Tag Archives: Gothic architecture

One last hurra! at Costa Brava

My last weekend in Spain just passed (the end is near!!! wahhh). I arrived in Barcelona 5 pm of 26 July. I visited my Colombian friend Oscar, who is now doing his internship in Barcelona. He fetched me together with his girlfriend Elly at the Barcelona Sants station.

We roamed a bit in Las Ramblas by late afternoon and had dinner at the Plaza Real (Plaça Reial in catalán). We had a stroll at the Barrio Gótico at night. Being the Gothic architecture lover that I am, Barrio Gótico is one of the tourist attractions I like in Barcelona. I wasn’t able to take photos because I don’t have a camera. Or at least a good one that could take night photos. I had my flatmate’s camera with me but that is mostly for daytime use.


27 July, Saturday.

Oscar, Elly and I, took the train leaving Barcelona Sants station at 7:46 am and we were at Girona by 9. Oscar’s uncle Gus, who lives with his family on the next town of San Feliu de Guíxols, picked us up at the station

We then dropped by first at his uncle’s flat to get some things and to get her wife, Clara, who was waiting for us at the house. Their little boy, Pau, is an adorable child. I’ve only seen him before in Oscar’s photos in Facebook but now I’ll be spending an entire day with him. 🙂

Costa Brava is this stretch of coast in northeast of Spain that faces the Mediterranean Sea. Oscar was telling  me we are going to a nice beach where there are not so many tourists. I was thinking, hmm.. Let me see to believe. Spain is the beach capital of Europe during the summer and a beach hidden from northern European tourists? I wasn’t too sure about that.

We had a lunch of hamburgers, fries, and my summer drink sangria by a chiringuito, an open air restaurant by the beach. Our conversation circled on life in general, with Oscar’s uncle Gus pitching in what life is like in your 30s and 40s.


Here is Pau making sure I don’t get burned. So cute this kid! And speaks straight too at 2 1/2 years old.

We arrived at a little before 11 am. There were not much people then but by the afternoon, the beach lovers started pouring in. There were quite a few Germans, French and English.

Me with Oscar, one of the good friends I’ve made during my stay in Spain.


We were back in Barcelona by 10:30 pm. We have free entrance to this popular beach side club called Opium. We were in the guest list to come in before 1 am. Elly and I were able to get in before 1 am while Oscar was waiting for Christian, his flatmate and also our classmate at our MBA, to get dressed. We waited for them in the club.

I borrowed one of Elly’s high heeled shoes. I came to Barcelona only wearing flip flops, didn’t know we were going to a bar. Even with my aching feet I still enjoyed my last night of clubbing in Spain. 😉

The following day, 28 July, my bus leaves at 11:30 am for Madrid. We arrived on time at the train station. But the wrong one! I forgot that my bus leaves at Barcelona Nord and not at Sants!

The train prices are horrible. 110€ for a single trip. Had no choice but to go by bus and the only bus schedule that still has available seats leaves at midnight. Gahhh!! I was wanting to sleep Sunday night at my room so I’ll be fresh the next day to pack my luggage. No choice, leaving at midnight and arriving at 7:30 in Madrid.


As they say in Spanish, no hay nada mal que por bien no venga. In English there’s no literal translation but the meaning is “every cloud has a silver lining.” I know that Barcelona has an Arc de Triomf and I haven’t seen it yet. The Arc is a five-minute walk from the Barcelona Nord station and since I missed my bus and will be taking the night bus, I could now have a photo taken with it. 🙂

Here’s my summer song 2013. It is the soundtrack for a tv ad of Estrella Damm, the beer from Barcelona.


I’m gonna miss Spain, lots. Can’t help but cry a bit seeing this video. This is not the last Spain. ¡Hasta la próxima!


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.


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. 🙂

Holiday Break 2012: Medieval Prague

Spent the whole day of today finalizing lodging and train tickets for my upcoming Easter vacation. 😉

This time, I try to be a more organized traveler by putting all pertinent info regarding lodging, train and air flights in an excel sheet.


Speaking of traveling, I don’t want to have any more backlogs to write so here it is after almost 3 months of delay, I am posting about my trip to Prague, Czech Republic.

We took a 12:30 train from Vienna to Prague on 28 December 2012. In the coach where we were, a Filipino family was also seated. Their daughter is presently studying in Berlin and in a previous semester in Nice, France. I’m not exactly sure what kind of student exchange program she has but sure is nice to be hopping all around Europe like that. In the Philippines, going as an exchange student abroad is almost non-existent. My colleagues in Singapore have been exchange students and I’ve a lot of Colombian classmates who are also exchange students. Being an exchange student helps make well-rounded citizens. Education in the Philippines – we got a lot of work ahead of us, seriously.


Back in the train coach, I kindly asked the mom to take a photo of Patxi and me.


Egad! I miss my long, permed hair. I’ve cut it shorter in January and away with it the dyed part which used to be on the top of my head in 2010.


It was already dark when we arrived at around 17:30 cos that’s just how Prague is during winter. In the train station we exchanged a couple of euros for Czech Crowns, 1€ is roughly 25CZK.

We checked in at the Adam & Eva hostel located in Malá Strana, also known as Lesser Town being situated outside the Old Town (Staré Město). These two towns are connected by the Charles Bridge which Prague is known for.


We arrived on a chilly winter night, I believe it was around 1°C.
The first we checked out of course, was the Charles Bridge. I love its old world Gothic feel. This particular night, it was nearly deserted because of the cold.




The following day, 29th of December is reserved for sightseeing of the Old Town and a good way to start it is, if you haven’t guessed yet, a walking tour. 😉 My second time to join a Sandeman’s New Europe free walking tour.



As there were plenty of tourists, the group was divided into two. Pictured below is our tour guide, Ammon, who’s quite an interesting chap.


He went on to tell us the history of Bohemia from its early history, to the rule of Charles IV (responsible for the erection of the bridge bearing his name), religious unrest between Catholics and Protestants spawning the Thirty Year’s War, creation of Czechoslovakia at the turn of the 20th century, its German occupation followed by its Communist era during the Cold War, the Velvet Revolution and the eventual split of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.


Behold, the Prague Astronomical Clock. It’s such a marvel to look at. Ammon taught us how to read the clock. It has an astronomical dial, a zodiac ring, a calendar and a mechanical clock. But if clock-reading is too boring for you there are also moving figures who can make it worth your while. The twelve apostles make an appearance every hour.


Behind the Astronomical Clock Tower is where the Old Town Hall used to be. It was bombed during World War II and its place is now a small park where Patxi and I sat the next day eating lunch.

Prague’s history is truly fascinating. And the way Ammon delivered it wasn’t in any way how an old professor would tell history (which is painfully boring!) but one filled with interesting facts and a joke or two. I even learned a new English word from him. Did you know that there’s a noun for throwing a person out a window? It’s called defenestration. There are two known defenestration incidents that happened in Prague, both always involving religion – the growing rife between Catholics and Protestants. I don’t remember the exact details. All I know is that being a recipient of one in the “City of  Hundred Spires” isn’t really a good idea, your landing could really be your doom.


Defenestrations aside, it is no wonder that the historic center of Prague, with all its cultural attractions, is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

By the Jewish Quarter, there is a memorial to Prague’s son Franz Kafka, a writer, built by sculptor Jaroslav Rona.

Rona’s inspiration here was that of Kafka’s work where a dream of his was illustrated. He dreamt of a giant man, headless and no arms. He jumped into its shoulders and directed its way.



And what you might ask is a Spanish Synagogue doing in Prague? I was wondering too but Ammon beat us to it and explained that it was named a Spanish Synagogue in honor of the harmony among Jews, Muslims and Catholics in Spain – in Andalusia in particular, during that period.
The Moorish Revival Style is also a fresh break to the predominant Gothic design of the Old Town.


The tour ended and our thirst for Prague history was satiated while leaving our stomachs grumbling. With a number of Christmas markets around, it wasn’t so hard where to look for cheap lunch. 😉

We decided to head back to Wenceslas Square (named after Bohemia’s patron saint, St Wenceslas), a popular setting for public gatherings and demonstrations. It is where a student by the name of Jan Palach, set himself on fire as a form of protest to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.


I was drawing on a conclusion that Czechs are of the fiery kind. If they don’t throw you out a window, they set themselves on fire. Some things just happen more than once. Just like with the two incidents of defenestration, another followed Jan Palach’s example.

While these past historical events are told and retold by history professors and tour guides, trade and commerce just like the medieval times still flourish. That’s why the Christmas Markets. 😉



I was really tight with money that I couldn’t afford this simple luxury of sipping mulled wine. Good thing I got to taste it because I was offered a free taste. 😀
It is red wine which is served warm and contains spices and raisins. It’s the drink of choice for winter.


Christmas Markets in full swing in front of the Church of Our Lady before Týn.


At night, while searching for a place to eat, we saw these eerie-looking statues. I read the plaque and it reads:
“The memorial to the victims of Communism is dedicated to all victims, not only those who were jailed or executed but also those whose lives were ruined by the totalitarian despotism.”




I was excited to see and learn more of Prague. Three more days took care of that. 🙂