Annie Bananie en Europe

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The hills are alive…at Glenfinnan Viaduct!

In July 2017, when I was still living in Glasgow, my friend Mini visited Scotland and I had the pleasure of hosting her and showing her around. We had a full weekend to go wherever in Scotland we wanted to, and Mini asked me for suggestions of places to see. I thought about it long and hard. There were lots of great places to see that doesn’t require more time than an overnight stay, but we wanted to pick somewhere that I hadn’t been to yet so that it’d be new for both of us, which was challenging because I had been to a lot of places!

Then I thought…hey! How about Glenfinnan near Fort William? I asked Mini, “Are you a fan of Harry Potter?” She answered, “Yes!” “Well then I have the perfect place – let’s go see the Harry Potter Bridge!”

Of course Harry Potter fans who have seen the movies would know that I was talking about the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which the Hogwarts Express crosses on the way to Hogwarts. I had known about it for a while with the intention to explore during a free weekend but somehow never got to it, so Mini’s arrival was the perfect opportunity.

We set out on Friday night and took the train to Fort William on the West Highland Way, which was around 3.5 hours from Glasgow. The West Highland Way has got to be one of the most scenic train routes in the world and I could never get enough of the views along the way. As it was mid-summer in Scotland, the sun was only beginning to show signs of setting even close to 9 pm (time that this photo was taken).

The next morning, we took another train westward to Glenfinnan, surrounded by lochs (Loch Shiel shown here) and mountains (Sgùrr Ghiubhsachain on the left) and beauty everywhere. There was a trail that would lead us to a designated viewpoint for the Glenfinnan Viaduct- seems like they’ve got it all figured out for us tourists.

Greenery, sunshine, companionship – seemed like a perfect day! The destination was the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which meant that we had to backtrack a little as our train crossed it before arriving at Glenfinnan station. Ordinary trains like the one we took regularly cross the viaduct, but we were there to see the crossing of the Jacobite steam train, the real Harry Potter experience!

We found the trail and started walking. We timed our walk so that we would arrive near the viaduct viewpoint well before the Jacobite was scheduled to appear. I think there were only two crossings of the Jacobite each way per day (the regular train crosses more often) so we definitely could not be late. Thankfully the trail was clear as day, and we were still surrounded by gorgeous scenery! We also had to make sure that we got back to the station in time, after the Jacobite crossing, to take OUR train back to Fort William, so it did take some planning ahead of time. But hey that’s what I love doing, and the anticipation was building up!

What’s that? A train on the viaduct? Yes, target in sight, though that was the regular train, not the Jacobite that we were waiting for. There was still a lot of time before it was scheduled to cross, and we were glad that we were not lost. Now to find the best viewpoint…

…this was a good place, but not quite close enough. Though, this perspective does show the grandiosity of the natural setting that we were immersed in. You could imagine how grand the viaduct itself was, but it seemed like a toy compared to the hills in the distance!

Ah, finally we arrived at the foot of the viaduct, right underneath it to feel its grandness close-up. We decided to split up to take photos from different angles, and I chose this place as I thought that it’d offer some great photos of the train and the viaduct together.

We kept looking and soon after saw a place where lots of folks were already set up and waiting. And we thought, that must be it, the official viewpoint that was sought after. It was about half an hour before the Jacobite was planned to appear, so our arrival gave Mini plenty of time to adjust her gear to take the perfect photos.

THIS. This is the place where the iconic photos of the Jacobite are usually taken. No wonder there were so many others guarding their spots. Those curves and arches on the viaduct look so smooth and aesthetically pleasing ❤

Mini's "gear" wasn't complicated or high-tech – just a smartphone, actually. We had to make things work by using what was available, namely Mini's backpack, wallet, and selfie stick, which all played a part in ensuring that her phone stood upright and still. Now all was set and we wait for the main character's appearance…

…but I had to run back to my spot, quickly because the train was coming! There it comes, choo choo! (Yes the train did make the sound.) I wonder if people on the train knew that outside their windows, many people were waiting for them to pass by 😛

Here’s a closer look at the Jacobite on the Glenfinnan Viaduct. I think I’d like to be on the Jacobite one day and travel from Fort William all the way to Mallaig, then take the ferry over to Skye instead of the bus. That’ll have to wait till I see my beloved Scotland again someday…

After the Jacobite has disappeared into the distance, Mini and I still had a bit of time left before our scheduled trip back to Fort William. We wandered a little along the shore of Loch Shiel and I became amazed again at how much beauty Scotland holds. And it saddened me that I’d be leaving in three months (till today I’m STILL sad that I am not in Scotland now!!)

Selfie time! Thanks to Mini’s visit, we had a fun-filled day hiking and exploring the Glenfinnan area (and I still didn’t know where to look in the camera). Of course I didn’t know at that time that two years later, Mini would become one of my bridesmaids!

Finally, we hopped onto a train back to Fort William and another back to Glasgow, going in the reverse direction on the West Highland Way. The hills are alive everywhere in Scotland, a place that will always have a piece of my heart – or heck it could have all of it if it wants!

Beautiful things: Gates and doors

There are many things I like to take photos of: clouds, reflections, and cityscapes at night, to name a few. Gates and doors are not the most popular or common subjects to photograph, but while sifting through the photos I’ve taken over the years, I realized that I’ve encountered a number of them that impressed me or are simply beautiful. I’ve gathered a small collection of these gates and doors here for your enjoyment.

Perhaps my favourite of them all are these aged but colourful gates all aligned outside the imperial palace in Hue, Vietnam. This is certainly not what most people went to the palace to see but it somehow caught my attention. There were at least five arched doorways (maybe not even gates or doors themselves?) that were lined up in a row in such a way that it was very pleasing to the sight. Almost symmetrical, but not quite perfectly, which is where its beauty lies.

The second one is this gate somewhere in Basel, the first city that I visited in Switzerland. You can only see the outline of the gate itself but two things appealed to me: the elegant details of the curves on the gate and the vivid colours on the other side. The contrast between the dark silhouette and the bright exterior further accentuated the features of the gate, making it one of the most unique ones I’ve seen.

Onto one that took on a rather different style – a door covered with graffiti in Prague. The sprayed writings on the door made it look quite messy, and in fact the door couldn’t be any more ordinary. Ironically, that’s what made it special to me because it shows that the ordinary exists, even in a popular and acclaimed tourist destination like Prague.

Let’s stay in Prague for a bit and go to the Prague Castle, where two weapon-wielding giants guard one of its gates. The one on the left chose a bat as his weapon of choice while the one on the right had a sharp object, presumably a knife of some sort. Each giant was in action, arresting what seemed like tresspassers trying to bypass castle security. Don’t mess with the giants or you might end up under their feet like that…

This door-and-window combination, photographed in Saint-Émilion, couldn’t be simpler, but its exquisiteness lies in the details. The three pots of flower, the octagonal hole in which one of them was placed, the aged walls, the intricate but delicate patterns on the curtains inside, the cobblestone street…a perfectly serene picture.

And finally…here’s a creepy gate that leads to a cemetery, I presume. I had actually completely forgotten where I took this photo and had to dig through my harddrive to find out that it was in…Edinburgh! Looking through photos of this particular trip, I believe this was taken at the Greyfriars Kirkyard. Indeed Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in Europe and I visited it plenty of times when I was living in Glasgow. In addition to the many spectacular spots that most tourists would visit, Edinburgh certainly hides some secrets very well, like this one… 😉

What beautiful thing should I blog about next? Shadows? Clouds? Reflections? Hmm…

Wait, what do you mean I’ve left Glasgow…

I left Glasgow almost two months ago after having lived and worked there for three years. As I embark on my travels in China, which are happening right now, as I reunite with friends that I’ve met in Glasgow I often marvel at how time has passed us by. For me, it hasn’t even been that long since I left, but the memory of my time in Glasgow somehow feels so distant, both in space and time. Those years have faded so rapidly into a blurry, mushy mess of history. It’s almost as if I’ve never worked at MiMe, never served at GCCC, never built those precious relationships, never written the first post about Glasgow, never loved this beautiful Scottish city…

First sunrise in Glasgow, October 29, 2014 @ 6:56am.

And it’s very strange. Had I fallen into deep sleep and dreamt a dream that felt too real for three years? Is there something hidden in those memories that I want to deny, and is this a way of throwing it behind me indefinitely? If I ever go back, will I regain what was lost and still call Glasgow my love, or will I be a stranger, a passerby?

Last sunrise in Glasgow, the day I left, October 30, 2017 @ 6:26am.

Footdee, Aberdeen

Aberdeen is the final Scottish city for me to visit before leaving Glasgow for good, and I went on such a perfect day! You really have to wish for luck with sunny weather in Scotland, and I was blessed with a full day of sunshine in Aberdeen. To be honest, my impression of a city largely depends on the weather on the day of my visit, which is unfair. As a result, I loved Aberdeen, while I could also say that I’d probably have loved Antwerp if I had visited on a good day and not gotten soaked…

Hidden in a corner of Aberdeen is the tiny fishing village of Footdee, reached by walking the entire length of the beach promenade and turning into a secluded section of the city. After having walked halfway, I reached what I THOUGHT was Footdee, and was about to turn back. But then, Google Maps told me that I had to keep going a bit farther, and so I did. And I’m glad I did, because Footdee was such a lovely little community!

There are 20 of these anchors scattered over Aberdeen for charity purposes, and this one, named Grace, stood at the edge of Footdee.

Upon entering Footdee, I was greeted with several rows of houses that resembled old huts. Everything seemed so tidy and each house was unique in its design and decorations, as you’ll see soon.

The owner of this house seemed to have a liking for birds, butterflies, and garden gnomes. And oh, look how blue the sky was!

Say hi to the official football gnome of Scotland!

Here’s another house whose owner seemed to have spent a lot of time decorating the front yard with lots of sculptures and toys.

A storage hut welcomes you with hugs and kisses…or maybe just kisses.

This has got to be one of my favourite displays – a kissing couple, a lady at the beach, and a superstar gnome. These were wiggling figurines but of course I could only capture still images, so just imagine that they were grooving left and right.

And on the other side of the house we have another lady (with a rather large derrière) at the beach, a bagpipe-playing Scot, and…what I could only imagine to be Mr.Trump!?!?!

Moving on to the next house, this one might have housed an old sailor…

…but this slightly strange-looking guy guards the door and says hi…???

On the other side of the green house stands a pretty peacock…

…and another (almost) kissing couple.

A happy family…

…and another happy family? Or is it the same family dressed differently? Hmmmm…

And that was the end of my random wanders around little Footdee, a walk that took no more than an hour but gave me plenty of surprises!

Short travel reflection: Hillwalking in Scotland

Scotland is a walker’s paradise – I ought to know that, now that I’ve lived here for almost three years. Though I can’t say that I fell in love with hiking and hillwalking only after coming to Scotland (it was way back in Tobermory when I started to like hiking), being in a country surrounded by hills and mountains gave me plenty of opportunities to explore the countless trails, woodlands, parks, and natural reserves that it had to offer. Hillwalking has become a weekend hobby, especially during the past year or so. Sometimes I’d wake up at 5am on a Saturday just to catch the earliest train to the bottom of a hill and start walking – and if you know me, waking up early is TORTURE to me. Alas, only the hills have the power to make me WILLINGLY get up this early ON A WEEKEND.

Although I have yet to climb a real mountain, I’ve certainly conquered a fair number of small hills (200-700 m in altitude/ascent) – Conic Hill, Tinto Hill, Deuchary Hill, Callander Crags, East Lomond Hill, to name a few. Unfortunately, without a car, most of the time I am only able to climb hills that are reachable via public transport (and sometimes it takes up to 3 hours one way), and so the choices are rather limited. My list of “hills to climb” continuously grows as I find more and more interesting spots, yet it’ll take me years and years to check them off one by one…if I stay in Scotland AND get a car!

While I do like hillwalking, every hill is still a challenge to overcome. As I walk up the steep and slippery slopes, straining my leg muscles and sweating on every inch of my body, I curse and scream aloud words like “WHY AM I DOING THIS!” Getting to the top is tough work! Every step brings me closer to the destination but also gets heavier and heavier, until I reach the summit and embrace victory – often in very strong winds! And when the vastness and magnificence of the views below strike me, all of the effort (sometimes hours!) is rewarded, and I could say, “It was all worth it.”

A cairn marking the summit of the Broughton Heights circuit, reached on March 11, 2017.

My go-to resource for hillwalking information is, without a doubt, the WalkHighlands web site, without which none of my walks would have been possible. While the instructions are usually straightforward and easy to follow, there were a few instances where I did get lost because of vague descriptions and unmarked/unclear paths. In hindsight, however, I have done some pretty stupid things during my hillwalks that were completely my own responsibility, such as not bringing water, not following clear trails, and underestimating the time it takes to walk a trail. I’ve gotten stuck in thick mud several times (thank God for my super sturdy shoes) and almost injured myself from going down the back of Conic Hill via an extremely rocky and slippery path. It’s a miracle that I made it unscathed! If I do continue to take on hillwalking more seriously, I’m going to have to be much more prepared and informed (especially when I walk alone, which is quite often) if I want to conquer the hills instead of letting them conquer me…

(Feel free to check out my “The hills are alive…” series, where I wrote about various individual walks that I’ve taken within the past few years. Perhaps the “Food & the Hills” photo gallery, which showcases each walk (not necessary hills) accompanied by snacks that I brought along, would also be of interest to you 😉 )

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