Sunday, 24 December 2017

Tour of Western Germany - Christmas 2017

It is safe to say that Germany knows how to do Christmas and knows how to do it well. It's the best place to be at Christmas really with a bundle of markets in every town (seriously, you can't walk two steps without tripping into one) and the lights glittering all around you (they are literally everywhere - above, alongside, below, in front of your face, behind you...covering every inch they possibly can!). There are trees in every square and you basically get drunk off the mulled wine fumes that infect every particle of air that you breathe. If you are feeling a little bit bah-humbugish (and want to change that! Don't go there if you are happy being a Grinch) this is the perfect country to visit. Since I was able to find a bargain flight down to Frankfurt at the beginning of December and there was a friend who I was long overdue a visit, I really had no excuse to stay at home. It was time to grin with seasonal merriment.

Additionally, I decided that as it has been almost 10 years since I have been to Germany and I have never experienced it at Christmas, I didn't want to stick in one place. No, no. I wanted to embrace as much of it I possibly could during the 6 days I was there. Which prompted me to chuck myself full pelt into the wind, snow and rain of Western Germany. Here is what happened on my mini road trip.

As I was staying in a little village a few miles outside Frankfurt, it was a good place to start. Although it did destroy my view of what a stereotypically traditional Germany should look like. The timbered buildings that I imagined, were replaced with NYC style skyscrapers. I now see why it is called the Manhattan of Germany. But it was beautiful in its own way. Especially at night when all the windows were lit up in these huge buildings.

And I did manage to track down the timbered buildings I was searching for. In Romer Square, accompanied by a dazzling, rammed Christmas market, I got my fill of German tradition. I began and ended my Christmas trip here which seemed appropriate.


This town was far more traditional, although it still wasn't the Germany I expected to see. In fact, it seemed very Eastern European to me. As I was crossing the main bridge lined with statues of Saints, I had major flashbacks of Prague which I visited a few years ago. Even the huge castle on the hill and the coloured buildings that lined the river were there. Every time I turned a corner it seemed to become more and more similar. It used to look entirely different though, as was shown to me in the town hall. Just inside the entrance there, housed in a room all by itself, was a heart-breaking model of how completely the town was flattened during World War 2. Sometimes you forget that it wasn't just your country which suffered during that terrible time.

On the same day we visited Wurzburg, we went off in search of a famous Christmas market in the nearby Sommerhausen. But unfortunately by the time we turned up, it was finished. There was, in fact, nothing open at all. All that was left to do was to have dinner. Which we fell to at once, we were starving. We ended up sitting next to an old couple and when hearing us talk English, they asked me where I was from. When I said the South Coast of England, they named a town they had visited and it happened to be my home town. What are the chances of that? I asked them if they liked it and they replied with a bluntly firm, 'No.' I couldn't help but laugh. Sommerhausen was indeed a lot cuter, they were spoiled really.


This is one of the most romantic cities in Germany and for very good reason, I discovered. We fought with the snow to reach it, but the effect was totally magical. It added something really gorgeous to this already gorgeous city, full of beautiful architecture and history. I love how the Christmas markets here were themed and I wandered through such an interesting one which housed lots of artistic and creative items. They even had sculptures, it was wonderful. And the Neumarkt had lights strung up in all the trees so it was like walking underneath a canopy of stars. Totally gorgeous and totally worth the three hour drive.

Finally I arrived in a town that look exactly how a German town should. And it housed the only square that I have came across without my view being hampered by a Christmas Market. It was kind of refreshing to be able to just stroll across the square without having to dodge people or avoid the little wooden huts. It gave me a feeling of peace and space that I didn't have in the other towns despite the fact they were bigger. Plus I could take in the little details. For instance, standing next to the fountain in the centre of the square, I realised that every single lamppost had a different fairytale depicted in stained glass artwork. The entire town was adorable.

Bad Homburg
Doesn't this town sound a bit too like bah humbug to be a Christmassy paradise? And I don't think it was a coincidence that the Christmas market was shut. As we walked through the town hall courtyard with all the huts shuttered around us, it gave us the creeps so we escaped into the old town situated below it at the bottom of the hill. As we crossed the bridge to access it, you looked out over the roof tops and from above it appeared to be little more than a toy village. But this is actually one of the richest towns in Germany.

This was the only town that I visited without the aid of my German friend doing all the talking for me and I do think you need some time by yourself to really see a place. That's where the fun happens. Or, in my case, where you get lost and end up in a dodgy part of town. Luckily I managed to find my way back to the reassuringly touristy area by climbing the citadel and wandering in the direction of the steeples. I soon was back in amongst of the cobbled streets, the coloured timbered buildings, the impressive cathedral itself and the Christmas markets. I was safe at last.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

The Genius Completes His Story

The Genius sits down at his desk and picks up his pen. It hovers for a few moments above the page, as the cogs of his brain whir into action. He is staring out over the blue vista in front of him, clear and bright, unblemished by any fluffy white threats. The conditions are perfect and boringly calm. There are no distractions and no reason, apart from his own limitations, why he shouldn’t produce anything less than his usual genius. The genius which has given him his title. It is well deserved. Yet...still he hesitates. Perhaps his brain has found a blip within its delicate machinery. The pressure is building. A second goes by, then another, then another, they multiply, bleeding into minutes and the strain continues to mount.

Set Adrift (?????? First draft)

The cloud descends 
to block out the light,
turning the blue sky grey
and darkening what once was bright.

The Genius’ name obviously isn’t The Genius. He was only christened that fairly recently. Originally he was known as Bob. But that’s not a name which is used anymore. Nobody knows him as anything other than The Genius. And because they know his name and read the ‘him’ that he chooses to sell to the world, they think they know the real ‘him’. The Genius inside. The Genius’ three dimensions have been reduced to just the two. The two dimensions of the shapes he breathes on to paper.

I am lost in the fog
which engulfs me whole,
leaving nothing but despair
within the heart it stole.

Does The Genius seriously think that he can continue hiding behind his work? Those pen strokes are the tip of the iceberg, concealing the swirling chaos that haunts his brain. But sooner or later the waves will cease to obscure the bottomless depth of his depravity. Slowly but surely the lines between his creation and his life are being blurred. Once upon a time they could have been separated with a glance. Now though, he is not so sure. And if a piece isn’t received with glowing acceptance...well...he might as well not live anymore. His creations are everything to him. And nothing.

I try to smile
but my face won’t work
and my eyes accidentally fill with
the tears which lurk

What is life when there’s art? Surely the creation of the beautiful is more important than anything else? That is what The Genius believes and what his avid readers are supporting him in. They expect it now. But what if he can only produce something faintly pretty rather than beautiful? Or worse still, what if he sweats and strains and can only produce something ugly? Would they all still champion him then? Or would they simply move on to support someone more deserving than he. A frown clouds his brain and stays his hand. A tear blinds him. He can’t do this. He can’t.

around their tired gaze,
completely blocking my view. 
Hopefully soon the storm will pass.
Till then there’s little I can do.

He can do this. He can. He is The Genius. He has worked hard and vanquished Bob completely. The Genius has won and he is complete. The words are down, fresh and glistening gently.  They stare up at him. They wait for him to lead them into the soft evening sunlight. He has planted the bulbs, now he needs to wait for them to blossom.

Set Adrift (in the storm????? First Edit)
The clouds descend
to block out the light.
They turn the blue sky to ash
and darken what should be bright.

The rain helps them grow. Without it The Genius wouldn’t have any words at all. It is the core of his being. He is grateful for it but he also understands the frightening power it wields. He knows that it could destroy him if it wanted to.

Lost in the fog,
it engulfs my heart whole,
replacing love with despair
in every beat it stole.

But if it is the rain which leads to the final flourish, surely he can’t take credit for these creations? He is merely sending them out into the world under his name. The Genius is a fraud, stealing others’ work. What if everyone knew? Not that it mattered. He knew. And it was eating him alive. He can’t go on like this. It is wrong. It is stealing. He can write without its help, surely. Maybe he should attempt it. But he couldn’t. So he would have to do something else instead.

I try to smile
but tears fill my eyes 
The lips don’t even twitch
as I begin to cy.

The Genius can’t do anything else. He was never destined to be great. He was never going to go down in the history books for doing extraordinary things. In his heart he knows there is little point to him excepting, supposedly, his talent in his chosen field. As with the rest of his life, even finding this had been a struggle. It hadn’t chosen him like it would have if he was a True Genus. He wasn’t born with ability. He had hunted for it. Sought it out. Honed it. Sweated over it. Cried over it. And poured out his soul. All for what?

Faster and faster, 
they come to block my view. 
Blinding me forever
and there’s nothing that I can do.

The Genius sets down his pen and runs his eye over the little piece of his soul he has left behind. It is the best he can do. His editor won’t like it, he never does. He leaves it square in the middle of the desk. He opens up the drawer beside him and removes the only object locked securely within. Smoothly, with a well practiced arm, he places the metal against his temple and pulls the trigger. The Genius slumps forwards, dripping the final few things he has to say on to his work. Which is now complete.

The clouds descend
to block out the light,
turning the blue sky to ash,
darkening what should be bright. 

Lost in the fog,
it engulfs my heart whole.
Love is replaced by despair
in all the beats it stole.

I try to smile
but tears fill my eyes.
 I give up pretending
and release my cries.

Faster and faster, 
tears come to block my view,
blinding me forever.
There’s nothing I can do.

Monday, 30 October 2017

When Edinburgh was on drugs - why you shouldn't miss the Edinburgh Fringe

There is no doubt that Edinburgh is a beautiful city. One of the most beautiful cities in the world in fact, boasting striking architecture, glorious parks and a dormant volcano right in its very centre. It is one of those stunningly peaceful urban places where it doesn’t boast about its dream like authority over the rest of the world. It is just happy to put everywhere else to shame simply by being itself. Relaxed and pretty, up there in the North, waiting for you to come and discover that you don’t need to trek all the way into mainland Europe to be amongst awe inspiring architectural grandeur. 
But in August everything changes. Almost as if the city has taken a psychedelic drug. Sweet innocent Edinburgh is engulfed by a crazy Hyde-like version of itself.  An all-singing, all-dancing, colourful glittery city replaces the easy-going one that I have come to know and love. Posters add a fluorescent sheen to the soft sandstone, gaudy signs cover the usually distinguished entrances and visitors flood in from all corners of the globe. 
During this time it is impossible to walk the streets without being accosted by leaflet brandishing theatrical enthusiasts. The whole place is alive, buzzing with people rushing between shows. They become a swelling, moving mass of people who all smile and laugh and chat to each other. The whole place takes on a quality that is quite un-British, going directly against the dour stereotype that Scotland has found itself saddled with.
And sedate in this rough sea of activity are the buskers. They line the edges of the Royal Mile (the central highway of the Festival), drawing the crowds towards them like magnets. Attracting these culture addicts does not take much. It really is like pulling in moths to a flame as they can’t resist the pure talent that is flaunted so plainly in front of them.  You just can’t stop yourself from being sucked in as they spill out their soul for you. It is hypnotic. 
Perhaps this is the real draw of Edinburgh during the Festival Season. It is the overwhelming contentment of feeling that you are a part of something. And an amazing something at that. Even if you are just watching the shows and buskers, you are still very much a part of the action. You get to know the actors and see them out and about in the city. You start chatting to other audience members in the queues, and then somehow you never fail to bump into them later when you are out and about, looking for the next gem.  You talk to strangers about what they have seen and what they would recommend. The festival basically brings everyone together in the best possible way. And in this digital age, where people are feeling increasingly lonely, that can only be a good thing. 

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Know before you go - Vienna

August was a busy month. An insanely crazy month actually. Most of which was taken up with all the Edinburgh excitement - which you can view in the diary I kept below - but that was the end of the month. The beginning saw me travelling too, spreading my wings across the sea, over the continent and into Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. I fell instantly in love with the beautiful Vienna which was my base and I thought I would share some of my adventures with you. Whilst at the same time, letting you know some of the things I learnt about Vienna so you can make the most out of your own trip. Because I am assuming that you will want to take a trip to Vienna as well if you haven't been. I don't really understand why you wouldn't. Buy plane tickets now. Well, after this --

Vienna houses the most beautiful library in the world.

I had to put this first because it is worth visiting Vienna for the library alone. Especially if you are a booklover like me. Or if you have just watched Beauty and the Beast and you have become consumed by library envy and a wish that it was real. This will help cure that for a little while at least.

The Austrian National Library is situated behind the Imperial Palace and the Spanish Riding School, and is actually really easy to miss, even if you are looking for it. We walked around in circles for about 10 minutes, following the different signs until we realised that we were actually walking up and down in front of it. But it was worth the continued search. It was breathtakingly beautiful. 200,000 books were crammed in here. Yet they weren't crammed at all. Nestled is probably the better word. Nestled into a beautifully decorated, aesthetically pleasing long gallery. It was a total dream. I could have stayed there all afternoon, just gazing around. It left me with a feeling of such peace. Books have that effect on me. 

The buildings are just breathtaking.

It wasn't surprising really that the library was so beautiful. Everything about Vienna was beautiful. I couldn't take my eyes off every building that I passed. It was all so grand. But there was a friendly feel to them. As if they were inviting you inside, tempting you to explore similarly wonderful delights within their interiors. There is a lot to entertain you within Vienna (for instance there are about a hundred museums, you can barely walk down the street without bumping into one) but it is enough to simply walk through the city. That was entertaining enough for me anyway. Being surrounded by that style and grandeur had a similarly soothing effect to the library. It's a wonderful place.

Jaywalking is a finable offence.
However, when you are walking around, be careful not to cross the road until you are told to. Bossily, it is actually against the law to cross on your own volition. Examine the traffic lights as you wait because there is a surprise for you...

Everything is within walking distance...
There's no need to pay for those expensive tourist buses. Great!

...except for Schonbrunn palace...

Even though it's 5 miles out of the centre, Schonbrunn Palace is easily reached by the metro and SO worth a visit. The day we spent there was possibly my favourite day of the trip. It had the most beautiful gardens you could imagine. Which was just as well because when we arrived we were told that we had to wait four hours to go in. That's right. Four. We had already queued for an hour to get tickets by this point so there was no way we were going to say no and proceeded to explore every inch of the gardens.

We paid to have the privilege of access to all of it (I might have pretended that I was a princess strolling in my grounds) but actually I would advise that you don't need to do that. Just buy a ticket for all the rooms of the palace because a decent amount of the gardens is open for free. And do leave a good amount of time for them because they are extensive and utterly wonderful. Four hours was actually perfect timing in the end. We ambled around, had lunch, visited the maze, and the fountain and the Gloriette. The Gloriette was potentially my favourite part of them because not only did it give us beautiful views over the parkland and the palace, but also, as it was on a hill, it offered us a wonderful view over Vienna itself. It was a great day. And the palace was so interesting too. I definitely need to read up more on the royal family of Austria. The little taster it gave me and the importance of the palace within history was absolutely fascinating.

...and the Danube.
The other long walk we had was when we tried to find the Danube. Which runs straight through the centre of Vienna so isn't hard to get to at all. Except we didn't go the easy way. Instead we decided to go this super long way around, via the Stadtpark, first of all, (to visit Strauss. Who I thought was Mozart. But is definitely Strauss) and then all the way down to Augarten and then through some dodgy ghetto area to finally find the Danube.

We almost didn't make it. We were so close, we could practically sniff it. But between us and the river, completely blocking our view, was a huge main road and a train line that we could not work out how to cross. Google maps was telling us to walk over this huge flyover that was definitely cars only. And then we saw people. Supposedly hovering in mid air. It was a footbridge, it was a footbridge, it was a footbridge. I can't tell you how excited it made us. We walked along the main road until we saw steps and then we were there. And this was our view.

The Danube is big. Really big.
What was really cool about the Danube was it was absolutely massive! I mean HUGE. In Vienna alone it could be called big, so much bigger than the Thames, but then it is long as well. We visited three countries on this trip - Hungary, Austria and Slovakia - and we encountered the Danube in all of them which was pretty awesome.


Our first day trip out of Austria was to Bratislava in Slovakia. After the neat grandeur of Vienna, Bratislava was like it's messy little cousin. It was definitely charming with its narrow alleyways and colourful cute buildings but it was very understated.

To get a proper view of the city, (and of this new part of the Danube) we climbed up the hill to the castle. Which wasn't a hard walk but in the 39 degree heat wasn't particularly comfortable. It was definitely worth it though to get that beautiful birds eye view over the rooftops.

The other exciting thing about Bratislava was I found an English bookshop/coffee shop. Which is an amazing idea - to have the tables in amongst the shelves. We settled there after we had made it back down from the Castle to cool off with a mint lemonade. And could I resist a book or two? Definitely not.

The second of our day trips was to Budapest in Hungary. We arrived in good time but we were on a tight timeframe. We only had 8 hours to blitz the place. Two of which we then wasted by walking in the wrong direction out of the train station. Don't even ask how we managed to walk for that long without realising. All I will say about that is we made it to the very end of the metro line. The end. Thank goodness we didn't go any further or we would have had no idea how to get back into the centre.

Once we had metro'd it back, we conveniently enough managed to get off by the Parliament Building. Not because we are clever or anything (you can tell that we are a little geographically challenged from the previous paragraph) but just accidentally. And now it finally felt as if we were experiencing the real Budapest.

Again this was architecturally a very beautiful city. It was a little less well looked after than Vienna but had the same kind of grandeur. St Stephen's Basilica was probably my favourite but we weren't allowed to venture far in there as there was a wedding going on. Imagine getting married somewhere as huge as this. It was beautiful and the bride was beautiful. I did stay and watch for a while despite not understanding the language.

The main thing I did notice about Budapest though was I heard a lot more English voices when I visited. It is quite an up-and-coming place for English tourists who are attracted by the cheap beer and copious amount of clubs/bars. I personally was glad that I wasn't staying over in the city because the whole 'going out' aspect did not interest me at all. And I was more than happy to return to the slightly more chilled out, Vienna for tea and cake and lounging around in the sweet little pubs.

Get to know the locals
While I was in Vienna I did actually make a few buddies throughout the week, much to the amusement of my friend who I was with. Which actually, if you can manage it yourself, was a great way to receive advice and recommendations on what we shouldn't miss. Either in terms of how to entertain ourselves or, perhaps more importantly, for what/where to eat. I always feel when it comes to eating, insider knowledge is always essential. I am forever at a loss what with all the choice. Plus I never know if a restaurant is genuinely good or just touristy. So a few recommendations are always helpful.

The food is gooood
Really good. It was like my kind of a dream. There were beautiful cafes EVERYWHERE. Because going out for tea/coffee and cake is kind of their thing. We visited this absolutely beautiful café called Café Gerstner where we sat in a booth and had a latte and a chocolate torte. Oh it was wonderful. The old fashioned atmosphere, the beautiful interior, the paintings, the little booth. It couldn't have been more perfect.

The only other day that we had time to treat ourselves to afternoon tea was when we were at the Glorriette in the Shonbrunn grounds. On the top of the hill, you could see nothing out of the window except sky and it was just delightful. Until we got plagued by a bluebottle who was determined to try some of my cake.

Our evening meals were mostly spent at the Naschmarkt, which was just round the corner from our hotel conveniently. This really was the perfect place. It is the oldest/biggest market in Vienna and the little wooden huts housed pretty much anything you wanted from bars to restaurants of every nationality. We tried a different one every night, just picking whichever one had space and looked decent.

The churches are super gothic

Almost everything in Vienna had the air of tradition and old school romanticism about it. And this was especially the case of their churches and cathedrals. I adore gothic architecture with it's sharp lines and impressive spikey fronts so I was in my element. I think the pictures do it enough justice here.

The gardens are pretty

I have talked about the architecture a lot within this blogpost but Vienna wasn't all buildings. There were some really wonderful gardens as well. We did find that they were mostly quite structured in their layouts with long straight paths being lined by trees. But a little more flowing was the Volksgarten and this was definitely my favourite with its stunning roses. The Burgarten was also wonderful and it was where we met Mozart, finally, after I mistook him for Strauss in the Stadtpark. Which was vaguely stupid.

You might not want to come home
Have I sold Vienna to you yet? I think if you aren't intrigued by it now, you probably never will be. I did learn that you should be careful what you wish for on this trip though. After lamenting, the whole journey back to the airport how I didn't want to go home, I almost didn't make it. That airport is a proper maze. The signs are little help, leading you on long looping circles. And it has the odd addition of security being situated at each individual gate. So you only go through security when you are about to get on the plane. For someone who is a bit anxious about security and likes to get it out of the way as soon as possible, this is so not good. Especially when you have to go through it twice because they decide to move your gate after you have already made it through to the airport lounge. So irritating. Maybe I should have simply stayed. Would have saved me a lot of aggravation. And I couldn't imagine a better place to get stuck in.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Edinburgh Takeover: Day 7

The final day has arrived and I think us folk who have been covering/working/performing the Edinburgh Fringe (delete as appropriate) have all made it in one piece. In the morning I bid my wonderful fellow NI Critics a very melancholy farewell and then went on The Potter Trail to cheer myself up. Which worked perfectly.

It was quite simply, brilliant fun. Led by the enigmatic Richard, we were taken on a mini romp through Old Town, talking about all things Harry Potter related. Starting at the Greyfriars Bobby statue, he led us into Greyfriars Graveyard, back out and along Potterrow, down to Spoon and then back to the Royal Mile before we ended on Victoria Street.

There aren't actually that many sites, but this isn't really the point of the tour. What Richard does is immerse you into the magical world, not only through facts about JK Rowling and her life in Edinburgh but also through his extensive knowledge of the books. Clad in a robe and brandishing a green umbrella, he scattered the tour with such interesting information, some of which even I didn't know. Which surprised me a lot as I was 90% sure my Harry Potter nerdiness was at a high enough level for me to not learn anything new. Apparently not.

The tour was pretty huge, which isn't overly surprising considering it's free, and it had all ages covered from young children to adults to the elderly. It was particularly great for children and they hung off Richard's every word as if he was Harry Potter himself, the adoration clear in their faces. The robe was probably helping. And the glasses. But he was brilliant with them, teaching them a very successful spell for changing the colour of the traffic lights (it worked every time no matter who tried it), offering them a house competition and even sorting one of the children into a house.

Considering that Gryffindor took every single point for the house cup, I feel there might have been a tiny bit of cheating going on. Which wouldn't surprise me from Gryffindors. You would never find that kind of thing going on in Hufflepuff but still the mick are taken out of us constantly. And that's the only complaint I have -- there is far too much Hufflepuff racism. Everyone knows that it's actually the best house, the one that everybody wants to be in if only they were so lucky. Yes really.

It was the perfect way to end my Fringe coverage. After the tour, feeling vaguely inspired by JK Rowling's success (as I often am when I am here in Edinburgh) I wandered down to the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens. Here I settled myself with a book and my writing and with a wonderful view of the Old Town on the hill, I said goodbye to this city that I adore. Every time I come here, I feel more and more at home. It really has been the best week and I am sure I will return soon.

The Potter Trail runs throughout the year. Check website for details. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Edinburgh Takeover: Day 6

My coverage of the Edinburgh Fringe is almost complete. I have two days left with two wonderful things to share with you all. The first of which this morning was The Book Lover's Tour.

The tour runs throughout the year but Allan Foster, writer, tour guide and literary expert, puts on extra during this crazy month to meet the demand. Saying that though, I do believe this tour to be vastly undersold. Although Foster himself said that he prefers to keep tours small in order to offer the group a personal attention, it deserves more. And it really is the perfect way to compliment your Fringe experience.

Over the past 5 days, while I have been running around the festival venues at top speed, I have found that I haven't really been paying attention to what is around me. What Foster did was take us back in amongst those buildings and streets, making us look at the real Edinburgh which has been almost completely obliterated by the Fringe plonked on top of it. The square miles of the tour is not massive, mostly staying within the Southside and completely keeping to the Old Town, but he led us on an interesting journey through the maze of back streets packed with little gems you would definitely miss if you didn't know what you were looking for.

We did not go to the Scott Monument or the Burns Monument or Heriot Row. He did not need to take us there, you can find these for yourself. Indeed, if you are able to miss the Scott monument, I would be impressed as it is the largest monument to a writer anywhere in the world. Instead he took us to pubs and medical buildings and random houses and to a rhino. And all the while he spouted fascinating facts (I took extensive notes), dispelled myths and namedropped. Heavily. It seems he knows everyone on the current Edinburgh writer's circuit. Or at least pretends well enough that he does.

This tour is hugely enjoyable, not just if you are a literary nerd like I am, but to see a part of Edinburgh that you wouldn't notice otherwise. Foster draws you in and invites you to become a more integral part of the city he clearly loves so well, offering us history and personal anecdotes on top of the facts. A fun 90 minutes you should definitely attend if you get the chance.

To continue the literary nature of the day (and, frankly, to escape the crowds of the Fringe for a couple of hours) I wandered over to Stockbridge to visit the lovely Julie in Golden Hare Books. I visited them last year for the first time when I was on my Bookshop Tour but since then we have been chatting a little within bookstagram which is why I love that corner of the internet so well. It was wonderful to meet Julie in person and talk everything bookish with her.

As I was trying to restrain myself slightly, I only bought one book which I took for a wander down the river to the beautiful Dean Village. Such a picturesque part of Edinburgh which is so perfect it looks fake. It was peaceful and tourist-free with just a few dog walkers around the place much to my delight. So I settled myself down into the most glorious reading spot to relax for a couple of hours. It was a break I definitely needed.

Edinburgh's Book Lovers' Tour runs all year round. Check website for details. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Edinburgh Takeover: Day 5

Tiredness is getting to me now. I think it is getting to everyone. You can see it on the faces of the flier-ers on the Royal Mile and in the voices of the buskers. Town was insane, as it was the last Saturday of the festival to the point where you had to stick out your elbows at 180 degree angle from your body just to be able to pass down the street. And everyone was feeling it.

With this in mind, I chose something very lighthearted for my penultimate show of the day - All's Well That Ends As You Like It. To sum up this production you have to think - what do you get if you put a manic Shakespeare loving director in charge of an am dram group and attempt to do justice to the Bard's great work? Chaos is what. Obviously.

Everything that could possibly go wrong with this play, does go wrong (intentionally I hope) with absolutely hilarious results.There was sword fighting, broken bones, death, more death. So even though, it isn't a real Shakespeare play, it is kind of beginning to sound like one isn't it? Plus the play within a play subject matter was an excellent, if slightly unoriginal, way to insert many comedic aspects.

The 'director' of the fictional play, who potentially spends more time on stage than any of the 'actors' who are meant to be working for him, is vocal in his love for Shakespeare and exasperations that his colleagues are destroying it for him. He was the most entertaining character of the show who's quip 'Remember if it's not in Iambic pentameter, I can't hear it.' was my favourite line of the show. He did an excellent job of entertaining with a variety of sarcasm and farce. Plus his little breaks into Shakespearean verse was well performed and I am glad that there was a little bit of Shakespeare which survived the mutilation. For the director's sake as much as anyone else's.

I then moved on to Sylvia Plath, Your Words are Just Dust, another last minute choice but one of my favourite shows of the entire fringe. Having only read The Bell Jar a few months ago and been profoundly effected by it (as you can see from my blogpost in May) I was interested to see someone else's take on her words. Because to enter Sylvia Plath's head and speak her words with conviction is difficult. She felt things so deeply and you have to feel those same things just as deeply in order to give her the justice her words deserve.

Alice Sylvester was perfection. Every movement she made, every breath she took, every look, every word was thoroughly thought out and meant something. It was intensely powerful. Hypnotic too. And there wasn't anything which broke that hypnotism. She didn't didn't hesitate or stumble over her words, but spoke with an engaging confidence which meant she inhabited Sylvia Plath.

A mixture of Plath's words and her own, Sylvester brought her back to life. She acted a charming scene from The Bell Jar, which led to the title of this performance. A heartbreaking and slightly ironic title for such a troubled author. We followed Sylvester's interpretation of Plath's childhood to her marriage and birth of her children and finally to her decline and suicide. It was expertly done, and beautiful to watch. In fact, it was impossible to look away from and the way Sylvester would seemingly stare straight into your eyes, it was like you were seeing Plath's soul itself. Leaving the audience a little shell shocked. I now need to read the entirety of her poetry. And have a drink. I definitely need a drink.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

The Edinburgh Takeover: Day 4

Apparently, sprinting down the royal mile worrying that I am going to be late for my first show, is how my Edinburgh Fringe days must start. Every day. Without fail. It's the law.

But there was no way I was going to miss The Testament of Mary. It was a very intense way to start the morning but my goodness what a hidden gem. The number of people in the audience was not a reflection of how brilliant this production was and it deserved so much more.

I read this little novella a few years ago and it really stuck with me as such a powerful story. A story of pain and love and loss and conflict. And all of this came across in the play. It has never been the religious element which has attracted me to The Testament of Mary although being based around Mary's view of Jesus' crucifixion, this could be considered odd. But I think the religion aspect isn't what it is about. It's about the people. In the process of watching the story unfold you forget how famous Mary is, and what she is famous for. Instead you are drawn into her head and you simply think of her as a mother. A mother who both loves and loathes her son. A mother who is hugely conflicted and living with a guilt that just spills out of her. Jean Wilde did an incredible job on pushing us along this journey.

It was inclusive and intimate. With audience members on all four sides, we became a part of the play itself. She sat next to individuals, speaking to us so personally and in such a way you never felt you could take your eyes from hers. The harsh blue lighting was an unusual choice but it fit so so well for this production. Not only did it reflect the blue that is always associated with the Virgin Mary but it also was extremely stark. It made you feel vulnerable and slightly on edge. Exactly what you should feel during the show. Spot on and a beautiful thing to experience.

In a contrast that couldn't have been any stronger if it tried, I then headed over to Voodoo Rooms for a fun little adaptation of HG Wells' The Time Machine. Co-written and performed by hilarious duo Laurence Owen and Lindsay Sharman, it was set in the 1950s with Owen retelling the famous classic for a brand new radio production. Complete with adverts and a theremin, (if you don't know what that is, don't worry; I didn't either. Go to the show to find out) they injected a tonne of humour which was exactly what I needed.

Owen was truly excellent. His humour came across endearingly throughout the production and he was extremely skilled switching between characters and voices with apparent ease. The wordy songs were incredibly catchy and they are still stuck in my head now, hours later. He and Sharman bounced off each other perfectly and the effect of the entire thing was very very entertaining. Not one single person left the room without a smile on their face. Another little gem that should not be missed.

As I walked the Royal Mile following the conclusion of The Time Machine (an essential part of my Fringe day to catch up with the buskers and see a whole range of tasters for other shows that I may not realise are going on!!) I got chatting to the lovely boys at Semi-Toned who then invited me along to their show Stay Tuned, that evening. I had heard their mini sets on the Mile a few times but that didn't prepare me for just how talented this acapella group is. Especially because I had missed them when they won The Choir: Gareth's Best in Britain which aired on the BBC last year.

And this is what their hour long set is based around. The plot and the acting which interspersed the singing was a touch on the cheesy side but it gave the performance a structure that was definitely necessary. However, without that it would have still been so entertaining in its own right. These guys are seriously talented. The venue does not allow for any mistakes, as you can hear every single note from every single person and they were all perfect, moving together like a well oiled machine. You can tell that they know each other well and are good friends as there is an unforced camaraderie on stage that was vital for the intimate songs they are singing.

The songs were well picked too including a wide variety that catered for the entire range of ages within the audience. From beatboxing to their very own version of the Pokémon theme tune to Candle in the Wind and everything in between, it was an enjoyable mixture of modern hits and older classics. Similarly they got the balance right between the dancier numbers and the more staid songs. Both had their charm. While the slick dancing was very entertaining to watch, it was the vulnerable, slower pieces which showed off their true unarguable talent.

Stay Tuned was ultimately just pure fun and they showered me with their infectious high energy that kept me going through the rest of the evening. It was the perfect way to end the day.

If you would like to see the shows I have seen today you can see:
The Testament of Mary at C Cubed from 26-28 August at 11am.
The Time Machine at the Voodoo Rooms from 26 - 27 August at 1.45pm
Semi-Toned: Stay Tuned at Space Triplex on 26 August at 5.05pm.