Sunday, 21 July 2013

Edinburgh with Brenda and Morag, part 2

Part 1 left us at the entrance to the Scottish National Gallery, a large colonnaded building in the classical style, overlooked by the Old Town of Edinburgh up on its hill, the castle on its crag, and facing the well-planned eighteenth-century New Town where the modern shops are. Beneath runs the railway out from Waverley. This is a building at the very heart of the Scottish capital. Here are some shots from my last visit to the city in 2010, when the sun shone just a bit brighter, and the crowds were absent:

Admission was free. I asked an official whether photography was allowed. Yes, he said, with the exception of individual items marked with a 'no photography' symbol. Perfectly all right. Our little Gang of Three proceded inside. I'd not been in here before, and was very struck by the spaciousness of the rooms, and how nicely they were decorated. The lighting was very good. This is how it looked, near to where you might begin:

In the distance ahead was Rodin's The Kiss, and this is a close-up of it:

It's not the original sculpture of 1898, always at Paris, but a copy Rodin made in 1900 for an American art collector resident in Sussex. It's usually at one of the Tate galleries, but was here on loan. Numerous bronze copies also exist. Sink me, it was only last March that I saw these same lovers at it in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff:

Kissing must be a popular thing to do, especially in the nude. There were other sculptures too. I liked this:

The main exhibits were paintings, of course, some very famous ones, too many to show here, although a selection of them appears on my Flickr site. We each had different tastes in art. Morag of the Magic Mountains wasn't much interested in the pre-modern stuff. Brenda of the Seven Secrets had a particular regard for seascapes. I liked most of what was on offer, but especially things from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.

At length we met up again and decided to have some afternoon tea. We gravitated to the Scottish Café on the ground floor of the Gallery. A rather upmarket place. I liked it. We got a decent table with a view.

Unwary folk commonly misunderstand what a 'Scottish High Tea' consists of. It's a proper meal, not merely lots and lots of buttered scones plus a large pot of the finest. The thing to go for is 'Afternoon Tea', which is still substantial, but it won't necessarily ruin your appetite for an evening meal later on. I ordered one, with the intention of sharing it with my two friends. At first, there was just the tea to drink, with a small biscuit:

What? Surely that wasn't all? But I need not have worried. Soon a miniature cornucopia of goodies arrived, some sweet, some savoury, arranged photogenically on a three-tier carrier. They looked fabulous. Just look at my face!

So: dainty little pastries on the top tier, surely the prettiest things you ever saw in your life; currant scones and cream on the second tier, with edible flowers; and at the bottom, a scone filled with smoked salmon, a ham and tomato sandwich, a brie sandwich, and a sandwich that might have contained coronation chicken, but which actually contained egg. I managed to secure the scone with smoked salmon in it, and the ham and tomato sandwich. Brenda scoffed the brie sandwich, and Morag hoovered up the one with egg in it. I had one, maybe two, of the dainty top-tier cakes, but, eager to maintain my ultra-trim figure, and of course not having a sweet tooth, I left the rest to my companions. I think we agreed, speaking thickly with bulging hamster cheeks, that it was all delicious.

It was my treat. Considering the venue, the visual presentation, the pleasant service, and how nice and tasty it all was, I had no complaints about the bill, which came to £25 including something for a tip - and let me offload one of my Scottish banknotes:

Then we walked up to the Old Town before returning to Waverley station in good time for our respective trains. Some very touristy things were going on down the length of the Royal Mile, such as people posing in front of the statue of Hume the philosopher (who for some reason had very shiny toes), people snapping actors dressed in tartan and carrying bagpipes, and people watching a street comedian, apparently limbering up for the forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival:

She of the Magic Mountains told me that during the Fringe it was totally impossible to walk normally down the Royal Mile - it would be packed with performers and their audiences, and you'd have to push through very, very slowly. We passed the house in which John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation, is thought to have lived before he died:

It's now a café. The gold lettering at head height says 'LUVE GOD ABUFE AL AND YI NYCHTBOUR AS YI SELF'. Personally I think this may not be original, meaning not actually Lowland Scots of the late 1500s, but the message is a decent one to follow. I wonder what Knox would have said about the Fringe, or about Hume come to that. Or this tat in a nearby shop window - a plastic bagpipe kit, and catwalk versions of traditional Scottish dress for the fashion-conscious tourist with money to waste:

We descended from the Old town and approached Waverley station. Morag pointed out a turreted building that overlooked it.

Apparently the First Minister, Alex Salmond, was pressing to have this noble skyline edifice turned into the official residence of the First Minister. It seemed prone to electrical storms, however.

We turned into the vast station. It was already 6.00pm. Waverley has twenty-odd platforms, and is always busy with commuters or shoppers, or travellers generally.

But in a quiet corner was a plaque concerning Sir Nigel Gresley, the famous LNER engineer who designed the Flying Scotsman, and the record-breaking Mallard, still the fastest steam locomotive ever built. Both trains are now at the National Railway Museum in York. One day I'll have to see them for myself.

The time had come. We said goodbye - or rather au revoir, because I shall be back. What a great day!

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