Barcelona churches



Barc Faith Tile


My trip to Barcelona was one of my lovely surprises in 2014. I had a big year of travelling for work – Bali, Taiwan, Silicon Valley – and didn’t really expect more. But in December, DAPHNE Diaries in Barcelona happened. This was the initiative of Lifestyle Network, supported by Samsung Digital Home Appliances, which I had been a long-time brand ambassador for. It is my first collaboration with a TV network as a blogger (I have been a presenter and producer before).

The days leading up to our trip, Typhoon Hagupit (Ruby) was brewing near the Philippines. Reports said it would be another deadly storm. I was scared. I didn’t want to leave my family knowing that the storm could potentially directly hit Metro Manila. But I couldn’t bail out of the trip. A lot of prayers were said before, during and after. I believe a miracle happened. Typhoon Hagupit got weaker as it hit land.

I share this little anecdote because I really believe in the power of prayers. Ok the typhoon weakening may not have been due to divine intervention, but I have been blessed with a few real miracles already. I also think that everything happens for a reason. While I was full of anxiety as our plane took off before the storm hit, I was a picture of calmness on our first full day in Barcelona. The travel agent “coincidentally” planned our Montserrat visit on December 8th, the Feast of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, not knowing that I have a special devotion to the Virgin Mary.

My DAPHNE Diaries will give small portraits of the city of Barcelona – food, museums, urban life. I didn’t actually mean to do a whole story on churches in my blog. But as I was reviewing my photos, I found I had more than enough to piece this blog entry together. Don’t worry, I don’t get preachy. This is an architecture and design story… with a little history.


The morning of December 8th, 2014, our car brought us to Montserrat. You can take the train or cable car to go up the mountain. Our car brought us right up to the monastery.


Montserrat actually means “saw (serrated, like the common handsaw) mountain” in Catalan. Source.


The mountain tops look so surreal with its many peaks, some look like silos.


The monastery began in 1025 as the Hermitage of Santa Maria, the Mother of Christ. It became a very well known shrine in the Christian world. In the early 1800’s, most of the monastery was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. The church and monastery we see now is a result of rebuilding.


The short walk to Santa Maria de Montserrat. This is a good tip. Try getting there no later than 9am. Trust me, the crowds get thick.


The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (The Way of Saint James). Montserrat is part of the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela.


There are some restaurants, a hotel and a museum in Montserrat. But we only went there for the Benedictine abbey of Santa Maria de Montserrat itself and went back to explore the city.


The medallion in the centre of the atrium has an inscription around that reads, “Only those baptized and born in the water like fish can understand the meaning of the fish of the Eucharist.” I had to wait 10 minutes for a group of tourists to get off the circle before I could get my chance. This exact spot is believed to be very powerful.


The basilica has a neo-Plateresque design (a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance) and was rebuilt in 1900. During the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century, the French destroyed most of the abbey.


We went along the right aisle past the altar to see the statue of the Virgin called “La Moreneta.”


There is a giant clam converted into a holy water font — a gift of the the Filipino people to the abbey. (La Sagrada Familia also has one.)


The La Moreneta or the Black Madonna is a 12th or 13th century Romanesque statue housed in this alcove behind the main altar. It usually is filled with pilgrims and tourists. The normal wait is over one hour. Our guide, Fabio Bugna, anticipated the crowd, that being December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception and a national holiday in Spain. We arrived at the abbey around 9am. As you can see, we had the alcove all to ourselves.


There were no crowds. It was calm, solemn, and peaceful. I was so moved by the experience.


And there she is. The Black Madonna. The statue is made of carved wood from the 12th century Romanesque period. It appears black because the varnish on the statue has oxidized from the effect of candle and lamp smoke. The Virgin has a ball in her hand, which sticks out of the glass compartment. I held it as long as I could until I shed a tear. I had enough time to say the Hail Mary.


After my close encounter with the Black Madonna, I turned to the small oval chapel below the altar. It had a full view of the Black Madonna from behind.


Again, the room was practically empty. Here, I was able to pray longer.


And I lit candles for my friends and family.


That morning in Montserrat was really magical. After my prayers at the altar, we even heard the Montserrat Boys Choir sing. They usually sing in the afternoons. But that morning of December 8th, they had a special performance. Nothing in life is a coincidence. I was meant to be there.


Another church in the old town of Barcelona, Santa Maria del Mar.


Santa Maria del Mar’s interior shows incredible Catalan Gothic architecture.


The vaulted ceiling of Santa Maria del Mar.


Santa Maria del Mar, 14th century.


Santa Maria del Mar is beautiful despite and because of its austerity.


Whether you are religious or not, Santa Maria del Mar is worth a visit even just for its architectural merit. It is a pure example of Catalan Gothic.


I was so taken by this beautiful image of the Virgin Mary at Santa Maria del Mar.


Santa Maria Del Mar is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors.


Of course, no visit to Barcelona is complete without seeing La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s 133 year-old work-in-progress masterpiece. It has always been an expiatory church, which means that since its beginning in 1882, the church has been built purely from donations. I will save an entire post and video blog on La Sagrada Familia.


Not many people highlight the chapel at the crypt of La Sagrada Familia. It was built by the diocesan architect Francisco de Paula del Villar in 1882. By the end of 1883, Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to take over the project, where he worked on his modernist masterpiece for over forty years.


One can have a glimpse of the neo-Gothic chapel underneath the apse.


A view of the apse above can be seen from the crypt’s highest arches.


In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI dedicated the yet-unfinished La Sagrada Familia as a minor basilica, a place of worship.


Antoni Gaudi is buried in the crypt of La Sagrada Familia.


Our walks in Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) led us to many sacred sites. I couldn’t stop being in awe. (My chukka boots have been getting a lot of FB and IG love. It is a two year old Cole Haan.)


The church of San Felip Neri is in a quaint square with a fountain and some buildings dating back to the Renaissance time. Its facade shows shrapnel from a bomb thrown by Franco’s forces during the Civil War, killing 42 people, mostly kids.


A definite must-see is the Barcelona Cathedral, or the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Santa Eulalia, established in the 15th century. Couldn’t help but pose for a touristy shot in front of the Gothic facade.


The cathedral’s cloister houses 13 geese at the Well of the Geese. This represents the age of Santa Eulalia when she was killed by the Romans.


So much beauty in this 14th century cloister courtyard.


The cloister of Barcelona Cathedral.


While the cloister courtyard is charming, the interior of Santa Eulalia is majestic.


The entrance to the crypt is right in front of the altar, at the centre of the church.


Here at the crypt, you will see the tomb of Santa Eulalia of Barcelona, a young girl who died as a martyr during the Roman period when she refused to dismiss Jesus as the Son of God.


Back up, I explored the different chapels surrounding the nave.


There are 28 chapels flanking the nave of Santa Eulalia, all illuminated by beautiful stained-glass windows.


As we walked around the Gothic Quarter, I found these little charming places of worship, such as the small cappella in Placeta d’En Marcús.


Little chapel at Placeta d’En Marcús had a Romanesque figure of Our Lady in an outdoor niche.


We chanced upon La Basílica dels Sants Màrtirs, though the caretaker was closing up.


This pretty image of Our Lady at La Basílica dels Sants Màrtirs caught my attention. I just love the pop of her blue veil against all that gold. So pretty.


One doesn’t have to be particularly religious to appreciate these churches.


We were lucky that during the time of our visit, there was a 2-week Christmas market outside the Barcelona Cathedral and La Sagrada Famlia. I had lost sleep over these miniature hand sculpted terracotta Nativity figurines I saw at the market, so we went back another night.


The little terracotta figurines wasn’t all about the Holy Family and Three Kings. The local artisans sculpted Catalan villagers and village scenes.


I bought a miniature stable and nativity scene. The clay pottery was made by this woman. I asked her to give me her name and she wrote it on the brown bag packaging. But sadly, we were careless when we unpacked and I lost her name.


There is our miniature Catalan nativity scene. I also bought a smaller matchbox nativity.


For my blog on Barcelona food and restaurants, click here.



Army & Navy Club



Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 9.28.23 PM
I got this disturbing update from our friends in Coconuts Manila. What is happening to the Army and Navy Club building?


I have wonderful memories of this place. As any of the old members of the Army and Navy Club will remember, we used to swim, play tennis, attend parties here. My dad was a member and this was our weekend hangout. It was beautiful then. There was a formal dining room where I learned how to eat with multiple forks and knives. The waiters used to wear white jackets and white gloves. When I was a small girl, my dad would tell me that I would celebrate my 18th birthday at the ANC. Fancy. Grand. It never happened, of course. Because in life, not everything really goes as planned. We ended up staying in Canada for good.

When I came back to visit the Philippines, one of the places I had to see was the old Army and Navy Club. In the mid 90’s it was already starting to look decrepit. When I was a reporter for ABS CBN, I took special interest in this building and did a few reports about it. I recall back then that the City of Manila had declared it a condemned building. And despite that, it housed the Museum of Manila. In the early 2000’s there were plans of converting it into a restaurant/casino complex by the Estrada government. It was never really clear to me who had ownership of the building and why it was allowed to run itself to the ground.

In 2006, Janine Dario, former editor in chief of People magazine featured me for the antique jewellery that I was designing and reworking. I had requested that we do it on location at the Army & Navy Club so we could also channel some attention to preserving the building. A big surprise to me, my photo ended up being on the cover. The publisher, the late Max Soliven, chose to put me on the cover with the lines “Cultural Chic: Preserving Our Heritage in Style.”

Here are photos from that shoot at the Army and Navy Club in 2006.


They will tear down this building!!!!
Beautiful main foyer


Army and Navy Club
The octagonal dome above the main foyer.


Main foyer
The main foyer/lobby had two grand staircases around it.


Above the main foyer
The second floor decaying balusters


It was leaking everywhere and it wasn't even raining
Leaking roof


Army and Navy Club
Old wall sconce


Army and Navy Club -- what used to be quarters of American military officers
Corner office. It used to be the quarters of American military officers.


I love these hanging lamps!


Spook fest at Army and Navy Club
During our shoot, my colleagues and I played spook-fest.


Second floor
More leaks and puddles inside. Why it was allowed to get this way, I will never understand.


"This building is DANGEROUS". Because they allowed it to be!
The only sign that said someone actually cared.


Spooky Army and Navy Club
One of the side stairwells where we shot my photo for People Asia.


Iron balusters.


Army and Navy Club of Manila
The list of members in brass plates.


By the 1970's select members of the Philippine military were invited to join Army and Navy Club
My dad’s name was still on the board. (One of the Manila councillors asked me if I wanted to take it as a souvenir. I told him, “No thanks. It should remain in the building as part of its story. Please do not take it down.”)


Tatum and Sara Black
People Asia’s creative director Tatum Ancheta and photographer Sara Black.


Cover, People Asia, Oct 2006


Army Navy


If anyone has accurate information about what’s going on at the Army & Navy Club, please share the info in the comments section or send me a private message. I just want to know what’s going to happen to this beautiful building. Is this a restoration or demolition project?


EDIT: Apparently it’ll be turned into a boutique hotel.



Yahoo logo



I’m so glad Ghost Month is over. I never even knew it existed. But because of the new things I’m doing, I was made aware of it. I was told not to start anything new, sign contracts, or build anything during Ghost Month. Well, I broke all the rules and did all that. And I’m still alive. And hopefully my projects are all successful.

Yahoo! did the same thing. Is it just a coincidence, or did Yahoo! purposely use Ghost Month to tease and try out 30 different logos every day? Those were cringe worthy days, I tell ya. Then on the last day of the dreadful Ghost Month, September 4th – they unveiled the new Yahoo! logo.




It’s a bit more precise, without looking the quirk. There’s still a yodel in the end, so the playfulness is still there. I like that there are no real straight lines. As Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer puts it – “straight lines don’t exist in the human form and are extremely rare in nature,” explaining all the slight curves.

It’s the first time Yahoo! updated it’s look in 18 years. I guess change was inevitable. I will miss the serifs and chubbiness of the old Yahoo! but I think this one isn’t so bad. It could have been worse, if you remember those 30 days. I don’t know if I like this, but I don’t hate it.

Be like Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer and geek out on every detail of the logo here.



Conversation with Carlos Ott



Just edited an old taped interview with Carlos Ott, an Uruguay-born Canadian-resident architect who built landmark buildings like the Opera de la Bastille in Paris back in 1983. He also claims to have created the original concept of the Burj al Arab which was adapted by another architect.

Carlos Ott is the architect of Rockwell Land’s The Proscenium.



I have a few video taped interviews with other interesting design personalities still to be edited. Let me know what you think of this video concept.



Chicago in a day



I had two hours to spare one morning in Chicago. I did some crowd sourcing on Twitter and asked readers what I should do. Almost everyone recommended the boat tours. I found one perfect for that morning, a 75-minute Chicago River Architecture Tour. The station was within walking distance from our hotel.

Since it was my first time in Chicago and probably the only free time I’d have during the trip, the river tour was the best way to the the city and get the big picture. I was knocking myself in the head — why, an urban planning grad like me, had never been to Chicago, the birthplace of the skyscraper. Prior to this all my US trips had focused on New York City only. It took Kohler to bring me to Chicago.



The Wendella boat tour started here…


… at the foot of this building. (So I lost my notes).


I took photos of me. 958th reason for missing my husband. I didn’t have a photographer. Haha.


Style notes: I wore my Burberry trench coat and H&M pants I got on sale for $14.


Selfie under a bridge.


Selfie without aviators… and makeup.


One of the Japanese tourists finally felt sorry for me and offered to take my picture.


It’s not called the Windy City for nothing.


More photos of architecture and bridges from different periods and styles. Some of the most important buildings in modern architectural history. I played with my Olympus OMD and used some crazy filters. It was overcast and it actually started raining halfway. But the camera is weather-proof so I wasn’t worried about it getting wet.

Promise, no more selfies.


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