Tag Archives: Adventure

Hobbling ‘round Verona

I found myself shuffling around Verona like an alert and happy zombie.

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The setting for Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love affair was my second stop (after Venice) on my lone journey through Italy. For reasons unknown – maybe the cold, the nonstop walking, running around with my backpacker gear, tight boots, or all of the above – my bad knee swelled slightly bringing about sufficient discomfort a.k.a. pain.

Thinking, “But when am I ever gonna be back here?!” I pressed on and limped around for as long as I could before heading back to my cozy hostel Castelvecchio.

I remember arriving by train, unsure what to expect but giddy with excitement!

With my directions on hand and all my bags in tow, I walked from the train station, stopping by a convenience store to ask for directions.

It was definitely different from Venice – streets were wider and there were actual vehicles to look out for. I loved Venice but was tickled by Verona’s small-town charm.

Though my knee was uncooperative, I was super happy!

Check out the… what is that? An icicle? A shooting star? Anyway, I think it was there as Christmas decor. This is Verona's Colloseum. They still hold events in here like concerts and stuff. :)
Check out the… what is that? An icicle? A shooting star? Anyway, I think it was there as Christmas decor.
I walked around their mini coloseo – a teaser for my Roman excursion. Wandered around the delightful center where they had a food bazaar and a carousel set up for the Christmas season.

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I remember ducking into smaller streets and finding the statue of Garibaldi. I sat on a bench by the statue for a bit. Then, with a stupid grin on my face, I inconspicuously stomped over the beds of bright and crunchy autumn leaves. Heehee!

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I found my way to Casa di Giulietta and got caught trying to add my name on the hardened gum art… Sorry! But can you blame me for trying? This little lady was a long way away from home – in Europe for ze first time! Hehe.

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I stared up at Juliet’s balcony then turned my attention to the padlocks on the gate. Without anyone to share a love-lock with (sayang, walang hottie!), I settled for a selfie with Juliet while clutching her boobie. (I swear; it’s a thing! Everyone does it!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite slice of Verona would have to be climbing up the Lamberti Tower! It’s the tallest tower in Verona, originally built as a means to watch over the city and, with the two bells installed, warn the community of fires and attacks from the neighboring Venetians. But even with this warning system, the city fell under the control of the Venetians. What we are now left with, though, is a stunning view of Verona and the Alps! (This got me EXTRA excited for my Bernina Express train and tour up the Swiss Alps from Milan – my next stop!)

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I stayed up there for a while to take it all in (and rest my knee). I wish I could recall it more clearly in my mind… Despite the fog in my memory, remembering the moment up on the tower still gives me goose bumps. 🙂

Ok, ok. Time to hobble back down the Torre dei Lamberti and be greeted by the cutest Christmas bazaars.

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I shuffled over to the Duomo to take some photos before heading back to my cozy home for the night.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see Castelvecchio, nor was I able to do much food tripping… Still, I had a clear, bright, and magical day in the city of Verona!

Here are some more photos. 🙂

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Cambodia: Beauty & Brutality

These were my thoughts as I left the charming Cambodia. I'll be writing a separate post for the sightseeing, food tripping, and travel tipping!

During my final hours in Cambodia, I found myself in awe of both its beauty and brutality.

My first impressions, along with a bit of my ignorance, were buried a wee bit deeper with each day in the country, particularly in the tourist driven city of Siem Reap.

I don’t think you can blame me for the rough start.. Stepping out of the airport to a herd of tuktuk drivers was taxing, even for a Filipina used to the chaos of Metro Manila. I am thankful for the airport taxi booth – the beacon of order amid the chaos!

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Chilling inside Angkor Wat
Beyond the buzzing of the tuktuk drivers and the grumpy “customs” officers, everyone else seemed warm and genuinely friendly. And their country’s history… now, that is some story to tell!

As our taxi driver in Phnom Penh told us, quite insightfully, “It’s hard to explain our history because, in some ways, our civilization is very old. But because of the Khmer Rouge, we are also very young.”

The Beauty of the Khmer Empire’s Ancient Cities3_Fotor

Siem Reap is the jumping point to exploring the great number of ancient temples built by the Khmer Empire from the 800s to the 1200s CE.

I wish I had more time prior to the trip to read up on their ancient history, but even with the limited information on the Triposo app, I was easily moved by just being there.

Exploring the ancient cities of the Khmer Empire is, without a doubt, one of the most awesome things I’ve done in my life!

4_FotorSeeing the sun rise then set from atop archaic stone constructs were magical moments! I would highly recommend this magnificent Cambodian adventure to anyone. (Add it to your bucket list!)

For some reason, my favorite temple was Bayon. I can’t quite explain why. But as I stared up at it from the outside, I was deeply moved, I may have teared.

6_Fotor_FotorWas it the craggy look? The fallen stones? The pillars? The non-existent ceilings and unveiled halls?

I’m not sure; but I loved it. It was the temple that ultimately made me feel like I was staring into the past.

The Brutal Khmer Rouge

8_Fotor_FotorThere’s the lovely Siem Reap then there’s the grit, the poverty, the lakes filled with plastic garbage, markets with umbrellas coated with pale orange dust, rough roads for expressways, the beggars, the homeless, the hopeless…

All this I saw as I made my way, by bus, to the capital of Cambodia – Phnom Penh – to visit the killing fields.

Going on this journey and learning about the dark period in Cambodia’s history isn’t for everyone. Indeed, many tourists opt not to visit the more depressing sites, just as many would rather not read stories about the holocaust or the more recent cruelties under ISIS.

9_FotorBut if I was going to explore Cambodia, immerse myself in the culture, and attempt to realize its identity, I knew I had to learn the horrific story of the Khmer Rouge and its brutal murders.

The Cheong Ek Killing Field in Phnom Penh is only one of several killing fields across the country and is believed to be the largest.

The audio guide paints the gruesome picture… I let my imagination do the rest.

I imagined dark nights lit by fluorescent lamps with a number of areas, each with a crowd. Each crowd was split into two – young soldiers and shackled prisoners awaiting their gruesome execution.

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ditches where mutilated bodies were dumped
Deafening revolutionary music masked most of the screams and howls as soldiers used whatever cheap tool they could find to hack at their victims. Bullets were too expensive; a wooden stick, bamboo chute, hammer, sickle, or hoe would have to do.

11_FotorChildren, babies were not spared. They were swung from their feet til their skull met the killing tree as mothers screamed helplessly and waited, even welcomed the end of their suffering.

Mauled bodies were tossed into ditches then poisoned with DDT to finish the half-assed executions and drown out the stench.

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careful not to step on human bones and tattered clothes
Around 17,000 people were murdered in Cheong Ek alone. And 3 million people died as a result of Pol Pot’s extremism and paranoia. Anyone with an education, anyone who would speak out, anyone who might defy the heinous rule of the Khmer Rouge – gone.

And there I was, walking atop their execution sites, trying not to step on pieces of human bone.

The Struggling Young Nation

10_FotorIt’s as if Cambodia’s evolution happened in reverse – from sophisticated water systems and magnificent buildings in Angkor to the inhumane genocide from 1975 to 79.

What’s left is a nation struggling to educate itself without intellectuals, struggling to rebuild without resources, and struggling to remember a culture lost to a repulsive regime.

Currently under a bogus democracy, only time will tell how Cambodia will get back on its feet.

But with such a rich history and incorruptible reminders of their ancient glory, I am hopeful to find a more prosperous and developed nation, should I ever have the chance to return.

My experience in Cheong Ek took my breath away. It took words away, too. I suppose it was a similar experience to the Bayon temple, except at the opposite end of the spectrum.

3 million people lost their lives for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s ideology of “agricultural socialism”. The entire nation suffered and continues to grieve because of an idea that cast aside humanity and basic rights.

How can people so easily resort to violence? How can people so easily forsake life?

Is it so easy to detach from other people’s suffering for as long as you’re ok, as Pol Pot and his generals were?

1_Fotor_FotorWe have to stop and wonder, though, what did someone else have to lose for me to be in this position? What did someone give up so that I could enjoy a bar of chocolate? Did a child have to forego an education to harvest the cacao plant for my candy bar? What did someone have to go through to produce the jeans I wear? Did a woman have to work in a dusty, hot, stinky, cramped, disaster-waiting-to-happen factory?

While enjoying freedom – to speak, to be educated, to go on the internet, to choose what to clothes to wear, to decide who to marry and when… perhaps we should stop to think of the many people in the world do not have these basic joys.

There is so much injustice in this world, it’s overwhelming. But, I suppose, the first step to a better world is to acknowledge that these injustices exist.

The next step, though, is a whole lot tougher.

Mount Pinatubo: Trekking up an Active Volcano

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I found myself well beyond my shire and on an adventure I wasn’t quite fit for. For a lethargic couch potato with a bad knee, the quest to the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo was daunting.

The confidence boost came from the knowledge that elder folk and kids would be joining the trek. I could keep up with them naman siguro… right? Haha!

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Bottom line is, I made it! So you can, too. In fact, you don’t feel the incline until the final stretch to the crater. And since you’ll be so focused on finding a trustworthy spot to place your next step, time dashes by.

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The trip begins early from the jump-off point with a bumpy hour on a 4×4 to the foot of the volcano. The trek to the crater takes around 2 hours. The most challenging section of the trip for me would be the staircase of, maybe, 200 steps to get to the lake.

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But oh, what a magnificent sight – still waters floating within the crater of a sleeping volcano! it’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the treasure under the spot marked “X”; the pièce de résistance!

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The sights along the trail are also awe-inspiring, should you take the time to look up and around. Mountains of ash with remnants of mini landslides. Boulders and rocks and stones and pebbles. Cold streams – wide and tiny. Sulfur stains. Local tribespeople with smiling faces and genuine greetings… To think, this is the same volcano that gave us the second largest eruption in the 20th century.

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After 600 years of dormancy, Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991. Clouds of gas and hot ash burst into the air and flowing lava gushed out of the volcano. Hundreds of lives were taken and the world was stunned as the the global temperature dropped and the color gray rained throughout the Philippines and as far as Singapore. A river of volcanic mud ran through Central Luzon taking lives, livelihood, and homes while changing the landscape forever. Mount Pinatubo would erupt again throughout 1991 and 1992.

1991 Mount Pinatubo Eruption
The stillness of the crater lake, the calm sound of gentle streams, the permanent placement of boulders and smoothed stones, the delicate hills of dust… The beauty you find along the Pinatubo trail is a testament to the catastrophic Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

1991 Mount Pinatubo Eruption
While trekking, naturally, you’ll be looking down and ahead most of the way. But do not forget to peel your eyes from the path and appreciate the glory of nature – sheer and brutal beauty. Step into the shot and take lots of photos and videos. Enjoy the scenery. Horror gifted us with this serenity.

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If you’re looking to go on your own Mount Pinatubo adventure, there are lots of tour providers from Manila. We used Allan Bognot, who also owns a pension house at the jump-off point.

Just some tips:

  • Doing the trek early in the morning was great! It got quite chilly (this was end-December).
  • Use sunscreen. Your trek back which will be around noon to 2pm and you’ll feel the sun much more then. I heard it’s extra hot on any other time of year!
  • Eat a big breakfast and bring snacks (my tummy was grumbling on the trek back).
  • Use comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting water and sand in. Hiking shoes would be best.
  • Check this link out for tips and an alternative tour package.

Apo Island Coastal Cleanup: My Do Good Get Dirty Experience

The Do Good Get Dirty trip turned out to be way more than I expected and I am sincerely grateful to Green Cross and Rajah Travel for taking us on such a grand adventure! Check out snippets of our exploits here and our yummy Dumaguete food trip here. You can also watch and share in our experience here. :)

 I found myself crashing a fiesta, jumping off a cliff, and swimming with sea turtles!

I joined the Do Good Get Dirty challenge to make a difference but tables turned and the experience changed me instead! 🙂

I now know a bit more about my country.
Special thanks to Jaret of Rajah Travel for the photo!

It’s a shame I haven’t gone to more places around the Philippines. There are so many interesting pockets to visit and learn about! Negros Oriental is one of those little sachets with a unique history and inspiring stories packed inside. Special shout out to our tour guides Kuya Bong in Dumaguete, Valencia, and Apo Island and Kuya Luis in Siquijor. These guys have an answer for everything! And I really appreciated sharing the experience with people so passionate, knowledgeable, and proud of their home. If you’re receptive, you may just develop a love for the place, too.

I actually enjoyed eating buko-y stuff!
Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant
Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant

Mababaw, maybe, but there are things I’m certain about and one of those things is my dislike for the taste of coconut and coconut milk. I would rather eat crickets than gata! (I know I’m weird.) But I told myself to step out of my comfort zone during this trip. And, apparently, that meant eating Dumaguete Express (made with coconut milk) and I even ate buko pandan dessert! The awesome food trip would not have been complete without Dumaguete Express. I loved it! And it has opened me up to trying food I normally wouldn’t.

We all jumped.

15BA 30-foot drop into a crystal clear sea… Lui, Tim, and I were all afraid of the jump for different reasons. Tim was afraid of the fall. I was afraid of the landing. And Lui was afraid of the water. Still, each of us made the leap! It was thrilling and empowering. I am so proud of Team Dumaguete!

I was reminded of how we are all connected.
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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

The highlight of the trip was Apo Island – a marine sanctuary where sea turtles like to chill out. Every month, the community gets together to clean their beach. This is a very tight-knit community, quite literally all family, of about 1,000 residents. It was moving to meet them and be a part of their monthly routine.

The target, really, is plastic. They explained that the sea turtle or pawikan feeds on seagrass and algae. Sadly, it is in these seagrass beds that many pieces of plastic get tangled. Eating the plastic can poison the sea turtles and kill them.

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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

As a group, we started cleaning up the beach from one end to the other. I honestly expected little trash here and there considering they clean up every month. Unfortunately, I was wrong. There were way too many little and big bits of plastic, most entwined in the seaweed washed up on shore. What’s alarming is that most of the trash isn’t even from the Apo community, nor is it from tourists that snorkel or dive. The garbage comes from the sea (which, in turn, came from the rest of us). And the recent storms have increased the volume and frequency of this dumping of waste on Apo Island.

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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

One of the most jarring moments happened when I was already snorkeling with the graceful pawikan. I was swimming after one and noticed a string of plastic stuck around its tail (You know the kind they use to secure boxes?). We aren’t allowed to touch the marine life so I pointed it out to our guide. Thankfully, he was able to pull the string free from the poor pawikan.

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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

I’m certain this isn’t unique to Apo Island. I wonder how many of my wrappers have found a way, somehow, onto a pretty beach (or worse). I rarely think about where my waste goes after I throw it into a bin. But we never know, right?

Even unconsciously, the little things we do can make an impact on others and the environment.

I got to thinking about the mass production of all plastic packages and bottles and ropes and strings… And how we don’t really think about how much we consume and how much garbage is produced in the process.

There is so much natural beauty in the world. How long will it take for us to wreck it all?

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My trip to Dumaguete and Siquijor was one for the books. It was fun and exciting and insightful and inspiring and magnificent! (I even witnessed the most beautiful sunset.) And while there were challenges here and there, I realize the bigger challenge is sustaining the “Do Good” part of the campaign wayyyyy after the experience.

While I have no control over what everyone else does, I am responsible for my own choices. And there are a whole lot of things I can do to minimize my impact on the environment.

Using a reusable water bottle instead of buying disposable bottled water, using reusable bags for groceries, being more mindful of what goods to buy and their packaging, maybe buying in bulk instead of tiny sachets, ensure my waste is disposed of properly, eating less or no meat, buying locally produced goods, use less energy, unplug, don’t waste paper, etc.

Maybe sometime soon, I’ll find a way to make a bigger and more lasting impact. But, despite the cheesiness, I do believe that it starts with me. I have to live it.

Cambugahay Falls Thanks to Jaret of Rajah Travel for the photo.
Cambugahay Falls, Siquijor
Thanks to Jaret of Rajah Travel for the photo.
Thanks again, Green Cross Alcohol and Rajah Travel, for such a fun and inspiring experience! If you're in the mood for some yummy food, check out my post  on Dumaguete's Delights!
Also, check out our webisode!

A Quick Rundown of Dumaguete’s Delights

Big thank you to Green Cross (Total Defense) and Rajah Travel for the unforgettable trip! Check out my next blog post on the entire "Do Good Get Dirty" experience. :)

I found my taste buds rejoicing! One of the things to love about the Philippines is definitely food.

It was my first time in Dumaguete City, Oriental Negros, and we were greeted with a feast fit for a sweet tooth!

This was the appetizer –  hot chocolate with the native delicacy called budbud (just like sum an) and a sweet ripe mango.

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These are two varieties of the local delicacy called budbud. The one above is made from sticky rice and the one below, called budbud kabog, is made with bird seed. Though it may look grainier than the other, the budbud kabog had a smoother and softer consistency.

There are two varieties. One is typically what we Filipinos are used to, made from sticky rice. The other is a bit more unconventional called budbud kabog and is made out of millet (which is actually sold as bird seed!).

Believe it or not, I preferred the budbud kabog and I’m now wondering when I’ll taste its loveliness with poured tsokolate again… (Leads, anyone?)

Silvanas is a frozen cookie version of the Sans Rival cake. It's made with buttercream sandwiched by merengue-cashew wafers, coated in cookie crumbs.
Silvanas is a frozen cookie version of the Sans Rival cake. It’s made with buttercream sandwiched by merengue-cashew wafers, coated in cookie crumbs.

After our lunch meal, out came the plates of silvanas and SANS RIVAL, the delicious desserts Dumaguete is known for. (SANS RIVAL is in all caps because it was HUGE. SOLID. INTENSE. And must be said and heard with a deep, monstrous voice.)

This is the famous Sans Rival from Sans Rival Bistro! Sans Rival is a Filipino dessert made of layers of merengue and buttercream and littered with cashews. YUM.
This is the famous Sans Rival from Sans Rival Bistro! Sans Rival is a Filipino dessert made of layers of merengue and buttercream and littered with cashews. YUM.

We were all in awe of the SANS RIVAL. And we all looked up to the heavens with a resounding. “Mmmmm,” after taking a bite. Duh-freaking-licious!

This is a chocolate version of the silvana. I didn't care much for it but it's still worth a try! Let me know what you think. :)
This is a chocolate version of the silvana. I didn’t care much for it but it’s still worth a try! Let me know what you think. 🙂

I suppose Sans Rival and Silvanas taste pretty much the same anywhere. I guess what gave these an edge was the consistency. The Silvanas had a heavenly crunch with every bite and the Sans Rival was so easy to slice. (My mouth is watering while writing this… and I just had a bar of chocolate!!!)

Dumaguete goes beyond dessert, of course. For a legit-happy-tummy meal, look no further than Lab-as (meaning Fresh)! We got to try the Dumaguete Express, which I found surprisingly yummy. Surprising because I don’t usually like food with coconut milk or gata. This one, though, blew me away. And because of this dish, I’m now more open to try other coconut milk-based food.

Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant
Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant – a mixture of fresh seafood and crispy chopped pork cooked in coconut milk with malunggay leaves and chili.

By the way, I heard Lab-as’s sister bar and resto serves the best pizza in town! Something to try out when I return to Dumaguete.

Fish Pizza
Fish Pizza on Apo Island

Speaking of pizza, I must give a shout out to the fish pizza in Apo Island! Apo Island is a marine sanctuary with sweet sea turtles to swim with. Naturally, you’ll get hungry after all the snorkeling. ORDER THE FISH PIZZA!

For a quick and cheap meal, Scooby’s is the spot to run to! It’s Dumaguete’s very own local fast food joint. Their cheeseburger was pretty good! It reminded me of an improved Tropical Hut slash Mushroom Burger cheeseburger.

Cheeseburger and Siopao from Scooby's
Cheeseburger and Siopao from Scooby’s

But the pleasant surprise was their Asado Siopao. OH MY GOODNESS. I had this favorite Asado Siopao in Manila (from Chocful of Nuts in Greenhills). It was my absolute favorite. It made me so happy! But that’s all in past tense now. Scooby’s siopao superseded my expectations and overtook my past siopao experiences! It had shredded pork asado instead of big chunks, thick and tasty sauce, bits of pepper, and just the right amount of fat – strategically located. When am I going to taste this again?!? Ugh. It’s so sad that I’m so far away from my new favorite siopao. 😦

There are a whole lot more places to try in Dumaguete! This quick rundown of my food experience cannot do justice to the foodie city. If you have any tips of restaurants and delicacies to try, go ahead and leave a comment so I can try ’em out when I head back to hoard Scooby’s siopao. Haha! 🙂

Okie dokes! I'll leave you with this photo me and my fellow travelers in front of a giant budbud during the Buglasan Festival in Dumaguete. LOL. :D
I’ll leave you with this photo me and my fellow travelers in front of a giant budbud during the Buglasan Festival in Dumaguete. LOL. 😀

Enchanted by Venezia

This is the story of my lone backpacking trip across Italy from Dec 1 to 9, 2012. First city - Venice! If you want to know how I prepared for it or how you can do it too, click here!

I found myself in Europe for the first time in my life, alone & ecstatic.

I could barely contain my excitement! Even the plane ride was a celebration (with my teeny bottle of wine)! I’ve always wanted to see Europe but, sadly, financial limitations never let me.

Off to Venice from Dubai!
Off to Venice from Dubai!
To be completely honest, I was envious of friends that would go on trips outside the Philippines every summer. There were times I would travel with my family to Hong Kong, Singapore, or Bangkok – but never out of Southeast Asia. And I knew that if I wanted to go anywhere further, I’d have to find my own way.

Then there I was, armed with my backpack and plans, ready and eager to travel across Italy for nine days!

I was awestruck at my first sight of glorious Venice. I recall having a huge smile plastered on my face as I desperately quashed the tears welling up. All previous memories fell short of that moment. And nothing could stop me from taking a photo – not the cold winter wind, thick gloves, heavy bags, or fear I wouldn’t find my hostel!

My 1st stunning view of Europe - the enchanting city of Venice!
My first stunning view of Europe – the enchanting city of Venice!
I walked through the main street (Venice is a car-free zone with over 100 little islands connected by 400 or so bridges!) until I found my hostel – the Venice Fish. After checking in and depositing my bag, I headed out to wander aimlessly around the city.

Janinay on the Rialto Bridge
Janinay on the Rialto Bridge
I followed the crowd to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge across the grand canal. I listened in on a couple speaking English and asked them to take my photo (as I did theirs, naturally). I walked through little alleys and looked inside some shops as the sun started setting. It started getting dark and COLD. I ducked into an open café and gifted myself with a cup of hot chocolate before making my way to the famed Piazza San Marco. I sat right in the middle of it all and munched on my cheese and crackers.

I breathed it in – the piazza, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile. All this awesomeness built in the 1500s is still attracting thousands of people every day! (There is an interesting attempt at calculating the number in this website.)

Piazza San Marco or St. Mark's Square
Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square
I would’ve stayed longer if not for the weather and my tropically inclined body. I walked over to where all the gondolas were docked and felt the loneliness as I looked over at the beautiful view of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore.

View of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
View of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
Snapping out of my Venetian trance, I made my way to the vaporetti station. I desperately tried to figure out where my hostel might be on their map and which stop I should get off… Thanks to my awesome apps and innate navigator skillz, I got it right!

The rest of the night was filled with wine, card games, and then escaping from the younger college kids at the hostel (who wanted to get drunk in the streets of Venice). I was happy to be left behind, slightly buzzed, with an empty hostel and the bathroom all to myself!

Cold and Rainy Morning in Venice
Cold and Rainy Morning in Venice
It was a very, very good thing that I opted for sleep that night. My next day was busy and tiring! I woke up early to head to the train station to purchase my biglietto (ticket) to Verona then off I went past the Ponte degli Scalzi or Bridge of the Barefoot Monks to try and find the Peggy Guggenheim collection housed in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.

In Venice, even the walks to the points of interest are interesting! There are so many ways to get to one site thanks to random, unplanned little streets. I loved my stroll! I saw a lot of interesting statues & churches and, thanks to Triposo, I was able to appreciate their significance.2_Fotor

I got lost in art with the Guggenheim collection (Hello to Picaso, Pollock, Mondrian, Ernst, & Warhol!) and paid my respects to Peggy Guggenheim who was buried there beside her beloved doggies.

After grabbing a prosciutto and mushroom pizza to go, I made my winding way back to a flooded St. Mark’s Square, excited to tour the Palazzo Ducale. Inside the Doge’s Palace, you learn about the history of Venice (centered around politics) while walking within the home of the city’s supreme authority – the Doge or Ducale. My favorite room was probably the one with all the humongous maps and globes (but unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take photos inside)!

The Courtyard, Palazzo Ducale
The Courtyard, Palazzo Ducale
Blur_FotorI knowingly spent too much time in the Doge’s Palace so I anticipated the rush to catch my train. I made my way, once again by vaporetti, to the hostel, grabbed my packed bags, and ran to the station only to miss my train by seconds! (Just like in the movies!) I ended up wasting time waiting for the next train in the freezing station. It was time spent reflecting on my day, planning out Verona, and doing some people watching.

Grazie, Comune di Venezia!

an old Venetian lady & her German Shepherd
an old Venetian lady & her German Shepherd

Prepping for a Backpacking Adventure

One of the most awesome things about being in the Middle East was the opportunity to catapult myself into Europe on a budget.

And so, I decided I was going to backpack around Italy on my own.

I booked a flight from Dubai to Venice for December 1st and a flight departing from Rome on the 9th.

“THIS IS CRAZY,” I thought as a huge grin appeared on my face. With a giddy giggle, I started planning my trip.

Choosing to narrow down my trip to just 5 cities was tough. I wanted to go everywhere! But I had to be strategic with my limited time and resources – and the fact that I had to make my way to Rome from Venice. I checked the top cities to visit in Italy and chose these 5 with the help of google maps.

Italy-Map

  • Venice
  • Verona
  • Milan
  • Florence
  • Rome

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I would highly recommend starting in Venice and ending in Rome for anyone who has never set foot in Italy (or in my case, Europe). Pure love. ❤

Apps

Every time I travel, I download these 2 apps – Triposo and my fave language app.

Apps
Apps to download: Triposo and this language app!

Triposo used to have separate apps for each country. But I think they’ve condensed it into one humongous FREE app! What’s great about Triposo is that you don’t need an Internet connection to use it. There’s also a map with notable sites plotted. And it even tracks your location via GPS – such a huge help in navigating through city streets!

For basic conversational phrases in Italian (and other languages), I always go for this app that I don’t know the name of. It says “Learn Italian” or Japanese or French or whatever other language. The photo is above. The categories are SO useful for travel with Directions & Places, Transportation, and Eating Out. You can listen to how the words are pronounced. Plus, you can “favorite” a phrase and go to the saved list any time!

Luggage

I will admit that there were moments I wish I brought a trolley instead of a massive backpack. There are backpack-trolley hybrids now. I think that might be a good idea – if they aren’t crazy heavy.

Here was my luggage set-up:

A Huge Backpacker’s Backpack for all my clothes and toiletries. It was the beginnings of winter so this island girl had to pack in some serious thermal wear, scarves, and gloves. I settled for just one coat. And I had to lug around an extra pair of boots! Backpacker_Fotor(Come to think of it, winter is not a great time to “backpack”. It’s so difficult to pack light! Good thing it was the onset and not the height of winter.)

I also had A Sling Bag for my coat and my boots. Sadly, they couldn’t fit in my big backpack anymore. Otherwise, I would’ve done without it.

A Baby Backpack for all my valuables and navigation tools. I would wear it in front of me so it’s extra protected from thieving fiends. In this little polka dotted treasure chest, I had my passports (yes, plural 😉 ), money, mobile phones, camera, gloves, scarf, shades, map, booking printouts, train tickets, chargers, crackers, and water. If this bag were stolen, I’d be in big, big trouble! You can only imagine how careful I was. I even hugged it while I slept in hostels just in case my roommates were kleptomaniacs!

Bags and SnacksWhen it came to cash, I had two pouches in my baby bag: one with a bit of Euros and one credit card, the other with my stash of USD and larger Euro bills.

I also stuffed USD and Euros deep into my socks, just in case. HAHAHA.

Big Bag Packing Tips

  • Pack light – easier for me than some other girls because I’m not one to freak out about my outfit repeating or what shoes I’m wearing. Shoes are heavy.
  • Plan out what clothes you’re going to wear and pack it in order (with tomorrow’s outfit on top and so on) so you don’t have to dig through your bag everyday
  • Keep your undies, socks, gloves, scarves, and accessories separate. I kept mine at the top pouch and side pouches of my bag.
  • Fold and roll dirty clothes that you will no longer be wearing. Stuff them all on one side of the bag, keeping the other side for the clean clothes. Place plastic in between so they don’t mix!
  • Keep toiletries in one pouch and pack it last, on top of the clothes.

Accommodations

I stayed in hostels the entire time. But I was lucky to find a cheap room all to myself in Florence. And thanks to last minute changes, I was granted my own room in Verona at no extra cost! YEAY.

HostelBookers.com was my website of choice in canvassing for places to stay – for rates, photos, and reviews. The hostels I stayed in were all so different! So if you’re planning to stay in one, it’s important to check for photos and reviews before you book – Hostel Bookers has both.

Here’s a quick review of the hostels I stayed in plus the rates back in 2012:

See that bridge that leads to a green door? That's the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!
See that bridge that leads to a green door? That’s the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!

The Venice Fish, Venice

1 night for USD 30 / EUR 22 / PHP 1,300

I stayed in a room for ladies only with 3 single beds. You get one pillow, a blanket, and a towel – presumably clean. Haha. There’s also breakfast the next day (I think I had cereal).

However, this place is not for the picky. It’s an old apartment with a timeworn bathroom you have to share with the rest of the tenants. I liked it, though. It served its purpose and the location was great!

Guesthouse Castelvecchio, Verona

1 night for USD 26 / EUR 20 / PHP 1,132

Here's the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.
Here’s the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.

This was an apartment with its owner still living in it! She had her own room separate from the 2 other rooms she leased out to tourists. You share her pretty kitchen and dining area and have access to biscuits and coffee and bread and spreads! The bathroom was shared but there are 2 you can choose from and both are very clean and quaint. I would highly recommend this hostel! The location is perfect – between the train station and Verona’s coliseum.

Hotel Panizza, Milan

2 nights for USD 47 / EUR 35 / PHP 2,045

I stayed in a room for 4, girls only. This hostel is inside an apartment building. It has multiple floors and the “lobby” was a separate floor from my room. The interiors are pretty, well maintained, and clean. However, it isn’t very close to a subway station.

MilanTourist House Liberty, Florence

1 night for USD 34 / EUR 25 / PHP 1,480

A room all to myself! The location was great, too. It was pretty close to the train station and to the Duomo and magnificent statue of David. There were also restaurants and delis close by. Thumbs up!

POP INN Hostel, Rome

USD 23 / EUR 17 / PHP 1,007 per night on weekdays  & USD 33 / EUR 24 / PHP 1,420 per night on weekends 

The location is right next to the train station – which is great! Plus, when I was leaving for the airport, the buses to the airport arrive right in front of the hostel’s building. They’re also very lenient when it comes to check in time and the staff are friendly.

Transportation

Traveling by TrainI traveled from city to city via the Intercity Trains. I would book my train ticket online the night before and I’d choose based on time and rates. (Check out the website here.) If you aren’t familiar with traveling via train, this might help!

Within the city, you can get around via Bus or Subway. But honestly, the only time I took public transport within the city was when I was in Milan. The rest of the cities, I walked everywhere! And I never even took a cab. 🙂

Rome is a different story, though. It’s huge and there are just so many places to go! I booked a 3-day pass on a Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus. Should I find myself back in that glorious city, I’d probably take a regular bus or use the subway instead.

Other Tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Lots and lots and lots of walking will be had!
  • There were advantages for going to Italy during winter. There were less people than usual. And people weren’t so sweaty (therefore they weren’t so stinky! Or maybe people’s coats hid the smell?). I think there were also less pickpockets! But it would rain and it was so cold and so difficult to pack light. Soooo… think about which season would be best for you.IMG_4958
  • I kept being warned about pickpockets and thieves and scammers. Yes, there are a bunch of scams so beware! Do a quick search online on the recent scams in Italy before heading there and be wary of your valuables at all times. It’s always better not to wear any expensive jewelry or bags as that will put a target on your back. And try to act like you know where you’re going – another way the Triposo app came in handy!
  • Be careful who you ask to take your photo. I would listen in to conversations and when I’ve determined the couple or person is a tourist, then I ask if they can take my photo. I take theirs, too. 🙂 I also used my timer-cam a lot! No selfie-sticks yet back then. 😦
  • It’s so easy to lose track of time. There are so many places to see! So if you don’t have the luxury of time, choose sights thoughtfully and try not to get too lost. :p
  • Not sure where to go? Ask the front desk of your hostel for tips! They usually give you a map, encircle the position of the hostel and a bunch of sites you can visit.
  • Bring along a bottle of water and snacks. You never know when you’ll be rushing to a train without time to buy a meal. I remember being in the Boboli Gardens, not realizing how huge it is and being oh so very hungry! Good thing I still had crackers and water!

I’m sure there are loads of other tips. So go ahead and type them out at the comments box. 🙂

As for the sightseeing, I’ll be writing blogposts for each city!

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Dubai: Sightseeing

Some members of mi familia are heading to Dubai for a vacation. My mom asked me for a list of things to do... Thought it might help you, too. (Hello, Mama!)

Also check out for my post on travel tips (I scattered food photos there!). I also posted an opinion/reflection-type piece, if that interests thee.

Abu Dhabi Tour: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

If there is one thing to see in Abu Dhabi, it would have to be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I was in awe of this structure! If you have the time, there’s a whole Abu Dhabi tour you can do. Check out “Others” below for more Abu Dhabi sights… But the mosque is the one I highly recommend! Go during sunset. ❤Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Desert Safari

Experience being right smack in the middle of the desert with non-flying carpets, camels, henna, and belly dancers! Desert SafariGetting there is a treat, too… Unless you’re not the type who would like riding a 4×4 vehicle up and down sand dunes. The food wasn’t great. But the experience was! Just beware of this guy with a falcon. Taking a photo with his bird will cost you! :p

The Dubai Mall, The Dubai Fountain, & The Burj Khalifa

Burj KhalifaSave an evening for these giants – the largest mall, the largest dancing fountain, and the tallest building! They’re all in one area. How crazy is that? You can stand in a spot and see all 3. Haha! Have dinner in one of the restaurants in Souk Al Bahar overlooking it all… And go and have your flavored shisha!

Should you go up the Burj Khalifa? I didn’t. But if it interests you, then go for it! I suggest you purchase your tickets in advance.

Bastakiya Area & Dubai Museum

These two are right next to each other. Bastakiya is a restored neighborhood of past pearl traders from Bastak, Iran. It’s a wonderful peek into Dubai’s history, before all the glitz! If you enjoy learning about a country’s history, I suggest going through the Dubai Museum then making your way to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Learning for a free tour of Bastakiya. Check out the website and give them a call for the schedules. There are little  quirky shops where you can get interesting souvenirs! BastakiyaAnd right on the perimeter is a nice tea place (Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café) and the camel burger restaurant (Local House Restaurant). Ask around about the Spice and Gold Souks! They’re around the area. I’m sure you’ll take some pretty and colorful photos there.

You can also walk along the Dubai Creek and find yourself an abra (boat) to take you around. (You’ll learn how important the creek was to the development of the city at the museum.) You can actually Dubai Creekhave a lunch or dinner cruise along the creek on the bigger dhow boat. But the food is not great so I don’t recommend it. (A wonderful experience on a dhow would be a day trip to Oman! Jump off and swim in the salty Musandam sea; plus you may even see some dolphins!)

Save half a day or more for Bastakiya. Remember, the heat of the desert takes a toll on you! You may not be able to explore out in the sun as long as you usually do.

Atlantis, The Palm & Aquaventure

Photo from the net. Click image for the link.

Atlantis is a hotel and entertainment complex located at the Palm. (Yes, the Palm is the iconic palm-shaped reclaimed area you see from ze sky.) One of its facilities is the Marine and Waterpark.

The waterpark is loads of fun with crazy tall and winding slides! Plus, it incorporated its marine park so some of the slides have you entering a tunnel surrounded by an aquarium. Pretty trippy! There is another waterpark in Dubai called Wild Wadi. I didn’t get to go to that one. But I was happy I chose Aquaventure instead.

Photo from the internet. Click to visit link.
It’s important to note that I’m not certain where Atlantis stands in terms of animal rights and environmentalism. They've been criticized by environmentalists for keeping a young whale shark. But I found an article with Atlantis' statement saying they’ve released it. Still. After seeing Blackfish, I no longer wish to go to any zoo or animal park. I'll be supporting animal sanctuaries and nature reserves instead.

Friday Brunch at “The Walk” Jumeirah Beach Residences

Work weeks in the Middle East start on Sunday and end on Thursday (Though I believe they used to only have 1 day off per week). Basically, their Friday is like our Saturday.

IMG_3600Anyway! A brunch tradition has started in Dubai and loads of hotels and restaurants offer Friday brunch buffets. You can even opt for bottomless champagne! I suggest looking for a place near the Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) so you see the shopping boardwalk and maybe hang around by the beach. (Yo, Filipinos! There’s a ChowKing somewhere here! HAHA!) Here’s a list of the top Friday Brunch spots in Dubai.

Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab is the iconic 7-star hotel in Dubai designed to appear like a ship’s sail. It is also built on reclaimed land and connects to the mainland through a private bridge.

Unfortunately, you cannot simply walk into the hotel and see it’s crazy luxurious interior. You would have to pay to see! You don’t have to pay for a room at the hotel, which costs at least USD1800. You can, instead, dine at the Skyview Lounge or the Junsui Restaurant.Dubai Beach

Woollongong Beach or Kite Beach / Burj Beach

If the Burj Al Arab rates turn you off, you can enjoy the view of the iconic hotel instead! Look for Kite Beach or Burj Beach. Take time to catch the sunset. 🙂

Others

IMG_0162Souk Madinat Jumeirah is an interesting mall near the Burj Al Arab area. There are also some restaurants and pubs.

Ski Dubai at Mall of Emirates has the indoor ski slope and other activities if you want to experience snow in the middle of the desert. If you end up in this mall, try out the restaurant “Al Hallab”. Good food!

Skydive Dubai is also an option for you thrill seekers.

Post It UAEFerrari World in Abu Dhabi is another attraction for speed demons and roller coaster lovers. It’s the world largest indoor theme park! Lines can get long, though, so try going on a weekday.

There are other trips you can take outside of Dubai. You can go catch a camel race, for example. There’s the “Oasis City” Al Ain. Or you can step into the future with driverless cars and renewable energy at Masdar City.

A Mirage in the Emirates

In the Emirates, the sun reaches far into any form of shade. Sunglasses are so much more than an accessory (Seriously, you CANNOT leave home without it.). The slightest hint of rain is a freak occurrence. Water is more expensive than petrol. Black figures floating about mustn’t be stared at. And something grand, humongous, luxurious, and/or opulent greets you in every corner.

I found myself in a whole new world, with a new (fantastic?) point of view. This would be my first long project for work and I ended up spending a month in Dubai, occasionally driving to Abu Dhabi.

What to do? What to see? There’s the tallest building in the world right next to the largest shopping mall and the biggest fountain show (in the middle of the desert). There’s the indoor ski slope and a few crazy, big water parks to choose from (in the middle of the desert). There’s a desert safari with dune bashing and a cultural show (naturally, in the middle of the desert). And a bunch of other things to see and do in this land of infinite sand! (Watch out for my posts on travel tips and places to see in Dubai.)

I found myself drawn to the Bastakiya Quarter, a restored historic district. It’s next to the Dubai Museum and the Dubai Creek and is the only place I found teeming with history and character. Get lost in the alleyways and walk into art galleries or pretty courtyards. Stroll along the notable Khor Dubai and listen for the chants from surrounding mosques. Take shelter from the heat at the Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café. And if you’d like to try something new, just next door is the Local House Restaurant that serves camel burgers!

Hands down, my most awe-inspiring moment was visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I’m not certain I’ve ever seen anything so massive and so beautiful. I could’ve stared at the structures in my burka for hours. I will admit, though, that I was more impressed with the exterior than the lavish rugs and golden fixtures inside.

 

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Here’s the thing about Dubai – it overflows with extravagance. Sports cars, palaces, gold and diamonds, designer brands… These are things that many aspire for. But from where I stand, there is no place for this level of excess in a world where over 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 per day).

Another issue that bothered me was how many Filipinos work in Dubai. It was comforting for me, in a way. You walk around a mall and every store has a Pinoy employee. Hearing the Filipino language is not at all surprising. Plus, I sometimes get perks like better service or an extra refill of my drink just because I’m Pinay. But when I stop to think about it, I can’t help but be both sad and angry about the state of my country. A lot of Filipinos leave the Philippines not because they want to travel or experience what it’s like to live elsewhere. They leave because the so-called opportunities back home cannot provide them and their family a good life. They can do the same work abroad, and get better pay.

Overall, I’m glad I experienced Dubai for as long as I did. I got past the WOW factor. It gave meDesert time to see through the mirage… Not that it was all bad! They’ve built beautiful and functional cities, a strong economy, and thriving businesses. I must also give credit to how they’ve managed to somewhat break out of the strict Islamic religion; somewhat allowing alcohol, pork, and for people (women) to dress as they please. While they still remain shackled to religious tradition, at least they don’t strictly impose these traditions on those of varying beliefs…

But could this be yet another mirage? That’s certainly a possibility. I’ve heard a number of stories that lead me to believe so.

#Pagsasaalaala

I’m beginning a #pagsasaalaala series to force myself to write about my travels from 2012 to 2013.Text: Pagsasaalaala

I should warn you. I don’t consider myself particularly well traveled. There are loads of others that have been to more places. Frankly, I never had the funds (whether mine or someone else’s) to hop from country to country. But thanks to a job, I found myself exploring cities I never thought I’d see with my own eyes – and with a unique perspective.

I was away for business and my weekdays were full of: getting to meetings, answering emails, making calls, doing my own laundry, grocery shopping, chores, and the like. I squeezed in touristy type things, of course. But for the most part, my travels were no vacays. They were expeditions.

Airplane WindowSince I never had the time and/or energy to blog while riding the travel bug, I will rely on pictures, random notes, videos, and my memory to recreate experiences in the UAE, the Netherlands, Japan, etc.

I know that memories aren’t very accurate. Studies have shown that just because we’re absolutely sure about a memory, doesn’t mean it actually happened. We’re also susceptible to other people’s suggestions to fill in memory gaps. And there is such a thing as false memories and false memory syndrome.

Then again, whether experienced or imagined, my memories fascinate me. And I’d like to share them with anyone willing to listen… or read. 🙂

(In case you were wondering, apart from being a tongue twister and a confusing hashtag, #pagsasaalaala is a Filipino word pertaining to calling memories to mind.)