Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Edinburgh 2005’ Category

Edinburgh Castle, 5.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 22, 2006

 There was a much better guide called Bart on the Edinburgh Tour, who took us through New Town but along a different route to the earlier tour. We got off the bus at Edinburgh Castle, home of the Tattoo that we watch every year on TV at home. We were surprised to find that it is a much smaller area than it seems on screen, and that the ground slopes, which must make it all the harder to do some of the exploits we have seen…
 They say that people need hours and hours to see all that the castle has to offer, but too bad: we scampered round and took the panoramic shots & the shots with the the famous 15th century gun Mons Meg; checked out the Second Best Crown Jewels (only pearls!); tried again to understand the intricate history of the Marys and the Jameses and Civil War and the Restoration, and then had afternoon tea in the cafe, served by a vivacious young Aussie from Byron Bay!
Obviously there is much more to see, and we didn’t get to the war museum, but we managed to see the tiny room where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to the boy who was to become King James VI of Scotland and, after Queen Elizabeth I, James 1 of England. We also had a quick look at St Margaret’s Chapel, a tiny Norman building which – the oldest building in Edinburgh – has remained intact for more than 900 years – surviving all manner of sieges and bombardments including the hordes of tourists who descend on the Castle every year, (apparently second in visitor numbers only to the Tower of London).
I think my favourite part was the cemetery for dogs owned by soldiers stationed at the castle. There, in a special garden set aside just for the graveyard, are a dozen or so little gravestones for dogs buried there. This is the kind of British eccentricity I like.
 By the time we’d tramped all over the castle we were in need of a rest, but the Scottish Heritage Whisky Centre was conveniently close at hand. After a welcoming sample glass (only a blend), we got on on a conveyor belt of seats made from barrels and travelled around 300 years of whisky making dioramas. The best part, however, was afterwards when we went into the bar and tried some 12 and 18 year old single malt Islay whiskies – for comparative purposes only of course!
 For our last night in Edinburgh we dined at a fine restaurant called La Garrigue, just a stone’s throw from the hotel in Jeffrey Street. We had a quiet table in a little room off the main dining room, with a view of the courtyard. The restaurant specialises in cuisine from the Languedoc region, and the menu includes scrumptious dishes like a cassoulet of rabbit with juniper berries and a confit of duck. It was an excellent meal and the service was great.

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Edinburgh Museums, 5.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 22, 2006

 Things improved on our second day in Edinburgh. We began with a lucky accident – the discovery of the National Library of Scotland’s fascinating exhibition to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE Day: ‘Scotland’s Secret War’. I hadn’t known much about the bombing of Scotland, which was extensive in the shipbuilding areas, and especially at Leith, Glasgow and Clydebank. Edinburgh was largely spared, and the library played an important role in storing significant manuscripts and documents. There was a display about spies such as the Tartan Pimpernel (Donald Caskie) who helped soldiers to escape from France and Norway, and another about how Robert Watson-Watt helped to discover radar for the wartime defence of Britain. Then there was the story of how the Scots Home Guard captured Rupert Hess on his secret trip to Britain, and also on display, an Enigma Machine.

After that, we went to the New Museum of Scotland and took a brief tour. It’s in a new purpose-built building, linked to the old museum by lifts and galleries, and the tour itself was an introduction to the (often nationalist) symbolism of the interior features. The building, for example, is designed in the shape of a ship as an echo of Scotland’s industrial past.  There were some strange metal architectural scuptures showing the themes of the museum: community, trade, power and the spirit. They looked like massive robots with humanoid faces, but they also had items from the collection – such as a bracelet from 800AD or an ancient coin – enclosed in little display boxes attached as an integral part of their bodies. I liked them, but I have to admit they’d probably be incomprehensible if the guide hadn’t explained their significance.
From there we went up to the trade section, where we saw an assortment of huge machines and lots of bank notes – because the Scots pioneered the finance industry. After a restorative coffee and shortbread in a lovely light-filled cafe, we went to see the special exhibit, Nicholas and Alexandra, The Last Tsar and Tsarina.  There were some lovely things, including a 1999 Faberge copy of the imperial regalia, although not much that is precious had left the Russian museums on tour! I liked the menus and the vestments, though most of the dresses looked ornate but not especially valuable.
 What I thought was most interesting was their interpretation of how it all came to an end. According to the display, the Russians were at war with Japan, and things were not going well. Tsar Nicholas took over as Commander-in-Chief, not because he knew anything about things military but for morale purposes. (Not surprisingly) he made things worse, and they lost, and then WW1 started. The Red Bolsheviks were against the White Russians who wanted to use the Imperial Family for support, and so the Reds bumped them off to prevent them being used as a symbol, ending 300 years of Romanov rule. Perhaps if the Tsar had been a bit more willing to make changes the family might have survived, but there had been two attempts at having a Duma (parliament) and neither survived because Nicholas thought them too revolutionary. Ironic, eh? Nicholas abdicated in 1917 but he and Alexandra, their five children and servants were executed and their bodies buried in the woods. There they remained until five of the bodies were found and reburied in 1998 after the fall of the Communists.  After that we explored some more of the museum, the highlight of which was the fossils – brilliant! I bought a reproduction of a Faberge peacock as a memento before a superb lunch in an excellent French restaurant Le Sept , before we set off for The Edinburgh Tour, prebooked before we left home…

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Edinburgh, Newhaven Museum and the Royal Yacht Britannia, 4.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 22, 2006

 Edinburgh was interesting, but I didn’t like it much, and it didn’t feel safe out at night. There were loud, rough people about, and the streets were badly lit. It wasn’t that we were in a cheap area, because the Travelodge and Radisson were nearby, and there were expensive shops with kilts and Scottish designer clothes (not to be seen dead in)… No, it was the people. They were not friendly at all, and almost everyone on the street seems to smoke – ugh!
It’s a dirty city too. Lovely old buildings absolutely black with soot, such a shame. There are endless terraces all tumbling over each other – which could be really charming, but instead it looked melancholy and poor.
 We went on a city tour (where the guide justified the miserable appearance of the buildings as ‘historic’), and saw Robert Louis Stevenson’s House and Adam Smith’s grave. The Burns Monument, which could be magnificent, is filthy and they should be ashamed of it. Melbourne had the same sort of C19th sandstone buildings blackened by smoke and soot from coal fires, but has cleaned them up and restored them…it just takes money and a sense of city pride.
After that we took the bus down to a sad little museum at Newhaven. The museum is dedicated to the local fisherfolk, suitably romanticised for a modern age. No doubt the local schools bring children down to do its activities, matching model folk to their silhouettes or dressing up for photos,  but I was glad to get out of there. We took a photo of the Firth of Forth in the distance, where my mother used to drive WW2 POWs for detention when she was in the ATS, and then had a long, cold and bleak wait for the bus.
The Royal Yacht Britannia was both interesting and irritating. It’s very well set up with a sort of tower linking visitors to the yacht in dry dock, and we all obediently trooped through the audio tour with precision, but sometimes we were told more than we wanted to know about engines and laundries. Predictably for a staunch republican, I got fed up with the sycophantic commentary, constantly referring to everything and everybody with the prefix ‘royal’, and I thought some of the protocol traditions they were so proud of were downright absurd – officers having to change uniforms 8 times a day depending on whether they were in proximity to the royals or not.  The poor chap who scrubbed down the royal deck in front of the sunroom was required to do so out of the queen’s sight, which was often awkward to achieve – this despite the oft repeated claim that she liked things to be informal. (All the women I know are glad to have someone scrub down the decks any time.)
Still, I found a nice Xmas gift for daddy – a Nelson medallion commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, and a droll book about 1930s etiquette to amuse Jane.
The restaturants near our hotel (the Jury’s Inn) looked great but weren’t open so we found David Bann’s vegetarian restaurant nearby. It was very nice except for the woeful Argentinian wine – no wonder Australian wines are so popular!

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Off to Scotland! En route to Edinburgh 4.10.05

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 22, 2006

We had vague ambitions to go to the York Railway Museum (Tim) and the York Castle Museum (Lisa) but it was all too hard and so we took the 9.54 to Edinburgh. The scenery was much like before: little patchwork fields punctuated by small towns, and old stone and brick bridges over rivers and streams. There were signs of impending autumn: most trees were still resolutely green but occasionally there was a splash of yellow or red, and what appeared to be cotoneasters had little red berries.
Durham station was typical of the stations en route, with a great curved roof and steel lacework on top of Corinthian columns, reminiscent of some of our older stations at home. We caught a glimpse of Durham Cathedral amongst the rows and rows of terraces down in the valley…

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