on November 8, 2012
Edinburgh Zoo is in the Corstorphine area of the city, not far from Murrayfield stadium. There are a few buses which stop at the entrance to the zoo, which you can catch from Waverley or Haymarket stations. I had got up really quite early to ensure that I got to the zoo for opening time. There was one reason for this: having checked prices and how to get there on the zoo website the day before, I discovered that in order to see one of the zoo's main attractions, the giant pandas, you had to pre-book tickets for a set time. These tickets had to be printed at home, and this was a problem as I didn't have access to a printer. The website stated that a limited number of panda tickets would be available at the zoo every day, on a first-come first-served basis - and I was determined to be first there. Adult entry to the zoo costs £15.50, but there is no extra cost for the panda ticket. I was waiting outside the door when the zoo opened at 9am, and I got a ticket to see the pandas at 9.30am. One of the most important things to note about Edinburgh is that it is on a hill. And I don't mean that there's a bit of a gentle slope in the middle - the whole place is a hill, and very steep in places. The paths are all quite wide and in good condition; I saw a lot of parents with pushchairs who seemed to be managing fine, but I think pushing a wheelchair up that hill would be very, very difficult. Equally, anyone has mobility problems but does not use a wheelchair would struggle to walk round the zoo. Fortunately, the zoo runs a Safari Bus which takes you round quite a lot of the zoo, including to the very top point, but it doesn't pass all the animals. I didn't take the bus, and I don't recall using it on my childhood visits either, but I think it is a good service to allow everyone to enjoy their day out.The enclosures at Edinburgh Zoo are all in good condition, and there are a lot of visible staff, either caring for the animals or undertaking maintenance. The only exceptions are the big cat enclosures. I think they are really quite small, and the Amur Leopards pace back and forward under the viewing glass all the time.The giant pandas are obviously the star attraction these days; I wonder how the penguins feel about that, after years of Edinburgh Zoo being famous for its penguin colony (which, incidentally, is a bit scattered at the moment - the penguin pool is being upgraded so the famous penguin parade is off, some of the penguins are elsewhere in the zoo, and others have gone for a holiday at other zoos). With the timed entry to see the pandas, you get about 20 minutes. The area around the enclosure has a Chinese theme, but is fairly tastefully designed. When I saw them, the pandas were in their indoor enclosures - they were just waking up. Yang Guang, the male, rather obligingly sat down facing the viewing windows and proceeded to give a display of how they eat bamboo, while Tian Tian, the female, stayed in her bed in what the keeper said was a typical panda pose. All the time the group was looking at the pandas, the keeper was talking to us - he was excellent, engaging, very informative and full of interesting information about the species in general and the quirks of these two in particular. The keeper showed us the outdoor enclosure as well, and explained that although bamboo has been planted all over the zoo to provide a future supply (currently it comes from the Netherlands), they can't plant it in the pandas enclosure, because as soon as a shoot appears above ground, the pandas eat it without giving it a chance to grow. On my way from the entrance to the pandas, I had seen the African Painted Hunting Dogs, which were fascinating to watch. They loped around their large enclosure pretty quickly, and with a surprising grace. Their markings are beautiful. But what really stole my heart was when I was in a little glass walled hide watching them run around, one came to a halt at my feet and had a really good scratch at his neck with his back leg, just like any pet dog (or cat for that matter) would do.Edinburgh Zoo doesn't have elephants or giraffes, but they do have rhinos. It being a cool October morning, the rhinos were nose deep in their heated indoor pool when I saw them. They looked very comfortable, and you could see the steam rising off the pool. The meerkats are, of course, among the cutest animals in the zoo, and very popular with kids these days. But because I was walking quite swiftly I reached their enclosure before any families did, so I got to admire them all alone. They are fascinating little creatures, always alert, with sentries looking in all directions. As always, I was keen to see the big cats. The tigers have an enclosure which probably really suits them, with lots of things to climb and hide behind, but which doesn't make it easy to spot them. The male rather obligingly went for a stroll while I was trying to spot them, and he really was a beautiful animal; I love tigers, they are so graceful. The lions also had a reasonable sized enclosure with plenty of trees and so on, but it is more open than the tigers one so they were much easier to spot: having a nap in the sunshine, looking very like large versions of domestic cats.The remainder of the big cats are in much smaller enclosures, as I mentioned earlier, which I don't like. Still, I did enjoy spending some time admiring Mowgli, the male jaguar, who was lounging on a wide branch and looking very like a slightly overgrown Snoopy, my black cat who likes to think he is a jaguar.The zoo is a nice place to walk around, with plenty of plants and trees, posters and educational exhibits for children. The paths and open areas are all very well maintained, and all exhibits are easily accessible, with plenty of viewing space. I really enjoyed my walk around the zoo, although I was really tired later from what was a brisk climb up a steep hill. The hill is worth trekking up to the top though (or taking the Safari Bus); not only will you see the African Plains area with animals such as zebras, and then continue on to the giant anteater and lion areas, but you get a fantastic view of the city.I didn't have breakfast before I went to the zoo, thinking I'd get something there. That was easier said than done. Following my trusty map, I tried a cafe and a couple of kiosks at around 10am - which were all closed. I then traipsed through the Budongo Trail, the chimpanzee house (which has loads of interesting and educational exhibits for kids), to find the cafe on the other side of it; I didn't see any chimpanzees, and the cafe was shut. I had been avoiding the largest food place, the Grasslands Restaurant, which is smack bang in the middle of the zoo, thinking it wasn't going to be somewhere for a snack, but eventually I gave in and went there. I got myself a tuna panini and bottle of 7up for around £7; the panini was good, but it was more than I wanted and cost more than I wanted to spend.I went into the gift shop on the way out, and I was pleasantly surprised by the prices. Half the stock is panda-themed, so I bought a very pretty panda keyring for myself, fudge in a panda box for my partner, and a smart panda pen for my mum - each was only £3. I would have expected the keyring to have been £5 elsewhere; later that week I saw a keyring of similar quality for £10. I collect keyrings in case you're wondering about this fixation on them.I really, really enjoyed my morning at Edinburgh Zoo, even though I was there on my own. It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me, and I am very glad I decided to make use of my early mornings before my mum was up and about. I have enjoyed Edinburgh Zoo as a child, in my early twenties with my partner, and now on my own and perilously close to turning thirty. I also know that my mum and gran really enjoyed it when we were there years ago; Edinburgh Zoo is a fun day out for all ages.
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