A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about tourist sites

Edinburgh Museums

also known as my day off

sunny 22 °C

I got another day off yesterday – which brings me up to two since the middle of July. I had the ultimate luxury of not setting my alarm at all, and ended up rolling out of bed around noon.

It was a really beautiful day, warm, a little humid and with a nice breeze. I headed into town, determined to avoid the fringe for at least part of the day. My first stop was the Scottish Museum. There’s a terrace up on the roof with stunning views out over the city. I spent some time up there in the sun, taking photos.
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I also stopped in to see the temporary exhibit of the Lewis Chessmen. It’s believed they’re of Scandinavian origin, made in the late 12th or early 13th century and found on the Isle of Lewis in the 19th century.
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They’re beautifully carved and have enormous amounts of character. My favourite is the guy who’s biting his shield. I love that something that old still has this vibrant sense of humour.
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From the Scottish Museum, I headed to Gladstone’s Land, which is a restored tenement house. I have this fascination with tenement houses. I’m not sure why. I went to the tenement museum in New York City as well. In this case, the tenement dates to the 17th and 18th centuries, and they have set up the rooms as they would have looked at the time.
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I think I spent more time in there than just about anyone else. Photos were forbidden, but I read all the leaflets, I took notes, I chatted with the guides. There was one in particular, an older gentleman, who was extremely helpful, telling me all sorts of extra tidbits.
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One of the most interesting things was that baking was forbidden in any of the tenement rooms which didn’t have flagstone flooring (which was anything above the first floor, really) due to fear of fire. So the women were supposed to bring prepared dough to the local baker’s to be baked. The guide thought this was probably a very rare occurrence, since at that point it would have been simpler and cheaper to just buy the baker’s bread. But, on my trip to Morocco, one of the guides was saying that up into this century, women would prepare the dough and send it to the baker’s to be baked, and then the children coming home from school for lunch would pick it up again. The similarity really struck me.

Also, in one of the rooms, you can still see the faded paintings that adorned the ceilings and the walls. It would have been quite vivid once. But they’re still there, having been painted in the 17th century. How amazing.

My only disappointment was that there were only two floors – the ground floor and the first floor – that had been restored. I would have loved to see how the rest of the building would have looked, what the poorer quarters would have been like.

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From there I headed to the writers’ museum, but once again I got there just before closing time. I had about fifteen minutes to poke around the Robert Louis Stephenson area in the basement before being chucked out. I’ll have to go back another day to explore the rest.

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This is the point at which I caved to the fringe. I headed down to kill some time in the Grassmarket and got some lovely shots of the castle from below. I found the toy store that Tanya had sent me in search of, but the café she remembered was no longer there. They did, however, have a book about the life of a domestic servant. I’ve been putting together my family tree, and many of my relatives – including my grandmother – were in service at some point. And charting the tree is one thing, but I’ve hit the point where I want to know what their lives were like. So I bought the book to read later.

I went to see a fringe show called Now is the Winter, which I will write about later. Then I picked up a curry – which turned out to be enormously disappointing – and went home to eat and have a rest. It was my day off. I could do things like that.

Amazingly, I did get up and head out again. I went to see Putting it Together, a Sondheim review (spelled review and not revue, apparently, because he wants us to think about it, as in to review) that I have seen before and loved. It was good, by fringe standards. But again, I’ll write about that later.

All in all, a good day.

Posted by kithica 21:58 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

a walking tour of Edinburgh

also known as my walk to work

semi-overcast

I’ve been in Edinburgh for a few weeks, now, working long hours, and one of the highlights of my stay has been, strangely, my walk to work.

I’m staying in Marchmont, which is something of a student ghetto. It’s all terraces of big, stone, Victorian buildings. The neighbourhood seems very nice, although for the longest time – until I switched to the night shift which starts in the afternoon– I never saw any of the stores while they were open.

I then cross the Meadows down a tree-lined avenue with views to Arthur’s Seat. Once upon a time, the Meadows area was actually the site of a shallow loch. It was drained in the 17th century and used as pasture land. In the 19th century, a law was passed banning any building on the site, and it has been a popular park ever since.

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Arthur’s Seat is part of Holyrood Park, the former hunting grounds of the Scottish kings. It is a ridge of land that reaches 251 metres high and is all that remains of an ancient volcano.

Leaving the park, I pass Greyfriars Kirk. Built in the 17th century on the site of a Franciscan friary, it is a peaceful nook on a busy corner, with its graveyard almost completely encircled by the buildings that back onto it. If it weren’t for little Bobby, it might have been forgotten entirely.

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Greyfriars Bobby was a little dog whose master, John Gray, died in 1858 and was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. Bobby, heartbroken, sat watch over his master’s grave and would not be removed. Local shopkeepers and neighbours kept him fed and cared for. Bobby died in 1872, 14 years later, and was buried just inside the entrance to the kirkyard.

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There is a little statue of Bobby outside the Kirkyard, which is always mobbed by tourists. I have given up trying to dodge the cameras and now just walk through the shots. Rude, maybe, but I’m on my way to work, and if I waited for them all to finish, I would never, ever leave that corner.

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Heading up George IV bridge, I have nice views down onto the Grassmarket, and then pass by The Elephant House, a café that claims to be “the birthplace of Harry Potter”. Apparently, J.K. Rowling used to sit in there to write while she was working on the first books of the Harry Potter series.

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I could then head up on to the Royal Mile, but it being Fringe time, I only try that if I have a lot of time to spare. It’s chaos. Fun, but a complete zoo. Instead, I skirt along Victoria Terrace, which runs both down to the Grassmarket and up to the Royal Mile at the same time. One of the many things I love about Edinburgh. With all the different levels, this city becomes the only place you can walk into a building on the ground floor, go down four flights of stairs and come out at ground level.

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And, when I finally arrive at the front door of my workplace, I have an excellent view up to the castle and Castle Rock. We can hear the cannonfire from the Tattoo, and when the show lets out, all the soldiers and pipers and dancers file past our front door.

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So, while I don’t have time to go out and actually do much touristing around Edinburgh, at least some of the sights have come to me.

Posted by kithica 16:34 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

the last of the tall ships

a summer evening in Toronto

sunny 27 °C

Sometimes you don't have to go all that far to go sight-seeing. Today, on a beautiful summer evening, my parents and I headed down to Toronto's Harbourfront area to have a bit of a wander.

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The CN (which stands for Canadian National) Tower was, for many years, the world's largest free-standing tower. (I believe there is now one in Malaysia that has outstripped it.) The rest of Canada likes to accuse Torontonians of believing our city is the centre of the universe. So we built a large tower to mark the spot. Makes sense.

The CN Tower is visible from large chunks of the city, but is usually seen from the North. This shot was taken from the South, however, as the Harbourfront runs between it and the lake.

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Toronto is situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, the smallest of the five great lakes. The lakes all eventually drain, via the St. Lawrence river, into the Atlantic Ocean. Clearly, that's how the pirates got in.

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In honour of Canada Day weekend, we had a waterfront festival where the tall ships came in. This was part of our reason for heading down to Harbourfront, but, it being Sunday evening, all but one of them had gone. We did get the pleasure of seeing this last one sail off into the sunset, though.

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All in all, it was a really beautiful walk. Next time we'll have to go earlier and see the market and maybe have dinner on one of the lake-front patios.

I got a couple of last shots in on the way home.

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This is the downtown core in the twilight. A quick shot I caught from the window of the streetcar.

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And this is a shot of the Royal Ontario Museum at night. It is absolutely nowhere near Harbourfront, but it was on my way home, and it's awfully pretty.

Posted by kithica 22:42 Archived in Canada Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

happiest place on earth

for book-lovers, that is

I found it during a stop-over in Inverness to change buses. I had enough time to just take a quick walk through the town, and there it was. My favourite place on earth.

It's a book shop. Not a chain store, but a real book shop. And a second-hand book shop, at that. It's in an old gaelic church. It has great big bookcases hewn from real wood and wooden floorboards that creak just a little. The counter was in the middle with a cast-iron wood-burning stove spewing a merry warmth while the clerk reclined with his feet up on a stack of cord wood and a cat slept nearby. It was, I think, my idea of heaven. I nearly turned around and walked straight back out, terrified that if I lingered at all, I would never, ever leave.

Thankfully - or not - I had a bus to catch, so I couldn't browse for too long. But the memory of that book shop stayed with me for nearly fifteen years, and when I arrived in Inverness on my trip this past December it was the first place I wanted to go.

It's still there. I was so thrilled when I found it. There was a ceilidh dance going on at a pub down the street and I would have dearly loved to join, but it being late afternoon on a Saturday in December, the ceilidh ended at the same time the store closed, so I gave up the dancing to spend a blissful 20 minutes browsing the wooden shelves.

They've made it even more cosy with the addition of a little cafe on the upper gallery, accessed by wooden stairs with a wrought iron railing. And I feel like they may have moved the counter. In addition to books, they also sell old maps and prints of artwork. I didn't get a photo myself, but I managed to find one online here. (It's from a delightful website that has its own description of the shop. I can't seem to find a website for the shop itself.)

Isn't the shop just beautiful? I stayed until closing.

Posted by kithica 16:13 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

ScotlandsPeople Centre

a must for anyone researching their Scottish family history

I'm still not sure how I got sucked so deeply into tracking my family tree. All I can say is, it's addictive. Curiosity led me to poke around Ancestry.co.uk a little and it just took off from there.

Ancestry is a wonderful site, but does not hold the birth, marriage and death records for Scotland. Those are held at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk. The records are accessible online, but instead of a monthly subscription that allows you to search as much as you want, on scotlandspeople you have to buy credits. 30 credits cost £6, and to view a search results list of up to 25 entries is 1 credit, and to view an actual record is 5 credits. Personally, I find this a frustrating system.

There is, however, the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh. They have a large number of computer terminals where, for £10 a day, you can sit and access as many records as you want. There are dedicated printers and there is also the option of saving your records to a memory stick. (Note, however, that there is a fairly minimal charge both for printing and for saving.)

So, when I knew I was going to travel to the UK, I made sure to allot time while I was in Edinburgh to spend the day there.

The Centre offers a free two-hour taster session within specific time windows (10am-12am and 2pm-4pm). I arrived in Edinburgh in the afternoon, dumped my gear at the B&B and practically ran up the very big hill to get to the Centre before it closed. I ended up with just over an hour of my taster session, but that was fine. It let me figure out how to search, how to print, how to save - all things that would help me get the most out of my full day of research.

On the way out, I reserved a seat for the next day. It wasn't really necessary in December, but if you're going during the high season - particularly during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - I highly recommend reserving a seat so you don't end up being disappointed if it's full.

The next day, I arrived at the centre when it opened at 9am and stayed until it closed at 4:30pm (opening hours: 9am-4:30pm Monday to Friday). There is a cafe there, but I didn't stop to eat, or even go to the bathroom, I was so deeply into what I was doing.

The best part about that unlimited access was the chance to just dig through record after record. For example, I know my grandfather had three brothers who died as infants, but I didn't know their names or dates of birth. At the Centre, I was able to do a search of every child born in a specific region within, say, a 25-year span and just keep clicking through the records until I found them. Dozens of records that would have cost hundreds of credits otherwise. And I used that method to find a number of different relatives.

Now, obviously, it's more cost-effective to just buy the hundreds of credits versus buying a flight and accommodation in Edinburgh just to go to the Centre. However. If you're going to be in the UK anyway, it's a wonderful resource for family history research.

Posted by kithica 20:14 Archived in Scotland Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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