At last, summer has arrived! Having lived most of my life in a tropical country, I never got so excited for my first travel to an island in a long time. I’m sure that I’m fond of summer and going to the beach (sometimes), but with Mediterranean waters still cooler than the beaches we had in the Philippines, I have come to terms into going to the beach less frequently than before. Perhaps it was being exposed to the colder seasons for long which eventually drove me to plan for my first summer getaway this year. Shall I go and take a pill once again in Ibiza? Will I revisit the historical forts and turquoise waters on the coves of Menorca? Is it a cool idea to relax while listening to the sound of waves smashing on the coastal rocks of Sardinia? Shall I spend a weekend of paradise on any of the Greek islands? Well, I decided to go a little off-path – I chose to spend quality time in the Cíes islands.
The islands are located southwest off the coast of the Spanish region of Galicia. Although planning a trip there requires more planning than usual (i.e. application of permits from the Galician council, reserving slots to ride the ferries from Pontevedra province and back, travel time), it’s a fulfilling getaway especially for travelers like me who take it up one more notch to enjoy biodiversity and mini-trekking all while enjoying time in the beach. The islands are considered a national park due to its isolated location and because it houses arguably the largest colony of seagulls in the world. Due to this status, entry to the islands are highly regulated and this meant a less crowded, relaxing and peaceful atmosphere for me and my compañero.
Towards the western sections of the 2 main islands, Monteagudo and do Faro, we managed to do a relaxed pace of hiking to 2 ends – towards the lighthouse of Cíes and to the Alto de Principe (Prince’s Peak) on the other end. What consumed most of our time was us just chatting all the way to the peaks that we even didn’t recognize that we already spent a lot of energy as well as performing documentation on the magnificent views, wildlife and trippy poses we did along the way. This was certainly the reason why we ended up running, excessively sweating and panting all the way to the port to catch our trip back to Vigo. Jaja.
And finally, a getaway to the islands would not be complete without time spent on the beach. The sandbar connecting the islands of Monteagudo and do Faro stretches for several kilometers and are one, if not the most beautiful beaches that I ever went to. With fine golden and soft sands extending towards the dark blue Atlantic waters, one manages to see stretches of turquoise water from the shore until the shade of blue water turns darker further to the sea. The sandbar is curved inwards to the 2 islands, thereby naturally protecting it from the Atlantic currents. Although the water was still cold even if it’s already June (at least it was very cold to me), we managed to enjoy our chilly dip while we bask under the heat of the sun. It was reminiscent of those times when I used to go to the beaches when I lived in Cebu. My place was just a 5 minute drive to the coast and it was always a pleasant time to spend at least a day inside a cottage and spending time with family and friends while eating and swimming in the warm waters.
I would definitely want to go back to those islands and perhaps spend a longer time to just chill and relax – just like how it used to be in the tropics.
“The fading light of day lingers on your sleeping face”…
Every Saturdays eleven years ago, I used to sit down in front of the television of my parent’s living room and wait for my favorite show, the MTV Asia Hitlist. The show used to run down the top 20 most famous songs in Southeast Asia every week. I was quite a different kid than the rest of my contemporaries. While most of the Filipino kids those days were mostly influenced by the local music played in the radio, I was heavily influenced by a mix of American and European pop and rock music; up to this day, these genres (with the addition of Latin music), became my staple of music – heavily influencing what I need to listen to motivate me on a daily basis as well as the themes to which most of my personal songwriting revolves around.
Going back to that show, in the summer of 1999, it was the first time I saw the music video of Princessa’s “I Won’t Forget You”. It was amusing just as the song itself was beautiful to me – what the VJ referred to as a new artist who hails from Spain, and with her signature hairdo which she used a band to keep her hair intact, the beat of her song meant more than what the lyrics meant to me at that time. Of course, now, every line to that song makes a lot of sense about how I see relationships nowadays; but another aspect of the song which still brings me nostalgic feelings up to this day is the music video. The plot was that she appeared in an indoor studio with her band and in it, there were interlocking scenes of her going out of the studio and skating through cities which she used to go to when she was with her lover – Paris, London, Rome and Venice. Nineteen years ago, I told myself I would visit those cities. 2 months ago, I finally went to one of them – Venice.
Two Decades in the Making
I didn’t have much preparations for this trip. All I felt was that it finally was the right time to fulfill that distant dream when I was a kid. It was indeed almost 2 decades in the making! A year ago, after one of my hiking excursions in Malta, one of my friends and I agreed to go together on a mini trip to Venice, being that we haven’t been to the city and she also loves the Italian cities. However, she wasn’t able to make it with me this time and so, another counter was added to my solo travels. I was able to book a flight from Malta to Treviso airport last winter. The rest – the budget, booking a hotel, searching for specific things to see and food to eat were all planned a few days before. Should I feel bothered? As a perfectionist, yes. I haven’t traveled solo for quite some time so there were jitters – not because of anything in particular, except for just making everything about the trip as detailed and productive. On the other hand, I told myself, “come on, this is definitely an nth time for you to go out there and enjoy!” I told myself, the least I could just do there is to make an impression of the music video of one of my all-time favorite songs. So finally, it was time to go. Woohoo!
Less on the Streets and More on the Canals
Although Venice is arguably one of the most visited places on Earth, it is quite a unique travel destination. For one, it is a group of islands which survived centuries of inundation and constant battles with the sea for it to stay afloat. Being dubbed as the “floating city”, its main artery of navigation is not through its narrow streets but through its wide and complex network of canals. In medieval times, the once-powerful city-state of Venice was headquartered on these islands and it set out from the Adriatic Sea to spread its influence to and trade with outposts as far-flung as Crimea (Chersonesos) and Cyprus.
These waterways have been the heart of the Venetian way of life, so much that boats which transport the government officials of Venice at that time, the Venetians to their work and engagement in trade, and the once-powerful navy to foreign conquests, all started and passed through these canals. It is particular to note that to appreciate the cityscape of Venice, one has to focus more on the infrastructure designs along these canals instead of the main streets. It is said that in medieval times, the most influential people in the Venetian society acquire the lots exposed to the canals and as the waterways are the “highways” during those times, it is almost mandatory for the elite to construct the grandest designs of their houses’ facade.
Campos vs. Piazzas
In most places, when people try to meet at a specific place, they usually just exchange coordinates or a specific street name. In Venice, when you do the same, it is most likely that you end up not meeting at all. This sounds strange or funny but indeed, a number of Venice’s districts have street names that are also used in the other districts. A better way of meeting up, as devised by the Venetians, was to indicate a landmark (e.g. in front of the Basilica di San Marco) or to meet in campos (e.g. Campo San Polo). In most Latin-based languages, campo is used to refer to countryside or fields. One would wonder why they use such a term in a small and crowded place like Venice (let alone that it’s quite unusual to have a field in a small island). But indeed, when the Venetians name a square as a campo instead of a piazza, it is most likely that in the past, regardless of how small the lot is, they would utilize the “campo” to plant their crops.
Moving on from campos to piazzas, the most important piazza and definitely a must-see while in Venice, is the Piazza San Marco. Located on the southern end of the left bank of the Grand Canal, the Piazza San Marco is the historical, cultural, spiritual and political center of Venice since the medieval times. The piazza houses numerous and valuable works of art that Italian (and Venetian) medieval artists have endowed the world with. One of them is the Basilica di San Marco (Basilica of St. Mark). One of the four evangelists of the Christian faith, St. Mark has historically been the most revered persons of Venice. This is also evident in the lion symbol which is depicted in flags, squares, facades and towers all across the city. The basilica has a free entrance and although you would have to queue for around 30-45 minutes during peak hours of peak days, the intricate artistic designs on the interior and the solemnity of the place amidst a very touristy feel of the piazza make the wait definitely worth it.
Afternoons in Venice can Still be Romantic Even for Solo Travelers
While it’s a known fact that Venice rivals Paris as a destination for romantic getaways, there is quite a good space for solo travelers as well and I can personally testify to that. 😛 During my first day there, the midday heat was quite strong and finding a restaurant to eat lunch could be a challenge especially in the northern district of Cannaregio and the area between the Grand Canal and the Piazza San Marco. It was pleasant to find this restaurant called Al Corner, where I bared the midday heat through a glass of aperol spritz and a plate of ravioli cacio i pepe alla carbonara profumati al tartufo (cheese and pepper ravioli with truffle-flavored carbonara). By the way, aperol spritz is a signature drink in Venice. A secret that I would like to share is that Venice is the only Italian city which considers aperol spritz as a wine/local drink rather than a cocktail. For this reason, this drink is very cheap compared to anywhere that I have drank it (in Venice, I only paid an average of 4 euros for 1 glass while in Malta, I would have paid around 7 euros). To be fair, the spritz I tasted in Venice were the second best of its kind (after the ones I drank in Strasbourg… well, perhaps, there were other factors why I preferred its taste there), but given that this spritz is way cheaper in Venice, I think I’ve drank more glasses here.
Sunsets can be really picturesque in Venice, as one could either enjoy the sun as it sets beyond the towering buildings along the Grand Canal (while eating his favorite gelato), watch it set from the area along the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute and enjoy the sky turn from yellow-orange to vermillion to crimson before turning dark, or ride along the canals via the classic gondolas. I decided to do all these! After all, it’s not everyday that I could enjoy sunsets in Venice, right?
Finally, we talk about evenings in Venice. Despite being a classical city, Venice is not lacking a pleasant nightlife and some memorable experiences for travelers. If you’re in your late teens to early 20’s and you really need some hardcore partying, you can cross the opposite side in the mainland where modern clubs are located. However, the old town itself is where the University of Venice is located and in the southern districts, a solo traveler like me could definitely eat local Venetian cuisine and a few glasses of local wine or spritz and the next thing you know, you’re already conversing with a fellow traveler or if you’re luckier, with a local too (Venetians are quite good in their level of English). In this case, I would gladly recommend Hosteria Osottoosopra on your first evening in lovely Venice.
And thus, my Venetian experience ended by quoting the first line of the song which inspired me to go there – “the fading light of day lingers on your sleeping face.”
There’s definitely a lot of things to be grateful for in the past thirty years. The mere opportunity to have lived here on earth with what I have is already a blessing. To have a loving and accepting family; real, enduring and supportive friends; having lived through the trials and success; and all the fond memories that I had in the past thirty years were worth celebrating.
A personal promise
Ever since I moved to Europe two years ago, I have made a promise to myself that if I’m not in the Philippines, I will spend my birthdays in Spain. Spain has always been very close to my heart – the history, the people who I’ve crossed paths with, the language and culture, the food… and we all have that feeling of affinity to a place, where we feel just comfortable and at peace. And for me, what a way to celebrate my past thirty years of existence and welcome the next chapter of my life in this place – the place which I call home away from home.
…a home away from home…
It’s always a great feeling when you go to a place you love and you reconnect with people who you have made great memories with. When I was in Argentina last year, I met a couple from Valencia who were very warm and patient with my Spanish. In just one day, we all got along so well (along with our other Argentine and Brazilian friends who we met during our trip at Perrito Moreno) and eventually, we stayed in touch via social media. Who would have thought that we would have another chance to meet each other? Finally, we managed to meet again in Valencia, where we ate and drank the night out Argentine style (it was awesome to relive our first encounter during that night!). It would be lovely to do more adventures with their warmth and hospitality in the future. ¡Eso espero!
Next stop, I managed to reconnect with my beloved Barcelona. This city always calms my heart and my mind – reminiscing the beautiful experiences I had in the city in the past, reconnecting with people I’ve been close to and just taking time to casually stroll through the some of the districts (I’d never get tired crisscrossing the narrow alleys of the Gothic quarter especially when it gives me that melancholic, dreamy vibe to it in the afternoon). I just can’t get enough of this beauty and can’t wait to be there in two months!
Of course, for a lover of cityscapes, Madrid is an essential itinerary. One might notice how I gravitate towards going to busy cities. But the thing is, I always consider myself as an introvert who lives in an extroverted world. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, as much as I’d like walking through the narrow alleys and the bristling walkways, I have a contentment in solitude among the crowd – it humbles me, that in spite of the self-consciousness and self-gratification we have for ourselves, we are just but miniatures in this universe.
Madrileños also have this distinct balance of being overtly warm and cautiously cool. Every time I visit Madrid, I just need that dose of belongingness with 2 of my closest friends. Forget any language barriers! No matter how deep English or Castilian could be, we manage to meet in between and have a preposterous but therapeutic laugh about ourselves and silly ideas. I hope when our hairs turn grey (actually mine have already started to turn grey since I was 16 jaja), we would still end up on one the terrazas along Gran Vía, overlooking the sunset and just drinking our cervezas or jugos.
By the way, it’s always interesting how I feel like a citizen in this city. While it’s a given (a known fact) that my friends have adopted me already and considered me as a local, it’s so casual how acquaintances don’t even have a clue that I’m traveling or from somewhere else (…well, apart from others thinking I come from Mexico or Colombia… or Peru) but instead, I always have this impression that I just come from there (this better be a great foretelling for me ;).
This year, my birthday fell on the Semana Santa (Holy Week celebration of the Christian faith). And as Spain was a former bastion of Catholicism, the expectation for festivities in the country is really high. I used to celebrate this week with my family back in Cebu and as solemn as it had been (even as solemn as when we were young, we ought not to play outdoors from Good Friday until Easter Sunday as the Lord had died and anyone who gets injured during those days might risk not having their wounds healed… jajaja), until last year when I spent the Semana Santa at my friend’s place in Cartagena, I always expected populous Philippines to celebrate it the grandest. Now, it appears to me that Spain still holds that crown (pun intended).
I actually had slight concerns about spending my Semana Santa in Andalusia. I’ve always heard from friends that the region boasts the biggest, grandest and most flamboyant celebrations of the Holy Week in the whole country. For the most part, I stayed in Seville (and stayed within the Triana – Magdalena triangle) where most of the processions occur. While it’s true that it was really crowded, and already quite warm for spring time, I enjoyed witnessing the solemnity of the celebration. Afterwards, especially after the evening processions, the area near Alameda de Hercules became full of young adults and festivities. For me, that was a perfect way to spend time after the solemnities – tapas and drinks, meeting with friends, meeting new friends, music and dancing (especially loved the traditional and Latin sounds ‘coz they suit the ambiance really well).
For me, overall, the Sevillanos are really the warmest people in Spain. While I love all my people in Spain, there’s a dramatic element to the warmness of these people. I see the way actors in Latin-american telenovelas articulate their words and their feelings with the Sevillanos. My friends here tell me stories like how my friends in Colombia told me theirs. In one of the days, I went to flamenco classes to just be in touch with the basics of playing the cajón (the box-shaped percussion used during flamenco shows) and dancing the flamenco. It was fun how my instructor Eva showed us how to dance and play along the rhythm and just let out that inner “duende” or soul that the Andalusians evoke when they perform flamenco.
During my birthday, I went to the historically important city of Granada. In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs Isabel I of Castilla and Fernando II of Aragon finally completed the Spanish Reconquest of Iberia (sans Portugal) from the Moors by taking Granada. During the same year, Spain also acquired land in the vastly undiscovered New World (courtesy of Christopher Columbus) and thus, the Siglo de Oro (the Spanish Golden Age) began. This has a profound meaning for me, for this visit represented the culmination of my struggles and achieved goals during my first thirty years on earth as well as the unraveling of a hopefully new personal golden age. During this visit, it was impressive to note how a Moorish stronghold five centuries ago was gradually converted into a completely Andalusian city whose cathedrals and forts showcased a fusion of Catholic and Moorish architectural design. While witnessing the holy week procession in Albaicín, I was able to view the Alhambra from the opposite hill with a snow-capped Sierra Nevada on the background. Later on, the crew at Loft restaurant surprised me (like I was shookt that they knew it was my birthday!) by delivering some desserts with a non-extinguishable flaming candle to my table. I felt humbled by the hospitality of the Granadinos. 🙂
And finally, on Good Friday, I went to El Rocío in Huelva province to visit the largest nature park in the southern Iberian peninsula, the Doñana National Park. Together with my Sevillano friends, we did our afternoon horse back riding with Rafael and his team of well-trained Spanish horses. The smoothness of the ride, the calm and slightly-windy weather, the laughter and small chats we had, all while the sun was descending, were a perfect culmination of the past thirty years of my life.
I could only thank the Guy above but it will never be enough for all the learning, the gifts, the blessings, the love and the acceptance that I have received from everyone and everything around me.
And did I just mention above that the journey to the next chapter of my life has already begun? Well, most people feel more empowered and sufficiently confident about their capabilities when they turn 30 – that they are grown men and women, that they have more control in their lives. While I agree to those, and I must say that I feel more empowered, sufficiently trusting (as I’ve always been) to my capabilities, I still believe that I have a lot to improve about myself and learn from this life and the people and things around me. And I’m sure that while I will gradually learn new things especially from my next journeys, the chapters for the future are left unwritten. So as I hold my pen to write these new chapters, would you like to get your own pen and maybe co-write some sections with me? We’ll soon find out…
Hey everyone! First of all, I’d like to welcome you to my personal blog, where you will be able to read some of my travel stories. People who know me personally would say that I’ve been a social science enthusiast since I was a child and to live that enthusiasm as an adult has made me feel immensely blessed.
My humble blog is not your typical travel blog – I didn’t have much preparation setting this up nor do I have the instruments and marketing to make this as a commercial blog. I was motivated to create this blog after three of my friends separately recommended that I set up one as I’ve been traveling around the world with much passion, knowledge and excitement. I would say that I’m still private about my experience, let alone my travel experiences. But this might be the right time to share some of my moments with the rest of the world… to show its beauty through my lens, my perspective and through the incidental experiences and lessons I have learned along my travel routes.
From here, I don’t know how this blog would eventually become. Would it last a year? Maybe a couple more? I used to write a lot when I was more introverted but would I be inspired enough to frequently write new posts? Only time will tell and I will keep it as it is. What I know is that, with this medium of expression, perhaps I would be able to draw in readers who share an authentic passion about the world – the history of civilizations, empires and modern states; the diversity in languages, culture and cuisine; and perhaps, friendships and connections derived from a common interest in these things and in travel.
For now, I hope you will have a pleasant time in my blog. I’ll stay in touch more with all of you soon.
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert