Friday, 7 August 2015

Edinburgh, the International Festival and The Fringe

The boyf and I recently took a sojourn up to Edinburgh, it was my birthday gift to him, and our first ever time in Scotland! Edinburgh is a wonderful city, with a centre small enough to navigate on foot and set around some gorgeous gardens and boasting truly awesome architecture.
A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on

The Scottish-American author, Andrew Carnegie once said: "Edinburgh is a city which makes you think about what a city can be, or what it should be," and he was absolutely right. The city just works; the way the central train line runs uninterrupted through the city's valley, flanked by the beautiful Princes Street Gardens, the way Waverley Bridge and North Bridge fly over, through the sky. It's a city on many levels and each level is a totally different experience, from the lofty heights of The Royal Mile and old town Edinburgh, a cobbled wander into the past, through to the hustle of Princes Street and St. Andrews Square and then the beauty and tranquillity of the gardens, deep in the valley. Coming from Manchester, a much busier and more hectic city (by some additional 2m people), where cars compete with swarms of people, trams and buses to scurry through the narrow streets of the built-up metropolis, experiencing Edinburgh, in all its uniformed sensibility, was quite a change.

An average day in Manchester (Greater Manchester Police Flickr)

An average, albeit sunny, day in Edinburgh (BBC)

We visited just before The Fringe, which many people, including myself, had heard of - but don't 100% know what it's about. Well, I assumed it was just a comedy festival, because I knew a lot of comics tend to showcase works there, from reading the autobiographies of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. But, it seems its much more than that.

The Fringe was set up as an alternative to the more classical Edinburgh International Festival, where performers of classic arts and dance are invited to the city to showcase their talents. (Just like Manchester International Festival, but less contemporary and it doesn't solely commission brand new works.) Instead, The Fringe allows pretty much anyone to participate and therefore has a broader spectrum of arts on offer. This year, the two opposing festivals will run concurrently, throughout August, EIF bring with it a calendar of high art and The Fringe, over three thousand performances and works from late night cabaret to street performances, with many bars, hotels, tents and traditional play houses playing host, all over the city.

As a result of getting to Edinburgh just before the masses descend for the cultural event, we got to take a sneak peak at some of the events before anyone else!

Sunshine on Leith is a musical based on the music of The Proclaimers returning to The Fringe by popular demand after its 2007 run and the 2013 film adaptation, with the same name. We got 2 4 1 tickets to the preview show at The Famous Spiegeltent, a temporary venue in St. Andrews Square with a wig-wam like structure, in hexagon shape with stained glass windows and a pop-up bar.

It's a great show, that tells the story of two Edinburgh lads returning home after serving in Afghanistan and realising what home means and what they want from life, now knowing how valuable it really is. And, who knew The Proclaimers had so many good songs? I particularly enjoyed Letter from America and, of course, 500 Miles at the finale. Worth a go if you're in Edinburgh for The Fringe - especially because St. Andrews Square also plays host to a gorgeous outdoor acoustic tent and Prosecco bar! A tented and decked portion of the gardens, with patio heaters, bars, facilities and Hard Rock Cafe sponsored free acts to enjoy in the sun or the evening.

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on
Also running at the same time of the festivals is the David Bailey exhibit at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Bailey's Stardust (until 18 October). The exhibit showcases some of Bailey's finest works - with some new pieces never having been on exhibition before! Documenting Bailey's career from Andy Warhol selfies and the many and stunning images of Kate Moss in the 90s through to his photo-journalism trips to New Guinea and also Ethiopia, for Band Aid.

If you're a fan of portraiture photography, celebrities from bygone eras or, like me, just a fan of Bailey - it's well worth a visit!

Whilst you're there, pop next door to The Scottish National Gallery to see some beautiful examples of Italian Renaissance painting and the full length portrait of the Honourable Mary Cathcart by Gainsbourough, which her widower hid away for years - finding her beauty too painful to see after her premature death - and which was bequeathed to the gallery by her family on condition it never leave Scotland. There's also a surprising little exhibition of etchings and carvings inspired by the Greco-Roman Gods, called The Olympian Gods (until 18 October), all free.

See more of my trip on my Instagram @jordanjmcdowell
Check our my restaurant reviews for Scotland on my TripAdvisor contributor pages