Tag Archives: Travel Information

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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Ilocos Trippin’ Basics

I went from Manila to Vigan. Stayed overnight. Traveled to Laoag, then Pagudpud. I left Manila late Friday night and got back Monday morning.

I suggest you stay an extra day in Pagudpud to enjoy the beach but go when it’s a bit warmer. Nowadays, with the weather going haywire thanks to our wasteful ways, I’m not sure when that’ll be. This year, early March is pretty HOT.

I suggest you follow the same route, but ALSO visit Bangui Windmills and Cape Bojeador Light House on the way to Pagudpud from Laoag. I wasn’t traveling with a group and didn’t want to splurge on a van from Vigan to Pagudpud so I took a bus and couldn’t make pitstops.

Okie dokes! Here’s the skeletal information with my side comments.

Manila to Vigan

How To Get There

Bus Companies

  • I rode a Partas Deluxe Bus from the Cubao station for Php720/person. Pretty spacious and comfortable.
  • 8-9 hours on the road
  • No toilet
  • Bring a jacket! It’s fuh-reezing! Though that’s just me. I don’t fare well in the cold. Hehe!
  • Best call the bus companies for their daily bus schedule and rates. Those fluctuate. 😉

Partas (Cubao) – (+63.2) 727.8278 / 725 1740

Partas (Pasay) – (+63.2) 851.4025 / 410 1307

Florida (Cubao) – (+63.2) 781 5894

Florida (Pasay) – (+63.2) 912 5354

Maria De Leon (Sampaloc, Manila) – (+63.2) 731-4907

Farinas (Sampaloc, Manila) – (+63.2) 731.4507

Where To Stay

  • I stayed in Grandpa’s Inn and I am completely satisfied! They have a great restaurant, a coffee shop, and the place is so quaint and antique-y! I will definitely stay there again.
  • I got the fan room with 2 twin beds and a restroom for just Php980/night!
  • Vigan is very small so anywhere you stay will be close to everything else. No need to stress about that.
  • Here are some places I recommend. Best to call or SMS in advance for questions and reservations.
  • Grandpa’s Inn would be more than happy to help you get a van to tour Laoag, the lighthouse, windmills, and take you to Pagudpud. Just call them up and ask for the rates and schedule! I’m pretty sure the other hotels would be able to do that as well.

Grandpa’s Inn – (+63.917) 580.2118 – Website

Villa Angela Heritage House – (+63.2) 425.6473 / (+63.919) 315.6122 / (+63.927) 894.0610 – Website

Hotel Salcedo de Vigan – (+63.917) 856.4588 / (+63.917) 990.6675 – Website

Vigan Plaza Hotel –  (+63.2) 246.1501 / (+63.77) 722.1527 / 632.0317 – Website

How To Get Around

  • A tricycle will take you anywhere around the city. Php30 should get you to your hotel from the bus station. And that’s for 2 people already!
  • WALK. It’s a tiny city and you see more by walking. Grab a free map from your hotel and explore
  • KALESA or horse-drawn carriage. The kalesa drivers know all the tourist spots (museums, churches, bell tower, pot-making, gardens, zoo, etc.) so just hop on one from off the street and ask him where he can take you! It’s Php150/hour (Rates may change so ask the front desk of your hotel.). Prepare to pay around Php500. There are a lot of places to see! Reserve the whole afternoon for exploring!
  • Feel free to give an extra tip if you can spare the cash. 😉

Where To Go

  • Don’t forget to ask for a map at the front desk of your hotel. All the sites should be on there as well and you can plot out your own route based on where you’re coming from and where you want to end up. 🙂
  • The places are free but they ask for donations. I’d give Php20 per museum just to help them maintain it. 😉
  • Below are the sites you can walk to, fosho’

Calle Crisologo – Cobblestone streets, sound of hooves clonkity clonking, ancestral homes… It’s a beautiful walk that’ll take you back to the Spanish era. Here you’ll find loads of shops where you can buy local woven products like blankets, robes, bags, etc. Furniture, too!

Sy-Quia Mansion – The Vigan residence of 6th president of the Philippines – Elpidio Quirino. If it’s open, there should be a tour guide to explain the history of the house, its furnishings, and the family.

Crisologo Museum – Residence of the Crisologo family turned into a museum

  • You can walk to the places below or take a kalesa already. If you’re up for it, I suggest you walk then hail a kalesa after to save on moolah. 🙂

Vigan Cathedral/St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral

Archbishop’s Residence

Father Jose Burgos’ Residence

Plaza Burgos & Plaza Salcedo

  • It’s best to take a kalesa ride to these next places! It’s a great experience and these sites are far from the city and kalesas are more comfortable and more environment-friendly than tricycles! The horses are
  • The kalesa drivers know where to go and they know information about certain places, too. Feel free to be friendly and ask them questions. They may have some interesting stories to tell!

Bantay’s Bell Tower and St. Augustine Church – Get ready for some cardio up some stairs!

Pagburnayan – You can try to make a clay pot after you watch them. They make it look too easy! You can’t take the pot home with you, though. It is sun dried and takes about a week.

Hidden Garden – I could’ve skipped this, quite honestly.

Sunflower Farm – I’m sad I didn’t get to see the fields of sunflowers! Ask your kalesa driver if the sunflowers are in bloom.

Baluarte Mini Zoo – Pretty interesting considering it’s privately owned by Philippine politician Chavit Singson. There are tigers, ostriches, dears, small horses… Website!

What To Eat

Vigan Longganisa – A longganisa is a small but chubby salty sausage filled with goodness! Vigan is known for their version of the longganisa. Best to eat this for breakfast with garlic rice (called sinangag) and egg. Don’t forget to put a little vinegar (called suka; pinakurat is the type of strong suka they may have) for an extra kick! (I ate this as my free breakfast meal in Grandpa’s Inn!)

Ilocos Empanada – Ilocos has their own brand of empanadas. It’s deep fried and crunchy with egg, meats (preferably longganisa), and a bit of veggies inside. Again, don’t forget the suka! (Irene’s Empanada is really good. They have a nook in Calle Crisologo and another near Sy-Quia Mansion)

Bagnet – Ooh yeah! A delicious slab of fried pork both crunchy and tender! I love  this!!! With rice, of course. And best with a hint of this mixture – bagoong (fish sauce) and calamansi (our tad sweeter mini version of a lemon). You can eat this with the pinakbet as well, since pinakbet is made with bagoong. MM-MM-MMMMMM!!!

Pinakbet – Delish mix of veggies!!! Just try it! Ok. Now I’m hungry.

Vigan to Laoag

How To Get There

  • The front desk of your hotel can check everything for you whether you want to take the bus and need the schedule or get a van ready for you to tour all the way to Laoag and Pagudpud. I suggest you take the van. It’s more expensive but you can split the cost between a group.
  • Should you take the bus, you’ll need to hire a tricycle to tour Laoag.

Where To Eat

Saramsam

La Preciosa

Where To Go

  • To get around, you’ll need to hire a tricycle. They may try to charge you outrageous fees so be wary! We paid Php200 to get from the bus station to a restaurant for lunch and the following sites, then back to the bus station.

Sinking Bell Tower

St. William The Hermit Cathedral

Ilocos Norte Capitol

Tobacco Monopoly Abolition Monument – Right next to the capitol and near the Sinking Bell Tower

Museo Ilocos Norte

  • If only I had time to spare, I would’ve gone to the sites below. These are a bit farther so you’ll have to pay your tricycle driver more. I’ve searched online and Php500 should do it. Go on and try out your bargaining skills! But, again, if you took a van, this wouldn’t be a problem at all. 😉

Paoay Church – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Malacanang of the North, Paoay

Bacarra Bell Tower

La Paz Sand Dunes

Laoag to Pagudpud

How To Get  There

  • Again, I must stress the ease and stress-less-ness (I know that isn’t a word) of hiring a van from Vigan. Because from Laoag I took a non-aircon bus to Pagudpud. *bow*
  • This is the time you can pass through Burgos to visit the Cape Bojeador Light House then the Bangui Windmills – both of which I missed out on. Instead, I experienced sweating onto my seat with my bag on my lap and getting squished to the window with a bunch of random people. Buttttt, you only pay Php60/person! So feel free to choose your adventure. :p
  • Once you reach Pagudpud, pass by the Florida “station”. There are quotation marks ‘coz it’s more like a simple restaurant area but you’ll see the buses outside. Just ask around. PURCHASE YOUR TICKET HOME ALREADY! Just so you’re sure you have a seat. 😉

How To Get Around

  • I’ll give you one guess.
  • Make sure to get the mobile number of your tricycle driver in case you need a ride!

Where To Stay

  • There were a few new resorts sprouting up so go and check online to find more resorts to stay in!
  • Don’t forget to ask the resort if they have free transfers from the bus area to the resort and back when it’s time to say bye-bye.

Villa Del MarWebsite

Hannah’s Website

Terra Rika Website

Where To Go

  • Uhhh… THE BEACH. There are island tours you can try, too. And feel free to take a tricycle to the main town or “bay an” to have some empanada and longganisa. YUM.

That’s about it. BAM!!!