The wind raged all night, rattling the windows and howling like a movie horror ghost. It was sunny when I woke up, but I knew that the bad weather was coming. My sinus headache and Google told me as much. Because of that, I decided today would be a good day for some museums.
After I checked out of the hostel and stored my luggage, I made the short trip up the hill to Edinburgh Castle. As the howling would suggest, the wind had become violent in the night. It tugged at clothes, pulled at hats, and shook cameras. A “wee breeze” as the tour guide at the castle called it. But I could stand the wind because it meant that the place wasn’t packed, which was a nice change from the other tourist attractions I’ve been to during my time in Europe.
The castle contains a whole complex of buildings built or added on between the medieval era and the Victorian period. Some of those stones have been in place hundreds of years before the New World was even a thought in most Europeans’ heads. It’s humbling sometimes to realize the age of human civilization outside of the American bubble.
I had heard from someone at the hostel that Edinburgh Castle was less like a castle and more like a museum. I soon learned what he meant. The buildings within the castle grounds house active military barracks and offices, the Scottish National War Museum, the Scottish National War Memorial, the Scottish Crown Jewels, and much more. Except for one set of apartments where Mary Queen of Scotts once lived, none of it felt particularly castle-like. But I guess when you consider much of it had been destroyed over the years of fighting and it has been used as many things other than a residence for royalty, such as a jail for POWs in the 1700s and a military base, you can understand why it wouldn’t be very “castle-like.”
After wandering around the glass cases and scene recreations in the museums and grabbing a quick bite to eat, I took one last look at Edinburgh from above and left. I lingered in the nearby Prince’s Gardens until I heard the One ‘O Clock Gun (the gun they shoot every day at the castle to help ships set their clocks) before moving on to the Scottish National Gallery.
My headache had come back, so I wasn’t in the best of moods. Normally, the quiet grace of an art museum would help. This one didn’t. First of all, I couldn’t find the entrance. Their main one was closed and there weren’t any signs to the other ones. Once I found a way in, I had to wait in line as they thoroughly searched everyone’s bags. When I eventually made it to the main galleries, I encountered an expansive space with crimson walls and carpeted floors and no windows. It was amazing how different it felt from most art museums. The carpets soaked up the sounds of footsteps, the lights glared, and the heating/fan buzzed obnoxiously. I couldn’t calm down. I couldn’t concentrate. There was an impressively compact yet comprehensive collection of art on the walls but I couldn’t appreciate it. The buzzing and lack of any other noise or natural light seemed to devalued everything and distracted me to no end. Save a wonderful exhibit on Sir David Young Cameron, the other floors were no different, if not worse. There was no grandeur, no lightness. It all seemed heavy and cheap and contrived.
As it had started to rain and the wind was still trying to tear things apart, I took refuge for a while in the gallery’s lobby next to the gift shop, gazing at their children book illustrations exhibit. It had been placed off to the side and no one seemed to notice it, but it was the best designed exhibit in the building (of course I can’t talk about the paid exhibit).
My headache had waned even if the weather hadn’t, so I went out and braved the wind and water, making my way around to do some last minute gift shopping. Then, after picking up my luggage, I made my way back through the Christmas market and onto my train to London.