Annie Bananie en Europe

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Honeymoon in Japan, part 6 – Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido

The final destination of our January honeymoon was Sapporo, the capital city of the northernmost island of Hokkaido (also prefecture) in Japan. We decided to stay three nights in Sapporo so that we’d have one full day to explore the city and another full day to do a ski trip at Teine (next post).

The fifth largest city in Japan, Sapporo is famous for its annual snow festival that takes place in February. Just as we missed the lights festival in Otaru, we missed the snow festival in Sapporo by only four days! Well, some parts of the festival were already ongoing but the ice sculptures weren’t open to the public till three days after our departure date. Bummer – just another reason to go back to Sapporo in the future 😉

I’ll start the post this time with photos from J’s morning run. Yep, no chance that we’d skip the ice and snow this time. It seemed like he ran along the Toyohira River and passed by the Sapporo city hall (orange-red building) and Nakajima Park, close to where we were staying.

After J returned from his run, we headed to the hotel restaurant for a buffet breakfast, which was included in the room rate. There was an abundant variety of breakfast items (eggs, salad, meat, buns, etc.) and beverages, which left us both full and satisfied!

We headed out after breakfast and wandered around Sapporo without a planned route. Well that’s not exactly true. I had a preliminary list of places that I wanted to visit, the main one being the top of Mount Moiwa (via cable car) for a panoramic night view of Sapporo. However, the cable car was suspended because of strong winds, so that had to be cancelled. Well then, let’s just be spontaneous and just go wherever our footsteps lead us!

By the time we had arrived in Sapporo, the COVID-19 outbreak had already gotten out of hand in Wuhan. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to get face masks after we got back to China, so we decided to buy some from Japan. In fact, a lot of drug stores in Japan had already sold out of face masks, and the few that had them in stock limited purchase to one to three packs per person. One store had a sign that said, “Hang in there, China! Hang in there, Wuhan!”

Let’s talk about food. When I visited Japan in 2018, one of the best meals I had was tonkatsu, which is deep-fried pork cutlets. Even I myself was surprised how such a simple thing could taste so good, and I decided that I must have tonkatsu again this time around. So for dinner on our day of arrival, J and I went to a restaurant specializing in tonkatsu (Matsunoya, which is apparently a chain). I ordered the pork loin and oyster set while J got the pork loin and mackerel set. Free refills of miso soup and rice were included in the price – score!! Oh, the food was oh-so-tasty!! Once again I am puzzled how Japanese people make plain pork taste so good????? The meat was so tender and juicy and the flavour just oozes out of every bite…one of us should have gotten the tenderloin to see if there was any difference. (I also order a cold tofu on the side because why not 😉 )

Another food quest was finding a good cheesecake as an afternoon snack, which happened on day 3 (day 2 was Teine). There was something inexplicably appealing about a smooth cheesecake and again, the one I had in 2018 in Osaka was unforgettable (ranked second in best cheesecake, after the Polish cheesecake in Glasgow). So J and I went around and finally decided to have coffee and cake at Tokumitsu Coffee, right next to Odori Park.

Between J and I, we got a slice of cheesecake, toasted baguette with ham and cheese, an iced coffee, and a hot coffee – supreme combination! As the cafe was on the second floor of a building, we got a lovely view of the city center and took our time relaxing, me writing in my journal and J putting together his own mini-summary of the trip so far.

Grand finale goes to…shabu shabu!! What could be better than hot pot in mid-winter in Hokkaido?? I had originally wanted to go to a restaurant named Zen, but when we arrived we were told that we needed reservations as the restaurant was full!! Noooooooo!! It was such disappointment as I was anticipating it for so long, but I guess it was just THAT popular – add that to the list of reasons to go back to Sapporo. So then we looked for another shabu shabu place and the second place we went to was also full. Our third try led us to a place called Hatake no Shabu Shabu, and thankfully they seated us immediately! The problem was…there was no English menu, like the yakitori place in Otaru, but thank goodness for Google Translate! We actually wanted to splurge and go for the wagyu beef menu but ended up getting the regular unlimited beef and pork set, which was still pretty amazing! The serve was also exceptional, making this a pleasant and memorable experience as a whole. Still I would definitely have to go back to Zen for the wagyu beef…I’ll be back, Sapporo!

Wandering the streets of Sapporo around the Susukino district in the evening, with a streetcar approaching. We found out later that Susukino was sort of the red light district of Sapporo…won’t post the ads that we saw on the sign, heh.

I didn’t include a photo of the Sapporo Clock Tower in this post, even though we visited it, but here is one of the clock tower as an ice sculpture. I think the ice version looked a lot cooler (NO PUN INTENDED, BELIEVE ME…) than the real thing 😉

Walking through Nakajima Park on our way back to the hotel, J and I were ready to say goodbye to Sapporo and Japan. I liked the vibe of Sapporo and the fact that it wasn’t super crowded for a large city. J also mentioned that we didn’t have Sapporo beer even once in Sapporo…what??? Well that’s reason #3 to go back.

So the conclusion is that I have three reasons for going back to Sapporo in the winter in the future: (1) we missed the snow festival, (2) we didn’t get to eat at Zen, which actually made me quite upset 😦 (though Hatake was a great alternative), and (3) we didn’t drink Sapporo beer. It still puzzles me how beer escaped my mind during the entire trip…

There is one more post in the official honeymoon series and that is about our ski day at Teine. There was a lot of excitement but also no shortage of crashing and falling involved…

Cologne part 1: Around the city

Hello, Germany! It’s been a whole 7 months since I’ve last seen you. How have you been?

Yup, leaving hectic lab work behind for a few days, I was on my way to Deutschland again. As I boarded the InterCity Express (ICE) train from Brussels to Cologne a few days ago, my heart was filled with the same excitement and anticipation that I felt when I travelled alone for the first time. I think that was Paris last year during Christmas, and much has changed, definitely, between the two trips.

With that said, the visit to Cologne was nothing short of eventful. In between getting lost for an hour before finding my hostel, meeting a friend studying in Essen, almost losing my bank card due to my own stupidity, pushing and shoving through more Christmas markets than I’ve ever been to, and overdosing on food that resulted in pimple surge, I had fun. In fact, I haven’t had this much fun in a long while!

The recount on Cologne will be split into two posts. This one will be a more general overview of the fabulous city while a special Christmas edition will follow shortly.

So why Cologne? Two very simple reasons: distance and price. From Brussels, it took less than two hours to get to Cologne with ICE, well within my acceptable range for a weekend train trip. And it wasn’t expensive; if booked ahead of time, you could get round-trip tickets for well under 50 Euros. Score.

Let’s start with a few brief facts about Cologne (Köln in German). The fourth largest city in Germany after Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, Cologne is traversed by the Rhine river. Within the city, seven bridges cross the river, and five of them are easily visible from the city center. As much as Hamburg is known for the hamburger, Cologne is known for well…Eau de Cologne, which originated, of course, in Cologne. What did you expect?

Time for some photo spam (full album here)!

Perhaps the most well-known landmark in Cologne is the Dom, or the cathedral. That might be because…oh, I don’t know, because it’s RIGHT outside the central train station? You simply don’t “miss” the Dom; the first thing you see upon taking the main exit of the station is literally this massive structure. And massive is by no means an understatement. According to Wikipedia, the Cologne Dom “[was] tallest building in the world from 1880 to 1884; [is the] largest Gothic church in Germany; [is the] tallest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world”. Certainly rather impressive.

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Don’t underestimate the German portions

Germany, the land that holds a prominent place in history…

Germany, the land of Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen…

Germany, the land of spargel, eisbein, currywurst, and beer…

The capital of Germany, Berlin, is a place where you wouldn’t want to rush through. A huge city similar to Toronto, one day would definitely be pushing it if I wanted to see all that Berlin has to offer, not to mention I’d get totally lost as it isn’t really a city where you could explore on foot, like Luxembourg or Bruges. Luckily I have a friend in Berlin who was able to show me around last weekend, not an easy task for a city filled with so much history!

What are spargel, eisbein, and currywurst? You’d have to read on to find out!

Even though the city has been reunited in 1989 following the fall of the Berlin Wall, we still referred to parts of the city as part of West Berlin or East Berlin. Perhaps it is still easier for locals to identify landmarks based on the location, and for most, the historical significance of the Berlin Wall is deeply engraved in their minds. After all, the fall of the wall only happened 22 years ago, quite the recent history!

This is a condensed collection of pictures taken in Berlin. For the full gallery, see Facebook. Mouseover the smaller photos for a description of each, and click for full version.

Day 1: West Berlin

The tour of the city of Berlin started on the west side, with my friend Tin and her boyfriend Robert as the friendly tour guides. Robert was born and raised in Berlin, so he was the perfect source of information about the city and German culture and history itself. Our first stop was at the Reichstag, a building housing the German parliament.

Inside the Reichstag Dome, a large glass dome on top of the Reichstag itself. Below the dome in the parliament, important decisions are made by government officials, and sometimes the parliament is open to the public during certain events. The dome itself houses a gallery of past photos depicting the history of the original Reichstag, its destruction, and its reconstruction over the years.

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Plunging back into work

Back in Bordeaux, we’re in our third work week of 2011. According to 680 News, yesterday (Monday) was the most depressing day of the year. I wasn’t all that depressed, but I certainly felt unusually tired for most of the day, to a point where I was almost sure that I’d fall asleep in the lab.

Work as a PhD student was starting to pick up slowly and surely before the winter holidays, but as soon as I returned to work from the break, stress and workload escalated exponentially. Before Christmas, I already felt the sense of impending doom as I planned the big experiments to perform in the new year. Then came two weeks of indulgence in festivities and now, that foreshadowed impending doom is manifesting. All of a sudden, I am not bored anymore. Tasks and responsibilities began to pour upon me like Niagara Falls, and for the first time in a very long time, I feel like I’m being productive, if that is even possible in France.

Since being busy means that I haven’t had much time to go around and take new photos (and in turn, update on time), I will be putting up some previously acquired photos for the next few weeks. Today’s set of photos were taken throughout the winter holidays, and incidentally, these were all taken by my cell phone. You’ll notice that a few of them are related to a Christmas gathering that was held at the Bordeaux Church on December 24th, 2010, of which I was one of the organizers along with my Christian fellowship. Click here for photos of the actual event.

Here’s a guy cutting up cheese at Auchan, the local mega-supermarket. THOSE WERE GIGANTIC HUNKS OF CHEESE! Greatly amusing. This reminds me that maybe I should resume the wine and cheese tasting, the regularity of which has declined since December.

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A fortnight before Christmas

It’s funny when I tell people here that I’m from Canada. They automatically assume two things.

ONE: You must know how to speak French! Why, yes I do. Or more precisely I tell them, “I can speak French, but I’m not fluent.” Then they all think I’m from Quebec, because how else would I know how to speak French and why else would I come to France? Then again, some folks here think all Canadians must be able to speak both English and French because our country is bilingual. I tell them that I am from the English speaking part of Canada and that a lot of people actually don’t speak French. In fact, Toronto is predominantly English and it is only because of our education system that some people are able to speak a little bit of French. Sorry for shattering your dreams, mes chers amis de France.

TWO: You must not be afraid of the cold! Well, there’s something I always believed – you could get used to something, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to it. The coldness of winter is an example. It was a good 15⁰C in Bordeaux last week (yes, above zero) but the temperature rapidly dropped to approximately 0⁰C since Thursday. Is it cold? Yes it is, though not nearly as cold as the -15⁰C in Toronto during the same time of the year…but it’s still COLD. I’m not gonna run outside with shorts and a T-shirt, but I do admit that the cold is a refreshing cold, not a piercing cold that penetrates your skin and burns your bones.

Then people ask how we live in such harsh winter conditions in Canada. I say, “I dunno, you just kind of get used to it.” Which is true. We still complain about the cold in Canada, but it’s a natural cycle of seasons that we’re unable to change, so all we can do is prepare for it. I’d been living comfortably in Toronto for 15 years and am still alive and happy, so thanks for worrying about my well-being, but we’re fine.

I promised more night photos, and the theme this week is…Christmas is coming! Actually, the only time I CAN go out to take pictures nowadays is during the night, since it is already dark by the time I get off work. So expect night scenes for the next couple of posts.

Place Gambetta prepares for Christmas with colourful lights. This place is connected to the Grand Théâtre and St. Catherine’s, and is also filled with people and full of life.

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