Friday, January 19, 2007

London, England

Our last stop was London, England. We decided to walk around even though it was raining and freezing. We took out our secret weapon, a super yellow post it note our friend Therese (who works in London) gave us with detailed instructions of where to go. The first thing that caught our attention was the old phone booths all over the city. Here I am on the right trying to call home (it did not work) on the picture on the left. Then we saw Big Ben right in front us. I'm trying to give it a hug on the picture on the right. I'm sure he appreciated it.

Here is Orlando in the middle of the city:

Oh look my friend Big Ben again.

We walked to Buckingham Palace to visit the Queen but her guards would not let me in.

I actually felt bad for the guards because it was raining and they where in these little dog house looking rain shelters. I know they are not supposed to have any expressions but I know in the inside he was wondering "Why did I choose this job?". In general I thought the palace would be bigger, but as my friend Martin said "The real estate in London is so expensive that not even the Queen of England can afford a huge home".
Visiting London was bittersweet because we knew that our European adventure was coming to an end. We did not have much time to complain because soon we where on a plane going back to Japan. Goodbye big food portions, normal clothes sizes, English language and funny looking money!!! Adios Europa!!!! Some day we will see each other again :-) !!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Paris, France

Paris!!! La ville de l'amour (the city of love)!!! OUI!!! (yes). I was very excited to finally see the Eiffel Tower. In case you where wondering the green cone in the middle is supposed to represent a X-mas tree. Here we are cold but happy.
Every hour the Eiffel Tower completely lights up. It was truly an amazing sight, as you can see in the picture below:
Orlando and I decided to have some good old coffee right by the tower. It was actually very good and all the people had a completely laid back attitude, they just wanted to relax and look at the tower. There was even one lady with just her dog hanging out by the window. Actually this is one of my favorite picture of the whole trip, very European.

We got to the city on January 4, 2007 and the bus took us around the Champs-Élysées, which was actually quite scary!!! Cars every where just going around in a circle!?!?!? I had no idea who had the right of way, but luckily the bus driver did and we made it out of the roundabout in one piece.Early the next morning in the morning we went to the Louvre Museum.

Here is Orlando trying to find Mary Magdalene (rent The DaVinci Code if you have no idea what I'm talking about). Once inside the museum we went straight to see the Mona Lisa (you where not allowed to take picture of it). I was very surprised by how small it is. I did test out the theory that she is looking at you from every angle, I think she is!!!
We where able to see some great pieces of art. To the right I'm with the Venus de Milo. This statue is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek Sculpture. It is believed to depict Aprodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty. To the right I'm with the Winged Victory of Samothrace. It is a marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory), discovered in April 1863 on the island of Samothrace.
Once Orlando figured out the subway system we went to Les Invalides in Paris, which consists of a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to France's military history. Here is Orlando posing in front of the building:

The most notable tomb at Les Invalides is the one for Napoleon Bonaparte. Here I am next to his sarcophagus, which is huge for such a short guy (he was believed to be 5 ft 2 in tall).

In honor of all the Chapelle's shows we watched in our ipod through out the trip we visited Sainte-Chapelle. This Gothic chapel was completed in 1246 and the best part is in the inside. Check out all the stained glass!!! The amazing part is that each huge glass has sections depicting stories from the bible.
Afterwards we crossed the bridge over to the Notre Dame Cathedral. We did not find any hunchbacks though :-(. Even the back of the church was astonishing as you can see in the picture on the right.

We continued exploring the city and found this really cozy little French restaurant to have some lunch. We had a perfect seat right next to the window. The funny part is that it was cheaper to order wine than a Coca-Cola!!! We watched the people go by of all different shapes and sizes. We where there for a long time just reminding ourselves of all we have done, all the new friends we have made and all the places we have seen in just a few months. After living in Japan for 6 months everything seems easier, even if it's all written in French.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Lucerne, Switzerland

"Yodl - Ay - EEE - Ooooo", Welcome to the Swiss Alps!!!!!! In reality no one was yodeling or dressed like these guys to your right. I was sooo disappointed!!! Lucerne was actually a very cute, safe, clean (now that I live in meticulously clean Japan every piece of trash on the ground is disturbing) and beautiful town. There where however thousands of watch and chocolate stores all over town. So we did the "tourist thing" and bought a watch for me (very cute by the way) and loads of chocolate which Orlando and I brought back to work (the ones that survived that is).
Everywhere you looked it seamed like a picture from a fairytale complete with a prince. I have proof look at the picture below:

Here he is again:

Here I am in front of the most famous sight in Lucerne, is the Chapel Bridge, a 204 m (670 ft) long wooden bridge originally built in1333 and it's still used every day!!!

It was 28th Orlando's B-day!!! That morning everybody sang Happy Birthday in the bus as best as they could considering the late night most people had from the Florence night club. This picture is from dinner that night.

We went to a cool bar next to the hotel to celebrate. There everyone got confused between Euros and Swiss Franks but nothing can stop a bunch of kids trying to get some beer!!! We found 2 of the most entertaining objects of the entire trip at the bar. The first was this very explicit flyer advertising "Frigay Nights" at a local club, which you can see to your right. All I have to say is that thank God that January 3, 2007 was a Wednesday!!!
The second interesting object was this David (like in David and Goliath) Energy Drink to your left. Who thinks of this stuff??? I guess only the Europeans!!!

Florence, Italy

Italia!Italia! Florencia! Florencia! We are still in Italia(Jan. 2,2007)! Look at this view !!! Out of all the countries this was definitely the best one because we loved the food and being able to speak Spanish all day. For some reason there where allot of nude statues all over the place. The most famous one being the David Statue. Here is a replica of it since the real one had a 2 hour line to see it. I had to make David decent by adding some leaves (this is a family oriented blog):

Here we are walking around town, everything looked super cute with their X-mas decorations.

We had a chance to see the crowning architectural jewel of Florence, Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, known as "The Dome".

We also got to see The Battistero di San Giovanni (Baptistery of St John) which is believed to be the oldest building in Florence. Michelangelo referred to these doors as fit to be the "Gates of Paradise", and the name stuck for ever and ever. These gilded bronze doors took 27 years to complete!!! (reference: Now that's persistence!!!

One of the bridges that stood out in Florece was The Ponte Vecchio - Old Bridge (For my PR peeps all we kept saying was "Sr. Ponte Vecchio, llamando al Sr. Ponte Vecchio" from those 1980's commercials. This bridge was interesting because of the corridor on the top of it was built in order for the rich people (Medici family - the bankers of the Renaissance period) to go from their home to their jobs without mingling with the commoners. How special where they?

After another exhausting day of walking, walking and walking some more we went to a huge Tuscan Dinner (there where like 5 courses or more) in the beautiful Italian country side. There we stuffed our faces with lasagna, pasta, bread and all you could drink wine. The fun part was that this really funny waiter came and started singing "Lo que paso, paso entro tu y to..." and we had not said one word in Spanish!!! He knew a bunch of Reggaeton songs by heart!!! Then the actual music started with a one-man band. The Puerto Ricans girls and I stood up and started dancing. The singer asked where we where from and we said Puerto Rico. He proceeded to put on a merengue song. Everyone cleared the dance floor and there was only the 3 of left. I turned to the girls and said "Ok let's grab some guys and teach them a few things". It turns out the closest table had the Japanese kids from our tour, so we made them stand up and shake their bon bons. Technically I could do that here, but it was fun and everyone complemented us at the end. The one-man band then started singing "En mi Viejo San Juan" (like America the Beautiful in the US) and we all joined him ( somewhat out of tune but we tried). I got very sentimental all of a sudden but knowing that I will be back home in May made me feel better.
Once the dinner was over we danced the night away in a Florence disco. Once again there where lots of Reggeaton music all through out the night.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Rome, Italy

ROMA, ROMA, ROMA Bellisimo!!! We arrived in Rome, Italy on New Years Eve. We went to our hotel and then straight to a huge Italian dinner as you can see in the above picture. There was even an opera singer on hand to serenade us all through out the meal. The restaurant we went to happened to be next to the Vatican so we rushed to see it once dinner was over. Here is Orlando in front of St. Peter's Basilica.

Here are some pictures inside the Basilica (taken on New Year's Day):

I can't even begin to explain how breathtaking the Basilica was, every where you looked there was a painting or an amazing sculpture, even the roof was amazing. I felt like I had attention deficit disorder my eyes could not concentrate on one thing!!!
We continued walking toward the Piazza del Popoloma Rome where the New year's eve countdown occurs. The only problem is that there were about 5 million people in town that day all going toward the same place!!! As you can see on the picture on the right. Everyone had champagne on hand for the big countdown. Once 2007 hit everyone opened their bottles and proceeded to soak us completely with it!!! it was crazy all I could see was lights (from the fireworks) and champagne falling on me!!! It was truly a crazy experience. Once the celebration had ended everyone was trying to walk back to the bus. The problem was that the mob of people where all going the same way. At one point I said to Orlando and the other Puerto Ricans "Ok no matter what happens hold on and stay together". So we navigated through the crowd and made it back to the bus on time. Thank God because some of the people who missed it had to pay a taxi $150 Euros ($194 US dollars) to get back to the hotel!!!

The next day we walked for 8 hours straight all over Rome. We visited the Colosseum first.

Peace out at the Roman Ruins.

Here we are at the Trevi Fountain:

Gelato!!!! MMmmmm

Here we are inside the Vatican Museum:

We also got a chance to see the Sistine Chapel (you can't take pictures inside) which ceiling was painted by some dude called Michelangelo (not the Ninja Turtle) maybe you have heard of him. Rome was definitely our favorite city of the whole trip.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Venice, Italy

We finally made it to wonderful Venice, Italy. As you already know there are no cars allowed in this island and everyone moves via boats or gondolas. Below you can see the view from our boat going toward Venice:

We went straight into St. Mark's square and I could not believe all the beauty around us. I could not comprehend that little old me was actually there!!! If there is one thing I have learned this year is that anything is possible. The first thing that catches your eye in the plaza is St. Mark's Basilica which was completed on 1105. The walls where all covered in gold leaves inside the Basilica:
Here we are on the Basilica's balcony overlooking the square.

Out of no where a blast of fog came into Venice and even though it got colder (yupi!!..not) it really gave us an interesting view of the city. At least it did not flood like it has in the past. The fog let us take these amazing pictures of Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and St. Mark's Campanile.

The most famous part about this city is off course the Gondolas!! Here we are in a gondola ride (i thought it was going to tip over but we survived) and a view of the "streets":

There where 6 people per gondola (we managed to make an all Spanish speaking gondola in which the girls where asking the gondolier lots of questions), except one that only had a couple on it. I said to Orlando "I wonder what's going on?". It turns out that the guy proposed to his girlfriend right there!!!! The gondolas are the 10th best place in the world to propose. If you are wondering the 1st place to propose is in Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa (reference: Later in the day we found out that a second couple in our tour had gotten engaged in the Rialto Bridge. Go Venice!!! Needless to say everyone was happy that night wishing the couples the best in their new lives together.
Note: A few blocks from our hotel Orlando saw a sign that had a Puerto Rico flag and said "Clases de salsa todos los sabados" (salsa class every Saturday). I guess our musical impact has reached many corners of the world.