I recently had my first holiday in years, and so I returned to my motherland of Scotland.
I took the train up (a five hour journey), and while I'm not prone to claustrophobia, after five hours on a sodding train I was desperate to get off it. I passed the time with podcasts on my MP3 player, but there are still things that irritate even when you're zoning out with a series of podcasts.
I specifically got my tickets in the "quiet zone" coach, but unsurprisingly plenty of people (a number who didn't have reserved seats either) were busy on their phones - ring tones and conversations of an equally inane nature were indulged in. The entire point of the quiet coach is that you're not supposed to be on the ruddy phone - who wants to listen to your stupid, boring conversation anyway? Especially when you're speaking so loud I can hear you over SModcast in my earphones (I made sure I could still hear the train, so as not to disturb anyone else with my music and podcasts). What's more - don't bring children into the "quiet zone" - please, just don't.
Then you've got people who eat smelly food, refuse to stay in their seats (so they can have a conversation with someone elsewhere, thus shoving their arse in some other passenger's face), and generally fail to adhere to the rule of not irritating me (and others) senseless. It might sound harsh, but I seek to not irritate others, so why shouldn't everyone else seek to be more considerate of those around them - and in the "quiet zone" coach of all places! However, being that we're all British, nobody complained out loud.
What's more, if you're going to get a window seat - look out the flippin' window - don't sit there reading a book. I was stuck with aisle seats and would have rather liked to have spent five hours staring out at the country passing by, rather than being stuck looking at everyone else, getting bashed with baggage, and having arses come entirely too close to my person. If you have a window seat, you should be looking out the window, not reading a book.
Moving on from the torturous boredom and irritation that is modern day train travel, the holiday itself was great fun. Aside from a smidge of drizzle on Saturday night, it was pretty much blue skies and sun the whole time - a perfect way to experience Scotland, and particularly Edinburgh during the closing days of the festival.
I saw Jason Byrne at the Assembly Hall (excellent), a couple of fringe acts on the streets, the final Best of the Fest show in the gardens (hosted by Carl Donnelly, and featuring a singing act - I forget the name - comedian Simon Evans, comedian/card trickster The Card Ninja, and improv musical comedy group Baby Wants Candy - it was properly good fun) ... then it was a bus tour of the city, a tour around the gardens and Rhod Gilbert at the rather swish EICC (also excellent).
We also checked out the seaside town of North Berwick, which I'd visited numerous times throughout my life and hadn't been to for years. We toured the beaches, harbour, Seabird Centre, and the town itself and it was a brilliant day for it too. Ideal weather for a nostalgic time.
Naturally we also did the Edinburgh Castle, and you really need the whole afternoon to do it - such as we did - it's just so chock full of stuff to see, and the views over the city are worth the admission price alone. We even had a look into Saint Giles Cathedral on the way back.
Moving on ... many years ago when I was in primary school, we almost did the York Dungeon on a school trip - but it was deemed too scary for us kids - and so I've always wanted to check one of these out, and so we did the Edinburgh Dungeon. It was tip-top, I really enjoyed it - even if it did freak me out a couple of times (the parts where all the lights go out and the surround sound kicks in are just perfect) - and I even went on the Extremis: Drop Ride to Doom at the end ... which for me, being that I'm terrified of heights, was a real thrill but one I felt safe enough in doing. The actors portraying various parts throughout the tour were all tip-top too, and it was all a really good time - a mixture of gross-out and suspenseful horror. Highly recommended - the Sawney Bean, Burke & Hare, and Mary King sections being particular highlights.
Finally we tackled the Edinburgh Zoo - where seemingly everywhere you go is up a steep hill - but we got to see plenty of animals after some initially shy exhibits. Highlights included - a bunch of chimps going batshit crazy at each other over some faux-pas on the Budongo Trail, two Sumatran Tigers (one of which was lording it over us stood in a tree), a Leopard that was chilling out right by the glass, two highly energetic and playful Indian One-Horned Rhinos, the affable colony of Penguins, and the monkey house where Capuchins were having a great old time.
It was certainly a jam packed schedule, and I've rarely (if ever) done so much walking about in all my life (no wonder I dropped 4 lbs over the week) ... then it was the train home, and well, you know what that was like ... but an absolutely gorgeous cheese-and-meatball panini at a service station relieved my travel stress in an instant.
Oh and I even got to see a couple of movies - Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Dinner For Schmucks - which I'll blog about later.