Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: art

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!

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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 😉

The Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies

The wee town of Falkirk in Scotland is known mainly for two things: the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. Being a mere half-hour train ride from Glasgow, I’m surprised that Falkirk remained unvisited until last weekend. With the possibility of leaving Scotland by the end of the year, I decided that I had to see the Kelpies lit up during the night and that would have to happen before daylight savings time started, when it wouldn’t get dark till well past 8pm. That meant that a stop at the Falkirk Wheel was also anticipated, though it was raining ever so lightly on the day that I went. No matter – it was destination Falkirk, rain or shine!

The Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s only boat lift constructed as a part of the Millennium Link project (completed in 2002) to connect the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal. The two were originally connected by a series of locks, and the wheel was proposed as a replacement. I’m not an engineer so I’m not going to elaborate on the engineering aspects of the wheel, though I do remember the guide mentioning that it saves time and uses a significantly lower amount of power to move boats between the canals. Visitors get to experience the wheel in action by boarding a boat, which is lifted 25 metres from the Forth and Clyde to the Union Canal. The boat then travels a short distance on the Union Canal before returning to the starting point. To me the ride itself was nothing out of the ordinary, and it was more of a “been there, done that” thing for me, though perhaps true engineers would appreciate the wheel for what it is more than I do.

The Kelpies

I did look forward to the Kelpies a lot more than I did to the Falkirk Wheel simply because of my love for public art, especially murals and sculptures. The Kelpies are the largest sculptures of horse heads in the world, though I kind of wonder where else you’d find a sculpture of the head of a horse. Outside of high season (April to October, I think) the bus that usually takes you directly to the Kelpies doesn’t run, so I had to walk about 20 minutes from the nearest bus stop. It was a worthy walk, however, and I found the Kelpies to be rather impressive! I’ve seen other works by the artist who made the Kelpies, Andy Scott, including “Rise” in Glasgow and “Carmyle Heron” in Cambuslang, and I quite liked his style, so the Kelpies certainly didn’t disappoint! They were especially beautiful during the night, though I kind of wished that they’d be lit up in warm colours to have more contrast with the dark sky – but no complaints!

A stroll around Falkirk

Of course, I had a chance to walk around Falkirk a bit, so it wasn’t all just about the wheel and the horse heads. Top left: A beautiful house that I passed by near the train station. Top right: Spring time is coming? Bottom left: A row of trees reflected in water by a trail around the Kelpies. Bottom right: A lit path leading from the Kelpies to the town centre.

Though the weather wasn’t all that great when I visited Falkirk, I had a good time and especially enjoyed finally seeing the Kelpies after having told myself to go and see them for over two years! Better weather seems to be more promising in the upcoming weeks – bring it on, spring!

26 days in China, part 6.1 – Guangzhou

Guangzhou, home time!!

Previous trips back to the third largest city in China have always evoked complicated mixed feelings of nostalgia and unfamiliarity, giving me a strange sense of melancholy every time I stepped into this place I call my hometown. I wanted so much to still be able to call myself a local, a true Cantonese, but I’m never sure if I can anymore. Well, at least that’s what it was like several years ago

Then I realized that I had been overly sentimental and what I really should do was just enjoy this city, whether as a local or as a former resident or as a tourist or whatever! This was going to be the trip where I could spend precious time with family, be a host to some foreign friends of my own, and eat lots of good food! No existential crisis in Guangzhou for me this time – I’ve got all the fun and relaxation to look forward to during my first “winter” in Guangzhou since…1995. The average temperature in late December was 23 degrees Celsius, there was no smog (yay for being in the south), and I missed most of the infamous “frigid damp winter in southern China”. How perfect could this get!

First up: group photo with the extended family! Growing up, I’ve always been very close with my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom’s side of the family. The opportunity to see them together is rare, and this time my mom and grandma were also around, making this a super long-awaited reunion (though missing several people)!

I decided to go down memory lane and revisit some places that were so familiar to me in my childhood, starting with the kindergarten that I attended for four years. It was after classes and the gate was closed, and I doubt I would have been able to enter even if it were open. Still, I could see the vivid pictures of my childhood passing by in front of me. Those annoying boys that destroyed the brick zoo that we made, dancing to classic karaoke songs, being the head of the lion for the Chinese new year lion dance, school lunches with pickled radish, English classes…things only I would remember!

Continue down the road and we reach the elementary school that I attended for a year and a half before moving to Canada. As my caretaker, my aunt used to take me to school on a bike, so I never really had to walk to school. Through the eyes of a child, however, the school felt so far away from where I lived. Now, the trip takes me merely around half an hour, a distance which is considered quite small for a city as large as Guangzhou. And to think that second-grade-me felt sooooooo grown up…if only I could be a child again!

We now jump all the way from my own childhood to my DAD’s childhood, to a place where he spent a majority of his time when he was a young boy – Shamian Island in the Xiguan area of Guangzhou, a territory formerly leased to France and the UK. My dad always likes to ramble on and on about how he used to play with his siblings on Shamian and laments how much the place has changed over the years. However, since I haven’t experienced the evolution of Shamian through time, Shamian to me is just a tranquil place to spend a day away from the crowded metropolis. To be fair, I had been to Shamian several times, but never alone with the opportunity to walk around to my heart’s desire. Perhaps to some, the European architecture and remnants of colonial times make this place an attractive gem in Guangzhou, but I guess I only wanted to visit it again to try to imagine what it was like for my dad to grow up here, no matter how much it has changed beyond recognition (true words from my dad).

What I loved about Shamian were the bronze statues that are scattered all around the island depicting life on Shamian in the past. There must have been at least 20, but some of my favourites are shown here. Top left: an old man taking his caged pet bird for a walk, something that elderly people seemed to enjoy doing a lot in the past. Top right: a kid in clothing worn in the Qing dynasty, dropping a letter in the postbox. Middle right: an old man playing the fiddle. Bottom left: children catching fish in the river. Bottom right: elegant ladies singing and dancing to Cantonese opera wearing qipao.

Meow. I spotted this shy white cat hiding behind some potted plants near a church on Shamian and just wanted to say…hi! It kept running away from me though, and I could only observe it from a distance and try not to scare it. What a beauty you are!

Back in the city, it was time to meet up with my Malaysian guests! I had already traveled to Hangzhou with MC and YX but here in Guangzhou we were joined by MC’s husband, Mr. Blue. Of course I had to take them out to lunch and what better way to do it than the most traditional Cantonese way – “yum cha”, which literally means “drink tea”! To most people this only means dim sum, but tea is such an important aspect of the Cantonese lifestyle. Good tea and good dim sum complement each other, and good company makes it all the better!

I never used the word “beautiful” to describe Guangzhou until I took this photo from a pedestrian bridge. Friends who saw it commented that Guangzhou is such a beautiful city, and you know…I think they’re right. Like many of the places that I’ve called home and taken for granted, I hadn’t noticed its charm until I don’t live there anymore and returned to see it again with fresh eyes. Five years ago it would be an unfathomable to say that I’d even consider going back to China and living/working there long-term, but that possibility doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore. Who knows…I wouldn’t be surprised if somehow, but a stroke of luck, I end up back where I started…

I’ll end this post with a mission that I set out to complete in Guangzhou: the search of two famous local eateries in the Xiguan area. Needless to say, wonton noodles are one of the most popular street foods in Guangzhou, and Wucaiji (left) is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that locals know and love. I had heard about Wucaiji a while back and decided to finally look for it, and it took me a bit of time because it was literally located in a secluded alley and easily missed unless you looked closely. At Wucaiji I got their classic wonton noodle (top right) with wontons made the traditional way with pork only and without shrimp (according to my dad). It was a warm day (24+ degrees) and the soup was hot but so flavourful. I was sweating as I was eatiing – luckily I also ordered a bottle of cold soy milk – but I enjoyed it so much even with sweat dripping down my face. The simplest things are the best! After the noodles, I headed for a dessert shop 15 minutes away called “Nanxin”, which specializes in double skin milk pudding (bottom right). It may look plain and ordinary but it was spoonful after spoonful of sweet goodness with a custard-like texture. Delicious or as we say in Cantonese, “Ho sik!”

This is only the first of three posts in the Guangzhou mini-series in the grand “26 days in China” series – yes yes I’m showing obvious favouritism to my hometown, heh 😛 Part 2 is coming up and of course there is going to be a post dedicated to more amazing food!

Northern Ireland part 2: Spending time in Belfast

During my long weekend trip to Northern Ireland with my girlfriends, we stayed in Belfast as the base of our explorations. I did no research what-so-ever before I went and we were pretty much going around the city spontaneously, visiting whatever we could find. As a result, I didn’t actually get to see a lot of the main “attractions” or landmarks of Belfast (though my friends did as they arrived several hours before I did), but we did have a blast doing exactly what we intended – spontaneous exploration 😉

On Saturday morning we headed to St. George’s Market, and it was there that I encountered the almighty CAVE HILL BELFAST BAP. Yup – take your entire breakfast and stuff it between two buns and you’ve got a beast of a sandwich. It’s got an egg, bacon, sausages, and a hashbrown – it was supposed to come with black pudding too, but we opted to leave it out. It was quite appropriately named as Cave Hill is a large hill near Belfast, and just look at that monster! Aside from trying a variety of food from the booths, the ladies and I wandered around and admired the handicraft of the many vendors in the market. I was so in love with the clay critters that were on display that I bought an entire set of eight of them – an elephant, a ladybug, a penguin, a pig, a sheep, a cow, a large snake, and a small snake – and now they sit in my living room ^_^

Public art was also aplenty in Belfast. Among the ones we saw was “Eco” by French artist Marc Didou, which stood in Queen’s University. According to a source, “The piece is made in response to the artist’s investigation of digital imaging techniques and represents the reflection of a head refracted in water and the sonic echo used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”. Other interesting ones include a huge political mural (a lady actually stopped to explain its history to us…but sadly I don’t remember what she said) and a Charizard on a heater in our hostel, which isn’t exactly “public” art, I suppose. It certainly seems fitting to have a fiery Pokemon on a heater during the cold winter days – at least it keeps the guests warm!

Among our group of girls were two who were flower enthusiasts, so we knew that a visit to the Botanic Gardens was in store. Again the rose garden reminded me of when the Little Prince saw the garden of 5000 roses, each one beautiful but untamed. We ended up spending quite a lot of time in the gardens!

Special attention goes to this beautiful feline, who was in no rush to enjoy the sun in Belfast that day. Badass cats will cause my demise one day. One sharp stare and this beauty has already stolen my heart.

On the final night of our stay at the hostel, four of us decided to play Monopoly, which ended up in all sorts of hilarity. Highlights included one girl who kept ending up in jail and me owning the Botanic Gardens so that the two flower enthusiasts kept landing on them and paying me a massive amount of rent (how convenient!) Still in the end, one of them won mercilessly, and even my Botanic Gardens weren’t able to save our “merged corporate” (consisting of the three losers). What fun!

 
And I will end with some group photos taken with the girls, many of whom have already left. How I loved to see each one of their beautiful smiles! Our memories definitely extend beyond this Belfast trip, and maybe someday in some corner of the world we will reunite as a group again! Next entry: Giant’s Causeway tour!

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