Annie Bananie en Europe

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Northern Ireland part 3: Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the Dark Hedges

One does not simply visit Belfast without stopping by Giant’s Causeway. In fact I’ll say that my primary motivation for going to Northern Ireland in the first place was to see Giant’s Causeway, all the better with a group of friends. We embarked on a day tour that brought us to the long-awaited Giant’s Causeway, among other attractions nearby including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the Dark Hedges.

Made up of tens of thousands of basalt columns, Giant’s Causeway lies on the northeastern coast of Northern Ireland and is by far the most famous attraction of the region. Let me just say this: Giant’s Causeway was impressive!! I’ve seen plenty of photos of Giant’s Causeway, but this is one of those places whose magic must be experienced in person – photos do not even begin to describe how cool it is! As my friends and I joined a tour group to get there, we only had an hour and a half to spend at the causeway, including the time it took for the bus to get from the entrance to the actual causeway (or a 25-minute walk each way). I could easily have spent a whole day there and if I ever revisit, I wouldn’t mind just sitting on one of those columns and staring out into the vast sea and at the crashing waves all day…!

The formation and arrangement of the basalt columns were simply spectacular, and we were amazed at how they were able to form in such organized patterns. The entire place was such an inspiration and a wonderful work of art by Mother Nature. Of course, lovely places such as this get so much attention from travellers that you’d expect many others to go and admire its greatness, but that didn’t undermine the coolness of it all. Definitely worth going to Northern Ireland just to see Giant’s Causeway!

The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was another stop on the day tour, linking the mainland to a tiny island called Carrickarede. From photos I’ve seen prior to the trip, I thought that the rope bridge would be super long, super shaky, and super scary to cross, but I was wrong! The photos deceived all of us and when we got there, we realized that the rope bridge was in fact quite short, and it took perhaps 10 seconds to cross. Boo, a little disappointing! However, the views on the way to and on the island were quite amazing. The waters beneath the surrounding cliffs were so crystal clear and green, and I even saw a huge cave that reminded me of the Grotto in Tobermory in Canada!

Along the way we stopped by several other places such as Carrickfergus Castle and the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, but one that would probably interest many Game of Thrones fans (and one of my friends was such a fan) would be the Dark Hedges, which was apparently a filming location for GoT. I have never watched or been interested in GoT, so for me the Dark Hedges was just another cool place to be. And it was indeed pretty cool – I could see how a fantasy series would use such a place as one of its settings. The beech-lined avenue resembled the majestic entrance to a mystic land, perhaps hiding some secrets within the trees themselves and goading visitors to reach beyond the end of the road. I felt bad for the cars that were actually trying to get through though – it was certainly quite tough with all the people stopping there to take photos!

As with the previous two parts of the Northern Ireland series (read Part 1 about Bangor and Part 2 about Belfast), I end with some photos of my lovely companions, without whom the trip would have been so much less colourful. Northern Ireland was beautiful, but so were you girls! โค

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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. Itโ€™s got an egg, bacon, sausages, and a hashbrown โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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!

Northern Ireland part 1: An afternoon in Bangor

In July, I went to Northern Ireland for a long weekend getaway with a group of girls from my church. Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is a mere 45-minute flight away from Glasgow. The accessibility made it a perfect destination for a group outing, and off we went to spend some quality ladies’ time!

The base of our explorations was of course Belfast, but we also joined a day trip that took us to the famous Giant’s Causeway as well as some other points of interest, including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges, which will be another story for another post. This post is actually about the seaside resort town of Bangor, where we decided to spend one afternoon since it was a convenient half-hour ride by train from Belfast. We didn’t even need to make it a day trip – several hours was all that we needed!

Like many other seaside towns I’ve been to (Cherbourg, Oban, and Tobermory, just to name a few), boats were lined along the harbour of Bangor. Rows of colourful houses adorned the harbourfront, just like those in Tobermory ๐Ÿ™‚

There was a path along the seaside and we all followed it and took a gentle stroll. The scenery was beautiful and I could understand why people would come to Bangor for the holidays or maybe even retire here!

You might think these are mountains and hills photographed from a faraway place but they are actually bumps along the seaside trail that are covered in green moss!!

If you’ve been reading my blog then you’d know that I love murals. There were several large murals near the harbourfront, but this one of a cafe would have to be my favourite. Pretty realistic, if you ask me. I wonder if an actual cafe used to be here…

In total, including me, 7 people went on this trip. These are some of my adorable companions. At that point, I’ve known most of them for a little less than a year, and this was the second time we all travelled together, the first time being the trip to the Isle of Skye. Most of them are leaving soon though so it makes me quite sad to have to send them off one by one. But that is precisely why we needed these group outings – to create memories that last! I absolutely love these girls โค

The best part of our little side trip to Bangor would probably be the carnival that was taking place in the main square. Yes, yes, I know I’m almost 30, but in the midst of a fun fair, who wouldn’t be tempted to go on some rides? Though what I had REALLY wanted to ride since a long time ago was the merry-go-round, the girls and I decided to do bumper cars and the swinging-spinning thing (whatever you call it) instead. ‘Round and around and around and around we go…till we were dizzy! It was actually a lot higher and scarier than I had expected and I think we all felt like we were little girls again.

As for bumper cars, it was a bit disappointing that we were only allowed to go one way, but driving into other people and being bumped into were tons of fun nevertheless!

Let’s end with a group photo of all of us having ice cream before we left. I was the only one who had it in a cup instead of a waffle cone and I kind of regretted it, though the others told me that mine was a smart decision as ice cream dripping wouldn’t have been a problem. This will become a rare memory frozen in time because from here on, it will be so difficult for all of us to be together again, but I truly cherished these great moments shared with each and every one of you. Please take care, and see you later!

Life at the MiMe research lab

I’ve been part of the Microenvironments for Medicine Research Group (MiMe for short) for 20 months, so it’s really about time I write a post about my awesome lab, the place I spend a majority of my time nowadays. Research, science, experiments, papers, seminars – these comprise my professional life, but work can be fun too, especially when you’re around a group of people who know how to enjoy the fun bits of everyday life ๐Ÿ˜‰

To begin, here’s a pictorial description of what we do in the lab. Obviously cells also need to exercise, party (drink a martini or two), eat their veggies, and dwell in a comfortable environment in order to become strong, healthy tissue! (By the way, that is a bone cell, not a snowman ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Sometimes the lab could be a dangerous place to work, and that is why everyone needs to put on their thinking caps (90% common sense and 10% consideration for others) before entering. Let’s all be safe and happy when we do science!

Living and working in Glasgow means that we endure lots of rain, as you probably know. Someone very considerate came up with a remedy that would be helpful in cases of emergency…if only you use a bit of your imagination!

Here at MiMe, not only do we investigate some of life’s most profound questions, but we also hide Scotland’s national treasure…Nessie. Shh…don’t tell anyone that Nessie prefers hanging out with us. Maybe that’s why no one’s been able to find her at Loch Ness all these years, because she’s with us! (Whoever drew this spelt “Nessie” incorrectly…but it was a nice attempt ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Someone wanted to say hi…and gently remind everyone in the lab to work hard ๐Ÿ™‚

I think the most amusing and amazing thing that I’ve found around the lab so far was the home/hand-made Christmas “tree” that was standing at the corner of the lab entrance. How creative! I had no idea who was involved in the construction of the tree and when the tree was constructed, but all I could say was, GOOD JOB GUYS. I was thoroughly impressed by the amount of talent in the group!

But of course the tree had to die after a few weeks and we were forced to say goodbye to it ๐Ÿ˜ฆ This also signified the end of the holiday season – back to work we go!

Spin-coating could be a monotonous procedure, especially when you have to go through hundreds of samples. That’s why the spin-coating hood has truly become a creativity outlet for many people. One of my favourite creations is this crossword puzzle of the names of the members of MiMe (though some new people have joined since this was made). Of course the author of this remains a mystery…unless someone bravely accepts credit?!

And here is a group photo of a lab event, finally! We love science but we love food even more, so we had our very own potluck a couple of months ago. Most of the group was here but unfortunately the boss wasn’t – I promise I didn’t pick this photo on purpose because he wasn’t in it! What a bunch of lovely people ๐Ÿ˜€

Around last Easter, we were visited by the mysterious lab Easter Bunny who showered us each with a Kinder Surprise! I actually got a roll of mini measuring tape, which should be quite practical, but I never found a good use for it. Still many thanks, Easter Bunny!

We also have some very thought-provoking discussions in the lab during downtime, including a very informative session on the discovery of gravitational waves. I didn’t understand it very well…so a colleague drew a diagram, albeit a VERY simplified one. I’m not sure if I could explain gravitational waves now by looking at this drawing, but at some point several months ago, this made perfect sense, believe me!

There is an appropriately labelled container in one of the labs – approach this area carefully! I would not trust anything that comes out of this container…

And finally, if anyone wants to support MiMe Research financially, here is our order list. On it are several items that we currently don’t have…such as a lab technician ๐Ÿ˜ฆ We will be more than grateful! Oh, more whisky is also very welcome anytime…

Cottage time in Barryโ€™s Bay and Algonquin Park

October is a magical time in Toronto because the fall season brings with it the art of transforming foliage, which covers the city and surrounding areas with vibrant colours. Iโ€™ve known this for almost the past two decades, but only began to truly appreciate the beauty of Canadian autumns last year. I thought it would be the perfect time to take a trip back to Toronto during mid-October this year, right in time for the Thanksgiving long weekend, and head north to Barryโ€™s Bay in the Algonquin Park area with my family for a short cottage trip.

In the 19 years since Iโ€™ve immigrated to Canada, I had never been to Algonquin Provincial Park, which is a 3.5-hour drive from Toronto. It might have been past the summer cottaging season, but mid-October was definitely a popular time for Canadians to enjoy a final cottage break before winter kicks in, especially in the north where the autumn foliage colours were already in bloom. I wonโ€™t include too many words for this post โ€“ the photos speak for themselves.

Aside from canoeing on Carson Lake, exploring Algonquin Park, and relaxing at the cottage in Barryโ€™s Bay, the trip included a hike in Madawaska Valley, a beautiful surprise and a rare time when all family members hiked together (mainly because I insisted). The colours of the autumn foliage were at their best in mid-October, which was exactly why I went back to Canada and headed up north with my family. The vivid orange and red leaves are lovely complements to my even more lovely parents and sister, arenโ€™t they ๐Ÿ˜‰

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