A Photographer Abroad Days 12-15: Holyrood Castle, Princes Street Gardens, and the Museum of Scotland

Return, recharge, restart.

Here it is, folks: the end of my travels abroad…and well overdue. I didn’t realize how go-go-going for two weeks could take the wind out of my sails the moment my head hit the pillow on my bed. So now, over two months later, I am finally posting my final two days in Edinburgh!!

Firstly, I find it so cool that the official animal of Scotland is a unicorn. Why restrict yourself to fact when you can have legend and myth on your crest? Julie made a game for the kids of finding as many unicorns as possible on our expeditions.

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We started out at Holyrood Castle, the official residence of Her Majesty the Queen in Scotland. As I walked through the museum-style rooms filled with tapestries and vaulted ceilings, I had a hard time imagining what it must be like to call this immense property home. Emma had no problem imagining after receiving her new favorite crown at Edinburgh Castle the day before and proceeded to respond only to “your highness” or “my lady” when I addressed her. We stopped in the gift shop before entering the castle where she picked out a sparkling scepter to be retrieved after the castle tour. Nevin picked out a fire-breathing dragon.

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Most of the interior of the castle, still festooned for Christmas, was off limits to photographs, but they had an impressive spread in the family area, complete with face painting, dress up, and card crafting where I was able to use my camera. Emma had left her new crown at home for fear of losing it, but was appeased when she got a beautiful glittery crown painted on her brow. Inspired by his own gift, Nevin chose a dragon.

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After story time, Jeremy, Nevin, and I went outside to explore the abbey ruins adjacent to the house. The architecture was stunning; after observing many other churches and castles from my previous explorations, it didn’t take much for me to fill in the architectural gaps in my mind. The sun was setting behind Arthur’s seat, I would have given anything to see the abbey with the golden rays filtering through the now-missing stained glass windows.

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It was cold, so while everyone else went to grab lunch, I took some time to explore the abandoned grounds. It was eerie, almost, wandering the all but abandoned gardens alone, but it allowed me to take in the inspiration of my surroundings and frame every photo with care. Golden hour is by far my favorite time to take photos and the stone fairly glowed against the backdrop of Arthur’s Seat.

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From there, everyone headed over to Arthur’s Seat in the waning sunlight. Nevin and Emma had finally received their gifts, clutching them tight as they mounted the trail. Julie took Elsa up a paved path while the rest of us chose a more vigorous route. It turned out to be the wrong route, of course, but I’m not complaining!

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The kids, however, were. After a day of behaving themselves in a house full of shiny, off-limits artifacts, they were itching to run free or rest, neither of which are easy to do on a trail incline. Jeremy took turns giving shoulder rides, and I kept the other company. As Emma complained that she was tired, I looked ahead to see what looked like the sun disappearing against a turn in the path. Jeremy said we would reach that turn and then go back down to meet Julie, so Emma and I made up a song about chasing the sun. That camp counselor job paid off; the distraction worked!

Please note my brother, child on his shoulders, looking like he just walked out of an REI advertisement.

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Our last day in Edinburgh dawned cold and clear–we were blessed with SO much good weather!!–and we went to explore the hilltop we saw from Arthur’s Seat the evening before. Calton Hill is located in the center of the city, most notably marked by a beautiful Athenian acropolis. The acropolis is actually an unfinished memorial to Scottish soldiers and sailors who died in the Napoleonic wars. It is by far the most recognizable structure on the hill, but there are numerous other monuments as well, including the Nelson Monument. I climbed it with Julie and the kids, all 143 steps (which I would discover later in the day to be nothing compared to our explorations later). The steps were clearly made for someone with smaller feet than I, it’s a wonder I didn’t fall!

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That panorama is my favorite from the trip, that bird’s eye view is just breathtaking!

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From there we went to Princes Street Gardens where the Christmas Market was still in full swing! The locals may have been on the downswing from Christmas, but they were gearing up for Hogamanay, which translates to New Years’ Eve or The Most Epic New Years Eve Party Ever. You decide.

It was a regular carnival with carousel, ice skating, and high flying swings. Reeeally high flying swings. Julie continued her quest for the perfect plaid wool scarf while I climbed the Sir Walter Scott monument to the top…287 steps!! I must admit to some trepidation as the steps got smaller and the railings disappeared and my head scraped the spiral staircase’s ceiling, not to mention that every few minutes we had to allow someone going in the opposite direction to pass. I felt like a claustrophobic giant; those steps were not made for 5’8″ women with hips that don’t lie. If I hadn’t met Jeremy on the second level I doubt I would have had the courage to continue upward. He went ahead of me, keeping me apprised of how close we were to the next level (there were four in all). Each level allowed me a better look at my surroundings, with a view that seemed to go on forever in the clear sunlight. One of the great things about travelling with my brother is that he is always willing to snap a photo of me…it’s so nice to have quality photos of me on my travels without having to take my own photo. My camera is heavy.

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Julie managed to find her scarf from this lovely couple (they were so sweet!) and snag this snazzy mug which predictably came full of delicious mulled wine!

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Our last stop of the day was the Scottish Museum. The kids were waning, though we could hardly blame them after all the excitement at the gardens, but we pressed on. Jeremy had visited the museum the day before and brought them straight to the kid’s corner. It was filled with all kinds of activities, like piecing together a broken jar, placing a magnetic suit of armor on a knight, costumes, and a catapult!

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Her royal highness, Queen Emma, finally obliged and put on a dress and cape. There were even costumes for the grown ups! Emma curtsied for the Queen Mother.

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The Kingdom of the Scots section was so engrossing that I forgot to take more than a handful of photos. The church history was especially interesting to me, but, to keep the kids going, we headed down to the natural world gallery. It was the interactive aspects of these exhibits that really got the kids interested; Emma spent much of her time with her nose pressed up against the glass (sometimes literally!) while Nevin went from one impressively large deadly animal to the next. They were both disappointed when it was time to go, but we had an early start the next morning back to London.

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The trip back to London was long but uneventful, there really isn’t much to share from there. I packed up all my goodies and left on a morning flight back for the US of A.

The more I think back on this trip, the more surreal it seems. It’s a good thing I stored up memories in photos and on this blog–there are far too many details to recall at a moment’s notice! I never thought I’d be making a trip like this so soon; I am so thankful for the generosity of my family and friends to make this possible. I was speaking with one friend a few weeks back and, after she listened to what I had to say and the changes that had taken place in my life since, described it as “transformative”. It didn’t feel that way at the time. Travelling with Jeremy, Julie, Nevin, Emma, and Elsa felt like the most natural thing to do. I had half expected to be overwhelmed two days in and spend my travel regretting my laziness, but the opposite happened: I was energized and inspired! I was completely detoxed from the stresses of living on my own and overworking that when I returned, my mind was set free to restructure my days.

So yes, I suppose it was transformative…and I’ll jump at the first opportunity to return.

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Jules And we will welcome you back in a heartbeat! There's always more to see and do, save up and we'll take you around again!