Annie Bananie en Europe

A blog about travel, life, and everyday tidbits

Tag Archives: uk

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!)

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Northern Ireland part 3: Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the Dark Hedges

One does not simply visit Belfast without stopping by Giant’s Causeway. In fact I’ll say that my primary motivation for going to Northern Ireland in the first place was to see Giant’s Causeway, all the better with a group of friends. We embarked on a day tour that brought us to the long-awaited Giant’s Causeway, among other attractions nearby including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and the Dark Hedges.

Made up of tens of thousands of basalt columns, Giant’s Causeway lies on the northeastern coast of Northern Ireland and is by far the most famous attraction of the region. Let me just say this: Giant’s Causeway was impressive!! I’ve seen plenty of photos of Giant’s Causeway, but this is one of those places whose magic must be experienced in person – photos do not even begin to describe how cool it is! As my friends and I joined a tour group to get there, we only had an hour and a half to spend at the causeway, including the time it took for the bus to get from the entrance to the actual causeway (or a 25-minute walk each way). I could easily have spent a whole day there and if I ever revisit, I wouldn’t mind just sitting on one of those columns and staring out into the vast sea and at the crashing waves all day…!

The formation and arrangement of the basalt columns were simply spectacular, and we were amazed at how they were able to form in such organized patterns. The entire place was such an inspiration and a wonderful work of art by Mother Nature. Of course, lovely places such as this get so much attention from travellers that you’d expect many others to go and admire its greatness, but that didn’t undermine the coolness of it all. Definitely worth going to Northern Ireland just to see Giant’s Causeway!

The Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge was another stop on the day tour, linking the mainland to a tiny island called Carrickarede. From photos I’ve seen prior to the trip, I thought that the rope bridge would be super long, super shaky, and super scary to cross, but I was wrong! The photos deceived all of us and when we got there, we realized that the rope bridge was in fact quite short, and it took perhaps 10 seconds to cross. Boo, a little disappointing! However, the views on the way to and on the island were quite amazing. The waters beneath the surrounding cliffs were so crystal clear and green, and I even saw a huge cave that reminded me of the Grotto in Tobermory in Canada!

Along the way we stopped by several other places such as Carrickfergus Castle and the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, but one that would probably interest many Game of Thrones fans (and one of my friends was such a fan) would be the Dark Hedges, which was apparently a filming location for GoT. I have never watched or been interested in GoT, so for me the Dark Hedges was just another cool place to be. And it was indeed pretty cool – I could see how a fantasy series would use such a place as one of its settings. The beech-lined avenue resembled the majestic entrance to a mystic land, perhaps hiding some secrets within the trees themselves and goading visitors to reach beyond the end of the road. I felt bad for the cars that were actually trying to get through though – it was certainly quite tough with all the people stopping there to take photos!

As with the previous two parts of the Northern Ireland series (read Part 1 about Bangor and Part 2 about Belfast), I end with some photos of my lovely companions, without whom the trip would have been so much less colourful. Northern Ireland was beautiful, but so were you girls! ❀

Northern Ireland part 1: An afternoon in Bangor

In July, I went to Northern Ireland for a long weekend getaway with a group of girls from my church. Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, is a mere 45-minute flight away from Glasgow. The accessibility made it a perfect destination for a group outing, and off we went to spend some quality ladies’ time!

The base of our explorations was of course Belfast, but we also joined a day trip that took us to the famous Giant’s Causeway as well as some other points of interest, including the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and the Dark Hedges, which will be another story for another post. This post is actually about the seaside resort town of Bangor, where we decided to spend one afternoon since it was a convenient half-hour ride by train from Belfast. We didn’t even need to make it a day trip – several hours was all that we needed!

Like many other seaside towns I’ve been to (Cherbourg, Oban, and Tobermory, just to name a few), boats were lined along the harbour of Bangor. Rows of colourful houses adorned the harbourfront, just like those in Tobermory πŸ™‚

There was a path along the seaside and we all followed it and took a gentle stroll. The scenery was beautiful and I could understand why people would come to Bangor for the holidays or maybe even retire here!

You might think these are mountains and hills photographed from a faraway place but they are actually bumps along the seaside trail that are covered in green moss!!

If you’ve been reading my blog then you’d know that I love murals. There were several large murals near the harbourfront, but this one of a cafe would have to be my favourite. Pretty realistic, if you ask me. I wonder if an actual cafe used to be here…

In total, including me, 7 people went on this trip. These are some of my adorable companions. At that point, I’ve known most of them for a little less than a year, and this was the second time we all travelled together, the first time being the trip to the Isle of Skye. Most of them are leaving soon though so it makes me quite sad to have to send them off one by one. But that is precisely why we needed these group outings – to create memories that last! I absolutely love these girls ❀

The best part of our little side trip to Bangor would probably be the carnival that was taking place in the main square. Yes, yes, I know I’m almost 30, but in the midst of a fun fair, who wouldn’t be tempted to go on some rides? Though what I had REALLY wanted to ride since a long time ago was the merry-go-round, the girls and I decided to do bumper cars and the swinging-spinning thing (whatever you call it) instead. ‘Round and around and around and around we go…till we were dizzy! It was actually a lot higher and scarier than I had expected and I think we all felt like we were little girls again.

As for bumper cars, it was a bit disappointing that we were only allowed to go one way, but driving into other people and being bumped into were tons of fun nevertheless!

Let’s end with a group photo of all of us having ice cream before we left. I was the only one who had it in a cup instead of a waffle cone and I kind of regretted it, though the others told me that mine was a smart decision as ice cream dripping wouldn’t have been a problem. This will become a rare memory frozen in time because from here on, it will be so difficult for all of us to be together again, but I truly cherished these great moments shared with each and every one of you. Please take care, and see you later!

London in a weekend

When I was living in Bordeaux, Paris was easily within reach. 3 hours by high-speed train and you’re there – and it would cost as low as 20€ one way! Even if I wasn’t able to get a hold of the cheap ticket, being a student and under 27, I was still entitled to reduced rates, so visiting Paris was like taking a stroll in the backyard. In the UK, the equivalent to Paris is obviously London. However, visiting London from Glasgow isn’t as straightforward. The most direct way – by train – isn’t necessarily the fastest, as it takes at least 4.5 hours to get to London. If I choose to fly, the flight itself is a little over an hour, but fussing with airports here and there would easily add another 2 or 3 hours to the trip. The biggest issue is cost. A one-way flight would set me back around 10Β£ (if I’m super lucky) to 25Β£ (approximately 13-33€), whereas the train…anywhere from 40-100Β£, as I don’t qualify for student discounts anymore.

So what I’m trying to say is (1) take advantage of being young and travel with your discounts and (2) it is not so easy getting to London 😦 As a result, London hasn’t really been “a stroll in the backyard”, and I didn’t get as many chances as I wanted to visit the British capital ever since settling down in Glasgow. The first “real” chance came two weeks ago, when I decided to spend a weekend in London and explore the city casually. I had done all the major tourist attractions 5 years ago and so this time around, all I wanted to do was wander, take the red double-deck buses to random places, people-watch, and hopefully like this metropolis more than I liked Paris πŸ˜›

The weekend was quite rainy but I had a stroke of good luck as the morning of my arrival was still relatively rain-free. My first destination was Hyde Park, which had a beautiful rose garden where I could sit down and enjoy the presence of flower, the sun (gasp), and people.

Summer? While the weather wasn’t very convincing, the flowers in the rose garden certain did scream, “Summer!” It happened to be the day where the celebrations for the Queen’s 90th birthday was taking place at the nearby Buckingham Palace, and while I did pass by the huge crowds, I opted to spend my time more tranquilly rather than join in the festivities. I’m sorry, Queen. I respect you, but I think seeing your bright neon green hat for one split second was good enough for me. Please excuse me while I enjoy Hyde Park instead of going to your party πŸ™‚

Located at Hyde Park Corner is the New Zealand War memorial, which was established to commemorate the loss of New Zealand’s lives during the two world wars.

The one place I really wanted to visit was what was known to me as “an area around Hyde Park”. I remember passing by on a bus and seeing some very interesting sculptures along one large avenue, and thinking…I must go and see them up close! I didn’t end up going to the actual avenue – and I WILL get there next time! – but I did see cool sculptures here and there. Sculptures, along with murals, are my favourite types of city-wide public art. I’m sure there are so many more to discover around London!

As I was supposed to pick up some friends from Euston station in the afternoon, I stopped by King’s Cross, which was right next to Euston. This is where Harry took the train to Hogwarts! Quite an impressive structure, inside and out.

While wandering around the King’s Cross area, I passed by this very colourful corner, which is located at Belgrove Street and Euston Road, and I liked it! It seems like London is full of surprises and awaits more exploration!

One of my missions during this stay was to take a trip to Lanka, a cake shop run by Japanese pastry chefs. This little place was recommended by a friend, and while it took a bit of travelling to reach as it wasn’t centrally located, it was definitely worth the trip! With my companion, we ordered a green tea panna cotta and a yuzu mousse. I think the panna cotta had the strongest green tea flavour I’ve ever tasted out of any green tea flavoured food – good stuff! The cakes were rich in texture but not overwhelmingly heavy, and the best thing was that they were not too sweet. Truly a perfect balance of taste, texture, and aesthetics! If we weren’t already full from having lots of snacks and street food before hand, we would have certainly ordered other ones :O

That was the end of the first day and the rest of the time was spent with some of my buddies catching up and wandering. As a result I didn’t take many photos on the second day. I will say, though, that while London is crowded, has terrible traffic, and is super expensive, I don’t dislike it nearly as much as I dislike Paris. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I quite like London, just like I did 5 years ago. For some reason London intrigues me more so than other huge cities, and I will gladly go back for a truly solo trip where I could get to know more of the city and its secrets. I’ll have to have another long weekend though, and hopefully score some plane/train tickets that won’t empty my wallet. Oh, and a train trip back to Glasgow that doesn’t experience a 5-hour delay (longer than the actual trip, which was only supposed to be 4.5 hours) would be nice, but that’s another tale for another day…

Finally visiting my dream school???

For some reason, Oxford became my dream university in highschool. I think one day I just woke up and decided that it would be super cool to go to Oxford, and for a period of time I actually looked into the undergrad programs that were offered and the admission requirements. Of course that “dream” never materialized for many reasons, but I still thought that one day I would like to visit this prestigious Oxford University. That day came more than ten years later, after I’d finished my undergrad AND PhD degrees. I’m working in the UK – there’s almost no excuse to NOT go and see what Oxford is all about especially since I’ve already been to its biggest rival, Cambridge.

When I arrived in Oxford, I was forced to make a detour from the main area because it had become some sort of crime scene with a lot of police presence. Huh. No details on what happened, but it was a few hours before the area was open to the public again. At least the entire university wasn’t off-limits, phew!

The first place I headed to was the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, where I was able to climb to the top of the tower to get a panoramic view of Oxford. From there I was able to get a first impression of Oxford and compare it to Cambridge – Cambridge was a lot brighter and more “golden”, while Oxford gave me a grim and grey feeling. Neither very colourful though…

…and the most recognized landmark of Oxford would probably be the Radcliffe camera, pictured above. It’s only accessible to students so I wasn’t able to view its interior, but it was certainly a rather lovely piece of architecture.

Next I went to the Bodleian university library, and just being on the outside made me feel like I was surrounded by an air of scholarship and academia. Again, the library was off-limits to the general public unless it was via a paid, guided tour, which I opted to skip. One part of the library that was accessible, however, was the School of Divinity, which was just one chamber/hall behind closed doors beyond the main gate of the library.

While in Oxford I joined a free walking tour of the city with Footprints Tours, where our enthusiastic guide Tom took the group around Oxford and enlightened us with many historical facts and stories. One of the sites that we passed by was Christ Church, a massive college that has apparently produced the most prime ministers out of any college in Oxford and Cambridge.

One of the most interesting things I remember Tom telling us was the story behind the emblem of Christ Church. Well, there wasn’t much of a story, but when he told us that the emblem initially made him think of a UFO sucking up humans on either side, that image got stuck in my head. YOU CANNOT UNSEE IT. Rather hilarious, if you ask me!

We even met Russian Spider Man, who stealthily followed Tom until he was noticed. And it seemed like Russian Spider Man was a buddy of Tom, giving him a big high-five before he disappeared in a flash again!

Along the way I saw three houses in a public square that were adorned by long winding branches, which actually gave it an aesthetic effect.

On the High Street of Oxford, Tom pointed out a building on the corner that now houses a currency exchange office, but he asked the group to guess what the purpose of the building used to be. Maybe one of the gentlemen did his history homework, but he immediately answered, “Brothel”, which was the correct answer! Well done, sir…?

Finally it was time for the obligatory group photo. Tom asked all of us to jump while he attempted to take the photo, and jump I did, though I doubt everyone in the group did the same! Heh, it had been a fun and informative tour, giving me some insights to what life might have been like had I had the (mis)fortune to attend Oxford like I wanted to. But I’m glad I went to Oxford, only as a tourist, and not as a student, thank you very much πŸ˜›

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