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10.14.2014

Honeymoon: Normandy | Mont Saint-Michel Abbey

So one might imagine that we were sick and tired of seeing castles and churches in Europe...but nope, not us!! Each one has their similarities, but they were also vastly different in terms of history, and we loved learning about them. Out of all the churches and castles we experienced during our honeymoon, La Sagrada in Barcelona was probably my favorite, but a close second goes to the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey in Normandy, France. In fact, one of the biggest reasons that I wanted to visit France was so that my hubby and I can visit the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey.



After several scorching hot days spent in Madrid, we looked forward to a little cooler weather in Normandy. Madrid  was a city bustling with busy people, so we were also looking forward to a bit of a slower pace as well -- Normandy felt familiar to us although it was our first time there. It reminded us of Marina del Rey in Southern California -- a small town of sailors with some boutique shops. The main difference of course, was the language barrier! Haha.

We spent a day at the Mont Saint-Michel Abbey -- but in all honesty, we could've probably spent another day there! It would have been interesting to see the tides rise up and down at different times of the day. The Mont Saint-Michel Abbey is situated on a small rocky tidal island, surrounded by the bay. During high tides, the road leading up to the Abbey can literally be underneath the water.



According to legend, in A.D. 708, Archangel Michael told the local bishop to "Build here and build high." It became a place for Roman Catholic monks to find solitude, and many of them paid pilgrimage. During the course of history, the Abbey shifted into a prison during the French Revolution (1791~1863).  Stone cells were built where prisoners couldn't stand nor sit. A giant tread wheel was also built so that a half dozen prisoners would power it like a hamster would run on the wheel and haul two ton loads of supplies from the landing below. The prison was finally closed in 1863, and the Abbey was declared a historical monument in 1874. Today, millions of visitors come to the Abbey every year to set foot on the UNESCO World Heritage monument.

The walk to the Abbey is a one-way route. There are so many narrow and steep steps to get to the top -- so be prepared to wear your most comfortable shoes if you plan to visit :) You can also stroll by the small town and buy souvenirs, nosh on a crepe, or if you're lucky enough and reserved far in advance -- stay at some of the bed and breakfasts there. Once inside the structure of the Abbey, you'll go through a series of bare, Gothic rooms.





It was such an amazing experience -- I had always admired the Abbey from photographs on the internet, but experiencing it in person was so much better! It is a unique experience that my husband and I will always remember.




10.13.2014

Honeymoon: Madrid

Although Barcelona and Madrid is only several hours away via the train, their ambiance is completely different. Whereas Barcelona is a bohemian beach city, Madrid is a lively metropolis. To be honest, out of the two cities in Spain, Barcelona fit our lifestyle better. But I am very glad that we got to see and experience Madrid too. We enjoyed authentic churros with chocolate, nice strolls around various parks and markets, and even had a little taste of Egypt (!) while in Madrid. 

We started off our day with fresh fruits & croissants for breakfast :)
& we strolled upon various parks...
....and more parks...

& stopped by San Gines Chocolateria for their world famous churros & chocolate.  

YUM :)
A view of the city from Parque del Cuartel de la Montana
Temple of Debod - an authentic Egyptian temple dating from the 2nd century B.C.!!

Our favorite sight in Madrid was definitely the Temple of Debod. The temple originally stood in Debod in the Nile Valley (dating from the 2nd century B.C.), but the Egyptian government gifted this monument to Spain in 1968 because the temple was close to a dam that was being constructed, and it would have been destroyed otherwise. In 1969, it was dismantled stone by stone and was reconstructed to be open to the public by 1972. It was so neat to see a piece of history from another country being well preserved and looked after by another country!

10.07.2014

Honeymoon: Barcelona | Cook & Taste

Have you ever traveled and thought, "I wish I could learn to cook from the locals!"? 

I have. On multiple occasions. So for our honeymoon, I asked my hubby if he would join me for a cooking class in Barcelona. He wasn't as thrilled as I was, but he thought it would be a fun experience for the both of us. And I'm happy to report...it was!

Cook & Taste Barcelona
Recipes
Demo station
Prep station
We learned how to cook one appetizer (tomato gazpacho), one entree (traditional chicken paella), and one dessert (crema catalana) via a live demo from our instructor. We noshed on some tapas (iberico jamon & olives) and sipped on chilled white wine, and ate the 3 course dinner later with 6 other participants -- we were all tourists: a pair of ladies from Australia, a couple from the Netherlands, a young lady from Scotland, a woman from South Korea, and us from the United States! I guess locals wouldn't have to take a cooking class in their hometown to learn to cook their authentic dishes if it's passed down from their families.

The instructor whisking away.
What the consistency of the crema should look like.
A taste of the crema before it was chilled in the fridge.
One thing that our instructor warned us -- she said we can improvise the ingredients in a paella based on what we have in our home country-- but that we should never, ever use chorizo as a substitute for meat or peas in a paella. When she mentioned chorizo, I knew she was saying it for our benefit, because all of the other participants were like "What's that?" Haha. Chorizo is a very common meat product from Mexico that is common to us Angelenos. The reason she said not to use chorizo is because it is too strong of a flavor profile and it would no longer be a "Spanish" dish. The reason not to include peas is because it is very sweet, and it would no longer be considered a paella {this all according to our instructor}.

Fresh ingredients for the paella.
I don't know why the thought never crossed my mind to grate tomatoes for a fresh tomato puree -- brilliant!

Don't forget the saffron!

Crispy edges of the rice is the best part of a paella.
Cover until ready to serve to maintain the moisture.           



Time to dig in! My favorite part of dinner. It was all delicious :)

Appetizer: tomato gazpacho
Entree: paella
Dessert: Crema Catalana
Yum! I'm hoping to recreate these dishes for my friends and family soon. Maybe for Thanksgiving? :)

10.02.2014

Honeymoon: Barcelona | Antoni Gaudi

After I returned to the office from our honeymoon, I handed out magnets that had Gaudi's work printed on as souvenirs to my colleagues . One of them blurted out, "Oh no...I hate Gaudi!...But...Thank you!" Haha. I found this person's reaction to be humorous rather than insulting, because this individual is very straightforward and honest with one's comments. I replied, "I guess you'll always be reminded of him when you open the fridge then! :)" I think it's one of those things where it's black or white -- you either only see beauty in Gaudi's work or you think it is hideous. And hey -- to each his own! For me, I loved being immersed in Gaudi's world. This post is dedicated to some of the beautiful pieces we were lucky enough to experience while in Barcelona.


Casa Batllo - also known to the locals as casa dels ossos (house of bones), as it has an organic and skeletal quality that is inherent in Gaudi's work. The roof is arched and likened to the scaly back of a dragon. The home was originally built in 1877 by another architect, and the owner of the home at the time (Mr. Batllo) commissioned Gaudi to refurbish it between 1904 to 1906. Casa Batllo eventually passed from the Batllo ownership in the 1950's, after having suffered significant damages during the civil war. Since the 1990's, the current owners have made a tremendous effort to restore the home. In 2002, the home has welcomed the general public for cultural visits.


the facade
the interior of the Noble Floor, facing the Passeig de Gracia
mushroom shaped fireplace, which housed a bench on each side -- one for the caretaker and the other for a couple.

skylights
hallway
Gaudi was very particular with every detail -- he even designed this manuscript for the doors himself.
view from the rooftop terrace

*         *         *           *         *         *


We also had the opportunity to visit Parc Guell. It was built roughly between 1900 to 1914, and it was originally envisioned to be a self-contained community for the wealthy. The site is close to an affluent neighborhood called La Salut (The Health), with fresh air (far away from factories that produced smog) and spectacular views of the city. However, there was not enough interest at the time to make it a success. It has since been converted into a municipal garden.


Isn't it awe-inspiring?

From 1906 to 1926, Gaudi lived in one of the two homes that were ever completed in Parc Guell (not designed by Gaudi). It is now the Gaudi House Museum.

I think what I love about Gaudi's spaces the most is how you can really tell he was so true to his visions. I think his spaces are like those intriguing, mind-bending movies that you want to keep watching over and over to find new clues that you missed out on the first time around.

9.22.2014

Honeymoon: Barcelona | La Sagrada Familia

We have returned from our honeymoon in Europe and boy, it was an adventure! We visited two cities each in Spain (Barcelona & Madrid) and in France (Caen & Paris).  We always wanted to visit Europe before we started a family (because let's face it...it would be very expensive to travel with a family!), so we thought it would be the best location for our honeymoon. 

Our first stop was Barcelona, Spain. Out of the four cities that we visited, I have to say that Barcelona was my favorite city. It was vibrant, interesting, and the locals were so friendly and polite! I could sense that the locals very much appreciate and take pride in their historical landmarks, and rightfully so! Barcelona is home to many of Antoni Gaudi (a Spanish Catalan architect)'s masterpieces. My professor in college shared photos of Gaudi's work to me, but at the time I did not fully understand the scale of his work nor fully appreciate the integrity of his masterpieces. When I visited his landmarks in person, I was blown away. The grandiose scale. The intricate details and the carefully thought out nooks and crannies. The seemingly impossible physics of the undulating structures. That whimsical feeling, but knowing how much time and thought was put into his plans. I felt as if I was living in surrealism everytime I came across his buildings.

When people think of Gaudi, they associate him with La Sagrada Familia. It is a Roman Catholic church which commenced construction in 1882 and Gaudi became involved in the project starting in 1883. Gaudi worked on La Sagrada until his death in 1926, and since then his plans have been executed by various architects. It is still under construction, with an anticipated completion date in 2026. The church has always been an expiatory church, which means that it has been financed by donations. It truly is a must-see!




view of the Nativity facade

view of the Passion Facade

the interior
stained glass
the columns remind us of  large trees in a forest


I'm missing it already, looking at these photos! One tip if you plan to visit La Sagrada -- purchase your tickets in advance to avoid the huuuuuge queue! & try to visit the tower if at all possible - we weren't able to this time, but maybe sometime in the distant future...