Day 10: Old Town Edinburgh


I got up about 7am, got the 2nd load of laundry in the wash and figured out what we would do today. Dan was up by about 8:30 or 9. We had a simple breakfast of eggs, yogurt, and granola cookies from the grocery store the night before and headed out about 10am.

On the same block on our flat towards the center is the Museum of Edinburgh. It wasn’t on the official “to do” list but it was free, so we stopped in. We do like getting historical backdrops to whatever town we’re visiting and this provided it. Old Town, where we are staying, had medieval roots, most of dating back from 1100’s to 1500’s. New Town, across the bridge from this neighborhood, was built in the 1700’s to address the crowding here and at the time was considered a model of “modern” urban planning. Both areas are protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Meaning their look won’t change. They are modernized today – Edinburgh, like every European town we’ve visited, can’t live without Starbucks or Subway either, apparently – but the buildings themselves look like they did then. Our flat has been completely refurbished – in fact from the inside looks brand new – but the building we’re in is definitely old. The museum had a more original look to it – with lots of creaky wooden floors.

A few pictures from this museum.

Really pretty grandfather clocks made in Edinburgh, here in and in the next museum we went to.
I just liked the look of this room.
Douglas Haig from Edinburgh was Commander of the British Army during WWI. He was made an Earl after the War for his accomplishments and got to wear these.

We were there about an hour and continued up the hill.

As opposed to “just a little Scottish”?
Adam Smith, of Wealth of Nations/Invisible Hand fame. He taught at Glasgow University (about an hour from here) and gave public lectures in Edinburgh on logic and philosophy.
Dan thought this looked like something Jack the Ripper might have liked! It’s called a “close” – and along with “wynds” they are all over this town – little nooks and crannies between buildings that may or may not lead somewhere else. There are often cute little restaurants in them though.
Nothing in particular we just liked the look of this side street.
Same as above.
A cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. Her sister lived in Edinburgh and she came to stay with her after her divorce in the early 90’s.

The one museum that was on our list was the National Museum of Scotland. It was also free, and huge. Five floors and a wide range of exhibits:

  • Natural World
  • World Cultures
  • Art & Design
  • Science & Technology
  • Scotland

We only focused on the Scotland sections, from about 500 AD to 1800 AD and still spent about 2 hours there! We’re both interested in Middle Ages and Renaissance periods of any culture, and the backdrop of the Stewart dynasty here was pretty interesting. Most of those Kings – plus Mary – were children when they got the job – babies in some cases – where regents ruled for them until they were of age. Then died young either in battle or killed by some kind of court or family intrigue. As I recall, most were dead by 30! Crazy times.

Dan liked these torture implements. Think I should be worried?
It was a pretty impressive modern building.

Across the street from the museum was Greyfriars Kirk, or church. I hadn’t seen that reference used – kirk – for a church since we were in the Netherlands last year. But it’s definitely Scottish. In 1638, “The Covenant” was signed there, a couple of hundred Scottish folk now under English rule refusing to give up the Catholic Church. There’s also a cemetery where, among other people of course, a dog referred to as Greyfriars Bobby is buried. This town is full of lore about this little dog, who sat at his masters grave in this cemetery for 14 years after his death. There was a pub next door and the owner trained the dog to come to lunch at a 1pm bell, so that dog got to be well known in town. Apparently there was a Disney movie about it that we missed! Anyway, that pub is now called Greyfriars Bobby, and there’s a statue of the dog in front of it. We didn’t get a picture of it because there were too many people standing around it getting their pictures taken with it.

“Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.” It’s a sweet story.
You can’t tell in this photos, but those people to the far left are each gathered with their Scottish Terriers – most of them black like Bobby. There were about 6 of them.
More cemetery.
Lunchtime. It was called Doctors I think, and was off the tourist path closer to the University of Edinburgh, which has a good medical school.
The top one was mine: ox cheek pie. It was delicious and in the most puffed up pastry I’d ever seen. Dan had fish & chips below and it was also a huge piece of cod. With curry sauce!


Looking back down the Royal Mile from Castle Hill. The building on the left with the white cap is the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. More on that to come.
The outside of the castle – Edinburgh Castle, that is. It’s a massive complex, more like a small village behind walls really. We didn’t go in. It was a pricey ticket, the reviews on TripAdvisor were mixed and we had other things on our list. Cool looking from the outside though.

Next we went to the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. Camera Obscura has roots dating back to Aristotle. In today’s language we’d call it a skycam. With a pinhole and arrangement of lens and mirrors, it projects what’s going on outside inside. They were big during the Renaissance, artists used them to draw from. There are only 10 left in the world. One of them is in San Francisco, by Cliff House, and I’ve been to it many times. Dan had not. The one there is simple – just the obscura and a few holograms. This one here had 5 floors of “illusion” stuff leading up to the camera. It was very hands on and lots of fun. Great for kids, or the kid in all of us. We were there for 2 hours!

One of the first things we encountered was a maze of mirrors. For the most part you could find your way around – just look for the space with no fingerprints! – but it was still trippy to look at.
This was a walkway with mirrors and one set of lights in constant reflection.
My turn to be goofy. You walked under this table from behind. There are mirrors aligned with it that create the illusion there’s nothing beneath them.
This was a strange little station where two people sat on either side of like a two-way mirror, and with a knob you could blend the images of both parties.
The face in the cylinder in the middle is being reflected from the landscape drawing.
If I were a monkey. This contraption took your photo and asked for basic stats – race, age. Then you could select different versions of yourself to transform into. Monkey was one. Another was baby; I don’t remember the others.
This was my favorite. That cylinder of lights is spinning around you. It looks tame enough standing outside, but as soon as you walk in you COMPLETELY lose your balance and it becomes an E ticket ride. It was mind boggling.
There were several Escher references here that reminded us of “Escher and the Palace” which we did in The Hague last year. They had this, too – only there you had to pay to have your photo taken. Here you could get another tourist to do it for free, so we took turns with the two women who were in front of us.
More goofy time. But I loved Dan’s instinct to drop down, and his expression!
Views from the outside platform on the 6th floor.
Looking back down The Royal Mile.

Next we took the long way around to Holyrood Park, which is at the very bottom of the Royal Mile and very close to our flat. We crossed over and walked along the edge of New Town to get there to see different things. Really pretty parks and buildings, and the terrain of this town creates a lot of beauty. We really like Edinburgh!

The national Church of Scotland.
They make great use of the valleys.
The trains tracks and station run in the valley between Old Town and New Town.
I loved this relief map, which gives you a better idea of the terrain. That’s the castle top right, Old Town and the Royal Mile is that hill leading up to it. Everything on the left is New Town. The hill in the distance on the left is Holyrood Park, our next stop.


Monument to Sir Walter Scott. Looks a lot like Cologne Cathedral! 287 steps up to the top. We passed.
A random cemetery along the way. This tombstone honored Scottish-Americans who died in our Civil War. Yes, that’s Abraham Lincoln.


This was a path leading down to the train tracks.


Holyrood Palace, home of Mary Queen of Scots before she was shipped off to the Tower of London. The current Q of E stays here several weeks a year. We hadn’t planned on going in, and it was closed when we got there, so this was as close as we could get. If you look Really Carefully you can see Scottish guards standing on either side of the door. One of the things we loved about Edinburgh is there’s always some guy in Scottish uniform playing bagpipes really well. It creates a great ambiance to the visit.
Across from the Palace with Holyrood Park in the background. The summit of that hill is called Arthur’s Seat, at 824 feet. We chose one of the lesser peaks due to time (and energy!) but were very satisfied with the views.
That body of water in the background is the Firth of Forth. A firth is an estuary, and Forth is a river; water flows through from the river to the North Sea.
That look down was such a straight edged drop. Instant vertigo!
Holyrood Palace left of center.
The white thing middle left is the train station between Old Town and New Town.

We had dinner at a place called Canon’s Gait just up the block from our flat. The specific area we’re in is called Canongate, which was its own little burgh before it was annexed. Dan had a steak and ale pie, which was good but he wasn’t very hungry for some reason so we’ll have those leftovers for breakfast this morning! (Yes, I’m writing this the next morning because I was horribly tired for some reason by the time we got in and settled. All I did was prep and upload the photos to the blog, then did all the writing over coffee this morning. Feeling much better!) I had chicken breast stuffed with haggis, so I could say I tried it but if I didn’t like it I didn’t have to deal with a whole meal of it. It was OK. I did eat all of it! The mash of turnips and potatoes was actually quite good.

We were back pretty early in comparison to some days – about 8:30 – but having started out about 10am it was definitely a full day. I was in bed by 11pm; Dan stayed up watching X-men First Class, a show called Grand Designs – British remodels! – and who knows what else. He’s still asleep. It’s about 7:30am here. Today is a day trip by bus to the countryside.

One final comment about pronunciation. “Edinburgh” is more like “bread-n-butter” without the first B or final R. Our belief is that New York’s use of “borough” is a more phonetic spelling of how it’s pronounced, but comes from the same source. Just a guess.

0 thoughts on “Day 10: Old Town Edinburgh”

  1. Fabulous narration as always! I smiled reading the comment around the pronunciation of Edinburgh. You'll see/hear more of this in London! Eg Aldwych is not "Ald-ich" but rather "Ald -witch". Some anglo-saxon etymology explanation to it! Hope you continue to have a fabulous time!

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