Europe 2014: Barcelona

 

A view of the city from Park Guell

A view of the city from Park Guell (c/o Mar Corazo)

The second stop of our multi-city European adventure was Barcelona. Barcelona is definitely my favorite European city so far. It’s unassuming and charming. My male companions likened it to the “girl next door” versus the  sophisticated, more high maintenance girl that is Paris. We arrived the morning of Easter Sunday so our first stop was Barcelona Cathedral for Easter Mass. It was quite the challenge indeed to concentrate during the Mass having attended the Castellano service and being surrounded by the resplendence of the Barcelona Cathedral.

You can't blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

You can’t blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

It was a good thing we arrived on a Sunday: free entrance to the Picasso Museum! We lined up as early as 1 pm and ended up entering by 3:30 pm. One thing I learned – find travel companions who can find entertainment in the smallest of things. I’m not known to be  a very patient person and had I fallen in line by myself, I would not have lasted the 2 and a half hours! Time passed by really quickly as we talked and even played taboo while waiting in line and before we knew it, we were inside the museum. The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets looking for the best place to have tapas and churros – which is almost every corner of the city!

Barcelona's very own Arc de Triomf

Barcelona’s very own Arc de Triomf

The next day, we traversed to the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nuo, where we were able to learn more about the roots of the popular football team that prides itself as being “more than a club”. Though we were not as big a fan as Mar is, we appreciated why the team based in the quaint city of Barcelona was able to capture the hearts of more than a million fans worldwide.

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

It was also more than a stadium, Camp Nuo featured a Museum where the entire history of the club – both in and out of the sports world, was detailed and all the awards they received were displayed. They even had corners dedicated to their most famous players such as Ronaldinho and Messi.

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

One of the things I loved about Barcelona is how it strikes the balance between it’s old-world charm and the eccentric architectural style of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. We were only able to explore three of his major works, but his designs could be seen scattered all around the city. We ventured up to Park Guell, which was literally an uphill battle. The park is located atop El Carmel which required us to take several escalators and walk up a curved path. I’m not a fan of upward climbs but I must say that it was worth it. Park Guell is filled with architectural marvels and a breathtaking view of the city (as shown on the first picture of this post).

Park Guell

Park Guell

We were also able to explore Casa Mila, also known as the La Pedrera. Perhaps it was the construction being done on its facade at that time but it felt well camouflaged for a building with such distinctive features. It did not feel out of place in the middle of the city. As you enter, you are welcomed by the atrium that provides the view of the clouds above.

Clouds~

Clouds~

The best feature of the building is most definitely the roof which is just full of indescribable designs – differing depths and unusual figures that are simply a feast to the eyes especially when viewed together with the beautiful blue sky.

The Roof of La Pedrera

The Roof of La Pedrera

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

The following day, we decided to delve deeper into Catalan history by visiting the Mercat del Born. A seemingly regular (by regular, I mean it by Barcelona standards – still an aesthetic marvel) building from the outside, the Mercat del Born actually houses the ruins of the destroyed Market in the el Born district during the capture of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Despite now being considered as part of modern day Spain, Barcelona still shows some deep attachment to their Catalan roots. In fact, in the surrounding area of el Born, there are still banners that call for the independence of the Catalan people.

Ruins of Mercat el Born

Ruins of Mercat del Born

After having lunch in the popular food market, Las Ramblas, we finally went to our third Gaudi for the trip – his magnum opus – La Sagrada Familia. From afar one can already see the majesty of this unfinished Church. Up close, it is truly an overwhelming sight – the size of the Church together with the intricate, yet meaningful designs both on the facade and of the interiors can be too much to take in at first glance.

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston)

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston Cornelio)

La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) is a complex Church. Every detail was there for a reason – there was no randomness in its design. One of the outer spires have the word Sanctus in plated lettering, while the names Mary Joseph and Jesus, the Sagrada Familia, can be found above the main entrance of the Church.

 

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord's Prayer, "Parenostre"

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord’s Prayer, “Parenostre”

At the basement of the Church, there is a museum that contains several information on Gaudi’s life as well as blueprints and prototypes of the Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi works. The burial place of Gaudi can also be viewed from a small glass window.

The boys resting outside the Sagrada Familia

Resting outside the Sagrada Familia

We were fortunate enough to witness the Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona on our last day. The entire city was filled with stalls selling roses and books. As part of the tradition, ladies would give men books and men would give the ladies roses – like the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day except even the boys get to receive gifts as well. We had our Barcelona City Walking Gothic Tour on that day as well, where we were able to walk around the city and learn about the history of the different buildings, Churches, and locations that were on our path. This entire trip has really helped me appreciate structured guided tours. Initially, I wasn’t fond of going in tour groups, but the lessons and stories that only locals can teach you are definitely part of the experience of visiting the city.

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city's current name

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city’s name

Despite having stayed in Barcelona the longest, it still feels like we were not there for long enough. As we all ranked our favorite cities at the end of our trip, this charming, picturesque city found its way on the top of most of our lists. I’m surely going to go back. The question now is when – perhaps when the La Sagrada Familia is finally completed. As it stands today, it already is quite grand. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s done!

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Europe 2014: Paris and Versailles

Crew EU! Mar, me, Cheston and Justin.

It all happened so fast. Late last year, my friends and I were sitting in a living room discussing our desire to travel to Europe in the near future. Who would have thought that the near future would be as near as a few months after that? At the sight of relatively cheap travel fare ($861 or around 39,000 Php for Manila-Paris/London-Manila! What a deal!), we bought our tickets. In hindsight, it was a really huge risk – we had tickets but no visas – but definitely a risk worth taking! One of the biggest takeaways from the experience is to apply for the visas early and we had to apply for two: Schengen and UK. One of my favorite travel buddies, Mar (who was also with me in Cambodia), nearly missed the flight as he applied for the UK Visa late and received his visa just hours before our flight.

Being the young adventurous twentysomethings that we are, we opted out of getting a tour and decided to go DIY with a very loose and flexible itinerary. There was a long list of places we wanted to go to, but we decided that we wanted to give ourselves time to take it all in as well.

There could have been no better place to kick off our three week European adventure than in Paris. Everything was just simply beautiful – the art, the buildings, the city, the people. It’s no wonder so many people have fallen in love with this city.

We spent our first day roaming around the city and taking it slow as this was just day one of twenty and because we can be such cliches, the first thing we had in Paris was a crepe that was being sold in front of the Sacre Coeur.

Ah, the Sacre Coeur! Definitely something that should not be missed! It’s one of the most beautiful Churches I’ve seen during the trip. The church is located atop a hill, which is the highest point of Paris, so as you go up the steps, you’ll be treated to a view of the city.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

We arrived in Paris on Holy Thursday, so we decided to drop by another Church, the famed home of Quasimodo – Notre Dame Cathedral. The lines were crazy going up to the top of the tower, so we weren’t able to go, but the interiors of the Cathedral were enough for us to appreciate the majesty of this Church. Don’t forget to drop by at dark as it illuminates like a brilliant star in the night.

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The advantage of knowing people in the places we travel to is that we discover places that are not that touristy, yet add to the amazing cultural experience. Mar’s former boss was coincidentally also in Paris that evening and invited us to join them at the La Caveau des Oubliettes, an underground Jazz bar in the Latin Quarter. It was literally underground, hidden under the basement of a different bar which name escapes me. I was so mesmerized by the showcase of talent that I only realized how crowded the place has become when we got up to leave!

Jazz Band at La Caveau des Oubliettes

We decided that our second day would be our museum day. We had dropped by the Pompidou on our first day and had planned to take on the Louvre and d’Orsay in the morning before meeting up with my aunt, who had been studying French in Paris, for lunch. It was a good thing that we got to Louvre early, before the crowds had started to build up. I believe that it also helped that we took the train that was connected to the Louvre so we were able to get in through the underground entrance and avoid the hoards of Mona Lisa’s visitors being dropped off by tour bus companies.

As we walked around the Louvre, we felt the advantage of going through the Liberal Arts program: appreciation of the pieces of art that were displayed, many of which were discussed to us, so we were no strangers to the different artists and the stories behind their work.

Aside from the massive collection of art within the Louvre, the exterior design of the museum is a work of art itself. We spent so much time taking pictures of and posing in front of the museum that we ended being so behind schedule (one of the downsides, but not really, of a flexible itinerary). My aunt had booked an after-lunch two hour city bus tour for us to be able to see more of Paris so we had to save Orsay for another day.

panoramic shot of the exterior of the Louvre + the huge volume of people waiting to enter the museum

 

Going on the bus tour felt like reading the table of contents of a good book. It helps in choosing the best chapters to read because you’re too close to the due date to read it all. Since we only had a limited number of days in Paris, we were able to see and have a short historical introduction of most of the tourist sites of the city and from there decide on which places we wanted to see in greater detail later on.

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

After the bus tour, we decided to explore Paris on foot, exploring the Opera and the surrounding area. We tried to go to d’Orsay but it was closed for admission for the day so we decided to head over to the most awaited Paris tourist destinations: the Eiffel Tower. Being one of the most visited, talked about, and featured monuments in the world, I was excited to finally see it in person. There was that fear in me that it would not match up to my expectations (I had a similar experience when I visited the Stonehenge in 2012), but the Eiffel Tower did NOT disappoint. In fact, it was an overwhelming sight.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower from the park

We spent hours just marveling at its grandeur from two different vantage points. One was from the park across the tower and another from the Trocadero. We decided to have dinner at the Trocadero where we were treated to the nighttime hourly lights show while having our meal. The night was beautiful – but coming from a tropical country, we were not used to the cold midnight air. So right after we got to witness the blinking lights show, we made our way home to rest and warm up for our trip to Versailles.

 

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

My friends make fun of me for my obsession in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but  I know that they know the reason for my interest. They’re not singled out as heritage sites for nothing. The trip to Versailles on our last day in France was well-worth the time. In fact, the half day that we spent there was not enough to explore the vastness of the palace and the gardens which serves as a reminder of the opulence of French royalty. I would definitely want to go back and spend the entire day there.

The grandiose Palace of Versailles was definitely a feast for the eyes. Everything was covered in gold! Every room of the palace was so intricately designed with each room having a specific theme based on its perceived purpose. The some of the rooms were named after Roman gods and goddesses and would feature respective representative elaborate ceiling murals.

 

walls decorated with their own portraits, and they call our generation vain?

walls with their own portraits and we’re the selfie generation?

our own selfie with the elaborately painted ceiling

If I had more time in Versailles, I would have wanted to explore the gardens. It goes farther than what your eyes could see and we were only able to explore a small part of it due to the limited time we had left after spending most of our time in the palace. We weren’t even able to explore the maze so this is definitely a place we’d be coming back to.

Garden of Versailles

One of the many fountains found in the Garden of Versailles photo c/o Mar Corazo

Upon our return from Versailles, we finally visited Musee d’Orsay which we missed the previous day. We had to buy tickets as the two days of our museum pass had already lapsed. One of the advantages of visiting Europe before I turned 25 was that ticket prices are usually discounted! So, kids, visit Europe while you’re young ;). I personally enjoyed the collection at the Orsay more than at the Louvre, so I’m glad we decided to still go despite the expiration of our museum pass.

Three days (two and a half, since we went to Versailles) are definitely not enough to explore Paris! Sadly, this is all we had as we had planned to visit a total of five cities for the three weeks that we were there. No regrets though, as Paris was only the beginning of what I will forever remember as one of the best trips in my life. 🙂

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

 

 

Bicol 2013 Part 2 – Calaguas

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Going to Calaguas was probably the most anticipated part of our Bicol trip. I had read much about how much of a beautiful paradise the island is and was really looking forward to seeing and experiencing it for myself. We had a run in with really bad weather in Legazpi, so we were so glad that we were blessed with clear skies on the day we went to Calaguas.

Getting to paradise was one of the biggest challenges of the trip. Coming from Legazpi, we had to take the two hour van ride back to Naga because there were no direct vans from Legazpi to Calaguas. From Naga, we rode the van headed to Daet – another two hours – followed by a 45 minute van ride to Paracale, where the port for the boat ride to Calaguas Island were located. We arrived in Paracale at 5 PM so we decided not to continue on to Calaguas until the morning because it was a scary thought to be lost at sea at night. Also, the boatmen were hesitant on taking people to the island because the trip would take another hour and a half! Basically, it would take almost 7 hours to get from Legazpi to Calaguas!

Since we had read that there are no restaurants, no hotels, no electricity and no signal in Calaguas, we had to buy our food and supplies from the Paracale market place before heading over to the hotel to rest after nearly 5 hours of travel.

View as we approached calaguas

The next morning, we headed to the port. We were able to befriend one of the residents while doing our supply shopping and she was able to provide a boat for us for only 2,000 Php (all in, both ways! There were just two of us so we paid 1,000 each. Not bad considering the rates that we saw being posted on other websites). We left at 7 am and arrived a little past 8, and Calaguas definitely did NOT disappoint. There were other people on the beach but it still felt that we had the entire beach to ourselves. The water was so clean, so blue, so cold – that I spent almost the entire day just submerged in the water (I left Calaguas five skin tones darker).

On our little fisherman’s boat

If you want to get away from everything, Calaguas is definitely the place to go. No electricity, no WiFi, no mobile signal – just you and the beach. Of course there are some bigger sacrifices that had to be made. First of all, there was no decent bathrooms. There was no flush and you had to pay P10 per bucket of water for flushing and for taking a bath. Second, there were no hotels, no soft beds, no night lights. We spent the night in a tent. This wasn’t much of a problem since the sand was really comfortable to sleep on and I managed to sleep for a solid 10 hours.

With our backpacks and our tent!

With our backpacks and our tent!

After spending an entire day in paradise, we experienced probably one of the most frightening moments of my life – I’m not even exaggerating. Our boatmen woke us up at around 6 am by telling us “Neng, tayo nalang ang tao sa isla. May bagyo. Signal #2 (Girls, we are the only ones left on the island. There’s a storm – signal #2)” We bolted up and haphazardly packed up our tent and jumped onto the boat. All this within 10 minutes. The waves were turbulent. We were being rocked and pushed on the ocean and it was terrifying because we were riding a small fishermen’s boat that, with enough wave strength, could just capsize in any moment. It was like riding Log Jam but on a real ocean. Fifteen minutes into the trip, our fingers started to prune up from all the water that splashed us from the ocean, as well as the rain that was pouring from the sky. We could barely see anything in our surroundings. Both of us were heavily praying that our boatmen knew were to go. Thankfully, they did. We managed to reach the shore after two hours in the water. Props to our boatmen. They really did an amazing job navigating the small boat in the crazy waves and almost 0 visibility skies.

Despite this nerve-wrecking near death experience getting back to Paracale, I would not hesitate to go back to Calaguas. It’s that kind of natural beauty that you shouldn’t experience just once in your life. I’m being cheesy but the pictures don’t do any justice to how beautifully serene the island is in person. I would definitely do it all over for another day in paradise.

Gorgeous sunset in Calaguas <3

Gorgeous sunset in Calaguas ❤

Bicol 2013 Part 1 – Legazpi

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On the first week of August, my good friend Kath and I spent five days in Bicol. I know, i know – it’s smack in the middle of typhoon season and we went to a region that was on the path of the storms. We expected that so the mid-day showers throughout our trip was no surprise for us. In fact, it added to the adventure and excitement of our trip!

We arrived in the Naga Airport with our backpacks on our backs and a mix of excitement and nervousness. We hadn’t completely structured our trip so we would be playing it by ear. After stopping by SM Naga for lunch and supplies, we rode the van headed to Legazpi. The van terminal was just across SM Naga and the ride was just a bit over two hours. Just like in my Siem Reap trip, we hadn’t booked a hotel so we asked our tricycle driver for his recommendation. We ended up staying in Night & Day, a newly opened budget hostel, for 600 pesos (300 pesos each) – not a bad deal as the room had air conditioning, a television, and two decent sized beds.

Since we only allotted one day to explore Legazpi, once we settled in our room, we headed out to see the sights. Our first stop was the Cagsawa Ruins. To our disappointment, the skies were pretty cloudy so we did not have the perfect view of the Mayon Volcano that we went to Legazpi for. Nonetheless, the Cagsawa Ruins are beautiful on their own merit, with or without a perfect image of Mayon in the shot. A few minutes into our picture taking session, it started to rain. We decided to continue our tour in the morning before leaving Legazpi.

Cagsawa Ruins

Giant cloud blocking Mayon

Raining!

Posing in the rain :))

We had dinner in Waway’s Restaurant because we were enticed by the 250 Pesos buffet that they advertised. It did not disappoint. For dessert, we headed for 1st Colonial Grill to try out their Sili (chili) and Pili ice creams. The Pili ice cream was delicious! The sili ice cream was definitely an experience. When it touches your tongue, you start to think, ah this tastes really good! But the moment it gets to your throat you feel the aftereffect of the spicy flavor in the ice cream.

Sili Ice Cream

On the way out of the restaurant, it started to pour. We didn’t have any umbrellas so we asked for plastic bags. They gave us the small grocery bags and just as we were running out with just the plastic bag over our heads, the very kind staff of 1st Colonial Grill approached us with giant garbage bags and made makeshift raincoats for us!

legazpi (1)

That evening, we found out our college classmate and friend, Kat, was on her way back to Legazpi for the long weekend so we made plans to meet up. The next morning, Kat picked us up from the hostel and after having breakfast in another buffet that was beside the airport, we went to Lignon Hill for a view of Mayon. This time, the sky was kind to us and we were able to view the Mayon Volcano in its entirety.

With Kat!

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Lignon Hill

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Posing in front of Mayon

The other side of Lignon Hill

Finally having seen Mayon, we decided it was time to go to our next destination: Calaguas. So we bid goodbye to Kat and rode the van back to Naga. Getting wet in the rain in Legazpi was just the beginning of our rainy Bicol adventure!

Cambodia 2013: The Weekend Backpacking Experience

A few months ago, I wrote down my travel priority list. I’m proud to say that I have finally crossed out one from my list: to see the sun rise behind Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Sunrise

The trip to Cambodia is definitely the most exciting and adventurous trip I have had so far. For starters, it was a very impulsive trip – most of the planning happened the night before. Mar and I discussed about going to Siem Reap on my last weekend in Thailand but we never really took the time to arrange the itinerary. We had a list of places we wanted to see and do, and less the 48 hours to accomplish it. Also, it was my first real backpacking trip to a different country!

We left the hotel at 5:00 am to catch the 5:30 bus to Aranyaprathet. Our entire trip was anchored on the assumption that we will find the casino bus at Lumpini Park, just as we had read on travel blogs. After several minutes of walking, we found the bus that was headed to Aranyaprathet! It was a five hour drive to the border but considering that we were headed to a totally different country, the bus ride did not feel that long. The bus was comfortable, so it was really not a stressful journey.

at the Cambodian boder

The bus arrived at the border at around 10:00 and we finally made it across to Cambodia where we were welcomed by a man offering free shuttle services to the transport building. At first it seemed a bit sketchy. We’ve read enough travel blogs to know that there are a lot of scams in the Thailand-Cambodia border, but we still went along with them. Thankfully, they got us to the transport building safely and we got on a shared taxi to Siem Reap. The taxi cost $12 per person for four people. We shared our taxi with two really nice American girls who had also been working in Thailand. It was a two hour drive to Siem Reap so we got to share a lot of stories with them while in transit.

We got to Siem Reap at around 1PM where a tuktuk was already waiting for us – very clever strategy for the locals. While we were seated in the tuktuk, we automatically got ourselves a tour organizer who offered to book everything for us. Given that we didn’t have any concrete plans, we just went with what he was saying. It probably would have been cheaper to have booked everything – the tuktuk driver, taxi to the border, etc., before heading to Cambodia. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that everything else was already set for our overnight stay in Siem Reap.

On our tuktuk

They took us to a really budget (read:cheap) hotel that was a short walk from Pub Street. It was a bit sketchy and dark but it was also complete so we decided to stay there. While Mar and I were talking about the hotel on the way back to Bangkok, we both were actually a bit scared of the place at some point of our stay. I actually felt like I was in a slasher film waiting to happen! Well, at least we got out fine, but it honestly isn’t a place I would highly recommend people to stay in.

We headed to Pub Street for lunch. There are so many restaurants to choose from and I guess one of the sad things about staying there for only the weekend was that we weren’t able to try as many restaurants as we could have. We decided to eat at a pretty restaurant, the Kmher Family Restaurant. Their food did not disappoint.

After lunch, we finally headed to Angkor to get our day pass and witness the beautiful sunset at Phnom Bakheng. We had to climb a hill to get there, which was quite a challenge for me, but it was definitely worth it because I was able to witness this:

Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Walking down the hill from Phnom Bakheng

It was a beautiful sight and definitely a prelude to what we would be seeing the next day.

We woke up early to see the Angkor Wat sunrise, but even at 5:30 am, there was already a huge crowd waiting to see it as well. No matter how many pictures of it I’ve seen online, it was still such a majestic sight to see. Nothing can replace seeing such a wonderful sight in person. Once the sun showed itself at around 7 am, we went into Angkor Wat. There weren’t that many people yet so we took advantage of taking pictures that didn’t include other people. On our way out of Angkor Wat, at around 9:30, was we saw the mass of people headed inside.

Mar amidst the crowds in Angkor Wat

We spent the entire morning exploring the Angkor Complex. We weren’t able to go to the smaller temples because we had to leave for Thailand at 4pm. We got to go to Angkor Thom where we spent most of our time at the Bayon Temple. We visited the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm and lastly we went to Bantay Srei. By this time, I’ve been to several temples within 10 days but I didn’t feel too templed out. I guess it’s because all the temples I’ve seen were all different from each other.

The Thailand-Cambodia border closes at 8PM so we had to rush back in order to make it before it closes because my flight back home was at 11 am the next day. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip. Our taxi driver arrived late and on the way to the border he started picking up other people despite the fact that we paid for the full taxi. It started raining really hard as we were nearing the border and by the time we made it, it was flooding! Our taxi driver didn’t understand our need to be dropped off at a place where there was a shade so we made a run for it. It was 7:15 pm. Forty five minutes before the closing of the borders. There wasn’t much shelter between the borders so by the time we got to Thailand, we were both soaking wet!! We almost didn’t make it to the bus, but thankfully there were still some last minute seats available. After missing our stop, we eventually found our way to Bangkok thanks to a friendly Thai man who would not leave until we got a taxi that would take us home and use a meter. We got home with wet clothes on our back and a hell of a story to share. 

It was a crazy adventure. Sure, there were unfortunate moments towards the end but I would never trade it for anything else. It was definitely part of the experience (and it makes a better story to tell).

Backpackers!

Bangkok 2013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had been looking forward to our Bangkok trip for months. First of all, it is our group’s first ever out of the country trip together! We had been on the planning to plan a trip stage for years now and it was an amazing moment when everyone decided book a flight when they found out that our friend Mar would be working there for a few months. Secondly, I hadn’t seen my friends since August 2012 and it would have been the perfect time to catch up with people’s lives! Finally, Bangkok was the first stop of my three-part, two-week vacation. 

Initially, this blog post was meant to be a chronological recap of the activities we did in Bangkok, which is usually what I do for my other travel posts, but as I was writing I felt that this trip was more about the companions than the destination. Bangkok is a wonderful place and I really appreciated the beauty and majesty of the temples of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Ayutthaya. I was amazed by the culture, by how nice the people were, by how patient the drivers on the road were. But if anyone would ask me what my favorite moments were in my Bangkok trip, the memories that pop in my head were memories that could easily be emulated in any other part of the world: playing with dry ice, doing the harlem shake in a moving vehicle, dancing on an overpass, etc.

With that being said, it was really so nice to see all my friends again. Most of them are based in the Philippines so I do tend to feel a tinge of jealousy whenever they’re hanging out together and I’m sitting in front of my computer and having virtual conversations with people with whom I used to physically interact. I do have friends here with me now but the feeling is entirely different when you are with friends who have known you and have been through all your craziness for more than five years.

There were twelve of us running around Bangkok doing crazy and embarrassing stuff which you can only do with people you are extremely comfortable with. There are videos of us dancing in the BTS, the Grand Palace, on an overpass, in a van, among other places. It was hilarious and we didn’t care if anyone saw us because no one really knew us. This Bangkok trip was a real eye opener for me and I’m really glad I decided to take the jump and join in the trip despite it being a bit more challenging for me to do so.

Friends ❤
Photo Credit: Kris Pura

On Blogging

I was having a discussion over Facebook Chat with my good friend and favorite food buddy Jared about how deep and thought provoking discussions with friends could play a big role in shaping what we decide to blog about. That’s when I realized the great impact that blogging has had in my life. Sure, I’m not a popular blogger with a hoard of followers who eagerly await my every update, it would be so cool if I were. I’m just a regular 23 year old girl with a lot of things going on in her head in need of a medium to verbalize it. I’m in a specific situation wherein I don’t get that opportunity often in my everyday interactions with people, so blogging has definitely been a life saving experience for me. It has saved my sanity more than once. I mean, even if nobody reads what I have to say, it’s just very therapeutic to have an avenue wherein I can express my thoughts. It’s also doubly rewarding when you find out there are actually people who read what you want to say and are actually inspired by it.

Of course nothing beats the long, passionate, or even random, conversations about life and the universe but I will take what I can get. Blogging has definitely kept my mind on a continuous cycle of thought and no matter how many days, weeks, or months life keeps me busy, I find myself always running back to a blog.

It’s kinda funny- in the same conversation, I had mentioned to Jared how I found it difficult to find an inspiration to write because I rarely get to talk to people about my deepest thoughts and therefore I’m unable to process them properly to form a coherent idea on what to write about. Apparently, talking to him about my lack of ideas on what to blog about has given me the idea to blog about what we blog about.

Retrospect and Prospects

PicCollageA bucket list is just a bunch of meaningless words if you don’t start acting on it while you still can. I think that is the biggest lesson that I learned this year. I would like to think of 2012 as the year I started trying to take control of my own life – as the year I decided to get out of my comfort zone and actually start acting towards my dreams. I’m not there yet, I haven’t accomplished a tenth of what I thought I would by the time I reached this age but I’m getting there. A few years ago I kept my life on hold because I thought that the world didn’t want me to succeed. Upon much introspection, I realized that the reason I’m lagging behind on my aspirations is that I’ve never given myself the chance to try getting away from my self-imposed misery. I would spend days and nights sulking at how much better my life would be somewhere else instead of working on ways on how I can get myself out. I think it’s because I’m actually really scared that I won’t actually be able to do it.

By keeping myself stagnant, I ensured that I won’t walk into any failures, I secured myself from any damning mistakes that I would eventually regret but I was also keeping myself from any possibilities of success. I wouldn’t try because I was too afraid to fail but I would never succeed because I never tried. Out of my own fear to make mistakes, I was making the biggest mistake I could ever make and it was hampering my own growth. There was no one else to blame for that but myself. Thank God I realized that now.

2012 was the year I finally threw caution to the wind – when I took my first risk – and it was deliciously rewarding. Early this year, I decided I wanted to tour the United Kingdom. This was something big for me because for one, I don’t have a stable enough savings account that would allow me to get through this without it taking a huge hit. Flash forward to a few months later, I sit here typing on my computer, proud of myself for being able to do it ALL BY MYSELF. From the first step to the last, I managed to hold my own and fulfill one of my biggest wishes in life. I had always wanted to go the the United Kingdom as it was the birth place of my favorites, Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and my fan girl fantasies finally came to a fruition.

The whole experience gave me a huge stepping stone towards accomplishing my future plans of continuing to check off things off my bucket list. This mainly consists of travel destinations. I promise myself that 2013 will be a year of travel, that I will be able to go to at least 3 new international destinations next year and many more local destinations. I promise that in 2013 I will take more risks. I won’t stay in my comfort zone. I promise in 2013 I will start living my dreams instead of dreaming of a life I’d want to live. This is it 2013, you’re full of potential and I’m ready for you! Thank you for the amazing year, 2012! You were a good teacher. Now it’s time for me to live up to my promises to the new year. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

Photographic memories

 

Last week, I finally downloaded all my pictures from multiply. There were several “What was I thinking” moments in there, but generally it was a very nostalgic experience. I don’t know how many times I’ve lost my pictures because my hard drive crashed or I accidentally deleted a file or I just lost the CD that it was in so I decided to select some of the pictures of really good memories and print them out to include them in an album or maybe even a scrapbook if I’m not lazy. When I was younger I loved flipping through the pages of old photo albums so why can’t I do that with my recent pictures? At least now I don’t need to access facebook or go through my documents just so I can go through my old pictures. 🙂 Yesterday, I went to the mall with my brother and printed out a few pictures that I chose from multiply just to check out how I feel about it and then I realized that it makes me feel good to have a physical photograph that I could hold in my hand while I reminisce the fun days I had in college.

Ilocos 2012

I love the fact that I have amazing friends who are willing to brave the rainy days of July and go on an out of town trip of me when they can very well just travel around without me on months with better weather. Last year, we went to Puerto Princesa. This year, we decided to explore Ilocos!

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Laoag Airport with Cheston, Camille, Raisa, Benise, me, Kath, Tam and Mar!

We stayed in the Palacio de Laoag Hotel for our entire trip. The hotel was very comfortable. The people were very friendly and hospitable. I wish we could say the same about their in house restaurant! They were just bad news for the entire trip! Tsk. But I’d rather not go into that… Look at how pretty the lobby is!

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Lobby of Palacio de Laoag: Cheston, Camille, me, Kath, Tam, Benise, Raisa, Mar

Day 1: Vigan

Our first destination in our Ilocos adventure was Vigan, where one of the country’s few UNESCO Heritage sites, Calle Crisologo, is located. Before we reached Vigan, we stopped by the Juan Luna Shrine where we were treated to beautiful paintings and a very interesting history lesson!

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The story behind Juan Luna’s The Parisian Life was one of our favorite take-aways from the tour!

The first place we went to in Vigan was the Bantay Lighthouse. One thing that I am proud of myself for during the entire trip was that I actually survived all the climbing and walking! I’m not fond of going up stairs because of my asthma but fortunately, it didn’t act up the entire trip 🙂 Anyway, the steps leading up to the bell tower and the stairs going to the top of the bell tower were very much worth the climb! The view was beautiful and the interior was as well!

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Next was lunch! We ate in Cafe Leona where we tried the Longganiza Pizza. It was surprisingly good and the taste of Longganiza was not at all overwhelming. Definitely worth the try 🙂

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After lunch, we visited the Syquia Mansion, where we were greeted by an interesting caretaker who briefed us on the history (and gossip!) that surrounded the mansion and its family. The mansion was beautiful and huge! We then went to the Pagburnayan Jar Factory where the amazing god of pottery mesmerized us with his pottery skills. He made it look so easy! Finally we visited Calle Crisologo. It was definitely my most anticipated location to go to and it did not disappoint at all! It was beautiful. I felt like I was transported back to the Spanish era. Mar and I went ahead and walked along the road just observing the calesas that were passing by. I swear I could just walk back and forth all day.

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We stayed in Calle Crisologo until dark. We attended Mass in the nearby Church then had dinner in a pretty restaurant in the Mestizo district called Leila’s Cafe.

Day 2: Pagudpud

I think one of the most fun moments in our Pagudpud trip was when we were in the van and using “Pagudpud” in a sentence. “Mag-pagudpud ka naman dyan!”. According to some stories, the name “Pagudpud” comes from the tagalog phrase “Ako’y pagud na pagud at ang sapatos ko’y pudpud” uttered by a Batangenyo peddler back in the day. This day was really a treat for the eyes! We visited beautiful sites with beautiful sights: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, Bangui Windmills, Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, Blue Lagoon, Bantay Abot Cave, Patapat Viaduct and the Ilocos sunset in Saud Beach.

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Of course no vacation is complete without me being a complete clutz. In our Kapurpurawan Rock Formation tour, I managed to survive the horseback ride and not break my neck while riding or getting on or off the horse but I did manage to trip over a rock which led me to plummet to the ground and giving me scars to add to the collection that I already have. Good thing our tour guide had betadine and I was prepared with band aids. So with Mar’s help, the wounds were quickly attended to. If there’s one goal for me next vacation, it’s to survive the entire trip unscathed.

Day 3: Laoag City Tour

This day was definitely the most exciting day of the tour! We started the day with Sandboarding and a 4×4 ride in the lone desert of the Philippines. We didn’t expect the 4×4 ride to be CRAZY. We all ended up covered in bruises but it was completely worth it! It wasn’t an ordinary 4×4 ride. We were told to stand at the back and the driver sped through all the sand dunes freaking us out by going faster at steeper slopes. It was a bit scary because we get worried that we might lose grip and fall off the vehicle. O_o Despite that, it was so FUN! Probably one of the most extreme things I have done! Initially, I was worried about going sand boarding. I felt like I might not be able to maintain my balance and fall off the board, but after having gone through the intense 4×4 sand dune ride I felt that I could surely be successful in sand boarding, and I was! Although not as exciting as the sand dune ride, it was worth the experience!

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Survivors!

We went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and have breakfast then we went around Laoag and Paoay to visit the tourist destinations there. We managed to go to the Sinking Bell Tower, the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum, the Paoay Church (which is also a UNESCO World Heritage site under the Five Baroque Churches of the Philippines), and Paoay Lake. Raisa, Tam and I also got to make our own Batac empanadas! Yum!!

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With that we ended our Ilocos trip. It was such an awesome trip in that it wasn’t a usual barkada get away where we would go to a beach and chill. It was a trip where we learned so much new information not only about Ilocos, but about our own history as Filipinos. We experienced so much culture in this trip, from the stories from the caretakers of the heritage homes that we visited to the well-preserved landmarks that have lasted the centuries. I hope that our next trip will be as satisfying and as stimulating as this trip was!