Chapter Six: Paintings, Princes, Peacocks, Pastries, Pubs & Afternoon Tea In Edinburgh

MaiTaiTom Gets The Royal Treatment…Two Weeks Exploring London and Scotland

Chapter Six: Paintings, Princes, Peacocks, Pastries, Pubs & Afternoon Tea In Edinburgh

DAY SEVEN – Magnificent Museum, Not Related To Spiro, Bear With Me, Closed Kirk, Remembering Bob, Unique Ceiling, No We’re Not In Atlanta, It Takes A Village (Sort of), What Goes Down Must Come Up, Climbing Everest Would Be Easier, Any Pub In A Storm, Disheveled Guests, Prince & The Paupers, Our Foursome Has A Tea Time, So This Is What 20,000 Calories Tastes Like, Don’t Fowl Up This Wedding, Sunset Of Our Lives and Happy 500th Birthday!

As we sat at the Millers64 breakfast table (loved my porridge), we told Louise about our London friend Brock’s cyder company. He had given us a bottle sometime during the “night of terror,” so we thought it would be fun to share with Louise, Shona and their mum (not for breakfast, but for our last night, which would be the following evening).   We headed out early, and our rejuvenated feet took us all the way to The Mound and the Scottish National Gallery (free), arriving shortly after its 10 a.m. opening.

The museum houses art from masters such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Titian and many more. This collection of fine art includes Scottish and international art from the beginning of the Renaissance to the beginning of the 20th century.  The art is housed in a “neoclassical” building that first opened to the public in 1859.

We found this to be an easy navigable and well-laid out museum. Some museums can feel overwhelming…this is not one of them.  I had a Spain flashback when I saw a couple of El Greco paintings, including his Saviour of the World.

Raphael’s The Holy Family with a Palm Tree caught my eye…

…but as I gazed upon these masterpieces Tracy grabbed me by the arm and just said one word: “Agnew.” I told her that Spiro had been dead for more than two decades.   “Not Spiro,” she replied… 

“but another great painting by Sargent, ‘Lady Agnew of Lochnaw’.”   Not wanting to be one of those “Nattering nabobs of negativism,” I had to admit this oil on canvas was lovely, and Tracy deemed this her second favorite painting of the trip.

The vivid color of the wall really helps the painting pop.  Actually, the color of all the walls of this museum added immensely to viewing the paintings.


With all the great artwork, we stayed in the gallery much longer than we had anticipated.


Before leaving we admired The Campbell Sisters, which is “the most important piece of Italian sculpture carved for Scottish patron.” The marble piece was created in the early 1820s by Lorenzo Bartolini.  The two shown here are “dancing a waltz.”


Shortly afterward we waltzed out toward our next destination, but only after I readied myself for all our walking.


In the center of Edinburgh’s World heritage site, we walked down the stairs (without slipping) to Princes Street Gardens on a drizzly morning.  We could see why this has been called “one of the most photographed parks in Europe,” with Edinburgh’s castle making a perfect backdrop.


There are more than 30,000 plants here and some interesting statues. One of the most intriguing was a statue immortalizing a beer-drinking bear who participated in World War II (I assume he’d also been a Cub Scout when he was younger).  It is part of a memorial to Polish men and women who participated in World War II.

From an old newspaper account I learned that, “Wojtek was rescued as a cub in the Middle East in 1943. The Polish soldiers adopted him and as he grew, he was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds. When their forces were deployed to Europe the only way to take the bear with them was to ‘enlist’ him. So he was given a name, rank and number and took part in the Italian campaign. At the end of the war the bear, who had also learned how to smoke and drink beer, was billeted at an army camp in the Scottish Borders. When the Polish soldiers were demobilized, he was taken to the Edinburgh Zoo where he eventually died in 1963.”

The statue, “The Call,” which was erected in 1927, was funded by Americans of Scottish descent who wished to recognize the bravery and sacrifice of Scottish Soldiers during World War One.  This is a part of the Scots American War Memorial.

This equestrian statue is a part of the Royal Scots Greys Boer War Memorial.

As we admired the flowers and plants, we also were cognizant of booths being set up. Little did we know that those booths would provide us a Royal opportunity the following day.


Walking by the Ross Fountain (which I don’t think was the fountain in Friends) provided great shots of the castle in the background. The fountain has been here for more than 140 years.


There are so many great angles from this park to shoot the castle (hopefully just with your camera or phone).

Nearby Princes Street Gardens stands the church we had seen from Edinburgh Castle the day before, St.Cuthbert Parish Church.  The first record of a church in this location was in the 12th century (this one dates from the 19th century…the steeple dates from 1789).

We had wanted to see a da Vinci-inspired Last Supper frieze inside, but the church was closed due to a concert to be held later in the day. We’d get another opportunity the following day.

The drizzly day made for quite an atmospheric stroll through the surrounding Kirkyard.


First we passed by a sculpture of David Dickson and his family. Dickson was the minister here for 40 years.

The Kirkyard was both eerie and beautiful.


The mist falling enhanced our walk…


…then came quite an unexpected moment. The four of us had been talking about our late friend Robert (Bob) Black (my friend for 50 years who passed away in 2012).   We mentioned how we had seen so many people who looked remarkably like Bob in recent days and weeks.  Just as we said that, there was a headstone stating “To the memory of Robert Black.”  It was a pretty startling moment.  Looking at the tombstone, Tracy remarked, “Bob never told us he was married to Rachel Ray.”    He would have liked the joke.


We meandered for a bit more through the Kirkyard before moving on.


Back at street level, we turned around for one more view of St. Cuthbert.

Up ahead loomed another church, and St. John’s Episcopal Church was open. It also housed a famed ceiling begging Kim and Tracy to take its photo.  This ceiling has been called “spellbinding,” it’s truly remarkable to see in person.

The plaster fan-vaulted ceiling had all inside the church tilting their heads skyward.  Inspired by King Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey, we were told by a docent  that the ceiling was painted to look like metal.

The church was consecrated in 1818…


…and most of the stained-glass windows were the work of the Edinburgh studio of Ballantyne and Allan.


Stepping back outside, we came upon a memorial to Dean Ramsey, who was an Episcopal clergyman. On the grounds of St. Johns is a Celtic Cross (measuring more than 20 feet) in Shep granite with bronze sculpted panels, which was put there in his memory.

After quickly stopping in a store to pick up some perfume that Tracy could only get at something called White Company on George Street, we walked back down Rose Street, which looked like it could be a happening spot at night.  We thought about stopping for a beer, but we had a house to visit.

Walking past Charlotte Square and the large equestrian statue of Prince Albert (who was not in a can)…

…it was time to visit The Georgian House (7 Charlotte Square…£7.50), which allows you to experience affluent life in 18th-century Edinburgh. It all starts with a very informative and well put together  15-minute video.

The house has been been fully restored and furnished with period furniture and art.


We toured all the rooms, and there were docents in each to describe the artifacts and further explain the home’s history and owners.


In one room, there is garb from the 18th century that they encourage their guests try on.  I believe the distinguished looking Kim took it a little more seriously that I did, although, to be fair, he was born closer to the 18th century than myself.


This bed’s headboard had pockets for watches so they would not get scratched if laid on the desk.  The Georgian House was a pleasant surprise, and if you have the time it’s well worth a visit, in my opinion.


Kim (our dedicated Mapman) then took us down a large hill in search of Dean Village.  The sky was ominous (as was the hill).  At the bottom of the hill is the Water of Leath (a small Edinburgh waterway).  We were just about ready to take a half mile stroll next to the river when the Water Of Heavens opened up. It started pouring.

We decided to postpone Dean Village and made the trek back up from whence we came.

About 3/4 of the way up the hill, I told Tracy where she could bury me, but somehow we made it.  Now we had to find some civilization.

On Queensferry Street was a large sign for Mather’s Bar.   Soaking wet, we stepped inside. Although we were all hungry, we didn’t eat here because we were about 60 minutes from our appointed time for Afternoon Tea at Prestonfield House.


At Mather’s we enjoyed a couple of brews and dried off as best we could. Because of our longer than expected hike, we did not have enough time to go back to Millers64, change and get to tea. We’d have to go as we were…and we were soaked.At our appointed 3 p.m. tea time, our taxi pulled up to Prestonfield House, and to say we felt a little underdressed would be quite an understatement.   Prestonfield House’s greenery takes verdant to the next level.


Manicured lawns abounded and inside the stunning, centuries-old estate we walked.  Fearing the hostess would think that a bunch of ragamuffins had descended upon their grand hotel, we apologized and tried to explain our appearance.  She just laughed and said, “We don’t care. We hope you enjoy your experience.”  And enjoy it we most certainly did.  Walking through the corridors of this place, the interiors were astonishing.


Each room seemed more gorgeous than the next…


…and we were seated on chairs and a couch in an incredibly beautiful area.  Sitting across from us were three impeccably dressed women. They took time out from their tea to fill us in on the history of the manor built in the late 1600s.  They also gave us a short Scottish monarchy history lesson.

We were encouraged by the staff to walk around and take photos,and when I returned to the couch a guy dressed in scruffy jeans walked into a nearby private room.  Finally someone dressed a little worse than us.  One of our servers said she believed it might be a prince from some country.  We were now in good company.

Even the bathrooms are exquisite…


…as are the views from the bathroom window.

Oh, and those floral arrangements…

….they had Tracy drooling.


For those of you who have never experienced an Afternoon Tea, I will try to explain the orgy of food that descended upon our table for the next 90 minutes.

Tracy and I decided to go for the Champagne Tea option (£40 per person).  Kim and Mary went for the “No” Champagne option (£30).


First up were sensational Haggis Balls (yes, sensational) and Palmiers with red onions.  The Haggis contained a wonderful spice that contributed to its “Wow” factor.


We were served our afternoon tea, and thankfully they offered a delicious decaf or our group wouldn’t have slept until the Isle of Skye a few days later.

It was then that the assembly line of food started at our table.  Finger sandwiches of egg, ham, cucumber and salmon.  I barely had enough fingers to eat them.

Send in the Scones. There were plain scones and raisin scones complete with scrumptious raspberry jam and clotted cream.  Speaking of clotted, by now so were my arteries.

About 25,000 calories into our meal, we started on our sweets.  Before I dug in, I asked whether the manor included an ER facility.


Sweets included raspberry macarons filled with chocolate, white chocolate cake bites, cream puff and mini strawberry tartlets.  Right in the middle of my second cream puff my belt snapped and flew across the room.  We needed the tea and champagne to wash this all down.  The amount of food we devoured would have fed half the population of Liechtenstein.

Amazingly, except for one tiny finger sandwich (sorry Mr. Cucumber), all the food was consumed by our foursome. Gluttony had been taken to the next level. “Where do you want to go for dinner?” I joked.  Stuffed, we thanked our servers and made our way past more opulent rooms…

…outside to tour the immaculate grounds.  Looking down the driveway, we realized we were smack dab in the middle of a wedding (not Pippa’s, however)…and I hadn’t even packed my Fascinator!


Two distinctive sounds seemed to be at odds with one another.   A Piper (I do not know if his name was Peter) was playing the bagpipes as the couple strode toward the mansion.

Meanwhile, a muster (yes, I had to look that up) of peacocks were singing along, making for quite a sound…and quite a sight.  I believe the piper was giving this peacock “The Look.”

Many of the peacocks were already staking out their tables and chairs for the nuptials. Fortunately, the bride and groom did not seem in a fowl mood.


These guys were getting a little impatient for the hors d’oeuvres.

For the next 20 minutes or so we walked around the grounds…

…trying to shed all those calories.

No matter where you walked…

...the area was lush and gorgeous.


If you ever are afforded this opportunity, I suggest you give it a try.  Trust me, you won’t need dinner.

Back at Millers64 (gasp), we all (well, not me) took a nap. I was busy trying to figure out where to go after this nonsensical sleep time ended and finding an easier fitting pair of pants.

Thankfully, they eventually woke up, and a little before 8 p.m., we hopped in a taxi and had our driver drop us off at Princes Street Gardens, so we could walk over the North Bridge that links the New Town to the Old Town. On the bridge is the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Memorial, a memorial to the soldiers of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Regiment who died during many campaigns from 1878 – 1902.  It was unveiled in 1906.

Up we walked…


…took some more photos on the Royal Mile…


…and said hello to our favorite statues and stopped into a pub.  I could have stayed in Edinburgh for another month.


Then it was time to head down to what turned out to be the eclectic and electric Grassmarket.

Restaurants and pubs abound in this area.

First we wanted to take some sunset photos of the castle…

…and some more photos of the castle as it grew darker outside.


Next trip we’ll spend some more time down here.  Originally Grassmarket was a marketplace for horse and cattle from the 14th century until the early 19th century and was also renowned for its public executions.  Hey, you have to have entertainment.

Somehow this intrepid group still had room for even more calories, although tonight’s would come in a liquid form. We stopped into the rollicking White Hart Inn that proclaims to have been around for 500 years.  The area and this pub were hopping.

Speaking of executions…so the story goes, “Two of the most infamous patrons were Edinburgh’s notorious bodysnatchers, William Burke and William Hare, who spent the year of 1828 enticing several of their fellow patrons back to their nearby lodgings only to murder them and sell their corpses to Dr Knox at Edinburgh Medical School. Their faces may still be seen grinning from their places on The White Hart’s beams.”

Just like the executed Mr. Burke below, we hung out and enjoyed a couple of beers here.

We left Grassmarket via the colorful and winding Victoria Street.


Once again, Harry Potter reared his ever-present head.


J.K Rowling based Diagon Alley (whatever that is) from the book on this street that connects Grassmarket to the Royal Mile.

Another incredibly busy day was in the books, and we only had one more day to explore this marvelous city.

Tomorrow, we’d get our exercise early scaling one of Edinburgh’s famous hills, pay respect to our 16th president, check out another of the city’s art galleries, found time to eat an incredible cheese toastie, stop in a town fair, walk along a bucolic path with fantastic scenery and buildings, check out the Last Supper, have a Jekyll and Hyde ale, attempt to give a Princess a piece of our mind, attend a garden party with our b&b hostesses and finish up with a terrific Italian dinner.

Edinburgh, I think I’m in love with you!

Next: Day Seven – A Hill Of A Climb, Thankfully Not Open Yet, “Tracy Fell Off The Cliff!”, Edinburgh’s “Folly”, Show Off, Are We In Athens, Honest Abe, Fantastic Foyer, Cheese Please, The Path Less Taken, St. Bernard Without Rum, The Village Idiot, Not Quite As Bad This Time, The Last Supper, Drinks With Deacon, Princess At Princes, The Apple Of Our Eye, Cyder House Rules, Our Favorita Italiano and Cheers To Edinburgh!!!


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