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Paris, Madrid, Rizal, Alip and Me

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To one who reaches the twilight years, day to day priorities changes. More often, it is now focused on enjoyment and satisfaction, discounting other peoples’ interests, needs and priorities that occupied  one’s  interest most of the time before.

For many years, my ‘bucket list’  includes visiting some countries in Europe which had significant roles in Philippine history. But the yearning remained dormant like the sleeping Mt. Iriga in my family’s hometown in Bicol province in the Philippines. It never gets my second look and attention for the last many years.

This year, however, being my 70th year on earth, I decided to  visit few countries that I have not visited  but eyed  to visit first, if ever I will start travelling again. Spain, at least, its capital Madrid, and the second France, with its capital Paris.

All my life, I have dreamt to visit the numerous cultural landmarks, museums and historical sites in these countries.

I felt arthritis and the inconvenience of old age might soon take control  over  my life and it would be too late to tick out items in my  ‘bucket list’ which I may not keep up if I do the travelling later.

Planning this trip was not as easy. First the budget.  Then my advance age. The challenge of so much walking in these two European capitals always crosses my mind. Wide boulevards, numerous cultural and historical sites that are best appreciated by visiting them on foot.

Noted Sydney tripologit Mr Michael Gebicki,  said, “Your words should be carved on every traveller’s heart. There are many who travel through Europe solo well into their 80s and find inspiration along the way.”

‘Accommodation is the major expense. It is difficult to find even a two-star hotel room in many parts of southern Europe for less than €50 ($62) a night. A better alternative might be hostels. While hostels typically cater to younger travellers who want nothing more than a cheap bed in a shared room, many also have private single rooms, and these are excellent value for budget travellers. For example, in Barcelona you could stay in a single room in a hostel at a starting price of about €23 a night.

‘You can find plenty more examples all over Europe compare prices, find reviews from past guests and make looking at Hostelworld ( In many cases you also get free internetand the company of young, adventurous travellers who will put youthful wings on your feet.

‘Eating cheaply isn’t a problem, provided you eat among locals.

‘Something you might find useful is a Carte Senior, available to anyone over 60 for €57. The Carte Senior offers a 25 per cent to 50 per cent reduction on rail travel in France. Buy the card over the internet (, or at ticket offices in SNCF stations. Italy has a similar product, the Carte d’argento, which you can purchase at railway stations.’

These valuable words from a travel expert specifically written for senior citizens guided my travel plans and re-inforced my goal to go ahead with my travel plans this year. The first thing I attended to was the arrangement for the cheapest flight that would take me from Sydney Down Under to the other side of the word, Europe,  to Paris, then Madrid, then back to Australia.

Jetabroad was very con-venient website to find the cheapest offered for plane fare. Initially, I got my first quote around $1,500 for a return trip, I did not bite right away. I waited for a further lower quote. I noticed that the quote was steadily increasing weekly. By the time it reached $1,800, I grabbed the mouse and clicked and organised a booking for my flight via Shanghai, China, first on my way to Paris, through its China Airlines, as a stopover or to break the 20 hours flight Sydney to Paris. Return flight was arranged through Air France and China Southern Airlines, via Guangzhou, also in China.

The next step was organising local tours and hotel and airport shuttle bus picked up, then followed the final budget for actual travel and personal expenses during the journey. In addition to the fees already paid in advance before leaving Sydney, through my reliable Mastercard credit card, my budget was less than $A3,000 for a two week holiday in Paris and Madrid, including plane fare and hotel accommodation. Not bad, I thought for a spendthrift pensioner like me. I could have gotten a lower plane fair, if I grabbed the opportunity of getting the first offer for my return plane fare at $1,500, but this is my first time to do this travel plan.

Next time around, I know what do to get the most out of my limited budget. I  might get a much lower offer, and I can assure everyone that I will bite hard right away.

It was an uncanny coin-cidence that I arrived in Paris in the morning of Monday, 17 June, after leaving Sydney the day before, while Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philip-pines, first visited Paris for the first time on same date, but it was a Sunday in 1883 . The first thing I did, like what Rizal did in his first trip to Paris 130 years earlier was to walk around and familiarise myself with the city.

The late historian, Dr. Eufronio Alip, visited same places Rizal visited, including Paris, 54 years ago in 1959 in a mission to re-trace the national hero’s travel overseas, in particular France, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Switzer-land, Italy, the United States and Japan. Dr. Alip’s travel notes have been published into a book entitled: I Traced Rizal’s Footsteps in Foreign Lands and it was published during the birth centenary of Rizal in 1961.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Paris, after getting my hotel accommodation finalised was to spend my time walking around the beautiful sites full of parks and museums close to the hotel but fearing of getting lost on my very first day in Paris.

While Rizal spent the whole day checking the street of Paris, I only had a half day for it because I had already completed my itinerary, even before leaving Sydney. There was no Internet booking facilities yet during those time. Rizal took the train from Madrid while I took a plane via Shanghai. Many grandchildren would say, our Lolo is sosyal (our great grandfather is on a social trip). Dr. Alip took Air France from the Philippines visiting the countries assigned him while Jose Bantug, another researcher and a descendant of Rizal was to cover Spain, Britain and Hong Kong, took the boat, also in 1959.

Approaching Paris, I could not forget but remember the knowledge on how Rizal was always fascinated and en-chanted by Paris which he considered the true ‘cultural center of the world.’

Writing in one of his numerous correspondences, he said Paris is a ‘place where one could learn so many things.’ Indeed, this was how I felt when I first set foot on Paris soil. Rizal was not only thinking of Paris, but also thinking of the reaction of his elder brother Paciano whom he did not ask permission to visit the French capital. He must have thought that he was in trouble spending the money his elder brother earned in hardway in the Philippines. But for me nothing of that sort, I was mainly thinking how to enjoy Paris within the four nights I allotted to the city in my travel plan. It was a personal journey. I think I had an edge over our country’s national hero, thanks to modern living.

Rizal actually visited Paris several times: the first time was in 1883, a quick visit while already settled and studying in Madrid. Then in 1885, 1888, 1889-1890, then twice in 1891, his last visit before he returned to the Philippines and settled in Hong Kong with his family.

Describing his first move-ment in Paris, Rizal said: ‘In the first hours I went around. From this big area I have walked and from the little I have visited, I can figure out how big is this which they call Babylonia. Fill the area of Calamba, Cabuyao and Santa Rosa [towns in the Philippines] with magnificent houses and you have Paris more or less.’

Rizal continued and said: ‘The first day I did nothing but walk and walk; I saw the Champs-Elysees, the Vendome column crowned with the statue of Napoleon the first. The Opera house from the outside, the Place de la Concorde, the Obelisk of Luzor, the temple of Madalaine and other buildings of lesser importance.’ I can vouch that these buildings are really magnificent structures, even today, but it was a fleeting view since I had only a half day to spare. However, many of them were already in my planned local tours of Paris for the following next three days.

During the 1959 visit of Dr. Alip re-tracing Rizal footsteps in foreign lands, he was lucky because there was at his disposal the diplomatic staffs from various Philippine embassies in Europe who were initially asked to identify the places that Rizal visited and accompanied him throughout his trip. And, of course, the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission which sponsored the travel prepared an itinerary which was sent, in advance, copies to various Philippine embassies of countries where Rizal visited during his two overseas travels before he was exiled to Dapitan in 1892.

Like many visitors to Paris who wanted to improve their cultural knowledge, Rizal described his visit as a ‘place where one could learn so many things.’ But unlike me, Rizal was able to use to his advantage his basic knowledge of the French language in his daily conversation with ordinary Paris residents, in the hotels, in restaurants, in cafes, in the streets, and in street cars or train, parks, plazas, buses and cultural institutions. In my case, my French was zero and I have to ask first if one can speak the English language, before I asked direction or locatgion. More often than not one would reply ‘just a little’ but the way one such reply, it was just telling me to go away.

During his first visit to Paris, Rizal lived at Hotel de Paris on 37 rue Mauberge, but later transferred to the Hotel Brest, 124 rue de Reunes to suit his budget. I visited these two places. After 130 yers, the Hotel de Paris is still there and still operates as a hotel using the same name while Hotel Brest is now operating as Hotel Aramis, with its ground floor converted into a coffee shop. I had a brunch there and took some photos of the two significant sites in Rizal’s first visit to Paris, one with the historical marker still seen from down the street level.

Other sites that Rizal visited during his first and succeeding Paris visits included the Madelaine Church, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Arc de Triumphe de Carrousel, Place de la Concorde, the Museee Duputreh, the Bois de Boulogne, a 1,000 hectare park and promenade), the Hotel-Dien, oldest hospital founded in 660, Musee Orfila I (com-parative anatomy museum), the Jardin des Plantes, the Palace and Garden of Luxemburg,  Hotel des Invalides, the tomb of Napoleon and family in a pantheon, as well as a church adjoining the pantheon, the Louvre, and the Palace of Versailles. In my very brief visit to Paris, I have visited most of these places.

For personal convenience, not to mention that my aching feet was giving me away after I overstretched them walking long distance, I opted for local tours organised before hand while still in Sydney. The second day of my stay in Paris was joining a tour of the famous Eiffel Tower, constructed by Alexander Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Paris exposition. He is claimed, according to Filipino historians, to be the same person who  built the all steel-structure of San Sebastian Church in Quiapo, Manila.

It was a five-hour Paris city tour with difference. Sightseeing of Paris included tour across the city by coach, view of Paris from the water as we cruise along the Seine River. I was mesmerised by the lofty panoramas from the  second floor of the Eiffel Tower. It was at the Eiffel Tower I lost my wallet, glad not my virginity, with all my credit and bank cards, to a pickpocket. But it was a blessing in disguise because I was not able to splurge during my visit using my valuable card and I sticked to the prepared budget.

On the third day, I joined another tour described as ‘skipped the line tour’ of the Louvre Museum, including viewing of the famous Venus de Milo and Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, these two main attractions were not open to the public during our tour. The Louvre Museum tour gave the small group the chance to explore the collections of paintings, sculptures, and architecture, with a local tour guide. Our group was limited to a maximum of 20 people. The skip the line idea is for me was a superb idea seeing the long line one has to join to be able to get a ticket to enter the most popular museum in the world.

No wonder when Rizal visited the Louvre Museum, he was impressed so much by the size and contents of the Louvre Museum and decided to spend ‘three days from 10 in the morning to five in the afternoon, without taking a rest.’ This tour was specifically designed to highlight the most famous works of the Louvre Museum whose location stretches from way beyond what one could see from a far.

I would say that if we make a line from the General Post Office on Plaza Lawton in Manila and relocate in one line all the buildings of the Metropolitan Theatre, the Manila City Hall, the Philippine Normal Univer-sity, the National Museum and National Gallery, the former finance and tourism department buildings, the Philippine General Hospital, the Science building on Pedro Gill street down the Quirino Avenue area, ending with the historic buildings of De La Salle University, it would half way approximate part of the entire area occupied by the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The third day was a whole day visit to the Palace of Versailles. It was a small group day trip outside of Paris with the grandeur of Palace of Versailles and its Gardens as the focal point of visit. With a maximum of eight persons in a group, we left Paris by train and upon arrival at Versailles train station we were introduced to a well informed guide for the tour, again ‘skip the line’, we entered the Palace without waiting or joining a queue. We were guided to many numerous room of the palace, including a walk around the garden’ groves and pools. Since it was a day visit, we missed the famous fountain show in the gardens which was normally accompanied by music composed at the time of Louis XIV’s court and usually held in the evening. For me it was the best part of my travel to Paris.

Commenting on his Palace of Versailles visit, Rizal said: ‘… I saw the Palace of Versailles, the former residence of the Bourbons and the Bonapartes, now a vast historical museum.  This place is situated one hour away at most by railroad from Paris. It is a beautiful and grand palace, constructed under Louis XIV, with its garden park, with its two Trianons or two small country palaces, if these can be called such.’

Rizal continued: ‘I could take note of the habitation of Napoleon I, his study room, the hall where Marshall Bazine was tried, the quarters of Louis XIV, XV, XVI, those of his queens, their wives; those in the big Trianon; in the small one only the life of Mary Antoinette pervades the atmosphere. There is grand simplicity even in her toilette and working rooms. ‘

My last day in Paris was free so I explored the city further by walking, with a stick in one hand, the famous Notre Dame Cathedral. While there, I remember the film story of the Hunchback of Notredame with Gina Lollobrigida and the hunchback, played by Anthony Quinn. It is a tall old buildings, and very busy during day time with people from around the globe visiting. Almost everyone wanted to go up to the towers. I did not dare to do the climb. It was too high for me, besides, I was already resting down in the cathedral patio thinking of the long walk back to my hotel.

On 21 June I was collected by an airport shuttle bus and took a local European airline called EasyJet and boarded my flight for Madrid. I first thought of going to Madrid by train which is the most convenient travel in Europe I experienced when I was still young or of backpackers age, but the cost of the plane fare was not huge, and only entail two hours flight.

I left the Charles de Gaulle airport and arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport around 9am. The shuttle bus driver took me to the Asturias Hotel in the centre of Madrid where I would start my six nights tour of the historic city which has been associated in our history during the time of Rizal, and the propaganda movement personages like Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Antonio Luna, Jose Panganiban, and others. They were the early Filipinos who regarded Spain the ‘mother country’.