Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: city

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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Sunset from Mount Lycabettus

Sometimes a city doesn’t have to be super glamorous or impressive to earn a ★ on my travel checklist – perhaps a simple yet stunning sunset will do, and that was the case with Athens. It was a fulfilling week in the Greek capital with the annual European Society of Biomaterials conference, and certainly the most memorable part, aside from the conference itself and my amazing companion, was the sunset on Mount Lycabettus tonight, the highest point in Athens. I want to say that all sunsets are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. To expect clouds to add some more colours at this time of the year might be wishful thinking, but I gotta say – sorry Santorini, you have nothing on Lycabettus. It was a magical dusk, not a moment too late to marvel at God’s spectacular creations. The cradle of western civilization, the birthplace of philosophy, democracy, the Olympics, and more – good night, Athens.

Sunset from Mount Lycabettus, the highest point in Athens, on September 7, 2017.

Where is the Barber of Seville? (cont.)

I was in Seville for a day and a half and in the previous entry I only posted photos from the first day. Of course Seville is too beautiful to be condensed into only one post, so here is day 2 in a nutshell.

On the second day in Seville, I visited the Alcázar of Seville, the major attraction of the city aside from the cathedral and the Plaza de España. The Alcázar is a royal Moorish palace with nice architecture and some beautiful gardens. It is situated right in the old town beside the cathedral, but it took me a while to find the main entrance because I kept circling around the outer walls of the palace, according to Google Maps. Then when I found it, I felt so stupid as it was RIGHT THERE, with a long queue (~30 minutes) to get in! Afterwards I went to the Metropol Parasol, which is a massive wooden structure that resembles…waves? Trees? I dunno. I quite liked this contemporary style though, and was rather surprised to find it so close to the old town. I didn’t go to the top but I think I should have – will keep that in mind for future visits!

Obviously I had to have tapas in Spain, and this is only a small selection of what I tried over the two days. I have to especially mention the “Secreto Ibérico”, or the “Iberian Secret”, which is the hunk of meat on the potato slices. I actually didn’t have high hopes for this pork dish because its presentation paled in comparison to the others – merely meat on some potatoes. Even though I ordered a half portion, it was still so huge that I thought I wouldn’t finish it. WRONG. As soon as I took a first bite, I was awed at how juicy and flavourful the meat was…oh my it was delicious! You certainly don’t judge pork by first impression, and this got me really wondering…what IS the secret of Iberian pork?!?!

Oh, and some ice cream was also very appreciated in the scorching heat!

Where is the Barber of Seville?

In terms of country, I wouldn’t say that Spain is one of my top five favourite European destinations (*GASP*! HOW DARE I SAY THAT!) but I can definitely say that Seville is one of my favourite European cities and certainly my favourite Spanish city, out of the ones I’ve been to. Ever since I’ve played a part of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” overture in my highschool band, I had been curious about this place called Seville. It took five visits to Spain to finally get to Seville and oh boy, was it beautiful! Now, it’s time to look for the Barber of Seville…

Seville was so colourful, so classy, so chic, and overall an utterly amazing city filled with beauty and surprises in every corner. The quaint, quiet, and narrow streets that are so quintessential in Seville make it a fascinating maze to explore. And I’ve seen my fair share of similar towns and villages (for example, Cordoba and Toledo in Spain) but I have to say with all honesty…none of them quite compare to the extraordinary charm of Seville…

…well, except for maybe Venice. Actually one of my first thoughts upon arriving in the old town of Seville was, “It’s kind of like Venice…but maybe nicer (and without the water)!” Ha, I hope the Spanish aren’t offended that I’m comparing Seville to Venice!

Away from the hidden alleys, Seville reveals more of its charm with the magnificent cathedral, Plaza de España, the Alcázar of Seville, and so on. All of a sudden I felt like I entered some sort of glamorous royal kingdom where everything was bright and majestic and impressive. Still no sign of the Barber of Seville though…

Yes, summer in southern Spain means having to put up with extreme heat, sometimes going up to 40°C, but that didn’t matter! As my Spanish colleague has told me, people in Seville know how to keep themselves cool, which means that there is plenty of shade everywhere and water mist being sprayed from restaurants and shops as you pass by. As a result, the heat was actually not too unbearable!

I was unfortunately only in Seville for a day and a half but I would go back in a heartbeat. After all I still have to find the famous Barber of Seville!

From high places: Brussels and Toronto

As I was going through my posts in the “From high places” series, I was surprised to find that I neglected several recent visits to Brussels, one of my favourite cities (if not my favourite) in Europe.

That’s OK. Brussels deserves its own post anyway.

Come to think of it, I went back to Brussels in 2015, 2016 (short stopover), and 2017 (just last week) and each time discovered a new viewpoint. My favourite, notwithstanding the slight reflection of the glass window, would have to be the one from the restaurant at the top of the Musical Instruments Museum. From here, you can see the imposing and magnificent town hall in the Grand Place, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the far distance, which I believe is the fifth largest church structure in the world (official source). Lovely buildings – I like both of them very much.

In 2016, I finally got up to the viewing platform at the top of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History. Not as impressive as the previous view, but still quite nice.

And here’s the view on the other side of the viewing platform, facing east toward Merode station.

And last week, while visiting with my dad and sister, I discovered the garden and café on the fifth floor of the Royal Library. The view was similar to the one on top of the MiM, but I certainly wasn’t standing as high, and the view wasn’t as extensive. Regardless, the basilica still looks so grandiose, even if it was so far away.

After Brussels, I also found a photo of downtown Toronto that I took this year while visiting the University of Toronto with my sister, from the 11th (I think) floor of the OISE building. I was in a hurry because I wasn’t supposed to be in this room, and someone was entering as I was taking this photo…so I snapped and ran. Lots of reflection in the glass – oh well.

So the post wasn’t ALL about Brussels after all. Sorry, my beloved, but perhaps I love Toronto just as much.

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