Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

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Northern Ireland part 2: Spending time in Belfast

During my long weekend trip to Northern Ireland with my girlfriends, we stayed in Belfast as the base of our explorations. I did no research what-so-ever before I went and we were pretty much going around the city spontaneously, visiting whatever we could find. As a result, I didn’t actually get to see a lot of the main “attractions” or landmarks of Belfast (though my friends did as they arrived several hours before I did), but we did have a blast doing exactly what we intended – spontaneous exploration 😉

On Saturday morning we headed to St. George’s Market, and it was there that I encountered the almighty CAVE HILL BELFAST BAP. Yup – take your entire breakfast and stuff it between two buns and you’ve got a beast of a sandwich. It’s got an egg, bacon, sausages, and a hashbrown – it was supposed to come with black pudding too, but we opted to leave it out. It was quite appropriately named as Cave Hill is a large hill near Belfast, and just look at that monster! Aside from trying a variety of food from the booths, the ladies and I wandered around and admired the handicraft of the many vendors in the market. I was so in love with the clay critters that were on display that I bought an entire set of eight of them – an elephant, a ladybug, a penguin, a pig, a sheep, a cow, a large snake, and a small snake – and now they sit in my living room ^_^

Public art was also aplenty in Belfast. Among the ones we saw was “Eco” by French artist Marc Didou, which stood in Queen’s University. According to a source, “The piece is made in response to the artist’s investigation of digital imaging techniques and represents the reflection of a head refracted in water and the sonic echo used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)”. Other interesting ones include a huge political mural (a lady actually stopped to explain its history to us…but sadly I don’t remember what she said) and a Charizard on a heater in our hostel, which isn’t exactly “public” art, I suppose. It certainly seems fitting to have a fiery Pokemon on a heater during the cold winter days – at least it keeps the guests warm!

Among our group of girls were two who were flower enthusiasts, so we knew that a visit to the Botanic Gardens was in store. Again the rose garden reminded me of when the Little Prince saw the garden of 5000 roses, each one beautiful but untamed. We ended up spending quite a lot of time in the gardens!

Special attention goes to this beautiful feline, who was in no rush to enjoy the sun in Belfast that day. Badass cats will cause my demise one day. One sharp stare and this beauty has already stolen my heart.

On the final night of our stay at the hostel, four of us decided to play Monopoly, which ended up in all sorts of hilarity. Highlights included one girl who kept ending up in jail and me owning the Botanic Gardens so that the two flower enthusiasts kept landing on them and paying me a massive amount of rent (how convenient!) Still in the end, one of them won mercilessly, and even my Botanic Gardens weren’t able to save our “merged corporate” (consisting of the three losers). What fun!

 
And I will end with some group photos taken with the girls, many of whom have already left. How I loved to see each one of their beautiful smiles! Our memories definitely extend beyond this Belfast trip, and maybe someday in some corner of the world we will reunite as a group again! Next entry: Giant’s Causeway tour!

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London in a weekend

When I was living in Bordeaux, Paris was easily within reach. 3 hours by high-speed train and you’re there – and it would cost as low as 20€ one way! Even if I wasn’t able to get a hold of the cheap ticket, being a student and under 27, I was still entitled to reduced rates, so visiting Paris was like taking a stroll in the backyard. In the UK, the equivalent to Paris is obviously London. However, visiting London from Glasgow isn’t as straightforward. The most direct way – by train – isn’t necessarily the fastest, as it takes at least 4.5 hours to get to London. If I choose to fly, the flight itself is a little over an hour, but fussing with airports here and there would easily add another 2 or 3 hours to the trip. The biggest issue is cost. A one-way flight would set me back around 10£ (if I’m super lucky) to 25£ (approximately 13-33€), whereas the train…anywhere from 40-100£, as I don’t qualify for student discounts anymore.

So what I’m trying to say is (1) take advantage of being young and travel with your discounts and (2) it is not so easy getting to London 😦 As a result, London hasn’t really been “a stroll in the backyard”, and I didn’t get as many chances as I wanted to visit the British capital ever since settling down in Glasgow. The first “real” chance came two weeks ago, when I decided to spend a weekend in London and explore the city casually. I had done all the major tourist attractions 5 years ago and so this time around, all I wanted to do was wander, take the red double-deck buses to random places, people-watch, and hopefully like this metropolis more than I liked Paris 😛

The weekend was quite rainy but I had a stroke of good luck as the morning of my arrival was still relatively rain-free. My first destination was Hyde Park, which had a beautiful rose garden where I could sit down and enjoy the presence of flower, the sun (gasp), and people.

Summer? While the weather wasn’t very convincing, the flowers in the rose garden certain did scream, “Summer!” It happened to be the day where the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday was taking place at the nearby Buckingham Palace, and while I did pass by the huge crowds, I opted to spend my time more tranquilly rather than join in the festivities. I’m sorry, Queen. I respect you, but I think seeing your bright neon green hat for one split second was good enough for me. Please excuse me while I enjoy Hyde Park instead of going to your party 🙂

Located at Hyde Park Corner is the New Zealand War memorial, which was established to commemorate the loss of New Zealand’s lives during the two world wars.

The one place I really wanted to visit was what was known to me as “an area around Hyde Park”. I remember passing by on a bus and seeing some very interesting sculptures along one large avenue, and thinking…I must go and see them up close! I didn’t end up going to the actual avenue – and I WILL get there next time! – but I did see cool sculptures here and there. Sculptures, along with murals, are my favourite types of city-wide public art. I’m sure there are so many more to discover around London!

As I was supposed to pick up some friends from Euston station in the afternoon, I stopped by King’s Cross, which was right next to Euston. This is where Harry took the train to Hogwarts! Quite an impressive structure, inside and out.

While wandering around the King’s Cross area, I passed by this very colourful corner, which is located at Belgrove Street and Euston Road, and I liked it! It seems like London is full of surprises and awaits more exploration!

One of my missions during this stay was to take a trip to Lanka, a cake shop run by Japanese pastry chefs. This little place was recommended by a friend, and while it took a bit of travelling to reach as it wasn’t centrally located, it was definitely worth the trip! With my companion, we ordered a green tea panna cotta and a yuzu mousse. I think the panna cotta had the strongest green tea flavour I’ve ever tasted out of any green tea flavoured food – good stuff! The cakes were rich in texture but not overwhelmingly heavy, and the best thing was that they were not too sweet. Truly a perfect balance of taste, texture, and aesthetics! If we weren’t already full from having lots of snacks and street food before hand, we would have certainly ordered other ones :O

That was the end of the first day and the rest of the time was spent with some of my buddies catching up and wandering. As a result I didn’t take many photos on the second day. I will say, though, that while London is crowded, has terrible traffic, and is super expensive, I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I dislike Paris. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I quite like London, just like I did 5 years ago. For some reason London intrigues me more so than other huge cities, and I will gladly go back for a truly solo trip where I could get to know more of the city and its secrets. I’ll have to have another long weekend though, and hopefully score some plane/train tickets that won’t empty my wallet. Oh, and a train trip back to Glasgow that doesn’t experience a 5-hour delay (longer than the actual trip, which was only supposed to be 4.5 hours) would be nice, but that’s another tale for another day…

The four seasons of Glasgow

When people ask me what time of the year is Glasgow’s rainy season, I tell them that every season is a rainy season in Glasgow. At least that’s what it felt like during my one year as a resident of Glasgow.

Nevertheless, the city is still beautiful in every season, even though it sometimes seems as if summer doesn’t exist. Aside from the rain, which is a constant in every season, we do manage to see different colours at various times of the year – a green spring, a blue summer, a red autumn, and a white winter. If you mix everything, the overall impression might still be “gray”, and any rainless day is a cause for celebration 😉

Spring

Spring is the time of the year when life begins to revive after having been asleep for a few months. Blooming flowers are to be seen everywhere, painting Glasgow in vibrant colours and the hope of warmth. Ditch not your umbrellas and rain jackets, however! Rain is aplenty and will wash the city at any given moment, but a forecast of sun for five days in a row (!) reminds me that the toughest months of November to February are over. Weekends can now be spent outdoors, hah!!

Summer

Ah, summer. It is rarely warmer than 25 degrees Celsius in Glasgow, and I’ve heard that the Scots consider it a heat wave if the temperature rises above 24 – is that true, my Scottish friends? Daylight is abundant, and the first rays of sunshine through the window often wake me up at 4am while the sun does not set until 11pm. How awesome is that! Then again, it is easier to lose track of time during the summer – you think it’s only 7pm but all of a sudden it’s midnight. Wasn’t it still bright half an hour ago?!

Autumn

While autumn is my favourite season in Toronto, I’m not sure if I feel the same way in Glasgow. The temperature begins to drop, and the transition into winter is especially difficult to adapt to as gray skies and drizzling rain dominate the atmosphere. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The sun becomes especially scarce and precious during this period of time, and we really do learn to appreciate every moment of sunlight. We do have some gorgeous red leaves, though, which is a source of consolation and at least adds some colour to my walk to work.

Winter

As a Canadian, I’m raised to believe that winter is incomplete without snow. Luckily (for me, perhaps unluckily for others) that there had been snow during the two Glaswegian winters that I’ve experienced, and I definitely prefer snow over rain! When I heard from my friends and family that the temperature went down to -15 degrees Celsius in January, I was quite glad to have avoided the bone-chilling shivers and thankful to be here with this gentle snow. This year, it really “snowed” only on one day, but that was enough to get me quite excited! Although the snow only lasted one day and pretty much melted away by the next afternoon, I was satisfied to say that it was a REAL winter, hehe.

And now, it is the beginning of February. Yesterday was Groundhog Day but I think the groundhog in Glasgow would have been pretty pissed off when he emerged from his burrow to see another rainy day. I’m not sure if spring is coming soon, but I’m happy to see that the sky is gradually getting brighter when I step out of the office at 5:30pm. And today was an entirely sunny day! What a gift! 😀

The question is not “Do you see my shadow?” but “Where’s my umbrella?” 😦 😦 😦

Around Macau in 12 hours, part 1

Macau (or Macao, depending on preference) is one of the two special administrative regions of China, the other being Hong Kong. It is one of those places that is relatively close to Hong Kong, being only 70 minutes away by ferry. Yet, it never occurred to me to take a day trip to Macau when I stay in Hong Kong, until I met a friend in Glasgow who is a Macanese native, born and raised there. I had one day to spare in Hong Kong before I headed to Southeast Asia for the Christmas holidays, and not knowing what I would do in Hong Kong (again), I thought that it would finally be time for me to head over to Macau for a look. What’d you know, my friend was back in Macau for the holidays at the same time…eh! She gladly agreed to be my local guide – with a car! – and I was spared from having to look into the places that I would be able to visit in one day, hooray! So I hopped onto a ferry in the morning and sailed away from Hong Kong – off to Macau we go!

Once a Portuguese colony, Macau has preserved many cultural characteristics of Portugal, which can be seen by traits such as architecture and cuisine (and the fact that Portuguese remains as one of the official languages, in addition to Cantonese). However, if Macau is known for one thing internationally, it would be its gambling scene with revenues far exceeding those of Las Vegas – perhaps not surprisingly as it is so close to China, which is by far the largest source of its market. With only one day in Macau, I was only able to get a first taste of Macanese culture guided by my Macanese friend, and we were lucky enough to stumble across a few special events in light of the Christmas season. I certainly did visit at the perfect time!

Macau – the old and the new

One thing I noticed immediately about Macau – it was crowded! Though, somehow I felt like it was a different kind of “crowded” compared with Hong Kong, the kind that didn’t suffocate me (sorry Hong Kong). It was later that I realized that the region of Macau has the highest population density in the world (I actually read that somewhere before, but it didn’t occur to me when I was IN Macau) – WHAT! Certainly not quite expected for a small place but precisely because it is small and has a big population, the density is so high. It wasn’t so obvious when you walk through Taipa or Coloane in the far south, but when you head to the main attractions in the Macau Peninsula, such as the ruins of St. Paul’s, the crowds suddenly hit you and you’re easily lost in a sea of people.

Macau does have a new side and an old side, as apparent in its streets and façades. Understandably, the Portuguese colonization had a big influence on Macanese culture, and many remains of Portuguese rule can be seen in the European-style architecture in Macau. Additionally, the rise of the gambling scene in Macau contributed to its rapid modernization, with high-rise buildings and shiny exteriors. However, if you explore the region as a whole, you will see that there are signs of age and history – abandoned shipyards, tattered roofs, unseen alleys…

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The hills are alive…with the sound of a Scottish spring in Perth!

It’s my eighth month in Scotland and only recently have I begun exploring this land. What do you expect, it’s summer! Well, still spring when I visited Perth at the end of May, and summer seems to be over already as we’re back to gray and rain. Hopefully July and August will be better…?

So yes, Perth. The one in Scotland, that is, not the one in Australia (though I think Australian Perth was named after Scottish Perth). That weekend, I felt like going on a hike somewhere not too far away from Glasgow, with gentle hills and hopefully spring-like weather. I had a choice between Dumyat Hill near Stirling, and Kinnoull Hill near Perth, and I opted for the latter. The train ride was only about an hour, a quick runaway, and the weather happened to be gorgeous. I’d be a fool if I missed this chance!

On the train, as I passed by the mountains on the way to Perth, the song “The Hills Are Alive” from The Sound of Music began playing in my head. Yes, those hills ARE alive! Even a 10-minute ride from Glasgow brings you into the countryside and reveals and whole new side of Scotland, outside of its largest city. There were sheep – lots and lots of sheep. And of course random castles just popped up here and there, no big deal. I hadn’t even gotten to Perth yet, but the ride itself was half the enjoyment.

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