EdFringe 2018: Sunday

Last days in Edinburgh always feel weird. Shows don’t get started until midday mostly and then you have to be off to the airport. Traditionally I don’t see much on the last day.

I left my room at 10, with all my luggage, including the remains of a carton of orange juice and a half-hour drunk 2l bottle of lemonade. I’d want it later but for now it was invonveniein to carry.

First stop, George Square Gardens, just because it’s quiet and green and pleasant. Actually, first I’d stopped at the Pleasance Dome to see if the dome really was clear glass. It is. Then George Square Gardens, where I made a sort-of plan, which was mostly to go back to the Pleasance Courtyard to find something to watch. There I got given a flyer for a play/spoken word called Finding Fassbender, in Pleasance This, which is a shipping container. Then down to the Holyrood Coffee Shop for a cheese toastie, in which the cheese was just too rubbery to eat. I came here a few times last year and liked it but this was not the best toastie ever.

After that I went to see Ahir Shah, only the unticketed queue, 35 minutes before the show started, was all the way up the street. Fine. Cold As Iceland, in the same pub, would be even better. Except that by the time we’d queued for 35 minutes, both shows were full, with the Iceland one presumably full of people who couldn’t get in to Ahir Shah.

So I went down the road to see what was on at the Underbelly. Sketch comedy! In the weird dark vaults! Yay!

And finally, back to the Pleasance one more time for Flo & Joan from the adverts.

And now I’m on the tram heading for the airport. 13 shows in 3 days isn’t bad – almost definitely more than I saw in 6 days last year. Having a fully-functioning phone to find shows and book tickets makes a huge difference.

I checked in, nearly finished the lemonade, got slightly confused about where I go at security (bag’s fine, it’s on its way into the scanner, it’s me lost & confused) and had time to get food and sweets before going to my gate.

Swapping 4C for 9D turned out to be a good idea. There was no one in 9C and I got to sit on my own! I watched Mission Impossible 2 on my tablet – a film I know well, fortunately, because I could hardly hear anything over the engines. We flew over Liverpool, we flew over Winchester and I had my phone out with the stopwatch ready. I started it the second the wheels touched the ground and I was back at my car 15 minutes and 35 seconds later, and that included a very necessary quick stop in the terminal. Less than an hour later I was home, sitting on my bed to write this last paragraph.

This morning, when I started writing it in George Square Gardens, I scheduled it to automatically post at about 11.15pm because then it would post whether or not I remembered or had time to come back and add to it later, and also because it’s easier to find a scheduled post than a draft one. But as I was driving over Badbury Rings it crossed my mind that it would post automatically whether I died in a spectacular crash or not, making “I aten’t dead” a total waste of time posting. (I hadn’t set up the link to Facebook. I don’t know how to schedule that. But I might have been dead and you might still have found and read this blog and assumed I wasn’t. I’m home now. I’m not dead. I’m posting it right now by hand.)

EdFringe 2018: Saturday

After no sleep at all, I got up at 9ish for Shakespeare For Breakfast – croissant, orange juice, jam leftover from breakfast at the airport and The Taming of the Shrew set in a shoe shop in Dagenham. I did a little bit of shopping on the way home & went back to my room for an hour.

I’d decided on Friday that, give or take what was already in my plan, I’d go to whatever I got flyered for. I soon realised that wasn’t going to work when I didn’t actually want to see half of them and the other half overlapped. But I went to see Lou Sanders and then I came back & went to sleep for most of the afternoon.

In the evening I went to see Nick Doody – maybe twenty of us, in a nightclub two doors away because have I really been to Edinburgh if I don’t go to see him? – and then back to the Pleasance for Jayde Adams, who I missed last year, and then for my first visit to the Pleasance Dome (it’s like the Courtyard in that it’s another complex of small rooms rather than the one gigantic theatre I’d imagined) to see TapeFacebook Live – I managed to miss him last year too.

I hadn’t really meant to go to another late night show but with so much noise back home I’d be awake either way – might as well go and see the madness (it was a live Facebook video featuring a mime, a dancing hippo, much audience participation and a man doing something gruesome with a drill over Skype, which I refused to watch).

And when I got back at quarter to one, the music was even louder than I remembered from last night and people were dancing on tables and I didn’t sleep again.

EdFringe 2018: Friday

07:23 I’m at Southampton Airport. I got petrol, parked at the station & had a disagreement with the ticket machine and still got through security one hour and ten minutes after leaving home. It was misty this morning and then the mist vanished at Canford Bottom, after giving me a quick glimpse of a huge yellow sun through the mist. Driving east at sunrise is fun – as was the idiot at the Ringwood junction who came up and swerved in front of me from my left, swooped around the car in front and then slid away across two lanes.

10:15 We’re in Edinburgh but waiting to be allowed off the plane. I was randomly allocated 16C and I’ve decided I really don’t like not being able to see what’s going on. Also the plane was very hot
Five minutes after I started writing that, I was outside the airport heading for the tram. The bus is right outside the door but the tram is more fun, especially if you get one of the seats right at the front.

15:37 I’ve moved into my little student room on Cowgate. It’s noisy because it literally overlooks Cowgate but at least that means it’s nice and central. I picked up my tickets this morning at the Underbelly, had first lunch sitting under there looking at the big board and hoping to spot something as good as Prophetic Beth (Werewolf Live sounds like it could be promising) and then went off for my first show of 2018: The Amazing Bubble Man. He blows bubbles for an hour, he’s a man and he’s amazing. Not a lie on the poster. The target audience (small kids) are not great. So many taken out, brought back in, arrived three quarters of the way in or just plain yelled or shrieked or fidgeted for an hour. They also do a late night adults only bubble show but that doesn’t start until about the 15th.

After I’d settled into my room, it was off to the Pleasance to see Adam Hess and Marcus Brigstocke, time to come back to my room for half an hour then back to George Square for Andrew Maxwell and the Pleasance again for the Nouse Next Door’s late night show.

When I came out it was cold – not freezing cold but cold enough to want my jumper. As for Cowgate, I thought it was going to be noisy but I hadn’t thought that it might be even noisier at night than day. It’s like being in the middle of the pub and closing the window makes no difference to the noise levels at all, so let’s hope when it says it’s open until 3am that it shuts up very quickly after that.

Paris 2018: Friday

I`m attempting to write this on a French keyboard with a spotlight shining right on the keyboard, making it extra hard to find the right keys.

My plane went at 6.55pm and arrived at 8.40, only fifty minutes in the air but we then drove the plane around the airport for nearly ten minutes, took a bus around the airport for another nearly ten ,inutes and it took forever to find the station. CDG is easily the ,ost confusing airport I`ve ever been to.

I took the RER B into Paris, changed onto a tram at Cité Universitaire, dropped my bag at my hotel (in flawless French, much to my own surprise), got some food at Porte d`Italie and went to Notre Dame. Then over to Ile-St-Louis, RER to Arc de Triomphe. I climbed it (so many stairs!). It`s much higher than it looks and there are rooms Inside. And a very good view of the Eiffel Tower from there.

So when I came down, I got the bus to the Eiffel Tower. Not to climb it, not today but just to look at it. It`s very pretty and actually really weird.

After that I went to check in (in French!) at my hotel and eat the rest of my food before going out for a proper look at Paris in the dark.

Normally I would write more but my computer ti,e is really limited and this keyboard is frustrating.

Latvia 2017: Nov 6th

My alarm went off in the middle of the night. I’d mostly packed before going to bed but there were a few things still to put away – and then I needed to rearrange my bags.

It took a little longer to pay for Friday’s breakfast than I expected but I was at the bus stop in plenty of time for the bus. It was busy, even at that time of the morning. I found a seat but it was the sort of seat where I had to hang on tight.

At the airport I had to sit for a while finishing off all my drinks before I could get through security and then sit even longer waiting for my gate to open. Actually, my gate was open early and by the time I wandered up there, everyone else on my plane was already waiting there. It was fine. The flight was delayed – again, despite being the first plane of the day.

The flight was uneventful.

At Gatwick I was back in my car within about twenty minutes of landing and I’d written directions to get the A272 so I didn’t even get lost going home.

Latvia 2017: Nov 5th

Today started late and lazy because it’s Sunday and I’m on holiday and I had no train or bus or plane to catch. I had breakfast, I got on a tram to a further north part of Rīga than I’ve seen so far in search of the Art Nouveau architecture- went too far but did find St Gertrude’s Church. It turns out the Art Nouveau stuff is right by the Esplanade and there are only two or three buildings that I saw or recognised or which stood out – not quite enough to merit a signpost pointing to “Art Nouveau Quarter”. It was also deserted. It’s not really a touristy part of town and the locals aren’t out on a Sunday either – a bit like walking through the City of London at the weekend. So I headed back to the Old Town, walked along the river to the castle, discovered that I hopped off a tram just round the corner on Friday, took a tram back to the Esplanade and then another one right out into the suburbs on the other side of the river, where I made a stop in a big hyper market full of things I neither recognise nor can identify. I think I bought some plastic cheese slices but until I eat them, I’m not certain. And they have no nice fresh bread rolls. 

Armed with food, I came home for my now-traditional late afternoon meal before going out in the dark again. I’m less apprehensive about Rīga in the dark already. I didn’t stay out long – there was packing to do and it was dark and chilly. Not cold. Other than when I’ve sat on concrete steps to eat or wait, it hasn’t been really cold. Not twenty-miles-from-the-Baltic-in-November cold. 

I have packed, I have eaten as much as I can. I’ve set my alarm. I’m just about ready to go. I have liked Latvia. 

Latvia 2017: Nov 4th

The day didn’t start brilliantly with me not opening my eyes until an hour later than I’d planned. Trains to Sigulda go at 7.54 (far too early) or 10.38 and I’d anticipated hanging around town for a while. Nope. Up, fling stuff in bag, run for bus, hurl myself across town, buy ticket with 20 minutes to spare (in which to top up my picnic collection) and off I went. 

Sigulda is a popular little town 30 miles north east of Rīga and it takes nearly an hour and a quarter on the train. That’s an average of just 24mph. A lot of Latvia between Rīga and Sigulda is just forest – pine and birch mostly, I think, with bits of bog in between to break up the monotony and the occasional tiny town built around a factory. 

Sigulda was easy enough to spot – I’d spent over an hour deciphering the announcements so I could understand when it was time to jump off (not doing a Predeal here, not again) and also, it was the first time I’d seen mown grass, real tarmac roads and buildings that looked like they’d survive a brisk wind since Rīga. And even so, the guidebook wasn’t wrong when it described Sigulda as looking more like a park with apartments scattered gently over it. 

I walked through the trees to the playground, past Key Square, called in at the Lutheran Church and then found the castle complex. Sigulda itself has two. The new (18th century) one is a manor house with a slightly ridiculous crenellated tower on top, the old one is the ruins of a medieval Livonian Order castle. It cost €2 to go in and it was worth every penny. 

It’s a ruin. They’ve restored part of the gatehouse & south wall and they’ve stuck a wobbly wooden top on the north tower and there’s a big stage in the courtyard for the annual open air opera festival. And there’s a view over the Gauja valley – possibly not at its best in November, all grey trees with no leaves, cloudy sky but a view to Krimulda Manor on the other side and the red brick Turaida Castle. And the cable car! My guidebook said that had already stopped for winter but there it was! I walked back up to the church, across the road, which dives down into the valley here, you have to cross it at the top, and down to the cable car station. I arrived just as it was leaving so I had to wait half an hour for it to return and prepare to go again and in that time I saw two people go zip lining on the cables. They hang from each side of a big red canopy, slide down the cable and stop in the middle, hanging high above the valley for at least five minutes. I couldn’t figure out how they get back up the wire. What happens is the cable car comes along, with a sort of spring-loaded lance and pushes them back as it returns to Sigulda. And yes, I thought about doing the zip line. 

I crossed the valley. It takes just under ten minutes and it’s not a valley like anything I’ve ever seen before. And yet it’s not quite a gorge. It’s wide and deep. 

Krimulda is the creepiest place I’ve ever been. The ruins of the old castle in the woods next to the station are good. I opted not to follow the two mile Serpentine Road to Turaida – not along a deeply forested ridge on my own with the dark barely two hours away. A shame because Turaida Castle looks nice. And Krimulda is not. It’s basically the mouldering remains of a manor house and its surrounding buildings. But it’s all deserted and crumbling and hidden in the wood. There’s a crumbling but once good-looking wooden Swiss house. A lady came over on the cable car, prowled around, looked at the remains of the back garden, tried the side door – and then went inside! Oh no. No no no. 

The Manor itself may be a rehab centre. But I think that was a project and an idea that never worked. I don’t think anyone’s there now. I fled very quickly back to the safety of the cable car and back to the real world in Sigulda. It seems it actually functions as a hotel/hostel these days and had good reviews on booking.com. If I’d accidentally booked it, no way would I have even gone up to the door. I’d have been back to Sigulda, on the train back to Rīga and home as quick as possible. The place is pure nightmare fuel. 

I bought a walking stick. Only a miniature one. Walking sticks are a thing in Sigulda. I think they used to make them and walkers visiting the national park would buy them and now it’s such a favourite souvenir that they constructed a walking stick park. My stick is thin as bamboo and only about a foot long but it’s got the traditional red and green decorations and it’s very pretty. 

It had been drizzly over in Latvian Horror Land but as I walked back through Sigulda to the station, the sun came out. I sat and watched the train arrive, waited for the back to become the front and for the Sigulda lights to become Rīga lights and headed home. The train was a lot quieter than it was this morning. Still very slow. 

I came home on the trolleybus, ate and headed out to see Rīga by night. Well, not true night. It was ten past six. And there were already quite a lot of severely drunk people. Rīga, for some reason, has more emergency vehicles with lights and sirens than anywhere I’ve ever been but now it was dark they felt a bit more sinister. So did everything. There’s no real reason to be nervous but it occurred to me that I was apprehensive about being in this city in the dark in a way I don’t remember being anywhere else. Does it feel too Stereotypical Scary Russian? In a way, maybe. By the way, when you get off a bus or buy a ticket or get a door held for you, you say thank you in Russian, not Latvian here. Or sometimes French for no reason I can fathom (Well, unless it’s the Russian aristocracy thing). So I went down to the stop by the river and took the tram across the bridge. Tomorrow I really must walk it, just once, but I have a bus pass and it’s so easy to hop on a bus or a tram. 

Now I shall go to sleep and have nightmares about Krimulda. 

Latvia 2017: Nov 3rd

I woke up at 8am despite it being 6am at home, got up lazily and went for breakfast. I’m not going to any other morning because I can’t eat enough breakfast to make it worthwhile but on the first morning in a strange city when you don’t know where the shops are yet, you haven’t eaten anything substantial in 24 hours and you have nothing in the room to drink, you have to do it. 

It was a good breakfast! They had everything imaginable – oranges you dropped in a juicer, morning Marys (no sign of vodka but all the sauces & vegetables to drop in the tomato juice), bread of all shapes, sizes and colours, fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish, traditional Latvian foods, muesli, porridge, four kinds of jam, toast… so much food. So good breakfast. Wow. I piled my plate with little bread rolls, failed to spot the miniature glasses next to the juices (they’re see-through!) and made do with a coffee cup instead. And then I found the little croissants so I had one of them too, with the brightest red raspberry jam I’ve ever eaten. And when I got upstairs – you’ll never guess what. Somehow four rolls & three packs of butter had fallen into my bag. Well, that would do nicely for lunch. 

I’d sort of planned to go to Sigulda today but the station was harder to find than I’d expected, considering I thought all trams from the National Library (my local stop) stopped there. Instead I ended up at the Central Market which I thought was housed in the old station – but no, those arched buildings are converted zeppelin hangers. I walked up to the station, which wasn’t quite where it seemed on Google Maps last week. I got on a trolley bus – just a random bus which dumped me off at the university. I spied a nice gold onion-domed church (which turned out to be the Cathedral of the Nativity) and a nice park (the Esplanade) and then I spied a tower I recognised from the inflight magazine – the Freedom Monument. And I recognised its Modern architectural style – because it looks just like Helsinki Central Station. Now I could finally find myself on my map. I was beside the City Park, which is so pretty. 

There were little wooden boats on the canal in the middle of the park so I went for a ride. The canal is actually the remains of the moat around the medieval walled city. We sailed east as far as the Opera House, then west, through the park, through the city and onto the river. It had got cold. The mouth of the river is less than twenty miles away and the Baltic, which it opens onto, is famously cold. A mist had descended. I gave in and got a blanket. I’d been wondering why there was a pile of blankets and now I knew. We got as far east down the river as the National Library before we turned back. It’s supposed to be a loop. I don’t know what’s on the canal between the Opera House and the National Library that we couldn’t go up there. It soon got warmer back on the canal. 

I went home for lunch – having first walked all the way back to the Central Market, which was the only place I could find a tram stop in the right direction. 

After lunch it was sightseeing time in the Old Town. It’s a bit of a warren – I went round in circles a few times, missed the House of the Blackheads twice and when I did eventually find it, most of it was under scaffolding! The town is also, unsurprisingly, packed with amber shops. 

When it started to get dark I went to the station, where I’d spied a supermarket earlier and with my arms full, I got on a bendy bus to go home. It was too early really but it was dark, I was too hot, I’d crossed off a dozen Important Sights To See and I wasn’t going to see much more in the dark. 

Back home I looked up those important train times for my trip to Sigulda tomorrow – as long as it’s not pouring with rain. 

Latvia 2017: Nov 2nd

My flight was at 11am so I wanted to be at Gatwick by 9. Add extra time for traffic & trouble (and fog) and I need to leave about 5am. So I got up at 4 and was out the door by 4.30. It was foggy in places – between Salisbury & Winchester was particularly bad – but it had more or less cleared up by Gatwick. So I thought. 

At the car park, I stood waiting for the bus. A plane roared overhead but I couldn’t see it. And then it appeared from the cloud, hardly any higher than the lampposts, as if it had appeared from thin air. 

I had some breakfast, updated Facebook and settled in to kill three and a half hours at the airport. 

My gate was due to be announced just twenty-five minutes before the plane was due to take off. Gate 1, nice and easy. Except when I got to Gate 1, there was a Norwegian plane waiting to go to Oslo. I checked Gates 2 & 3 and then rejoined the confused crowd at 1. We definitely hadn’t all misread it. After five minutes or so, the sign changed to Air Baltic to Rīga. Good. But we milled around more and then we’re told to go to Gate 38, which is the other end of the airport – and it’s now less than fifteen minutes before I’m supposed to depart. At Gate 38 there was an Air Baltic plane but we were told to sit down as it would be a while. 

It wasn’t too bad. I boarded at 11.10 – only to be told when I presented my boarding pass “Oh, they’ve changed your seat.” They will regret this. The plane was nice and light – all white plastic & leather, Baltic-green rope lights under the overhead lockers, miniature overhead screens showing the route & flight data. It’s exactly the same map Icelandair uses. 

We flew. We were an hour late taking off, we were about an hour late arriving. Within ten minutes of my boots touching Latvian soil I was at the bus stop with a yellow bus ticket loaded with an unlimited five day pass. Five minutes later I was on the correct bus & half an hour later I was crossing four lanes of traffic and two tramlines outside the Latvian National Library. 

I checked into my riverfront hotel. I’d read reviews. I’d be put at the back but offered a room and view update for a price. I declined it. The reviews also said the staff are “surly” but that wasn’t in evidence at all. 

The room is fine. Yes, it’s at the back but it’s on the 9th floor so it has a view literally over the Rīga rooftops. It’s plenty big enough, huge shower, sockets in convenient places – no complaints about the room other than that it may turn out to be too hot. 

The pool is currently occupied but I’m going back at 8 and tomorrow I shall see Latvia in daylight – Rīga if it’s wet, Sigulda if it’s not. 

The pool, it turns out, is not only freezing but you have to sign in at a desk so the receptionist knows if you run away after five minutes. 

Iceland 2017: Sept 30

I slept in thermals last night. I don’t know why it took until the last night in the van for me to think of that. Not only was I toasty for the first time this week but I also started to take layers off – I even took off my hat!

In the morning I got up, packed the van, put all my stuff away in my big bag, emptied all the rubbish out of the van and then wandered the campsite in the hope of catching Morris again so I could take a photo of him. No luck. So off I went, past the smiley-face traffic lights, past the local pool (I knew it existed!!) and up to Hveragerdi where I popped into the N1 petrol station for breakfast of apple juice and star crisps. It’s clearly a popular place to be. I accidentally bought half a loaf of out of date bread.

On the Ring Road, I stopped right up at the top of the Blue Mountains by the geothermal power station, did not get lost in Kopavogur, did get lost in Hafnarfjordur, made a quick trip into the Cintamani outlet (I love Cintamani but it’s so expensive!) and then into Ikea – I went in with a plan, I knew what I was after, I knew roughly where it was and I was in and out in under fifteen minutes, despite struggling with the payment machine at the end. I am now the owner of two European-plug 3-USB chargers. I dropped the van off precisely on time, got dropped off at the bus stop round the corner (so close it really wasn’t worth the van company getting out a car to drop me off) and hopped off the bus at Landspitalinn. On my walk up to the hostel, I met some people with a map and a bus number who wanted my help to get to a hospital I didn’t know existed. The best I could manage was to figure out which way the map was supposed to go and pointed out that they needed the bus stop on the other side of the road and then I shambled up to my own front door. Fortunately, despite it only being about 12.30, my room was ready so I dropped off my luggage, got my phone charge – although only at a precise angle and went to enjoy Reykjavik in the sun.

Sun! I’d gone to Iceland a week early! I had a much-needed lunch of hamburgerbraud and cheese and tropical juice by the pond, ran away from a wasp, came home to warm up, read, had a nap and then went out later just to wander and restock my food supplies. As I walked back, I noticed minibuses picking up for Northern Lights tours. The sky was a bit cloudy. I looked at my watch. Twenty-four hours ago I’d been standing outside at Akranes watching the Lights fade away and tonight they hadn’t even gone out.

I returned to my warm bed, with a ceiling and a real bathroom and was very glad I was out of the campervan.