Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: old town

Prague and its Christmas

Prague is one of those places that was on my “must-go” list of European travel destinations. I don’t know what it is that appealed to me about this city, but the way I discovered the name of the city was through a Mandarin pop song that was released 12 years ago. The literal translation of the song is “Prague Public Square”, and it was sung by Jolin Tsai, a Taiwanese pop artist. When I first heard the song on the radio, I was hooked on its unique style and arrangement, but that doesn’t surprise me now that I know that the melody was written and arranged by Jay Chou. Anyway, we’re not here to talk about music right now. As a 15-year-old kid, the word “Prague” became etched on my mind and when I discovered that it was the capital city of Czech Republic, I was determined to visit it one day. That one day didn’t arrive until almost 12 years later, which brings us to last Christmas.

Ah, yes, Christmas, a magical time. Of course a perfect time for some solo travel too, maybe? As I didn’t manage to find company, I went alone because I wasn’t about to let the lack of a companion stop me from finally going to that place in the song and finding the “Prague Public Square”, if such a place really existed. Prague evaded my plans for two Christmas holidays in a row. I could have gone in 2012, but unexpected circumstances meant that I went to northwestern France instead. Then when my dad visited me in Europe in December 2013, we chose Italy out of several potential options of which Prague was one. So after two tries, nothing was going to stop me from spending my Christmas in Prague in 2014. And one all by myself? Why not?

Perhaps a place with the exact name “Prague Public Square” doesn’t exist in Prague, but there are many public squares in Prague and the Old Town Square is definitely the most well known. The Gothic Týn Church (perhaps the one that Jolin sang about in her song) with a luminous glow while a Christmas tree shone in the centre of the square. The Týn Church was really something, kinda made me think that it was the castle of an evil overlord once upon a time. And the fairy tales begin here…

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The humble Swiss capital

The capital of one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, Switzerland, is not its largest city Zurich nor the internationally renowned Geneva. It is Bern, comfortably and humbly tucked behind other more popular Swiss tourist destinations. It’s true. One doesn’t usually make a stop in Bern aside from making a transfer, and I guess…that was exactly why I went. I mean, there has to be SOME reason why it’s the capital of such a magical country, no?

It would also be the final stop in my week-long trip in mid-January and the final Swiss city I visit before I leave Europe. The night I arrived, it rain. It rained hard, and it was the first time that I saw rain during the entire week of travel, thank God.

Instead of staying at a hotel or hostel, I decided to go for Air BNB after hearing great things from several friends. As I was arriving in Bern rather late, Air BNB seemed to be the most convenient and budget-friendly option. I found my host Slawek’s place, after getting slightly lost around the train station, soaked all over. Thankfully my host provided a very warm and cozy night’s accommodation, especially as I was exhausted near the end of the trip. In the morning, I felt well-rested and ready to tackle the last day, exploring the humble Swiss capital.

The old town of Bern is very compact and could be easily navigated on foot. There were light drizzles in the morning and no snow as predicted in the weather forecast, but that didn’t dampen my mood. I started out down the main street in the old town and followed a map on a fountain hunt (which I will talk about in the next post), passing by the Zytglogge (Clock Tower) on the way.

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You got me, Schaffhausen!

Once in a while you stumble upon a place during your travels that you’ve probably never heard of, or only planned on stopping by as a point of transfer. That was Schaffhausen for me.

It was hard to be oblivious to Schaffhausen since it was on the way to Rhine Falls – you either go through Winterthur or Schaffhausen on your way there. Since I went by the Winterthur route (and didn’t stay in Winterthur, which was south of Rhine Falls) going towards the falls, I figured I’d take the other alternative and head north towards Schaffhausen while heading towards the next destination. Of course Schaffhausen wasn’t an actual planned stop on the itinerary, but I had an extra two hours to spare. I could go to the Zurich Airport early…or explore Schaffhausen and see what I could find there. No need to guess what I did.

I don’t think Schaffhausen is widely known as a tourist city in Switzerland. If it weren’t for Rhine Falls, I probably wouldn’t even have known that it existed. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. In fact, Schaffhausen was quite an interesting stopover for me, and dare I saw, I liked it more than Lucerne

It was a Sunday afternoon when I visited. The streets of Schaffhausen were very quiet, and many shops were closed. Sometimes I wonder how many residents actually live in small cities like Schaffhausen. Somehow it gave me the impression that the city was reconstructed from a colourful painting, jumping into reality through an artist’s brush, given life by the presence of the few tourists that were around the small old town square.

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Conference week in Alsace

I had the chance to go to Strasbourg last year, but I put it off for a bit for one reason – the European Materials Research Society (EMRS) Spring Meeting. I knew long before that this EMRS conference would be held in Strasbourg, so I hung on to the hope that my abstract would be accepted and that I would be allowed to go. Alas, it was accepted, and I went.

The conference went on for an entire week, where scientific knowledge and brilliant ideas were discussed and exchanged. Aside from the academic mumbo jumbo, of course I would not miss out on the chance to explore Alsace, a region in northeastern France known for its supreme white wine, timber-framed housing, and choucroute (sauerkraut). There was a lot to see in Strasbourg itself, but I also got the chance to visit Colmar, a medieval town half an hour away from Strasbourg by train.

The EMRS holds two annual meetings, one in spring in Strasbourg and one in fall in Warsaw, Poland. This is my first EMRS conference (and it may very well be the last), with an oral communication in the R symposium – Nano-engineered bioactive surfaces. It was a huge conference with 2000+ attendees from all over the world, and my second international conference after WBC last year.

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IDS 2013 part 1 – Pre-training school trip to Lausanne

I am finally writing about the 2013 IDS-FunMat training school almost one week after it has happened. Forgive me, I had been busy with work and moving to Belgium again and whatnot.

The annual IDS-FunMat training school is the event I look forward to the most each year because I get to meet new colleagues and reunite with some people I ONLY get to see once a year at the training school. It took place in Sesimbra 2011 with an excursion to Lisbon. Last year, the training school was in Anglet and side trips included San Sebastian, La Rhune, and Biarritz.

For my 3rd and final training school, we went to Annecy near the French-Swiss border. Hmm. This had to mean Switzerland all over again. Since I was to fly from Bordeaux to Geneva first, I figured, why not make a detour to Lausanne before the training school started, and spend some time in Geneva afterwards?

Well apparently aside from me, a lot of my colleagues from Bordeaux liked that idea. 10 of them, in fact, decided to join me for Lausanne. So I started planning, and I became the coordinator for our pre- and post-training school Swiss trips. Big task, booking accommodations and creating a detailed itinerary and all. I love planning trips, but it was the first time ever that I was travelling in a group of 11 people, so it was certainly challenging, but worth every effort because of how much fun we ended up having 😉 (See all photos here.)

Mumu cow welcomes you to Switzerland, the land of the Alps, cheese fondue, watches, Swiss army knives, and expensive everything. Without really having a goal, our group grabbed a city map from the hostel and headed into the old town for some exploration.

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