Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: mountain

Swallows, fairies, and a misty summit in Snowdonia

When I first heard the name Snowdonia, I thought it sounded like a place in Narnia or Harry Potter or some magical fictional location. Well I might have been right because I now do wonder if Snowdonia is the portal to a magical realm. Of course, this national park in the north of Wales is too big to be properly explored in two days, which was all I had. So as a lover of waterfalls, I went to see the Swallow Falls, and who could resist a place with a name like Fairy Glen Gorge? Finally I went to the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1085 metres. No, I didn’t walk it. I took the train on the Snowdon Mountain Railway as I simply wouldn’t have had the time to walk it. Yes, I took the train and I’m shameless to say it, even though one particular walker gave us a thumbs-down near the summit – well BITE ME πŸ˜€

As someone who loves waterfalls, there was no way that I’d NOT go see Swallow Falls when I was in Snowdonia. I love how the sound of the roaring water gets louder and louder the closer I get to the falls. As I watch the water flow so freely downstream I couldn’t help but ask…where does it come from, and where is it going?

As I hopped off the bus at the entrance to the Fairy Glen path, the bus driver remarked, “Off to see the fairies, are you?” I responded, “Yes, I’d hope so!” A short walk led me to a secluded gorge that could only be reached by walking down some steep, rocky steps, and you really couldn’t see the gorge until you walked down the final step. It was such a serene place, and again I loved hearing the water flow. I might have caught a glimpse of a fairy dancing here and there too…I wonder if the fairies here are related to the ones at the Fairy Glen on Skye in Scotland – cousins, maybe? πŸ˜‰

And Snowdon. Oh Snowdon. According to a survey, the best view in the UK is from the summit of Snowdon. I might have agreed…if I could have been able to see it! Moments ago the scene in front of me was completely covered by the white mist, but the monster wind was rather helpful with clearing the clouds, so I did get the periodic lucky breaks and saw parts of the view from time to time. Still, the mountains of Snowdonia looked like a realm of heaven from here.

Oh Wales, what other secrets do you hold?

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Incredible Iceland #2 – The Golden Circle

To illustrate why Iceland is my favourite place ever, this post is absolutely necessary. I loved Reykjavik already after one night of staying there, but I loved Iceland even more after immersing myself in the boundless realms of nature that it promised to offer. And it did not disappoint.

You see, when I planned my stay Iceland, I knew I wanted to see some nature. Maybe a lot of nature. A trip to such an exotic destination wouldn’t be complete without seeing its most defining features outside of the urban center – the waterfalls, the geysers, the national parks. I didn’t have a car to take me around the country, but that wasn’t an issue as there was a myriad of tour companies operating day-tours along the most popular tourist routes. One of the classic tours is the Golden Circle tour, a route that takes you around South Iceland and stops at several cultural and natural sites. The description seemed to suit me perfectly, and after signing up with one of the tours, I was on my way to see the other side of Iceland. And boy, that beauty…it was unfathomable.

We set out at around 8:30 in the morning, when the sky was still pitch black. The sun rises at around 10:30 in January, so that’d be another couple of hours before we’d see daylight πŸ˜› On the bus, I saw some dedicated runners doing their morning runs in the dark, an interesting sight as I had never experienced a morning that was still dark at 8:30 am. The bus took us out of Reykjavik onto the “Ring Road”, beginning our tour around the Golden Circle, passing by the “greenhouse town” of HveragerΓ°i. Yep, those rows of illuminated houses are indeed greenhouses, and they looked stunning in the dark, even from the bus, prompting a friend to say, “How can a greenhouse be this beautiful!”

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Incredible Iceland #1 – Reykjavik, the capital

Iceland is my most favourite place so far in Europe. There, I said it.

To me that’s a pretty bold statement and I had to contemplate a bit but yes, I decided to make the proclamation that Iceland has replaced Switzerland as my favourite European travel destination.

For a long time I couldn’t bring myself to blog about Iceland because I worry that no amount of elaborate descriptions or breathtaking photographs can ever do Iceland justice. It also pains me to remember my trip because it reminds me that such a dream-like place exists on earth, and I’ve been there. Yet I’m not there now, and if that place I’m talking about is Iceland, that thought is enough to make me slightly depressed.

Truth is, if there was one European country I wouldn’t hesitate visiting again, it’d be Iceland. Maybe it’s the friendly people. Maybe it’s the breathtaking scenery. Maybe it’s the smell of sulphur and the mystery of the hakarl…okay not really. Maybe it’s the serenity of even the largest city, Reykjavik. Every breath I took, I fell in love with this place more and more.

First impression of Iceland from the plane: barren. Cold, barren, deserted. From the aircraft window, the landscape already attracted my wandering spirit and I couldn’t wait to see what this country had to offer. I took Icelandair in 2010 when I first stepped onto European soil, and it is the same airline that takes me away from Europe and back to North America. This trip was planned as part of a correspondence on my way back home from France to Toronto, where I thought I’d take a 3-day stopover in Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. After a very mild mid-winter in mainland Europe, I finally arrived to some real cold…if -1 degrees Celsius is even cold at all.

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Basque Country part 3: La Rhune

The third part of the Basque Country series is devoted to La Rhune, a mountain range that is part of the Pyrenees. The IDS-FunMat group went to La Rhune as an excursion, as we did in Lisbon last year. In the Lisbon entry I mentioned that the word “excursion” reminded me of elementary school field trips, and it still does! The whole class hops onto a bus, all curious and excited. Where would it be this year?

But seriously, we didn’t know where we were going until we actually GOT there. Unlike the previous year, the organizers said nothing about the excursion beforehand except “bring good shoes as we will be going to a place with a scenic view”. Uh, okay. No name of the place was mentioned, why so mysterious? Consequently though, I think some people brought hiking shoes, expecting some arduous trek or heavy walking, but boy, they were sadly mistaken.

You see, according to inside information from a friend, we would be “going to some place by bus, then taking a little train to go up, then we take some photos and leave”. Dot dot dot was followed by more silence. WHAT?! Some place WHERE? Going up WHERE? Take some photos of WHAT? Then confusion was followed by relief for those who didn’t bring hiking shoes – which was most of us – as apparently one of the organizers said, “You could even go in high heels.” Ha!

So we boarded the bus without knowing where we were going. I mean, they could have been driving us to an island for Battle Royale and none of us would have been suspicious. Ugh, what a horrid thought, I shouldn’t have even conjured up that imaginary scenario. Anyhow, we did pass by Biarritz on the way. At least I was quite fascinated by the views of the city from the bus, and some of us wondered why it wasn’t the destination of the excursion instead. (I suppose it was too close a city to be considered a place for an “excursion” yet too far to go on foot.) Those of that did wonder eventually did go to Biarritz…in the next entry πŸ˜‰

So after about 40 minutes of bus ride, we arrived…at the base of La Rhune. Of course I still didn’t know what this place was, nor did I know that we would be ascending 905 metres to the top of the mountain for some spectacular views of the Basque Country. I waited in line with the others, got my ticket for the little train, and on we went.

We mounted the little train that would take us up to the top of La Rhune. According to the web site of Le Petit Train de la Rhune, it travels at a speed of 8 km/h and delivers you to your destination in about 35 minutes, to an altitude of 905 metres. And the train has been operational since 1924, strong and proud! πŸ˜‰

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