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Friday, November 27, 2015

Edinburgh, Day 4: National Museum of Scotland and Water of Leith Walk

     Tuesday, we woke up to a different Edinburgh as all of the festival crowd disappeared and the city went back to its regular population.   It was a pleasure to walk the streets.
     We spent a good portion of the day at the National Museum of Scotland, which has a lot to see in its original, Victorian building and the new building.  Here  are a few things that caught our attention.
The atrium of the Victorian section of the Nation Museum

This is a lens made for a lighthouse in the Firth of Forth that was built in 1889 and just retired in 1985.

We stumbled across the Millennium Clock, which stands over 32 feet (10 meters) tall and echoes the form of a medieval church.  The clock does tell time but it is also the story of the best and worst of the 20th century.  It is quite strange.  Any of you Ian Rankin fans will recognize the mention of this clock in The Falls.

The Millennium clock

Sadly, our close-up photos didn't turn out, but you can see more photos of the clock at the National Museum website.

This is a huge slab of orbicular granodiorite from Australia.  The distorted spheres are called orbicules and the center of each represents the growth point of crystals, which grew in concentric circles.  The orbicules then settled under gravity to form rocks.

Theatrical headdress from China made with blue kingfisher feathers in the 19th century

This is part of the Loch Levin wall hangings attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots.  While Mary was trained in the arts of needlework, she can't possibly have made all of the embroideries attributed to her.  The museum staff believe that this set was made in an Edinburgh workshop in the 16th or early 17th century.

The latest technology for the 19th century housewife: an early vacuum cleaner in red.  The round, brown object is a star solid dipper (whatever that is).

After exploring the museum, we set out to walk part of the Waters of Leith Walkway, a public walkway and cycling path that runs along about 12 miles (almost 20 kilometers) of the Leith River.  We started where the walkway runs behind the Scottish National Gallery of Art.

The entrance to the walkway behind the art museum

This beagle just stood on the wall and watched his doggy friend chase sticks in the water.  He had no desire to get wet himself.

 This is one of the picturesque bridges that we passed under.

The river runs through a number of old villages.

Here is a close-up of the stone pieces that someone had assembled.

Here is another of the stone buildings that we passed.

We had planned to walk all the way to Leith, but the weather had other ideas and it started to rain.  So we stopped in Hectors, a city pub in Stockbridge, for dinner.  It was nice to be in a warm, cozy place to sit out the worst of the weather.  The new made our soggy way back to our b&b.

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.