Christmas Wish List

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Just a few more weeks before Christmas and while I am not materialistic (well, not much), I do have a couple of things I would be more than happy to find in my stocking come Christmas day.

Clockwise, from top left:

  • Metallic gold flats, Repetto – I got my first pair from this renowned ballet shoes maker in Paris last year, and have never looked back since. They’re just too comfortable. A bit expensive, yes, but you do get what you pay for. I only wish they’d come up with more styles and prints.
  • Atlas bangle, Tiffany and Co – I love anything from this store. My heart flutters when I see that robin’s egg blue box. I love the Roman numerals and that not a lot of people know it’s Tiffany (at least not where I am from, where the only design people are familiar with is the toggle bracelet with the return to Tiffany heart charm).
  • Tiffany T Square bangle, Tiffany and Co – I love the classic design and since I’ve taken to wearing bracelets again, I can’t stop thinking about these bangles. I am usually averse to anything that screams the logo or the brand name, but this was so tastefully and subtlely done you hardly notice what it stands for.
  • Tokidoki for London Sole flats – my other favorite flats brand has a collaboration that is so quirky I just got to have them. These flats are also very comfortable and not quite as expensive as Repetto, especially if you stick with the basic designs. Plus, they have lotd of prints and material to choose from.
  • Atlast hoop earrings, Tiffany and Co.
  • Musical jewelry box, Pottery Barn – I just died when I saw this. I can’t even believe I haven’t bought it yet. You see, I used to have a similar one when I was a girl which I really loved. It broke and the I lost the little ballerina but ever since I entered adulthood, I’ve been on the lookout for a similar product. It’s only now that I found one. Heck, I want this so badly I probably woudln’t make it to Christmas without buying it.
  • Return to Tiffany mini-heart tag earrings – I know I just said I hate logos or anything recognizable but I would make an exception for this one for the simple reason that I already have the necklace counterpart (courtesy of the hubby).
  • A shell carved cameo – I am obsessed with cameos, especially those that have lockets. But it’s so hard to find anyone who sells them here in Manila. In fact, I don’t know of any at all. But I would really love to have one. It’s a childhood obsession of mine.

I hope the hubby is reading this. I always make it easy for him to give me gifts but he rarely takes the hint I usually end of buying for myself. Actually, we’ve even gone so far as to go to the mall together so we can get Christmas gifts for ourselves. Hahaha!

What about you? What’s on your list?

*pictures taken from company websites

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Brera

On our second day, we visited the picturesque neighborhood of Brera, considered by some to be the Milanese equivalent of the Montmarte. In short, it’s the artsy side of Milan.

A lot of websites say it’s walking distance from the Duomo but judging from our map, it looked quite far (or at least more than thirty minutes) so we decided to take the metro and save our energy for actuall sight-seeing and museum hopping.

There are a lot of old buildings and even a castle (the Sforzesco Castle which I will blog about separately) in the Brera district, which got its name from the Lombardian word brayda, or land without trees (either naturally or cleared of it) but it took us quite awhile to find the actual Brera street which is supposedly the heart of this district. Fortunately, a kind old lady helped us and after a few minutes, we found ourselves on a pretty stretch of narrow cobblestone roads and pastel colored houses. It reminded me of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, for some reason.

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So picturesque, isn’t it? Too bad I don’t have a photo here (my face was starting to swell a bit by this time and I avoided close up and solo photos).

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There are many shops and restaurants in and around Brera Street. We found a couple of nice shoe stores selling the cutest ballet flats so we decided to do some retail therapy.

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And that purple seat? I want!

We were quite famished roaming around; fortunately, the entire district has rows and rows of decent looking restaurants . The entire stretch seems popular with locals as  well since we found groups of them, some obviously out on their lunch break, crowding around the nicest restos in the area.

Since we were in Italy, we decided to eat authentic Italian pasta and pizza. Cliche, I know, but that’s what makes it fun, right? Surprisingly, there wasn’t a big tourist crowd in Brera, and we quickly found an almost empty place off the main Street – the Ristorante Il Kaimano Brera.

The staff at the restaurant were also quite funny and friendly, and they spoke English well enough for us to order the exact food we wanted! The place was really small, and they didn’t have an al fresco table good for five; to our surprise, one of the waiters brought out a chair with the two back legs sawed in half – so that it could fit comfortably on the steps! Quite ingenious! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, I wonder why I look so happy in this shot? Perhaps this was after we realized that the can of tomato sauce was being given to us for free (after we gave a generous tip at the prodding of the waiter – I honestly would have been offended if he weren’t so funny).

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Anyway, I was already fighting a really bad case of allergies so I had to make do with just salivating over the pasta with lobster, mussels and clam.  But I did enjoy the pizza, ossobuco, and fried zucchini flowers (which we developed a liking for, since having some for dinner the night before).

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We would have ordered water since it was a hot day but it was so expensive! So yes, we ended up having wine again…

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…and then we drank our bottled water as soon as we stepped out of the restaurant – travel tip #1: always have bottled water with you; water is very expensive in restaurants/cafes/fast food chains in Europe).

Christmas Came Early: The Jewelmer Noel Pendant 2014

Okay, as I wrote about here, I am seriously in the middle of a pearl obsession. To make matters worse, my boss, who noticed that I’ve recently taken to wearing pearls in the office, texted me at 6AM to inform me that Jewelmer has just released the Noel Pendant, their annual holiday offering.

IMG_4531It is available in silvery white and golden south sea pearls mounted on a specially designed pin (which changes every year!) made of either yellow or white gold, and hangs on a silver or golden silk cord (depending on your choice of pearl).

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For those who find the other offerings of Jewelmer quite beyond their budget, this is a perfect starting point – I think it’s the most affordable piece in their showroom but will add that oomph to an otherwise ordinary outfit. The Noel Pendant is available until December 31 and if you’re seriously thinking of buying it, I suggest you head over to the nearest store so you get first dibs. I was told by the SA that I am actually the first one to buy the pendant at their branch this year and so, was very lucky because I got to pick the biggest and most blemish free of the bunch.

*Okay, I just realized how bad the photo quality is. But the thing is, I sort of accidentally doused my trusty mirrorless camera back in Europe and even though I’ve spent more than five times the amount it would have cost me to buy a new one, I can’t get myself to do so. Haha, priorities, right?

Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Roman Columns in Milan

Built sometime between the 4th and 5th centuries, the Basilica of San Lorenzo is one of the oldest churches in Milan; even the names of the persons behind this structure have been lost, and the exact dates and purpose for building it is unknown. Regardless, it is one of the most intriguing churches I’ve been to – and definitely the least crowded. I was the only tourist!

I wasn’t able to get a nice photo of the facade because it was barricaded (no point taking photos when all I can show you are steel bars). Plus, I ran into a group of goths dressed in leather, spikes and dark lips and I hightailed out of the place after that (I fear the living more than I fear ghosts or monsters – I am a practical person after all) so all I can show you is the back, which opens up into a park previously used for, among others, public executions. Nowadays, it’s a nice hangout for exercise, picnics or just walking your dog.

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Upon entering the place, I was immediately greeted by an eerie silence, darkness, and a cold draft of air. Seriously, this is the most spooky church I’ve been too, even though it’s very beautiful and solemn.

The church is quite unique in that it is a bit circular as opposed to the usual cross-shaped structure and there are many rooms and a chapel off to the side, though most are off limits. For a church that appears to me to have very few parishioners (most probably because the Duomo of Milan is just 10-15 minutes away and I spied two more churches in between the two), it is well maintained and clean, although the air feels damp.

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Several of the church’s pillars are recycled – they used some of the columns from the ruins of a Roman amphitheater just outside the basilica which gives the impression that the church is much older, and contributes to its appeal. For some reason though, they used the pillars upside down so that the carved cornices are at the foot of the post instead of at the top.

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As was my custom, I lit a candle and prayed for happiness, success and good health for myself and my loved ones, and, cliche as it may sound, world peace. Then I adropped a couple of euros in the donation box…

…which made one hell of a ruckus I probably woke up the entire church. Hahaha!

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Anyway, probably hearing my coins, the lone caretaker (not a hunchback, thank heavens) suddenly appeared behind me. He was very nice especially when he realized I was by myself, pointing out the most interesting spots and explaining their history to me. We did have a rocky start because I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me at first – that I had to pay an entrance fee to get into the the other parts of the church. How we managed to communicate with only Italian words (he appears to speak zero English and I know just enough to get by) leaves me baffled to this day.

One of the most interesting parts of the basilica is the octagonal chapel of St. Aquilino, which has retained its original structure and can be accessed via a “pincer-shaped” entrance to the south of the main church. The chapel used terracotta ducts and the original dome (which is one of the oldest parts of the church, at 1,600 years old) is hemispherical. Inside is a succession of semi-circular and rectangular niches with Byzantine mosaics at the ceiling. Some of the mosaics are in badly worn out, and in some cases, have fallen out that y0u are left with the artist’s drawings, but nevertheless, the walls are still very pretty.

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Here’s a close up of the mosaic above the first entryway. In some parts, you can clearly see that there must have been various mosaics or paintings that have each been painted over during its long existence, so I can only imagine how hard it must be to reconstruct and restore these walls.

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There are various color schemes as well – this room obviously had blue for its motif.

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The last room immediately before the rooms where Saint Aquilino’s remains are kept, has perhaps the most beautifully preserved mosaics in the chapel and is the third spookiest place in the church, what with all those eerie spotlights casting an ethereal glow over everrything – and yes, the only light from outside are coming from those windows.

 

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Another mosaic close-up, this one of Jesus surrounded by the Apostles:

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This one, where almost only the drawing is left, can be found in one of the alcoves on the opposite wall but I could not figure out (or research on the net) what it’s supposed to be. Can you spy that rectangular slab or marble? I saw several of them in the room and while I couldn’t find any inscription, I think these are the tombs of various members of the imperial family as it served as the imperial mausoleum when it was initially built.

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 The next room is the 2nd scariest place – I was by this time, about ten meters from the only entrance/exit of the chapel and I was the only living soul in the place so my goosebumps were literally jumping off my skin. I almost turned around since I didn’t want to get close to the coffin but the caretaker was again right behind me, prodding me to move forward. He was actually starting to give me the creeps as well – less than a minutes after telling me to go into the next room, when I turned around, he was gone. Either he vanished into thin air, or he ran really fast.

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Ah, but the sight inside is a marvel with its carved, painted and gilded ceiling, the fresco by Carlo Urbino behind the ark and the silver ark itself created by Carlo Garavaglia, all very exquisitely done.

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I was by this point scared out of my wits and would gladly have ignored the fact that there was a flight of stairs behind the ark were it not for the caretaker who magically popped up again to hold my hand and take me to the top step of the stairs. I wanted to tell him, no, I am already fine with what I’ve seen so far, but, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I was so scared he would lock the gates behind me once I’ve descended though I was comforted by the fact that my friends all knew where I was, plus, my curiosity got the better of me.

And what do you know? Such a treasure! Seems that underneath the chapel is an ongoing excavation – from this photo, you can see a glimpse of the church’s foundation (or perhaps the ruin of the old complex), back from Roman times! I didn’t dare go further than this though since the cold, airless feeling was getting to me and I rushed back to the chapel and headed straight for the main church.

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Seeing as I was the only tourist, the caretaker told me he would show me a room that is off-limits to the public – I could tell based on the tone of his voice and the fact that the door had a big off limits sign. Hahaha!

Inside are various religious treasure (which I didn’t photograph – I assumed that similar to Manila, taking pictures of such things are generally not allowed), and the best of all was this old baptistry – for the “ninos”and “ninas” as the caretaker put it.

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I was so happy to have been given that exclusive tour I almost berated myself for being suspicious of the caretaker. Hahaha! But I was more than relieved to finally walk out of the basilica and into the direct heat of the sun (and I still can’t shake off the feeling that he was a ghost or something, or that he walked at lightning speed).

The Basilica of San Lorenzo is part of the Basilicas Park, where the Basilica of Saint Eustorgio (where the tomb of the three Magis are) and the Colonne di San Lorenzo can also be found. I didn’t get to Saint Eustorgio (I didn’t have time to visit both so I chose the one which I felt was more historically and architecturally significant) but the columns were right out front of the Basilica of San Lorenzo and cannot be missed. It is the most well-know Roman ruins in Milan, with the columns dating from the 2nd century, taken from old baths and temples.

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A lot of people also gather here, with some musicians and dancers offering free entertainment during the early summer evenings, and crowds waiting perhaps for the clubs nearby to open pass the time here so it can get pretty crowded and smoky. If you’re planning to take a nice photo, I would suggest you visit early in the morning.

There are a couple of other old churches nearby but time was too short. I will write next about the Duomo, which I visited several times during our stay in Milan.