A Travellerspoint blog

A big day out

It started with a five-star castle, and finished with a five-star show

sunny 16 °C

On Wednesday, I got up early in order to beat the crowds. In a further attempt to avoid the crowd, I booked my Edinburgh Castle ticket in advance online, a move that worked very well. When I left, there must have been at least a few hundred people queuing for tickets.

The queue for the Castle (it actually snakes out of the gates further to the right, and keeps going, and going)

The queue for the Castle (it actually snakes out of the gates further to the right, and keeps going, and going)

The Castle sits on a huge rock, so even its foundations are well above the rest of the city. A perfect defensive stronghold, and for tourists, it is one of many spots that affords a brilliant view of the city. On a bright, sunny morning like this one, you can clearly see across the Firth of Forth into Fife and beyond.

The_view_f.._Castle.jpgThe view of Calton Hill from the Castle

The view of Calton Hill from the Castle

The view of the New Town from the Castle

The view of the New Town from the Castle

I joined a tour, and Colin, our guide, spoke slowly so that we could understand his accent. He told us about the Castle’s history, and the Scottish kings and queens who have lived there, and the (relatively few) attacks on the fortress. Also sitting within the Castle grounds is the oldest building in Scotland, St. Margaret’s Chapel, dating back to the 12th or 13th Century, I think; the present military barracks; the National War Memorial; an exhibition housing the Scottish crown jewels; an ex-prisoner of war complex; multiple decorative cannons; and of course, two gift shops.

The_Castle_grounds.jpgOne of the magnificent fireplaces in the house where King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) was born

One of the magnificent fireplaces in the house where King James I of England (King James VI of Scotland) was born

My attempt at artistic photography

My attempt at artistic photography

There’s also the National Museum of War, which gives an insight into Scottish battles against the English and also Scottish battles with the English, against a common enemy. I learnt, for example, that in 1707, the Scots became allies with the English, to give the Scottish protection, and also so that the English wouldn’t have to worry about the pesky Celts from over the border trying to invade again.

The War Memorial

The War Memorial

Stained glass representation of William Wallace, Scottish freedom fighter, in St. Margaret's Chapel

Stained glass representation of William Wallace, Scottish freedom fighter, in St. Margaret's Chapel


The_town_b.._castle.jpg

I walked down the hill and did the length of the Royal Mile, which is really the hub of the Festival. You’ll find everything there: street performers, bustling cafés, shopkeepers spruiking their products, and hundreds of people handing out fliers to people who might look like they might want to go to a show. Clearly I wasn’t a part of many target markets – I can remember a number of occasions when the person in front of me would get a flier, but the advertiser would look straight past me.

For what it’s worth, I accepted any flier offered to me with a smile, out of politeness, mostly, but they also made interesting reading material if nothing else. I also noticed that if other advertisers saw you take a competitor’s pamphlet, they’d rush to you like Brits to a queue, as if to say ‘you’re obviously looking for a show, but don’t see that one, this one’s much better’.

Looking up High Street (the Royal Mile)

Looking up High Street (the Royal Mile)

I then ventured out to another tourist attraction, this one slightly out of the city centre in Leith. Leith is a port, originally a city in its own right, but swallowed up by Edinburgh in the 1920s. I was off to the Royal Yacht Brittania, the vessel used by the royals for holidays until 1997. I hadn’t really done my research, and so didn’t realise that there’d be such a ‘royal family’ slant, and given my complete lack of interest in anything to do with those irrelevant, useless, out of touch inbreds, I wouldn’t have gone if I had.

The_Royal_Yacht.jpgThe Sitting Room

The Sitting Room

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

While interesting in its own way, it was slightly weird to see the level of deference towards the family, and the Queen particularly. I mean, they were saying that she had quite a difficult job with all the papers she had to go through, and they were trumpeting her choice of modest fittings, but jeez, she didn’t exactly have it bad, either. While the sailors slept in tiny bunks, and kept all their belongings in even smaller lockers, the royals had huge rooms to themselves, with a large private deck. This deck was scrubbed daily, and if a sailor saw a royal in this area, he would have to stand entirely still, looking straight ahead, until they had passed.

The chefs were flown out from Buckingham Palace, all of the silver was polished each day, regardless of whether it had been used or not, and the dining table took three hours to set, because rulers and other measuring instruments had to be used to ensure the spacing between knife and spoon was exactly right. Perhaps a bit excessive, but at least the royal family have worked hard throughout their lives, contributed a great deal to society, and deserve to be revered and fussed over.

Actually, hang on, what have they done again? Anything? Anything at all? Major contributions to society? Come on, someone must have an answer. No? Nothing? Absolutely nothing? Are you sure? Oh.

I caught the bus into town, and had a bit of a look around the New Town. Like its name suggests, the New Town is newer than the Old Town, and was built in the 18th Century to alleviate overcrowding in the city (the rich moved here to get away from the poor, essentially). Unlike the Old Town, it was meticulously planned, with parallel streets forming a mostly grid-like system, churches in strategic locations and plenty of green space, but it’s a bit hard to get a grasp of that from the ground, so after a bit of a walk I went home.

I had tickets to two shows in the evening, and was looking forward to both. The first, unfortunately, left me a little disappointed. Two young Melburnians again, exploring racial tension, and white man’s fear of Islam – it sounds interesting, and it was, but I didn’t think the delivery was quite there, and while there were quite a few witty and perceptive insights, the jokes generally fell flat. To be fair to the performers, the audience wasn’t great, either. Two and a half stars.

The second show was incredible, though. After a quick dinner, and a bit of a rush to find the venue, I joined the long queue and only managed to get in the back row to see the wonderfully (and accurately) titled ‘The Boy With Tape On His Face’.

I’d imagine comedy is hard enough with the ability to talk, and surely, by removing the ability to talk, you just make it harder. But this was an hour (it seemed a lot shorter than an hour) of brilliant physical comedy, and it had the audience in stitches all the way until the standing ovation. Definitely the first comedy show I’ve been to that received one of those. If he comes back to Melbourne in 2012, and he should given he's a Kiwi, don’t miss out. Five stars.

I went for a drink afterwards with Miles from Plymouth – we’d sat next to each other at Dave Gorman, had both been at Alex Horne, and sat next to each other again at the latest show, a ridiculous coincidence given the sheer number of acts. We discussed comedy, the fringe, good shows to see, cricket (of course) and listened to The Cat Empire as it played on the speakers of the Bistro Square Garden. More Melbourne acts going global.

Posted by sammyhez 23:52 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged edinburgh Comments (0)

Heading north to Sco'lund

A long train trip to Edinburgh

rain 16 °C

Monday morning, and I was off bright and early to go to Edinburgh, where I’d planned my next mini-trip within the UK. The train trip went via Crewe and Lancaster, and I spent the final four hours standing, as it seemed that every Briton was heading up to Edinburgh for the festival. The journey took nearly nine hours door to door.

My door in Edinburgh was the Pollock Halls of Residence, at the University of Edinburgh, a bit out of town by Holyrood Park. The walk from the train station to the Halls was difficult, partly because of the large rucksack on my back but also because of the crowd – perhaps everyone in Britain was in the city. On a sunny afternoon, though, crowd or no crowd, it’s a beautiful city, with a huge castle on a 340 million year old volcano, and the imposing Arthur’s Seat looming over the Old Town. And that’s not even mentioning the grand architecture (well, it is now).

The view from my window

The view from my window

I didn’t have long to settle in and have something to eat before I was off to my first appointment. After a long queue, my first gig of the ‘Fest’ was Dave Gorman, prominent British comedian who hasn’t really made it big in Australia but is nonetheless very funny. His ‘PowerPoint Presentation’ included a spot on how people think he’s Jewish, when he’s not, with even a Jewish magazine making the assumption and listing him as one of their ‘top 25 literary Jews’, ahead of a Nobel Prize winner. Four stars.

My second and final show of the night was slightly lower key, with only sixty or seventy people compared to Gorman’s 500. It was Melburnians comedy musical duo ‘Anyone for Tennis?’, and the crowd were noticeably younger. Why did I travel all the way to Edinburgh to see a Melbourne act, you may ask. I’d normally tell you to mind your own business, but given that ‘you’ is, in this case, hypothetical, I feel bad being snappy with someone who doesn’t exist. It’s just that the timing worked out, really. And I wanted to see them, having seen them do a brief set in a kids’ show once.

They, too, were very funny. When a band tells you that they "hope this won’t be the best night of your life, because, let’s face it, it’s just a comedy gig, and if that’s the best night of your life then you’ve probably had a rather unfulfilling life", you know you’re in for a good show. Four stars.

The following morning I woke up to the sound of rain. When in Scotland, as the saying goes. I had wanted to do a few things, like climb nearby Arhtur’s Seat, or visit the castle, but I instead planned a bit of a museum trip, and tried to get my bearings.

I drifted in to the National Museum of Scotland, where a rock band was playing in what can only be described as a strange choice of setting.

The museum had too much, really. I think you could be locked in there for a week and still find things to see and do. And it’s very interesting; I learnt a lot about Scottish history and even prehistory, stuff that by tomorrow morning, I will have forgotten completely. There’s a lovely roof terrace too, or it would have been lovely had it not been raining.

'The Sleepy Congregation'

'The Sleepy Congregation'

Harry Potter in Latin! Yay!

Harry Potter in Latin! Yay!

But it’s a strangely designed building. The staircases reminded me of something out of a Harry Potter book, in that there was no central passageway. Some would go to a few levels, but not others, some would skip levels, or only go to the toilets on those levels, or provide a fast track to the gift shop – I must have spent more time trying to work out how to get to the next gallery than I did looking at the exhibits.

The_Nation..cotland.jpgThe original museum building

The original museum building

The view from the roof terrace

The view from the roof terrace

I found my way out, eventually, and getting steadily wetter, walked down the Royal Mile, which was significantly less crowded than it was on a certain sunny Monday. There was one moment when I really knew I was in Scotland: the bagpipes were playing, there was a Scottish flag up ahead, I was walking down the capital’s most iconic street, and, most importantly, it was raining. The Museum of Edinburgh provided a good place to dry off for a while.

But I didn’t stay long. I walked down the hill to the Scottish Parliament building, which is slightly strange. I didn’t particularly feel like waiting for a guided tour so I had a look around the photography exhibit and then snuck a look at the Queen’s residence in Scotland, Holyroodhouse Palace.

Holyroodhouse_Palace.jpg

By this time, the sun was coming out, so I walked up towards Calton Hill, one of the highest places in the city, providing brilliant views to all sides, plus a few monuments thrown in. Well worth the trek up.

Calton_Hill.jpgThe_view_f..on_Hill.jpgThe unfinished Parthenon-like building on Calton Hill

The unfinished Parthenon-like building on Calton Hill

I walked back down, into the city centre, buying The Scotsman newspaper and finding a bench in Princes Street Gardens on which to read it, before finally mustering up the energy to get back ‘home’.

The view from my bench in the Gardens

The view from my bench in the Gardens

The Scott Monument in Princes St Gardens

The Scott Monument in Princes St Gardens

A had a bite of pasta in the evening, then saw Alex Horne’s ‘Seven Years in the Bathroom’, a very clever show that told us how long the average person spends doing everything in their lives. Men say 123 million words over their lifetime, for example, and the average person will drive around 650,000km and make $2.5 million. Very clever and interesting, but not as ‘laugh out loud’ funny as the two I’d seen the previous night. Three and a half stars.

I was quite tired, though, and still cold because of the stupid rain, so I went home for an earlyish night.

Posted by sammyhez 23:45 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged edinburgh Comments (0)

Australia in Cardiff

The riots make the headlines and I play four games of cricket in a weekend

sunny 20 °C

I was back at work on Wednesday, and on my way home was handed a flier by a policewoman. It told me that despite the riots in other parts of the country, Gwent (county) police were working with the community to keep the peace. By the time I will post this, the riots will probably be a distant memory, but everyone was on edge for a while there.

Amid the doom and gloom, I headed off to get ready for the Australia vs. Wales soccer/football friendly in the evening. My companions were Newportians – James, from the surgery, and a few of his mates – and all were keen Welsh fans, so I was on my own. The match was at Cardiff City Stadium, where Cardiff play their home matches. It seats around 15,000, but there would have been less than 5000 there, and the small contingent of Australian fans were making significantly more noise than the Welsh majority.

As for the match, it ended 2-1 in Australia’s favour. The Welsh defence looked shaky, and the Aussies looked more than comfortable in the first half, and for most of the second. But when Gareth Bale, the star Tottenham winger, decided to lift in the final fifteen minutes, it was Australia who were on the back foot. His corner set up the Welsh goal and he created a few chances to equalise, too. But perhaps Wales relied too much on him – no one else seemed to show any spark. Just my view, anyway.

The teams line up for the anthems

The teams line up for the anthems

Australia celebrate after going 2-0 up

Australia celebrate after going 2-0 up

I was supposed to have another Maccabi game on Thursday, but occasional showers throughout the day did enough to damage the wicket, and it was called off. So I took the opportunity to go into town, and have a tour of the Millenium Stadium, the new rugby ground, which seats 74,000 and is under a roof.

It’s a very intimate stadium for one that seats 70,000+, and they make the most of the space. We went to the top level, and you’ve sill got a perfect view of the entire pitch. We heard about the lamps that help of compensate for the lack of natural light, the capacity of the stadium to be transformed into just about anything, and went into the Welsh rugby and soccer dressing rooms, which, given I know little about either sport, didn’t mean as much to me as it might have.

The view from the back row of the top deck

The view from the back row of the top deck

The_stadiu.._trophy.jpgThe football changing rooms

The football changing rooms

I’d love to see a match there, but most of the games are scheduled on Saturdays, and you know what I do on Saturdays…

I did a bit of shopping in town, then carted it home and started cooking. My grand plan was to make a giant lasagne, and even if I say so myself, it worked perfectly. I finished up with two delicious dishes, one for myself on Thursday and Friday, and the other for the family when they got back on Saturday night.

I went to work again on Friday, and had a good chat with James about the Wednesday match, once his temper had cooled. (He wasn’t actually angry. Much.)

I spent the evening doing bits and bobs around the house to make it look presentable.

That was because I had cricket on Saturday, and wouldn’t be back until Molly, Trace and Rich were already home. I had been demoted to the threes, and our opponents were Abertillery, from the valleys. There had been a bit of rain around in the morning, and the pitch was very wet, causing the start to be delayed. It wasn’t delayed enough for us – when I walked in a number seven, it was 5/18. I set about trying to repair the innings, and I was doing it reasonably well until I was again run out, on twelve, just as I was getting going. This one wasn’t really my fault, and it was frustrating given that I had done all the hard work.

We struggled to 87 all out, and with the pitch getting drier and drier, they passed us three wickets down. Not a good day.

I caught up with the details from the family’s Spanish holiday in the evening, and had a chat with the other family, too, the one in Melbourne.

I was up early on Sunday, ‘cause I had been roped in by the first eleven skipper to play for his team in the annual St Fagans six-a-side festival. I could only play the first couple of games, as I had another match in the afternoon for the Sunday 2nds.

The games are all five eight-ball overs long, with everyone bowling bar the keeper. Batsmen have to retire on 25, and, as there are only four fielders, there’s a high number of twos from the batsmen, and a lot of chasing from the fielders.

We won our first game against Dinas Powys quite comfortably, 2/78 def 4/51. I didn’t bat and didn’t take a wicket, but didn’t go for many runs either and had an easy stumping fumbled.

After a rest we faced Tondu (pronounced Ton-dee), who weren’t much of a side either. They scored 40-odd on a much bigger ground, and I think we chased it down.

The reason I’m not sure is because I had to leave halfway through to get to the Sunday game. Our opponents were Ebbw Vale (pronounced Eb-boo Vale, stupid Welsh names) in the Gwent valleys, a fair drive away but a lovely ground. We arrived very late, but managed to put that out of our minds as we restricted Ebbw to 134 in 40 overs, a tremendous effort given the size of the ground and the lack of life in the pitch. I was getting a few to turn square out of the rough, but was turning it too much to get an edge or an LBW. I finished with tidy figures but no wickets.

The tea was incredible – pizza, sandwiches, fruit, salads, cakes, and even ice cream and peaches to finish it off – it wasn’t a bad thing to be bowling first. I umpired our innings and so had a great view of Chris Howe taking it to the opposition, sending the opening bowlers out of the attack before being dismissed on 53 while his partner was still on ten.

Aled, the other opener, brought up his fifty off the final ball of our innings, as we passed them with six overs to spare for the loss of just one wicket.

Aled also gave me a lift home, which was good, and we talked about family and holidays on the long drive back.

Posted by sammyhez 22:03 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged football cardiff cricket Comments (0)

A walk through Newport

Plus some cricket. But for once, that's not all! There's also a visit to Caerphilly Castle - the largest in all of Wales

semi-overcast 21 °C

Paula, one of the lovely doctors at the surgery, gave me a lift in on the Monday. It was a decent day’s work, and I returned home with asthma-related terminology swimming around in my head.

Just a point of interest to vary the strict day-by-day structure of my writing: I’ll describe the trip from Newport to Cyncoed by train. (Rarely have the residents of two places so close had such different socioeconomic backgrounds.) I walk along Newport’s Cardiff Rd, past the Royal Gwent Hospital where some of my MCC teammates work/have worked, then swing into the main drag, Commercial Street.

It’s generally a very nice strip. It’s mostly pedestrianised, which is nice, and there are a few reasonable shops, even if most of them are big chain stores. But what lets it down are some of the people. More than half of Newport must smoke, and smoke out in the street, and I’ve seen young mothers who seem to have very varied parenting techniques, from ignoring their kids totally when they run off down the street, to swearing at them in a loud voice front of a crowd. And if you thought those who loiter in front of Flinders Street were dodgy, then Newport’s Commercial St loiterers put them to shame in the dodgy stakes.

It’s not that bad a place, really, but when comparing it to Cyncoed the similarities are merely superficial.

So anyway, I continue to the end of Commercial St, see the small castle on my right, and walk past the pub that seems to be patronised by the same people whenever I pass it, whatever the weather.

Cross another main road and the train station comes into view. The local government trumpets it as ‘cutting edge’ and ‘modern’, but really, it looks like some overpaid architect’s idea of a futuristic space age building, and as such, it looks so out of place in the old town that it initially took me a while to work out what it was.

But it’s certainly functional, so I jump on the Cardiff Central train and leave town. The journey between Cardiff and Newport is very, very flat, with a fairly barren landscape. The only point of interest is a gracefully hypnotic wind turbine. It’s only a short journey, though, and I hope I don’t have too long to wait before I can catch the connecting train home. That’s usually the Rhymney train. Rhymney is, I’ve heard, one of the roughest towns in south Wales, where, like many places, everything’s gone to pot now that the mines have closed. But thankfully, I don’t have to go that far, and I get off at Heath High Level for the short walk home.

Heath_High_Level.jpg

On Tuesday I took another day off, slept in, and took a short trip in the early afternoon to Caerphilly Castle. It’s the largest in Wales, and as we’ve established, there are many, so it’s certainly saying something.

It’s incredibly impressive – huge, as one might imagine, but also very much intact (I later learnt that this was thanks to a huge reconstruction effort). What I loved, though, was the view from the castle of the lush, green valleys, dotted with houses and hundreds of sheep, white specks in the grass.

Caerphilly_Castle.jpgCaerphilly_Castle_2.jpgCaerphilly_Castle_3.jpgCaerphilly_Castle_4.jpg

The castle was the residence of the Earl of Glamorgan, and what a lucky man he was. Apart from being in the middle of a lake, and so incredibly well fortified, it also has some very impressive features. The hall is magnificent, as is the leaning tower, a relic from an attack in the 17th Century. There were a few models of medieval weapons and you could climb the tower to get the best snapshot of the surrounding area.

Looking over Caerphilly town

Looking over Caerphilly town

The_Great_Hall.jpgThe_moat.jpgThe_view_f..mething.jpg

But I had a cricket match to attend, so I got back on the train and packed my bag ready to go to our match against Rhiwbina (pronounced Roo-bye-na). A complete lack of other options meant I was the skipper of our ten-man team. Sent in by the opposition, we kept losing wickets throughout to end on 8/102 or thereabouts. I top scored with 27, and was going strongly when I was caught ball-watching and run out.

They passed us one wicket down with plenty of overs to spare. I got the only wicket. From a full toss. Not a great day.

But we got to the pub, which is the real reason behind most of the midweek matches, had a drink or two to forget about the result, and headed home.

Posted by sammyhez 00:33 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged cricket newport Comments (0)

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