Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: architecture

Where is the Barber of Seville? (cont.)

I was in Seville for a day and a half and in the previous entry I only posted photos from the first day. Of course Seville is too beautiful to be condensed into only one post, so here is day 2 in a nutshell.

On the second day in Seville, I visited the Alcázar of Seville, the major attraction of the city aside from the cathedral and the Plaza de España. The Alcázar is a royal Moorish palace with nice architecture and some beautiful gardens. It is situated right in the old town beside the cathedral, but it took me a while to find the main entrance because I kept circling around the outer walls of the palace, according to Google Maps. Then when I found it, I felt so stupid as it was RIGHT THERE, with a long queue (~30 minutes) to get in! Afterwards I went to the Metropol Parasol, which is a massive wooden structure that resembles…waves? Trees? I dunno. I quite liked this contemporary style though, and was rather surprised to find it so close to the old town. I didn’t go to the top but I think I should have – will keep that in mind for future visits!

Obviously I had to have tapas in Spain, and this is only a small selection of what I tried over the two days. I have to especially mention the “Secreto Ibérico”, or the “Iberian Secret”, which is the hunk of meat on the potato slices. I actually didn’t have high hopes for this pork dish because its presentation paled in comparison to the others – merely meat on some potatoes. Even though I ordered a half portion, it was still so huge that I thought I wouldn’t finish it. WRONG. As soon as I took a first bite, I was awed at how juicy and flavourful the meat was…oh my it was delicious! You certainly don’t judge pork by first impression, and this got me really wondering…what IS the secret of Iberian pork?!?!

Oh, and some ice cream was also very appreciated in the scorching heat!

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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 😛

Stop to smell the oranges…in Córdoba!

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 Córdoba, having considered Segovia and Valencia previously. My colleague, who is actually from Valencia, instead brought up Córdoba and strongly recommended it, mainly telling me about the Mezquita, or the mosque-cathedral of Córdoba. Well, you don’t refuse a Spanish when he provides a suggestion on where to go in Spain, so it was decided that Córdoba would be our day trip – although neither I nor my two companions knew much about Córdoba 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 Córdoba. The Mezquita – or mosque – has a rich history behind its gates. Known as the mosque-cathedral of Córdoba, 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 Córdoba a bit. We met an American lady at a tapas market in Madrid who visited Córdoba before arriving in Madrid. She described Córdoba 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 Córdoba 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 cordobés”, a specialty that originated from Córdoba. 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 purée 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 Córdoba 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 Córdoba and really had to resist picking a few oranges to eat 😛

Crossing the Roman bridge, we arrived on the southern bank of Córdoba where we were able to look back and see the Mezquita from a distance. Then it became obvious that Córdoba 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 Córdoba 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 🙂

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