September 28, 2011

Being Open while on the Road.

I met a lot of people in Europe. I even encountered myself. 
~ James Baldwin

Louvre, Paris France

I agree with you Mr. Baldwin!

After Spain, I was set to travel to Italy and France, without the husband. Unfortunately, he could not extend his trip due to limited vacation leaves. I have already psyched myself mentally and emotionally before our actual trip. I was thinking about what was to come and what I will become without him. Honestly, I have been wanting to travel alone in a new place as I was not able to actually do it before getting married. So this was the best opportunity for me to do what I’ve been dreaming of except that I will eventually be joined by my youngest sister in the trip.
I was literally alone from Barcelona to Rome. I was suppose to meet my sister in the same Rome airport but she missed her flight so I had to go alone to the city and find our hostel. While I was finding my way to the bus terminal to take my ride to the city, it finally sank in that nobody was there to guide me where to go. I had to figure it out myself. Luckily, I have a good sense of direction. Not wanting to miss my stop, I instantly went down where most tourists alighted. At the back of my head I thought, “they could be going the same direction as I am and anyway they are also World Youth Day delegates so there is no harm joining them”. And how lucky I was to befriend them! They helped me buy my ticket because unfortunately I bought the wrong train ticket at the airport :D When we reached Roma Termini, I found out that they have not booked their accommodations so I asked them to check out the hostel where I was staying. Good karma was on our side and they got their room.
Colosseum, Rome Italy

There were many other instances during our travel that allowed us to help and ask help from strangers. I realized that it’s normal to act paranoid but it’s also okay to ask help from anyone. Traveling with my sister was entirely different than traveling with my husband. I had to read the map and find our direction the easiest way. I was so used to just following where my husband would lead me because he usually carried the map and knew exactly where to go. But when my sister and I were finding our way to a spot, there were lots of times when we got lost and could not even find our way back. It was during those times that I had to act brave and enjoy the trail.
However, I soon realized that being lost isn’t always a bad idea. Not following your itinerary is as exciting as finally finding your hostel after hours of walking with a heavy backpack. I also realized that tourists are all the same. We slept in airport terminals just so we can save one night’s accommodation and that’s okay. We also try to endure the pain of walking miles so we could really enjoy the beauty of the place. We have the same fears whether you are Asian, British or American. We all fear being robbed, abused, and taken advantage of. I mean all these fears are normal when you’re in a new place and it all depends on how you act. Luck was on our side every time we asked help people had been helpful. Some even went out of their way and accompanied us to the metro station even if they were late for their appointment. Others cooked dinner for us and invited us to join them. Little things like being offered a seat in the bus or offering to take our photo or teaching us which bus to take. But I assure you that every time we were in those situations I had all sorts of scenarios in my head whether this man is sincere or the food is safe. I know it’s ridiculous to think bad things about people who are offering help but I can’t help it. Paranoia is in my system. 
The lessons I learned while on the road is incomparable. I thought that if you have a detailed plan and itinerary you will know everything and you will not need help. But I was wrong. Language barrier was one of the challenges and direction was another. My impatient self was always bothered every time I couldn’t find my way or when I was being served with the wrong food because the waiter didn’t understand and I was too hungry to even argue. So yes, I learned a lot of patience.  

Piazza del Duomo, Milan Italy

Among the vastness of the crowd of tourists and locals alike, I felt like a small mustard seed totally invisible from everyone else. I learned humility. No matter how different your status was in your hometown – in a new place you are a stranger. You really don’t know everything. You are also expected to follow and respect culture or traditions whether you agree or not. 
I least expected myself to experience all these realizations but believe me I did! Normally, I am not that patient and open. I usually say what I think whether its nice or not. And I have lots of fears I am not willing to overcome. But traveling alone, even with my husband or with my sister, taught me a lot beyond my expectations. William Least Heat Moon said is his book Blue Highways, “When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” And this explains my experience while on the road in Europe.
Thank you, Grace of PinayontheMove for featuring this post on your pretty travel blog.

September 19, 2011

Backpacking Europe for the first time.

Okay before you raise your eyebrows or ignore this post, allow me first to explain why I backpacked instead of traveling comfortably...

Most first timers to Europe would rather book a travel package with everything included so they won't have to worry where to go, where to sleep, where to eat and how to explore the place. This is the easiest way for first time travelers. But I am not a fan of travel packages or tour groups (sorry no offense, its just me). I appreciate how convenient they are for those incapable of doing more research or for those who don't want the hassle of preparing the itinerary on their own - it's truly helpful if you are that type of traveler. I would prefer to use it if I am traveling with my family in a place where the English language is unknown.

I don't consider myself a hardcore backpacker compared to other travelers who really carry with them huge backpacks and travel for months. I've learned to backpack just because I've always wanted to travel cheap so I can save for shopping. Haha, how ironic! But at least I have the motivation :p So when we started planning for our Europe trip, backpacking came in handy. Booking a one (1) star was not even an option. Hostelbookers was very helpful in planning our accommodation. Although some of our actual experiences were somehow different from the reviews, but that will be a separate blogpost. 

Yes, I literally backpacked with a 12kg bag for three weeks. I have to mention though that carrying it for hours wouldn't be possible without the help of the husband so I suggest before you follow my lead, make sure you are ready for the back and hip pain. I was ready for all types of pain but what I was not ready for was the heat of the sun in Spain. Imagine carrying a 12kg bag in a 40C temperature??? It was crazy and I seriously went hysterical! And it's okay to be hysterical if you have a husband like mine who's ready to carry your bag otherwise, keep calm and carry on :)

I really find backpacking very convenient especially if you have shorter stays in various cities in Europe. We started in Spain and visited Valencia (2days), Toledo (2days), Madrid (6days for the WYD) and Barcelona (3days). Then I flew to Italy and met my sister. We visited Rome (3days), Florence (2days), Milan (1day) and Venice (1day). Our last stop was Paris, France. See, we were always on the go. Although the transportation in most Euro cities is very convenient such as renfe in Spain and trenitalia in Italy, their metro station is the opposite. It's not very friendly for those with huge trolley luggages. So if you carry a backpack, you'll easily find your way among the crowd compared to those dragging their luggages in the staircase :D Central metro station is an exception though especially those with connecting train rides to major cities. They have escalators, accessible lifts and travelators. My sister used the trolley luggage and although it was smaller, she really had a hard time carrying it especially when we arrived in Milan and discovered that the nearest metro station to our hostel  had the longest staircase ever! Luckily, we survived the climb!

So yeah, we enjoyed backpacking and sharing our room to other travelers. We booked private rooms in some cities but dorm type accommodations for most of our stay and enjoyed a few free upgrade from dorm to private in some :D It was fun meeting other travelers and exchanging travel stories. This kind of experience makes me enjoy backpacking a lot. I'm not fuzzy in sharing toilets/showers with other people as long as its clean and decent. I don't mind sleeping in a small bed with someone snoring on the other end. I don't care if other occupants make a mess in the same room as long as they don't steal my stuff. I mean, if the hostel is decent and the reviews are great, there's really no reason for anyone to worry. The only reason why you're there is to sleep after you've enjoyed the sights outside your hostel room. You have to make sure though that 90% of your time is spent outside, roaming rather than spending it inside, sleeping.

The amount we saved for booking cheap accommodations was spent on food and shopping few clothes :D Obviously, the latter is a not so nice idea because it will add a kilo to your backpack. But what the heck! I'd rather sacrifice the back pain for new clothes than re-wearing the used ones :P I told you I'm not a hardcore backpacker. Haha! Hopefully this mindset will change soon when my long term travel plans will take place :)))

Til here for now. Will continue the adventure soonest. Goodnight, world!

September 18, 2011

Recovering from the Travel Bug Bite...

...if there's such a word :)))

Hello blog, i missed you! Sorry for staring at that new post blank page for few weeks now. I just don't know what to write or how to start. My three weeks wander lusting was causing me too much memory overload that it almost made my brain explode. There were just too many beautiful sights and experiences to remember and my ordinary brain cannot handle the overlapping of snapshots. The thousand photos didn't even help, actually it made the situation even worst - instead of typing the words, I always end up staring and browsing for more photos.

But today is different because I've finally decided to compartmentalize and turned on my brain to come up with the most "jaw-dropping" come back post. Teehheee =)

I guess when you're bitten by the travel bug, you need to refresh yourself slowly but surely. When I came back, I didn't literally experienced jetlag because I was forced to overcome it due to work. But I noticed that after my first week, I became too lazy to do something productive and was just too comfortable slacking off. And it didn't do me any good, for one, I was not able to post anything here and two, I missed a lot of updates from friends because I was "almost-always" unreachable. Luckily, I have recovered and ready to plan for the next trip :D

Meantime, while I edit some photos, let me share to you some snapshot of the places I visited in Europa =)

City of Arts and Museum, Valencia Spain

Santo Tome, Toledo Spain

Palacio Real, Madrid Spain 

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain 

Colosseum, Rome Italy

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome Italy

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence Italy 

Emmanuel Vittorio Shopping Mall, Milan Italy

Gondola by the bridge, Venice Italy 

Eiffel Tower, Paris France

Enjoy and happy week ahead!