In May while we were in the Canary Islands we were thrilled to meet some folks from Scotland since that’s where we were planning to spend August. We told them we’d like to pick their brains on what we should see and do during our time there. They explained we were really lucky to be in Edinburgh during “The Fringe” and then in the next breath asked if we had booked our place to stay as “The Fringe” is the biggest cultural extravaganza in the world. We had no idea! I immediately got online and began to search for a place to stay…that would be convenient yet affordable. As luck would have it, a woman had just listed her apartment that day. After a few interactions we booked it! And I’m so glad we did.
On our train trip from Inverness to Edinburgh we sat with a lovely couple from Inverness who were travelling to see friends in a small town near Edinburgh just as they do every year during “The Fringe.” They go annually for three or four days and offered some suggestions on what they had seen that we might like. Word of mouth has helped direct us to so many interesting places!
“The Fringe” is a three week arts festival in August. While the majority of performances are comedy and theatre, there is lots of dance and music. Each performance lasts about an hour and prices vary. Some are free but the most expensive tickets we saw were 15 euros. Most were in the 5 or 6 euro range. There are over 40,000 performances in virtually every available nook and cranny in the city. And in addition, there are street performers everywhere.
Fringe programs are free for the taking and available at every performance and street corner, although we found it easiest to look online and sort by venue or time. How anyone puts together the program is beyond my comprehension! To make the festival even more special, both Cary and Patrick flew in to spend a week with us. We couldn’t resist going to see Trumpageddon. He had Trump’s mannerisms down pat. And it was especially funny seeing Trump through the eyes of a European performer. He even took questions from the audience. A favorite show for the four of us was Aladdin and His Magical European Refugee Tour 2016 performed by Asleik & Jon, a Norwegian duo who did a wonderful comedic routine about the immigrant crisis. So good in fact we thought it would be wonderful to show to school children throughout the world! There were also some big names. We went to see Ron White on the last day of the festival. He was hilarious.
Several had told us that while we were in Edinburgh that the Military Tattoo was a must do! We had read that The Military Tattoo was first performed in 1950. The name comes from British Regiment’s Practice of playing to notify taverns t0 turn off their taps. Later in the eighteenth century the term Tattoo came to mean the last duty call of the day. This year we watched military bands, dancers, singers and various other performers from more than 16 countries. The event always takes place on the Esplanade of Edinburgh Castle and incorporates both pyrotechnics and lasers using the castle as a backdrop! It’s really spectacular.
The Tattoo has been sold out for the past eighteen years and never once in its 67 year history has it been cancelled because of inclement weather. Nearly two hours of nonstop music! (Check this out if you want to see the 2016 Tattoo in its entirety: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvWGB8gDLDE)
England’s national anthem, was followed by Auld Lang Syne and the Evening Hymn remembering all who died a century ago in World War I. Finally, the lone piper played “Sleep Soldier Sleep” which was really moving and then the massed bands performed a finale to end the amazing evening, one which none of us will ever forget.
While we love the cities of Scotland we decided that our kids should see the Highlands in order to have a more complete picture of the country. I found a bus tour that took us first through Dean’s Distillary. After touring the distillary we were invited for a taste…although 10 o’clock in the morning is a bit early for whiskey, it still was pretty good! We then traveled on through the Highlands heading for Loch Ness making various short stops along the way. The scenery was spectacular! By the time we arrived at Loch Ness the sun was shining and it had warmed up considerably. We took an hour cruise peeling our eyes for a glimpse of Nessie but no luck.
Some have suggested that the chances of seeing Nessie improve with a few drinks of the famous Scotch whiskey! Instead we settled for the local brews on board the boat. Heading back we traveled briefly through Cairngorms National Park, with its lovely glens and lochs. The coach driver once again impressed us with his knowledge of the history of the area.
Whenever we think of Scotland, St. Andrews usually comes to mind and its famous golf course. Our family has always had a special love for miniature golf so when we found out that St. Andrews has a miniature golf course right next to its old course we thought we’d like to play it. We found a train that came quite near to the the city and from there we took a taxi. We had checked online to make sure the course was open so when we got there and found that it was going to close from noon to 4 for a special function we were really disappointed, but then we decided we’d just venture on into the city, have some lunch, take a look around and then come back and play at 4.
St. Andrews is a really pretty city with a lovely castle dating from the late 1100’s right on the edge of the North Sea. It’s also home to St. Andrews University which dates from 1410 making it the third oldest in the UK (after Oxford and Cambridge) and the place where Prince William met Kate Middleton. There’s even a restaurant marking the spot. The Brits do like their royalty!
Patrick and I walked around the city while Cary and her dad enjoyed the sun (and caught a little shuteye) on the campus. We got back to the golf course just as it opened. I don’t know what I was expecting to pay but when the woman at the gate said it would be 4 euros total for the 4 of us I was really surprised.
While we only used a putter, the course was on real undulating greens (and not much like a putt putt course) but it was really fun. Patrick came in first and I was thrilled because for the first time in my life I beat Bob! And the four of us can now reference the time we played golf at St. Andrews!
The day before Patrick was to fly home we decided we’d like to at least get a taste of Glasgow. The train trip is less than an hour. Glasgow struck me as far more a regular city than Edinburgh and with less history. But still it was an interesting place. As usual we did the Hop On Hop Off bus to get an overview of the city. Glasgow is a city of murals! St. Mungo is one I particularly like. It was done by the Australian street artist, Smug, of Mungo who lived in the sixth century but in the mural is attired in the clothing of today. The story goes that children were throwing stones at robins and then ran away, but Mungo ran toward the bird, revived it and it flew away. It’s thought to be a miracle thus making Mungo the patron saint of Glasgow. Smug also painted the mural, “The Swimmer” to celebrate the Commonwealth Games in 2014. It’s huge and strategically placed at a stoplight so that folks have time to gaze upon the massive piece!
The statue of the first Duke of Wellington in the center of Glasgow traditionally has a cone on his head indicating the humor of the people of Glasgow. It’s been quite the controversy. Fines have been issued; they’ve even attempted to make the statue taller thus making it more difficult to put the cone on his head. All has failed…so far! And we also wandered through the pedestrian streets downtown and stopped and tried the local beer.
Cary had headed back to her job. Patrick had headed home as well. It was soon time to wind up our travels in the UK and now that we had been out of the Schengen countries for 90 days we were allowed to re-enter. We had booked a train from Edinburgh to London in order to see more of the English countryside. Then we spent the night in London and are headed next to Sicily! We’re really looking forward to warmer weather!