill the roles of the orchestra and a sort of Greek chorus

Sisyphus clumsily destroys his mountain.

Am I Blue?

The final bow, before the audience files out and the cast scramble to break the set and ready the stage for the next group to set up. It's quite a challenge.


After the performance and breakdown the troupe met on the sidewalk to review and self-critique.

Edinburgh City Center

We walked back to the small apartment that Kevin and Danielle had been sharing with Kieren and Lada. This is a view of some of the streets along the way.

Kieren and Lada had left early to tour the country a little before flying home, so we got their bed for a couple nights. The apartment was on Holyrood Road, just off the Royal Mile, a few blocks up from Holyrood House.

It’s a very good location, but a strange and dumpy flat that cost $1300 a week. I think its owners move and rent it out for the Festival and it covers their payments for the rest of the year.

Fringe Fliers

After Kevin showered the makeup off we met up with PNME flute player Lindsey and her husband Chris, and went to have dinner and explore more of the festival.

There's a lot going on. Every post and wall is covered with posters and flyers, often stapled over one another. Every potential venue anywhere near the city center is booked all day long with performances, most of which happen once a day for the full 18 days of the festival.

There are stage plays, musical theater, theatrical music, stand-up comics, mimes, physical theatre, orchestral concerts, sound sculptures, solo songwriters and poets, displays of sculptures and paintings, and any other kind of artistic experience you can think of.

Exploring The Fringe

Here we all are waiting to see “Wheels of Life,” a collection of kinetic sculptures made from carved wooden figures and found Victorian objects (including lots of Singer parts.) Beautiful, whimsical, amazing, thought-provoking.

Left to right, Chris, Lindsey, me, Danielle and Kevin. Tom is, of course, taking the picture. I had been in touch with Lindsey by email, but we had never met. Within minutes, it felt like we were old friends.

Then it was on to Whiski, a beautiful, dark, woody whiskey bar on the high street. Of the several I tasted there in two visits, the one I likes most was Lagavulin Cask, which I think is 20 years old. Very peaty.

After dinner the second night (pizza next door) the other three went to see “Charlie Victor Romeo” (aka Cockpit Voice Recorder,) which dramatized the last few minutes of 5 flights in trouble. Apparently quite harrowing, and not my kind of thing.

Kevin recommended a different one for me, so I went to see “Lost in the Wind,” which Kevin says is heavy-duty Physical Theater. Lots of metaphor, lots of mime, a few spoken words (Potato!), it was beautiful and funny and, in the end, tragic. I loved it.

Sorry, no pictures of these performances. But if you ever get a chance to attend The Fringe, go for as much of it as you can!

Salsbury Crag

We did some Edinburgh touristy stuff as well. Tom and Kevin and Danielle took a hike up Salsbury Crag south of Holyrood,

It's not a difficult walk, but gives you a great view of the city.


A bit of heather blooms on the hill overlooking the city and the Firth of Forth

Noe worries, mate!










Edinburgh Environs

Back down at street level, the ducks and swans gather on the lakeshore in Princes Street Garden.

Royal Mile

Meanwhile, I went out to explore the Royal Mile.

It was good to get out on my own and stretch my legs. I started near the bottom of the high street and walked up towards the castle, stopping here and there to look at the woolens and tartans and other local goods, pick up some cash at an ATM and gawk at the denizens of The Fringe.

Edinburgh Castle

The castle at the top of the High Street was one of my clearest memories from my previous trip to Scotland and I wanted to see it again.

The approach to the castle is different during the Festival, all set up for the Tattoo, which sold out its 216,000 tickets 6 months before. In non-festival times this is just a huge empty cobblestone square.

Stuffing the guard booth at the entrance - an old tradition.

At the gate I bought two Scotland Explorer passes, good for 5 days, and went in.

Tom used his pass the next day while I was exploring other places.

Once inside, I took one of the free tours given by a volunteer. Lots of personal information and humor thrown into the mix. They fire the big cannon from the walls every day at 1:00. They chose 1:00 because they’re Scottish, and one shell is cheaper.

The grounds of the castle inside the walls are huge, and many city and military offices still operate from here. There are several museums inside as well, along the steep cobblestone streets.

As you can see, the castle is built around the mountain, and the crags are part of the structure. These days we just flatten the hilltop before we build, but the skill of the mason here is evident.

Holyrood House

We both also visited Holyrood House, at the bottom of the Royal Mile, but at different times.

This is the main gate to the palace, and sparked my interest in ornamental iron work, which continued through other parts of the trip.

This is the palace itself, still inhabited. Some parts are open to tourists, but the Royal Family have private areas here as well.

Scottish Parliament Building

I was quite impressed with the Scottish Parliament Building, new since I was here. In fact the Scottish Parliament is new since I was here. The building itself is an award-winner.

Not only is the building unusual, but so are the protective barriers around it.

This wall not only protects the building from potential terrorist threat, but also honors writers and poets.

Detail of the wall. Some of them are in Gaelic, but I picked two I could understand.

The gate displays the thistle, symbol of Scotland.

Signs are in English, but also in Scottish, although few people speak it any more.

Leaving Edinburgh

Our last day in Edinburgh, Tom went up to see the castle. On his way back he picked up the car from the shopping-mall garage where we’d parked it. He’d lost the ticket and had some trouble paying out. Finally reached someone by phone who explained that they were going to have to charge him for a full day. (It had been parked for two so he didn't argue). He drove down to the apartment and we loaded up and headed north.

I certainly enjoyed our stay in Edinburgh. The High Street is considerably different during the Festival than it was the last time I was there. But the amazing old architecture and the little closes and the castle are the same.

My calves are sore from all the hill-walking - hurts going downhill but not uphill. But my feet don’t hurt a bit, even with all the cobblestones– good investment in shoes!

We headed out of Edinburgh early Saturday afternoon and headed up the coast. More about that trip in the next section, Scotland and Wales.


1 Beginning 5 Paris 9 Frankfurt and the Night Train 13 Bavaria and Tirol
2 London to Edinburgh 6 Bruges 10 Vienna 14 Motorcycles in the Alps
3 The Fringe 7 Amsterdam 11 Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut 15 Switzerland near Interlaken
4 Scotland and Wales 8 Bacharach in the Rhine Valley 12 Salzburg 16 Home again

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