Thursday, February 25, 2016

Videos from Paris

Here are some videos from my Paris trip. I am a little goofy in some of them.

Inside the Palace of Versailles, a hallway with statues

The famous Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles

Walking around the Gardens of Versailles

Glass Pyramids outside the Louvre Museum

Climbing up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower, challenge accepted

Made it to Level 1 of the Eiffel Tower, beautiful view!

Made it to Level 2 of the Eiffel Tower, another great view!

Out of breath after climbing some 600 stairs.

George and Casey, performing a scene from the movie "Midnight in Paris"
"This is the greatest city in the world" - Casey
"This is unbelievable" - George

Eiffel Tower glimmers for five minutes every hour on the hour.

Another view of Paris from the Arc de Triomphe

Walking around the Triumphal Arch.

A 360-degree view from Montmartre. How gorgeous is the sunset?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Paris, France

January 18-22, 2016

The second stop on our Euro trip was the one and only, Le Paris! Even when we booked our flights from Barcelona to Paris months in advance, I couldn’t believe I was going to Paris. I mean, it’s Paris. The city glamorized in brochures and posters, books and movies. Given that this whole Fulbright experience still feels like a dream, why not detour to Paris, right? Snooze on, Mariya!

We took a 20:50 Vueling flight from Barcelona and arrived to Paris at 22:35. I had been warned that French people tend to be rude if you don’t speak their language, and I encountered this stereotype when I asked about potential bus routes to our hostel. A guy sitting at a rental car service—an American company, might I add—asked me in English if I spoke French, and when I shook my head and said “no,” he bluntly replied: “then I cannot help you.” I don’t believe in stereotypes but I do believe in courtesy. Oh well. Alex and I took a taxi to our new hostel, which cost about 30 Euros. The nice taxi driver, who was from Philippines and had been living in France for quite some time, spoke enough English for us to communicate. We circled around the neighborhood a few times because we could not figure how to get to the exact street; turned out our hostel was located on a one-way roundabout street. We managed to walk in the middle of the night—it was about 2am at this point—and found our destination. We quickly slipped into our pajamas and hopped into a queen bed together.

Here are the highlights from Paris, which we spent with our two Fulbright friends, Casey Mangan and George Boyan. This city has so much history, so much class!

Palace of Versailles – This is where the kings wined and dined. Incredibly huge and lavish. Royal, opulent, and luxurious are all adjectives I would use to describe this mansion. It is also apparently a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy, starting with Louis XIV. The golden lining on the gates, windows, and doors were a nice contrast to the sky blue roofs. When we walked through the palace, which is now a museum, the sociologist in me couldn’t understand the need for so much wealth. Nonetheless, monarchy is part of France’s political history so I tried not to pass too much judgment on the royal family, whose portraits stared down at us in every room. My favorite part of the palace was the Gardens, which extend some 800 hectares (1 hectare = 10,000 m2) of land. (Imagine how many poor people can build housing on this much land!) The meticulously manicured lawns, parterres of flowers, sculptures and fountains made the walk through the gardens both enjoyable and scenic. At one point, the rectangular long and narrow walk in the gardens reminded me of the walk by the reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial back home in DC. We enjoyed authentic chicken tikka sandwiches for lunch afterward, and indulged in crepes and cappuccinos in the evening.

Le Louvre – The next day, we went to the Louvre Museum, which is one of the world's largest museums and a historic monument in Paris. The Louvre is also the world's most visited museum and is housed in Louvre Palace, which was originally built as a fortress in the late 12th century under Philip II (according to Wikipedia). Casey, George, Alex, and I spent three hours at this renowned museum, although seeing the entire place would require at least a week. After waiting behind a large crowd, we finally saw the famous “The Mona Lisa” painting by Leonardo da Vinci. I thought “The Mona Lisa” would be a big painting, but it turned out to be quite tiny, which was a little disappointing. Still a great piece of art though. Anyhow, some other famous artwork we saw included the Winged Victory of Samothrace (Winged Goddess of Nike presides over the Louvre’s Daru stairs), Venus de Milo (Amphitrite missing arms), the “Liberty Leading the People” painting, Great Sphinx of Tanis (lion’s body, human head), among many others including Napoleon's room. Outside of the museum are the famous glass pyramids, a popular site for photos. We had lunch at a Japanese place nearby the Louvre, but the chicken curry made my stomach ill afterward.

Eiffel Tower (“Eiffel Tour”) – The Eiffel Tower is one of the most well-known landmarks of the world, and believe me, it lives up to its hype in every sense of the word. Built by Gustave Eiffel and made of iron in a lattice pattern with a square base, the Eiffel Tower is as magnificent as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Taj Mahal in India. It stands at 324 meters (1,063 feet) and is as high as an 81-story building. There are three sections of the Eiffel Tower, all of which are accessible to the public. When we were there, however, the top section was closed of due to the terrorist attacks that happened back in December. This didn’t deter us from seeing to the first two sections though. Instead of taking the elevator, all four of us challenged ourselves and decided to climb the stairs. I very quickly realized this was a mistake, as I found myself panting and out of breath just after a few flights of stairs. Nonetheless, I climbed all the stairs because I never give up on a challenge. The views from both levels of the Eiffel Tower were amazing. We got to see the sunset over Paris on the second level, which was a beautiful moment. Orange and red light cast over the blue roofs in easily identifiable layers, as if a 6-year-old had carefully colored them with a crayon or colored pencil.

Notre DameNotre means “our” and dame means “lady.” Notre Dame de Paris is a historic Catholic cathedral. It’s as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Admission was free. We walked around the church and admired the sculptures, paintings, and other set-ups. The center was reserved for those who wished to worship, and everything around it was open to visitors. According to Wikipedia, the “cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world.” Notre Dame is also apparently one of the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress, which is a form of architecture that resists the lateral forces pushing a wall outwards by redirecting them to the ground.
Triumphal Arch – Formerly known as the “Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile,” this is another famous monument in Paris. I know, Paris has lots of rich history and everything appears to be “famous,” but it’s true! One thing I did not know is that the Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. George’s two North Carolina friends joined on this tour and it was nice to meet them. We bought tickets and climbed the stairs to the top of the Arch, and saw yet another breathtaking view of the city. The Eiffel Tower could be seen from the distance, as if someone sketched it with an unsharpened pencil. I even tried to hold the Eiffel Tower in my hand! 
Montmartre – Montmartre was perhaps my favorite monument in Paris. A white-domed Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur sits on the hill’s summit, making it the highest point in Paris with an incredible view of the city. When I say incredible, I am not using that word lightly. With a 360-degree turn, you can see all of Paris…every building, monument, tree, street, house, road, tower, river. It was as if someone placed a magnifying glass on a satellite city map of Paris and let you peek into it. We rushed up the stairs so that we could enjoy the sunset, and we made it in time! I want you to imagine an empty canvass. Take your paintbrush, dip it in some orange paint, and make a horizontal stroke across the board, letting the color naturally bleed. Now mix in some yellow; then red, blue, then purple. You’re not creating a rainbow; you’re creating a color scheme, one that is supposed to cast a shadow over Paris.
Moulin Rouge – “Moulin Rouge is the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance,” says Wikipedia. People from around the world buy expensive tickets to enjoy musical shows and dance performances at this “red mill.” The closest equivalent of Moulin Rouge I can think of is Broadway in Times Square in New York. While we couldn’t afford a show at Moulin Rouge, we could afford to take pictures in front of this landmark. Afterward, Casey’s Turkish student from last year met up with us and we all had Vietnamese pho for dinner. Turkish hospitality continued to Paris; we were surprised when the friend paid for our dinner despite our multiple efforts to stop him. This reaffirms the warm nature of Turkish people; they carry that part of them everywhere they go.
Other Random Things – As we roamed Le Paris, we enjoyed lots of crêpes and cappuccinos – when in Paris, do as Parisians do, right? One of my favorite crêpe places was a little café shop decorated with currency, notes, and photos of customers from around the world. I saw US dollars, Japanese yen, Turkish lira, Pakistani and Indian rupees, British pound, Euros, Saudi riyal, plus others I could not recognize. Another thing I found interesting was a metro station named “Franklin D. Roosevelt.” I smiled because the first thing I thought to myself was: “I suppose FDR has been to Paris a few times in his lifetime. A lot was happening in the 1930s and 1940s in Europe, and quite a number of treaties were signed here.” I felt closer to America seeing FDR’s name on the metro map. Last but not least, we stopped by the famous Lafayette mall on our last day and I purchased a warm, fuzzy scarf which would become, as I later found out, a great investment for Brussels and Amsterdam.
With that said, I now conclude the Paris blog post. Needless to say, there was a lot to see in Paris and we managed to do our best. Hope you learned something new, because I surely did while visiting the city and while doing research to write this post. My friends often ask why I waste time writing so much; I don’t consider blogging a waste of time. When someone has a hobby, they do it with passion and desire. It brings them happiness. Journalism is one of my hobbies, and writing brings me joy. Chronicling, documenting, and sharing my experiences with my family and friends, and others around the world, has always been something I’ve done since I was a child. Writing allows me to collect my thoughts, reflect about my experiences, and gain deeper meanings into the visual world we live in.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Videos from Barcelona

A few video clips I made while in Barcelona. They're not perfect, but they were "in the moment" memories. I hope you enjoy them!

Inside La Sagrada Familia

At the La Boqueria Market

La Casa Batlló 1 - Inside one of the rooms.

La Casa Batlló 2 - Audio tour shows how a mushroom was used in a design.

La Casa Batlló 3 - Audio tour shows dismantling building

La Casa Batlló 4 - On the terrace, half way up.
La Casa Batlló 5 - Video shows a dragon blowing flames and curtains closing as if there were a show; both of these actions are incorporated in the roof and the front of the Casa Batlló, respectively.

La Casa Batlló 6 - On top of the roof. Can you spot the dragon?
Train music - Man playing violin on the train in hopes of donations from passengers.

 Beach - 360-degree view of the pretty beach!

Beach - Final reflections before leaving Barcelona.

Barcelona, Spain

January 15-18, 2016

Hello friends! It’s been a while since I last wrote something. I’m a little behind on telling you about my Europe trip. Wait no more! Here are some reflections about Barcelona.

The first stop on our Europe trip was Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona is famous for football (soccer), beaches, and Spanish tapas. We wanted to start off our trip in a warm spot and then trek our way upwards on the cold Europe mainland. However, we had a small hiccup getting there…

We caught an early morning 7:00 flight from Antalya to Istanbul, and then a 1020 flight from Istanbul to Barcelona. About 30 minutes before boarding time, I decided to check out a make-up and perfume shop to kill time. This was a bad idea because I lost track of time inside the store—the loud music, crowds of people, and tempting samples can make anyone forget they are at an airport. When I checked the time, it was almost boarding time, so I rushed back to the gate where I left Alex with my bag. She wasn’t there! I thought the passengers had already boarded, so I used my Turkish and begged the security guy to let me board. However, he told me that the gate number had changed. I ran as fast as I could to the information board, where I saw the changed gate number. At this point, I started pacing again, and ran in and around people—just like a movie scene where a hero is trying to catch a flight and stop his/her lover from flying off. From afar, I saw Alex waving at me, and I picked up my speed again; thank goodness for my high school track skills, they clearly came in handy. Apparently, they were making a final call for the boarding, and poor Alex was waiting at the security desk with her bag and my bag. And I had arrived just in time! Whew! After catching my breath, and drinking expensive water (10 lira for a small plastic bottle!), I found out from Alex that she tried to tell them to call my name in the speakers, but they wouldn’t do that. She was so afraid we would miss this flight. I was grateful that she waited for me, but lesson definitely learned: never let the luring stores inside an airport get to you. They’re trouble.

We arrived to Barcelona a little past 1300. With bags in hand, and bags under our eyes, we realized we had no local currency. Therefore our first task was to get Euros. We found an ATM machine and used our credit cards, despite the high fees. Ekk! But we had to do what we had to do. With some cash, we asked the information desk about the train system, and caught a tram close to our hostel. We stayed in a beautifully decorated house-turned-hostel called Coroleu House. It was in the northeast part of Catalonia, on the red line, close to St. Andreu. Our host gave us a comprehensive orientation; showing us how to use the city map, recommending places to eat, and suggesting routes for tourist attractions. Alex and I stayed in a bunk-bed style 6-person room. Our hostel mates included a young man from Korea who was touring all of Europe after completing his required military service and two Indian friends who were taking a break from work.

Anyhow, we spent four days in Barcelona. I practiced my Spanish, ate lots of tapas, and marveled at modern architecture. The highlights of the trip included seeing the following:

La Sagrada Familia – A magnificent church designed by Barcelona and Spain’s famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí, who was immensely inspired by nature. He incorporate as much of nature into his architectural designs. The interior of the Sagrada Familia, for example, has tall columns which look like trees in a jungle. Every shape that Gaudí uses comes from plants or animals. I really liked this place because it seemed to connect the heavens to earth; I felt closer to God because I felt surrounded by nature.
Park Güell – Also designed by Gaudí. This is both a natural park, and an architectural art piece. My favorite part was siting in the benches made up of mosaic art squares, and overseeing the entire city below. There were two gingerbread house-looking buildings at the entrance, which gave the park a ‘magical’ feel. The gem in this park, however, is the famous lizard, which is made up of colored tiles of various geometric shapes. With so many tourists, it was hard to take a picture in front of the lizard without photo bombers in the background.
Modernist Buildings – On La Rambla Street, Gaudí’s modernist buildings attract flocks of toursits. Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera) are famous for their unusual design, both inside and especially outside. Alex and I bought a ticket to explore Casa Batlló. The audio tour explained how Gaudí used natural life—animal vertebrates, trees, sea creatures, flower patterns and more—in his architecture. It was really cool to see things come “alive” in this house. See videos in next blog post.
Barcelona Cathedral – Spain is a heavily Catholic country, therefore it’s not uncommon to find lots of churches around the city. The most famous, of course, is Barcelona’s Cathedral, which is constructed with intricate stone designs, just like the La Sagrada Familia.
Picasso’s Museum – While roaming the Gothic Square, we waited in anlong line for Picasso’s Museum. It was our lucky day, as tickets were free! Woohoo! Alex and I walked around the gallery and saw Picasso’s original collection. No doubt the artist had a talent for the paintbrush. In my AP Spanish class during senior year of high school, Señora Silverberg made us paint the styles of each of the Spanish artists we studied, including Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. At the end of each lesson, the class voted on the best painting of the day. I was voted as the “Picasso of the Class”—I am so still so proud of that achievement. I think I have that day’s painting saved somewhere in my files back home...

La Boqueria – The full name of this bustling public market is “The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria.” It’s a colorful market; there are stalls and tables that sell fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts, candies, chocolates, and smoothies. Walking through La Boqueria reminded me of Pakistani bazaars at night time, where smells of fresh produce and cooking food lure you in every which direction. Check out the video in the next blog post.
Torre Agbar – Before leaving Barcelona on Monday the 18th, Alex and I made a pit stop at Torre Agbar, which is a bullet-looking blue building. It’s an oddly shaped work building, which looks like a spaceship ready for blastoff. We took silly photos in front of it and enjoyed the beauty from the outside.
Barcelona Beach – Barcelona wouldn’t be a complete trip if we left the beach out. Alex and I relaxed on the beach for an hour or so, enjoying the breeze and soaking up as much sunshine as we could. Beaches are such a reflective place to be at; whenever I stare out at the shoreline and see the waves gushing towards the sand, I think about how our dreams do the same with reality. The sea is full of unimaginable possibilities.