Saturday, 25 February 2012

Notre Dame Cathedral: Neo-Gothic Architecture at its Best

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris is a must-see in the City of Love. Its neo-gothic structure and dark interiors never fail to mesmerise visitors.

By far, Notre Dame Cathedral is the most beautiful Christian house of worship I've seen in my life.

There's no entrance fee into the cathedral. However if you wish to climb to the towers and say hi to its famous gargoyles, you'd have to pay €8.00 (also covered under the Paris Museum Pass).

The interiors of the 700-year-old cathedral are dark and mysterious, making it the perfect setting for Victor Hugo's classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame that was written based on this cathedral.

I sat on the pews and imagined Quasimodo swinging across the pillars to rescue the beautiful Esmeralda. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go read The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. And if reading's not your thing, watch the Disney version :-)

I visited the cathedral twice during my visit to Paris.

First visit was to attend Sunday Mass and then climb to the bell towers. But when I saw the queue to the towers that went up to Timbuktu, I returned on a weekday to find myself third in line :-)

If you don't want to queue forever, visit Notre Dame Cathedral on a weekday.

I attended the 11.30am International Mass which was entirely in French with only the First Reading in English. 

The interiors of the cathedral was so dark I had to strain my eyes to read the song sheets. 

The constant flow of tourist is a distraction to those attending Mass. But cannot be helped; this is what happens when you have to juggle the needs of the parishioners and the interest of the nation's tourism industry.

I waited a long time for the perfect moment to shoot this pic. If I had missed it, I'd have to wait for the next Mass. Btw, check out the stained glass.

Within the grounds of the cathedral there's a park where people sit and chat and bring their kids to play.

I sat on one of the benches in the park and munched on my sandwich :-)

At the back of the cathedral is Pont Arch (Pont means bridge) that connects the mainland to Ile de la Cite (part of the Seine Islands) where the cathedral is located. And on Pont Arch I was surprised to find so many locks:

I presume lovers must have placed the locks there as a sign of their love for each other - just like the love that Quasimodo had for Esmeralda. Now, don't you want to just pick up that book I've been telling you about?

I particularly like this lock:

Tortoise-shaped lock that caught my eye.

You can stand on Pont Arch and watch the river cruise that runs through the Seine:

As I was admiring the scene from Pont Arch, suddenly the heavens opened and the sun came out. So I rushed to the other side of the bridge to snap this shot. The wonders that lighting does for photography!

Here's an interesting bit of info that Rick Steve wrote in his travel guide, France 2010. According to Rick, there's a bronze plaque marked "Point Zero" in the square facing Notre Dame Cathedral. This plaque is 30 yards from the central doorway and when you stand on it, you're standing at the centre of France, the point from which all distances are measured.

Doesn't that make you want to hunt for the plaque the next time you visit Notre Dame Cathedral?

So don't forget to visit this neo-gothic masterpiece when you're in Paris.

The facade of Notre Dame Cathedral is a prelude to what lies inside - lovely gothic architecture, dark interiors and the love story of Quasimodo & Esmeralda. 

Friday, 24 February 2012

New Lappy

Got meself a new HP lappy last Sunday for RM1,199 from Low Yat Plaza.

The old Toshiba lappy's going to die soon - motherboard and battery problem which would cost around RM400 to repair the mother and RM250 to get a new battery, so might as well get a new lappy altogether.

Lugging my new lappy around for travel or working on projects would now be "lighter" as this baby's only 1.56 kg.

The shop threw in speakers and a sleeve as part of the package:

I also managed to talk the sales person to throw in more freebies. Asking is definitely for free!

Yeah I know Halloween was in November, but it's free :-)

However after 3 days of using the damn lappy, this is what happened, wth!

Looks like I'll be making another trip to Low Yat Plaza this weekend ...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Barcelona El Prat to Plaza Catalunya by Airport Bus

During my recent trip to Europe, I flew from Paris to Barcelona with Ryanair, Europe's equivalent to Malaysia's AirAsia. Ryanair is probably one of the most economical way to get around Europe.

Ryanair flew me from Paris Beauvais to Barcelona El Prat, all for € 31.99 (inclusive of luggage and other taxes).

From Paris Beauvais, Ryanair flies into 2 airports in Barcelona - Barcelona El Prat (T2) and Barcelona Girona. You'd definitely want to fly into T2 as the airport is only approximately 30 minutes to the city.

From T2, the most economical way to get into the city is by Aerobus where a one-way fare is € 5.30 (as at December 2011):

And here's the timetable (as at December 2011) in case you may need it: 

The bus will make a few stops along the way but you'd need to get down at the last stop, i.e. Plaza Catalunya where all the attractions are located - The Ramblas and Antoni Gaudi's masterpieces like Casa Batllo & La Pedrera.

Happy travels!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: Sant Jordi Diagonal Hostel in Barcelona

After my trip to Paris in December 2011, I flew to Barcelona to get away from the freezing Parisian temperatures. I also made a mistake of not making any hostel booking prior to landing in Gaudi's playgound, taking for granted that since it was winter (low season) I could walk into any hostel and there would be beds available. How wrong I was.

So before taking the Ryanair flight from Paris Beauvais airport to Barcelona El Prat airport, I looked up Hostelworld and found Sant Jordi Arogo Hostel which is one of five Sant Jordi hostels in Barcelona. Unfortunately the hostel was fully occupied when I reached its steps, and the receptionist directed me to their sister hostel, i.e. Sant Jordi Diagonal which is located a few blocks away.

Now, looking for hostels in Barcelona, or at least the ones near Plaza Catalunya is a challenge as they are located inside office buildings and there're no signboards. For example, the entrance to Sant Jordi Diagonal looks like this:

Can you spot the San Jordi Diagonal Hostel signage ? I don't blame you if you can't cause I couldn't either. And having to look for the hostel with a heavy backpack and knapsack strapped to my back and chest made the whole experience a whole lot more difficult.

Despite locating the hostel with much difficulty, staying in it was not a bad experience at all.

San Jordi Diagonal is a stone's throw from the Metro (Diagonal station, thus the name of the hostel). And once you are at any Metro station in Barcelona, getting around is a breeze. Popular spots like Sagrada Familia, The Ramblas and Barcelona Nord Bus Station are all located near Metro stations.

So how does the inside of San Jordi Diagonal looks like? Well, here's the reception:

Matheus Coelho giving the peace sign when I told him I'm snapping his photo for my blog. Matheus is studying for his doctorate in tax law and working part time at the hostel. When I heard his surname, I asked whether he's related to the other Coelho. Apparently that surname is common in Brazil where Matheus comes from. And yes, Paulo Coelho is one of his favourite writers. 

This is the 4-bed mix dorm that I stayed in for 2 nights:

I adore the spaciousness of the room and the sunlight that fills it every morning.

I was charged € 14.90 per night in this room. However after exchanging notes with a room mate, she revealed that she was charged only € 12.90 a night. I was not happy with the rate difference, but a quick look at the hostel's website said they reserve the right to change the rates at any time. Well, what can I say ...

As you can see from the photo above, my room has a balcony which looks out into the busy street below:

The traffic outside my room is my wake up call. When it gets busy, I know it's around 8.00am already :-)

Despite the spaciousness of my dorm, the common bathroom has much to be desired:

The cubicles in the female bathroom are so small I hit my elbows on the walls every time I raised my arms to scrub my hair or body. On top of that, there's no space to slip on my clothing after a shower. I usually waited till late when there's no one around so that I can lock the main door and have the whole place to myself. Some girls just wrap a towel around themselves and walk back to their dorm in full view of everyone. Better to change in the dorm than in a cramped bathroom.

Sant Jordi Diagonal has a nice TV room:

... and a comfy games room which has a ping pong table which you can see at the corner of the photo:

The dining room is equipped with an oven (can't remember whether it was a microwave or not):

The kitchen where you can prepare your own meals:

 The kitchen was perpetually occupied by 2 girls, whom I felt like slapping cause they thought they owned the kitchen.

Now that I've shown you the hostel and facilities, let me tell you why the San Jordi chain of hostels is a popular place amongst young backpackers. They've got activities for its guests as you can see in the poster below:

Just before I left the hostel to catch the bus to Madrid, Matheus gave me a sticker and button badge of the hostel. I've stayed in numerous hostels and this is the first time I'm getting small gifts from a hostel.

Thank you Sant Jordi Diagonal for making my stay in Barcelona a memorable one!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Street Performers in Plaza Del Sol, Madrid

Plaza Del Sol is one of the most popular places in Madrid. This bustling square is constantly full of people browsing the shops and admiring the architecture surrounding it.

When I visited Plaza Del Sol in early December 2011, I was fascinated with its street performers. I wonder how these people make a living by doing this everyday, especially in freezing temperatures during winter.

There are a variety of street performers ranging from street musicians, people dressed as cartoon characters and statues like these fellows:

Obviously the camera is at a wrong angle, as the this guy's arm blocking his face. I blame it on the freezing temperature that caused my photography skills to go haywire.

Evil at its best - Satan (?) and Dracula. Ignore Winnie the Pooh in the background.

I didn't notice there were men inside the table until the one in the middle suddenly screamed at me. They give unassuming people a scare.

This fruit lady is one of my favourite:

I tried taking a photo of her but she kept moving moving around. So this is my best shot of her.

And my all time favourite is Jesus Christ himself:

Is this cool, or what?!

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