Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

The hills are alive…at the Hermitage!

The Braan Walk at the Hermitage might have been my favourite trail out of all the ones I’ve walked in Scotland. While Scotland is known for its hilly terrain and breathtaking mountains (which I also love), sometimes I prefer a more leisurely trip that wouldn’t require much sweating. That’s where the Hermitage came into play, being an easy walk with autumn in full swing and hiding another one of my favourite things – a waterfall. Following a guide from WalkHighlands, I embarked on this walk by myself on a fall Saturday morning.

This photo was taken as the train was nearing Dunkeld station, timestamped at 7:51 am. That means that I probably got on the train shortly after 6 am, which means that I left my flat before 5:30 am and definitely had to get out of bed at around 5 am. Yep, that was early, but the hills had the power to make me hop out of bed on a Saturday morning instead of indulging in a coveted sleep-in.

In October, daylight begins to retreat quite early and it gets dark unexpectedly early, which was why I started the walk so early. Previous experience has taught me that it could get potentially dangerous if I get stranded in a forested area when it gets dark, so I’d rather be safe than sorry. Here I go, venturing into the Hermitage, a wooded site that is party of the National Trust for Scotland. Feels like I’m about to intrude a fairy’s haven…

These tall trees remind me of the Ancient Cedar Trail in Hakone, Japan, though the trip to Japan was in 2020 whereas this was 2016 at the Hermitage. Almost 5 years ago already…wow. First destination was the Black Linn Falls (or Braan Falls), which were supposedly located not too far from the entrance of the Hermitage.

And here are the Black Linn Falls seen from Ossian’s Hall, a small house across from the falls. I almost missed this view as I was unsuccessful in opening the door of Ossian’s Hall at first. I kept trying to push and pull the door open but it wouldn’t budge, and just as I was about to leave, I slid the door gently and…it opened easily. *Smack my head* The Black Linn Falls are in fact my favourite waterfalls out of the ones I’ve visited in Scotland (Spectacle E’e, Clyde Falls, Bracklinn Falls, Black Spout, to name a few). Loving the sound of the water amidst the woods, with no one else around me.

Continuing on my walk along the Hermitage trail, immersing myself into the beauty of nature. Solo weekend trips like this refresh my body, mind, and soul and remind me to be thankful for the life and freedom that I have.

Tunnel, dew drops, shadows, and autumn foliage, Scotland style.

And even though I’ve left scotland for 4 years, I will never forget the vastness and majesty of its hills and valleys and lakes and skies!

February 2021

I’ve been back from my two-week Chinese New Year holidays for more than a week already but let’s admit it, the holidays could always be longer. This year, Chinese New Year was celebrated in my husband’s hometown, with a brief visit to a nearby city in Hubei province beforehand. The week post-CNY was spent in Guangdong province in the south, close to my hometown. Good company, good food, and good times!

Evening stroll along the river that runs through the urban centre of my husband’s hometown.

Abandoned shack in Xianning, a city known for its hot springs. The graffiti on the door says “Zhang Fengming is a pig”. Hmm, I wonder whom Zhang Fengming offended…

Plum blossoms in full bloom in Xianning! Didn’t have to go to the plum blossom gardens in Wuhan to see them this year 😉

We encountered the plum blossoms along the boardwalk that runs along the Crescent Bay in Xianning. ZJ was probably chewing a sugar cane slice (a whole bag in his right hand) as he commented on the beauty of the plum blossoms.

Whereas we were still in mid-winter in Xianning, we immediately entered what felt like mid-summer when we reached Zhuhai in southern Guangdong province. Sun, T-shirts, and iced bubble tea are preferred here! This rainbow staircase in the Hengqin district in Zhuhai further brightened our day!

Instead of plum blossoms, we saw these bright flowers in Zhuhai, tentatively identified as araguaney by a plant-recognition app. Too pretty – I am in awe!

Not smiling here as we were resting during a hike on Jiangjun Hill. It wasn’t a tall hill but there were lots of stairs going up and down and up and down and…up up up. Do not underestimate even the most gentle hills…!

View of Macau in the distance, from the top of Jiangjun Hill. I had been there several times but Jian hadn’t, and the original plan was actually to visit Macau, but with COVID restrictions, that had to be cancelled. So close, but so far away…

Highlight of any trip to Guangdong: FOOD!! From left to right, top to bottom – 1: stir-fried gailan with beef in Zhuhai; 2: steamed garlic oysters in Zhuhai; 3: Hakka-style chicken in Zhuhai; 4: deep-fried spare ribs with beefsteak plant in Zhongshan; 5: wonton and beef brisket noodles in Zhongshan; 6: clay pot rice with chicken and spare ribs in Zhongshan; 7: steamed chicken feet @ dim sum in Shunde; 8: pineapple bun with roasted pork filling @ dim sum in Shunde; 9: shrimp pork dumplings (siumai) @ dim sum in Shunde. This is my type of food – I MISS IT SO MUCH!!

In the last photo, I mentioned Zhongshan and Shunde (a district of Foshan), which are cities in Guangdong that we visited after Zhuhai but didn’t further show in the photos. These places, especially Shunde, are known as food havens in China and they did not disappoint. With limited time, we were only able to sample a small portion of the local gastronomy offered by Zhongshan and Shunde. This definitely wouldn’t be the last visit…I will be back!!!

January 2021

Happy new year…again?! Yep, it’s Chinese New Year in three days and we’re on holidays. It’s also been over one year since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak and the initiation of Wuhan’s lockdown, and…how things have changed. This January has certainly been a lot livelier than the last, at least here in China. As usual, stay safe, everyone!

It’s sunset time again – this time across from the ancient city wall in Jingzhou, a city that holds an important place in Chinese history during the Three Kingdoms period.

I always find the patterns of branches fascinating and am often surprised by what awaits me when I look up during a walk through the woods. Though most of the branches are bare and leafless, they are such an intricate beauty!

You might think this is a work of Chinese ink painting and you’d be wrong. But it certainly is an amazing art of nature – these are actual shadows of bamboo shoots against a wall in the evening. When I saw this I literally said, “This is so beautiful!!” I had to walk through the bamboo bush to get close enough to the wall for the photo but I simply love how it turned out!

A visit to a museum (Wuhan Municipal Museum featured here) isn’t complete without some imitation art. Here ZJ is the live version of the heroic General Yue Fei – 80% resemblance, at least?

Crossing the Moon Lake Bridge from Hanyang to Hankou in Wuhan, on a lovely evening after a birthday meal for the husband…

…and this is the view of Moon Lake Bridge from the 24th floor, where we had the birthday dinner at a home-based restaurant. The view over the Han River is definitely one of the selling points of this small, cozy restaurant!

Happy birthday to my loveliest Mr. ZJ. Thankful for another adventurous year with you ❤

Another meal here, but at a much more local and down-to-earth restarant in Jingzhou. Piping hot dumplings in the midst of winter – can we dig in yet?!

Hello and meow. During my Wuhan coffee shop explorations I visited this chic shop, which sold an item named quinoa coffee. You can’t see it here but there’s actually quinoa at the bottom of the cup…definitely something new for me to try. And this little kitty seemed to want to join the coffee party 😉

Alrighty folks, time to truly relax and enjoy the long Chinese New Year holidays (it began four days ago for us 😉 ). See you in the year of the ox!

Reading “1Q84” by Haruki Murakami

SPOILER ALERT!!! 1Q84 had me going “huh?” half the time and “HUH???” the other half. In the end, I failed to understand the implications behind the story and realized that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be “understood” in the conventional sense. I haven’t read enough Murakami to comment objectively, but I do applaud the remarkable character development in the few books of his that I’ve read, something I also noted in Norwegian Wood. I read a review of 1Q84 comparing the book itself to a dream – while you’re in it, even the most bizarre happenings seem completely normal but when you pause and reflect, it defies every law of physics and logic. And that’s exactly it – you jump into a world that at the same time makes perfect and zero sense. The setting and progression of 1Q84 captivated my mind with an irresistible grasp, and I found myself looking forward to my 30+30-minute subway commute every morning and evening, just so that I could immerse in 1Q84 – like falling back into lucid dreaming. I was triggered by so many questions and eager to continue so that the answers would be revealed (none were revealed, by the way). Air Chrysalis? Little People? Tsubasa? Tamaru? The married mistress? With more and more questions building up in each chapter, it gradually became less important to find the answers (though it’d be nice to have some…) and I instead anticipated the final convergence of 1Q84 and Cat Town. Even with their “reunion”, I think neither Aomame nor Tengo fully understood what happened to themselves, just as the reader can never fully understand the world of 1Q84. And like XXJ hinted, that is the point – not to “understand” but to “experience” 1Q84, as if you are Aomame or Tengo yourself. With that said, 1Q84 was a thoroughly enjoyable read, though not without frustrations and an inevitable sense of helplessness in not finding the answers. After all, “If you can’t understand it without an explanation, you can’t understand it with an explanation.” (Side note: To say that 1Q84 is related to 1984 is like declaring that there are 60 minutes in an hour, so I gotta re-visit Orwell’s 1984, which I read I think 17 or 18 years ago. I don’t recollect many details of 1984, and re-reading it might help me dive further into the mysterious 1Q84, which I intend to re-read…eventually 😉 )

The three volumes of “1Q84” by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, Chinese translation.

My stories 07: My first Greek word

Φλογερες, my first Greek word.

I went to a Greek restaurant (probably the only one in Wuhan) for dinner last night. There weren’t many diners, even on a Friday night. The lady behind the bar (I later found out that she was the co-owner) looked at my order and asked me if I had been to Greece, perhaps because most of what I ordered were the more traditional Greek dishes. I told her that I had been to Athens for an academic conference a few years ago, and I went to Santorini as a side trip.

This opened up a series of interesting conversations. It turns out that the lady is a Wuhan local, but her husband (co-owner and chef) is from Thessaloniki in Greece. In 2016, the couple opened this Greek restaurant in Wuhan, trying their best to restore the authentic taste of the chef’s hometown using local ingredients (with some necessary compromises and substitutes). The lady has lived in Greece for a few years and regretted hearing that I’ve only been to the two most touristy and commercialized places in Greece. Yeah, I agreed, but I had no time to visit other Greek cities, but I will go back to Greece in the future, with Mr. J! We then continued to chat about other random topics. I said, it’s so rare to find “non-mainstream” cuisine, like Greek food, in Wuhan. The lady said that many Greek dishes don’t cater to the local taste, and people are like this – no matter how much you try to convince them that a dish is authentic, if they are not accustomed to that particular taste, they will be unable to appreciate it. Therefore, there is no point forcing someone to like a type of food – people who like it will come naturally. She then told me that there are only maybe two or three Greeks in Wuhan (TWO OR THREE!) but in fact, I thought that one is already quite rare. You’ve gotta have a lot of luck to meet another Greek!

While paying the bill, I asked the chef to tell me the name of the dish that looked like spring rolls. He explained that the stuffing in these rolls contained smoked turkey ham, a Bechamel-based sauce, and feta cheese, all wrapped in thin filo pastry, and the baked product is crispy and flavorful (and heavenly)! This reminded me of the spinach pie that I ate with TK in Greece – spanakopita, oh my goodness. Although it was just a snack, it was an unforgettable delicacy that lingered in my heart. According to the lady, they don’t sell the spinach pie at the restaurant because locals don’t like the taste, and to that I can only say…y’all are missing out, people. The chef later taught me how to make spinach pie, and the procedure is actually rather complicated but…maybe one day I will try it 😉

And yes, we still haven’t gotten to the name of the spring rolls. The chef continued and said that the rolls are shaped like small, long flutes, so they are called Φλογερες – flogeres, little cheese flutes, and he taught me how to pronounce it in Greek (the “g” is pronounced like “ye”). When I pointed out some Greek letters that I recognized, the chef was quite surprised, but I replied that I studied science and in math and physics, we often use Greek letters as variables, so I was no stranger to them. (Side note: while chatting with the chef, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t spoken English for a long time…)

Continuing on, the chef said that he likes to visit small and medium-sized cities in China because in these places, he can truly experience the daily life of the local people. For example, he particularly enjoyed his visit to Changde in Hunan, as the city was unpretentious and the people were sincere. There are a lot of other details in our chat during this serendipitous encounter, too many to note here. But wow, it’s so rare (saying this for the third time) meeting such lovely people, and I felt that I could have kept on chatting with them for hours, sharing fun travel stories, joys of life, and our love for food! One day in the future, let’s organize a group trip to Greece and see Corinth, Marathon, and of course Thessaloniki, hehe~

Φλογερες, or flogeres – cheese flutes stuffed with smoked turkey ham, Bechamel-based white sauce, and feta cheese, at Aegean Blue Greek Restaurant, Wuhan, China.

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