Thursday, February 11, 2010


Macau is a special administrative region of China. It is located about an hour away from Hong Kong by boat. It was colonized by Portugal in the 16th century until 1999. This explains why it has a strong European influence in its architecture and why most citizens have Latin-sounding names. Macau is very economically advanced compared to its neighboring countries. Despite its small size it has attracted wealthy investors and businessmen mostly geared towards tourism where gambling plays a huge part.

We only spent a day in Macau but I felt it was enough to get a glimpse of the beautiful region. Coming from
 Hong Kong we took an hour-ferry ride via Turbo Jet. It was a smooth ride but it can be chaotic at certain times  since a lot of locals travel back and forth during the course of the day.

Getting our tickets

Here comes our ferry

When we got to the Macau Terminal we immediately hopped on a cab and went straight to the center of tourism: Largo de Senado (Senado Square). The square is the former center of the Portuguese colony surrounded by government buildings, local establishments and St. Dominic's Church. But what makes this area very famous is the wave-pattern mosaic pavement that gives it a very "European" aura. The buildings are gorgeous and so colorful that it leaves a smile on your face as you admire every detail of its exterior.

The wavy mosaic pavement

Very colorful...

Shops/stores everywhere...From Gucci to Ralph Lauren and of course Starbucks.

St. Dominic's Church was one of the main places of worship during Portuguese rule. It is a very spectacular structure inside-out with its cream-colored stone exterior and green-shutter windows. It also has a museum inside exhibiting paintings, sculptures and other religious artifacts.

The exterior.

The interior.

Another very popular tourist attraction is the ruins of St. Paul's Cathedral. It was built by the Jesuits in the 17th century and was the largest catholic church in Asia at that time. However in the 1800s it was destroyed by a fire and was never reconstructed. What a shame :(

Ruins Of St. Paul's Cathedral

Statues in front of the cathedral

As you go up the steps towards the ruins you see a magnificent view of Macau.

Macau is a very beautiful tourist destination. It exemplifies the clash between Asia and Europe but the result is a very harmonic offspring that is today one of the strongest regions in Asia.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Lourdes is a small town in south-western France on the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is most famous for the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette in 1858. We went on a pilgrimage there in 2008 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Marian Apparitions.

Easiest way to get there is by train from Paris. It was about a 4-hour ride. It was comfortable plus you get a glimpse of the countryside. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. The train was clean, new and there were no rowdy passengers what-so-ever. Thank God! Peace and quiet while admiring the snow-capped  mountains,  fields and french cottages. You can also get there by plane but we found it more enjoyable and of course more economical to "train" it.

When we got off the train it was chillier than I expected. I should've known since the town is on top of hills and mountains. DUH! But I can layer ;) The town is gorgeous! No sky scrapers, no traffic, no pollution. Just your typical quaint french town.  

Lourdes is one of the most visited pilgrimages in the world. Every year millions of pilgrims come and visit the Grotto where The Virgin appeared before St. Bernadette. A spring started to flow from the site of The Virgin's apparitions and ever since then hundreds of people have experienced miracles from touching or drinking from the spring. St. Bernadette

The Grotto

The Rosary Basilica was built on top of the cave where the apparitions happened. It is one of the most magnificent architectures I have ever seen. The Rosary Basilica

The entrance to the basilica is decorated with beautiful murals of the Holy Family in a mosaic pattern.

Inside the basilica is even more glorious than the exterior. Mary is shown in yet another bautiful mosaic pattern hovering over the altar. Behind the altar are artworks depicting the Sorrowful Mysteries.

The view from the top of the basilica is absolutely phenomenal. A gilded crown lies on top of the dome and beyond that you see a part of the beautiful town of Lourdes.

A river flows on the left side of the basilica giving the whole place a very magical feeling.And on this same side crowds of people gather to collect water from the miraculous spring. I saw several pilrims filling huge jars of spring water. We bought little bottles with Mary's image on it and filled them with the water, and later gave them as gifts to our family and friends.

Every night at 9:00 the sanctuary holds an event called the Torchlight Procession where thousands of pilgrims participate. It starts at the grotto and ends in front of the basilica. Then the rosary is prayed. The mysteries are recited in different languages. It was definitely a sight to see all these pilgrims holding their candles and embracing the spirit of the moment. I was very moved. Thousands of people from all over the world, one faith. Torchlight Marian Procession

Outside the Sanctuary is a strip of hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops. Tourism /pilgrimage is a huge part of this little town's economy so it is but natural that the locals would cater to the tourists'/pilgrims'needs. Most of the shops sell religious items from images of Mary to images of saints, rosaries, medallions, crucifixes, etc.

A huge population of the pilgrims are the sick, disabled, handicapped, etc. You see them everywhere in wheelchairs, gurneys, crutches, etc. These people come with the hope that they would be healed through the miracle of the holy spring. There are hospitals/hospices reserved for sick pilgrims. These are located in the sanctuary itself where the sick can be comfortable and cared for by abled staff.  

Overall, this trip was my most memorable ever. Lourdes was the last stop of our Europe trip. And I was glad we saved it for last. Being around people with this intense faith was very inspiring. Never had I felt a place to be as holy as this. God's grace does dwell there. You see it on everybody's face. Even the sick radiate an aura of peace and calmness despite the suffering they were enduring. Being in that place just changes people, gives them hope and envelopes them in God's grace. I was definitely a changed person. I went to Lourdes as an excited tourist but left as a touched pilgrim.