by Berta de Miguel
I am back in the New York City office after 5 months traveling. In April I flew to Spain, where I spent some weeks visiting family and traveling through ancient cities such Avila, Salamanca or Ciudad Rodrigo in my way to Portugal, a country that I love for several reasons, being its wonderful people and their amazing food two of the main ones. Also, the cultural and architectural heritage of the country is awesome and kept as a secret treasure … Coimbra, Santa Maria da Feira, Aveiro, Porto … are amazing cities that I never get tired of visiting. There, you can close your eyes and feel transported to the old times at the same time that you enjoy a wonderful Porto wine hearing fado music and eating a plate of breathtaking bacalhau al bras (a dish with cod, potatoes, eggs and black olives).
I reentered Spain through Galicia, from where I headed to León; I spent some days visiting Leon city and its Gothic Cathedral: a thirteen century temple, also called The House of Light. It was built on the site of previous Roman baths of the 2nd century which, 800 years later, King Ordoño II converted into a palace. I also had the chance to visit Logroño and its gothic-baroque Cathedral, recently beautifully renovated. If you go to Logroño, you can’t miss Laurel Street with its Rioja wine, mosto and tapas, another well kept secret from the north of Spain.
Before the arrival of the summer I flew to Thailand and traveled through the north visiting ancient villages such as Sukotai. From Chang Mai I crossed the border with Laos by boat and arrived in Luang Prabang. The city was formerly the capital of a kingdom of the same name. Until the communist takeover in 1975, it was the royal capital and seat of government of the Kingdom of Laos. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The main part of the city consists of four principal roads located on a peninsula between the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers. The city is well known for its numerous Buddhist temples and monasteries. Every morning, hundreds of monks from the various monasteries walk through the streets collecting alms. From there, we took a boat upstream the Mekong River and then the Ou River, with the aim of arriving to Nong Kiao and Mon Ngoy, small villages nested in the middle of tropical forested mountains, the later with no electricity nor road traffic. I contacted some masons and craftsmen of the area with the purpose of understanding the vernacular traditional architecture based in wood, straw and ceramics.
After one week in Lao, I flew back to Bangkok in order to take a flight to Myanmar, the most amazing country I have ever visited. My travel through Myanmar started in Yangoon, the capital, with its rich colonial architecture, its street vendors and its life; everything surrounded with warm decay. After some days I headed to Bagan; from the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the highest time of kingdom, between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 13000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains alone, of which the remains of over 2230 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day.
I had the chance to visit some restoration sites and learn the techniques of restoration, which are no much different from the techniques used years ago. The two basic materials used are brick and mortar. I also visited the second largest city in the country, Mandalay, and the area of the Inke Lake, an otherworldly place with its floating markets, fishermen, villages and gardens; a society on the water. Then I directed my steps to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with its world known Petronas Towers. The mix of tradition and different cultures makes KL and its architecture a very interesting city worth of visiting. Aside of Kuala Lumpur I crossed all the west coast of the peninsula from north to south stopping in the islands of Perenthian, Kappas and Tioman, before entering to Singapore. Singapore is a city where the most futuristic buildings and the vastest extension of shopping malls I have ever seen merge with the east Asia tradition such as churches, hawkers (food courts), pagodas, Hindu temples, and mosques.
Once back in Europe I took a break in Spain with my family and then I traveled trough the west coast of France, where you could taste the wonderful French food, enjoy nature, middle age villages, sea and excellent climbing. Bourdeaux, Pays de la Loire, La Bretagne, Normandie, Saint Emilion, Paris… but the most striking place was, without doubt, Le Mont Saint-Michel, an island full filled of middle age buildings with the castle-church crowning the top of the mountain. The island has held strategic fortifications since ancient times, and since the 8th century AD been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Years ago you could not reach the island but in low tide, even though it was very dangerous because of the quicksand surrounding the area. That is the reason why this place was so difficult to assault.
Among the numerous historical sites I have discovered I would highlight Yangon, the magic of Shwedagon pagoda and the temples of Bagan in Myanmar, University of Coimbra, Oporto city center and Mont Saint-Michel. The best part without doubt has been sharing my trips, time and life with family and friends.
Since I came back to New York and returning to Vertical Access I have had the chance to participate in very interesting and challenging projects such as the former MetLife Tower on Madison Square, the Ritz tower in New York, and the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building in Washington DC, among others. I am very happy to be back and share what I have learned.