Annie Bananie en Europe

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Chongqing, the Mountain City

Xiao mian of Chongqing was in the previous post about noodles so let’s talk about Chongqing. The final trip of 2019 happened in Chongqing, after a friend’s wedding took place in Chengdu in Sichuan province. Chongqing is one of four municipalities under direct government rule in China (the other three being Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin), which means that it is not part of any province (though it used to be a part of Sichuan). J and I had wanted to visit Chongqing for a while (well, it was mostly me), and because it was less than an hour and a half away from Chengdu by train, we had the perfect opportunity to visit. Chongqing is known as the “Mountain City” because it is built around hills and its elevation is constantly changing. As a result, there were a lot of stairs and layered views involved in this trip, as you will see.

It was quite cloudy during our two-day visit but thankfully it didn’t rain. The sky was gray and visibility was low, but you could see what I mean by varied elevation. Some buildings were established at ground level (by the Yangtze River, which traverses Chongqing) while others were constructed on hills. Walking around the city became a real workout at some point!

Another wide river that traverses Chongqing is the Jialing River, and this bridge was still under construction when we were there. Still gray all around…

City trips in recent years have become more relaxing as I’ve stop chasing landmarks and prefer slow, spontaneous explorations. J and I wandered around random streets without really knowing where we were going, turning corners here and there. This is a sign that says “Beautiful Zhongshan 4th Road” 🙂

There is a walking trail that runs through the hills along the Yangtze River known as the “Mountain City Alley”. Along the trail you could see some old houses and remains of the past. I especially like how it is hidden within a forested area, and people below in the streets can’t really see the trail above, making it almost like a secret tunnel.

There were some fantastic murals to be seen along the trail and here are some of my favourites. I think in the one with the dog and the chessboard, the front part of the chessboard was actually real and sticking out from the wall…which means that only half the chess set was present. Ooo and the cat’s eyes…they stare deep into my soul as if it knows everything about me…meow.

By the way, you know what Chongqing is most famous for? Spicy hot pot, of course!! The Chongqing locals love their hot pot and have a million ways of eating it, but it must be as spicy as you could imagine. We met up with a friend of J who works in Chongqing and went for hot pot one evening. Yes those are chili peppers in the red hot boiling water. The round part in the middle is the clear non-spicy soup, which was severely needed. It’s not that I can’t handle the spiciness, but I feel that immersing the food in chili peppers kind of ruins the original taste of the food (what a Cantonese thing to say). Thankfully there was the choice to alternate between the two. And yes there were veggies, they were on a cart beside the table 😛

You see how much Chongqing loves its spicy food? They even have a chili pepper statue as a mascot in one of the public squares! The information below the statue reads: “CAPSICA RedLight – A giant bronze red chili pepper sculpture, crafted by the famous Italian artist Giuseppe Carta, with height of 6.5 m and weight of 2.3 tons. The miniature sculptures of the ‘CAPSICA RedLight’ and of the ‘World’s Biggest Hotspot’ were firstly exhibited at the 2015 World Expo in Milan, Italy.”

Now we continued our city exploration and I wanted to find a cafe to sit down and write. Upon searching on the Internet, I found a place that was supposedly hidden in local residential complexes but offered a magnificent view of Chongqing. The instructions said that we had to climb steps to go up approximately nine storeys…what!!! I was ready for a workout but the serendipitous thing was that we by chance took the bus that dropped us off at the TOP of the steps, which meant that we missed out on the anticipated intense uphill walk…to my delight! Here’s the view looking down and you can bet that I was super thankful for my streak of luck!


And what we found was a chic little cafe where we spent some time chilling and relaxing. I ordered a matcha latte and J ordered an original one. Then I took out my journal to write while J napped a little 😉

Looking out to the left, I could see what my colleague told me about: if you were at the bottom of the hill, you’d think that you could see the top of a building, but from another angle, the “top” might be the ground floor of another building. And this is the norm in Chongqing. No wonder you’re called the Mountain City!

Ah, yes, this is the view from the cafe that I was talking about. Again it was SUPER cloudy so it was less impressive than it should have been. I surprised myself by not taking the cable car across the river. It was something that I had planned to do, but in the end we didn’t want to be too rushed. We certainly will come back to Chongqing some day – after all I have to come back to this very cafe to catch a night view of Chongqing, which is bound to be amazing.

Here we were at Chaotianmen (Chaotian Gate), which is the point at which the Yangtze and Jiangling rivers converge. Bad-angle selfie time!

This is a scene that is unimagineable in COVID-19 times but was anticipated for many as it was new year’s eve. There was some event that was happening here, but we were just passing by and we weren’t joining the crazy crowd. Definitely a good idea that we got out of there as fast as we could…

The next destination was Hongyadong (Hongya Cave), which sort of went viral as the tourist hotspot in Chongqing. I guess it’s clear why – it looked splendid at night! The area was supposedly a reconstruction of historical architecture that is now overly commercialized, like any other tourist destination. We didn’t go into the actual lit up area and preferred this view from the Qiansimen (Qiansi Gate) Bridge.

The Qiansimen Bridge crosses the Jialing River and this is the view of the other side, facing Hongyadong. Love the night views – it’s got some Shanghai vibe to it, doesn’t it?

The official we-are-spending-new-year’s-even-in-Chongqing-and-Hongyadong-is-behind-us selfie. I don’t get to travel as much anymore but trips like this remind me that I love travel, I love traveling with this man, and I love this man!!! ❤

Final look at Chongqing after we’ve crossed the Qiansimen Bridge. Hongyadong is now on the other side with the gleaming metropolis as its backdrop. Regrettably J and I were only able to spend two days in Chongqing and we barely scratched the surface of what this sophisticated city has to offer. There aren’t many places that I say I’d go back to after traveling there, but Chongqing is one of the few that I’d like to return to and explore more in-depth. Shouldn’t be too out-of-reach as it is right next to Hubei Province, but the limiting factor here is vacation days. Oh well, hope to see you again sometime, neighbour!

December 2019

(Written on December 31, 2019)

Good-bye 2019.

Time is continuous, so it is curious that humans artificially divide it into years, months, days, hours, seconds… Though, perhaps that is the only way we could live – in never-ending cycles of years rather than in a straight line. So then, a new year is a much a new “year” as it is a new “month” or a new “day”, an ephemeral moment in eternity. Only by establishing these time “points”, these “rites”, can we say that anything is “new”, see our lives in a relative point of view, and realize over and over again that all endings are also beginnings (we just don’t realize it at the time).

(The last part of the last line is a quote from “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” by Mitch Albom.)

Perhaps the final sunset for a while as we stepped into winter – and winter came fast. Though, compared to last year, winter has been quite mild so far, with temperatures hovering around 5-10 degrees Celsius and no snow (yet?) in Wuhan. Looks like we may be headed for a completely snowless winter… 😦

Perhaps because of the relatively mild weather, the Chinese roses outside my workplace haven’t wilted by December. Some of them were as large as my palm and were looking as lovely as ever!

No maple leafs around here with gradually changing colours, but this area around the HUST campus put me in a good mood because the red-orange trees were looking gorgeous. Bright colours are certainly welcome especially in constantly gray, misty, and smoogy skies X_X

One more nature photo – this one taken at a random park in Chengdu, which was a lot warmer than Wuhan when we visited in late December.

So the reason why J and I went to Chengdu in the first place was to attend his groomsman’s wedding! Congratulations to James and Hannah for tying the knot and giving us the perfect opportunity to revisit Chengdu. We also got to reunite with some old friends (Tingting and LS) and meet new ones, a lovely occasion indeed!

The day after the wedding, the bridal party treated some of the guests to an authentic Sichuanese skewers hot pot meal. This was my second time having it and I will honestly say that I prefer the classic hot pot without the skewers. The food was way too heavily marinated and I was not a fan so…this would probably be my last time. Still I had a good time with good company 😉

In Chengdu, I met with a former Glaswegian buddy and we had a brief but pleasant night of night-market-hopping – though I didn’t eat much as I was super full from lunch. We did grab these grilled cold noodles though (with spam and sausage fillings). I realized about 10 minutes after we parted ways that we didn’t take a photo together…SMH. So my memory of her from this her will be represented by grilled cold noodles – delicious, by the way!

After Chengdu, J and I dropped by Chongqing for a few days. Chongqing was a city that I had wanted to visit for a long time and I finally found the chance to go with J. It is known for its mountainous terrain that resulted in a lot of hills and steps. There was some interesting street art as well, like this one along the “Mountain City Alley”. Meow, I see you there.

Finally, we found a nice little cafe in a very secluded area in Chongqing to have a break in the afternoon. I ordered a regular latte while J got the matcha-flavoured one, and we sat there for a good two hours writing and resting. Ten years ago, when I travelled to a new city, I would hit all the tourist spots and take a million photos. Now, I would rather take some time to relax and reflect in the midst of travelling and just enjoy the moment. And all I need is a pen and a notebook. And a good cup of latte 😉

We’re well into 2020 already and the world has seen some sad and scary things, especially in China. Especially in Wuhan, where I live. More on the coronavirus situation in the next post…soon.

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…

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!

Paris, je t’aime…?

The curious thing about the verb “to love” in French – “aimer” – Is that it is the same as the word for “to like”, so the title of this post is a slight play on words. (“Je t’aime” = “I love you” or “I like you”.) You see, I’ve never loved Paris, not even liked. If you’ve ever read my posts on Paris, you would have seen that I make this point clear every time, and I’ll spare you the explanations. However, my most recent visit to Paris last month changed it all and I might even say…that I like Paris now, just a little…?

The original plan was to go to Paris with my friend TK, who’s never visited. I mean why else would I go back to a city that I never liked? Everything was booked except…TK missed her flight back to the UK because of Typhoon Hato in Macau, and that was the day before leaving for Paris. WELL THAT AIN’T COOL. Consequently, whereas the two of us were supposed to fly together from Glasgow to Paris, I ended up flying alone and spending the weekend in Paris without a companion…well that’s not true, I ended up meeting a lot of old friends as a result. In fact, the trip turned out to be a lot more interesting than I had expected.

Aside from my sudden lack of company, the most unconventional thing that I did this time around was that I left my DSLR at home and only had my phone camera on me, so all photos were taken and edited on my phone. I had to learn to not rely on Mr. Nikon all the time, and it was not easy! Also, at this point, the glamorous side of Paris (Eiffel Tower, Louvre, etc.) doesn’t appeal to me anymore, and I was more drawn towards the local neighbourhoods that were just waiting to be discovered. With a bit of research beforehand, I narrowed down my long weekend to a few places that I wanted to see…beware of photo spam coming up!

Coulée Verte René-Dumont

If there was a place that could define “urban oasis”, then this was it. Situated in the 12th arrondissement, the “coulée verte” is a park-like promenade that spans ~5 km from nearby the Place de la Bastille to the edge of central Paris. I only walked part of the elevated segment, from one end of the Viaduc des Arts (which itself was a place I had wanted to visit) to Bastille, and what a nice walk! From 10 metres above ground, you traverse the heart of the 12th through a long garden full of greenery, with many viewpoints of the city and several fun murals along the way. Joggers seemed to particularly love this place, as there were plenty of them passing by in each direction. Certainly a quick and easy escape to an otherwise hectic Parisian city life!

Père Lachaise cemetery

Père Lachaise is a huge public cemetery in the 20th arrondissement of Paris where many famous people including Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, and Bizet were buried. Walking through the cemetery was like taking a stroll in a maze covered by fallen leaves upon the remains of those who have passed. The peace and silence were calming but not eerie, and I would have liked to spend more time there if it weren’t 30 degrees Celsius that day and if I hadn’t already walked all day…

Rue Crémieux

The first thought I had upon turning into this secluded street in the 12th arrondissement was, “Seriously this exists in Paris?!?!?” Delicate houses with colourful shades of pastel on both sides – you would have thought this was Burano or Cinque Terre but no, there it was, right in the midst of a grey, busy Paris. I could see why this place is often overlooked – the “entrance” is so inconspicuous that you’d have to actually know where you’re going to find it, but wow it was a beautiful street. The walls of each house was painted in a different colour with a different design on each door, and my favourite would have to be the pastel green house with the painted tree and the motorcycle parked in front. Such a unique find!

Mur des je t’aime

I guess this photo fits today’s post quite well seeing that it’s all about “love” or “je t’aime”. This is also probably the most “touristy” and well-known place out of all the ones in Paris I’m writing about here. The “I love you wall” has, as the name implies, “I love you” written in over 200 languages. Though it’s situated in a small park right outside Abbesses metro station at the foot of Montmartre, it is easily overlooked because people usually just head up to Montmartre and don’t venture into the park. A lot of couples come here to take their photos taken for obvious reasons, and I actually thought that it was cuter and more creative than the love-lock bridges that seem to be everywhere nowadays. I rather liked the quote that was inscribed above the wall: “Aimer c’est du désordre…alors aimons!” (Translation: “Loving is chaotic…so let’s love!”)

Parc Buttes-Chaumont

The Parc Buttes-Chaumont, located in the 19th arrondissement, is another one of those places where locals go to escape from the city centre. With an artificial lake, a small temple perched on top of a cliff in the middle of the lake, and several bridges crossing the lake, the atmosphere of this green haven was peaceful yet dynamic, as there were many runners, cyclists, and dog walkers throughout the park. In fact this was a lovely place for a picnic, but I had to catch a flight that afternoon and didn’t have time to prepare for a picnic. Not wanting to miss out on a beautiful day, my friend MM and I went to the nearby McDonald’s and grabbed some good ol’ burgers and wraps, found a space on one of the grassy areas, and enjoyed a sunny break with many locals who decided to do the same. Not a conventional picnic, alright, but still cherished as we had so little time to spend together!

Murals

Murals are one of my favourite types of art. Though I have heard of the street art scene in Paris, I had not intended to look for street art specifically during this trip. That is, until I caught a glimpse of several gigantic murals out the window of the subway during one segment of the ride on line 6 that was overground. WHAT. The bonus point is that it was actually only one stop from where I was staying, near Place d’Italie, and I estimated that it would take no more than 10 minutes to walk from my hotel to the mural area. Well then LET IT BE DONE. On the last morning of my stay, I went down Boulevard Vincent-Auriol from Place d’Italie and as expected, found no fewer than 10 impressive murals in various locations within a 15-minute walk (some shown here), on both sides of the street. Some of them were so huge and impressive that I had to stop and marvel for a good 5 minutes before continuing the hunt for the next. Now this was a surprise and certainly THE highlight of the trip. I late found out that the 13th is actually famous for its street art in Paris…well I know where I’m staying again next time! (Side note: the drawings on the wall in the Bastille metro station on line 1 and the ones outside of Gare de Lyon were also spectacular!)

Friends

Of course I had to meet up with some friends in Paris. The original plan of showing TK around Paris was completely foiled, and so I had more time than originally anticipated to spend with friends living in Paris. These were mostly old friends that I met in Bordeaux during my PhD days, those who in the past years have either settled down or been temporarily working in Paris. I had the chance to eat delicious grilled seafood at the famous Pedra Alta with Jiang, explore much of the above-described parts of Paris with MM, and attend Ara and Victor’s wedding celebration (where I also saw Diana and Edgar too, of course!) Definitely not a weekend wasted! Sorry TK, you’d have to come back to Paris again some other time 😦

So, this turned out to be the longest and perhaps happiest and most positive Paris-related post that I’ve ever written in my blog, and I’ve written…quite a few. I guess I can now say, perhaps with a little less reluctance…Paris, je t’aime 😉

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