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Friday, November 20, 2015

Edinburgh, Day 3: Holyrood, Botanic Garden, and Fireworks

Monday was another jam-packed day.  We started at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal family's official residence in Scotland; in fact, the staff was readying the palace for the Queen's visit in
The gates to Holyroodhouse

The front of Holyroodhouse in an official photo

This is a more realistic view from the tourist viewpoint

The property also contains what is left of Holyrood Abbey, founded by King David I in 1128.

Holyrood Abbey as seen in another official photo

The inside of the abbey ruins (as seen by us)

Holyroodhouse is probably most famous as the 16th-century home of Mary Queen of Scots, who spent 6 years here from 1561-67.  During that time, she married her first and then second husbands and witnessed the murder of David Rizzio, her secretary and rumored lover.

Mary's bedchamber- believe me, it does not look this bright in real life.

We were not allowed to take any photos of the inside because it is, after all, the Queen's home, but the internet is a wonderful place to find official photos.

The antechamber where David Rizzio was stabbed and left to bleed to death

Back outside in the queen's garden with a view of Arthur's Seat

Here are 2 views of the Royal Mile, which is a series of 4 streets that form the main thoroughfare from Edinburgh Castle to Holyroodhouse.  It is so named because the stretch is about one Scots mile long (about 1.81km).

Part of the Royal Mile

View Victoria Street

Our next stop was the Royal Botanic Garden, 70 beautifully landscaped acres that includes a new visitor center with an interesting gift shop, 25 glasshouses, a selection of Chinese plants, and an amazing rock garden.

One of the many interesting plants in the demonstration gardens

The beech hedgerow next to the demonstration gardens

A peek at the interior of the hedgerow.  If you ever read about how much trouble soldiers had fighting through the hedgerows in World War II, this will give you and idea why.

Part of the structure in the Queen Mother's Memorial Garden

A close-up shot of the shell work decoration on the walls

The Victorian Palm House

 One section of the world-famous rock garden

Part of the Chinese Hill Garden.  The RBG has the largest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside of China.  In fact, Chinese gardeners came to the RBG to take samples of some plants that had been lost during the Cultural Revolution.

My one purchase in the gift shop was a pewter pin in the shape of a thistle with a Heathergem cabochon.  Never heard of that stone?  That's because it is made of heather plants that have been gathered, dyed, compressed, and shaped.  If you want to see photos of the process, click on over to Making Heathergems

Pewter thistle pin with Heathergem cabochon

After spending many hours in the gardens, we headed back to the Old Town to watch the fireworks from Edinburgh Castle that marked the end of the Edinburgh Festival.  While waiting for it to get dark enough, we grabbed a quick dinner of Mediterranean wraps with vegetables on Arabic bread at Palmyra Pizza.  The food was quite good and we certainly couldn't complain about the price.

Almost dark enough for fireworks

Since we didn't have expensive tickets to watch the fireworks while seated in the Princes Street Gardens, we joined many other people in the square near the National Gallery of Scotland.  The night was a bit chilly, but we had a good view of  the fireworks and the crowd was quite cheerful (courtesy of free-flowing libations).

The crowd at the square

Some of the fireworks

After that spectacular end to the evening, we got on a bus and headed back to the Dorstan Guesthouse.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Edingburgh, Day 2: The Endinburgh Castle and the former Royal Yacht Britannia

Sunday was out first full day of sightseeing and we crammed a lot into it.  Our first stop was Edinburgh Castle, the historic fortress that dominates the skyline of Edinburgh from its perch atop the Castle Rock.  There has been a royal castle on the rock since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century. 
This view of the castle give you an idea why it was such a good spot for defense.

The entrance gateway

They were setting up the rockets for the fireworks that were to end the Festival on Monday.

One of the views from the Castle

Don having his photo taken for a change.

Looking down on the cemetery for officers' dogs.

Mons Meg, a giant 15th century siege gun

It's a little blurry, but here is a photo of part of the great hall built for James IV (reigned from 1488-1513) to use as a ceremonial hall.

As part of a tourist package deal, we got free trips on the hop on-hop off buses for 2 days and that turned out to be a very useful way to get an overview of the city and travel from one destination to another. 

It was nice enough that we could sit on the open deck above.  That ugly building you see through the windshield is the new Scottish Parliament building.

Our  guidebook calls in "a spectacular example of modern architecture designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles."  I think it is just strange.  Here are a few more shots so that you can decide for yourself.  Everything is symbolic, like the dark grey shapes around the windows that represent open curtains to signify transparency in government.

  The entrance to the building

We bypassed the Parliament and continued on to Ocean Terminal, Leith to tour the former Royal Yacht Britannia.  When we were deciding on what to see, people kept suggesting the yacht but I kept thinking "What's the big deal?  It's just a boat."  Boy was I wrong-the Britannia is not to be missed.

Looking down on half of the deck of the yacht will give you an idea of the size

The ship was planned for King George VI, but he died during the ship's construction.  This gave Queen Elizabeth II the chance to design the interior to her taste.  Described as a large, oceanic vessel, this ship served as the royal family's home while on state visits or holiday from 1954-1997.

A view from the ship's deck

The queen traveled with 45 members of the royal household, 5 tons of luggage, and a Rolls-Royce that was squeezed into specially-built garage. Along with serving as a floating home, the ship could also be converted to a floating hospital in time of war.  Luckily that feature was never needed.   HMY Britannia was escorted by a royal navy warship when on official duties.

The operating room

One of the rooms on board

The queen's private cabin.  The royal cabins are surprisingly small and plain

The state dining room with the table set for dinner

The sitting room

Of course, such a large ship needed a crew and this one was made up of 20 officers and 220 yachtsmen plus the platoon of Royal Marines that traveled with the queen.

Part of the barracks for the Royal Marines

Crew bathroom

The laundry room

The spotless engine room

The smaller boat that took the royal family ashore in its storage spot on deck

Ever the inquisitive soul, Don noticed that one of the "Gates" on deck was not permanently fastened shut, which meant that someone could accidentally find himself in the water if they fell against the rail with sufficient force.  The poor employee who wandered by looked quite disconcerted when Don pointed out the problem.

     After touring the ship, we walked over to the Leith Shore area and had the Sunday roast dinner (roast beef, roast potatoes, and roast vegetables) with cheesecake for dessert at The Granary.  Don had a lot of fun trying yet another Scottish beer with dinner.  Then it was time to find a bus that would take us back to the bed and breakfast.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Edinburgh: Arrival and the Princes Street Gardens

     Our time in Edinburgh turned out to be a wonderful experience but it was not an auspicious start.  First, the very popular Edinburgh Festival was still going on so we were dealing with double the usual population of the city as soon as we got out of the Edinburgh Waverly (train) Station.  Crowded sidewalks, meager directions to our bed and breakfast (our fault), and a hike up too many stairs with our suitcases to get to the main bridge, and no wifi connection left me ready to just head to the airport.  That's when we had our first experience with the friendliness of the people of Edinburgh.  A young man stopped and asked where we needed to go, pulled up the bus app on his phone, told us what bus we needed, gave us a printed map he happened to have, and pointed us to the nearest bus stop.
See that little white building down there?  That's part of the Waverly Station as seen from the North Bridge.  Yep, we dragged our suitcases up all of those stairs.

     We were a little apprehensive to see what our accommodations would be because we had booked so late (booking in June for an August-September trip during the Edinburgh Festival is late), but the Dorstan Guest House turned out to be a good choice.  Like many of the bed and breakfasts in Europe, it is an older (19th-century in this case) house that has been turned into a guest facility.  We encountered lovely hosts, a decent-sized double room with an ensuite bathroom, and ate hearty breakfasts every day we were there.  To top it off, we were a 5-minute walk from the bus stop with multiple buses that made the 15-minute journey into the city center.

The outside of the Dorstan Guest House

This shot of the entry way will give you an idea of the style of the inside.

     Once we got settled, we decided there was still enough time in the day to wander around part of Edinburgh so we took the bus right back to where we had arrived.  We wandered around the Princes Street Gardens, a beautiful space occupying a valley that once held the Nor' Loch, a boggy depression that was drained in the 19th-century.
Part of the Prices Street Garden.  Notice the Edinburgh Castle looming over everything.

We were impressed by the size of this thistle plant, so Don stuck me in front of it as a gauge.

The Ross Fountain

We stopped to admire the Ross Fountain (pictured above).  This French cast-iron fountain was exhibited at the International Exhibition of 1862 in London and bought by an Edinburgh gun maker and philanthropist as a gift to the city.  The city was not as appreciative of it as the gun maker (many considered it to be an affront to morality and decency) as it took over 10 years until the city finally finished erecting it in the Princes Garden.  Sadly, it needs more conservation work before the water can be turned on again.

Is there ever a public monument free of birds?  Don wanted a photo of the sun on the metal of the sculpture but never got that chance because it started raining.

   We took time to visit the Royal Scots Regimental Memorial located in the gardens.  The memorial lists the battles fought from Tangier in 1680 to Burma from 1943-47 on slabs of stone.  The fence (part shown here) is decorated with roundels depicting the monarchs that the regiment has served from Charles I to George VI.  In 2007, further plaques in stone and bronze were added to update the history of the regiment.

 Part of the Royal Scots Regimental Memorial

          The largest feature in the area is the Scott Monument, built to commemorate Walter Scott, one of Scotland's greatest novelists.  Built between 1840 and 1844, the structure is 200 feet 6 inches (61.1 meters) high,  made of Binny sandstone from West Lothian, sports statues of Scott himself plus most of  the characters from his novels, and contains 287 steps to the top.  We didn't climb them.

The Scott Monument

A closer view of part of the Scott Monument.

      After the gardens, we wandered around the city center a bit, stopping to watch some of the street entertainment that was part of the Festival and browsing the craft stands nearby.  I bought this juniper and oak trivet from Pure Juniper, a London company that also sells their items in Edinburgh.  The trivet has such a lovely smell to it. 

Oak and juniper trivet

     By that time we were hungry, so we stumbled through the crowds in the Old Town (that part of town built before the 18th century) to find a place to eat.  Every restaurant was busy but we managed to get a place at the tiny Taste of Scotland Bistro on Lawnmarket.  We had fish and chips and I tried a Scottish apple cider to go with dinner.  I thought it was a bit pricey but the fish was nicely cooked, the fries were hot, the cider was cold, and the mushy peas were not overcooked and had a bit of mint in them. Yes I know there is a reason the side dish is called mushy peas but these actually had some flavor to them.
     That was the end of our first day in Edinburgh and I think quite enough photos for now.  Next stop: the Edinburgh Castle.