Scanning through my photos in September 2018 just made me come across a special photo which made me pause for a few minutes. Being a fanatic of anything mango since day 1, and being in a country which I really learn to call my own but where mango is not at all harvested, this photo just screams I AM CRAVING!!!
Mangoes are really abundant in the Philippine province of Cebu, which I came from. From ripe, yellow raw mangoes, mango shake, mango juice, mango ice cream, dried mangoes, mango lip balm (aside from having very chapped lips, I love the scent of one on my lips) mango perfume and all other mango products that I have bought and kept in my life, I just simply cannot resist the smell and taste of this favorite fruit of mine.
This photo was taken by my best friends while we lived together in Malta. Along the main street of the capital city of Valletta, we frequently spend our Saturday evenings sitting on the terrace and indulging with desserts to reclaim our sweet teeth after dinner. Those were incredible moments, just living life and unwinding after a week’s worth of hard work. I can’t actually wait for the shops to be opened and finally order a pint of mango ice cream either from Häagen-Dazs, Amorino or from a reputable local brand.
What helps make backpack traveling easy and convenient is when a place has at least an almost excellent network of transportation connections. And definitely, this is the case with the Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam. With just 5-10 minutes of train time from the central, southern and western parts of the city, you will arrive at the airport very conveniently, just in time for the security and passport checks without necessarily being at the airport a couple of hours before your flight. And this gives us a good intro into a great site which one can definitely hop into while having a layover in Amsterdam or having a flight later on in during the day.
One of the best stop over places very close to Amsterdam and specially if one is just the type of traveler who prefer to go a bit off the beaten path is Zaanse Schans. Located around 30 minutes by train north from Amsterdam, Zaanse Schans is a collection of well-preserved traditional windmills and houses along the Zaan river.
Although this site is now one of the most famous tourist attractions in the Netherlands, and arguably one of the busiest especially during weekends, the Schans is still a personal favorite of mine both when I lived in Amsterdam as well as afterwards, when I still visited North Holland. Whether the weather is cloudy or sunny, the Schans is a relaxing place to visit. Walking from the parking lots available on the other side of the main bridge towards the site, the 10-15 minute walk gives one a windy atmosphere that on some occasions, if one is lucky, one would also smell either a bready or a chocolate milk scent coming from nearby food factories.
Within the Schans, aside from being welcomed into the site’s museum, which stands there since the mid-90’s, one could enjoy a couple of house strolling and taking photos of the mills, which offer differing angular views of the place; souvenir-shopping; cheese tasting and shopping; spending time just relishing on the views and the atmosphere or as for my case, taking a cold chocolate beer from one of the mills and sat outside, feeling refreshed with panoramic views of the area.
I couldn’t help still feeling full of that experience even during my train ride to the airport. That’s definitely a place worth visiting over and over again. I did it again with a visiting friend when I still lived in Amsterdam. I did it again during the first lockdown due to Covid-19 when I moved to South Holland. And definitely, I would do it over and over again either just to relax or to tour some friends to the site. This is a must do while traveling to the Netherlands.
I’m not sure how one feels about this, but writing about a previous travel experience in the country which you currently live in hits different to me. This is like me 6 years ago when I started working and living in Singapore reminiscing about visiting Bugis or hanging out with my friends from my previous job on the Singapore flyer at night 8 years ago. This is the same now that I am living in the Netherlands and writing about my first experience traveling to Amsterdam – it’s like asking myself how would have it been if I knew then that I would return to the place not only as a traveler spending his holidays but actually living there? It’s an unusual feeling but it actually made me smile thinking about it.
3 years ago, a close friend of mine was finally getting married to her then Dutch boyfriend of many years and when she invited me to their wedding, it was exciting to witness another one of my close friends tying the knot, going to spend the rest of her life with the one she loves, and of course, meeting with new people and just share in the joy and happiness that the couple would start spending together for the rest of their lives.
Initially, it actually didn’t sink in to me that I will be spending a few days in Amsterdam. Honestly, I’ve been reading and seeing a lot of great things about Amsterdam – the feeling of liberty and liberalism in the city, the youthfulness of the atmosphere, a city completely designed in a network of canals. Wait! This totally sounds like the younger sister of Venice. And I have to say after this trip that it was the case – so as Venice is like the more mature elder sister, her experiences written all over her design, her structures, her landmarks; here is Amsterdam, the more innocent younger sister, the more she grows, the more she keeps well-written stories and memories of her old self but at the same time, less cautious and more dynamic.
When they say that the Dutch are very welcoming or very warm, at first, I was a bit cautious to believe this outright. As much as I love the sincerity and seriousness of my relationships with my northern European family and friends, of course, they are not from the “warm” Mediterranean. But soon as I landed in the city, I had to calibrate up my expectations to the reality. Ok, a part of that could stem from the fact that most Dutch people study 2 or 3 other languages apart from their own language when they are in high school. Thus, speaking English is not much of a problem; and even if they are proud of their culture and tradition, they are not afraid nor are not arrogant to speak a foreign language to welcome people in their city. But more than that, I just felt that the Dutch are open-minded people. This could be because of their long history as maritime people and that actually reflects in their culture and in their cityscapes.
When going out in restaurants or entering museums, you will meet mostly patient and enthusiastic people who would let you take some time to decide what you want to eat, explain to you menus that are specific to their place or even let you try samples of their delicacies. I remembered even getting lucky as to walking through the De Pijp area and being able to have a tasting of a stall’s different flavors of stroopwafel. When you eat at a crowded restaurant and you find yourself queuing along with other people (our bad as usually, during weekends, Dutch people are fond of reserving spots to dine…and we were definitely unprepared for this :P), most Dutch people would be curious enough to want to know if you live there, where you come from, would spend a couple of minutes chitchatting with you over a few glasses of drinks, before you both settle down to your seats to eat. If that’s not going to further fill up your dining experience, I don’t know what would.
Amsterdam is a very dynamic city. On the centermost parts of the city, you see an almost uniform style of Dutch architecture, from gothic-styled stone-colored churches into Dutch Golden Age-styled architecture that’s very evident in the almost very symmetrical designs and orange colors in many of the buildings that stand out even up to this day. However, this is contrasted by the more modern designs one may found especially in new business buildings found way further from inner circle towards the Zuidas.
The city was constructed and designed to be supported by a network of streets and canals, which, in one way or another, further connects to the Amstel river, as if the city is shaped like a spider web and its core orb towards the city center, which is the intersection between the Ij and Amstel rivers. It’s as if the Amstel river is the spine of the city and everything gravitates and finds support from the river. After all, the city’s name mainly derives from the river’s name. And I seem to have not mentioned that most of the canals have distinct views of the city, so no matter which section of the inner city you are in, it doesn’t matter that much if you spend a few minutes wandering around, having a glass of beer while people watching, do a few turns into narrow alleys or wider roads along the canals, it’s the same level of fun as playing maze games, getting lost, but ultimately still enjoying the whole experience.
Fast forward a year and a quarter later when I eventually moved to Amsterdam and spent around a year living there, I was still amazed at how much more things I still enjoyed doing around in the city. With a quite vibrant expat scene, an overall work environment that focuses on efficiency to be able to do more recreational activities after working house, I was really able to reflect and inhale my experience as a resident of the city. I would probably write more about my experience in the city as an expat in later blog entries, but with my experiences as a traveler a year before eventually moving into the city, there was no wonder that around a year later, it was not a difficult decision at all to accept an opportunity to move to Amsterdam.
In my previous blog post, I wrote about Barcelona and associating it with being a golden city to Latin superstar Shakira’s 2016 album, El Dorado. In this post, I’m going to associate a famous German city known for its historical significance in political power and later on, being an international symbol of freedom , to an international pop superstar who, since her debut, taught us multiple ways of positively expressing ourselves.
Summer 2018 was indeed a time when I really engaged in celebrating music in large crowds. I had back-to-back months visiting back-to-back cities mainly to attend back-to-back concerts. At that point in time, I have visited my family in Germany and we have been to a lot of cities, villages and landmarks. But I have never been to the German capital until August of that year. The reason my friends & I went to visit Berlin was much less due to its attractions but more because we chose the city to attend Britney Spears’ concert. But well, there’s always something new to experience, see and learn by visiting a new place, right? Also, what a way to finally check what’s in store in the German capital at this time…it’s about time.
When I imagine of Germany, the quickest images that come into my mind would be those wooden houses found in the villages of Franconia and south-central Germany, those majestic castles in Alpine Bavaria that inspired the castles in our favorite Disney movies (let alone the Disney icon itself), or those astonishing Gothic cathedrals that one would find along the Rhine river. None of those make Berlin the grand capital city that it is now. But I remember when I was younger and when I got so hooked in reading about European history that I really found Berlin’s rise from a collection of small towns into the seat of political power of several middle-power European states such as the Margraviate of Brandenburg and early Prussia before it eventually became the capital of the Prussian Empire, the North German Confederation and finally, the united German Empire before settling as the capital of modern-day democratic Germany as inspirational. Today, it contains several monuments and parks celebrating victory, independence and freedom.
A quick fun fact was that my friends & I actually had a lot of drinks the night before our flight to Berlin such that on the day of the flight (we need to fly from Malta around 7:30 A.M.), one of my friends had to go to my flat to wake me up 35 minutes before the flight. Oh my gosh! The next 30 minutes was just a collection of quick and successive prayers, unfolded clothes into the backpack, over-speeding cab driving, and excessive sweating while running passed through airport security checks. If you think that was enough for the setbacks before arriving to Germany and watching our concert, think again. It happened that two planes had to take off around almost the same time – 1 to Berlin and the other to Warsaw. Guess what – I initially ended up settling inside the plane to Warsaw before the flight attendant noticed my ticket to have taken the other plane. Facepalm!!! jaja…more sweat dripped through my head until I finally joined my friends on the other plane. A couple of hours nap inflight and finally, we arrived to Germany.
For being the capital and largest city of an influential European country, I was actually impressed how Berlin scattered its landmarks across its space. It also has a neighborhood north to the Alexanderplatz that is quite chic and cozy especially for young adults and suitable for weekend meet-ups and group dinners. To the west of the Brandenburg gate, one would find a vast swathe of park perfect for cycling, strolling, physical workout, and easy eating. It turned out to be one of my most laid back trips that year.
Further east and south of Alexanderplatz, we explored a couple of parts in districts which were once part of the capital of former East Germany before it got reunited with West Germany around 30 years ago. Upon entering this part, one can actually distinguish which sections were part of which former German state. The eastern lines of the city metro still has feels of what it was like riding through that part of the city 3 decades ago. It was actually so surreal. Then we visited parts of the Berlin Wall which are now filled with meaningful graffiti highlighting 1990s New World Order concepts such as freedom, tolerance, equality, and going green. Finally, we also visited the Berlin memorial for the Jew victims of the Second World War. Not much explanations found in the vicinity but the structures of differing elevations and the atmosphere are all you need to feel, internalize and understand how it was for those people during wartime. This is always what I love about traveling – it gives me all the essential feelings when I get one with the architecture, the culture, the history and the lessons that the past teaches us.
To complete that weekend and of course, to accomplish what we came to Berlin for, we spent our last evening in the city to attend Britney’s concert. Second fun fact here is that I am unapologetically a huge fan of Britney since 1998. On one hand, I love her ever-evolving catalogue of songs – each bringing me a special segment of my life story and each giving me a specific vibe depending on my mood; but on the other hand, I love her personality as well – the humility, the down-to-earth-ness, and the resilience. Even if she is no longer that much active creating new material now, it’s really how easily relatable her earlier discography is to my life and the staying power of her personality and star that keeps me drawn into her. Whether she sings at the studio, dances on stage or simply lip-synching at segments of her show, she’s just one of those superstars that can get away because she has that IT factor, that star presence… that kind of entertainment that would still wow you regardless. The concert was no different from my expectations – die-hard fans like me completely filled the arena, screaming at every intro in her set list, singing along to almost every line to her lyrics. It’s like all of us who attended the concert had our spot to fill to make her concert that spectacle that it is. There’s no denying the nostalgia brought by her songs when she was younger, the adrenaline rush brought by her songs in the 2000s – 2010s and the contentment every fan who was there had after finishing the concert. Watching her live fulfilled me as a die-hard fan. It gave me a special sense of freedom – that freedom that makes you say, “I can fly further to the next chapter of being a fan.” We definitely went back to our hotel with satisfied smiles on our faces.
That was indeed a quick but fruitful trip to Berlin but my friends & I will always give that a special place in our hearts. The city, the architecture, the history, the experience with Britney. Truly, that weekend was a memory of freedom and self-expression. I’m quite sure if I’m given another chance to visit Berlin and will come across some of the same avenues we walked through, it’s like tapping off chips of memory from these trip.
It’s like being back in your hometown after so many years. You know those scenes in a movie wherein the main actor/actress revisits a place in their childhood, slowly moving around the area, carefully glancing through as if to find some object bringing back a distant memory, finally holding a piece of item (i.e. generally a book or a picture frame), slowly dusting off the item so as not to scatter the small particles that settled after all those years? That is how I’m feeling write now while I write this short piece of article – except that there’s no small particles to slowly dust off.
It’s been about 2 years and 7 months since my last post in this blog. If you have gotten this far and even used to subscribe to it, you might have wondered what has happened to me these past few years. Did I get a writer’s block? I wouldn’t even tough that subject ‘coz I am too proud to admit that I had one. haha. Did I stop traveling around the world and had a drastic change in my life? Hmm… No and Yes. These past few years, I still continued traveling around and I even have more places to recount experiences from and should write some few articles about them. But yes, just like most of you who tries to make it out better in life, I also underwent a drastic change in the life. More importantly to share is that I have now moved into the Netherlands, including living a year within Amsterdam (that’s for another blog entry for me to give more details).
But for now, without further excuses, it just feels good to be back here, unearth some older blog entries which somehow made me smile and get inspired to write once again, to share a little bit of my life to like-minded people, and of course, to share the beauty of the World through my lens, the Geographer’s lens.
Last June, I had the opportunity to return to Paris. This getaway was different from the last time because I had lesser control of the itinerary for this one. Also, the main objective in Paris this time around was touching less on social sciences and intimate moments but more on social gatherings and reunions. And speaking of reunions, I really had quite a handful – so much that it was fun to bring together my friends from different backgrounds in 1 setting.
A quick ‘La Vie Parisienne’
During the first day, I finally met Juli, one of my long-time online friends (and 1 of 3 online friends who come from France). How amazing it is to finally speak in person but you never expected that your humor together is way better than what you already have as good online friends. We had a quick but meaningful and tasty lunch in the Champs-Élysées area. Hopefully, even with our busy schedules, we will manage to meet again and perhaps explore the gastronomic scene of the French capital.
I caught up with the rest of my friends to sum up our afternoon at the Café de l’homme, which has arguably one of the best views of the Eiffel tower from the Trocadero side. If we had more time, we would have spent the sunset over drinks in that place. We ended up eating Lyonnaise cuisine at the second arrondissement and with me are my closest clique in Malta as well as Jiggy, one of my close friends from high school who I haven’t seen for 8 years. He also brought with him a friend who was another online friend which I only got to know more during this stay in Paris. I’m not usually fond of bringing together in one venue friends who I got connected to from different backgrounds because I believe this might cause awkwardness especially to friends who are shy and reserved and it could also make some friends “out of place” or feel “unattended”. Fortunately, they all got along and with the arrival of one of our friends from the UK later that night, we just felt too comfortable with Paris as if we were living there. We capped the night with some tasty macaroons and hot coffee. Fantastique!
…Where the Magic Happens…
We spent most of the following day in one of the happiest places on Earth – Disneyland! Well, I might sound too old for this but this was something I was quietly but surely looking forward to. It’s been 11 years since I’ve been to Disney park and this was only my second time to one. I’m not an über fan of Disney but I have to admit that I grew up with it and have liked it, since the 2D movies in the 90’s all the way to the half-real, half-CGI effects that Disney currently offers us to adaptations of previous movies. Another reason was that I just really needed a different objective to this travel and that means that I just wanted to chill and not think about itineraries and what to do next. This place was certainly one of the best options to just spend the day. If you’re looking for a breezy time in summer, Paris is definitely not the best option. The Seine river runs through the city but it’s located hundreds of miles from the coast so it was definitely quite humid when we went there. However, the rides were quite amusing and we had a lovely time in the park just enjoying each other’s company and taking tons of photos and just acting like we’re kids again. The fireworks display after sundown was the highlight and I must say, I got a little bit emotional. Jajaja. It wouldn’t be too much to ask to have a fairy tale life, right? 😛
…Mirrors and the Arts
The following day, we visited the Château de Versailles, the historical place of residences of the then French monarchy. The complex was actually huge and the exterior was lavishly designed. It’s all golden the moment you approach the entrances. The gates, the plate designs on the exterior of the palaces – they mesh well with the material used in the frames of those buildings. But the awe doesn’t end there! Once you step into the main palace and pass through the individual chambers, you will immerse into the ambiance of how it was to live like a French royal. The walls and ceilings are painted in detail, romanticizing the military victories and lifestyle of the French monarchy in all aspects of paintings. Finally, as we approached the last halls of the palace, we finally saw the grandness of the hall of mirrors. Gold statues, bold paintings on the ceiling, and glorious chandeliers dropping from them – there was this air of elegance surrounding the hall that it seems like we spent most of our time in the palace solely in that room. Before we left the complex, we took a rest at Angelina café to indulge in our craving for sweets and refreshment after a humid day.
And finally, on the last day of our trip, we spent most of our time within and around the 8th arrondissement. This is where the Alexandre Bridge and most of the world-renowned museums (i.e. Louvre, Orsay) are located. We just wanted to have a relaxed time and the weather was quite rainy that day, which explained why it was really humid the days preceding it. At the Alexander bridge, I posed for some photos, especially as I wanted to remake some scenes in the music video of one of my favorite songs (Princessa’s “I Won’t Forget You”). We proceeded to the museums of Orsay and ultimately to Louvre, where indeed, I was really impressed by the display of countless of artwork, depicting humanity’s way of life, primarily through the eyes of western civilization and history. The key takeaway from this segment of the trip though is my almost impossible selfie with Mona Lisa. Jaja. Man, that was one of the most difficult shots to take!
Ultimately, it was a relaxing trip! It was not my usual “I-need-to-be-in-control” kind of trip but sometimes, it’s quite refreshing to just let your companions do the thinking and what you need to do is just to sit back and relax. Contrary to mainstream popularity, Paris is not my favorite city. But in recent years, I really made quite nice memories over there and hopefully, I will have another chance to visit and make some more great times there.
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.
It has been almost 2 years since the last time I spent a long holiday in Bavaria, where my cousins live. Although the last one was one of the memorable trips I had (partly due to the shenanigans while we got semi-drunk during the Christmas holidays and partly due to the wonderful “family time” we had both in Franconia and when we visited the Neuschwanstein Castle and crossed to Austria), this more recent visit was quite exciting in itself – it was my first time attending a German and Lutheran wedding (as one of my cousins got married) and this time, I will visit them during spring, when the weather is way brighter and we could do more outdoor activities.
During my stay, we managed to visit 3 places which definitely tapped my huge interest in history and nature.
Geisa, Hesse – An Iron Wall Down Towards German Reunification
After my cousin’s wedding, I was left at my uncle and aunt’s home and they decided to spend the next few days with me. The first trip we did was to travel an hour and a half towards the Point Alpha Border Museum in Geisa, in the Rhon region of south-central Germany. It’s been around 28 years since West and East Germany reunited to become the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany. While we are currently enjoying watching the formidable football teams within the Bundesliga (immediately, this popped first in my mind as I am writing this post while the 2018 FIFA World Cup is taking place), and while we enjoy the schnitzels, bratwursts and beers during our visit to the German cities, as a great lover of history, it was important to me to know German modern history from encyclopedias but at the same time, important for me how to at least partly remember the developments right after 1945, how German society was split between the opposing sides of the Cold War and how certain historical figures and the countless civilians risked their lives for the promise of freedom and a better life and eventually, to once again unite an inspiring and power nationality that we see today as contemporary Germany.
Amidst the warm summer heat, the museum retained a few hundred meters of the fence that separated East and West Germany from the Baltic Sea to their border with Czech Republic. It was definitely a thick one, and even harder to climb. And with the observer towers built in the area, one could just imagine the perils there were when one attempted to cross to the western side. We culminated our visit with a family stroll along with our baby Australian shepherd, Joey. Heading towards the car, there was this feeling of renewed appreciation of our freedom. A lot of people live a happy life today due to the sacrifices and hopes of people before us. The freedom that we just enjoy today for free was the freedom that many of them had hoped for themselves and the generations to come… and some of them even had to pay a price for them. Even if I’m not German, I still felt that air at that moment. For in the Philippines, there had been many of colonizers, and even up to this day, I can’t fathom the sacrifices that heroes in the past had to make in order to give the rest of us the hope of freedom.
A Fresh Taste of the Franconian Countryside
The next day, my “parents here in Europe” decided to take me to one of the hills in Poppenhausen in the neighboring region of Hesse. My uncle and aunt usually bring Joey to the countryside to do some hiking and camping. Although I’ve known that Germany is quite flat, with most of the mountainous terrain in the Alpine region towards its borders with Austria and Switzerland, it was incredible to view the vast plains from the top of the hills. We spent an entire afternoon hiking along a relatively easy route winding to the top of the hills and beneath a good shade of trees. Finally, we relaxed and ate lunch in a restaurant by the lake.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber – a Glimpse of Medieval Germany
Would you like to buy at Christmas shops open in summer? How about seeing locals dressed in medieval attires as farmers and soldiers and marching through the streets of the town? Or how about enjoying the cool breeze and sunny weather of spring (all before it gets so hot) while drinking your favorite beer in a cozy biergarten? Then, you would find all of these in the Middle Franconian town of Rothenburg ob ter Tauber. The town is quite special due to its retention of medieval architecture on most of its buildings, particularly the ones surrounding the main square, the Marktplatz. The locals really showed their warm hospitality especially and even encouraged me to march with them in one of the parades. I wish I had more time but definitely, we made the best out of the time that we had there.
So I’d like to end this post by saying a huge “danke schön” to my relatives in Schweinfurt for always making me feel like family. Whether it be my cousins in wherever city we end up meeting (and getting drunk in) or my uncle and aunt who always make me feel that I belong (along with their friends and the secretly hospitable character of their German friends and the Germans in general), I always feel that even though I miss my family so much, their presence and proximity constantly remind me that the World is too small nowadays to feel homesick. I’m sure we still have unopened chapters in our experiences together. In fact, my uncle already mentioned to me the places which we will go to the next time I visit them. ‘Til the next time, Germany! xoxo
“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…