I love a pre-Christmas date night in Edinburgh. They’ve become something of a tradition for Mr G and I over the years. Me writing a Scottish travel blog takes us away from home a lot, so it’s nice to spend quality time in Edinburgh every so often. Christmas date nights always follow the same format. We do something to add a little wow factor, then we eat, drink and make merry. The Giant Lanterns of China at Edinburgh Zoo would be providing our 2018 wow factor.
Christmas date night – I’ll drink to that
With an amber weather warning in place (high winds and rain) you’d think anyone with common sense would want to coorie indoors by a fire, instead of traipsing round an outdoor event. Not us – it was the freakin’ weekend AND Christmas date night. We were going to have fun regardless of the weather.
First things first though – a toast. The warm, welcoming glow of The Huxley lured us inside like moths to a flame.
Wine and beer in hand, we raised our glasses to a fun night ahead, then we sat and watched the world go by through a fairy light covered window. It was a nice start to our festive night out.
The Giant Lanterns of China, Edinburgh Zoo
Reluctantly leaving the warmth of The Huxley, we hailed a taxi.
Arriving at Edinburgh Zoo, we shot out of the cab like toddlers high on E numbers. “YETI!” I shouted, as we charged towards it with cameras poised.
Myths and Legends was the theme of this year’s Giant Lanterns of China trail, and within seconds we’d met an elusive icon.
Another snapping frenzy ensued when we entered the reception area and discovered a fairy standing beside a Christmas tree.
Inside, the zoo had been transformed beyond recognition. It was a riot of colour and light and looked incredibly pretty and exotic.
450 handmade lanterns lit by 80,000 LED lights would guide us through the wet, blustery night.
We were immediately drawn to a large colourful arch, and hurried towards it for a closer look.
It was the feathered tail of Qing Niao – a messenger capable of travelling between the worlds of gods and humans.
The craftsmanship was superb – we were in absolute awe of the beauty.
Hello Monkey, my old friend
Leaving Qing Niao, a familiar looking figure caught my eye.
Could it be…?
It was. I found myself face to face with a childhood hero of mine.
In the 1970s a Japanese TV series called ‘Monkey’ was an unlikely hit in Scotland. The dubbing was atrocious, but the characters became firm favourites. The star of the show was a Chinese legend known as Monkey (the Monkey King) – a magician and trickster born from a stone egg, shaped by mountain winds.
I spent many hours jumping around the back green of my tenement home with a stick, pretending to be Monkey. My woeful attempt at a Chinese accent was every bit as bad as the dubbing on the show.
Ah Monkey, my old friend – such happy, carefree memories.
The changing seasons and passing years
Despite the wind and rain reminding us that we were firmly in winter’s grip, winter wasn’t the only season inside Edinburgh Zoo that night.
We met the Winged Tiger of Autumn, and were momentarily cheered by his warm, orange glow.
Then we came across the Fire Bird of summer – burning as bright as the sun.
There was the Green Dragon of spring too, ushering in new life. We didn’t hang around, as he was locked in battle with a famous Scottish legend – Oor Nessie fae Loch Ness.
A cold blast of wind reminded us that it was still winter. The Warrior Turtle of winter would rule supreme for a month or two yet.
Swaddled in fleece, down and waterproof layers, we were well-equipped to fend off the winter loving warrior.
Tell me something I didn’t know
Leaving the four seasons behind, we met the twelve creatures of the Chinese zodiac next.
Legend has it they were once pitted against each other in a race. All finished, but some used more underhand methods than other to reach the finish line.
We discovered Mr G was a goat. Apparently, goats are “kind, caring and very creative”. Mr G is never full and he likes to climb (especially when it freaks me out), so I’d say he was born under the perfect zodiac sign.
Go on, guess which creature I am?
Of course – I’m the dog. My favourite creature on this planet is my Chinese zodiac animal too. The wee orange zodiac dog was cute, but it wasn’t a patch on my own beloved boy.
It had been lovely learning about the fascinating myths and legends of China, but I felt a twinge of excitement when we came to a section of the trail dedicated to Scottish myths and legends.
And Scottish mythical beasties too
First up was the national animal of Scotland – the unicorn.
The unicorn of Celtic mythology is symbolic of power and masculinity, but also innocence and purity. The lanterns depicted Scotland’s national beastie perfectly – surrounded by beautiful flowers and butterflies, but rearing up in a fearsome, warlike pose.
We wandered from unicorns to kelpies.
I’ve long been fascinated by tales of kelpies. Part horse, part water creature, Kelpies lurk in deep pools in Scotland’s rivers and streams. They may look serene and majestic, but they’re deadly. Kelpies are cunning – they like to trick humans into riding them, so they can drown and eat them.
The national dish of Scotland
Hurrying past the kelpie river for our own safety, the next Scottish creature we met was more comical than scary. Tasty too, very, very tasty.
If you’ve ever wondered what a haggis looks like, wonder no more.
They’re shy creatures, and the likelihood of spotting one in the wild is virtually non-existent, but at least you know what you’re looking for.
If you do meet a haggis NEVER mention neeps, tatties and whisky sauce within earshot, or you’ll send it scuttling off into the heather never to be seen again.
It took 200 Chinese artisans 100 days to make the lanterns for the trail at Edinburgh Zoo. That seems insane, until you see the intricate detail and craftsmanship that has gone into each and every one of them.
One of my favourite lanterns of the night was a huge (mythical) life-sized dragon depicting the tale of Arthur’s Seat.
If you’re ever in Edinburgh take a close look at the odd shaped hill known as Arthur’s Seat. It’s actually a sleeping dragon that once terrorised the city. It flew around eating everything in sight, until one day it ate so much that it lay down and never got up again.
Tiptoeing past the dragon we spotted two giants locked in battle. The epic fight between a Scottish and Irish giant (which involved lots of rock throwing) led to the formation of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and Fingal’s Cave in Scotland.
Safely out of reach of flying rocks we enjoyed a gentle stroll through the Faerie Glen next.
Some zoo favourites too
Having met a host of weird and wonderful mythical creatures, we finally arrived back in the real world.
Although familiar, the real world creatures looked every bit as magical as the mythical ones.
Giant pandas, big cats, bears and giraffes were all depicted in exquisite detail. They had such a lifelike quality that they almost seemed alive.
A serious message, beautifully delivered
The trail ended with a serious and sombre message.
Many of the creatures that we know and love today are endangered. Edinburgh Zoo, and others around the world work tirelessly in an attempt to prevent those species from becoming extinct.
It’s not just the orangutan that’s in dire need of human intervention to survive – the list of endangered species is long and terrifying.
Even in a small country like Scotland there’s a very real, and pressing need to protect our indigenous wildlife.
The distinctive capercaillie has drastically declined in number due to the natural pinewoods they live in being destroyed.
Then there’s the Scottish wildcat, teetering on the edge of extinction. They were once common in the Scottish Highlands. Now, only small pockets of them exist. Experts estimate we have five years left to save the Scottish wildcat.
It’d be terrible if one day these creatures became alien to us, and consigned to the history books like the dodo, sabre toothed tiger and woolly mammoth.
Wow factor achieved
Despite the yucky weather, we spent 90 thoroughly enjoyable minutes viewing The Giant Lanterns of China. We snapped our way round the trail like frenzied paparazzi, and didn’t let the weather dampen our spirits one little bit.
Had it been a nicer night, we’d have lingered longer to grab some street food from one of the stalls dotted around the trail, serving tasty treats like freshly caught haggis.
Now to eat, drink and be merry
We decided to stick with a Chinese theme for dinner. Cool Jade is Edinburgh’s highest rated Chinese restaurant on Trip Advisor. Being conveniently located opposite Edinburgh Zoo, it was the perfect choice for food.
With a modern and contemporary interior, Cool Jade looks nothing like a traditional Chinese Restaurant.
The glowing reviews had certainly drawn lots of diners to the place. It was busy, but the atmosphere still felt relaxed and intimate. The service was friendly and efficient, and it wasn’t long before we were each tucking into a nice, hot bowl of soup.
Chicken noodle for me, and hot and sour for Mr G – the perfect choice after pottering around outside on a dreich December evening.
I had chicken curry for my main course (my default favourite when it comes to Chinese food). The chicken in the dish was tender and delicious, and nothing like the slithery stuff you sometimes find in Chinese dishes. As far as chicken curry goes, it was right up there with the best I’ve ever eaten.
Mr G had seabass, which was served with ginger and spring onions. I’m not a fish fan, but it looked amazing. Apparently it was – he spent the next few hours raving about how good it was.
Watch out, Del Boy wants your dessert!
I mentioned earlier that Mr G (the goat) is never full. I thought he’d finally met his match when the dessert he ordered arrived. It was a towering, green and white concoction of cream, ice cream, fruit and wafer. It had Del Boy Trotter written all over it.
As I tucked into my modest and understated portion of banana fritter, he started wolfing down his garish dessert. He beamed with pride when he finished it, and beamed some more when our waitress was shocked to discover that he’d managed to eat it all.
We ended our 2018 Christmas date night with traditional Chinese fortune cookies.
True friends and talents rewarded – who could ask for more.
The Giant Lanterns of China are on display until 17 February 2019.
Thanks to Edinburgh Zoo for inviting us along to their magical event. Although our tickets were provided on a complimentary basis, all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……….