The Vagabond Guide to the Edinburgh Festivals

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Photo Credit: -LucaM- Photography via creative commons

It’s early August, and in only a few days time you won’t be able to walk down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for people breathing fire, pretending to be robots or juggling battle axes. Attempt to escape the crowds into a park, and you might stumble into an open air opera or a leading author reading from their latest work.

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Photo Credit: Yopizza via creative commons

August in Edinburgh is a perfect storm of Festivals, as events celebrating music, dance, literature, arts, and performance of all kinds spring up across the city. As well as the International Festival, Art Festival and Book Festival, you’ve got the world-famous Festival Fringe and the Military Tattoo. And at the end of the month Edinburgh Mela rounds everything off. It’s the best time to be there (having lived in Edinburgh for a couple of years, there’s a sense of excitement that spreads across the city like when you’re putting up the Christmas decorations at home), but it can also be the WORST time to visit. These are my tips for how to enjoy Edinburgh during the festivals (and save a bit of cash at the same time).

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Photo Credit: Canadian Pacific via creative commons
Book the big shows in advance.

If there’s something that you’re desperate to see, that would really spoil your holiday if you didn’t, don’t risk missing out. Big names and unique opportunities can sell out super quickly. However, you have the slim chance of picking up a last-minute ticket on the door, so don’t rule out your chances completely.

Don’t over commit to culture.

With more than 250 venues spread across the city and over 250,000 visitors (plus the odd local or two) making their way between them all, the festival can be EXHAUSTING. Be sure to leave plenty of time in your plans to get from A to B, check out some street performances, and perhaps to just sit back and enjoy the buzz for a bit.

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Photo Credit: Slainte74 via creative commons
Head to the Half-Price Hut.

The Virgin Money Half-Price Hut on the Mound Precinct (near the National Gallery) has a selection of tickets for events on-the-day or the following morning, with an appealing 50% discount on the usual price.

Festival freebies.

A real highlight (especially for a canny Scot like myself) was Fringe Sunday on the Meadows, a free showcase of Fringe performances. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened for few years due to a lack of sponsors, but there are still hundreds of free events to be found in the programme, including the Free Festival and many of the BBC events.

Work it, baby.

Possibly a bit late for this year’s events, but one way to experience the Edinburgh Festivals on the cheap is to get a job. There are plenty of adverts for unpaid street promotion work in return for tickets, and even the odd paid opportunity to be found on edinburghfestivaljobs.com.

Get some breathing space.

Don’t forget that there’s a whole glorious city to explore away from the Festival events. Take a break to climb Calton Hill, chill out among the flowers in the Botanic Gardens, stroll round the Shore in Leith, or visit the oldest pub in Scotland, the Sheep Heid Inn by Duddingston Loch.

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Photo Credit: raphael.chekroun via creative commons

12 Days of Christmas #11: The Night of the Radishes

I’m writing this from the half-way stop on our epic trek home to my parents house for the Christmas holiday.  In the morning we’ll have to drive north for another four hours or so, depending on the wind and snow, and whether roads stay open.

Welcome to Oaxaca! Image from mexconnect.com

Before we all get overwhelmed by Christmas celebrations, I have to mention a fantastic festival I discovered that takes place every 23rd of December, in Oaxaca City, Mexico. Tonight is the Night of the Radishes, Noche de Rábanos, (not the title of a low budget horror film) a festival which attracts thousands of people each year, often spilling over onto Christmas eve and Christmas day.

Celebrations often include a float parade, street parties, firework displays and musical performances. The centrepiece of the event is an exhibition of sculptures crafted from specially-grown radishes.

You might be forgiven for thinking that a radish is far too tiny to carve, but these giants are left in the ground for months after the harvest, continuing to grow until they reach sizes of up to half a metre long and up to 3kg in weight, contorted into weird and wonderful shapes. Sculptors carve the vegetables into human figures, nativity scenes, dioramas of folktales, and scale models of real buildings and compete for a grand prize worth thousands of Pesos

Christmas isn’t Christmas without some skeletons carved from root vegetables. Image from soiledandseeded.com

12 Days of Christmas #10: Christmas Feasting

Sprouts. Spoiling Christmas since 1700 or something. Image from goodtoknow.co.uk

There’s less than 3 days left to Christmas, I hope you’ve got the brussel sprouts on to boil.  No?  Never mind, leave it a day or so and you can get them started for next year, so the old festive joke about soggy, bitter sprouts goes.

But love them or loathe them, are brussel sprouts really an essential part of a Christmas dinner?  Or are they punishment for being naughty over the rest of the year?  I’m a definite believer in the latter, so tonight’s post is all about some tasty alternatives from around the world; things that I’d much rather see served up on the table than soggy sprouts and dry, bland turkey, followed by stodgy Christmas pudding with sickly-sweet brandy sauce. Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas #8: The Sausage Swiper

I started this series of posts after reading about a Santa Claus-like figure found in Tajikistan, and discovered that the tradition of mysterious Christmas visitors is quite widespread.  Some are animals, most bring gifts, but some are just out to cause trouble.  For instance, tonight homes in Iceland are due to be visited by Bjúgnakrækir, the Sausage Swiper, who hides in the rafters of homes and steals sausages hung for smoking over the next 13 nights.

Two of the Yule Lads, making mischief.  Image from metro.co.uk

Bjúgnakrækir is one of the 13 Icelandic Yule Lads (jólasveinarnir), who leave their rocky mountain home from the 13th of December and creep down into the towns and villages.  Each night a new lad arrives, playing pranks and causing trouble for homeowners, until they return to the mountains.  Icelandic children put a shoe on their bedroom window-ledge for each of the 13days leading up to Christmas day, hoping for a treat.  Depending on their behaviour through the year, they might be rewarded with sweets and cakes or tricked with a rotten potato.

Apparently the Yule Lads were once a lot less benign, but they have been mellowed over the years to become harmless tricksters.  Each Lad has his own distinctive character, inspired by the types of pranks he likes to play.  The Sausage Swiper is my favourite, and there is also Hurðaskellir, the Door Slammer, who wakes people on 18th December with slamming doors and stomping feet, and Þvörusleikir, the Spoon Licker, who pinches food from mixing bowls.

12 Days of Christmas #5: Oh Christmas Tree!

IMG_2204Things are becoming considerably more festive at home now.  This afternoon I picked up a Christmas tree from a nearby Country Park, then dug out the fairy lights and decorations from the loft.  Now I’m sitting next to a twinkling, sparkly masterpiece (albeit sitting in a wastepaper bin held down with my diving weight belt), and picking pine needles out of my socks. Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas #4: The Christmas Star Scandal

This morning I read a report about a very festive extortion scam happening in Italy.  Four alleged mafiosi have been arrested in Naples, charged with forcing shop owners to buy poinsettias for more than 100times the wholesale price.

The gangsters had been demanding as much as 100 Euros (£85) per plant for the past few years.  Police said that business owners refusing the “special offer” had their shops vandalised and stock stolen or damaged.

Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas #3: Have you met the Yule Goat?

Thinking about animals associated with this time of year, and there’s a few contenders that might pop into your head.  Reindeer most likely, red noses or not; a donkey, the stable (hohoho!) of a school nativity play, not to mention the camels of the Wise Men; sometimes even penguins and polar bears appear in festive displays.  And who can resist this compilation of cute creatures wearing Santa hats from the Top 10 of Everything?

Too cute to even quantify.

But did you know about the Yule Goat?  Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas #2: Dreaming of a White Christmas?

It’s been a busy day today, but I’ still no further along with my Christmas preparations.  This morning I joined a volunteer group that my boyfriend manages for their winter conservation task.  While they got stuck into coppicing, I built a fire and cooked jacket potatoes for everyone.  Then this evening I went to work, helping out at Glow in the Park, a night run event at Eton Dorney.

Standing in the dark at the finish line, in the wind and rain, I started thinking about white Christmases. Continue reading

12 Days of Christmas #1: ‘Zat You, Santa Claus?

With 12 days to go until Christmas, I’m still not feeling particularly festive.  I’ve yet to put any decorations, gifts for family and friends still only exist on a list written on a scrap of paper, and today was a grey, rainy day.  I’ve been quite preoccupied, with a job interview this morning, and only now, sitting with a glass of wine in front of the television, that I’ve realised just how close it is!  So over the next 12 days, I thought I’d find out what people in other parts of the world do at Christmas time, whilst I catch up with my preparations. Continue reading