Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: autumn

Norway in a Nutshell, part 3 – Oslo, the capital of Norway

Though Oslo isn’t officially part of the Norway-in-a-Nutshell itinerary (read about part 1 and part 2), it was one of the endpoints and served as the base of my short exploration of Norway. I had actually considered going to Oslo during my earliest solo travel adventures, when I was staying in Belgium. But after finding out that Oslo Rygge Airport (with unbelievably cheap Ryanair flights from Belgium) was >60 km from Oslo itself, I gave up the thought of a weekend trip to Norway. (I ended up going to Luxembourg instead, a much more feasible choice from Belgium.) Alas, the trip to Oslo finally happened 6.5 years after its earliest inception – better late than never, right!

With all the gorgeous natural sites that Norway has to offer, I think Oslo is often overlooked as an interesting city to visit. I felt similar when I was reading reviews about Warsaw, the capital of Poland which is skipped by many who preferred to visit Krakow instead. Well, turns out that I really liked Warsaw, so this once again proved that online comments are to be taken with a grain of salt 😛 Time to head out and see what Oslo is really all about! (The trip was three years ago so I have to recall a lot of the locations from vague memory…!)

It was mid-October and thus mid-autumn when I arrived in Oslo. The changing foliage transformed Oslo into a golden city, certainly a different type of beauty compared to the quintessential fjords and valleys of Norway, but no less impressive and spectacular.

City exploration here and there. These photos were taken around the Akershus Festning (Fortress), located right by the waterfront in the city centre.

Encounters by the waterfront included a seagull and a sculpture of a nude lady. And this would be the first of the many more sculptures that I’d see in Oslo.

Seems like Oslo loves its nude sculptures and here’s another one in the city center, right in front of the City Hall. In fact, there is a huge park dedicated to sculptures of nude humans arranged in all sorts of bizarre, twisted positions. It was so peculiar that I have decided to dedicate an entire post to it…coming soon!

Let’s return to the autumn displays, shall we. Somehow this post has turned out to be more of an appreciation of autumn colours than a tour of Oslo itself, and I don’t mind that. The trip itself did not focus so much on landmarks and tourist attractions and was more like a leisurely walk in the park.

I guess it is fitting that I arrived in Europe for the first time in the autumn and now I will leave it behind in the same season. Oslo, being the final new city I visit before I end my days of long-term residence in Europe (as I had mentioned in the first Norway post), will remain in my mind as that place that, with the most beautiful golden season, bid me farewell on behalf of Europe.

I’ve always liked seeing cities in the evening, and the Opera House in Oslo offered a wonderful view of the harbour. If there’s a colour that’d remind me of Oslo other than gold, it’d be blue – deep, dark blue that represents the seas and skies against a harbour that is lit up in the evening.

Another view of the waterfront from the Opera House, with the “Gule Sider” building on the right (I’m guessing it’s the “Gule Sider” from searching Google Maps and images).

I said at the beginning of the post that Oslo is overlooked as a travel destination but I was glad to have stayed and explored for a couple of days. Not as glamorous as say, Prague or Paris or Budapest or Rome, but there was a certain sense of comfort and freshness wandering around in a city that wasn’t just full of touristy landmarks. With this, my short trip to Norway came to an end, as did my days in Europe… 😦

Norway in a Nutshell, part 1 – From Oslo to Bergen

The final trip and new European destination before I left Glasgow and long-term residential status in Europe in 2017 was to Norway. Well that was a mouthful. Basically, I had to leave after my three-year term was up in Glasgow, but not before a final adventure, mostly solo. I had planned a weeklong trip, 4 days in Norway and 3 in Bordeaux, where I’d be visiting old friends and meeting new ones (one who ended up being my husband, just had to mentioned that 😛 )

The trip was made more pleasant by two things, first one being free flights from KLM! I had reward miles accumulated from previous trips with KLM and so I utilized them to the fullest and got free tickets from Oslo to Bordeaux and Bordeaux to Glasgow (only had to pay for the Glasgow to Oslo leg). Very much appreciated that, thank you KLM!

The second pleasant thing was the “Norway in a Nutshell” (NIAN) tour package, which I guess could be considered as the “beginner’s guide to Norway” package that is officially advertised in Norway. I didn’t book the tour through the official web site though, but I did book every leg of the exact itinerary, separately by myself (NIAN-DIY, as they say on the Internet). It was completely doable and by doing this, I saved quite a lot of money even though it was a bit more hassle, but the trip was exactly the same as if I had booked through the agency 😉 The description of the NIAN tour is as follows:

The Norway in a nutshell® tour takes you through some of Norway’s most beautiful fjord scenery. You will experience the scenic Bergen Railway, the breathtaking Flåm Railway, the Aurlandsfjord, the narrow and dramatic UNESCO-protected Nærøyfjord and a bus trip through the beautiful scenery of Western Norway. From May – September, the bus trip includes the steep hairpin curves of Stalheimskleiva.

Sounds intriguing? Yes it was, and it was every bit as beautiful as it sounded, even as a solo traveler. Let me give you a brief guided NIAN tour right here, in two posts.

As I had limited time, I followed the classic route with no add-ons or options (also because Norway was super expensive…) The first leg was a train trip from Oslo, the capital of Norway, to the city of Bergen. It was mid-October so I did expect snow eventually, but not before coming across some beautiful scenery along the way.

Such amazing colours! Sometimes I unrealistically dream of living in one of those small red houses surrounded by hills and valleys and lakes. The trees in the backdrops are like keys on a xylophone that give off the most melodic sounds, even when they can’t be more silent.

Gradually the scenery began to change and colours were replaced by pale white, though still beautiful nonetheless! There seemed to be many lone houses dotted here and there, literally in the middle of nowhere.

And some parts reminded me of the Scottish highlands, which I adore and can’t get enough of. This photo reminded me of the area around Glencoe in Scotland.

Here here we arrive in Bergen, after something like a 6-hour train ride from Oslo! This is the view from my hotel room. I’d be staying in Bergen for one night only before making the return to Oslo the next day, seeing the famous fjords by boat and taking the train on the Flam railway along the way.

I arrived in Bergen at around 3 in the afternoon and knew that it’d be getting dark rather early. I wasted no time exploring Bergen with the few hours of daylight left, passing by some public art along the way. I strolled around the city and wandered toward the the harbour, which was lined with quaint, colourful houses. Of course, my main destination was Fløyen, where I’d see Bergen from a high place, preferably after it got dark.

I took the Fløibanen funicular, which took me to the top of Fløyen (a hill in Bergen) in a few minutes. It was late afternoon but the sky was still bright, so I took a quick detour from the lookout point and arrived at a lake (I believe Lake Skomakerdiket) hidden behind a forested area. Late autumn is the most spectacular season, wouldn’t you agree!

Back at the lookout point at Fløyen, it was still not completely dark, but the view of Bergen was fantastic as expected. A thick layer of mist covered the mountains in the distance in a shroud of mystery.

Not wanting to get back to the city too late, I descended by funicular and wandered around a bit more before grabbing a simple meal and resting for the night. I stumbled upon a well-lit area of wooden housing but there was not a soul to be seen or felt, so I wondered if I had by mistake trespassed into a private residential area. “Baklommen” seemed to be a bar though. Maybe I was there too early and the nigh life hasn’t even begun…

Final look at Bergen with its brilliance reflected in the harbour. You could even see the lights of the Fløyen funicular leading to the top of the hill behind the houses. It was a short stay, but a lovely one nonetheless.

Vancouver in three photos

The third and final stop of my three-part trip in November 2017 was Vancouver. Here is Vancouver in three photos.

The only (relatively) rain-free day out of my three days in Vancouver was a perfect one for a stroll around Stanley Park. It seemed like I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

A gorgeous bird perched atop a tree in Stanley Park, observing passersby as they walk/run/cycle by obliviously. Hello, beauty. What’s your name?

Final glimpse of autumn foliage in a residential neighbourhood – it almost looked as if it was raining flames.

The falling leaves drift by my window

Autumn came and went like the wind this year in Glasgow and we seem to be already in the midst of winter in mid-November. If I thought that last year’s autumn colours were gorgeous, then I must say that they pale in comparison to this year’s. Maybe it’s because the weather had been unusually mild this year and we surprisingly haven’t gotten so much rain. Maybe it’s because I finally discovered how majestic that tree looks outside my office window. Maybe…Lady Autumn decided to grace us with her presence more sophisticatedly than she did in previous years. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Kelvingrove Park is a 10-minute walk from my walk and my office but I tend to overlook its proximity and hence don’t go there often. During the summer, it is a great place to have a picnic or a barbecue, and when autumn comes and the colours change, an afternoon stroll on a rainless day is quite relaxing. I’m glad I took a walk when autumn was at its best – two weeks later the branches would have all turned bald!

Of course, my workplace, the University of Glasgow, is itself the perfect place to observe the changes in season. Every corner is full of magic and I sometimes really do think I work at Hogwarts. The Main Building, especially its tower, at the centre of the campus likes to take the spotlight and appears in many photos of the university that I’ve taken. Already an impressive structure that I have the luxury of passing by every day, it looks even more exquisite in the midst of the orange, red, and yellow leaves. Now, only about a week after I’ve taken photos, autumn is no more, and we are left preparing for the onset of the delayed rainy season…

(By the way, the title of this post is the opening line of the beautifully classic song, “Autumn Leaves”. A few months ago I stumbled upon an instrumental “cover” of this song and fell in love with it – here it is to share with everyone!)

Somewhere that was only mine

The word “hometown” elicits complicated feelings in me because my true “hometown” is not a home. “Born in China and grew up in Canada” – that’s what I always tell people when they ask me where I’m “from”. While it is true that I still have extended family in my hometown Guangzhou, the place where I am most comfortable, the place where I feel the most sense of belonging, the one place I truly call home will always be Toronto.

Growing up in a city made me take the familiarity – or what I thought was familiarity – for granted. The same streets, the same buses, the same buildings – nothing ever seemed to change, except for me. It wasn’t until I went home after having spent three and a half years in Europe did I realize for the first time that I was so out of touch with my own home. Familiarity became the most unfamiliar part of my world.

During an 8-month period of idleness and unemployment, I decided to take full advantage of being in Toronto and to become a tourist in my own city, something I had wanted to experiment with for a while. It was then that a whole new Toronto began to unravel. Beyond the impression that Toronto has given the world as a booming metropolis and an urban centre, I ventured out of the heart of the city into its veins, to those little-known places that are so local and so authentic that perhaps only few are aware of them. I observed the city as it thrived, noticing the ever-changing colours of its ephemeral seasons and the sound of footsteps as people scurried through subway stations to and from their workplaces, day by day.

In the midst of it all, I fell in love with Toronto’s greenspace, almost to the point of obsession. I was fascinated to discover that there are parks, hiking trails, conservation areas scattered all around the city, and where were they but tucked behind the concrete highways and avenues? I really had to make an effort to find them, whether I had to drive to a secluded parking lot, take the bus and get off at a seemingly random stop, or just trust my instincts and follow a narrow path on the side of the road leading to an expanse of nature in the middle of nowhere. The sense of adventure was like looking for a treasure in your own basement – it’s got to be there, and the search is the most exciting part!

Pond in the middle of Moccasin Trail Park, Toronto, October 2014

Crothers Woods, David Balfour Park, Wilket Creek – these are just some of the places to consider if you’re looking for the perfect walk in Toronto, away from traffic and noise. And even Torontonians might not know about these places! Among the green areas that I had found, my favourite would have to be Moccasin Trail Park, right next to the Don Valley Parkway, one of the busiest and most important highways in Toronto. Most daily commuters on the DVP would probably have noticed large expanses of green areas on both sides of the highway, but few have ventured away from the main lanes and into the tree-covered parks and gardens. That was exactly what I set out to do.

Autumn was in full swing and it was the perfect time to see the exceptionally colourful foliage that Canada is known for. My walk into the woods of Moccasin Trail Park became a coveted date between my camera and me, a treasured one since it would be one of the last opportunities I had to capture Toronto through the lens before I left again. It brought me a supreme sense of serenity, especially since I was the only one there on that mid-October afternoon. Amidst the slow stroll on my way to the Rainbow Tunnel, I discovered an inconspicuous pond right in the middle of the woods, hidden from sight unless you went slightly off-road. I could still hear the sound of cars passing on the highway because as I had mentioned before, the park was right next to the DVP, but this place was like an urban oasis. The pond itself was a pristine mirror reflecting the beauty of the surrounding nature, one that I was surprised to find in the middle of the city. So calm, so eerily peaceful, so out-of-this world was the atmosphere that I marvelled at every colour and every sign of life. And at that moment, the park, the trails, the very spot where I captured the photo – they somehow became a special place within the city I thought I knew so well, somewhere that was only mine.

Perhaps I only felt this way because in my heart I knew I would leave Toronto again and wanted to cherish every unique secret that I found out about it. And I did leave, only to await coming back to the familiarity that would always welcome me. Perhaps the next time I walk the path of Moccasin Trail Park into my secret place, the leaves would have fallen, the pond would have dried up, and picture-perfect would have become a distant memory. Even though the park will still be there, I don’t expect to be ever able to duplicate the experience or reproduce the photo. And I won’t try, because one image is enough to remind me of the special feelings that only one moment could ever give me.

(I recently discovered a small camera that was released back in October from Light Co. It has the potential to be a good travel camera, combining 16 lenses into one about the size of a smartphone to keep it convenient without losing the quality. Check it out 😉 )

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