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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Dans Les Champs de Chanel: Paris

Down South of France in a small town of Grasse lies the origins of Chanel no.5. But for a weekend, Paris was treated with the same flowers that make up the classic scent. Rows of Jasmine, May rose, Iris Pallida, Tuberose, and Bourbon Geranium delighted our senses, for us to feel, smell and touch. The moment you step foot into the gates of the gardens you get a quick lesson on the variety of flora used and the unique distillation process. This was a treat for the market since the original gardens are not open to the public.

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Chanel no.5 continues to be a staple in every French woman’s essentials but with growing competition, the brand faces challenges in keeping their iconic scent relevant to today’s market. Two years prior, Chanel released “Chanel no. 5 L’Eau” with Lily-Rose Depp as the face of the fragrance. This is said to be a more modern take on the classic perfume.  She is a second generation Chanel muse taking after her mother Vanessa Paradis. The then 17-year old was a good way to tap into the younger generation that has yet to understand the legacy of Chanel no.5.

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Though personally I am not a perfume connoisseur and have a limited lexicon for describing and distinguishing the aroma of every flower, I was curious to learn the dexterity of this artistry.  Plus Chanel is still one of my favorite luxury brands to date, so this was something I could not miss.

 

 

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MoCo Museum: Banksy Laugh Now

His face may not be known to the public but his work has spoken volumes. Graffiti Artist Banksy first emerged into the underground scene in the late 90s with his unconventional stencil work painted all over London and Bristol. In 2010, he joined the likes of Barack Obama and Lady Gaga in Time’s 100 most influential people despite his anonymity.

Banksy uses political satire and humor as a basis for his craft. He allowed his work to be the voice rather than having to explain himself to the world. And though we may never know the man behind the canvas, the mystery beneath only draws us closer to his art.

The MoCo Museum, located in the heart of Amsterdam, has a permanent display of Banksy’s work over the years as well as temporary expositions of other contemporary artists.

 

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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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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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