Cultured out

Attractions I visited on my short visit to Edinburgh in June 2012

Paolozzi's Big Foot and Hand Sculpture

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 15, 2012

The street sculptures outside St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh are some of the weirdest I have encountered. The first time I saw them was just before I entered the cathedral. My husband didn’t want to enter the church so he stayed behind trying to figure out what they symbolised. I hadn’t a clue and from the steps of the cathedral, they just looked like giant sized lumps of black, shiny metal.

After I had finished my tour of the cathedral I went out to look at these three statues that were designed by Scottish artist and sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi. They were placed in this position in 1991 on the pavement opposite the church and at the top of Leith Walk. The piece of work is called, The Manuscript of Monte Casino, this is where the artist’s Italian family came from.

In the Second World War German troops invaded the town and took over the famous abbey, British and American Forces were unable to defend the town, Polish soldiers stepped in, many, many lives were lost but in the end the Poles were victorious. I know this from the inscriptions on a beautiful monument situated in Warsaw commemorating the bravery of the Polish 2nd Corps.

Paolozzi’s set sculpture isn’t as beautiful as the one in Warsaw but it is certainly interesting.The three pieces consist of a hand holding a spherical object, a foot with split dimensions and a large object with a metal bar running through the centre. The three piece sculpture symbolises a journey or pilgrimage. The hand is outstretched, ready to give or receive hospitality.The foot represents travel and if you look closely at the hand you will see two locusts, one on top of the other. This may be a biblical reference to the swarm of locusts in the Bible.

The statues do have a surreal quality about them but at the same time I can see the classical outlines. They are very large in size and I should imagine extremely heavy. I believe they were cast in a foundry in Germany.

Paolozzi was born in Leith, and perhaps he wanted the sculptures placed near where he used to live at Crown Place, near to the old station. In 1943 he was a student at Edinburgh College of Art and called up for army service the next year. Later on he went to Slade School of Fine Art in London and then worked in Paris for three years from 1947 to 1949.

In 2005, Paolozzi was awarded an Honorary Degree by Edinburgh University and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. He was 81 years of age when he died in 2005.

If you would like to know more about this fascinating sculptor then pop into the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh where you will find a recreation of his art studio. Don't miss out on viewing this three piece sculptur either, it is fascinating.

One big tourist trap

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 15, 2012

Like Princes Street, the Royal Mile in Edinburgh is one thoroughfare visitors flock to year after year. The street's official title takes in several names; High Street, Lawnmarket, Canongate and Castle Hill. The street was given its grand nickname because of the route it takes from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Every year thousands of tourists from all over the world walk down this street whether the sun is shining or it is pouring down with rain. I am always amazed by the number of people who congregate in this area and I have never really understood the attraction of the Royal Mile and why it is so famous.Perhaps I am missing something. Let's take a virtual tour and see.

The street is cobbled which is quite nice as long as you aren't wearing high heels and have no mobility problems. It is always packed and sometimes very noisy with gangs of people falling in and out of the tacky cafes and restaurants that line the street. Not all the cafes are terrible but they are overpriced. There are so many souvenirs here for tourists, everything from teddy bears, whisky, anything and everything made from Tartan, umbrellas, flags, Cuban cigars, Scottish jewellery and sticks of sweet candied rock.

Even in summer you can usually count on a rainy day but don't be deterred there are things to do so you keep out of the rain. If you start at the castle end you can take a wee visit to the Tartan Weaving Mill where you can learn how tartan is made and actually watch the fabric being woven on huge power looms.This is interesting to watch but what is more fascinating is learning about all the different clans.

Nearby is the Scotch Whisky Experience, a great trap for whisky lovers. Whisky isn't my tipple but for visitors who are interested in this great Scottish tradition they will be able to find out all about the different malt whiskies and where they are made. There is a model distillery and a shop stocked with rows and rows of bottles of the amber nectar. A perfect place to buy a bottle or two for the relatives.

When I visit a city I am always on the look out for something arty or cultured. I was told that you could get involved with brass rubbings in Trinity Apse on Chalmers Close which is just off the High Street but when we went it was closed so we went to Camera Obscura on Castlehill instead. There is a rooftop terrace outside but on a rainy day this is no good. However, inside are several attractions including holograms and 3D images of the city. There are many attractions displaying optical illusions which are fascinating and at times I thought I was being tricked into seeing images that actually weren't there.

To finish off the tour I suggest a walk on The Real Mary King's Close. Here you can see the Close as it used to be centuries ago. Guides dressed up in costumes take visitors on a tour of drab chambers showing how sordid living conditions used to be. There is an interesting narrative too about some of the characters who lived in such squalor.

Having taken the virtual tour today, the Royal Mile doesn't seem too bad. I think it is the tackiness of the souvenir shops and hordes of people that always puts me off. The last time I visited Edinburgh the weather was fine and I didn't mind the walk down Edinburgh's favourite High Street but the time before when I visited with my parents it was dark and dull, and I remember thinking that the Royal Mile was just one big tourist trap. I am still not convinced. You will have to make your own mind up.
Royal Mile
Main Thoroughfare of Old Town
Edinburgh, Scotland

Not to be missed

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 19, 2012

Edinburgh is really a city split in two, the New and Old Town. Out of the two I would say I prefer the New Town as it is less crowded and there are some outstanding art collections. The Dean Gallery is one of the newer art galleries, opening in 1999. The building used to be a hospital building and the reason it was transformed into a gallery was to house the large body of work created by the famous Scottish artist/sculptor, Eduardo Paolozzi. The collection was a gift to the gallery from the sculptor. The largest piece of work is a steel statue standing at 7.3 metres high, touching the ceiling. It is called Vulcan, the Roman God of Fire and is a robotic figure. It is an awesome model and quite scary to look at, it must have taken him ages to weld all the pieces together.

One of the reasons I prefer this gallery to the National Gallery of Scotland is because of the surrealist and Dada collection. Dali and Picasso have always been two of my favourite artists since I was a teenager although I am sometimes disappointed when I see Dali's work close up, not because of the quality of his work but the size. His paintings always seem smaller than what I expect. The collection of literature here is impressive too.

The area of the gallery that really impressed me was the studio of Eduardo Paolozzi. This had been reconstructed and was full of models, books, magazine and all things inspirational.

Dean Gallery also holds temporary exhibitions featuring individual artists and artistic schools like the Scottish Colourists.

If you feel a bit peckish after a tour of the gallery there is a modern cafe serving snacks and lunches. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is bustling, probably best to arrive early to get a seat at lunch time as the cafe is very popular. On sunnier days you are allowed to sit outside in a picnic area to eat your lunch. The garden area belonging to the gallery is very attractive and particularly pleasingto me as there are lots of weird and wonderful statues.

Dean Gallery is located in Dean Village. You can find the building and garden at 73 Belford Road.
Opening Times: Daily, 10am until 5pm
Gallery Two/Dean Gallery
Belford Road
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH4 3DS
+44 131 624 6326

The Mother Church of Scottish Catholicism

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 9, 2012

We managed to see a few churches during our short visit to Edinburgh this year. One of the smaller churches was St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral which is often called the Metropolitan Cathedral. This interesting building came into view when we we left St James' Shopping Centre. Across the road from the church are some fascinating street sculptures which my husband really liked and spent time looking at them while I went inside the church.

To reach the main entrance of the church you have to walk up several wide stone steps. The main door is made from wood with glass windows set inside a grey stone, decorated arch. Above the door is a huge stained glass window with two similar windows set at the side but not as large. In 1814 a chapel sat in the same place and was called the Chapel of St Mary's. James Gillespie Graham was the designer. Looking at the design of the church now, I can see that there have been many changes, like the low extension with a flat roof which was finished in the 1970s.

From what I have read about the cathedral it is an important structure in the city because it is the Mother Church of Scottish Catholicism and it was here where Pope John Paul II visited during his pastoral visit to Scotland in 1982.
Inside, the building is very large and open with a high ceiling and many stained glass windows of different sizes, situated all around the church. When I stood at the entrance the first thing I noticed was the amount of wood in the church. There are rows and rows of wooden, ladder back chairs packed closely together, these reminded me of the chairs I sat on when I was a child at Infant School. Along one side of the church are wooden cupboards that look like they are made from solid oak. On the other side are paintings of religious themes that have been inlaid into wooden frames. I loved all the stone arches made of clean, soft stone. To say this is a Catholic Church I didn't think the furnishings and artifacts were outlandish. The altar is set back underneath an arched area with a vaulted ceiling. The paintings of angels above the altar create a dreamy pastel heavenly scene that is kitsch but adds colour to that area of the church. There are statues and paintings of Jesus Christ within the church on either side of the rows of chairs. The morning was quite bright when we visited and the light shone through the windows a great deal, this is a good thing as the church felt filled with light and wasn't grim at all.

There is a Café and Parish Hall adjacent to the cathedral. This is a vast area which can be hired out for special occasions. The café is called Café Camino, a meeting place for fellow worshippers but also visitors and residents of Edinburgh. I didn't stop to eat as I had already eaten a bacon sandwich but I noticed that the food marked up on the board was 'good down to earth cooking,' featuring delicious homemade soups, salads, jacket potatoes, cooked breakfasts, cakes and biscuits. Wine, beer and cider are listed on the menu as well as soft drinks, Fair-trade tea and coffee. If you need to use your laptop Wi-Fi is available, there is also good wheelchair access.

I enjoyed my visit to St Mary's Cathedral. I wish we had had more time to spend there and we could have had lunch in the café but as always I wanted to pack as many sights and attractions into such a short time so we had to move on.

The manager and administrator is Michael Regan, his contact address is:
Cathedral House
61 York Place
Edinburgh EH1 3JD

Tel: 0131 556 1798

Fax: 0131 556 4281

St Mary's Roman Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral
Picardy Place Roundabout
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 3JD
0131 556 1798

Edinburgh's Principal Church

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on November 13, 2012

St Giles Church in Edinburgh was named after the patron saint of Edinburgh, a well liked saint, who devoted time to the poor of the city especially people who suffered from leprosy and were unable to walk. The church is referred to as St Giles Cathedral but historically it was only classed as a cathedral for short periods of time. In 1633 the building was called a cathedral and kept the grand title for five years and again in 1661 until 1689. The building also had another name, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. It is Edinburgh’s most important church and was influential in the formation of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

St Giles is located on the Royal Mile, a cobbled street, one of the most famous streets in UK and sometimes called the High Street, Lawnmarket or Castlehill. This is the main route from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.

Way back in the 12th century a small chapel stood on the same spot and then towards the end of the 16th century a building was constructed that had stone walls dividing the area into three separate churches. The walls were dismantled in 1633 and then erected again in 1639. Throughout the following years the walls were rearranged so many times until they were eventually abandoned in 1882. The Old Tolbooth and luckenbooths (small shops) used to stand in front of the church hiding the exterior of the building which was in very bad condition. In 1817 they were taken down and William Burn started work on transforming the building into the church as we know it now.

The ornate chapel called the Thistle Chapel situated in the south east of the building was added in 1911.

The main structure of St Giles is colossal with its vaulted roof and enormous central pillars. The grey exterior makes the building look stark and very Presbyterian. Inside, the building has a different outlook, is transformed by bright primary colors highlighted from daylight shining behind the stained glass windows. I love stained glass and often think a church without stained windows is rather drab. These windows were added in the late 19th century as Presbyterians preferred plain glass and were not too keen on furnishings and fittings that were frivolous. Each window had to portray a story in pictures from the Bible; this was the only way such beauty could be accepted as part of the interior of the church.

Like in other churches in Edinburgh the seats are made from wood and there are rows and rows packed closely together. They look very uncomfortable and if I was a member of St Giles who worshipped here, I would certainly take my own cushion with me. I should think sitting on one of these chairs during a very long sermon would make my bottom numb.

To the west of the church on Parliament Square where the former tollbooth used to be sits a heart shaped stone on the pavement. It is called the Heart of Midlothian. Apparently, we were told that if we spat on the stone we would be lucky in life and be allowed to return to the city safely. I didn’t spit on the stone and neither did my husband but then neither of us believe in superstitions. A rather vulgar superstition but there you go.

I recommend a visit to St Giles Church/Cathedral after a shopping trip on the Royal Mile. If you are interested in social history then after a visit to the church you can take a look at The Real Mary King’s Close which is opposite the church beneath the city chambers.
St. Giles' Cathedral
High Street, Royal Mile
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1RE
+44 131 225 4363

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