In between touchdown in Edinburgh at just before 11 am and 10 pm that night when we finally got to sleep, we had time to explore the city. Part of that time was taken up by bus and walking tours, but about three hours was left for us to simply explore the city. We were all exhausted and the wind was raging in a way that brought to mind the plains of Kansas, so after walking around Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and getting some food, we decided to head into the National Museum of Scotland, which just happened to be right across the street from where we’d all eaten.
We decided to give the kids their first taste of travel freedom. As long as they remained with a buddy, they could explore the museum the way they wanted. We gave them two hours and a meeting place. Many of them really wanted to go to the top of the museum to walk along the outside observatory level to get a really great view of the city. Since I was also interested in doing this, I headed up with a group of 8 girls. Unfortunately, because the winds were blowing so hard, the rooftop viewing area was closed, so we had to remain indoors and actually look at the exhibits.
At first my students were disappointed, but then they found what looked like a giant hamster wheel, climbed in and started walking. I got some pretty hilarious videos to post on my Facebook travel page so their parents could watch them. This renewed both their energy and their desire to see more of the museum. So, we all went exploring.
The museum has some pretty cool hands on exhibits for kids. I was pleasantly surprised with how many very polite school groups we saw in the museum with kids exploring history, science and technology in a very hands on way. Sure, there were exhibits that were hands off, but those were interspersed with items anyone could touch and experience.
I found a lot of strange and fascinating things in the museum. A personal favorite was the giant whale and squid models featured at the top of this page. They reminded me of my visit to The House on the Rock in Wisconsin. When my best friend and I went about 12 years ago, we were both astounded by the whale vs giant squid fight they have on display there. I snapped this picture to send to my BFF.
I also thought this strange Millennium clock tower was interesting. Or creepy. Or maybe both. The detail on it is incredibly intricate and full of strange, disturbing, somewhat macabre imagery. It is filled with images from the best and the worst of the 20th century. It is really pretty darn tall (10 meters) and has four separate sections that are supposed to resemble a medieval cathedral. It’s tucked away a bit in it’s own sort of darkened hallway, which adds to the creepy effect of the clock. It not only moves, as any good clock should, but also plays rather eerie music. It’s more than a bit depressing, but it definitely made my time at the museum more interesting!
The museum also has a cool collection of clothing, dating back to the 17th century, which is pretty neat. There are also a whole bunch of very modern, very couture looking outfits featured in the collection, including paper dresses and this interesting hybrid of dress and wings. It looked like the perfect outfit for an alien creature.
Before I visited the museum, I had no idea that Scotland was the birthplace of lighthouses, so it was pretty cool to see a giant lighthouse bulb in the center atrium. When I think about it, it makes complete sense for an island nation to be the place where lighthouses got their start, but I love learning new bits of information like this, which is why I love visiting museums in different cities. Even the boring ones have something cool to offer.
Although I will admit that well before our two hour exploration time was up I found many of my group members gathered on benches in the atrium, half laying, half sitting, clearly struggling to keep their eyes open. I’m not sure they really knew what they were looking at. They just knew they were happy to be sitting down.
We got a bit of a second wind while walking back toward our meeting spot in the newer part of the city. Of course that was probably at least partially due to the actual wind being kicked up in our faces and propelling us forward. We still had an hour to kill before our meeting time. Some of our group members really wanted to shop and some wanted to head into the The Scottish National Gallery. A good number of my students had taken AP Art History and AP European History, so they were interested in seeing some of the paintings. As I’m never on these trips to shop, I happily agreed to stay with the art enthusiasts.
At first, a few of the kids weren’t thrilled to be in the museum. I could tell they stayed with my group simply because they were too tired/had no desire to shop. However, the more we looked at paintings, the more into it they got. They were thoroughly impressed with the gorgeous landscapes like this lovely painting by Frederic Edwin Church called “Niagara Falls, from the American Side,” which was painted in 1867. They also really liked the Poussin’s Sacraments. We spent a good five minutes just sitting in that room (in part because we needed the rest), looking over each painting and charting the timeline of them.
They loved seeing works by artists they knew like Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh and Degas. Many of them were also captivated by a series of really cool flower paintings that were so detailed that they found tiny aphids, ladybugs and flies among the lovely buds.
We were all fascinated by a few unfinished paintings that were hanging in the gallery. This one, “The Allegory of Virtue” by Correggio was really cool. It was worked on between 1550-1560. The description explained that it was believed to be a first draft of a painting. I’d never really thought of drafting when it comes to paintings, so this was cool. This was the first time that I’d seen an unfinished painting like this hanging in a museum. And this wasn’t even the only one, which made it even cooler. My students were floored by these partially finished paintings.
They were also impressed with the fact that all these museums were free. Sure, they asked for donations (which I gave at both), but all these cool exhibits and glorious works of art are absolutely free to any visitor, regardless of where they come from. I know that we do have free museums in the US, but it seems they are few and far between and a great many people do not have access to them. I am so glad my students (and I) got to explore way more than just shops on this trip. I loved getting a taste of true Scottish history and culture on this trip.