For my birthday this year my boyfriend Macalley booked for us to go to Edinburgh together as a surprise. Not only were we going to go to one of my favourite cities but we were going to go to the zoo for their Giant Lantern festival- celebrating Chinese New Year.
We got into Edinburgh Waverley Station in the late morning and after dropping off our bags at the hotel spent the morning exploring this beautiful city and in my case doing a significant amount of shopping. As dusk set in we got on the Airlink bus to the zoo which got us there in 10 minutes, just as it started to get darker. The dark February night sky only further illuminated the delicate lanterns and their details and served as a wonderful backdrop for the lantern trail.
We followed the trail around the zoo’s grounds; which are built into the volcanic hills of the city centre, and saw all manor of animals brought to life by this ancient art form. Advertised as an experience for all the family it really was brilliant to explore; from poison dart frogs to armadillos, and Chinese dragons to Scottish thistles there was so much to see all centred around a giant Chinese Temple. Around this temple was the zoo’s cafe offering a wide variety of food for you to eat as you took a break from your tour round the zoo and the chilly winter night. There were sandwiches and pizza but also available was a variety of traditional Chinese food meaning there were options for everyone whether you wanted to continue the experience with your food or simply fill up before carrying on to see the rest of the lanterns.
But there was so much more to the Giant Lantern festival than simply the lanterns, there were Chinese dancers and gymnasts performing, there were traditional Chinese goods being handmade and sold around the trail. Beautiful jade Buddha, artwork in grains of rice and delicate glasswork made not only great souvenirs but also gifts for my family at home. We stayed until the experience closed at 10.00pm after spending 2 and a half hours looking at all of the many unique lanterns and learning how pieces of paper could be crafted and illuminated in such a way that they could seemingly be brought to life. Throughout the evening we learnt a lot, not only about the lanterns and how they were built but about China, the Chinese New Year and about the many endangered animals that the zoo keeps and helps to conserve in the wild. By the time we left I felt like a small child again completely in awe of the whole experience and begged Macalley to let us come back the next day to go around the zoo in the daylight.
The next morning we got up early and decided to visit the zoo again, this time to see the real residents of the zoo, as opposed to their Chinese counterparts. The enchanting lanterns that had been there the night before still stood unlit but none the less imposing, all the more interesting now their details were made clearer by daylight. The zoo itself is one of the best I have been to. Large open enclosures and plenty of enrichment for the animals we spent much of our morning watching as the zoo’s giant pandas (the only in the UK) climbed and swung from their climbing frame and then sat and chomped their way through a huge amount of bamboo. Amongst the zoo’s other residents were rhinos, penguins, painted dogs and my personal favourite the koala. We took a picnic this time and sat on benches at the highest point of the zoo and looked over the horizon, from the city centre and its distinctive skyline to the mountains in the distance, it was equally as beautiful in the day time. It was so hard to believe that this expansive zoo sat so subtly in the hustle and bustle of a thriving city, you could not hear the traffic from the high street the zoo is set back from, yet did not have to travel more then 10 minutes from Princes Street to get there.
The rest of our day; once I managed to tear myself away from the koalas, was spent climbing Carlton Hill. Another reminder of Edinburgh’s volcanic origins, Carlton Hill is a platform above the city’s main streets from which you can see the coast to the right, the rush of Princes Street Gardens to in front of you and Arthurs Seat curving behind you. Once again I was stunned by this dynamic city. We were eager to try and climb Arthur’s Seat, but decided it would give us another excuse to come back (not that we didn’t already have enough).
I won’t pretend I wasn’t gutted to be going back home and sat in silence on the train remembering all the magical things we had seen and done in only 36 hours. Before the train got into York we had already booked tickets to go back to Edinburgh in a month’s time, but in the interim I had Liverpool to look forward to!