Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: Travel

Short travel reflection: Window vs. aisle seat

If asked whether I’d prefer a window seat or aisle on a flight (or ride on any other form of transportation), I would almost always reply “window seat” for the amazing window views offered from the sky. City lights, mountains, coastlines and islands, oddly shaped clouds…you name it. One exception is if I had to run out of the aircraft as soon as possible after landing to catch a connecting flight. In rare situations, I may also find it to be in the best interest for me and my seatmates if I took an aisle seat, and this is when I have to access the lavatory frequently for whatever reason over a long-haul flight.

I found myself in such situation in January when I had to choose my seat on a 10.5-hour flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. I was on my period and knew that I’d want to use the lavatory several times during the flight. Not wanting to inconvenience those sitting in my row, I reluctantly gave up a window seat and took an aisle seat, which is still better than the middle seat.

Now, not too long before we were scheduled to land, the captain made an in-flight announcement notifying us that we were flying over Copenhagen and that the bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmo is now visible to passengers on the left side – MY side. If you have any idea how impressive that bridge looks even in photos, you’d understand my excitement that we could see it from the air! With anticipation I turned to my side, hoping to at least get a quick glimpse even though I wasn’t right by the window. What do you know…the window shade in my row was CLOSED. WHAT. I had hoped that the lady who had the window seat would want to open the window shade to see the bridge after hearing the announcement, but she was reading a book or sleeping or something, anything but intending to open the window shade. It was at this frustrating moment that I regretted the loss of a potentially spectacular view and understood that perhaps ignorance truly is bliss. If only the captain hadn’t made that announcement…!

Soon it was time to land and I usually look out the window to observe the entire landing process and know when the wheels touch the ground. At this point, however, the window shade was still closed…! I couldn’t seen how close the aircraft was to the ground even if I wanted to. Being used to window seats, this “unknownness” was quite new to me (though not the first time), so all I could do was anticipate the instant of aircraft-ground contact and hope that it would be a smooth landing. And thankfully, it was. Safe and sound in Amsterdam!

All I can say is…hopefully my menstrual cycle won’t coincide with future long-haul flights ever again!!

A view of the Pyrénées at the border of France and Spain, seen on a flight from Lisbon to Brussels, April 2013. Such magnificent views were only made possible by choosing a window seat!

From high places, part 5

Almost a year and a half have passed since the last “From high places” post was published. Since then, I’ve been back in Europe – specifically the UK – and certainly have visited more high places throughout my travels. I think it’s time for a part 5 😉 (List in alphabetical – not chronological – order as usual. Check out the previous posts on the “Series” page.)

Budapest (read about it)

The “Pearl of the Danube” is a place that made me feel something special. Budapest is one of those places that is not only exciting for travel, but one of the few cities I’ve been to where I think I’d actually enjoy living. The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill exposed the grandeur of the Hungarian capital, and the winter chill embellished the beauty hidden within its sad histories.

Český Krumlov (read about it)

Český Krumlov is the stuff that fairytales are made of. Thanks to a suggestion on my travel checklist, the little Czech town has been on my list of destinations to visit for years before I finally got to it in the winter of 2014, just in time for the first snowfall of the winter! The little town glistened in the snow and exposed its beauty flawlessly – how exquisite!

Edinburgh (read about it)

As one of the many cities with the name “City of Seven Hills”, there is no shortage of high points from which to gaze upon Edinburgh, the lovely Scottish capital. So far I’ve only climbed Arthur’s Seat (where the above photo was taken) and strolled around Castle Rock, though Calton Hill is definitely to be visited soon.

Königswinter

I left my group of friends and took a spontaneous detour from Cologne last year and headed to Königswinter. From there I ascended Drachenfels, a hill at a height of ~300 metres. It was a hiking break from a mostly city-oriented trip. From the top of the hill, the town of Königswinter was clearly visible along the Rhine river.

Leipzig

In Leipzig, my friends and I stayed in an apartment on the 4th (or 5th?) floor, high enough to get a good view of the city from the windows (the only location in this list that was indoors).

Lisbon

Another “City of Seven Hills” is Lisbon, a city that has a special place in my heart because one of the most influential teachers in my life came from Lisbon. Third visit to Lisbon recently, and the city was still as charming as ever with vibrant colours dotting its prominent hills. The many “miradouros”, or viewpoints, required a lot of legwork through winding streets and up steep steps to reach, but these views were worthy of the sweat!

Madrid

I went to Madrid this year to see a friend who was studying there. This would be my second visit, but my first time seeing the city from a high place – Cybele Palace, which is also the city hall and my favourite building in Madrid. Looking west (I think it was west), I saw snow-capped mountain ranges in a distance and wondered where that was. Could they be the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain ranges?

Oxford

Oxford used to be my dream university in high school for no valid reason at all, other than the reputation that attracted me when I was still a teenager. Well, I never got to study in Oxford, but at least I finally got to see what it’s all about during a visit two weeks ago. I constantly compared Oxford to Cambridge during my walk around the city mostly because of the well-known rivalry between the two universities and the fact that I had already visited Cambridge. Still, to me both places are just tourist destinations – let their rivalries entertain themselves 😉

Prague (read about it)

I had high expectations for Prague and while it was a lovely destination, it felt a bit underwhelming after the visit to Budapest a few days later. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Prague – I just liked Budapest a lot more 😛 What’s undeniable is that the view of Prague’s old town from the Petrin tower (where this photo was taken, if I remember correctly) was nothing short of spectacular!

Note: This post didn’t include hiking destinations in Scotland, such as Callander Crags, Kinnoull Hill, Conic Hill, and so on. Obviously hills are high places, but most hiking adventures have already had their own dedicated posts, deservingly so 😛

Short travel reflection: Revisiting Lisbon, Madrid, and Barcelona

I’m currently in the middle of a week-long trip in Portugal and Spain (Madrid at the moment), visiting a friend who is studying in Madrid and joined by some other friends coming all the way from Canada and the USA. I’ve previously visited the three main destinations of our trip – Lisbon and Barcelona in 2011, and Madrid (and Lisbon again) in 2013. Lisbon was definitely my favourite out of the three, but revisiting all three of these major cities one after another will give me a whole new perspective, especially after so many years already.

Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal in March, 2016 – Looking down onto an alley leading up to São Jorge Castle.

We left Lisbon this morning and arrived in Madrid, and in three days we’ll be in Barcelona. In Lisbon, we got to see some of the places that I missed during the previous two trips, including the Alfama district and the areas around Sintra. For Barcelona, one of my greatest regrets was not entering the Sagrada Familia when I was there five years ago, and now I finally have a chance to make it happen. So, while I don’t get to visit new cities during this trip (except for Córdoba as a day trip in two days), I do get to have the new experience of travelling with buddies with whom I’ve never travelled before, and going back to the places that I’ve missed in the cities previously explored. I do hope to write about these experiences when I return to Glasgow – that is, if I don’t get swamped with work. Oh well, let’s not think about work at the moment – let the travels continue!

Short travel reflection: Photographing people and streets

Lately I’ve developed a special interest in street photography, especially in photographing people, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so while I was in Southeast Asia. While chatting with a friend and colleague, who is an aspiring photographer, we shared our experiences and talked about the types of photos we enjoy taking. My friend, who recently began to take photography seriously, said that landscapes and cityscapes attracted him, but when I told him about my recently developed interest in street photography, he couldn’t seem to understand the point of capturing photos of random strangers.

To be fair, I think I should use the term “street photography” cautiously because not every portrait is taken on what you’d call a “street” or even a city. And I’m really mostly referring to ordinary people and their everyday lives, so perhaps “people photography” is more appropriate. Anyway, our conversation provoked me to reflect on why I suddenly became so fascinated by people that I felt the irresistible urge to capture the emotions of all those strangers that I chanced upon, most of the time candidly. True, landscapes and cityscapes have vast amounts of beauty and can inspire unimaginable creativity in photography, and I myself enjoy them immensely, but people intrigue and even captivate me. When the truest and most genuine emotions or one inconspicuous moment of an individual’s life is captured on camera, for me, that is irreplaceable.

Perhaps my favourite photo taken during my first trip to Southeast Asia is that of this man sitting in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, December 2015. I was unsure if he was a worker there or a visitor, but the genuine and content expression on his face, with the hint of a sliver of a cryptic smile, made him so picture-worthy. And one ordinary person can outweigh all extravagant scenery you may see, and make the entire trip worthy. (Click here to see the original photo in colour.)

Why do we care about street photography? When people and their homes, those streets and alleys on which they set foot every day like second nature, become the subjects of interest in a photo, what does that tell us? What does it mean to us, the ones that immortalize these images? Perhaps we see a reflection of ourselves in the expressions and the movements of these strangers whom we will never meet again. And there is a certain beauty behind it that I can’t explain, an invisible connection that reminds me, through their eyes, what it is to live, to be merely human.

Short travel reflection: Not travelling

I love to travel. That is more than obvious. I like to read travel blogs and browse travel photography, both of which inspire me to aim higher and travel further. As a semi-frequent traveller, often I find myself reflecting upon the meaning of travel and asking myself why I travel, and there is no single, straightforward answer. However, in this day and age, people for whom travel isn’t a major part of their lives sometimes face some serious scrutiny, even to the point of judgement, because of their lack of travel experience. And I can’t help but ask the travel community – is it wrong to NOT travel?

I believe that travel is a privilege, not a right. Somehow I landed myself in a position where I can travel relatively more frequently than the average person, and for that I am grateful. Not everyone has the luxury of going where their hearts desire and roaming free in the vast unknown. In fact, not everyone WANTS this “luxury”. There are people who are perfectly fine with their stable everyday lives, living in the comforts of their homes with their families and friends within close reach. And there is nothing wrong with that. Better still, perhaps the familiarity of home is where their hearts lie, so they already have everything they want and need. It stings me when we as travellers belittle or even criticize those who choose not to travel or who simply do not have the resources to do so. Sure, one may encourage others to explore the world because we genuinely wish that they too could experience the thrill of travel. Yes, one may say that travel doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and that the experiences one gains can never be replaced by staying in one’s home. These are all true, but there are also people who just don’t WANT to travel. And who is to say that those who do are superior to those who don’t?

A saying that is often quoted is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I didn’t think much of it when I first read it, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a direct criticism of people who don’t travel for whatever reason. Somehow our society has ingrained an unreasonable expectation in our minds that without travel, we’re “stuck” on the first page of our lives and we will never truly be complete or “find ourselves”. Of course that would never be a problem for people who roam around the world and live as a free bird, but for those with a 9-5 job in the office and a family to feed? Well good luck finding meaning in your lives…huh? Is that the attitude that we’re projecting towards people who don’t share the same values as ours? When did travel all of a sudden become the golden standard of whether a person is living a worthy life or not?

This issue had been on my mind for a long time and I finally decided to put together this post as a summary of what I think of the cliché that has been molded by the travel community. Yes, I love to travel, but not everyone else has to. It’s just like any other hobby – painting, cooking, yoga, you name it – and might not be suitable for everyone. Frankly I am quite uncomfortable with the notion that travel is the ultimate goal of life and the only way of understanding and experiencing the values of mankind. It is not. And I’m not saying that every traveller projects the same image, but admittedly, some do. As a travel community, let’s appreciate our opportunities and not take our privileges for granted. And let’s get over ourselves.

Good ol’ home sweet home in Toronto, Canada, June 2014

%d bloggers like this: