Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: bordeaux

Things I miss about France

There are days when I just miss France and Bordeaux. I had called the elegant Bordeaux “home” for three years, and everything that was so unfamiliar at first little by little became a part of my everyday life. From time to time (and now is one of those times) I think of the tidbits of my French life and begin to appreciate these beautiful things all over again!

Fête de la Musique

France is probably not the only country that has an annual music festival, where in every city and town, large and small, music comes to life all night on June 21, the summer solstice. I was fortunate to be part of the event in Bordeaux in 2011 and 2013, and all the way till way past midnight, music and dance in all forms invaded the streets. Alors, on danse! (Well, let’s dance!)

Gésiers, confit, and crème brulée

Ah, French food. If I were to piece together a perfect 3-course meal, it would begin with gésiers (duck gizzards) from Les Provinces (the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately) as an appetizer, confit de canard (duck confit) from La Table Bordelaise – they really have the best! – as the main course, and crème brulée from well…anywhere, as a dessert. My mouth is watering just thinking about this…

Bonus: I also crave the beef (with the oh-so-delicious special sauce) and the unlimited French fries at L’Entrecôte from time to time. Even though the queue to get into the restaurant is always at least 30 minutes long, it’s never stopped me!

Wine

How can you say you’ve lived in BORDEAUX without mentioning its wine? Alright, while I admit that I’m no wine connoisseur and still can’t tell the difference between one wine and another, it’s become a social and cultural thing that I gladly immersed in. A good meal (the abovementioned, for example) is just not complete without an aromatic glass of wine. Santé!

Coffee shops

Some days I like to go to a local coffee shop with a friend or two and have a quiet, relaxing chat for a whole afternoon. Some days I like to go by myself with a notebook and a pen, writing as it rains outside. My favourite spot is a little place called Les Mots Bleus, but there are so many unique coffee shops around the city that it suffices to just drop by any one and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with maybe a slice of cake.

TGV

The TGV (train à grande vitesse, or high-speed train) makes travel so convenient within France and to nearby countries. Three hours from Bordeaux to Paris (3.5 to CDG airport) and only two hours from Bordeaux to Toulouse – and the rides are always smooth and comfortable! Oh, being young with the youth discounts is an awesome deal in France – make sure you go before you turn 26 (28 in some cases)!

Life in France was once only a dream but one that came true and left behind its traces in the form of these things that I miss dearly. Oh France, what a beautiful country you are!

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The places I called home, part IV

Grad school opened the doors of Europe for me as my PhD program was a “co-tutelle” between Bordeaux, France, and Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, which meant that every few months, I had to move between the two cities and work in two different labs. If it weren’t for my choice to come do grad school in Europe, I would probably only ever be in France as a tourist and never as a resident, integrating into and loving the culture of a country that I’ve always wanted to visit. As for Belgium, who knew how many surprises it could hide? (Read Part I, Part II, and Part III of the series.)

Bordeaux – Le Port de la Lune

I was fortunate enough to live in Bordeaux for almost 2.5 years during my PhD studies, and what a blessing that was! The very first time I set foot in Bordeaux, a city known as the “Port of the Moon”, I only needed to use the word “elegant” to describe it. Till the moment I left three years later, it was still as elegant as ever and I would use no other word to describe this French beauty. The smell of the sweetest red wine in every corner of the city, the sound of the gliding trams on the tracks, the sight of the glamour that is the Grand Théâtre and Place de la Bourse, the taste of succulent magret de canard and irresistible canéle (duck breast and rum-based pastry, both specialties of Southwestern France), and the touch of the gentle breeze as you stroll along the Garonne on a late summer morning…Bordeaux is an experience that conquers your every sense, making you fall in love with it with every breath.

Many feelings are intertwined when I think about Bordeaux because of my life experiences. The mid-20s was for me a time when the search for identity formed an invisible mission, and Bordeaux became part of that search. My studies, my interactions with the people whom I met in Bordeaux, whether locals or overseas students, and my plans for the future all contributed toward the search and consequently are a part of who I am today. To me, Bordeaux is not just a beautiful city, but also a name that resonates with me just by its utterance. My heart still yearns to go back one of these days, this time as a visitor and perhaps never as a resident again. But thank you for what you’ve given me, Bordeaux, that gift of the memories that only you could ever bestow.

Louvain-la-Neuve – Learning to appreciate

And finally, we come to Louvain-la-Neuve (LLN), a university-city-that-isn’t-really-a-city that once made me feel trapped and miserable. I was there during different periods of my PhD studies, for up to three months each time I went. Compared to Bordeaux, LLN was small and boring and definitely NOT elegant. I had learned to cope with not being happy in LLN, until autumn came. And magic happened. Autumn in LLN truly transformed the place. Maybe my eyes just decided to open one day as I noticed the golden orange colours of the autumn foliages, and LLN was never the same again. Gradually I began to appreciate the little details of LLN and discover its hidden faces – the little shops with such delicate gifts (Zig Zag is my favourite), the murals that are some of the best I’ve ever seen (in addition to the ones I would discover later in Glasgow), the enjoyable walks around the lake and through the Bois de Lauzelle, the various small neighbourhoods, the cats that are everywhere, the crazy 24-H Velo events, the delicious sandwiches at Mie d’Oli, and the Brussels waffle. YES, LLN has the best Brussels waffles I’ve ever eaten – take that, Brussels!

Belgium itself is a wonder and before I went to LLN, I couldn’t even point it out on a map. I didn’t know that the country has three official languages (French, Flemish, and German) and that LLN split from the University of Leuven as a result of language differences. Most importantly, little did I know that its capital, Brussels, would become one of my favourite European cities, if not my all-time favourite. Just like that, my studies brought Belgium and LLN into my life and this place, which I still hesitate to call a “city”, has stolen a part of my heart. To quote myself from a post that I wrote almost four years ago: “…travelling has taught me that it is only with an open heart and mind that you can learn to appreciate your surroundings…if I’m going to be living in a city for a relatively long period of time, rather than complaining about how it sucks, why not look for things that make a city unique and beautiful, and enjoy it to the fullest?”

This post concludes the “Places I Called Home” series and more than three years after its conception, I’ve finally managed to write it! And what a journey down memory lane that was! Be sure to check out Part I (Guangzhou and Toronto), Part II (Waterloo and Glasgow), and Part III (Hsinchu and South Bend) for the entire story. Until next time, my friends!

Somewhere over the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow…the sun is hiding, perhaps. I am not kidding when I say that I haven’t seen the sun in almost three weeks. Well, it comes out once in a blue moon after the rain, but always for a very short period of time and always behind heavy, grey clouds. What I ought to say is that I have forgotten what blue sky looks like 😦 Oh Glasgow, must you do this to me?

I guess you win some and you lose some, or the other way around. If there is no rain, then who could experience and appreciate the beauty of the rainbow? Thinking of this made me realize that rainbows are one of my favourite things to photograph, though I obviously don’t have as many photos of rainbows as I would have liked since it depends a lot on timing. Still, here is a compilation of some of my favourite rainbow scenes captured throughout the past years.

I can’t stress enough my NEED to get a window seat when I travel on a plane. The only exception is when I have to make a connecting flight within a short period of time, in which case I would compromise and go for an aisle seat. Then I would miss views like this. It was raining as the plane took off from Glasgow last December, and without high expectations of seeing anything glorious, I looked outside the window, just in time to see the opposite of the expected – a semi-rainbow hanging from the sky. Perhaps then, I loved rain a little bit more, even if it were just for a split moment.

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An unnoticed treasure house in Bordeaux

A couple of weeks ago I was taking a leisurely stroll around downtown Bordeaux on a postcard hunt. I’ve developed an obsession for postcards and I wanted to find some interesting ones to collect as well as to send to friends. Anyway, this post isn’t about postcards. Rather, it’s about what I discovered during my walk.

The hunt REALLY began when I made a random turn into a narrow street nearby Place de la Bourse, which opened up an entire world of little shops intertwined in hidden alleyways and corners in the St.Pierre area of Bordeaux. It’s amazing (and a shame) that I never discovered these places before…! Away from your typical Ste.Catherine where all the big brands are, here near St.Pierre is where you’d find antique stores, card stores, book stores, music stores, accesories stores…scattered around like treasures to be dug. One of them in particular caught my attention…

Au Dénicheur, situated at 12 Rue de la Cour des Aides in Bordeaux (right next to the St.Pierre cathedral, tram stations Place de la Bourse on line C and Place du Palais on line A), looked like an old, shabby bar on the side of an inconspicuous street. The first time I passed by, I didn’t give it much thought, but something made me stop and turn back 5 seconds later. Maybe it was the sign with the neon lighting, maybe it was the aura of mystery…I don’t know. I peeked inside and decided to enter for a closer look…

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Wait, what do you mean…I finished my PhD?

Uh, so I finished my PhD.

…yeah.

How in the world did that happen? You mean, my three years in Europe are over? I am…a Dr. now? Somehow it all feels…surreal.

The part about spending three years in Europe, that is. The Dr. part feels way too normal, in the sense that nothing at all has changed and life continues as before. Just because I have a special “title” now, doesn’t mean anything is different. At least that’s what it feels like. Maybe the moments of epiphany haven’t arrived yet. Maybe it’s still too fresh and the reality hasn’t sunk in. Maybe…

But yes, just a little update, I defended my PhD thesis on Tuesday, December 10, 2013 in Bordeaux, France. Special mention goes to my dad who arrived in Bordeaux from Toronto, three days earlier! I’ve been waiting for this day pretty much since day one of my arrival in Europe, and it has happened. Way too fast. Let’s try to rewind and see how the day went down. There are way too many pictures and I only chose the super representative ones (and that already makes 25 in this post!) Thanks to my dear friend and sister in Christ, Peiguang Wei, for being my dedicated photographer (and make-up artist as well as hairdresser) for the entire day! Click here for the full album.

Now, let’s roll. (Follow my “Wait, what do you mean I’m doing a PhD?” journey by reading part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

The defense began with a 45-minute presentation of the work I’ve done within the past three years, on the thesis topic of “Biological Multi-Functionalization and Surface Nanopatterning of Biomaterials”. Don’t worry if it sounds like jibberish to you. Sometimes after three years I still don’t understand it and think it IS jibberish. The presentation is followed by a questioning period by a jury comittee that lasts typically an hour an a half. Oh boy. It was gonna be a tough battle, but a glorious one.

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