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

 

 

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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!

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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!

Bacolod 2013

My parents and other relatives often wonder where I get my wanderlust from because I come from a family of homebodies. My mom and my brother are very satisfied in just staying at home while my father has no special interest in getting on an airplane and spending on a three day trip to an unfamiliar location. This is why it pleased me when my mother booked a family trip to Bacolod City, which is a 45 minute plane ride away from Manila. It’s not as intense or adventure-filled as the trips that I take with my friends, but it’s a good change from our usual family trips to the Philippines which mainly comprised of staying at home and going out just for shopping or eating.

We only spent two full days in Bacolod, so we decided to visit all the sites on our first day. We decided to start our day early so we wouldn’t miss anything.

Our first stop was the San Sebastian Cathedral which has gained infamy for the giant Team Patay/Team Buhay tarpaulins that were put up during the election campaign period. Despite it being months since the National Elections, the tarpaulins can still be found posted on the face of the cathedral, which is a shame since it is such a beautiful church and all the tarpaulins do is distract us from its beauty.

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Most decent shot of the San Sebastian Cathedral I could take. Tried not to include the tarpaulin but a part of it still made its way to the picture.

 

Our next stop was the Mambukal Resort which is located at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon and is known for its hot springs. Being from Laguna, the scenery was not very different from what we saw growing up. Nonetheless, the place was beautiful. I wish we were able to spend the night in the resort so we could explore the area more. We were only able to walk around for a few minutes and visit the Butterfly Garden before heading off to our next destination.

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After our trip to Mambukal, we visited the Pope John Paul II Tower which was built to commemorate his visit to Bacolod in the early 1980s. There are seven floors in the tower and each floor is themed differently, with pictures, paintings, and even the Papal Chair that JPII sat on during his visit.

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We then had lunch in SM City Bacolod which is right across the John Paul II Tower. Afterwards, we left Bacolod and headed to Silay which is known for their beautiful colonial houses. Since we were pressed for time, we were only able to drop by Balay Negrense, which is the ancestral house of Victor Garson, son of one of the pioneers of the sugarcane industry in Negros Occidental. The house reminded me of the Syquia Mansion that my friends and I visited last year in Laoag. Basically, it was a house that was turned into a museum, complete with a tour guide who will tell you about how the family lived their life decades ago. I really have a fascination towards Spanish period homes and furnishings. Going into these houses really makes you feel like you’re being teleported to the past, or at least that’s how I feel when I visit one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a picture of the house, but here’s one of me with one of the displays: an old school motorcycle!

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After our quick visit to Silay, we went back to Bacolod to visit the Ruins. This was what I was most excited about because every time I told someone I was going to Bacolod, the first thing they would tell me was to visit the Ruins! This definitely did not disappoint. Despite really just being the remains of a burnt down mansion, the Ruins was such a gorgeous sight to see. It definitely is one of the most photogenic remains of a burnt down mansion I have ever seen. It’s amazing how it was transformed into a tourist destination. It was the most tourist packed location that we went to that day and most of the tourists were foreigners! The tour guide was very entertaining. He explained the history of the family and the structure itself in a very engaging manner. I didn’t stay long for the tour because I was too captivated by the environment. Ten minutes into the tour, I separated myself from the group and decided to go around and take photographs of the place. It was simply majestic. Hands down my favorite stop in our trip.

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My brother and me playing chess on the mini golf course that was opened right in the garden area of the Ruins

 

Our last stop for the day was the newly built Bacolod City Hall. By this time we were already very tired from the entire day and so we only took some pictures before heading back to the hotel. It looks beautiful at night with all the lights.

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We were so exhausted from the sightseeing heavy first day that we ended up getting up at 10 am the next day! Our second day was more of a food trip day. We had lunch in Bob’s, where they have the BEST brownies ever, and dinner in the Chicken House so that we could have some authentic Chicken Inasal. We had cakes from Calea for dessert. The White Chocolate Cheesecake was definitely my favorite.

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Chicken Inasal!

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Calea’s White Chocolcate Cheese Cake

 

I’m really glad that my family has decided to be more adventurous now. Even if it was just two days in another city, we were able to have some really fun and cultural family bonding time. I love traveling with my friends but it’s definitely a completely different experience traveling with family. My parents and my brother seem to have enjoyed this trip so I am very hopeful that this is not the last trip that we all go on together.

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Complete family picture in Mambukal 🙂