Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: hiking

Sunset over Loch Lomond, from the summit of Conic Hill

Time seems to pause as the silent waters of Loch Lomond wave good night to the golden globe that left us behind. Conic Hill is the only hill that I’ve walked every year since coming to Scotland, and the views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding hills and mountains continue to amaze me with every climb. The hills may be alive, but at this moment, even they seem to be getting ready to rest. I am going to miss this place when I’m gone.

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 😉

Spring begins at Spectacle E’e Falls

The arrival of the Scottish spring means that it’s finally time to go out and walk that list of trails that I’ve accumulated over the months! Last year, I began my venture into the Scottish landscape by visiting Kinnoull Hill near Perth, falling in love with the lush rolling hills in the unspoiled countryside. Now, with the sun brilliantly shining for such an unusually long time (2+ week!) it was almost a crime not to catch it before it leaves again. The target this time isn’t a big mountain and not even a small hill, but a circular trail hidden in the outskirts of an unnoticed town not too far from Glasgow – Strathaven. The destination is clear – Spectacle E’e Falls, a set of waterfalls along the Avon Water. Funny name, but there’s a story behind it that I will tell you about later on.

On Saturday morning, two of my buddies headed to Strathaven with me in couldn’t-be-better weather. To get to Strathaven, we had to take the train to Hamilton, a nearby town, and take a bus to Strathaven. It almost felt like a field trip, with food in our backpacks and the excitement of adventure in our hearts. Looks at the clouds! They were so spectacular that day as we headed away from Strathaven into the surrounding countryside in search of the waterfalls.

The sky did become slightly dark for a bit during our walk but at no moment did we think it was going to rain. I led us forward using a guide from WalkHighlands, a godsend for hiking enthusiasts who don’t want to get lost in the middle of nowhere. Despite having all the instructions with me, we missed a crucial part of the walk – a stile, whose definition I had to look up – and consequently did the walk backwards. No big deal though, we still knew where we were going most of the time…just that we had to reverse the directions!

My friends had quite a heated debate on whether these are ducks or geese. I don’t actually remember the conclusion of the debate but I think…they are geese?!

Before reaching the Spectacle E’e Falls, I told my friends to withhold their expectations because I had no idea how impressive these falls were supposed to be, nevermind not knowing what they thought would be “impressive”. Along the way, as we were looking for the main waterfall, we passed by a few small cascades that we THOUGHT were the actual falls, being quite disappointed several times. But when we reached the real Spectacle E’e Falls, there was no question that this was the real thing – the viewing deck gives it away! The drop and volume were quite large and rather exceeded my expectations, especially after seeing those deceiving little cascades. And here you could literally stand right next to the falls on slippery rocks – if not careful you might even fall into the water!

As a part of my “Food & the Scotland Hikes” photo series, I had to snap this one – Spectacle E’e Falls with my snack of the day, a strawberry (out of many). This might be my favourite photo of the series so far because the contrast between the strawberry and the waterfall is so striking, and what can I say – waterfalls are beautiful and so are strawberries!

Finally a photo of me and my companions of the day! (I am the one on the right 😛 ) Time to test our selfie skills as we had to stand in a small area on the slippery rocks that I had mentioned earlier, very close to the waterfall. In the midst of finding the best picture angle, we had to make sure none of us slipped, which was easier said than done! I had intended to do this walk on my own but these guys joined me when they found out that I was planning to sneak out during the weekend…oops! I didn’t mind them coming along – if I REALLY wanted to go somewhere alone, no one could convince me to tag along, ha! Such a fun day out with them 😉

Another view of the Spectacle E’e Falls, and I suppose I should finally explain the name, which allegedly came from a local tale. It was said that a young lad fell in love with the daughter of the owner of a mill nearby, but the father did not approve of the relationship and ended it. As revenge, the lad put his eyeglasses on the mill so that when the sun rays struck them, they caught on fire and destroyed the mill. Interesting story, and as someone who appreciates waterfalls immensely, I loved that the falls had history behind it.

After snapping a million photos at the waterfall, we continued on the path going back to Strathaven. And we had to hurry because we were hungry! The narrow trails along the Avon Water were quite lovely though. What an enjoyable walk!

I was actually quite glad that this walk turned out to be more relaxing and not as strenuous as some of the hills that I’ve hiked (even though none of the ones I’ve conquered so far were really THAT strenuous). At least there wasn’t any ascent and we were able to just enjoy the day as it was, almost like an afternoon stroll.

Behind us, an old man and his dog were fishing along the river, and I took this chance to practise taking some photos with my new 70-300 mm lens for Mr.Nikon. Ah, yes, I hadn’t mentioned this. This gentleman became a generous model for my trials of the day, but I definitely still need to get the hang of this lens with more shooting opportunities.

Eventually we reached an area of vast grassland without any defined trail or path, which was expected according to the guide (that I had to read backwards). A flock of sheep were chilling in the open grass and as if alerted, immediately turned away from us and began retreating as we approached. We joked around by quoting John 10:10, saying that our friend YX was the thief that came to take the sheep away. After all, the sheep know the voice of their shepherd, no?

Another selfie was warranted to showcase how blessed we were to have the weather on our side XD We didn’t have the “selfie master” with us that day, but with the combined power of three people who usually never take selfies, we did pretty well…I think? 😉

Toward the end of the trail, as we were leaving the flock of sheep, we met these three chatty fellows who I assumed were locals around the area. One of them insisted taking a photo of our group of three along with his two buddies, and we were only glad to oblige. Of course I had to do the same, so I took a photo of their group of three along with my two buddies. Heh, it’s always the cherry on top of the cake to meet some locals on a walk. This certainly reminded me of Mr. Andy Sharp in Callander and Chris in Perth 😉

At the end of a long hike (and it was long because we spent about 40 minutes wandering in a wrong direction), all we wanted was LOTS OF FOOD! A restaurant was serving all-day breakfast and as soon as we saw the menu I thought…I’m down! And this was no ordinary breakfast – this was the EXTRA LARGE breakfast. Two eggs, two lorne sausages, two slices of bacon, beans, grilled mushrooms, slices of toast, hashbrown, pancake, tattie scone…what an indulgent Scottish breakfast for lunch!

So spring began with a blast at Spectacle E’e Falls and Strathaven, accompanied by my lovely companions, who were almost like my little brother and sister. We’re already anticipating the next outing together – where would that be?

Highlights of my first trip to Southeast Asia

Happy new year! The first post of 2016 will be a summary of the highlights of my trip to Southeast Asia during the Christmas holidays. Yes, after having had the inexplicable urge to visit Southeast Asia – especially Cambodia and Vietnam – I finally went to both countries! So it became the final trip of 2015 and the first of 2016, with new year’s eve spent on an overnight train somewhere in northern Vietnam. What an experience!

The 14-day trip started in Cambodia, where my friend and I went from Siem Reap (Angkor area) to Vietnam, where we travelled to the cities of Hoi An, Hue, and Hanoi, ventured into the mountainous villages of Sapa, and spent a night on a cruise in Halong Bay. Here are just a few highlights from the too many precious memories that could be elaborated in one post.

33-degree heat wave in Cambodia

When I was preparing for the trip, I failed to realize that while the weather could be too cold, it could also be TOO HOT. I certainly packed plenty of clothing for the expected wet and wintery weather in northern Vietnam, but neglected that in Cambodia, it was going to be 33 degrees Celsius. Ouch. Imagine walking through ancient temples through the scorching heat for a whole day – I was burnt to a crisp! Still, wandering in the Angkor temple complex and soaking in all that vitamin D that I had been deprived of in Glasgow was certainly the first highlight and a warm beginning of the long trip!

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The hills are alive…at Bracklinn Falls and Callander Crags!

Now that the days are getting shorter after daylight savings time has come into effect, day hikes seem to require a bit more strategic planning. First of all, I pretty much can’t stay on a hill past 4 in the afternoon unless I am prepared to wander in the dark. Second, it got cold really fast within the past two weeks. If I even manage to get myself out of bed early on a Saturday, then I’d better make sure that wherever I go, the day is not wasted because of poor planning on my part.

Keeping this in mind, I went on my first hike after returning to Scotland from Canada. The Callander Crags hasn’t been on my list of places to go, but it caught my attention after I found out how easy (relatively) it was to access with public transportation from Glasgow. I would of course combine the trip with a visit to Bracklinn Falls, which was a convenient detour (in fact I first went to the falls, then up the crags). And I love love LOVE waterfalls, so there was no excuse not to go.

One problem was that it was forecasted to rain in Callander on Saturday, at least in the morning anyway. I had to make sure that I arrived in Callander just after it stopped raining, but not too late so that I wouldn’t be able to finish the entire hike before it got dark. I seriously contemplated cancelling the plan because rain in general was the biggest turn-off any trip, but I went for it anyway, fully anticipating slipper slopes and muddy tracks. Stupidity or adventure? You decide.

From Callander to Bracklinn Falls

As I was taking the bus from Stirling to Callander, it was raining mildly (I was praying hard that it would stop raining when I started hiking). I had my rain gear ready, knowing that it wouldn’t be a dry hike, but hoped that by the time I began walking, I didn’t have to deal with an umbrella when going uphill. On the other hand, with the rain, I did anticipate the waterfalls more than I initially did, as I speculated that a rainy morning would add a lot of volume to a waterfall. I got to Callander just before noon, which meant that I had around 4 hours to cover both Bracklinn Falls and the crags if I wanted to be back before it got too dark. From Callander, I followed a marked path uphill to the starting point of the Bracklinn Falls circuit and began the search for the waterfall.

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