On dangerous travel destinations

There are so many beautiful places in the world hidden behind the ugly image that news media would like to paint of certain countries. Not to say that there aren’t any dangers in traveling to those countries, but most of the time the clash and conflict are between governments and not the people. A lot of citizens living in perceived danger zones are victims of generalization brought upon by the unfair portrayal of the entire nation based on decisions made and actions done by political actors and fundamentalists. I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for most of my life.  When I returned to the Philippines to complete my studies, I was swamped by questions about my – and my family’s, safety. Surely, those questions are not unwarranted – one of the places my family used to frequent was bombed by apparent terrorists and I am not at all a stranger to bomb threats but those things can happen in any country.

One of the most frightening experiences I have ever gone through was when I returned to the Philippines several years back and as I was waiting for my uncles to pick me up from the NAIA Terminal 1, a piece of luggage that was suspected to be a bomb was left in the middle of the waiting area. Oh, how hard I prayed that it was a false alarm. Security guards and policemen surrounded the luggage and feared opening it. Thankfully my uncles arrived and picked me up. When I got home, it was already in the news! I never found out what happened to that piece of luggage, but let me tell you this: I’ve never felt that frightened for my life in Saudi Arabia.

Dangerous things can happen anywhere you are. We can never predict when something bad is going to happen. Many people fall victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but often times the perceived dangers are preventable. It’s all a matter of common sense and respect, which a lot of people also have trouble grasping. Common sense is going to a less developed country and not wearing any flashy jewelry. Common sense is not walking in the sketchy part of town by yourself, whether male or female. Respect is going to a Muslim country and not engaging in public displays of affection. Respect is following the rules that the government places for travelers (that you should have read before going to that country!).

A few nights ago, I watched a documentary about Iran. It was a documentary that focused on the people, the culture, and the beauty of Iran rather than the political strife and misunderstandings it has with the United States. I had always wanted to visit Persepolis but I never knew that there was actually more to Iran than that. It’s actually an overall beautiful place, and one day I hope that I can visit it. There are many other places I would love to go that my parents would never approve of because of their international reputations. Let me list my top 5:

1. Iran

(Persepolis, Shiraz)

2. North Korea

(Monument to the Party Founding, Pyongyang)

3. Libya

(Leptis Magna, Tripoli)

4. Syria

(Citadel of Aleppo)

5. Yemen

(Socotra Island)

One day.

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Bucket Lists and Travel

In my last blog entry, I mentioned that I find bucket lists meaningless if we don’t start acting on it now. A few days after I wrote that blog, I was going through the old posts of one of my favorite bloggers, Adventurous Kate. Kate is definitely an inspiration to me. She is currently in her 20s and has established herself as a female solo traveler. I had found her blog while I was searching on solo female travel before going to the United Kingdom. I mainly did the search to prove to my parents that it is normal and safe for girls to travel by themselves. One day I would love to be as well-traveled as her!

Anyway, while I was going through her blog, I saw that she had written a post about bucket lists and I completely agree with it. Her main problem with bucket lists is that: “If your deadline is death – you’re not making it a priority.” And it’s true! A lot of people, myself included, express our desires to go to a certain place or do a certain thing “before we die”. But none of us really know when that is going to happen so rather than saying I want to do this before I die, I will now start saying I want to do this as soon as I can.

What she says is true, if we want to travel it should definitely be our priority. I have been lucky these past few years because I don’t pay any living expenses and I was able to pay for my own travel, but I know that once I start living on my own I would have to practice more self-discipline. Recently, my best friend Vida has been helping me in keeping my expenses (read: shopping) to a minimum because of all the trips I have planned out for this year. I was talking to one of my good friends yesterday and he mentioned I was rich because I spent a large amount of money on my plane ticket for my upcoming trip and I told him that I’m not rich, I just spend my money on travel. I want that to be a continuing trend in my life. I want to prioritize travel. At this age, I am old enough to set my own priorities and young enough to make it happen. I want to get married and have kids one day and although I know I never want to stop traveling, I know that my priorities will be shifting by then.

I thought it would be a good idea to list down my travel priorities just like what Kate did. So here goes:

  • See the sun rise behind Angkor Wat, Cambodia – I have already made plans to go here this year and I hope it pushes through!

http://www.warwickphotographer.com.au

  • Witness the Northern Lights – Also known as the Aurora Borealis. It looks so majestic in pictures and to witness it in person would just be so enchanting!

  • See the Cherry Blossoms of Japan – Who wouldn’t wanna see this? Nature is so beautiful.

  • Visit Russia – Just looking at the pictures, you could see that it’s full of culture. I just wanna walk those streets and just take in the beautiful architecture in the area

http://www.worldwidehomestay.com/

  • Tour the temples of Turkey – Greece is popular for their temples but there are also many beautiful temples in Turkey. The world’s oldest temple, Gobekli Tepe, is located in Turkey.

www.sithsonianmag.com

How about you? Where do you want to go? What are your travel priorities?

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!

 

UK Day 2 – Harry Potter Studio Tour

Being a huge and long time Harry Potter fan, the Studio tour was the first thing I booked after my flight, and i booked it for the day after I arrived because I know I needed as much energy I can use to maximize my visit. My accommodation is at the East side of London while Leavesden, where the Warner Brother Studios is located, is on the West so it was a bit of a long travel. I feel like I’ve already mastered the art of riding the tube in the two days that I have been here.

I got to Watford Junction just in time to catch the bus headed to the Warner Brothers Studios. It’s the easiest way to get there and you can’t miss the bus! It’s covered in Harry Potter!!

When you enter the studios, you’re greeted by giant portraits of the actors, a cafe to the left and the gift shop to the right (where I spent so much money on!!!) I joined the queue to enter and in no time I got in. You first have to go through two video showings before actually seeing the real studio. The first movie was mainly about the general success of Harry Potter with the fans. The second one got me crying, where the three main actors explained the purpose behind the studio tours and how it’s like a tribute to everyone behind the films who made the success possible. I think I reached my breaking point when Emma Watson said “(The crew) made the magic world real and our real world magical.”

 

Coffee and Harry Potter… two of my favorite things

 

After the film viewings we’re finally allowed into the studios. The first set that we see is the Great Hall which is indeed great. Although it does look smaller as compared to how it looks in the films, I really felt like I was in Hogwarts getting ready for supper with my house (Ravenclaw!!)

 

 

Once you get past the Great Hall, you enter a really big studio which contains the other sets used in the movie such as Dumbledore’s Office, the Gryffindor dorm and Common Room, the interior of the Burrow, Umbridge’s Office, Hagrid’s Hut, etc. It also cotained several displays of props such as Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Rita Skeeter’s quill, the Goblet of Fire and some brooms! There was actually an area where you can ride a broom and fly around Hogwarts, the streets of London, the Great Lake (of course all via green screen).

 

The Studio Tour has two main studios indoor studios and is separated by an open area which contains even more of the props and scenes! This is where you can see the Hogwarts Bridge, #4 Privet Drive, Godric Hollow, the Knight Bus, the Grave of Tom Riddle Sr., and Sirius’ motorbike. They also serve butterbeer, which is really sweet and frothy, in this area and I really enjoyed it! I made friends with another solo traveler, a really sweet Korean girl and we decided we would take each other’s pictures around this area since we were allowed to pose on the props in this area.

 

 

The next area was the Monsters area! They showed the many different creatures that were made for the film and some videos on how they were made.   We got to pass through the actual Diagon Alley! I wish it was real so that I could go into each shop, get a wand, adopt a pet owl,  buy a broom, fit a robe. They also featured some of the paintings and scale models used to imagine how the scenes would look like.

 

 

 

Finally, and this was one of the most majestic sights I’ve seen, there was a really big and pretty model of the entire Hogwarts Castle! It’s really beautiful and you know that they’ve done a lot of work to perfect it! Wow.

 

The tour ends in the gift shop where I got some things for myself and for my Harry Potter fan friends. A lot of wonderful things to see. I wanted to buy a stuffed Hippogriff but I wouldn’t have any space for it in my baggage!

I really think every Potter fan should make it a point to visit the Harry Potter Studio at least once in their lifetime. It’s an amazing experience and you could really see all the hard work everyone put into making the amazing world of Harry Potter come to life! It took me almost four hours just to go through the entire thing! There was so many things to see! I would definitely want to go back if given the chance!! But for now I’m just happy I was given the chance to actually experience the whole thing first hand!

UK Day 1

After months of anticipation, the date of my trip to the United Kingdom had finally arrived! I had been incredibly paranoid and anxious about the trip for the past week and I’m just glad that everything worked out well. I was the first person to line up in the UK Border. I had read so many horror stories about being denied entry even if you have a visa. Thank God that went smoothly and I managed to get through border control and out of the airport by 10:30am!

The first adventure I experienced today was riding the tube for the first time! I took the tube going to my accommodations since taking a taxi would cost too much.

I got to the house at 12:30 pm and finally met Victoria! She’s really sweet and accommodating! The house is pretty and comfortable (and not at all expensive!). Victoria gave me a lot of tips on how to get around the area and where the good places to eat are! She left some pamphlets from restaurants in my room so I can go through them. I guess the reviews on Airbnb were accurate!

After settling in, I went out again to explore the city! It’s freezing cold and my sweater and boots still didn’t give me enough warmth! I was hungry so I decided to go to Borough Market.

I ended up buying dessert there instead because I couldn’t choose from all the good food in the area! I ended up having stuffed chicken with bleu cheese from a restaurant called Tapas Brindisa. Yum.

After eating, I decided to do some more walking. There was so many to explore and I’m sure my 12 days here won’t be enough for that! I decided to hop on the tube and just decide where I’m going once I’m inside.  I decided to go to Green Park and visit Buckingham Palace!

I found a couple that was struggling to take a picture of the two of them with Green Park as the background so I offered to help them and so they offered to take my picture in return! Reciprocity is nice! (Note: I don’t exactly like what I was wearing today. I was a bit excited to start exploring so I just threw anything on!)
I kept walking until I realized I was already in West End and that’s when I
really felt that my feet were aching already. I decided to go home. I forgot it was rush hour so I experienced  my first London rush hour in the tube! It wasn’t as bad as people claim it is. Then again, I experienced the MRT in the Philippines during rush hour so I guess large crowds in trains don’t faze me anymore.

Tomorrow I’m heading to Leavesden for the Harry Potter Studio Tour. It’s on the other side of London so I have to go to sleep early. I’m incredibly tired from my walk home. I got so lost on my way home. Lesson learned. Will take the cab from Walthamstow station every day now!

First Night Back

Glad to be back in Manila! It’s been 10 months and it feels like I’ve been here the whole year. Manila has that effect on me. I love how I always feel at home. I think it helps that I have awesome friends who are willing to pick me up from my house with a taxi just so that I can join them for dinner ❤ Thanks Kath and Tam for picking me up and Tyress for accompanying me back home 🙂

Welcoming Committee 🙂 Tyress, Enzo, Kath, and Tam!