Tuesday, June 30, 2009

E09: Grey Again...

Once again the skies are grey, and the mood is less than fantastic here around town. Yesterday's smiles have been replaced with focused walks heading from point a to point b. There are no roses being smelled, nor are their dances being danced as people skip across the road – often in front of oncoming traffic, as they are unaware most intersections here operate on scramble crossings, and the don't walk signs really are to be heeded.

The weather man has clarified his statement yesterday, “just because it's a heat wave doesn't mean it's a sun wave. There is all likelihood that the heat will be accompanied by cloud, rain, and perhaps thunder.” No doubt he retracted his statement due to the many threats on his life for his debauchery. What a charming man.

Antique shows can entertain me only so long. Soon I will head out to visit the local Museum, and galleries on the Mound. But now? Now it's time to extract my chips from the oven, and consme!

E09: It got Better...

So... Umm...

The day, as days so often do, got better. By about noon I had taken to the streets, and while they were initially chilly, by the time I reached Drummond and South Bridge the sun started to burn away the mist, leaving faint traces of blue overhead. As I continued on the route I had drawn the day before I noticed something odd about the people walking past me. They were dressed a lot more cloak-ier than usual. Indeed, in seemed everyone I passed was wearing a red cloak with black trim, or black cloaks with sleeves that could be spun like propellers, and a hood that flailed left and right as the wearers walked.

Clearly Edinburgh was going through a terrible fashion crisis, or – music was playing... Perhaps the answers to my questions would be found there. I walked towards - - -

Ohh! Street art! For the first time since I arrived, I saw somewhat decent graffiti. Just to the left of Potterrow Port there was a wall of art, with spray paint cans still lying on the ground. These pieces seemed to be, rather than detailed designs, a celebration of colour. Though the last piece was a well constructed dragon, the true beauty in this path was the gestalt creation that each piece blending into one another, surrounding the pedestrians, created.

- - - Oh right, the music, and the people what looked like they were on their way to Hogwarts for their final year of witchcrafty, and wizardry nonsense.

As it turned out, there was no new trend, nor were people cosplaying their favourite warlock. Sadly, it was not even a new cult devoted to the worship of Yogsoth, Cthulhu, or any of the other Elder Gods. It was simply the graduation of those who attended Edinburgh University. Good for them. I'm sure their parents were proud, and that this was a big day for them. It even afforded me some interesting pictures. But – me and Edinburgh University have some problems, you see. Sure they're great, and they blanket the city in wifi access: but their wifi access is for university students only, who have logins, and student numbers, and passwords, and the like. Now this, this wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that there are so many “CENTRAL” networks that they fill up my entire “searching for open network” list, and because they start with “C” they're almost always at the top preventing me from easily seeing what other hotspots might exist. Curse you Edinburgh University. You and your - - -

Ohh a Labyrinth! This was no walled prison, nor was it a garden row. David Bowie appeared nowhere near this, though I'm sure you could find his suitable action figure at the Forbidden Planet down the street. This was a labyrinth built with pebbles in a university park. The idea was to walk around it, and let your mind clear. Let the world fade away. Let thoughts simply come to you.

The whole thing could be skipped over. One could simply walk over it, across all the lines, in three or four strides. But I felt that I needed to slow down. To think. To stop doing what I feel I should do, and really spend some time thinking about what I wanted to do. Following the tour guides is great and all, but it's the small moments that you could never expect or plan for that create lasting memories. It's the moments between the moments that truly matter – and as I spent seven or eight minutes walking the curling paths as they double, and then re-double backed on themselves I began to truly take in this philosophy.

As I continued on I choose to visit the Meadows, a grassy park just south of Lauriston Place. It was here that I first felt the heat of the day upon me, an noticed the horizon was lined with blue. Perhaps the weatherman had not been the terrible purveyor of falsehoods that I initially thought he was.

Now, I know I've mentioned the fact that Edinburgh has a castle in the middle of it, looming above on a big rock faced cliff. I'm not sure if it's that this was the first time I saw it during the day, or if this was the first time I saw it, without the weather being a terrible gloom, but when I saw it this time – I really saw it. Looking at it overhead, as the sun played tricks on the outcroppings, I wanted to tell everyone I passed that there was truly a castle overhead: as if they'd missed it all this time, or not fully noticed it, as I had. I mean, really think about it. A castle. In the middle of your city. Close your eyes, and picture your own city. Now add a real-life castle smack dab in the middle, on a giant cliff. That's amazing!

So amazing, that having finished my walk, I decided not to head back home. I decided to head into the village of Dean.

As it turns out, what one decides to do, and what one ends up doing are two very different things. At first everything was looking promising. I saw water that powered the waterwheels on the mills, and I chatted briefly with a couple of locals who jumped a fence, and waded into the river to illegally catch trout. Then I ran across a kindly old lady. It's always the ones you least suspect. So eager was she to help, that she took my tiny map and, without her bifocals, started telling me where I was and where I was headed. How could I argue with a kindly old lady? To get where I wanted to go, she said, I should walk along side the river on the Water of Leith Walkway.

It was a beautiful riverside walk, and one I would highly encourage anyone to take, if they find themselves in the area. Many hellos and good afternoons were exchanged with people walking their dogs, taking full advantage of the first sun in days. However, when I finally realized that I was not in the village of Dean, and that I was most likely not going to end up there any time soon, I bailed and found myself in the suburbs with great houses, and lovely gardens. I also, as it would prove, found myself no longer on my map.

Yes this kindly old lady who attempted to do me a favour (or acted as I hope I will when I become old, purposefully leading people astray to add some sort of amusement to her own day) had placed me far from the familiar. Twenty minutes later, and I would find myself at the Dean Gallery, and the Gallery of Modern Art, located on Belford Road in the west end.

Though not where I had intended to end up, the surrounding area was quite picturesque and the galleries themselves (admission free) were worth a look. If you'd ever wanted to see a full sized sheep contained in a glass box full of formaldehyde, this is your chance! Ahh modern art.

The heat was failing, and with that the fog descended once more. But no worries, as these few hours had proved to me that nice days were possible in this country. Having come once, they would certainly return again. All I had to do was wait.

A quick stroll through the West Princes Street Gardens, and a brief pause to read Christopher Moore's Practical Demonkeeping, and I was back home, with nothing at all bothering me.

Except for the car alarm -
Going off right outside my window -
For the last twenty minutes!

Monday, June 29, 2009

E09: Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Alright, I get it. It's Scotland, and it's rainy... But I've had it! I've had it with waking up to grey overcast skies, and a brisk chill blowing through the never open, yet never quite shut windows. I've had it with the dreary horizon that is constantly covered in mist, destroying every photograph I take. The weather man says that there's a heat front moving in. In fact, he says that people really need to watch out, and that they should even sprinkle their bedsheets with water before they go to bed to help with the cooling process. But I know this for what it truly is. A filthy lie! Even as he says this, the weather map shows rain clouds frowning, and dropping their luxuriously liquid contents onto the fair cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and the rest of the country! Does he truly expect us not to see through this treachery? We should sprinkle our bedsheets with water, should we? Why not just leave the window open, and allow the rain to constantly fall upon me as I sleep? Will that help me to stave off immanent heat related dead Mr. TV Weatherman, with your graphics that don't match your words, and your smarmy haircut, your speech therapized accent, and your words, not one of which are to be believed?! Will that help?!

You know, earlier in the year me and my housemate had only a Super Nintendo and a couch in our apartment. We would play the game Top Gear 2, which is a racing game that takes you to courses all over the world. When you arrive in Scotland, there is no scrolling background, no double layer of buildings, and stereotyped imagery. There is only grey. Grey that coveres the course, the background, and all the cars in front of you. This, according to the game, is Scotland. I used to think this was just a clever way to avoid paying your art team to design another country. But now? Now I can tell you that this is an absolutely true depiction of the country! And would that piper please stop playing! And could the driver of the tour bus kindly turn down her speaker as she passes this building every hour on the hour?! And could I please have, if only for twenty three and a half minutes, some blue-freaking-sky?!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

E09: Exploring New Town

Maps, splayed out in front of me I scribbled on one computer printout, planning routes on another, comparing to locations marked on a third, while copying down necessary information from a fourth. After a good thirty minutes of planning, and scribbling leaving my travelling companion a mess of blue ink, arrows, and overlapping trails, I was ready to head out. As I planned my route, I had clearly overshot my limitations, assuming that I could see all of New Town, and all of Old Town in a single journey. While this was not to be, I did manage my tour through New Town, saving the rest for the journey for another day.

As I headed down the Royal mile, turning North onto New Street, I headed towards Calton street. My initial plan was to wander down Calton, over to Waterloo, leading towards the path that headed up Calton Hill. However, right at the bottom of New Street I could see a doorway built into the opposing wall. Above this portal was a sign labeling it as Jacob's Ladder. While I do enjoy following maps, especially routes of my own construction, as many will tell you, I do quite love alleys, and other strange passages. So, precariously planning was thrown aside, and through Jacob's Ladder, I went. It turned out to be a staircase, followed by a steep ramp, once again turning into a staircase. Rather than winding around the rough elevation of Edinburgh, this path simply said: no, this is ridiculous. These switchback roads are too much. I'm simply going up!

And up it went, right to the mouth of the path leading to the top of Calton Hill. On the hill, there were a number of monuments. Many were surrounded by scaffolding, and undergoing construction. There was an old observatory, a monument left unfinished due to funding cuts, created with Roman style pillars, and a structure built with rocks taken from historic locations such as the streets of Paris, and the concentration camps at Auschwitz.

From the top of Calton Hill, beautiful views of Arthur's Seat, towering over cometary, city, and my apartment were offered. From the other side, a view of the surrounding towns could be seen stretching out towards the water. As I took photo after photo from high upon the hill, I was struck with one thought: if somehow it ever manages to stop raining, and I am blessed with a sunny day and a blue sky, I'm going to have to come all the way back up here once more.

Regent Terrace to Hillside Crescent offered views of a quieter Edinburgh, where the activity of tourists headed from one shopping destination to the next, were replaced by people drinking slushies, watering plants hanging outside their doors, held in pots towards their porch, and growing in window boxes. The people here were simply going about their daily lives.

Down Leith Walk would lead towards St. James Shopping Centre. A mall. Alright, I know, why travel to see a mall. But, still, if I walked in one side I could walk out the other and still find myself on track. And, you know, perhaps it might offer me a cultural experience, and isn't that what it's all about? Aside from the aptly, if not wholly subtle, video game store named Game there were also shops of great value such as The Pound Store.

The Pound Store is by far the greatest dollar store I'd ever seen. Yes, I know, due to the exchange rate it's more like a Dollar Ninety store, but inside were haircare products of all the major brand names, packs of batteries made by companies you'd recognize, home products, grocery goods, and sodas. Sodas: four four a pound! Now this was a cultural experience. I grabbed an Irn-Bru (Scotland's regional soda), some sort of explosive orange soda, Juiceful (canned apple juice), and a red-bull type drink. As I threw them all back, one after the next, I was welcomed by a host of flavour sensations I would most likely never experience again. And for only one pound, what could possibly go wrong?

Up St. Andrew's Place, I headed to Abercromby place. I kept assuming I was headed in the wrong way, never mind that I was following the map to the letter. This trouble, it would seem, was caused by Edinburgh's infuriating need to change every road's name after each two hundred meters. As it turned out, I was on the road I thought I was. It would just take three more name changes before it matched that which was printed on my map. This is a problem I have noticed with a lot of the city. Though there is a simplistic grid-like system to the city, the street names seem to change with every intersection, leaving it still somewhat difficult to navigate, if headed out with names alone.

My ultimate destination was Moray Place, a small ringed road, connected to two other such streets. These were quaint little neighbourhoods, each surrounding a private garden to which only the residents of the street had a key to. The green surrounded by cobblestone, nd surrounding city blocked off by the tall ring of houses created a feeling of escape from the rest of the world. For a moment it seemed like everything else could fade away, and that there was only this location which had remained the same for hundreds of years. The short walk down to Deans Bridge, offering views of spires poking out of small forests, pressing back against the smaller buildings nestled within, added to this mystique.

It was also around this time that I realized what could possibly be wrong with drinking four cans of soda in a row. A washroom was needed, yet none was to be found. Even the McDonald's kept their washrooms locked with archaic crypt keys. What was I to do? Where was I to go? I checked my map. At the corner of Princes Street and Lothian there was a public washroom. A beacon of hope set amongst public park. Within a simple silver trough offered relief, and a chance to continue on, finishing the last few paths of New Town.

I shuffled along Rose street, a tourist path which bisects four square streets set up around it. Here I saw bar after bar offering “authentic Scottish cuisine,” which to me indicates that there's probably very little authenticity behind the kitchen at all. Perhaps I'm wrong, but most pizza places don't advertise “authentic pizza,” they just serve it. So too, should I suspect, any other such restaurant.

As I neared my home for this journey, I found myself finally feeling as if I were in Edinburgh. For a long time I had thought that this was a city best taken in before London, as so much seems the same. However, it was while climbing the stairs in Fleshmonger Close that I took a moment to look around at the bleak alley leading between both streets and elevation that I finally felt “I am here.” This is an important moment on many of my trips. It is a moment when I cease to feel as if I've just wandered off a subway stop in a part of town I'd never before visited, and instead feel as if I am surrounded by something very different. Like stepping through a looking glass, and realizing it for what it is, this moment is when everything that follows changes.

The streets are not simply quirky cobblestone built for the benefit of tourists. The locals who try to avoid the visitors, simply wanting to live their lives do not do so only because we are here. The shops do not sell for my benefit alone. It is at that moment, that shifting of paradigms, that the city comes alive.

E09: When Coke is not Soda

As I posted my last entry, I thought my days adventures were at an end. This was a foolish thought from the beginning, as I could not simply press post from the safety of my bedroom. No, I had to return to the street and try to find an internet hotspot once more. The difference this time was that it was not a sunny afternoon day. Instead, this time it was a dark and cloudy (tragically not stormy) night. The clock had just struck midnight, and the bells were echoing across the city adding to the feeling of safety that surrounded me. There's nothing like wandering the streets passed bars overflowing with middle aged drinkers, holding a netbook, to really make you feel secure.

So perhaps this wasn't the best idea.

“Hey, ZZ-Top,” the all too familiar shout called out. I smiled, and walked on searching for another open network. None were to be found, until a sign was pointed out to me: Free internet hotspot, 200 meters to the left. The sign was accompanied by an arrow pointing the way. Of course the way was not to a well lit, and well secured area, complete with comfortable bench, and community building foot traffic. No, the arrow had to point down a covered alley, that twisted and turned so you could not see the other end before stepping through.

Standing on the unused street through the alley, I connected to the wireless network and began to copy and paste posts, uploading pictures and placing them where I thought they would best fit. Three teenagers sat drinking on a ramp across from me, making the odd comment now and then, breaking the silence of the night.

Voices speaking languages from all over the world could be heard as couples, infrequently, walked past either on the way in search of drink, or from drink to a more secluded area. I continued to post, slightly fulling my desire to become Spider Jerusalem.

Done, I closed my netbook (wondering how many people just grabbed my passwords from use over unsecured networks) and began to walk back to the apartment building. It was then that I once again heard the call that follows me to every country around the world, “ZZ Top! Hey, ZZ Top!” It was the same man from earlier. Having now drunk his fill, he was on his way home.

“Hey buddy,” he began, stumbling across the main road, paying little attention to the headlights that were ever moving towards him. Somehow avoiding all traffic, and now standing beside me, he continued. He talked of my beard, and how I need never shave it. He then went on and said I must be a Yank. When I told him that I was Canadian he told e how much he hated it when people confused him as a Brit. He said how it infuriated him, and caused him to rage. Well, I was in no mood to see a raging drunk, and I told him that I understood completely.

He then went on to tell me that he wasn't afraid of anyone. He wasn't afraid of anyone except for his girlfriend. As it turned out he was late to meet her. He had stayed too long at the bar, and she wold be furious. Of course it wasn't enough that he simply said this – he said this while swinging a large bag of coke around his head. Now, I know coke is supposed to be measured in grams, or ounces, or something like that, but as I've never been into the drug scene, I would only make a fool of myself if I tried to guess how much was in it with that scale. What I can tell you is that it was a lot. It was a bag a full as a ripe plum. This he swung around his head, as he proceeded to tell me in his drunken stupor how much his girlfriend was missing it.

Why did I stay talking to him? Why didn't I simply walk away? Well these are both good questions. And I'll answer you with the same multiple thoughts that ran through my head as I stood there listening to this man talk about my face, and his drugs, and his country pride. One: I did not want to upset him by disrespecting him and brushing him off. Remember, this is a big drunk, potentially raging, Scotsman fresh from the bar. The type who has no problem flailing his drugs around ever so visibly. Second: There was a definite entertainment value to the conversation, and were I not carrying my computer, I may have let it play out some time longer. Three: he was standing right outside the door to my apartment building. Of course he was! Having the big raging coke-fiend of a man know where I lived did not seem like the best of ideas at the time.

Then, just as I thought the conversation was winding down he asked me a question right out of – well, beyond the left field, somewhere out in the bleachers. Farther, perhaps, in the parking lot where some unlucky fool would find the home run ball nestled violently into his car's front windshield: As a British Canadian, do I love my Queen?

Oh what the good god damn?! How does one answer this question. I was just told that he hated being confused as a Brit, and I knew from watching Braveheart that the English and the Scots do not get along at the best of times. I've heard that wearing the wrong colour football jersey is reason enough for a beating. Do I love my Queen? What is the right answer. Do the Scots love their Queen? I just wanted to go on my way, and allow him to do blow off of whatever part of his girlfriend he so desired. But no – here was a barrier. Do I love my Queen?

I felt like a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The British version, with ridiculously hard questions – but paying out in ever valuable pounds instead of dollars. Just as the pressure was about to get the best of me he broke the silence, “I fucking love my Queen!” he shouted. Oh thank god. I nodded in agreement. Yeah, she's great. She's coming to town in a few days, to be sure. What a lovely lady. Super woman. Who wouldn't love her? She's on the stamps, the money. Boy oh boy is she great!

Just then he shook my hand, and said he had to head off. Cue forehead wipe, and – wait. Where was he walking to? Where did his girlfriend live that he was going to visit? No, it couldn't be. He wasn't. Was he? He was! He walked right into my apartment building! Are you kidding me? Really? Really?!

Thinking it best that this man who would undoubtedly be coked out in a matter of moments not know where I lived, I stayed outside for a moment. Or two. And there, there you go. Get that key in the hole, and open the front door. Count to ten. Maybe twenty. You know what, allow him a whole minute to stumble up the stairs. When I assumed enough time had passed, I entered and began to stealthily climb the stairs. His booming voice could be heard rumbling through a shut door. I quickly slipped past, and headed up a few levels to my floor, where I entered, locked, and settled in for the night.

Now sure, this may seem absurd, and perhaps it is – still, if you had a bead would you want a strung out Scotsman hunting for you through an apartment building late at night because he had something amazing to tell you, or because he was just fixing to see if I was truly a gnome and could grant him magical sparely wishes? No. I thought not.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

E09: Royal Highlands Show

At way-too-bloody-early o'clock I was ripped from the bed by the sound of snare drums banging just outside the window. A parade was passing by, which I watched groggy eyed and in a shirt that was – misbuttoned at best. Across from me, other weary one time sleepers, roused far too early for a Saturday morning stared down at the street with disdain. Now, I am not the type of person who hates fun; I am just the type of person who enjoys a parade, regardless of how early it is, how the crashing became ingrained in my dreams, and how I smashed the glow in the dark clock one time too many foolishly believing that that would bring an end to the roadwork-esqe racket.

The was not some grade parade, worthy of my attention, and potentially foul mood. By the time I grabbed my camera, it was too late. The parade had moved on. Look, I'm just going to break it down right now. If you can see both ends of the parade, if you can see the first man leading the way, and the final bringing up the rear, then you are not in a parade. You are merely part of an anarchistic cacophony group who hates the working class, refusing the let them sleep past nine o'clock on a weekend morning. I don't care that you have some sign, or a banner that you carry with you. I don't care that you are presenting some message that is lost on the public, and honestly – couldn't those police officers be better used somewhere else in the city? Fifty seven people a parade does not make. Just an irritant, an annoyance – not unlike my blue quick dry shirt that remains wet even after a full night hanging on the rack.

The damage was done. I was awake. Spread some cream cheese on pieces of toast, shower, and be done with it. The great world outside was calling to me, and with only a slight amount of rain I had no excuse to avoid the overcast gloom outside. Not today. Not on Royal Highland Show weekend.

Fast forward one hour, taking the 35 bus from the bottom of the Royal Mile all the way back out towards the airport. Fast forward past three people climbing and falling down the stairs to the buses second floor, jarred as the driver suddenly accelerated and braked for no reason I could determine, other than the simple joy of watching them fall on the closed circuit screen. Fast forward past the three New Zealand girls talking of foolishness, such as the ungrateful child who has entered her examining room because he had a hurt knee, yet could tell her no more than his knee hurt (what this child was supposed to say to sate her anger is beyond me.) Fast forward to the fair gates.

For the low price of twenty two pounds (free for everyone under the age of sixteen) you could enter the fairs grounds. Now, as I paid, I expected a program that would tell me what events were going on, and perhaps even a map of the three hundred acre lot. Oh how foolish of me. Did I forget that I was in the United Kingdom? A place where nothing is free, and everything costs? Clearly I had. Just as the basic programs to London theatrical performances could be purchased separately, so too could the program and map of the fair grounds. A steal at only three pound fifty. I assured myself that I could get by just fine without it, thank you very much.

My initial walkings took me past a horseshoeing competition where iron workers hand to bang out and fit shoes, then attach them all under a twenty minute time limit. From there I stumbled into the arts and crafts building where an inconceivable number of canes – both wood and horn – were crafted. As well, a hideous amount of crocheted owls flocked together in the far corner. What ungodly power would have forced such a sight, I'm not sure – still, there they were made all the more terrifying by their silence.

I was starting to think of all the ways I could have spent that twenty two pounds aside from the fair entry fee. Thirty four liters of cider quickly came to mind. It's not that I'm a lush, but I do often find myself measuring purchases by pints, and other such international standards. Some people weight the purchases against how many flights, cds, or even kayaks they could purchase. Me, I use drinks.

This feeling of booth doom and gloom would quickly ascend like the protagonist of Sega's Altered Beast the moment I entered the Food and Drink building. What was I expecting? Something like the food building at the C.N.E. where the real pity was that you could only ever choose but one meal to eat from the many tempting offerings. What I was no expecting was this, coupled by the free sample mentality that accompanies Toronto's One of a Kind Show.

Every aisle forced more culinary delights upon me. All number of curries, meats, cheeses, and jams were shoved into my perpetually outstretched hands. I had curry mayonnaise, and ice cream, and sodas made from blackcurrant, others from dandelions, honey whiskey, and toffee vodka offered free of charge. Going in I was upset I'd be limited to only one tasty treat, yet by the end of my browsing I found I could barely eat another thing.

Just outside the food building lay another trap to burst my already near-capacity belly. Just outside was a building designed to look like a supermarket, but this was no ordinary supermarket. This was a magical supermarket along the lines of that which you would find on late 80s early 90s game show Supermarket Sweep. For in this store, everything on the shelves also appeared on platters before them begging to be tasted. Now I'm sure that there was supposed to be some semblance of control here, or an assumption that people would take a litter here, and a little there, but as there was no regulation, I felt free to grab anything that caught my fancy.

Root beer licorice, and others of the red rope variety were packed away with glasses of orange juice, slices of processed meats, hunks of cheese, and many other treats. When I finally left, pockets full of mini candy bars, I knew that no other food could be consumed here this day. The haggis and the black (read: blood) pudding, would have to wait.

Let not your judgment of this fair be skewed into thinking it's all home crafts, and free food. The Royal Highland Show offered many more attractions, as anything dubbed royal should. I saw falconry demonstrations where large birds of prey would swoop in trying to catch the lure being expertly swung out of their reach, and horses pulling logs as they still do to this day in some of the forests and bogs in the less urban parts of the country. I saw sheep, and cows, and highland steers (that look a terrifyingly large amount like me, to the point where a passer by, without malice, commented on family resemblance.) There was also show jumping of the highest caliber.

I understand jumping to a point. Guy rides around, tries to beat a time, jumps over some rails. Well, actually the horse does most of the work. And I understand that London feels this is a sport worthy of Olympic level classification, while baseball does not. Sure, whatever, I understand. Apparently I do not understand as much as the other hundreds that filled the stands.

Let me tell you, they were watching with baited breath as the equestrians spirited around the course. And when the last to run the length in near record time made his final leap, just lightly knocking the rail loose – well the whole crowd burst out in a most terrified gasp. You would think that this sport meant something over here. Well, I'm sure it does, and it is quite interesting to watch – but really, when they prance around at the end, is that really needed? It's the equivalent of a football player's touchdown dance. And there's a reason those were banned. Don't worry though, the horse had such a lead by that point he won anyway. And there was much rejoicing.

Girls tried to run on water, locked in bubbles, more often falling on their bubble protected face than not, dogs chased sheep, BMXers biked without a front wheel, and people climbed tree trunks for fame and glory while others used them to chainsaw brilliant sculptures. Yes this truly was an exciting day at the fair, one not to be missed.

And on top of it all, there was an international visitors lounge which offered free tea, juice, cookies, internet access, a view of cow judging competitions, and most importantly – the high held three pound fifty program and map – all for free to those who had come from miles away. Were I a local and discovery I might be upset, but more than likely I'd simply throw up a fake accent, sign a fake name, and enjoy the benefits for myself: Sean Richtoff was here.

Really the only thing I thought as I faded in and out of sleep on the long bus ride home: shouldn't there have been bagpipers there?

Friday, June 26, 2009

E09: Romeo and Juliet vs The Living Dead

A fog had descended upon the streets of Edinburgh that, with wet and cold, pricked at your skin randomly like a hyperactive child who had finally convinced his parents that he was ready to learn how to sew. Against this weather there was no defense. People who walked up and down the Royal Mile carried umbrellas, apparently blissfully ignorant to the fact that they were still receiving the same awkward kisses that plagued those without. The weather came not from above, nor even from the sides, as with all manner of storms. No, tonight the weather was all around us, wrapping the city in its misguided embrace.

Needless to say, my rain jacked did nothing.

I walked the streets towards the castle, giving up, and recognizing that I would be uncomfortably moist, and now due to my rain jacket, I would also be somewhat warmer than need be. The mists made for excellent ambiance, and I envied the tourists following the man in long black coat, three point hat, cane in hand. Tonight would be a great night for a ghost walk.

The street lights diffused their way through the air, casting a glow to fall on all that surrounded. This was the kind of near-candle light that almost anyone looks good in, and just like people, cities are no different. High above, the castle pressed its way through the darkness, calling out to those below past the car parks, and the chain link fences, and the falling rock signs in place to prevent the wary from attempting to scale the side of the cliff on which the great monument was built.

Many pictures were taken, at unusable ISOs in order to trap enough light to capture the scene with some degree of accuracy.

Though there was little time, I stopped far more often than I should have to take these underexposed shots as I walked towards The Film House.

Certainly, tonight would be a good night for a ghost walk, but it would be an even better one to watch the living dead take Fair Verona under their grasp of terror in Romeo and Juliet vs The Living Dead.

Arriving at The Film House I fought through a crowd of people standing on the steps leading in. They had either just come from a show, were just going to a show, or – cameras ready – were hoping to spot the likes of Sean Connery, and other celebrities. Inside the theatre was hot and clammy – even more so than the night outside – and we would soon be told that the air conditioning was broken; we would soon be told there was nothing to be done. But that didn't matter for those of us in attendance. We were here for one reason, and one reason only: Zombies!

The festival made for an interesting punctuation in my trip. Here I was watching the world premier of a movie, the first movie, by the director. If he ever went on to do anything else, this would be a story of, “I remember back when.” And I do so like collecting stories.

The production company of Third Star films, which set the tone for me. I'm hard pressed not to love anything that alludes to Peter Pan, and Wendy Moira Angela Darling. It opened with a somewhat long poem that wanted desperately, but failed, to be a sonnet. It told of how the Montague family had been turned into Zombies by a passing comet, and how the Capulets were a most beloved family.

Many times throughout the film they played on the idea, and the line, that Juliet was, “not yet fourteen,” despite her obviously older casting. And some sections of the play were placed out of order, such as the beginning of the Queen Mab speech in the final moments of the film.

Despite the vastly divergent ending, which I shan't spoil for anyone, the film very closely followed the Shakespearean tale, as much as any tale could full of zombies, and the like. It might be worth tracking down a copy of, later in life, in order to teach it along side the original work, in order to highlight adaptation, parody, and – you know – zombies.

As the film ended the walk home began. I distinctly remember walking uphill on the way to The Film House, yet here I was clearly walking uphill home. Edinburgh can be like that, I'm noticing, despite all logic, everything was in the vague direction of up.

Passing drunken louts, and the sort, as bars closed I caught the scent of their vinegar covered chips. What better food to soak up the vestages of alcohol, in an attempt to stave off a hangover, they must have thought. It was not long before I was overcome by the strong desire for this food, and found myself in a small kitchen that served nothing but deep friend treats.

To be sure they had the usual sort such as chips, and fish, but they also had treats such as deep fried hamburgers, and for those for whom that would not be quite heart attack causing enough, deep friend beef patties surronding an inner layer of cheese.

I stuck with the chips, and a deep friend Mars Bar, thank you very much. What heaven I had never known!

Then, as the final bites were taken, it was around the corner, down the alley, and home to rest for the night, to sleep – to sleep to dream.

E09: Wherefore art thy Wifi?

At noon I rise from my bed to the sound of bagpipes blowing through the open window, a sure sign that tourists are out and about, feeding the hat of the local busker. It's so hard to tell what's genuine here, and what's not. When I see a man walking down the street in a kilt, is it because he is in actual Scottish dress, or did he just buy it from one of the man kilt shops located in the tourist sections of town? And those kilt shops – are they for locals, or are they simply for those passing through in search of something unique to take back home with them?

As I leave the apartment, remembering to lock the deadbolt with a steel key that would better hang from a nineteenth century jailers ring than my own, I head back out onto the Royal Mile. Think of this as whatever street is most populated by tourists in your town. You know the one: the street that has all number of tacky souvenir shops, kitschy museums, and overpriced food masquerading as something a local might eat, but never will. Combined with Princes street, your tour of Edinburgh's old city can both continue and end in the same location, completing a great loop.

But I was not in search of sights, or old walls, or anything remotely visual. I was on the look out for wifi access. Yes, like a great fool I walked down the street – netbook open before me – constantly refreshing the wireless networks available. Everywhere I turned there were closed and secured networks. The people in Toronto aren't nearly this safe with their wireless routers. Most of the, I imagine, don't even know they can password protect it. But here – here, every footstep brought me to a dozen new locked networks, each holding me back from the online access I so craved. Like a junkie removed far too long from his smack, I was willing to do whatever it took to get online. But no, none of these networks used their default passwords (not that, you know, I tried them.)

BTOnline networks popped up everywhere, open and waiting for me to connect – so they could forward me to an informative page telling me just how much I'd need to pay for how much time online. This was not for me! Nor, apparently, was the University of Edinburgh wifi access that blankets a large part of the city, requiring a student number and password. It's nice to see the University is so forward thinking, but... annoying nevertheless.

Finally I found what I was looking for. An open network just for me. Outside of a jewelry store, I stood uploading previously written blog entries, and a couple of photos. I tried to sit on the pavement, so as to not constantly fear dropping my netbook as I balanced it with one hand, and typed with the other. But – because the internet gods hate me, I lost the signal the moment I sat down; I stood back up, and my signal returned. I was not amused.

I continued my quest; this time an open network was not enough. I required an open network near a bench, a ledge, a fence. Something, anything, that would allow me to type with both hands at the same time.

Outside of a little bakery I found another network, and there in front of me was a rounded off concrete pole sticking up, preventing cars from running off the road and killing tourists. I sat. Now, it wasn't the most comfortable of seats, but it wasn't the worst either. I'd have to remember this place for future fixes.

There I was able to catch up on email, send messages to former co-workers (as you will remember, I am now officially unemployed so as I can take time to travel next year), and search for what will hopefully become a most important piece of information (google: free wifi hotspots in Edinburgh). The results of that search were quickly cut and pasted. Anyone ever looking for internet in a foreign city is encouraged to run the same search, with their city's name in place of Edinburgh. The only catch? You need to have already found access to access it.

Two hours later, feeling somewhat like a hack, I returned. I would watch some television (which I still maintain is a very cultural experience.) In Scotland they have not grown out of commercial jingles. You would think that the extra ten years of experience would have them the world leaders of such advertisement, but what I saw was quite distressing, reminiscent more of 1980s coffee campaigns. For dishwasher detergent the lyrics were “Trust Fairy to clean your dishes, cleans everything inside: but you can't fit your scooter in.” (a little boy then tries, and fails, to shove his muddy scooter in the dishwasher.)

It's hard to say when I became too old for mindless days full of television. Somewhere around the second year of University I believe, but after twenty minutes of antique related reality television I once more needed to jump up and leave. Anything outside would be better than people selling their wares at auction, or taking a private buyers potentially lower price. I walked to the tourist information centre.

Located at Princes Street near North Bridge this place has all number of pamphlets, maps, and souvenirs. Want a tam with long red hair coming out of it so you can prove to all your friends you'd been overseas, or to a dollar store, at any rate? This is the place. There is also fudge. Not fudge made here, that would be crazy. Still, there is fudge. Of that you can be sure. There were also some computers. I decided not to investigate the, for I already had a fantastic set up with my concrete pole, and bakery.

I would recommend all new visitors pick up one of the Edinburgh city attractions maps. Not only does it provide you with the location of all venues choosing to advertise with the map, but it also has listed public toilets. Yes, I know what you're thinking, “fantastic! Why don't all cities have these marked on maps?! Someone call Garmin, they need to update their POI section to include these.” Well good sir, or madame, I fully agree. Someone write to Garmin straight away. I just haven't the time Not when there are free The Midgie magazines to be read, informing me of festivals, fairs, and other such going on aound the city and the country.

Ohh look, in the middle of the magazine there is a pull out map of the city. And what is that marked on it? Wifi hotspots. That would have been more useful a few hours ago. Still, my ignorance provided me with a quest, and the feeling of self righteous success one receives for completing said quest. That information would have to be tested later. Especially since some of them are roofed, and I hear it rains quit a lot here.


Hunger lashes out at me. The picnic bar I ate yesterday does nothing for me today. Sure it was a delicious combination of rice crispies, chocolate, nougat, raisins, and peanuts, but even something of that caliber can't last forever. No, it was definitely time for dinner.

Before leaving for Edinburgh I did no real research on the city. I did not know where I should go, what I should do, where I should drink, or where I should eat. The only advice I had received was on the back of a yellow sticky note, which had come all this way with me. It read:

Oinks, located on Victoria street, between George IV bridge, and Grassmarket. Order the Hog roll, get it with apple sauce.

The time had come for me to investigate this oinks, as I had heard it was the best pulled pork in the world. Who was I to argue with a tiny scrap of yellow paper, or the stomach acid currently trying to burn its way through my organ lining, so as it could begin digesting me from the inside, like Ripley's chest burster?

My first view through the window of Oinks? A fully cooked pig in the window, with most of its flesh torn off and pulled into fabulous sandwich stuffers. How long would this pig have taken to cook, I asked: 9 hours, Nine hours of preparation went into the sandwich I was going to devour, bread spread with applesauce, as I had been instructed. As I bit into it, I knew pulled pork as I had never known it before.

I am a man who likes sauce. There was once a time when my fried eggs could not be seen through the pool of red ketchup covering them. My pizza is always accompanied with Cheddar Jalapeño sauce. My pulled pork, always slathered in barbeque. But here, here was a sandwich where the salty meat was complimented by the sweet sweet applesauce. Here was perfection unlike I had ever known it before. Here was a journey well worth it.

If ever in Edinburgh, by all means, I recommend that you try Oinks (famous) pulled pork. My goodness, what food it is.

After such culinary perfection I walked back home, through the gardens, where I could recuperate for the 11:00pm showing of Romeo and Juliet vs. Zombies.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

E09: Arrival

With the sun pouring through my little port window, I was roused back to the land of the living, just in time for the breakfast call. Breakfast was a small croissant with butter, and a tiny container of fruit.

The fruit proved my beliefs about cost and corner cutting to be correct. Each piece had become rotten: still I was hungry, and no other options presented themselves. As I ate each rancid cube of one time glory, I comforted myself with the fact that I might, at least, be getting some form of free alcohol due to the fermentation process that was occurring within minuscule fruit salad.

After finding The Police: Greatest Hits on the in chair multimedia centre, and listening to it, the plane touched down. There was a calm about the Edinburgh airport. Lacking was the hustle, bustle, and rush-rush-rush attitude of other ports I'd become familiar with over the years. Even more surprising, as I looked out the window to watch the baggage handlers pull our luggage, I noticed them unload, carefully, piece by piece, rather than just throwing from one pile to the next.

Customs was a breeze, and then I was out. Out and on a double decker bus (a novelty I had skipped during my trip to London) which would take me from the airport to downtown on a winding, and out of the way journey through small communities, and past movie theatres, and grocery stores. To be honest, at one pound twenty, it was very reasonably priced.

Sitting on the top level, I watched the traffic play out before me. It took me some time to realize we were driving on the left hand side. And this had nothing to do with lack of awareness. In Edinburgh, it seems from my initial observations, people don't drive on just one side of the road. They drive on whatever side they like, and often this is simply driving full tilt down the centre line, itself (the roads being far too narrow, with cars parked on either side, for anyone to pass.)

The bus stopped outside of, what will be my apartment for the next two weeks, and I climbed the stairs six storeys up. Here's the kitchen, here's the sitting room, here's the bathroom (if you want a bath you need to turn this heater on an hour and a half early so there will be hot water – shower's are ok. They'll probably burn you, actually), and here's the bed. Enjoy.

It was with a daunting solemn sigh that I discovered everyone locked their wifi networks here. Often they were locked, and given such colourful names as AFI(f*ck off!!!) Charming. The more computer literate people get, the less easy it is to – well, be me. And I don't feel like password cracking across international borders. As I said previously, international jail is the last place I'd like to end up, thank you very much.

So it is with regret that I realize that these updates will either be sporadic, at best, or all together posted later, when I return (everything two weeks out of order.)

The world went black.

The world returned to light.

Apparently my body needed four more hours of sleep, and it did not take my personal preference into consideration. You really must commend it for being so forthright. It needs to do something, and boy howdy it gets done.

Out the window bagpipe music is playing loudly, fulfilling a great stereotype. I can not see where it is coming from, however.

I have two missions now: 1. shower, 2. Learn how to wash clothing in a sink.

Both missions, I decided, could wait. First, most important, was dinner – a most delightful home cooked treat. Next, I was off wandering the city gathering my bearing, and on a mission to find some Canadian alcohol to consume on Canada Day. Canada makes some of the best beers, how hard could it be to find a pub that serves them?

Three bars – no luck. Oh sure they had beers from all over Europe, and sure they carried Mexican beer. Ohh look, it's MGD, and Bud light, and Coors light in every bar (who even drinks that stuff?) but not a Molson, Blue, or anything else for that matter, to be found.

I popped into the liquor store. Again, the same selection, with terrible American beers, but no Canadian. There were many American wines too, but none from Canada. Our Ice Wine impressed judges on the world stage, but can you buy it here? No. Four types of American Whiskey (including some already mixed with cola, in a can – gross) but no Rye. My spirits were low.

My spirits were low, that is, until I found a delightful bartender who told me about a pub down at the end of Tool Booth road called the Brew House (spelled something pompous like breuhause) about twenty minutes away. I was off, hopefully to fulfill my mission. This pub, it was said, specialized in beers from all over the world. All I had to do was head down the street, and take a left past the castle. Of course there was a castle! My goodness, what self respecting town or city doesn't have a castle these days, I ask you!

When I finally reached it I would not be disappointed. Well, not entirely. They had beer from so many countries it required a twenty page menu to keep track of them all, but when I looked at Canada, there was only one selection. Moosehead.

Look, don't get me wrong, Moosehead isn't a terrible beer – but I'd never drink it back home. I would most definitely not pay 5.50 (converted from two pound ninety) for a bottle. That's for sure. But, Canada Day is fast approaching, and it's a matter of national pride, so on Wednesday, I will return. And I will drink. As I stood there, downing my beer, all I could think was – one less beer for Canada Day. I doubt they restock all that often.

Having just paid such a seemingly silly price for a beer I don't even really like, especially when Calidonian 80 Shilling (my favorite of all beverages, adult in nature) is available everywhere as a local brew, I was pleasantly surprised to wander into a convenience store and find the most ridiculously priced cider I'd ever encountered. Sold in 2 liter bottles – the most shameful of all alcoholic containers, carrying terrible stigma and style – the sparkling liquid was a mere one pound, twenty nine p. To really wrap your head around this, you must realize that this is about two dollars, for five standard drinks. Rum in Jamaica isn't even that cheap! Naturally I bought a bottle. Let me tell you how surprised I was to discover it didn't even taste that bad.

So all in all I felt I had satisfied a number of missions, and with oversized bottle in hand, I headed home to end my night.

Clothes were washed.

Kind of.

I put detergent in a sink, and scuffed my shirt around a bit, then rinsed it. That's washing right?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

E09: YYZ -> EDI

Getting through the airport security and onto your plane can, at times, be more trouble than others. There are times when i breeze through without a single worry – and then there are times that my shaggy hair, and long beard get me in trouble. I'm not sure if today was one of those times, or if today was simply a random check, but it was not the straight through experience it could have been.

Upon arrival I was put onto a flight two hours earlier than the one I had booked. I had booked the later flight, not only because I wanted some wiggle room if I got out of bed late, but also because I wanted my stopover in America to be as short as possible. I would much rather sit on a Canadian bench reading that an American one. Not for any patriotic reason, but because I knew YYZ. I don't know Newark's airport all that well – though it can't be worse than Miami. Also – I didn't pack any American money. There will be no snacks over the, now, five hours.

As I collected my tickets I had to fill out customs cards, and “enter America.” I've often wondered, once I pass the line, am I on American soil? If I broke a law sitting in the airport, would it be under the American criminal system? I assume yes, but I'm not sure.

Do I resent having to enter America while still located near Toronto? Maybe a little. Especially when agents tell me to, “say things in American.” But we expect this, and we move on.

As I tried to explain to the agent that I was off to Edinburgh (which was a city in Scotland, and not the mid-west – no I was just in transit through the states, thank you very much) I was then made to convince him that, despite my unusual appearance, I was indeed a high school teacher. After asking me the same question in multiple different ways, no doubt trying to catch me in a lie, I was then asked about how much money I was taking with me.

I told the agent I was bringing three hundred and fifty pound. “How much is that in American?” he asked. I don't know buddy – I'm not up and up on American currency exchange rates, what with your tanking economy, your crashing dollar, and the fact that since I was still standing in the middle of Ontario, heading to Scotland, I hand't thought to research ahead. Of course, I just smiled and said, “about six hundred dollars,” but I think my point got across.

Does this agent really not know basic currency conversions? Was his shock that three hundred and fifty pound would cost six hundred dollars American genuine? Did he really not know where Edinburgh was? I assume he was just playing a role, trying to convince me to offer up information that I was actually importing drugs, or part of some nefarious plot, if he kept asking away. And who knows? Maybe some people do crack. But, as international jail is the last place I want to end up, I am always up and up.

Next was the pestering for how much food I was bringing in to the country. The conversation that followed was an odd one:

“What food are you bringing in country?”
“What type of food do you have in your bag?”
Confused, I again responded, “none.”
“You have no food with you?”
“That is correct.”

At this point the agent paused a little, looking at my bag – (look, i know I'm not a small guy, but I can go without packing a bag of potatoes in my luggage, thank you very much. To be honest, I'd have probably been more likely to have a sandwich in my carry on.)

“So then, you're saying you don't know of any food in your bag?”
Wondering where this was all going, I again said, “no.”

He motioned to the search table: “If I were to check your bag, and there was food in it, that would be as big a surprise to you, was it is to me, is that correct?”
“That is correct.”

With that last comment he looked upset, and then looked away. “You can go.”

And off I went. I had no idea what had just happened. Was the food question just pretense to search my bag for drugs? And if so, why didn't he search my bag? Why was the food issue so consuming? How many times did he expect to ask before I would trip up, had I been carrying any? What type of people lie about having food in their bag, and what type of magic food to people often export from Canada into America? I would like to know what event just transpired, but I accepted I'd probably never know.

Depositing my bag on a moving belt, I went to my gate where the plane was waiting, boarded it, and then quickly found myself up in the air, only to come down in Newark an hour later – where I would wait for five hours to board the second flight: Famiglia Pizza taunting me, and tempting me, located no more than twenty meters from my seat at gate 134B.

At six twenty I notice that something is afoot when the L.E.D. lights at the gate illuminate. The departure city of Edinburgh doesn't alarm me. In fact, I'm almost comforted, until I see the departure time listed as ten o'clock. I check my ticket, I'm at the right gate. I check my flight number. It is different. Of course there was a gate change. Of course no one played an announcement about it. Why would they? What a silly idea that would be. And, of course, the gate that I'm directed towards is at the complete other end of terminal C.

As I pass the various bookstores, on my pilgrimage to my new gate of departure, I look for the latest issue of Wanderlust magazine, without success. In Scotland I should be able to get the latest issue, but due to importing, and such, that would be two issues beyond the one I currently have. It's like looking into the future, or – living in the past. I think I'll favour my first assumption.

Now, instead of New York's favourite pizza, I am tempted by a giant statue of Ronald McDonald crashing through a wall – and all the delicious, yet terrible, foods that comes with such a sculpture.

One hour to go.

A sense of dread formed in the pit of my stomach when we were all called up to check in with the flight staff. While waiting in line, I noticed that we had a delay of nine minutes posted. I've travelled too many times to be fooled by this. Once a delay is posted it means all hell is about to break loose. I've watched twenty minutes become eight hours, become ten hours delayed in the past.

Now, as the announcement plays about the “at least thirty minutes” flight delays due to maintenance problems I wonder just how long I'll be waiting. The words at least do not fill me with confidence. The words maintenance problems? They are potentially even more distressing.

Two hours and twenty minutes later than scheduled, problems were solved, logbooks were signed, and we were up in the air.

Continental is not an airline I would recommend, and I tell you why. Drinks (I'm referring to adult beverages here, of course) were not free. You could buy one for five dollars American, or four pounds. Aside from the terrible exchange rate, I have problems with airlines that don't comp drinks on ocean crossing flights. If they are willing to cut corners there, what other aspects of your flying experience are they willing to sacrifice? It could be said that because they are charging for drinks they have funds to improve other aspects, but I've never seen the logic play out that way in the past.

Somewhere in the middle of Bourne Supremacy I passed out.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Powering Up on the Road

This is one of the most troubling things to do. You have a laptop, a camera, a battery charger, an MP3 player, and who knows what else. You need to juice up all these items, but you're in a hotel that only has one socket. Sure, you could lug around a powerbar all trip, but really that is one heavy device.

But what other option do you have? Well you could buy one of those adapters that turns two sockets into six. But in this situation you only have one outlet. And even still, say you had two outlets, you may find yourself outside of your home country, where you need to use a plug adapter, and then you're down to one outlet anyway.

Worst case scenario, and also the most likely for thrifty travellers like me, you will find yourself at a hostel and all number of other people are monopolizing the electrical outlets. There is an option available to you.

Note the picture above: This is called the socket squid. I have known about this product for some time, and have been on the look out for it, however I have always found my searches end in failure. I'm sure that it has many other names as well - but I am not aware of them.

I would highly recommend one of these for any travel, the simple reason that you can use any type of device, no matter how obnoxiously large the plug (with its own power converter) may be. Laptops? Cameras? No problem! The flexibility of this guy is great. And look at all those outlets. Best of all, you can get them with shorter cords, which makes this a highly compact, light weight, power option. And best of all? If someone at the hostel is using the outlet, just unplug him, plug this in, and reattach. Hey, he may even have more devices he needs to power, and you've just helped him out! There cooked be snacks and cookies in it for you.

So, as I said, this is a highly recommended product. Just one problem: I have no idea where to buy it!

If you have seen this for sale on the internet, or in a store, please let me know. I'd be most appreciative.

Top 10 Things to Do in Edinburgh (or so I'm told...)

There is a lack of Top Ten things to do in Edinburgh. So here, I present you with the Top 10 things [the internet has told me] to do in Edinburgh. [Note: Also see my Edinburgh Personal Top 10 List.]

The Top Ten List
  1. Visit Edinburgh Castle
  2. Take in a Festival
  3. Enjoy Historic Scotland
  4. Take a Free Tour
  5. Take a Ten Pound Ghost Tour
  6. The Scotch Whiskey Experience
  7. Get Yourself Cultured
  8. Look up a Kilt
  9. National Portrait Gallery
  10. Leave Edinburgh

Before we go to far, I'll just add this youtube video, and let you watch it. I want you to press play and really focus on what they're suggesting, because there will be a debriefing afterward.

So did you catch it? Did you see what they suggested were the best things to do in all of Edinburgh? Eating and drinking! That's is. That's all there is. You eat, and you drink. And you leave Edinburgh! Ohh, you've had some food, and you've had some beer - well that's great. Now it's time to go and see the castles, and climb hills, and take pictures, and - so help me, but one of them actually said - get out of Edinburgh! This is not filling me with confidence. Luckily, I am not the type of person to be led astray by one video made by who knows whom.

I will reload, double back, and get my nose to the grind stone. That, and I will also start playing an MP3 play list with the 19 songs I saw the Police play a year and a half ago at the Air Canada Centre. This will fill me with energy, I'm sure. The Police were a band I knew nothing about, and didn't think I would like all that much, before deciding to drop silly amounts of money on concert tickets, just to try it out. As it played out, I found it one of my favourite shows of all time (see the potential connection to my Edinburgh journey here? High hopes!)

The list of things to do... [in no particular order]

1. Visit Edinburgh Castle

This is the one thing that all the internet seems to agree upon. Apparently it's beautiful, and fantastic, and wonderful, and my goodness if you miss this castle, then why did you even bother coming in the first place? Wikipedia can tell you even more!

(Police subnote: the song Synchronicity II just mentioned a Dark Scottish Loch so I feel that this is even more of a fantastic sign.)

2. Take in a Festival
This isn't very helpful, as who knows when festivals might be happening, right? Wrong! The internet, my friends, is your most useful of all tools. And here I happen to be with just the link for you! As it turns out, I will be there during the Edinburgh Film Festival, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I just bought tickets to watch Romeo and Juliet vs. Zombies! Things are looking up - some say tomorrow's another day, you say I may as well play.

3. Enjoy Historic Scotland
The government's website lists many things to do in and around Edinburgh. Not only that, but it also comes with a handy interactive map that will show you exactly where everything is located. The incredible amount of information located here is - well - incredible. This is definately the first place to check out when trying to find the hotspots.

4. Take a Free Tour
I am not sure why this group offers free tours of Edinburgh, and am somewhat convinced there may be a scam involved. It seems that free three hours tours meet at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm everyday infront of the Starbucks by the Tron Kirk on High Street. I am hoping it is legit, and that they just try to convince you to take other tours with them that cost money.

5. Take the £10 Ghost Tour
This may seem like a cop-out, as it's put on by the same fine folks that have the free tour listed above. But, lets be honest - if they give free tours, the pay tours must be fantastic. And this one includes a free pint of beer, so who can complain? Am I right? But - why I put this on the list is that I'm told that Edinburgh Ghost Tours really are fantastic, and if you don't trust this group, then just search for some of your own.

(Police subnote: Don't Stand so Close is not an accurate representation of your average teacher. Teachers, by all means, keep your students away from your warm dry cars. You'd not want to find yourself in the Blue Pages.)

6. The Scotch Whiskey Experience
I really don't think I need to expand on this. This one really speaks for itself, and if you enjoy adult beverages, then off you go. It does cost 11 pounds, on the off chance that you're wondering. But really - would you rather see a museum, or embrace the Scotch Whiskey Experience? EXPERIENCE! That's how you know you need to see it. How many Experiences have you embraced?

7. Get Yourself Cultured
So you're not much for the Experience huh? But you do like some culture? Well good - me too. And I'll point you right towards it. There are all number of monuments, and museums, and other such delightful things in the city of Edinburgh. Don't let the terrible web design of this site throw you off, the information is quite useful.

8. Look up a Kilt
Look, I don't know how much I Think this is a good idea, but the internet really seems to be pushing it as a viable option. And who am I to argue with the internet? Why, the internet brought us The Game, and Lolcats, and other terrible things. Am I really so powerful that I think I can argue with something on this caliber? So - take heed, take peek, take off running! (I just used a literary device known as asyndeton there - impressed, aren't you?)

(Police subnote: Every little thing she does is magic - and she just happens to be working at item 9)

9. National Portrait Gallery
Now, the thing about the National Portrait Gallery is that it is currently being refurbished, so this isn't the most useful link. But it will re-open in late 2011, so look at your calendar. Is it then, or after then? If so, by all means go and check it out. It will focus on Scottish art. Now if this really did sound fantastic - don't worry, because there are many other galleries in Scotland. Check them out as well.

10.Leave Edinburgh
Look, I said that I'd just be telling you random things the internet ordered me to do, and it seems that I just can not avoid being ordered to leave the city. And you know what, I will be doing just that. Personally, I will be embarking on the three day Haggis Tours Skye High trip. For only 99 pounds you can take yourself on a cross country expedition and see just what the country has to offer. Honestly, the one thing I keep hearing when I mention I'm headed to Edinburgh is how beautiful the country is. How could I pass up a perfect chance to truly experience that country?

(Police subnote: De do do do, De da da da!)

So there we have it ladies, gentlemen, and those who choose to associate as neither. A list of ten things to do in Edinburgh (kind of.) I'll be reporting back on these in the future - explaining my success, and my failures, and how much I'd really advise them having experienced them for myself. Keep your eyes peeled.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Onward to Edinburgh

Edinburgh, Scotland. Population, 470 000, give or take a handfull here, or a handful there. As far as Scottish cities go, it's right up there, trailling Glasgow by a hundred thousand. Still, half a million people, that's pretty respectable right? And people have heard the name Edinburgh so that has to count for something.

"Where are you going? Ohh... Calagary - I've heard of that." That's how you know Calgary is a worthwhile city to see, for a few days. "Where are you going? Caronport... I've never heard of that place." That's how you know, you can probably skip Caronport - much better to hit up Moose Jaw (never mind that few people have probably heard of that place either. But, I tell you what, they have some lovely tunnels under the city and great doughnuts at the local grocery store.)

After that somewhat ridiculous deviation, I'll get back to my point: Edinburgh, people know that place. It must be for a reason. There must be some fantastic things to do there. And yet, I find myself somewhat disillusioned by the fact that my flight there is potentially the most expensive flight I will ever pay for. It was hundreds of dollars more than a flight to London, far more expensive than flying into Egypt, more expensive than my flight to Tokyo, and - really this just hurts inside - I could have flown to Australia for less.

This has me thinking, there are no direct flights. This means that no one in Ontario wants to go to Edinburgh. Nobody in this fine province is saying, "yes, this is the place we should go to. Flights here need to exist." There is none of that, just people sidestepping the whole place.

Now - were there other aside from a ridiculously overpriced flight? Sure there were -

Option One: I could have saved two hundred dollars by flying to London, and then taking a discount flight on one of those lovely tiny no flash airlines. But, the downside is that you might not be able to book a flight right when you get into London. Sometimes you'll get it right away, and other times you will have to wait upwards of twenty four hours. To some this is the thing to do. To me, my time is limited.

Option Two: I could have taken a train from London all the way out to Edinburgh. This would have saved me even more money, but the train ride is eight hours. Again, for some people this is definitely the thing to do (and I would consider it if I could get on a night train - because that would just be fantastic! But, I could find no flights to accommodate that.)

So, with those two options nixed, it was just time to bite the bullet, order my tickets with a click click click, and be done with it.

Now, it was just about finding things to do once there. Certainly there would be pleanty of websites out there telling me great things to do in Edinburgh. Wait, what? You mean there are not.

Again, I am at a loss. Do people really not go there? What am I doing going there? Am I making a terrible terrible mistake? Time will tell!

I hope to rectify the absence of concise Edinburgh information by making two posts of things to do there - one compiling the best resources I've found, and the other once I get back, and can speak from personal experience.

Keep reading for a plethora of Scottish tales, insights, and information. And if you have any tips, please feel free to drop me a comment below, or an e.mail above!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Pressing forward

So that was a whole lot of posts about Anime North. A long time was clearly spent on that. And why, some of you might ask, would a travel blog spend so much time on it? There are a number of reasons:

1. I like to highlight things in Toronto (mind you, this meant skipping most of Luminato, which is happening right now, or rather just ended yesterday. The highlight of which was failing to break the guitar world record. Google it.

2. I have been thinking of a number of festivals I'd like to travel and see. There are a number of Music Festivals in Europe that I'm going to look into, and film festivals. (It just so happens that June 26th, I will be in Edinburgh for their film festival, where I will watch Romeo and Juliet v.s. Zombies.)

3. It was, indeed, filler. For those of you that have been following my twitter (@tokyomike3) you will realize that I have been trapped in the June joys of getting final marks ready, and marking exams. This is no easy task. Picture - if you will - six classes (mind you, I only have five that had exams) with about 25 - 30 students each. Each student writes their exam, which in English is essay based. Each exam takes a good 20 minutes to an hour to mark (some classes are shorter than others.) You do the math.

But, fear not - that is behind us... And I am almost finished with my exam marking. In another week that will be complete. Also - in another week, I fly off to Edinburgh, where (provided I can pick up a wifi signal somewhere) there will me more live updates of my journey on the road.

I will be in Scotland from June 25 - July 8. If anyone has any suggestions, favourite restaurants, things to do, etc. around Edinburgh, by all means - please let me know!

Anime North 2009: Chapter 7

After another night of sleeping between car, video screening room, and table I was ready to take on the final moments of Anime North. The Sunday is a bitter sweet time for most people. It is the culmination of a weekend that few are likely to forget, however it is also the final moments of something that will be hard to recapture, and hard to ever explain to those not present.

Like a leadership conference, or all you can eat pancakes devoured from four aye em to six, while the sun rises beyond the wall length windows of a campy retro diner, connections were formed that should not have otherwise existed. Or perhaps, connections that should have always existed, but were prevented by the walls of social conventions, and polite society.

Beside me a girl dressed as a maid is roused from her slumber. Her dream, much like this brief moment in time, has come to an end. But it does not mean that she will sleep no more. Next year the convention will come again, and for three more days – a mere oh point eight percent of the year - the lucid hallucination will return.

Phone numbers are exchanged between costumed critters, with many knowing that they will never be used. Who they are in these moments is not who they will be weeks later.

Gone is the living internet – gone is the unquestioned friendship and kindness. Social barriers return as people walk to the parking lot, giant swords trailing. Creates of manga are loaded into van back hatches. Doors are slammed. Ceremonies mark the end.

And just like that, the hotel returns to normal – the new bride no longer has to wonder if she choose incorrectly in booking this hotel for her honeymoon. The poolside is free of cat girls, and monsters, and early-teen waifs.

The dream has ended; we’ve all lost the game.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Anime North 2009: Chapter 6

Where does Super Mario make out with Princess Zelda, before being punched in the face by Naruto? Where does a big blue tiger from Monster Rancher cross swords with Sepiroth? Where does Sonic the Hedgehog – well lets not get ahead of ourselves, no one really likes Sonic the Hedgehog… and to be honest, the fewer furries, the better.

So where is it that all these things can be seen? Why at Anime North’s Masquerade! Yes the masquerade is where people who enjoy the fine art of Cosplay can show off all their hard work, and enact a dramatic scene as well.

Seventy six entries: that’s how many scenes there were at Anime North’s 2009 costume masquerade. Each entry was about one minute in length, but there was also a minute between each entry for set up, and introductions. At the end of it all, the even probably ran three hours.

Three hours in a dark full room smelling of Otaku. Now, far be it for me to complain – I slept in a car. And now that I really think about it, when I was on the grey hound for three days straight from Vancouver to Toronto back in 2006, how good could I have possibly smelled then? But – that was different – it didn’t bother me!

By the fifth or sixth act, I knew I was in for the long haul, and I knew that it was probably going to get a lot worse before it got any better. At this point there was only one thing left to do: pictochat!

The free software that accompanies the Nintendo DS is, for the most part, completely useless. Where would you ever find yourself with other people who have their own Nintendo DS ready to pictochat? Nowhere – save for nerd conventions such as Anime North. Within seconds the Masquerade took on a different tone, as the chatroom started to flood full of people, each also bored, but with nowhere better to go.

Was the skit on stage terrible? Well you better be sure that people on pictochat were complaining about it, mocking it, or trying to support it against all odds. It was no different than any other internet chatroom. And at one point, some people grew bold slinging traditional insults and personal attacks that would be found on any message board. There is, however, one big difference between pictochat and truly anonymous chat servers, and the difference is this: When I really want to, I can look around the room, and start to identify who is whom.

Ahh – that person insulting my mother? That’s the boy in the back in the green shirt. And that guy insulting the girl up from for being bisexual, he’s over there in the yellow. As I started to point out who specific people were, it was amazing how quickly the tone of the room changed.

Pictochat: It’s like the magical world we’ve always dreamed of – a chat room, where you really can walk over and punch the person in the face when they become, shall we say, off colour.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Anime North 2009: Chapter 5

It’s eigh o’clock in the morning, and I’m stairing at my bottle of pre-mixed brain juice. Mmm Orange flavoured. Every time there is a lull in the excitement, or boredom starts to creep around the corner from its insidious home within the yuri/yoai pavilion I have another sip. It makes me smarter, more energized, ready to take on the day!

By nine forty five my bottle is half empty. Text messages are sent out to that effect, and what they state terrifies all who receive them. It turns out that I had made my way to a part of Anime North known as Doll North, where – for the last hour – I had been sitting listening to a nurse lead a panel on how to discover your dolls true personality.

Ahh yes, I am in the world of BJDs (that’s Ball Joint Dolls for the uninitiated.) These are dolls which require their own special clothing, tailored exactly to fit. These are dolls that require careful purchasing, and selection. Each company makes its own style of faces, but once you’ve chosen that you must get the right colour hair, and then style it ever so perfectly. Things do not stop there either, for there are a variety of eyes (though the old ones must be removed with pins and hair dryers – that much I picked up from my clouded state of “way too early to be up.”) Even still, once all of that has been selected, and your doll has its head firmly on its shoulders, you must create a proper face-up.

Yes, I was learning new words and concepts! New words like face-up. What is a face-up one might ask? Well were one to pose so foolish a question, I would be forced to answer. Face-up is the doll version of Make-up. Once you’ve selected everything else, you need to paint its face to make it beautiful, not until a six year old girl who just received (some might say too early in life – others too late) her very own make-up kit.

I don’t know much about this part of doll ownership, you see I wasn’t there the day before for the hour long face-up panel. No, this panel I was at was mostly, as I stated, about discovering your dolls true personality.

You may, I am told, have wanted a nice kind doll. But its true personality might be jumping out at you, proving itself to be an angry doll, jealous of your others. It may actually be a very timid doll, terrified and afraid.

This nurse led us through a number of psychological profiles, and texts – basically giving us insight into the world of human psychology. Those in attendance then smiled and nodded, looking at their own dolls – brought along for a delightful romp through Anime North – and seemed to understand something. Perhaps I was witnessing a paradigm shift?

Truly, I was witnessing something.

As I looked around, I noticed that I was one of the only two males in the room. The other was an unfortunate sixteen year old sitting right behind me. He too had no doll of his own. Unlike myself, who was somewhat interested in all this, he seemed to be there for one reason, and one reason only – he knew eventually the panel would end. And then his girlfriend would leave said panel. And perhaps, just perhaps, he’d manage to sway her towards the elevators, back to their room, for something more delightful than Psychology 101.

I felt for this kid, I really did. It was as if every fiber in his being said, “if I can just make it through this – and I can just see past this aspect of her, my girlfriend is great!” It was like watching a girl hope that her boyfriend would change from jerk to sweetheart over night – except slightly less depressing, and a lot more humerous.

Every time the girl stood up, she would pass the doll to her boyfriend, and start to walk away to ask questions – but then she would stop, look back, and make sure it was held properly. If not held as gently as a baby, who knows what long lasting psychological effects might occur for the doll?

Heaven forbid this oafish boyfriend of hers upset the doll. Perhaps it’s not the sweetheart she thought it was; accidents might happen. After all…

One never can tell a doll’s true personality.

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