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U.K. Travel Diary: Day 6

May 24, 2011

Today was sightseeing in Edinburgh.  We went to the “New Town” first, which is the Georgian section of town and was home to many inventors, poets and authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.  Edinburgh is a proud city, and rightfully so; the people here are jovial, friendly, cheeky and creative.

Home of Robert Louis Stevenson

Edinburgh is a UNESCO Literary Heritage site, and its love of the written and spoken word is palpable and inspiring.

Our first walking stop on the tour was the Palace of Holyrood, which was by far one of my favorite sites we visited.  It is widely known for its association with Mary, Queen of Scots during Tudor times.  Our tour guide knew her story well, although she is not very beloved today.  Her life is a tale of queenship, vanity, destroyed love, misplaced patriotism and ultimate despair.

The palace itself (much like Hampton Court) houses two distinct styles of architecture – Tudor and Restoration.  Charles II rebuilt and altered the house greatly in the 1600s.  Today, they were setting up inside for a visit by the Duke of Kent (the queen’s cousin).

The star of the visit was a trip up to Mary, Queen of Scots’s original rooms, where she was forced by her brute of a husband, Lord Darnley, to witness the murder of her friend and secretary David Rizzio by her own Scottish lords.  The supposed “true bed and furniture” of Mary is a bit of a misnomer.  None of the furnishings currently on display would have been the “original” ones, and much of it is from a later period ,but most tourists wouldn’t blink an eye at that, I’m sure.  The “blood stain” on the floor is also a fake, a remnant of Victorian times when they wanted to “sell” the murder to drive tickets, no doubt.

inner court at Holyrood Palace

The murder itself, however, was quite real, and would end up changing the course of Brit politics in a roundabout way.   There is a miniature of Mary on display in her apartments.  It is the only surviving portrait of her painted while she was alive.

Alas, the tour guides don’t tell the end of the story to the tourists.  Poor Mary would get her revenge on her useless philandering husband (who was also pock-marked and syphillitic, to boot) by attempting to blow up the building he was convalescing in while he was inside.  When this failed (he wandered out), her minions were forced to brutally murder him and attempt to explain his death on the fire (not very convincing when his strangulation wounds were obvious).

Eventually, the Scots people had enough of this French-educated tart of a queen and promptly chased her out of the country, right into the arms of her cousin Liz I across the border.  Mary then tried to have a “Who’s the Most Awesome Queen in the Isles” contest with Elizabeth, who arched her skinny plucked eyebrows and promptly declared, “Hell to the No, Wench” and locked Mary up in various rotting castles for over 19 years before finally executing her for treason.  Well played, Liz, well played.

ruins of Holyrood Abbey

Back to the tour..

On the way out of Holyrood, you pass through the ruins of the medieval Holyrood Abbey, which we saw in some rather picturesque rain, only adding to the creepy gothic aura.

Next, it was off to Edinburgh Castle, which has been a palace, a barracks and also Scotland’s primary garrison for centuries.  The castle has a bloody but interesting history in the war versus England.  We saw the Scottish Crown Jewels, the chamber where James I of England was unceremoniously born (his mother being the aforementioned Mary Queen of Scots), and admired the best views in the city from the cannongate.

The whole castle is built on volcanic black rock, and lit up at night it is a marvel to see.

in front of Edinburgh castle

That evening, we took a trip to the harbor at Leith to tour the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was QE II’s yacht that was decomissioned in 1997 because, as our guide stated, it was “a floating gin palace”.  Basically, the common folk didn’t like their taxpayer money being pumped into such a waste of cash.

The yacht served as the Queen’s home away from home for over 50 years.  The royal apartments are surprisingly sparse – not much more impressive than our London hotel room.  Then you look around and notice that it took over 200 people to run this little “boat” (including naval officers, a royal band on call 24-7 and two doctors).

Queen's sitting room on the Britannia

The State Dining Room is impressive and everything is styled as if it were an event that very evening, right down to the polished plate and fresh flowers.  I can imagine the Brits tax payers ire at the costs demanded to run this floating mini-kingdom.  Today, however, the revenue from tours goes to the British Heritage Fund, helping to preserve historic sites across the U.K.  Hail, Britannia!

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