Annie Bananie en Europe

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Norway in a Nutshell, part 2 – Through the Norwegian fjords

Day 1 of the Norway in a Nutshell (NIAN) itinerary took me from Oslo to Bergen, where after a long but pleasant train ride I had a chance to briefly explore. The highlight of the NIAN itinerary, though, was no doubt day 2, the return trip from Bergen to Oslo. Along the way, I’d be using three modes of transportation – train, bus, and boat – and see the famous waterfalls (which I LOVE), fjords, and valleys that Norway is famous for.

I hopped onto a morning train from Bergen station and set out for the first destination, Voss, where I’d catch a bus to Gudvangen, the start of the fjord boat tour. The bus ride offered some great views to enjoy, and it seemed as if Norway is constantly wrapped in a layer of clouds!

Before heading to Gudvangen, I had Googled the best side of the bus to sit on (assuming that I was lucky enough to get a window seat, and I was) to get the greatest view. From Voss to Gudvangen, it seemed that most people said the LEFT side gave the best views, especially as you’d be able to see Tvindefossen, one of the famous waterfalls of Norway – right there! As I had forgotten the name of the waterfall when I was writing this post, I had to look it up but thanks to the World of Waterfalls web site, I identified it as Tvindefossen by appearance and location. It was almost impossible not to notice it as it was right off the highway, and how impressive it was (even if it was half-covered by the shadow of the cliffs on the other side. Quite a pity that I didn’t get a chance to go closer to it but just seeing it zoom by made the bus ride worthy of its cost.

More breathtaking views as we approached Gudvangen – I mean just how much more gorgeous does it get! A lot of the photos in this post look similar but I can’t resist – such unbelievable beauty ❤

As we arrived at Gudvangen (keeping count of the plainly visible waterfalls encountered during the trip) I spotted another set of waterfalls. Without a guide, I didn’t know its name, but again with the help of World of Waterfalls, I managed to identify it as Kjelfossen. Apparently they’re some of the tallest waterfalls in Norway but they don’t look so impressive in the photo, probably because of the lack of precipitation. But still a surprising encounter!

I had about an hour to kill before the boat tour began so I walked around the docks a bit and enjoyed the views from Gudvangen, which continued to be phenomenal.

Turn 180 degrees from where the previous photo was taken and you’d get this view toward the path that we were about to take through the fjords. Kind of reminds me of the final scene of the Lord of the Rings movie, where Frodo et al. were sailing off from the Grey Havents with the song “Into the West” playing in the background.

At noon, we finally boarded the boat and left the Grey Havens – into the Sognefjord & Nærøyfjord we went, with a Norwegian flag waving proudly in the (rather chilly) wind!

Umm, yeah it was pretty cold, probably something like -7 Celsius degrees. Thankfully there was a heated interior area, but for the brave who wanted to enjoy the fjords to the fullest (like me), the exterior deck was open. I think I managed to last about half an hour out in the cold but gave up in the end and settled for the comfort of warmth.

Do you see what I see? Another waterfall trying to hide itself behind the little houses along the shore! It may look quite tiny and unspectacular but it is possible that this photo only managed to capture a fraction of its overall height, as the source of the waterfall was probably at the top of the mountains.

On and on we cruised toward the next destination, Flåm, all the while being immersed in breathtaking scenery (if you haven’t noticed yet 😛 ) And by “we” I mean “I and the other passengers”, as Norway was an entirely solo trip.

Flåm was the starting point of the Flåm Line, which is supposedly one of the most scenic rail lines in the world (the same was said of the West Highland Line and to that I totally agree). There were a couple of hours of wait time between the end of the fjord boat ride and the beginning of the train trip from Flåm to Myrdal, so I wandered around Flåm a little. Aside from a gift shop, there wasn’t much to do around the train station, but I found a small hill nearby and had just enough time for a quick walk to the top.

The train ride on the Flåm Line was a gradual uphill climb from the valley of Flåm (Flåmsdalen) to Myrdal. The entire trip was only 20 km but lasted around an hour as it was a very slow train that allowed tourists to experience the best of Flåm at a leisurely pace. While the scenery was beautiful (look, another waterfall! 😉 ), I felt like it wasn’t as impressive as I had anticipated it to be. Definitely can’t compare to the West Highland Line, sorry Norway! Then again an hour is a relatively short ride, so maybe it was just over too soon.

The climb from Flåm to Myrdal saw a rise in elevation of 866 m, which is equivalent to a Corbett in Scotland. This segment kind of reminded me of parts of Switzerland, specifically the villages in Lauterbrunnen and those scattered along the rail line from Interlaken to Zurich.

Here’s Kjosfossen, a large waterfall close to Myrdal that was one of the highlights of the Flåm Line. There’s actually a station called Kjosfossen, and the train stops there for about two minutes for tourists to get off and take photos – probably the designated purpose of the station. The waterfall was really close – like, in-yo-face kind of close. You step off the train and it’s RIGHT THERE. Loving the sound of the roaring water, calms and soothes my mind ❤

Final interesting thing that I saw before arriving at Myrdal (could have been before Kjosfossen, actually) were these sharp hairpin turns, with yet another tall waterfall (Myrdalsfossen) tumbling right next to it! The height difference is probably not so obvious here but believe me, the ascent (or descent) was very, very steep. What a car ride that would have been if one had to take those hairpin turns…!

The arrival at Myrdal station marked the end of the NIAN itinerary and the only thing left to do was wait for the train back to Oslo. So, in a nutshell, Norway, you were stunning, but oh how I wish I had more time to explore your hidden beauties and secrets, beyond those I was able to see in two days!

Swallows, fairies, and a misty summit in Snowdonia

When I first heard the name Snowdonia, I thought it sounded like a place in Narnia or Harry Potter or some magical fictional location. Well I might have been right because I now do wonder if Snowdonia is the portal to a magical realm. Of course, this national park in the north of Wales is too big to be properly explored in two days, which was all I had. So as a lover of waterfalls, I went to see the Swallow Falls, and who could resist a place with a name like Fairy Glen Gorge? Finally I went to the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 1085 metres. No, I didn’t walk it. I took the train on the Snowdon Mountain Railway as I simply wouldn’t have had the time to walk it. Yes, I took the train and I’m shameless to say it, even though one particular walker gave us a thumbs-down near the summit – well BITE ME 😀

As someone who loves waterfalls, there was no way that I’d NOT go see Swallow Falls when I was in Snowdonia. I love how the sound of the roaring water gets louder and louder the closer I get to the falls. As I watch the water flow so freely downstream I couldn’t help but ask…where does it come from, and where is it going?

As I hopped off the bus at the entrance to the Fairy Glen path, the bus driver remarked, “Off to see the fairies, are you?” I responded, “Yes, I’d hope so!” A short walk led me to a secluded gorge that could only be reached by walking down some steep, rocky steps, and you really couldn’t see the gorge until you walked down the final step. It was such a serene place, and again I loved hearing the water flow. I might have caught a glimpse of a fairy dancing here and there too…I wonder if the fairies here are related to the ones at the Fairy Glen on Skye in Scotland – cousins, maybe? 😉

And Snowdon. Oh Snowdon. According to a survey, the best view in the UK is from the summit of Snowdon. I might have agreed…if I could have been able to see it! Moments ago the scene in front of me was completely covered by the white mist, but the monster wind was rather helpful with clearing the clouds, so I did get the periodic lucky breaks and saw parts of the view from time to time. Still, the mountains of Snowdonia looked like a realm of heaven from here.

Oh Wales, what other secrets do you hold?

26 days in China, part 5 – Wenzhou

Getting closer and closer to my hometown in the far south of China, but not before I stop by another city in Zhejiang province…Wenzhou! Like every other stop on this long trip across China, Wenzhou is home to a couple of friends whom I wanted to visit. In fact, over the past years, I’ve met many people in Europe who came from Wenzhou, having heard so much about THEIR hometown. So this time, it was finally my turn to go and see the place where they grew up and lived before their adventures in Europe.

First visit: WY the wine lady! I met WY in Bordeaux when she was studying vineyard management, and she is currently very successful in the wine business in Wenzhou. If I remember correctly, it had been almost three and a half years since I last saw her in Bordeaux – too long! I brought her a little bottle of English mead (honey liquer) as a gift. Not sure if the taste beats any of her wine, but the bottle is certainly cute and delicate ^_^

Having dinner at WY’s place means we’re gonna have some good wine, guaranteed. In fact, WY’s flat turned out to be wine haven as she had racks and racks of wine of all sorts well laid out in her living room. What a way to live! People in the wine business truly amaze me because I can’t tell a good wine from a bad one to save my life. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a glass or two though, whether it’s red or white! Here’s dinner with my mom, YY (another friend), YX and MC (from Malaysian, whom we were with in Hangzhou and Huzhou), WY, and WY’s sister. Cheers, and let’s dig in to the hot pot!

After dinner, YY, my host in Wenzhou, welcomed me and my mom to her flat, where we stayed for two nights. I met YY in Glasgow but this was the first time I was meeting her two adorable sons, Jack and John. You certainly didn’t think she was the mother of two 8-year-old twin boys, huh! Anyway, even though I only spent two days with the boys, I felt like we could have become best buddies. They are so active and intelligent and just so quirky that it was pure fun being around them! My mom instantly fell in love with them as well, heh! I really felt bad that I had to leave them in the end 😦

Here’s John (or Jack?!) teaching me how to hold the violin properly. I had tried to learn to play the violin by myself years ago but failed miserably, so it was good to have a teacher! OK…I was so bad at it that he gave up teaching me and just decided to play me a song instead 😛

Day two in Wenzhou, and my host YY took me to a village in the nearby mountainous regions where the TV series “One family in Wenzhou” was filmed. I don’t know much about the series, but I liked the tranquility of the village surrounded by nature and fresh air, away from the big city. Without a true local as a companion, I would never have known such a place existed!

Hiking through woods and up and down hidden trails in the mountains, we encountered a series of waterfalls that dropped into pools with the clearest and most turquoise water I had ever seen. It was here that I wondered…are these the REAL Fairy Pools?! I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised if the photos of the Fairy Pools on Skye were actually taken here…simply breathtaking! The bonus point was that this area is still quite unknown to the public, so we pretty much had it all to ourselves. As I was already sweating from the uphill hike, I had the urge to jump in for a swim! Oh, what a beautiful surprise. China, you never cease to amaze me.

Annie and YY finally take a photo together! I was so glad to have had her presence in Glasgow for a year and too happy to see her again in China, in her hometown. As with all of the other friends that I reunited with during this trip, I’m not sure when I’ll see YY again but I’m sure we’ll be in each other’s prayers 🙂

Before leaving Wenzhou for good, my mom and I had the opportunity to visit a local church for its Sunday morning service. I’ve heard many things about the expansion of Christianity in the Wenzhou area and was eager to join YY and her family for worship. First thing first – they weren’t kidding about the huge churches! One thing, though, was that I understood nothing from the sermon simply because it was delivered in Wenzhou dialect…oops. Still a great experience, especially the gigantic lunch feast that followed! If you hadn’t told me that it was a church meal, I would have thought that it was a wedding banquet. Rows after rows of round tables and at least 7 or 8 dishes prepared for each. And all that rice! There must have been hundreds at the gathering – I was really quite impressed!

As was the case in most of the posts in this series, I have to introduce the food. In Wenzhou, we were offered a much more home-styled taste compared to the other cities that I had visited. Top left: fresh steam crab prepared by WY. Top right: Wenzhou-style steamed fish prepared by WY. Middle: hot pot with a variety of small dishes prepared by WY. Bottom left: farm-style stir-fried tofu. I must say, if this wasn’t the best tofu I’ve had in my life, it came very close. I can’t imagine it being made in any complicated way – it must have been one of the simplest home-style dishes that the villagers made every day but somehow it smelled and tasted so wonderful. Bottom right: a type of root-like vegetable called “sheng di” in Chinese that has no direct translation. They look like creepy caterpillars but trust me, they were only vegetables. After having eaten at restaurants for so many days, it was great to finally have some taste of home!

As we left Wenzhou, I became more and more excited because I was about to board a flight to MY hometown, Guangzhou! Finally, after spending 10 days in various places near the Jiangnan area of China, I was able to say that the next destination was…home!

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