Annie Bananie en Europe

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Honeymoon in Japan, part 2 – It’s snowing in Hakone!

Part 2 of the Japan honeymoon series is dedicated to Hakone…again! While the previous post already outlined some of the special moments that J and I shared in Hakone, I felt that it was necessary to write this post separately because…it snowed on our last day in Hakone! Well, snow is not a big deal for me as I grew up in Canada, but it was an unexpected surprise for both of us and a farewell gift from Hakone.

We were told that Hakone doesn’t get that much snow (and we would be covered in snow when we were in Hokkaido anyway), and the previous two days were either cloudy or sunny with no sign of flakes or flurries. When I opened my eyes on our third and final day, I drew open the curtain in our room and was fascinated by what I saw. They weren’t just a few tiny flakes – all of Gora was covered in a sheet of white. In fact, it was still snowing in the morning, so with excitement I shook my husband to wake him up. “Look outside, it’s snowing!”

To be honest I’m not sure why I was that excited. I guess I had subconsciously wished for snow in Hakone and thought that we’d leave snowless until Hokkaido. But really, the scene was just too pretty. I opened the window and could almost touch the icy branches in front of me. I could have sung “The cold never bothered me anyway” loud and clear πŸ˜‰

The morning plan was to chill until 11:30 am, which was the time of our reservation for the meal at Itoh Dining by NOBU (see end of previous post), then leave for Tokyo with flexible timing. However, now that we’ve got this abundant amount of snow, we HAD to go out and take photos after lunch. J and I stayed in the common area in our guesthouse until around 11:15 am, and we left our luggage there and headed out for lunch and a final round of exploration in Gora.

During the entire time in Hakone, Gora only served as a place for us to stay as I assumed that there was not much to see in such a small town/village. Still, I was glad that we had some time left on our last day to see a bit of Gora. I also really like this long wine-red coat because the colour contrasts so well with green (trees) or white (snow). Good pre-trip purchase!

Our main destination was Gora Park and admission was 500 yen, but we got in for free with the Hakone Free Pass. The park was not large and I probably would not have found it to be anything out of the ordinary, but the snow really transformed it into a magical winter wonderland. Just look at how gorgeous those snow-covered branches are on those tall trees!

The tall, umbrella-shaped tree on the right was my favourite one in the park – yes, I made a tree my favourite. In the spring or summer, this place would have been lovely with colourful flowers and plants, but bare brown branches would have appeared so dull if we had visited a day earlier. Nice timing, Mother Nature, thanks! We were in such a pleasant mood that we sang and danced to (and recorded videos of) some snow-themed songs, including “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” and Jay Chou’s “Hair Like Snow”. There were others around in the park but we were not shy – anyone was welcome to join!

It was still cloudy and a bit foggy but we could see the mountains in the distance. Curiously, the Chinese/Japanese character for “big” appears in white in the mountains in the distance…huh??? Did someone carve out such area so that it would be visible if it snowed?

I was quite impressed that the fountain in Gora Park was so well maintained even during the winter – look at that crystal-blue water! Then again I should expect no less from Japan, well done. Also, I really have to thank whoever gifted a selfie stick to J because it was the most convenient gear we brought on our honeymoon. It was my first time actively using a selfie stick and now I’m hooked because I discovered how necessary it was for taking selfies at the correct angles, especially now that I have someone to take selfies with πŸ˜›

Another look at some branches dotted with snow here and there. Somehow I really like how the random line patterns of the thick and thin branches interacted with the snow that managed to stick onto them. It was almost like abstract art or fractals…by nature.

After the short visit to Gora Park, we walked slowly back to the guesthouse where we’d pick up our luggage and head for the train to Tokyo. On our way back, I saw again the huge “big” character on the mountain in the distance, and I was still super curious why it was there in the first place. On a side note, we had to get to Hakone-Yumoto first on our way to Tokyo, and by the time we arrived, there was ZERO sign of any snow. We then realized that only the high elevations got treated to snow (Yumoto was in a valley and Gora was atop a hill) and were once again grateful that we decided to stay in Gora and not Yumoto!

So that was Hakone in a nutshell, summarized in two posts. Of course, I could write on and on about many more details but that would make a mini-novel. Next up, a post that wasn’t going to exist – stopover in Tokyo πŸ˜‰

The falling leaves drift by my window

Autumn came and went like the wind this year in Glasgow and we seem to be already in the midst of winter in mid-November. If I thought that last year’s autumn colours were gorgeous, then I must say that they pale in comparison to this year’s. Maybe it’s because the weather had been unusually mild this year and we surprisingly haven’t gotten so much rain. Maybe it’s because I finally discovered how majestic that tree looks outside my office window. Maybe…Lady Autumn decided to grace us with her presence more sophisticatedly than she did in previous years. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Kelvingrove Park is a 10-minute walk from my walk and my office but I tend to overlook its proximity and hence don’t go there often. During the summer, it is a great place to have a picnic or a barbecue, and when autumn comes and the colours change, an afternoon stroll on a rainless day is quite relaxing. I’m glad I took a walk when autumn was at its best – two weeks later the branches would have all turned bald!

Of course, my workplace, the University of Glasgow, is itself the perfect place to observe the changes in season. Every corner is full of magic and I sometimes really do think I work at Hogwarts. The Main Building, especially its tower, at the centre of the campus likes to take the spotlight and appears in many photos of the university that I’ve taken. Already an impressive structure that I have the luxury of passing by every day, it looks even more exquisite in the midst of the orange, red, and yellow leaves. Now, only about a week after I’ve taken photos, autumn is no more, and we are left preparing for the onset of the delayed rainy season…

(By the way, the title of this post is the opening line of the beautifully classic song, “Autumn Leaves”. A few months ago I stumbled upon an instrumental “cover” of this song and fell in love with it – here it is to share with everyone!)

Somewhere that was only mine

The word “hometown” elicits complicated feelings in me because my true “hometown” is not a home. “Born in China and grew up in Canada” – that’s what I always tell people when they ask me where I’m “from”. While it is true that I still have extended family in my hometown Guangzhou, the place where I am most comfortable, the place where I feel the most sense of belonging, the one place I truly call home will always be Toronto.

Growing up in a city made me take the familiarity – or what I thought was familiarity – for granted. The same streets, the same buses, the same buildings – nothing ever seemed to change, except for me. It wasn’t until I went home after having spent three and a half years in Europe did I realize for the first time that I was so out of touch with my own home. Familiarity became the most unfamiliar part of my world.

During an 8-month period of idleness and unemployment, I decided to take full advantage of being in Toronto and to become a tourist in my own city, something I had wanted to experiment with for a while. It was then that a whole new Toronto began to unravel. Beyond the impression that Toronto has given the world as a booming metropolis and an urban centre, I ventured out of the heart of the city into its veins, to those little-known places that are so local and so authentic that perhaps only few are aware of them. I observed the city as it thrived, noticing the ever-changing colours of its ephemeral seasons and the sound of footsteps as people scurried through subway stations to and from their workplaces, day by day.

In the midst of it all, I fell in love with Toronto’s greenspace, almost to the point of obsession. I was fascinated to discover that there are parks, hiking trails, conservation areas scattered all around the city, and where were they but tucked behind the concrete highways and avenues? I really had to make an effort to find them, whether I had to drive to a secluded parking lot, take the bus and get off at a seemingly random stop, or just trust my instincts and follow a narrow path on the side of the road leading to an expanse of nature in the middle of nowhere. The sense of adventure was like looking for a treasure in your own basement – it’s got to be there, and the search is the most exciting part!

Pond in the middle of Moccasin Trail Park, Toronto, October 2014

Crothers Woods, David Balfour Park, Wilket Creek – these are just some of the places to consider if you’re looking for the perfect walk in Toronto, away from traffic and noise. And even Torontonians might not know about these places! Among the green areas that I had found, my favourite would have to be Moccasin Trail Park, right next to the Don Valley Parkway, one of the busiest and most important highways in Toronto. Most daily commuters on the DVP would probably have noticed large expanses of green areas on both sides of the highway, but few have ventured away from the main lanes and into the tree-covered parks and gardens. That was exactly what I set out to do.

Autumn was in full swing and it was the perfect time to see the exceptionally colourful foliage that Canada is known for. My walk into the woods of Moccasin Trail Park became a coveted date between my camera and me, a treasured one since it would be one of the last opportunities I had to capture Toronto through the lens before I left again. It brought me a supreme sense of serenity, especially since I was the only one there on that mid-October afternoon. Amidst the slow stroll on my way to the Rainbow Tunnel, I discovered an inconspicuous pond right in the middle of the woods, hidden from sight unless you went slightly off-road. I could still hear the sound of cars passing on the highway because as I had mentioned before, the park was right next to the DVP, but this place was like an urban oasis. The pond itself was a pristine mirror reflecting the beauty of the surrounding nature, one that I was surprised to find in the middle of the city. So calm, so eerily peaceful, so out-of-this world was the atmosphere that I marvelled at every colour and every sign of life. And at that moment, the park, the trails, the very spot where I captured the photo – they somehow became a special place within the city I thought I knew so well, somewhere that was only mine.

Perhaps I only felt this way because in my heart I knew I would leave Toronto again and wanted to cherish every unique secret that I found out about it. And I did leave, only to await coming back to the familiarity that would always welcome me. Perhaps the next time I walk the path of Moccasin Trail Park into my secret place, the leaves would have fallen, the pond would have dried up, and picture-perfect would have become a distant memory. Even though the park will still be there, I don’t expect to be ever able to duplicate the experience or reproduce the photo. And I won’t try, because one image is enough to remind me of the special feelings that only one moment could ever give me.

(I recently discovered a small camera that was released back in October from Light Co. It has the potential to be a good travel camera, combining 16 lenses into one about the size of a smartphone to keep it convenient without losing the quality. Check it out πŸ˜‰ )

Dada and the oldest Dutch city

This post is for dada!

The trip to Nijmegen (pronounced “nigh-meh-hem”) was successfully carried out. It’s been more than six months since dada’s departure from Bordeaux, embarking on his next journey in his academic endeavors in the Netherlands. Dada, otherwise known as Dr.Das, has courteously agreed to be the city guide for the day as he is now more or less “local”. How nice it is to finally have a reunion!

With more than 2000 years of history, Nijmegen claims to be the oldest city in the Netherlands, although apparently Maastricht also claims the title. Well, my concern wasn’t really to find out which is older; that is quite irrelevant. That is nothing compared to seeing an old friend πŸ˜‰

Annie and dada (along with Yi-Shiang and his family) had lunch at an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant in the Nijmegen city centre. It was my first time having all-you-can-eat Japanese food in Europe, and apparently it was dada’s first time having Japanese food. Oh silly dada, inventing his own way of holding the chopstick every single time he attempts it. When will you learn?

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Parc Bordelais

I went to Parc Bordelais for the first time before the end of the fall season, just to see the colour of the leaves one last time before they all disappeared from the branches. It was a short afternoon visit, because the sun went down relatively early, but I certainly got some nice Bordeaux autumn photos. There won’t be many words, but hopefully a picture is worth a thousand words. Enjoy πŸ˜‰

A swan swims so leisurely in the lake.

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