Je t’aime Paname: One Year Later

Cher Paris,

It all started one lazy afternoon, sitting at the back end of my high school classroom, pondering on the possibilities of my university choices. Time felt incredibly long, the classroom walls started to close in, and the sound of my teacher’s lecture faded into thin air. In a swift second, I was lost in my own daydream.

I pulled out a ragged old filler and on the cover page wrote a quote I stumbled on from a Tumblr site: “If dreams don’t scare you, then they’re not big enough.” I started doodling mes rêves, from colleges across the globe to meeting my favorite bands or even simply owning a Chanel. But on the very first page, I drew an Eiffel tower with macaroons, baguettes, and chocolates. Written beneath “One day, Someday.”

The mystery of not knowing you lured me in. My parents have seen you in their thirties, twice. My brothers once lived in this city in their youth. But for me, I was a stranger.  You were a shallow existence birth from my cinematic fascination.

 

For the most part, that notebook was tucked in the dark and gathered dust while life went on.  Once in a while, I would pull it out and cross out the dreams that turned into reality. If I told my sixteen years old self that the same Eiffel Tower she once randomly drew would one day be at the foot of her yard, she would call it a bluff. But here we are six years later.

Dreaming was my perfect escape to the pressures of reality. After a brief downward spiral in early 2017, I decided to take a leap of faith. My chance to chase one of my million desires. To be brutally honest, you were not my first choice. But it was one of those “what if” moments I could not run away from.

Is it possible to love a stranger you have never met? Or understand each other even when you don’t speak the same language? I knew an ounce of you, but fate had it always written in the stars. And any self-obsessed le rêveur knows no limitation. This, you, us, was something I was ready to fight for.

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Paname, you aged me with wisdom and knowledge of myself and the world around me. You gave me a sense of clarity and the courage to face my personal demons. You bruised my ego but healed my wounds. Scars then turned into a reminder of being broken can be okay. We’re here to live and to learn.

Although it took me three months before I fell at your feet, broke myself to pieces, surrendered my soul to uncertainty, I have proudly regained my freedom emotionally and mentally.

I found a home in you. At times you challenged my womanhood, my morale, and even my sanity, but taught me to trust in a higher power greater than my self-existence. I no longer felt chained by the impossible standards I use to create to make myself feel alive. Your artistic soul charged my curiosity, and since then I could not stop feeding on it. You encouraged me to chase my passion when it was something I used to hide from. When the winter days made me grey, you warmth me with the strangers you introduced who I now call family.  And most of all I discovered the value of simplicity.

Some say my youth was robbed for choosing independence over comfort and a chance of wealth. I say I chose education, experience, travel, and self-discovery amongst others. But It doesn’t matter whatever path you decide to take. As long as it is authentically yours.

Paris you were never the end goal. You are my beginning.

Cheers, mon amour. Twenty-two set the bar so high, I can’t wait what the next 365 days have in store.

 

An Odyssey to the Greek Islands

The night was fast approaching, the city was calm and the summer breeze from the Aegean sea blew in full speed. It was our first night in Santorini, the blue hues on the pool lights appeared from a distance while I laid quietly on the sunbed of my hostel. I was half-way through my book “Go Set A Watchman”, the sequel to “To Kill A Mockingbird” when a gleaming ball of light captivated me. I squinted my eyes, analyzing the orb figure tucked in between the low rise buildings. “Oh la, la! It’s the Strawberry Moon!” I exclaimed with excitement. Though no one was there to hear me squeal like a little girl. I scurried back to my room and grabbed my camera to snap the fleeting moment. The auto setting just produced a small dot. I changed it to manual, but I could not get the ISO right. For a moment, all I could think was that no one is going to believe me when I tell them how majestic this looks. What the magic my eyes witnessed could not be translated to the lenses of my device. I decided to tuck my camera underneath my towel and once again sat on the edge of the chair. A few breaths in and I drowned myself in imagination. As the moon slowly rose to take its place in the sky, I dreamt of a Greek goddess ascending back to Olympus. 

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This was no ten-year Odyssey like Homers, but it was an epic that brought about new friendships and memories that I will carry deeply as I venture into new heights. Somehow three strangers from various parts of the globe found their way to each other and set sail to the Greek Islands (except with a car and not a yacht). We hiked up into steep mountains, laid on rocky red sand, discovered the remnants of Atlantis, chased sunsets and devoured the Mediterranean meals. Like Homer, we faced the unknown and was sometimes thrown into chaos (but nothing we couldn’t handle), but those are the stories that make the journey meaningful. The most beautiful part of seeing the world is being around people of different cultures with different perspectives but with the same love for life. 

IMG_1518“Take it easy with me, please / Touch me gently / Like a summer evening breeze / Take your time, make it slow / Andante, Andante / Just let the feeling Grow”.  IMG_1623

We arrived and the sun was at its peak. My eyes started to well up due to my photophobia and my skin turned bronze but we were eager to get that postcard photo of Oia’s sultry sunset. The crowd came in, the sitting dock felt cramped but we took our spot two hours before. The guy next to me had his phone out, streaming the Worldcup semi-finals and I asked if I could check the score. Time slowed down, my sweat started to roll down, hair on a bun but the conversations with these football enthusiasts entertained my friends and I.  Cue in a Mamma Mia soundtrack “Take your time, make it slow / Andante, Andante / Just let the feeling Grow”. The sky turned into sheets of orange, green and a hint purple. Snap 1, 2, 3 and then maybe 20 more and I had to pinch myself, I made it to Santorini and wow this world is absolutely beautiful. 

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The last year tested my independence. I was far from the comforts of traveling with my family and often taking a chance on adventures with acquaintances. But trip after trip, I learned to stop apologizing for who I am and for who I am not. I was always the one who adjusts for people because it was easier for my ego. But sometimes that can be detrimental to oneself. And for the first time in a long time or maybe even never, I felt at ease in knowing I am more than happy with where I stand. It wasn’t a eureka moment or anything negative that happened, it was simply allowing myself to enjoy the things I am truly passionate about, say no whenever moments felt uncomfortable and loudly saying yes to adventure. And when I did that, my odyssey in Greece became the perfect adventure to start off my summer. 

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TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST GREEK ISLAND ADVENTURE! 

I was shocked to learn how affordable Mykonos and Santorini can be. I always had it on my travel bucket list but I figured it would take a few more years before I would plan just cause it seemed costly. Hold and behold, the accommodations, car rental, and food fit perfectly on my tight budget. I even got to shop for some of their local goods. If anything, it was only the flight that cost the most because the Greek Islands are a tourist destination. 

If you’re traveling independently (without a tour group), you should either rent an ATV, a motorbike or a car. Public transportations within the island are not the most convenient and way overpriced. The car rental was 30 euros a day, perfect if you’re planning to split it with two or more people. Also, most of the touristic spots have free parking spaces. Be mindful, this was prior to peak season. I loved chasing the sunsets every night, having our very own carpool karaoke with the windows down and the smell of summer breeze. 

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I m a sucker for Greek food. Anything with Tzakitzi sauce is heaven. The Baklava was perfection. The Feta and Haloumi cheeses were my staples. And that Greek honey and olive oil were divine. I had to bring home a few to stash up in my own cupboard. 

 

If you’re in Oia, waiting for the famous Santorini sunset, check out Atlantis bookshop. It was my favorite place to splurge in. They have a vast selection of both vintage and new books for a reasonable price. I always try to get one with a local author or one with a significant story. Think philosophy or mythology maybe even sports if you’re into the history of Olympics. 

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Photo Diary:
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Dank Je, Amsterdam!

In the opening chapter of this journey of mine, I, the protagonist had one fear and that was making friends. Despite my somewhat extrovert personality, this anxiety clouded my judgment. Only to realize I was a fool to even fear this once I had moved.

In the 9 months since I left Manila, I had countless experiences of meeting pure souls along the way who all taught me a lesson or two on love and life. One, in particular, happened in the city of Sin.

It wasn’t anything romantic or cheesy at all. It was just two strangers who oddly enough had never crossed paths in the past despite our similar circumstances and having mutual friends back home.

The moment we met at the hostel, it was if we knew each other. No awkward hellos only endless conversations on anything and everything under the sun.  It also felt good to have someone who has the same humor as I do.

Though I didn’t take much from the city’s history or culture and I might have even missed a few of the city’s main attraction, I felt a sense of relief strolling around Amsterdam with this stranger who I now can call a friend.

If you know me well enough, you know I believe that friends come into our lives either for a reason, a season or a lifetime. And it’s only after a passage of time do you realize what that person has meant to you.

I can’t thank the stars enough. It’s not just the wonders of the world that take my breath away anymore, it’s those pure souls and genuine hearts that make me appreciate each city and country even more.

Goodbyes are never easy but lucky for me we both got Manila to call home and come back to. Till then Amsterdam, Dank Je (Thank you!) you made me fall in love with life’s unexpectedness once again.

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Basque-ing in all its Glory: San Sebastian

San Sebastian or Donostia sits on the Bay of Biscay, part of the Basque Region of Spain. Well famous for its golden sand beaches that stretch from end to end and dubbed as Spain’s culinary capital having the most Michelin starred restaurants in the world. I wish I had my family with me to experience this exceptional culinary cuisine, but it just gives me another reason to bring them here in the near future.

Friends and peers who have lived and visited the city all gave me their personal recommendations plus a few more from the experts. The result, a long list of all the must-try in town and the subject of most of my photos.

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Though most would visit San Sebastian for a day trip (only a 12 euro roundtrip bus ticket from Bilbao), I suggest staying for at least two more days if you truly want to enlighten your palette.

Mornings would be spent in one of the three beaches, soaking up the sun that was gone for 5 months (at least on this side of the world) with a bowl of Açai, Cafe Con Leche to wake me up and catching up on a month’s worth of “The Newyorker” issues that have been laying around my apartment these past weeks.

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Lunch is where the adventure begins. I do make a habit to pre-plan where I hunt for the best pintxos in town the night before and make the hop as strategic as possible. If a bike ride is necessary, so be it. It is also the best way to see the city from inside out. The bike trails are convenient, easy to navigate and safe. Also, an interesting way to meet people along the way, plus its only 7 euros for a half day.

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The sun doesn’t set till 9 pm. The days are long enough to see much of the city’s main attraction. But just before dinner, I make it a point to change out of my swimwear and dress comfortably for a long night of conversation with strangers that have come from across the globe to devour Pintxo after Pintxo (local Tapas) and enjoy the local sparkling white wine Txacoli.

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The tropical girl in me felt rejuvenated after three days worth of being a beach bum.

Photo Diary:

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Basque-ing in all its Glory: Bilbao

Choosing Bilbao and San Sebastian to spend my Spring break was exactly what I needed: a change of pace, a warmer weather, the beach and loads of delicious food. But I was surprised to embrace the more rebellious culture this side of Spain has to offer. I fell in love with Bilbao the moment I first stepped foot into this beautiful Basque country. It was oozing of vibrant energy, not what I remembered from the Spain I first met 6 years ago. Not that I didn’t love it the first time around.

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I came in with little knowledge of their history and culture, and the longer I stayed, the more I “un-learned” and learned about the vast disconnect of the Basque country to central Spain. They had a culture of their own and a language unique to the Basque region called Euskara.

I was obsessed with the streets of Bilbao, indulging in all sorts of art at every corner. There’s even a graffiti tour available, but even if you opt not to join, just simply get lost and take a hike outside the city center to see the masterful facades.

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When most of the establishments close for an afternoon siesta, I found myself strolling along the park with the rest of Bilbao. Basketball courts turned into a makeshift dancefloor, young clads show off their latest tricks at the skatepark and children on the streets playing good old football.

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Fortunately, I had two old friends whom I’ve met in different parts of my life living in the city. We sat on the ledge, overlooking the Nervion River and enjoyed a few of their local drinks before dancing the night way to Reggaetón music. We all shared stories of how life has been like living away from home and finding ourselves away from our comfort zones.

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Prior to any trip, I always make it a point to catch a local production or at least any show that is currently on tour whether it be in theatre, dance or music. Lucky for me, one of my all-time favorite bands was in town. However, I was still unsure whether it was practical to see the same concert twice in a span of a month. (I first saw them in Paris exactly a month before). But I did it anyway.

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Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars

I can’t say that this was the highlight of my trip, but it definitely sits on top of the list. The venue was a lot smaller, a capacity of only 3500 people. For a band like theirs with such critical fame and success, how often do you get a chance to experience such an intimate setting? The band toured 3 cities in Spain: Madrid the capital then on off to Cataclan’s Barcelona before concluding in Bilbao.

Spain will always have a special place in my heart, maybe it’s my heritage or ancestry rooted in this culture or simply because this was the first country I traveled to alone when I was 16 where I have profound coming-of-age memories.

Photo Diary:

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Iceland, the land of Fire & Ice 

There’s something quite humbling being one with nature. In my five days in Iceland, I was left with more than just two memory cards filled with scenic photographs but rather an indescribable sense of awe and appreciation for our world. With all the BS aside, I now understand the hype of this country and why it should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list.

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We flew in from Paris to Reyjavick and enjoyed a night out at the city center. A quaint town, with polychromatic painted houses that go uphill to the Hallgrímskirkja church.

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The day after, we headed south of the country’s capital to the town of Hella in search of the northern lights. Our cozy cabins were strategically positioned to have the best view of the clear pitch black sky. Its always best to get further out of the city, where there are minimal light and pollution. It took an all-nighter stake out under freezing temperatures to catch the Aurora Borealis dancing through the constellations. Oh, what a testament to one’s patience it was but worth all the shiver and time.
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The forecasts were relatively in our favor but mother nature is unpredictable. For our second night, unfortunately, the sky was quiet. Our bodies gave in and we all called it a night.
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The 5km glacier hike was a reality check of the disheartening truth of climate change. Before we even began our trek up, we stood by a lagoon that only recently formed due to the melting glacier.The hike lasted for a total of three hours. We had crampons clamped to the sole of our shoes, a trusty harness in case of an emergency and a pickaxe to keep us upright throughout the hike. There’s no distinct path and the route can change day by day. Sometimes the guides will have to create a path along the way to help the climbers in steep areas.
The brown ground situated on top of the ice (as seen in the photo below) isn’t dirt or soil but rather remnants of volcanic ash. Iceland still has numerous active volcanos that erupt roughly at least every five years. Most notably the Mt. Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 that caused havoc due to the cancellation of flights in major European cities.
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As we reach further to the top, the sun was at its highest. We were sweating instead of freezing. We couldn’t help but deviate from the single file line to take in the moment. How often do you get a chance to hike up a glacier?
I consider this trip as a sequel to our first Game of Thrones adventure in Croatia last year. (Unfortunately, I only started writing about my trips this year).  After seeing King’s Landing first hand, we set off to go Beyond the Wall.
Another interesting location was the Pingvellir Park where the Vale scene was shot. If you’re not geeking out like we were, don’t fret, the view was still as breathtaking. In between the end of winter and the start of Spring, all caught in one photo.
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Food will and always be part of the adventure. With the country’s harsh weather conditions, crops were not always part of their staple meal. But they do have a lot of protein, specifically seafood. I loved having the “fresh catch of the day” meal on a daily basis. But I opted for the lamb whenever it was available. (My all-time favorite viand). The only downside is how costly the food can be. Especially for a family with large appetites like mine.

 

 

Everyone says that Iceland is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but I’ll be definitely returning to this country. Maybe next time it will be just in time for Summer.
Photo Diary:
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Paris in White

Imagine my excitement when I awoke to this city all dressed in white. Although the howling gales kept me up all night, I couldn’t be more thrilled to brave the below freezing weather with my trusty camera on hand and capture this ephemeral moment. This was recorded to be the highest snowfall since 1987. I have always lived in tropical weather so anytime I get a chance to play in the snow I am going to take it.

 

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