Batanes, Philippines – Travel Tips

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Batanes’ Vayang Rolling Hills

When you want your world to simply slow down; when you want to go back to the basics of life and shake off that day to day clatter involving worldly concerns; when you need to breathe real fresh air and see nature in its unpretentious state; when you want to see man and nature living in harmony, without the former exploiting the latter, then Batanes, Philippines it is! Located at the northern most part of the archipelago  (almost near Taiwan), Batanes is a dream destination for many locals and foreigners alike and with its green rolling hills and pastureland, this place is dubbed as the New Zealand of the Philippines. I have compiled here some tips on how you can make the most from this travel and give you your money’s worth.

Words of caution

Batanes is a beautiful, un-adulterated piece of paradise, with beautiful, really kind and accommodating locals. They are used to a minimalist, laid back kind of life and they love it. The place is an island whose basic commodities (food, fuel, water and yes, even their jeepneys/trikes) come from the mainland (Isabela, Ilocos, Manila) transported by ship and other forms of motorized vehicles which only come once in a while. So, when you visit this place, expect a simple accommodation which offers only simple food choices. DO NOT demand for complicated recipes. DO NOT waste food. DO NOT order more than you can finish. In short, DO NOT GO WASTING THEIR SUPPLY. Air conditioning, electricity or water supply could falter during your stay, expect it.
Wifi is weak to none in Batanes. So hold your horses and keep those IG worthy pictures in your smartphones and SLRs until you get back home.
Once you come into terms with these, you will love everything about Batanes and you will enjoy your stay.

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Sabtang Island’s public transport – Tricycle with cogon roof

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Wearing Ivatan’s National Costume: Vakul (headdress for women), Kanayi (hat for men)

For those who want to play rich,  or those pretending  or think they belong to  the higher class of the society, who would just barrage the locals with complaints about their discomforts or the simplicity in food, accommodation, etc,  please spare the nice Ivatans with your antics. Go somewhere else.

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Basco Light house

 

When to go

With its unpredictable weather all year round, a travel to Batanes needs proper timing. It is best to visit it in the summer time, for bigger chances of good weather throughout your stay (especially if you’re in only for 3D/2D or 4D/3N). This however does not mean that you can go anytime from March to May. You may, but I’m sure you would prefer to have IG worthy pictures, with the green rolling hills and blue sky in the backdrop. Going earlier, may not give you much colour as the grasses haven’t reached its brightest green yet.  Going later, would mean the grasses have already dried up and turned brown. So the best time to go is April!  Of course, this is also the time when air fare and accommodation prices are soaring high. But choosing between high possibility of a good vacation against a weather-threatened stay with not so good view and cancelled island hopping activity, I am sure, the choice is easy.

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Ahao Arc – A natural corral formation 

 

Which Airline to choose
From Manila to Batanes, we took a turbojet plane operated by Skyjet, which departed and landed safely and on time.  On our way back to Manila, however, we booked by Philippine Airlines (PAL). Having experienced strong wind with heavy rain on our 3rd day of stay (take note it was middle of April at that!) , we learned that PAL flights have been cancelled that day.  PAL uses turboprop types of planes for its MNL-BATANES fleet during that time. This has kept us worried for our flight which will be the next day. Luckily on our 4th day (our schedule to fly back to Manila) the sun came up and PAL flights were resumed. But with the previous day’s cancellation, you can imagine the problems with the stranded cargo and passengers which were pushed back to our flight. Most of the passengers were asked to leave their luggage behind for the next flight (which is the following day) since our flight has already reached the maximum safety loading capacity.  With this experience, I highly suggest Skyjet  or any airline that uses

 

Where to Stay
We checked in at Nathaniel Lodge, which was a modest two-story building within downtown of Basco. The room was clean (we were even upgraded to a big room with 2 double beds), and we were supplied with the basic things we needed: toiletries and clean beddings. You can request to have your beddings changed every day, but we opted to keep it unchanged during our 3 nights stay. This was our way of helping both the locals and the environment. Receptionists were very helpful and always willing to assist us with our needs and requests (booking us for lunch or dinner at a certain restaurants or calling for transportation service and the likes). Breakfast was included in our package and it was a simple plated meal, consisting of a cup of rice, fried dried flying fish, scrambled egg and a cup of instant (3-in-1) coffee. The following day, the fried dried fish would be substituted with processed meat such as longganisa, tocino or hotdog. 2017 summer price for a double occupancy room was ~PhP 2000/night
You can check their website at https://www.nathanielslodgebatanes.com/ for details.

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Nathaniel Lodge

 

Self Tour or Package Tour?
Public transportation in Batanes is mostly by tricycle. One special trip costs 100 to 150 pesos. You can wander around Basco on  foot (it is such a small and safe town), but you will need a good transportation service to reach those tourist attractions. You can rent a tricycle for a whole day of touring for 1,000 to 1400 pesos (2017 fare rate). With this, we opted for the 3-Day Batanes Tour Package offered by Bisumi Tours whose service was impressive. Their choice of restaurant for the included lunch was simple yet the food quality is not compromised. 2017 price for the 3-Day Tour was at PhP 5,500 per person, inclusive of 2 days lunch, transportation (van), a driver and a very nice, knowledgeable tour guide, who goes by the name of Juliet and who also, happens to be one heck of a good volunteer photographer/choreographer.
You can click on below link to visit their website. https://www.bisumitours.com/
They now have more options to choose from, including packages with accommodation.

 

Tidbits
1. Phil’s Brew
For coffee addicts who need their daily caffeine boost, Phil’s Brew is a homely, neighbourhood-type café that serves brewed coffee and its variants latte and cappuccino. They also have hot native chocolate (tableya) and freshly baked signature Ivatan cakes made from Batanes’ root crops namely “wakay” (sweet potato), “dukay” (lesser yam),  “uvi” ( purple yam) and “sudi” (taro) . Whether it is the brewed cup of coffee you wanted badly or you needed to simply relax after a whole day of touring, the world seems to slow down at her modestly landscaped garden.  Phil’s Brew is just a walking distance from any accommodation within central Basco area. The owner/manager Tita Imee (the late Phil’s daughter) is very accommodating. On our first day of visit, I suggested a tweak in her cake recipe. Imagine on our 2nd day visit, she served me with the modified version, for free!

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By Phils Brew: A cup each of brewed coffee, hot cocoa (tableya) and cake made from Ivatan’s root crop 

Take note of their daily opening schedule below:
Address: Amboy cor. Argonza St., Kaychanarianan, Basco, Batanes
Mon to Sat (8:30AM-11:00AM & 3:00PM-8:00PM)
Sunday (9:00AM-12:00NN & 4:00PM-8:00PM)

2. Dining Choices

a. Vunong Dinette, a restaurant that serves traditional Ivatan food namely: Turmeric rice wrapped in vunung leaf (vunung is a family of breadfruit);  Uved (grated banana root, mixed with minced pork/beef/fish rolled and shaped into golf ball sizes); Lunyis (salted pork fried in its own lard); The uved and lunyis were served wrapped in yet another vunung leaf.  We actually have to use the broad leaf itself as plate. This is an environment-friendly way of doing away with paper plates or washable plates that still would need soap and water.

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Traditional Ivatan food wrapped in vunung leaf 

 

 

b. Tukon Fundacion Pacita – Nestled on a hilltop in Sitio Tukon, about 5-km away from Basco (so you will need to take special trip by tricycle or van), Fundacion Pacita is a higher end hotel that is formerly the house of national artist and Ivatan native Pacita Abad. Café du Tukon that boasts their use of organic ingredients. Ambiance was good, and the food quality and service were above average. It is worth noting that Café du Tukon is not spared from the normal predicament of most restaurants in Batanes on issues concerning non-availability of an entry in a menu and out of stock ingredients due to the scheduled supply from mainland. Please bear with it. It is best to call and make reservations ahead to be sure of being accommodated.

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c. Batanes Octagon – Probably named so, because of their cctagon-shaped  dining cottages. They serve typical Filipino food such as bulalo, kare kare, sinigang. The prices are reasonable, the food quality is just normal.

What to pack

Having mentioned about the unpredictable weather, it is better to bring along the following:
1. Something light for the summer weather (shorts, cotton trousers and tops)
2. Bring a sweater or windbreaker as it could get cold anytime.
3. A pair of sneakers is recommended so you’ll be able to trek the slopes and go in and out of caves.
4. Bring also a pair of flipflops, just in case your sneakers get wet (from unexpected rain).
5. Bring umbrella / hat or raincoat to shield you from sun or rain
6. Don’t forget the sunscreen lotion and sunglasses
7. Bottled Water (best if you could bring with you a water tumbler, that way, you help minimize trash generation)

Batanes is a bit pricy for a destination, the biggest chunk of  which goes to airfare. Just bear in mind that you go there to appreciate the beauty of nature and the authenticity of the kindness of Ivatans;  immerse in their culture and NOT to indulge in luxurious food, accommodation and so on. If you keep these in mind, you will come back home satisfied, and you will feel that it was worth every centavo you spent.
FACE THE NORTH…go to BATANES!

Euro Tour Part 4 (Final Leg) – Paris, France in 2.5 days

The 4th and last leg of our Euro Tour is The city of love, the city of lights.

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Friends, who know me well, would raise an eyebrow if I say I am travelling to Paris. They know I am the type who would prefer a more adventurous type of outdoor activity, something that involves a lot of nature, wilderness or the ancient world. Paris, being universally known as the City of Love, just doesn’t fit into my un-romantic preferences.

So why, you might wonder, I still went? The answer is quite obvious, and you would have done the same thing. I was already in that area of Europe, so I might as well the see this overly romanticized place and floor my curiosity, but I have read a lot and have been amply warned, so I knew what to expect.

Despite IG photos showing love in the air, with the famous Eifel Tower in the backdrop, it is far from romantic. So don’t be fooled and manage your expectations. Better acquaint yourself with the thing called Paris Syndrome, lest you fall ill with it. But that is not to say that there are no interesting places here. In fact the Eiffel Tower pales in comparison to those monuments and churches that we have visited.

So Paris it is…

Day 11

From Amsterdam Centraal, it was a 3.5-hr train ride to Paris passing through Brussels, Belgium. It was also a costly journey as hubby and I decided to just buy the ticket a day prior, to give us more flexibility in our schedule. What we forgot to anticipate was the influx of travellers going to Paris for the upcoming Bastille Day.

We arrived in Paris at almost 2PM and checked in at our Hotel which is a good 800m walk from the train Station.

Musee de Louvre – The Louvre Museum (6PM) – Group Tour by Walks of France

 

Going to the world’s largest, most popular and most visited art museum, needs proper strategy. You have to consider the crowd, the security measures and time. Having more than 380,000 objects and about 35,000 works of art on display, one can spend months inside if he is to look at each of them. It is important to prioritize as there is a vast display of themes which ranges from Italian to Greek to Egyptian, French and many more. If your main (or the only) purpose is to see the Mona Lisa and be able to have an IG post with it, then go straight to it (1st floor 13-15th century Italian paintings). You can walk aimlessly from one display to another after that. However if you want to give more depth to your visit and probably see and learn more, then a tour guide is highly recommended.

Not wanting to get lost in the maze of The Louvre and at the same time not wanting to miss the most important ones, we just joined the group tour offered by Walks of France.

We picked this special tour which is only available every Wednesday (the day of the week when Louvre extends its opening hours until 9:30PM) and gives a very good timing for those who want to avoid the crowd. We started with the tour of the underground to see what remains of the foundation of Philippe August’s fortress that the Louvre used to be in the 12th century. This tour was strategically planned such that the last stop to see is the famous Mona Lisa, which is about 10-15 minutes before closing time. The old adages “saving the best for last” and “delayed gratification” held so true here as the normally jam-packed Mona Lisa section, during those last few minutes, is so spacious that we could have played volleyball or “patintero” in the room.”

 

Tickets:

Option 1: For self tour, buy your ticket online to avoid long queue: There is also an option at the website should you prefer a tour guide. https://www.ticketlouvre.fr/louvre/b2c/index.cfm/home

Option 2: Avail the one offered by Walks of France:

        https://www.takewalks.com/paris-tours/louvre-tour-mona-lisa/

Transportation.

From Gare De L’Est (Verdun) Metro Station, Take M7 line.

  1. Alight at Palais- Royale (Musee de Louvre) Metro station.
  2. From the station it is a 3 min walk to the Museum

Tips in visiting Musee de Louvre

  1. Pre book online to avoid long queue.
  2. Study the map and floor plan. It is a vast place and one could easily get lost.
  3. Short list those arts which you wish to see.
  4. You can stay for as long as you want but 3-hrs is optimum if you don’t want to feel overwhelmed.
  5. Mona Lisa room is the most crowded of all. Save it for last: around 9:30PM (Wednesdays/Fridays) when crowd has thinned out.
  6. There are special days when Musee de Lourve is open for free. Get tuned by visiting the official website for updated announcements. https://www.ticketlouvre.fr/louvre/b2c/index.cfm/home

 

Day 12 – Self Tour

12.1 – Basilique du Sacre-Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart) – 10-11:30 AM

This is the 2nd most visited monument in Paris. Located atop Montartre (the highest point in Paris being at 130m above sea level), this church reaches up to 83m high with its  bell tower and dome, making it the 2nd highest point in Paris, next to Eifel Tower. This would make a good option for those Lenten “Visita Iglesia” activities as the commute to the very site it is already penitence in itself. Despite being armed with a map, we still made some wrong turns along the winding uphill path but our hard work was paid off when we finally see the whipped cream-like edifice which was built from stones quarried from Chateau Landon area. These kinds of stones secrete calcite, when it comes in contact with rain water which explains its creamy white appearance.

Built between 1875-1914, this Basilica was said to have been constructed as a national vow if Paris escaped untouched during the French-Prusian War. But since France lost to the said war, it was also interpreted as a condemnation for the sins of Paris and building this church was a way of reparation.

Tickets:  Entrance to the Basilica is free

Transportation:
Take Subway Line 4, and alight at Chateau Rogue
From Chateau Rogue, walk southwest ward along Rue Poulet, turn right along Rue Clignancourt.
Turn left at Rue Mueller, continue on to Rue Maurice Utrillo (a park area).

 12.2 – Arc de Triomphe (12-2PM)

 

Conceptualized in 1806 and completed between 1833-1836, this 50-meter high monument, which is also the rallying point of military parades, honours those soldiers who fought and died for France during the French Revolutions and Napoleonic Wars. At the bottom of the arc is the tomb of the Unknown Soldier who died in WWI. This is also the reason why parades and other celebrations nowadays avoid marching directly through the Arc.

Accessing the Arc is a bit tricky as it is situated at the centre of a very busy roundabout. By Bus#30, we alighted at Charles de Gaulle-Étoile-Kleber station, but we were still about 100 meters from the Arc’s base. We do not know how to get to the Arc’s base and we did not see people crossing the street just to get to it. There must be an underground passage, but where?  (This one, I failed to do my due diligence). We can circle the Arc to look for it, but that would mean about 630 m circumference walk not to mention crossing the 12 roads of chaotic traffic.   There was not much choice but to start doing so. Looking around, we can see people disappearing into what we suspected as a subway entrance. Without signage, we took the entrance and lo and behold, it lead us to the ticketing booth and entrance section of Arc de Triumph. After a passing through a tight security check, we found ourselves climbing up the narrow winding staircase towards the top. (You can opt to take the elevator.) And at the top, we get to see Paris, especially the stretch of the famous fashion street that is Champ Elysees.

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Entrance access to the base of Arc de Triomphe

Tickets:

There is no need to pre book. You can just go there straight away and buy entrance ticket if you wish to climb to its deck.

Transportation

Take Subway Line 4 or Bus Line 30 or RER and alight at Charles de Gaulle—Étoile station. From Charles de Gaule-Etoile station look for the two underpasses located at the Champs Élysées and the Avenue de la Grande Armée to access the base.

 

12.3 – The Eifel Tower (3PM)

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When you talk about Paris, you always think about Eiffel tower. In fact, Paris has become synonymous with the Eiffel Tower that you can never talk about one without imagining the other. Nobody goes to Paris without having his photo taken with the Eiffel tower in it. Due to its popularity, I need not talk about its background, but here are some interesting facts which may not be known to most.

  1. Though it is named after the Gustave Eiffel (the owner of the construction company), it was the 2 senior engineers Maurice Koechlin and Émile Nouguier who were the brains of the design and construction.
  2. The Eiffel gets taller by around 15cm in summer time as it (purely made of metal) expands due to higher temperature.
  3. It was supposed to be a temporary structure, planned to be dismantled after the Paris exposition on 1889 celebrating 100 years of French Revolution, where it was used as an exhibit and an entrance structure.
  4. It provides a good wireless radio antenna which during WW1 was able to intercept a coded message between Germany and Spain that included information about “operative-H21” and eventually lead to the capture of Dutch-born exotic dancer spy Mata Hari.
  5. The Eiffel Tower never surrendered to the Nazis during the war. When the Nazi war machine entered Paris, French people cut the cable of the lift, leaving no choice for Hitler but to climb it. The big swastika was also not successfully hoisted on top, so they have to make do with a much smaller one.
  6. Hitler ordered General Dietrich von Choltitz complete demolition of Eiffel Tower, but fortunately the General disobeyed.

I booked this online 1 month prior because I knew this is the most coveted attraction. I chose the 3PM entry time which I presumed is just right if we will be coming from Arc de Triumph at 2PM by Tram or bus. However, from our difficulties locating both Arc de Triumph and Sacre Coeur earlier that day, I didn’t want to take chances being late, so we hailed a taxi. With only a few minutes to spare, we rushed to the guarded entrance only to be told, that The Eifel is closed for the day due to President Trump’s visit. This is a very disappointing development, but there is nothing much I could do so I grabbed some sundae, to keep my cool. I hate it when my plans get ruined. I later learned that they have given advance notification by email to those guests who have pre booked on the affected time slots, asking them to come earlier or re schedule their bookings for free. With that, I commend The Eiffel Tour Management for their sense of responsibility. It was my fault that I didn’t check my emails.

Tickets:

Book online in advance. There is an option should you wish to go to the summit or just the 2nd floor. This is the official ticketing website:   https://www.toureiffel.paris/en

Transportation:

By Metro:
Option1:  Metro 6 – alight at Bir-Hakeim
Option 2: Metro 9 – alight at Trocadero
Option 3.RER C – alight at Champ de Mars – Tour Eiffel

Buy Bus:  You can take any of the following Buses:  42,  69,  72,  82 ,  87

 

12.4 – Notre Dame de Paris (4-5PM)

From Eiffel, we proceeded to Notre Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris).Another Paris emblem, this church is considered as the finest of French gothic architecture with its rose windows, arcs, flying buttress and intricate sculptural decorations depicting those scenes and characters from the Bible. Construction began in 1160, and was completed in 1260 (100 years in the making!) Of course, the cathedral was not spared from the wars and riots during the time which resulted to destruction of most of its statues and treasures. During the French Revolution it became a warehouse that served as storage of food. It was only after the success of Victor Hugo’s novel “Hunchback of Notre Dame” in 1831 that interest in restoration of the Cathedral was again conceptualized.

Tickets:

Entrance to Notre Dame Cathedral itself if free, but should you wish to climb the towers, you have to pay €10 which can be pre-booked (see http://www.tours-notre-dame-de-paris.fr/en/Prepare-for-your-visit/Practical-information). You can also climb it for free if you availed of the Paris Pass (more on this later).

Transportation:

Take RER C and alight at St Michael Nd RER C. Continue walking southeast ward until you reach Pont Au Double (an overpass), which you will take to cross the River Seine.

 

12.5 – Dinner Cruise by Le Calife (6PM on wards)

A must-do in Paris, this one is the best and probably what made our Paris visit romantic. I recommend setting this on the 2nd to the last evening of your stay. I say, second to the last evening, so you will get another chance the following night in case something inevitable comes up (like high level of water on the river and the boat cannot cruise) . Another reason to save it for last is:  as a way of anticipating for possible Paris Syndrome attack, this Le Calife Dinner Cruise could probably act as antidote.

There are a lot of cruises along river Seine which are being offered, but Le Calife is definitely one that will make it more memorable.  It is a 2-hour dinner cruise on a boat barge with retractable roofing (for you to see the stars in a cloudless night?). The journey is perfectly timed such that you will be cruising along River Seine from dusk and just in time to see Paris and the Iron Lady Eifel come alive with lights!  To say that the food is great is an understatement. Staff members are courteous and service is superior. Since it is a fine dining cruise, crowd is not an issue as guest quantity is limited and controlled (pre booked). Talking about guests, if you’re up to playing dress up, then you are most welcome here. We had a couple of guests who just got engaged while we all cheered on.

It was almost a perfect night, until I felt the need to use the ladies room. I didn’t notice there was a glass door leading to the 1st level dining area (where the toilet is). So you could imagine all those diners looking at me as I shattered their quiet evening when my forehead made an impact against the glass door.  To make matters worse, I have to cross the centre aisle of the whole dining area to get to the washroom. Deymnnnn!

It must have been the wine! Nevertheless it still was the best night.

For more information, this is their official website. Depending on your chosen date, you may need to call to make a reservation. A deposit payment is also needed to confirm the booking.  http://www.calife.com/english

 Day 13 – Self Tour

Day 13.1 is Bastille Day (July 14, 2017) – 9AM

This day is supposed to be shopping day at Champ Elysees, but the shops are inaccessible due to the security barricades installed along that street and the thick crowd celebrating the Bastille Day. We didn’t really plan well enough for this. Honestly, had I known days in advance that it will Bastille Day, I would have –rearranged our itinerary. Remembering the terrorist attack on Bastille Day of 2016, and being the paranoid that I am, I was apprehensive to go out on this day. People would be out on the street and what is more appealing to terrorists than this scenario. This is one of the grandest in France’s annual celebrations marked with military parade, fireworks and acrobatic display by French Air Force.  Tight security was evident especially along Champ Elysees, the street where the heart of the celebration is held. I was just able to see a little of the parade as I couldn’t move forward through the thick crowd of onlookers. This is also a day when your feet and your fitness level will be put to test. There was no choice but to walk since all the trams and trains passing this way were suspended.  I have to admit, I had lump in my throat, as I watched the Fly Past (Air Display) with envy, thinking back home, wondering  when would my country be able to make such a luxurious display too.

As soon as the Fly Past ended, we moved out of these crowded area to places with much lesser crowd:

Day 13.2 Sainte Chapelle (11 AM)

Another building of Gothic architectural style is Sainte Chapelle. Construction started in 1238 and was completed in 1248 (also a decade long of construction). Initial purpose was to house King Louis IX’s collection of relics from the Passion of Jesus Christ, including the Crown of Thorns (which is in Notre Dame Cathedral). Just like most of Paris’ architectural landmarks, Sainte Chapelle has been badly damaged during the French Revolution and it was only in the 19th century when restoration was done. Sainte Chapelle prides itself with the widest (630sqm) and most complex  stained glass windows depicting 1130 Biblical figures from both the New and Old Testament. One of the highlights of this tour is the presentation of the innovative restoration techniques that were used for the upkeep of this chapel especially of those colourful windows.

Tickets:

There is no need to pre-book. Entrance to St. Chapelle costs €10 , but if you have Paris pass, you can present it to gain free access.

Transportation:

Take Metro Line 4 and alight at Cite. Walk southwest-ward along Boulevard de Palais for about 40 meters and on your right is the entrance to the place.

 

Day 13.3 Pantheon (2PM)

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The Pantheon of Paris was built as a way of a vow made by King Louis XV, if he recovered from his illness. He did recover and so a few years later The Pantheon foundations were laid and it took about 30 years to complete the edifice. The Pantheon was originally constructed as church, but shortly after its completetion, it was converted into a mausoleum for the interment of the great Frenchmen. Victor Hugo, Voltaire and scientist Marie Curie are among those who are interred here.

My interest was captured by Foucult Pendulum that is suspended from its dome and swings back and forth. Foucult Pendulum was an experiment designed by French Physicist Leon Foucault to demonstrate and prove about the earth’s rotation. It is in this very dome of the Pantheon of Paris, in 1851 where Focoult suspended a 28-kg brass-coated lead bob with a 67-m-long wire to prove his point. The pendulum currently on display is just a replica of the original which is now in Musée des Arts et Métiers. (I highly suggest to Google about Foucult Pendulum. It is so interesting!)

         Tickets:

There is no need to pre-book and there not much queue here. Entrance to Pantheon costs €8.50 , but then again with Paris pass, you gain free access to it.

Transportation:

Option A (for those up to the challenge):

Take RER B and alight at Luxemburg Station. From Luxembourg station it will be about 600m walk (snaking through narrow and hilly streets) to Pantheon. (~45m Northward along Boulevard St Michel, turn right on Rue Royer-Collard. Walk for another 45 m to cross  Rue Gay-Lussac towards Rue Le Goff. Continue on along Rue Le Goff and turn right on Rue Malebranche. Continue along Rue Malebranche and cross Rue Saint-Jacques towards Rue des Fosses Saint-Jacques. It will be about 100m walk along this street, and then you will have to turn left on Rue Clotaire. In about 45m, you will see the Pantheon. Whew! Just writing it, relives the trouble we had when we were looking for it.

A note of advice: just when you are starting to doubt and think that you are on the wrong track as the buildings/private properties and shops that you pass by are small and you cannot believe there is a Pantheon in any of these areas, just believe there will be at the end of the road (lol).

      Option B: Take a taxi!

Day 13. 4 Walk around  some more

Since this is our last day and the conclusion of our Euro Tour, we just strolled around, enjoyed the food and did some shopping.  We were still able to see some more historical building such as the Conciergerie where Queen Marie Antoniette was imprisoned during the French Revolution. There was also the Cultural Center Institure de France and a Monument for St. Michael de Archangel (which is a patron saint of my hometown, Oas, Albay)

 

Day 13. 5 Bastille Day (Night) Fireworks Display

We went back to our hotel at around 4PM, to take a rest and pack up for the following day’s long haul back home. We were still undecided whether to go out that night to watch the “highly recommended” spectacular (they say) fireworks display on Eiffel Tower for the Bastille Night Celebration. The hotel’s concierge prodded us to go, but anticipating the long walk back to hotel after the grand celebration (trains, I have read, are jam-packed during these hours, that most spectators return to their hotels on foot), considering our tired feet that badly need massage, and the fact that we are not really that fond of fireworks, we opted to just stay in our room (the Eiffel cannot be viewed from hotel room window). The following morning, while waiting for boarding at the airport, I hear a lot of comments about how much they were awed by the fireworks display and so on. I suddenly regretted to have passed up that opportunity to watch.

Tidbits

Paris Transportation

If there is one triumph that I feel, it is that I was able to navigate Paris via public transportation and coming from a country whose public transport system is way much different, I can say that I deserve a pat in the back. Again, I would reiterate to be physically fit to do this. The good thing about it, is you can feast on all European food without the worry of calories, since you are constantly hopping on and off trains and walking along endless streets.

To make our public travel more convenient, we availed of the Paris Pass , which  allows you unlimited rides in trains , trams, buses and ferries. It also gives you free pass on numerous museums and landmarks.  Click on below link for more info about Paris Pass. You need to buy in advance and arrange for mail delivery or pick up. https://en.parisinfo.com/transport/107175/Paris-visite

Hotel

We stayed at Ibis Hotel Gare du Nord which is conveniently located near Paris Gare du Nord and Gare del Est central stations. The hotel was clean, service was good and the breakfast buffet was good with fair selection of freshly baked breads, cereals, cold cuts, juices and brewed coffee.

Safety

I got a lot of advise to be very careful  and watchout for pranksters and pick pockets in Paris, so we were very cautious especially in public transpo. Fortunately we didn’t encounter one, but pls do your own diligence in searching about different cases of scams usually targeting tourists. Stick to the basic rule of never leaving your things unattended and never entertain offers from private individuals about tickets, passes and promos that promise discounted rates. Turn down politely those offering to take pictures for you or offering to watch out luggages for you.

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It is when you are not expecting much that you invariable get more. This is true with Paris. I was brazing for disappointment, but it was my not being so obsessed with romance and the Eiffel Tower, that I came to appreciate the best of Paris. There is so much to see, museums and medieval edifices to appreciate, that romance takes the backside of your purpose for the visit and it did me good!

There are still many interesting places to see, but what we saw and learned will suffice for now. We feel we have maximized Paris for 2 and a half days.

Back to my country, I have one wish:  That our own government tightly support protection, restoration and proper maintaiance of old / historical buildings, monuments and churches. By support, I would mean, giving proper budget, making laws to protect them and ensuring tight enforcement of this laws and appointing responsible and capable people/committe to oversee this care and to protect demolition of these old monuments. I have seen old churches restored to modern designs. I have seen old belfrys  (spanish era) demolished just to meet the wishes of a barangay official to erect a new one. This is unacceptable. There must be some laws, but it is not properly enforced or the government officials are not adequately informed. We are a country of people who so love change and think that keeping abreast with the latest modern design is better than keeping the classic ones. We are losing our treasures and our identity in the process.

This concludes our Euro Tour.

Home sweet home!

Euro Tour Part 3 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)

I chose Netherlands as my next stop, solely for the windmills and tulips, but boy, I got more!

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Growing up in small village with a dam nearby, which the locals called “diki” (pronounced as “dee-key”, it was natural for me to assume that it is just the vernacular for “dike”, which I again assumed is synonymous to dam. So, when, in Grade 5 (or was it Grade 6?) we read the poem “A Leak in the Dike” (by Phobe Cary) it kept me wondering how the boy was able to save the whole village from flooding by plugging a hole in the dike with his finger. With no sketches available, no background about the poem, I couldn’t imagine where he was positioned to be able to do that, as the “dam-dike” that I was familiar with cannot be accessed on either side (one side has deep, sometimes overflowing water , the other side releasing water turbulently), and it also didn’t have something sort of an overpass. I never had the courage to ask the teacher.

It took me halfway around the globe to Netherlands, to know that there is a difference between a dike and a dam and to make sense of the poem which I long ago put at the back of my mind.

But first, let’s start. Netherlands is part 3 of our Euro Tour

euro tour leg3

Day 8: Munich  Airport to Amsterdam, Netherland

I was considering between two ways of getting to Amsterdam from Munich. One option was by sleeper train, which I was curious to experience (honestly,  I haven’t been on one yet) and the other option was by plane. Fare-wise, there is not much difference between plane and sleeper train (based on our  chosen travel time and cabin class).
Duration wise, considering the time you have to allot going to airport, checking in, wait for boarding, disembarking, waiting for luggage and train ride to Amsterdam central, you can only save around 3 hours traveling by plane compared with by sleeper train.
We finally chose by plane, solely for reason of physical rest. I knew how exhausting it is to be on the road nonstop for 10 hours. We’ve been traveling for 8 days now, and we wanted to at least take it slow, since we still have many places to go and getting sick is the last thing we wanted.  By plane we got some perks: we were on the same flight with The Netherland’s Basketball Team!

Day 9. 
9.1- Anne Frank House (09:15)

 

Ok I admit, I visited Anne Frank House, only because I knew she was this young girl who wrote something in a diary that eventually became a bestseller and catapulted her to stardom posthumus. But honestly, I haven’t read her diary. It never entered my mind to do so. Now I’m wondering (and feeling a bit resentful) why our high school English Teacher or college communication/humanities instructors, didn’t require us to read it.  (It was probably because of some entries in the diary which explore on sexuality…and teachers didn’t know how to address it come discussion with students. Anyway…)

The inside of the house showed the original layout where they hid for 2 years and it is very much is in agreement with the entries in her diary. (I recommend reading first or refreshing oneself with the diary before visiting the place). The kitchen sink, the stairs to the attic, the markings made by Otto Frank on the wall, to check on the height of his growing girls, the magazine clippings pasted by Anne on the wall, they are still there. Of course the famous memento, Anne Frank’s original red plaid diary, the pages of which looked brittle and in browned state, is on display enclosed a glass casing.

This is a very emotional visit, something that had me leaving the place with a heavy heart and tearful eyes; something that made me buy a copy of “The Diary of a Young Girl” from their souvenir shop and started reading as soon as I had free time. This visit had jumpstarted me into digging deeper about Holocaust, anti-Semitism and World War II. I was so engrossed with the details of her life story that even after our euro tour, I kept on reading how the house was saved from demolition; the technology they used to restore the walls and posters on the house. Mind you, I even searched the net to know how Peter Schiff (Ann’s lost puppy love) looked like and what Hello had to say during his interviews in his old days. I was bitten by the Anne Frank bug. (No picture-taking allowed inside)

Going to Ann Frank Haus

Transportation: We took Tram#13 from Amsterdam Centraal and Alighted at Westermarkt. From Westermarkt, we rounded the bend to the right along Prinsengracht. Straight ahead on the right side is Anne Frank’s House, conspicuous with tourists forming long queue.

Tickets are only sold online and it is highly encouraged to buy ahead of time. Slots are available 2 months in advance. Here is the official website:  https://www.annefrank.org/en/museum/tickets/.
You can stay inside for as long as you want.

9.2 – Van Gogh Museum (11:30)

 

 

It was the Starry, Starry Night-Vincent Song, which introduced me to Vincent Van Gogh, thanks to one of my teachers, who made it a topic in one of our class discussions. At some point in my teenage life, a stage, where most teenagers were struggling to find a place for oneself under the sun; a time when one is fighting for acceptance and is vulnerable to rejection, that the last line in the song “this world is never meant for one as beautiful as you” kept on ringing in my ears (undiagnosed teenage depression?) So somehow, I was able to relate to Van Gogh’s inner battles.  I am no artist and I don’t have the queer eye to differentiate one painting style from another (impressionist, expressionist fauvism, so on), however I can appreciate them in the most basic way -not by the price that comes with every painting- but by colour combination; 3D effect; the eyes that sees through you;  possibly the emotions the painting convey; the intricacies that come with every stroke of the brush on the canvass giving the finished product the vivid image of which otherwise will forever remain in the mind of the artist.  I may not be familiar with most of Van Gogh’s paintings, but when I laid eyes on them, I saw a commonality of emotion…one of sad tone. I was momentarily transported to those teenage days…

The Museum is a four story building of modern design with well-managed visitors’ reception system. Though this place receives more than a million tourists every year, it never felt crowed due to its spacious layout. You can stay for as long as you want. There is a good cafeteria and souvenir shop on the ground floor. (

Going to Van Gogh Museum

Tickets: Skip the long queue by buying ticket online directly from the official website: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en.  Tickets come with interactive audio guide.

Transportation:  There are several buses that run the route along Van Gogh Museum.
Option 1: From Ann Frank House

Option 1a: From Ann Frank,  walk  southward (about 160m) to Westermarkt  Station and take Bus #172  .  Alight at Rijksmuseum. From Rijksmuseum, walk to  Van Gogh Museum (about 260m)
Option 1b: From Ann Frank House,  walk southward to Rosengracht St. (1st Street), then turn left along this street to Amsterdam, Dam station (you will pass by  4 canals). Take Bus#s 2 or 5 and alight at Van Baerlestraat. From Ban Vaerlestraat, walk about 150m northeast ward to Van Gogh museum.

Option 2:  From Amsterdam Centraal
Take Bus No.12 or  Bus No 2 and alight at Van Baerlestraat. From Ban Vaerlestraat, walk about 150m northeast ward to Van Gogh museum.

9.3 – Zaanse Schans Windmills, Marken and Volendam HalfDay Trip from Amsterdam  – by Viator/Lindbergh Travel

9.3.1 The windmills

For the child in me, Holland is synonymous to two things: Windmills and Tulips. Is it not for most?  So what is a visit to Holland without seeing windmills in full working condition?

 

This trip started at 2:45 PM in front of Lindbergh Excursions Office, 26  Damrak, Amsterdam.  It is a 3-minute walk from Central Station. We were provided with an energetic tour guide named Peter who speaks English, Spanish and some German. He volunteers as a photographer too.  Our bus took us out of Amsterdam through Coen Tunnel , a part of A-10 motor way which is submerged under the North Sea Canal. We literally went 22 meters underwater for a few minutes through a tube, before emerging. In about half an hour I could now see the “Old Holland” that is stereotyped in my mind:  country side, rivers, graze land, green houses and guess what…the iconic windmills! We were given time to explore the village on our own which has its own museum, cafes and souvenir shop. Our package also came with free entrance to one of its windmills, to see its inner workings.  The one we saw, Windmill de Zoeker, is used to press oil from seeds. It is the only oil mill that is still in operation. Other windmills are used for grinding grains to make flour, or to drain away excess water from polders.   Would you believe that? All along, I thought windmills are just used to convert wind power to energy (Haha!). If you want to get as close as possible to the rotating sails and have a good aerial view of  Saanze Schans, you can take the ladder up to the balcony and  feel the wind.

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Windmill de Zoeker

9.3.2 Volendam

Our next stop is Volendam, an old fishing village in North Holland.  Here we get to visit a Cheese Making factory, where a Dutch lady in Dutch traditional costume explained the process of cheese-making. After a short, humour-filled demo and a tour of a room showing the actual process, we proceeded to a room with rows of cheese on shelves. Yellow cheese, green cheese, dotted cheese, gigantic cheese! Then on to my most awaited part…I got into an unlimited cheese-tasting binge.  I got overwhelmed with the various, never-tried-before flavours, such that in the end, I was not able to conclude what was the best from those I tasted! They all tasted great!

 

While waiting for our ferry to take us to Marken, I tried the fish and chips called Kibbeling from Restaurant De Lunch which tour guide Peter has been raving about. True enough, they were fresh breaded cod fish, deep fried to crispiness. With mayo-based dip and equally crispy potatoes on the side, I just had Volendam’s specialty snack for less than 4 euros.

The ferry still has not yet arrived, so to kill time, I tried one scoop of ice cream from Restaurant de Dijk, which they say is the best ice cream in Volendam. I am not really a fan of ice cream, but I got another one of different flavour after I devoured the first one.
Pacing back and forth along the harbour walk, I was contemplating of having a souvenir photo of myself taken in Dutch Traditional Costume at one of the shops, but the ferry finally came.

9.3.3 Marken

It was 30-minute ferry ride from Volendam across IJselmeer lake (formerly Zuiderzee) to Marken. Marken used to be an island and a fishing village of North Holland and is a coast of North sea. We made our way (on foot) to the clog-making factory, through a small narrow path walk snaking across a small quiet neighbourhood, with typical Dutch houses and flower gardens.

 

If there is one thing that the Dutch have contributed to the fashion industry, it was the Clogs.  Oldest  surviving clogs is found in Netherland and is dated around 1200. They were initially used by farmers as foot protection.

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Clog Making Factory

I was a bit disappointed when Clog making demonstration was done using a machine. I was more on expecting they will show the manual way. I was excited to know how our Paete carvers would fare. Nevertheless, it was a demonstration filled with humour. There is a souvenir shop on the factory where you can choose from an array of pair of clogs of various sizes and paint designs.

 

The Awakening

We made our way back to Amsterdam Central along Zeedijk causeway, a dike that was built in 1957 connecting Marken to the mainland, after which Marken ceased to be an island. It was while listening to the audio commentary on our tour bus, explaining the Afsluidijk, the Zuiderzee works, Netherland’s constant and often disastrous flooding and the anti-flooding controls which civil and hydraulic engineers consider as one of the world’s wonders that I came to realize the difference between a dam and a dike. Suddenly, I remembered that poem, and it dawned on me, that probably it was written in Holland’s setting. (I later checked, and it was!) Ohhh…the wonders of travelling.
But there is still one question in my mind. Our teacher said the boy died. I revisited the poem and there is one line contradicting another.  “…neighbours are bearing between them something straight to her(mother’s) door” (which indicates he is in lying position, probably dead?) against “And God has saved his life!” (which indicated his is alive). Can someone please clarify?

Going back to Afsluidijk and Zuiderzee works, being an engineer myself, I was in awe of this technology that was already present in 1932. Can we at least give it a try in our county? Considering our geographical set-up, we are prone to floods and storm surges. (I am not taking about floods in metropolitan area, as they are caused by poor drainage system – that one we need to learn from those designed by the Romans.)  It may be difficult to construct a network of dikes and dams to connect one island to another, but at least we can do something on those coastal areas. Yes it t is a long term and a bold plan, but we have great engineers, we have some money, we can start slow. I am exasperated at how even a good quality evacuation centre cannot be put up on these prone areas. Evacuation centre made of slab roofing, 4 storey building maybe; building with ample number of toilets and ventilation; a deep well as source of water for the evacuees. Simple yet cannot materialize.

9.4 – Sex Museum and the Red Light District

I knew there is Red Light District in Amsterdam, but it was the last thing on my to-visit-list. In my haste to book a hotel that is always a walking distance to the central train station, I was just shocked to find out (when we were actually looking for the our pre-booked hotel) that I unknowingly chose one that’s in the centre of  Red Light District. So you can imagine the line of brothels and sex shops along the streets that we pass by every day on our way to our tours and back to the hotel. Not that I wasn’t pre disposed to idea, considering that I have followed closely the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy. But to see the materials in actual, well, it was kind of mind liberating, experience.  And since we were already here, we might as well explore the ins and the outs of the place. There was one thing on Fifty Shades accessory that I didn’t see on the display… it was the adjustable rod with feet buckles. But I did not dare inquire about it. Haha!

 

We also visited the Sex Museum. It was a fun visit actually, as you would be greeted with that erotic sound while you make your way from one display section to another. I was always afraid that someone naked hiding from a closet would go out and surprise me. If you happen to visit the place, don’t forget to use or even just check out their rest rooms. I found the design amusingly creative. Overall, the place is ok but not for the faint hearted and the conservative. The museum displayed artefacts and old clippings about…what else? It also displayed life size figures of sex legends (including who else…but Marilyn M.) and their stories. But the overall message of this museum is that, sex and prostitution are primordial things.

Day 10. Tulips, Canal Cruise, Around Amsterdam

10.1. Tulips

Originally this day was allotted for a day tour to Belgium. But we felt lazy and just settled to go around Amsterdam Centre.
It was July and Keukenhoff Garden is long closed. So it is one of my disappointments not to visit the sea of tulips and take unlimited shots of tulips in all the vibrant colours of the rainbow and their mixes. (Keukehoff Garden is only open in Spring time, best is April). So I went to the next place where I can most probably see tulips… The Flower Market. Even the flower market did not have much of fresh tulips that time, but you can buy rubber tulips that almost look like real ones and they also sell tulip bulbs. Other rare flowers are also for sale.

 

Going to Amsterdam Flower Market

Tickets: It is free.No reservation needed
Transportation:   From Amsterdam Centraal, take Tram Lines 2, 11, 12, 13, 17 and alight at Koningsplein
From Koningsplein bus stop, walk for about 40 meter north eastward towards Singel Street.  Turn right at Singel Street, and straight ahead is the flower market

10.2. Canal Cruise

One of must do(s) in Amsterdam is to cruise along their endlessly ubiquitous canals. So in the afternoon, we went on a boat cruise (this was a freebie we got from Lindeberg Travel, when we availed of the Windmill Tour). It rained hard when we were just queuing at the port (just infornt of Centraal Station), but it eventually subsided. The cruise also came with audio commentary, so you will be pretty much refreshed or educated as it tells you the histories behind the buildings or the places you are passing through. It is one of the things that I am in awe with Europe. They put much of their efforts and resources into preserving the old buildings. Almost all of those that we passed by come with great stories behind, especially, as these establishments have witnessed the World War II.  As for me and especially my husband (ehem!) we were amazed at how our lady captain, managed  to accurately navigate our big cruise boat as we made our made our way along the narrow canals with its sharp bends and curves, and even made a U turn in it. She is simply amazing!

 

Tidbits

Hotel: We checked in at Hotel Vijaya, which as I have mentioned is right in the heart of the Red Light District. So plan well especially you are taking kids along with you. It is in a typical old Dutch building with steep narrow stairs. Unfortunately, we were assigned a room that’s on the 3rd floor and with no elevator,  you can imagine our struggle as we haul our luggage up and down. Their breakfast is a simple selection of breads, jams and cold cuts, juice and coffee. The good thing about this place is the Thai restaurant beside it with a jolly Filipino waiter.

 

Transportation: From airport, we availed of the card which allows you to travel by train/tram/bus for 3 days unlimited within City Centre including to and from Schilpol Airport. Again I suggest presenting your itinerary to the ticket information centre at the airport, so they can recommend you the best option.

Others:

  • When in Red Light District, keep your cameras at bay, being careful NOT to take pictures (or appear seeming to) at prostitutes on display at brothel windows.
  • If you are a coffee addict, and looking for your daily boost, DON’T go asking around where a “coffee shop” is.  Instead, ask where a “café” is. The difference is that the former is a shop that legally dispenses marijuana while the latter is just old, plain, clean coffee.

This trip to Netherlands has been the most educating of all.  This is supposed to be a side trip to Paris, but I got more than what I planned for. I’ll be back here someday, for the Keukenhoff.

Next off…The City of Love, Paris…

Euro Tour Part 2 – Germany/Austria

Munich, Germany  / Salzburg, Austria: Our 2nd and 3rd Stops on our 5 country-Euro Tour

euro tour leg

First question is why Munich and not Frankfurt (as is the usual route for euro cross country travels). The two cities are equally interesting in as far as tourists’ appetite for new places to visit are concerned. My reason for choosing Munich is to hit two birds with one stone. Proximity wise,  Munich is a launching point to those castles which I have always fantasized about, as a child in my fairy-tale dreams.  It is also an hour and a half train ride away from Salzburg, Austria (the movie set for  The Sound of Music film and Birth of Musical genius Amadeus Mozart. So Munchen (German for Munich) it is.

Day 5: Luzern to Munich

The train from Luzern, Switzerland to Munich Hauptbahnhof (Central) Station took us about five hours. By the time we reached destination, it was late afternoon. Still melancholic about leaving the peaceful and soothing beauty of Switzerland, I distracted myself with the myriad of sweet-smelling pastries, coffee and various food stalls at Muchen Hauptabahnof (Munich Central Station) After ordering a takeout from a Chinese food stall (we suddenly realized we missed Asian food), we headed for our hotel and rested. The following day is scheduled for the Salzburg Austria Tour which was pre-booked with Viator.

Day 6: Salzburg, Austria (Salzburg Small Group Day Tour from  Munich – by Viator)

At 9:15 AM, along with other tourists,  we met with our tour guide, (also named Ian) at Munich Central Station. After being debriefed, we boarded the train to Salzburg (yes, we took the public transportation). On cue, we all boarded the same train carriage and this made the work on voice modulation and crowd management for the tour guide a lot easier. Ian the tour guide, in his English accent (he is indeed English),  gave us a thorough information from the history  to the delicacies of Salzburg.  Sprinkled with true English humour, our educational 1.5 hour train ride went through like breeze. After a quick stop at the Austrian border for inspection (Immigration officers just get on board the train, inspect the passengers and randomly ask for ticket or travel documents.)  we reached  Salzburg train station where we alighted and boarded a trolleybus. In a less than 5 minutes, we alighted right in front of the Mirabell Garden.  Armed with a map and clear instructions about the route, meeting place and departure time, tour guide Ian, set us free to explore the area on foot, on our own.

6.1 The Mirabell Gardens

First Stop is the Mirabell Garden (Mirabellplatz). For me, this is probably the most vivid set (The Von Trapp Residence) in all of the scenes from The Sound of Music. The ornate iron gate and the delicately manicured flower beds on a geometrically designed garden   in front of the building  are still as magical as  it was to me when I first watched the movie as a little girl on our newly bought Betamax. I can’t believe I am actually in it now.
Built in 1606, this place has served as a pleasure palace for then Archbishop and his mistress. It was then used as concert venues. Hitler even attended a wedding celebration here. In the middle of the  17th century,  it was used to house several government units of Salzburg’s municipal administration.

 

6.2 The House where Mozart was born

From the Mirabell ,we walked  southeast across  and out of the vast side garden. Straight ahead is the building where Mozart lived, Mozart Wohnhaus. From there we crossed the Salzach River through a pedestrian bridge  called  Makartsteg, conspicuous for the  sea padlocks attached to its fence.

On the other side we passed through an alley with shops of various merchandises from food and designer clothing to leather goods. Squeezed in between these shops is the unassuming façade of Mozart’s Geburtshaus, the very place where music genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born. Inside the building (you can buy ticket there, no need to pre book) are displays of Mozart’s first musical instruments, some letters, portraits, his first wallet and even a lock of his hair. A nook which used to be the family’s humble kitchen was also on display.

 

6.3 Churches and Catacombs

Further on, we explored the neighbourhood and came across three churches that are less than 200 meters from one another: The Franciscan Church and the  Stiftskirche Sankt Peter Salzburg and the Salzburg Domkirche Cathedral  . The cathedral’s delicately designed ceiling and columns inside led me to think that this was where Maria wedded Captain Von Trapp in the TSOM movie, but upon checking later, it was done at a different church. As it is with every church that we enter, we knelt down and gave thanks for the opportunity to be there and to pray for the safety of our trip.
Right behind the Stiftskirche Sankt Peter Salzburg  is the Petersfriedhof or St Peters Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the City of Salzburg which dates back to the year 700.

 

6.4. St. Peter’s Stiftskeller (St.Peter Restaurant)

Considered as the oldest restaurant in Europe (and probably in the world), this dining place was first mentioned in a document by  English scholar Alcuin issued in 803AD, where Roman Emperor Charlemagne dined .  This establishment has persisted through closing and re-opening during the 1200-year span, and thus withstanding all historical hiccups and highlights including that of Napoleon invasion. Other big personalities who are said to have dined here were Christopher Columbus,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (of course),  Cardinals, Kings, Clint Eastwood and Bill Gates.  I would have  loved to try  one or two entries  in their opera-named menu such as the  “Le Nozze de Figaro” or the “Die Zauberflote”, and add my name to the list of diners, next to that of Bill Gates’ (haha!). Again,  it was time we didn’t have…so we just settled with this photo-op outside.

 

6.4 Fortress Hohensazburg

From there, the view of the 11th Century Fortress Hohensazburg cannot be missed. One of the oldest medieval castles in Europe, the construction of this fortress was started  in 1077 at the behest of Prince Archbishop of  Salzburg. It was used as a prison during the WW I for the  Italian prisoners and NAZI activists. We went up and enjoyed the aerial view of Salzburg, through a modern funicular that runs every 10 minutes (cost is about 9 Euros for round trip) .

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Fortress of Hohensazburg

6.5 Little something for the sweet tooth

Before we headed back to the meeting place, I made sure to drop by Hotel Sacher Salzburg’s Zilberzimmer Restaurant to buy  that Sachertorte which Ian the tour guide have mentioned. Sachertorte is a native Viennese delicacy, invented by Austrian Franz Sacher. It is made of dense chocolate cake with thin apricot jam fillings, covered in rich chocolate ganache (It is not far in taste from my Keyk ni Neneng chocolate cake recipe. Haha!). Another Viennese confection that I bought to satisfy both my sweet tooth and curiosity are the Mozartkugel. Named after their musical genius local boy, these are spherical candies  (the size of a jackstone ball) made of pistachio marzipan and nougat, covered in dark chocolate.

Never wanting to be a problem tourist for tour guides and always conscious about the impression that Filipinos might give to other nationalities; we heeded the tour guide’s instructions and made sure we are at the departure meeting spot on the dot. We reached back Munich Central at about 7:30 PM and bid good bye to our tour group mates and tour guide.
This tour was awesome, but if given the chance, I would probably choose to stay overnight in Salzburg so I can get to roam around the place and indulge more. We were given a map and there was a truckload of interesting areas to visit, not to mention photo opportunities, but we were pressed with time. I still feel bad until now that I was not able to dine in the Stiftskeller . I hate it when I miss a good and once in a lifetime opportunity… Tsk!

DIY Suggestion for those who want to dine at Stiftskeller…I mean… for those who want to have more of Salzburg:
By Train from Munchen
1. Buy a Bayern Ticket  or Salzburg Ticket at Munchen Hauptabahnhof Train Station,). Seriously take note of the conditions of use for those tickets, especially the travel time, route, etc. This is one of the few things I find too confusing with public transportations in Europe. There are so many options available with equally so many conditions and restrictions. The best way is to present your plan or case to the the lady behind the ticket counter and she will recommend what’s best for you.
2. Take the Train (train leaves  almost every hour)
3. Alight at Salzburg Hauptabahnof  (travel time is approximately 1 hr, 48 mins)
4. Bring your travel documents with you. You will be passing through German-Austrian Border. Immigration officers go up the train and randomly inspect travellers’ documents.
5. From Salzburg Hauptabahnof Exit, Walk westward for around 40 meters to the Bus Station.
6. Take O-bus Nos. 1,2,3,6 and 5. Note: You will take these same buses on your way back to Salzburg Hauptabahnof)
7. Alight on the 3rd stop. That will be the Mirabellplatz. (travel time is approximately 5  mins)

You can download the Salzburg tourist map from the net. They are exactly the same as the printouts distributed to us by Viator.   Indulge in the place, take your time.  Have  dinner at Stiftskeller  made more romantic with live musicians in traditional costumes performing  pieces composed by Mozart.  For those planning to propose marriage, this is a good option!
Should you prefer to stay overnight, there are  several hotels around Salzburg Hauptabahnof , but a bit pricey. A few hostels are available too.

 

6.6 Marienplatz/ New City Hall (Neues Rathaus) Old City Hall (Alter Rathaus)

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The New Town Hall dominating the Marienplatz

One of the good things about visiting Europe in summer is that you get a lot of daylight time, which means you can maximize your sightseeing in a day as the sun does not usually set before 10PM. From the station, we boarded another train to the city centre of Munich where the Marienplatz is located. You might wonder how our feet still permitted this additional itinerary to our already hectic Salzburg day. Well, were really did make a lot of physical conditioning before embarking on this trip, and by conditioning, I  mean, weeks of walking and running.  It paid off and I highly suggest it for those who really want to make the most of their Euro tour, because Europe is best explored by foot.
Marienplatz  (or St.Mary’s Square) is the heart of Munich. Since it was established in 1158, this place has seen enormous functional transformations from being a market in the early centuries to a venue for local celebrations and tournaments. Today, this place which is dominated by the elaborate facade of the New Town Hall is the most popular meeting point of locals and tourists alike. Shoppers can also be delighted by the countless shops for designer clothing, shoes and other merchandizes. Southeast of Marianplatz, are two catholic churches: the St Peters Church (Peterskirche) and the Heiliggeist Kirche. Exploring further, past these two churches, in about 200 meters we came to the Biergarten on Victualienmarkt. This is a typical market area with stalls selling fresh produce and serving beer. The area was made even more conspicuous with tents that serve food for the buzzling local and tourist diners.

 

Day 7: The Castles of King Ludwig of Bavaria (Royal Castles of Neuschweinsteins and Linderhof DaY Tour from Munich – by Viator)

This is again a whole day tour, which started 8:30 AM at the pickup area near the Munich Central Station (in front of The KARSTAADT Department Store). This time we are traveling (along with other tourists), in a private double-decker bus. I particularly took note of our tour guide (I regret to have forgotten his name) whom I admired, for, despite his advanced age (mid to late 70’s, if my estimate is as accurate), is still sharp in his knowledge about history, Munich, King Ludwig, Oberammergau, the Olympics, etc. Imagine the soothing voice of a grand dad telling his grandkids bedtime stories, with the lush green Bavarian Alps passing before your eyes as you look out of your bus window. Aside from that, I simply admired him for his passion, considering that most people his age  (especially in our country) would have long retired and enjoyed a relaxed life. Mind you, I was worried he would miss his steps going up and down our double decker bus just to check on us.

 

7.1 Oberammergau

Oberammergau is a place in the Bavarian Alps, which is known for two things: It is where the once in a decade play of the Passion of Jesus Christ is held and the place where almost every house prides itself with colourful paintings on its façade depicting those scenes from fairy tales. We made a short stop here, to stretch our legs, and to check on some souvenirs we might want to buy. Wooden Cuckoo-clocks, believed to have originated in this part of Germany, are available here in enormous sizes, for which they also provide overseas shipment services at certain fees. I almost bought one.
We left Oberammergau 15 minutes delayed, due to a couple of lady tourists (“The 2 Asians” – that’s what we kept on hearing from our tour group mates)  who did not show up at our meeting time and place. Much to the worry of our tour guide, we left them because, as our tour guide said:  “we cannot wait for them forever”. Asians, come on!

 

7.2 On to the Castles

King Ludwig of Bavaria II , known by several aliases: the mad king, the loner king, the fairy tale king, is the brain of these castles which can be described as nothing short of  extravagance and wealth. Even at an early age he had already displayed interest in art, music and architecture. During his reign, at the age of 18 until his untimely and controversial death at the age 40, he had put most of his efforts and personal fortune into building these castles, not heeding his financial advisers who have tried to dissuade him against these massive expenses, which resulted to heavy loans.  The positive outcome of King Ludwig’s projects was the generation of employment among locals and artisans and increased flow of money into the poor regions around where these castles were built. To date, the castles have been receiving millions of tourists a year and thanks to his artistic and architectural inclination and foresight, because these castles have been bringing in big revenue.

7.2.1 Linderhof Castle

This is a much smaller castle compared to Neuschwanstein, but is said to be King Ludwig’s favourite and this is obvious from the jaw -dropping extravagance of the interior of the Linderhof castle (built-in 1874). The thick tapestries delicately hand-embroidered in gold threads are simply awesome.  The intricacy that was put into every small detail of the design and layout was so personalized that no doubt he spent most of his time here. His bedroom layout was such that, even as he sits on his bed, he could see the front garden with the fountain through his bedroom window. As for me, the amusing and admittedly my favourite was the 4-seater disappearing dining table called “Tischlein deck dich” that resembles a dumbwaiter. Being the loner that he was, he just wanted to dine upstairs alone physically, however the kitchen staff would set the table downstairs for four because the king often imagines himself dining and talking with imaginary guests Louis XV, Mme de Pompadour or Marie Antoinette.  A square-shaped access in the ceiling (the flooring for the 2nd floor) is opened, the dumbwaiter table (all set up) is then hoisted up (possibly by pulley) and the access is closed, providing flooring for the table. King Ludwig then dines with his imaginary guests and after he finishes, the flooring will be opened again, and the table will be pulled down for cleaning up. Amusing!
Right in front of the Linderhof Castle is a fountain which is not electrically powered, but only measure to purge out the accumulated water from the alps. It is purged every 30 minutes and the jet reaches up to 25m high. The purging schedule being on the dot, I was able to position myself (by sprinting out of the castle, after our guided tour of the inside)  to a place somewhere in the front yard, under a tree, to be able to capture the whole height of the fountain. My legs never failed me, hence, this shot:

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7.2.2 Neuschwanstein Castle

Schloss Neuschwanstein (New Swan Stone Castle) was built in 1869. It is a castle without a throne, as its construction was not completed before King Ludwig’s untimely and (still remains to this day) mysterious death in 1886 at the age of 40. Situated above the small Bavarian Village of Hohenschwangau, this castle sits at 800 meter above elevation and is nestled in between hilly landscape giving it the lonesome, secluded, “castle in a far, far away kingdom” effect.

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Schloss Neuschwanstein (Taken from Marienbrucke)

After searching for DIY ways on how to reach Neuschweinstein, I decided to just avail this group tour by Viator as I found it more straightforward and besides, extra time (for mistakes and for getting lost) is something we don’t have.
However for those who are in for some adventure, here it is:

DIY option to reach Neuschwanstein:

By Train
1. Take a train from Munich Hauptabahnof  to Fussen
(travel time is ~ 1hr), train leaves every hour
2. Alight at Fussen. Take Bus 78 which is bound for the castles.
3. Alight at the bus station, this is just downhill the ticket centre. Walk up to Ticket centre and claim your pre booked ticket.  (Book your ticket online days or weeks in advance and claim it 90 minutes before your chosen time slot)

4. From ticket centre, there are 3 options
a. Option 1. Walk all the way up to the castle. It is a 30-40 minute steep climb so you need to be in good fitness level.
b. Option 2. Take another bus. Bus ticketing station is found just beside the Hotel Muller and cost 3Euros.
c. Option 3. Horse Carriage (if you want to be all romantic and wants to impress your partner) which costs 6 euros uphill.

Viator ‘s package did not include the 3Euros bus fare to the castle, so after a quick but decent  lunch at Hotel Muller, we bought our tickets and boarded the bus. Bus ride to the top is only about 7-10 minutes. After alighting, it is another 10- minute uphill walk to the castle. If you are not alto phobic, I recommend that you head first to Marienbrucke. It is a hanging bridge which provides the best photo opportunity for an IG worthy Neuschwanstein shot. This is a bridge crowded with tourists, so hold on tight to your cameras and personal stuffs, as you might drop them from the constant bumping and squeezing.  From Marienbrucke, head down and turn right to take the path leading to the castle.
All tours inside Neuschwanstein are properly accompanied by official tour guides provided by the management. Crowd is efficiently managed by grouping tourists’ entry by batch according to their ticket numbers. Queue is controlled by LED displaying the ticket numbers being served.  Very simple yet efficient.
The inside of Neuschwanstein  is a series of frescoed hallways  and chandeliers. To me, it is more of a gallery than a home, which of course is understandable considering that King Ludwig didn’t live long to see its construction completed, let alone live in it.
Having enough time to spare, we opted to take the 15-20 minute walk downhill on our way to Hotel Muller where our bus awaited us.  The paved trail suddenly reminded me of UPLB Forestry!

 

7.3 Back to Munich

It was about 7:30 PM when we reached  Munich central station.  Overall, this Royal Castles of Neuschweinsteins and Linderhof DaY Tour from Munich by Viator is well worth it. Comparing  how much we could have saved if we did it on our own, versus the convenience offered by this organized tour (2  castles , Oberammergau and a comfy ride), I believe we have made the right choice.
Again, there is still plenty of daylight, so we headed again to Marienplatz, walked a bit and attended the Holy Mass at Heiliggeist Kirche. From church, we headed to Oktoberfest Museum, for what is a visit to Munich, without seeing the place where the world’s most famous beer celebration originated.
The rest of the evening was spent  exploring the streets around Marienplatz and window shopping. It was a fine Saturday night and the streets  and food establishments were in party mood. We were lucky to see several groups of local guys drinking beers in their trachten, a  traditional Austrian clothing that includes lederhosen and a checked shirt.

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Oktoberfest Museum

Tidbits:

Hotel:  We stayed at Hotel Atlas (It looked like it is near Munchen Hauptabahnoff,  but in reality, it is a bit of a walk, especially with luggage in tow).  It was my mistake to assume that all hotels come with air conditioning. So we were surprised to learn that ours have none.  Fortunately it was not summer time, though we still felt  the need  to open the window a bit but our room is right on the busy side of traffic, so you can imagine the noise. The breakfast was good with a fair selection of fresh fruits, cereals, continental breakfast, cold meats and the likes. Coffee is good.  Staffs are helpful.

Transporation: We just basically used the train on our  DIY  tour around  Marienplatz.  We bought the 3-day unlimited ticket. But with our kind of itinerary,  we were not able to maximize it. It is better to consider buying single ticket.

Food:  A typical Western selection of pasta, pizza and cold cuts, bratwurst.  Options for Asian food are available at Munchen Hauptabahnof.

This concludes our Germany  (Munich/Austria) leg.

On the following day, we took the early flight from Munich Airport bound for Amsterdam

My 1st Marathon (TBRDM 2012)

They say marathon is a test both of physical and mental strength. My mental and physical battle started a couple of months before the actual commencement of TBR DM.

The death of a relative from hypertension attack sometime in November, has left me physically stressed. The juggling between  attending the wake in  Bicol on wkends (2wkends at that!) and coming back to work in Laguna on weekdays, has left me with very little sleep. I  contracted colds; my youngest son, got admitted for broncho pneumonia. Then my daughter followed suit. As if that was not enough, my blood pressure fluctuated.  I was put into hypertensive medication and from then on, my BP was constantly monitored.

How could this happen to me? On physically aspect, I never hit the 100lb scale, considering my extra small frame.  I log a minimum of 25km per wk. I’m a health freak when it comes to eating lifestyle, tediously checking labels at the back of a food packaging. Fresh greens are a constant sight in my dining table. Red meats are only seen rarely. To attest to that, my blood tests and ECG all registered good results, making the cardiologist decide that this could either genes or stress. On my cardiologist’s advice, I was NOT allowed to run.

As I looked at the way my BP measurement chart somersaulted, I started to realize that  dream of finishing TBR DM 2012 and be in  top 10 (female category)  is slowly fading away.

It was not until January that my BP started to stabilize and from then I got a go signal from my cardiologist to start running again (after 2 straight months of no running). I checked the training schedule and decided that I could still catch up. I wasn’t able to join most of the bull sessions, but when the schedule calls for a 3 hr run, I do it alone diligently, at our village road, starting at 3:30 AM and finish just in time before main road gets busy.  To satisfy the requirement for 30km run, I joined 21K RunNew in Alabang and after hitting finish line (4th placer at that) , I ran an extra 8km. I was “by the book-serious” with training.

Everything was going on smoothly. My doctor even gave me a certificate to attest to my fitness to run the 42K. But given the situation that I was in, she asked me to see 1 week before the actual 42K run. as she wanted to make sure I was physically ready. After seeing my BP and ECG result, I got green light from her  and she told me to hydrate well and follow all the necessary preparations. I was confident. I prayed for dear Lord, to make my BP stable during the week of  the race , otherwise, I’d take it as “No Go” sign from HIM.

Mar 14, my I got 130/90.
Mar 15 -,16 My BP still fluctuated reaching to 140/90.

Mar 18, same thing. I was losing hope. My heart kept pounding as I tried to rationalize it all. Half of me was convinced that the high BP reading is due to anxiety, half of me was unsure. The more I rationalize, the faster my heart pounded. At this point, I was seriously considering of dropping it all. But then again, the fighter side of me, kept bugging and telling me that if I will shy away from it now, I would always have this “what if” question that will haunt me forever.

I tried to hit the sack at 6PM. I did all sorts of mind counting, hoping to doze myself off to sleep, but I found myself tossing and turning and wondering what my fate would be.

At 12MN, without having slept a wink, I got up and made myself peanut butter sandwich. I downed it with a glass of water, after which, I gulped 1 medium sized banana.

At 12:30. I changed my prayer: “Lord, I really wanted to run. If it is your will that I will live beyond Mar18, please make my body function normally today”.  I geared up. Together with my bro in law and cousin, off we went to Nuvali.  With a few minutes to spare, I went to claim my race kit and have myself registered. This time, I can hear the loud pounding inside my chest. There I was standing unsure,  an exact description of Jeff Laferty’s words: “standing half dead at the starting line” I know I had an ample training in terms of mileage, carbo-loaded 3 days before, made sure of  8-hr sleep 2 nights before. But the one thing that’s taking my confidence away was the horse galloping inside my chest.

Gunstart! I jogged. I started my silent prayer (The Holy Rosary). As I reached km 3, I stopped to queue at the first portalet in sight. Queue was long and it ate away about 10 mins of my time, making us the last runners on the track.  I didn’t mind, since I promised myself to never to set a clock goal for this (though a sub 5 finish really looked so inviting). I chatted with a few ladies in queue, and it relaxed me. After km 4, I can feel my heart beating normally and I felt more relaxed. I continued with my prayers.  I kept a pace of around 8min/km.I was still trying to be mindful of any slight discomfort, be it in chest or dizziness. I felt nothing.

I maintained  a slow relaxed pace, as I reminded myself of coach Lit’s words “conserve energy” Besides, I was anticipating for that “past 30km wall” that newbie marathoners are supposed to feel.

I breezed through the first loop, just enjoying the scenery of the route. Mind you, I took note of that first quarter moon peeking  from a cloud at the break of dawn. What a privilege to run at this wee hour!

I finished first loop in 3 hrs. For some mysterious reason, I was completely of normal breath, no panting, whatsoever. I felt as if, I haven’t run more than a hundred yards. My feet were as good as new. I couldn’t believe it!

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I tried to increase my pace on the 2nd loop speeding at down hills (as one pacer told us “do not restrain your momentum”), regularly taking walk breaks when needed.
I doubled my water intake, carefully dousing some water onto my head to keep its temperature down,  making sure not wet my feet  to avoid chafing, and I also made sure to fuel up with a bite of my banana every 1 or 2 kms.

Km 30. I braced myself for some possible complaints from my legs. But whoa, I was already at Km 36 and my legs were just as perfect! Dream Chaser Rachelle (a former college dorm mate) shouted at me “Go Mona, nice pace” because I was really doing around 6:30min/km that time.

Nothing’s going to stop me at this point. I was running at a 10km pace charging like a bull, feet feeling fresh. I was such in great mood to even cheer on and encourage fellow runners I overtook.

As I ended my 2nd loop and turned right to run that last magical 195-meter stretch to the finish line, I could hear the loud cheering from the crowd.  I felt a wave of pride as coach Lit gave me a high five. My 2 kids waited at the finish line with the banner that says “Only tough mommies run 42K. We’re proud of you Mommy”. The feeling was phenomenal! As my chest touched that blue ribbon barrier, I raised my hands in praise of HIM. I conquered The Bullrunner Dream Marathon! I am now a marathoner!

 

 

Now, more than  a week after that memorable day, I still look back and try to analyze how I was able to sustain  5hrs and 30 minutes of pounding the ground . Maybe it was the perfect weather during that day or that breathtaking view along the Nuvali route. Perhaps it was the cheerful and fanfare mood (balloons, music and all), or the overflowing fuel availability (in the form of bananas, apples, chips, etc) that TBR organizers have put along the route. But with that surge of energy that I felt down to the last kilometer, I knew I have witnessed and felt a miracle in me. As I always do every after my runs and races, I thank HIM for giving me T.E.S. (Time, Energy and Safety) to do this.

Now I can say that running a marathon is not only a test of mental and physical strength, but also of faith. Faith in yourself, that you can do it; faith in HIM to guide you through.

My thanks to Ms Jaymie, Coach Jim and all the staff that makes up TBD DM 2012, for allowing me to experience all this. To my husband, Ian (whom I wish I’ve crossed the finish line with) family and friends for the support and prayers.

More Power TBR Dream Marathon. Keep on making runners’ dreams come true.

 

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*************************************

TBRDM Feb 2012

Bib No.: 446

Chip time : 5:30:13

Central Euro Tour – Part 1 – Switzerland

 

DIY travellers, here are some first hand tips from my recent  Central Eurotour.
Countries  Visited in chronological order: Switzerland – Germany – Austria – Netherlands – France

Time of Visit (Jul 1-15, 2017)

Applying for the Visa: Visiting these 5 countries only needs 1 visa, (Schengen Visa). You have to apply for it at the embassy  or the country of entry, in our case, The Swiss Embassy. A few important requirements (among others) are:
a. Travel Insurance (date should cover the period of travel, plus about 1 wk after the last day of travel). If you plan to join those highly adventurous activities like skiing, paragliding and sky diving, make sure it is included in the coverage.
b. Approved leave of absence by you company (if you’re working)
Visa approval will only take 1 week,  granted that you had completely submitted all the requirements.

So let’s go!
First, Switzerland. Switzerland is vast, and the places that might immediately come into your mind are  Bern, Zurich or Geneva. These are the main cities. But come to think of it. Why would you want to go to  Switzerland? I suppose you would want to see the countryside, the rolling hills and the snow-clad alps. Perhaps ride the cogwheel train up the mountains. You might want to try skiing or just go frolicking on the snow. If your taste is as good as mine, then Bernese Oberland it is! Bernese Oberland  gives you an easy access to Jungfraujoch (pronounced as yoong-frow-yo) Top of Europe (3500 m altitude) while staying at any of the scenic villages of Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwad. Due diligence led me to decide to pick Lauterbrunnen  as our hotel base. Here are the reasons: Interlaken, is still not so much of a countryside, with some small malls and shops. Seasoned travellers just call this as a place to change trains. So crossing out Interlaken,  I was left between Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. Between the two, Lauterbrunnen is quieter, more scenic, less establishments, less tourists, more options for short  trail hiking (rick steves’s forum said so, and  I couldn’t agree more when I got to actually visit the two places. Lauterbrunnen has only few restaurants. The hotels are walking distance to the train station. There is not much of a night life here. People you meet are mostly bikers and hikers. With the imposing 300-m high Staubbach falls that will never leave your sight, the rolling hills and rocky cliffs that surround this valley, the place is simply relaxing and breath-taking.

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Lauterbrunnen with the Staubbach Falls on the backdrop

 

Getting there:
Day1: Zurich – Interlaken – Lauterbrunnen
Arriving in Zurich at 08:50 AM, we immediately bought ticket bound for Interlaken (Pronounced as  “inter-luck-en”) . Don’t get confused as there are two train stations in Interlaken: Interlaken Ost and Interlaken West. They are about 1 km apart. You need to alight at Interlaken Ost. Travel time is around 2 hrs 45 mins. We got to Interlaken Ost  by around lunch time. To maximize our time in Interlaken, we put our luggage into a luggage locker (more on this later) and started our self-tour:
1. Lunch at a café near Interlaken Station
2. Walk around Interlaken,
3. Visit Catholic Church (St. Joseph Church at Schlosstrasse Street). We arrived on a Sunday and we intended to attend the holy mass, but the schedule is at 11:15AM, and we were not able to make it. This church is walking distance (~250 m)  from the train station

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St Joseph Church, Schlosstrasse 4, Interlaken, Switzerland

 

4. Take the modern funicular (34 euros/pax) going up the Harder Kulm. It is just a 10-min ride and the Harder railway valley station is just about 100m away from the Interlaken Ost train station. If you still have the energy and jet lag hasn’t got the better of you, you have the option to hike to Harder Kulm. There is a trail that will lead you to the top in about 1.5 hrs. Harder Kulm, being at 1300 m above sea level, offers a unparalleled view of Interlaken, the Lakes Thun and Brienz,  the Swiss Alps’  Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. There is also a Panorama Restaurant  at the top should you feel the need to sip a cup of coffee while enjoying the view. Luck did not favour us that day, though, as the fog is too thick and nothing was really visible when we got to the top.

Baggage lockers:

Baggage lockers are available in Interlaken (at 7euros / per use) and are found just behind the information office, upon emerging from the train platforms. One slot is big enough to accommodate our 2 pcs of medium size (20Kg capacity) travel luggage.  Please note that these lockers operate on coins.  You put the luggage, close the lid, insert the coin, turn the key to lock and go (bringing with you the keys). So I suggest to organize your thoughts about the things you need to bring with you during your walking tour (wallet, raincoat/umbrella, water, etc), take it with you before closing the locker. Otherwise you’ll keep on inserting 7 euros just to reopen and close them.

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Baggage Lockers at Interlaken Station

 

There was still plenty of time after Harder Kulm, but my body clock (still set to Phil time) is telling me that I need to sleep. So at around 4PM (10 PM Phil time), despite trying my best to stay up longer to make it to the 6:30PM mass at St Jerome Church), we took the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, our hotel base.

Day2: The Jungfraujoch

Reaching the Swiss Alps is one of my childhood dreams. Allow me to take a detour here: For those curious how (a “barrio-tic” little girl ), came to know about the Swiss Alps as a child is through the “Alpine” brand of milk. My grandmother used it as ingredient in our ice candy recipe.  It comes in a can, with a snow capped mountain range pictured in it. I wasn’t even sure which Alps (in Europe or in New Zealand) inspired that logo (must be NZ), but as I read many books, it made me associate that image with the Swiss Alps.

So, Jungfraujoch is my main destination in Switzerland.
Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage that sits at 3454m above sea level in between two of Swiss’ major mountains Monch and Jungfau, making it as Europe’s highest train station.  Sixteen years in the making, the construction of the railroad track/tunnel and the station itself still remains, to this day, a breakthrough in railroad engineering technology. Going to Jungfraujoch is a bit tricky. Weather at the top changes every day and every hour, and you just cannot rely on the almost accurate 1 -week of weather forecast (by accuweather.com). You have to monitor the weather closely. You don’t want to spend ~130 Euros (per pax, round trip) to go there and see nothing but thick fog. This is why your trip to Jungfraujoch must be flexible. (the one of the many advantages of a DIY trip.) Allot around 3 days in Bernese Oberland so you can postpone to the next day your Jungfraujoch trip in case weather gets unfavourable. Higher probability of a successful visit is to go on summer time (obviously) which is July to August.  On the day of our tour to Jungfraujoch, we woke up early, took breakfast, went to the train ticketing office (which again is very near the hotel and the train station), and asked about the weather at the top. The kind lady behind the counter said “ it is still foggy at the moment (7AM), but weather will get sunny by 10AM and possibly throughout the day). We’re in luck!. We bought the good morning ticket, and off we went. Here are the tips:

1. There is no need to buy your ticket in advance. You can buy it on the day of the visit. Trains rarely get fully booked.

2. If weather starts out fine, opt for the Good Morning Ticket (these are the 1st two trips to Jungfraujoch which passes by Lauterbrunnen at ~7:30 AM (it originally departs from Interlaken).  Just check the website in case there are changes in the train schedule. Or you can ask the ticketing station the day prior to your trip). The advantages of this are: you are the first visitors of Jungfraujoch which gets crowded eventually during the day); it is ~ 50% cheaper than the regular ticket price;  you can come down earlier and still get to enjoy other places.

3. At the train from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg, take the seat at the  right side of the train. That way you get the most from the beautiful sceneries outside your window. The trip to the top is already a treat in itself! Get off at Kleine Scheidegg (everybody gets off) and  change into a cogwheel train going up Jungfraujoch.  This time, it would be mostly a 7-km tunnel, high sloped ride,  as you traverse within the rocks of Mt.Eiger.

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View from inside the train, as we go up Jungfraujoch

 

4. Bring layers of clothes, gloves, bonnets. (I brought 3 layers of wool jacket, 2 layers of trousers.) Sneakers are fine, but if you could manage a pair of winter boots (if you plan on snow hiking which is about 2 hrs duration), much better. For fashionistas,  colourful combination of outfit would stand out against backdrop of white snow (I opted for a red jacket with matching red bonnet).

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Red against white and blue backdrop

5. While in there, walk / climb stairs slowly and do not rush. Due to less pressure at the top, you could feel that you are always out of breath. I would personally advise those with lung/heart ailments and senior citizens to seek medical advice prior to this visit.

6. Allow 3 hours visit time at the top. That would be enough to cover most of the featured places.

7. Don’t forget to put on sunscreen lotion.

Featured Attractions / Activities at Jungfraujoch
Note: The round trip train fare is inclusive of entrance access to all of the attractions at the top, except those activities at Snow fun Park:

1. Sphinx observatory – a research station for astronomical studies and  —–medicine. It is 117m further up and is accessible by Switzerland’s fastest lift.

2. Ice palace – crystal-like sculptures of eagles, penguins bears and the like are on display inside this labyrinth of ice cavern

3. Alpine Sensation – a rather short moving walkway beneath the Sphinx observatory. With lights and music, it displays pictures of the construction of jungfraujoch.

4. Restaurants
5. Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven – A visit to Switzerland will never be complete without indulging in the decadent taste  swiss chocolates…how about adding more thrill to it, by visiting the highest chocolate shop in the world?

6. Snow Fun Park – you can snow board, ski, or go sledging here during summer time
7. Hiking across the glacier to the Mönchsjoch hut. Hiking duration is about 1hr (one-way) You should be in proper hiking gear to do this.

8. Sledging, skiing or snowboarding in the Snow Fun Park

After we took our lunch at the top, we headed back down, but through a different route. Instead of going back straight to Lauterbrunnen, we opted to visit Grindelwald.  Grindelwald is another valley of the Swiss Alps that sits higher than Lauterbrunnen which give it a faster, access to Jungfraujoch (though for me they are just both a train ride away). This is the usual choice of day-tourists and also the base hotels of skiers. This is why Grindelwald has more choices of upscale hotels. From Grindelwald, we took the train going  to Interlaken.

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Grindelwald

With still plenty of daylight time (sun usually sets at 10PM during summertime) on our hands,  we took a ferry ride along the Lake Brienz. The Ferry station is also just a few meters away from the train station. Watching the waters of Lake Brienz made me weep with envy at how blue and virgin the waters are in sad contrast to the waters of our Laguna de Bay and Pasig River.

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Lake Brienz

From Interlaken, we headed back to Lauterbrunnenn. The rest of the day was spent exploring Lauterbrunnen on foot: look for a nice restaurant, get near the Staubbach falls, explore the flora of the quiet neighbourhood.
Our Day-2 route

Day 3: Back to Kleine Scheidegg.

On our ride down from Jungfraujoch the previous day, while we changed trains at Kleine Scheidegg, I noticed 2 elements:  several hiking trails  and a beautiful spot for photography (the green rolling hills and the snow-capped Mt Eiger, Mt. Monch, Mt.Jungfrau on the backdrop);  So on the 3rd day, we decided to head  back to Kleine Scheidegg, for exactly that purpose: photography and hiking. We took the same train route to Kleine Scheidegg and spent most of the day hiking & taking pictures. This is a place where everybody can be a good photographer, that is:  any which way you angle your camera or smartphones, you still end up with calendar perfect images. Hiking trail maps are available at train stations and are for free. These maps also provide you with information on the estimated hiking time and the degree of difficulty of the various hiking trails. You can just pick the trail that suits you best and you don’t need a guide.

 

Another suggestion to save a few euros from train fare, is to stop and hike at kleine scheidegg right after lunch on your way down from jungfraujoch . Move the Grindelwald  visit and Lake Brienz cruise to the following day.

Overall the  experience at Jungfraujoch and Klein Scheidegg is the best in this whole euro trip. I found  it hard to believe that the images I normally just see as backdrop in movies or in posters, are all staring back at me 100%  zoom level, with real fresh cool wind blowing my hair. Talk about having lunch in a deck with the Eiger north wall as your view .

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Lunch at Klein Scheidegg with Eiger North Wall staring at us

As we took the train down back to Lauterbrunnen,  I kept on staring at these exhilarating mountain range as if to put into my memory every detail of it. The keen observer in me, also took notice, the crevices on the lower slopes that obviously once were covered in thick snow, but now lay bare, black and just rocks. Global warming is undeniable. Long lost hikers & climbers decades ago, whose bodies were buried in the alps snow are now one by one turning up, without the effort of digging. Snow is melting and it is alarming! I suddenly wondered, for how many years more, will people enjoy this ivory white enticing mountain? Will my kids and grandkids still get to see it in real life? If only each person will do his/her share of responsibility…I was again transported back to my neighbourhood who would design/construct houses that are for centralized air conditioning (what’s wrong with fresh air!!???) Is it really necessary or you just feel the necessity to show off that you can afford a centralized air conditioning system? Being able to afford the electric bill is not the issue here. You are wasting unnecessary, non-renewable energy resource! (Unless you are running your air con on solar power) Do you really need to set the aircon to 17oC or 23C would be fine? Those things matter! (Sorry, I got carried away. Back to my travel discussion…)

Other activities available and which  Ian and I have contemplated on doing are:

1. Skiing  – it’s been 17 yrs since  I learned how to ski on the slopes of Nagano, Japan and I was curious if my muscle memory still works. I wondered if it is the same as biking – something that you cannot unlearn. I, however, put the idea aside due to the following reasons: 1.) I just learned that the travel insurance we availed does not cover skiing accident. 2.) This is just our first stop in our 5-country euro tour. I didn’t want to jeopardize our best laid plan in case I break a bone or two.
2. Paragliding Ian has been contemplating seriously on this and the idea  of go pro-taken, FB worthy pictures on air is really enticing, but again, we are not sure any more about how our heart rates and BPs will behave. We should have done this when we were still younger.

At around 4PM, we headed back to our hotel to pick up our luggage, then we took the train bound for Lucerne.

 

Lucerne, Switzerland

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Lucerne, Switzerland

 

Why Lucerne? Again I was torn between Zurich and Lucerne (the 2 major cities that are on our way to Munich, Germany, our 2nd country destination. Lucerne is located on the edge of the mountains, thus giving  nice landscape and has more interesting places for a tourist to visit. Zurich on the other hand is for those whose interests are more on a city life, nice restaurants, good shopping options and evening entertainments. Being the country girl that I am, the choice was obvious.

As we arrived in Lucerne at past 8PM (still daylight), I felt little bit of glum. I still wasn’t ready to leave Bernese Oberland. Many times we contemplated of cancelling Lucerne and just stay longer in Lauterbrunnen. But then again, I won’t let the chance pass by  to visit another new place. So Lucerne we pushed through.  Train time from Interlaken to Lucerne is only about 2 hours. Upon alighting at Lucerne train station (Luzern Banhofplatz), we took a trolley tram to our hotel, checked in and looked for a place to dine. Our self-planned tour doesn’t start until the following day, so we basically just lazed around, sipped a couple of glasses of wine and hit the sack. We needed to re charge and braze for the 8-hr walking DIY tour. Below is the itinerary which I gathered from the net and used. They are all accessible by foot. Armed with a pdf-saved map on my smartphone, we set foot right after taking early breakfast.

 

Chapel Bridge (Kapellebrucke)
This is Europe’s older surviving  wooden bridge buil tin 1365

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Kapelle Brucke

Glacier Garden (Gletchergarten)
A discovery by change, made by the oner of this property, Josey Wilhelm Amerein,when he wanted to blast his yard to build a wine cellar, only to uncover hardened glaciers dating back to 20,000 years. This makes him the proud owner of this natural monuments that was opened in 1873. Featured are:




a. Glacial Potholes that are formed by water strem flowing from glacier surface, seeping through the cracks , into the bottom, gathering tremendous speed and forming vortices. The largest in this garden measures 9.5m deep and 8.0m in diameter
b. Sandstones on which areembedded fossilized sea shells (dated 20 million years old, indicating that lucerne was once a beach area
c. Imprint of palm leaf on sandstone, evidence that lucerne once had a tropical climate

Dying Lion of Lucerne (Lowendenkmal)
A stone carving dedicated to the Swiss Soldiers who died (were massacred by revolutionaries) protecting the tuileries Palace in Paris. Mark Twain described this as the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world.

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Lowendenkmal

Hall of Mirrors (Al Hambra)
This mirror maze was once created for the 1896 Swiss National Exhibitio. Using 90 mirrors, this short corridor was made to appear infinitely long. Outside the maze there are these distorting mirrors where you can play with your reflections

Musegg Wall (Museggmauer)
Built in 14th century to protect the town of Lucerne. It houses the city’s oldest clock built by  Hans Luter in 1535. This clock has the privilege of chiming every hour, one minute earlier than all other clocks in town. What amazed me is another big clock on display  near the stairs that shows its inner workings. Driven by ordinary stone weights, gears and pendulum, this clock is on the dot!

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Clock driven by stone weights, gears and pendulum

Backman Largest chocolate Shop

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An honest mistake in a country known for honesty

No matter how much you iron out your itinerary, there would always be hiccups. I have noted the trolley number that we will board from Lucerne train station going to our hotel. I have saved a google map image of lucerne and I have added pink dots on the stops that we will pass through before our hotel stop, but still there are some little things that you miss to consider.

Arriving at Lucerne train station, I asked a supposedly (it looked like an) info centre where to buy tickets if we want to take the trolley tram. She said, we can buy it from  the driver  himself of the trolley tram. After a few minutes of wait at the  stop area  designated for the trolley tram number which we will take going to our hotel, it finally arrived and we boarded. I noticed that the other passengers are not dropping any coin. I didn’t even see a  slot machine inside the tram, the one where you can just drop your payments (just like those in japan buses). I didn’t even see a single passenger hold out a card and tap it on any card reader inside the tram. There was no card reader in sight. I got suspicious, so I asked one of the passengers about it. To my dismay, she told me that the driver doesn’t sell tickets nor receive tram fare. The passenger only showed me a card (sort of a prepaid) which she said, we are supposed to have. There is no need for tapping every time you hop in or out of the tram. You just have to keep it at all time for random inspection.  So basically, public transportation (trolley tram in particular) in Lucerne (and possibly in other big cities in Switzerland) is operating mostly based on honesty. And in saying that, we have just committed an honest mistake. I didn’t bother to find out how and where to buy those prepaid fare card during our Lucerne stay, since upon check in at the hotel, we were given a  complimentary pre-paid transpo card for the whole duration of our stay. Looking back now, I checked again the internet and it says that you can buy it by cash or by card from ticket machines which are available at almost every bus stop.   There are options such as  1-hr unlimited or 1 day pass.

Again, a labyrinth of streets

Before we left for this euro tour I made note to bring magnifying lens because I knew what to expect about streets in Europe and a magnifying lens should come hand in hand with a map, but I left it. So we made many wrong turns and, climbed unnecessary steep steps, went down again, turn on the wifi (out of desperation) to get to the next tourist spot.

Tidbits Info

Food in Switzerland is generally pricey. Hubby and I are in constant search for restaurants that offer good food. Their specialty is of course cheese and cheese-laced recipes. Breakfasts almost always are an assortment of cheese, processed meats (cold cuts/ham) and pastries. I try to veer away as much as possible from processed meats (healthy-living kuno), but knowing that the average life span of Swiss people is 80 years (that is year 2017 data and they love processed meats at that),  I decided that a few days’ worth of hams and bacons won’t matter much in my body, plus, I got fresh air and thousand miles  of distance from stressful work to counter it.
Another tip: Their tap water is safe to drink. You can save a few euros by just refilling your tumbler from public faucets.

Transportation: We took the train most of the time and it is always on the dot.  There are a lot of travel cards / travel pass options that you can choose from depending on your needs and especially on your itinerary. (check http://www.sbb.ch) I actually contemplated on availing that Swiss Pass which gives you unlimited travels on certain railways with 50% discount. Doing my due diligence, I estimated the fares that we will spend on each leg of our itinerary and compared it with the price of availing the swiss pass. The numbers leaned towards deciding to just pay for every single ticket. (Being the miser that I am, I always take pride in being able to save a few cents due to my arithmetic ability, haha!) But then, it is also a matter of preference. Travel cards have their own advantages. You don’t have to queue to buy tickets from the counter every time (though I didn’t see much queuing in Switzerland train stations, and the people behind the counters are very efficient). You also get discounts or free entrance fees on some tourist attractions. But there is a need to know which train line can use the pass and which cannot. For me it’s cumbersome.

Hotels in Switzerland are the most expensive among the 5 euro countries that we stayed in, but the quality, I must say is not compromised. Our hotel (Hotel Steinbock) was clean and quiet but not that spacious. The breakfast was good. It is a stone throw from the train station, and I have read that you can go skiing just at the back of the hotel during winter time. Hotel Ibis in Lucerne also gives a clean impression, but the rooms are way too small. I can barely walk around without bumping into hubby. Breakfast was decent.
Duration of stay in Switzerland
4 .5 days  and   5 nights

Next off…Germany

My Love Story

(This story was initially writtern for Learning Links Academy.  In time for the Valentines(Feb Month) celebration, the teachers asked the  students’ parents to submit their love story. Chosen  stories will be featured during the school’s Family Day Celebration. Mine was one of the three stories selected. I was called in front and was serenaded by 2 gentleman  with our wedding song The Prayer.)

 

My Love Story

Mine is a typical story about an “ugly duckling” who, at late 20’s still had no experience about being courted or receiving love letters. It was the time when I dreaded Valentine’s Day that I’d rather stay home than go out and try to look unaffected   by the sight of couples holding hands and  ladies carrying flowers, balloons and chocolates. It was  the time when I felt I was beyond the marrying age and my body clock was ticking… ticking so loud, it’s deafening,  telling me  that I ought to have kids now, that my peers have all settled down and I’m left out and alone. Working in China, away from family and friends were the perfect recipe for depression…and it crept in.

This was where the values that I have developed within myself from childhood, would play great role in pacifying and helping myself get out of this crippling depression. Having no charm and confidence (…that time…*wink*), I had nothing to capitalize on. I just relied on prayers. The copy of the Novena to St. Anthony de Padua was always at my bedside table and was religiously read every night, for years. The candlewax and teardrops marking on the pages, still visible to this day, can attest to it. My prayer was direct and specific: “Lord if single blessedness is what YOU plan for me, please give the peace in the heart and mind to gladly accept and embrace it. But if it is married life, please DO NOT GIVE ME a lot of suitors, lest I get confused choosing among them. Just bring in ONE MAN, the man for whom both my heart and my mind would agree. And please Lord, give him to me in YOUR time, not mine… just bless me with more patience.”

In answer to my prayer, I remembered the old adage: “Nasa Diyos ang awa, nasa tao ang gawa.” Prayer is just half of the equation. I needed to do my share of effort in finding my man. Through Friendster (the old equivalent of Facebook) I searched for the name Ian Red (which my sister mentioned months ago when we discussed about few available single guys around whom she knew).  A picture of a man smiled back at me. He was wearing a loose T-shirt and a 6-pocket short pants (which, in my opinion needed some good ironing)  and was standing between 2  Mangyans,  with the Gawad Kalinga (GK) houses in the background. I carefully composed two sentences:  “Hi Ian, are you really from Oas, Albay, too? How come I never bump into you?” With all the courage I could muster, I then hit the “send” button. Who would have thought that those two sentences would change both our lives together?

Weeks passed by and I got no reply. I started regretting making that move, rationalizing that it must have turned him off.

After 5 weeks, lo and behold, I got a long reply from him. A reply that obviously indicated he is interested. He asked for my number. With him working in Vietnam and me working in China, we started internet chatting until wee hours. We talked about everything under the sun, and were amazed at how similar our childhood years were. He spent most of his childhood in a place just around 5 km away from my place. We both were raised by our Lolas. We talked about our dreams and our views on things. No topic was ever mundane for us. We found out that my dad was his mom’s high school classmate and sweepers’ group mates. I learned that he used to be my sister’s pen pal back in college; that he has a sister also named of Monalisa, that we both have a brother named Michael. Here’s more: I grew up in small village whose patron saint is St. Anthony of Padua. He also spent most of his summer as a child in his dad’s small village who’s patron saint is also St. Anthony of Padua. Do you know where he lived with his family from childhood until high school? You guessed it…also in a town whose patron saint is St. Anthony of Padua!

It was on Sep end of 2005 (after 3 months of chatting) that we decided to meet in person. Ian would be coming from Vietnam and me coming from China. Our vacation coincided, and without deliberately arranging it, our date of arrival at NAIA coincided on the same day, him arriving a few hours ahead of me. He waited for me at the arrival area, handing me a dendrobium orchid corsage which he managed to ask from the airline’s flight crew. Through a cup of coffee at nearby cafe, we instantly clicked. Two days later I went home to my family in Bicol, he also did. We continued to date in Bicol. He met my parents; he introduced me to his parents. After 8 days from the first meeting, we became a couple. Four months after that, on a warm February night, atop a tree house in Boracay, with loose flower petals scattered on the floor, with the glowing of the lamps that were hung from the ceiling, with the soft, sweet serenade of a guitarist, he asked me to be his wife and I, well….I  said “Yes!”

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But a good story wouldn’t be a good one without some twists. Wedding was set to December, 2006 and we had 10 months of preparation…preparing away from home (him in Vietnam, me in China) was already in itself tough. After all have been considered, churches, reception area have been booked, gowns made in Manila and shipped to Bicol, souvenirs individually packed, one month before the wedding, the deadly Super typhoon Reming hit Bicol region head-on, leaving more than 1,000 Bicolanos dead, bathing the whole Bicol region in both darkness and stench. Roads were impassable, bridges have collapsed, and food and water were scarce. Ian and I were out of the country, but our families were in Bicol. The great flood did not spare our houses and properties, and…of course, the gowns and the souvenirs. How can we possibly have merriment amidst disaster? After much consideration, we decided to push through with the wedding, making the most of what was left. We decided to cut back on the expenses and decided to donate the rest of the budget to those greatly affected by the typhoon. It rained the day the before, it rained the day after, but God in HIS majestic ways, granted us a beautiful sunny wedding day! In front of our families and friends who were still weary from brunt of the strongest typhoon to ever come into their lives, but with genuine smiles in their faces, Ian and I exchanged vows and promised our lifetime of togetherness.

portrait

Mine is a story of a “bird” who thought she was an ugly duckling. But with fervent prayer and trust in the Lord, this “bird” later on realized that God, through the intercession of St. Anthony of Padua, had a superb plan for her… that she is to become a beautiful “swan”- a mother to equally beautiful Summer and handsome  Forrest and a wife to loving and devoted Ian.

(Note: St. Anthony of Padua is known as saint of miracles and saint of lost things)

 

 

Neneng In Italy

Bonjourno!

Many must have been enticed by my picture postings on FB regarding my recent trip to Italy, that several people have been asking for tips about the tour. So  for those who are planning to visit this amazing country, I hope you would find these few pieces of advice here useful. I am also sharing some mistakes that I made so you would learn from it. Let me clarify, however that although most of these advices  apply to everyone, there may be some  comments that I will make which might only apply to Filipinos, accustomed to Filipino lifestyle, in the Philippine setting. (You will know what I mean, when I get to those topics)

Planning the trip

I did not have an agent to book our trips. I opted to do it myself so I can have a pretty much control of my schedule ( Reasons: I’m a control freak haha!  I trust myself better than the agents. I’m A DIY kind of person. hehehehe!)   That’s what the net is for! Surf! At the end of this blog, I will be listing the useful and recommended websites that have used.

Know your priorities.

Is seeing the Pope your priority? Then look up into the Vatican  official website, and check the  schedule of Pope’s appearances. It also indicates which Papal appearances need tickets.  Allot at least half day for it . You need to be there 3 -4 hours before his appearance to ensure best seat/location. The rest of your to do / places to visit will revolve around this.

Visa Application.

It will take at least 15 days for visa to be released. It would be much better to give a 1-month lead time for visa application, before your intended trip. Check at the Italian Visa application for the requirements.

They usually require Bank Statement of account showing 6-months bank transaction, Certificate of Employment with compensation, Leave Application approved by employer, Airline tickets , Hotel reservations and 2X2 photo, and  of course the passport.  A word of advice, when you have your ID taken: make sure that your hairdo not cover your ears. I saw the applicant before me, requested to come back and have her ID retaken because her hair is covering her right ear (so inconvenient especially since the queue is long).

Ways to see the Pope:

  1. Papal Audience (every Wednesday morning).
  2. Sunday Mass

 

But still, you need to check updates on the official Vatican website as the Pope is sometimes out of town/country.

How Secure a Papal Ticket: Papal Tickets are free (though there are some websites that offer Papal tickets for 40+ euros). They are absolutely free. All you need to do is approach one of the Swiss Guards (near the Bronze Door) of St Peter’s Basilica and ask for it. Tickets are almost always available 2-3 days before the date of appearance. Again if you are like me who wants to do things the earliest time possible, there is another option: Download the “request for the reservation of tickets” from the official Vatican website, accomplish it, then fax to the Vatican office – fax number is indicated in the form), at least a month before the date of appearance. DO NOT EMAIL.  You should get a reply if your request is granted. I didn’t. So I proceeded with plan B (approach the Swiss Guards when I reached Rome)

Here is the map to the Bronze Door.

swiss-guards

 

In Italy

Transportation

Intercity transportation (like Rome to Venice, Venice to Florence, etc.) would be through speed trains. But within the city, you will only need bus, tram or the subway train (which they call “metro”).

Buying Train Tickets. There is no need to buy train tickets in advance for most of your trips, especially if you intend to make your itinerary as flexible as possible. Departure time comes every 15 minutes or even shorter. If you want to have an idea of the departure time intervals of train journeys, you can try accessing the following websites (trenitalia.com, trainline.com, italotreno.it. Ticket vending machines are all over the train stations. It might get overwhelming at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. It’s not the same as our coffee vending machines that sometimes eat money and not dispensing coffee, leaving you penny-less and coffee-deprived. Just follow the instructions as you would when you make bank transactions thru ATM (they accept all denominations, from coins to bills).

My mistake: Being obsessed with planning, I bought all the intercity (Rome to Venice, Venice to Florence, Florence to Rome) tickets online and in advance. We when reached Venice, we decided to stay half a day longer, so we tried to rebook the tickets to a different time departure, but we have to pay a rebooking fee. Same thing happened when we were in Florence. So my suggestion is to buy ticket when you get there. If you really feel the need to buy ticket advance, choose the option that is exchangeable (of course the price is usually 50% more than the one that is not)

Transportation Within Rome:

You have options to buy single day ticket (which you can use unlimitedly for 1 day), 2-days ticket or 3-days ticket. This can be used for bus, tram and metro, but NOT on speed trains.

There is yet another option: To buy the Roma Pass.  Roma Pass allows you 3-day unlimited free ride to metros, bus and tram plus free entry to 2 tourist spot/gallery/museum of your choice  (within their listing of course). Just do the math which one suits you best.

Transportation Within Venice:

Vaporetto  (or a water bus) is the main mode of transport in Venice. They also offer the 1-day, 2 days, 3-days unlimited Vaporetto tickets.  Another option is to just walk. You might get lost in the streets of Venice, but trust me it will bring you to wonderful places.

The Gondola: It is just a rented boat (with nice seat, and a gondolier) that circles around a specified route for 30mins. You can find them in every vaporetto stop or even on the inner canals of venice. If you want to experience that once in a lifetime Gondola ride with a Gondolier, I suggest to pick those route that will mostly sail you  along the Grand Canal. (Those near the San Marco Giardinnetti). Gondola prices are standard and controlled (80 euros for every ride of 30 mins, 6 pax max)

Validating the ticket:

This is very important as many tourists are caught unaware of this rule and end up paying fine of about 50 Euros when inspectors find out. Validating means you have to have it stamped or scanned on your first use of it (be it on a bus, tram, train or vaporetto). That way, their transport system gets a record of the 1st time you used your ticket. From then on, your 1-day, 2-day or 3-day ticket will start ticking. Pls note: they do not necessarily mean 24, 48 and 72 hours respectively. Instead, you can use them until the midnight of your 1st day (for 1-day ticket), the midnight of 2nd day (for 2-day ticket) the midnight of 3rd day (for 3-day ticket). So to make the most of it, use it on the very morning of your first trip. Validating machines are all over train stations, on the bus or tram somewhere near the door)

Heads-up on Long queues:

Academia Gallery (in Florence), The Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel (in Rome), Colosseum (in Rome) are the ones that are mostly visited by tourists. The common practice of being an early bird  to beat the long queue does not apply because, apparently, all tourists think the same. So you will be surprised at the long line formation even if you go there, say 7AM. I highly suggest to book visits to these places and buy tickets online and ahead of time (1 month ahead is best). They provide separate passage for those with tickets. It is well worth it.

With or Without Tour Guide?

If you are the type who really want to internalize what you are seeing, opt for the ticket that comes with a tour guide (especially For Vatican Museum / Sistine Chapel & Colosseum). You will appreciate it best if you have a guide to explain to you what you are looking at, and not turn out cold/stone faced when you leave the museum with an “ok lang” remarks about the tour.) You should come out with a “wow” expression in your face. Tour guides in Italy are great. They are well-versed in English, very informative and never boring. (Most of them have college degrees, some even have master’s degrees).  (But if you just want to go there to have your picture taken, then just choose the basic entrance ticket option.

Another option, if you are a miser like me (hehe), is to do advance reading. Go to Wikipedia before you visit the actual place. Also google  “things you don’t know about…(the place you will visit)” or “trivia about…(the place you will visit)”.  But for the Vatican museum and Sistine chapel, please…get  an official tour guide).

Borghese Gallery (Rome) – if you are so much into paintings, you can visit this Gallery. However, you should book (call their office) in advance (recommended 10 days prior to the actual visit date). You can also use the Roma Pass to get a free entrance here. But just the same, you need to book at least 10 days in advance)

Palatine Hill, Roman Forum, Colosseum – These three sites are located near one another, so might as well visit all of them in one go (Allot half day minimum for all  these three sites).  I recommend to enter from the Palatine Hill side (Take Bus Line 75  from Roma Termini and alight along Via  Sn Gregorio (queues are shorter if there are any).  Then as you walk your way downhill, you’ll get a good view of the Roman Forum from atop.  You go down to Roman Forum and from the Roman Forum, it’s a stone throw to the Colosseum.

Day Out: Bring fold able umbrella. Bring bottle for drinking water. You can see oftentimes drinking water fountains around Italy (not just in Rome) The water comes from springs that are still flowing through their ancient aqueducts (see sample pic below).  Water is cold and safe for drinking and it’s free. You can save 1 to 1.5 euro  for that.

potable-water

Bring raincoat always. I bought mine in Phil (Walter mart for 29 pesos, the yellow one .It is compact and disposable).

What to wear: I can only advise for autumn season (since it was the time I visited Italy).I must agree with the saying: “In Italy, you must dress like an onion” . Dress in layers and take off one layer at a time as the temp changes. Generally for tops, wear sleeveless or short sleeves, then put on a sweater, and then the 3rd layer is a thick jacket. Accessorize with a scarf or pashmina. (This applies to men too). I read about Italians not really into showing much skin. For footwear, sneakers or walking boots are a must. You will be pounding the pavement (in Italy’s case, the cobblestones) a lot, be kind to your feet. Tourist spots in Rome /Florence /Venice are best explored on foot.  It is best to be fit before you go (So do some jogging weeks before your planned trip). But then buses, trams and metros are always there when you’re feet start complaining. Just take note that trying to find the correct bus stop may also require a lot of walking. (seriously!). Don’t forget to bring shades and sunblock.

Weather:  In Italy, temperature changes greatly by the hour. So before you go out and seize the day, check the temperature profile. I always look at the 14-day weather forecast in the net.

On toilets:  Public toilets in Italy are not for free. They usually require 1 euro for you to be able to use their toilets. So prepare coins if such need arises. Another option is to go to a nearby cafe, order a croissant or a cookie then you can use their toilet. And, oh, for whatever it’s worth, when you try to get water from the sink faucet and you can’t seem to find the dial, lever and no sensor in sight, check the floor. If you see a pedal, step on it, and voila, you’ll get your water (oh they love antiquity!). 

toilets-in-italy

 

Plan your route, get hold of a map.

Map copies are available everywhere in Rome (at souvenir shops or newsstands). You can get it for 3 euros.  If you buy a Roma Pass, you will get also a copy included in the kit that they will give you). Hotels also provide their guests a copy.

HOWEVER, it is best to study and familiarize yourself with the map and your route at least the night before. Rome, Venice and Florence are a labyrinth of streets. It’s easy to get lost. And oh, before I forget, bring a magnifying lens. If you can get hold a small toy magnifying lens, much better. I still have a 20-20 vision but just the same, I had trouble reading the street printings on the map. Street names are etched on every wall (about  10 feet from the ground) of every corner building.

In Rome: There are  2 kinds of map that you will most certainly need. One  is  the typical map which shows the tourist spots.  It is pretty self-explanatory.

Another is a map with bus/tram/metro routes. (Specify that you need this type when you buy at newsstands, souvenir shops)  It is pretty overwhelming  and may need some patience. You will see  numbers on that map. That is the bus line. To see the route of that particular bus line, just connect the dots (the same numbers).  If you see The Capital Letter “M” in the map, that’s not McDo. That’s the subway metro line. (Below is a sample of map with bus routes. I already connected the dots for Bus Line#75, and made a pink line. That’s what we used for our trip to Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and Colosseum.)

 bus-route-map

In Venice and Florence: we just used the ordinary map.

The following are the bus lines we used when in Rome

Bus No.910 –Going to Borghese Gallery (from Roma Termini). PLs note, this comes only every 30 mins (a lesson I learned the hard way – we got late from our reserved tour  time slot  and no longer accommodated for the next batch. And the available slot is in 7 days. Goodbye 17 euros/pax.

Bus No. 40 – will stop near the following spots: Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Castle Angelo, Vatican

Bus No. 75 – To Palatine Hill, Roman Forum and Colosseum

The Metro (Red Line) – Going to St Peter’s Square/Basilica (Alight at Ottaviano Sn Pietro) / Going to Vatican Museum  (Alight at Cipro Musei Vaticani)

Riding the Bus/Tram

Once you have located the bus stop, make sure you are on the right side (meaning going to the right direction of the bus). You can verify this by looking at the bus route post. Below picture is an example of a bus route. This means that where you are standing is Cavour St. a bus stop for Bus Line Nos. 71, 75 and 2. Taking Bus No. 75 for instance, the direction of the bus is where the arrow heads to. The stop enclosed in the box, is the name of the stop where you are at the moment (Cavour). The next stop will be the name below it, and so on, the last stop would be the name on the bottom. If your destination is listed on the bottom with respect to the boxed stop, you are on the right direction. If, however, your destination is written on top of the boxed stop, the bus is going the wrong way. Just  cross the street and the bus stop there is the one heading to your direction.

bus-stops

Where to eat:

Naturally you would search the net for the most recommended restaurants in Italy.  So I asked  hubby take on this specific task. I’m not sure what happened but he came back to me empty-handed. Fortunately, you really don’t have to. Italy is surrounded with restaurants and coffee shops. Just as you thought your beginners luck worked and you chanced upon a good restaurant on your first try, you’ll find out later that your next dine is much better the previous one.  Just one rule of to bear in mind. Avoid restaurants with menus that have pictures on it (I got this tip from the net as well and it’s true). If possible and if your feet still allow you to, choose restaurants that are far from those tourist spots. Prices are less expensive.

In Phil, restos are not used to serving sparkiling/carbonated water. So when you dine in Italy and you order  water, be ready to answer if they ask you “natural or with gas?” or “natural or sparkling?”.

Always try the restos’  house wine They’re not expensive , yet they’re good.

On coffee:  Say “normale or café americano” if you want to order normal brewed, “normale capucchino”, “normale machiato”. Otherwise they’ll give you espresso (that’s their default order). One thing I love about Italy is decaf is always available anywhere.

Places We Visited

Venice:

  1. St Mark Cathedral  & St Mark Square (by Vaporetto)  – Self Tour
  2. Self Tour: Bridge of Sighs (by Vaporetto) – Self Tour
  3. Murano Island (Glass products shopping/glass making show)- (take Vaporetto – Self Tour)

Padova:

  1. Basilica de Sn Antonio de Padova – Self Tour
  2. Ortho Botanico – Self Tour
  3. Prato della Valle – Self Tour

 

Florence:

  1. The Duomo – Self Tour
  2. Sn Lorenzo Market (Leather products) – Self Tour
  3. Basilica de Sta Croce – Self Tour
  4. Package Guided Tour 1 (Tuscany in One Day Sightseeing Tour – check viator .com website. We booked 1 month in advance). Package included visit to the Town of Siena  (Downtown Siena, Duomo, taste their world class=award winning gelato.), the Town of Pisa (Leaning Tower of Pisa), the Town of Sn Gimigiano (Vineyard visit, wine tasting. Lunch under the Tuscan Sun)
  5. Package GuidedTour 2 (Cinque Terre Hiking ay Trip from Florence – check viator website. We booked 1 month in advance.Tour of 5 lands on the coast of Italian Riviera, a boat ride along the Italian Riviera(Not suitable for kids below 12 years old. You must be of average physical fitness in you want to join this.)
  6. Academia Gallery – to see Michaelangelos “David”

Rome:

  1. Villa Borghese – Self Tour
  2. Trevi Fountain –  Self Tour
  3. Piazza de Poppolo – Self Tour
  4. Piazza Navona – Self Tour
  5. Pantheon – Self Tour
  6. Spanish Steps – Self Tour
  7. Castle St. Angelo – Self Tour
  8. Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel – Guided Tour
  9. St Peter’s Square- Self Tour
  10. St Peter’s Basilica- Self Tour
  11. Sn Giovanni Laterano Basilica- Self Tour
  12. Palatine Hill- Self Tou
  13. Roman Forum- Self Tour
  14. Colosseum- Self Tour

Where to stay in Italy: Opt for accommodations that are near the central train station. You will be dragging your luggage bags along cobblestones. The nearer  your hotel from  the main train station is, the faster you can get rid of your luggage, and get to explore the city (remember the labyrinth of streets?).

The following websites have been very useful to me.

http://www.vatican.va/various/prefettura/index_en.html – for updated schedule of Papal appearances

http://www.papalaudience.org/tickets – For downloading the request form for the reservation of papal tickets

http://www.museivaticani.va- For online tickets to Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica

http://www.coopculture.it – for online ticket to Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

http://www.galleriaborghese.it – online ticket to Borghese Gallery (I tried it but I cannot get through the payment part despite several trials. So I just availed the Roma Pass, and called the Gallery in advance for reservation)

https://www.viator.com – for Florence Group Tour

https://tripadvisor.com – for general  tidbit tips

One more thing:  pls take note of the type of  electrical socket outlets in Italy (a 2-pin plug) and prepare the necessary adopter in advance.

I think this would suffice. If you still need more information on the prices, hotel recommendations, reviews, personal experiences, just PM me.

Grazie!