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Devolution

Started: 2014-05-27 19:13:48

Submitted: 2014-05-27 21:13:59

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Saturday, 17th May: in which the intrepid narrator visits museums, churches, and a devolved Parliament

On our second full day in Edinburgh, we set out on foot to the National Museum of Scotland, home to a number of important artifacts from Scottish history. (Scotland is not currently an independent country but it does have its own distinct national identity.) Admission was free to the warren of twisted passages crammed with interesting artifacts. I probably could spend days wandering the halls, but I gave myself a morning.

Jaeger with Dolly the cloned sheep
Jaeger with Dolly the cloned sheep

My first stop was the gallery featuring the stuffed remains of the world's most famous cloned mammal, Dolly the Sheep, whom I remember making international news in 1997. There were other interesting things on display as well: a large statue of James Watt, a large walking beam steam engine run at various points during the day (presumably using compressed air), a twisted girder from the Tay Bridge Disaster, a set of ancient chessmen, a small temporary exhibit celebrating the 400th anniversary of Napier's logarithms, and a large assortment of scale model trains, ships, mills, and factories. I got waylaid by a talkative (but not always intelligible) Scotsman in between the astronomy and natural history halls.

Jaeger and Calvin on the roof of the Scottish National Museum
Jaeger and Calvin on the roof of the Scottish National Museum

We departed the museum and walked down the street to the National Library of Scotland, which included a small visitor's area with an alphabetical list of Scottish inventions and achievements and a small gallery showing artifacts from various authors published by a particular Scottish publisher.

Edinburgh City Library
Edinburgh City Library

We headed to The Piemaker for lunch, where we picked up an assortment of Cornish pastys (essentially small, sandwich-sized hand-held calzones for lunch, eaten by coal miners in Cornwall), then found a place to sit and eat our lunch down the street behind a small church. Properly fortified, we walked up the Royal Mile, the main tourist strip, then stumbled across the small brand new children's library at the Edinburgh City Library, across the street from the national library. We stepped inside, Kiesa read Calvin a story, and we headed next door to the main building of the city library. The books seemed to be shelved according to Library of Congress numbers; I felt immediately at home. I found only two books by local author Charles Stross in the science fiction section, though.

Kiesa reads to Calvin in the Edinburgh children's library
Kiesa reads to Calvin in the Edinburgh children's library

We continued down the street to Greyfriars Kirk ("kirk" being the Scots English word for "church"), past the statue of the apparently-famous dog that allegedly stayed by his master's grave. (Neither Kiesa nor I recognized the 1960s Disney movie Greyfriars Bobby liberally adapted from the story.) The church itself was closed, but we wandered around the graveyard surrounding the church for a bit before heading to St. Giles' Cathedral (though my guidebooks were quick to point out that it wasn't technically a cathedral since cathedrals require a bishop and the Church of Scotland doesn't have bishops), an attractive Gothic church built on a regular cross-shaped plan. I pointed out the main support columns and the buttresses and flying buttresses and the structure of the vaults to Calvin, trying (perhaps with limited success) to recall my reading Cathedral to him.

Visitor's entrance at the Scottish Parliament
Visitor's entrance at the Scottish Parliament

We walked east down the Royal Mile. I stepped into the churchyard surrounding Canongate Kirk and found (and photographed) Adam Smith's grave. We continued down the street to the Scottish Parliament Building, the seat of Scotland's devolved parliament (and possibly its future national parliament), a shockingly modern building across the street from the palace occupied by Scotland's monarchy before the House of Stuart ascended to the English throne. We poked around the small but informative exhibit in the lobby, explaining the parliament's history and function, before I found the stairs leading to the main debating chamber. Here the 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament sit in a semi-circle in an airy chamber under an elaborate truss holding up the roof (one guidebook described these beams as "swords of Damocles"). The room lacked the stately grandeur of the House of Lords in Westminster but made up for it in style. Scotland has the parliament building to match its national aspirations.

Debating chamber in the Scottish Parliament
Debating chamber in the Scottish Parliament

By the time we left Parliament it was 17:00, the time when all of Scotland's tourist attractions and cafes closed and I started to think I ought to eat supper eventually. We found a restaurant serving Thai and Indian food, then walked the rest of the way back to our hotel to pack for our departure to Inverness in the morning.

For more photos from Saturday 17th May, see Photos on 2014-05-17. For Kiesa's parallel account, see Scotland – Day 3.

Well aren't *we* the superior ones? Reveling in our great awareness as we
march into the ocean, fully cognizant of the destination to which *our*
herd of lemmings plunges? ;)
- Bitscape, 23 May 2000