Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Day One in Inverness - Monkeys and tigers and polar bears - oh my!

This past weekend, the Kiwi and I spent a couple of nights in Inverness and it was fab.
I was reviewing a hotel and a couple of restaurants for work, and we had a few other things planned in too.

Things didn't start off too well, when we turned up at the hotel and they had no evidence of our booking. Luckily, they had rooms free so we were still able to stay. Then a hotel worker opened a door into my face. Thankfully the room was gorgeous, with a huge comfy bed which made up for everything. I say huge, but the Kiwis legs from the knee down were uncovered for the majority of the weekend as they hung down at the bottom of the bed. I guess that's the problem with being 6ft 5in.

We had one of the best meals I've had in my 24 years in the hotel. The restaurant we dined in was visited by Gordon Ramsay during his Kitchen Nightmares series. Gordon could find no fault with the food, saying the establishment's problem was that it was far too posh and luxurious for the north of Scotland. While I don't agree with that (Scots appreciate their food more than most), I have to say that the 'trying-too-hard' feel of the restaurant did almost take away from the delicious menu.

We devoured 3 courses, and three entrees, all of which were delicious, though slightly pretentious. Whereas a menu should draw you in and leave you salivating, the menu left me rolling my eyes, and trying to decipher just what 'brocolli air', 'textures of banana' and 'quince foam' were.

When we were presented with canapes that looked like a piece of art I was afraid that the adjectives on the pages of the menu would be tastier than the food. Thankfully I was wrong. I savoured salmon in redcurrant jelly, a cube of beetroot jelly with a piping of goats cheese, and duck with apricot and parmesan, and realised what the problem with the restaurant was - it didn't need all of the froufiness and over-stretched English - the food spoke for itself. Yes it was maybe still a little OTT, but the flavours and obvious love in the kitchen sang from the plate and into my palette. I continued to devour Mushroom Tea (!), Hare with the 'quince foam' (which was actually delicious), rack of lamb, chocolate orange mousse with pomegranite sorbet and finally a slate dish with 'textures and temperatures of chocolate, toffee and banana. Needless to say I had to be rolled to my room after all that.

We set off early on Saturday, heading for the Highland Wildlife Park, in Kincraig. I hate to say it, but I wasn't expecting much - humans struggle with the cold of the Highlands, what animals would be willing to do the same?

Boy was I wrong. The park is out of this world, and I can't remember a time when I got so close to the action. We first drove around a large reserve, taking in sights of rare wild horses, yaks and camels (yeuch. I hate camels.) Further round we saw enormous bison, which bore an uncanny resemblance to the beast out of Where the Wild Things Are.

Then we saw these gorgeous red deer. How handsome is the male? I'd strut if I had antlers like that too.

We then parked up and walked around the rest of the centre.

First we came across these snow monkeys. I SO wanted to give one a massive cuddle - how warm does that coat look? They had a baby in their family who was born in April, so they were all acting very protectively, apart from this little guy who was far more interested in picking things off the grass and tasting them. It's scary how similar these monkeys are to us.

Then we came across these Sumatran Tigers. When we first arrived there were three cubs playing with eachother, rolling around and pouncing on eachother. We could see Mummy Tiger keeping an eye on them from up the hill.

But suddenly, out of nowhere came Daddy. Wow. What a brute. His paws were huge and fluffy as he pounded along.

He stopped to take a drink, before wandering off and collapsing in a heap, just the way Coco does.

We continued up the hill, just in time to see one of the cubs pounce on Mummy Tiger - brave little man. Soon they were rolling around, him lying under his mum slapping her face with his fluffy paws. Daddy simply strided up and down watching his brood proudly.

It was amazing to see them so close, and in such a relaxed mood. In so many ways they reminded me in Coco and Mika - their characteristics, traits and actions - I've seen Coco pounce on Mika so many times, but she looks like a gerbil in comparison to these big beasts.

The park's current star is it's polar bear Mercedes, who was recently transferred from Edinburgh Zoo where she's lived for the past 20 years. As a cub she kept wandering down the to small Canadian town she lived by, and the residents had her marked down to be killed. Thankfully the Royal Zoological Society stepped in and now she calls Scotland her home. Unfortunately she kept moving, and my camera battery died so this was as good as my photos got of her.

My final obsession at the park (there were many times when the Kiwi had to physically move me on to the next exhibits) were these beauties.

There were loads of these wild cats, and they had the most amazing purpose built shelter with walkways between the trees. The cats had such a wild expression on their faces and beautiful fluffy tails.

A sign said one of their biggest threats was being bred with domestic cats. We've always said that my mum's cat Kiki is half wildcat because she has the persona of a Doberman in a cute fluffy package, and it seems we may be right.

I cannot recommend the Highland Wildlife Park enough. We had such a wonderful time there, and it was great to spend some time in the Scottish countryside looking at these amazing animals. The work the park does is fantastic and you can sponsor the animals too.

Oh yeah, and although I didn't get a photo of it, there was a stunning wolf, that made me all the more excited about going to see New Moon next week!




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