Europe 2014: Barcelona

 

A view of the city from Park Guell

A view of the city from Park Guell (c/o Mar Corazo)

The second stop of our multi-city European adventure was Barcelona. Barcelona is definitely my favorite European city so far. It’s unassuming and charming. My male companions likened it to the “girl next door” versus the  sophisticated, more high maintenance girl that is Paris. We arrived the morning of Easter Sunday so our first stop was Barcelona Cathedral for Easter Mass. It was quite the challenge indeed to concentrate during the Mass having attended the Castellano service and being surrounded by the resplendence of the Barcelona Cathedral.

You can't blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

You can’t blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

It was a good thing we arrived on a Sunday: free entrance to the Picasso Museum! We lined up as early as 1 pm and ended up entering by 3:30 pm. One thing I learned – find travel companions who can find entertainment in the smallest of things. I’m not known to be  a very patient person and had I fallen in line by myself, I would not have lasted the 2 and a half hours! Time passed by really quickly as we talked and even played taboo while waiting in line and before we knew it, we were inside the museum. The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets looking for the best place to have tapas and churros – which is almost every corner of the city!

Barcelona's very own Arc de Triomf

Barcelona’s very own Arc de Triomf

The next day, we traversed to the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nuo, where we were able to learn more about the roots of the popular football team that prides itself as being “more than a club”. Though we were not as big a fan as Mar is, we appreciated why the team based in the quaint city of Barcelona was able to capture the hearts of more than a million fans worldwide.

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

It was also more than a stadium, Camp Nuo featured a Museum where the entire history of the club – both in and out of the sports world, was detailed and all the awards they received were displayed. They even had corners dedicated to their most famous players such as Ronaldinho and Messi.

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

One of the things I loved about Barcelona is how it strikes the balance between it’s old-world charm and the eccentric architectural style of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. We were only able to explore three of his major works, but his designs could be seen scattered all around the city. We ventured up to Park Guell, which was literally an uphill battle. The park is located atop El Carmel which required us to take several escalators and walk up a curved path. I’m not a fan of upward climbs but I must say that it was worth it. Park Guell is filled with architectural marvels and a breathtaking view of the city (as shown on the first picture of this post).

Park Guell

Park Guell

We were also able to explore Casa Mila, also known as the La Pedrera. Perhaps it was the construction being done on its facade at that time but it felt well camouflaged for a building with such distinctive features. It did not feel out of place in the middle of the city. As you enter, you are welcomed by the atrium that provides the view of the clouds above.

Clouds~

Clouds~

The best feature of the building is most definitely the roof which is just full of indescribable designs – differing depths and unusual figures that are simply a feast to the eyes especially when viewed together with the beautiful blue sky.

The Roof of La Pedrera

The Roof of La Pedrera

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

The following day, we decided to delve deeper into Catalan history by visiting the Mercat del Born. A seemingly regular (by regular, I mean it by Barcelona standards – still an aesthetic marvel) building from the outside, the Mercat del Born actually houses the ruins of the destroyed Market in the el Born district during the capture of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Despite now being considered as part of modern day Spain, Barcelona still shows some deep attachment to their Catalan roots. In fact, in the surrounding area of el Born, there are still banners that call for the independence of the Catalan people.

Ruins of Mercat el Born

Ruins of Mercat del Born

After having lunch in the popular food market, Las Ramblas, we finally went to our third Gaudi for the trip – his magnum opus – La Sagrada Familia. From afar one can already see the majesty of this unfinished Church. Up close, it is truly an overwhelming sight – the size of the Church together with the intricate, yet meaningful designs both on the facade and of the interiors can be too much to take in at first glance.

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston)

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston Cornelio)

La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) is a complex Church. Every detail was there for a reason – there was no randomness in its design. One of the outer spires have the word Sanctus in plated lettering, while the names Mary Joseph and Jesus, the Sagrada Familia, can be found above the main entrance of the Church.

 

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord's Prayer, "Parenostre"

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord’s Prayer, “Parenostre”

At the basement of the Church, there is a museum that contains several information on Gaudi’s life as well as blueprints and prototypes of the Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi works. The burial place of Gaudi can also be viewed from a small glass window.

The boys resting outside the Sagrada Familia

Resting outside the Sagrada Familia

We were fortunate enough to witness the Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona on our last day. The entire city was filled with stalls selling roses and books. As part of the tradition, ladies would give men books and men would give the ladies roses – like the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day except even the boys get to receive gifts as well. We had our Barcelona City Walking Gothic Tour on that day as well, where we were able to walk around the city and learn about the history of the different buildings, Churches, and locations that were on our path. This entire trip has really helped me appreciate structured guided tours. Initially, I wasn’t fond of going in tour groups, but the lessons and stories that only locals can teach you are definitely part of the experience of visiting the city.

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city's current name

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city’s name

Despite having stayed in Barcelona the longest, it still feels like we were not there for long enough. As we all ranked our favorite cities at the end of our trip, this charming, picturesque city found its way on the top of most of our lists. I’m surely going to go back. The question now is when – perhaps when the La Sagrada Familia is finally completed. As it stands today, it already is quite grand. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s done!

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Europe 2014: Paris and Versailles

Crew EU! Mar, me, Cheston and Justin.

It all happened so fast. Late last year, my friends and I were sitting in a living room discussing our desire to travel to Europe in the near future. Who would have thought that the near future would be as near as a few months after that? At the sight of relatively cheap travel fare ($861 or around 39,000 Php for Manila-Paris/London-Manila! What a deal!), we bought our tickets. In hindsight, it was a really huge risk – we had tickets but no visas – but definitely a risk worth taking! One of the biggest takeaways from the experience is to apply for the visas early and we had to apply for two: Schengen and UK. One of my favorite travel buddies, Mar (who was also with me in Cambodia), nearly missed the flight as he applied for the UK Visa late and received his visa just hours before our flight.

Being the young adventurous twentysomethings that we are, we opted out of getting a tour and decided to go DIY with a very loose and flexible itinerary. There was a long list of places we wanted to go to, but we decided that we wanted to give ourselves time to take it all in as well.

There could have been no better place to kick off our three week European adventure than in Paris. Everything was just simply beautiful – the art, the buildings, the city, the people. It’s no wonder so many people have fallen in love with this city.

We spent our first day roaming around the city and taking it slow as this was just day one of twenty and because we can be such cliches, the first thing we had in Paris was a crepe that was being sold in front of the Sacre Coeur.

Ah, the Sacre Coeur! Definitely something that should not be missed! It’s one of the most beautiful Churches I’ve seen during the trip. The church is located atop a hill, which is the highest point of Paris, so as you go up the steps, you’ll be treated to a view of the city.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

We arrived in Paris on Holy Thursday, so we decided to drop by another Church, the famed home of Quasimodo – Notre Dame Cathedral. The lines were crazy going up to the top of the tower, so we weren’t able to go, but the interiors of the Cathedral were enough for us to appreciate the majesty of this Church. Don’t forget to drop by at dark as it illuminates like a brilliant star in the night.

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The advantage of knowing people in the places we travel to is that we discover places that are not that touristy, yet add to the amazing cultural experience. Mar’s former boss was coincidentally also in Paris that evening and invited us to join them at the La Caveau des Oubliettes, an underground Jazz bar in the Latin Quarter. It was literally underground, hidden under the basement of a different bar which name escapes me. I was so mesmerized by the showcase of talent that I only realized how crowded the place has become when we got up to leave!

Jazz Band at La Caveau des Oubliettes

We decided that our second day would be our museum day. We had dropped by the Pompidou on our first day and had planned to take on the Louvre and d’Orsay in the morning before meeting up with my aunt, who had been studying French in Paris, for lunch. It was a good thing that we got to Louvre early, before the crowds had started to build up. I believe that it also helped that we took the train that was connected to the Louvre so we were able to get in through the underground entrance and avoid the hoards of Mona Lisa’s visitors being dropped off by tour bus companies.

As we walked around the Louvre, we felt the advantage of going through the Liberal Arts program: appreciation of the pieces of art that were displayed, many of which were discussed to us, so we were no strangers to the different artists and the stories behind their work.

Aside from the massive collection of art within the Louvre, the exterior design of the museum is a work of art itself. We spent so much time taking pictures of and posing in front of the museum that we ended being so behind schedule (one of the downsides, but not really, of a flexible itinerary). My aunt had booked an after-lunch two hour city bus tour for us to be able to see more of Paris so we had to save Orsay for another day.

panoramic shot of the exterior of the Louvre + the huge volume of people waiting to enter the museum

 

Going on the bus tour felt like reading the table of contents of a good book. It helps in choosing the best chapters to read because you’re too close to the due date to read it all. Since we only had a limited number of days in Paris, we were able to see and have a short historical introduction of most of the tourist sites of the city and from there decide on which places we wanted to see in greater detail later on.

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

After the bus tour, we decided to explore Paris on foot, exploring the Opera and the surrounding area. We tried to go to d’Orsay but it was closed for admission for the day so we decided to head over to the most awaited Paris tourist destinations: the Eiffel Tower. Being one of the most visited, talked about, and featured monuments in the world, I was excited to finally see it in person. There was that fear in me that it would not match up to my expectations (I had a similar experience when I visited the Stonehenge in 2012), but the Eiffel Tower did NOT disappoint. In fact, it was an overwhelming sight.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower from the park

We spent hours just marveling at its grandeur from two different vantage points. One was from the park across the tower and another from the Trocadero. We decided to have dinner at the Trocadero where we were treated to the nighttime hourly lights show while having our meal. The night was beautiful – but coming from a tropical country, we were not used to the cold midnight air. So right after we got to witness the blinking lights show, we made our way home to rest and warm up for our trip to Versailles.

 

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

My friends make fun of me for my obsession in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but  I know that they know the reason for my interest. They’re not singled out as heritage sites for nothing. The trip to Versailles on our last day in France was well-worth the time. In fact, the half day that we spent there was not enough to explore the vastness of the palace and the gardens which serves as a reminder of the opulence of French royalty. I would definitely want to go back and spend the entire day there.

The grandiose Palace of Versailles was definitely a feast for the eyes. Everything was covered in gold! Every room of the palace was so intricately designed with each room having a specific theme based on its perceived purpose. The some of the rooms were named after Roman gods and goddesses and would feature respective representative elaborate ceiling murals.

 

walls decorated with their own portraits, and they call our generation vain?

walls with their own portraits and we’re the selfie generation?

our own selfie with the elaborately painted ceiling

If I had more time in Versailles, I would have wanted to explore the gardens. It goes farther than what your eyes could see and we were only able to explore a small part of it due to the limited time we had left after spending most of our time in the palace. We weren’t even able to explore the maze so this is definitely a place we’d be coming back to.

Garden of Versailles

One of the many fountains found in the Garden of Versailles photo c/o Mar Corazo

Upon our return from Versailles, we finally visited Musee d’Orsay which we missed the previous day. We had to buy tickets as the two days of our museum pass had already lapsed. One of the advantages of visiting Europe before I turned 25 was that ticket prices are usually discounted! So, kids, visit Europe while you’re young ;). I personally enjoyed the collection at the Orsay more than at the Louvre, so I’m glad we decided to still go despite the expiration of our museum pass.

Three days (two and a half, since we went to Versailles) are definitely not enough to explore Paris! Sadly, this is all we had as we had planned to visit a total of five cities for the three weeks that we were there. No regrets though, as Paris was only the beginning of what I will forever remember as one of the best trips in my life. 🙂

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for