Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Weekend in Bilbao

Bilbao is the capital of Biscaya in northernmost Spain, which is in the Basque Country. The Basque Country is a region consisting of areas in the north of Spain and the Southwest of France.

I have already been to some of the cities in the Basque region a couple of years ago the first time I visited France and Spain. I have visited San Sebastian, Spain for shopping, and St Jean de Luz, France to see the beach. I didn't have such a nice time back then because I was disappointed with the paella that we had for lunch, and the super-crowded beach that looked as if there was no beach at all, just bodies of people, in various stages of nudity, lying next to the ocean. Sorry to all the pervs, but I was too grumpy then to take a picture.

The famous puppy by American artist, Jeff Koons

The magnificent building of the Guggenheim Museum
Anyway, we went to Bilbao because we specifically wanted to see the famous Guggenheim Museum.  It is quite an impressive building that greets you upon entering the heart of the city via the Salve Bridge.
The Salve Bridge view from the Guggenheim

Inside the museum was a temporary exhibit by David Hockney.  His paintings were so vivid and colorful.  The bucolic sceneries in his pantings looked as if they were trying desperately to jump out of the frame. My husband says they looked as if they were painted by somebody who was high on drugs.

The museum features exhibits from David Hockney
Inside the Guggenheim
Tulips by Jeff Koons

We also went to Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum), which features an exhibit of Francisco de Goya's prints, depicting the horrors and atrocities of war, to which I would say that I still prefer to see the Japanese woodblock prints anytime. The collection inside was huge, though, compared to the Guggenheim. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao featuring prints by Goya

I was very impressed with the architecture. Most buildings are painted in the typical Basque colors of red green and blue. It's all so colorful. And cheerful.

Lovely Basque buildings
One of the lovely buildings at a roundabout close to our hotel

On the way to the Guggenheim, there was a park with lots of huge trees and fountains and interesting columns and pergolas of red bricks. In one corner there was a small piece of plaque commemorating the death of people who were victimized by terrorism. Apparently, these terrorists are a group of people who are fighting for the Basque country to be independent.

Last stop at Plaza Nueva, a rather ironic name for such a place with old-world neoclassical architecture,
located at the Old Quarter

We were quite surprised to find some good food too. Now we all know that Spain is famous for the Tapas. In Basque language (Euskara), which is one of the oldest languages in the world, it is called, pintxo. I didn't have such high hopes at first because I was previously disappointed with the food in Barcelona and San Sebastian. But this time, I was just so glad to be not disappointed at all.

Picture-perfect and mouth-wateringly delicious pintxos for lunch

I just love this Spanish white wine

Les jambons et les saucisses... can you imagine the smell inside this shop?

We were not just interested in the architecture and the museums, we were also interested in shopping!

Souvenirs at the Old Quarter
This area reminds me so much of St Jean de Luz

A lovely soaps and perfume shop at the Old Quarter
I had a marvelous time in Bilbao. The people are nice, it's not very touristy, the food is glorious, especially the seafood, which they call mariscos. And above all, the service in the restaurants and in the shops are excellent -- with that, you'll know you're not in France anymore.  :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

French cuisine neophyte

Since I have plenty of time in my hands, I have decided to take up a bit of cooking, mostly Filipino recipes.  I am proud to say that i have now mastered chicken adobo.  and was able to successfully accomplish lumpiang sariwa (fresh spring rolls) at the very first attempt. I was even able to serve it to real live guests, who appreciated it very much. I have this site to thank for, for all the easy-to-follow, honest-to-goodness authentic Filipino dishes.

My picture-perfect and mouth-wateringly palatable lumpiang sariwa;
I made the egg wrapper and the sweet sauce myself ;)

Recently, I have even tried baking, doing banana and carrot muffins.  I also do some breakfast stuff like pancakes and french toast, which they call pain perdu in french. It literally means, "lost bread".  that's because they make use of old (almost rotten) bread to make it, I guess.

My very first French recipe book; title translates to "The Great Salty Classics"

And now, I thought, it's high time I try my hand at some French recipes. And today, I was just in the mood for it. I purchased this recipe book a few days ago, while browsing a bookshop at my parents-in-law's area. I picked a really simple recipe of Champignons farcis (stuffed mushrooms) for a start, since it looked quite easy to me.

The main ingredients -- les champignons, les ciboulettes, pimentes d'espelette, biscottes;  I'm not so sure you can find mushrooms this big in Asia
Just before putting it in the oven
those are little nuggets of butter on top
Et voila -- the finished product !!! :)
I would say the result was quite successful for a beginner like myself.  I think I have a lot of beginner's luck in me, and quite good instinct when it comes to cooking.

Feel free to send me a message if you would like to have the recipe.

Bon appetit! :)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Le Match Amical de Rugby

Since my husband is on a three-week holiday, we are visiting his parents for a few days. My father in-law took the opportunity to get us some rugby tickets for the Match amical between Mont de Marsan and Dax.

We did not expect it to be so crazy crowded since it was not a serious match. But we thought wrong.

Kids amid the crazy rugby crowd

Lolo wearing a T-shirt with print promoting Occitania

It was a really small stadium. And it was bursting at the seams with the heavy crowd. This stadium is actually even much smaller than the stadium in front of our apartment in Toulouse. Now, this stadium in front of our apartment is not the famous Stade E. Wallon where the world-famous Stade Toulousain rugby players who come from all over the world to practice.

Mont de Marsan stealing the ball from Dax

Rugby is a big sport in the South of France and in the Basque Region. It is not as famous as European Football (soccer, in the American lingo). But I most definitely prefer it over football because rugby players make the football players look like sissy little girls running around the field.

This is what is known as the scrum, where rugby players bash their heads against each other... crazy...

You end up with eerie-looking ears like this if you've been doing the scrum for years

We almost watched the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand last year, my husband being a fan of rugby like most french southerners. But we purchased the tickets far, far ahead in advance, and by the time the start of the games arrived, we have already gotten married and moved to France.

No, this hairstyle is not a result of doing the scrum for years :D

And so this was my first time to see a live rugby match up-close. The first time I saw it on the internet, I thought it was so violent. And then after some time, I began to think it was quite funny and entertaining. All these big burly guys strangling and beating each other up in the field for a teeny-tiny ball. It's not at all uncommon for the players to get all bloody and heavily injured. This is why I say they make the football players look like sissy little girls in the field.

C'est un bordel des parties du corps humain !

This game kinda reminds me of all the ancient wars in European history.  All that blood and gore.  And I guess they miss it. And rugby is all they have left of it now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Muffins fait-maison

Tried my hand at baking for the first time.

Muffins au banane et noix de pécan... miam, miam!!!
Followed the recipe here. It was surprisingly easy. And they turned out to be not bad at all for a first time.

Will try with blueberries next. :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Gaudi, Picasso, Miro and Rio's Barcelona

After almost three months of being a full-time mom, I just felt like giving myself a well-deserved break and catching up on my list of places to visit, so I decided to see the nearest in my list -- Barcelona.

Bed for one -- very tiny, but clean
The cheapest direct flight I can find is via vueling. It's quite cheap for 129 euros return trip. It would've been even cheaper had I booked far ahead in advance instead of only one week to go. There wasn't enough time to prepare and I didn't have a map or a guide book, so I just consulted Google Maps for the usual itinerary of must-visit sites.

From the airport (El Prat Llobregat), it is quite easy to reach the city center via the RENFE train at Terminal 2. Then you have to get off at "Sants" or "Estacio Sants". I was a bit confused when I took the train because I didn't see any station by the name. Instead I saw one that says, "Barna Sants". It's good I had the instinct to follow all the tourists who got off at this station. Apparently, it's the short name for "Barcelona Sants".

Some canned tuna in a salad and nothing-out-of-the-ordinary prawn tapas -- you know you're not in France anymore when the food is just not as good as the ones you get for the same price.

très original!
Getting off at "Sants", I transferred to the blue line (L5) and got off at "Sant Pau/Dos de Maig" station, where my hotel is just three blocks away. It's right next to Hospital de Sant Pau and La Sagrada Familia, which is quite fortunate for me.

The next day, I headed off to La Sagrada Familia, a short walk via Avinguda Gaudi. I booked my ticket online and I got there at 8:30 am. There were still very few people at the time, so I took the opportunity to pose for a pic as soon as I saw a fellow Filipino who would take my pictures. It's one of the hassles of traveling solo. It's difficult to get a nice picture of yourself. I was queuing at first with my new-found Filipino friends, until I found out much later that there is a special entrance for those who booked on the internet.  and there was no line at all.  Oh well. I had a feeling there was something like this for me, but I wanted to chat more with the Filipinos.

Well isn't that my name on the column? :)
The Filipinos that I met at La Sagrada were taking the tourist bus which costs 24 euros. It seemed good, but you cannot switch to other buses going to other routes, so I thought not. Instead I took the T10
with me, myself and i at Parc Guell
train/metro/bus card which offers 10 rides for only 9.25 euros, quite a good deal if you're only staying three days and you don't have enough time to visit all the museums. Otherwise, you're better off with the Barcelona Card or the ArtTicketBCN card.

Ip next in my itinerary was Parc Guell. From La Sagrada metro, I got off at Parallel station to transfer to the yellow line (L3) and then got off at Vallcarca. It was a long walk and an uphill climb going there. I didn't know the park was quite huge. I wanted to see the Gaudi House Museum inside but I didn't have enough time because of the long walk going there, so I just contented myself taking pictures close to the tiny houses that are actually souvenir shops.

It's crazy crowded at Parc Guell

From Parc Guell, I took the Lesseps Metro and got off at Poble Sec station going to Fundacio Joan Miro. This was instructions from Google maps. The walk was sooo long and mostly uphill going
Bit too much exercise for somebody recently pregnant
towards Montjuic Park. At one point along Carrer de Blai, there was this woman in an apartment balcony yelling something to me in Catalan. I thought she was one of those scammers I read in some web sites about traveling to BCN, so I didn't pay attention and kept walking.

It was almost an hour when I finally reached Joan Miro museum.Ii was a bit disappointed because taking pictures weren't allowed. Though, I would still recommend visiting this museum as they have a vast collection of the artists work.

"Couple d'amoureux aux jeux de fleurs d'amandier", in English: "Lovers playing with almond blossoms"
this is the model for the one Miro created at La Défense in Paris
btw, it was prohibited to take pictures so don't follow my bad example

this is me being moody
Going to the Picasso museum from Joan Miro I decided to take a different route because the one from Google maps might take me there longer. I just followed the directions to the nearest transportation by following the arrows along the way. Et voila, after a few meters, I found myself at the "Fornicular de Montjuic" that connects to the yellow line metro. I then got off at Jaume I station to reach Museu Picasso via Carrer de la Princesa.

The obscure plaque at the Museu Picasso entrance
The Picasso Museum was tucked away discreetly in a very narrow street. The building was quite unimposing and there was just a small black plaque that announces it's the Picasso Museum. I was a bit disappointed with the limited art work inside. There were only a few from The Blue Period, which is my favorite among his works.

Although, upon reading the leaflet in the museum, I found out this is his only museum in the world that was built while he was still alive.  Most of the pieces in the museum were donated by his good friend/secretary, Sabartès.  It also has an extensive collection of his "Las Meninas" series.

The station that is right below La Boqueria, a famous market along La Rambla
sweets inside La Boqueria
From the Picasso museum I headed off to La Boqueria, a famous market along La Rambla by getting off at Liceu metro station from Jaume I. I bought some sweets at La Boqueria and then walked along the famous La Rambla towards Plaça Catalunya.

At 8PM, I went back to the hotel to get some rest and then headed back to Avinguda Gaudi for some dinner and to get a good nighttime view of La Sagrada.

 I wasn't disappointed because it looked spectacular:

This definitely needs no caption at all

Gelato con les schtroumpfs (the smurfs)
I would say that a day touring around Barcelona wasn't so bad at all, if all you need is a quick break like me. But I suggest having more than a weekend, because there's definitely a lot more to see.  It is also a good city to visit for a solo traveller.  The streets have plenty enough signs to guide you around when you are quite close to a place of interest. The transportation system is excellent and the people in the streets were quite helpful, although some of them do not speak English at all.  They all speak Catalan, btw, which is quite different from Spanish.

Food was not so good if you're on a tight budget and only willing to spend less than 10 euros for each meal.  I only found out about this upon complaining to my husband when I returned home about the food being really crappy.  He said, I should've been spending more than 10 euros to get a really decent meal anywhere in Europe.  But I told him this is not the case here in France, to which he just shrugged his shoulders.

Now my Spanish-French friend back in Singapore, who once lived in Barcelona, told me I should've asked him for some tips on the good places to eat. Well, I’m going back with hubby and baby some other time, so I’m definitely going to need his tips next time, so I don't find myself eating at Mc Donald's.

Hospital de Sant Pau, right next to my hotel
Despite all the warnings on some travel web sites concerning pick-pockets and scamming thieves, I found the city quite safe and not scary at all for a solo female traveler like myself. But I guess, it helps to look smart and to look like you know where you are going, and to look like you're NOT to be messed with.

Desigual shop along La Rambla
one french guy actually said, "Everytime I pass by Desigual,
I want to cut open my stomach and
throw my innards at the shop's window"...
hmm... I can understand why.
Back at the airport on the way to Toulouse, I went to the self check-in machine to get a boarding pass. I was quite surprised to find out I can actually choose a seat for free! Good thing I didn't book a seat online where they charge extra.

From the plane above, the south of France was a lovely patchwork of land.  It's just so beautiful.  and you can immediately tell it's Toulouse down below when all the buildings and houses are a warm and welcoming rustic red.

Barcelona was a refreshing weekend break, but Toulouse is definitely the loveliest place on earth and it's definitely home.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The French Countryside

Since we were having a long weekend because of the Monday holiday, my family and I decided to go to Aveyron, my hubby's home region, to meet with his friends for the village fiesta.

Lechon de leche, french style
They were cooking this for nine hours!
We managed to eat it at eleven in the evening!

Hubby playing pétanque, a summer sport, with buddies

The météo forecast was a cloudy, perhaps even rainy weather during the weekend, but it turned out to be all sunny since Friday up until now.  All the lovely flowers of spring are in full bloom by the roadside.

Spring blossoms basking in the sun

Orange flowers at our friend's garden
Dandelions scattering seeds up in the air everywhere

I have always been fascinated with the beauty of the South of France, especially the countryside. The people are always very warm and welcoming, even to foreigners like myself. My husband's friends are no exception. One of his friends offered his place for us to stay the night. It was a charming old stone house with a huge garden, filled with flowering plants and fruit-bearing trees. There was even a swimming pool for cooling down during the summer.

Our friend's charming stone house in the tiny ancient village of Cougousse, where we stayed the night. It was very lovely both inside and out. From our room, we have a lovely view of the vast garden and the surrounding hills. Makes me feel like I'm in Fairytale Land.

The huge garden with the swimming pool farther up in the frame
The house was situated in the tiny village of Cougousse, filled with charming stone houses, surrounded by the rolling hills. There was even a small river that cuts across the village, adding more charm to the scenery.  But I'm too lazy to post more pics.  :p

The day after the fiesta, we had some time to go around the town center of Marcillac for more photo-ops and to marvel at medieval French architecture.

Old house with medieval architecture, showing the beams jutting out,
with an obvious slant, almost giving in to gravity's pull with old age

Tiny chapel built with the characteristic reddish brown stone of the region

And of course, we wouldn't by any chance, neglect to sample the local offerings.

Gateau à la broche, Aveyron specialty

Bought some rosé wine from the region

It was a great refreshing mini-holiday break.  Not at all bad for my little baby's first out-of-town visit.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Nudes of Europe

best viewed large, so go ahead and
click on the image for your viewing pleasure
i have always been fascinated with nudes.  i never really understood those who aren't.

i may be a bit inhibited when it comes to being naked, (being born in a country where people are so vain and had too many issues and insecurities about their physical appearance) but i have no qualms about appreciating a beautiful nude body.

and this is why i love europe.  i love those beautiful naked statues and nude paintings, nude photographs, uncensored nudity on movies, TV shows and advertisements... and sometimes, when you're lucky, people running around naked in the rugby field from across the street where you live! :)

crazy nude guy on the background
of some kids' clothing ad
i was quite surprised to wake up to a sunday morning seeing these crazy seemingly drunk people early in the morning, running around naked tackling each other in the rugby field from across the street, which can be viewed from our balcony.  usually, on calmer mornings, i only have the view of the icy peaks of the pyrénées.  but this morning, i was in for a surprise.

and sometimes, you even find them in even more unusual and unexpected places, like in an advertisement for kids' clothing. :D

surrounded with all this glorious nudity, really, how can it be more fun in the Philippines?  :p