Friday, May 6, 2016

Living La Vida in Spain (Part 2)

From Madrid to Barcelona, is a very short 1 hr flight. Tip is not to take Iberia Airlines. There is a shuttle flight from Madrid to Barcelona (and back). The local Iberia flight is NOT a shuttle flight and is very very far from the gate of the Barcelona Airport, to the baggage area, to the ride into the city. The walk, the wait, and the walk again clearly took us almost 1 hour!!

This is not my first time in Barcelona. Was here a few years back, but didn't enjoy the last time because I was robbed in Milan. You can review my blog for that story. Moving on...we ended up in Barcelona because this is the technical stop for Singapore Airlines flight back to Manila (via Singapore). I didn't want to be waking up at 3 in the morning in Madrid to catch the 1040AM flight out of Barcelona. Relaxation was the key to this trip, so an extra 2 days in Barcelona was so worth the side trip.

And the third time in Barcelona was a charm. The Casa Batlla was on the list and I immensely enjoyed this experience. Plaça Real along La Rambla was also on the list. After walking several kilometers, the eclectic ambience of Barcelona was such a charm. There's a Filipino in almost every hospitality service and the consulate of the Philippines is in Plaça Real. Hotel Omm was part of that charm as it was located in the best place one could be - right beside Prada (my favorite store) and the Diagonal exit Metro (subway) at the heart of the city! The boutique hotel is also wonderful in terms of service and ambience.

The icing to the cap of our Barcelona trip is the dining at the beach, which came as a feature of Hotel Omm. I think it's an experience that everyone should not miss. We had our meal at the Pez Vela at the W Hotel. The food and service was excellent and the view, was way too much to describe.

Living the only life we have should be one without regrets and fully appreciated. We toil each day to make a living, but at the end, the memories we have of a life well lived will last our lifetime.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Living La Vida in Spain (Part 1)

Barcelona is the technical stopover from our flight in São Paulo back to Manila via Singapore. Which meant that on my way back from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo (via Tam Airlines) we needed to go through Barcelona. We agreed that the stopover would be such a waste and another conference shouldn't be missed, but I won't bore my readers with the meeting. None of my readers care anyway about the boring conferences I attend.

Touching down in Barcelona, we needed to check-in to Iberia Airlines for our connecting flight into Madrid. That meant that four airports later (Galeao Airport in Rio to Guarulhos Airport in São Paolo to El Prat Airport in Barcelona and finally to Madrid-Barajas International Airport) was like joining the Amazing Race.

I probably wouldn't have the energy to pack, unpack, pack, unpack again.

Touching down in Barcelona alone was like wanting to kiss the ground. Not that I did not enjoy Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo for that matter, it's that coming from a third world country like the Philippines, I sadly did not appreciate what Brazil had to offer. When I compare it to Manila or the Philippines in general, I seem to be feel more blessed. Even the concierge warned us to be careful in going to certain places and to shun away from shady characters or people who approach you on the streets of Brazil. Of course I'm not saying that Spain or any part of Europe is safer. I recall two years ago I had my whole bag - wallet, cards, money and passport - stolen right in front of a police station in Milan inside the train. I have never felt so violated and traumatized in my life, but hey, there's no Duterte in Italy. I realized that in any part of the world, crime will always be part of civilization. But the economy gets dragged down not because of crime in the streets of New York or Rio de Janeiro or Manila or Bangkok. It gets dragged down because of so much corruption in government. It does not take an economist to tell you that the poverty and the economy of a country are directly correlated. The more poor people there are, the worst the economy of the country.

When we interviewed some of the Brazilians, they were not in favor of the impeachment of their president and thought it was a coup by the existing vice-president who, together with other congress and senate officials, used government funds in order to gain from the largesse of the taxes of the government. Using the president as the scapegoat has created tension in the economy of Brazil. The Real has sunk to an all time low, with the currency depreciating from a $1 = 2 Real exchange two years ago, to $1 = 3.55 Real today. All because of government instability and corruption.

Our first stop in Spain is Madrid. Unlike the Brazilians, the Spaniards are more laid back. With a brisk economy, the restaurants and pastelerias are busy on weekends and holidays. And with Madrid being the 4th most expensive city in Europe, you'd think that the people would be scrimping on cash. But all the Euro currencies are new. And there is a lively economy in the city especially on weekends or holidays. Shops and malls are closed. Families are families and they utilize the parks and movie houses or go out and have fun with friends and share some laughter with families. I'd have wished that Manila would be more like Europe where Sundays and holidays have shopping malls closed so that there would be more quality time. Unfortunately, some Filipinos would rather rationalize that the malls in Manila are built for family bonding (not sure if people even knew what that meant) or that there are no parks in Metro Manila (and yes, so that's my fault? Isn't that supposed to be the job of the local government? I understand that there are some cities that do have recreational parks but people just simply don't want to go there.) or that it's really hot in Manila so an airconditioned mall is the venue of choice.

The parks are well kept and even the plazas are busy with exchange in stories rather than checking for FB or Snapchat or Twitter...

The market is cool, clean and food served is sumptuous (why can't we even have a market similar to this)...

Of course, Madrid is not simply a gastronomic delight...

There are a lot of interesting places to see and learn with the vast culture in Madrid...

And Toledo is a 30-40 minutes drive (or 1 hour by tourist bus) from Madrid. Incidentally, Toledo is rich in history as well considering that it was the former capital of Spain.

There's also the shopping area on Gran Via (at the Puerto del Sol metro stop) for the midline clothes and the Serrano-Goya district for the uber chic and higher end brands.

There's plenty to see, learn, do, and love in Madrid!!!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Project Brazil (final part)

Brazil is the largest South American country that stretches from the Amazon basin in the north and the massive Iguaçu falls in the south (at the border of Argentina).

There are two major cities - the lively but dangerous Rio de Janeiro, and the business hub Saô Paolo. Rio by far is the most famous but most expensive as well.

The average meal in an average restaurant in Rio (not fast food food) would cost 50-100 Reals (x 13.50 pesos). Even a small pizza in the stand by the beaches would cost 48,50 Reals (around 654 pesos, not including taxes yet). A 10% service charge is mandatory in all restaurants as well as taxes for food. Basic commodities are much more expensive in Rio than in other places in Brazil. Even the most modest hotels are pricier in Rio than in Saô Paolo. Maybe it's the proximity to the beaches, or probably the touristy area, or that the Olympic will be held here in the summer.

Places to see: Christ the Redeemer, Corcovado, Jardim Botanica, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Lapa and Santa Teresa areas. If you're thinking of going to a mall, think again. Brazil IS NOT a shopper's haven. If you plan to buy your LV or Prada or Apple watches or any other name brands, Brazil is far far more expensive than Manila. It has poor choices and their shopping malls are a paltry compared to what we have in the Philippines.

Are the beaches beautiful? Yes. But you get better and clearer water in Boracay or in Palawan and less prone to mugging on the streets or on the beaches in the Philippines compared to Brazil. However, the waves that lap at the shores in Brazil are worth the relaxation by the beach (just make sure you don't bring even your cameras or cellphones unless you want them to disappear). Clothes are optional. The less you wear the better. At least you'd blend in with the locals.

Are the places worth the visit? Yes. But reserve only 3 days for touring Rio. That's enough. Take the time to go to Saô Paolo as well so you can do the Iguaçu falls. That way, you'd get the best of your trip.

Is there a night life? Yes. That's what my friends tell me. The men and women are hot and the bars open early. There are also a lot more sexually transmitted diseases you will pick up with the locals, so I wouldn't suggest the night life as a tourist destination. In addition, most of them are found in really sleazy areas and you may end up naked in Copacabana beach begging the embassy to bring you back home.

Can they speak English? No. Unfortunately, the language barrier is a big disappointment. It's like learning sign language. I can speak and understand Spanish but there is a particular accent to their language which is - Portuguese. And not just Portuguese but Brazilian Portuguese. Make sure that you have the address of your hotel or your destination written down so that they know where to bring you. It's weird that they can read the address but can't understand the English language. But hey, who cares? If you know a bit of Spanish, you'll survive. I was able to purchase movie tickets with my credit card in spite of the fact that everything was in Portuguese!

Should Brazil be a destination on your bucket list? Yes. But a one time destination that should include many other South American countries. I think that's where I failed in this itinerary and should have been a bit bolder in choosing other South American countries as destination points. Brazil, like many third world countries is boring. Nothing much to offer and too much bucks to spend. My basic comment was that the guy who was able to sell Rio for the 2016 Olympics must be elected president for Brazil for selling a country, a city, that had very little to offer.

It was like being contestants for the Amazing Race.

Till my next destination...