Outside the Writer's Museum.
We then hit a bunch of shops, as souveniers and gifts to take home were a must. Especially since Edinburgh was the largest city we would be visiting. After shoping, we paused for a quick photo-op of the Royal Mile itself and headed down the hill, passing by St. Giles Cathedral. The cathedral dates from the 14th century (but was extensively restored in the 19th century). It has been a site of worship for over 900 years and is now the center of the Church of Scotland. It has a distinctive crown steeple which is easily recognizable from pretty much anywhere on the Royal Mile. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Giles, who is the patron saint of Edinburgh.
Looking down the Royal Mile.
St. Giles Cathedral
The cathedral also has a really great kind of hidden cafe in the basement (you have to walk around to the back from the touristy side to find the entrance) where Wendy and I had a delicious and cheap lunch...well, cheap for Scotland. We kind of get hosed on the exchange rate, so even a 7 pound lunch ends up costing over 10 bucks. Sigh.
Once we had refreshed a bit, we took a little detour down one of the streets that leads off to the Royal Mile. I was on my way to the Edinburgh Royal Museum and I think Wendy was in search of a knitting shop she had encountered the year before. Our wandering led us right past The Elephant House, the coffeehouse where JK Rowling famously spent her days writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I have to admit it was kind of exciting to linger outside the shop and envision her sitting at a small table with a cup of coffee dreaming up one of my favorite book series of all time.
And this is where the magic all began...
From there, it was just across the street to the museum. Unfortunately, this is where things got a bit sticky. It seems the Edinburgh Royal Museum and the Royal Museum of Scotland used to be two separate museums--and this was the indication in my guidebook. But in the last year the two museums merged into one building. So I spent about 20 minutes wandering around scratching my head and asking random Scots where a museum was that didn't exist anymore. Finally, I went into the actual museum and there I learned of the merger.
So what's the Millennium Clock? I first ran across it on my initial visit to Edinburgh back in 2001.
The clock was created by four master craftsman for the Scottish Millennium Festival. It's not exactly a cheerful piece, as it commemorates human suffering throughout the twentieth century, as we stood trapped in the neverending prison of time. It's divided into four sections, the crypt, the nave, the belfry, and the spire. Each one contains unique and highly symbolic figures. The most disturbing are near the top, where charactures of Hitler and Stalin pass a large saw back and forth; sawing through the lives of humanity in the century. But not all hope is lost--at the very top of the clock stands "the pietà, in the shape of a cross. A female figure carrying a dead man. She is the mother, the wife, the daughter, the sister, the friend. Pietà is Italian for pity, compassion."
Coming to view the clock has become something of a pilgrimage for me every time I visit Edinburgh. It's beautiful and horrifying and it serves as a reminder for what people are capable of--both in terms of terror and compassion.
After leaving the museum and walking back down most of the Royal Mile, I needed a rest. I headed back to our apartment (which you might recall was less than a block off the main road) and took a bit of a break. I met back up with Chris, Kent, and Wendy, and we set out for our last stop of the day--the Palace of Holyroodhouse.
It is the official residence of the Monarch in Scotland and is mostly used for state ceremonies and entertaining. Next to the palace are the ruins of an abbey that was founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128, and Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 15th century. Queen Elizabeth II spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies.
Keeping an eye out for invaders...
The Abbey ruins, just outside the back of the Palace.
The ruins from the garden surrounding the Palace.
Right next to the Palace is an inactive volcano crater. It's one of the seven hills of Edinburgh.
On our way back from Holyrood, we stopped at another pub for dinner that was right around the corner from our apartment. The food was yummy, but Kent found a small bug in his salad (the horror!) and we all ended up getting our entire meal comped. Score! Thanks for taking one for the team, Kent!
Coming up next time: St. Andrews!