Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: france

Beautiful things: Gates and doors

There are many things I like to take photos of: clouds, reflections, and cityscapes at night, to name a few. Gates and doors are not the most popular or common subjects to photograph, but while sifting through the photos I’ve taken over the years, I realized that I’ve encountered a number of them that impressed me or are simply beautiful. I’ve gathered a small collection of these gates and doors here for your enjoyment.

Perhaps my favourite of them all are these aged but colourful gates all aligned outside the imperial palace in Hue, Vietnam. This is certainly not what most people went to the palace to see but it somehow caught my attention. There were at least five arched doorways (maybe not even gates or doors themselves?) that were lined up in a row in such a way that it was very pleasing to the sight. Almost symmetrical, but not quite perfectly, which is where its beauty lies.

The second one is this gate somewhere in Basel, the first city that I visited in Switzerland. You can only see the outline of the gate itself but two things appealed to me: the elegant details of the curves on the gate and the vivid colours on the other side. The contrast between the dark silhouette and the bright exterior further accentuated the features of the gate, making it one of the most unique ones I’ve seen.

Onto one that took on a rather different style – a door covered with graffiti in Prague. The sprayed writings on the door made it look quite messy, and in fact the door couldn’t be any more ordinary. Ironically, that’s what made it special to me because it shows that the ordinary exists, even in a popular and acclaimed tourist destination like Prague.

Let’s stay in Prague for a bit and go to the Prague Castle, where two weapon-wielding giants guard one of its gates. The one on the left chose a bat as his weapon of choice while the one on the right had a sharp object, presumably a knife of some sort. Each giant was in action, arresting what seemed like tresspassers trying to bypass castle security. Don’t mess with the giants or you might end up under their feet like that…

This door-and-window combination, photographed in Saint-Émilion, couldn’t be simpler, but its exquisiteness lies in the details. The three pots of flower, the octagonal hole in which one of them was placed, the aged walls, the intricate but delicate patterns on the curtains inside, the cobblestone street…a perfectly serene picture.

And finally…here’s a creepy gate that leads to a cemetery, I presume. I had actually completely forgotten where I took this photo and had to dig through my harddrive to find out that it was in…Edinburgh! Looking through photos of this particular trip, I believe this was taken at the Greyfriars Kirkyard. Indeed Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in Europe and I visited it plenty of times when I was living in Glasgow. In addition to the many spectacular spots that most tourists would visit, Edinburgh certainly hides some secrets very well, like this one… 😉

What beautiful thing should I blog about next? Shadows? Clouds? Reflections? Hmm…

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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 😉

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!

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!

Skies, seas, and Cherbourg

I’ve been to Cherbourg in Normandy twice, each time was a three-day stay. Yet, I’ve never written about it. For a period of time, the circumstances under which I made these visits bore too much burden on my heart and my mind. After almost three years, I dug out these memories and looked back at those very peaceful days that I spent in Cherbourg, and there was nothing to regret.

Cherbourg is a port city at the tip of northwestern France, part of the department of Lower Normandy, where the sea seemed to be an indispensable part of the people’s lives in Cherbourg

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