17 August 2011

Military Tattoo

Absolutely beautiful sunset at the
Tattoo's beginning.
Perhaps the biggest draw to the Fringe Festival is the Military Tattoo. Millions of people gather every August to watch the different military bands play. In the past 10 years there hasn't been one night that was not sold out beforehand. Let's put that into perspective -- the stands can hold 8,600 people, so that means that about 217,000 people see the Tattoo every August.

By the way, it is called a 'Tattoo' from the days when the British army was stationed in Low Countries during the 17th Century. Each evening the drummers would play as a signal for when the soldiers should leave the inns and return to their barracks. This practice was known as "doe den tap toe" - which is Dutch for "turn the tap off." Over the years, this whole ordeal became more of a show, and thus the Military Tatoo was born. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)
The Scottish band starting the night off right.
Held in the Castle Esplanade, the event is a pretty great one.The Castle serves as a backdrop to the event, complete with a flyover and fireworks. There are images projected onto the facade of the Castle, so it's a pretty amazing visual event. I especially appreciated that the bands were from so many different areas, like Brazil, The Netherlands, South Africa, Canada, Bavaria....it made the event much more fun. I particularly enjoyed the Dutch band, who came riding in on bikes - I can't even imagine having to play the tuba while trying not to fall.
Somewhere Over The Rainbow by the Brazilian band
All in all, it was a very cool event. Although it was a bit pricey, I felt that it was perfectly worth it. There were plenty of bagpipes, so it was nice and Scottish-y. For anyone coming to the Fringe, I would totally recommend it.
Gingerbread Castle?
Some highlights include...
1.) The beautiful sunset behind the Castle as the Tattoo began.
2.) The Dutch band that came out on bikes - particularly when they played Loch Lomond.
3.) The fireworks!
4.) The many, many bagpipers -- especially the Lone Bagpiper, which is a tribute to the troops.
5.) The Harry Potter interlude.
6.) The tribute to the fishing industry in Scotland. Who doesn't love ribbon dancing in satin overalls next to a bucket of fish?
7.) The rousing rendition of Auld Lang Syne! So appropriate.
Scotland Castle, Part II

12 August 2011

Fringe Festival

The beer garden in Bristo Square, the
heart of my campus. See...school
can be fun!
Every August Edinburgh plays host to the Fringe Festival. For those not in the know, this is a massive, city-wide event. The population literally doubles -- from 500,000 to a cool 1,000,000 people. It is, according to the always reliable wikipedia, the world's largest arts festival. The city is crawling with performers and there are countless shows on each night. There are plenty of comedians, bands, and plays to catch your fancy. Plus, there are so many options that you can just show up like 10 minutes before and see what looks good. It is unjuried, so literally anyone can put on a show if they want.

There is a long history of comedians, bands, and actors getting their big start at the Fringe. It's where Russell Brand was discovered and where Ricky Gervais got his big break. However, this doesn't mean that the city is crawling with a bunch of unknowns hoping to be discovered...just the other day I was walking to the gym and passed Tom Green. Plus, John Malkovich was spotted handing out fliers for the show he is directing. Small world!

Our student union, a major
hub for the festival.
I have already spent a couple of nights checking it out. On Tuesday Sami, Deirdre, and I went to check out the happenings in Bristo Square. We grabbed a crepe for dessert at a stand and a Magners in the nearby beer garden. Funny story: as we were sitting in the beer garden, we were able to listen in on Michael Winslow's show....we got to hear sound effects from this star of the Police Academy movies, free of charge! How lucky of us! (and there was only a small amount of sarcasm there....)

My first festival show -
Looser Women.
Sami and I ended up going to a show called Looser Women, which was a trio of women talking about relationships, sex, and love. We just went into the box office and asked the woman behind the desk what she recommended, and her advice ended up working out well. The show was very entertaining and funny, and for only 5 pounds a ticket! What a deal!

The Royal Mile at night - much
calmer than during the day.
We also walked around the city a bit and were a bit overwhelmed with what we found. The city is so crowded you can barely pass someone on the street,  so you have to be patient. On the Royal Mile, there are little booths set up that performers can rent out and perform on. In this first video, here is a band that we happened upon in Hunter's Square:

My festival adventures continued last night when Catriona and I went to a show at Queen's Hall. Both bands, Manran and Wolfstone, are Scottish rock bands. Catriona knew much more about each band, especially compared to me. I particularly enjoyed the bagpipes and fiddles, which made me feel like I was getting a really original Scottish experience. 
Catriona and me at the Manran/Wolfstone concert!
Manran is a newer band, but you couldn't really tell. I loved the accordion, which gave their songs a really funky feel. Plus, their songs were in Gaelic, which just made it all that much cooler.

Wolfstone was the main band. They've been together for a few decades now. They have a big following in Scotland, which you could really tell from the crowd. I especially like the lead singer who was doing a bit of a Bono impersonation and the bagpiper, who managed the impossible: he made me love the sound of bagpipes. Huzzah!

On Monday Sami, Deirdre, and I are going to the Military Tattoo, which is a major event taking place at the castle. For Tuesday, I'm going to see David Sedaris with Courtney and Emily....so my last week in Edinburgh should be fun-filled!

09 August 2011

The Succinct Art of the Tourist Picture

Tourist Picture: A phrase to denote the fine and not-so-subtle art of taking a picture with/in front of famous landmarks. This may include, but is certainly not limited to, gags, funny reenactments, and cliche poses. These pictures have been "done" before, so please do not feel the need to be original. 

Warning: One must be willing to embarrass oneself if one is to get the picture right.
Starting out strong with a standard picture with the red phone booth.
Note - failed optical illusions are guaranteed to be hilarious.
Enjoying the Louvre the only way we know how.
Versailles - putting the gold fountain to shame.
Pisa - this has done been did, but I don't care!
Oh yeah...it happened.
Classing up the Royal Palace in Munich.
Walking Man in Munich.
Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam
Back to Scotland - Claire and Kaitlin are chilling with Braveheart. NBD.
Guard Booth Picture
It's a requirement, frankly.
Janice does her visit to Bobby up right.
Kaitlin makes this statue in Holyrood look GOOD.
Meg is a pro at Mons Meg photo opportunities.
Mons Meg in Edinburgh Castle - Sinead and Buffum do it up right.
Ending the way I began - red phone booth, but this time in London.

06 August 2011

International Coffee Mugs

When I started my travels this year, I impulsively decided that I would start collecting coffee mugs from every place I visited. So far, I have loved it! (Except I don't have any from places I travelled prior to this year...something I will have to remedy.) I like having something to look for in each city, and I especially like the challenge of finding one I actually like. Plus, I look forward to displaying them proudly in my future home. I have a vision of a plate rack type deal with my coffee mugs lined up. 

So, without further adieu, I present to you the mugs I have collected in the past year. Now, to find a way to get them all home...
Edinburgh, of course! One of the few
Starbucks mugs that I genuinely like.
Edinburgh, again. The city I love
deserves more than one.
Elephants & Bagels -- the sister cafe to the Elephant House. Also, my favorite place to visit after the gym.
Dublin, Ireland - My goodness, my Guinness!
Barcelona, Spain - It had to do with Gaudi
Brussels, Belgium - gotta love the tiny Manneken-Pis
Munich, Germany - I love that it's designed like a  traditional German beer stein.
To commemorate my England road trip.
Bath, England....I had to!
Royal Wedding....yeah, I did....and I'm not sorry!
London, England - from my weekend with the girls.
My trip to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland
Prague, Czech Republic - I'm particularly proud of this one...it's handmade!
Amsterdam, Netherlands - it was hard to find one without drugs or prostitutes on it.

03 August 2011


Buffum and I arrived in Amsterdam in the early evening of Thursday. Our first interesting moment was immediate - we didn't have to go through passport control! Since we were flying within the European Union, there was no need. This was the first time that this ever happened to me, so it was a bit strange that I was just able to waltz into a country without having my passport checked. (Sidenote: Amsterdam airport is awesome. If you're ever travelling there, save some time to explore a bit.)
Please use complete concentration when crossing the streets in Amsterdam.
Coziest rooms around!
(Hotel My) Home of the
After catching the train into the city center, we were finally able to find our hostel. We were staying at Hotel My Home, which proved to be a great find. It's a tiny little place, where there's just enough room to walk around the bed in your room. Plus, there was the staircase that was approximately 90 degrees. Seriously...it was like climbing up a ladder to get to your room. My favorite part? When we checked in, we were informed that we could smoke in our room, anything we wanted to smoke. Alrighty then...We ended up loving staying there, particularly the delicious breakfast of chocolate spread on toast with a side of eggs.

Beautiful sunset
on the canal.
First in a long series of pictures
of the canals.
Since we arrived later, our evening was pretty chill. The first thing we did was set out in search of dinner. We found an outdoor table that was free at a cafe, which suited us fine. Amsterdam, for obvious reasons, makes for excellent people watching. As we enjoyed our dinner and Heinekens, we enjoyed the show, provided free of charge from passersby. (Highlights included an impeccable impersonation of Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch.) After dinner we strolled along the canals, enjoying the sunset. One thing I can certainly say is that the beauty of Amsterdam is overlooked far too often. Forget the craziness -- it is one pretty city!
My favorite collection of houses. They're all tiny and leaning!
Buffum is thrilled to have her
new passport!
The next morning we had a bit of a shock - Buffum discovered that her passport was missing! Since we didn't have our passports checked when we got off the plane, she thinks she may have left it on the plane. As the U.S. embassy is only open until 11am during the work week, and it was Friday at 9am, we made it our first stop of the day. Despite not having her travel itinerary and a police report, the workers seemed to take pity on her. Just a few hours later, she had her emergency passport formally issued, thus saving her from a very extended vacation in Amsterdam.

The aftereffects of the
"tree incident"
Beautiful canals!
While Buffum's emergency passport was being processed, we decided to check out the surrounding area. Our first stop was to rent a paddle boat, or canal bike, as they're known in Amsterdam. For an hour we explored the canals, struggling to find the proper method of steering. Discovery? I am awful at it. When it was my turn, all we did was zig-zag around the canal -- Not the most efficient method of travel. One particularly hilarious moment came when a large tour boat came past and the wake pushed us (read: Buffum) into a nearby tree.

On the canal! Only swerving slightly at this point...
Buffum and me on our canal bike!
Following our adventure with the canal bikes we made our way to the Van Gogh Museum. This museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh's work, so I was in heaven. I was especially happy to find his Almond Blossom painting, which he painted for his nephew and ultimate became one of the last paintings he completed before his death. I particularly liked the museum because they also included work by his contemporaries, particularly those that influenced his work. Accompanying a lot of the paintings were excerpts from his letters in which he would talk about his feelings about the painting or drawing, so there was plenty to occupy our time.
My favorite painting by Van Gogh - Almond Blossoms
Heading over!
After swinging by the embassy to pick up her passport, Buffum and I grabbed a quick lunch in the park and headed over to the I amsterdam sign. (Get it?! Puns!) When there, we kept noticing all of these young teenagers walking around that were a bit, shall we say, socially awkward. They were all wearing the same badges around their neck, so we figured they were all together. We soon discovered that they were all participants in the Mathematics Olympics, at which point their awkwardness started to make sense. Between those adorable nerds from all over the world, the crowd of tourists, and one man that was doing his best to scare the locals, it took a bit of patience to get a proper picture opportunity.
I had a great time in "terdam"
Crawling with mathletes...
At this point, our day out was pretty much over. We decided to head in the direction of Dam Square, which is close to the Red Light District. Dam Square is where the Royal Palace is  located and the largest H&M I have ever set foot in. On the way, we stopped for a beer at a canal-side cafe and admired the beautiful houses. One thing I have to say is that most of the houses were either leaning or super small, so we were big fans. 
Dam Square with the Royal Palace in the background.
After a quick look around, we headed over to the Red Light District area. This was one of the strangest, if not  the strangest, thing I have ever seen. The main stretch is only a few blocks, but it takes quite a bit to walk it. (It is very disrespectful to take pictures while in the Red Light District, for obvious reasons, so there are no pictures to accompany this section. Apologies.) There are glass rooms lining each side with nearly naked young ladies inside, on display like a department store window. Many of the girls were dancing for the passersby and giving them their best 'come hither' look. With the prevalence of red glowing lights and leopard print throws, it was a surreal sight. Buffum and I could barely comprehend a life like that, and we were especially baffled that they could make any money at all. I would think that with all of the tourists around - including whole families! - that these girls wouldn't have any takers. Surely embarrassment would deter any potential buyer? I don't know... 

I did, however, have my own proposition on our way home. Just a few blocks out of the Red Light District, we were walking along when a cab screeched to a halt. The driver leaned over, pointed right at me, and gruffly asked, "For the girl, how much?!" I stood there, kinda flabbergasted. Unable to really make a move because I was so stunned, it was Buffum that urged me to trot away from his leering. When he turned the corner, though, he made sure to turn and stare back at me....talk about creepy! (Coincidentally, he passed us again later in the night. He made sure to honk, so don't worry! He didn't forget about me.) As my dad was kind enough to point out, at least I have a back-up career workin' it in Amsterdam if I don't get a job when I come home.

So ready to get experienced.
Our Heinekens.....delicious!
As Saturday was our last full day and it was meant to be a fairly rainy day, we made sure to spend it in the Heineken Experience. We ended up having a blast. Seriously, it was like a grown-up playground. It was a self-guided tour, so we were able to do it at our own pace. We enjoyed the tutorials on how to pour the perfect Heineken, displays dedicated to how the brewery got its start, our own opportunity to aid in the brewing process, and an interactive ride describing how the famed beer is made - which was my favorite part. There were bubbles, dipping and dodging, and water that sprayed the audience. Kudos, Heineken...kudos. Our time in the Heineken Experience ended with two free beers, so we left feeling very experienced.
Buffum and me in the old brew hall.
Getting ready to brew some beer!
Dad Picture with my Heineken.
The rest of our day was very relaxing, with a stroll through the Jordaan neighborhood. This is one of the more expensive areas of Amsterdam, so we were marveling at the buildings. It also happens to be one of the older areas of Amsterdam, so it was beautiful. We especially enjoyed the street markets that were out in full-force.
Right on the edge of Jordaan.
Thank you, man with the red umbrella, for making this picture so cute.
Anne Frank House
Before we left on Sunday afternoon, we had one final stop: the Anne Frank House. Everyone in the world seems to know her story, so I won't go into that. I will just say that it is pretty remarkable to actually set foot in the place where they hid. During your visit, you can step through the same movable bookshelf that concealed the group for two years. The most striking part of the experience is to actually explore the attic for yourself, to see the layout that was described by Anne herself, and to see Anne's room with her decorations still intact.

All in all, Amsterdam was a great weekend trip. A few final observations.... (1.) Buffum and I were pretty much the only girls travelling without a man, so it's definitely overrun with young, male tourists. Brocation, indeed. (2.) The museums were wonderful, so there is a surprising number of things to do. (3.) The city is overrun with bikes. I was in constant fear of causing a fatal bike accident. (4.) Despite the craziness that you always hear about, the city itself is actually beautiful. Perhaps we can start talking about that instead?
Amsterdam - home of a million bike riders.
Again, we really enjoyed the Heineken Experience.
Reflection of the homes in the canal - win!
Canals, all lit up at night. Beautiful.