Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: old town

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 đŸ˜‰ (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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Saint-Émilion in late November

One day not long ago, I spontaneously added an item to my bucket list: to visit Saint-Émilion at least once in every month. I’m not sure why I decided to do that, but I thought it could be a challenge to make life more interesting for my remaining year (at least) in Europe. Also, I want to see how a town changes from month to month, from season to season, and what better place to go than charming little Saint-Émilion?

So far I’ve done April, May, June, July and now, November. If I plan out my mobility well, the rest of the months are well doable đŸ˜‰ To add to the challenge, I have different company every time. So far only one person has gone with me twice, and that would be MM. In April 2011 I went for the first time with Chahat, a university friend studying in the UK at that time. In May 2012 it was with my Canadian crew Sharon and Cindy. In June 2011 the trip was spent with the Yihua family, MM, and Wan Zhe. In July 2011 there was Helene, Mengran, Xinning, SB, and MM again.

Before November was over, I decided to make my fifth trip to Saint-Émilion with a colleague. It was also the first time I brought Mr.Nikon with me, hurray! We caught the last weekend before it got too cold, and really, it might have been my favourite visit so far, thanks to so many things.

What makes Saint-Émilion such a charming and irresistible place that I go back again and again? You’ll see. (Click for full album.)

Mr.Colleague wondered whether there were still grapes on the vines in November. Well, who knew? Unless we found out, of course đŸ˜‰ I remember in June last year, there were green grapes on the vines, but in November, even if there were any left, they couldn’t possibly be green or even purple anymore, right? Alas, we saw some dark blue grapes still stubbornly hanging onto their branches, though these were few. I kinda wanted to swipe a bunch, because they looked oh-so-sweet-and-delicious đŸ˜€

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Ten reasons to visit Riga in freezing February

So last week, I decided that if I did indeed go ahead with my weekend trip to Riga, then I’d write about it. If not, then I’d write about my trip to a mysterious city last weekend.

Well, I went to Riga. And I came back alive, which could be considered a miracle.

Let me start by saying that this past weekend had perhaps the coldest days during this winter season. It was -8 in Bordeaux, and I heard that the city, which rarely sees snow during winter, has been covered in white. I had just flown back to Belgium on Thursday, with a trip to Riga booked the next day. Weather forecast said that it’d be -25 in Riga during the weekend, -36 with the wind chill. Uh oh.

Hmm. Dilemma. The sudden cold attack wasn’t expected. Was I going to be conservative, cancel my trip, lose the flight cost of 50 Euros (which wasn’t all that much, really), or live the spirit of the true north strong and free and put myself through the challenge of the extreme?

Not gonna lie, but it was actually a very hard decision. I was on the brink of NOT going because as much as I’d like to say I’m not afraid of cold, I am. One can be used to cold weather, but not immune to it. And I had been away from those bleak Canadian winters for two years now (not that Canadian winters are that cold anymore, apparently), so I wasn’t sure if I was totally ready for it.

In the spirit of “Do now, regret later, then never regret” (kudos to my role model Geoff), there was no backing out. So I stuffed everything I thought I’d need into my backpack, hopped onto a train to Charleroi, and off I went into the unknown once again.

Latvia in February turned out to be quite a fantastic experience. Okay, it really wasn’t as cold as expected; I think I exaggerate everything in my mind, just to get mentally prepared. Then again, Canada has indeed trained me well for the past 15 years, hah! During my one day and a half in Riga, I made a few notes about the trip and concluded with ten (hopefully convincing) reasons to visit Riga, some particularly pertaining to a freezing February. Here we go! (Click here to see all of the pictures on Facebook.)

Reason 1: It’s cheap. The flight was cheap. The hostel was cheap. The food was cheap. Everything was cheap.

The cheap flight was ultimately what really drove me to book this trip to Riga, with return tickets from Brussels-Charleroi at 50 Euros. Winter probably has something to do with the low rates…go figure. An additional note aside from price: when given the choice, I’ll always choose a window seat over the aisle, whether it’s a flight or a train ride. Only from a window seat can I catch glimpses of breathtaking views like the one above, on the way back to Charleroi. At first I wasn’t even sure if those were clouds or snow islands…but it’s gotta be clouds. I think this is the closest I’ll ever get to viewing the Earth from the universe. Simply spectacular.

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