Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: nature

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.

Day trip to Stirling

A collection of photos from a spontaneous day trip to Stirling, Scotland in July, 2016 – enjoy!

26 days in China, part 7 – Kunming

We’re nearing the end of the “26 days in China” series with two more posts to go. One destination that was a spontaneous addition to the itinerary was Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province. As I travelled to different cities along the east coast of China in search of friends whom I have met either in Bordeaux or Glasgow, I felt a bit regretful that I wouldn’t be able to also see XQ, who was living in Kunming, as Kunming was in the southwest and kind of out of the way. Then one day I thought: I’m in CHINA, which doesn’t happen often – it would be foolish to not make a trip to see XQ in her hometown. Who knows…I might not get another opportunity. I had around 12 days to spend in Guangzhou anyway, so what the heck, why not. There and then I decided that it’d be worth it to take two days and head to Kunming to see my dear friend as the flight was only 2.5 hours one way and was rather affordable. Alas, a new destination was added, and I couldn’t wait to see the “Colourful Clouds of the South”, a beautiful name for Yunnan (which itself directly translates to “Cloud South”).

With limited time, I was only able to get a condensed tour of the city of Kunming, guided by my friend XQ who had returned to Kunming from Glasgow just a few months earlier. We first headed to Cui Hu Park (literally “Green Lake Park”) in central Kunming for a relaxing stroll around the area. “Leisure” would be the word that I’d use to describe Kunming as everywhere I went gave off a relaxing vibe. There was no rush like in the big cities, everyone went about their business at their own pace, and it just felt…nice.

A curious sight that could only be experienced during the winter is the migration of the red-beaked seagulls at Green Lake. Apparently these birds come to the south in December because of Kunming’s warm climate, and flocks and flocks of them dwell around Green Lake, so many that they’ve become a tourist attraction themselves. People have taken advantage of this migration and started businesses of selling bird food around the lake, and a common activity was indeed feeding these seagulls either with the special bird food or just with white bread. Throw a piece of food and a bird would target it and catch it mid-air as if it was a trained expert. They almost never miss!

Never would I imagine that seagulls would be of any interest to me, especially since they’re usually a nuisance, but I have to admit that I was quite awed at seeing perhaps THOUSANDS of these seagulls all swimming on the lake. Now, here’s one that landed quite close to me…hi there!

Scattered around Green Lake Park were pavilions and public areas where people assembled in small groups to sing, play music, or just hang out. In fact, outside the perimeter of the park, there was a series of what I called “free outdoor concerts” where groups of different musical styles performed for people passing by. Soft rock, 60s Chinese jazz, classical, opera…you name it. Many of the performers sounded quite professional, and I was rather impressed. I particularly liked this small group of musicians consisting of a vocalist, a flutist (I play the flute myself), and an elderly gentleman who was just…observing the flutist?

Aside from music, there were also other forms of artistic activities taking place. My favourite would have to be the man with the gigantic calligraphy brush writing on the pavement with water, as if the road was an open ancient scroll. This was right up my alley because I have developed a keen interest in Chinese calligraphy and even took lessons several years ago. Every stroke was laid down so firmly and aesthetically, and every character was constructed with so much precision. What gorgeous penmanship, even when magnified!

Moving away from Green Lake, XQ took me to another landmark of Kunming – Dian Chi, or Dian Lake. This wasn’t a city lake like Green Lake, but one on a rather large scale, stretching onward for tens of kilometres beyond the city limits. To experience Dian Chi to the fullest, we had to head southwest from Kunming to Xi Shan, or the West Mountains. It was said that “If you don’t visit the West Mountains, then you haven’t REALLY been to Kunming”. Not sure if that’s an old saying or a slogan for publicity’s sake, but that matters not. Upon arrival, a cable car took us to the top. The view of Dian Chi was amazing especially as we were moving up slowly and could take our time to enjoy the moment.

Of course, the second part of the above “saying” is, “If you don’t go to the Dragon Gate when visiting the West Mountains, then you’ve pretty much visited in vain”. Uh huh. In fact, the cable car took us all the way to the Dragon Gate, which was a series of temples, caves, tunnels, and stone steps along the cliffs of the West Mountains. At the peak of the mountain stood THE Dragon Gate, as written on the stone tablet above the gate in front of a temple. Having travelled up to the top via cable car, we were glad that the part of the journey that was on foot was DOWNHILL as we passed by people walking up in the opposite direction, sweating and panting as they charged onward. Normally I’d be up for the hike but on that particular day, I preferred to just take it easy with XQ ^_^

Time for food! As a host, XQ certainly kept me very well fed during my stay in Kunming. In addition to introducing me to some local eats, XQ took me to a special restaurant that serves Dai-style food. Dai is one of the many ethnic minority groups of Yunnan province and I am perfectly happy to admit that I’ve never heard of more than half of the things that were on the menu – still quite excited to try them! During dinner I found out that another friend from Glasgow, Mrs. Cai, was also in Kunming and was joining us for the meal. Selfie time with the food before our chopsticks touched the plates!

If I were to choose, I would say that Kunming gave me the best new dining experience during the entire China trip. I only chose five dishes to represent the whole experience but trust me, there were a whole lot more. Top left: Dai-style dish, stir-fried bajiao (banana?) flower. This is one of those things that I was hearing about and trying for the first time, and though it may look like chicken, it was meat-free, colourful, crunchy, and delicious! Bottom right: Dai-style dish, pork belly and cheek platter, so greasy yet sooooooo sinfully tasty. Top left: Breakfast food item, er si (no idea how to translate this) with soft shredded pork. It was like a bowl of really good noodles with a slightly different texture soaked in excellent broth, except they were…not exactly noodles. Sliced flour? Rice cake shreds? Middle right: Miao-style sour daikon and beef slices. Surprisingly the daikon complemented the beef extremely well, and the whole thing was made perfect with a bowl of rice. Bottom right: Definitely not leaving Kunming without trying the “Over-the-bridge” rice noodles, an iconic favourite of Yunnan province. The noodles were soaked in steaming broth with an assortment of side items including pork slices, crispy pork rind, scallions, and leafy greens. THE BOWL WAS SO HUGE it might as well have been a wash basin…

Two days was not nearly enough time to experience all that Kunming has to offer, not to mention the other more well-known places in Yunnan province – Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-La, and Xishuangbanna, just to name a few. I hope that the “Colourful Clouds of the South” will await my next visit and hopefully my good friend XQ will still be there to show me around!

26 days in China, part 5 – Wenzhou

Getting closer and closer to my hometown in the far south of China, but not before I stop by another city in Zhejiang province…Wenzhou! Like every other stop on this long trip across China, Wenzhou is home to a couple of friends whom I wanted to visit. In fact, over the past years, I’ve met many people in Europe who came from Wenzhou, having heard so much about THEIR hometown. So this time, it was finally my turn to go and see the place where they grew up and lived before their adventures in Europe.

First visit: WY the wine lady! I met WY in Bordeaux when she was studying vineyard management, and she is currently very successful in the wine business in Wenzhou. If I remember correctly, it had been almost three and a half years since I last saw her in Bordeaux – too long! I brought her a little bottle of English mead (honey liquer) as a gift. Not sure if the taste beats any of her wine, but the bottle is certainly cute and delicate ^_^

Having dinner at WY’s place means we’re gonna have some good wine, guaranteed. In fact, WY’s flat turned out to be wine haven as she had racks and racks of wine of all sorts well laid out in her living room. What a way to live! People in the wine business truly amaze me because I can’t tell a good wine from a bad one to save my life. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a glass or two though, whether it’s red or white! Here’s dinner with my mom, YY (another friend), YX and MC (from Malaysian, whom we were with in Hangzhou and Huzhou), WY, and WY’s sister. Cheers, and let’s dig in to the hot pot!

After dinner, YY, my host in Wenzhou, welcomed me and my mom to her flat, where we stayed for two nights. I met YY in Glasgow but this was the first time I was meeting her two adorable sons, Jack and John. You certainly didn’t think she was the mother of two 8-year-old twin boys, huh! Anyway, even though I only spent two days with the boys, I felt like we could have become best buddies. They are so active and intelligent and just so quirky that it was pure fun being around them! My mom instantly fell in love with them as well, heh! I really felt bad that I had to leave them in the end 😦

Here’s John (or Jack?!) teaching me how to hold the violin properly. I had tried to learn to play the violin by myself years ago but failed miserably, so it was good to have a teacher! OK…I was so bad at it that he gave up teaching me and just decided to play me a song instead 😛

Day two in Wenzhou, and my host YY took me to a village in the nearby mountainous regions where the TV series “One family in Wenzhou” was filmed. I don’t know much about the series, but I liked the tranquility of the village surrounded by nature and fresh air, away from the big city. Without a true local as a companion, I would never have known such a place existed!

Hiking through woods and up and down hidden trails in the mountains, we encountered a series of waterfalls that dropped into pools with the clearest and most turquoise water I had ever seen. It was here that I wondered…are these the REAL Fairy Pools?! I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if the photos of the Fairy Pools on Skye were actually taken here…simply breathtaking! The bonus point was that this area is still quite unknown to the public, so we pretty much had it all to ourselves. As I was already sweating from the uphill hike, I had the urge to jump in for a swim! Oh, what a beautiful surprise. China, you never cease to amaze me.

Annie and YY finally take a photo together! I was so glad to have had her presence in Glasgow for a year and too happy to see her again in China, in her hometown. As with all of the other friends that I reunited with during this trip, I’m not sure when I’ll see YY again but I’m sure we’ll be in each other’s prayers 🙂

Before leaving Wenzhou for good, my mom and I had the opportunity to visit a local church for its Sunday morning service. I’ve heard many things about the expansion of Christianity in the Wenzhou area and was eager to join YY and her family for worship. First thing first – they weren’t kidding about the huge churches! One thing, though, was that I understood nothing from the sermon simply because it was delivered in Wenzhou dialect…oops. Still a great experience, especially the gigantic lunch feast that followed! If you hadn’t told me that it was a church meal, I would have thought that it was a wedding banquet. Rows after rows of round tables and at least 7 or 8 dishes prepared for each. And all that rice! There must have been hundreds at the gathering – I was really quite impressed!

As was the case in most of the posts in this series, I have to introduce the food. In Wenzhou, we were offered a much more home-styled taste compared to the other cities that I had visited. Top left: fresh steam crab prepared by WY. Top right: Wenzhou-style steamed fish prepared by WY. Middle: hot pot with a variety of small dishes prepared by WY. Bottom left: farm-style stir-fried tofu. I must say, if this wasn’t the best tofu I’ve had in my life, it came very close. I can’t imagine it being made in any complicated way – it must have been one of the simplest home-style dishes that the villagers made every day but somehow it smelled and tasted so wonderful. Bottom right: a type of root-like vegetable called “sheng di” in Chinese that has no direct translation. They look like creepy caterpillars but trust me, they were only vegetables. After having eaten at restaurants for so many days, it was great to finally have some taste of home!

As we left Wenzhou, I became more and more excited because I was about to board a flight to MY hometown, Guangzhou! Finally, after spending 10 days in various places near the Jiangnan area of China, I was able to say that the next destination was…home!

26 days in China, part 4 – Huzhou

Huzhou is one of those places that is as of now mostly untainted by tourism, and the only reason I visited it (and found out about it) in the first place was to see my long-lost friend, YH, whom I met in Bordeaux and hadn’t seen for four years! Huzhou is her hometown and where she currently works, so a north-to-south China trip wouldn’t be complete without stopping by, especially since it’s only 2.5 hours away from Shanghai by high-speed train (and my mom’s first time on China’s high-speed train). In fact, I would say that Huzhou was the most anticipated stop on the itinerary!

Compared with nearby tourist hubs like Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and many other cities in the Jiangsu/Zhejiang provinces, Huzhou is quaint and quiet but certainly did not lack characteristic. In fact, because it wasn’t super crowded, Huzhou exhibited an accentuated sense of elegance that so well defines the Jiangnan region (or my impression of the region). Again, these are settings that only ever appeared in the quintessential historical Chinese movies and drama series, but beautiful places like these do exist in real life! Here is an alley on Yishang Street (“yishang” means “clothing”), which is one of the oldest and historically significant streets in Huzhou.

One (very well) hidden gem in Huzhou and my favourite place was the Lotus Garden, Huzhou’s response to the many famous gardens of Suzhou, except without the crowds and admission fees. Near the entrance there was a path lined with bamboos on both sides, and I felt like the only thing that was missing to make this a perfect TV scene was the sound of a bamboo flute and a handsome guy with a sword. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, anyone?

At the Lotus Garden, people liked to sit in pavilions to have tea and chat, or sing in groups in a courtyard, the way one leads a leisurely life. Now, that’s a lifestyle that I wouldn’t mind adopting after retirement.

Going away from the city centre, we arrived at a prominent landmark of Huzhou: the “Moon Hotel” by Tai Lake, which is really just a Sheraton Hot Spring Resort. It was rather a pity that we were not there during the evening, when the exterior of the entire crescent-shaped hotel is lit up and transforms the surrounding atmosphere. I would actually like to experience a stay at the hotel, at the very top of the crescent…one day, when I’m super rich!

And at Tai Lake, I met none other than my childhood hero, Doraemon! Well, a life-sized or more like a blown-up version of him, as I don’t think Doraemon is really THAT tall and huge. Can’t resist taking a photo of my all-time favourite fictional (is he fictional?) character, a close tie with the Little Prince whom I already met years ago in Hong Kong. Now if only Nobita and Shizuka and the rest of the gang are present, that would have been perfect!

By Tai Lake, a fisherman was drying and selling his catch of the day. It was extremely windy and cold that day, especially around the Tai Lake area. As I walked by, I was hoping that this man had enough clothes to keep him warm, because who knows how much longer he had to stay outdoor! Take care!

In the evening, YH and I went back to Yishang Street, where we were earlier, and I was surprised to see such spectacular night scene by the river that ran through Huzhou. This just goes to show that a city doesn’t have to have glittering skyscrapers to be charming. Even when most of the city seemed to have fallen asleep, Huzhou shone secretly and quietly only for those who were determined to seek her beauty.

During the preparation of my stay in Huzhou, YH originally intended to arrange for me and my mom to stay in one of the chic, Chinese-style boutique inns along the river but because I am a “foreigner” (not a Chinese citizen), I wasn’t allowed to book there… 😦 I don’t really know why that is the case, but even though China is an amazing place full of things to be discovered, being a foreigner in this land (even though it was MY native homeland) has its disadvantages. Oh well.

As for food, I was fed so well that if I lost any weight within the past month of going to the gym, I gained it all back in Huzhou. YH certainly knew how to be a great host! Let’s see what we have here. Top left: steamed fish from Tai Lake, one of the “three treasures of Tai Lake”. Bottom left: fish cooked with suancai (Chinese sauerkraut). Top right: cow (or pig?) stomach cooked with suancai. Middle right: home-styled tofu, excellent with the sauce and a bowl of rice! Bottom right: marinated beef wraps, kind of like the beef version of the Peking duck. It is almost dinnertime as I write this and looking at the photos of this food makes me sooooo hungry…

The one thing that I did regret was forgetting to take a photo with my friend YH this entire time (except the group photo at West Lake in Hangzhou, from the previous post) as we were having way too much fun reminiscing and exploring. One of the most frequent phrases that I heard during my entire China trip was this: “Your stay is too short!” Of course I heard this in Huzhou as well, but albeit it was a short stay, being able to experience this authentic city with a born-and-raised-here local was truly the greatest blessing. Huzhou and YH, you are greatly missed!

Next stop: another city in Zhejiang province – Wenzhou!

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