Fresh from a 17-hour journey (figuratively; I wish I could say that literally), I emerged from Staromestska Station and was greeted by the cool autumn wind. I can’t believe it. I’m finally in Prague. I’m finally in Europe!
I trudged the cobblestoned streets, luggage in tow, searching for my hostel. It didn’t take me long to find it as I easily spotted Tyn Church’s spires, so I knew the Old Town was close by.
I arrived at the hostel earlier than the official check-in time, so I left my luggage at the storage room first, and made my way through Old Town.
I was too excited to explore.
I meandered through Karlova’s alleys lined with restaurants and souvenir shops.
It didn’t take long for me to reach the Astronomical Clock where people flock for the hourly show. I decided to just check it out at a later time, and went straight to the center of Old Town Square.
The square is surrounded by beautiful buildings. Its center is filled with tourists, buskers and various street performers, and even Segway operators.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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?
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!
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.
I spent a night in Zurich just to break the journey, and went to Interlaken the following day.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Finally, no trip to Italy is complete without going to the eternal city of Rome!
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 thoughI 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
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.
Planning a trip to Europe can be quite overwhelming. So much so that I drafted 5 itineraries (maybe more) before I finally picked which one to submit to the embassy.
You see, even with its extensive rail networks, there’s just so much to see in each city/country that you can’t possibly visit them all in one Euro trip.
So for my first Euro trip (yes, I plan to go back!), I just focused in Central Europe. Why? Frankly because that’s only what my budget allowed haha
I was actually surprised people were interested with my itinerary because, according to them, it’s not the ‘usual Europe route’.
What I’m going to share here is my actual ‘itinerary’, and not the one I submitted to the embassy. I found that over the years, I have become less meticulous about making itineraries and following it to a T, so you may feel that it’s ‘too relaxed’.
Sure, I could have visited more cities/countries in 21 days, but I’m way past the stage of jamming as many sights/attractions in a day. I’m on vacation, after all, and not on a mission.
Anyway, here it is. Feel free to modify according to your preference.
I just got back from a 3-week Eurotrip/birthday trip. The minute I posted on social media that I was in Europe, several people messaged me asking how I got a Schengen visa.
If you’re a non-Philippine passport holder, you might be wondering why getting a visa is such a big deal for Filipinos. Let’s just say traveling to a first world country with a Philippine passport is akin to being a contestant in American Ninja Warrior. We have to go through so many obstacles just to prove to embassies and even our own immigration officers that we’re not going overseas to seek greener pastures.
But wait, there’s more! It gets even harder when you’re female.
My single-entry Schengen Visa from The Czech Embassy Manila
I received a call from a BPI sales rep back in May saying that I am pre-qualified for a BPI Gold card. I immediately declined the offer because credit card = debt. She gave me an email address where I can reach them in case I change my mind, but I wasn’t paying attention and did not bother writing it down.
For some strange reason, I had an urge to check out the card’s features as soon as we ended the call, and I saw their Imagine Your Korea promo. It says that BPI Gold cardholders will be entitled to a 3-year multiple entry Korean visa while BPI Platinum and Gold Express Teller Debit cardholders may be issued 3- or 5-year multiple entry visas. Additionally, said cardholders will be exempted from submitting financial documents (ITR and bank certificate).
So I did what any travel junkie would and frantically searched online for BPI sales’ email address. LOL Thanks to their responsive Twitter account handler, I got hold of the email address and was able to request a call back. I think my card arrived within a week from our correspondence.
Now, I could have applied a month after receiving my first statement of account, but I was so swamped with work.
When my schedule finally cleared up earlier this month, I decided to lodge our Korean visa application. I made a last-minute decision to include my mom in the application because why not? It’s free anyway, and you’re not even required to book tickets and accommodation. Totally risk-free!
Just to give you a brief background of our profile:
Me: 31 years old, single, self-employed, no OECD visa but traveled to 12 countries in the last 5 years
My mom: 61 years old, widow, unemployed, no OECD visa but traveled to 4 countries in the last 5 years Please take note that the requirements I’m going to list here only apply to self-employed individuals and, specifically, to BPI Gold cardholders.
Nothing excites me more than exploring another country for the first time, so I made sure to include Indonesia in my month-long solo backpacking trip around Southeast Asia.
My first stop was Yogyakarta (often called Jogjakarta or Jogja), a special administrative region in the island of Java.
I arrived on a late afternoon flight from Kuala Lumpur via AirAsia, and took the Trans Jogja bus to EDU Hostel where I stayed for 2 nights. Sure, it wasn’t the best accommodation, but for about $7.00 a night with breakfast, it’s definitely value for money.
The hostel also offers several day tours including, of course, tours to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Borobudur and Prambanan.
Borobudur looking ‘golden’ shortly after sunrise
Together with 3 Brit girls, we booked the ‘Beautiful Morning at Borobudur’ tour thinking it includes sunrise viewing. We only realized the following day that we got a different tour because it was already past 5:00 am when we were picked up from the hostel lobby by the tour operator. It wasn’t a big deal for me anyway.
Even though the sun had already risen by the time we arrived, we could still feel a cool breeze as we walked along the park leading to the massive temple.
I am always in awe whenever I visit an ancient temple. It’s fascinating how people in the early days managed to build such majestic structures without modern technology and equipment.