Wednesday, August 14, 2013

HOLA BARCELONA!

Hola! Welcome to Spain! I couldn't help feeling enthusiastic to set foot in this land that conquered and colonized my country for 333 years. Finally the opportunity to witness myself Spanish culture and traditions I have long ago studied in school that greatly influenced and molded my motherland's identity and civilization.
 
        Hola from Arc De Triomf!
 
My point of entry is the beautiful capital of Catalonia... Barcelona. A city where glorious architecture, both old and modern, flourish. Boasting an incredibly rich cultural and historical pride that attracts all kinds of travellers, as well as its football fame that draws in the sport fanatics, it has undoubtedly become a major tourist destination in the world.
 
Barcelona's old customs building near Port Vell
 
If you are like me who opts to stay right in the middle of where the action happens, I strongly suggest that you stay in the area of La Rambla. A very popular street in Barcelona where entertainment is. Stroll along the tree-lined hectic road and enjoy the bustling atmosphere starting from Placa de Catalunya up until Christopher Colombus Monument at Port Vell.
 
Tree-lined La Rambla
 
Bright & sunny around Placa de Catalunya

Get busy with shopping, sightseeing and observing street performances by locals. Take a break if you get hungry and choose among numerous restaurants that you will find in the strip, gobble some Tapas and Paella then sweetly finish off with some Mantecados, or Polovorones, or Churros and you can relax in one of the benches and watch people.
 
Bustling La Rambla
 
Have a Paella stopover

Now let's tour the city via the most convenient channel, the red hop on/hop off bus. The surest way not to miss any of the must-sees.
 
The Christopher Columbus Monument behind the red hop on/hop off bus
 
It will take you to the lovely parks, gardens and impressive plazas, the momuments and the castles that you will definitely admire, the charming ports, the museums and buildings of magnanimous design and construction... the works of Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domènech i Montaner that are so splendid and grand I wish I had a quarter of the their God-given talent in architecture. Bombarding you with photos now....
 
Placa Reial
 
View from the Montjuic hill
 
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
 
Parc de l'Espanya Industrial
 
Port Olimpic
 
A lot of captured moments all around the city I know! Here's architecture:
 
Behind me is Peix d'Or
 
Oops it's rolling & will fall off!
 
Torre Agbar
 
Casa Mila (La Pedrera) by Antoni Gaudi
 
Another one by Gaudi: Casa Batllo
 
I was especially pleased and inspired  by the countless churches and cathedrals built all over Barcelona. And because I have visited many, I was reminded of a tradition  on Lenten season called "Visita Iglesia", where Roman Catholics visit seven churches on Maundy Thursday during the Holy Week.  I felt like doing that during my tour. I have always adored old churches and would look forward for first-time visits.
 
High above the ceiling of Sagrada Famila
 
Divine interiors

The Sagrada Familia of Antoni Gaudi, in all its grandeur, was admittedly the structure that caught me. Words can't describe how amazing the intricate carvings were, the perfect design and careful details of the basilica were totally mesmerizing. Its construction started in 1882 and the target completion is in 2017.  Still unfinished yet I was held and spellbound.

A work of art indeed!

Exquisite carvings at the backside of Sagrada Familia

Fancy to unwind and forget the city life for a while? Hang out and chill around the best-loved Barceloneta beach, go for activities or spend a lazy afternoon eating seafood and sipping lemonades. An excellent place to rest, sit back and people watch.

Strolling along Barceloneta
 
 
Alternatively, go high up Tibidabo through a funicular that takes you to the top of the mountain and breathe in some fresh air while savoring the fantastic panoramic view of the whole city of Barcelona and the surrounding coastline.

Great view!


There is an amusement park at the top and a beautiful church, Temple de Sagrat Cor that took 60 years to construct and is topped by a sculpture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Notice the Sacred Heart sculpture on top of Sagrat Cor

An unforgettable highlight on this trip was the experience of watching a live football game at Camp Nou. Although it was so hard to secure a ticket for a game (I think they sell only a couple of seats per day! Phew!), it was definitely worth it! I will always cherish every minute of sitting on the benches and cheering with the crowd, extremely feeling the vibe! I witnessed an FC Barcelona vs. RD Espanyol match and was indeed lucky to be in Barcelona at that time as they were the champion for a league and the whole city was in a major celebration!

Early bird at Camp Nou gets a solo picture

Olele Olala!!

Party on the streets, noise and music, fun and merriment in every corner, loud cheers and a massive blowout over the team's triumph at Placa Catalunya that was absolutely a big bang!

Hoohooray for Barcelona team!


It was truly a time well spent in Barcelona. From being a curious wayfarer by day to a party rocker at night, my vacation was the right medley of  leisure busyness and relaxed idleness. I loved the combination of hyperactivity and downtime. And please don't let the great night life slip away from your stay. You've heard how they party in Spain, right? Try to find a night club that is elsewhere from the touristy areas and have a better-than-fantastic encounter partying with the locals of the city. Lose track of time and come out of the club at sunrise. Take joy and delight in a shindig that seems never-ending!

Amidst the party scene, there is a beautiful silent area in Barcelona

So come on señores, señoras y señoritas, don't wait because Spain awaits! I can hear it calling you. Not a moment of regret, that's its promise. My stories aren't enough because you have to experience it yourself. In this great summer weather, memories will be perfect and will stay with you forever! Have fun!

Wish you great fun under the Barcelona sun! =)
 
 
 
 
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

HEAD OVER HEELS FOR TOKYO

Konichiwa! After spending a spectacular week in Tokyo, I decided on my last day that I no longer wanted to be a tourist in this city, I yearned to be a resident instead! Lol! But in all seriousness, I totally fell head over heels for this metropolis. As a matter of fact, it is my best-loved to date. I would definitely go back, walk in its streets once more, experience everything all over again, explore the unexplored... and well, just keep discovering.

Konichiwa from the Imperial Palace

So what actually ignited this romance between Tokyo and I? Giving you my topmost reasons, here's why:
 
1.   Because it is one of the fashion capitals in the world. The streets of Tokyo are like 24-hour catwalks filled with people that are all styled and dolled up. Definitely no way to dress down here. The roads are their runways and being in fashion for the majority has obviously become a necessity. It always amazes me whenever I'm in a place where people freely express themselves through what they wear. And seeing Tokyo like this, I just felt right then and there that this was my city. Ok, I've been to Paris and Milan, which are fashion champions no doubt, but there is something unparallel in Tokyo's trendy scene. Clothes and accessories that I've never seen anywhere else,  I could easily acquire the freshest fashion ideas from the people walking on the streets, no need to browse through magazines. Some even appear a bit overdone but are still pefectly pulling it of.  
 
Catwalking in Shibuya

A few days of being in Tokyo might get you accustomed to the daily fashion scenario.  When the roads start to bore you and you feel the urge to witness something really extraordinary,  I  suggest that you go to the Harajuku strip. On Sundays, this is where teenagers dressed in eccentric clothes hang out and display their exceptional creativity in cosplaying. Some of them may look intimidating but trust me, they are friendly and would just be as thrilled as you are to take photos!
 
An example of cosplaying in Harajuku
 
Busy Harajuku on a Sunday
 
 
2.   Because I am crazy about Japanese food... eversince I was young. Eating authentic Japanese food everyday, Tokyo indeed was euphoria. It was a paradise as I was never starved, there were restaurants and food stalls in every street. I forgot thirsty because there were beverage vending machines in every corner.
 
 
From that first moment of exiting the subway in my hotel area, I was all wowed with the pre-packaged food and snack items enticingly showcased in the food stores outside the train station. I didn't actually have to go farther to devour a sushi! I certainly enjoyed the accessibility. 
 
 
But make sure not to miss an all-out sushi and sashimi dining experience especially in the Tsukiji fish market area. Ahhh... tried every plate in the sushi conveyor. Fresh ingredients resulted to a fulfilling feat obvious in the stack of empty plates too high to quantify!
 
 
 
Let's not forget those mouth-watering desserts such as cakes, ice creams, crepes (crepes!!), cream puffs that were too cute and colorful to resist! And dessert "temptation" stands are all over the city there was no escape!  
 
 Look at all these cakes!
 
 
 
Add to that the limited-edition Kit Kats found in convenience stores that were actually sometimes more than enough to fulfill my craving for sweets.
 
Kitkat time at the convenience store
 
3.   Because I love living in convenience. Who is ignorant of Japan's incredibly "advanced technology" reputation? Its genuises' leading-edge technical knowledge is a resource that makes living easy and convenient for all . From toilet seats (sorry I have to mention this as an example, but look at all those push-buttons!) to its train stations (that Shinkansen railway, or the bullet train with half the speed of an airplane connecting one city to another).
 
The Shinkansen bullet train
 
Small gadgets such as a price scanner for your color-coded stack of empty sushi plates (there must be a microchip or something inside these plates), or an adding machine at the payment counter (where the cashier just have to drop your money onto the machine and it calculates everything up), or an umbrella wrapper (where upon entering a building you just insert your wet umbrella into a machine that automatically wraps it, goodbye wetness and dripping!). Hassle-free all the way. The comforts of living state-of-the art!
 
Hassle-free!
 
4.   Because the country itself is beautiful and its people are to be admired. I think I need not explain the allure of the cherry blossoms during spring, the appeal of its mysterious gardens and historical temples, all of nature's grandeur and the city's organized modernity all combined.
 
 
Top it off with disciplined, polite and very helpful citizens that live in harmony and peace. I've surely noticed that the Japanese are poised, well-mannered and are quiet people who are not easily angered. I have observed that there was a consistent silence in the public buses and trains because people talk discreetly, no boisterous laughters, no shouting, no loud ringing tones and there was minimal car honking in the streets... absolutely no unnecessary uproars in general.
 
 "Peace!", with the schoolkids at the Tokyo Tower

First timers, promise me that you will...:
 
+ spend time strolling along its breathtaking parks and gardens. There are many to choose from and its great if you can visit them all. I had a memorable walk and moments at the Yoyogi Park. I love The Imperial Palace Garden because it felt like a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Lush greens, beautiful ponds and walkways.. immersed myself in complete silence and serenity
 
Meiji Shrine
 
 Sake barrels at the Meiji Shrine
 
Quiet & serene at the Imperial Palace garden
 
+ contemplate over a panorama of the entire city by rising atop the The Tokyo Tower or the Tokyo Skytree Tower. Nowhere else to catch an amazing bird's eye view of the whole Tokyo.
 
View from the top of the Tokyo Tower

The Tokyo Skytree Tower

+ grace the temples and shrines with your presence. The Senso-ji is one of the most significant, and within its precints stand a five-story pagoda. I  love the souvenir shopping strip outside the temple area too.

Meiji Shrine

The five-story pagoda

The Senso-ji Temple

Shopping outside the Senso-ji

+ bring out that inner child in you at Tokyo Disneyland. I'm going to feature this theme park in my future post, watch out for that!


+ shop or window shop in Akhibara, the electrical city. An area full of electronic shopping where car traffic stops on Sundays from 1:00 - 6:00 pm on its main road and everyone can freely walk along. Lovely to go here in the evening too as the entire area lights up making it bright and lively.
 
People walking freely in Akhibara
 
The electrical city lights up at night
 
+ enjoy a relaxing cruise along the Sumida river. I thoroughly recommend this approach to see Tokyo as you will see the city in a totally different perspective.
 
 Sumida river cruise
 
There are more, more attractions to see and activities to explore. I certainly gave my best shot to make the most out of my time and enjoy the short love affair with this city. Couldn't get enough and I'm still dreamy about going back to Tokyo to conquer those that I've missed! And though it was expensive, I surely got back my money's worth from the unforgettable and overwhelming experiences in the land of the rising sun.
 
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