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 ‘mountain’ 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 Montjuïc 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 Gaudí‘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 MontanerAntoni GaudíJosep 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 Sabartés, 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  Málaga, 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 José Ruiz y Blasco and María Picasso y López. 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. 😦

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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Travel: Valencian Atmosphere

Most attractions in Spain tend to remain closed on Mondays, it was no different in Valencia. Mind you, this doesn’t included the mid-day siesta’s that the Spanish enjoy. Unfortunately, this means that I had to forego some of my desired historical sites, since my mother needs to catch a flight in Paris in 10 days. 😦

We did have a very relaxing day however, and it was kicked-off by a visit to the Central Market! It has been in operation since 1928, and provides a large variety of food products that are freshly enticing. Walking through the diverse array of stalls allowed us to immerse ourselves in the grocery lives of the locals, and find some great snacks to tide us over in our nearby hostel. Valencian Oranges are delicious!

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After, we went back to the hostel to snack on our newly acquired fruit, we regrouped, and then left for our next destination, the Llotja de la Seda, the old silk exchange. It was built between 1482 and 1548, and was designed by the architect Pere Compte. An important inscription is engraved on the walls of the trading hall.

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Inclita domus sum annis aedificata quindecim. Gustate et videte concives quoniam bona est negotiatio, quae non agit dolum in lingua, quae jurat proximo et non deficit, quae pecuniam non dedit ad usuram eius. Mercator sic agens divitiis redundabit, et tandem vita fructur aeterna.”

It demonstrates that good trade and ethical behavior can be established regardless of religion or ethnicity.

Since none of the other venues I originally wanted to visit were open, we opted to visit the City of Arts and Science an amazing cultural complex. It was envisioned by one of my favorite architects, Santiago Calatrava, who is responsible for designing some of the most iconic buildings that are recognized in the world today. See the pictures below for some amazing views of the structures.

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At this point, we only had half the day left, so we opted to visit the L’Oceanogràfic, which is the 2nd largest in the world, and the largest in all of Europe. It is an open-air marine park in which each ‘habitat’ is submerged below the surface (excluding those creatures that are suited to southern Spain’s climate). 10 habitats are represented, and 45,000 animals spread across 500 different species of fish, birds, mammals, invertebrates and reptiles are distributed into a volume of 1.2 million square feet. It was literally breathtaking.

We wrapped up the day by consuming some genuine Valencia Paella. Yummm!

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Travel: Hola Valencia!

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I’m sad to see my time in Madrid come to an end, there are so many more day-trips I would have taken given the time. i.e. Segovia and Toledo. But I know I will return. 🙂 We decided on an early train this morning to give us a chance at getting some sites in before the day ended, officially activating our EuroRail passes.

As you can see, I was very excited to hit this milestone of my trip (or my mother was :P).

Arriving in Valencia around 1 PM, we headed to our hostel in the old city (Mom wanted to try this experience for herself). After getting ourselves settled, we went to explore. However, since the old city’s streets are far from on a grid, we got quite confused by the angular irregularities of the streets at first. Eventually, we happened upon the Valencia Cathedral, and despite it being a Sunday, it was open, so we opted to go in for the tour.

The Cathedral was consecrated by the first bishop of Valencia in 1238 after the Reconquista; It was dedicated to Saint Mary. Its lies on the former site of a Visigothic cathedral, which was turned into a mosque under the Moors. The predominant architecture of the cathedral is  Gothic, in its Catalan or Mediterranean version.

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Valencia Cathedral

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The basilica was particularly illustrious as you can see . The most moving room included that in which  one of the rumored  Holy Chalices is located.

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Holy Chalice

In the wise words of Wikipedia,

“Indeed, most Christian historians all over the world declare that all their evidence points to this Valencian chalice as the most likely candidate for being the authentic cup used at the Last Supper.”

Since it was sunday, everything was closed when we finished exploring the cathedral, therefore, we decided to head to the beaches of Valencia! It was absolutely gorgeous, the temperature outside was just right, and the sand was certainly the finest I’ve seen on any beach (including the infamous jersey shore). It was a relaxing and leisurely travel day.

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Travel: Picasso’s Guernica

After being incredibly moved by observing the clear faith humans can maintain despite their hardships, we decided to enjoy the rest of our afternoon taking a leisurely stroll through the Parque del Buen Retiro, it is quite reminiscent of New York City’s Central Park.

Here are some highlights:

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Monument to King Alfonso XII

Monument to King Alfonso XII

El Angel Caído

El Angel Caído

The highlight of our night included dropping by the Rena Sofia Museum. It was particularly economical because it happened to be free entry night. 😛 Our primary motivation was to bear witness to Pablo Picasso‘s infamous Guernica. The republican government commissioned Picasso for this piece to express the struggles of the the spanish during the  Spanish Civil War at the Paris International Exposition (1937), despite the official theme. It was meant to be used as a venue for propaganda to illustrate the nation’s suffering.


Guernica (1937)

For months he struggled with inspiration for his canvas, then, on April 26, 1937, the town of Guernica was bombed. This was a direct order from Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, and the German Condor Legion‘s warplanes served the hit. Hitler was lending support to the Nationalist’s during this period, and the Civil War provided a venue for the nazi’s to test their new weaponry.

At the time of the bombing, the primary population consisted of women and children, as the men were away fighting. If you gaze at it in thought, it is easier to see the expressions of pain and protest. depicted on the faces of the bull, the horse, and the woman. The black, gray, and white colors were deliberately selected to reflect the somber mood of the event while simultaneously expressing chaos. A broken sword lies on the bottom, symbolizing defeat.

I also enjoyed discovering some other painters’ that I had touched on before, but hadn’t had a chance to further explore their work.

A World (1937)

Santos Torroella – A World (1937)

Violin and Guitar (1913)

Juan Gris – Violin and Guitar (1913)








I’m not an art expert by any means, I am merely an aficionado that enjoys how a single picture or panting can express deep-seated emotion without any words. What are your thoughts on art? Who is your favorite artist? What is your favorite style?

Travel: Religious Artifacts and Moving Art

We touched on some deep religious moments when wandering through some lesser-known sites today. It’s incredibly moving to see the beauty of faith, which is blatantly prevalent when one travels though Europe. You can see the elegance and effort the owner, engineer, and architect invested in the creation of such magnificent buildings. You can see the care that each structural fragment of history is treated with, and how delicately they handle the religious art and artifacts.

It is a challenge for me to fully comprehend this, given how the world, and the experiences of my friends, and my own has shaped my pessimism, glass is half empty views on reality. This is not to say that I am not touched, I truly understand the allure of having faith, I just merely lack it myself. I will admit, it is sometimes a struggle when I visit these prominent examples of medieval faith, for I truly wish I had it too. :/. Today was no exception. 

*Interior pictures were not permitted (as usual) so I am sorry to say I cannot present these locations in their full glory.

The Convent de La Encarcion was founded in 1611 by Felipe the III and his wife, Margarita de Austria. It was intended as a retreat for titled ladies and is the sight of one of the most important catholic reliquaries in the world, storing more than 1500 saintly relics. These include skulls, arms encased in ornate hand-shaped containers, and bones from every part of the body.

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It is best known as the location of the blood of St. Januarius and of  St. Pantaleon. St. Pantaleon was a 4th century doctor-marytr. Legend foretells that if his ‘petrified vial of blood’ does not liquefy on his feast day (July 26 at midnight), great tragedies will occur.

The Monasteiro de las Descalzas Reales was originally the site of a medieval palace home to Charles I of Spain and Isabel of Portugal. Joanna of Austria, their daughter, founded this convent in the mid-16th century. Since this monastery was royally approved, a succession of titled ladies joined, bringing a host of artistic treasures with them. It is still functioning today and houses 23 shoeless nuns of the Franciscan order.

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In the reliquary, a chest is said to house wood pieces from Christ’s cross.

What are your thoughts on Faith? How do you keep it alive? If you don’t, Why do you not believe?

Travel: El Escorial

Having completed far more than I thought we could in the half-day we had in Madrid after arriving via plane, we decided to take a Day Trip to the site of El Escorial.

El Escorial was formerly the official residence of the King of Spain; it serves multiple functions. It has two primary architectural complexes, which serve the dual purposes of representing the power of the Spanish Monarchy, and illustrating the predominance of Roman Catholicism. Phillip II invested his inexhaustible stores of New World Gold to stem the growing protestant tide during the reformation. Failing to do this, he decided to enlist  Juan Bautista de Toledo as the collaborator on this complex in 1559. However, the building was not completed until 1584, and his apprentice, Juan de Herrera had already taken over due to Toledo’s death.



Since pictures where not allowed in the interior, a certain percentage of the following photographs are provided courtesy of Wikipedia. I will say, that this is irksome, as pictures themselves do not harm the heritage, flashes do!! I do understand that many tourists do not follow this rule stringently, and I believe this is why photograph capabilities were ruined for all of us. 😦

My favorite rooms are as follows (I swear I walked MILES through the interior of this great structure):

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Wikipedia: Hall of Battles


Wikipedia: Pantheon of Kings

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Tomb of Infants



Wikipedia: Biblioteca

I’m obviously feeling really lazy today, so I will leave it to you to do the research this time. 😛

Travel: Au Revoir Portugal!

I was finally fortunate enough to stay at my first hostel ever! (Since I was staying with my friend’s family while visiting her in Portugal). Unfortunately (or fortunately) it was the off-season, so I had a quiet relaxing day, and enjoyed the room to myself at night. This was probably for the better considering that I woke up a 3:00 AM this morning so I had time to walk the 15 minutes to the OPO Airport in time to catch a 6:30 AM flight.

So, Guess where I am? : P . . . MADRID!

I rendezvoused with my dear mother. While this may not sound optimal, considering the classic vision of a no-holds barred and party hard Euro Trip with close friends, I am both sad that I don’t have that opportunity, but grateful to be spending what could be my last quality moments with her. You see, since my school was on a completely different track than typical universities, Quarters versus Semesters respectively, I don’t have any friends that have the same availability as I do. Furthermore, as I was pursuing a graduate degree, those of my friends who streamlined into the working world have exactly that, work, with limited options or freedom to drop everything and disappear.


I had planned to complete this trip on my own, and yet, it is nice to have some company. There would have been moments of loneliness and doubt, followed by meeting people from different countries and spontaneously finding bonds of friendship. Don’t you worry though! My mother leaves in 2.5 weeks, and my trip will revert to solo travel as I continue through my next few European nations.

Despite us both being incredibly tired, her because of the 6 hours time-difference, and me because I have the incapacity to sleep early, we managed to pack in our day!

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Palacio Real

Our first stop was the Palacio Real. After the 9th century Alcazar was destroyed in a fire in 1734, Felipe V, who was raised in Versailles, decided to replace it with a much grandeur structure. He never lived to see his vision however, since it was not completed or habitable until 1764. The palace’s exterior is not ostentatious, but is compensated for by the extravagance of the interior rooms.

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Unfortunately, I have limited pictures since most palaces and sites in Madrid do not allow you to take pictures. 😦

After completing the Palacio Real, we meandered back to the Plaza de Oriente to savor some coffee and a snack, and enjoy the fresh open air of the square. We were able to admire the central fountain, which includes a bronze equestrian statue of Felipe IV; it dates from 1640 and is reputedly the first ever bronze depiction of a rearing horse. It is said that Galileo assisted with the calculations to allow it to balance on the horse’s hind legs.

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Almudena Cathedral

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Plaza de Oriente










We then admired the Cathedral de La Almudena, and the splattering of gothic chapels encased within its neoclassical shell. This cathedral was in fact planned centuries ago, but suffered from a lack of funds and a Civil War bombing, so it did not actually open until 1993. The best part was the crypt, which features neo-Romanesque architecture, and more than 400 columns! Each bears its own unique capital.

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This is also the sight of the image of “Our Lady of Flor de Lis” It is one of the oldest images in Madrid having been commission by King Alfonso VI in 1083 AD.

The day was wrapped up by a relaxing stroll the Jardines de Sabatini, and quiet contemplation when gasping at awe at the ancient hieroglyphics that still lay carved on the interior walls of the Temple of Debod. (Unfortunately due to a lack of better preservation techniques, these images are gradually fading from existence).

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Sabatini Gardens


Temple of Debod