Table of contents for Trip to UK - 2012
We wanted to make the most of our second and last day in Edinburgh. By lunch time we were done with our tour of the Edinburgh Castle and thus we decided to move on to what was next on our list.
We had been told a lot about two other attractions – Mary King’s Close and the Camera Obscura & World of Illusions. Mary King’s Close is one of the most famous closes on (or should I say ‘under’) the Royal Mile. Yes, under as in underground! The Camera Obscura is about this big pinhole camera at the very top of a building, and various optical illusions on the other floors. Since both had been spoken so highly of by Anurag and Aman mamu, we decided to fit these 2 attractions in our schedule as well.
It took us almost 20 minutes to trek right back down from the castle to the Royal Mile (which was, as mentioned earlier, a street that runs through the centre of the Old Town and connects two royal buildings – Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood). This was the old Scots Mile, which is longer than the English mile. The Royal Mile was basically a combination of stores and attractions, so we first went and got the souvenir shopping done and then proceeded with our stroll.
There were quite a few street performances too. Most notably, there was this little band of five people playing soft rock, surrounded by a massive crowd. I think I saw a camera crew as well, so I figured that some local channel must have come to cover them. We came upon a young man who was wearing the full Scottish attire, complete with the chequered kilt and bagpipes. He was playing the bagpipes, and was charging 1 Pound for getting a picture clicked with him. We did the tourist-y thing of clicking his pictures, and took some with him as well.
We could see our next destination in front of us – the Camera Obscura. And across the road from it was a sign publicizing ‘The Scotch Whiskey Experience’. Now, both these attractions had been put on the must-see-must-do list by Anurag mamu. However, we were short of time and couldn’t do both. So we decided to split up, with mom and me choosing to go to the Camera Obscura and dad favouring the Whisky Experience, which, as the name suggests, was to take you through the ages of whiskey evolution and make you taste different types of whiskies.
The tickets to the Camera Obscura cost us about 20 Pounds. It was an interesting place, advertised as ‘Where seeing is not believing!’ It was a house of optical illusions across 5 floors, each filled with different types of illusions, although the highlight was a ‘show’ that took place on the top floor, named, of course, ‘Camera Obscura’. It was basically a live bird’s eye view of Edinburgh projected onto a conclave surface – working on the principle of pinhole cameras. This may not sound very interesting, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. The show took place every half hour, so we decided to first go right to the top for the show, and then work our down.
We were taken into a small room with a circular table in the middle and a balcony all around it. We were asked to take our places around the table or on the balcony. The room accommodated about 20 people at a time. The lights were switched off and lo and behold – on the circular table below us (we were on the balcony) was a view of the street we had come from. We could see the cars moving and people strolling. The image was not magnified, but reproduced at life size in its correct orientation. The lady who was operating the camera took a card and ‘picked up’ a man walking on the street, and then let him ‘drop’ from the card to the street again – basically lifting up the card so that the image of the man was on the card. And since the man was walking, he walked off the edge of the card, onto the street. She did the same thing with cars, and asked the spectators to try it too. I wondered if we had been scooped and dropped by someone while we were walking around on the street. She then turned the pole that controls the mirror on top (when the mirror tilts and rotates the view on the table changes). On a clear day one can see till the surrounding countryside, but because of the mist we could not see that far. However, the views of the town were equally incredible.
After the show we went out to the balcony of the top floor and looked around. There were very powerful binoculars fixed on the balcony, and I could actually see people moving around in the foyer of a hotel in a street far away. We saw George Heriot’s School, one of Edinburgh’s private schools, that was supposed to be the model for Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter novels (Author J. K. Rowling lives in Edinburgh).
After soaking in the spectacular panoramic views of the town to my fill, we went inside to look around the other floors. Each floor had a different theme of illusions. I liked the floor with 3D illusions the best. There were a lot of interactive illusions as well. And the best part? They encouraged you to touch everything! The Mirror Maze was also fun. My mom kept walking into the mirrors, and I finally had to go in and help her get out.
Another illusion I liked was the spinning Vortex Tunnel, or the ‘rotating corridor’ as I like to call it. We had to enter from one door and walk across a short ‘bridge’ to a door on the opposite side. There was a drum-like circular structure with bright lights surrounding the bridge and it was rotating at a very high speed. The net result was that when we were walking on the bridge it felt as if the bridge was turning around, and so we clutched at the rails very tightly and walked across tilted to one side to prevent ourselves from falling off the stationary bridge. The magic gallery was fun too – with cameras which allowed us to see our face change into a monkey’s, see how we’d look if we were older, and how we would have looked as a baby!
To put it in one word, the experience was amazing and well worth it. The whole thing took 45 minutes, and it was 45 minutes well-spent. I enjoyed every second of it. Dad also had fun in his Whiskey Experience, and we met up pretty happy with our respective tours.
The sun had come out by now, so we decided to take a nice long walk around the streets and head to our last destination for the day – Mary King’s Close. The streets off the Royal Mile were called closes, and were something like alleys. Back in the 1600’s Mary King’s Close was a busy street, but now it was underground, and a big attraction. It revealed how people lived in the 16th – 19th century. Mary King was a prominent business-woman in the 1600’s, and this close was named after her.
The advertising spooked out my mom, but she came along anyway. The tour was for an hour, an adult ticket cost 13 pounds and a children’s ticket cost 7 and a half Pounds.
We had an hour to roam around before the tour started, and so we decided to walk around and take some more pictures in the nice and sunny weather. We were told that we must go and pay our respects to the statue of David Hume (philosopher 1711 -1776) situated in front of the High Court Building. The statue was in bronze, wearing a toga and holding a tablet in his hand. His big toe was shiny bronze, whereas the rest of the statue was the typical greenish-blue of weathered bronze. We went and rubbed his big toe as well, since it is supposed to bring good luck to students.
St Giles’ Cathedral is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh. Its crown spire and ancient pillars, dazzling windows and green men (bronze statues) looking down at you were a pleasure to see.
We came back in time for the tour to start. Our guide was a young girl, dressed in the attire of the days gone by . We went down some steps, then more steps and then lots more steps. I realised that we were much below street level. We went through small rooms where families of up to 16 people used to stay and were told stories of the spirits that haunted these areas. It was really eerie being below the ground and walking thru’ history. I was glad to surface again and see the sun.
We walked back, clicking more pictures of the city. Once back at the hotel, we watched the Euro Semi-finals, Italy vs Germany, and watched Balotelli outclass the German team and secure Italy’s place in the finals. I was too dejected to do anything after that (German speaker and follower since I was 9), and so after a quite dinner I went to sleep on our last night here, bringing a close to our stay in the great city of Edinburgh.