Category Archives: Euro Trips

Paris made for the movies

14 July, Sunday. Bastille Day.

Woke up at a little past 7 in the morning to prepare my things. I was to check out of the hostel to meet Joyce at the Hyatt Regency at 8:30. I was thrilled to be spending the next nights in a hotel courtesy of my flight attendant friend. 😉 In all my travels in Europe, this was the first time I stayed in one. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I was looking forward to the breakfast buffet. I just love stuffing myself in the morning with eggs, sausages, some bread with jam along with fresh orange juice.

Joyce, who arrived from an early morning flight from Jeddah, was planning to sleep first in the morning and start our sightseeing by lunchtime. I told her there’s an airshow and military parade at 9 am by the Champs-Élysées as part of the celebrations for Bastille Day. I told her she must already be feeling awake at the elation of seeing me, convinced her we should go and that later in the afternoon we’ll break for a siesta.
My argument won. 😉

Off we marched to the parade. I’ve last seen Joyce in 2008 when she was still pregnant with her daughter. We were, of course, making up for lost time and chattering away while waiting for the military planes make their appearance. And that was how we missed the opening ceremony.  Three planes zoomed by spraying blue, white and red mist representing the flag of France. We quickly ran and joined the crowd but we were too late in capturing a photo. Drat! Haha

I had high expectations of the air show. I was thinking the French Air Force would showcase some fancy routine of planes doing somersaults or dips or whatever trick they could do up in the air. I’ve seen a good one from the Singapore Air Force while they were rehearsing for their National Day Parade. Well the French version was nothing like that. The air show was confined to planes flying overhead, mostly by three’s. Disappointing. Much of it stemming from the fact I had something to compare it too. Life works that way, isn’t it?

We then dropped by at the LV main store in Champs-Élysées. Joyce wanted to buy a wallet she’s been eyeing for some time. It was cool to be able to check the place and at least be with someone who actually bought something. There was free engraving of initials (maximum of three characters) at the 4th floor. Security is tight in such high-end stores, customer movement is closely monitored. The sales lady swiped her card for us in the elevator going to the 4th floor. There’s a staff stationed by the elevator doors. Once done with the engraving we were asked which floor we wanted to go next. We said we’d like to go out already and he swiped his card on the elevator that took us right into a side exit.

 

Next stop: the Louvre! Free entrance that day hurray!

I was happy to have gotten in free. The museum is huge. There’s no way I’ll be wasting my whole day in browsing their entire art collection. I was only interested in seeing Ate Mona (the Mona Lisa painting) and Venus de Milo. A quick look at the museum plan and we got to see them. We were there just for half an hour. Maybe even less.

 
Paris is an expensive city. It became all the more glaring when we dined for lunch. We didn’t really have any restaurant in mind and just decided on one along Rue Saint-Honoré. Our menu, a meal with appetizer, main course and dessert cost 25€! A menu like this in Spain, this would only cost 10€.

My main course was some sort of creamy mushroom chicken with rice. It was okay but overpriced. At least the escargot was good.

After lunch we headed back to the hotel for siesta. We needed the energy because we were going to the Eiffel Tower at night to witness the fireworks.

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We headed for the Eiffel Tower at past 10. The metro station of Trocadero, where the famed tower is located, was jam-packed with peopleAll exits were blocked except for one. Joyce was getting scared there might be a stampede because there was some jostling inside the station while people were getting out. Once we got out, the fireworks had already started. It was hot, crowded with people shoving and shouting. We couldn’t stand to be in the midst of all these so as soon as we arrived, we left walking towards the opposite direction to a different metro.
If only we could have gone instead to the building the tour guide told us the day before which offers a good view of the Eiffel, I could have gotten that nice Eiffel Tower shot with fireworks that will be everyone’s envy! But I didn’t want to pay 13€ to climb up the building for the view. #regrets

 

15 January, Monday.

First order of the day: breakfast!
The previous day my breakfast was only a croissant, cereal and juice at the hostel. But that morning at the Hyatt Regency I ate like a King errr Queen! 😀

I was exclaiming to Joyce since the day before that she has to take a photo of me at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. I got my wish that morning.

Photos were prohibited on the first floor. There was a girl who kept on taking photos of every crook and cranny upstairs so I had Joyce sneak in photos of me that is, until we saw a sign that it was okay to take photos on the second floor.

Shakespeare and Company only sells English books. If I’d had more time to browse I’d probably buy a book. The selection is good. Even saw a book by Kurt Vonnegut, a writer I was introduced to only last month when my flatmate lent me a book of his entitled Cat’s Cradle. Loved the book by the way.

The Notre Dame was just on the other side of the street. We passed by it to have a photo op and have a look inside. ♥ Gothic architecture.
While I might have wanted to go up and check the gargoyles out, 422 of spiralling steps was  just too much.

We then paid 8.50€ to enter Saint Chapelle, a chapel that was ordered to be built by the only king of France that became a saint, King Louis IX or Saint Louis. He had it built to house his collection of Christ’s Passion. 75% of the chapel is made from stained glass.

We then went to the Conciergerie. This was where Queen Marie Antoinette was imprisoned before her eventual beheading. We didn’t want to go in anymore cos that was another entrance fee and more importantly, we were thirsty and hungry. Time to break for lunch.

Lunch was at Le Nemours. It was my idea to go eat there. I’ve learned of it because this was the cafe in the opening scene of Angelina Jolie’s movie The Tourist where she had coffee by an outside table with her movements being monitored by undercover agents. We both ordered quiche au chèvre which, to my understanding and based on what I’ve eaten, is quiche with salad. The quiche was delectable. It awakened in me the want to learn how to make it. #gourmetfrancaisemodeon

 

That dip in energy after having lunch, we decided to go souvenir shopping at Rue de Rivoli. It’s the street right next to the Tuileries Garden.

Next we headed to Sacré-Cœur. It is located in Montmartre on the hilly part of Paris.

I remember in the movie Amelie that they had this hide-and-seek scene by the steps.

When I do go back to Paris, Montmarte is one area I’d like to explore more.

How many movies shot in Paris have I named? Three. I did a Paris movie walk. 🙂 What’s especially nice was that the portrayal of the locations used in these movies are faithful to their true ambiance.
On some related news, I recently read that a new senator in the Philippines by the name of Grace Poe-Lamanzares is drafting a bill to push for film tourism. I support this 100%!

Our energies where somewhat drained with the climb going to the Sacré-Cœur but we needed to get going. It was past 7 in the afternoon and we still had to cover the main Paris sights.

The Arc de Triomphe for example.

Joyce took several photos of me here until she has managed to take photos of me with no cars passing by. The arch serves as a rotunda so timing is crucial if you want your photo free of passing cars.

 

We then went to Champs-Élysées for the famous patisserie Ladurée.

We ordered a box of 8: 2 pistachios, 1 citron, 1 raspberry, 1 rose petal, 1 caramel, 1 Venezuelan chocolate, and 1 chocolate with coco.

I loved it! Right now I’m craving for it. Pistachio is my favorite and I could only dream about being able to taste its other flavors. Our box of 8 cost 14.80€.

 

One final stop. I couldn’t leave Paris without a photo of this famous landmark. The previous night I could have gotten a wonderful picture of it with fireworks. That morning, even before we went to Shakespeare and Company, we dropped by the tower but the area for picture-taking wasn’t good for photos because it was against the morning sun. Pictures are best taken in the late afternoon, or evening if you prefer it all lit up.

We were able to cover lots of sights so it was a day well spent. For dinner, Joyce suggested we dine at Léon de Bruxelles in Champs-Élysées. We ordered mussels, the specialty in Brussels and that restaurant in particular. I also had rose wine. It was really nice! 🙂
Joyce opted for coke. We could have shared a bottle of rose wine but she was flying tomorrow morning and didn’t want to drink anything alcoholic.

 

The days running up to my Paris trip I wasn’t particularly excited. It might be due to the hot Madrid summer (always blame the weather) or I had too much travel to do in a short span of time it’s wearing me out.

There was a reason why even in the very beginning of my stay in Europe I’ve decided to make Paris my last stop. It was, as cliche as it sounds, saving the best for last. 🙂

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Paris at first sight

A few days ago, I got back from my last European stop – the city of lights Paris!

It was also there that I got to hang out with a high school friend who I haven’t seen in 5 years! This was some trip eh? 😉

 

13 July, Saturday.

Catching an early flight could be a hassle but I’m all for it this time. My flight leaves at 7:10 am and I’ll be in Paris by 9. The earlier I get there, the better, no minute to lose. Upon touchdown at Paris Beauvais airport, the cool air greeted me. It was about 15° that morning and I started to worry a bit about my choice of clothes. I didn’t bring pants. I’ve packed shorts, a dress and a skirt. It was summer after all and the Madrid I left was already at 34°. Anyway the weather would have improved by noon. My pashmina wrapped tightly around my shoulders was enough.

I bought my one way ticket bus ticket going to the city center and tried to make myself comfortable for the ride. The airport bus transfer stops at Porte Maillot which is also connected to a metro station of the same name. Right in front of the bus station was the Hyatt Regency Hotel where I will be staying the following night with my high school friend Joyce. But that night it would have to be my usual accommodation in Europe, in a hostel. For that I had to go to Gare du Nord, the busiest train station in Paris where my hostel for the night is located.

The airport transfer took up a little over an hour and right after, I needed to switch to the metro going to Gare du Nord (bought the 3 day pass for 23.40€) which took yet, another hour. These transfers ate up my morning. *sobs* I was planning to join the Sandeman’s free walking tour at 11 am. I arrived at Gare du Nord at about 12:30 and with the next tour starting at 1 pm, I didn’t have time to look for the hostel and leave my luggage there. Instead, I opted to leave my things at the left luggage which cost me 7.50€.
Yeah yeah I’m not exactly thrilled about this extra expense but I’ve got to do the walking tour no matter what on the first day.

 

I arrived at Place Saint-Michel at about 5 mins past one. Quickly scanned the area for the familiar red shirt or red umbrella of the Sandeman’s tour. It was quite easy to spot. I walk-hopped to them and made my intention known: English tour for the lovely mademoiselle from the Philippines s’il vous plait. 🙂

 
I wasn’t the only Filipina in the tour. There were two young pinays who are in Europe for their studies. The other one was doing a hydro-related project in Amsterdam while the other one, after their sojourn in Paris will be moving to another region in France for her Masters in Geology. Impressive these kids.

We were in the area of Latin Quarter, aptly called for Latin was spoken in those very streets.
While some things have changed, that means no more Latin and it has become touristy (the area is filled with restaurants), there’s this charming bookstore that has managed to keep up with the times, Shakespeare and Company.

I knew it from the movie Before Sunset where the character of Ethan Hawke, who has published a novel (based on events of the prequel Before Sunrise,) had his book tour. It was also the gathering place for writers Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce among others.

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Fledgling writers could have their books published in exchange for work in the bookstore. There are also sleeping quarters for them. Clearly the bookstore is more than your typical neighborhood bookstore; it’s a literary movement.
Digital books or not, this is one of those traditional businesses I don’t want to see go just because we’ve become too technologically oriented.

 
We also passed by the setting of Victor Hugo’s famous novel, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. The writer wanted to draw attention to the worsening state of the cathedral that he had his story revolve around it.

 

We now moved to the Tuileries Garden. It was built on the orders of Catherine de’ Medici, wife to Henry II of France. She hails from the wealthy Italian family of bankers in Florence, thus the popular last name. She also commissioned the building of a palace of the same name which has been burned to the ground and then totally demolished.

Thank goodness the garden was spared. I love it!

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After the tour ended at a little past 4 at the Place de la Concorde, I actually went back to the Tuileries to sit at one of the chairs to rest and just marvel at its beauty.

The Louvre was just on the other side. Joyce and I have it scheduled for the next day, 14 July which is Bastille Day. Entrance is free! 

 

I was thinking of checking out the impressionist paintings at the Musée d’Orsay. It was originally a railway station before its short platforms were deemed unsuited for a busy train station.

 
I got there at 5 but the museum closes at 6. The guard didn’t let anyone in at that time anymore. I wanted to see some Monet paintings but the timing didn’t permit me. Why does it close so early? (resorting to complaining haha). But seriously could they not extend the opening hours, to until maybe 7 pm at least during summer? It would be hard to squeeze it in the next two days of my stay but I’ll make sure that on my return to Paris I’ll be visiting it.

This was just my first day and I was happy with the sights I’ve seen. Kept exclaiming to my fellow countrymen in the tour how lovely Paris is! Got a big day tomorrow for more sightseeing. The girls told me there’s a military parade at the Champs-Élysées in the morning for the Bastille Day. Can’t miss that.

 

Cosmopolitan Milan

Last stop in Italy: Milan

I arrived in Milan evening of 26 June via train from Venice. I went straight to the hostel which was, of all the hostels I’ve stayed in Italy was the worse. It was right next to the tram rail tracks that I hardly slept on my first night. But things go as planned. I got up at 8 am the following day to do what I came here for.

27 June. Milan.

Another Italian duomo.

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With gazillions of pigeons.

Come to think of it, all the Italian cities I’ve been to, their duomos are always a point of interest for tourists. It’s no brainer that in Italy, much of the art work and architectural styles are exhibited in the cathedrals and churches. Catholic churches are lavish and rich in art.

 

Right next to the duomo is..

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Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, said to be the oldest shopping center in the world.

 

 

I wasn’t expecting there was an arch of any sort in Milan. This turned out to be a good surprise. Was astonished to know that the erection of the arch was commissioned by Napoleon.

The purpose of which is to feed his ego and make it as a tribute to his victory in destroying the adjacent Castello Sforzesco. It’s construction was halted with his defeat in Waterloo. The completed work however, was dedicated to the European Peace that was reached. Happy ending.

 
What else was there to see in Milan? Fashion. There is what they call the Rectangle of Gold where four streets form a rectangle that houses high-fashion brands Dolce, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada to name a few. I got disappointed though after circling the area. It was to me, just an ordinary street of high-end boutiques. I was expecting, well, that the street itself was stylish. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is prettier and it also has Gucci, Prada and other labels.

I’ve covered these all by mid-day. For that afternoon, a side trip to Lake Como was what I had in mind.

 

It was only an hour’s ride away. The round trip ticket cost me 9.10€. It wasn’t the best weather when I was there. It was raining while I was on my way but I got lucky it stopped when I arrived. It was a bit cold with me wearing shorts and a sleeveless top. Nevertheless I got a pashmina wrapped around me so I managed to walk around.

When I came back to the Milan city center, dark clouds were looming by the duomo making it radiate golden against the dark background.

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I would have wanted to drop by this shopping area that was recommended to me by the receptionist at the hostel which was, according to him, affordable. But the weather was dropping and I couldn’t anymore with the clothes I was wearing. Besides I got no more € to burn.

The following day, 28 June was my flight back to Spain. My nine days of ruins (Rome), famous landmarks (Pisa and Rome), getting lost in little streets (Venice), fashion (Milan & Florence), tradition (Siena), art (mostly at the Vatican) and gelato (Rome), not to mention pizza, has just been fulfilled. Arrivederci Italia!