Sincerely, Loree is a lifestyle blog that focuses on travel, books, culture, fashion and slow living on the small Mediterranean island of Malta.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Edinburgh Day 1: Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle 2

Edinburgh Castle sits atop an extinct volcano at the highest point of the Royal Mile. For nine centuries it defended the city from its enemies, with the Scots taking full advantage of the unobstructed views that stretch for miles to the Firth of Forth and the distant hills to counter any potential attack.

Edinburgh Castle 3

Like all fortresses, Edinburgh Castle is made up of a series of towers, gates, batteries and massive protective walls. It has served as a royal palace, arsenal, gun foundry, state prison and, more recently, as an infantry barracks. To this day it houses and protects the Scottish Crown Jewels that were made for James V, father of Mary Queen of Scots, and are said to be the oldest in Europe. No photos of the Crown Jewels were allowed I’m afraid.

Edinburgh Castle

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace - Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle was the birthplace of a king. Although the Scottish royal family lived in the Palace of Holyrood House, in times of unrest they stayed at the small Royal Palace within the castle walls for protection. It was during one of these turbulent times that Mary Stuart moved to the castle and gave birth to James VI of Scotland and I of England in a tiny room just off of the royal apartments. Since I’ve always had a deep interest in Mary’s tragic life, visiting this small, oak-panelled room was one of the castle’s major highlights for me.

Birthplace of a King - Edinburgh Castle 2

I couldn’t believe how small it was. Not much more than a bed would have fit in this room.

Birthplace of a King - Edinburgh Castle

The Great Hall

Adjacent to the Royal Palace is the Great Hall with its amazing, original hammer-beam roof. No nails were used to keep the beams in place – instead, special pegs were used. This is an incredible achievement at a time when precision tools did not exist.

The Great Hall - Edinburgh Castle

The Great Hall is lined with an array of swords, shields and coats of armour. Some were so huge that I think only giants would have been able to wield them. Or some Scots must have had the physique of Greek gods.

The Great Hall - Edinburgh Castle 2

To the right of the huge fireplace is a small window behind which the king would sometimes sit to eavesdrop on his  guests who would be feasting in the hall beneath him (you can see it in the photo below). Thankfully, the current monarch does not indulge in these types of shenanigans.

The Great Hall - Edinburgh Castle 3

The Scottish National War Memorial

Scottish National War Memorial

Opposite the Great Hall is the Scottish National War Memorial where the name of all the soldiers who died during the two world wars and in more recent conflicts are inscribed in Rolls of Honour held within the memorial. 147000 names from the First World War and 50000 from the Second are included.

Scottish National War Memorial 2

St Margaret Chapel

St Margaret Chapel - Edinburgh Castle 2

Another interesting building is the tiny St Margaret Chapel, dating from the 12th century, that is the oldest building in Edinburgh. St Margaret, who was the mother of King David I, died at Edinburgh Castle. She was a pious woman who carried out many acts of charity and was greatly beloved by her subjects. The small stained glass windows, one of which depicts Margaret, are from a later date.

St Margaret Chapel - Edinburgh Castle 3St Margaret Chapel - Edinburgh Castle

Museums

The National War Museum, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum, and the Museum of the Royal Scots and the Royal  Regiment are all within the precincts of the castle and the entrance ticket is valid for all of them. Unfortunately, we only had time to visit the National War Museum.

National War Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh Castle is a fascinating place to visit especially for those who, like me, have an almost-unhealthy interest in British history. But if history is not quite your thing, there are many other places of interest to visit in Edinburgh that I am sure will pique your curiosity.

The Royal Mile

Once you leave Castle Esplanade you will be at the top of the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile snakes its way through Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The Royal Mile 2

It is lined with colourful shops, restaurants and intriguing buildings. Various streets lead off of the Royal Mile but it was the very narrow closes (sometimes called wynds), with high buildings on either side, that were the most unusual. You literally never know what you will find hidden away behind the entrances to these closes.

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The Royal Mile is divided into 4 distinct areas: Castle Hill, Lawnmarket, High Street and Canongate.

The Royal Mile

Starting from the top you will come across a number of interesting attractions:

Tolbooth Kirk

Tolbooth Kirk - The Royal Mile

This Gothic-style building was built in the mid 19th century but has not been used as a church since 1984. Re-christened ‘The Hub’ in 1999, it is now the home of the Edinburgh International Festival.

St Giles’ Cathedral

St Giles' Cathedral 3

St Giles was founded in 1124 by King David I but underwent many transformations during its 900 year history. Its iconic crown-shaped steeple is a familiar Edinburgh landmark. The interior is characterized by high, vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows.

St Giles' Cathedral 2St Giles' Cathedral

Royal Mile Wellheads

Up until 1820 wellheads provided water to the population in Old Town. They were also places where locals could meet and gossip. Only two are still in existence. Unfortunately, one of them seems to be doing duty as a repository for cigarette butts.

Royal Mile Wellheads

John Knox House

It is thought that the Scottish religious reformer John Knox died in this house in 1572. It now belongs to the Church of Scotland and is dedicated to John Knox and his life. This house is a wonderful example of a 16th century building with its overhanging wooden upper storeys. We only saw the exterior of this house. John Knox gave Mary Stuart a very hard time when she was alive. Suffice it to say he is not on my ‘most favourite historical persons’ list.

John Knox House

Canongate Tolbooth

Built in 1591 this quirky-looking building is where tolls were collected. It also served as a court and prison and was located almost exactly opposite the entrance to the court where our apartment was located.

Canongate Tolbooth

Canongate Kirk and Churchyard

The church was built in the late 17th century and has an unusual design. This is where Her Majesty attends service when she is in Edinburgh and was the wedding venue for Zara Phillips in 2011. A number of prominent parishioners are buried in the churchyard – amongst them Clarissa, beloved mistress of poet Robert Burns, and economist Adam Smith. The church was closed by the time we got there but I did spend some time exploring the churchyard.

Canongate Kirkyard - The Royal Mile

The Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament welcomes visitors 6 days a week. This modern edifice located opposite Holyrood House was inaugurated in 2004. I thought it was a rather weird-looking building with lots of metal pipes sticking out all over the place. Quotes by famous Scots are embedded into its walls. It was definitely not my favourite building in Edinburgh – but then, I am not the biggest fan of modern architecture.

Scottish Parliament

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland (August 2018)

Links

More attractions on the Royal Mile

Canongate Kirk

Canongate Tolbooth

John Knox House

Next time, we’ll take a walk around the picturesque Dean Village.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Snapshots of Scotland

It was my dad who first instilled a love for Scotland in me. I was very young, not more than six, and he would hitch me up on his shoulders and march around our basement to the, sometimes uplifting and sometimes mournful, tunes of the pipes and drums of the Black Watch. Eventually, I started to immerse myself in Scottish history,reading about famous battles like Bannockburn and Culloden, and learning about the exploits of Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and Bonnie Prince Charlie and that most tragic of queens, Mary Stuart.

Scotland 7

So you see, visiting Scotland has been on my bucket list from an age before I even knew what a bucket list was and, now that I’ve visited, I should probably cross it off my list and move on. But something tells me that I have only just started exploring Scotland and that, before too long, I will return.

What we did (in a nutshell)

On this trip we stayed in Edinburgh for 3 days and then drove north where we used Nairn as a base to explore the Highlands. In Edinburgh we stayed in a spacious apartment in Chessels Court just off of the Cannongate area of the Royal Mile. It was central enough for us to walk everywhere – and walk we did, all over Old Town and New Town and Dean Village. Naturally we also ‘did the sights’: Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Abbey, St Giles’ Cathedral, the Scott Memorial.

Edinburgh 1

On our way to the Highlands we caught a glimpse of the Kelpies from the motorway, stopped for lunch in a pretty little village called Pithlochry and then continued northwards through the gorgeous scenery of the Caingorms National Park.

Pithlochry

In Nairn we had a whole house all to ourselves but spent a lot of time in the surrounding countryside and on the endless stretches of beaches. But we did take the time to visit Culloden Moor, Inverness, the ‘clootie well’ at Munlochy, Loch Ness, Cannich, and, since you can’t visit Scotland and not drink some whiskey (even though I am not fond of it) we toured Benromach distillery.

Nairn

Highlands

I will write separate posts about all the beautiful sights we saw in Edinburgh and the Highlands at a later date.

First impressions

Describing Scotland as beautiful is like saying that the sea is blue. There is so much more to it than that. It is wild, fascinating, mysterious and magical all rolled into one. I feel like I don’t have enough adequate words to describe this country and it’s not often that I am rendered speechless. In my mind, I’ve always associated it with tartan and whiskey; Highland clans and craggy mountains; glens and lochs; thistles and unicorns, far-flung islands shrouded in rolling mists; mighty castles and abandoned abbeys; bagpipes and kilts; Walter Scott, Robert Burns; MacBeth and Jamie Fraser.

Scotland 4

Despite the fact that I do not have one drop of Scottish blood in my veins, I felt an extraordinary kinship with this land. It truly is the stuff of romance and legends. Scotland, you rock!

Edinburgh 2

Various locations in Scotland, August/September 2018

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Malta in a Minute: Santo Spirito Hospital

Santo Spirito hospital, located in Rabat next to the Church of St Francis, was the first hospital on the island. It was already functioning in 1372. At the time, Mdina was Malta’s capital city and this hospital was just minutes away from its gates. When the Knights of St John established Valletta as Malta’s new capital city, they built two hospitals (one for men and the other for women) there. From then on, Santo Spirito served the rural central region, especially poor patients and foundlings.

Santo Spirito Hospital Rabat 2

Many  people are curious about a feature known as la ruota that can still be seen on the façade of this building. Basically, it is a rotating device in which people could place unwanted babies that would then be taken care of by nuns – one of the sad facts of medieval life.

Santo Spirito Hospital Rabat 1

Santo Spirito hospital was closed down in 1967. It was subsequently restored and now houses the National Archives. In 2010 the old pharmacy was rehabilitated and furnished with chemicals and equipment that would have been prevalent in the days prior to the advent of the modern pharmaceutical industry.

Santo Spirito Hospital Rabat 3

Santo Spirito Hospital, Old Hospital Street, Rabat


Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Rome’s Jewish ghetto

Rome’s Jewish ghetto came into being when Pope Paul IV ordered its construction in 1555. All the Jews living in Rome had to relocate to this small area – hemmed in between the River Tiber and Piazza Venezia - which was very prone to flooding. The ghetto was walled-in and accessed through two gates that were locked at night. The gates were eventually increased to eight and, at one point during the  16th century, 3500 people were crammed into the ghetto’s labyrinth of narrow streets and squalid buildings. Following the unification of Italy, all  Jews were granted Italian citizenship and the requirement for them to live in the ghetto came to an end in 1870. The walls of the ghetto were demolished in 1888, together with a large number of crowded, unsanitary buildings. The Synagogue of Rome and elegant apartment buildings were built instead.

Jewish Ghetto Rome 13

Jewish Ghetto Rome 17

Although no longer compelled to live in the former ghetto, the area remained a thriving Jewish community well into the 20th century. But at dawn on October 16, 1943 the Nazis surrounded the neighbourhood and carried away 1023 inhabitants to Auschwitz. Only 16 survived.

Jewish Ghetto Rome

Maybe it’s because we visited during Passover week that the ghetto was so quiet and deserted. A handful of tourists roamed the streets, guidebooks in hand, but we were spared the din and tumult of the crowds at the major attractions. There were no self-absorbed teenagers taking selfies here; no pouting duck lips and impossible poses. It was possible to wander around the shaded, narrow, cobble-stoned streets and secret courtyards without interruption. It felt like we could get lost but somehow still find our way.

Jewish Ghetto Rome 3Jewish Ghetto Rome 6Jewish Ghetto Rome 9

And because of all that happened here; because of its recent history, it’s impossible not to feel moved, not to feel emotional as you stumble across reminders of people who once lived here; who were forcibly taken – never to return. It is heart-breaking to imagine that 75 years ago, a two-year old child was seen as such a threat that she was sent to the death camps simply because she was Jewish. So yes, for a while my heart was filled with sadness and my eyes filled with tears but I continue to hold on to the hope that Europe has learnt its lesson and the horrors of war will never return.Jewish Ghetto Rome collage

But aside from these poignant reminders of a world gone mad so many decades ago, it is impossible to forget that you’re in Rome and, sooner rather than later, you will be reminded of the fact. Which is why it is no surprise to end up in a piazza adorned by Bernini’s small but exquisite Fontana delle Tartarughe and the soothing sound of trickling, tinkling water.

Jewish Ghetto 5Jewish Ghetto Rome 4

In the main thoroughfare, Via del Portico d’Ottavia, remnants of Imperial Rome are grafted onto medieval buildings that are painted in all the imaginable shades of ochre, amber and gold.

Jewish Ghetto Rome 8Jewish Ghetto Rome 10Jewish Ghetto Rome 11

Here, the late Anthony Bourdain, ate fried carciofi alla giudia at Il Giardino Romano. Other restaurants line this street, rubbing shoulders with Jewish kosher bakeries displaying their wares from pastel-coloured shop fronts. There is no better place from where you can sample traditional Roman-Jewish desserts such as ricotta and wild cherry cake or pizza ebraica than Pasticceria Boccione – which is easy to miss since not a single sign proclaims its presence. But it’s the arched shop on the corner in the picture below.

Jewish Ghetto Rome 14

Jewish Ghetto Rome 2Jewish Ghetto Rome 12

The Jewish ghetto is one of those Roman idiosyncrasies, almost like a small village within the city, with its own particular customs, eateries and even its own dialect known as Giudeo-romanesco (Judeo-Roman). You can see most of the ghetto in about half an hour. Or you can linger, as we did, and explore its back streets and quaint shops without ever forgetting the rich and tragic history of this corner of Rome.Jewish Ghetto Rome 7

Jewish Ghetto Rome 16

Location: Jewish Ghetto, Rome, Italy (March 2018)

All images ©Sincerely, Loree

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