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.  😀

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. 🙂

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. 😀

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 🇮🇹 #asuszenfoneselfie

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Florence and I started on the wrong foot when a bus inspector tried to extort €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! 😀

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

Hong Kong-Macau Series: Macau

In contrast with how organized our HK itinerary was, our Macau itinerary was merely a list of the places I thought would be interesting to see. Since Macau does not have a railway system like HK, buses and cabs are the common means of going around so I was a bit anxious about our day trip.

After breakfast, we started walking to look for China Ferry Terminal. However, I failed to get the exact address of the terminal so we ended up taking the longer route (or at least that’s what I think); we ended up circumnavigating Kowloon Park instead of just passing through it. *facepalm*

Anyway, when we got to the terminal we bought our round trip tickets at HKD270 (take note that ticket prices are standard. No discount for children unless they’re less than a year old).

We got the 10:30 am schedule since it was already 10:00 am when we arrived. We also got an ‘open’ ticket which means we can return anytime not later than 10:30 pm.

We immediately proceeded to the departure area, filled up the departure card, passed through immigration and followed the directions going to the berth. After 10 minutes we already boarded the ferry. After more than an hour we finally reached Macau! It was way colder than Hong Kong.

From the terminal (took the left side), we walked for more than five minutes until we reached our first destination: Macau Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a very nice place to take pictures. 🙂
Macau Fisherman's Wharf Macau Fisherman's Wharf Macau Fisherman's Wharf Macau Fisherman's WharfWe then crossed to Sands Hotel. A friend told me this is a sister hotel of The Venetian so we took a shuttle from here to the latter. Five to ten minutes later we arrived at the West Lobby of the hotel. We took some time to roam around and take in the opulence and grandeur of this place.
The Venetian Macau The Venetian Macau The Venetian Macau
Next agenda is to see the famous Grand Canal.

The Venetian Macau Grand Canal The Venetian Macau Grand Canal The Venetian Macau Grand Canal The Venetian Macau Grand Canal

Truly a taste of Venice. 🙂


After our photo opps, it was time to go to City of Dreams. This is just across Venetian but you can still take the shuttle from the West Lobby if you don’t want to go there by foot.

City of Dreams Macau
We were greeted by the Vquarium.

City of Dreams Macau City of Dreams MacauWe followed the signs going to The Bubble to watch the famous Dragon’s Treasure. There was a long queue and even though the show is free, you still have to get a stub from the ticketing booth. According to their interactive directory, the show is only 10 minutes long but waiting time is 30 minutes!

Again, clueless as to how to get to Point B from Point A, I asked around how to get to Senado Square and we were pointed to go downstairs and take the shuttle going to Hotel Sintra. A short walk from Sintra and we saw the signs pointing to Ruins of St. Paul and shortly reached Senado Square.

Senado Square Macau
Love the wave-patterned pavement and old world feel of this place. 🙂

Senado Square Macau Senado Square Macau Senado Square Macau Senado Square Macau Senado Square Macau Senado Square Macau

Again, walked some more following the signs to the Ruins.

Senado Square Macau
Passed by the famous alley where we got to sample the delectable treats like beef jerky, peanut cookies and other sweets. We also bought a box of the famous Portuguese egg tarts from Pasteleria Koi Kei.

Ruins of St. Paul Macau

Walked some more until we reached the steps of the ruins, took a picture, and literally went back to Senado right after to catch Bus No. 3 to go back to the ferry terminal. This is the only transportation cost we had in Macau. 🙂 I think we paid MOP/HKD3 each.
We were supposed to go to Wynn to watch the Tree of Prosperity and Performance Lake but my companions were already too tired. We got the 7:00 PM trip and the waves were already big and strong during this time. My mom said many of the passengers were throwing up while I was soundly asleep. :p
 

TIPS:

  • When in doubt, ask. There are lots of Pinoys in Macau and Hong Kong. 🙂
  • Follow the signs. It’s almost everywhere and it’s bilingual.
  • Take advantage of the free shuttle and treats. 😉
  • Enjoy! 😀

Hong Kong-Macau Series: Dragon’s Treasure Show at The Bubble

When in Macau, one must not miss this awesome free show at The Bubble, City of Dreams called Dragon’s Treasure.

Some facts*:

  • The Bubble theatre is the world’s largest special effects projection dome and cost nearly USD 40 million to create.
  • This 10-minute multi-media experience combines high-definition video, a sweeping musical score and over 29,000 theatrical LED lights.

Even though Dragon’s Treasure show is only 10 minutes, it has some intro so total show time is about 17 minutes. And since YouTube only allows videos up to 15 minutes long, I had to cut it to three parts.

Too bad my videos do not do justice to this spectacular show. 🙁

*Text taken from City of Dreams’ website

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As of June 2011: I found out that there is now a fee of MOP30.

 

Hong Kong-Macau in Php20k (or less)

Another crucial part in planning the trip was estimating the budget.
But since we already know the places we wanted to visit, where we’re staying at and the routes we’re going to take, budgeting was as easy as pie.
 
Below is the budget I prepared for our trip*:

 

Ate Yolly also offers discounted tickets for Disneyland, Ocean Park, Ngong Ping, Tram + Sky Pass and Ferry (Cotai Jet). You can save about HKD15-HKD20 per ticket.
We were able to squeeze in ‘pasalubong’ from the budget above and still had some cash left. 😀
       
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*Budget excludes cost of air fare and shopping
**Exchange rate used: HKD1 = Php6 
***Lodging is per head based on 2 pax per room
RT^=round trip 
~ticket prices are current at the time of this blog entry~

Hong Kong-Macau Series: Making the Itinerary

Thanks to Cebu Pacific’s 50% sale last November 1, 2010, I was able to book 5 tickets (4 adults and 1 child) for Hong Kong for March 2-6, 2011. Originally the fare is Php2,800+ per head but since there are other taxes like web admin fee, HK taxes etc. the total cost per head became Php3,500. Still pretty cheap compared to PAL’s.
With the ticket and travel date set, I started doing my research. Good thing there’s the Hong Kong for Dummies Thread in PinoyExchange. Reading the first page alone gave me all the information I need to know about Hong Kong.
Another useful tool is this interactive HK MTR map. Fares may not be accurate/updated but at least you’ll get an idea on the cost and travel time from Point A to Point B. This also came in handy when choosing which attractions to put in a single day.
The tedious part was looking for accommodation. Our primary considerations are cost, location and cleanliness. My first choice was Taisan Harilela branch since this is recommended by PExers and they say this is the newest branch among three branches so the facilities are better.
When I first emailed Ken of Taisan, he said there are no more rooms available for the type I chose so I looked around for 10 or more hostels LOL until I decided to give Ate Yolly (Taisan Burlington) a call. That’s when I found out that they still have rooms available for the dates I chose. To cut the story short, I ended up with my first choice (although not the Harilela branch) and a couple of weeks later I paid the deposit of HKD500 through PayPal.
 
Then I finally proceeded with creating our Hong Kong-Macau itinerary.
 
Day 1 (Wednesday), March 2: TST, Nan Lian Garden
 
  • Arrival at HKIA
  • Clear immigration, buy Octopus card at Customer Service Counter
  • Take A21 bus to Taisan (alight at 13th stop), pay balance and leave things at Taisan
  • Change USD to HKD at Wing Hoi Money Changer*
  • Lunch
  • Stroll around TST** (Avenue of Stars, Clock Tower, Heritage 1881)
  • Nan Lian Garden
  • Dinner
  • Symphony of Lights**
  • Free time (go back to hostel or go to night market)
 
Day 2 (Thursday), March 3: Ngong Ping, Disneyland
 
  • Breakfast
  • Take MTR to Tung Chung
  • Stroll around Citygate, buy tickets for cable car
  • Ngong Ping 360, Tian Tan Buddha
  • Shopping in Citygate, lunch
  • MTR to Disneyland
  • Disneyland
 
Day 3 (Friday), March 4: Macau
 
  • Breakfast
  • Ferry from TST to Macau
  • Fisherman’s Wharf, Venetian, City of Dreams (Dragon’s Treasure show at The Bubble), Senado Square, Ruins of St. Paul, Grand Lisboa, Wynn (Tree of Prosperity, Dragon Show, Performance Lake)
  • Ferry from Macau to TST
 
Day 4 (Saturday), March 5: Ocean Park, The Peak
 
  • Breakfast
  • Ocean Park
  • The Peak
  • Star Ferry from Central to TST***
  • Dinner
  • Night Market
Day 5 (Sunday), March 6
 
Hong Kong to Manila, ETD: 0825, ETA: 1025
 
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*Wing Hoi – 9B, Ground Floor, inside Mirador Mansion, 58 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon (walking distance from Taisan Burlington branch)
Average rate: 7.7HKD +/- a few cents for 1USD 
**Ironically we were not able to go around these places within TST 
***took MTR from Central back to TST instead