Now THAT’s a Car!

I don’t know what kinds of cars my neighbours drive. The family to the east, who have lived beside us for 22 years, have always driven a full-size beige car. It might be an American make. It might not. The people to the west have had a white car for as long as we’ve known them, which is 21 years. I assume that at some point the old white car was replaced by a new white car of the same, or maybe just a similar, model, which might be Japanese. It might not. I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of car anyone in my family drives either, except for my husband.

I don’t know what they drive because I don’t care, because they drive average cars, of average colours, with average features. A friend once complained that I never waved back when we passed each other on the road, so I’ve told all my acquaintances not to wave at me from their vehicles because I don’t recognize them. By the time I figure out who might have been waving at me from a nondescript silver van, the driver’s at home having a cup of tea.

Now, if anyone I know drove a supercar such as a Ferrari or Lamborghini or the car pictured opposite, I’d know exactly who was waving at me. I’d see, and hear, them coming a block away and I’d be waving enthusiastically, because those are cars I notice. 

I discovered the car pictured here while we were strolling in New Town one evening in search of a restaurant. Just as we were about to turn off of one street onto another, I glanced up the road ahead, exclaimed “What is that?”, and set off eagerly toward the car parked there.

That turned out to be a Zonda, an Italian supercar produced by Pagani Automobil. Only a handful of Zondas are produced every year, selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I googled the GJ9 license plate number and found articles that say this particular car was involved in a crash in Aberdeen, Scotland a few years ago. It was returned to the Pagani plant for major repairs and the result is the one-off Zonda GJ pictured here, built up from a C12S. Whether that’s factual, I don’t know, but it’s cool to think that I may have photographed not just a Zonda, but a special edition, one of a kind.

I doubt that any Zondas have made it to Canada. I only knew about them from watching the excellent British television show Top Gear. While I was taking photos of this car from every angle to show my son and other car lovers later, I couldn’t get over the feeling that Top Gear host and Zonda fan, Jeremy Clarkson, was peering out through the window of the townhouse behind me, laughing delightedly at everyone’s reaction to this car. Perhaps he was monitoring how many people would take a photo of a conveniently parked supercar for a future segment on his show. (While I was there, the only two people who passed by – quite a young woman and a middle-aged man – both stopped to take pictures).  

Yes, this car costs an obscene amount of money and no one needs a car that goes 200 mph, etc., etc.  That’s true, but I’m not planning on buying one. I’m just a fan and the Zonda GJ is high on my list of unique and beautiful things I saw in Edinburgh.

Next: All the Better to Hear You With

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The Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, located at the foot of the Royal Mile at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, is the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. Originally founded as a monastery in the year 1128, it has been a royal palace since 1501 when James IV first cleared the ground close to the Abbey and built a Palace for himself and his bride, Margaret Tudor.

We didn’t get to see Holyroodhouse last September because The Pope chose to follow my lead and make his first ever visit to Scotland too, arriving in Edinburgh the day after we left. Ordinarily the Palace is open to the public, only closing for Christmas and when the Queen is in residence, which she was for a few days at that time to welcome the Pope.

The Queen arrives for the Thistle Service at St Giles' Cathedral in July 2008. © Press Association. Photo from

    Her Majesty’s regular annual stay in Edinburgh, known as Holyrood Week, takes place in early July, when the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh undertake a variety of engagements to celebrate Scottish culture, history and achievement. The week always begins with the Ceremony of the Keys, at which The Queen is received in the city of Edinburgh by the City Chamberlain. Her Majesty is given the keys of the city and is welcomed to “your ancient and hereditary kingdom of Scotland”. The Holyrood Week program also includes an Invesiture ceremony, which enables Scottish residents whose achievements have been recognised in the twice-yearly Honours List to collect their honours from Her Majesty; the Thistle Service at St. Giles’ Cathedral at which the Queen installs the newly appointed members of the Order of the Thistle; and a garden party held at Holyroodhouse for about 8000 guests.

I didn’t really mind not seeing Holyroodhouse as we had already had a full day by the time we arrived at the Palace gates late in the afternoon, and we had plans to visit Buckingham Palace later in our trip anyway.  Holyroodhouse is apparently of particular note to those interested in the history of Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived there during the 1560s. She married her second husband at Holyroodhouse and later witnessed the brutal killing of her secretary, David Rizzio, by her jealous husband, Lord Darnley, in her private apartments.

David Rizzo is buried in Canongate Kirkyard (as are several other well-known Scots)  just a short distance away from  Holyroodhouse on the Royal Mile. Canongate Kirk is the parish church for the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle. The Queen’s granddaughter, Zara Phillips, is getting married at Canongate Kirk at the end of July. 

Canongate Kirkyard

Also open to the public is the Queen’s Gallery, which features changing exhibits from Her Majesty’s extensive art collection.

We arrived too late in the afternoon to visit the Gallery (last admittance at 5:00 p.m.) but we did visit The Royal Collection gift shop. The shop sells a wide range of merchandise, much of which has been designed exclusively for The Royal Collection. I must say, The Queen has excellent taste in souvenirs. (Seriously, you can buy some very nice things at the shop).

Next: Now THAT’s a Car!

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Doctor Who and Bagpipes Too

I have vague memories of watching the British television series Doctor Who with my father when I was young. I remember the third, and especially the fourth, Doctors. Over the past several years I’ve watched the ninth, tenth and eleventh Doctors with my daughter. Anyone who has seen the show knows that The Doctor travels through space and time in a time machine called the TARDIS that looks like a blue police box on the outside.  So, you can imagine my delight when I came around a corner in Edinburgh and saw the TARDIS police box right next to an iconic British red telephone booth; it was an obvious photo opportunity. 

The red phone booths are becoming less and less common, of course, now that the vast majority of people have mobile phones, but a quick look around the Internet reveals the ingenious ways the boxes are being put to use these days as bars, showers and even tiny libraries, like the one pictured opposite (click on the photo for details).

Photo from Wikipedia

Likewise, the blue police boxes were originally located in public places for use by the police, or for members of the public to contact the police, before the days of mobile telecommunications. They are no longer in use by the police but some boxes have been repainted and put to good use in Edinburgh as take-out coffee bars.

What else do we expect to see, and hear, in Scotland? Why, bagpipes, of course, and Edinburgh didn’t disappoint. I got quite used to the accompaniment of pipes as we explored downtown and I enjoyed it. There was often a young piper in the area of Princes Street and the Waverley Bridge.  And on the Royal Mile we saw this band performing. 

I didn’t catch the group’s name, if there was one, but these guys were good! It’s not unusual to hear bagpipes at formal events here in Southern Ontario (both of my kids were piped into their high school and university graduation ceremonies) but I’d never seen a bagpipe band entertaining passers-by on the street before.

It’s funny, isn’t it, the things we associate with other countries and expect, and are delighted, to see there? Not the big things, not the Edinburgh Castle and Buckingham Palace type attractions we specifically plan to see. I mean the little things that have meaning to us because of a television series we like, a series of books we’ve read, or stories we’ve heard from friends and relatives. It makes we wonder what kind of things have that effect on visitors to Canada. What average, everyday things do I walk by without noticing that would have a tourist pulling out her camera?  Hmm.

Next: The Palace of Holyrood House

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Literary Edinburgh

The monument to Sir Walter Scott may dominate Princes Street Gardens, but author Robert Louis Stevenson, famous for classics such as Kidnapped and Treasure Island, gets mention right on the Royal Mile.  We stopped for a light lunch at the Deacon’s House Café, attracted by the building’s history posted outside as much as the food, although as I recall we enjoyed our meal as well. According to the sign,  Stevenson based The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on the building’s 1700s resident, Deacon William Brodie, a cabinetmaker and respected businessman by day and burglar by night. The cafe also boasts one of the oldest ceilings in Edinburgh, dating back to 1420. 

Stevenson is not, by the way, forgotten in Princes Street Gardens. He is remembered by a modest engraved stone surrounded by a grove of silver birch trees. Not nearly as grand a memorial as Scott’s, but lovely nonetheless.

There is also a memorial to Stevenson on one of the walls in nearby St. Giles’ Cathedral. It was cast in bronze in 1904.

 Scotland’s favourite and best-known poet, Robert Burns, is also acknowledged in St. Giles. The Burns Window was installed in 1985 and “celebrates major themes within the poetry of Robert Burns, in a semi-abstract style. The topmost tracery contains a glorious sunburst of love, blossoming ‘like a red, red rose’.”

There is also a Burns Monument, built in 1830 and fully restored in 2009, on Calton Hill. The small, circular temple in the Neo-Greek style typical of Georgian era Edinburgh originally housed a white marble statue of the poet, but it is now in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

The Writers’ Museum, located just off the Royal Mile, celebrates the lives of all three of these great Scottish writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
The museum displays portraits, rare books and personal objects such as Burns’ writing desk, the printing press on which Scott’s Waverley Novels (which Edinburgh’s Waverley Train Station was named for) were first produced, and Scott’s own dining table and rocking horse. 

I didn’t make it to the Writers’ Museum but I think it’s great that the City takes such notice of these famous Scottish writers.

There are lots of pub crawls and tours that guide you not only to points of interest regarding the authors above, but also with respect to hugely popular modern writers Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin. And, of course, you can visit The Elephant House Café where J. K. Rowling worked on the early Harry Potter books.

The Elephant House is just up the road from the Greyfriars Bobby statue, where I took several photos, and right beside the Frankenstein Pub, where I took a few more photos because of its unique theme.  

Then I walked right by The Elephant House without even noticing the big sign in its window that reads “Birthplace of Harry Potter”. Oops! Oh well. I was still right there – I just don’t have a picture of my own to prove it.

Next: Doctor Who and Bagpipes Too

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St. Giles’ Cathedral

Also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, St. Giles’ Cathedral is often called the Mother Church of Presbyterianism. It is named in honour of the Patron Saint of Edinburgh and is located on the Royal Mile, where it has been at the heart of the city’s religious life for around a thousand years. 

During the 1550s John Knox was the leader of the Scottish Reformation, which was part of the movement throughout western Europe that led to national churches breaking their ties with Rome. Knox served as Minister at St Giles’ until 1572 and played a principal role in establishing the styles of worship and administration that were to be accepted throughout the country. He is memorialized in St. Giles’ by a statue, cast in 1904, that stands near the west end of the cathedral.

St. Giles’ impressive organ was built in 1992 of Austrian oak. The 1992 organ was completely new, except for the Pedal Open Wood 16′ and the Bombarde 32′ which were retained from the previous instrument (Willis III 1940). The organ is lovely but certainly stands out for its modernity in the centuries old cathedral. 

One of the most interesting sights in St. Giles is the Thistle Chapel. It is the chapel of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s foremost Order of Chivalry. The Order consists of the Monarch and 16 knights and ladies, who are normally Scots who have made a significant contribution to national or international affairs, as well as a few “extra” knights (members of the British Royal Family). Appointments to the Order are the personal choice of the Monarch. 

The knights’ stalls are along the sides of the chapel and are capped by beautifully carved canopies with the helms and crests of the knights above.  Enamelled plates affixed to the back of each stall display its occupant’s name, arms, and date of admission into the Order. Upon the death of a knight, the helm, mantling, crest (or coronet or crown) and sword are taken down, but the stall plate is not removed. The plates remain permanently affixed to the backs of the stalls, providing a colourful record of the Order’s knights (and now ladies) since 1911.

Stalls for the Sovereign and two Royal Family members are at the west end of the Chapel.

There was a very knowledgeable docent present in the Chapel when we there and she was happy to provide information regarding the detail on the knights’ stalls and the many carvings around the Chapel, which are both religious and heraldic, and often peculiarly Scottish, such as the angels playing bagpipes.

Although the church still has an active congregation, it is open to visitors and receives about 400,000 guests every year. Entry is free (donations gratefully accepted) although there is a small fee (well worth it) if you’d like to take photos. A gift shop and café are located under the Cathedral. 

Next: Literary Edinburgh

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The Royal Mile

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

The Royal Mile consists of a succession of streets that connect Edinburgh Castle with the Palace of Holyrood House, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland, a little over one mile (plus 107 yards) away. Until the construction of the New Town in the 18th century, the Royal Mile was Edinburgh. Everyone in the city lived along the mile and in the adjoining closes (narrow lanes leading to small courtyards and squares). The wealthy lived on the lower floors in nice dwellings, while the lower classes crowded onto the upper floors of the same buildings.  Nowadays, the oldest street in Edinburgh is Old Town’s busiest tourist street.

Many nearby streets, such as Victoria Street (above) and West Bow (right), are not officially on the Mile but are generally included as part of the popular tourist area. 

Edinburgh is so hilly that some streets have two levels, as in the photo at left showing West Bow on the lower level and Victoria Terrace on the upper. It was a bit confusing the first time we couldn’t find a street that we were sure should be right where we were standing, until we realized we had to look, and then go, up!

There are many tourist shops down the length of the the Mile, but especially at the end near Edinburgh Castle. You can visit the Tartan Mill and see working looms or shop for cashmere and Scottish souvenirs to your heart’s content here. If you look closely at the photo below, you’ll see that the gentleman on the left is wearing a Scottish collectable – a highland cow hat. I should have got one; it would be perfect for Canadian winters.

Also to be seen and visited on the Mile are several museums, statues, churches, a vast selection of historical sites, and assorted other attractions, such as the Whisky Heritage Centre and the 3D Loch Ness Experience. There’s a good selection of pubs and eateries, too, for when your feet need a brief respite from all the sightseeing and shopping.

You can see Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile in a day if that’s all the time you have and you don’t visit every attraction, but more time would definitely be better to really enjoy everything the Mile, and its surrounding Streets and Closes, has to offer. 

White Horse Close

Next: St. Giles’ Cathedral

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The View from Above

It’s a wonderful view of the City from Edinburgh Castle. 

The cemetery for soldiers’ dogs is a burial place for officers’ pet dogs and regimental mascots. It is one of only two dog cemeteries in Scotland (the other is at Fort George).

Looking over Princes Street Gardens, showing the Ross Bandstand.

The Scott Monument and Balmoral Hotel (with clock tower).

Next: The Royal Mile

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