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We came for the food and the seascape. And more. The city of San Sebastian — or Donostia in Basque — is lovely any time of the year. It’s my 3rd visit in 2 years. First with my friends. Second time with my sister and niece. (Another niece and grandnephew followed) And this time, with my grandniece. The same nieta who has been dreaming of San Sebastian since she painted it on a wall in Bar Pintxos in BGC. Yes, she did the mural based on a photo of San Sebastian’s skyline and seascape. A black and white mural. Now, she’s seeing it all come to life just by being here.

We couldn’t have timed it better. Initially, we thought it was just a simple festivity. After all, it is nearly Christmas so there’s no big deal about the Christmas Market booths lining the Urumea River near the TerminiBus. But we found more stalls, booths and tents near Buen Pastor Church and observed that many locals were dressed in Basque outfits. Turned out one of Donostia’s unique Basque festivals was being celebrated on December 21. The winter solstice is celebrated as Santo Tomas Fair, where the entire city is littered with food and Basque handicraft stalls. Locals dress like rural farmers or peasants and most stalls sell txistorra, that very famous local cured sausage paired with txakoli, a typical Basque white wine or sidra (cider). Of course, there’s also pulpo to be had which I just can’t miss. That, plus the jamon jabugo.

By 11 pm the entire Parte Vieja looked like there were processions going off each corner. The peasant – dressed locals complete with aprons and berets were all milling around the bars it’s nearly impossible to do a txikiteo or pub crawl. Besides, many have had a drink too many and dropped their glasses or bottles. We took care not to step on glass shards, and dodged drunk locals who can barely walk straight. It was NOISY! But fun.

Thankfully, we found an open restaurant for a proper sit-down dinner. Txikiteo can wait till tomorrow. La Viña Restaurante may be most famous for their tarta de quezo or cheese cake (the best!) but they likewise serve good, decent dinners. By the time we finished ours and walked out of Parte Vieja, the locals were still busy downing their txakolis and sidras. But the streets outside of the old part of town were nearly deserted. We enjoyed our walk through the streets bedecked with Christmas lights and decor. Sans the crowd.

(Excuse the nocturnal iPhone shots)

My Habibi Turns 17


Rest your palm on your heart

Feel Mamu in that special spot

Whispering a birthday cheer

Miles away, but no way apart.

Happy birthday, dear Martin

Found your “seat” in OUR park

In freezing weather & icy rain

Don’t let distance be a pain.

Have a good celebration,

Eat my share, as if I was there

I’d have a copa, perhaps a rioja

And raise my glass to cheer ‘ya

We’d pass the same places here

I bet lingering far longer

It’s a girl thing you know

To pause and pose in the snow.

Pretty soon we’d hit the beach

Sandy feet, with a tent to pitch

We’d let the sun kiss our skin

Toasted, y’know what I mean.

Enjoy your last 3 teen years

Time’s a thief, but have no fears

Oh my sweet, giant habibi

Love you, that’s how it’ll always be 💕


The Louvre. Our young artist can’t miss this. Both the Louvre and the Pompidou Center. It’s been on her list, but I made sure she likewise didn’t miss Sainte-Chapelle, which is a good walk from our Paris crib. I guessed right. She swooned over this royal chapel’s stained glass windows. Her keen interest showed when she grabbed some literature and started reading on the Biblical stories expressed in the lovely stained glass collection. In her words, “if I have any expectation of how heaven looks, it’s this”.

From Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame, we went to Louvre where we spent the next 4 hours. Yes, 4 hours! After 2.5 hours, I found a stone bench by the staircase where apo left me to see her Mona Lisa a 2nd time. Then, a 3rd time. Moving from one hall to the next, negotiating the staircases and standing most of the time took its toll on poor moí. But not this young lady who had so much energy she even retraced her steps to view her “favorites” a second time before it was time for us to leave.

Too tired to step out for lunch, we settled for our quiche, ham and salad lunch in the Carrousel du Louvre. It was definitely NOT our best meal but it’s 4pm and we’re hungry. We also paid too much for a mediocre meal. Without going out of the Louvre complex, we then took the metro towards Center Pompidou. Oh, we did search for Jef Aérosol’s Chut — that famous, iconic street art mural near the Center. A few minutes of appreciation and we were in line to enter Center Pompidou. The young lady with me was dripping with excitement.

Going up to the 5th floor to view the Center’s Modern Art collections, we stepped out to a balcony pathway where Tour Eiffel stood in full view, illuminated. Good view but if you have altitude issues, it’s not a brilliant (pun intended) idea. But Matisse was waiting for my young artist. And Picasso. And Joan Miro. Dali. Basquiat. Warhol. Clearly, she prefers modern art more than the classics. Excited to see their works after reading up on them, she swooned and said “this is the best place ever”. How can I argue with that? Clearly, she finds modern & contemporary art more exciting. She does count many favorites though among the classics.

Once more, I settled on a (more comfortable) chair here while she happily bounced between and among the collections. She likes Matisse but found a new favorite. Jean Michel Basquiat. Yup, that’s Andy Warhol’s good friend and Madonna’s ex who died of heroin overdose in 1988 at the young age of 27 when both were at the cusp of growing fame. The relationship ended badly, where Bacquiat demanded the return of all the paintings he gave Madonna and painted them all black. A pity because one of his art pieces fetched £85.4 million 29 years since his death — the highest-ever paid in an auction for an American work. Below is his work, and the Basquiat portrait was done by my young artist. So with the last 2 artworks shown here.

Four hours in Louvre. Another four in Center Pompidou. Now, I can imagine how she’d react when I bring her to Madrid’s Museo de Reina Sofia, or to Barcelona to view Gaudi’s works. You know what? I’m getting excited myself!

(More works done by “apo” below)

Taking Paris Frame By Frame


I couldn’t wait to show our young artist around Paris. The City of Lights (and Love) lives up to its name and more so this December. Air’s crisp and cold. Sky’s cloudy and threatening to pour. My young adult is looking for Santa’s Villages and Art Booths while her grandma is on the lookout for a vin chaud (hot wine). Temps dip, it grows cold, wet and even icy, it can be dark and gloomy but our spirits soar with Christmas glee.

With only 4 days and 3 nights here, with early sundowns, we need to plan well. But this is Paris! The bohemian in us would rather walk aimlessly, linger where it feels warm and inspiring, and just go where the heart takes us. But I can’t let my first-time Paris visitor miss the iconic landmarks. And so, the “mandatory tour” begins: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Moulin Rouge, Champ Elysees, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, Tuileries, Montmartre, Madeleine, Place de Concorde, Sainte-Chapelle.

The sun set early the day we arrived. As soon as we dropped our bags in the Saint Germain des Pres apartment we’ve booked, we set off for the Montmartre area. Moulin Rouge in illuminated version can’t be missed as soon as you step out of the Blanche Metro Station. From here, we could have walked to Place du Tertre but took the Metro back to Anvers to find a dinner place before the anticipated 10pm mass in Sacre Coeur. Le Consulat was our first choice but they only offered drinks as their kitchen closed early. Our 2nd choice turned out to be perfect for us hungry souls. Le Bonne Franquette is on the same cobble-stoned street, likewise old as the other centuries-old buildings in this old part of Paris. We imagined Van Gogh, Cezanne, Renoir et al enjoying their meals here. History aside, we actually enjoyed our dinner of french onion soup and pave de boeuf in Le Bonne Franquette. Oh sure, the vintage charm helped too.

Must be the freezing weather (0-3 Celsius) but Place du Tertre was stripped of the easels and actual/live paintings that fascinated me years back when I visited. I was eager to show her this art scene in the Butte Montmartre. Though a tad disappointed, excitement grew as she spotted a gallery of Dalí paintings. I hope the tiny, winding streets of Montmartre will inspire her to paint those quaint, centuries-old cafes and structures, images of which one finds in many postcards in France. So charming!

Versailles Palace was in our itinerary on our 2nd day in Paris. The chateau, the fountains, the gardens, the “fake” hamlet, the art pieces are way too much for my first-time visitor. The young artist was totally charmed. If it weren’t for her eagerness to see Tour Eiffel and Arc de Triomphe in daylight, we could have stayed in Versailles longer. And so we trooped back to the city for a couple more iconic landmarks plus a stroll through Champ Elysees towards Place Concorde. Yes, a long walk but we had a lovely break for a mussel dinner at Leon de Bruxelles. Still as crowded ss I remember it but we were early and easily found a table.

Tomorrow, we should be joining the lines for Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and the Louvre. There may be time for Pompidou Center as my young artist has expressed her preference for modern art. Wish we can likewise throw in Musee d’ Orsay and Musee du Rodin, but I’m not hopeful. Lastly, I chose this apartment because of its proximity to Jardin du Luxembourg and the bohemian neighborhood of Saint German des Pres, but we have not even visited the gardens yet! Oh Paris. There’s so much to see and we have so limited time. But perhaps it’s best that way so our young artist’s heart continues to long for this city of lights and “finish the job”. I suspect though she’d be back, no way ever will the job get finished. Such is the allure of Paris. ❤️

Happy Thoughts For You


She painted on canvas & paper,

Now on plywood and leather

Perhaps ceramic next or fabric?

So paint me something eccentric.

Varying moods, divergent themes

As night sets in and lights go dim

What inspires her, I wonder

Not so ready with an answer.

New iPhone turned out a lemon

Stirred up moods like a demon

Oh how she vented her woes

As she treated the canvas like foes.

Boards and canvas bought in bulk

To frame this much art stock

Yet inspiration made her fingers fidget

To paint Dali on her denim jacket.

Three murals and countless sketchings

Quick strokes, untutored paintings

You’ve worked hard for those 2 exhibits

I suspect a Matisse in you inhabits.

Whenever I spot paint on your hands

A palette recklessly lying on the floor

Some brushes left hanging to dry

I know you visited your happy world.

Happy thoughts, happy world

Nurture those happy thoughts

No matter how blurred or fleeting

Nurture it. Let your heart keep it. ❤️

Abu, Apo 💕

Curious About Kyushu


It’s only a week in this southern island of Japan. Not as touristy as Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara), Honshu (Hiroshima & Miyajima), nor Kanto (Tokyo, Gifu) and even Hokkaido (Hakodate, Otaru, Lake Toya, Sapporo) which is now drawing more tourists. We timed this trip really well to enjoy the symphony of autumn hues. All around and especially in the temple grounds and parks, we were welcomed by a mosaic carpet of autumn foliage. So pretty!

Here’s a summary of blogs written on our recent visit to Fukuoka, Nagasaki and Beppu. Just click on the highlighted topics, including earlier-written blogs on my Kansai, Kanto, Honshu and Hokkaido trips.

Fukuoka

Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine

Shinto and Zen Temples

Yatais

Nagasaki

Peace Park, Ground Zero

Glover House

Meganebashi Bridge

Beppu

Umi-Jigoku Hot Springs

Onsen Cooking

Yufuin

Mt. Tsurumi Ropeway

Lake Kinrin

Happy reading! And hugs and kisses to my travel buddies whom I’d fondly call #Soba15 for a most enjoyable holiday.


I felt I could have given Nagasaki a skip because of the grim reminders of the devastation, grief and misery of the atomic bombs dropped here 3 days after Hiroshima, 300 kms. away. It didn’t help to know that the 2nd bomb should have been dropped in Kokura, some 150 kms. away, but visual bombing couldn’t be managed then because of heavy ground haze and smoke. A change in fortune favored Kokura at the expense of Nagasaki. The rest is history.

Meganebashi survived the bombing. It now stands as the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan, earning the monicker “Spectacles Bridge” because of the reflection on the water created by its two arches. There are several bridges spanning Nakashima River, but this 400-year old stone arch bridge built by a 2nd-generation Chinese monk is the prettiest. Disaster nearly hit Meganebashi when flood waters washed it out in the 1982 deluge that hit the city. Thankfully, each single stone was retrieved and the bridge restored to its original appearance. Likewise, the riverpath has railings that are both artful and functional.

The Nakashima River snakes through Japan’s 2nd largest city and it was a pity we didn’t have time to try those stone steps from street level down to the riverbank to stroll along its river path. The locals — notably the Chinese merchants operating shops along the banks — hang illuminated lanterns along the length of the river on Chinese New Year, and we can only imagine how pretty that is. Being a port city, Nagasaki was Japan’s only contact with the outside world during its period of isolation or seclusion. Chinese. Portuguese. Scottish. Dutch. Obviously, it had first taste of world cultures that seem to have reflected in its art, fashion, architecture, cuisine and religion.

Speaking of religion, history records the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier in Nagasaki in 1549. Interestingly, Meganebashi was built in 1634, during the time when Christianity was banned in Japan and Christian missionaries kicked out of the country. Today, Meganebashi is among Nagasaki’s top tourist attractions and among Japan’s top 3 famous bridges alongside Nihonbashi Bridge in Tokyo and Kintaikyo Bridge in Iwakuni, Japan.

Of Shinto and Zen Temples Around Fukuoka


We were so aware it’s easy to get templed out so we’ve decided we’d just visit Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine outside the city and a city temple. In the city, we had 3 temple options but naaaahh, one will do. So we decided on the first Zen temple, Shofukuji Temple. Hardly anyone inside, though we found many cats. We loitered around the temple grounds and tried to imbibe the many Zen elements within. Unlike Dazaifu’s Shinto Shrine, Shofukuji is a Zen Buddhist Temple. I will NOT even venture to define Zen here. I’m frankly not sure what it is, but I do know it is NOT a religion nor a moral teaching. My nephew practices it, just like I try (repeat, TRY) to practice mindfulness. Here in the temple grounds of Shofukuji, there is no need to define Zen. One simply enters, and feels. The rock garden, the pond, the trees. All in harmony with the universe. Like a shoulder-dropping relaxant.

The visit to the other 2 temples was unplanned. Tochoji happened to be right next to Shofukuji, so why not? One thing I remember here is lighting a candle and 3 joss sticks just before entering “hell” underneath the Buddha statue. Can’t say I enjoyed walking in complete darkness as I worried I’d trip or bump my head. But I like the nearby pagoda and garden. Our guide even showed us a line of 88 small Buddha statues representing Japan’s 88 sacred temples. You can say you can “shortcut” your pilgrimage here. Cool.

Now, this 3rd one was no Zen activity. I wouldn’t even consider it a “visit”. More like we went to Kudashi Temple for a pee break, walked the Shinto temple grounds and passed the stacked-up sake barrels on our way to the Canal City mall and Kawabata Shopping Arcade 🙄

Were we templed out? Not at all. The visits were brief, the zen garden was relaxing, the Shinto Shrine and temple were peaceful. Just odd to find some side by side with shopping arcades 😊

Mt. Tsurumi Ropeway


Located on the border of Beppu and Yufu in Oita Prefecture is this volcano towering over the hot spring town of Yufuin. Initially, we planned on hiking Mt. Yufu, but thankfully, our guide had the nerve to discourage us from doing the Mt. Yufu trek. Instead, we chose to ride the aerial lift line towards Mt. Tsurumi.

Beppu Ropeway is just a hop and a skip from the Beppu Onsen Resort (Umi Jigoku Springs) where we had our foot bath. All around, we glimpsed steam vents. And up on the cable car, we were awed by the autumn foliage rolling under the lift as the car climbed up Mt. Tsurumi. The hike offers 2 options — one either starts the trek from the lower ropeway station, or ride all the way up and then walk the last few meters to reach the summit. We were an assortment of travel buddies whose sense of adventure spans a wide range. 😊 And so we opted to climb easy, or so I thought 🙄

The youngest member of our hiking party ran up the steps while the rest gingerly climbed one step at a time. I was gasping for air and broke my climb with frequent oxygen breaks. The summit may not be that high at 1,375 meters but my lungs don’t know that. Huffing, we made it and we lingered for many posterity shots. The panoramic view at the summit takes (a few more) breaths away, even as temps dipped to 0 Celsius. Brrrrrr……We were only too happy to take the same cable car down to the station and then enjoy our foot bath in the steamy, hot springs of Beppu. That, plus an onsen adventure before bedtime and our day’s complete!

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Dazaifu Tenman-gu Shrine in Autumn


This is a Shinto Shrine in Dazaifu in Fukuoka Prefecture. The shrine honors Michizane, deified as Tenjin, a gifted scholar who drew the ire of the aristocrats. Among them aristocrats is the Fujiwara clan who sent him into exile in the southern island of Kyushu. He died young at 57 and the story goes that when his dead body was carried by an ox, the beast stopped, knelt on an area that is now his burial site and shrine.

All around the shrine complex, there are brass statues of the ox, touched by many presumably for good luck.

Our guide mentioned that the shrine attracts the young crowd, mostly students, who pray there for blessings before an examination. Perhaps because Michizane/Tenjin was a scholar, those who pray to him appeal for scholarly or academic achievements. We were also lucky to find this cute child all dressed up for shichi-go-san, a rite of passage for little girls aged 3,5 and 7, and 3 and 5 for little boys. I remember seeing many “dolled-up” children in other temples in my earlier visits (in Nara and in Kyoto). Another rite is at age 20, deemed one’s passage into adulthood.

The water was muddy but it didn’t take away the charm off the vermilion-colored arched bridge. The fall colors are evident everywhere, as if bidding adieu before the winter season sets in. I did like the landscape of autumn hues blending in subtly with the greens, making for a dreamy background to the pond and other structures. Not autumn in full bloom, no fierce explosion of colors. More serene, more relaxing. More nostalgic, if you like.

There were also monks lining up a pedestrian path. (Thanks, Angel, for this photo) Unlike their orange-robed cousins in other Asian neighboring states, these monks looked more formal. They also accepted cash rather than food, which I think is more practical. And barefooted NOT too. If you ask me, their get-up from head to toe is a winner. Even the bowl (for alms) and basket look classy!

On the way in and out of the Shrine, the path is hemmed in by quaint little shops as well as restaurants. We had lunch in one. We were also amused by a more traditionally-themed Starbucks coffee shop, side by side with Japanese traditional stalls selling umegae mochi, the local specialty dumpling, along with matcha, kimono, ice cream, snacks, etc.

If you are based in Fukuoka, and only have time for one temple or shrine, go to Dazaifu. You need not be Japanese nor practice Shintoism to appreciate this place. And while there, rub that brass ox statue for good luck. You’d never know when you need it. 😊

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For more blogs celebrating life, check out :

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