Sunday, 29 April 2012

Celebrating Sensual Love and Nudity in Paris' Sculptures

The French have a heritage and culture that is renowned for its rich works of art which includes paintings and sculptures.

When I visited Paris in November last year, various statues in Paris' famous museums fascinated me. The attention to detail is amazing like this statue in Versailles:

Look at the folds in the garment. The sculptor who sculptured this statue must have taken the trouble to get every detail correct, right down to the smallest fold in the garment.

Another example of attention to detail is this statue of St Mary Magdalene by G.Erhart at The Louvre:

St Mary Magdalene may stand transfix inside a glass case, but take a look at her hair in the next photo.

Her flowing tresses captured beautifully in wood.

The sculptures in Paris are life like, like this one at The Louvre:

Nudity is common to celebrate the beauty of the human body:

Captive (The Dying Slave) by Michaelangelo.

Sensual love is celebrated in sculptures like Psyche & Cupid by A. Canova at The Louvre:

My favourite sculpture of all time! Read about the meaning of this magnificent work here.

And this work by Auguste Rodin at Musee Rodin:

 The Kiss by Auguste Rodin.

If you're wondering who is Auguste Rodin, click here. One of his most famous work is The Thinker which you most probably have seen somewhere somehow.

The Thinker sits on a pillar in the gardens of Musee Rodin.

Now that we're on the topic of Rodin, here are two explicitly sexual statues at Musee Rodin:

Naked woman squatting.

And the sculpture that made me gasp when I saw it for the first time:

When you visit Paris, remember to look out for these lovely masterpieces that make Paris a true haven for art lovers.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Fridge Magnets from Beijing

I returned from Beijing on Thursday. It was a short 4-day trip that was pleasant although my trip to the Great Wall and Ming Tombs was marred by heavy rain. But that's another story for another day.

Here are the fridge magnets I bought from Beijing:

These 2 magnets I bought for RMB 12 each at the Beijing Zoo.

But after that I bang balls when I bought these metal ones:

Ten magnets for RMB 50 from the Silk Market. Do the currency conversion and see how cheap it is. There are only 8 magnets in the pic because I gave away 2 to my colleagues. Note: Too darn lazy to open the plastic wrapping.

I also bought this lovely vase magnet from the Pearl Market (opposite the Temple of Heaven) for about RMB 15:

Any magnet that protrudes usually costs more.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Barcelona to Madrid by Bus

A = Barcelona, B = Madrid

To get from Barcelona to Madrid, I decided to take the night bus instead of flying. Reasons:

  • It's a cheaper option.
  • I don't waste precious sightseeing time since the bus travels at night.
  • I save on one night lodging at the hostel.

Everything I do has a reason :-)

Buses leave the Barcelona Nord Station which is accessible by Metro.

Barcelona has one of the best Metro systems because its easy to navigate your way around. Moreover most of the popular spots are located near Metro stations.

Since I was travelling during the weekend, the friendly folk at San Jordi Diagonal Hostel where I stayed advised me to get my tickets in advance because many people usually travel during weekends.

It's not a good idea to come to the station and get tickets before the bus leaves, as chances are tickets would have sold out.

This is the Barcelona Nord Station:

To get here, take the Metro (Line 1) and get off at Arc de Triomf station. The station is about 5 minutes walk from the Metro station.

I stood in queue for about 45 minutes to get that darn ticket.

The line was moving at a snails pace and I was frustrated because waiting in line was robbing precious time of my trip to Montserrat.

Finally ... my bus ticket from Barcelona to Madrid that costs 29.51 Euros:

The journey from Barcelona to Madrid by bus took approximately 7 hours.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Fridge Magnets from Hilton Head Island and Miami

I started collecting fridge magnets recently as a remembrance of the places I've visited. I feel happy and contented whenever I look at my collection.

When Art came to know I collect these lovely things, he sent me a parcel containing fridge magnets from Hilton Head Island and Miami. Isn't he sweet :-)

Since I was not at home when the postman came to deliver the parcel, I had to collect it from the post office and only today (after almost 2 weeks) I found the time to do so.

Behold the fridge magnets from Art:

 I like ... :-)

Coincidentally a colleague who was in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah for work brought me a fridge magnet too:

I love the bright fiery colours!

From now onwards I'm going to blog about fridge magnets I get from my travels!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Sudden trip to Beijing

In exactly 2 weeks time, I'll be hiking up the Great Wall of China, exploring the Forbidden City and absorbing the art and culture of my ancestors. But I'm unlike my ancestors because I can't speak Mandarin despite being Chinese. There's a special term for people like me; we're called 'bananas' - yellow on the outside but white on the inside.

So how did my trip to Beijing came to be? On 20 March a close friend invited me to join her for a trip there. She'll be going to Beijing for training and I could tag along. After all, lodging is free! It was a spur of the moment decision and I agreed.

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) currently offers the cheapest flights from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. I bought my return ticket for RM1,506 (all inclusive) after waiting a few days because ticket prices on the MAS website fluctuates like crazy, even crazier than AirAsia. One moment it's RM806 and the next moment it's RM406 for the same flight.

Being a 'banana', my fear of travelling to China is obviously the language. I'm pretty sure the locals will speak to me in Mandarin because they'll think I'm a local too. Asking for directions and help will certainly not be a piece of cake. I've travelled to the Middle East where English is hardly spoken and I came back a survivor. But in a country where I look like the locals and can't speak the language, I think I'll come back battered and bruised. Well, let's see how it goes.

So watch this space for stories about my 'banana' escapades in Beijing. And I haven't even completed blogging about France and Spain yet, gosh ...

Monday, 2 April 2012

Montserrat - Home of the Black Virgin & Pride of the Catalan People

If you have an extra day in Barcelona, consider visiting Montserrat, a popular pilgrimage site in Catalunya and home of the Black Virgin.

(Note: Do not get confused with the other Montserrat, which is a Caribbean island.)

The word "Montserrat" literary means "jagged" (serrated) mountain in Catalan which describes the rock formation of the mountain that is visible from a distance. Montserrat is famous for its Benedictine monastery, a boys choir which is the oldest in the world and hiking trails that lead to amazing discoveries. Montserrat is the pride of the Catalan people.

Most people visit Montserrat on a day-trip and the best way to get to Montserrat from Barcelona is by train which you can read about here.

My trip to Montserrat began in the afternoon at Placa d'Espanya. I wanted to start early in the morning, but had to go to Barcelona Nord bus station first to get tickets to Madrid for the next day.

The platform at Placa d'Espanya where trains depart to Montserrat every hour. Look for the Montserrat booth at the station which has lots of information on how to get there. 

The train ride was smooth and I dozed off a couple of times but quickly woke up in case I missed the stop. After about an hour in the train, I got off at the Montserrat stop and took the funicular (mini train) up to the mountain. 

According to Mateus of San Jordi Diagonal Hostel, the best way up the mountain is by funicular and back down by cable car. In this way, you'll get to experience both ways of travel and see panoramas from both angles. 

The funicular station in the heart of Montserrat. 

It was around 3pm by the time I reached Montserrat and had about 2 hours before darkness starts looming over the sacred mountain.

So I quickly took bearings of the place with help from this signboard:

Signboards are in Spanish or Catalan. I don't know the difference. But whatever it is, there's no English and I had to figure it out myself. Well, at least it's not in Arabic or Mandarin which does not use alphabets.

Since my aim at Montserrat was to pray for family members and loved ones, for Liam and his business, etc. I headed straight to the basilica where the Black Virgin is.

Renovation works on the basilica were under way. 

After stepping into the huge doors of the compound, I entered a courtyard which leads into the basilica proper.

Notice the lovely architecture. 

The magnificent sanctuary. The Black Virgin is located in the small cave-like crevice behind the sanctuary. Can you see it?

This is the arch formed by sculptures of angel musicians and singers who are supposed to accompany the pilgrim who has come to seek the Mother of God's intercession. I thought the idea is so cool!

Behold the Black Virgin which represents Saint Mary as the "Mother of God in Majesty". She holds the sphere of the universe (orb) in her right hand, whilst with her left she presents the Child Jesus, who in turn holds a pine cone, a symbol of life and richness. Pilgrims come from far and near to rub the orb with hope that their prayers will be answered.

After rubbing the orb, turn around and you'll see this: 

This is the view the Black Virgin sees as she sits perched at the top of the sanctuary. 

At the back of the Black Virgin sculpture is the Chapel of Thrones that is reserved for those who wish to pray for a while after seeking the intersession of Saint Mary.

It was hard to pray in this chapel when tourists are walking around snapping photos. Had to wait a while for them to leave before I had the whole place to myself. But then when the silence got to me, I quickly left. 

After leaving the Chapel of Thrones, I passed the Path of the Ave Maria on my way out:

Each lamp that shines along this path, and the candles that burn here are symbols of the prayers and devotions of pilgrims after seeking the intercession of Saint Mary.

It was already getting dark by the time I stepped out of the basilica. So I headed to the cable car station to take the cable car down to Montserrat-Aeri station.

Here are the ticket prices (cable car and train) in Euro from Montserrat to the various destinations:

And here's the view from the cable car as it made it's way down the mountain ...

... to the Montserrat-Aeri station where I waited for the train back to Barcelona.

It was around 5.30pm by the time I got to Montserrat-Aeri station and the weather was freezing. There was no warm closed area where passengers could wait and I thought I was going to freeze to death. My 3 layers of clothing certainly wasn't enough!

The station was deserted except for the 5 of us - 3 American guys, an Austrian lady and Malaysian girl (me!).

After waiting for about 30 minutes in the freezing weather, the train finally arrived. There are a few trains plying the same route but heading to different destinations. So make sure you take the correct train back to Barcelona, or risk heading to god knows where.

Montserrat is a fascinating place to visit, whether you're a pilgrim or otherwise. My only regrets are missing the melodious Gregorian chants by the boy's choir and exploring one of the hiking trails into the mountains - all because I started my journey to Montserrat in the afternoon.

Anyway, those are good excuses to make another trip back to this fascinating mountain.

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