Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

From high places: Brussels and Toronto

As I was going through my posts in the “From high places” series, I was surprised to find that I neglected several recent visits to Brussels, one of my favourite cities (if not my favourite) in Europe.

That’s OK. Brussels deserves its own post anyway.

Come to think of it, I went back to Brussels in 2015, 2016 (short stopover), and 2017 (just last week) and each time discovered a new viewpoint. My favourite, notwithstanding the slight reflection of the glass window, would have to be the one from the restaurant at the top of the Musical Instruments Museum. From here, you can see the imposing and magnificent town hall in the Grand Place, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the far distance, which I believe is the fifth largest church structure in the world (official source). Lovely buildings – I like both of them very much.

In 2016, I finally got up to the viewing platform at the top of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History. Not as impressive as the previous view, but still quite nice.

And here’s the view on the other side of the viewing platform, facing east toward Merode station.

And last week, while visiting with my dad and sister, I discovered the garden and caf√© on the fifth floor of the Royal Library. The view was similar to the one on top of the MiM, but I certainly wasn’t standing as high, and the view wasn’t as extensive. Regardless, the basilica still looks so grandiose, even if it was so far away.

After Brussels, I also found a photo of downtown Toronto that I took this year while visiting the University of Toronto with my sister, from the 11th (I think) floor of the OISE building. I was in a hurry because I wasn’t supposed to be in this room, and someone was entering as I was taking this photo…so I snapped and ran. Lots of reflection in the glass – oh well.

So the post wasn’t ALL about Brussels after all. Sorry, my beloved, but perhaps I love Toronto just as much.

Short travel reflection: Hillwalking in Scotland

Scotland is a walker’s paradise – I ought to know that, now that I’ve lived here for almost three years. Though I can’t say that I fell in love with hiking and hillwalking only after coming to Scotland (it was way back in Tobermory when I started to like hiking), being in a country surrounded by hills and mountains gave me plenty of opportunities to explore the countless trails, woodlands, parks, and natural reserves that it had to offer. Hillwalking has become a weekend hobby, especially during the past year or so. Sometimes I’d wake up at 5am on a Saturday just to catch the earliest train to the bottom of a hill and start walking – and if you know me, waking up early is TORTURE to me. Alas, only the hills have the power to make me WILLINGLY get up this early ON A WEEKEND.

Although I have yet to climb a real mountain, I’ve certainly conquered a fair number of small hills (200-700 m in altitude/ascent) – Conic Hill, Tinto Hill, Deuchary Hill, Callander Crags, East Lomond Hill, to name a few. Unfortunately, without a car, most of the time I am only able to climb hills that are reachable via public transport (and sometimes it takes up to 3 hours one way), and so the choices are rather limited. My list of “hills to climb” continuously grows as I find more and more interesting spots, yet it’ll take me years and years to check them off one by one…if I stay in Scotland AND get a car!

While I do like hillwalking, every hill is still a challenge to overcome. As I walk up the steep and slippery slopes, straining my leg muscles and sweating on every inch of my body, I curse and scream aloud words like “WHY AM I DOING THIS!” Getting to the top is tough work! Every step brings me closer to the destination but also gets heavier and heavier, until I reach the summit and embrace victory – often in very strong winds! And when the vastness and magnificence of the views below strike me, all of the effort (sometimes hours!) is rewarded, and I could say, “It was all worth it.”

A cairn marking the summit of the Broughton Heights circuit, reached on March 11, 2017.

My go-to resource for hillwalking information is, without a doubt, the WalkHighlands web site, without which none of my walks would have been possible. While the instructions are usually straightforward and easy to follow, there were a few instances where I did get lost because of vague descriptions and unmarked/unclear paths. In hindsight, however, I have done some pretty stupid things during my hillwalks that were completely my own responsibility, such as not bringing water, not following clear trails, and underestimating the time it takes to walk a trail. I’ve gotten stuck in thick mud several times (thank God for my super sturdy shoes) and almost injured myself from going down the back of Conic Hill via an extremely rocky and slippery path. It’s a miracle that I made it unscathed! If I do continue to take on hillwalking more seriously, I’m going to have to be much more prepared and informed (especially when I walk alone, which is quite often) if I want to conquer the hills instead of letting them conquer me…

(Feel free to check out my “The hills are alive…” series, where I wrote about various individual walks that I’ve taken within the past few years. Perhaps the “Food & the Hills” photo gallery, which showcases each walk (not necessary hills) accompanied by snacks that I brought along, would also be of interest to you ūüėČ )

From high places, part 6

Why hello there! I think the time has come to add another post to the “From high places” series, which showcases views of cities and towns from high vantage points such as towers, hills, and airplanes. Let’s see how many more I’ve managed to collect since the last post!

Amsterdam

 
I fly with KLM quite a bit and so I often have connecting flights in Amsterdam, which means that I get to see Amsterdam from the air from different perspectives as the plane takes off or lands (if I get a window seat, and I often do). Here are a few of them.

Beijing (read about it)

When I went to Beijing 13 years ago, I saw the Forbidden City from a hill in Jingshan Park, took a picture of it, and lost the photo. Then last year, when I went back to Beijing in December, I decided that I’d have to go back to Jingshan Park and retake that photo – and I did! Magnificent history right in front of my eyes!

Bilbao

 
Bilbao certainly had its fair share of hills and as a result offers many wonderful viewpoints of the city. The first three photos (featuring the famous Guggenheim Museum in the second photo) were taken on Mount Artxanda (reached by funicular) and the last one from Parque Etxebarria at the top of the Mallona stairs.

Conwy

Conwy has arguably the most majestic castle of all the castles I’ve seen, and the view from the top of the town walls was amazing. Seas, hills, castle – seems like Conwy has everything needed for a medieval tale!

Edinburgh

I’ve written about Edinburgh before and shown the view from the top of Arthur’s Seat, but there are plenty of other fine viewpoints around this hilly Scottish capital. On the way to Calton Hill, stop to appreciate the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat on the opposite side and the city below!

Falkirk (read about it)

I visited Falkirk on a rainy day, mainly to see the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel, on which this photo was taken. If you look for the carefully, the Kelpies can be seen in the far distance on the right side of this photo.

Falkland

Not to be confused with Falkirk, Falkland was the starting point of the hike up the East Lomond Hill. I had to stop many times to take a break and catch my breath but the view over Falkland was certainly a welcomed treat!

Glasgow

Even though I live in Glasgow, I may be a little ashamed to say that I don’t know many places to see the city from up high! Well, The Lighthouse is one such place, but I would be surprised if there weren’t more.

Holyhead (read about it)

After visiting South Stack, I decided to walk back to Holyhead along the coastal path, which was to take me around an hour an a half. I ended up taking approximately two hours because of a detour to the summit of the Holyhead mountain, one that I was glad I took because I was rewarded with this view!

Inverness

I only dropped by Inverness for a short while during a day tour of Loch Ness, but I had the chance to see Inverness Castle and see the city by the river from the castle, which was situated on a hill. I’d love to go back to Inverness if I still have the chance before I leave Scotland!

Mississauga

Mississauga was featured in the first part of the “From high places” series, but here is a different point of view – downtown Mississauga from the air right before landing at Toronto Pearson Airport. The slender and defining shapes of the Marilyn Monroe Towers would be recognizable from any distance, though unfortunately the photo turned out slightly blurry ūüė¶

Oban

I’ve been to Oban three times within the past three years but it was only during my most recent visit (last week) that I finally went to the looming McCaig’s Tower that is visible from the town centre. The uphill walk offered some great views of the coastal town and the Inner Hebridean islands (not shown here)!

Stirling (read about it)

Stirling wasn’t a city that left a deep impression on me, but it was still worth exploring as a day trip from Glasgow. Here’s a view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument.

Warsaw (read about it)

 
Warsaw – ah, yes, Warsaw, as seem from the top of the Palace of Culture and Science. What amazing views from every angle! I was so mesmerized that I was sad to go. To make it even more spectacular, I was there right in the midst of a thunderstorm – how cool was that!

That’s all for part 6! Be right back as I continue to hunt for more high places… ūüėČ

Sneem, a knot in the Ring of Kerry

Of the four days I spent in Ireland in June with two friends, the little village of Sneem, situated on the Ring of Kerry on the west coast of Ireland, left the deepest impression in my mind. The word “Sneem” means “knot” in Irish. On that rather grey day, Sneem was a dash of colour in the mist. We stopped for a short break during the long drive around the Ring of Kerry, spending perhaps no more than two hours in Sneem, yet its modest charm was what made it such a unique part of the Irish experience!

It was a rainy morning as we drove on the Ring of Kerry but as we approached Sneem, the rain subsided! The welcoming colours of the village invited us to stop, park our car, and get off for a walk around.

The village was very quiet when we arrived at 11am. We spotted a church not far from where we parked and promptly headed in its direction. It was a Sunday morning and that was when we realized that most, if not all, of the villagers were attending worship service at the church, which would end at 11:30am.

We walked to the area behind the church to the main attraction of Sneem – some mysterious structures of pyramids! There was a block of stone with the words “The Way the Fairies Went” inscribed on it, so this must be…the home of the fairies?! I quite liked this place. It was serene and the fairy bit added a touch of mysticism to the entire surrounding.

Walking past the pyramids…

…keep going to reach this tranquil place where we stayed awhile.

Back in the village, we stopped by the bridge with rapids running under it.

At around 11:30 we returned to the place where we parked, which was right outside of an information centre/gift shop that we had intended to enter but was closed until 11:30. We figured that the villagers probably all went to church and would be back at 11:30, and we were right! The little shop opened and in we went.

The people you unexpected meet along the road often leave the deepest impressions. Here we met John, the shop owner. Upon hearing him speak French with some ladies, I asked, ‚ÄúD‚Äô√≤u venez-vous?‚ÄĚ (‚ÄúWhere are you from?‚ÄĚ) He told us that he was born in Normandy in France and moved to Sneem many years ago with his Austrian wife. He is a deacon at the village church and is now studying Greek because he wants to better understand the Bible, and he finds much peace in running this small shop in this quiet village. We chatted for around 10 minutes before I bought something and left, but not before we took a photo with him! It‚Äôs always so interesting to listen to a local share his stories, and if there was one part of our visit that would make me remember Sneem, it was John. Such a short conversation but so delightful!

And that ended our visit to the little village of Sneem, the knot in the Ring of Kerry, my favourite place in the Ring! ‚̧

Llanfairpwll…you know, that village with the really long name

The place with the longest name in the UK (in Europe as well, I believe) is a small village on the island of Anglesey in northwest Wales, named Llanfair¬≠pwllgwyngyll¬≠gogery¬≠chwyrn¬≠drobwll¬≠llan¬≠tysilio¬≠gogo¬≠goch. There was actually nothing there to see other than signs near the train station with the long name written, but as I was taking the train from Conwy to Holyhead and Llanfairpwll (the name of the village known to locals, but some call it LlanfairPG) was on the way, I thought I’d stop by for a short while to see this village and its claim to fame…

First impression of Llanfairpwll: just like any other small, quiet village. There was nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, the long name was created as a publicity stunt to attract visitors – and it worked! I was a walking example of the power of the success of this ploy.

Walking down the main street I was rather surprised to see…a Chinese take-out place?! Then again, where there is a community, you’re bound to find one or two Chinese restaurants. Whether it is run by Chinese people is another story.

My favourite thing about Llanfairpwll would have to be this huge red dragon on the wall. The Welsh love their dragon, which appears on their national flag, almost every Welsh souvenir or paraphernalia, and decorations here and there. I gotta say that it’s quite a badass-looking symbol!

And here we come to the real thing…one of the many times I’d see the name that has tested many brave ones who dared to try to spell or pronounce it, and of course I was one of them.

Another appearance of the name, and this time it was kind enough to tell us what it meant! So Llanfair¬≠pwllgwyngyll¬≠gogery¬≠chwyrn¬≠drobwll¬≠llan¬≠tysilio¬≠gogo¬≠goch is not just one word, but a group of words with the following meaning: The Church Of St. Mary In The Hollow Of White Hazel Trees Near The Rapid Whirlpool By St. Tysilio’s Of The Red Cave”…phew, that was a mouthful! Not sure if I’d rather say this or Llanfair¬≠pwllgwyngyll¬≠gogery¬≠chwyrn¬≠drobwll¬≠llan¬≠tysilio¬≠gogo¬≠goch…

Here it is again, in case you missed the last one. I’m actually quite curious where this Church of St. Mary is and the red cave are.

Sooooooooooooooooooo long that I probably wouldn’t even be able to take a selfie with the sign that would fit the entire thing.

Final one on the platform at the train station – and finally here it teaches you how to pronounce the name! Now I can say it fluently…or not! Maybe this, this, or this would help if you’d like to give it a try. I think I’ll just stick with good ol’ names like Glasgow or Toronto, thank you very much!

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