29 June 2012

Scottish pandas, castles and spitting on the ground…

Spontaneous decision made to visit Edinburgh done in one day. Site seeing in Edinburgh done in two days. Turns out going to Edinburgh meant missing out on the Jubilee festivities back in London...ah well I saw all the footage on TV!

The train to Edinburgh was a breeze. Didn’t reserve seats but was lucky to find two free seats close together. The weird thing about the reserved seats was no one came to sit in them, leaving lots of space. Once it was safe that no one meant for the seats were coming we claimed a table section. The rest of the journey was relaxing watching the English countryside fly past…until the sun set and then all you could see was your own reflection.

5 hours later and hello bloody cold Scotland!

The mission we accepted was to see the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. Day one began with a bright and early start to travel by bus to make the panda appointment. Booked tickets and viewing time online was a smart idea. Arriving at the zoo, minutes before opening time, we found it was already packed with a queue my eyes could not see the end of. Not knowing where to go, staff arrived and wanted to start an internet booking line...right where we were standing. Brilliant. Next stop pandas!

Pandas are lazy sods that sleep 17 hours of the day away. We were lucky to see action from the two pandas, for at least some of the viewing time. The female Tian Tian was wandering all over the enclosure and then that was that. She found her favourite spot on a platform and rested with her back to the crowd. The male Yang Guang paraded himself in front of the glass then made his way to his favourite back scratching tree…hence the brown markings in his coat. Upside down and having a good old scratch was hilarious to see. Who knew seeing pandas could be entertaining!

After leaving the pandas I wanted to see the big cats, my favourite being the tiger. Except their tiger was a sneak and just had to sleep (or hide) in the one part of the enclosure you could not see him! Leaning right against the window and looking awkwardly up to the right I saw a paw. With that let down I was off to see the rest of the big cats. I was awestruck. I’ve never seen leopards or jaguars before and when I saw the first leopard I became an excitable child. The cats were snacking on breakfast left in great spots close to the window for the crowd gathered to take amazing shots.

We said goodbye to the zoo, not before purchasing ah um panda soft toy with a tartan scarf…get it…Scottish panda!

The next agenda item for the day was a free walking tour of Edinburgh, thanks to a friend who lived there. The modern parliament buildings are architecturally interesting, if you like that kind of thing. The streets are full of Scottish merchandise shopping opportunities. Finding the best fudge shop was a bonus.

The best attractions seen:

Holyroodhouse Palace – The royal family’s Scottish residence. Didn’t actually go inside but took photos from the best spot, through a gate by the toilets! I will have to go back and see inside the grounds, it looked stunning.

The Royal Mile. The High Street of Old Town. A succession of streets leading up to Edinburgh castle. Now the headquarters of the Edinburgh International Festival society - The Hub. By the West Door of St Giles' is the Heart of Midlothian, a heart-shaped pattern built into the road. The heart marks the site of the Old Tollbooth, formerly the centre of administration, taxation and justice in the Burgh. From the point of its demolition, locals used to spit on the site of the prison. Locals’ still spit on the heart but the legend has been "cleaned up" by tourist guides who claim the spitting is for good luck.

Grassmarkets. Historic market in Edinburgh. It was also a setting for public executions. There is no longer any grass, instead a concord of pavement and cafe areas. The "shadow" of a gibbet was added in dark paving on the former gallows site.

Edinburgh Castle. Looks are deceiving. It is impressive to look at from below but nothing much to see inside. There were a couple of renovated rooms where Mary Queen of Scots was born and the King’s rooms, three  royal crown jewels, nothing in comparison to the crown jewels at The Tower of London and war memorial museums. If that doesn’t interest you, keep your £14.