It's Never AdiĆ³s

If I had to choose one cathedral to go to in all of Europe, it would be the Sagrada Familia "sacred family". I've only been to four countries in Europe on this trip, but I can say without a doubt that its incomparable and purely spectacular. Like other famous attractions, make sure to buy tickets beforehand as the line up is crazy long upon revival. Even purchasing online, you have to select the exact time you plan on arriving as there are limited tickets for that time frame. I highly recommend buying tickets with a tour or getting a headset with your ticket to go at your own pace (what we did) as being educated and enlightened on the history and making of this cathedral made all the difference-and possibly why it's my favourite.

The amazing ceiling & interior design
Apostle's Creed in Spanish
A scripted door-a possible passage?
Christ-front & centered
Once again, the late Antoni Gaudi was the visionary artist behind this cathedral and though he couldn't finish it due to his unexpected death, the Japanese are now finishing this breathtaking project for him. A mix of surrealism, fantasy, modernity, and splashes of colour, this cathedral is full of symbolism and in depth meaning-every detail has a purpose and nothing is without reason. As a Christian myself, I felt very impress and amazed at the sentimental thought in every process and conception of his work. One place I really wanted to go, but didn't have time to was Park Guell, another work of his. I am just so fascinated and in awe of his passion for architecture and I know I will be back to see this park for myself!

Afterwards, we headed to browse the infamous Las Ramblas street filled with touristy stuff, souvenirs, and artists of all sorts. "Infamous" because apparently theft is common and tourists are terribly targeted here as warned to us by various travellers (and locals) we met going through Europe. By now, I didn't find it too necessary to shop for these over rated things, but what I enjoyed was walking down this street towards the harbour and port on the coast of Barcelona. It felt very refreshing to see a more serene and refreshing side to Barcelona and the board walk here is full of activities one or all can partake in. The beach view can be admired and if up for it, sun tanning of course! There's also a Christopher Columbus statue here which gave me a light bulb moment because I never thought he was Spanish. Though it makes sense as Spain is one of the most southern parts of Europe and knowing how the story goes, led him to discover North America. (FYI: Spain is a walking history book!)
On our way back , we stopped at La Bouqeria, a farmer market along Las Ramblas. Fresh food, fresh seafood, meats, novelty items and unique chocolates were a tasty sight to the eyes. It's crazy to think that Spaniards may have never heard of frozen shrimp, but it makes sense when they are obviously surrounded by bodies of water. Thus, the food, especially seafood is amazingly fresh and comes at a reasonable price without lacking in quality. Fruit is also abundant and cheap too. If I had a few more days here, I definitely hit up this place to make some fresh home cook meals!

To cap off the night, and with the ease of a vehicle, I was able to drive my travelling companions to Monsterat Mountain, an hour ish away from Barcelona and about 40 minutes north of Terassa, where our local friends are living.  Highway driving wasn't bad, and the view was so worth it the closer we got. The road leading up to the mountain is super windy, but definitely take it slow and stop frequently to capture the different angles and views of this beautiful creation. We were in a rush to beat the sunset so we didn't stop along the way, but personally I thought the view from below the mountain had the best view of the whole thing as once you're above, you're mainly admiring everything below (which is awesome too!). There are also restaurants at the top, but as it was pass 9pm, they were all closed.
View from very top, resembles a view from a plane's window
What a place of worship!
To recap, Spain was a splendid experience. A diverse sight of cultures, colours, and food. Barcelona is absolutely comfortable and a joy to travel to-AND what a fabulous way to end off this Southern Europe trip. Still so much to add to the list for next time, but like always, travelling is an ongoing journey, not a destination.

It's been busy since returning home, hence the later blog posts and lack of reflections on this trip, but I know for a first time experience of Europe, this will be a trip I can and will always look back on to walk down memory lane and remember how blessed I was on this trip through everything I got to do, see, eat, and soak up!

Who knows where or when my next adventure will be, keep phollow-ing!

Ola Barcelona!

I am so glad we topped off our trip in Barcelona. Though we were there for 4 days, there's honestly so much to do in this vibrant flare of a city. Factoring in some friends living outside of Barcelona, the list of places to explored baffled us! Spain, you are definitely expecting a return from me!

So Spaniards, or Catalan culture is quite unique from the rest of Europe. Not only are siestas renown (a break/resting period in the afternoon usually from 1-4pm), meal times are thus later in the day and night life is vibrant. Barcelona was also one of the more multicultural cities we've been to as we saw a bigger populations of minority groups and various Asian restaurants in the downtown core  making us believe that the city is rather racially diverse as compared to Italy and Greece. As Spain is one of the more Southern countries of Europe, there are also lots of Muslims and Africans that move here from Africa as its relatively close on the map.
What ultimately threw us off was surprisingly the weather. We had thought Spain would be the hottest destination for us with radiating sunlight and beaming hot weather, but the time we were there was quite cool and we had just missed the heat wave the week prior. Also, having had the opportunity to drive in Barcelona, I can honestly say that roads are small, parking is tight despite the fact that everyone is able to reverse and parallel park like a wish come true, and Spaniards LOVE LOVE LOVE RIGHT TURNS?! They rather have a traffic circle than an intersection. I never thought I say this, but highway driving is so much easier than driving in town, at least for Barcelona.

Our first full day led us to explore downtown and kicked off the day at Il Cortes Ingles, a franchise department store throughout Spain. The one right downtown at the Catalunya metro station has a rooftop cafeteria style eatery (think Ikea) and restaurant (lunch opens at 1pm), that oversees the skyline and metropolitan area of Barcelona. We ate at the cafeteria since we didn't want to wait for post-siesta lunch hour to start at the restaurant and enjoyed it a lot. Though the food is cooked already, portions are huge and they warm it up for you upon ordering. Prices are also very reasonable for a view like this. I had stuff squid for 10 Euros! It was amazing!

View from the rooftop of Il Cortes Ingles

My stuff squid yum.
Afterwards, we wandered downtown enough to notice that Zara and its HQ of Inditex chain stores are almost on every block. I was overjoyed to discover Lefties, a discounted line under the Inditex group. Oh and for all you European travellers, the prices of clothing at Zara in Spain is cheaper than the rest of Europe since the brand started and manufactures there. I should've waited instead of having had made a purchase  back in Italy, but oh well.. lesson learnt.

Trekking to Casa Batllo, I not only fell in love with the medieval-gothic-fantasy like fusion of architecture Barcelona had to offer, but also the late Anthony Gaudi's work sighted throughout the city. We also checked out the Gothic Quarter and respectively the Born District which is an area of local clothing boutiques, novelty shops, eateries and one of a kind finds. There's a mysterious and somewhat dark vibe wandering this area (hence the name), but its super safe...perhaps not at night, but we made so many fun discoveries checking out the stores.
Interesting building sighted wandering the streets of downtown
Spanish sausage in a cone anyone? 
A random wall of art & graffiti in the Gothic Quarter
That night, we were able to catch the famous Flamenco Show at the Palau de la Musica Catalana. Funny story, we were looking at postcards and one with the interior of this gorgeous theatre stopped us to question what building it was and what purpose it served. To our luck, it happened to be right across from us and the Flamenco show schedule just happened to fall on that night! It was meant to be and for our 35 Euros upper deck seats, it was such a "must see" cultural experience. Prior to this eventful evening, we also had the most amazing tapas (small savoury dishes typically served at dinner) ever nearby at a place called Taller De Tapas. I actually wish we ate more tapas because these savoury dishes in Spain are amazing!!
Gorgeous interior!
AMAZING steak + foie gras tapas
Tapas for one nomNomNOM (but can serve two!)

Unexpectedly Homie: Lugano

Lugano was ironically a pretty last minute decision. I mean, it was only an hour away from Milan so it felt like there was no excuse to not head over to Switzerland and do some exploring. We had kept it in mind since planning this trip, but it wasn't until closer to the leg of our Milan journey that we were set on going. Luckily, we were able to get bus tickets online for 8 Euros one way (Mailand bus), but with a cheap ticket cost, there's always a catch.

First of all, the main bus station was almost a 45 minute taxi ride from central Milan, where we were staying, so make sure you factor this in and head out early. We weren't expecting it to take so long to the train station, so worrying that we would miss our only bus ride (and thinking that buses in Europe were as punctual as the trains are and learning from our lesson (flashback to us missing our Milan train in Venice)) we literally got off our taxi a few blocks early to run to the station when our taxi was stuck in traffic. Thankfully, and to our favour, the buses aren't as punctual and we made it just in the nick of time! phew*

Another thing is, when you arrive and depart from Lugano, you are seriously dropped off in the worst location ever. A tad sketch if I must say when you are waiting on the side of the road across a football field in the evening, but even during the day you have no clue where you just got off and there are no noticeable tourist attractions or main areas that you can sight as landmarks.  Again, we were truly bless to be safe and by the grace of God, met good Samaritans who went out of their way to assist us so we could get to where we wanted. Plus, the buses are not only not on schedule, they are severely late, so please don't be surprise if you think you may have missed the bus when in all actuality, the bus could be 30-60 minutes delayed! So all in all, I definitely would recommend training to Lugano or paying more to get better service for the convenience and safety of your ride.
Lake Lugano

So finally arriving where we needed to be, Lake Lugano, reminded me a lot of Lake Louise and the Rocky Mountains in Alberta. It reminded me of how fortunate I am to have such beautiful creations right back home, or at least a few hours from home, but ironic that we came to Switzerland to be appreciative of these sights. Honestly, Lugano is a small town and very calm. There isn't much to do and a lot of the more popular attractions are at a further distance away. Besides us newly graduates, everyone else were almost all retirees or seniors travelling the area or there for a short getaway. We ended up getting a ferry and cable car package to Mount Brusino for 41.4 Francs-a whopping price for a 45 minute ferry ride and a barely 2 minute cable car ride up to the highest point (or alternatively a suggested hour and 15 minute trek). However, despite my budget complaints, the view was awesome and it was nice to take the day slower and reflect amongst the clouds, Majority of the time spent was really waiting for the ferry to return and cable car as there's only one going up and down from the port (but it's not busy at all). As there wasn't much to do overall, an hour spent zoning out from the world was sufficient.

View from the top of Mount Brusino
Praising the Heavens
Obligatory yoga pose for fun
Though our time in Lugano was short, it was enough for a taste of Switzerland. I say this because I felt Switzerland is a very intelligent and thus exclusive country. Other than Euros (and rates were low of course), it's really hard to find a place that is willing to exchange other foreign currencies, like my friend with her HK dollars. Also, even public washroom uses require a pin code and hence a purchase if you are in a franchise and I was in shock that a meal at Burger King costed the equivalent of $20+ Cad! This just comes to show how much things cost and suggesting the high cost of living as the majority of Swiss do have good jobs, make a ton of money, and have gracious benefits from their government.
That night we had Chinese food for dinner as we had miss our Asian cravings and we couldn't believe that bottled water and 3 dishes costed us 25 Francs each if not more. So yes, you now understand when I say that one day was totally enough. It's funny because we stocked up on Swiss chocolate from the supermarket as souvenirs despite being there just for one day. But when in Swiss-chocolate, knives, and high living is what they are known for.

Full of Surprises: Milan-oh!

Since stepping off the train station of Milan, we knew we were in for a treat. It was the best and most beautifully designed station we've been to to date and we figured as the renown fashion capital, the standard must be higher here compared to the rest of Italy. Taking a taxi to our bed and breakfast, the environment of Milan reminded me a lot of New York. Modern buildings situated close together, stylish apartments and pedestrians, chic architect, and an overall "cool" feel to the city. Yes, it totally felt like a city. Perhaps we were use to being in and seeing relatively ancient and historic cities, but Milan felt refreshing to the eyes and comfortable-like a metropolitan area back home.

We stayed in a more residential area known as Porto Victoria and I would recommend it without a doubt. The area was safe, had easy access to downtown, and great food options nearby. In fact, I had the best pasta in Milan (and Italy) at a place called Eat Pasta (so original right?!-sometimes simplicity is all you need). My ravioli was handmade sunflower shaped, flavourful, fresh, and served up at a great price! My friends had a prawn and shrimp fettuccine dish that was loaded with plump seafood-so worth the 12 Euros! We also had amazing service and some sample dishes courtesy of the chef too-so impressive!

Prior to arriving Milan and even before starting our trip, we heard there wasn't much to do in Milan so we didn't expect much, but this lack of expectation definitely worked to our favour as Milan ended up being full of surprises. With the World Expo in town, we didn't even consider going at first. However, our accommodation host highly recommended it and since it was only 5 Euros after 7 pm, it was worth checking out. Besides this deal, the Cirque Du Soleil had created an exclusive show for the expo known as ALLAVITA! so if anything, that was the best incentive and reason to go. For 35 Euros (~$50 Cad) for the first come first serve front section seats, you be missing out big time if you said no to this exclusive show (don't worry you don't need to go too early to snatch a good spot, its a pretty good watch everywhere you sit).

The first night we checked out Armani Prive for the sake of checking out a prestigious club owned by Armani Exchange. Turns out, the crowd was a much older business demographic (hence the 20 Euro minimum for drinks) and it was quite dead at 11:30pm so we decided to venture elsewhere. Upon prodding one of the employees there, my friend found out that the "scene" was actually at a few other places so we took a cab ride to Just Cavalli, an outdoor club party created by Roberto Cavalli, a fashion designer. I'm not anything of a club/party scene person, but I thought it was really smart for these designers to host these grand events and parties or name clubs after them as its such a smart marketing strategy and way of getting their name out to people who don't buy their clothes. All in all, it was definitely a one of a kind experience you wouldn't get back home and if you are into this kind of scene, it be neat for you to check out.

Day 2

Inside the Duomo

As with most of our destinations, our second day was filled up with exploring the main attractions and meandering downtown Milan. The Duomo is probably that most well known icon of the city and it felt very Gothic, yet pure at the same time as it's made of a white marble stone (fun fact: it is the second largest in the world!). The famous Galleria of luxurious brand names is also at this piazza and though nothing is within reasonable pricing for my budget, taking photos in there was all I needed as the building is stunning itself. We also went to the opera building La Scala, to see if we could catch a tour, but maybe because it was a Sunday it wasn't open? or else you needed to book ahead of time so we didn't get to see much besides the exterior.
Inside Galleria
Its funny how excited we became for the World Expo when initially we could care less about it. So a little background info, the expo happens every few years and started when London use to host their annual World Fairs for different countries to showcase their latest technologies, inventions, etc. back in the 1800s. Today, each expo has a different theme and different cities hosts it-similar to the system of Olympics. It's interesting because I wasn't aware of these expos until I heard of the one in held in Shanghai back in 2010 as there was a lot of marketing around it. Following that, it so happened that there was one two years ago in Korea when I was still an exchange student there, but despite the interest, I didn't have the chance to check it out. Thankfully, I finally had the opportunity to see what this expo is all about-unexpectedly too!
The World Expo felt like a global size heritage days with each country having their own uniquely designed pavilion to showcase the best of what the country has to offer, a food cart/stall/restaurant and maybe even a souvenir shop for you to take a piece of that country home with you. It was cool to run around and take photos with all these different places and feel like we were trekking the globe within a few steps! "Lets go there, no let's go there!" Though, we were on a time crunch as we had to catch our Cirque show at 9pm so I do recommend spending a whole evening or two checking out all the exhibits because there's just so many. And since it's only 5 Euros after 7pm, going multiple evenings is definitely more worth it than the 39 Euros for one full day. However, some country's exhibits are also quite popular than others and you have to wait in line for access whereas others you can just go straight through. Also, some exhibits close early so that was the downside of an evening pass.
This years' theme was on the focus of food, from the consumption and waste of it to the cultural dynamics of food. It was a very neat experience to be reminded of the cycle of food and the awareness brought forth in conserving and sustaining our availability of food into the future generations. The Cirque show brought forth an abstractly visual performance of this reality, and speaking of which, I can't express how much I was in awe! I love theatre and artistry, so this show brought forth my inner joy. To top it off, we were also able to catch the light and fountain show at the giant led light tree towards the center of the exhibition (I think it happens every night)!

Well with every high there are bound to be some lows, so here are a few downsides of Milan to be aware of:

1. train and metro platforms are confusing so plan ahead and give yourself more time when navigating the transportation system, especially to and from the Expo as you can easily get onto the wrong train due to the lack of information

2. For the Expo, if you didn't buy tickets in advance, the ticket booths are actually in the train system so make sure to grab them before exiting as once you get to the entrance of the Expo, you go through security and are expected to have your ticket. Save time and get your tickets once you get off the platform and before exiting the station. We didn't know this due to a lack of signage and had to go back into the train station-though it wasn't a long wait since it was later in the evening