Sunday, February 25, 2018

National Galleries of Scotland, Princes Street Gardens and Mary King's Close

Love rules the court, the camp, the grove,
And men below, and saints above:
For love is heaven, 
and heaven is love.
~Sir Walter Scott

Day 3, Part 1

A Wedding at Blair Atholl (detail)
by David Allen

On our third day in Edinburgh (our second full day) we woke to a beautiful morning with glorious blue skies, and walked up to the Royal and toward Mary King's Close.

Side note! Is anyone else watching Season 2 of Victoria on Masterpiece?! (BBC) I loved the recent episode when they went to Scotland! Sigh ... I need to replay it!

Anyway, back to modern day Scotland. Just look at that sky! Of course, it was pretty much covered over by noon but you definitely appreciate the sunshine while it's happening!

Once again, the spire of St. Giles Cathedral ...

My dad took this picture of my mom and I while we waited for our tour to start of Mary King's Close. The plaid scarf was a "post Scotch-tasting purchase" from the night before. I have to say that I never envisioned getting pink plaid anything but it was great with my silver Patagonia jacket and my mom gave it a huge thumbs up! 

All these little streets off the main drag have "Close" in the name. It's like "street" or "alley" and they lead off of the Royal mile to apartments and various little neighborhoods of buildings. They were named usually for a well known resident. 

Mary King's Close was covered over when The Royal Exchange was built in the 19th century, atop the street and neighborhood. It was against the law to live "underground" so everyone had to move out. For that reason, when workman discovered it in modern times, it was as it had been in the 1800s, so it is like going back in time.

Mary King's Close

We weren't aloud to photograph it but this person on YouTube had a private tour and apparently was able to take pictures in 2013. The photos in the following video make it look much brighter than I remember. 

Also, remember there was no electricity back in the day and when our guide (in character and costume) turned off the lights, it was pitch black. She also went into how a dozen in the same family would use the same bucket to do their bodily business and everyone was living in the same room with it! Can you imagine the smell? Then they'd throw it out the door onto the street a couple of times a day (7am and 10pm) shouting the old time version of "Heads Up!" so hopefully you wouldn't get nailed with a bucket of shite.

I can't imagine the stench of the streets and of your own clothes that you couldn't wash very often (if ever). On top of the bodily fluids and sharing tiny dark quarters, disease was ramped and the various plagues tore through the close. 

This old tour from before 2002, with Bob Morton, shows the Close before it was turned into a multimedia tour in 2003. It's great as it is now but I would have loved to go down into the Close with this sweet old gentlemen and hear his stories.

There have been tales of hauntings in this close that go back since the 17th century.

After our visit I can see why the attraction is so highly rated. I would definitely recommend it.

Heading down another "Close" toward the north you can see the huge monument to Sir Walter Scott.

Looking down into the Princes Street Garden and the Walter Scott Monument.

We shall never learn to feel and respect 
our real calling and destiny,
unless we have taught ourselves 
to consider every thing as moonshine,
compared with the 
education of the heart.
~Walter Scott

He that does good, 
having the unlimited power to do evil, 
deserves praise not only for the good which he performs,
but for the evil which he forbears.
~Walter Scott form Ivanhoe

Scott Monument

The largest monument to a writer in the world, the monument to Sir Walter Scott has a tower that is just over 200 feet high. The foundation stone was laid in 1840 and the four years it took to build, began in 1841. There are 93 persons depicted on the monument, including scads of other Scottish poets and writers including Lord Byron and Robert Burns.

I have heard men talk about the blessings of freedom,"
he said to himself,
"but I wish any wise man would teach me
what use to make of it
now that I have it."
~Walter Scott, from Ivanvoe

The statue of Sir Walter Scott inside the monument was by John Steell.

We walked along Princes Street Gardens and headed for the National Galleries of Scotland, which is at the West end of the park.

Unfortunately, we did not make it to Walter Scott's home Abbotsford House, which is actually a castle filled with all kinds of interesting treasures. Below, is an interesting BBC doc about the writer's life and his now refurbished home that he built and furnished. It is a kind of whimsical film set! Oh, and in the documentary there are classic clips of the 1913 silent film version of Ivanoe!

It's worth a look and not all that long. (Just 29 minutes together.)

My dad ...

Princes Street Gardens

The gardens were built in two phases, in the late 1700s and early 1800s after they drained Nor Loch. The Loch (lake) was a swampy, smelly nightmare with all the sewage draining into it from the Royal Mile and down from the Closes. 

In fact, there's some talk that the people in Mary King's Close were having hallucinations from the gasses coming up from it, which might explain all the "hauntings." Yikes. Thank heavens for indoor plumbing. 

The Cambell Sisters (1821-22)
Lorenzo Bartolini 

National Galleries of Scotland

It's always a challenge not to run yourself ragged when your time and energy are limited. You have to decide what you really want to see and what is most important to you.

Because we were on a whole Scotland adventure, my main objective was to get in and see the Scottish artists' works. It turns out that they are in the process of creating a new wing dedicated to those works but I think we were still able to see most of that collection. 

The painting of the man skating (below) is one of the most well known in the collection.

The Scottish Painters

Reverend Robert Walker 
Skating on Duddingston Loch (1795 c)
Sir Henry Raeburn

On the wall (below) I wished they'd hung the two landscapes that were on top lower because I felt like I needed binoculars!

A Highland Wedding at Blair Atholl (1780)
David Allan

When true friends meet in adverse hour;
'Tis like a sunbeam through a shower.
A water way an instant seen,
The early closing clouds between.
~Walter Scott

This is a sweet detail of the painting above, as is the painting detail at the top of this post. So many little narratives happen in these paintings! 

And I cracked up at the gentleman below, dancing in his kilt!

Some of these photos aren't great because of the glare of glass or varnish but I gave it my best shot.

I loved this next one with the girl with a lion.

Una and the Lion (exhibited 1860)
William Bell Scott

My hope,
my heaven, 
my trust must be,
My gentle guide,
in following thee.

~Walter Scott from The Lady of the Lake

Saint Bride (1913)
John Duncan

This piece was one of my favorites of the day!

"According to the legend of the Irish Saint Bride she was transported miraculously to Bethlehem to attend the nativity of Christ. Here two angels carry the white robed saint across the sea. The seascape reflects Duncan's fascination with the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Iona. The birds and seal provide an effective naturalistic foil for the supernatural angels overlapping the patterned border. Scenes from the life of Christ decorate the angel's robes, and may include the artist's self-portrait as the tiny clown (a holy fool) accompanying the procession of the magi on the leading angel's gown." - from the website


To all, to each, a fair good-night,
And pleasing dreams, and slumbers light.
~Walter Scott

Dunnattoar Castle (1867)
Waller Hugh Paton

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania (1849)
Sir Joseph Noel Paton

I'd seen this painting back in 1997. They'd had an exhibition of fairy paintings in London, at the Royal Academy! It was so magical! The painting isn't quite as large as you'd imagine with so much detail (99 x 152 cm), and all the many lovely little vignettes ...

O, the tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive.
~Walter Scott

and funny, strange, little characters ...

It's said that Louis Carroll counted 165 fairies!

View of South Door and Aisle, 
Rosslyn Chapel (1830)
William Dyce

The Storm (1890)
William MacTaggart

This piece was kind of enormous. You get up close and see he's given us just enough information. With a few strokes of his brush he was able to create these figures so beautifully that there is movement, weather, and a sense of urgency.


Geisha Girl (1894)
George Henry

Saint Agnes (1889-1890)
David Gauld

The Vegetable Stall (1884)
William York MacGregor

This painting was huge for a still life (106 x 153 cm) and it was fantastic. Spectacular. It was so beautifully painted, with bold, thick, brushstrokes and deep rich colors! That red pops so beautifully against the green complimentary ... I would go back just to see those leaks again!

MacGregor was one of the leading artists in the group known as the Glasgow Boys. I'm not so sure I'd want to be in a group with him. Are you inspired or do just say the hell with it? Hmm.

Detail of the luscious leaks.

The Non Scots

Not a Scot but an Englishman ...

This next piece is pretty iconic and definitely speaks to our fantasies about the majestic Scottish Highlands. It was one of the most famous British paintings of the 19th century.

The Monarch of the Glen (c. 1851)
Sir Edwin Henry Landeer (English)

Mom and dad taking a load off.

John Singer Sargent- He was not English but he died in England. He was an American painter who was born in Florence and spent time traveling the world and studied in Paris. (Just got a pang of jealousy right there!)

This next painting was on the cover of a huge hardcover book that my parents own and I would just stare at it in wonder. It was stunning on the jacket but of course it is much more exquisite in person.

Lady Agnew of Lachnaw
John Singer Sargent (American)
Oil on canvas, 1892

Niagara Falls, from the American Side (1867)
Frederic Edwin Church (American)

The following piece kind of cracked me up! I posted it on Facebook with a comment about how air travel is very dehydrating.

Bust of a Groesque Old Woman (about 1730)
Attributed to Antonio Montauti (Italian)

One thing that was a bit unexpected was their beautiful examples of Dutch Masters. This Rembrandt is just simply magnificent.

A Woman in Bed (164(7?)
Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch)

Verdonck (about 1627)
Frans Hals (Dutch)

I love Franz' characters. Like a Rembrandt, you spot them immediately when you enter a gallery.

At some point I decided I was over Rubens. I mean, enough with the pink hips and heroic figures getting off ridiculously large ships and massive mythological and biblical tales where someone or other is getting attacked or massacred by a lion.

 But then, you see a painting like this.

A Study of a Head (Saint Ambrose) (about 1618)
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish)

Gorgeous. A complete stunner. You can feel the texture of his coat and his dewy skin, and you half expect him take a breath! It kind of makes me annoyed that he kept painting butts.

Looking out at Princes Street Gardens from our lunch at the National Gallery of Scotland. Good smoked salmon sandwich, by the way.

Will future ages believe that such stupid bigotry ever existed!
~Walter Scott

Princes Street Garden

Well, that basically gets us through lunch that day. After that? Edinburgh Castle and then north to see the Royal Yacht Britannia. But, you'll have to wait until the next post! 

Blessings and light!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Palace of Holyrood, Holyrood Abbey and the Royal Mile!

Edinburgh Day 2 part 2

Looking up at the Governors House on Calton Hill. The building built from 1815-1817 is what remains of the Calton Gaol. It looks a bit like a fairytale castle but it was the largest prison in Scotland at the time.

I'd left the outdoor food fest over at George Square and was making my way down the Royal Mile ...

Here's a little Scottish Renaissance lute music for the post.

Love the detail of the signage and beautiful old buildings!

Kirk of the Canongate
Founded in 1688, Completed 1691

This cute church below is just about a 5 minute walk from the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It serves the Parish of Canongate, the Scottish Parliament, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and is the parish church of Edinburgh Castle even though its at the opposite end of the Royal Mile!

It's also where the Queen worships when she's in residence at Holyroodhouse.

I didn't go into the cute church because I realized I was only going to have about an hour at Holyrood.  The thing is, everything takes longer than you think it will take.

In Scotland, there is a lot of "last entrance" times that are a half hour to an hour (or even more) before closing.

Palace of Holyroodhouse
16th and 17th Century

"House of the Holy Cross"

At one end of the Royal Mile, sitting atop an extinct volcano, is Edinburgh Castle and clear at the other end is the Palace of Holyroodhouse. It is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she's in town but its history is long and fascinating. 

Pipers and Dancers at the Palace, 1948

Queen Elizabeth arriving in Edinburgh, 1953
(It's goes on a little long but it's fun to see the beginning especially.)

My favorite thing in the Palace were the rooms of Mary Queen of Scots. Her bedroom has stayed much as it was in the 16th Century. Maybe it was my imagination or all the documentaries and visions of Katherine Hepburn in my head but I got such a strange feeling in her bedroom. It was as if its history was just a breath away and I was just for a moment stepping back in time.

It was there, in the little adjacent supper room, that her private secretary (the Italian musician David Rizzio) was grabbed and dragged through her bedroom to her Chamber room and murdered by her husband and his conspirators! 

Mary was witness to the whole violent murder while 7 months pregnant with her creep of a husband's baby. Not really surprising that her hub wound up dead shortly after, with her married to a hunk played by Nigel Davenport (opposite Vanessa Redgrave in the 1971 version). Sorry, I got cinematically distracted!

It was very cool to see the state rooms, the thrown room, and one of the big visiting areas where the Queen still receives people. It does feel lived in. Sadly you can't take photos inside so you'll have to do a Google image search and check their website. I originally had a BBC documentary posted on here but it was removed from YouTube. 

Holyrood Abbey
Founded 1128 AD


The ruins of Holyrood Abbey were so beautiful. This structure adjoins the palace and was my favorite thing about my visit to the grounds, along with Mary Queen of Scots rooms. The energy here was much more pleasant though! Happily, I had some beautiful moments of blue sky!

Here is a quick video with short history of the abbey.

Palace Gardens

I loved this little spot under the buttresses ... It would be a lovely spot to go back and sketch!

After Holyrood, I headed back up the Royal Mile and past the Parliament Building.

It was closed and I was getting hungry, so I didn't get good shots of this interesting building but I loved that on the outside wall, there were quotes by famous Scots.

This is my country
the land 
that begat me
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.
And those who toil here
in the sweat of their faces
Are flesh of my flesh
and bone of my bone.
~Sir Alexander Gray

 Then let us pray
That come it may
As come it will for a'that
That sense and worth
O'er a the earth, shall bear
The gree, an' a'that
For a' that, an' a'that
It's coming yet for a'that
That man to man
The world o'er,
Shall brothers be
For a'that.
~Robert Burns

The beautiful spire silhouette, below, is that of St. Giles Cathedral.

My parents were trying to figure out where to meet up, so we met at the Whisky Trail on the Royal Mile. My dad and I did our first Whisky tasting of the trip. (That might have been my idea.)

I go for the very peaty stuff, while he goes a little more mild and not quite so smokey.

The Whisky Trail

These were the 4 that we tried. I have to say I'm a often a sucker for packaging and a pretty label but when it comes to Scotch I am able to focus. My dad ended up with the bottle of Scotch, second from the right. A lovely smooth award winning Speyside Scotch. I got the one on the far left, and pictured below.

My mom was rolling her eyes at us. "You guys realize it's the second night of the trip, and you're going to have to carry around those bottles for the next 3 weeks?!" Yeah, it might not have been the brightest idea. In fact, it wasn't. But, when my niece and I popped open the bottle after a dinner when I returned to L.A., it felt awfully worth it. Delicious and 1 of only 875 bottles.

Somehow, after we left the tasting we scored a table on the next block down at the Whiski Bar and Restaurant without too much of a wait! Thank goodness! It had been a while since I'd eaten those snacks at the park! On top of that I'd done the Scotch tasting and eaten a couple of short bread cookies to boost my blood sugar after the palace. Um, protein please?

They played great music and when we were seated we ended up having a wonderful meal. I don't remember what my parents ordered but I had the Scottish Salmon and lemon cream sauce with mash potato. Yum! Why is the Scottish salmon so amazing?? It's so mild and lovely. I ended up eating a lot of it on the trip and just copious amount of seafood in general!

Apparently, they have live traditional music every night but we were done for the day! We'd have to wait for our live music for another time.

The following day? Mary King's Close, The National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle and out to see the Royal Yacht Brittiania. Yeah, lots to do in and around Edinburgh!

Blessings and light!
(And sorry for the typos! Editing in wee hours!)