Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: short travel reflection

Short travel reflection: Window vs. aisle seat

If asked whether I’d prefer a window seat or aisle on a flight (or ride on any other form of transportation), I would almost always reply “window seat” for the amazing window views offered from the sky. City lights, mountains, coastlines and islands, oddly shaped clouds…you name it. One exception is if I had to run out of the aircraft as soon as possible after landing to catch a connecting flight. In rare situations, I may also find it to be in the best interest for me and my seatmates if I took an aisle seat, and this is when I have to access the lavatory frequently for whatever reason over a long-haul flight.

I found myself in such situation in January when I had to choose my seat on a 10.5-hour flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam. I was on my period and knew that I’d want to use the lavatory several times during the flight. Not wanting to inconvenience those sitting in my row, I reluctantly gave up a window seat and took an aisle seat, which is still better than the middle seat.

Now, not too long before we were scheduled to land, the captain made an in-flight announcement notifying us that we were flying over Copenhagen and that the bridge connecting Copenhagen to Malmo is now visible to passengers on the left side – MY side. If you have any idea how impressive that bridge looks even in photos, you’d understand my excitement that we could see it from the air! With anticipation I turned to my side, hoping to at least get a quick glimpse even though I wasn’t right by the window. What do you know…the window shade in my row was CLOSED. WHAT. I had hoped that the lady who had the window seat would want to open the window shade to see the bridge after hearing the announcement, but she was reading a book or sleeping or something, anything but intending to open the window shade. It was at this frustrating moment that I regretted the loss of a potentially spectacular view and understood that perhaps ignorance truly is bliss. If only the captain hadn’t made that announcement…!

Soon it was time to land and I usually look out the window to observe the entire landing process and know when the wheels touch the ground. At this point, however, the window shade was still closed…! I couldn’t seen how close the aircraft was to the ground even if I wanted to. Being used to window seats, this “unknownness” was quite new to me (though not the first time), so all I could do was anticipate the instant of aircraft-ground contact and hope that it would be a smooth landing. And thankfully, it was. Safe and sound in Amsterdam!

All I can say is…hopefully my menstrual cycle won’t coincide with future long-haul flights ever again!!

A view of the Pyrénées at the border of France and Spain, seen on a flight from Lisbon to Brussels, April 2013. Such magnificent views were only made possible by choosing a window seat!

Short travel reflection: Revisiting Lisbon, Madrid, and Barcelona

I’m currently in the middle of a week-long trip in Portugal and Spain (Madrid at the moment), visiting a friend who is studying in Madrid and joined by some other friends coming all the way from Canada and the USA. I’ve previously visited the three main destinations of our trip – Lisbon and Barcelona in 2011, and Madrid (and Lisbon again) in 2013. Lisbon was definitely my favourite out of the three, but revisiting all three of these major cities one after another will give me a whole new perspective, especially after so many years already.

Alfama district, Lisbon, Portugal in March, 2016 – Looking down onto an alley leading up to São Jorge Castle.

We left Lisbon this morning and arrived in Madrid, and in three days we’ll be in Barcelona. In Lisbon, we got to see some of the places that I missed during the previous two trips, including the Alfama district and the areas around Sintra. For Barcelona, one of my greatest regrets was not entering the Sagrada Familia when I was there five years ago, and now I finally have a chance to make it happen. So, while I don’t get to visit new cities during this trip (except for Córdoba as a day trip in two days), I do get to have the new experience of travelling with buddies with whom I’ve never travelled before, and going back to the places that I’ve missed in the cities previously explored. I do hope to write about these experiences when I return to Glasgow – that is, if I don’t get swamped with work. Oh well, let’s not think about work at the moment – let the travels continue!

Short travel reflection: Photographing people and streets

Lately I’ve developed a special interest in street photography, especially in photographing people, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to do so while I was in Southeast Asia. While chatting with a friend and colleague, who is an aspiring photographer, we shared our experiences and talked about the types of photos we enjoy taking. My friend, who recently began to take photography seriously, said that landscapes and cityscapes attracted him, but when I told him about my recently developed interest in street photography, he couldn’t seem to understand the point of capturing photos of random strangers.

To be fair, I think I should use the term “street photography” cautiously because not every portrait is taken on what you’d call a “street” or even a city. And I’m really mostly referring to ordinary people and their everyday lives, so perhaps “people photography” is more appropriate. Anyway, our conversation provoked me to reflect on why I suddenly became so fascinated by people that I felt the irresistible urge to capture the emotions of all those strangers that I chanced upon, most of the time candidly. True, landscapes and cityscapes have vast amounts of beauty and can inspire unimaginable creativity in photography, and I myself enjoy them immensely, but people intrigue and even captivate me. When the truest and most genuine emotions or one inconspicuous moment of an individual’s life is captured on camera, for me, that is irreplaceable.

Perhaps my favourite photo taken during my first trip to Southeast Asia is that of this man sitting in Angkor Wat in Cambodia, December 2015. I was unsure if he was a worker there or a visitor, but the genuine and content expression on his face, with the hint of a sliver of a cryptic smile, made him so picture-worthy. And one ordinary person can outweigh all extravagant scenery you may see, and make the entire trip worthy. (Click here to see the original photo in colour.)

Why do we care about street photography? When people and their homes, those streets and alleys on which they set foot every day like second nature, become the subjects of interest in a photo, what does that tell us? What does it mean to us, the ones that immortalize these images? Perhaps we see a reflection of ourselves in the expressions and the movements of these strangers whom we will never meet again. And there is a certain beauty behind it that I can’t explain, an invisible connection that reminds me, through their eyes, what it is to live, to be merely human.

Short travel reflection: Not travelling

I love to travel. That is more than obvious. I like to read travel blogs and browse travel photography, both of which inspire me to aim higher and travel further. As a semi-frequent traveller, often I find myself reflecting upon the meaning of travel and asking myself why I travel, and there is no single, straightforward answer. However, in this day and age, people for whom travel isn’t a major part of their lives sometimes face some serious scrutiny, even to the point of judgement, because of their lack of travel experience. And I can’t help but ask the travel community – is it wrong to NOT travel?

I believe that travel is a privilege, not a right. Somehow I landed myself in a position where I can travel relatively more frequently than the average person, and for that I am grateful. Not everyone has the luxury of going where their hearts desire and roaming free in the vast unknown. In fact, not everyone WANTS this “luxury”. There are people who are perfectly fine with their stable everyday lives, living in the comforts of their homes with their families and friends within close reach. And there is nothing wrong with that. Better still, perhaps the familiarity of home is where their hearts lie, so they already have everything they want and need. It stings me when we as travellers belittle or even criticize those who choose not to travel or who simply do not have the resources to do so. Sure, one may encourage others to explore the world because we genuinely wish that they too could experience the thrill of travel. Yes, one may say that travel doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, and that the experiences one gains can never be replaced by staying in one’s home. These are all true, but there are also people who just don’t WANT to travel. And who is to say that those who do are superior to those who don’t?

A saying that is often quoted is “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” I didn’t think much of it when I first read it, but the more I thought about it, the more it felt like a direct criticism of people who don’t travel for whatever reason. Somehow our society has ingrained an unreasonable expectation in our minds that without travel, we’re “stuck” on the first page of our lives and we will never truly be complete or “find ourselves”. Of course that would never be a problem for people who roam around the world and live as a free bird, but for those with a 9-5 job in the office and a family to feed? Well good luck finding meaning in your lives…huh? Is that the attitude that we’re projecting towards people who don’t share the same values as ours? When did travel all of a sudden become the golden standard of whether a person is living a worthy life or not?

This issue had been on my mind for a long time and I finally decided to put together this post as a summary of what I think of the cliché that has been molded by the travel community. Yes, I love to travel, but not everyone else has to. It’s just like any other hobby – painting, cooking, yoga, you name it – and might not be suitable for everyone. Frankly I am quite uncomfortable with the notion that travel is the ultimate goal of life and the only way of understanding and experiencing the values of mankind. It is not. And I’m not saying that every traveller projects the same image, but admittedly, some do. As a travel community, let’s appreciate our opportunities and not take our privileges for granted. And let’s get over ourselves.

Good ol’ home sweet home in Toronto, Canada, June 2014

Thermal baths in Budapest

In case you were wondering from the previous post, yes, I did go to a thermal bath in Budapest (Széchenyi). I wasn’t going to, but I gave in to a combination of curiosity and continuous persuasion by my friend.

What did I think? Well, these thermal baths were largely overrated. I don’t regret having done it though. For me it was something completely new and out of my comfort zone, a step towards conquering fear. My fellow blogger was right, the aspect of anonymity did add some mystery to the whole experience.

Two things merited mentioning and made the experience worthy. First of all, doing a spa surrounded by gorgeous buildings that you would normally think are part of a palace or a museum…that was really cool. Also, stepping out into freezing air (-7 degrees Celsius that day in December!) and dipping into warm water, rinse (literally) and repeat – that was an unforgettable feeling. It was almost like a freeze/thaw cycle…in real life! And OK, it really was quite cheap, and the rented bathing suit was rather nice, actually.

So, while overrated, I thought the whole process was interesting and unconventional for me. I wouldn’t say whether I’d recommend it or not. Some people may be very much into thermal baths and spas and would enjoy this a lot more than I did, but personally I would probably avoid it next time.

Budapest, Hungary, December 2014 – The only photo I took of the interior of the Széchenyi baths, looking up at the lobby. Certainly felt more like a museum than a bath 😛

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