Lost & Found: Edinburgh
8-10 August 2008

Edinburgh residents may beg to differ, but the best time to visit is in August, when the city hosts the biggest fringe festival in the world, along with an international arts festivalmilitary tattoo, book festival, visual art festival, television festival and jazz & blues festival. The whole city comes alive with theatre, music, comedy, art and a general party vibe.

To do:

The Festival, naturally. Between us we managed to experience a few shows over the weekend:

  • 10. (Match Report from Brett) An energetic performance by a young, contemporary dance group Momentum. Interesting enough, but not a stand-out performance. The costuming and choreography was random to say the least. Bek found it particularly disjointed and confusing, and must have been a bit stressed out by the hip hop "scary clown" scene, because she came out with fingernail marks in her cheek. I'm not normally a connoisseur of modern dance, but bizarrely I enjoyed it more than Bek. I'd pay £4 pounds for this one.
  • Tim Vine - Punslinger. This comic used to hold the world record for the number of jokes told in a minute, and his quickfire puns really need full attention. Very clever, very fast. Tim's favourite.
  • Aluminum Show. Sometimes innovative, sometimes boring, this show could do with a bit of polish and Brett and Bek gave it a "I'd pay £5 to see it" rating. Apparently the best part was something involving a giant slinky devouring an audience member wrapped in aluminium foil and then spitting out foil remnants (?!?).
  • Amsterdam Underground Comedy Collective. Dutch comics Hans Teeuwen and Micha Wertheim alternate their stand-up show (probably more economically viable) at the 'underground bunker' of the Pleasance Dome. While not hysterically funny, I think Wertheim cleverly uses overtly controversial topics (the Holocaust, gang rape, abortion, handicapped people) to prod the audience to question their prejudices and so-called liberalism.
  • Barbershopera. An unexpected delight in the tiny sweatbox of Pleasance Beside. Who knew that barbershop, the Swiss and Slovenia were so full of ridiculous comic possibilities? This was a funny, well-formatted a capella musical involving a barbershop quartet missing a tenor and an opera soprano without a job who come together to compete in the Eurovision Barbershop Content in Ljubljana. Every single person in the audience was smiling or laughing at some stage, so it's my favourite.

Shows I would have liked to have seen if I had more money, more tolerance and needed no sleep:

Shows to avoid judged on names/posters alone:

Royal Mile, Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle. Dodge the milling tourists, street performers and tartan-everything shops as you head uphill along the Royal Mile towards the solid, impregnable architecture of Edinburgh Castle and downhill to the dour royal residence of Holyroodhouse. Unless you like being ripped off, I'd advise against entering either building.

Fruit Market Gallery. Currently has a fantastic and thought-provoking exhibition by the Canadian collaborators Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. They use installations to evoke imagined storylines and intimate emotions and to challenge the  audience's experience of fact and fiction. Opera for a Small Room was a reconstructed room filled with banks of old records, several antique record players, chandeliers and a mouldy couch, and you slowly piece together the lonely man's story from his record collection and snippets of dialogue. Another favourite was the Muriel Lake Incident where the use of binuaral recording was used in conjunction with a miniature theatre to blur reality and imagination, to the point where I jumped out of my skin when I thought a stranger standing next to me was whispering in my ear.

Climb the Scott Monument. Pay £3 to climb the biggest monument to a writer in the world to view the rooftops of Edinburgh, Arthurs Seat, the Castle and experience the whipping Scottish wind.

Scottish Parliament. The modern parliament building wasn't that interesting for me (Tim viscerally hated it), but they are currently hosting a fantastic photo exhibition of World Press Photo, an independent, non-profit organisation of press photographers. In amongst many striking and moving images, I was stunned by the tender yet violent shot by Zsolt Szigetvary of a man cradling his wounded, bleeding friend or lover during a gay pride march in Budapest. I was most moved by it because the pose was very reminiscent of the pieta, yet of course the Church does not allow homosexuality.

Museum of Edinburgh. A free museum covering the history of Edinburgh which contains an extensive collection of crockery and other random Edinburgh-related ephemera: miniature fireman's hats, Greyfriars Bobby's collar and antique ladies booties.

National Galleries of Scotland. Frankly when you live with the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain, any art gallery is going to have to be pretty special to catch my attention. Sniffling and tired, I wasn't really in the mood to visit the National Galleries of Scotland, but we had some time to kill before lunch and it was free. The collection includes some lovely glowing Raphael paintings, a couple of Rembrandts and naturally some Raeburns, but my favourite was the frank and intelligent gaze of Lady Agnew of Lochnaw captured by John Singer Sargent, an artist previously unheralded in my eyes.

Fringe Sunday. On Sunday, down in the boggy Meadows, the festival puts on a showcase of free theatre, dance, music, comedy and cabaret acts, as well as street performers, rides and food and craft stalls. We sampled our way through:

  • Drum Cat. an exuberant South Korean drumming girl group, with their athletic choreographed drumming, sexy bondage costumes and coordinated funky hair flicks.
  • Plague! The Musical. A collection of amateurish Rock Eisteddford song and dance numbers involving lyrics like "it's bubonic! it's teutonic!" *jazz hands*

 

  • Wilson Dickson. Country & Western singing comedy.
  • La Clique. We caught the end-part of their show, where two strongmen dressed only in bowler hats and Union Jack jocks bravely balanced each other in the pouring rain.

Eat at:

The Doric Tavern. An unremarkable pub serving unremarkable food but close to the train station. Maybe the upstairs restaurant is better.

Balmoral Hotel. I have fond memories of indulging in afternoon tea with Laura at the luxurious Balmoral Palm Court on New Years Day (before or after our hike up Arthurs Seat, can't remember). This time, the Princes Suite's relaxing surroundings cocooned me against the tourist hurly-burly of Princes Street. As our budgets and appetites didn't extend to the £21 high tea (a bargain compared to London), we settled on pots of steaming tea and gingerbread latte (£3.95) and a large selection of scones and biscuits (£7) which ended up being a cost-effective way to replace dinner.

Iglu. A lovely hidden gastropub in the New Town serving organic and local, ethically sourced Scottish food. It has a cosy, unpretentious wood and brick dining room, very friendly service, even a collection of board games - and the food has won numerous awards. Entrees (£4-5) included lime and coriander fishcakes, wild mushroom crostini and smoked duck salad with honey mustard dressing. We had mains (£8-17) of lamb shanks with cassoulet, olive-crusted pollock and goats cheese tartlet with a side of great fries (£2) and I powered on alone with a fluffy sticky toffee pudding for dessert (£4). Highly recommended.

Chippy next to Festival Theatre. Recommended by Laura for its interpretation of the Scottish delicacy, the deep-fried Mars bar. No thanks.

Stay at:

Reasonably-priced accommodation during festival is few and far between. So I was very lucky to find a beautiful, very centrally-located apartment for the weekend for only £190 (£23.75 per person per night). From the lounge room there were views of church spires, two spacious double beds with crisp linen and fluffy towels, a fold out couch, a bathroom with a view and open plan kitchen (they even provided us with tea, coffee, milk, shortbread and a bottle of wine!). Best of all, it was only 5 minutes tumble from the Royal Mile.

Getting there:

Our train from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverley exceeded expectations by providing comfortable seats, free wifi and even arriving 10 minutes early. Buy your tickets online to get 10% off.

Pleasance Theatre

Pleasance Courtyard: 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ

Pleasance Dome: Potterow Student Union, Bristo Square

Holyroodhouse: Edinburgh

T: +44 (0)131 556 5100

Edinburgh Castle: Castlehill, Edinburgh
EH1 2NG

Tel: +44 (0) 131 225 9846

Fruit Market Gallery: Market Street, Edinburgh.

T: 0131 226 8181

Scott Monument: East Princes Street Gardens

Tel: 0131 529 4068

Scottish Parliament: The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP

T: 0131 348 5000

Museum of Edinburgh: 142-146 Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8 8DD

T: 0131 529 4143

National Galleries of Scotland: The Mound, Edinburgh, EH2 3

T: +44 131 624 6200

The Doric Tavern: 15-16 Market St

Edinburgh, EH1 1DE

T: +44 131 225 1084

Balmoral Hotel: 1 Princes Street, Edinburgh

T: +44 131 557 6727

Iglu Cafe Bar & Restaurant: 2b Jamaica Street, Edinburgh, EH3 6HH

T: +44 131 476 5333

Random Chippy: Next to Festival Theatre, South Bridge

Apartment: 3F, 15 Guthie Street, Edinburgh