Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: night

Boston in three photos

The first stop of my three-part trip in November 2017 was Boston. Here is Boston in three photos.

The glistening skyline of downtown Boston by night, as seen from Cambridge, on the north side of the Charles River.

At the Park Street T (subway) station in downtown Boston, a man was making friends with (i.e. feeding) the pigeon.

Not too late to catch a final glimpse of fall colours at Boston Common.

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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!

26 days in China, part 2 – Shanghai

Shanghai was the only city that I visited without a local friend to act as a guide, but the up side was that I was meeting my mom in Shanghai and we would be travel companions from here on! Yep, my mom arrived from Toronto just in time to meet me in Shanghai so that we would continue our trip together, all the way to the south.

In Shanghai, my mom and I met with a close cousin of mine whom I last saw 6 years ago. He’s worked in Shanghai for a while, but in my mind he is still not a true local, ha! Most of our time in the largest city in China was spent wandering on our own, but as I had been to Shanghai briefly in 2010, I had a slight idea of the most interesting places to go for a first-time visitor to Shanghai. So in a sense…I acted as my mom’s “guide”, though barely qualifying as one. No matter, we were off to have fun!

We start with the dazzling skyline of Shanghai at night, as seen from the Bund. If I were to be completely honest, as a typical large city, perhaps the only thing REALLY worth seeing in Shanghai was this, its impressive skyline by night. I had said in 2010, when I saw this skyline for the first time, that it was my favourite out of the skylines I’ve seen. It’s a tough choice between Shanghai and Hong Kong, but though shorter than that of Hong Kong, Shanghai’s skyline exhibits an extra sense of dimension and beauty, mainly with the presence of the Oriental Pearl Tower. In the centre slightly to the right, you see the Shanghai World Financial Center – AKA the world’s largest beer bottle opener 😛

Upon seeing the Bund, my mom said that she felt that all of the images of Shanghai that she’s seen on TV jumped out at her, as she never thought that the night scene would be THAT impressive in reality. It was my mom’s first time in Shanghai and we were the most stereotypical tourists that we could be. Obviously one does not go to the Bund without taking a selfie with it so…let’s rejoice at our reunion and just say cheese!

Even though I had been a city girl all my life, stepping into Shanghai (and Beijing too) made me feel like a country girl seeing the “outside world” for the first time. If you compare Shanghai to Glasgow, the contrast is clear – the third largest city in the UK, Glasgow, is almost like a small village! While wandering in the Lujiazui financial district, where all the tallest skyscrapers dwelt, we saw the full moon perched above the man-made structures and outshining all of the artificial lights so effortlessly, making me think once again of some Chinese lyrics that I loved: “The moon illuminates the dreams in the city.” Perhaps Shanghai, such a world-class, international metropolis, is a place that hides the dreams of many…

Aside from meeting my mom in Shanghai, I met briefly with one of the GU girls, RX, who now works in Shanghai. We chatted over coffee and a portion of stinky tofu (which became way too spicy because I underestimated the chili sauce…) and caught up on our lives and careers. We only had two hours to spend with each other but the brevity was treasured. Until next time, my dear friend!

I did mention my close cousin Tony earlier and after seeing RX, my mom and I went for dinner with Tony and his family, including my aunt and uncle and Tony’s wife Mindy (my cousin-in-law?) whom I was meeting for the first time. Tony and I were inseparable when we were children, but we grew quite distant ever since I moved to Canada. Still it was good to reconnect over some excellent food and some chat time. Obligatory group photo before we said goodbye!

The next day was spent exploring the Chenghuangmiao (City God Temple) area of Shanghai, which is really just a super commercialized area that caters to the interest of tourists. Still, we enjoyed just wandering around the streets and looking at all the interesting shops that lined them.

Local preparing food at their little shop, showing what everyday life is like for the people of this city. One part of travelling that I still enjoy very much is people-watching. Away from all the sightseeing and the hustle and bustle, ordinary life is happening without too much glamour and excitement.

McDonald’s was offering Super Mario figurines as toys for the Happy Meal and…I couldn’t resist. The first one I got was Toad (I got Boo and Yoshi after…) and he happily reminded me again how lovely Shanghai is at night.

As the final photo I present to you…food in Shanghai! On the left we have a Shanghainese specialty, glutinous rice balls cooked in sweet rice wine. The rice balls were so soft, and I loved the smell and taste of the rice wine – perfect combination! On the top right, we have “Grandma’s Beef Slices” from a chain called “Grandma’s House”, specializing in the cuisine of Shanghai and surrounding areas. This went so well with a bowl of rice – I couldn’t get enough of it! Finally on the bottom right we’ve got the stinky tofu that I had with RX, as I mentioned earlier. This was sold at a food cart outside my hotel, and I added loads of garlic, sweet sauce, and chili sauce…way too much chilli sauce that even my mom, who usually handles spicy food really well, thought it was overkill. Psh, piece of cake. The aroma of the tofu oozed out of its crispy exterior, and the taste and texture complemented each other so well. I love street food!

This concludes the Shanghai portion of the trip, although my mom and I did go on a day trip to Suzhou from Shanghai, which I will write about in a future post. For now, let’s anticipate the next stop: Huzhou in Zhejiang province 😀

Ultimate seafood indulgence in Oban

Oban is a neat little place on the west coast of mainland Scotland and a convenient location for onward travel to various places nearby, such as the islands of Mull and Lismore in the Inner Hebrides or the nearby Glencoe and Fort William. For this exact reason, I’ve visited Oban twice but both as “stopovers” – the final destination of the first visit being the Isle of Mull and that of the second being the Isles of Seil and Lismore. That being the case, I didn’t really get the chance to explore Oban in depth during the few hours that I was there each time.

But in fact, the Isles of Seil and Lismore were only the secondary motivation of my most recent visit. I wanted to go to Oban again, this time with a friend, for a very important reason – its amazing seafood! Yes, Oban is known for delicious seafood, and having heard all about it from many different people, my friend XM and I decided to embark on a weekend pilgrimage to the holy land of Scottish seafood. Throw in some hiking here and there, but our goal was clear as day – to eat as much seafood as we could possibly stomach 😛

Let’s start gently with a view of Oban as we set out on a ferry for the Isle of Lismore. In a distance, on a hill, lies McCaig’s Tower, a place that I’m sure offers great views of Oban and the nearby islands but I have yet to visit. Maybe one day when I go back to Oban to actually see the town itself, I’ll get the chance to get up there but for now, McCaig’s remains unconquered!

Now, let’s get right into it, shall we. Before heading to Oban, we did some research on the seafood scene in town. There were many choices – you could grab some quick snacks at the local seafood shack right by the harbourfront, or you could opt for a fancier, more high-end sit-down restaurant to enjoy your evening slowly and delicately. We’ve already decided to go for the latter and chose the much acclaimed Ee-Usk, a restaurant that had a queue even at 9pm (I was so glad I made a reservation!) After a muddy hike on the Isle of Seil that afternoon, sitting down for a relaxing meal sounded even more appealing to me, as by then my stomach was growling!

We had a lot of choices but we didn’t want to choose, so we treated ourselves to the most luxurious item on the menu, the ultimate indulgence – the GRAND PLATTER FOR TWO. Make no mistake, this was one expensive meal (£100 between the two of us), but we got to try pretty much EVERYTHING. The menu description of the platter is as follows: “6 oysters, half lobster, dressed crab, king scallops, langoustines, Thai fish cakes, smoked salmon, fresh salmon, mussels, and crab claws”. There was a long period of debate on whether we should get the Grand Platter or not, but with a look of mutual understanding in our eyes, XM and I knew that there was no escape. And so it was ordered. And soon a plate larger than the width of our table was elegantly presented to us, completely full of everything that was described. XM joked (or maybe not?) by saying that she thought the seafood was lying on a bed of ice, but in fact it was a bed of MUSSELS. Holy crap that was a lot of food. How do we even begin to dig in!?

We took it slowly, tasting and enjoying each item on the platter and syncing our paces so that we ate the same things at the same time. This was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is probably never to be repeated, and everything was SO GOOD AND FRESH AND HEAVENLY. Though, by the end of the meal I felt like I could never eat seafood again simply because that was sooooooo much food for two people…but we finished it – even the lemon slices! The final few mussels took the last bit of space in our stomaches, but there was no regret, none at all. I didn’t think I could ever be seafood-ed out, but in a good way. Good job, Annie. Good job, XM. Good job Ee-Usk. I was impressed, both at the food and our ability to actually finish it all. So worthy.

After the meal we decided to take a walk around the waterfront, even though I was exhausted and wanted to sleep. It did us good to walk around and digest a bit that food we just devoured, hehe. Oban looked quite nice during the night as well, though it’s not a huge city with dazzling lights and glamorous architectures. Then again, these are the kinds of destinations that I prefer over large cities – quaint, cosy, relaxing, inviting, and just fun.

On the second day, when we still felt like we could never eat seafood again, we went back to the little hut by the harbourfront and…we did it again! This time, it was a Sunday brunch to fuel up for our trip to the Isle of Lismore. The meal was a lot more within our budget range but still super fresh and delicious, and here’s what we ordered: squid, cockles, langoustine tails, smoked salmon (a whole block, not just sliced), and the most buttery and garlicy butter garlic scallops. Oh dear, what a dramatic start to the day. I guess some people always has a spare compartment in their stomach for dessert but we have one for seafood, for sure!

I feel indebted to Oban as I haven’t taken many nice photos of the town even if it has hosted me twice. The only ones I managed to take were from the ferry, this one captured as we were coming back from Lismore and about to reach dock. Again we see McCaig’s Tower high above the town and Ee-Usk restaurant, which is the building with the red roof behind the boat. Oban, let me come back next time for YOU!

Did it surprise you that I am ending my post with seafood? Yup, even upon leaving Oban, XM and I decided to get some good ol’ fish and chips for the 3-hour train ride back to Glasgow. I guess you can say that fish and chips are a “national” British food, so we couldn’t leave without grabbing some from the seafood capital of Scotland. I hope the other passengers who were in the same coach as us didn’t find it annoying to be in the presence of such awesome-smelling (and tasting, though they could only assume) food that couldn’t be shared with them. Heh, goodbye Oban, see you again someday!

Around Macau in 12 hours, part 1

Macau (or Macao, depending on preference) is one of the two special administrative regions of China, the other being Hong Kong. It is one of those places that is relatively close to Hong Kong, being only 70 minutes away by ferry. Yet, it never occurred to me to take a day trip to Macau when I stay in Hong Kong, until I met a friend in Glasgow who is a Macanese native, born and raised there. I had one day to spare in Hong Kong before I headed to Southeast Asia for the Christmas holidays, and not knowing what I would do in Hong Kong (again), I thought that it would finally be time for me to head over to Macau for a look. What’d you know, my friend was back in Macau for the holidays at the same time…eh! She gladly agreed to be my local guide – with a car! – and I was spared from having to look into the places that I would be able to visit in one day, hooray! So I hopped onto a ferry in the morning and sailed away from Hong Kong – off to Macau we go!

Once a Portuguese colony, Macau has preserved many cultural characteristics of Portugal, which can be seen by traits such as architecture and cuisine (and the fact that Portuguese remains as one of the official languages, in addition to Cantonese). However, if Macau is known for one thing internationally, it would be its gambling scene with revenues far exceeding those of Las Vegas – perhaps not surprisingly as it is so close to China, which is by far the largest source of its market. With only one day in Macau, I was only able to get a first taste of Macanese culture guided by my Macanese friend, and we were lucky enough to stumble across a few special events in light of the Christmas season. I certainly did visit at the perfect time!

Macau – the old and the new

One thing I noticed immediately about Macau – it was crowded! Though, somehow I felt like it was a different kind of “crowded” compared with Hong Kong, the kind that didn’t suffocate me (sorry Hong Kong). It was later that I realized that the region of Macau has the highest population density in the world (I actually read that somewhere before, but it didn’t occur to me when I was IN Macau) – WHAT! Certainly not quite expected for a small place but precisely because it is small and has a big population, the density is so high. It wasn’t so obvious when you walk through Taipa or Coloane in the far south, but when you head to the main attractions in the Macau Peninsula, such as the ruins of St. Paul’s, the crowds suddenly hit you and you’re easily lost in a sea of people.

Macau does have a new side and an old side, as apparent in its streets and façades. Understandably, the Portuguese colonization had a big influence on Macanese culture, and many remains of Portuguese rule can be seen in the European-style architecture in Macau. Additionally, the rise of the gambling scene in Macau contributed to its rapid modernization, with high-rise buildings and shiny exteriors. However, if you explore the region as a whole, you will see that there are signs of age and history – abandoned shipyards, tattered roofs, unseen alleys…

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