Shakespeare, Olympics, and the Worlds Highland Games!!

24 Aug

Hi Everybody!

So apparently my definition of ‘tomorrow’ is a little different from most people’s, considering that it has now been a few days since my last post. In any case, it’s here now!

So the last entry I wrote was while I was on the bus from Berlin to London. The bus ride took a total of 20 hours, during which time I primarily ate pringles, read my book, and got no sleep. I also gained a strong dislike of the bus driver we had, since he spoke no English or German. In most cases, I don’t mind language barriers, but when he’s telling us we have ‘kains’ minutes at a certain rest stop, and then gets mad when people aren’t back after 10 minutes…it was quite frustrating. He also almost left me behind at the border crossing between France and England – it took a little longer for me to get through since I’m not a European Citizen, and apparently Sebastien had to literally stand in the doorway of the bus to prevent the driver from leaving. The driver figured I was just in the bathroom on the bus or something, but Sebastien used his basic Spanish to get through to him that I was not physically on the bus.

However! That border crossing brought about the most exciting part of the bus ride…getting to take the Euro Rail! For any of you who don’t know, there is an underwater tunnel that leads from France to England, and is a much faster way of traveling than by ferry. Basically, all of the vehicles (including our bus) board onto a long train which then travels through the tunnel. Here’s a picture of the view as we were inside the train:

It was pretty cool to be on a bus that wasn’t running, as the train was moving. We could feel the bus swaying gently back and forth, and it was pretty insane to think that we were traveling under the ocean. Sebastien appreciated the experience at the time a lot more than I did though, since I was still quite traumatized from almost having been left in France. But in the end, we definitely made it to London in one piece. The bus experience had been interesting…I don’t think I would like to repeat the entire 20 hour trip again, but it was relaxing to not be driving or have to worry about directions, and it was definitely a nicer experience having Sebastien with me than it would be alone.

Once we were off the bus, we started heading for St. Albans, which is a fairly small town just outside of London. It was interesting navigating the subway with all of our luggage, but somehow we made it! (Thank goodness for Sebastien’s navigation skills!) While we were at the station, I decided to get a bit of breakfast…and as the lady behind the counter asked me what I would like, I almost tried to stumble my way through ordering in German! I had spent the last three months in a country where they would probably understand what I asked for in English, but primarily spoke German. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about being back in English territory…but either way, the breakfast was quite tasty! In St. Albans we were staying with my friend Jini, who I lived with for a semester at UVic while she was on exchange. Last year, when Sebastien and I were taking a road trip through Europe, (twice as long as this year’s road trip!) we stayed with Jini and her family for a few days, and had an absolutely fantastic time. So this year, when we were trying to plan out how to get to Scotland to meet up with my pipeband, we decided to leave a few days early so that we could stay with Jini again. Fortunately, her family agreed to have us again, despite my bringing a set of bagpipes this time.

So we spent our first night in England catching up with Jini and her family, and enjoyed a delicious home cooked meal (needless to say, it was soooooo much better than pringles on a bus!). The next morning, I practiced my pipes…and unfortunately woke up Jini’s brother who had been out all night at the rugby Olympic event. Thank goodness he was a good sport about it! After that, Jini, Sebastien and I went into London, and met up with Jini’s boyfriend Dave.

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention that this trip happened while the Olympics were going on. Seb and I watched the opening events before heading off to the UK, and were totally excited about the fact that we would soon be there. At the subway stations, there were lots of people in pink vests helping out tourists, and a few people with megaphones directing people to various Olympic locations. At one point, Seb and I were behind a herd of girls in pink t-shirts and backpacks, and as soon as they were through the gates, their supervisor yelled ‘Alright, let’s move it!!’ and the entire group started sprinting across the Station.

Our first stop, once we were in the heart of London, was St. Paul’s Cathedral. Seb and I hadn’t seen it on our last visit, so we wanted to check out the outside of the building, which was pretty amazing. After that, we spent quite a bit of time walking around, and checking out all of the sights. One of the highlights was definitely seeing the Olympic rings on the Tower of London Bridge. It was also cool to see lots of flags from different nations everywhere.

Tower of London Bridge 🙂

Hard to tell, but this is me walking directly under the Olympic rings, while on the bridge!

A square with lots of different flags hanging around

It was funny to be seeing London at the time of the Olympics, because sometimes it was hard to tell which pieces of art had been put up specifically for the Olympics, versus the things that had always been there. By Westminster Abbey, there were some impressive statues created for the Olympics:

There were also a few smaller statues like this one inside one of the churches. Very well done!

Our trip did not revolve entirely around the Olympics though…we made a point to see the classics, such as Big Ben. At one point, we were also in a sort of shopping area (I’m really sorry that I don’t remember the name of it!) and there was an opera singer performing in an open square. She was an absolutely amazing singer, with an extremely powerful voice…the only thing I didn’t like was that, between each song, she would yell out advertisements about herself, saying that she was not just lip-syncing, was not being paid to be there, and had CD’s available. Hearing her normal voice ruined the opera effect for me a little bit, but overall it was still pretty cool to see.

The entire day was pretty fantastic, and Jini and Dave were excellent tour guides. But the evening was, in particular, extremely exciting and special. We got to see a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre!! This was the theatre at which Shakespeare initially would have his plays performed…and while the theatre is not the original that used to be there, it is constructed in the exact same way; with standing room for some of the audience, and then benches farther back. The only noticeable difference was that there were lights to shine on the stage when it got too dark, whereas back in the day they had to work with whatever light they had on the day! To make this work, there was no real roof over the theatre – and there still isn’t today. We got sprinkled on slightly at one point in the play, but in general the weather was definitely on our side!

Back in Shakespeare’s time, peasants used to get standing tickets, while the higher classes of society would sit farther in the back. Our group stood; it got quite tiring after a while due to the fact that we had spent a fair amount of the day walking, but it was still a pretty awesome experience.

The Globe Theatre from the outside, during the day

Poster for ‘Henry V’ which is what we got to see!

a glimpse of the stage, from where I was standing. a lot of it is open air past the main performance stage

The performance itself was absolutely fantastic. ‘Henry V’ is a historical play, so it was perhaps not one of Shakespeare’s most exciting or funny plays – Jini mentioned that the historical plays were probably performed during the Olympics specifically, so that tourists could get a taste of British history. However, the directors and actors made it an extremely entertaining performance. There were definitely moments of humour, including one scene where Henry V talks about the pride of Britain and holds up a British hat that someone in the audience was wearing. A few of the actors would also enter the crowd as the play was going on, which made the performance more engaging. The music performed throughout the play was incredible, and the whole thing ended with a song and dance. Apparently, at the Globe, a Shakespeare performance will always end with a dance, whether it is a tragedy or comedy…so at the end of Hamlet, everyone that is dead jumps back up and starts dancing! I bet that would be extremely entertaining to watch.

I was extremely happy to have been able to see the play, and after seeing a bit of London at night, we went back to St Alban’s. The next morning, Sebastien and I took a train to Edinburgh, and then another to Stirling. I much preferred train travel to bus; we were given drinks, got to use nice bathrooms, and were able to see the world speeding by. Plus, I wasn’t missing out on sleep since it was not an overnight train.

We eventually arrived safely in Stirling, and got settled into the dorms that we would be living in with the pipeband. I play with the New West Minster Police Pipeband, which is based around Vancouver. Different people in the band were arriving at different times, but it was great to see everyone again. It was especially nice to see my mom, since I had not seen her in over three months (and she plays in the same bagpipe band as me). The housing situation was set up so that ten people shared one kitchen/living area, and a lot of other people from the band would usually gather in one of the living rooms to socialize.

I suppose there isn’t a lot to tell about the week leading up to the World’s Pipeband Competition…the band practiced two or three times every day, and between that time there would be a lot of talking and perhaps drinking and dining. We often visited a pub in Stirling called the ‘William Wallace Pub,’ which was ironic because I watched Braveheart for the very first time on that trip. We traveled in to Glasgow a few times as well; one time my mom was going to see a pipeband in concert, so Sebastien and I took the opportunity to see the new Batman movie (I didn’t want to force Sebastien into hearing more bagpipes than he already had that week!). Another day, we went to a bagpipe competition that was between five different world class pipers, in which they had to play for a half an hour as they were judged by pipers anonymously in the crowd. I imagine most people cannot really tell the difference between good and bad bagpipers, but it is absolutely amazing to be able to hear professional bagpipers such as what we heard that night; those pipers being extremely well in tune, able to play everything extremely accurately, and having a sense of musicality. When I first came to Scotland 4 years ago, I was absolutely amazed at the quality of piping I was able to hear. Some pipers across North America, such as my mother, are also fantastic, but I can’t imagine living in a country where that is such a standard accomplishment.

Anyways! The other particularly awesome part about Scotland is the food in pubs. If you are a person that thinks haggis is disgusting, I question if you have tried it…if you are someone that simply thinks it sounds gross, than I ask you: what is in a hot dog? Anyways, I personally quite enjoy haggis…to me it’s basically meat with various herbs and spices to make it quite tasty. However, pubs also carry other favourites of mine such as fish and chips, and macaroni and cheese. I have not yet encountered a Scottish mac and cheese that I didn’t like! Between the amazing food choices and Bulmer’s cider (not available in Canada, as far as I know) I am usually a happy camper in a Scottish pub.

I suppose I should move on to the main event though…the World’s! Just a quick rundown for those of you not familiar with the bagpiping world…the World’s Pipeband Championship is a competition that takes place every year in Glasgow. While there are Highland Games held all over the world, ‘The Worlds’ specifically is an extremely huge and prestigious event. There are five different levels of bagpipe bands (5 being the most beginner, 1 being the most experienced) and pipebands from all over the world, from each level, come to compete at this event. The events are usually so large that, at least for grade 2 and 1, there are two rounds of competing. My pipeband is in grade 2, and we competed in the first round fairly early in the morning. This is the event that so many bagpipe bands spend their entire year preparing for; there is always so much work that goes into the funding, and the practicing and preparation of music…each member gives up a large amount of their time to make it happen. It was amazing to think that playing in the actual event itself lasted for such a short time! After a long time spent tuning, suddenly we were marching into the circle to compete. I personally felt that I played well, and from where I was standing in the circle everything else sounded good too. We were extremely lucky to have fantastic weather on that day…often, pipebands will spend all their time and effort preparing for the Worlds, only to spend the day playing their bagpipes in the pouring rain!

After we were done playing, we had to wait a fair while to find out who made it into the next round. Unfortunately, our band was one of the many that did not. Hardly anyone from our group had heard of any of the bands that did make it to the next round, which meant that a lot of our fellow North American bands didn’t make it either. It was disappointing to not have made it, but important to keep in mind that the huge scale of the competition is what makes it so prestigious to do well. Personally, I spent a large part of the rest of the day catching up with fellow bagpipers. The bagpiping world is such a close-knit one…a lot of pipers travel around to different competitions, and therefore see each other again and again over the years. My parents are both bagpipers, so a lot of people in pipebands have known me since birth. And there were some people at the Worlds who have been competing against me since I was ten! Despite all of the competition involved in bagpiping, I have found that it is never too intense. At the end of the day, everyone can still get together and party, no matter what kilt you’re wearing. Speaking of kilts, here is a picture of my band as we were competing:

New West Minster Police Pipeband, competing in the Worlds

That’s me, right beside the bass drum…this is the band walking off the field after finishing our performance

At the end of the day, the band took a bus back to Stirling (which is also how we got to the field that morning, just in case you were wondering) and we all enjoyed some fish and chips before returning to our accommodation. The next day, after several good-byes, Mum drove Sebastien and I into Glasgow. From there, we took a plane to Dublin…but just to be a big tease, I’m going to save tales of that for next time!

Thank you to all of you for reading 🙂 It has been so fantastic to hear that so many people are enjoying this blog! I’m a bit sad to think that, after my next blog, I don’t have exciting adventures to entice an audience with…but who knows! I may find other epic things to write about.

I will be spending tomorrow in Okotoks, enjoying the Foothills Highland Games, but I promise to post my Dublin blog shortly after that!

Tschau for now!


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Posted by on August 24, 2012 in Travel and Working Abroad


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