Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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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.

From high places, part 6

Why hello there! I think the time has come to add another post to the “From high places” series, which showcases views of cities and towns from high vantage points such as towers, hills, and airplanes. Let’s see how many more I’ve managed to collect since the last post!

Amsterdam

 
I fly with KLM quite a bit and so I often have connecting flights in Amsterdam, which means that I get to see Amsterdam from the air from different perspectives as the plane takes off or lands (if I get a window seat, and I often do). Here are a few of them.

Beijing (read about it)

When I went to Beijing 13 years ago, I saw the Forbidden City from a hill in Jingshan Park, took a picture of it, and lost the photo. Then last year, when I went back to Beijing in December, I decided that I’d have to go back to Jingshan Park and retake that photo – and I did! Magnificent history right in front of my eyes!

Bilbao

 
Bilbao certainly had its fair share of hills and as a result offers many wonderful viewpoints of the city. The first three photos (featuring the famous Guggenheim Museum in the second photo) were taken on Mount Artxanda (reached by funicular) and the last one from Parque Etxebarria at the top of the Mallona stairs.

Conwy

Conwy has arguably the most majestic castle of all the castles I’ve seen, and the view from the top of the town walls was amazing. Seas, hills, castle – seems like Conwy has everything needed for a medieval tale!

Edinburgh

I’ve written about Edinburgh before and shown the view from the top of Arthur’s Seat, but there are plenty of other fine viewpoints around this hilly Scottish capital. On the way to Calton Hill, stop to appreciate the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat on the opposite side and the city below!

Falkirk (read about it)

I visited Falkirk on a rainy day, mainly to see the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel, on which this photo was taken. If you look for the carefully, the Kelpies can be seen in the far distance on the right side of this photo.

Falkland

Not to be confused with Falkirk, Falkland was the starting point of the hike up the East Lomond Hill. I had to stop many times to take a break and catch my breath but the view over Falkland was certainly a welcomed treat!

Glasgow

Even though I live in Glasgow, I may be a little ashamed to say that I don’t know many places to see the city from up high! Well, The Lighthouse is one such place, but I would be surprised if there weren’t more.

Holyhead (read about it)

After visiting South Stack, I decided to walk back to Holyhead along the coastal path, which was to take me around an hour an a half. I ended up taking approximately two hours because of a detour to the summit of the Holyhead mountain, one that I was glad I took because I was rewarded with this view!

Inverness

I only dropped by Inverness for a short while during a day tour of Loch Ness, but I had the chance to see Inverness Castle and see the city by the river from the castle, which was situated on a hill. I’d love to go back to Inverness if I still have the chance before I leave Scotland!

Mississauga

Mississauga was featured in the first part of the “From high places” series, but here is a different point of view – downtown Mississauga from the air right before landing at Toronto Pearson Airport. The slender and defining shapes of the Marilyn Monroe Towers would be recognizable from any distance, though unfortunately the photo turned out slightly blurry 😦

Oban

I’ve been to Oban three times within the past three years but it was only during my most recent visit (last week) that I finally went to the looming McCaig’s Tower that is visible from the town centre. The uphill walk offered some great views of the coastal town and the Inner Hebridean islands (not shown here)!

Stirling (read about it)

Stirling wasn’t a city that left a deep impression on me, but it was still worth exploring as a day trip from Glasgow. Here’s a view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument.

Warsaw (read about it)

 
Warsaw – ah, yes, Warsaw, as seem from the top of the Palace of Culture and Science. What amazing views from every angle! I was so mesmerized that I was sad to go. To make it even more spectacular, I was there right in the midst of a thunderstorm – how cool was that!

That’s all for part 6! Be right back as I continue to hunt for more high places… 😉

I got very sick in Newcastle

Newcastle has never been on my travel list, and I probably would never have visited if it weren’t for a training course that took place there in mid-February. I spent four days in Newcastle, the majority of the time in a classroom but with some time to spare after the course ended every evening. But what’d you know…I was ridiculously ill with the flu the entire time I was there – what a bummer! As a result I didn’t enjoy my time as much as I would have if I were perfectly healthy. To my lack of enthusiasm, noted by my colleague, I could only say that I got sick IN Newcastle but I wasn’t sick OF Newcastle, trust me.

I knew nothing about Newcastle before the visit apart from hearing that it’s got the best parties and nightlife in the UK, something that I wasn’t all that interested in, healthy or sick. With the colleague who attended the course with me, I did some exploration of the city in the time that I wasn’t coughing my lungs out…

Getting off the train and walking toward the hotel, I passed by the Newcastle Castle, a rather imposing structure that is difficult to miss. Yes, there is actually a castle in Newcastle and not just in its name! So if this is an old castle…does it mean that it is the Old Newcastle Castle?!

Searching for “Newcastle” on the Internet would inevitably lead you to information about the “vampire rabbit”, which I went on a slight detour to find. The vampire rabbit was perched on top of a beautiful door right next to St Nicholas Cathedral, seemingly observing every move of the passersby oblivious of its existence.

From the train station to the hotel, there is a street on a downward slope where there is a row of buildings that look like pretty little doll houses.

The Newcastle harbour is rather similar to the Glasgow harbour and there are several buildings/structures that look alike. First is the Sage Gateshead, which is a concert hall located on the south side of the River Tyne and is said to look like an armadillo. Hmm…doesn’t it remind you of the SECC in Glasgow?

Back to the harbour at night, here’s a view of the Sage lit up. I gotta say that here it looks better than the SECC, which is lit only in a single colour at night. It’s so much more interesting with more colours!

And not far from the Sage, we find the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which…coincidentally looks very much like the Millennium Bridge in Glasgow? One would wonder if there is some unknown connection between the two cities.

The Millennium Bridge in daylight, not as interesting as it is during the night. Our hotel was a two-minute walk from the harbour but a half-hour walk from the University of Newcastle, where our training course took place.

Near our hotel is a sculpture of a…giant peach?! Actually I don’t know what it is, but from a distance it sort of looks like a giant peach to me. Maybe James and his little (giant?) buddies live there…

In the city centre of Newcastle stood the Goldsmiths building, reminiscent of the exterior of a royal theatre.

Back at the Newcastle Castle when night has fallen, we stood in front of the “Black Gate”, which was lit with a haunting aura of mystery. I wonder what stories hide behind these doors…

Finally, here’s an anti-Trump protest that we happened to come across while walking through the city centre.

I really had hoped that I would have gotten better from my flu earlier on in the week so that I could at least enjoy some more time outside, but my flu got WORSE even after I returned to Glasgow and persisted for another week. What’s more, on my last day in Newcastle, there was a giant thunderstorm that delayed every bus and train by hours…ugh. Despite all of this, there were some nice sights and fun encounters to be had in Newcastle, but I’m sure glad to be back in Glasgow and illness-free! Now for the delayed Scottish rain season to arrive…

26 days in China, part 8 – Hong Kong

The final stop of the 26-day China trip was Hong Kong, perhaps the most prosperous city that I had ever been to. I must have mentioned before that I have a love-hate relationship with Hong Kong – love because of its friendly people, convenience and efficiency, and diverse cultural scenes; hate because of its “I’m not part of China” mentality (Taiwan has grounds to say that, but not you HK). But I’m not here to talk politics. With two days in Hong Kong, I wanted to discover parts of Hong Kong that I had not yet seen in my previous visits, and indeed my explorations brought me quite a few surprises…

Most people go to Victoria Peak to get the best view of Hong Kong, and I had thought of going there (I don’t even remember if I had ever been during any of my past trips to Hong Kong), until I discovered the sightseeing elevator in a “guide to secret places in Hong Kong”. From the 17th floor the glass elevator takes you all the way up to the 56th floor amidst all of the other tall buildings in the Wan Chai area – what an experience!! Here you aren’t just looking AT skyscrapers from a distance – you ARE part of the densely packed skyscrapers and you just feel like you are soaring and excelling through them. It was so fascinating that I made the journey twice, along with a family with several kids who did the same, heh. Oh, did I mention it was free? 😉

During the day I travelled through the Central-Mid-Levels Elevator, an elevator system designed to transport commuters uphill or downhill in the Central area on Hong Kong Island. At 800 m it is the longest outdoor covered elevator system in the world. A lot of elevators on this trip, huh. The elevator has breaks at various points along the route at different neighbourhoods around the area where I was able to stop and explore. Hong Kong really is the city of skyscrapers, no doubt about that. On the left is a church banner that says: “Jesus says – my peace I give you.” The one in the back says: “Do not be anxious about anything. Be joyful in the Lord.”

Final destination Hong Kong meant that I got to see the last group of Bordeaux friends, Ting and Sharon. Had a nice time catching up with the ladies over afternoon tea and our conversations made me realize how tough and hectic life in Hong Kong could be. Take care my dear ladies!

The thing I enjoyed the most this time in Hong Kong was travelling across Hong Kong Island on the old trams, also known commonly as the “ding ding trams” because of the sound they make. It was a cheap and convenient way of sightseeing when you’re not in a rush, and not being in a rush is very important because the trams are rather slow, shaky, and often crowded. As I was staying in a hostel on Hong Kong Island, the tram stop was two steps away and I found myself using it often not only to get to my next destination but also to immerse myself in the everyday life of the city. In fact, the trams were a nice contrast to the running pace of the crowds in the subway during rush hour.

One evening, I managed to get a front seat on the top level of the tram and saw Hong Kong Island from the driver’s eyes. Passing by lit up streets, people crossing the road to get home, and trams coming the other way, life never felt more ordinary. It was then that I played the role of philosopher and began to think about the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? But then, who knows? Who really NEEDS to know?

Philosophy aside, I managed to make a trip to Stanley, an area to the south of Hong Kong Island that is known for its expat communities. Hong Kong is a wonderful place to travel to, but it’s easy to get weary from the extremely fast pace of the city. On new year’s eve, I hopped on a mini-bus from Causeway Bay, one of the busiest areas of Hong Kong, and within 20 minutes arrived at Stanley, a touristy but much quieter place to enjoy my evening. The ambience of the entire place made me feel relaxed and I almost thought I wasn’t in Hong Kong anymore. Combined with a gorgeous sunset and magnificent night views, it was a perfect end to my 2016.

This time around I also wanted to explore some of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After finding out that Dragon’s Back in the Shek O area (southwestern region of Hong Kong island) is a popular hiking route, I decided to hike it on new year’s day, and my local friend May – with whom I spent the first day of the year in 2016 as well – offered to accompany me! I gotta say, the views from the top of Dragon’s Back were amazing!

Oh yes, it was windy! You could clearly tell from my flying hair in this photo with May, heh. The climb was quite easy, and the best part was the two of us catching up on things that’s happened within the one year that we haven’t seen each other. May would be the last friend I saw before leaving Hong Kong and returning to Glasgow the next day, but I will see her again very soon, during the summer in the UK, where the travels will continue!

After the descent from Dragon’s Back, we ventured into Shek O village, which was a short ride away. There I passed by a house with some nice decorations hanging above the front gate, including Santa who seemed to be having a jolly time parachuting. Christmas may be over, but Santa is always welcome any time, anywhere!

Hopewell Centre, Central-Mid-Levels elevator, Stanley, Shek O – all new places for me, not too bad for two days, huh! I know Hong Kong is full of interesting places and I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg, but that’s what happens when I spend no more than 3 days there every time. Oh well. At least since Hong Kong is so close to my hometown I’m sure I’ll come back again 😉

26 days in China, part 6.2 – Guangzhou (continued)

Though I planned my China trip so that I’d spend most of my time in my hometown, “most of” still only meant ten days, which was rather short. The happiest part of my segment in Guangzhou was spending time with family and friends, hearing the soothing sound of Cantonese, and feeling like I was part of the city again!

In the last post there was a group photo of my relatives on my mom’s side of the family, and this time it’s one of my dad’s side, only without my dad being present. Some of them came all the way from Hong Kong to be with us for Christmas!

In Guangzhou I also got to meet up with my very good friend, LS. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see each other often but I love this girl so much and am still indebted to all that she’s done for me in France. Here we are at Shamian Island (again for me) as I got to be the guide of my own city ^_^

Of course we had to meet up with the Lam family again before we went our separate ways, so it was like another mini Bordeaux fellowship reunion after the one we had in Hangzhou and Huzhou. It’s amazing how the friends I met in France all those years ago are now scattered all over the world, yet we still have these rare opportunities to meet and reconnect, all by the grace of God. Take care, my friends – I will see you again in Zhuhai or Xi’an or Lanzhou or Malaysia or…wherever you guys happen to be next time I decide to find you guys!

One phenomenon that has been very widespread in China in recent years is that of “square dancing”. Nope, not the western-style square dancing. “Square” here refers to any public open space where people could gather and dance to very catchy music with a good beat. Apparently this is especially popular with middle-aged women, and it’s more like a form of socializing or physical exercise. I gotta say…I almost couldn’t resist joining because it looked like so much fun! Watching the people dance and enjoying the music has become my guilty pleasure and it is my secret wish to join them one day…if it is still popular when I’m 40?!

On a perfect sunny day, I revisited Sun Yat-Sen (known to use as Sun Zhongshan) Memorial Hall, a tourist attraction in Guangzhou. I wanted to go back to Sun Yat-Sen’s statue because I remember a foolish thing I did as a child. Pointing to the statue, I ignorantly asked my aunt, “WHAT is this thing?” The funny thing was that I didn’t even ask “who” it was…I literally asked “WHAT” it is, as if Mr. Sun was a “thing”. My aunt didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry, and when I told LS this story, she jokingly said that I’ve committed the crime of disrespect to our “Father of the Nation”. I’m sorry, Mr. Sun…please forgive my stupidity as a child!

Guangzhou’s subway tends to get quite crowded, and Chinese people will know what I mean when I say “people mountain people sea” (a literal translation of the Chinese expression meaning “extremely crowded”). Squashed into a corner on a subway, I saw a woman carrying this bag with the words “Jesus Loves You” in English and Chinese. I didn’t manage to visit any churches in Guangzhou this time around, but I’ll make it a goal to do that next time I go home 🙂

Here I am with two of my favourite people in the entire world – my beautiful mom and my aunt Yaya, who was almost like my nanny/caretaker for many years when I was young. Every time I go back to Guangzhou, Yaya is the one I look forward the most to seeing. As for my mom, spending 26 days with her (more like 20 because actually some of the days were without her) was a luxury especially now that I’m living away from home again. Back in Glasgow all by myself, I’m missing her all over again 😦

I also miss some good ol’ shrimp dumplings (ha gow) that are arguably the most classic Cantonese dim sum. These are sexy, irresistible ha gows right there – large and translucent with the perfect shrimp-to-skin balance. The shrimp was bouncy and the texture of the skin was on point!! One of the most beautiful creations of mankind ever… ❤

And I end the Guangzhou posts…with tea. Ah yes, good tea with good conversation – that’s livin’ the Cantonese lifestyle. Another cup is always welcome!

Side note: My Welsh pastor once asked me, “Are you Canadian, Chinese, or a strange mix of the two?” I had to smile and commend him because there’s really no better way to describe me than “a strange mix of the two”. This trip back to Guangzhou, though, made me feel slightly more Chinese. Perhaps nostalgia kicked in harder than it ever did before when I went back, and perhaps the familial ties, which are such an important Chinese value, are also pulling my ever so subtly. You know…if I were to return to this city of my roots, I think I could get used to living here, but still, the notion that I’m considered a “foreigner” instills in me so much uncertainty…

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