Annie Bananie en Europe

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A very Canadian Chinese New Year

In February, I went back home to Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, bringing along my boyfriend (now fiancé) who was visiting for the first time. After around 16 hours of flight time, we landed in Toronto 9 months after I left, with 13 hours of time difference, halfway across the Earth, just in time to catch some freezing weather and a couple of snow storms!

Being back home means lots of quality time spent with the fam and lots of yummy food! Chinese New Year celebrations included one home-cooked meal and another out at a restaurant, but both were perfect because of the company. I especially missed my goofy sister, who is happily in love with her boyfriend. What’s worthy to note is that we actually got a photo of my dad SMILING! *GASP* Now how rare is that!

Ohh yes it was cold. The boyfriend J and I, along with the entire family, visited Niagara Falls for a few days (more on that later) and were welcomed by a winter Wonderland. J’s smile in the top photo was super forced and seemingly conveyed the expression of “I’m only smiling so we could finish taking this photo and get back in the car”. But then J decided to brave the cold and take a walk around the neighbourhood on the coldest day during the two weeks that we were in Toronto (bottom photo). DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. I mean yes I’d love to show you the area where I grew up and my elementary school and all (and we did go) but you could have picked ANY OTHER DAY…but fine. I’m the true Canadian, I could endure the cold, but can you???

One of the highlights of this trip was attending my first ever live NBA game! This was the game between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards at the Scotiabank Arena and it happened to be Jeremy Lin’s first game after joining the Raptors! I never paid attention to basketball, but everyone who went with me did – J, my dad, my sister, and her boyfriend.

And it was so much fun! The live atmosphere was so intense and the audience was extremely energetic and hyped up (I could only imagine a Leafs game…) It was also a close game as the Raptors were behind by approximately 10 points at around mid-game, but we caught up and ultimately won 129-120! Overall this was a fantastic experience and I was glad to have shared my first-ever NBA game (it was the first for all of them as well) with the ones that I love!

Oh yes, Niagara Falls. Referring to J, my dad said, “Who visits Toronto for the first time without going to the Falls?!” Yea, I hadn’t thought of that, but after he suggested we stay overnight at Niagara, I was sold. I got to see the falls frozen AND lit up at night? Sign me up. In the end, it was less about J seeing Niagara than me taking as many photos of the falls as I could. Not only were the falls frozen, so were my hands!! It was cold AND windy, the worst combination, but I couldn’t resist taking some long-exposure shots, this being my favourite one. Such a majestic view, and only we would be foolish to stick around for long as there was almost no one else out that night, compared to the always-jammed-packed tourist areas during the summertime. Worth it? A million times yes!

And this was yet another phenomenal view – barren, skeletal branches of trees along the cliff the next morning. There was a short stretch right by the large Horseshoe Falls where the trees seemed like they had been stripped of life, and as the car passed by I had to say, “Stop! I need to get off a take some photos!” In fact, it was raining that morning, and the raindrops got on my camera lens but serendipitously resulted in a blurry effect. I thought the photo were ruined at first but upon further inspection, I really liked the way it turned out! It was almost intentional, but not. It felt even a bit ghostly and delusional, as if I were dreaming…of running back to the warmth of the car because the rain was freezing!!!

Time to meet with some good friends and the ones I couldn’t miss every time I visit Toronto were Florence and Darwin and their daughter Elissa (my sister tagged along too). Florence was my university housemate for three years and from seeing each other every day, we now only reunite maybe once a year at most, but it’s always the most anticipated meet-up in Toronto. Love and miss you!

Because J is the most unromantic man in the universe (whom I love anyway), I decided to at least try to be a bit romantic and get him something for Valentine’s Day – a cute bear holding a chocolate rose. OK, I admit it, I got the bear because I thought he was too cute. What’s yours is mine anyway, no? ^_^

Finally, another group photo with the fam AND the food that we had for the home-cooked meal. There’s we go, that’s the more typical “dad expression”, which my sister says is like a bulldog. Oh, what a delicious meal and what a lovely reunion with my dearest ones on the entire planet. Chinese New Year is just an official reason to go home but now that I’m so far away from Toronto, any reason to go home is a good reason. Let’s just not mention the amount of weight that I gained from eating so much good food during those two weeks…

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December 2018

With the end of 2018 also came the end of December…or it really should be the other way around, but I like a little bit of plot twist 😉 The monthly photos continue as Wuhan entered winter in full swing, without central heating of course as we’re considered to be in the “southern” part of China according to the heating division. It’s harsh, alright, very harsh, but what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger! Here is December 2018 in nine photos.

Dining at Hutaoli, a (sort of) fancy restaurant with nice decorations and atmosphere. They pride themselves on the live musical performances, which are nice, but it’s definitely not a place to be if you want a quiet, intimate chat with friends because the music is SO LOUD. I guess the point is to try to mimic the style of a bar, so it isn’t somewhere I’d like to go often!

Friends with whom I dined at Hutaoli. On the left: my PhD labmates JJ (front) and YF (back). On the right: J (front) and me (back). JJ and YF are both from Wuhan, and we reunited here years after we all graduated!

A random cat that I encountered in a parking lot at Wuhan University. Not sure that it was impressed that I was taking photos of it and getting closer and closer by the second…

Photo taken by J when he went on his morning run – yes, even in the snow! First snow of this winter season but the final one of the year, and I didn’t even realized that it snowed so hard until after I got up (much later than did J). So cold, but so beautiful!

View of the neighbourhood in my residential complex from the window of my flat on the 11th floor. The snow didn’t make it for a white Christmas, but it was just in time for the new year! Traffic that morning was horrendous, and whereas it normally takes me about 20 minutes to get to church by bus, it took almost an hour T_T

Taking a short stroll around the residential complex in the evening, I passed by a lone lamp that lit up the frigid air. It was probably around 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, nothing compared to the -20s in Canada, but it was still freezing!!!

A trip to Shenzhen in the TRUE south of China in mid-December (warmth!) brought me to the summit of Lianhua (Lotus) Hill, where I was able to get an amazing panoramic view of the most prosperous area of Shenzhen. There was supposed to be a light show that got cancelled the day that I went, but since I didn’t know of it beforehand, I wasn’t disappointed because I didn’t expect it anyway.

Obligatory selfie with J! This is me going, “Why is it so cold in Wuhan 😦 I miss central heating 😦 😦 😦 ” J’s response was probably something like, “Hurry up and take the selfie so I don’t have to pretend I’m holding some sort of pose XD “

This photo was taken at the worst angle as it reveals without mercy the chubbiness of my face, but it was the only angle that was able to capture the Duomo Cathedral (not a real cathedral, but it mimics Notre-Dame de Paris) with the Christmas tree in front of it. Once again J was like, “Are you done with your selfies yet -_-” but no J, one can never take enough selfies, especially with the one you love!

And that’s all, folks, for 2018. It’s only day 2 and I’m already looking forward to the Chinese new year and going back home to Canada in exactly one month! 19 more work days to go – wait for me, my home!

The four seasons of Glasgow

When people ask me what time of the year is Glasgow’s rainy season, I tell them that every season is a rainy season in Glasgow. At least that’s what it felt like during my one year as a resident of Glasgow.

Nevertheless, the city is still beautiful in every season, even though it sometimes seems as if summer doesn’t exist. Aside from the rain, which is a constant in every season, we do manage to see different colours at various times of the year – a green spring, a blue summer, a red autumn, and a white winter. If you mix everything, the overall impression might still be “gray”, and any rainless day is a cause for celebration 😉

Spring

Spring is the time of the year when life begins to revive after having been asleep for a few months. Blooming flowers are to be seen everywhere, painting Glasgow in vibrant colours and the hope of warmth. Ditch not your umbrellas and rain jackets, however! Rain is aplenty and will wash the city at any given moment, but a forecast of sun for five days in a row (!) reminds me that the toughest months of November to February are over. Weekends can now be spent outdoors, hah!!

Summer

Ah, summer. It is rarely warmer than 25 degrees Celsius in Glasgow, and I’ve heard that the Scots consider it a heat wave if the temperature rises above 24 – is that true, my Scottish friends? Daylight is abundant, and the first rays of sunshine through the window often wake me up at 4am while the sun does not set until 11pm. How awesome is that! Then again, it is easier to lose track of time during the summer – you think it’s only 7pm but all of a sudden it’s midnight. Wasn’t it still bright half an hour ago?!

Autumn

While autumn is my favourite season in Toronto, I’m not sure if I feel the same way in Glasgow. The temperature begins to drop, and the transition into winter is especially difficult to adapt to as gray skies and drizzling rain dominate the atmosphere. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. The sun becomes especially scarce and precious during this period of time, and we really do learn to appreciate every moment of sunlight. We do have some gorgeous red leaves, though, which is a source of consolation and at least adds some colour to my walk to work.

Winter

As a Canadian, I’m raised to believe that winter is incomplete without snow. Luckily (for me, perhaps unluckily for others) that there had been snow during the two Glaswegian winters that I’ve experienced, and I definitely prefer snow over rain! When I heard from my friends and family that the temperature went down to -15 degrees Celsius in January, I was quite glad to have avoided the bone-chilling shivers and thankful to be here with this gentle snow. This year, it really “snowed” only on one day, but that was enough to get me quite excited! Although the snow only lasted one day and pretty much melted away by the next afternoon, I was satisfied to say that it was a REAL winter, hehe.

And now, it is the beginning of February. Yesterday was Groundhog Day but I think the groundhog in Glasgow would have been pretty pissed off when he emerged from his burrow to see another rainy day. I’m not sure if spring is coming soon, but I’m happy to see that the sky is gradually getting brighter when I step out of the office at 5:30pm. And today was an entirely sunny day! What a gift! 😀

The question is not “Do you see my shadow?” but “Where’s my umbrella?” 😦 😦 😦

Dreaming of a white Christmas in Český Krumlov

The first time I heard about the city of Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic was, incidentally, through my own blog. A reader posted a comment on my Travel checklist three years ago, suggesting that I add it to my list. And so I did, but didn’t get a chance to travel there until December 2014. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Český Krumlov is located a little less than 200 km south of Prague, easily reachable by bus. As part of my trip to Eastern Europe, of courrrrrrrrrrrrse there would be no way that I’d miss the perfect opportunity to see Český Krumlov during the Christmas season!

Christmas had already passed when I visited Český Krumlov (I spent last Christmas in Prague), but it’s never too late to hope for some post-Christmas snow, which was absent in Prague. I arrived in Český Krumlov after the first snow of the year (or so said the guide of my walking tour), and I was glad! What’s winter without a bit of snow and freezing temperature to set the mood?

I arrived in Český Krumlov in the late afternoon, when it was already dark outside. Even though I wasn’t able to see the details very clearly, I could already feel that I was falling in love with the town bit by bit as I strolled from the bus stop to the hostel. The winding river Vltava, the same one that traverses Prague, divides Český Krumlov into sections, but the entire town itself could be explored in about two hours. That, of course, would be during the daytime, but I still took my time admiring the lovely reflections of the night lights in the river.

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Incredible Iceland #2 – The Golden Circle

To illustrate why Iceland is my favourite place ever, this post is absolutely necessary. I loved Reykjavik already after one night of staying there, but I loved Iceland even more after immersing myself in the boundless realms of nature that it promised to offer. And it did not disappoint.

You see, when I planned my stay Iceland, I knew I wanted to see some nature. Maybe a lot of nature. A trip to such an exotic destination wouldn’t be complete without seeing its most defining features outside of the urban center – the waterfalls, the geysers, the national parks. I didn’t have a car to take me around the country, but that wasn’t an issue as there was a myriad of tour companies operating day-tours along the most popular tourist routes. One of the classic tours is the Golden Circle tour, a route that takes you around South Iceland and stops at several cultural and natural sites. The description seemed to suit me perfectly, and after signing up with one of the tours, I was on my way to see the other side of Iceland. And boy, that beauty…it was unfathomable.

We set out at around 8:30 in the morning, when the sky was still pitch black. The sun rises at around 10:30 in January, so that’d be another couple of hours before we’d see daylight 😛 On the bus, I saw some dedicated runners doing their morning runs in the dark, an interesting sight as I had never experienced a morning that was still dark at 8:30 am. The bus took us out of Reykjavik onto the “Ring Road”, beginning our tour around the Golden Circle, passing by the “greenhouse town” of Hveragerði. Yep, those rows of illuminated houses are indeed greenhouses, and they looked stunning in the dark, even from the bus, prompting a friend to say, “How can a greenhouse be this beautiful!”

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