Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: Travel

My stories 04: Tim Hortons in Dalian

In February and March, J and I were stranded in the city of Dalian in northeastern China because Wuhan was on lockdown and we were unable to return. One day, I found out by chance that Tim Hortons opened two stores in Dalian, one of which was right next to the hotel where we were staying! Since this Canadian coffee chain entered the Chinese market (called Tim’s in China), it has successively opened stores in three cities (the other two are Shanghai and Zhengzhou, and I had already visited the first one to open in Shanghai last year). About Tim Hortons, its status in Canada is like that of Starbucks in the US – you could almost find one on every other block. The Canadians’ enthusiasm for Tim Hortons is no less than the Chinese people’s love for bubble tea. It’s not that the coffee is amazing or anything, but it is the taste of home that is irreplaceable. Grab a large dark roast double/double – mmm, such rich and familiar aroma that brought me a touch of colour and nostalgia in an unfamiliar city!

Large dark roast double/double with a Cesar chicken wrap. The wrap was mediocre but the coffee was desirable. I never had the dark roast in Canada and upon trying it for the first time in Dalian, felt that it was a bit too strong. I went back another day for a normal coffee double/double and immediately that authentic, familiar taste came back. Still, my favourite was the large steeped tea double/double, which I got during my third and final visit to the Dalian location. Unfortunately the steeped tea did not live up to my expectations 😦 Maybe Tim Hortons will come to Wuhan eventually…?

January 2020

January 2020 has been a dark month for China and the city of Wuhan. Never would I have thought that the place I now call home would be in international spotlight, but overnight, everyone knows Wuhan because of the coronavirus outbreak. Everything was paused in China, and Wuhan was placed in lockdown with no entry or exit allowed. Till now, Wuhan has been on lockdown for almost a month, and the crisis is still ongoing in China, with many people dying and families falling apart. In the midst of darkness and despair, I put together several photos of night for the month of January, all with a single theme – there is darkness, but there will be light.

Night falls in the quiet village of Wanghe, my husband’s hometown. No one ever expected that anything could disturb the peace and serenity felt here.

Deserted street on the HUST campus. Most students have left the campus to go back home for Chinese new year.

Quiet alley in Gora, Hakone, the first stop on our 10-day honeymoon in Japan.

Side street in Ginza area in Tokyo, Japan, late at night. Even in a metropolis as prosperous and flourishing as Tokyo, night instills a sense of tranquil solemnity and protects the city folks in their dreams.

As the plane landed in Hokkaido, the sun left behind a colourful trail in the dusk as if saying, “Sayonara, see you tomorrow, enjoy your evening 😉 “

Residential area in Otaru, Hokkaido, where the guesthouse we were staying at was located. The city was covered in snow and it seemed as if everyone has gone into hibernation.

January 2020 was actually an important month for me personally as a lot of events took place. Jian and I held a wedding banquet in his hometown, after which we went on our honeymoon in Japan, after which…we couldn’t get back into Wuhan. As a result of the lockdown, we’ve been staying in the city of Dalian in northeastern China for around 20 days and counting. Trains and flights are still suspended, as is work in most companies, so we’re stuck until the coronavirus situation gets better in Wuhan and Hubei province. Till then, we hold on to the belief that there is darkness, but there will be light.

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!

%d bloggers like this: