Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: architecture

Day trip to Stirling

A collection of photos from a spontaneous day trip to Stirling, Scotland in July, 2016 – enjoy!

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…

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 馃槢

Stop to smell the oranges…in C贸rdoba!

During the Easter holidays, I travelled to Portugal and Spain with some buddies from Canada. When I asked my Spanish colleague for ideas of day trips from Madrid, I learned about the Andalusian town of C贸rdoba, having considered Segovia and Valencia previously. My colleague, who is actually from Valencia, instead brought up C贸rdoba and strongly recommended it, mainly telling me about the Mezquita, or the mosque-cathedral of C贸rdoba. Well, you don’t refuse a Spanish when he provides a suggestion on where to go in Spain, so it was decided that C贸rdoba would be our day trip – although neither I nor my two companions knew much about C贸rdoba at all. But that’s OK – wandering is half the fun!

Even having done some research on the attractions a little bit beforehand, it was clear that the Mezquita is what brings most people to C贸rdoba. The Mezquita – or mosque – has a rich history behind its gates. Known as the mosque-cathedral of C贸rdoba, it was originally a cathedral but was converted into a mosque when Spain was under Islamic rule. After the Reconquista, when Spain fell under Christian rule, the Mezquita was converted back into a cathedral and remains so till this day. The ubiquitous columns and arches that line the interior of the Mezquita were its highlighted features. Made of jasper and marble, more than 850 of these pillars stand in the Mezquita, and walking through the arches makes it feel like you’re traversing a city itself. With that said, the interior of the Mezquita was huge! It certainly fooled us from the outside, and I lost my companions more than once. You could imagine how hard it was to find them under dim light in a crowded place!

Back in town, my friends and I decided to explore C贸rdoba a bit. We met an American lady at a tapas market in Madrid who visited C贸rdoba before arriving in Madrid. She described C贸rdoba as “quaint”, and while I think that the word “quaint” is often overused to describe small, charming towns, you can’t deny that it is an appropriate word. And it is often these places that are quaint and picturesque towns that attract me more than the big cities.

My friends and I were confused when we saw these figurines. OK…please don’t blame us for our ignorance, but wouldn’t one very easily associate the costumes worn by these figurines with those of the KKK? Of course we had to figure out the significance of this seemingly strange occurrence. As it turns out, every year around Easter (which was when we went), during what’s called the Holy Week festival, processions take place whereby people are dressed up in these hoods to commemorate the passion of Christ. It’s been a tradition around Spain, especially in the Andalusia regions, of which C贸rdoba is a part. It has nothing to do with the KKK, none at all. So, there’s our mystery solved. At least we learned something new, right?

For lunch, we sat down at a small restaurant serving local food. One of the things that we ordered was “salmorejo cordob茅s”, a specialty that originated from C贸rdoba. Even though we already had it a previous evening in Madrid, it was so good that we wanted to get it again. Salmorejo was a blended pur茅e made of tomato, bread, and garlic…probably lots and lots of garlic. It is then garnished with diced cured Spanish ham and chunks of a hard-boiled egg. Since the taste and smell of garlic was so strong and rich, I liked to have it with lots of bread (even though it was probably meant to be just a cold soup), which was a delicious combination!

An interesting phenomenon that I noticed as I was walking around C贸rdoba and one of my favourite things about the visit was the scent of oranges everywhere. Oh, it smelled so wonderful! It’s like having slight traces of fragrance following you all over the place, but unlike the strong perfumes that I can’t stand, it’s a most natural scent in the refreshing breeze. Not surprising, as we saw orange trees in many areas of C贸rdoba and really had to resist picking a few oranges to eat 馃槢

Crossing the Roman bridge, we arrived on the southern bank of C贸rdoba where we were able to look back and see the Mezquita from a distance. Then it became obvious that C贸rdoba was very…orange, or yellow. The houses lining the quaint streets, the columns in the Mezquita, the orange trees…even the salmerejo was orange!

Soon it was time for us to leave C贸rdoba and head back to Madrid. Walking along the Guadalquivir river, we headed back into the old town and out toward the train station, ending our day trip in this Andalusian town full of history and surprises 馃檪

Around Macau in 12 hours, part 2

One post wasn’t enough to showcase my appreciation for Macau, even though I only had one day to explore the place, so here’s the follow-up detailing the different regions of Macau that I visited during my stay and of course, food!

When we talk about Macau, we refer to the agglomeration of three areas that make up the entire region, namely Macau Peninsula, Taipa, and Coloane, the latter two formerly being individual islands before land reclamation connected the two. Because my friend had a car when I visited, I was able to see all three areas. I had thought that that was possible within a day without a car, and while it certainly was doable with buses and taxis, it wouldn’t have been so convenient. Thanks again, my Macanese friend 馃槈

Macau Peninsula

Macau Peninsula is where you would find most tourist attractions of Macau, such as the ruins of St. Paul’s, A-Ma Temple, the Macau Tower, and Mount Fortress. And as I mentioned in the previous post, as the region with the world’s highest population density, Macau Peninsula was crowded! Walking through the streets of the peninsula, you notice many traces of Portuguese-style architecture, while traditional Chinese history and culture are preserved at the same time. Also, if you’re anywhere near the centre of activity, you can’t miss Casino Lisboa, perhaps the most prominent casino on the peninsula. You might even be lucky and win a few hands…

Taipa and Coloane

Then again, if you’re in Macau to gamble, you’d probably head over to Taipa, where the Cotai strip is located. This is where some of the biggest casinos are found, including the two that we visited, The Venetian Macau and Galaxy Macau. Aside from the glamourous casino scene, which I wasn’t so interested in, Taipa is a quaint little place with some rural areas, narrow streets, and old buildings. As a result, the contrast between the old and the modern is particularly obvious in Taipa.

As for Coloane, it is almost the polar opposite of Macau Peninusula – quiet, spacious, and surrounded by nature. In addition to Coloane village, where again the pastel colours of the Portuguese-style adorn the houses, there are several beaches and resort areas that would make good vacation spots during the summer. Apparently there are also some really nice hiking trails around the area 馃榾 I feel like Coloane would be an ideal place for a retreat, away from the noise and crowds of the big city so that you can just enjoy some tranquility and serenity with yourself ^_^

A-Ma Cultural Village

One thing that I learned about Macanese culture during this trip is the connection between Macau and its patron goddess, Mazu or “A-Ma”. Some stories say that the name “Macau” is derived from the Cantonese pronunciation of “A-Ma Temple”, which is “maa gok miu”. Macau vs. “maa gok”…yes, I see why one would make that connection. On Coloane, there is a hill on top of which is situated the A-Ma Cultural Village. Here you find the tallest statue of the goddess A-Ma in the world, and a palace complex name Tin Hau palace, dedicated to A-Ma (Tin Hau is another name for the goddess). Normally I would have liked to hike leisurely up to the top of the hill but that day, I was quite glad that a car took us up, taking a fraction of the amount of time it would have taken had we chosen to walk… 馃槢

The palace complex itself was quite big and rather impressive. You would never think that there is such a massive structure on a hill if you were just walking around in Coloane. I especially enjoyed looking at stone carvings on the columns that guard the main gate of the palace, so delicate and full of detail. Things like this make me marvel at the way people create art and the amount of time that it must have taken to turn an ordinary pillar of stone into something spectacular like these carvings. I am genuinely awed.

Delicious food!

OK, now we get to my favourite part – FOOD! Food in Macau is nothing short of varies and delicious. First up, you can’t miss the past茅is de nata, which is a Portuguese egg tart that tastes similar to the regular Chinese egg tart but…somewhat different. I can’t really pinpoint the difference though…hmm. The one we had was from a shop in Coloane and wow it was OH-SO-GOOD, better than I remembered it to be. Another specialty is the pork chop sandwich with pineapple bun. As if the normal pork chop sandwich wasn’t enough, we just had to get the one with the good ol’ Chinese pineapple bun…oh, how indulgent!

For dinner, my friend’s family brought me to a local Portuguese restaurant for some Portuguese-Macanese food. I’m not sure if it was Portuguese cuisine with Macanese influence, or Macanese cuisine with Portuguese influence, but it’s all the same. In the photos above, you see the dishes that my friend’s parents ordered because as locals, they certainly knew what was best. Kale soup, garlic clams, bacalhau (grilled or mashed), calamari with onions, blood duck, sardines…knowing how much I love food, I was super happy to have been able to try so many new dishes, each so tasty too! I’d have to say my favourites of the day were the past茅is de nata, the bolinhos de bacalhau (salted codfish in the shape of a ball), and garlic clams 馃榾

So this, ladies and gentlemen, is Macau. I hope that my two posts, including the previous one, has given you a more comprehensive impression of Macau as being not only a gambler’s paradise, but a destination for anyone who loves urban exploration, culture and tradition, architecture, and food. While Macau might not be on most people’s travel lists and Hong Kong is its much more popular neighbour, next time you decide to plan a stay in Hong Kong, why not make a stop in Macau? It’s yours to discover 馃槈

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