Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ticino, Switzerland

I visited Switzerland over the Easter Weekend - from Good Friday until Easter Monday. The first two days were spent in Lucerne, and the last two in the canton of Ticino. Here are some pictures from my fantastic trip.

When I left for Sweden back in January, I thought that it would be great if at some point during the year, I could visit my cousin John in Locarno. I haven't seen him in a while, and I had never been to Switzerland. So it would be the proverbial hitting two birds with one stone, as they say.

I thought that Easter weekend would be the best time to visit because it would be enough time for me to go around a new country without having to take any days off. And since John was a priest, it was a perfect opportunity for me to visit and celebrate Easter with him. So after John (or Don John as he is called in this Italian-speaking part of Switzerland) celebrated mass on Easter Sunday, he drove me around the canton of Ticino.

Here's the river that runs along Valle Verzasca. As you can see, the water is clear and pristine. I wanted to jump right in.

Of all the places I visited in Switzerland, this was my favorite. I really could have just sat here all day, soaking up all the nature I could get. It was beautiful!

There's a bridge that crosses the river and on my way there, I saw this guy (the little speck on top of the bridge) dive into the river. Must've been like a 50-foot plunge. Or more even. I tried to take a video of it, but I made a mistake while shooting it so wasn't able to catch his dive. It was actually pretty awesome.

Even more awesome was the person who bungee jumped off of this dam when John and I passed here. This was the same dam where they shot some sequences in the James Bond flick 'Goldeneye'.

Seriously, the drop was horrifically long. And the picture doesn't really do it justice. You have to be standing over the dam to get a feeling of how fearsome it is. Anyway, I managed to take a better picture of the bungee jumper after he completed his drop (check out the small spot in the middle of the picture)

We then head to Bellinzona, the capital of the canton of Ticino. There are three castles in Bellinzona. I don't know their names, but John took me to one of them.

On Easter Monday, John celebrated an 8am mass in a monastery in Locarno. This monastery houses cloistered nuns (Carmelites nuns, I think) which means they never leave the monastery. John told me that they can have visitors (who they can only talk to from behind a window I think) but during Lent, they can only talk to outsiders through some kind of blocked window. I don't know how they do it, but I was truly impressed at how strong their devotion was, for them to be able to live the way they do.

The Madonna del Sasso (Lady of the Rock), with Lake Locarno behind it.

John's house has a pretty amazing 'backyard'. A forest actually, and now that it's spring, the young, bright green leaves provide a vibrant and colorful view from John's large windows.

And one picture of both me and John. We were talking to John's sister, Napee, over skype and she asked us if we had any pictures together and we realized we didn't! So we took this picture of us before I left, and we even got Napee (via webcam) in the photo with us.

You can find more photos with spectacular views here. I couldn't put all my pictures in this blog post so I hope you check out the rest of my photos in my online album!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Lucerne, Switzerland (part 2 of 2)

I visited Switzerland over the Easter Weekend - from Good Friday until Easter Monday. The first two days were spent in Lucerne, and the last two in the canton of Ticino. Here are some pictures from my fantastic trip.

A few random shots I took around Lucerne...

People sitting by the riverbank, having a coffee or just chilling under the bright sun.

The facade of the Old Train Station, which apparently burned down a while back. This majestic facade was the only thing that remained and it now stands a hundred or so meters in front of the new train station.

I passed by this clock on a stained-glass-window looking mount on the wall of the Central train station.

A lot of buildings in the Old Town have interesting murals painted on their facades. Of all the murals, this one is my favorite.

On Saturdays mornings, the Old Town turns into a festive market.

Some bells on a random building I passed by during the Guided City Walking Tour.

I had just come out of some shop where I bought souvenirs and was on my way to the Musegg Wall when I ran into the Easter Bunny. =)

I passed by this "Old Swiss House restaurant" on my way to the Lion Monument. It looked very, er, 'Swiss', and the waitresses were dressed in traditional Swiss attire. It wasn't very crowded - most people were dining by the riverbank - so I thought of having lunch here. I then took a look at the menu and realized why it had less patrons - the food was quite expensive! =)

So I headed to another Swiss restaurant where I had Pastetli, a traditional Lucerne meal which is essentially a meat pie (or veal a la king).

There was also a Hall of Mirrors in the Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden or Glacier Museum). It was quite an experience to walk through the hall of mirrors - it is so disorienting and you need to walk slowly with hold your hand stretched out in front of you to make sure you don't run into a mirror. =)

Lucerne, Swizterland (part 1 of 2)

I visited Switzerland over the Easter Weekend - from Good Friday until Easter Monday. The first two days were spent in Lucerne, and the last two in the canton of Ticino. Here are some pictures from my fantastic trip.

The Chapel Bridge and Water Tower, the two most photographed landmarks of Lucerne:

Mt. Pilatus. I took this photo while I was on the Musegg Wall. I was told too late that it takes about one hour to get to the top of the mountain from the city center which is a lot quicker than I had expected. I was kicking myself in the butt for not doing my homework well enough and thus missing the chance to see snow-covered mountains up close. Ah well, I need to make sure I take a trip to the Alps or something later this year...

The Musegg Wall. It was built to protect the Old Town of Lucerne from invaders that never came.

The River Reuss:

The Water Spikes. The spikes are lowered or withdrawn by hand into the water to regulate the level of Lake Lucerne.

Lake Lucerne:

The Hof Church:

The Jesuit Church. From the outside It looked like a normal church that you've seen before and I wasn't planning on going inside. But this was the last stop of the Guided City Walking Tour I joined.

And I was so glad I ended up entering this church because the interior was amazing! Elaborate and grand in a strangely subtle way, and with a lot of natural light that made it look even more beautiful.

And this is my favorite landmark of Lucerne, "The Dying Lion of Lucerne". It was built as a memorial to the heroic deaths of the Swiss mercenaries at the Tuileries in 1792. Mark Twain described the Lion of Lucerne as "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world."

To see more pics from my Lucerne trip, click here.

Friday, April 13, 2007

[SWEDEN] Change in Season

The forecast for this weekend is quite good. The temperature is supposed to go up to about 20 degrees Celsius, almost like summer weather I was told. In fact, that's pretty much been the temperature here over the last couple of days. There are actually a few more indications that season is changing:

  • We are now on "summertime", the Swedish equivalent of daylight savings time. We moved forward 1 hour a couple of weeks ago, so it's now a 6 hour difference from Manila, instead of the 7 hour difference during winter.
  • Daylight now is from 630am to about 8pm.
  • Flowers are starting to bloom and leaves are beginning to grow on trees now.
  • My car rental company emailed me the other day saying I should swap my car now for another one that has summer tires. I guess they could just change the tires and give me my old car but I don't know why the changed it. It sucks though coz I like my Renault Modus more than my new Ford Fiesta (which doesn't feel like it's power steering, oh and it takes some amount of effort to get the stick and pedals to move).
  • I had to turn on the air-con in my car today!
  • And people are now sitting outdoors a lot, and walking around without a jacket or sweater. Heck, I'm seeing more and more people wearing shorts now!
Before I got here, I thought that the weather would rarely go over 20 degrees Celsius, based on what I read about the South of Sweden. But if things keep going the way they are right now, I might end up with amazing weather for most of the year. I'll keep my fingers crossed...

Liverpool marches into the CL semis!

With a 1-0 win over PSV Eindhoven, Liverpool secured a place in the Champions League semifinals where they face Chelsea. On the other side of the fence, ManU brutally thumped Roma with an unimaginable 7-1 win. This means that all three English teams made it to the semis. Will one of them take the title this year? Or will AC Milan, the lone non-English team, beat the odds? I guess we'll find out a few weeks from now. I just hope my team can snag the title to take the Champions League crown for the second time in three years.

Good luck, Liverpool!

[SWEDEN] Malmo in (more) photos

And here are a few more pictures taken during my trip to Malmo. This is the Radhus (or City/Town Hall, I think)...

and a statue in the middle of the Stortorget (or Big Square).

A nice building near the Stortorget. I see a lot of buildings built of red brick in Sweden, or at least in Lund and Malmo (I haven't really been anywhere else in this country yet).

This picture was taken in the park. That's Martynas, with the glass-walled Stadsbiblioteket (or City Library) in the background.

What's great about Europe is that in the big cities you tend to have a good mix of old historical building and modern architecture. Here's a cool-looking building that you can see from the park.

These white and off-white building facades line one edge of the Gustav Adolf Torg and provide a lovely backdrop to the busy street in front of it.

My new car in Sweden. Haha I wish! I wonder when I will get a chance to drive a car like this...

It was a warm sunny day and people felt the need to sit outdoors to dine, drink, or have coffee...

Or just chill by the canal.

And let's round things up with some interesting Swedish fashion. Ever seen a Scandinavian Cowboy with an oversized yellow Stetson hat? =)

[SWEDEN] Malmo in photos

Two weekends ago, I spent the day walking around Malmo with my colleague Marlena and our Lithuanian friend Martynas. These photos are taken from St Petri kyrkan (St. Peter church) and from our walk around the parks.

This is the Malmohus, a museum that used to be a castle. It sits right next to the Kungsparken, one of the parks in Malmo.

St. Petri kyrkan...

with its elaborate four-tiered altar...

and an equally intricate pulpit.

Marlena said she doesn't want me to put up pictures of her in my blog but this one doesn't really show her clearly enough so I thought it should be okay for me to share it. For some reason, I like the lighting in this shot.

The Kramare side chapel. Apparently, the inside of this church, along with a lot of other churches during the Reformation, was painted white, covering almost all the medieval murals painted on the ceilings. The only part of this church that was left with its original murals is this side chapel, the Kramare (or merchant's).

Spring is in the air! I took a photo of these flowers in the Gamla Begravningsplatsen, or Old Cemetery, which was right next to the parks.

Malmo is known as the city of parks. There are three adjacent parks - Kungsparken, Slottsparken, and Mariedalspark.

Eh, don't ask me what this is. We spotted it while walking through the parks.

And here's a nice little tree-lined path.