Category: Europe



This is my 4th time in Vienna and it’s only now that I’ve visited nearby Bratislava, Slovakia. I never thought it’s only an hour away from Vienna by bus on fare that costs a measly €5 (with snacks and bottled mineral water!). Of course you can travel in style and take that taxi ride between Vienna Airport and Bratislava for less than €100. Do note that it cost me €45 taxi fare from Vienna airport to my hotel in the city center. So, what gives? If you prefer small cities to big cities, spend more time in Bratislava where food, taxi, souvenirs, park, hotels and museum admissions are way cheaper. 👍

In our case, we rode the 2.5 hour train journey from Vienna to Budapest where we had a lovely time. From there and a few days after, we took another 2.5 hours from Budapest to Bratislava. Our train cabin was ideal for the 6 of us. My window seat was perfect for viewing the sunflower and corn fields, and tiny churches we passed. From the train station, it was just a short walk to our lovely Bratislava Loft Hotel which sits right above a popular brewery and located between the train station and the Old Town. The hotel offers a free mini bar (yes!) and a welcome drink at The Fabrika Gastropub below, which btw has a very good breakfast spread as well as a la carte meals. We were prepped for lunch while they got our rooms ready and we were happy with our first Slovak meal.

Soon after we deposited our bags in the room, we set off to meet our guide in the Old Town for our afternoon walking tour. It was another long walk (3 hours), but very informative & entertaining. We entered the Old Town through St. Michael’s Gate. Under the arched entrance is the equivalent of “Kilometro 0″ — technically the city center where distances are measured. Just before the gate is a small bridge adorned with love locks where one views the former moat below which has since been converted into a garden cum reading area. I promised myself I’d go back here on my last day with a mug of coffee and a book.

The Old Town is very compact and manageable. You can’t get lost here even if you tried. The lovely thing is there are small churches, historic buildings, fountains, tiny squares, museums, art galleries, an opera house, brass statues here and there, hemmed in by an assortment of pubs, gelato bars, coffee shops, and souvenir stores. There’s also a charming Danube Riverbank Promenade where more of the historic buildings and museums are located. You can’t get bored here. It’s really a small village, quaint and with so much character. And most everyone speaks English!

We were lucky to have blue skies and sunshine on our first 2 days here. On the third day it rained intermittently nearly the whole day. We made good time, led by our able guide whose name is as Slavic as can be – Voultjo? Not sure I’m spelling that right but this pony-tailed guide kept us hooked for 3 hours. He navigated us through the Old Town — the squares, St. Martin’s Church, old town hall, the “Gazer” statue, Opera House, the city walls, the viewpoint from where the UFO Bridge complemented the entire city view, all the way to the castle or Bratislava Hrad. He also gave us very good dining tips!

Just like our walking tour guide in Budapest, Voultjo warned us that his spiel maybe peppered with his political views. All’s well though, we can always do with a local’s opinionated views. We weaved around the quaint village (why are there so many Thai Massage Spas here?), making notes on some sites I’d like to revisit on my last solo (3rd and 4th) days in Bratislava before flying home. In particular, there’s the coronation church of Saint Martin and I spotted a few tiny churches too.

We didn’t get inside Bratislava Hrad but I was keen on going inside one of the Museums or Opera House on my last day. From outside, the castle grounds is really a huge modern park on a promontory from where one gets a 360 degree view of the Old and New Town. The UFO Bridge (it does look like an UFO) is in full view from here, and of course the same Danube River we saw in Vienna and Budapest.

Our guide led us back to where we started in the Old Town after 3 hours of good walking. Thumbs up for this guided walking tour. Being a Sunday, there were more locals and tourists around, longer lines for the gelato, more snooping on a chess game played by old men, there were services in the churches, and more people enjoying the al fresco dining places. We felt we’ve covered most attractions and felt eager to check out Voultjo’s food tips. More on that in the next blog. Watch this page!

Dining In Budapest


Goulash is their national dish. Langos is the national dessert? Maybe. But really, Budapest has so much more. I love soup but one can only take so much goulash. So we tried others. And we weren’t disappointed at all.

Warning: Too many food photos. 🙄

It’s my first time to try lecsó, a Hungarian vegetable soup. I call it soup but it’s really more like a stew of peppers, tomatoes, onions, and ground sweet and hot paprika. I couldn’t believe it’s a vegetable soup or stew so I searched the Internet for its ingredients. Turns out the onions and peppers are sautéed in lard and maybe even bacon fat! But, we maybe in luck. The tomatoes are best during the summer season in this corner of the world and our tastebuds confirmed it. Like goulash, lecsó gets a generous sprinkling of paprika. Unlike goulash, lecsó has no potatoes nor beef cubes. Between the 2, I’m now a fan of lecsó .

But it’s not the only soup we enjoyed. The restaurant in Hotel Zenit Budapest (Divin Porcello Ham Bar) where we stayed serves very good cabbage soup and ham, sausage and cheese platter. Plus they have a superb wine list! The first meal upon arrival here in Budapest got us all excited for dinner that same day. This time, we tried the oldest restaurant in Pest called Százéves which literally translates to “a hundred years”. Complete with classical music from these 4 Hungarian gentlemen.

We particularly liked our fish dish here. Grilled zander? Have not come across this fish, but the English menu describes it as pike-perch of the Eurasian variety. It is a fresh-water fish with a very delicate taste. Simply grilled, and plated with alfalfa sprout toppings on a bed of lettuce and grilled onions with shrimps, we all enjoyed this dish.

We ordered our 1st stuffed cabbage here. The first of 2, but we haven’t been lucky. The first “Koloszvar” stuffed cabbage was salty, the next one (in another restaurant) tasted bland. We likewise tried the Hungarian Goulash here. A sure favourite!

Our last dinner in Budapest wasn’t Hungarian. My friend found this Italian restaurant in Pest near the Danube which earned pretty good reviews. We had bruschetta, caprese salad, beef tartare, 3 kinds of pasta, pulpo and we had HUNGARIAN wine from Tokaj, Hungary. To finish this fine meal, we succumbed to the recommended lemon sorbet with prosecco and Absolut Vodka! First time I’ve tried this and I promise it won’t be the last. 🍸

We ate very well in Budapest. And that’s only on the Pest side just around/near our lovely hotel by the Danube River. I bet there’s also many interesting bistros in the quieter side of Buda. We likewise enjoyed Hungarian wine. If at all, the only disappointment was the lunch we had at the Great Market Hall. The second floor is lined with many food stalls where one claims a table after ordering “cafeteria style” from any of the stalls. I enjoyed my beer but every dish we had was bleh. Took no pictures. Sorry. Nonetheless, I’d still suggest a visit to the Great Market Hall if only for the beer and some sausages. You’d find it at the end of the pedestrian shopping street called Váci Utca, so it’s not really out of the way. Besides, it’s the biggest indoor market housed in a magnificent building and offers many souvenir items and Hungarian delicacies.

Jó Etvágyát! 🍽👌 (Errrr, I only meant “Bon Apetit” in Hungarian)


Hungary has heartbreaking stories to tell. And many stories are told in powerful symbols that are poignant reminders of a sad history. On the Pest side of the Danube, an evening stroll along the riverbank promenade is both refreshing and heartbreaking. The memorial is just a few meters south of the Parliament and consists of 60 pairs of shoes made of iron. Cast iron signs have the following text in English (also in Hebrew and Hungarian) : “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militia Men in 1944-45. Erected 16 April 2005″.

I thought the victims were ALL Hungarian Jews. And that they were executed by Nazi Germans. I’m wrong on both counts. Many Hungarians were killed by fellow Hungarians and Germans. The Arrow Cross Party, who shared the same ideologies with the Nazis, took as many as 20,000 Jews from the Budapest Ghetto. It is claimed they were all executed at the banks of the Danube River. In February 1945, the Soviet forces “liberated” Budapest from the Germans. And that’s another sad story.

From Nazi Germany to Soviet Communism, Hungary suffered. Typically, I skip places where I feel negative vibes. But I was drawn to these symbols. The hole on the Hungarian flag hoisted over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A dove shedding a tear. Old photos from a not so distant past. The chilling story of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. Just look at that flag above the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The hole is right where the Communist Coat of Arms used to be. It was cut out and this symbolism became the battlecry of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against its Soviet-influenced, Soviet-backed government. There is a sad ending here where the uprising was crushed by Soviet tanks rolling into the narrow streets of Budapest. Power and might to crush a Revolution. About 2,500 Hungarian protesters died, and 200,000 fled as refugees. Many Hungarians consider this as the nation’s worst tragedy.

They’ve been through a lot, and these monuments and memorials reinforce that sad memory. No one forgets. 😔 One can’t help feeling impressed with the resiliency of these Hungarians.


Flanking the Danube River are Buda on the West and Pest on the East Bank. The “tale of 2 cities” merging into one has been subject of many discourses and inevitably comparisons are drawn. Our hotel is on the Pest side. This is where the Parliament is, best viewed from across the Danube in Castle Hill. A very handsome building which is only 3rd largest in the world.

Pest is flat, but bigger. Where Buda is more formal, even reserved, Pest is more vibrant. Nightlife is certainly livelier on the east bank of the Danube. It may not be “quiet and less crowded” as its hilly half, but this is where the action is. The coffee and bar scene here is tops and while relatively “new” and “young”, its bolder character gave way to many prominent edifices like the Parliament, Heroes Square, the “ruin bars”, the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the many bronze statues scattered all around. But in my mind, nothing beats the eclectic bronze shoes lined at the edge of the Danube. The story goes that Hungarian Jews were told to take off their shoes, put whatever jewellery they have inside the shoes, and stand by the river edge. Then they were summarily executed and their bodies fell into the river as they took the shots from Budapest’s Arrow Cross Militia who shared the same Nazi ideology during World War II. The bronze shoes are poignant reminders of this dark period in Hungarian history.

The Central Market Hall is another iconic landmark in Pest. The market has a 2nd floor catering to tourists wishing to buy souvenirs and feast on Hungarian cuisine. There are many souvenir and handicraft for sale here, as well as food stalls where one can try Goulash, lecso, Hungarian smoked sausages, stuffed cabbage, meatballs, langos and many more. We’ve tried it here and it was forgettable if it weren’t our worst lunch. Well, it was a food court after all. But Pest is really teeming with nice shopping places, coffee bars and fine-dining restaurants. One only needs to do a little research. Thankfully, one of my friends made sure we ate very well here. 🍽

Michael Jackson fans would love it here. There is an MJ Memorial Tree in a tiny square corner just right across Kempinski Hotel where the late pop idol used to stay. The tree has assumed a Shrine of sorts with MJ photos plastered around the trunk. And Hungarian fans still gather here on MJ’s birthday, performing MJ’s popular dance moves. Nearby is the Hungarian Eye, much like the London Eye. It’s colossal but I feel it’s an eyesore amidst the many beautiful and historic buildings in the area.

Budapest has a number of popular thermal pools or baths, clearly something they must have picked up from the Romans and Turks. It was tempting to check out Széchenyi or Gellért if only to watch old men play chess while half-submerged in hot thermal waters. We passed on this one and chose to instead hear mass at St. Stephen’s , enjoy a good dinner then take an evening Danube cruise to see the Hungarian landmarks all lit up. We enjoyed both Buda and Pest. But when I do make a next visit, I’d likely try a hotel in Buda if only to feel its more sober night life.

Buda of Budapest


It used to be Buda, Pest and Old Buda. Buda and Pest separated by the River Danube, with the Old Town resting on the left bank which is Buda. Earliest settlers were Celts until the Romans occupied the present-Day Budapest in the first century B.C., annexing it as part of the Roman Empire. Then there was Attila, and the Huns ruled from the 5th century till the Magyar tribes arrived in the 9th century. By all accounts, the settlers and rulers lingered for centuries to affect Budapest’s way of life in many, many ways – art, culture, cuisine, architecture, language.

By the 10th century, the Hungarian Kingdom was established and the first king was St. Stephen who converted Hungary into Christianity. Soon, the French and Germans migrated here and then, the Mongolian invasion happened in the 12th century, thus destroying both cities. Through the centuries until Buda, Pest and Old Buda (Obuda) were joined in 1873, the city saw its transformation from Medieval Hungary to Renaissance Budapest to Turkish Budapest. And then the Hapsburgs came. Pest was soon to become the cultural and economic center of Hungary. But let’s talk about Buda first, and deal with Pest in my next blog. 😊

Buda Castle sits on Castle Hill with a perfect view of the Pest side. You can appreciate a night view of Buda riding a boat which glides slowly along the Blue Danube, or you can join a walking tour which requires stamina to last nearly 3 hours. Oh, there’s a funicular to climb up Castle Hill and visit the 3 major attractions on this side of the river. But we WALKED. 🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️ And we crossed the Chain Bridge ON FOOT. 👣👣And we CLIMBED. 🚶‍♀️🚶‍♀️🚶‍♀️All the way to Buda Castle, 🏰🏰 Fisherman’s Bastion and St. Matthias Church 🕍🕍🕍 These 3 account for the best Buda attractions on the western bank of the Danube . All UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Its rich history doesn’t end here. The Austro-Hungarian Empire can claim much of what present-Day Budapest is. The Empire lasted only till the First World War. Then, during the Second World War, it cast its lot with Nazi Germany. The Germans seized the city and soon a dark period began for the country’s Hungarian Jews. There were political upheavals and once more, the nation in the 19th century transitioned from being a Hungarian Soviet Republic for a brief period, to being a Kingdom without a king.

Castle Hill looks more “imperial” than its better-half on the right bank. Where Pest is flat, Buda is hilly. The first bridge connecting the 2 was built only in 1848. The other bridges look nothing less and maybe more interesting for those eager for a view of the thermal pools. Among its attractions, I like Fisherman’s Bastion with its fairy tale windows offering the best views of Pest. I am also intrigued by St. Matthias Church which was the venue for the coronation of the last 2 Hungarian Hapsburg monarchs : Frank Joseph in 1867 and King Charles IV in 1916. Earlier destroyed by the Mongols, it was reconstructed, restored and survived wars to what it is today. Side by side, the Saint Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are 2 sites not to be missed. Or for that matter, a visit to Budapest is a must-see destination. One falls in love with this city. Buda or Pest side, both are lovely. On foot or gliding on a riverboat, both sites are magical.


My Schengen visa is good till December 12 of this year. I do want to use it again and in fact drew up several options — like back to Spain for a week’s camino with my apo but he refused, thinking it’s too much hard work (hiking), or going to Croatia, or Iceland, or Poland — places I haven’t been to — or visit a friend in Switzerland. All plans fizzled out. Then some of my friends invited me to join their small group on an “impulsive, whimsical” trip to Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava. Problem is they are leaving Manila while I’m still in Vietnam. So I did the next best thing. I booked a ticket flying to Vienna on the same day I’m arriving from Vietnam to catch up with them. Why not? Or as they say here, “wine not”?

I was very tired when I landed early morning in Vienna. I should have slept throughout the 12-hour flight from Taipei to Viena but flying solo makes me all too cautious and alert that I must have slept only 3 hours max. I found my friends ready to hit the city when I reached our hotel soon after they were done with breakfast. And so we set off. By 9am, they were eager for their Viennese coffee after only an hour of city walk. (I was keen on having a beer though — yes, at 9am!) – and so we sat down and ordered our preferences. 🍺☕️

Since they got here earlier and covered the major Vienna attractions already, we planned on just a few more. It’s my 4th visit here so I don’t mind missing some of the sights. But I haven’t been to Belvedere Palace, so we did that. Plus a visit to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. 🙏🏻

After Belvedere, St. Stephen’s and another pass of the Hapsburg Palace, we went in search for a good lunch in the Naschmart. Then we headed back towards the hotel for some rest. By evening, we set off for the Rathaus where a musical concert is taking place and where a lively, festive mercato-type food court is set up. I love these summer concerts and food camps. Dinner was an assortment of Viennese, German, Hungarian and Slovak delicacies although we likewise spotted some Asian food stalls. Here, we had our wine, spritzer and beer. Plus assorted sausages, meatloaf, and whatever else we spotted in the next table! It was crowded and we were lucky to get a table. No chairs. But we’re just too happy with our drinks, pica pica and music that we can’t complain.

Since the musical concert wouldn’t start yet and we’re done with dinner, we decided to make good use of our time. The coffee and pastry shop at the corner beckoned. It was time for iced coffee, lattes, sacher torte and apple strudel. We picked a good spot to people-watch that we had to struggle getting up and out to claim our seats in front of the Rathaus for the musical concert.

While my friends stayed 3 nights in Vienna, I only managed a night. No worries. I’m really more keen on the trip’s 2nd leg: Budapest in Hungary. So, the next day we geared up for the train ride to Budapest. Watch this page!

Abuela Con Nieta


Traveled with my nieta over the holidays — her first time in Europe. We based ourselves in Madrid but made 3 night trips to Paris, Barcelona and San Sebastian. Paris was at the top of her list but she ended up loving San Sebastian best and Barcelona second best. I wasn’t surprised.

She loves visits to the art galleries and spent lotsa time there. And I mean lotsa time! San Sebastian has no museos in the league of Louvre nor Prado, but she digs the vibe in this Basque city so much that I’m convinced she can live there.

Traveling as abuela y nieta, our pair must have invited some attention. Or at least we were marked. Or perhaps SHE was marked. More than once, I was asked “Donde esta la chica?” She’d always find a vacant seat on the train where she can more comfortably sit, or stray away from me while we’re in line. She’d get free admission to some museos when the man at the window would ask if she’s a student. No student ID nor passport copy, but she gets in free or at a discount while her abuela pays the regular rate. She’s out of her teens now but still acts like a child like when I couldn’t get a decent shot of her without her tongue sticking out or her crinkling her nose.

Our vacation lasted a full month. She’d tease we didn’t quarrel as much as expected and laugh. I was happy to show her around, much that museos and art galleries were coming out of my ears. She discovered she’s a good dishwasher and that she easily forgets things. I discovered I can appreciate street and urban art too. We share food preferences and love bubblies. She likewise shops like me — quick, decisive and wise. Ahem.

I am certain “art appreciation” was the highlight of this trip. I have seen how she spent for art materials and art books, more than she spent for those fashion stuff. For sure, she has set her sights on a return trip knowing how she has enjoyed this holiday.

While in Madrid, she found time to meet with her friends now studying there. It was amusing to see her playing tour guide cum photographer. Their photos speak volumes on how much they enjoyed each other’s company, sticking tongues and all 😜 She loves Spain. And judging by how she’s been painting lately, mi nieta is inspired. 💕👩🏻‍🎨🎨

Travels with #aponimamu:(Just click on the link)

Around Paris

Louvre and Centre Pompidou

Bohemian Paris

Touchdown, San Sebastian

Txikiteo in San Sebastian

The Playas of San Sebastian

Traveling Paintbrush of Anna

Museo Guggenheim (Bilbao)

Museu Picasso (Barcelona)

Museo Reina Sofia (Madrid)

Museo Thyssen-Bornemizsa (Madrid)

Gaudi and Ciutat Vella

To Montserrat and Back

A Pleasant Moorish Surprise

Not Segovia, But Alcala de Henares

Street Art In Spain

Some Musings and Ramblings:

Abuela Con Nieta

Happy Thoughts for Anna P

Bohemian Paris


Paris. Left Bank. Saint Germain des Prés. Once the artistic and literary center of Paris. Tempting to think Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sartre along with Picasso, Monét and Renoir. I have always stayed in a hotel on the right bank in previous visits. This time around, I booked this apartment near the Jardin du Luxembourg just a stone’s throw from the Boulevard Saint Germain des Prés. I can’t wait to show Anna Patricia this very bohemian side of Paris. Maybe do some people-watching while having cafe au lait or chocolate chaud and an almond croissant in Les Deux Magots. If only the sun will come out 🌞 In winter, le soleil is almost absent. Any chance there are sunny spells or even just a hint of those glorious sunshine rays, expect the Parisians to be out in droves!

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But Paris in 4 days is just all too brief. Make that even 3 days since we arrived after sundown on Day 1. I can only reminisce time spent in that famous cafe that has since acquired a reputation as a tourist destination. We instead had our pastries and cafe au lait elsewhere and spent more time in Montmartre area which is another bohemian paradise. But still……

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Thinking back, many moons ago, when crepe, quiche and macaron were unfamiliar to my tastebuds, I have realized how much I have truly missed. The inviting aroma wafting from a french bakery only proves Peter Mayle’s

love for almost everything French. Yeah, i know, we’ve lost him only recently. Made me go through my stack of books, eager to re-read A Year In Provence only to remember someone borrowed my Peter Mayle books and never returned them! (Well, you know who you are 🙄)

It’s a dirtier Paris I came to now. The metro stations looked sad and neglected. Some back streets teeming with trash and where we felt unsafe. With few hours of daylight, we strolled past 5pm trying to beat sunset while taking in as much sights on early winter nights. Heard Saturday 10pm anticipated mass in Sacre Coeur but ditched plans to roam around Place Du Tertre as crowds have thinned and ambulant artists gone for the winter night. This is Paris on winter nights. The crowds thin as night sets in and temps dip. Less time to stroll around in daylight. So I’d suggest you do the Museums at night instead. Centre Georges Pompidou is open till 9pm daily and Louvre till 10pm, 2 days of the week: Wednesdays and Fridays. Musee d’Orsay is open till 9:45pm on Thursdays. So there. Hit the other sights during the day, then museums before a late dinner before calling it a night. And yeah, don’t rush Paris like we did. Stay longer than 4 days 😊


It’s a nursery rhyme I find myself humming each time I come visiting Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Sure, most people would visit to view what’s on exhibit inside the museo, while others would be quite content just viewing Guggenheim’s magnificent architectural wonder made of titanium, glass and limestone. In a sense, one can say the most significant work of art in this museo is the modern and contemporary style of the edifice itself. Designed by Frank Gehry, completed in 1997, hailed as a 20th century masterpiece. And indeed, it is! But much that I find the glass and titanium masterpiece awesome, I am particularly lured by this giant spider sculpture!

The day and time we visited, there was even some sort of a “fogging machine” around the edifice making the entire complex looking even more dramatic. Yet even without it, there is already enough drama in Guggenheim Museum with the giant spider, giant puppy topiary and the majestic red bridge. No camera whore nor aspiring photographer could miss these iconic landmarks. Unfortunately, Jeff Koons’ “Puppy” looks forlorn without the blooms. Made of stainless steel, this work of art is typically festooned with the most colorful flowers. Not in winter though. From the comforts of a sushi restaurant across the street where we nourished ourselves (a girl’s got to eat!), we viewed Koons’ giant terrier sculpture from the floor to ceiling glass window. Sad. It lost its magic from its spring version (shown here for comparison).

The not so itsy-bitsy spider by Louise Bourgeois makes up for the pup’s slack. On the other side of Gehry’s creation is this 9 meter-tall bronze, marble and stainless steel sculpture. It even has a name – Maman. If you stand underneath the giant spider, you’d find a sac of marble eggs embedded on its stomach. The artist designed it as such to honor her weaver-mom and to project the protective nature of mothers.

Lastly, let’s not forget the red bridge and row of buildings just across the river. No cam whore can possibly do wrong taking shots of these sights. But please do take the time to pause and appreciate this entire composition of works of art outside the confines of the Museo. After a few snapshots, breathe in all this beauty. I’m attached to the giant spider sculpture perhaps because the artist meant it as a tribute to his mom. Yeah. I’m a sucker for such stories.

Btw, no photography is allowed inside the Museum. Hmmm, so this explains all these exterior shots. I sneaked in a few shots though. Mi apologia.


Early Tuesday morning, we took the train to Zaragosa. Just a quick visit to the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Pilar, La Seo del Salvador and the Palacio de la Aljaferia. As the train chugged through towns blanketed in white-out snow, we braced ourselves for low temps as we reached Zaragosa. We could feel the cold almost touching our spine as our hands touched the train’s glass windows. Beanies and mittens on!

From the Zaragosa-Delicias Station, we hailed a cab to take us to our hotel. Dropped our bags in the hotel and stepped out almost immediately to hail another cab to drive us to Plaza del Pilar where the Basilica and La Seo stand across each other. Walking in this cold weather was not an ideal option. Upon reaching the Plaza del Pilar, we found so much going on there. Looks like some festivity just ended (3 Kings, I bet) and the decor, Christmas booths, kiddie rides are all being dismantled and packed away. But the entire Plaza del Pilar is sooo quiet. Hardly a crowd. We had a field choosing where to eat in the restos lining the square.

No photography was allowed inside where gaping is a common occurrence. The chapels, the dome, the vaulted ceilings, the many antique and art pieces are simply mind-boggling. Between the Basilica and La Seo, we were “churched out”. I’ve read somewhere that La Seo’s interiors are even lovelier than the Basilica’s. I do not disagree. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos to prove this comparison.

But what surprised us most is the Palacio de Aljaferia. We walked from the Plaza del Pilar to here. Surely, the Aljaferia is one of the finest examples of Hispanic-Muslim art, or Mudejar. This style was later copied at the Alcazar in Sevilla, as well as the more-visited Mudejar masterpiece in Alhambra in Granada. I have been to both and the garden and palace similarities are unmistakable. The series of arches, carved ceilings, the elaborate and intricately designed windows and doors. It is hard to imagine this 11th century structure was a woeful sight in near ruins despite being declared a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest in 1931. Then UNESCO declared its Aragonese Mudejar architecture a World Heritage Site.

Having visited this Islamic palace, I am awed by its grand design — the oratory, the portico arches, the wooden and coffered ceilings, the tiled pavement, the corridor, the lavish plaster decor. No wonder this architectural wonder became the Palace of the Aragonese monarchs after Zaragosa was recaptured from the moors.

Mi piquena Alhambra. Odd that it actually was the prototype for that grand palace and gardens in Granada. But Mudejar art in Aragon truly flourished in its time. Magnificent is an understatement. The palace is a good introduction for those who have yet to visit Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada’s Alhambra.

The Palace of Joy. It was. It is. Its beauty does not overwhelm. Its grandeur does not intimidate. Impressive, without being so imposing. It’s a palace not intended to impress, but meant to be enjoyed. Both Moorish and Christian monarchs who took up residence here must have felt the same.