architecture

I’ve got a confession to make: I’m a terrible tourist.

I rarely read about a place before I go. I hardly ever travel with a map or a guide. And most of the time, I’m too impatient to queue for an hour to visit a local attraction.

During my 4 months in Barcelona, I genuinely skipped most of the city’s must see attractions, and instead chose to explore the city’s streets and neighbourhoods, its traditions and gastronomy as well as its gorgeous natural surroundings.

But a tiny part of me felt like my stay was incomplete. You see, it’s hardly impossible to talk about Barcelona without giving mention to its architectural masterpieces.

As an architecture enthusiast myself, my short time in Barcelona was heaven. Every day, I walked for at least an hour and absorbed the magnificent details of the façades.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Every now and then, I came across one of Gaudi’s many creations. For those of you who may not have heard of him, Antoní Gaudí is one of the city’s most celebrated architects. His work was strongly influenced by his 3 passions: architecture, nature and religion. I loved examining his art from the outside, looking for evidence of his influence in its details.

I have always been most intrigued by Gaudí’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, not only because it’s Spain’s most visited monument (despite of it still being work in progress), but because he devoted more than 40 years of his life to this project. Just imagine the amount of thought and detail he put into it! But each time I attempted to join the queue at the temple, I grew impatient and eventually left to pursue something else (like, sipping fresh orange juice on my favourite roof top). After all, I wasn’t a tourist – I was an expat.

Returning to Barcelona as a tourist one year later has given me the chance to see the city differently. This time I had no commitments, no errands to run, no sunshine to catch up with.

This time, I queued.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Standing in the main chamber looking up to the ceiling transports you to a majestic forest, with its shades and occasional light pouring in through small holes. Gaudí created this forest by developing his columns into tree branches as they reach the ceiling.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Throughout the Church, you will also find turtles supporting the bases of these tree columns and spiral staircases recreating the shape of a snail’s shell.

But my favourite detail was the colourful reflections of the sun shining through the stained glass – absolutely gorgeous.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Spain)

Visiting the Sagrada Familia was one of my favourite activities during our long weekend in Barcelona. Queuing, it turns out, was totally worth it!

Have you been to the Sagrada Familia?

Torre Agbar, Barcelona (Spain)

Torre Agbar stands out among Barcelona’s architecture (and that’s quite difficult to achieve with 10 of Gaudi’s famous art works dominating the city centre). Each time I see it from the distance, it reminds me of the Gherkin in London. No wonder it did – with its somewhat phallic shape, it has also earned some funny nicknames among the locals (just as the Gherkin, ahem, 30 St. Mary Axe). Never mind that the architects true inspiration was the rock formations in Montserrat.

But there’s more to this building than its comical shape – It represents the gateway to Barcelona’s new technological district.

I’m continuously impressed with how far architecture can go technologically. Probably one of its key features is its nocturnal illumination. The tower has over 4.500 LED luminous devices that enable it to create images containing up to 16 million different colors on the façade. This system also allows the fast transition between colors, creating amazing effects on the outside of the building.

I haven’t had the chance to shoot its colors at night – but rest assured I won’t leave before doing so!

The Yu Yuan Garden, located just a few steps from Shanghai’s Bund in Old Shanghai, is a 2 hectares large garden full of secrets, hideaway and beautiful adornments. It’s name, I read, translates literally into “Garden of Happiness”.

I kind of understand why.

Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai

The garden covers seven sub-gardens, each of which is completely surrounded by walls with fantasy gateways connecting each one to the next. Gateways had different forms and sizes – from circular ones to more detailed shaped ones!

Gateways in Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai

Walking through the different sections, we came across beautiful garden pavilions and terraces, each symbolizing Old Shanghai’s elegance. Some of the pavilions are named after popular chinese poems, which can often be found inscribed on the pillars, hanging on either side of the gates or in the halls.

Pavilions in Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai

It’s easy to fall in love with this place – gold-fish swimming in small ponds, beautiful architecture and blooming flowers everywhere. But the devil (or dragon, in this case) is in the detail. When visiting Yu Yuan, a great part of surprises can be seen when looking up, above your usual eye level. I was excited to find several dragons as part of a wall or the roof of pavilions!

Dragon Wall in Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai

Dragon, Yu Yuan Garden, Shanghai

The whole garden is so delicately designed that we spent hours wandering through it and never really had enough of it. More than just a tourist attraction (which it still is – given the large amount of chinese tourists capturing each and every corner of it), it is a place to spend half or even a full day. All you need is a camera, a book (or even a sketch book!) and a large bottle of water. In such a poetic atmosphere, inspiration will come in no time.

Finding inspiration in Yu Yuan, Shanghai

Have you been to Yu Yuan Garden? Where, otherwise, would you go to find inspiration?

French Concession, Shanghai China

Shanghai is also known as the Paris of the East. This is no wonder – during 100 years, the city was partly occupied by the french. After the Chinese loss of the Opium Wards in 1842, Shanghai was forced to open to international business. The french obtained concession of certain terrain for settlement, which had its own laws and enforcement. Even though it started as a settlement for the french, it soon attracted english, americans and russians, the common point being their affluence and influence. It was home of the wealthy Shanghailanders (foreigners living in Shanghai).

Late 1930s, when the Japanese army invaded the city, many Shanghailanders left. Those remaining, were put in concentration camps at the height of WWII. By 1946, both, the Japanese and most Westerns had gone and Shanghai was cut off from the World.

The city remained almost untouched for 40 years.

Unfortunately, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, a lot of unregulated re-development took place in the area, tearing apart many neighborhoods. Some of the most remarkable buildings were substituted by modern high-rise developments.

French Concession Skyline, Shanghai

Since the change of millennia, the Chinese Government has limited and regulated the re-development in this part of the city, in order to retain part of its historic feel. In some parts, you even get the impression to be time traveling back to 1930s.

Time Travel in the French Concession, Shanghai

Fuxing Park, where I came across this old timer, is the only French Style park in Shanghai – with a lake in the center, several small fountains, covered pavilions and beautiful flowerbeds. My favorite part of the park was its tree-shaded walkways, where seniors got together to chat or play chess and card games.

Fuxing Park, French Consession Shanghai

The buildings themselves were unique in style. I expected to be transported to the Paris of the 1930s, but instead, I found it to be a rare mix of western and eastern architecture. A mixture of old and new. I liked it. It was easy to read the city’s history through the lines of the buildings. Some low-rise colonial french style villas still remain, blending in with art deco designs, high-rise luxurious and modern apartment blocks on leafy streets.

Architecture in the French Concession, Shanghai

Today, the French Concession is one of Shanghai’s most expensive terrains. Expats and artists make the atmosphere trendy and exclusive. Tree-lined streets are filled with little fashion boutiques, while wider streets boast expensive shopping malls. When lunch or dinner time approaches, groups or friends and couples make their way to one of the stylish bars and restaurants. In the French Concession, one can find any type of cuisine – from original spanish tapas, the best italian wine bars and beautiful french cafes to modern Vietnamese cuisine and fresh quality sushi.

Gate in the French Concession, Shanghai

While my stay in Shanghai, I visited some great bars and restaurant in this area, which deserve an individual post – stay tuned!

Have you ever visited the French Concession in Shanghai? Which were your impressions?

As we arrived in Stockholm and walked towards the tube station, it immediately hit us: the city has something magical and fairy-tale feel. Perhaps it’s the golden details of its majestic buildings, the round towers that make me wonder if a swedish Rapunzel is trapped up there or the way the dreamy street lights reflect on the peaceful water – but there’s certainly something.

Round Tower in Stockholm, SwedenCan you see Rapunzel waving from the balcony?

Stadshuset (City Hall) is one of the best surprises: from the street, it seems to be not more than a simple red brick building – but once inside, it’s beauty is undeniable. The construction’s waterfront offers, in my opinion, one of the best afternoon views of the Gamla Stan (Old Town) and Södermalm (heart of bohemian culture).

Golden details on top of the City Hall

Stockholm Skyline, Sweden

Afternoon view over Gamla Stan from the City Hall waterfront

Stockholm is a walkable city – If you pack a pair of comfortable shoes, you will hardly need to use the tube to move in between islands. The walk from Östermalm (the district that holds the City Hall) to Gamla Stan is only about a 10 minute walk! Gamla Stan is Stockholm’s old town and one of the best conserved medieval city centers of the World. Stortoget Square is known to be one of Sweden’s oldest squares and is now popular for its many cafes and restaurants.

If you happen to be walking close to Stortoget Square and feel like coffee and something sweet, I recommend trying the Valrhona chocolate ball at Chokladkoppen. If you like dark chocolate – you’ll love this!

Stortorget Square in Gamla Stan, StockholmIconic buildings around Stortoget Square

It is easy to get lost in it’s small winding streets, but it’s also easy to find yourself back again since it really doesn’t take you more than 15 minutes to walk from one corner of Stadsholmen (its main island) to the other. The streets are packed with cozy cafes, art galleries and (pricy) handcraft shops.

Small Alley in Gamla Stan, StockholmRomantic alleys in Gamla Stan

One of my favorite parts of the visit was discovering these small alleys – each of them seemed to be taken out of a fairy tale. I tried to imagine a medieval life happening on theses streets, and am sure they have kept secrets for centuries. Is there anything more magical than that?

London City, UK

During the Middle Age, Southbank developed as London’s outlaw neighborhood – a place where taverns, theaters, bear-baiting, cock-fighting and prostitution entertained the crowds. The borough was conveniently located outside the City’s walls, on the other side of the river. For decades, locals from the north side rarely crossed the river to the south, nor did the tourists visiting the City.

However, in the past few years, a series of projects have focused on improving this area – turning it into an must-see artistic hub with numerous museums and art galleries, as well as a real foodie heaven with the boom of old Borough Market.

Southbank is one of my favorite areas of London. Its tiny streets and alleys boast with history and diversity. Local pubs are authentic – small, dark and crowded. Its architecture is a perfect blend of the 18th Century industrial era and modern developments. But what really makes Southbank so special is its views over the City’s skyline during dusk or dawn.

Can you imagine having this view from your balcony?

Before reuniting with my girlfriends in Formentera, I had planned on staying a day in Ibiza.

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Ibiza is one of The World’s top party destinations with many of it’s night clubs featuring each year’s top ten DJs almost every night of the week. For those who seek for extravagant and wild nights of pure hedonism, Ibiza is, without doubt, the right place to be.

Me, I’m not a clubber. Maybe a bar hopper, instead. What was I going to do there?

Categorizing Ibiza only as an electro paradise is a big mistake – it has so much more to offer: peaceful hikes in the green, beautiful beaches, colorful hippy markets, fresh sea food and lots of history.

Eivissa*’s Dalt Vila (in english, Upper Town) is the heart of the island’s history. Right next to all the city happenings, is the entrance to its historical center – so different, it could be a city on its own. The Dalt Vila stands on top of a hill facing the sea. Fortifications were built in the XVI Century to protect the island. Behind the city walls, there is peace and silence. A labyrinth of stone streets, white buildings with decorative doors and windows – an intersting combination of arabic, spanish and italian architecture – and breath-taking views of shiny turquoise water. I think I could live here.

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Dalt Vila was added as a World Heritage Site in 1999.

*Although the capital of Ibiza is widely called Ibiza Town, the correct name is Eivissa.

I’ve gone missing for a week and I owe you a reasonable explanation – I’ve been traveling. A lot. Not every trip has been worth blogging about it – unless you want me to blog about day trips, bank meetings and negotiations! That was the case of my day trip to Brussels and to Paris, and my 3-day trip to The Netherlands. Ok, this last one was actually more fun than that – it involves argentinian steaks, coffee shops and a visit to the inside of a 10,000m3 liquid tank. But all-in-all, its still work (and there were no pictures that would go with my stories!).

This changed on Thursday, when I finally took off to Lisbon, Portugal – for pleasure!.

Looking back, I can’t believe that, having lived so many years in Madrid, I never took the chance to hop on a budget flight to Portugal. The country has so much to offer in terms of beaches and food, but also art and architecture.

Particularly the Architecture.

During the 16th century, portuguese architects developed a very characteristic style that marks the transition between the late Gothic and Renaissance. The Manueline style, named after King Manuel I, didn’t last long, but its exuberant and sumptuous elements have played an important role in the country’s history.

It was strongly influenced by Portugal’s Age of Discovery – the century during which the country discovered Brazil, established several trading routes through southern Asia and colonized selected parts of Africa. Its maritime strength and successful discoveries have been reflected in its ornamental style.

The Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon, is one of the most important achievements of the Manueline style.

As I walked closer, I noticed the less obvious details that makes this building a piece of art.

Each of its towers is unique.

Its windows show the influence of the Far East and are adorned with maritime elements, such as the ropes that decorate this balcony.

Each of its portals is sumptuous and packed with elaborated elements and figures.

I couldn’t stop looking at it – always hoping to discover something else! Did I visit the inside? No, I didn’t – and I somewhat regret this decision. In my defense, it was hot and there were more than 50 people queuing outside, so in case you’d like to check out its interior, I’d recommend to do so at its opening (10am).

In any case, while in the city, you shouldn’t miss it out (even if you’re not that into architecture), after all…

  1. The Treaty of Lisbon, which lays down the basis for the reform of the European Union, was signed in the Monastery in December 2007
  2. Five architects worked during more than 50 years on its design, ornaments and scultures, providing each of them different characteristics – some more using more Gothic elements, others rather Renaissance themes
  3. The Manueline Style was spread throughout the Portuguese Empire, reaching as far as Macau, China

Have you visited the Jerónimos Monastery or seen Manueline elements in former portuguese empires?

When I was a kind, I wanted to be an architect.

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

I enjoyed sketching buildings and studying them using my understanding of space. However, I soon realised that there were other aspects I wanted in my career that architecture couldn’t provide me. I wanted to work with people across different cultures, help them improve a part of their business – which finally led me to International Business.

Admiring the Eiffel Tower, makes me wonder if I really made the right decision. I mean – I might have become the next Gustave Eiffel! Dreams aside – I know what made me move away from architecture and into business, and after all these years, I know that I made the right decision. I don’t regret it – specially because architecture will always remain as one of my biggest interests.

Having said this, I thought I’d share a few fun facts:

  • The Eiffel Tower helps you to find your way in Paris as its 4 pillars are aligned to the points of the compass
  • With extremely strong stormy wind, it can move 13 cm (I wouldn’t like to be up there when this happens!)
  • On a clear day, you can see up to 67 km away from the upper part of the Tower
  • During winter, the Tower shrinks 15 cm
  • During summer, the Tower leans very slightly, as one side is heated by the sun and expands up to 8cm

Do you know any interesting facts about the Eiffel Tower?