Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: london

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…

From high places

Rainy season has arrived! I was told that Belgium gets very rainy right around the beginning of winter, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. Alas, it rained last weekend, so my plan to head to Maastricht had to be halted…indefinitely.

Still, I have another three weeks left in Belgium. I hadn’t done as much travelling this time as I would have liked, mainly because PhD life is catching on. Usually I feel so tired during weekends that I’d rather catch two extra hours of sleep instead of getting up early to catch a train. It doesn’t help that the skies are grey most of the time; all motivation is lost when the sun is hiding from me.

Yet, I am enjoying this life of being a busy student, being lost in research and just resting at home during weekends like normal people do. I suppose I can’t expect to travel every single weekend for the remainder of my PhD, especially not towards third year. I still have no idea how I did Berlin, London, and Liege, and Lille all in one month before. Even I found it a bit crazy.

So, what will I blog about? You ask. Well, if you’ve been following at all, you’ve probably noticed that I like taking pictures of cities from high places when possible, such as hills, towers, or top of cathedrals. I’ve assembled a collection of “pictures from above” from my various travel destinations, including some from years before, just to see how they compare. Of course you’ve seen some of these in previous posts, mais peu importe.

I’ve wanted to write a blog on this topic for a long time, and here’s my chance. In alphabetical order, let’s fly!

Barcelona (read about it)

On my last day in Barcelona, I visited Montjuïc hill alone, after the early departure of my companion LS. If there is one romantic place in Barcelona, it was Montjuïc. It was a shame he never got to see the view of Barcelona from atop the hill; he would have loved it.

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One year – then, now, and favourites

It’s been one year since I arrived in France.

It’s been one year since I started this blog.

It’s been one year since I stepped into this exciting stage in my life.

It’s really been one year. Wow.

I want to make this a comprehensive and representative post of the past year, in Bordeaux, in Louvain-la-Neuve, and really, just Europe in general (minus the one month back in Canada).

What changed since I first stepped foot into Bordeaux? What didn’t change? Let’s try chart form.

As another school year has just begun (yup, second year thesis student now!) I thought I’d take a memory trip back and list some “favourites” of the year in photos. This will definitely be a fun entry to write and also to look back on in the future!

Favourite place in Bordeaux

Place de la Bourse at night, by the Miroir d’Eau

Without a doubt, it is the Miroir d’Eau, or Water Mirror by the riverside. I like to take strolls at night after dinner and somehow I often end up here to chill or just watch the reflection of Place de la Bourse in the water while waiting for the mist to come out every 15 minutes. When it is not too cold, I love to take off my shoes and dip my feet into the water, sometimes having water fights with my buddies who come along. It’s one of those places that makes you feel like you’re truly in France, carefree and relaxed.

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London Bridge is falling down!

The London entry is way overdue. I’ve been so tired lately at the lab trying to finish off some experiments before I head back to France, that all I want to do when I get home is lay there immobilized. I have been slightly worried about the progress of my work, but there is really no point in worrying about it at this point. I have a little more than a week here, so I’ll do what I can. After all, I will be coming back, eventually.

So, London. This is the second city that I visited without anything prejudgments or expectations, the first being Berlin. I anticipated grandeur and romance in Paris, peace and modesty in Bruges, simplicity and mystery in Luxembourg. Indeed, nothing ever turns out exactly as expected. When you set your expectations low, you may be pleasantly surprised by hidden gems – great! However, when you set your expectations too high (either due to public hype or a typical image that has been implanted in your head for way too long), there is often disappointment, the best example being Paris, for me.

Of course, because I had friends in both Berlin and London to show me around, I saved the time of researching where to go when I got there. As a result, I had absolutely no idea what to look forward to before I arrived, which was a good thing because it rid my mind of certain points of bias, and everything was a surprise.

I took the Eurostar from Brussels to London, my third experience with high-speed trains after TGV and Thalys. Getting into the UK was a hassle, even as a Canadian with a French residence permit. I thought it qualified me as a “EU citizen”, but I was sadly mistaken when the border patrol asked me to fill out a form on the side and re-enter the line up. The entire process of passport and security checks is longer and more thorough than if I were at an airport. However, I did get my passport stamped, the first time it’s happened, in fact, after my first stamp in Iceland when I entered Europe for the first time last September.

I’ll be honest and say I liked London, for the most part. A lot of it reminded me of Hong Kong, but it really should be the other way around. It is not surprising that Hong Kong is very similar to London in many aspects, seeing how it was under British rule for almost a century. It is also interesting to note that London is the first city I’ve been in (I can’t remember if South Bend was one) where absolutely everything was in English. Even in Canada you have English AND French everywhere. I grabbed a bottle of ketchup in London, looked at the label, and saw nothing but English. Grand.

Well, let’s go on with the photos and I’ll explain some details of the trip as we go on. More pics on Facebook.

My friend and I headed here as soon as I got off the train at 9pm, because of course she knew I loved city night views. No, this is not London Bridge. It is the Tower Bridge of London, something straight out of a fairy tale. Walking on it during the night gave me a feeling of being truly in a story book, where princes and princesses live in castles, happily ever after. I guess that’s what the whole royal wedding thing is trying to portray, though I never understood what was the big deal…

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