Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: UK

The hills are alive…at Glenfinnan Viaduct!

In July 2017, when I was still living in Glasgow, my friend Mini visited Scotland and I had the pleasure of hosting her and showing her around. We had a full weekend to go wherever in Scotland we wanted to, and Mini asked me for suggestions of places to see. I thought about it long and hard. There were lots of great places to see that doesn’t require more time than an overnight stay, but we wanted to pick somewhere that I hadn’t been to yet so that it’d be new for both of us, which was challenging because I had been to a lot of places!

Then I thought…hey! How about Glenfinnan near Fort William? I asked Mini, “Are you a fan of Harry Potter?” She answered, “Yes!” “Well then I have the perfect place – let’s go see the Harry Potter Bridge!”

Of course Harry Potter fans who have seen the movies would know that I was talking about the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which the Hogwarts Express crosses on the way to Hogwarts. I had known about it for a while with the intention to explore during a free weekend but somehow never got to it, so Mini’s arrival was the perfect opportunity.

We set out on Friday night and took the train to Fort William on the West Highland Way, which was around 3.5 hours from Glasgow. The West Highland Way has got to be one of the most scenic train routes in the world and I could never get enough of the views along the way. As it was mid-summer in Scotland, the sun was only beginning to show signs of setting even close to 9 pm (time that this photo was taken).

The next morning, we took another train westward to Glenfinnan, surrounded by lochs (Loch Shiel shown here) and mountains (Sgùrr Ghiubhsachain on the left) and beauty everywhere. There was a trail that would lead us to a designated viewpoint for the Glenfinnan Viaduct- seems like they’ve got it all figured out for us tourists.

Greenery, sunshine, companionship – seemed like a perfect day! The destination was the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which meant that we had to backtrack a little as our train crossed it before arriving at Glenfinnan station. Ordinary trains like the one we took regularly cross the viaduct, but we were there to see the crossing of the Jacobite steam train, the real Harry Potter experience!

We found the trail and started walking. We timed our walk so that we would arrive near the viaduct viewpoint well before the Jacobite was scheduled to appear. I think there were only two crossings of the Jacobite each way per day (the regular train crosses more often) so we definitely could not be late. Thankfully the trail was clear as day, and we were still surrounded by gorgeous scenery! We also had to make sure that we got back to the station in time, after the Jacobite crossing, to take OUR train back to Fort William, so it did take some planning ahead of time. But hey that’s what I love doing, and the anticipation was building up!

What’s that? A train on the viaduct? Yes, target in sight, though that was the regular train, not the Jacobite that we were waiting for. There was still a lot of time before it was scheduled to cross, and we were glad that we were not lost. Now to find the best viewpoint…

…this was a good place, but not quite close enough. Though, this perspective does show the grandiosity of the natural setting that we were immersed in. You could imagine how grand the viaduct itself was, but it seemed like a toy compared to the hills in the distance!

Ah, finally we arrived at the foot of the viaduct, right underneath it to feel its grandness close-up. We decided to split up to take photos from different angles, and I chose this place as I thought that it’d offer some great photos of the train and the viaduct together.

We kept looking and soon after saw a place where lots of folks were already set up and waiting. And we thought, that must be it, the official viewpoint that was sought after. It was about half an hour before the Jacobite was planned to appear, so our arrival gave Mini plenty of time to adjust her gear to take the perfect photos.

THIS. This is the place where the iconic photos of the Jacobite are usually taken. No wonder there were so many others guarding their spots. Those curves and arches on the viaduct look so smooth and aesthetically pleasing ❤

Mini's "gear" wasn't complicated or high-tech – just a smartphone, actually. We had to make things work by using what was available, namely Mini's backpack, wallet, and selfie stick, which all played a part in ensuring that her phone stood upright and still. Now all was set and we wait for the main character's appearance…

…but I had to run back to my spot, quickly because the train was coming! There it comes, choo choo! (Yes the train did make the sound.) I wonder if people on the train knew that outside their windows, many people were waiting for them to pass by 😛

Here’s a closer look at the Jacobite on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. I think I’d like to be on the Jacobite one day and travel from Fort William all the way to Mallaig, then take the ferry over to Skye instead of the bus. That’ll have to wait till I see my beloved Scotland again someday…

After the Jacobite has disappeared into the distance, Mini and I still had a bit of time left before our scheduled trip back to Fort William. We wandered a little along the shore of Loch Shiel and I became amazed again at how much beauty Scotland holds. And it saddened me that I’d be leaving in three months (till today I’m STILL sad that I am not in Scotland now!!)

Selfie time! Thanks to Mini’s visit, we had a fun-filled day hiking and exploring the Glenfinnan area (and I still didn’t know where to look in the camera). Of course I didn’t know at that time that two years later, Mini would become one of my bridesmaids!

Finally, we hopped onto a train back to Fort William and another back to Glasgow, going in the reverse direction on the West Highland Way. The hills are alive everywhere in Scotland, a place that will always have a piece of my heart – or heck it could have all of it if it wants!

Footdee, Aberdeen

Aberdeen is the final Scottish city for me to visit before leaving Glasgow for good, and I went on such a perfect day! You really have to wish for luck with sunny weather in Scotland, and I was blessed with a full day of sunshine in Aberdeen. To be honest, my impression of a city largely depends on the weather on the day of my visit, which is unfair. As a result, I loved Aberdeen, while I could also say that I’d probably have loved Antwerp if I had visited on a good day and not gotten soaked…

Hidden in a corner of Aberdeen is the tiny fishing village of Footdee, reached by walking the entire length of the beach promenade and turning into a secluded section of the city. After having walked halfway, I reached what I THOUGHT was Footdee, and was about to turn back. But then, Google Maps told me that I had to keep going a bit farther, and so I did. And I’m glad I did, because Footdee was such a lovely little community!

There are 20 of these anchors scattered over Aberdeen for charity purposes, and this one, named Grace, stood at the edge of Footdee.

Upon entering Footdee, I was greeted with several rows of houses that resembled old huts. Everything seemed so tidy and each house was unique in its design and decorations, as you’ll see soon.

The owner of this house seemed to have a liking for birds, butterflies, and garden gnomes. And oh, look how blue the sky was!

Say hi to the official football gnome of Scotland!

Here’s another house whose owner seemed to have spent a lot of time decorating the front yard with lots of sculptures and toys.

A storage hut welcomes you with hugs and kisses…or maybe just kisses.

This has got to be one of my favourite displays – a kissing couple, a lady at the beach, and a superstar gnome. These were wiggling figurines but of course I could only capture still images, so just imagine that they were grooving left and right.

And on the other side of the house we have another lady (with a rather large derrière) at the beach, a bagpipe-playing Scot, and…what I could only imagine to be Mr.Trump!?!?!

Moving on to the next house, this one might have housed an old sailor…

…but this slightly strange-looking guy guards the door and says hi…???

On the other side of the green house stands a pretty peacock…

…and another (almost) kissing couple.

A happy family…

…and another happy family? Or is it the same family dressed differently? Hmmmm…

And that was the end of my random wanders around little Footdee, a walk that took no more than an hour but gave me plenty of surprises!

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 Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch. 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 Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch 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 Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch…

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!

Swallows, fairies, and a misty summit in Snowdonia

When I first heard the name Snowdonia, I thought it sounded like a place in Narnia or Harry Potter or some magical fictional location. Well I might have been right because I now do wonder if Snowdonia is the portal to a magical realm. Of course, this national park in the north of Wales is too big to be properly explored in two days, which was all I had. So as a lover of waterfalls, I went to see the Swallow Falls, and who could resist a place with a name like Fairy Glen Gorge? Finally I went to the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1085 metres. No, I didn’t walk it. I took the train on the Snowdon Mountain Railway as I simply wouldn’t have had the time to walk it. Yes, I took the train and I’m shameless to say it, even though one particular walker gave us a thumbs-down near the summit – well BITE ME 😀

As someone who loves waterfalls, there was no way that I’d NOT go see Swallow Falls when I was in Snowdonia. I love how the sound of the roaring water gets louder and louder the closer I get to the falls. As I watch the water flow so freely downstream I couldn’t help but ask…where does it come from, and where is it going?

As I hopped off the bus at the entrance to the Fairy Glen path, the bus driver remarked, “Off to see the fairies, are you?” I responded, “Yes, I’d hope so!” A short walk led me to a secluded gorge that could only be reached by walking down some steep, rocky steps, and you really couldn’t see the gorge until you walked down the final step. It was such a serene place, and again I loved hearing the water flow. I might have caught a glimpse of a fairy dancing here and there too…I wonder if the fairies here are related to the ones at the Fairy Glen on Skye in Scotland – cousins, maybe? 😉

And Snowdon. Oh Snowdon. According to a survey, the best view in the UK is from the summit of Snowdon. I might have agreed…if I could have been able to see it! Moments ago the scene in front of me was completely covered by the white mist, but the monster wind was rather helpful with clearing the clouds, so I did get the periodic lucky breaks and saw parts of the view from time to time. Still, the mountains of Snowdonia looked like a realm of heaven from here.

Oh Wales, what other secrets do you hold?

Walking to the edge of the Earth

North Wales was beautiful. Snowdon and the surrounding natural sites of the Snowdonia National Park are probably what attract most people to this part of Wales, but for me, what captured my heart was Anglesey. It is an island off the northwest coast of Wales and it was filled with so much serenity and beauty. South Stack was the most anticipated part of my trip to Wales and indeed the most memorable. The South Stack Lighthouse stood there alone on that windy morning, so humble yet so pristine and majestic.

“I walk to the edge of the Earth while you stand half a world away…”

…was all I thought of as I stared into the vast blue. Though Dublin is just on the other side, as I approached I felt with every step closer and closer to the edge of the Earth. It was as if this place held the end of time. I could have stayed there forever.

%d bloggers like this: