Oh, hey everybody. Remember when I said I was going to write this blog during my travels and then didn’t post for over a month? Haha yeah, me too. Travel really messes with your concept of “time” and “responsibilities”. But I’m here now and that’s what counts.
If you’ve been following along on my Instagram or Facebook you probably figured out that I’m not in Scotland anymore. But I’m going to take a cue from Lewis Carroll and begin at the beginning, which is Edinburgh. More specifically, Edinburgh during the final week of the world famous Festival Fringe, a comedy and arts wonderland full of amazing performers, shows, and exhibitions.
Expect High Street to be pretty crazy during the Fringe, this is the center of the action. You know you’re there if you see this massive cathedral in front of you – It’s St. Giles, AKA The High Kirk of Scotland, AKA John Knox’s home base. Back in the day you could find him preaching here, nowadays you can find him in the parking lot. He’s sort of buried there, but don’t worry, it’s all according to his wishes. John Knox, founder of the Church of Scotland and overly-enthusiastic Presbyterian, wanted to be buried within 20 feet of this impressive church. Though maybe 6 feet under slot number 23 isn’t exactly what he imagined. If you have the time you can go visit his grave, that is, if no one’s parked on top of it.
Fun fact – My great great grandad was also buried here, pre-parking lot. Apparently the Scots had a habit of shuffling bodies around to make room for, well, more bodies. Cracking open a coffin and chucking in a few extra tenants wasn’t an uncommon practice. It’s okay, we all know how plagues and rampant wars can wreak havoc on a city’s corpse capacity. So who knows where grandad is now? Hopefully he at least has some decent casket-mates.
Speaking of graveyards, Edinburgh has some pretty spectacular ones, if you’re into that sort of thing. Personally, I think graveyards are peaceful places where we can appreciate history and unique architecture. Other people just see them as places where dead people are planted. To each their own. If you do feel like getting spooky, wander on down to Canongate Kirk, a beautiful church to explore on it’s own, with a lovely graveyard right next door. Check out Canongate Kirk’s website to find out if a guided tour is scheduled.
If you’re not into visiting the dead, stop by Dunbar’s Close just a few steps away for peace that is more of the garden variety (haha garden puns). This is a nice place to just sit and read a book or have a picnic, which is exactly what I did and it was the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle that is Edinburgh Fringe.
After you’ve fueled up on snacks and had a rest, if you’re feeling energetic, just continue down Canongate Street for a glimpse of Holyroodhouse Palace (say that 3 times fast), Scottish Parliament, and Arthur’s Seat. Located in Holyrood Park, this hike is just outside of the city and a must-do while in Edinburgh. It’s not as easy as the “gentle slope” suggests, but old people and children are doing it, so you can too. That’s what I told myself about halfway up anyway, when my legs were feeling the burn and so was my skin, from the uncharacteristically blazing Scottish sun. That’s right people, bring your sunscreen and a bottle of water, Scotland has a summer, too. And midges. Let’s not forget the midges. These persistent little fiends are everywhere at the top of this hill, so be armed with bug spray or prepared to have them all over you. We’re talking swarms. They were in my hair. It was not pleasant.
On your way up don’t forget to take a little detour to St. Margaret’s Loch to gaze at the swans. This is where we stopped to apply sunscreen. And have a snack, which seems to be a theme.
You can also have a quick pit stop at Saint Anthony’s Chapel Ruins, the only building located in the park. Not much of a building, but if you’re interested in some mysterious walls from the 14th century, it’s worth a look.
Not much is known about the use of this building, though there are some suggestions that it was once associated with Holyrood Abbey due to an ancient stone track connecting the two. Perhaps the chapel was once used to house pilgrims in the Scottish hills. Maybe it wasn’t even a chapel at all, we really don’t know and probably never will. But the mystery is part of the fun. When you finally finish your climb, which could take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on your choice of ascent and number of “it’s hot and I’m dying” breaks, this is the view you’ll be rewarded with.
Pro tip a la Mimi Hayes, bring chocolate to eat at the top. Amazing foresight. And don’t forget while you’re eating that chocolate that you’re actually sitting on an extinct volcano and potential location of the fabled Camelot. Just imagine how many midges they had to deal with.
On your way back down you will find an ice cream truck as well, if you’re feeling like you need a special reward. Be forewarned, the line will be long. So, delay that gratification, skip the line, and continue back up Canongate until you spot The World’s End bar. You really can’t miss it.
The World’s End is an historic 16th century building which used to make up part of the Flodden Wall, the wall that protected Old Town. Just outside you’ll spot some brass cobbles in the road, this is where the city gates used to be located, hence the name “World’s End”. Nothing outside of Edinburgh was worth seeing back in those days, at least to the citizens who dwelled here. I can recommend the Mac and Cheese, something Edinburgh serves up in surprising quality and abundance, but most people come here for the famous fish and chips and, of course, the obligatory pint.
If you’re an Outlander fan “The World’s End” might seem familiar. That’s because this pub was featured in series 3, or at least a set with the same name was, and also mentioned in the third book. Don’t expect it to look the same, TV magic and all that, but still worth a visit if you’re exploring Outlander locations in the city. Speaking of, on your way to The World’s End you can spot another Outlander place of interest, Bakehouse Close – also known as A Malcolm’s print shop location. I won’t say any more, just in case some of you are just now hopping on the Outlander bandwagon, but let’s just say it’s a pretty iconic scene.
You’ll spot the sign for Bakehouse Close as you pass the Museum of Edinburgh – also worth a stop in, especially since it’s free to enter! A clue that you’re getting, well, close to the Close is when you pass Mimi’s Bakeshop – appropriate considering the name.
If you feel like being entertained, of course you can pick your poison during the Fringe. You won’t run out of things to do from live music to street performers to stand up. For live music during or after the Fringe, check out Whistlebinkies for something more alternative, or Whiski Bar & Restaurant for a traditional music session.
Otherwise, just wander the streets of Old Town and see what strikes your fancy. Plenty of amazing comedians take part in “Free Fringe”, and you can find a number of great stand up sets going on just passing a bar and being beckoned inside to join the crowd stuffed into a tiny basement staff room. It’s all part of the experience, and so worth the lack of elbow space. Especially since you can take your drink with you. Score. Even if you’re not partaking in Fringe, Edinburgh has plenty to offer where drinking is concerned.
Fair warning, though, don’t be surprised when performers participating in “Free Fringe” kindly request donations at the end of the show. It’s technically optional, but you’d be kind of a knob if you walked out on a show you enjoyed without giving something to support the performers. It’s Fringe etiquette to donate between 5 and 10 pounds per show. Street performers will probably expect less, but do donate what you think the show was worth. Or, in the case of musicians, just by a CD. Easy Peasy.
One of the best shows to see during this year’s Fringe has to be Laser Kiwi. Yes, I’m giving my “Best Show at Edinburgh Fringe” award to a circus comedy trio from New Zealand. What can I say, I’m a sucker for how they pronounce all of their i’s like u’s.
Of course, if I were being completely biased and willing to betray my journalistic integrity (haha good one, me), I would give this award to my friend Mimi Hayes. Her one woman show about her spontaneous brain hemorrhage at age 22 was brilliant, quick, clever, inspirational and hilarious all at once. Just like her. You’ll pretty much fall in love with the girl the second you hear her speak – and I got to spend two weeks with her! More on that in another post, though. Watch out, Ed Fringe 2020, she’ll be back in a venue that doesn’t feel like the location of a recent active crime scene investigation. Though labyrinthine factory halls and booming construction sounds as venue features are basically a rite of passage for comedians, I imagine. Maybe she’ll also let me tag along next year. My flyering skills are sub-par, but I make a mean toaster avocado grilled cheese.
Oh yeah, don’t think I’d forget about food. If you’re looking for the classics, seek out some fish and chips, fried Mac and Cheese (or fried anything), or a jacked baked potato. During the festival you’ll find pop-up markets hidden in slips and closes (Scottish words for alleyways), food trucks, and of course the usual gems Edinburgh has to offer in the form of restaurants, bars, and pubs. Head to Grassmarket for the most popular options in the city, and a great view of the colorful shops.
If you’ve been out on a pub crawl (like me), check out Hula Juice Cafe, which offers the standard avocado toast for your millennial fix, but also things like hangover smoothies and immune booster teas. My friend recommends the porridge, which she apparently lived off of for the entirety of the festival, so it must be pretty good.
If you’re craving salad (some people do that) head to Biddy Mulligans, a lively Irish pub that serves an amazing sweet potato salad that made me feel better about eating all that fried Halloumi. Mmm, halloumi.
Or if you are in the mood for something more historic, try out Maggie Dickson’s pub, named after a woman who was tried and wrongfully executed for the concealment of pregnancy and supposed death of her infant child. In reality, the child was stillborn. Maggie abandoned the body on the shore of the River Tweed and was soon after hanged on the spot marked by a raised circular stone just outside the pub. While being transported for burial the lid of Maggie’s coffin moved, and Maggie was found to be alive. Since her sentence had already been carried out, Maggie was now a free woman, and lived another 40 years with the nickname “Half-Hangit Maggie”. Great, 40 years of never living that one down.
It’s funny, before I came to Edinburgh Fringe I didn’t know it existed outside of this city. In fact, this hilarious, crazy, chaotic mess of a festival happens in cities across the globe. So here’s me telling you that, yes, Edinburgh is amazing and so worth a visit whether Fringe is on or off, but that if you get the chance to go to one of the many Fringe festivals happening around the world, go, go, go! You won’t regret it.
I’ve seen Edinburgh in two very different lights, during the cool and calm days of autumn and during the eclectic, sun and fun filled streets of Fringe. The character of this city never changes. The crowds that flood the city during the festival season are almost welcomed by the city, which seems to open up and make room for it’s new visitors.
As easy as it is to get lost in Edinburgh’s winding streets, alleyways, and neverending staircases (get ready to have some toned legs by the end of your trip), you never actually feel lost. Somehow I always end up right where I’m supposed to be.