We started our day with a visit to St. Giles Cathedral. I put Steve in charge of photographing the stained glass windows and went about walking around and giving him tidbits of information from the walking guide.
We were a bit disappointed to find the Thistle Chapel was closed, with a sign outside the door saying there were no tours planned. Knowing we had a few more days in Edinburgh and could return if we wanted to, I approached the visitor desk to ask if it was closed indefinitely, or if there would be tours later in the week. My timing was spectacular as the woman giving the tours had just arrived at the desk and told me she could give us a tour right then. Thanking her, I hurried back to retrieve Steve so we could be at the chapel before a crowd gathered.
Finishing up at the cathedral, we went over to Gladstone’s Land to see the preserved 17th century building. This was somehow “less” than we expected. We both thought the exhibit would go up at least one more floor and show what the rooms of the wretched poor on the upper levels would have looked like, but we were limited to the merchant space on the lower level and the Georgian furnishings on the second floor.
We didn’t spend much time here, but we did procure a tartan-wearing wooden duck figure that Steve intends to place on our fireplace mantel, and I stopped to admire the model pigs outside.
We spent the remainder of the day at the National Museum of Scotland, where we learned about the inhabitants from prehistoric times through the 20th century. It was a very interesting and thorough exhibit, but we were both very confused by the layout of the floors that dealt with history from the 12th century on. While the early Picts and Roman occupation were in chronological order, the later history was not. When Steve asked a docent about how to navigate a room, after a deep sigh, she told him that the exhibits were meant to be “explored”. Okay. . . I get that, but I also know I missed parts of the exhibit because there were hidden rooms and alcoves involved. Exploration is fine, but better signage would have been appreciated. Even explorers hire Sherpas to guide them!
Heading back up to the Royal Mile, we stopped for a few photos of the old Parliament Square, before heading down for dinner at the World’s End pub.
This was one of our longer days, as we had an evening tour planned at the Real Mary King’s Close. It was interesting to see the old tenement housing and hear a bit of the history, but our guide was a bit lackluster and the information very surface-level. I was already familiar with plague issues, the layout of the closes, and the gardyloo. Some interesting stories were told, but they seemed intended to appeal mainly to the icky and spooky factors than anything. Not wholly unexpected, just a comment.
There was one particularly spine-tingling moment, however. At the very end, they had us stand in the close for an infrared photo that would “steal our souls”. I can’t say much about the effect on my soul, but it did seem to steal about 20 years off my life – viewing the photo afterwards, the lack of color in my face and the color of my hair gone grey, I was staring into my future. It wasn’t overly horrific – honestly, if I look like that in 20 years, I’ll be rather pleased – but it did give me a jolt, particularly since Steve didn’t look that much different. After all, his hair is already more salt then pepper.
As I stared at the photo, Steve said “you look like your mom”. We chose not to purchase the photo and made our way back to the hotel, a shiver continuing to run down my spine.