In 1999, Lynn and I visited Edinburgh, Scotland.
We arrived on a Monday, two days after the closing of the Edinburgh
Military Tattoo which until then we had never heard of but quickly
learned was the centerpiece of a three week festival. Its held in
August, generally from the first weekend through the fourth weekend.
We thought after moving to Europe we would see the Tattoo. We were
aware that there was something running almost concurrently called
the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which seemed to be a conglomeration of
all kinds of street theater: mimes, puppets, balancing acts,
musicians, and people creating a play by pulling spectators from the
street into the action.
We moved to Europe in November and about the
following May we tried to get tickets and a room to stay. Big
mistake. There were no tickets to be had and no rooms to be had so
we would have to wait another year. The tickets went on sale in
December and I was there at the appointed online opening to snag
them. Then all we had to do was wait. It was a wait well worth it.
Military Tattoo is a show that takes place in a small temporary
stadium, built just for this purpose, in the esplanade at the
entrance to Edinburgh Castle. The show lasts about 90 minutes and is
done everyday except Sundays, twice on Saturdays. There are several
bagpipe bands that perform alone and en masse, among other things.
Im Irish by marriage and Scottish by a former marriage, and have
always had an affinity for bagpipe music so I find this very
stirring. Theres a part of the show where there is a lone piper
standing on the wall of the castle in the dark except for a
spotlight on him. If you look at the website under "Tattoo
Experience" you can see some of their videos. But there is more than
bagpipes. This year there was the Top Secret Drum Corps from
Switzerland consisting of about 20 drummers. While playing the
drums, they would each toss one stick to the drummer on their right,
play some more, and toss the stick back. We had to look carefully to
make sure we were seeing what we thought we were seeing; it was an
amazing move. There was also a choir of African kids singing music
similar to what you may have heard in Paul Simons Graceland. The
kids all appeared to be about eight to 17 and every one of the 50 or
so kids had lost one or both parents to AIDS. The Tattoo ended with
the massed bands playing Auld Lang Syne.
We discovered that we had underestimated the
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is more than street theater. There are
probably hundreds of venues that are used for theater, musicals,
concerts, comedy, anything. Some of the shows are well-known (three
separate versions of Godspell), some are brand new. Frequently the
casts roam the streets handing out pamphlets of their shows and do
some street performances. We saw one group on the street that was
particularly moving. It was an "integrated" group. Not racially, not
religiously, but rather with intellectually challenged and
able-bodied members. About half the members had Downs Syndrome or
other disabilities but they sang their songs with gusto and they did
it really well. If you enjoy theater of any type, the Edinburgh
Festival Fringe is something you have to see. You could spend the
entire three weeks here, see different things several times a day,
and still not even come close to seeing everything. And I havent
even mentioned the
Edinburgh Jazz Festival and the
Edinburgh Arts Festival.
Edinburgh Castle is at the top of a hill, one end
of the Royal Mile.
The hill ends in a cliff. Its actually a rock formation called a "crag
and tail" and this example is supposed to be one of the worlds
best. Imagine that you built a hill of sand at the beach. Then the
ocean comes in and washes some the hill away in the front as the
water retreats from the shore. Youre left with a cliff. The shape
is sort of like the arm on a sundial, a long, steep hill and then an
immediate drop. Theres a
the topography in the park that shows this.
Think of the castle of an evil king. It sits at
the top of a hill on the edge of a cliff. The sky is dark and
threatening. Danger seems to loom in the air.
Castle at the top is the actualization of that thought. When we
were here in 1999, the weather was as I described and the place was
really spooky. This time, with a fair amount of sun, it wasnt quite
so ominous, but it is still an incredible site. Heres a picture in
and another where its
When it was actually used as the residence of the king, it wasnt
the full time residence. It was used mostly when things got hot and
the king was in some danger. It was easier to defend him at the top
of the hill. The full time residence was
Holyrood Palace at the bottom of the Royal Mile and that is
still used today as the Queens official residence in Scotland. She
supposedly stays there one week every year.
The queen used to have yacht, the
Britannia, which was retired in 1997. The government sold it to
a private company and its now tied up at a pier and is available to
be rented for private functions and for tours. While taking the tour
one can see the
the family drawing room, the one room on board with a
used by Charles and Diana on their honeymoon, and the
room. The dining room has space for about 50 people. It took
three hours to set the table because each dish, each glass and each
piece of silver was precisely measured as to its
Seriously, wouldnt you be embarrassed if a fork or teacup was a
millimeter or two out of position? I sure would.
The pier next to which the yacht is docked houses
a shopping mall. To get to the yacht you enter the mall the same as
you would as if you were going to Macys to get a sweater. The
entrance to the yacht was next door to a Chinese restaurant. To get
a picture of the
I had to leave the mall and go to the adjoining parking lot. I
suspect this was not where it was housed when the Queen used it.
South of Edinburgh about six or seven miles is
chapel. If that name is familiar to you it may be because of the
DaVinci Code. The chapel is featured prominently at the end of the
story. I didnt see the movie but I did read the book in which there
is reference to a house next to the chapel in which the woman who
took care of the chapel lived with her grandson. There is no house
next to the chapel (see? It really is fiction!). There is a
building that was once a small inn. The building is undergoing
exterior renovation and has been since before the movie was made. We
were told that the interior shots of the chapel were actually done
there but that what is shown from the exterior is really a model
built to one fifth the size.
One thing that was very surprising to me was the
mention of the DaVinci Code in the chapel. The guides talked about
it and the book, along with its screaming detractors, were also on
the shelves to be sold. Since some people were so up in arms over
the blasphemy of the story, I thought the chapel itself would share
in that indignation. But, no, they seem to realize that the story
really is fiction and share in its fun.
Recognizing that I may be prejudiced because of
my adopted Scottish heritage, I think Edinburgh is a great place to
visit. At least in the summer. In the dreariness of February, it
could be that the evil spirits really do inhabit the castle but
thats just a wild guess.
See my pictures of Edinburgh.
See videos from Edinburgh.