Blogging 101: Who I am and Why I’m Here

My love affair with writing is actually a by-product of my first love: reading. I learned to read at age three, quite young, starting off with songbooks and bedtime stories. After that, I asked myself, why not write my own? At first, it started with short poems that were really nothing more than bored scribbles, then I ventured to short stories and essays… One of the best compliments I ever got was when I was in grade school and I turned in my writing assignment for our English class, my teacher gave me a failing grade with this comment written in big red loopy writing asking who wrote my homework story for me and that next time, I better write my own homework. Other kids would have been crushed by that but I was actually very proud of it.

You probably would have thought I’d go on to major in something related to writing, such as journalism or creative writing. But, I also have a practical mind so I took the most practical course there is: Accounting. You have to admit, being a writer generally doesn’t pay much but any company will always need an accountant (but of course, I can be quite predictable as well as I ended up marrying a journalist).

Being amidst all those numbers nearly sealed the lid on whatever talent I had but I guess, you can never really bottle up something that you are passionate about, hence, I started keeping journals. Not the online ones so popular nowadays but the honest to goodness handwritten and sometimes tear-stained journals you only see now in movies. Then I found that I can actually release my thoughts and feelings “out into the void” as Kathleen Kelly from one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail, said.

I don’t really blog for the readers; I blog for myself, about whatever I feel like writing (which probably explains why my blog topics run the gamut from fashion to gadgets to travel and… everything). Although I have to admit that it does make me happy to see the metrics shoot up or receive comment notifications. I blog because I love writing and sharing my thoughts. I blog because I want to be part of your everyday lives, to somehow touch a part of you, and maybe inspire you.

And since we are in the 21st century when paper publishing is becoming a novelty, I blog to live forever: to be immortalized in the world wide web for as long as my website, and my server, stands.

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They Say French Women Don’t Get Fat…

…but with all the delicious and seriously tasty food Paris has to offer, I can’t imagine how French women stay slim. It must be all that walking to get to and from train stations. I wouldn’t mind walking either if I have views of the Seine and old buildings to keep me company.

Our first meal in Paris kicked off a gastronomic feast that was to last almost three weeks. We arrived a little after two in the afternoon at our pretty little apartment at the Rue du Pont Neuf and were too hungry to venture too far. Luckily, there were rows of cafes and bistros nearby and we quickly settled at Le Mimosa.

I normally order ala carte since I don’t eat much, but I was so famished that I decided to order the set menu, which consisted of an appetizer, a main dish, and dessert. That translated to egg salad, steak and fries, and lychee panna cotta. The salad alone would have satisfied me: the eggs were perfectly boiled and the dressing was creamy, sweet, sour, and salty in equal degrees. My friends got some liver pate which was so rich we couldn’t stop gushing about it.

Egg Salad.

Egg Salad.

The steak was also great – I ordered it medium and it was a delight that the meat wasn’t rubbery or too thick, or hard to bite. Plus, it was spicy enough to satisfy my affinity for all things spicy, yet mild enough that I didn’t need to guzzle a liter of water. Oh, and did I mention the wine we ordered with it? The wine was so cheap! I think wine in Europe is cheaper than water which was why we ended up having wine with practically every meal while we were in Europe.

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Steak and fries, baby.

The French take their time eating food, and so, we did as the French did. We had a couple of hours to spare before the malls closed so we decided to rush to Galeries Lafayette for some retail therapy (yes, on our first day!). True enough, we were again hungry by the time we got home a couple of hours later and flopped straight into the waiting seats at La Creperie, at the corner of Rue de Pont Neuf and Rue Saint Honore.

It was a no-brainer what to order – I forgot the name of the crepe I got but it was big it filled my entire plate (which was twice as big as my face), and had ham and a big sunny side up in the middle. I loved every morsel of it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also met a wonderful and handsome French/Vietnamese guy at the restaurant who ended up serving our table for the day. It got me thinking – why are the French so good-looking? I guess that means the not so gorgeous people are the ones who stand out coz in a sea of gorgeous people, they’re not used to plain looks? Hahaha. That means I have a shot then. 😛

There are cafes just about everywhere in Paris which is one of the things I love most about the city of lights. I am a big breakfast person and my favorite meal consists of croissants with lots of butter and jelly, or a croque madame if I am hungry, a cup of hot chocolate, and a glass of orange juice which are quite standard fare in Paris.

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A typical cafe in Paris. People-watching is a serious sport here which is why tables and seats facing the street are always the first ones to be occupied.

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Carbo-loading in preparation for our Giverny/Orangerie tour.

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Happy me.Dining al fresco with a crisp, cool breeze from the Seine is hard to top.

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If not for that McCafe written on the mug, you would never have thought we were eating at McDonald’s, would you?

And well, for those of you in a tight budget, or are having anxiety attacks or homesickness, there’s always a friendly McDonald’s around the corner as well. But again, I am beyond amazed that even their McDonald’s looks so chic? Must be the air!

Again, I say… they say French women don’t get fat; why, oh why? Life can be unfair sometimes. 😛

Last Days of Summer

The weather in Prague was a lot hotter than I expected. It was cool when the sun sets, but during daytime? The sun showed no mercy. No wonder I got burnt!

Nevertheless, Prague is very beautiful. Cobblestones, and hard to pronounce, much less remember street names, contribute to its old world charm.

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Charles Bridge at 7AM.

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Dress, belt, Mango; sandals, CMG; bag, Longchamp; necklace, Parfois; sunglasses, Michael Kors; watch, Kate Spade; charm bracelet, Pandora; pink crystals rosary, bought from the Duomo in Milan.

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We had to wake extra early for this, otherwise, the bridge gets so crowded.

The Louvre (Part II) and the Tuileries

Our itinerary in Paris pretty much revolved around shopping but I made sure I at least get to revisit the Louvre and sneak in a church or two. There is so much to see at the Louvre and I’m sure you’ve all heard the quote that even if you spend just a few minutes looking at each artifact, it would take you at least three months to finish the Louvre. And you have to agree with me that a minute is definitely not enough when you are looking at something as massive and as intricate as Ramesses III’s sarcophagus!

Grey skies greeted us but nothing can dull the beauty of the Louvre.

Grey skies greeted us but nothing can dull the beauty of the Louvre.

The Louvre, which was built in the 12th century for use as a fortress, used to be the royal residence of the French monarchy until 1682 when Louis XIV moved to Versailles. It housed various offices and academies, until in 1793, it opened the doors of its museum, with mostly paintings from the royal collection on display.

We only had half a day to tour the museum before we had to rush to the stores again, and as it was my friends’ first time, I gamely took on the role of tour guide, making sure to take them to the classics such as Venus de Milo, the whole Egyptian antiquities, and of course, the Mona Lisa.

Navigating the Louvre can be tricky since there are many wings, levels, and sublevels – sometimes, you think you are on the second floor and when you go out a door, you’re in a level between two floors. Confusing! Make sure you have a map with you; if all else fails, the museum personnel are very friendly and helpful. Just pray you get an English-speaking one. My love of all things Egyptian notwithstanding, we still got lost in that particular wing more than once and spent a good thirty minutes walking around in circles around Ramsesses’ red granite sarcophagus (which looks more pink in pictures). I think the “gods” and the mummy might have been playing with us that day. Hahaha (okay, I’ll stop now before I scare myself).

Don't forget to look up; even the ceiling of the Louvre was not spared. It is gorgeous!

Don’t forget to look up; even the ceiling of the Louvre was not spared. It is gorgeous!

There are so many limestone, clay, and alabaster sculpture in the Egyptian wing. Apart from the ancient accessories and the mummy which I wrote about here, I also love the lapiz lazuli and gold statues and statuettes of gods and goddesses that the ancients were so fond of. Ahh, makes me wish I can go to Egypt right now. It has been my #1 destination since I was a young girl; people say Egypt is a place in love with death but I am in love with Egypt so maybe I have a morbid fascination.

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Gold and lapiz lazuli. I never really paid attention to the blue material until it gained extensive usage in the Vampire DIaries book (and later on, the TV series). Now, I am also obsessed with it.

After tiring ourselves getting lost, we went next to the Mona Lisa. It’s the one attraction you couldn’t possibly not see – just follow everyone and you’ll find it. And be ready to brave a sea of angry tourists, elbowing their way to get the best shot of the Mona Lisa. I would have wanted to see it up close but I get nauseous in a crowd, so I just stayed a safe distance away.

Nothing can beat the mystery that is Mona Lisa's smile.

Nothing can beat the mystery that is Mona Lisa’s smile. I didn’t think it possible, but there were even more tourists during my 2nd visit than my 1st.

After that, we went on a hunt of the famous sculptures scattered all over the museum, such as the Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo, and headed off to find two other famous sculptures I missed during my first visit.

The Dying Slave by Michaelangelo.

The Dying Slave by Michaelangelo.

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss by Antonio Canova.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss by Antonio Canova.

Psyche and Cupid’s love story is one of the first great love stories I am to learn. Psyche’s beauty and how men offered prayer and worship to her instead of Venus, made the goddess of love and beauty so jealous that she sent her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with the worst of men. However, as fate would have it, Cupid himself fell in love with Psyche. The story doesn’t end there and I wouldn’t spoil it all for you; trust though that after several trials, Psyche and Cupid got their happily ever after.

Just a few steps across from the Louvre is the Jardin de Tuileries, separated from each other by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (located in the Place du Carrousel). This arc commemorates the victories of Napoleon’s army. This is different from the more popular Arc de Triomphe de l’etoile at the Champs Elysees.

Portion of the palace as seen from the Tuileries.

Portion of the palace as seen from the Tuileries.

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel

Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which separates the Louvre from the Tuileries Garden.

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The garden was commissioned by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century when she decided to move to the Louvre with her son, the new king Francois II. She had a palace and a garden built near the Louvre, modeled after her native Florence, and the garden was said to be the largest and most beautiful garden in Paris at the time. It was later redesigned by Andre Le Notre, a grandson of one of Catherine’s own gardeners, and the man who also designed the gardens at Versailles.

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Various marble and bronze sculptures are strewn about the garden; walking in it is almost akin to walking in a museum. Even though the palace has been destroyed, what remains of the garden is still beautiful and I can only imagine what it must have looked like during Catherine’s time.

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There is a cafe and gelato stall in the garden, near the Orangerie, where visitors can relax after a stroll – a not so easy feat considering the park is half a kilometer long and almost as wide. If only I could teleport myself to France. Sigh.

Zug

I’ve always associated Switzerland with watches and chocolates, which are primarily my reasons for wanting to visit. After all, my favorite chocolate, Lindt, is a Swiss product and so was my first watch as a kid, Swatch.

Getting there was easy. I was coming from Milan, a mere three-hours away by high-speed train, so on my first day there, I set about getting roundtrip tickets to Zug. I would have gotten a window seat since I was traveling alone but apparently, there was a music festival in Zurich that weekend and the trains were pretty much booked. I was actually quite scared on the train ride to Zug because I was seated with a bunch of very good-looking but very drunk teenagers. The group brought bottles of beer on the train and the guy across me had drunk five bottles already (I was counting) when he got up and started dancing right in the middle. It’s a good thing he didn’t get rowdier than that or tried to hurt anyone.

Noisy teenagers aside, the view was to die for. All train rides I’ve taken in Europe have been scenic, but this one just took my breath away. Hands-down the most beautiful sight. Switzerland is a land-locked country, bordered by France, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein. Majority of its territory is occupied by the Alps (southern portion), with the remaining parts divided into plateaus (where most of its citizens live) and the Jura mountains. From the Alps originate the waters that feed major rivers in Europe such as the Rhine. As if that’s not enough, there are also more than 1,500 lakes in Switzerland. Imagine how picturesque this country is with the abundance of natural wonders.

I had to pick up my jaw and pinch myself when I looked outside my train window for my first glimpse of Switzerland: it was like a fairy tale – snow-capped mountains, alternating emerald green/turquoise blue lakes, foaming white streams, log houses dotting the mountainside… Remember those picture calendars which were so popular back in the 80s and 90s? Well, the scene outside my window was a hundred times better than that. It was perfect.

It was lunch when I got there and I was a little hungry by the time I met up with my childhood friend Joy and her hubby. Unfortunately, I was having a very bad allergy attack (my face looked like a horde of bees stung me, I had to wear sunglasses ALL THE TIME) so we decided to just get food from McDonald’s. I mean, I can’t be allergic to fries and burgers, right?

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The hills are very much alive…

You might say there’s nothing fancy about McDonald’s (although it cost an arm and a leg in Switzerland, much more expensive than in Japan; in case you didn’t know, this is the most expensive country in the world to live in) but my friends took me to the top of Mt. Zuggerberg where we had an impromptu lunch overlooking Lake Zug. It was the best cheeseburger meal I have ever had in my entire life. Ever.

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Picnic on Mt. Zuggerberg

After our picnic, we had to rush off to Chocolat Frey’s factory for our workshop (my friend Joy had asked me what I wanted to do during my visit and I said I only want to visit a chocolate factory and I’d be happy) – this is the number one chocolate in Switzerland so I was really excited to get a taste.

For our workshop, our instructor gave us two plastic molds each, and asked us to select the mixin’s we want in our chocolate bars. I picked pistachios, almonds, and strawberry drops for my first bar, and chili and almonds for my second bar.

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Our instructor explaining the process to us. Obviously, I wasn’t listening coz I was too busy oggling and inhaling the chocolatey aroma. Hahaha!

I had a hard time picking.

I had a hard time choosing.

We were also given a bowl for our chocolate mixture – I got white and milk chocolate. After that, I just mixed the nuts and other toppings and poured into the molds. Silly me didn’t think to make the white chocolate bar before the milk chocolate one, so what was supposed to be a white bar ended up as beige with flecks of brown. Oh well, at least I can say it’s a flecked chocolate bar? 😀

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Hmm… I can’t even get pouring into the mold right.

Tada! Sorry dear hubby. I could only make two so it had to be the boys.

Almost there! Sorry dear hubby. I could only make two so it had to be the boys.

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How cute that he logo of Chocolat Frey is a unicorn head? The unicorn, along with the phoenix, is one of my favorite mythical animals.

After that, we went on a tour around the compound where we learned about the history of the company, as well as how their chocolates are made.

The wrappers of the different products of Chocolat Frey. One of their most popular is the Easter Bunny. Too bad though as I think Frey chocolates are limited here in Manila.

The wrappers of the different products of Chocolat Frey. One of their most popular is the Easter Bunny. Too bad though as I think Frey chocolates are limited here in Manila.

Very informative but the best part of the tour? May I present – a conveyor belt chocolate buffet!

Genius. THIS officially made Switzerland the best part of my trip.

Genius. Don’t ask me how many chocolates I ate.

I think I ate one piece out of every plate.  Or make that two out of every plate.

I think I ate one piece out of every plate.
Or make that two out of every plate.

We were supposed to go up Mt. Pilatus (or was it Rigi?) to see the Alps but it was cloudy up in the mountains and we knew there was a big chance of rain which would have rendered the trip quite useless so we decided to just have another picnic, this time by Lake Zug.

I was expecting nothing more than just a body of water but it was more than that: you have a view of the mountains and the Alps in the distance, trees everywhere, and even a family of ducks swimming, barely making ripples on the placid surface of the lake. A lot of families were having picnics as well, some even camping out for the night, with their barbecue grills all set-up. It was a bit chilly for a swim but I saw a couple of people in their swimsuits.

Can I just stay here forever?

Can I just stay here forever?

If Chocolat Frey didn’t do it, this one decided it for me – my sojourn in Switzerland is the highlight of my trip, and it was less than 24 hours! I didn’t get to see any old towns or museums, but seeing all that nature has to offer more than reinforced the idea that nothing man can make can defeat the wonders of nature.

My day ended with a wonderful meal at perhaps one of the best Indian restaurant I’ve been to, and in Switzerland of all places!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had to leave early the next morning since I had to check out of our apartment in Milan by 12nn but I will definitely be back and stay longer.

PS: Switzerland, while a member of the Schengen area, is not a member of the EU or the European Economic Area, so euros are not used here. You’d have to change your money for Swiss francs (or withdraw from the ATM). I only realized that when I got there and was about to buy coffee at Starbucks. 🙂

Disneyland Paris

I have this personal goal of visiting Disneyland across three continents. I knew there was one in Paris but I was too pregnant to visit last year (that and the fact that the hubby refused to go with me) so I made sure to squeeze it in our itinerary this year. I even told my friends that I would go to Disneyland by myself in case we didn’t have enough time (fortunately, we were able to finish all we set out to do that day).

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Getting to the park was a breeze – we did get lost twice because we initially took the wrong train but from Paris, it’s just one train ride away, about thirty minutes or so, getting off at the Marnee-La Vallee station. You can’t miss it – just follow the parents with their excited kids when they get off the train. Hahaha!

Anyway, the park itself was smaller than I thought – and much less crowded than the ones in HK and in Orlando, Florida. There are two parks: Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. Knowing that the first one is more or less similar to the Magic Kingdom with its iconic castle, we opted to visit the Studios instead.

We had limited time in the park since we still had to shop at the outlet store so we headed first to watch Cinemagique, a show I enjoyed because of how they added two modern actors into several old movies. It started off with a seemingly innocent member of the audience stumbling off onto the stage while having a loud cellphone conversation and accidentally falling into the silver screen. Everything happened so fast I still haven’t figured out how he disappeared into the screen. Hahaha. And I was only too happy that his onscreen leading lady was Julie Delpy.

Of course, what visit to Disneyland would be complete without some character sighting? Too bad I wasn’t able to have my photos taken with them. Boo! 😦

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They have Cars!

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Toy Storyland was also a familiar attraction – I was able to visit the one in HK a few weeks after it opened and it’s one of my favorite parts of the park because of how pretty everything looked (shallow, I know).

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They have the Parachute Drop!

There was one attraction my friends and I wanted to see since it was our first time to see this one – a 3D Ratatouille ride where you run around a restaurant and its kitchen while avoiding getting stepped on or bumped by carts, etc. There was a long queue and some technical problems but after an hour or so of waiting, we finally made it in! It was rather short though.

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Food was pretty much what you’d get in other Disney parks which was surprisingly reassuring to me. There weren’t many stores to shop in which was well and good – otherwise, I would have ended up again with loads of Disney stuff. I seriously wanted to buy some dainty Tinkerbell earrings but they weren’t made in Europe; I wanted to buy those castle shaped chocolate bars but Paris was our first city and we still had four more to go – those chocolates would have just melted. So, I ended up with no purchases at all.

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One item off my bucket list – I can now say I have been to Disneyland on three continents (Asia, North America and Europe). This may sound trivial to some but I love everything Disney and would decorate my house with Mickey and his friends if I could (as it is, I am sticking to picture frames and clothes for now). Nevertheless, I think I’d still visit Disneyland Paris when I go back. 😀

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