Travel: Childhood in Hamburg

Trust me, you will appreciate this post when you read the posts to come. I feel a deep need to lighten the mood at this point in time, since the bulk of my future travels have an air of darkness about them.

I went to Miniatur Wunderland!! ūüėÄ It is currently the largest in the world, and seeks to present a geographical, atmospherical, and socially accurate ‚Äúmini-world‚ÄĚ. It also holds the current World Record for the longest model railway tracks. Although it is not yet complete, 8 sections were available for me to scrutinize.

Honestly, I did not think I would be so fascinated, but the program allows for little secrets hidden within each world that you have to find. Like a dead body in the river, or a skiing accident, or a couple making love in a field of daisies! (I didn’t have all day, so I didn’t nearly use such precise scrutiny for each region). It’s like I got to travel the world in 2-hours without leaving the comfort of the building!

Here’s a game!

  • I will list the regions that are currently on exhibition:
  • I will provide one iconic picture for each nation:
  • First two to pair all 8 correctly, I‚Äôll send you a postcard from my next destination ^_^ (Provided I have an address of course :P)














A) United States

B) Austria

C) Germany

D) Hamburg

E) Knuffingen

F) Switzerland

G) Bayern

I then embrace my tomboy side by going to the Prototyp Museum to gawk at famous cars from Formula One racing history. (One of the many sports I wish I had time to pursue as a hobby, not to mention my bucket list includes restoring an old car and tricking it out).

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Travel: Hamburg Friends

Having taken an international and cross-disciplinary class that involved video conference calls across time zones, I managed to accumulate a variety of friends scattered around Europe. Unfortunately, the only country that my travel plans have been able to accommodate (given the time constraint) is the vast and diverse Germany. The first friend I visited is working now, so I did not approach Germany in a geographically efficient manner, and arrived on a sunday morning so I could spend the day with him.

It was amazingly relaxing to be shown the city by a local as I had no prior itinerary for Hamburg. We walked and caught up, and witnessed some pretty memorable sights along the way.

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After the old city hall was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1842 (You will hear more about this later), it took 44 years to rebuild the current city hall. Seven architects who were led by Martin Haller designed it in the neo-renaissance style, and it cost an estimated 80 Million Euros.

The building continues to beguile the population even today, because a secret room was found in behind a file cabinet in 1971, so the room count is estimated t 647, but it is speculated that the Rathaus continues to keep some secrets.

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Saint Michaelis is one of the five main Lutheran churches in Hamburg, and certainly the most famous. While the exterior is subtlety conservative, when you enter the doors, rare protestant opulence greets you. It dominates the city Skyline with its 132-meter spire that exemplifies classic Baroque architecture. Furthermore, it is hard to miss the iconic bronze statue that towers of the main entrance showing the Archangel conquering Satan in all his glory.

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Hamburg did not used to have a lighthouse; it was therefore necessary that a lighted boat guide the ships to safe harbor. Every night, this boat would venture into the darkness of the endless sea and light the way for weary travelers.




We relaxed at the end of our day by strolling along the Reeperbahn, so named because the older ropewalks were relocated in the 1620s to this region. This is distinctly demonstrated by the Low German phrases of Reep, meaning rope, and Bahn, meaning track.

It is also Hamburg’s district for nightlife with Bars and Clubs on one street, and the Red Light Distract just a mere street over. A large variety of strip clubs, brothels, and sex shops line the street in a blatant manner. This is also the historic area for some of Europe’s oldest and most renowned brothels, such as Dollhouse, Luxor, and the Eros Center; although all have closed down due to the economy or the 1980s aids scare.

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I enjoyed a local Hamburg beer called Astra. Beer is not normally to my taste, but when in Germany. ūüôā

Travel: The Madonna

Lastly, one cannot emerge from the gorgeous city of Paris without a visit to the Louvre, the infamous resting place of Leonardo Da Vinci’s mysterious Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa.

The style in which he painted her mouth is beguiling; it is this ambiguity that has continued to fascinate art historians to this day. Furthermore, despite widespread speculation as to the namesake of the individual in the picture, if Da Vinci painted his mother, or if he used his own likeness as a model.

Don‚Äôt discount the other amazing works of art housed in this museum though; a large and diverse collection of other ethnic arts is available to drown your eyes in! We detoured from the ‚ÄėMadonna‚Äô to revel in the artistry of other cultures. I‚Äôve included just a glimpse of what we covered.

Islamic Art

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Egyptian Art: A Mummy!

And with that, I bid Au Revoir to Paris. My mother‚Äôs vacation was at an end and she returned home to continue with her job. On the other hand, I continued my journey through Europe by taking a¬† ‚Äėsleeper‚Äô train for the first time to visit a good friend in Hamburg, Germany!

It was fascinating learning about the cultures of everyone sharing the sleeper cabin with me; it ended up being a minor United Nations of sorts, with the countries of Chechnya, Russia, Finland, Afghanistan, and Romania being present. Unfortunately, the Chechnyan did not speak English and was unable to partake in our discourse.

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Topics of conversation ranged from Global Warming, to the International Economy, and then reaching home for everyone as we started to discuss the plagues of unemployment, government corruption, and the struggles of the lower classes in our respective countries. It was a truly educational experience that served to broaden my mind on the opinions of others with respect to US foreign policy, and the challenges of politics within the borders of nations trying to find their footholds under more democratic oriented leadership.

Travel: The Opulence of Versailles

Since we previously had two gorgeous days in Paris, we had anticipated nice weather for our day-trip to Versailles. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and we were ill prepared for the onslaught of wind and drizzle, forcing us to cut our Chateau visit short. We did manage to tour the main palace before concluding that it was too miserable outside for us to trek across the gardens to the more secluded dwellings at the back of the estate.

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In understanding the history that precluded Versailles, from its humble beginnings as hunting lodge, it is easy to comprehend the beauty that drove Louis XIV to construct a palace here. Despite the carefully maintained landscape, one can envision the natural wilderness that once had a place in this town.

At the time, it was a defiance of how the royal family typically resided. It was tradition for the family to travel to and fro from amongst the households of its nobles, and smaller residences scattered about the country; a manner of putting the monarchy on display. The building of the extravagant Versailles put a stop to this.

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The most important part of living at the main palace was etiquette, a defined manner of greeting, conversation, and room organizing must be maintained by both the royal family and visiting nobles. The closer each room was to the royal bedroom, spoke of how dear or high-positioned the individual in that apartment was.

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My favorite room was the Hall of Mirrors (although I suspect that I would have preferred the Hall of Battles, which was unfortunately closed due to limited manpower). You can see the sparkle of the room as the chandeliers play off of the expanse of reflecting surfaces generously scattered along the corridor. This room is still used for diplomatic functions and state dinners, almost makes me motivated to find a diplomat to marry just so I have the opportunity to waltz about this grand gallery!

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Upon entering, it is simple to comprehend the vast amounts of taxation that citizens were burdened with for Louis’ vision to emerge. It is not difficult for me to understand why this resulted in the fuse for the dynamite of the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette lived a privileged yet lonely existence here, as her husband who preferred to focus his energy on his hobby of hunting neglected her. Unfortunately, in the end she was seen as a symbol for the failed French Monarchy and put to the guillotine in 1793 after spending several weeks in a cell at the Conciergerie Prison.

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What are your thoughts on Marie Antoinette? Did she deserve her sentence as wife of the King? Or was she just as culpable for the suffering of the peasants through her extravagant lifestyle?

Travel: Classic Paris Sites

I promise, this is the last church that I visited in France! Of course, it is the infamous Notre Dame; the building that inspired Victor Hugo’s classic novel with a hunchback as the protagonist who watched medieval Paris life occur from afar. The sprawling gothic architecture is unique, and it is not difficult to revel in the stark contrast these dark creatures present against the sunny skyline.

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The one flaw in climbing the tours however, was how incredibly jam-packed it was. There was little to no room to maneuver, and the entire walkway was enclosed within a 3‚ÄĚ x 3‚ÄĚ wire mesh. I can’t even imagine partaking in this during the summer!


While I understand the safety precautions, it took some strategic planning to get good photographs devoid of this interference.

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The statues also reminded me of a classic Warner Brothers cartoon called the Gargoyles. It was ‚Äėback in the days‚Äô of my youth, and I‚Äôm sure it is no longer a recognizable cartoon or brand. I enjoyed it though! It told the story of good versus evil gargoyles that could only continue their battle within the confines of darkness. If sunrise hit, they returned to their stony state.

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We then headed to the Orsay Museum; it has a diverse collection of impressionist paintings, and documents the progression of this art. Once again, no photos allowed. Some of my favorite artists were on display, such as Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, and Cezanne.

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As dusk approached, we decided to breath in the crisp Paris air, and swing by the triumphal arch to witness the largest roundabout in the world. Interesting Fact: Insurance companies no longer debate claims when an accident occurs here, to save time and headaches they now just split the damage costs 50/50.

Strolling to the Eiffel Tower took longer than expected. Fortunately, we arrived just as the sun dipped below the horizon. This allowed for a large array of photographic shots documenting the vibrancy of the lights with respect to the darkening sky.

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(I almost lost mother in the crowd, she is about a head shorter than me and quite difficult to locate even in a supermarket)

Opting not to wait in line and pay the high lift prices, We managed to climb to the 2nd level platform (a LOT of stairs) and witness some breathtaking views of the city, and particularly the Champ de Mars at night.

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On the hike up, I took some time to have a nerd moment and admire the forethought required in the difficult connections. It’s interesting to consider the complexity of the geometry and how the designers engineered all the steel elements to puzzle together in just the right formation.

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What comes to mind when you think of Paris? Have you been to any of these places? How have the inspired you?

Travel: Latin Quarter of Paris

In all theory, I have had more than my fill of churches by this point of my trip. However it is hard to avoid iconic religious architecture that attests to the strength of faith in those that aspired to build it. The bulk of what we explored exists in the Latin Quarter, a section of Paris that is rich in history.

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The first part of our day included a visit to the Pantheon. It was a church built as a promise by King Louis XV should he recover from his illness. Consequently, it replaced the ruined church of the Abbey of St Genevieve and was completed in 1790. Unfortunately, the renowned architect, Jacques-Germain Soufflot did not live to see its completion. It is a prime example of early neoclassicism, and has been modified to be a secular mausoleum that houses the remains of distinguished french citizens. Some of the tombs include, Marie Curie, Louis Braille, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo.

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After that, we made a detour stop to¬†Saint-√Čtienne-du-Mont Church which contains the¬†reliquary¬†of Sainte-Genevi√®ve. She is the patron saint of Paris, and is said to have led a prayer marathon that saved Paris by diverting Attilla’s Huns away from the city.



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On the way to the last church of our day, we passed through Place Saint-Michel. This area has always been a convening area for students to discuss social life, entertainment, and most importantly politics. It has a history of being the starting spot for insurrections, and even the centre around which famous authors, such a Hemingway, participated in intellectual discourse.



The final church was¬†Sainte-Chapelle, a¬†Rayonnant¬†style building – an offshoot of traditional Gothic Architecture – built to house¬†Louis IX‘s collection of relics of¬†Christ, one of which supposedly included the¬†Crown of Thorns.¬†Louis’ artistic and architectural patronage of Catholicism, and particularly this Church helped to position him as the central monarch of western Christendom.

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We then made a stop at the nearby Conciergerie which was formerly a royal palace, but was modified to be a prison. For hundreds of prisoners from the¬†French Revolution, this was their last residence prior to being marshalled at court, sentenced, and guillotined. It’s most famous resident was Marie Antoinette, who spent her last few days in a cell there.

The quality of life of the prisoners was based mainly on their personal wealth, and the whims of the jailers who watched over them.

Travel: Roman Ruins of Provence

I just finished the France part of my trip, so I am back-posting amid a week of spotty WiFi. I legitimately had to get something at McDonald’s every night so that I could coordinate the next leg of my trip, leaving not so much time to keep my posts regular. I spent a few day’s traipsing the Roman Ruins in Provence.

Provence’s history dates back to the Roman Era in which it was the first province they established beyond the Alps. The outstanding architecture that still exists today is best attributed to the Pax Romana, a movement initiated by¬†Caesar Augustus¬†that was seen a period of peace and minimal expansion by military forces. It lasted from about 27 BC to 180 AD, a length of two centuries.

It is not hard to see the distinct culture of this heritage-filled region, and the lasting impact that the Romans have had; from the Aqueducts, to the Temples, to the¬†Theaters¬† their construction methodology is precise to a tee, this has enabled the structures to last thousands of years with little weathering. This is in sharp contrast to the asian-style of construction, if you’ve ever been to the Great Wall, the rocks are jagged,¬†disproportionate¬† and merely thrown together in a pile, some of the slopes require you to hike up an 80 degree grade!

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Arena of Nimes

Just imagine when this immense arena was used to proclaim the glory of Rome through the battles of gladiators versus beasts!

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Interestingly enough, I did not get the opportunity to watch bullfighting when I was in Spain, but the Nimes Arena is now a popular attraction for it, and we managed to watch the youngsters take on ferocious bulls. We did not expect, however, that they would actually slaughter the poor creatures, it turned out to be a pretty gory experience


Travel: Montjuic

I had originally planned to take a day trip to the Pyrenees Mountains in order to explore the smaller mountain villages and the ancient Monastery of Montserrat. However, taking a bus trip is generally unappetizing for my family given that we have ventured to China, the Southwestern United States, and Japan in this manner previously, and dislike the lack of freedom and spontaneity it results in. Additionally, I would love to hike from the border of Spain into the border of France, and I simply don’t have the time at this moment.


Taking a more leisurely day, we took the Funicular up to the Montjuic Park, where we perused the galleries of the Joan Miro Foundation, one of my mom’s admired artists. Admittedly, despite understanding the progression of his style, and how he sought to veer away from traditional practices, I still don’t quite comprehend his aesthetic.

Joan Miro is a multifaceted artist of Catalonian heritage he is known as being a painter, sculptor, and ceramicist born in Barcelona.

His work is best interpreted as Surrealism, a simplified style representative of the subconscious mind; It is childlike in form. This stemmed from his contempt for convention and his view that it supported a bourgeois society.

As usual, no pictures were allowed, it was quite an interesting showcase however.

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We then hopped a bus further up the ‚Äėmountain‚Äô to explore the ruins of Montjuic Castle, a fortress overlooking a cliff on the eastern side. It is a fortress that dates from the early 17th century. It was loyal to the Madrid Government and thereby shelled the city in 1842. The history of this military structure includes the use of it as a holding cell for political prisoners, and the numerous executions that¬†occurred¬†on sight. It is most popularly recognized for an 1897 incident known as¬†Els processos de Montju√Įc¬†which prompted the execution of¬†anarchist¬†supporters leading to a repression of worker civil liberties. During the¬†Spanish Civil War, both Nationalists and Republicans were executed there, each at the time when the site was held by their opponents. (Thanks Wikipedia, not much information was available on site).

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Due to our travel plans that involve crossing into France early in the morning, we called it a day, and took a bus back to the city catching splendid views of the Palau Nacional on the way back. This also gave me some time to make a focused effort at catching up with my blog entries. Some nights, after a day of avid exploring, I am simply too exhausted to write as much as I’d like, preferring to simply read or watch TV instead.

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Travel: Sagrada Famila

So, I tend to think that I am traveling during the off-season of the tourism industry, but today was not the case. When we arrived at the Sagrada Familia the line wrapped all the way around the cathedral, thankfully, in my preemptive research, we had already purchased tickets online that allowed us selective entry within the assigned time-slot; no waiting for us!

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The Cathedral is¬†Gaud√≠‘s brainchild, and has been in construction for over a century. Construction of the structure commenced in 1882, and Gaudi officially took the design of the project in 1883, transforming the conventional structure into his vision, something that cohesively incorporated gothic roots and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. It recently reached surpassed the halfway point of construction primarily due to financial setbacks that had resulted from the interruption of the Spanish Civil War.


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Nativity Facade

Passion Facade

Passion Facade







It was absolutely breathtaking to behold. Gaudi has a penchant for embracing the natural forms he sees in nature, such as the way a tree branches or the facets of a crystallized gem. In the modern architecture world, we call this biomimicry, utilizing observations from nature and emulating the structure or processes to build a thought-provoking and innovative structure.

You can see it in his design of the interior columns.

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You can see it in how he effectively uses natural lighting in the interior.

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It was also quite amazing as a structural engineer to understand that he utilized the concept of form-finding in one of his earlier designs, the Colonia Guell. This is particularly fascinating because it involves finding the equilibrium shape of a structure given applied loads. It is an example of simplified non-linear analysis in actions wherefore the structure tends to get stiffer, and stronger, as it is subject to more deformation, the opposite of what one would typically think.

Okay, moving on from my enginerd moment. : P

Next, we spent a leisurely walk admiring the architectural discord that resulted from having different architects design houses that are co-located side by side on the Illa de la Discordia. It is particularly vital since it is noted for being prime examples of Barcelona’s most important Modernista architects, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Enric Sagnier

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The image is a little jarring, yet its catches the viewer’s eye and allows one to study the uniquely disparate styles of each individual.

Our final act of the day was to swing by the Palau Musica after traipsing through the streets of the Gothic Quarter. We opted not to tour the interior earlier in the week because the cost tradeoff wasn’t quite worth it considering that the Sagrada Familia was the same entry price, but had more significant visionary value. It does seem gorgeous though, so if you are in the area and have time, you should try to catch a performance at least.

The Sagrada Familia has been a consistent controversy within the borders of Spain, what are your thoughts on it? Is it over-the-top and an unnecessary investment? Or is it an icon of Gaudi and a symbolic representation of the Catholic Faith?


Travel: Picasso

Pablo Picasso 1962

We started off the day by checking out the Museu Picasso. It was the vision of¬†Jaume Sabart√©s, Picasso’s longtime friend and secretary, to provide a means to display the many paintings, drawings, and prints that he had acquired through the years. Although the original intent was to found the museum in¬†¬†M√°laga, his birthplace, his strong ties with Barcelona made the city a far more suitable candidate.

I’m sure you are all well acquainted with Picasso, but I will provide you a brief background nonetheless. In 1881, He was the first-born child of¬†Don Jos√© Ruiz y Blasco¬†and Mar√≠a Picasso y L√≥pez. His father was a professor of art at the school of crafts and curator for the local museum. We can chance his Ruiz ancestor back to the blood of minor aristocrats.

Don, his father, was a firm believer in traditional artistic training, requiring young Picasso to conduct a disciplined study of the masters and perfect his sketches by practicing from sculptures and nude models. Through the years, and with the urging of his father and uncle, Picasso ended up at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in 1898, the most famous art school in the country. However, he disliked the formality of classwork and quit soon thereafter.

He eventually made his first foray into Paris in 1900, and it was there, that he formed his own unique style, what we know as  Cubism today. Cubism is a fairly abstract expression of art as it lacks formality and is disruptive and detached to the eye. It also has the capability of evoking a realistic spirit and raw emotion if one chooses to ponder the painting long enough. See my previous post on the Guernica for more guidance.

*No Photographs = No Pictures for this. ūüė¶

Exterior - Barcelona Cathedral

Exterior – Barcelona Cathedral

Our next destination was the Barcelona Cathedral, a massive looming structure that originates from the 13th century with final finishes completed in the 15th century. It is the seat of the ArchBishop in Barcelona, and dedicated to the Patron Saint  Eulalia of Barcelona.

Cathedral Tower

Cathedral Tower






Saint Eulalia suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Romans when they stripped her in a public square; it is said that a miraculous snowfall covered her nudity. They then subjected her to 13 tortures, the primary one involving putting her in a barrel with knives in it, and rolling her down the street. She was only 13.

Forgive me for my gory imagery, I have been trying to decipher the meaning of all these saints as I am exposed to them in my foray into religious architecture. I will admit, however, the¬†dearth¬†of Gothic architecture I’ve encountered these past few weeks may have been excessive.

The day was wrapped up with a leisurely walk down the infamous La Rambla, including a stop at the Mercat de La Boqueria.

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