Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bonjour Paris: Day 6 (Last Day)

It is our last full day in Paris. We decided that this day should be a bit more relaxed and prepare for the long journey back home. It is also our last chance is getting souvenirs.

Our first stop was to pick up some sweets and chocolates.

Before going inside the store, I had intentions of only getting something basic that is good and easy to transport.  They all looked good. And I want to bring them all.

This should be easy to transport but it might be stale by the time I get home. So, I have moved on to other items that has a longer shelf life.

I got a selection of little piece of this and that.

And settle with a little snack before lunch.

The name it self look enticing.

I was impressed on the amount of chocolate (and detail) that went through the replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral. I assume it had to be kept on a certain temperature to keep it from melting.

Look at the intricate carving of the rose window and the detail on the buttresses. They even went through putting colors on the roof.

Then were off to lunch.

Then we went to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Unlike the Notre Dame Cathedral, Sacred Heart Basilica is considered new construction. It was consecrated only in 1919 and had Byzantine style of architecture that diverts away from the French Gothic style.

While most of the tourist were sitting on the steps to enjoy the view of the city, we decided to walk around the back. We were surprised to see a small garden where the locals are enjoying quiet solitude away from the city.

I was listening from afar from this young musicians. They sounded good.

We end our day here and relax till sundown. We have an early flight scheduled next day. It will be a longer flight for me. To save on airfare, I decided to fly straight to Toronto and hop on a short flight back to New Jersey. It sounded good when booking my flight but it turned out to be a bad idea when I saw the line of passengers in Toronto. I was worried that I might miss my connecting flight. Lesson learned. I won't do that again.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bonjour Paris: Day 5

After waking up refreshed and ready for a good bout of sightseeing. Our goal today is to visit as much of the iconic places and probably do some shopping.

First stop was the Eiffel Tower. It is my second time to visit the Eiffel Tower and it felt like I am seeing this place with fresh perspective. The first time was a night visit when we were on a Contiki tour. The bus dropped us close to the entrance. I didn't even recall how the area look like since it is dark and we were following the tour guide.

The tower had lights that dazzles in the dark night. I remember looking up the whole time on our way to the elevator. We didn't notice the lines to go up and was probably on a fast track since we are part of the tour group. Once were done, we head back straight to the bus.

This time we took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower stop. It was a clear day which is perfect for photography. Walking through the grounds you see a lot of tourists taking pictures. I noticed a lot of vendors selling items on makeshift stalls where they put out a blanket that can easily pick up once the police comes over.

There were long lines to get the tickets to go up the tower, it seems like it would have the same wait for the elevator. I wouldn't even dare to take the stairs. Maybe on a different time, I could take the elevator and maybe walk the rest of the 704 steps down.

Afterwards, we took the local bus and went on to go to the Notre Dame Cathedral.

There was a line to go inside the cathedral but at least it was moving. We can't stay long inside but one day I would like to sit in the mass (even if it is in French) and listen to the choir.

I always admired church architecture and I lean more on French Gothic style. They are massive, high and yet delicate. Inside when the light goes through the windows, it feels like you are inside a jewelry box. You could just imagine how much work done to built (and maintain) this cathedral.

Now, we beeline for Champs Elysees.

They were on a line to get inside the Abercrombie & Fitch. I passed on this one.

Instead, I lined up for this. I bought a couple of boxes to take home.

They look really pretty. And taste good as well.

We only have one more day left before we head home. It has been a long week. Tomorrow we plan to walk around Montmartre and the last chance to buy some souvenirs.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bonjour Paris: Day 4

So we finally made our way to Paris. The plane ride was quick and easy. The ultimate challenge was to find our hotel which is located on Montmartre area. Before we book our hotel we made sure it has a close metro stop. It also says that it is a hop and a skip to Sacre Coeur. Sounds really good.

The night before we left from Barcelona, we tried to figure out how to get to our hotel without getting an expensive taxi. It looked like the best way was to take the train to Gare Du Nord and walk our way to our hotel. What we didn't expect was Montmartre is very hilly so walking your way with a luggage on an uphill is hell. Another part that the streets are confusing, there are too many intersections with small streets. We did got lost. Good thing we got a map from the tourist booth at the airport and little by little we found our way to our hotel.

It wasn't a good first impression on Montmartre. It was seedy with a lot of sex shops. We are actually a walking distance away from Moulin Rouge. Good thing about the area was the place is not touristy and the restaurants prices are more reasonable.

This was the view from our hotel room. Nothing much to look at but it gave you a sense on what its like if you have your own Paris apartment. We hated our location at first, there were men hanging out by the motorcycle parking area, a homeless guy (or maybe is just camping) that sleeps on the green tent below and the place smell like pee. As the days went on, we settled down and felt like college days all over again (only the locals speak French). Hah!

About 2 small blocks away from our hotel, we settled on eating on a random restaurant, it was a small place and the waiter was very nice.

This is the first time we have escargot (snails), it was cooked with lots of butter and pesto. I actually like it. It reminds me of clams, only you have to dig your way into it. I would have this again.

Of course, the fabled French Onion soup. I try to avoid this like plague since I don't like anything that  has a strong onion taste. This one is actually very good, it has a sweetness taste to it. Bread and cheese on top made it tasty.

We also found a local bakery (boulangerie) nearby. Prices seem very reasonable. I got a slice of that Flan Abricots, it was good and reminds me of the custard pie we had at home.

Our first order of business was to visit the Louvre Museum. I have been here once or twice but I can't recall any of them. It felt like its the first time I am seeing this place again.

Also, I wasn't feeling too well when we got here. I bought champagne and cheese the night before and it gave me such a bad heartburn that kept me up all night. I remember being so tired while getting here. I haven't ate anything since my stomach is still bothering me. But I still have to charge on since I am not sure when I will have the opportunity to visit here again.

The crowd at the Mona Lisa. It was amazing that everyone seem to be taking the same photos that you could get on any art history book. The portrait is in an enclosed glass and there is no way to get closer than those barrier. There were security guards on both sides. You are better off looking at other masterpieces, at least those you can see close enough to see the brush strokes. But I digress, you have to see the Mona Lisa in person (at least once) if this is your first time visiting the Louvre.

We cut our day short from the Louvre visit. I wasn't really feeling too good. It is bad enough that I might pass out. My friend gave me her antacids and I was able to catch some sleep while they went out to shop. I felt better by night time and was able to walk around the area. We pass by the Moulin Rouge but did not watch the show. It is too expensive.

Now that I am feeling much better, we have another bout of sightseeing and shopping to do tomorrow.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hola Barcelona: Day 3

We are halfway on our trip. The days seem too short for us. We seem to take our time in the morning that by the time we are ready to go out and had our morning breakfast, it is time for lunch. We decided to make this day a lazy one and shop for goodies to bring home. We still have another leg of our trip to Paris which also meant that we are carrying our luggage all the way to the airport and take the metro to our hotel.

On our last day, we decided to head over Plaza Catalunya and walk over to Las Ramblas. We got a random place for tapas. It seem to be a popular place with 2 floors, they are in the process of closing down the kitchen but was able to fit us in for late lunch. We just asked the waiter to order for us since there are so many items to choose from. He actually gave us the good stuff. The meal was delicious, it was also the most expensive meal we had in Barcelona.

Sums up our meal, shrimp wrapped with potato strings, manchego cheese, fresh oyster, hamon, potatoes and razor clams.

About the second time I have these razor clams, I can't get enough of it. They cook it in butter and pesto, very yummy.

 We bought a lot of food items from El Corte Ingles, it was Easter and noticed they have a lot of these chocolate covered pieces. I wonder if the locals buy this instead of cake for the get together parties. They are not cheap either.

For the true soccer fan.

Another coffee break after a long walk. I never had a bad coffee in Barcelona, they seem to make it just about right (with lots of cream or milk).

To cap our full day, we just have to watch a flamenco concert. I have no expectations on this event but it was surprisingly good. The lady on stage tapped her heart out with an emotional performance. Not to be dramatic but watching the performance closely made it memorable (probably personal too). They perform twice a day. And tickets are cheap. I would recommend to see one of these performances while in Barcelona.

It is time for us to head to Paris. We are excited but we are getting too tired from all these sight seeing. I think I am feeling my age, I am not as agile as it was before. We probably miss our hubby whom are more adept on carrying our luggage.

Next trip is Pa-reeh, France.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Montserrat Boys Choir (Escolania)

Montserrat has the oldest music school in Europe. You would be able to catch the choir daily at 1 pm. except on Saturdays. They perform twice on Sundays. These are boys that live and study at the monastery.

Unfortunately, we have missed this performance during our visit. I will make sure not to miss this on the next visit.