Edinburgh on the fringes


Castle Fabulous. Visible from everywhere.

Land of haggis, castles, and awesome accents. It’s a great town on its own, and when you add their annual Fringe Festival to it, you have a recipe for awesomeness.

Back in Seattle, when I was still planning this trip, I talked to friend and co-worker of mine (let’s call him Makerbot), and when I mentioned that I wanted to spend some time in Edinburgh, he graciously offered that he and his girlfriend (Let’s call her Industrial) owned a house there, and I’d be welcome to crash when I was in town.  Fantastic.

Fast forward nine months, get through Spanish lessons in Mexico, a broken foot in Spain, abusing the hospitality of friends in London, a trip to the arctic, and I actually made it to Edinburgh to take him up on his offer.

A couple call outs here:

  • Nicest room I’ve stayed in since leaving my apartment.  Actually, probably nicer than my apartment.
  • Not only did Industrial agree to put me up (even though she hadn’t met me), but when she found out about my card-woes, she gave me cash to ensure I could have a good time at the festival.
  • Industrial stayed out drinking at Festival with me, her sister and their friend until far too late/early.
  • Also, the front door key is absolutely the coolest key you’ve ever seen.  Ever.


  • Hard to make duplicates, I imagine.

So, add all this to the list of kindnesses I’ve experienced on this trip and can probably never repay, but just be thankful for.

Now, Edinburgh is worth visiting on it’s own. It’s a beautiful town, and large enough to have lots of interesting history, places to see and things to do, but small enough to be at times quaint, approachable, and super friendly. It’s got all the things that seem pretty much required of a European city. Like castles.

Castle Fabulous, backside
And fantastic buildings, streets, and alleyways.
Beautiful park + gothic architecture = fabulous

And other impressive structures.

Cathedrals? Yeah, we got those too.
Canals? In Edinburgh? Ehhhhh, sure, why not.

However, it’s not ALL sixteenth-century stone and plaster awesomeness, there’s a fair amount of new construction going on as well.

Not so castle-like.

All in all, a great town, and I’m not even taking into account the highlands. Then when you add in the Fringe Festival, well that takes things to eleven.

Peeps everywhere.

The Fringe goes basically all of August, and there are a MASSIVE number of shows, far too many to make sense of. Also, most of these shows will be things you have never heard of. So how do you go about choosing some shows to go to?

Well, in my case, like I’ve managed everything else so far: arrive, walk around, and make it up as you go along.  As it turns out, this has some distinct advantages.  First off, there are so many shows that it’s understood extra has to be done to get your attention.  So promoters, artists, and volunteers are circulating the crowds, actively pushing information in your face about the shows you simply NEED to see.  One day of walking around the festival netted me a few brochures and such:

A single day’s loot.

So in addition to there being many MANY shows, there are many MANY people milling about. This means it is quite difficult for anyone to really stand out or get noticed. You’ve got to resort to extreme measures. For example, as a man, you could dress like a giant princess, then break down in the middle of the street, sobbing about your broken wand, like this chap:

OMG! My wand is all brokeded.

Note: he wasn’t promoting a show that I could see. No fliers to hand out, didn’t talk with anyone who gathered around, just sobbed about his wand, then got up, walked a while more, then repeated. Not sure what that was about.

Or, you could just spin some wool, which one would think is a perfectly normal thing to do. But usually not in the middle of the street. Got to be one of the more unusual street performances I’ve run across.

Spinning wool. On the street. Like ya do.

Or hey, you could be a busker! Oh, but there are many, many a busker on the streets. What’s your angle? How about bringing Scottish music with a more modern style by adding a drumset and electric guitar? Done.

Bagpipe rock

So, I walked around, got a forty-two pound festival guide, picked up many flyers and promotions, and talked to many people promoting their shows. Turns out that taking the time to talk to these folks about why you should see the show can be quite beneficial: oftentimes you can get free tickets out of them (have seen three shows for free so far).  Note – this might only work at the beginning of Festival, where they are all desperately trying to make a splash.

However getting the tickets and finding the show are two very different things. The guide attempts to give you a map with all the locations numbered (there are 300 of them).  The map is full of numbers, that correspond to a list of names on another page. The numbering on the map looks like it was assigned by meticulously writing numbers 1-300 on small pieces of paper, stuffing them in piñata, then shooting the piñata with a howitzer. The list of names should hopefully be in alphabetical order to help you find your place. Turns out no. How about grouped by map location? Nope. Hmm, maybe by promotional group? Wrong again.

There is no order to this. Maybe it was chronological?

So, looking at my ticket, I’ve got a venue name like “Venue 40, Udderbelly Grassmarket”. This is not a street address exactly, and if you are a visitor, the terms “grassmarket” or “udderbelly” might seem less than descriptive. After some asking around, you will eventually establish some landmarks. For example, udderbelly is basically a giant inflatable purple cow.

Meet me udder the cow (see what I did there?)

Then, once you are actually AT the venue, these shows are so small that many of them are tucked away in dank-smelling caverns, unused for anything until this special moment of the year rolls around where twenty folding chairs are set up in front of a make-shift stage. This leads to some rather unfortunate signs that equate the show with activities of a less-than-special nature:

Unfortunate grouping.

Regardless, having taken in a number of shows so far, I feel there are two in particular I should mention are worth seeing. In case you want to hop a flight and get over here. Or if you run across either of these blokes in the future, as I think is likely since they are pretty fantastic:

Jon Bennet: My dad’s deaths. This is a guy who attained some small level of Internet fame by traveling the world and taking pictures of things, pretending these objects were anatomically attached to his nether regions. He even got a book out of it. His stage show is stories about his dad and is funny, tragic, heartfelt, amusing, surprising, hilarious, touching, and worth every minute.

Howard Read: Hide and Speak – This guy puts on a show using 2-d animations projected on a screen that he controls with a microphone, game controller and foot pedals. It’s frantic, ridiculous, inventive, and hilarious. Also worth checking out, especially when he gets into heckling with the audience. Good stuff.

So that’s my first few days of Edinburgh and Fringe.  I’ve still got a number of days left, so I’ll probably have at least one more thing to say about it.


Updates on various issues:

  • My bank rushed a card to me which arrived Friday.  The PIN code, which must be sent separately, was sent to my brother (seemed easy: he could email it to me once he got it).  First Tech is in Seattle.  Elder Wanker is in Sammamish.  I got my card in Edinburgh before they could get a PIN code across the pond to the eastside.  Kinda odd.
  • My foot is nearly fully healed.  I hope to begin running again in about three weeks.  However, either due to a different gait or some other factor, I’ve developed a huge blood blister that I keep re-creating by walking around for 4-8 hours a day.  Today is day five of dealing with this.  I may have to just amputate, the foot is far too much trouble.
  • For those reading along on the YA novel I’ve been working on, I failed to post any chapters whilst cruising around the arctic.  I apologize, and think this is proof that breaking my foot was the best thing that could have happened for my writing.  I’m back to my regularly scheduled posting schedule now.  New chapter today, more new every Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.  Should be complete in one week.  Thank you SO much for following along, having early criticism and feedback is invaluable.

6 thoughts on “Edinburgh on the fringes

  1. Actually the “non-castle” building looks a great deal like something out of Minecraft, and therefore, perfectly in place with the actual castles. Fringe sounds awesome. Critical just concluded here in WA, and of course, Burning Man is ramping up in Nevada.

    1. oooo, good call. Minecraft-themed buildings in Scotland.

      I do need to get to Burning man. Just kept missing out on ticket sales this year. Looks like there’s another batch on sale now, so… fingers crossed.

  2. My first tip for Edinburgh: Go climb the Sir Walter Scott memorial. It may not look tall from the outside, but after the long spirally climb you’ll think differently.

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