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Published: January 1st 2014
And so begins my final blog entry from Scotland, as well as my first entry for 2014! Happy New Year to you all! I got to experience 2014 five or six hours before most of you, just sayin'...
It has been enjoyable to stay in David's apartment for nearly 8 days now. Not only does this save me vast amounts of money, but it gives me access to a kitchen (I have been cooking deluxe meals each night) and enables us to take midday breaks from adventures and not worry about leaving our possessions strewn about.
Our most recent days have been very relaxed, especially when you compare them to our first several days where we toured Edinburgh Castle, climbed Arthur's seat and Calton Hill, and went into the highlands in search of hairy coos. Since then, we have toured the Queen's Palace at Holyrood, issued in the New Year (Scotland style), and toured the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland.
Being that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, it is under direct domion of the Queen, whatever that means. In downtown Edinburgh is located Holyrood Palace, a residence of Queen Elizabeth II during the summertime. This palace has been a residence for Scottish and English monarchs since its first days in the 16th century. Located inside is ridiculously fancy furniture, artwork, dinnerware, and architechture. In addition, there is a good deal of history housed inside. Toward the end of the tour is the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots and, in an adjacent room, the bloodstained floor where one of her advisors was brutally stabbed by Mary's second husband. Those were crazy times. The best part of the Palace is the adjoining ruins of Holyrood Abbey. This abbey was built before the palace and today stands roofless with all of its magnificent windows, doorways, arches, and tombstones illuminated by the sun.
If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh and are looking for free things to do, I highly recommend the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland. The part of the National Galleries which we first entered was filled with local art, much of which I rather enjoyed as it was thought-provoking and pleasing to the eye. Yet further inside we came to the galleries containing world-famous works. Here were housed works by da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, Rembrandt, El Greco, Gainsborough, Rodin, Copley, West, and many many more. I could've stayed in there for hours. The most famous work of art was probably "The Kiss" - a sculpture by Rodin, though my personal favorite was "The Three Ages of Man", one of Titian's more famous works. I recommend at least giving it a Google image search.
Our time in the National Galleries was cut short by our desire to go to the National Museum before it closed at 5:00. This was well worth leaving the Gallery early for. Since we only had about two hours in the Museum, we first focused on a large exhibit encompassing the history of Scotland. Many of the artifacts on display showed either the royal or the military aspect of Scotland's history. During our final minutes in the museum, I spent my time in a large and impressive exhibit of the natural world, more specifically focused on the behavior, anatomy, and evolution of animals from across the world. It was neat to see excellent specimens of scientific examples that I have learned in classes over the past three and a half years.
The highlight of the week has definitely been New Year's. Scotland has a New Year's festival called Hogmanay, which has been around for several hundred years. In Edinburgh, the main street and a downtown park are sectioned off and a ticket is required to join in the official festivities. Since this ticket was a bit pricey (about $35.00 USD), we forewent the official festivities and instead went to a park further from downtown where we watched the most spectacular fireworks display launched over Edinburgh Castle. As the fireworks went off, thousand of people joined in a rousing chorus of "Auld Lang Syne". This song is actually a poem penned by the famous Scottish poet Roberts Burns. The singing of "Auld Lang Syne" at New Year's originated in Scotland during Hogmanay and has since spread to much of the rest of the world.
More cultural fun facts!
Unique Scottish souveniers include:
Quaich. This is a two-handed decorative dinking cup or "cup of welcome" traditionally made out of wood or horn and more recently (from the 16th century to the present) made from pewter or silver.
Spurtle. A rod made from beech or maple that is used in stirring porridge.
Tartan is the classic Scotch plaid, recognizable the world over. The best tartan is made from 100%!l(MISSING)ambswool in Scotland and is found in everything from scarves to blankets.
Kilts. I would've gotten one, but they're even more expensive than...
Bagpipes! The iconic Highlands instrument, this is a bag filled with air that has several pipes which drone at certain pitches as well as a flute-like part of the instrument where the melody is played. I've seen several Scotsmen, in fully dress, playing their bagpipes in the streets. I've been tempted to get some, but they're somewhat expensive and I fear that I may be ostracized from non-Scottish society. Plus, I would look ridiculous playing bagpipes without wearing a kilt.
Sporran. This is the small leathern pouch that is worn in conjunction with a kilt... because a kilt doesn't have pockets.
Sgian dubh. Pronounced "skeen doo", this a small knife traditionally worn in the back of the right rock, suspended by the garter, in full traditional Scottish dress. It's mainly used for cutting food.
Shortbread. I've no idea why, but this is the iconic Scottish gift snack. Many stores have huge displays of different types of shortbread with free samples, which I take upon myself to sample extensively.
Scotch. I thought Ireland liked whisky until I came to Scotland. There are whisky shops all over the place. In these shops there are literally hundreds of types of scotch, usually classified by the region of Scotland from where it originates. None of you will be receiving this as a gift from me.
And one more fun fact from Ireland that I forgot to mention:
In Ireland, the Gaelic word "craic" (pronounced "crack") loosely means "fun" or "a good time". You will here people say such things as, "Let's find the craic tonight" or "the craic was strong in the pub last night." In Ireland I saw shirts that said "Craic Addict" and "Craic Dealer".
Tomorrow we fly to London, where we will be for about four days!
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