Annie Bananie en Europe

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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 😉

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Sunset from Mount Lycabettus

Sometimes a city doesn’t have to be super glamorous or impressive to earn a ★ on my travel checklist – perhaps a simple yet stunning sunset will do, and that was the case with Athens. It was a fulfilling week in the Greek capital with the annual European Society of Biomaterials conference, and certainly the most memorable part, aside from the conference itself and my amazing companion, was the sunset on Mount Lycabettus tonight, the highest point in Athens. I want to say that all sunsets are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. To expect clouds to add some more colours at this time of the year might be wishful thinking, but I gotta say – sorry Santorini, you have nothing on Lycabettus. It was a magical dusk, not a moment too late to marvel at God’s spectacular creations. The cradle of western civilization, the birthplace of philosophy, democracy, the Olympics, and more – good night, Athens.

Sunset from Mount Lycabettus, the highest point in Athens, on September 7, 2017.

Short travel reflection: Hillwalking in Scotland

Scotland is a walker’s paradise – I ought to know that, now that I’ve lived here for almost three years. Though I can’t say that I fell in love with hiking and hillwalking only after coming to Scotland (it was way back in Tobermory when I started to like hiking), being in a country surrounded by hills and mountains gave me plenty of opportunities to explore the countless trails, woodlands, parks, and natural reserves that it had to offer. Hillwalking has become a weekend hobby, especially during the past year or so. Sometimes I’d wake up at 5am on a Saturday just to catch the earliest train to the bottom of a hill and start walking – and if you know me, waking up early is TORTURE to me. Alas, only the hills have the power to make me WILLINGLY get up this early ON A WEEKEND.

Although I have yet to climb a real mountain, I’ve certainly conquered a fair number of small hills (200-700 m in altitude/ascent) – Conic Hill, Tinto Hill, Deuchary Hill, Callander Crags, East Lomond Hill, to name a few. Unfortunately, without a car, most of the time I am only able to climb hills that are reachable via public transport (and sometimes it takes up to 3 hours one way), and so the choices are rather limited. My list of “hills to climb” continuously grows as I find more and more interesting spots, yet it’ll take me years and years to check them off one by one…if I stay in Scotland AND get a car!

While I do like hillwalking, every hill is still a challenge to overcome. As I walk up the steep and slippery slopes, straining my leg muscles and sweating on every inch of my body, I curse and scream aloud words like “WHY AM I DOING THIS!” Getting to the top is tough work! Every step brings me closer to the destination but also gets heavier and heavier, until I reach the summit and embrace victory – often in very strong winds! And when the vastness and magnificence of the views below strike me, all of the effort (sometimes hours!) is rewarded, and I could say, “It was all worth it.”

A cairn marking the summit of the Broughton Heights circuit, reached on March 11, 2017.

My go-to resource for hillwalking information is, without a doubt, the WalkHighlands web site, without which none of my walks would have been possible. While the instructions are usually straightforward and easy to follow, there were a few instances where I did get lost because of vague descriptions and unmarked/unclear paths. In hindsight, however, I have done some pretty stupid things during my hillwalks that were completely my own responsibility, such as not bringing water, not following clear trails, and underestimating the time it takes to walk a trail. I’ve gotten stuck in thick mud several times (thank God for my super sturdy shoes) and almost injured myself from going down the back of Conic Hill via an extremely rocky and slippery path. It’s a miracle that I made it unscathed! If I do continue to take on hillwalking more seriously, I’m going to have to be much more prepared and informed (especially when I walk alone, which is quite often) if I want to conquer the hills instead of letting them conquer me…

(Feel free to check out my “The hills are alive…” series, where I wrote about various individual walks that I’ve taken within the past few years. Perhaps the “Food & the Hills” photo gallery, which showcases each walk (not necessary hills) accompanied by snacks that I brought along, would also be of interest to you 😉 )

From high places, part 6

Why hello there! I think the time has come to add another post to the “From high places” series, which showcases views of cities and towns from high vantage points such as towers, hills, and airplanes. Let’s see how many more I’ve managed to collect since the last post!

Amsterdam

 
I fly with KLM quite a bit and so I often have connecting flights in Amsterdam, which means that I get to see Amsterdam from the air from different perspectives as the plane takes off or lands (if I get a window seat, and I often do). Here are a few of them.

Beijing (read about it)

When I went to Beijing 13 years ago, I saw the Forbidden City from a hill in Jingshan Park, took a picture of it, and lost the photo. Then last year, when I went back to Beijing in December, I decided that I’d have to go back to Jingshan Park and retake that photo – and I did! Magnificent history right in front of my eyes!

Bilbao

 
Bilbao certainly had its fair share of hills and as a result offers many wonderful viewpoints of the city. The first three photos (featuring the famous Guggenheim Museum in the second photo) were taken on Mount Artxanda (reached by funicular) and the last one from Parque Etxebarria at the top of the Mallona stairs.

Conwy

Conwy has arguably the most majestic castle of all the castles I’ve seen, and the view from the top of the town walls was amazing. Seas, hills, castle – seems like Conwy has everything needed for a medieval tale!

Edinburgh

I’ve written about Edinburgh before and shown the view from the top of Arthur’s Seat, but there are plenty of other fine viewpoints around this hilly Scottish capital. On the way to Calton Hill, stop to appreciate the Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat on the opposite side and the city below!

Falkirk (read about it)

I visited Falkirk on a rainy day, mainly to see the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel, on which this photo was taken. If you look for the carefully, the Kelpies can be seen in the far distance on the right side of this photo.

Falkland

Not to be confused with Falkirk, Falkland was the starting point of the hike up the East Lomond Hill. I had to stop many times to take a break and catch my breath but the view over Falkland was certainly a welcomed treat!

Glasgow

Even though I live in Glasgow, I may be a little ashamed to say that I don’t know many places to see the city from up high! Well, The Lighthouse is one such place, but I would be surprised if there weren’t more.

Holyhead (read about it)

After visiting South Stack, I decided to walk back to Holyhead along the coastal path, which was to take me around an hour an a half. I ended up taking approximately two hours because of a detour to the summit of the Holyhead mountain, one that I was glad I took because I was rewarded with this view!

Inverness

I only dropped by Inverness for a short while during a day tour of Loch Ness, but I had the chance to see Inverness Castle and see the city by the river from the castle, which was situated on a hill. I’d love to go back to Inverness if I still have the chance before I leave Scotland!

Mississauga

Mississauga was featured in the first part of the “From high places” series, but here is a different point of view – downtown Mississauga from the air right before landing at Toronto Pearson Airport. The slender and defining shapes of the Marilyn Monroe Towers would be recognizable from any distance, though unfortunately the photo turned out slightly blurry 😦

Oban

I’ve been to Oban three times within the past three years but it was only during my most recent visit (last week) that I finally went to the looming McCaig’s Tower that is visible from the town centre. The uphill walk offered some great views of the coastal town and the Inner Hebridean islands (not shown here)!

Stirling (read about it)

Stirling wasn’t a city that left a deep impression on me, but it was still worth exploring as a day trip from Glasgow. Here’s a view of Stirling from the Wallace Monument.

Warsaw (read about it)

 
Warsaw – ah, yes, Warsaw, as seem from the top of the Palace of Culture and Science. What amazing views from every angle! I was so mesmerized that I was sad to go. To make it even more spectacular, I was there right in the midst of a thunderstorm – how cool was that!

That’s all for part 6! Be right back as I continue to hunt for more high places… 😉

Sneem, a knot in the Ring of Kerry

Of the four days I spent in Ireland in June with two friends, the little village of Sneem, situated on the Ring of Kerry on the west coast of Ireland, left the deepest impression in my mind. The word “Sneem” means “knot” in Irish. On that rather grey day, Sneem was a dash of colour in the mist. We stopped for a short break during the long drive around the Ring of Kerry, spending perhaps no more than two hours in Sneem, yet its modest charm was what made it such a unique part of the Irish experience!

It was a rainy morning as we drove on the Ring of Kerry but as we approached Sneem, the rain subsided! The welcoming colours of the village invited us to stop, park our car, and get off for a walk around.

The village was very quiet when we arrived at 11am. We spotted a church not far from where we parked and promptly headed in its direction. It was a Sunday morning and that was when we realized that most, if not all, of the villagers were attending worship service at the church, which would end at 11:30am.

We walked to the area behind the church to the main attraction of Sneem – some mysterious structures of pyramids! There was a block of stone with the words “The Way the Fairies Went” inscribed on it, so this must be…the home of the fairies?! I quite liked this place. It was serene and the fairy bit added a touch of mysticism to the entire surrounding.

Walking past the pyramids…

…keep going to reach this tranquil place where we stayed awhile.

Back in the village, we stopped by the bridge with rapids running under it.

At around 11:30 we returned to the place where we parked, which was right outside of an information centre/gift shop that we had intended to enter but was closed until 11:30. We figured that the villagers probably all went to church and would be back at 11:30, and we were right! The little shop opened and in we went.

The people you unexpected meet along the road often leave the deepest impressions. Here we met John, the shop owner. Upon hearing him speak French with some ladies, I asked, “D’òu venez-vous?” (“Where are you from?”) He told us that he was born in Normandy in France and moved to Sneem many years ago with his Austrian wife. He is a deacon at the village church and is now studying Greek because he wants to better understand the Bible, and he finds much peace in running this small shop in this quiet village. We chatted for around 10 minutes before I bought something and left, but not before we took a photo with him! It’s always so interesting to listen to a local share his stories, and if there was one part of our visit that would make me remember Sneem, it was John. Such a short conversation but so delightful!

And that ended our visit to the little village of Sneem, the knot in the Ring of Kerry, my favourite place in the Ring! ❤

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