Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: Travel

Beautiful things: Gates and doors

There are many things I like to take photos of: clouds, reflections, and cityscapes at night, to name a few. Gates and doors are not the most popular or common subjects to photograph, but while sifting through the photos I’ve taken over the years, I realized that I’ve encountered a number of them that impressed me or are simply beautiful. I’ve gathered a small collection of these gates and doors here for your enjoyment.

Perhaps my favourite of them all are these aged but colourful gates all aligned outside the imperial palace in Hue, Vietnam. This is certainly not what most people went to the palace to see but it somehow caught my attention. There were at least five arched doorways (maybe not even gates or doors themselves?) that were lined up in a row in such a way that it was very pleasing to the sight. Almost symmetrical, but not quite perfectly, which is where its beauty lies.

The second one is this gate somewhere in Basel, the first city that I visited in Switzerland. You can only see the outline of the gate itself but two things appealed to me: the elegant details of the curves on the gate and the vivid colours on the other side. The contrast between the dark silhouette and the bright exterior further accentuated the features of the gate, making it one of the most unique ones I’ve seen.

Onto one that took on a rather different style – a door covered with graffiti in Prague. The sprayed writings on the door made it look quite messy, and in fact the door couldn’t be any more ordinary. Ironically, that’s what made it special to me because it shows that the ordinary exists, even in a popular and acclaimed tourist destination like Prague.

Let’s stay in Prague for a bit and go to the Prague Castle, where two weapon-wielding giants guard one of its gates. The one on the left chose a bat as his weapon of choice while the one on the right had a sharp object, presumably a knife of some sort. Each giant was in action, arresting what seemed like tresspassers trying to bypass castle security. Don’t mess with the giants or you might end up under their feet like that…

This door-and-window combination, photographed in Saint-Émilion, couldn’t be simpler, but its exquisiteness lies in the details. The three pots of flower, the octagonal hole in which one of them was placed, the aged walls, the intricate but delicate patterns on the curtains inside, the cobblestone street…a perfectly serene picture.

And finally…here’s a creepy gate that leads to a cemetery, I presume. I had actually completely forgotten where I took this photo and had to dig through my harddrive to find out that it was in…Edinburgh! Looking through photos of this particular trip, I believe this was taken at the Greyfriars Kirkyard. Indeed Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in Europe and I visited it plenty of times when I was living in Glasgow. In addition to the many spectacular spots that most tourists would visit, Edinburgh certainly hides some secrets very well, like this one… 😉

What beautiful thing should I blog about next? Shadows? Clouds? Reflections? Hmm…

My stories 03: The French toast that I never had in Hong Kong

A couple of weeks ago I was in Hong Kong, a place with which I have a love-hate relationship (I might write about that in a future post). I’ve been to Hong Kong plenty of times, discovering a new unique place on every occasion and still not deciding whether I like it or not. It is not a place for the budget-friendly traveler, even for western standards, though I cannot deny its charm and diversity. The most recent trip was unavoidable as it was for work purposes, but I did get a chance to wander around a bit in the midst of the official affairs that I had to handle.

One thing that I make sure I do a lot when I’m in Hong Kong is eat at a “cha chaan teng” (literally translated to “tea restaurant”), otherwise known as an “ice room”. These are traditional eateries that you can find in every corner of Hong Kong, serving a vast variety of items. Baked seafood rice with cream sauce, chicken wings, soup udon, fish skin, steak, baked vegetable, egg and ham sandwich, satay beef macaroni…just to name a few. If you could think of it, it’s probably on the menu. I could eat at an ice room for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all extra meals in between and never get bored.

I am particularly in love with the classic Hong-Kong-style milk tea, an iced one in the summer to refresh the mind and a hot one in the winter to warm the soul. It’s got this unique rough texture that distinguishes it from the rather smooth and sugary powdered bubble tea, which feels overly fake. I couldn’t resist having a cup every morning with my breakfast, before doing any work, and that has become a necessary part of my daily morning routine in Hong Kong.

And Hong-Kong-style French toast. We call it “sai dor see” in Cantonese, which translates to “western toast”. It’s one of those things that I love but don’t feel the need to order every time. One day during lunch, while I was dining at an ice room, the lady with whom I shared a table ordered a French toast, and that instantly triggered my desire for one. With two days left in Hong Kong, I decided that I would certainly have a French toast before I leave. That definitely shouldn’t have been a difficult task, as there are so many ice rooms around.

On my last day, while having lunch right before catching my train, I happily ordered a bite-sized French toast (bonus points!) and eagerly anticipated its arrival. Certainly, this would have ended my short trip on a positive note. A few minutes after I placed my order, the waitress came to my table and informed me that they “couldn’t make” the French toast…what! I interpreted that as they were out of toast or out of butter or out of batter or something…but the fact remained that I wasn’t getting my long-awaited French toast. I was…disappointed, to say the least, but I didn’t have enough time to go to another restaurant, and so I left Hong Kong French-toast-less.

They say you leave a place with some regret so that there’s a motivation of going back. Maybe I’ll make French toast my priority the next time I visit Hong Kong, instead of waiting until the last day.

A very lovely hot Hong-Kong-style milk tea at Tsui Wah Restaurant near Tsim Sha Tsui, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong.

My stories 01: That time in San Francisco

From time to time I remember random bits and pieces from my trip to Boston, San Francisco, and Vancouver in 2017. Earlier, the walk by the waterfront near Fisherman’s Wharf flashed in my head, and the feelings were as prominent as ever. That evening, I took the ferry to Sausalito, but by the time I got there, it was already dark (around 6 pm in mid-November) and there wasn’t much to see. I ended up only staying for maybe an hour before heading back to San Francisco. Then I contemplated whether to walk from the ferry terminal to Pier 39 or take the bus or tram, and eventually decided to walk. It was not a short walk, but it was pleasant as I had the entire time all to myself. When I arrived at Pier 39 (I had originally wanted to skip going altogether because I thought it was probably overhyped), it was a lot quieter than I had expected, without many visitors. I guess that only made sense, as it was already what, 8:30 pm? 9 pm? I don’t remember. Many shops were closing for the evening and the buskers have called it a day – I heard there were buskers, at least. The place even felt a little desolate and melancholic but…I somehow enjoyed the atmosphere. Maybe that was how I already felt, and the environment merely reflected the state of my heart. After a brief wander, it was time to eat a late dinner. I again had to make a decision, this time between expensive fish and chips and the never-failing McDonald’s. Of course, I chose the latter…did that surprise you?! Finally, I took the tram from the wharf and went back to the hostel, ending an entire day spent alone. I don’t know why these scenes from that particularly ordinary evening surfaced in my memory, but it was one of those little moments where I felt completely content in spite of the melancholy, perhaps for no reason at all aside from the luxury of freedom and self-fulfillment.

A stroll by the waterfront near the San Francisco ferry terminal in the evening – dazzling urban lights always mesmerize and impress me!

Short travel reflection: Chinatown

“Chinatown” – a thought occurred to me as I was walking through San Francisco’s Chinatown, where I began to wonder what “locals” or “natives” of a city think of these ethnic communities. Do they seem out of place? Are they respected and appreciated as a place to connect with one’s roots, or are they frowned upon as a sign of the lack of integration/assimilation? Are the residents here (or the people who dwell here) still considered as foreigners?

These questions have never occurred to me especially because I live in Toronto, where Scarborough itself is like a sparse Chinatown with various Chinese communities. I was never too interested in or fascinated by Chinatowns until I saw the one in San Francisco and began to actually ponder the existence of such neighbourhoods. And why are they tourist attractions? I don’t really get it.

I sometimes think that it’s not that a group of people – say the Chinese – don’t want to integrate into society. It’s that when they try, they are not really accepted by the local or native communities. They don’t fit in, because they can’t fit in, and so they stick with their own kind. This is simply my speculation. I should consult a professional on East Asian studies on this matter.

San Francisco’s Chinatown is one of the largest and most impressive in North America. (Photo taken on November 15, 2017.)

Short travel reflection: Upcoming travel plans

I’m finishing my job in Glasgow in mid-October and I’ve got a whole slew of travel plans coming after the contract ends. Thought I’d make a note here for my own references:

October 2017 – Before leaving Europe again
– NORWAY (Norway in a Nutshell DIY style – Oslo, Bergen, Flam Railway, Fjord Cruise, etc…)
– Bordeaux (back to where it all began in Europe!)

November 2017 – USA!
– Boston (3.5 days)
– San Francisco (3 days)
– Vancouver (3.5 days, not USA but somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit)

December 2017 to February 2018 – Asia!
– Japan (tentative – Kansai area including Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Himeji, etc…)
– Singapore (tentative with possible side trip to Kuala Lumpur)
– CHINA (too many potential cities to name, plans depend on where friends will be – Beijing, Harbin, Chengdu, Xi’an, Lanzhou, Wuhan, Hangzhou, Wenzhou, Shanghai, Huzhou, Tianjin, and of course…home in GUANGZHOU!)

Nothing excites me more than the feeling of looking out the window of an aircraft and seeing the world below, and anticipating the moment of landing! (Photo: On the way from Santorini to Athens, right before landing.)

Other than the fact that I miscalculated my dates (or rather didn’t consider them at all) for the US and picked mid-November, which is THANKSGIVING season and resulted in prices being hella jacked up, things are looking good. Japan and Singapore are also pending a friend’s response as well as the recent situations in Japan. I still can’t believe I booked a whole THREE MONTHS off for Asia, since I haven’t been continuously in Asia for more than a month at most after moving to Canada 21 years ago. In the long run, three months will feel REALLY short, and that’s why I’m going to cherish every day and every travel opportunity possible, while I still can. Can’t wait already!

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