Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Category Archives: England

I got very sick in Newcastle

Newcastle has never been on my travel list, and I probably would never have visited if it weren’t for a training course that took place there in mid-February. I spent four days in Newcastle, the majority of the time in a classroom but with some time to spare after the course ended every evening. But what’d you know…I was ridiculously ill with the flu the entire time I was there – what a bummer! As a result I didn’t enjoy my time as much as I would have if I were perfectly healthy. To my lack of enthusiasm, noted by my colleague, I could only say that I got sick IN Newcastle but I wasn’t sick OF Newcastle, trust me.

I knew nothing about Newcastle before the visit apart from hearing that it’s got the best parties and nightlife in the UK, something that I wasn’t all that interested in, healthy or sick. With the colleague who attended the course with me, I did some exploration of the city in the time that I wasn’t coughing my lungs out…

Getting off the train and walking toward the hotel, I passed by the Newcastle Castle, a rather imposing structure that is difficult to miss. Yes, there is actually a castle in Newcastle and not just in its name! So if this is an old castle…does it mean that it is the Old Newcastle Castle?!

Searching for “Newcastle” on the Internet would inevitably lead you to information about the “vampire rabbit”, which I went on a slight detour to find. The vampire rabbit was perched on top of a beautiful door right next to St Nicholas Cathedral, seemingly observing every move of the passersby oblivious of its existence.

From the train station to the hotel, there is a street on a downward slope where there is a row of buildings that look like pretty little doll houses.

The Newcastle harbour is rather similar to the Glasgow harbour and there are several buildings/structures that look alike. First is the Sage Gateshead, which is a concert hall located on the south side of the River Tyne and is said to look like an armadillo. Hmm…doesn’t it remind you of the SECC in Glasgow?

Back to the harbour at night, here’s a view of the Sage lit up. I gotta say that here it looks better than the SECC, which is lit only in a single colour at night. It’s so much more interesting with more colours!

And not far from the Sage, we find the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which…coincidentally looks very much like the Millennium Bridge in Glasgow? One would wonder if there is some unknown connection between the two cities.

The Millennium Bridge in daylight, not as interesting as it is during the night. Our hotel was a two-minute walk from the harbour but a half-hour walk from the University of Newcastle, where our training course took place.

Near our hotel is a sculpture of a…giant peach?! Actually I don’t know what it is, but from a distance it sort of looks like a giant peach to me. Maybe James and his little (giant?) buddies live there…

In the city centre of Newcastle stood the Goldsmiths building, reminiscent of the exterior of a royal theatre.

Back at the Newcastle Castle when night has fallen, we stood in front of the “Black Gate”, which was lit with a haunting aura of mystery. I wonder what stories hide behind these doors…

Finally, here’s an anti-Trump protest that we happened to come across while walking through the city centre.

I really had hoped that I would have gotten better from my flu earlier on in the week so that I could at least enjoy some more time outside, but my flu got WORSE even after I returned to Glasgow and persisted for another week. What’s more, on my last day in Newcastle, there was a giant thunderstorm that delayed every bus and train by hours…ugh. Despite all of this, there were some nice sights and fun encounters to be had in Newcastle, but I’m sure glad to be back in Glasgow and illness-free! Now for the delayed Scottish rain season to arrive…

London in a weekend

When I was living in Bordeaux, Paris was easily within reach. 3 hours by high-speed train and you’re there – and it would cost as low as 20€ one way! Even if I wasn’t able to get a hold of the cheap ticket, being a student and under 27, I was still entitled to reduced rates, so visiting Paris was like taking a stroll in the backyard. In the UK, the equivalent to Paris is obviously London. However, visiting London from Glasgow isn’t as straightforward. The most direct way – by train – isn’t necessarily the fastest, as it takes at least 4.5 hours to get to London. If I choose to fly, the flight itself is a little over an hour, but fussing with airports here and there would easily add another 2 or 3 hours to the trip. The biggest issue is cost. A one-way flight would set me back around 10£ (if I’m super lucky) to 25£ (approximately 13-33€), whereas the train…anywhere from 40-100£, as I don’t qualify for student discounts anymore.

So what I’m trying to say is (1) take advantage of being young and travel with your discounts and (2) it is not so easy getting to London 😦 As a result, London hasn’t really been “a stroll in the backyard”, and I didn’t get as many chances as I wanted to visit the British capital ever since settling down in Glasgow. The first “real” chance came two weeks ago, when I decided to spend a weekend in London and explore the city casually. I had done all the major tourist attractions 5 years ago and so this time around, all I wanted to do was wander, take the red double-deck buses to random places, people-watch, and hopefully like this metropolis more than I liked Paris 😛

The weekend was quite rainy but I had a stroke of good luck as the morning of my arrival was still relatively rain-free. My first destination was Hyde Park, which had a beautiful rose garden where I could sit down and enjoy the presence of flower, the sun (gasp), and people.

Summer? While the weather wasn’t very convincing, the flowers in the rose garden certain did scream, “Summer!” It happened to be the day where the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday was taking place at the nearby Buckingham Palace, and while I did pass by the huge crowds, I opted to spend my time more tranquilly rather than join in the festivities. I’m sorry, Queen. I respect you, but I think seeing your bright neon green hat for one split second was good enough for me. Please excuse me while I enjoy Hyde Park instead of going to your party 🙂

Located at Hyde Park Corner is the New Zealand War memorial, which was established to commemorate the loss of New Zealand’s lives during the two world wars.

The one place I really wanted to visit was what was known to me as “an area around Hyde Park”. I remember passing by on a bus and seeing some very interesting sculptures along one large avenue, and thinking…I must go and see them up close! I didn’t end up going to the actual avenue – and I WILL get there next time! – but I did see cool sculptures here and there. Sculptures, along with murals, are my favourite types of city-wide public art. I’m sure there are so many more to discover around London!

As I was supposed to pick up some friends from Euston station in the afternoon, I stopped by King’s Cross, which was right next to Euston. This is where Harry took the train to Hogwarts! Quite an impressive structure, inside and out.

While wandering around the King’s Cross area, I passed by this very colourful corner, which is located at Belgrove Street and Euston Road, and I liked it! It seems like London is full of surprises and awaits more exploration!

One of my missions during this stay was to take a trip to Lanka, a cake shop run by Japanese pastry chefs. This little place was recommended by a friend, and while it took a bit of travelling to reach as it wasn’t centrally located, it was definitely worth the trip! With my companion, we ordered a green tea panna cotta and a yuzu mousse. I think the panna cotta had the strongest green tea flavour I’ve ever tasted out of any green tea flavoured food – good stuff! The cakes were rich in texture but not overwhelmingly heavy, and the best thing was that they were not too sweet. Truly a perfect balance of taste, texture, and aesthetics! If we weren’t already full from having lots of snacks and street food before hand, we would have certainly ordered other ones :O

That was the end of the first day and the rest of the time was spent with some of my buddies catching up and wandering. As a result I didn’t take many photos on the second day. I will say, though, that while London is crowded, has terrible traffic, and is super expensive, I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I dislike Paris. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I quite like London, just like I did 5 years ago. For some reason London intrigues me more so than other huge cities, and I will gladly go back for a truly solo trip where I could get to know more of the city and its secrets. I’ll have to have another long weekend though, and hopefully score some plane/train tickets that won’t empty my wallet. Oh, and a train trip back to Glasgow that doesn’t experience a 5-hour delay (longer than the actual trip, which was only supposed to be 4.5 hours) would be nice, but that’s another tale for another day…

Finally visiting my dream school???

For some reason, Oxford became my dream university in highschool. I think one day I just woke up and decided that it would be super cool to go to Oxford, and for a period of time I actually looked into the undergrad programs that were offered and the admission requirements. Of course that “dream” never materialized for many reasons, but I still thought that one day I would like to visit this prestigious Oxford University. That day came more than ten years later, after I’d finished my undergrad AND PhD degrees. I’m working in the UK – there’s almost no excuse to NOT go and see what Oxford is all about especially since I’ve already been to its biggest rival, Cambridge.

When I arrived in Oxford, I was forced to make a detour from the main area because it had become some sort of crime scene with a lot of police presence. Huh. No details on what happened, but it was a few hours before the area was open to the public again. At least the entire university wasn’t off-limits, phew!

The first place I headed to was the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where I was able to climb to the top of the tower to get a panoramic view of Oxford. From there I was able to get a first impression of Oxford and compare it to Cambridge – Cambridge was a lot brighter and more “golden”, while Oxford gave me a grim and grey feeling. Neither very colourful though…

…and the most recognized landmark of Oxford would probably be the Radcliffe camera, pictured above. It’s only accessible to students so I wasn’t able to view its interior, but it was certainly a rather lovely piece of architecture.

Next I went to the Bodleian university library, and just being on the outside made me feel like I was surrounded by an air of scholarship and academia. Again, the library was off-limits to the general public unless it was via a paid, guided tour, which I opted to skip. One part of the library that was accessible, however, was the School of Divinity, which was just one chamber/hall behind closed doors beyond the main gate of the library.

While in Oxford I joined a free walking tour of the city with Footprints Tours, where our enthusiastic guide Tom took the group around Oxford and enlightened us with many historical facts and stories. One of the sites that we passed by was Christ Church, a massive college that has apparently produced the most prime ministers out of any college in Oxford and Cambridge.

One of the most interesting things I remember Tom telling us was the story behind the emblem of Christ Church. Well, there wasn’t much of a story, but when he told us that the emblem initially made him think of a UFO sucking up humans on either side, that image got stuck in my head. YOU CANNOT UNSEE IT. Rather hilarious, if you ask me!

We even met Russian Spider Man, who stealthily followed Tom until he was noticed. And it seemed like Russian Spider Man was a buddy of Tom, giving him a big high-five before he disappeared in a flash again!

Along the way I saw three houses in a public square that were adorned by long winding branches, which actually gave it an aesthetic effect.

On the High Street of Oxford, Tom pointed out a building on the corner that now houses a currency exchange office, but he asked the group to guess what the purpose of the building used to be. Maybe one of the gentlemen did his history homework, but he immediately answered, “Brothel”, which was the correct answer! Well done, sir…?

Finally it was time for the obligatory group photo. Tom asked all of us to jump while he attempted to take the photo, and jump I did, though I doubt everyone in the group did the same! Heh, it had been a fun and informative tour, giving me some insights to what life might have been like had I had the (mis)fortune to attend Oxford like I wanted to. But I’m glad I went to Oxford, only as a tourist, and not as a student, thank you very much 😛

Ely, a detour from Cambridge

A very brief post on my trip to Ely, a city in England that is 20 minutes away from Cambridge by train, making it a perfect (half-)day weekend trip. Ely is known as a “cathedral city”, but it wasn’t only the cathedral that made the visit more than pleasant. It was here that my love for smaller cities and communities was accentuated, as you will see 🙂

There are things that don’t interest me much anymore when I travel (castles, for example) and other things that I don’t think I can ever get enough of (nature, high places, etc.), and cathedrals are one of the rare things that I’m undecided about. Sometimes I feel like every cathedral is the same, but the grandness of some of the ones I’ve seen has truly and genuinely amazed me. Of course, the primary motivation of going to Ely was to see its gigantic cathedral, which was the symbol of the city. And magnificent it was – I must admit that I was impressed.

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St John’s College, University of Cambridge

In highschool, my dream university was Oxford, without good reason other than its prestige. I had seriously contemplated applying to Oxford before nanotechnology at Waterloo won me over…whaaaa? Perhaps the whole “going to Oxford” thought was just a constant mindset in a clueless highschool student (who was doing relatively well academically and regarded as “smart”) who thought she’d aim for the best of the best. Why I chose Waterloo (with no regrets)…is a long story for a sunnier day.

Having been in the UK for almost 3/4 of a year, I still haven’t paid a visit to my ex-dream school. Instead I visited its biggest rival – yep, Cambridge. Perhaps I really should have considered Cambridge in the first place since it’s much more renowned for science and engineering while Oxford is for the politically and humanities-oriented minds. Anyway, the reason why I went to Cambridge was simple – it was convenient. From Stansted airport, at least, which was where I arrived from Glasgow. If I wanted to get to Oxford, I’d first have to head to central London and take a train from there, which would take way longer than if I just went to Cambridge from Stansted in a less-than-one-hour train ride. Oxford, I’ll get to you eventually.

Cambridge felt more like a tourist attraction than an academic institution, but let’s be fair – I was only there for a day and a half. To visit the various famous colleges, there’s an entrance fee to be paid – £8 for King’s College, £7.50 for St John’s College, £3 for Queens College, £2 for Trinity College, etc. I understand the high entrance fee for King’s College as it is the most well-known landmark of Cambridge, but apparently the entrance fee for St John spiked because some scenes from the movie “The Theory of Everything” were filmed there. Great. And that was the one I wanted to see. So let’s go inside for a quick look.

The entire reason why I wanted to visit St John’s College and chose it out of the many college with entrance fees was to see the “Bridge of Sighs”, which I’ll get to later. Only the name itself got me curious and costed me £7.50. Oh well. Here’s a frontal view of the New Court at St. John’s College, a photo made possible by my handy-dandy phone which has a panoramic mode (I still suck at taking panoramic photos though). Sorry, Mr.Nikon, you lose this time.

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