Recently about the last six months I’ve had this desire, urge, inspiration call it whatever you want, to be a travel writer. I also wanted to get back to the habit of handwriting things instead of just always having a digital format something that will stand the test of time and also a bit more personal when you see it in your own handwriting when you pass it down to children or friends or other love ones down the road. Today I am going to transcribe and share my adventures with my roommate Cheryl to Edinburgh very short 36 hour trip to go see the giant pandas at Edinburgh zoo.
The morning before we are to fly out I find myself running around frantically trying to get me and my flatmate’s flat clean. She helped me see that coming home to a clean flat is actually quite refreshing. But today it just didn’t feel clean. I set several alarms so I didn’t lose track 1245 alarm rang time to pack my backpack for two days I actually had most of my stuff ready earlier in the week being a London cyclist and a commuter. But even with dad I still felt the pressure. Alarm started to scream again at 1:30 definitely time to leave the flat the latest so I could make it in time to catch the number seven bus that would get me to Brighton station and start my long journey up to Birmingham.
Last-minute attempt to print your boarding passes for Edinburgh flight that final spot check to make sure I have various IDs train passes and debit cards. As I made my way to the bus stop I took note of how sunny it actually was surprisingly for England something that is very far and few between.
Now usually the number 7 bus is very fast getting to the station as it cuts past all the High Street traffic but of course today there was traffic. I started tapping my uncharacteristically long fingernails on the stop request button; Polish leftover from the Oscars two weekends prior. I kept looking at my Fitbit charge 2 I still had time I just recorded really close if I’ve missed the 15:58 train. That’s filled in with five minutes until departure plenty of time but I stopped to get a drink of pop at sausage van and ran for the barriers! Made it just-in-time to a table seat not last just as the whistle blew from the conductor.
Let the adventure begin! This train right foot like my usual ride into work however it was Saturday afternoon so wasn’t crowded really nothing exciting to report on this leg of the journey. My best mate from America start a chat with me on Facebook messenger then that help pass the time until I had to change trains in London.
So far so good with the trains Who are notorious for delays in line fault another reason why I gave myself 45 minutes to get from London Victoria station to London Euston station. For two stops later and I was back at my old haunts of London Euston station station for 2 1/2 years where every weekend (except for 4) I went up to see my wife at the time before we move down to Brighton.
There was a newish mezzanine level that was built over the main entrance giving people more room to sit, that was one of my biggest gripes back in the day. I got some travel food and didn’t have to wait long for them to announce the platform for my train to Sandwell and Dudley. Like autopilot kicking in I headed down to platform 6 to board my train. Activating my ticket on the app, again something new to me, and once again found myself at a table seat this time I couldn’t fall asleep otherwise I would miss my stop and end up in Glasgow.
It was a very pleasant train ride for the first 30 minutes until the PA system decided to fail. “we are now approaching Coventry” it kept saying over and over every five minutes. Now I knew from my history of my commuting on weekends that we were nowhere near Coventry. The message continue to play every five minutes for 45 minutes straight but literally I was able to eventually zone it out. As luck would have it the message didn’t actually go off once we truly did arrive at Coventry. I really felt for the passengers who didn’t know what was going on at the poor looks of panic on their faces.
Find we arrive at Sandwell and Dudley were Cheryl, my ex-wife, met me at the station and drop me back to your dad I proceeded to have the Black Country staple of chicken tikka flavoured kebabs on a pita with chips. After dinner we did some last minute bag checks and swabs and then it was off to bed.
I tossed and turned that night. I just couldn’t settle, although my call to adventure was being answered it was also awakening my newly developed anxiety over flying.
I woke up with a startling jolt. “what time is it!” I said to myself with a sinking feeling in my stomach. I hadnt set an alarm and Cheryl is known for either waking up and getting ready for sleeping and I miss everything, that’s why sometimes I set a backup alarm. I looked down at my watch and it was 8 AM we were supposed to walk out the door in 30 minutes for me that is no big deal and further helped because I’ve packed and doublechecked my bag the night before.
I threw the duvet off me and headed towards the narrow stairs when I heard a familiar sound of Cheryl’s hair straighteners, she was awake. We spent 10 minutes deciding what shoes and jacket she was going to take and then I went downstairs to leaver her be. I can be very smothering and anxious right before we travel and she needs her space to make final decisions. A decade together and you will learn these quirks about each other. Her dad graciously drove us to the Birmingham International airport.
we didn’t have to check bags or even printed boarding pass for flight we just headed straight for gate. I got verious refreshments and earplugs. I couldn’t help but keep pacing back and forth looking at the departure boards.
It was pass the time I wanna boarding passes said gate closed which to me means the doors are close and we can’t get on the plane. Finally they announce we are boarding at gate three which we were luckily sitting right next to. So far so good except for security were both our bags needed to be doublechecked hers because of a plastic bag was too big and mine was some adhesive pads that warm up. We walked down the gate and we saw a tiny plane that said flybe and they were propeller planes…proper propeller planes, no turbojets like I was used to. “God I hope that’s not a plane” pointing to the window on the right.
I thought we were safe and we lined up to board the opposite side of the terminal so I thought we were safe. But as we got our boarding passes again by the good smelling man and it became very clear we were getting on the same kind of plane. Now flights up to Scotland are notorious for turbulence. Cheryl herself experienced it in 2009 when she went up to Glasgow with some workmates. With this knowledge combined with my fear of flying along with her anxiety not being able to leave if she want to – it took everything in both of us not to turn to one another and say “fuck this”
But we got on and took our seats Cheryl at the window and I had the aisle. It felt like we taxied to the runway for ages. “let’s go already” i muddered to myself. All of a sudden I heard the loud propellers next to our window harm even louder and higher in pitch. Cheryl, already eyes closed I’m drifting off to sleep, reached out and held my hand. I’m sure she could see the fear in my eyes even though I tried to stay calm.
The blessings of God it was a very smooth flight only a few bumps as we descended through the clouds. I knew this was normal thanks to my dad who flies as a hobby and would explain things to me to keep my anxiety down about flying. We would talk me through all the steps of takeoff and landing any time I flew and did my own personal checklist in my head of various noises and bumps that were normal to keep myself calm.
And just like that we were in Edinburgh. whew the nervous part was over now let’s have some fun! we walked quite a distance before we finally reach the exit we got on the 100 bus to town from the airport. Me and Cheryl was sick and went back and forth on it we should check in early (it was only 12 and the website said 2pm) or do we go straight to city centre with our bags. As our stop for the hotel approach we decided to get off and we were in the back of the bus trying to push through. Even as a seasoned London commuter I still apologise profusely to this day when I go through crowds.
Eventually we get off the bus and headed into the hotel on the side entrance and made our way to reception. this holiday innand was nice and just our luck we could get into the room early room 250. We dropped our bags open the windows two of view of the Edinburgh zoo parking lot. that’s okay we didn’t need A view we agreed to only rest for our feet before freshening up and heading into town centre. we had two extra hours we didn’t expect to have so we might as well explore!
We got back on the 100 bus and once again to play roulette on which stop to get off that. we decided once again last minute to get off at Princess Street because first mission was to get some food in us. now in our 30s we needed food regularly otherwise we both get hangry. That’s where you’re hungry and angry at the same time. As we got off the bus Edinburgh Castle was to our right and I was struck how much it didn’t look like a castle and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t until later that it came to me it’s because the castle is not in any ruin that just felt like a city on a hill.
We walked around Princess Street which looks a lot like shopping High Street in the hopes to find some Scottish pub to have a Sunday roast. but no joy we finally decided to pop into the Bella italia because at least we know the food and we were treated as more of a fuel up meal. We hadn’t eaten all day.
We had massive portions of spaghetti and lasagna, onion rings and chips. it was too much food portion size was so much bigger compare to what we are used to. After dinner we went back on fourth On what to do. Do we check out a museum? Or go for cocktails we had plans for the trip because again we had two hours we didn’t account for. In the end alcohol wins the day! we walked around the block a couple times we look for a place called the copper blossom finally after about 10 minutes what sort of sign a walk down some stairs
We were greeted with the smell of fresh flowers and fruit and A petite woman similar in our age came to meet us. “Hello here to eat or drink?” me and Cheryl just looked at each other and smiled at the same time answered “drink” The woman smiled back and said “okay then follow me”
We said at this one table that could sit six people and me and Cheryl will struggle to get on the high bar stool. As we started to get settled in our seats I noticed a woman in her late 20s sitting on the bar with the ukelele singing iconic tunes and very sweet gentle voice. It was so soothing to listen to and the way she had her hair, a black bob with fringe and thick plastic glasses made me remember a classmate Cheryl had a few years ago in University. Cheryl first drink was called a Knickerbocker and I had one called a porn star martini which is quickly becoming one of my favourites.
Next round I had a French martini which had more raspberry flavours then the passionfruit and peach in the porn star martini. This time Cheryl had a porn star and we also shared a chocolate tart like cake that came with raspberry sauce. We were in heven. the mood was nice, food and drinks for amazing for the first time in a long time we both were relaxed.
After our third round of cocktails surprise surprise of aporn star martinis we decided to get the bill and asked for a taxi to be called. We say goodbye to the copper blossom and headed back to our hotel. I played with the strings of my new Campbell of Cawdor tartan scarf my family have strong Irish and Scottish roots and although my surname is Moran my mother’s maiden name was Campbell a very notorious clan and I didn’t know there were differences.
Is up for debate which Campbell clan we are part of so I got one of each Argyll and Cawdor and one scarf for me and one scarf for my mum. We arrived at the hotel and got in the lift to room 250 and then immediately went to sleep it was about 5 PM. 7 PM our alarms have both been snoozing at least six times but we both finally drag ourselves out of bed and put our swimming costumes on. we wanted to take full advantage of the spa facilities.
When we got there it was a very small pool and hot tub I didn’t mind but I didn’t think Cheryl was very impressed. I was just excited to use my Garman Fenix 3 that I got over Christmas to use in the pool after. about 45 minutes of swimming and chilling in the hot tub our tummies are rumbling so I got changed and headed out to our Chinese restaurant across the street from the hotel. It was called the cool Jade and I would highly recommend it. we both had our usual sweet-and-sour chicken with egg fried rice and chips but I could only eat half for I was still so full from lunch earlier no amount to swimming could burn that off.With dinner finished your starter pack and wind down for the night
I awoke to our phones having dualing alarms and with one snoozing then the next going off. they were going off every five minutes. it was 830 in the morning and the Sun was shining and the goal was for me to work next door and get a second panda viewing ticket once the zoo opened. Once again I did a last runthrough of my bag and make sure we were good to go. Cheryl started to get ready and I made my way to the zoo fingers crossed the pandas would be awake.
9 AM arrived I got small panda viewing tickets for 330 in the afternoon. now we went in March during a Monday which I would highly suggest. as I was walking out I also grabbed two lockers to store our bags for later after 2 PM checkout, which is the latest check out I’ve ever heard of considering I used to work for years at various hotels as front desk staff before I got a job in the film industry and the latest we ever had was 12 PM checkout.
With that I want back to the hotel to pick up Cheryl and we made our way to the panda enclosure first thing. she had read somewhere that it was good to watch them first thing (that’s when they get fed) map in hand we started to march up the hilly zoo to the panda enclosure. there were very tiny signs and the map was not accurate at all. I understand it doesn’t have to be perfect but this was getting silly. We arrived at the panda gate right on 10 AM for first viewing tickets and the keepers radio on each other back and forth to verify their locations. I was getting excited we were here with this being the sole purpose of our trip. God please be awake!
The keepers gave a brief intro at the gate and asked us to head in to our right. the small crowd, which apparently was tiny compare to yesterday’s, made our way into a room where we met a male panda named Yang Guang. He was sitting in his large swing munching away at the bamboo, he was awake! The female panda Tian Tian was on her off day so she was in a private part of the enclosure.
I know there is a lot of debates about zoos and the morality behind them, but this guy before me was happy. His name translates to sunshine in Chinese and his mates name means “sweetie.” The keepers started to give a background on giant pandas. How they are very territorial and they are one of the smallest bears in the world. I was struck by how small he was and we were quite close. But he was beautiful! I have been blessed to see polar and grizzly bears but he took the cake. The way his ears perked up, which apparently they can hear up to 3 miles ( which is Edinburgh city centre)
As he sat there with a massive pile of bamboo I noticed he was very particular about his selections. He would choose a reed and bring it to his nose, smell it up and down, and then when he found a section he liked would break the reed in half and pull the “bark” off to get to the inside. After all of that He would thrown the rest over his shoulder in a discard pile. His whole manner made me giggle and smile. For the last year and a half I had been running events for world wildlife fund “team panda” and now here I was toe to toe with the real deal. We must have stayed there 20 minutes just watching this guy eat and we took loads of photos. I wasn’t even disappointed to not see the other panada. I was just happy he was awake (they are notorious for sleeping most of the day)
Now we had the rest of th zoo to explore, but first we needed some breakfast. I has a massive scone and Cheryl had a croissant. We took our time checking out various animals. Some we had seen before, we go to zoos and other animal adventures all the time. Another animal we’ve both never seen was a koala. Bless them they were all asleep on their perches but I could still see them and again smaller than I expected, but still so excited to see them.
By the end of all of their it was 1pm and we wanted to rest a bit back at the hotel room (taking full advantage of our late checkout) and go back to the zoo again to see the animals we missed. We rested our feet for 30 minutes but made a point of. It lying down otherwise we wouldn’t get up. Bags packed we headed down to reception to turn in our keys and the we were back at the zoo for round two. This time I put our bags in the large lockers I reserved earlier in the morning. It actually worked out that both our bags could fit into one. So I freed up the second one so another guest could use it
We went back to see our panda friend one more time and then decided to end the day with the penguins. The little rocker hoppers are my favourite but that is to robin Williams I always think they have a Mexican accident based on the voice he gave them in the film happy feet.
Quick browse around the gift shop and it was time to head to airport. Cheryl had journey to Birmingham and then I would continue to Brighton from there. So a long day of traveling ahead of me.
We arrived at the airport after a sleepy ride on the 100 bus ride and we decided we needed food before we got on plane. So we walked up and down the whole length of airport trying to decide where we were going to eat. Thank god it’s a small airport that’s all I’m going to say. We ended at the weatherspoons and Cheryl had some rubbery chicken curry and I had a burger and chips. After dinner we made our way to the gate and shorte boarded our plane praying again that the flight be as smooth as it was yesterday. And to our delight the air gods smiled on us and it was smooth ride to Birmingham international airport.
Me and Cheryl said our goodbyes as I headed to train station to catch train 1 of 2. Earlier in the week it kinda pissed me off that we had to fly back together when it could have saved me 35£ and 4 hours of travel. But that all faded away very quickly when she thanked me and shyly admitted she couldn’t have done it on her own. And that’s all I needed, I know that was very hard for her to admit and I don’t mind going the extreme mile just don’t take me for granted. T it was all good and I went into autopilot mode heading back to London and then later down the Brighton. Finally arriving at our flat around 12:30am and I dropped all my bags and just crashed in my bead. That was the most eventful 36-48 hour I’ve had in a long time but it was worth it.