Timeless Tuscany (Florence)

It was still dark when I left my hostel in Interlaken. It was a 30-minute walk to Interlaken West Station, and I didn’t want to miss my train so I left early.

I boarded the first train, and was actually kinda annoyed that no one bothered to check my ticket from Interlaken West to Milan because it’s the most expensive train ticket (that, plus the Milan-Florence leg) I’ve purchased on this trip. haha

brig station switzerland

I grabbed a quick breakfast at Brig Station since I still had half an hour to kill. And because I still had Swiss Francs left, I lined up at the currency exchange to change it to Euros. I was third in line, but it was taking so long to serve each customer. Ten minutes before the train to Milan arrives, I left the line because I still had to haul my luggage all the way to the platform. I decided I’ll just change my Francs when I get to Milan. BIG MISTAKE!

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Milano Centrale Station as seen from Italo’s Lounge

Anyone who’s been to Italy and tried to change their money to Euros can attest how exorbitant Italy’s fees are! If only Euros were easy to acquire in The Philippines (I live outside Manila), I wouldn’t have brought US Dollars. Fortunately, half of my budget was in my savings account, so I just got money from the ATM the whole time I was in Italy.

Anyway, instead of being upset about the Euros I lost changing my Francs, I just savored my time at Italo’s lounge. I got lounge access when I booked a first class seat from Milan to Florence. Believe it or not, it was the cheapest I found at the time I made the booking! ūüôā

I forgot to take pictures, but basically, you get to enjoy free access to the lounge with unlimited refreshments, free newspaper/magazine, and WiFi while waiting for your train.

And when my train to Florence finally arrived, I went to the platform, showed the ticket on my phone to the inspector who then ushered me to the 1st class cabin (Club Executive).

Photo from Italo’s website

Imagine, eight extra wide leather armchairs each with electrical sockets, free WiFi, and dedicated catering offering hot/cold drinks and Italian sandwiches. If only I could travel like this all the time!

Two hours went by quickly, and soon, our train was already pulling up at Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station.

The hostel was just a few a bus stops away from the station, and about a 15-minute walk to the Duomo.  Needless to say, my first agenda that afternoon was a stroll to the Duomo.

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Undoubtedly the most popular attraction in Florence
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Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore

The Duomo was a sight to behold! The facade is unlike anything I’ve seen before. ¬† Continue reading “Timeless Tuscany (Florence)”

Best Places to Visit for Street Art

Seeing masterpieces by Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh, Picasso et al¬†can be a once in a lifetime experience for many. But¬†going to museums usually take a big chunk off a¬†traveler’s budget.

Today, art is no longer confined in the four corners of a building. More and more formal and freestyle artists take their art to the streets so that more people can appreciate them.

With the help of my friends, I compiled a list of best places to visit for street art.

Penang, Malaysia

wrought iron art penang

This UNESCO World Heritage town have¬†quirky yet functional wrought iron street markers. If you take the time to read the text on the caricatures, you’ll find that they’re both informative and entertaining.

Next, head on to Armenian Street to check out murals by Ernest Zacharevic. He often marries his murals with real-life objects, and the results are larger than life.

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“Litte Girl in Blue”

Photo credit: Echoserang Lakwatsera.

Continue reading “Best Places to Visit for Street Art”

2016 – The Year I Made My Childhood Dream Come True

I think everyone will agree when I say that 2016 is one of those years that we all want to forget because of all the crazy sh*t that happened in this world.

Personally, my year didn’t start off right when I spent the second week of January confined in the hospital for 4 days for facial cellulitis. Ironically, it’s also when I found out I got the big project I was waiting for which kept me busy the whole month of February.

In March, my mom and I went back to Hong Kong and Macau where we enjoyed 13-degree weather even though it was already supposed to be spring.

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We went back to Disneyland, the happiest place in the world, but skipped the other tourist sites. It was the first time in 4 years that we traveled again after her second breast cancer ordeal, so I wanted the trip to be as relaxed as possible.

Unfortunately, weather wasn’t on our side¬†on our way to Macau. The fog was so thick there was zero visibility. We were¬†stuck at sea for about an hour before we were allowed to dock at the ferry terminal.

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Similarly, our flight to Manila the next day was cancelled because of the fog.

Within 24 hours, we went from sleeping in a 5-star hotel to sleeping on the floor of Macau International Airport. But my mom was such a trooper. I’m so proud of her. ¬†ūüėÄ

April and May were months of canceled trips to Palawan and Cebu, respectively, but at least we still got to squeeze in a little family outing at South Forbes before summer ended.

June to September was crazy! I had to¬†juggle a full-time job and 4 side projects because I decided, you know what, it’s high time I go¬†to Europe! Work hard, travel harder,¬†ika nga!

I honestly didn’t keep my hopes high of getting a Schengen visa, but I guess the travel gods love me after all. haha I couldn’t believe I’m finally going to fulfill a childhood dream!

A day after my birthday, I flew to Europe. ūüôā

Nag-trabaho. Nag-ipon. Nag-Europe. Ganern!

This Euro trip was the second time¬†I traveled solo. Sure, I feel¬†resfeber prior to embarking on one, but I never feel alone, lonely or afraid when I’m already on the road by myself.

Anyway, my first stop was Prague, the capital of Czech Republic.

I couldn’t have picked a better jumping-off point. I was totally smitten! It was everything I imagined Europe to be (and more).

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Prague’s Old Town Square look like something straight out of a fairy tale.

The city is brimming with beautiful structures, lively squares, and each neighborhood has so much history the world know so little of.

And did I mention it’s pretty affordable too?

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Met this lovely Pinoy couple in the walking tour. They were like my parents for a day. ūüėÄ

Next stop was Vienna, Austria.

I tried to soak in some culture, so I joined a guided tour of the Schönbrunn Palace.

More than the impressive rooms of the palace, I learned a lot about the House of Habsburg – one of the most powerful royal houses of Europe of their time. I’m not even a museum kind of girl, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Also met Vins and Yosh of The Poor Traveler because we coincidentally stayed at the same hostel!

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Love locks on Makartsteg Bridge over the Salzach River, Salzburg

After a few days of gloomy weather, Mr. Sun finally came out when I went to Salzburg.

I didn’t have any expectations of Salzburg. All I know prior to going there was it’s Mozart’s hometown and where they filmed The Sound of Music. But man, Salzburg is gorgeous! I actually regret that I only stayed there for 2 nights.

Still, I’m grateful I got¬†to visit one of my top dream destinations – Hallstatt! It still makes me giddy just thinking about it.

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Overlooking Wolfgangsee. I still can’t get over this view!!!
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Going to Hallstatt was a dream come true!

I spent a night in Zurich just to break the journey, and went to Interlaken the following day.

Blue hour #Zurich #Switzerland #katgoestoeurope #backpackingeurope #Europe #eurotrip #centraleurope

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On the train to Interlaken, I met two Pinay nurses who work in Saudi Arabia who were also traveling around Europe. We planned on going to Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen together the next day, but we didn’t see each other at the Interlaken Ost Station at the time we agreed and the train was about to leave, so I hopped on without them.

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It rained the whole time I was in Switzerland, but that didn’t stop me from exploring. I think it even made me a pluviophile (at least while I was there).

Swiss people are some of the jolliest and nicest people I’ve met.¬†Good vibes lang sila lagi!

Yes, Switzerland is ridiculously expensive, but it’s worth every damn centavo IMO.

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Here, Switzerland, take my money. LOL

Finally, I spent the last leg of my Euro trip in Italy.

My first stop was Florence – capital of the Tuscan Region, and often referred to as the cradle of the Renaissance.

#Firenze #Florence #Tuscany #Italy #katgoestoeurope ūüáģūüáĻ #asuszenfoneselfie

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Florence and I started on the wrong foot when a bus inspector tried to extort¬†‚ā¨50 from me, so we had an altercation. I demanded to be taken to the police station to which he sheepishly said “No. No. No¬†polizia.” He must have been bummed I didn’t fall for his modus operandi.¬†Laking third world ‘to, huy!

As a result, I missed the earlier train I was trying to catch so that I could go to both Pisa and Cinque Terre on the same day. Oh well!

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I went on a day trip to Pisa, and had the best Quattro Formaggi Pizza. #rhymingskillz Suddenly, all is right in the world again. LOL

Another item ticked off my bucket list was Cinque Terre – the 5 colorful fishing villages along the Italian Riviera.

It was crowded, as expected, but tolerable.

Of course I didn’t pass up the chance to eat the quintessential seafood spaghetti in Vernazza while watching people frolic in the beach.

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Cinque Terre

Finally, no trip to Italy is complete without going to the eternal city of Rome!

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The Colosseum, Fontana di Trevi, St. Peter’s Basilica, Pantheon and The Vatican Museum

I love how most of Rome’s famous landmarks are kind of close to¬†each other, but man, I’ve never seen as many tourist per attraction as in Rome. It was crazy!¬†Hindi uso off season sa Rome, bes. Eternal city kaya eternal rin ang pila. hahaha Even though¬†I bought my tickets to the Colosseum and to the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel online, I still had to line up to go inside.

And the food…oh my goodness, Italian food!¬†Grazie mille¬†for contributing to my ever expanding waistline. LOL If you’ve seen Eat Pray Love, the part where Julia Roberts had to buy a new pair of jeans just because she couldn’t fit in her old ones anymore, yup, pretty much the story of my life. haha

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So that’s it! That pretty much sums up my 2016.

I’ve been vitamin sea-deficient this year, so I’ll probably focus more on beach trips and local destinations next year. I also hope to explore more of¬†East Asia.

Happy Holidays, everyone! See you on the road and cheers to more adventures! ūüėÄ

This is my contribution to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ 2016 Year End Blog Carnival. The compilation will be hosted by Mervin of Pinoy Adventurista.