Forgive me for my unannounced hiatus – believe me, it wasn’t for lack of inspiration. You could say I was busy, though not much more than usual. But in my absence I found my way back into an old hobby – reading. I had procrastinated on my reading for a few months this year but I slowly found my way back in – a topic for another blog post.
So to really prove to myself that I am definitely back on the horse, I decided to come out of my comfort zone:
I read my first German book.
Actually, that is a lie because I have read Vater Bär kommt Heimwhen I was six, making it the first book I have ever read in my life but that was at a time when German was the only language I spoke.
The reason why I’m writing about this is because people who know me know that this is a breakthrough for me. I have avoided books that are written in / translated into the German language for years and years, for the same reason I don’t (usually) watch movies that are dubbed into German – especially if it has originally been written/filmed in English. I just don’t see the point in reading/watching a translated/dubbed version when I’m already able to understand it in its original version.
Another reason is because I did not feel confident with the language. I know I have been living here in Germany again for more than six years now after having been away for 13 years and I speak German everyday – at work and even at home – but it’s still not the language I feel most confident with. My thoughts are all in English and it remains as the language I prefer.
The thing is, I never learned German at school because I have lived my school years in the Philippines. It’s confusing for many people because they don’t hear an accent when I speak but sometimes I still have trouble finding the right words because I’m just missing a whole decade of practise, something that people would not know unless I tell them.
That being said, a couple of days ago I decided to be brave and downloaded Sebastian Fitzek’s first thriller – Die Therapie for my Kindle. It seemed like the perfect choice for a German author, and I have no regrets! It is fast-paced and well written and made me realise that it wasn’t an impossible task after all. I finished it within a few days and I really surprised myself with that because I’m a slow-reader. I was pretty sure I’d get bored after a few pages – possibly for lack of comprehension but it just wasn’t the case and I understood the story perfectly well. I’d love to read a few more of his books because this one just blew my mind and I decided to only worry about translated books from now on and welcome more German authors into my shelf.
I highly recommend this author to everyone whose first language isn’t German but is inspired to learn and get better. Reading really helps in shaping one’s knowledge of a certain language, giving them a chance to read a word for the first time and look back on how it was used in a sentence. After all, my English wasn’t any good until I started reading all those books. Time to use the same trick on my German. 🙂
This is my first time sharing one of my recipes inspired by a week of having the sniffles at the break of Autumn. Not that Germany has had a proper summer this year, because let’s face it, it was pretty mild. Still, autumn has hit everyone pretty hard, which caused our department a 25% sick rate. I happened to have my share right after I had my 4-day weekend. Having to wake up at 3 AM after having been in class until 9 PM the night before did not help my case at all. I only had 3 days until my next off-day but it felt like I had to work for two weeks straight. When I was asked if I could jump in for my sick colleague, I had to pass. I thought that if I had to work another day, I’ll most probably have to call in sick the following days which will only cause a bigger disruption in our shifts.
So with one whole day to make myself feel better, I went back to one of my old recipes. I swear by this concoction every flu season. I like to try out new products that I find in the supermarket and, one faithful day, bottled ginger shots have hit the shelves. I love ginger and I love the prickling sensation of it on my throat so it’s not surprising that I went out for some more. Soon enough, I realised it leaves a huge hole in my pocket. 1,49 € for one shot (60 ml) is too much for daily consumption. I had to find a way to get it for cheaper. And here it goes:
400g ginger roots (or replace 50g ginger with 50g fresh turmeric root for a more earthy taste and nutritional value)
Prepare your apples and ginger roots for your juicer. You may have to peel them depending on the type of juicer you are using. Mine did not require that so I only had to wash everything thoroughly.
Juice the apples, ginger roots, and turmeric (if used).
Squeeze out the juice of your oranges and lemon in a citrus juicer.
Mix everything together and pour into your container of choice. I used a few airtight bottles.
Refrigerate for up to 5 days and don’t forget to share!
(Who am I kidding, I finished these on my own within 5 days, taking a few shots a day.)
When preparing your turmeric roots, don’t forget to wear gloves! I did not wear any since I only washed them and put them in the juicer unpeeled but it was when I cleaned out my juicer that I instantly regretted not wearing gloves and walked around with my right hand the colour of Homer Simpson’s for a few days.
Results? For one, I got my voice back one day later. We know about citrus fruits having high vitamin C levels that help boost our immune system, and so do apples. Both ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties, the latter also serving as an antioxidant.
I know… Shocking, right? I just scrolled back through my last five posts and all of them are travel-related. Well, I really don’t want to give out the impression that all that I do (or at least all that is worth mentioning) is travel. It’s really not. And even if I had the money to do just that, I don’t think I would because that will just remove the excitement from it all. Don’t you think?
I was at my sister’s 30th birthday party the other weekend and witnessed a packed pub filled with her guests, all of them are people close to her. I didn’t even know most of them, some I’ve never even heard about. I realised that by the time I turn 30, it will be unlikely that I throw a party like that. By that time, I will have been about just as long here in Germany as she is now but I’m just sure I will not even know that many people let alone be close with them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for her and for her eventful social life and I have long accepted the fact that I am not the outgoing and friendly one in the family – probably also because growing up, I did not have much of my own friends until the time I got to school and I usually just tagged along whenever my sister wanted to go out with her friends because she wasn’t allowed to go unless she brought me with her. Sometimes I still find it easier to befriend her friends than making my own. Trust issues? Probably.
Now, getting to my point: I am at a time in my life where I am actually truly happy. My marriage is doing well, I have a job that I love, I get to spend time with the few good friends that I have here, and I live in this vibrant city with a lot of opportunities to be a more open and better person. So I guess, for my own standards, my life is pretty exciting as well.
You see, traveling is not the only exciting thing in my life, but rest assured it’s the one thing that inspires me the most to do everything else. In fact, I have just started an A1 language course in Spanish which I am really stoked about! Every Monday and Wednesday evening I go for a couple of hours to the community college downtown for fast-paced lessons in Español. It took little convincing for my employer to give a little more flexibility on my work hours on these particular days (because I work shifts) – I told them I intend to use this foreign language for work as well so I hope I learn fast.
So why Spanish? When I was 12 years old, I’ve found some of my father’s course manuals which he had bought back when he took a language course himself. He’s never finished the course but he was happy when I told him I wanted to pursue it. I had been to Spain myself, and the goal is to go there or to any Spanish speaking country at least once a year. This is something I had kept up since 2015 and this year in December we’re going to Tenerife. It will also be my first time flying with the airline that I work for, finally!
Just the day before my first Spanish class, we were on our way back to Berlin from Bonn and I asked the wife to make a stopover in Kassel for documenta14, an exhibit I had been wanting to go to for months that was about to end. The most significant exhibit on this year’s event is the Parthenon of (Banned) Books, which is a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, covered in thousands of banned books from all over the world.
And because the exhibit was nearing its end, they started giving away the books on that very day and I picked up one of the many copies of El Príncipe. There were not many options because they only put out a limited amount and most of them were copies of the same book but it felt like a good omen to me because it’s in Spanish and, who knows, maybe about a year from now I will be able to read and fully understand it!
I don’t believe there is anything that I can tell you about Rome that you don’t already know or haven’t already seen so I’ll keep this short.
So after our trip to Santorini, we flew out to Rome to spend one night there before going back to Berlin. So with two whole days to go roam around, we tried to make the most out of it.
After lunch, we took the mandatory tour of the Roman Forum and Colosseum. Obviously, it was fantastic and worth a visit – just probably not on a summer’s day because it just gets really hot in Rome this time of the year. We would have wanted to see more if it hadn’t been 40C outside.
We were surprised by how cheap a cab ride is in this city – to a point that we even let ourselves be toured by a local cab driver, showing us the most important attractions in this city. We didn’t have to pay more than 10 € for a 10 minute ride with light traffic.
For more flexibility, we decided to rent Vespas – one for each couple, to complete the whole Italian experience.
At night we drove around Vatican City, and then to Fountain Trevi. Some attractions in this city are just so busy even late at night.
The next day, our friends woke up to some bad news from back home and they had to leave for LA with the next flight. We were supposed to leave Rome at night then spend the whole day in Berlin the next day and drive them to the airport the day after that. The wife and I then decided to make a quiet day of it, just driving around on our Vespa.
At some point in the afternoon, we went to Torre Argentina. Today it doubles as a cat sanctuary that houses around 150 gatti. It may be visited in the afternoons during which you may choose to adopt a little feline of all ages. They also sell some goodies like towels and mugs made by a few volunteers to help raise some money for the cats’ needs. Don’t forget to leave a donation!
From there, we walked towards the Pantheon, which in my opinion, was the most beautiful attraction in this city. Seeing the inside of this building is free of charge and it’s just amazing how it’s still standing hundreds of years after it was built.
And after we have satisfied our eyes and tastebuds with all the best of Italy, we took our ride to the airport to take our flight back to Berlin. It was a short holiday indeed, but so eventful.
I’m excited to share with you all this post on our recent trip to Santorini, Greece. It is, as you can see, one of the most romantic places in Europe – maybe even the world, and rightfully so. The famous whitewashed cave-houses by the cliffside of this beautiful volcano island, resting in the middle of the blue Aegean are surely hard to resist for all lovebirds out there. And it doesn’t help that it’s in a land known for excellent food and exquisite wine – it just makes me wonder why I had waited this long to come to Greece!
Some time last year, an old friend of Joan’s had told us she wanted to come over to Berlin to visit us and to do a mini tour of Europe together. She had brought her wife, who had never been to Europe before, and they flew in all the way from LA. Their goal was to see Europe so I cooked up a travel plan to let them see as much as possible in the one week they were to stay here. This is where my madness kicked in…
The island of Santorini has one airport big enough to accommodate only a handful of flights a day. I did not find a direct flight from Berlin to Santorini so I took the opportunity to get creative – sending us all over Europe.
All this from Saturday to Thursday. I told my colleagues about this plan (since the nature of our work involves a LOT of travel planning) and they thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, but these destinations were carefully picked out. Our guests wanted a city break somewhere in Spain so I made that happen, choosing the beautiful city of Barcelona. They left Saturday early in the morning to make the most of the day. I did not join them until Sunday night – before leaving for Santorini – because I had already been to Barcelona two years ago and I did not want to miss work for too long because summer time is always high season in our industry.
So on that faithful Sunday in summer, I started work at 5 AM and from there I went straight to the airport to catch my flight going to Barcelona to meet with my wife and our friends. I got there at 8 PM and realised I hadn’t eaten anything since I woke up at 3 AM. Our flight wasn’t until late, around 11 PM and we had plenty of time to grab a bite and chat. It’s my first time officially meeting them so it was a great time to get to know each other over card games. When we got to the aircraft, I finally got some shut eye for maybe one collective hour until we landed in Santorini at around 3 AM the next day. We picked up our rental car and looked around for food. Good thing we found a bakery nearby – apparently those are open 24h a day.
Since it was still much too early to check into our Airbnb, we all watched the sunrise together at Kamari Beach.
Most of the breakfast places did not open until 8 AM so we drove around a little bit until then. We chose this place called Galini Café, which we had found thanks to Foursquare. It offered a beautiful vista and a rich breakfast.
We hit the shops after our meal and then it was finally time for our Airbnb, which was located in Fira. So on the way there, we couldn’t help but notice the many ATV rentals and we all decided to rent two of those, one for each couple. For the rest of the day we were driving around on those, forgetting about the small confinement of our car.
We just dropped our stuff off at the Airbnb and got ready for the beach. I must say, the beach is not the highlight of this island. I’ve heard of plenty of great beaches all over Greece but Santorini isn’t the place if you’re looking for fine, white sand. We hit Red Beach, which is black and partially pebbly, but it looks really gorgeous nonetheless.
Though the water did not show any plastic wastes, it had brought a lot of sea weed residue ashore which got in the way of a nice swim in the open water. We decided to go back to Kamari beach later on since it’s also the closest one to home. This beach is very pebbly but the water was clean.
Late afternoon we went back home and had our take-out dinner there. Our Airbnb was at a holiday apartment complex with a private pool so we had a night swim there until we finally called it a day – and what a long one!
The next day we finally went to Oia – the very place seen on all those postcards, a honeymooners’ haven. We looked for a place that served breakfast at yet another terrace with a great view and it took us to Skiza Café.
We spent the rest of the day buying souvenirs in Oia, going back to Kamari beach, and having dinner at a Taverna. It was a short stay on this island but it felt like just enough time to get to know it. I didn’t think there was much else to see on the island itself, but there were a handful of excursions to the neighbouring islands, or to the volcano, that are being offered by many tour operators on the island.
I’ve had my first long-haul flight again in years just two months ago and I must say, I was really prepared thanks to a few items that I brought with me on board. I’ve taken so many flights in the last three years but they were all short (3 hours max) so I wasn’t sure this time how to fight the boredom or to help me get some shut eye. Well the boredom part has been fixed rather easily because I forgot that these flights had entertainment systems but sleeping has really only been easier because of my little helpers. I also provided you with the links to where you can buy them.
I got this as a Christmas present from my cousin a few years ago and I got to put it into good use this time. There are blankets available inside the aircraft, sure, but this one is just so comfy and doubles as a pillow when you fold it inside its bag. You can’t have too many pillows!
My legs are short, alright. Sometimes those footrests in the aircraft are not adjustable to a height I can feel comfortable with. This hammock has been such big help keeping me in my seat because I tend to move around a lot when I am uncomfortable. This hammock can easily be attached to your table in front of you, giving your feet some peace.
I just thought this was the coolest thing ever. I tend to lean forward on the table and hurt my spine for some sleep while sitting inside an airplane. Those days are over though because this pillow lets you get comfortable without really hurting your good posture. And it also folds into this small pouch so it’s easier to carry it around. Even the flight attendant on duty was a big fan.
These babies are found everywhere nowadays so just choose one that suits you best. I got this one from TKmaxx. I prefer memory foam over inflatable or microbead ones because it’s just the most comfortable option. It’s not foldable or anything but it’s easily hung on your backpack or luggage or worn in the airport while catching your connecting flight. Believe me, you will not be the only one seen wearing it. 😉
Once in a while I get a weekend off and I always make sure to make plans with the wife since we rarely get to spend a full day together anymore. So last weekend was a special one because it was also our anniversary – we got married on the same day we got together, only three years later, three years ago. We set this date to avoid confusion. So this year, it wasn’t clear what exactly we celebrated – our third year of marriage or our 6th year together. Not that it mattered because who doesn’t like a celebration or two right?
The truth is, days before the trip we weren’t even sure where to go. We booked an accommodation near Lake Constance and cancelled that because the weather was being a little crazy that week in Germany. So we were back to square one until I stumbled upon a travel post on Facebook about the Llangollen Canal and thought it was amazing. It’s in North Wales, and just an hour’s drive away from Liverpool. We checked for flights and easily found a roundtrip at convenient hours and for a good price, too.
We did not know what to expect from Liverpool and North Wales but we decided to just surprise ourselves and just go.
We arrived in Liverpool on Friday night and picked up our rental car. It’s my wife’s first right-hand drive and I must say, she mastered it pretty quickly!
Llangollen Canal, North Wales
So the photo of this place that I saw on the Internet made me believe it was possible to go kayaking around here but after I spent days trying to look for kayak boat rentals around the area, I have come to accept that it’s not something they offer, probably for safety reasons.
Dear readers, this is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. It’s been around for more than 200 years and was built for industrial use although the route that was supposed to go up to Liverpool was never completed. Today, it’s a popular tourist spot which allows visitors to take tours on a narrow boat and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But instead of taking the narrow boat tour, we decided to rent some bikes to see more of the surrounding area.
We were in luck because it was a beautiful day in this part of the UK!
I remember on my post about our trip to London earlier this year I said that we seemed to have waited this long to finally go to the UK together and now, it’s already been our second time there and we even made it back in the same year. I really like being there and I’d love to see more of what it has to offer. But Liverpool is just so much different in comparison to London, understandably. It’s less crowded and more relaxed. It’s home to The Beatles and they couldn’t make it any more obvious. Their songs still play on the radio every so often and their souvenir shops are full of The Beatles merchandise. Hey, even the airport is named in honour of John Lennon.
It was nice just walking around downtown Liverpool, having dinner at one of the many pubs, enjoying a cold pint of apple cider – just one of the many things I love about the UK.
We made sure to make a few visits to Albert Dock and Pier Head. This time of the year there is the summer fair called Pier Head Village right by The Beatles’ statue to enjoy on sunny days and the Ferris Wheel that is there all year long for the best views of the city from above.
This lovely gem is located around the Elbe Valley, just about 45 minutes outside of Dresden and it’s a true gift of nature and history. I had first planned to go on my birthday with a few friends but I found it quite hard to pull off because it’s too far away from the homes of the people I invited and because of unpredictable Aprilwetter. So now, two months later, we finally made it!
My goal was to see the famous Bastei Bridge, but that just wasn’t the highlight of our hike. And here’s why:
There’s no entrance fee to Saxon Switzerland National Park and it’s open throughout the year, 24 hours a day. We started our tour at Kurort Rathen, which may also be reached through a 30-minute train ride from Dresden. We came by car, and a parking lot for visitors was close by (4 € day rate). First thing I did was go to the Tourist Information Centre right outside the train station and ask for tips on where to begin. I told the guy behind the counter that I wanted to see the Bastei Bridge, most importantly. He was very helpful and picked out a trail that he thought was most suitable. He took out a small map and elaborated more on the best attractions along the way.
It began with a ferry ride to the other side of the Elbe river. From there, we walked on and took a left turn, as told by our map, and walked up a flight of stairs.
It was an easy hike, but we made sure that we had enough to drink and took breaks from time to time. It’s suitable even for families with small children and for dogs as well. We were at the summit at probably 45-minutes’ time and it was the most wonderful experience.
Then there was this open air museum that we entered for an entrance fee of 1,50 € each, and from there we had an even better view of Bastei Bridge and of the rock formations of Elbsandsteingebirge.
After that, we headed for the bridge, which was of course full of tourists.
Right by the other end of the bridge, there were restaurants and cafés where you may grab a bite. We shared a small snack and walked on.
The next attraction on our route was Schwedenlöcher. We walked through a forest an then walked down a few flights of stairs, going deeper and deeper into the woods and passing through narrow paths between rocks. It was a perfect cool down from the hot weather that greeted us when we just started.
An optional attraction that was 10 minutes going the other way was the Amselfall (Amsel Waterfall). For 0,30 €, you may activate the torrent, which I wasn’t able to take a photo of because I was just so mesmerised by the sight.
And to end the tour, we walked along Amselsee (Amsel Lake) and watched people on their pedalos and canoes. We found our way out by walking down the road and it lead back to the ferry. There are plenty of souvenir shops there, too.
I have shared in a previous post a sneak peek of my experience from my trip to Hong Kong last May and how it went terribly wrong. But on this post I wanted to focus on the trip as whole, and that’s including the good stuff.
Let me start with why I chose Hong Kong – of all the fine places in Asia that are easily reachable from the Philippines nowadays. I just thought, since I am going alone and with the limited time that I had, it’s just the perfect destination. Added to that, I bet it’s just the one place that my wife would not miss out on too much. We usually do these things together but as I have mentioned, she wasn’t able to join.
I got there in the afternoon after a 2h flight from Manila. First thing I did was get an Octopus Card. For 150 HKD, you get a card with a 100 HKD balance and 50 HKD refundable value – unless of course you’d want to keep the card as a souvenir.
And it’s really the easiest way to get around the city. You may reload it at MTR stations or various convenience stores and you may use it to pay at some selected establishments, and even at vending machines. I just found the deduction of fares after every ride a bit unpredictable, or maybe it’s just something I haven’t been able to figure out in my short stay. Let me just say I had spent about 250 HKD of fare money in three days and that’s including the ride up The Peak Tower with the Peak Tram plus entrance fee to Sky Terrace all worth 140 HKD.
I took the A21 bus that goes straight to Mong Kok and stops at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It’s the station closest to my hostel, in one of those touristy neighbourhoods in the city. In fact, most of my options were in this very area. I think it’s a good place to stay at because of its proximity Victoria Harbour, and everything you’d want to see is easily reachable.
After I got checked in to my hostel, I went out to get familiarised to my neighbourhood. Most importantly, I looked for places where I can grab some bites. I found street food right around the corner, a few restaurants, and a 7Eleven. This is where I realised that food in Hong Kong is rather pricey.
The next morning, I decided to just grab a snack from 7Eleven (I’m a sucker for store-bought snack cakes and everywhere I go, I try to get each country’s own version of it) for breakfast and I proceeded with my day’s agenda – just walking around the city. I read somewhere that 60% of Hong Kong is actually green – which is hard to believe at first because when you think of Hong Kong, the first thing that comes to mind is the army of skyscrapers. I decided to see the parks first, starting with Kowloon Park, which is close to my hostel.
And from there I just followed the road that lead to the water.
I wasn’t sure where to go next so I just walked down Nathan Road. The heat of this city was just something I couldn’t get accustomed to. Humidity was just so much higher there than in the Philippines and I couldn’t help but take a few breaks inside the shopping centres along the way just to cool down. But I did find some interesting bookstores and gift shops inside.
I had lunch at a local diner – fried chicken in lemon sauce and a pot of tea. I was alone so the staff sat me at a round table with another lone guest sitting. I can’t point out enough the cost of food – I paid around 30 € for that order!
After I filled my backpack with gifts that I bought to take home to the wife, I walked back to my hostel and took another shower. It felt necessary if I wanted to walk around some more.
My next stops were the street markets. The first one I went to, and also the only one I actually wanted to see, was the Ladies’ Market. I didn’t take photos, neither did I even take out my phone let alone my camera, because everyone started to get extra aware of their belongings when they entered. I thought I’d do the same because I really hate losing things, more importantly I have this deep fear of having my things stolen from me. I literally have nightmares of this event every so often, all in different versions. I wanted to come here to buy accessories for my phone and to check out what else the place has to offer. I had fun haggling with the vendors. They lower the price down every five seconds, or give you deals for lower value. It’s ridiculous how they start you off with prices going through the roof and then giving you a final price of 20% of the original price. I know it’s just strategy and it seems to be working out just fine for them.
I then walked down the road towards the Flower Market, through Goldfish Market and took the MTR back to my hostel.
After I dropped my street market haul off at the hostel, I was bound for Victoria Peak. But when I took the hostel building’s elevator going down, it got stuck and I had to wait for almost an hour for the rescue team, alone. So when I got out, I guess I was over-motivated to reach the peak which then turned out was a bad idea, because it was so foggy up there that it was impossible to see anything looking down. But at least it made for interesting photos looking up from Central District.
Nan Lian Garden
It was my last day in Hong Kong and I ended it with a relaxing day in the park. This charming garden is located in the myriad of high-rise buildings of Diamond Hill. It gives out a contrast of the tranquility of a Tang Dynasty-styled park and the hustle and bustle of the city.
Hong Kong Park
This was the very last place I went to before I headed to the airport. But this park was busier than I thought! I was here at around noon on a Friday, enjoying a rice snack from 7Eleven but it took a while before I found an empty bench. I didn’t stay long to make space for the busy corporate animals from Central District to enjoy their lunch break. Ah, but what I wouldn’t give to have such a venue for my own lunch breaks from work!
Going back to the airport, I took the A21 bus again. I thought it was really the more convenient option to and from Mong Kok but somehow it wasn’t among Google’s suggestions.
I had just enough Octopus Card balance left for a drink from an airport vending machine
I don’t know where to begin. Spending almost two weeks in the Philippines has been more productive than eventful. I wouldn’t even consider this a travel post because it’s not. Most of my activities consisted of catching up with friends and family – nevertheless a holiday well spent.
It started off with the trip to Taal Volcano Crater. This also probably rounds up the whole touristic experience.
After a day of getting acclimatised to the time zone and catching up with friends, my cousin got married and the whole family was there to celebrate.
And after the wedding, we celebrated our dear grandma’s 80th birthday in the afternoon. She has seven children and each of her children’s family was assigned to a colour of the rainbow, making a truly colourful party.
The next day, while the rest of the family continued celebrating by all going out together for a swim at a private pool, I decided to pass and stay in my city and enjoy the best view:
And, really, it was exactly what I needed after a whole day of family affairs and smiling at your own flesh and blood who just have no limits whatsoever. You know, after not seeing each other for 3-6 years, none of them ever minded to ask how you’re doing. Instead, all they greet you with is a comment on your physique, and asking about when I am finally getting married. It’s not like it’s a secret that I already am but my wife wasn’t with me so that’s barely proof.
Time with Friends
I found it quite hard to meet up with my favourite friends because they usually aren’t available all at the same time, so I actually had to spend days just catching up with each of them.
At the beginning of my second week, I went on my solo trip to Hong Kong, which had been an adventure in its own right. When I got back, I only had a few days left of my vacation. Those were spent with more catching up, and with a supposed trip to the beach that had gone terribly wrong. In other words, it never happened and we all went to a swimming pool instead where I ended up getting sick and not able to swim. Need I say more?
Nothing against my dearest friends or the relaxed nature of Filipinos in general that often clashes with the punctuality and sometimes even, uptightness, of the Germans, it just takes some getting used to. They even were apologetic and suggested that next time we should go on a big trip further away that requires some heavy planning and booking in advance because, then, everyone who agreed to come will have arranged their leave days already. Not to mention, none of us would want to let our hard-earned money go to waste by cancelling on a trip on short notice. Sounds like a bullet-proof plan to me!
The Folk Healer
Back to my getting sick on our swimming day, at that point it was noticeable that a few other members of our family have been getting sick (although all differently) all at around the same time. Just a week before, my nephew who is a toddler just happened to have gotten chicken pox the second time around (I know, in really rare cases it is possible). Everyone got suspicious after that visit to the doctor so they decided to consult a magtatawas, a kind of folk healer. By just simply writing down the patient’s name and birthday on a piece of paper and handing our errand girl a small amount for the doctor and her own bus money, we got our answers in a few hours’ time. The magtatawas will do his reading off candle wax dripped in a bowl of water. She came back with the results and some incense and instructions on what to do. Apparently, the child must have stepped on some corners in their garden where spirits of elders live and it somehow offended them. As a result, he was punished with the itchy spots all over his body. Poor kid, I know.
This has gone on with other members of our family. My uncle had a fever for a few days and the explanation was that he had been accompanied by the spirit of a girl in his lodge when he went on a trip to Palawan a week prior (and this has been said by two different magtatawas).
My experience was this: on our swimming day, I had a tummy ache in the morning, like a really bad case of gas and it was, as you can imagine, uncomfortable to say the least. It lasted for the most part of the day but, when we got to the resort at around 4 PM, the pain was gone and instead I felt really tired so I slept for a few hours and woke up feeling like I can’t hold my head up. That, too, lasted for the rest of the day and I lost my appetite and could barely eat. My friends drove me home at night time and I told mum what happened. First thing in the morning, and because I just didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, she sent our girl to the magtatawas to find out what happened to me.
I’m not really a believer of these practises but it was fun to have experienced it.
And to finally end this post, here are some random images of the simple pleasures of being home.
Pitahaya cacti that will soon bear fruit also known as dragonfruit
I had fun with everyone nonetheless and I am surely going back in a few years even when it means having to go through it all over again.
As you can see in all of my previous travel posts, my wife has been my constant companion. We plan together, book together, and go together. I like doing these things with her because I think it brings us closer together, if not test our limits. But on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I had to go alone as she also wasn’t part of the whole trip to the Philippines because she was busy with school. I was excited for my first opportunity to travel alone! I had never stayed at a hostel before until this trip because, together, we usually opt for Airbnb or hotels since it’s usually the the most practical when travelling as a couple. The combined prices for the two bunk beds at a hostel is usually pricier than a double room at a hotel and we can save ourselves the trouble of staying in a room with a few other people. Privacy is just more of a priority when you’re a couple.
So when I took this trip, I wanted to do it the right way. I had booked my stay for two nights at a hip little hostel in the touristy centre of Hong Kong, just a stone’s throw from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It occupied the 5th floor of a relatively old commercial building. I was greeted by a young receptionist who took me to my room that consisted of three bunk beds and a shared bathroom. There were only two other girls in the room and the top bunks were all free, me occupying the last free bottom bunk. There was a small reading lamp inside and curtains to pull close for more privacy. The receptionist also told me about the cages under the bed where I can put my stuff in. I did not have a lock with me so she offered to sell me one for about 3 €. I later realised that I am the only one in the room actually using one. My room mates were also pretty young, so were the all the other guests that I met in the communal lounge.
I went out a few times to get some snacks at the nearby 7eleven. Drinking water – hot and cold – was available for all guests for no extra charge and I’m glad I brought a few green tea bags with me to enjoy in the common room while surfing the internet on the iMac that was also free to use. The place was also equipped with high-speed internet for a decent wifi connection in all corners.
I just had some trouble falling asleep on my first night because I was sharing a wall with the communal bathroom and the sound of the boiler came and went caused by some guests who took their late night showers – I can’t really blame them, Hong Kong was very hot this time of the year with very high humidity. But I eventually got some shut eye and was able to sleep soundly for eight hours.
On my second day, I went out to walk around and do some shopping. I came back in the afternoon to rest and take another shower to be fresh for my evening adventure. I was bound for Victoria Peak – the supposed highlight of my trip. I chose to do it at night because I like to capture the city lights. So I was in the elevator of the building where my hostel was when it suddenly stopped with a loud crashing sound. The impact was so strong it felt like the whole elevator car dropped on concrete. When I previously rode the elevator a few times, I always noticed this funny sign on what to do during a disturbance:
I followed it and pressed the button, kept my cool. No answer. Lights and ventilation were still on and I had decent reception on my phone to connect to the internet – the mobile data roaming package I purchased for 14,99 € that soon ran low. I texted my wife to keep myself busy while waiting for help but I soon realised that no one really seemed to notice anything despite me repeatedly pushing the alarm button. I could only hear a ringing sound but no one answered. I even called out a few times but to no avail. Eventually I decided to call the hostel reception about 10 minutes in. The lady said she will notify the security guard on duty. I waited but for the next 15 minutes, I did not hear a thing from outside that sounded remotely like help. I called the reception again, this time with a little more frustration in my voice. She said she’ll call a rescue team and asked if I was alright. I had no better answer than “I’m stuck in an elevator”.
10 minutes later, I heard voices outside. I do not speak a word of Cantonese but it was clear that the voice was calling out to me. He tried again in English, asked if I was hurt or felt dizzy. I said I was fine aside from the obvious. He said he’ll help me get out and started tinkering on the machine. At some point he said he’ll have to turn the power off and it went dark for a while. Then he asked me to hold on to the rails and stand steady. I felt myself being pushed upwards and while the door was slowly opening up. My rescuer was waiting right outside and reached out his hand to help me out. Again, he asked if I was alright and if I needed to see a doctor. I said I was fine and he told me I would have to take the stairs to go down. That’s when I realised that I was standing between two floors when the elevator gave. I went upstairs back to my hostel instead and I was greeted sorrily by the receptionist and she handed me a glass of water. I sat on the couch in the common room for a little while to come down a little. When I got up to leave, the receptionist approached me with an offer to transfer to a double room, which I thought was really kind and I accepted.
My first hostel experience of a supposed two-night stay in a shared room was reduced to one night. I had my eye on the double room a few months ago when my BFF was thinking about coming with me and I was considering getting an upgrade so we can both stay there. Even then I thought it was a nice room because of the bathroom that is placed inside a glass cage inside the room:
I guess you understand now why the offer was hard to refuse. It was my last night in Hong Kong and I slept well. I was bound for the Philippines the next day and because my flight was in the evening, I booked a night’s stay at another hostel in Manila, one where you sleep on capsule beds. I decided to only take it if I arrive in Manila too late to catch the bus home to the province. Luckily, there has been no delay in my flight and I got out early. I didn’t feel like adding another claustrophobic experience to my holiday anyway.
So all in all, the hostel experience in itself was fine. What happened to me in that building could have happened to me in any building. The elevator permit was up to date when it happened so I guess I was just unlucky. I regret not being able to complete the whole experience with the room upgrade and the cancellation of the second venue but I’m sure that if the circumstances were different, I would have pushed through.
Bring your own lock. If you have one lying around at home, pack it inside your bag so you wouldn’t have to buy another one.
Microfibre towel. They don’t take up too much space in your bag unlike your regular towel and they dry quickly. Most hostels don’t provide you with towels and you might have to pay for it when you ask for one.
Bring a few teabags of your favourite brew. Tea lovers! How convenient that teabags barely take up any space in our baggage.
Always keep your accommodation’s phone number handy. Emergencies can happen anywhere, not only in elevators. Though I was connected to the internet while I was there, I checked if I had the phone number stored on my phone anyway, in case next time I’m not so lucky. Many booking websites have a pass for your booking that you can add to your wallet if you own an iPhone. The hostel’s contact details are on there and you may access it even without an internet connection. Otherwise just store it manually. Either way, they are probably your only local contact in the country and they know what to do and who to call if something happens.
Short background on myself: I was born in Germany and currently based there, but I had spent 13 years in the Philippines. It’s where I went to school, met most of my friends, and where most of my family still lives – in the beautiful city of Tagaytay, in the province of Cavite. Tagaytay City is a favoured tourist spot because of its cool climate and because from there, nature shares with us a ridiculously beautiful view of the Taal Lake, and of the Taal Volcano, also known as the smallest volcano in the world. The Taal Lake is also the largest lake on an island in the world.
Nevertheless, it’s a breathtaking vista and people just keep coming back, myself included. The city is also conveniently close to Manila, which makes it easily accessible to the crowds.
As a local, I had always been curious about what’s inside the volcano. In my 13 years in the country, I had countless chances to go on a hike but never actually went and neither has most of my family.
We took the tour on my second day back in the country and, by we I meant myself, three cousins from the Philippines, four cousins from Germany including their respective partners, my mum and my aunt. We rented out a van including a skilled driver who knows his way around the hairpin curves of Tagaytay-Talisay Road, the one that, from the name itself, connects Tagaytay City to Talisay, Batangas – where our transfer to the volcano starts off.
Van + driver rental inclusive of gasoline costs: 2000 PHP or ca. 35 € (c/o Mum because she’s generous like that)
We were supposed to leave at 6 AM but because my cousins hadn’t been ready when we arrived at their doorstep to pick them up, we had a bit of a delay. We had breakfast at Sinangag Express (although not along the way but it was worth the inconvenience) and bought a litre of water each at one of the many 24h convenience stores in the area. This had proven to be helpful for what was waiting for us down the road. We arrived at around 8:30 AM at our resort of choice (they also offer accommodations), made the arrangements, and got on our respective boats. Each boat was able to accommodate up to 7 people so it was just right, us being 14 people in total. We were given two options regarding the trail we would take. We decided on the Secret Trail, which was a bit pricier and also a little more challenging.
Boat: 3000 PHP, total of 6000 PHP
Entrance fee on the island: 100 PHP each, total of 1400 PHP
Docking fee: 50 PHP per boat, total of 100 PHP
The boat ride took about 45 minutes, and at about 10 AM we were at the shore of the volcano island. We were offered a guide by our boatman but we refused as advised by my sister, who took the same tour a few weeks prior. She said there is absolutely no need for it because the trail is easy to follow. We walked on and found ourselves at the bottom of the trail. Just imagine having to step on hot sand going up a steep path and that for about 45 minutes!
I remind them from time to time to look back and breathe in the view.
On the way up, my aunt got dizzy after going up a few metres of extreme steep. I turned to my mum, who was standing a few metres behind us and asked her for a Dextro Energy (glucose cube, she’s diabetic so she always carries these around with her) but soon realised that she was feeling the same way after taking on the same path (or maybe it’s just one of those sister things, they’re pretty close). Now, they each took a cube and felt so much better almost instantly, but they asked us to go on and they’ll follow after, what we later found out, taking a power nap in the shade of a tree. I honestly didn’t expect them to come anymore after what happened but I guess they just didn’t want to miss out on what was waiting for us all up there.
We rested for a while, perhaps about 45 minutes, to take pictures and enjoy the view. After a while my mum and aunt arrived on the viewing deck and we saw how happy they were to have made it. Cold bottled water was sold on the deck for 50 PHP each (500ml) which is nothing for us who really needed it and also a big help to the vendor who is a local of the island. I even think it’s smarter to buy more once up there instead of bringing so much with you which can get heavy and get you tired easier.
So the way down was pretty easy, except for some very steep parts where you have to really watch your steps. If the hike up took about 45 minutes, going down only takes 30 minutes. The view here is also really nice so I guess that helped a lot.
It got a bit windy on the ride back but our captain, who looked not older than 10 years old, seemed to be enjoying himself.
If you want to visit the Taal Volcano, there are many tour operators who offer this trip that can pick you up right from your hotel in Manila. Otherwise you may also choose to go with your own vehicle and pick one of the many boat ride offers on the streets of Talisay, Batangas.
The locals will try to sell you a tour guide for the reason that you might step on uneven, soft ground, which never happened to us but they might be able to give you some trivial information about the place.
Please refrain from taking a horse on the way up. They will try to give you one, but once you’re there you will notice that most of the horses are tired and in poor condition.
Bring water — I suggest bring 1 litre each unless you’re a heavy drinker, then bring some more. It will be scorching hot on the way up and you will need it. There are no stores along the way but there is a vendor right at the top with cold bottles of water (500ml, 50 PHP each) and Gatorade (500ml, 70 PHP each). Once you get there, your bottle might probably be empty so it’s time for a refill. Don’t bring too much on the way up so you don’t get more tired from carrying heavy bottles around and also to help the local vendor make some money as well.
Please throw your trash in the trash bags available right at the top and right at the bottom.
Our resort, 26 Santa Maria Resort, also offers accommodations, in case you would like to stay in the area a little longer. The owner is a german guy named Walter, and they give fair prices to all tourists.
Time went by way too fast again. I just realised during a phone call with my mum that my birthday had been two weeks ago and not just the other week – which made us both just slightly panicky because that means we’re getting closer to our trip to the Philippines later this month – but I’ll write about that soon. And speaking about Mum, it’s Mother’s Day today and aside from the fact that she gave birth to me, I am thankful to her for finally handing me down her 20+ year old Ray-Bans, after only asking her for it countless times for over two decades.
We went to Cologne for the Easter weekend where my sister had her house-warming party and she had to give me her present already because she was to leave for the Philippines a few days later. She put it in a paper bag with a note explicitly saying: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL APRIL 30!”. My family of course knows me best and the evil sister knew just how to torture me. She even warned the wife to keep an eye on me just to make sure I don’t slip.
So I took the paper bag all the way to Warsaw so I can open it as soon as the clock hits midnight.
Speaking of rebels, aside from the trip to Warsaw, I had been given this amazing book full of bedtime stories about badass women in history by my very badass wife:
And what I also got from her a few months prior were tickets to The Addams Family musical here in Berlin which is due next week, finally!
When we got back from Warsaw, a package from my dearest friend had been waiting for me. Inside were a pair of sunnies and a purple dress (because I had been bugging her with my search for the perfect purple dress for my grandma’s birthday for weeks, will write about that soon!).
Moreover, on the 1st of May we had lunch reservations at a Chinese restaurant with my aunt (who also happens to be our neighbour), so when they picked us up she handed me her gifts:
I finally went back to work the next day after 3 days off and I had to report straight to a morning shift. We each get assigned to a “birthday godparent” from our team so my godparent had been waiting for me with this:
Lastly, people who have known me for quite some time now know how much I love shopping at TKMaxx for just everything.
We spent the last weekend in the Polish capital in celebration of my birthday. I personally chose this city because 1.) it’s easily reachable from Berlin, and 2.) I just wanted a squirrel to jump on me.
April 28, 2017
We took the night bus to Warsaw to save one night’s accommodation. This is a new experience for me because I had never taken such a trip before. The ride took about 8 hours and all I have experienced in the past were day-rides that lasted up to 4-5 hours. This has proven really tiring because there’s absolutely no way I can get any quality sleep inside the bus that lets me recharge to last the next day, so maybe that’s something I will try to avoid in the future. We arrived at around 6 in the morning and our hotel’s check-in time wasn’t until 16:00. Naturally, we were dead-tired, walking around on reserve energy.
There are many great parks in Warsaw to choose from but Lazienki Park is supposed to be the most appealing one so this is where we went. Aside from the squirrels jumping on you, another thing to look forward to is the Plac na Wodzie (Palace on the Isle) which is charmingly located in the middle of a lake.
When it was finally time to check into our hotel room, we just rested a bit, freshened up then continued on with our tour. This time we were bound for the Old Town. There are a few sights one can’t miss when going there. Here are some of the few:
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from but I would recommend picking one at the Old Town Square for any meal of the day. On warmer days there are seats available outside which is perfect for people watching.
April 30, 2017
We found a good deal on a hotel room at the Hilton so that’s where we stayed the night and had big breakfast on the morning of my birthday. We have taken this to our advantage because we were to leave in the evening and we thought we could avoid stopping by for food every so often if we stuffed ourselves early on. We stored our bags in a locker in the Central Station (12,- PLN for 24h) so we didn’t have to carry them around with us all day.
What many don’t know about me is that I am in love with neon lights! I have been thinking of making my own one, some writing or symbol that I can hang on my window. So when I found out that there is a museum in Warsaw that specialises in these, I knew I had to go there. The Neon Muzeum in Warsaw exhibits original neon signs from establishments from the Cold War days, hence the extra retro look.
The rest of the day mostly consisted of eating and walking around Centrum area until we finally had to take our train back home. Time ran out so fast!
I’m in love with my new Secretary! Wow, that sounded a bit wrong but by secretary, I don’t mean an “administrative assistant” but a piece of furniture called a secretary.
So what is a Secretary?
It’s like a commode with a pull-out desk. It’s practical for people who don’t have much space at home and, most importantly, for cat mammies like me! See, I can simply hide my workspace by closing the desk up and hiding my stuff inside whenever I leave for maybe a bathroom break or making myself a cup of coffee without the fear of my kitties ruining my things or knocking them down.
Secretary VS Vanity
I have been wanting a Vanity for as long as I can remember. My wife and I have been meaning to get me one but I seem to have always pushed it aside for another time. Something just didn’t feel right about getting one. But as soon as I came up with the idea to get a Secretary instead, I told my wife and we drove straight to IKEA. I don’t regret not getting a vanity, I guess I’ve just grown out of it. I just don’t feel like a princess sitting-at-her-desk-admiring-herself-in-the-mirror anymore. At 25, I feel like I’m still growing up a great deal and only realising it now.
Nothing against this vanity table, though, but the lack of storage space would have been a really bad idea now that I think about it.
I started this post a few months back and I decided to just keep the old photos featured (see GIF above). But over the past months I’ve made a few finishing touches on it to make it feel more like it’s mine.
I’m sure I’m not the only one that gets turned off by baits like “a gripping psychological thriller…” added at the end of every new book title. I know I had seen this book on Kindle-Shop around spring last year but didn’t buy it only because of this headline. It wasn’t until the price went down to 2,99 € that it really caught my attention!
Mystery Monday – (n.) A series of hashtags I wanted to try out and share with you. Why? Because I can’t stop talking about books anyway so I thought I should just talk about them here. I have been reading on a few mysteries (thanks to Goodreads Choice Awards nominations) and I’ve been wanting to write some reviews anyway, so…
My first book of choice for this series is Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris. It’s not the last book I read but it’s the one that stuck with me the most. As I have mentioned before, I am quite the slow reader but I’ve finished this one within 36h so I guess it’s safe to say that I was hooked. I had trouble putting it down, dreading the 8-hour gaps I had to take for work and sleep.
The conflict in the story was revealed about 30% into the book. By that time I thought: okay, mystery solved, what now? Well, that’s exactly the point. The rest of the story was about solving the problem, and it left me curious the whole time.
I don’t want to reveal too much but, from the title itself, this book will leave you claustrophobic. Very.
The ending has left me hanging. I read this on my Kindle and the book ended at 91%. By this time I was calculating how much sleep I will lose to finish the book that same night when one revealing factor has just concluded the story. My wife was in the same room while I was reading and I just said “Oh” and looked up and that caught her attention. I must have looked miserable because she automatically came over to comfort me because it’s probably safer to do so, considering I might smash my Kindle against the wall.
This book got me to read more of the nominees under the Mystery/Thriller category on Goodreads. I eventually voted for it for best Mystery/Thriller and best debut but it didn’t make the cut for either category. I especially loved the style and technique of the author’s storytelling and I will make sure to read some of their work in the future. It’s absolutely brilliant.
I was asked some weeks ago by a colleague why I owned a Kindle and whether it made much of a difference to reading an actual book. I kind of hoped that people’s stigma towards the eReader would have died down by now. By this, I don’t mean that I thought we would have gone digital one by one after the eReader first came out, but I assumed that people would eventually get the hang of the whole idea. I often get, “yeah, I don’t know if I can read a book without actually feeling its weight” or “I need to smell it while I’m reading it” etc etc.
In my case, I have decided to partially go digital four years ago for practical reasons. Some of which include:
Access to books written in the english language. There’s a very limited selection of english books in your regular bookstore here in Germany.
Price. They vary. Your advantage with printed books is that you may choose to buy them second hand, which of course is a lot cheaper. With ebooks, you pay full price for each book, but it’s usually cheaper than the full price in print (brand new), and sometimes you catch them on great discounts! Classics are often for free or cost 99c each.
Speed of delivery. Of course, downloading an eBook will only take up to a few minutes to complete and you don’t have to worry about running to the next bookstore or worse, wait a few days for a printed book you bought online to reach your home.
Reading in the dark. Its built-in lighting helps me read without having to turn on the lights in the room and risk waking up my wife who is sleeping next to me. But don’t get me wrong, the Kindle Paperwhite’s lighting is not there to hurt your eyes! Its sole purpose is to illuminate the text on the screen that is why the lighting is built to face only that direction to seem like you are reading your book under a lamp and it’s easily adjustable too.
It was a birthday present from my wife four years ago and I have been using it since. It’s my favourite gadget along with my phone, laptop, and camera – a few of the material things I refuse to live without. I filled it with some classics, the latest mystery/thrillers, and a few other books that I didn’t find at the bookstore (brand new or second hand), or were cheaper in digital version.
Being able to dress it up, of course, is the fun part.
As you can see, my most important books are here. My collection of Sheldon, Anne Rice, copies of The Bell Jar in different editions (don’t judge) and books that I usually pick up from the airport or from the cities I travel to. A few of them I know I’ll let go of some day to make space for new ones. I like knowing that one day, someone else will enjoy reading the same lines I’ve read, touching the same page corners I’ve touched.
Now, I really can’t tell which one I like better. Both have great qualities that I look for in my reading material so I leave it up to you to decide — but don’t feel like you have to! At the end of the day, what’s important is that you read. The content is not affected by whether it’s in print or in digital and you will be thankful for the experience a good book will let you have regardless of its form.
A two week break from work means finally getting to work on my drafts. I have been meaning to do this for a while now, sure, but life gets in the way every so often. Believe me, I’m not complaining. I have actually come to a point in my life where I am mostly satisfied – career, social life, even my health is going in the right direction. So forgive me if I take a break every once in a while. 🙂
Two weeks ago I took ICE train to Cologne to meet with my sister. I got two of those 20,- € fares they offered some while back, and I’m SO GLAD I have made this choice. I would usually opt for a pair of RyanAir tickets whenever I go to Cologne/Bonn (which I so often do because of family) but for this event I chose Deutsche Bahn because, really, I haven’t been in an ICE in maybe ten years. But on that very day, Berlin was nearly falling apart because our only two operating airports are on a strike so just imagine how elated I am to not have chosen a flight to CGN. Close call though. 🙂
So the train ride was uneventful but a good five hours later I was welcomed by my sister in what I’d like to call “only the second coolest city in the world”.
The next day we went to Live Music Hall for Tove Lo’s show. I had been to one of her shows about two years ago and I told myself I’d go again if given a chance. I gotta give it to her though, her performance has improved dramatically since I last saw her. I wasn’t familiar with some of the songs from her latest album, Lady Wood, but I knew the ones from her first album by heart. It was entertaining to see so many young people in one place listening to the same music you listen to. While I didn’t see much of the artist herself because, well, I’m tiny, I was perfectly happy just being surrounded by all the energy coming from the crowd.
Another thing that has changed in the last two years is the price of her merchandise! I remember buying one of her t-shirts for maybe 25,- € or even less and now I get a sweater for the price of 55,- €! Lucky for her, though, I’m kind of obsessed with her brand logo so I got it anyway and I even believe it’s worth every penny but, geez. Good on her though for becoming really famous. 🙂
Lady Wood sweater
T-shirt from Queen of the Clouds tour
So I don’t know when I will ever be back in Cologne but I do believe this blog needs a little touch of the Dome. 😉
I downloaded this app that told me I had been to 80% of all European countries. I found that pretty impressive given that I had only been back since 2011 and it was only then when I began travelling to our neighbouring countries. But I couldn’t help thinking I was missing something, and it’s something big. And it had been the UK!
Now, there’s probably nothing I can tell you about the great city of London that you don’t already know. Chances are, you had been there yourself, so I’ll only talk about my experience here.
From collecting nights on Hotels.com, we were able to afford a (still relatively cheap) windowless hotel room just a short distance away from King’s Cross Station (yes, the one from Harry Potter, we’ll get to that later) for five nights, the fifth night was for free. It was far from luxurious but it was clean and staff was friendly. We would have been forced to pay more for an Airbnb and probably wouldn’t have found one in such a central location anyway so we took it and, thankfully, didn’t regret it. From there, we had access to public transportation going to practically anywhere.
Day 1 – Stonehenge
We had breakfast nearby then we headed to town to go to Skygarden, which is close to Monument Underground station. Visiting is free of charge but they do require reservations. We did have typical London weather, though, so it didn’t help much for pictures but we didn’t have anything better planned that morning anyway and we were basically just killing some time before we leave for our Stonehenge tour.
So at noon we headed to Victoria coach station to catch our bus to Stonehenge. It’s a two-hour ride going there, where we then independently toured the place for 1.5 h. It was, as expected, absolutely fascinating.
Day 2 – Freud Museum
We had another reservation today on top of one of the towers, and this time it came with fancy breakfast. The place is called Duck & Waffle. It was less cloudy and the sun actually shone for a little while!
View from the elevator
We’ve already been to a Freud museum as part of our trip to Vienna last summer and it’s there where we’ve learned that there’s another one in London. Like the one in Vienna, it’s the old home and practice itself where the museum is at. It’s also here in London where you can find his famous psychoanalytic couch.
Another reason I came to London was for books! Used english books are hard to come by here in Germany so I grabbed this opportunity to update my bookshelf by finding a proper book exchange, which came in a very cute form of an english telephone booth. We took the commuter train all the way to Lewisham for this, and I even brought some old books from back home in exchange for new ones.
In the course of five days, we also went hunting for second-hand bookstores and one I can recommend is Book Mongers which is located in Brixton. You could spend hours just browsing for books there, which we did, because they really have a wide selection — but another reason is because they are not arranged in alphabetical order by author (a luxury we have at bookstores here in Germany probably because, well it’s Germany). The shelves are labeled by genre but the books are all in random order, which made it challenging to look for titles by a specific author. Believe me, though, I’m not complaining. I like to be surrounded by books as much as I can. 🙂
Day 3 – Just walking around
Today while looking for even more books, we stumbled upon a store called Stanfords that doesn’t only sell books (although new), they also sell maps! And I had been looking for a specific one for so long, and I knew I had to get it.
Mug from Freud Museum in London
I need some colour to my world!
When you miss the stroke of midday by one minute
Day 4 – Movie night
We ended the previous day in a pub with a new friend and we had a little too much fun that it messed me up just a wee bit but that’s fine because it’s not everyday that we’re in London and in good company as well. But sadly, for this reason, I used up the best part of the next day treating my massive hangover. Good thing though, we didn’t have anything planned until past dinner, which gave me enough time to recover.
This was our last night in London and we were to leave early the next day. We had tickets to Backyard Cinema in Mercato Metropolitano where we watched Sister Act (a classic, really) while sitting on a beanbag in a room full of beanbags! It was a new experience for us and it was a nice way to end our holiday in this great city.
Mallorca, Spain / December 24-27, 2016
Road trip on the island of Mallorca in celebration of Christmas.
As you can see, it had been a very hedonistic year, one we won’t allow ourselves to have again in a very long time but it was good while it lasted and we will treasure these memories for a lifetime! It was a year that has inspired me to blog, to travel and see the world, and to learn. It has left me curious for more places and sometimes frustrated because there is only so much to see and we can’t always have enough resources to just go, let alone have the time. But I do look forward to our trips we got planned for this year and we’ll just have to make the most out of it. 🙂
So which one of these places do you guys think I liked best? And which ones appeal to you the most?
I am quite proud of my this year’s reads. Not so much about the number because I know that with my love for books, I should be able to do so much better than that, but I am proud of the books that I have read – all 30 of them!
2016 has just been a big year for me and my reading. I was able to reach my personal goal of finishing all of Sheldon’s novels, read my first biography, found some of the best books of all time, and finally got around to some of the books that I know I should have read looong time ago.
Here’s a list of all of the titles I have read this year:
Nineteen Minutes– Jodi Picoult
Rage Of Angels – Sidney Sheldon
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Like Being Killed– Ellen Miller
The Ice Twins – S.K. Tremayne
We Should All Be Feminists– Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult
Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
The Grownup – Gillian Flynn
Change Of Heart – Jodi Picoult
Morning, Noon & Night – Sidney Sheldon
Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson
Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) – Tana French
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) – Ransom Riggs
Confessions Of A Murder Suspect (Confessions #1) – James Patterson & Maxene Paetro
The Sky Is Falling – Sidney Sheldon
A Time To Kill – John Grisham
The Other Side Of Me – Sidney Sheldon
The Private School Murders (Confessions #2) – James Patterson & Maxene Paetro
The Interview With The Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles #1) – Anne Rice
Luckiest Girl Alive – Jessica Knoll
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
Behind Closed Doors – B.A. Paris
The Woman In Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware
The Girl In The Ice – Robert Bryndza
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
The Pocket Wife – Susan Crawford
The Berlin Conspiracy – Tom Gabbay
The Picture Of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
I started the year off with Jodi Picoult – a personal recommendation by a very dear friend who worships her, and I read two more of her books. Americanah is a book I have been wanting to read ever since it came out a few years ago and it easily became one of my favourite books of all time. Like Being Killed has also been sitting on my to-read list for while thanks to Goodreads book recommendations. Books like Dark Places and Before I Go To Sleep have left me disappointed but I soon found other thrillers that are really great like Behind Closed Doors and The Girl In The Ice. I loved Tana French’s In The Woods which I have read last year so I was excited to read The Likeness and enjoyed every word of it! Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children has hit the theatres this year and I got to read the book just in time for the movie. I found James Patterson’s Confessions series on sale at TK Maxx (three books for 6,-€ !!!) and thought I should give them a try. As it turned out, it’s not exactly for my age group but it was entertaining nonetheless and I have decided to send them over to my tweeny cousins in the Philippines for them to enjoy. I have watched my father reading John Grisham ever since I was little and it was this year when I decided to read his books as well, and so far made it to A Time To Kill but I already hoarded other titles from the nearby used bookstore – just like I did The Vampire Chronicles. I am excited to read them all after finally having read Interview With The Vampire, and there have been talks about a TV series! Really mainstream book-to-movie titles like A Clockwork Orange and Fight Club, where my only regret is not having read them sooner, also made it to my read list for 2016. I’m happy to have read The Secret Garden – a classic which I have loved as a child, and another classic, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, which has caught my attention after watching Penny Dreadful. I know it might be considered cheating but off my list, We Should All Be Feminists and The Grownup are an essay and a short story, respectively – but they are available in print and were considered to be put on the list by Goodreads. It was also my first time with audiobooks, so my wife and I have listened to Luckiest Girl Alive and The Pocket Wife during our road trips. And to close this year off, I have read a book I got from one of the many used bookstores in Bratislava, a title that has caught my attention right away: The Berlin Conspiracy. Ah, finally. To live in a place that people write books about. 🙂
I don’t think I will up my goal for 2017, though. I just don’t think I’m there yet. To everyone else who has reached their goal, congratulations! And to all the others who haven’t, that’s fine. I’m sure it’s been a busy year for all of us. 🙂 Let’s try and make 2017 another great year!
For someone who wasn’t supposed to do anything special this holiday season, I had such a blast! We were only away for four days but we have seen so much and we had such a great time. I never thought I would ever want to go to Mallorca – an island that is so overly crowded during the summer and the flight ticket prices are going through the roof. Not to mention, it’s a popular holiday destination for the people that surround me everyday so I never really got the point in going away yet feeling like you’ve never left home because everybody speaks your language. So to me, Mallorca was just one of those places that everyone can talk about while I think of all the places I’ve been/want to go to that they would never think of ever seeing. Oh, but how wrong I was! And here’s why:
Mallorca in a nutshell
I’ve got to admit, it does have a lot to offer.
The easiest way to get around Mallorca, and by that I mean the whole island, is by car. They have a great motorway which leads you to the most important spots. Even on the road there is already so much to see and you’ll find a lot of opportunities to take photos.
Rental car for 4 days: 104,06 €
Day 1 & day 2 of our road trip. This is just a rough guide and I’m sure we have made a few more stops along the way.
We have been to a handful of beaches on the island, ones we have chosen randomly so I am not quite sure if they are among the best ones. I am also just trying my best here to give out correct information for sometimes I’m not even sure anymore if I got them right. Depending on the time of day, the temperature of the water was warm enough to go for a short dip. Unfortunately, we did not bring any swimsuits with us because we just didn’t expect that. At around noon I was able to go hip-deep without freezing. It was quite refreshing! Seriously, I had felt colder on a summer day in Portugal (but that’s Atlantic water).
Port de Soller
We have also sighted a few towns where we got to walk around in peace while the local people are busy inside their homes for Christmas. It’s usually in these places where one can find some of the most exquisite churches on the island.
Christmas in Mallorca – Navidades en Mallorca
Spending Christmas in Mallorca, I must say, has been quite an experience. We arrived on the 23rd late at night so we had to spend the best part of the day on the 24th shopping for our Nochebuena dinner. Our Airbnb came with a charcoal grill on the rooftop terrace so we did not waste the opportunity and bought some meats and shellfish. We had some trouble finding open restaurants in our area (El Molinar) during the holidays and the ones that were open were of course full, so it’s best to go to the more central area of Palma. The towns were usually quiet during the day especially while mass is going on.
The Airbnb Experience
Once again, we have been quite lucky with our Airbnb pickings. Also, with the weather! We had originally booked a different apartment but the host was forced to cancel because it had rained hard all week before our arrival and it caused some damages to his home. Fortunately, we have found another host right away and his place was gorgeous!
Airbnb – whole place for 4 nights located 10 minutes away from airport: 247,- €
The great thing about new friends is that they bring new energy to your soul.
Your Humble Blogger has made a new acquaintance just by browsing through WordPress tags. We met last week and she brought a friend. They belong to a group of nurses who came all the way from the Philippines to work and live here in Berlin. So we got into talking about the places we all have yet to see and started planning. About a week later, the wife and I met them at around six in the morning on a Saturday and hit the road.
But, first things first. Before we headed to the highlight of this trip, the wife had to go to school (which is in Cottbus) and finish her paper, taking a couple of hours. I kept them busy by showing them around Cottbus Altmarkt, which in this time of the year is covered with small huts for Weihnachtsmarkt. To be honest, I try as much as possible to avoid this town ever since we moved out, but it was exciting to see my companions’ curiosity about this place that is all new to them.
So after the wife has checked school off her to-do list, we went straight to the good part. It’s only about a 30-40 minute drive away from the old home but nobody ever bothered to tell us about this exquisite old bridge, hidden in the depths of small villages in Saxony.
We were in luck because we didn’t expect such great weather in December. But luck has run out quickly, because we then went to Dresden – which is, as many already know, gorgeous – but it was so crowded (thanks to Striezelmarkt and Christmas shoppers). I am not even going to bother with pictures but it at least gave us a reason to go back another time, when it’s a little quieter.
During the drive back to Berlin, we were just so exhausted. Having to wake up so early, sitting in the car for hours, then walking into a crowd full of people can really get to you. But I am tired in a really, really good way. Being in good company can do that to you, and I have no regrets. 🙂
This critter came up to us while we were viewing the bridge. She just posed there like she’s been doing this for a while now. I wish I can get my cats to sit this still more often so I can take cute photographs of them. I mean, look, this cat should have her own blog, don’t you think?
My 2017 planner from Moleskine just came with the mail today and I am thrilled to start writing in it next year! I put it next to my planners from the previous years and I was surprised by the weight of the pile that I tried to carry towards my desk. So I took out the one from this year that I keep in my backpack to carry with me everywhere I go and put it on top of the others and, wow, that made ten books! I don’t use them so much for actual planning but more for journaling, just writing down whatever happened in a day, the people I met, or just things that made me happy or sad or just think or feel. I am really glad to have kept up this habit over the years, 2017 being my tenth year. You know, when you start writing stuff down, you tend to not forget them. I am grateful for my sharp memory and consider it as one of my best qualities, and the biggest contributor to this is my daily habit of writing everything down.
I chose the daily planner from Moleskine this year because it has a simple design, full pages for each day of the year – which is perfect for writing, and they let you personalise it by engraving metallic text on the bottom of the front cover. In the first few years, I got my planners from the annual promo by Starbucks Philippines, where they give out these books after one has collected a number of points one can get from buying their coffee. They got creative each year by picking out different designs to choose from. In the years that followed, though, I had to get my books from different stores here in Germany. But I must say, choosing the perfect one every year has gotten tiring, so I think I will stick to Moleskine for the rest of my life. 🙂
It’s a lot of fun reading your own entries from years and years ago, realising how much has changed and how much just hasn’t. It’s not like I kept a full on diary (you know, the kind where each entry starts with “Dear Diary…”). I keep the entries short and simple, so a full page is actually more than enough on a regular day, but on really eventful days (like many a day of this year) I really need to try to make the most out of every blank space available. Ah, but what I wouldn’t give for more of those days. 🙂
I just know 2017 will be a great year for collecting new memories. 🙂
We had a visitor on the start of this year’s advent and we thought, what better way to see Berlin this time of the year than with all the sparkling lights of the most visited Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets) in the city?
Locals have told me that the Weihnachtsmarkt in the front yard of Charlottenburg Palace has got to be the most charming one in the city. Just see for yourself!
Our friend and this beautiful big tree
And this ridiculously big sparkling tree in front of the casino near Potsdamer Platz.
And to all Filipinos out there who can’t be home for Christmas, there’s this booth (located at the corner closest to KFC) at Weihnachtsmarkt an der Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche to help with the homesickness. But this of course also goes to everyone out there who wants a taste of Filipino cuisine. Please try the Banana Balls!
Back in 2011, when I just got back to Germany after living in the Philippines for 13 years, I was excited about all the things I felt like I missed out on in all those years. For instance, I’ve always wanted to watch my favourite artists live in concert but none of them would come to the Philippines. There are only a few international artists that do a show in Manila as part of their world tour and most of the time, they are not the ones that I actually want to see. So when I got back here, one of the first things that got me excited are the news of the upcoming concerts being announced on the radio. One of which, if you can guess, is of the Red Hot Chili Peppers!
But considering that I just got back, that meant I didn’t have a job. The frustration just grew bigger when I saw the opportunity to realise my dreams but didn’t have the funds to do so for it just wasn’t the right time.
The funny thing about giving up sometimes is that, when you’re lucky, another opportunity just shows itself out of the blue, reminding you that it’s not too late to still keep going. So my first job happened to be none other than serving drinks at the very location of all the biggest concerts in Cologne. Sure, the job didn’t involve watching the actual concerts that are going on, but I did get the glimpse of the happenings from time to time. And that’s when I first saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform live – for like five seconds.
Now, a good five years later, and a few cents more than 80€ richer, I can finally afford to go to the RHCP concert. And I must say, they don’t seem to have aged a day! They have been around since forever but they still have all this energy to stimulate the crowd of the, not surprisingly, packed Mercedes Benz Arena.
I am so glad to have experienced their greatness the other night because, for me, it wasn’t just a concert, but something more sentimental than that. It’s a reminder of what I’ve achieved since their last world tour and it gave me something to look back to whenever I feel like a failure. ❤
Be ready for a long post about our most important and eventful trip yet. I don’t even know where or how to begin. Romania has been such a joy to my eyes that if this isn’t the most beautiful place I’ll ever see in my life then I’m afraid of seeing what else is out there – afraid the magic might fade away.
My interest in Transylvania goes back to when I was a teenager, curious by how the folklore came to be. My young vampire heart was excited for an adventure in an old, spooky, castle on top of a mountain. Of course, it wasn’t until more than a decade later, at a time when I already knew that a trip to Transylvania would have little to nothing to do with my vampire fantasies, that my dream has come true. With a few bucks worth of flight tickets, a rental car, and the right companion (as in one who is capable of driving and driving and driving) I managed to see everything I’ve been wanting to see – and more! So much more.
I’ve made a separate post on the castles (with more pictures of them) which you will find here.
The trip began with a 2h flight from Berlin to Timisoara. From there, the goal was to get to Bucharest 5 days later to catch our flight back to Berlin, while stopping by a few cities, castles, and other attractions.
October 19, 2016 – Timisoara at night
Coincidentally, my uncle’s friend was sitting in the same plane to meet her husband in Timisoara. They told us about how they used to live in Bucharest until about 10 years ago and it’s their first time back in the country. We had dinner together in a local restaurant in Piata Victoriei before we finally headed to our hotel.
Ryanair flight from Berlin to Timisoara: 8,15 € / pax
October 20, 2016 – Timisoara in daylight
Today we went out to see the town in daylight. By now I was having a really bad cold, added to that are a few trips to the bathroom I had to take after our breakfast at the hotel so we really tried to see as much as we can. Luckily, we had really fine weather to sit outside a café in Piata Unirii. And not surprisingly, we saw our last night’s companions again as they walked by our café and we chatted a little and learned that Timisoara was selected Capital of Culture in 2021. Well-deserved!
October 21, 2016 – On the road to Sibiu
We left Timisoara today to go on to our next stop: Sibiu. But before we got there, we stopped by Corvin Castle, about halfway to our destination, located in a town called Hunedoara.
We arrived in Sibiu late in the afternoon so after checking in, we went straight to the historic centre. It has a beautiful old town with a church right in the middle, and a town square known as Piata Mare. Here we realised how we just have to get used to seeing a place and making the most of it because we only have limited time until we go on the next one. This is so unlike our usual travels where we get to stay in a city for a few days to actually get to know it and come back the next day to see if we missed something.
October 22, 2016 – On the road to Brasov
It wasn’t until today that our drive became really interesting and maybe a little frightening because from here, we drove up and down mountains. But before we got to the mountainous Brasov, we stopped by Fagaras Fortress, about 70km away.
We had lunch in the historical centre of the town before we headed to Rasnov Fortress, which is about 10 minutes away, and eventually to the hotel. And since I was still hung up on the vampire experience, I booked us a suite at House of Dracula Hotel in Poiana Brasov. It basically looks like a small castle with its towers and spiral staircase, and it’s fully decorated like a medieval castle on the inside as well. It’s what my father would consider kitsch. But for a reasonable price, I got us a ridiculously round-shaped room in one of the towers.
Suite in House of Dracula Hotel: 60 € / night
October 23, 2016 – On the road to see more castles
At the time I was planning this, I knew that picking out a route that actually made more sense would mean skipping at least one of our stops, which I refused to and I’m glad about it. My poor wife who drove all by herself was getting a little impatient but I could see that it also surprised her how everything we saw was actually worth the drive.
Peles and Pelisor Castles
To get closer to our next destination that we will go to the next day, we booked a room in an inn in Cimpulung, a small town about 2h away from Bran Castle. We couldn’t help taking a few breaks to capture some of the breathtaking views along the way.
October 24, 2016 – On the road through Transfagarasan and, lastly, Bucharest
We got up early to get on the road to experience the hairpin-curves of Transfagarasan as a little segue to our final destination, Bucharest. This drive has gone on longer than I had originally planned, simply because I had no idea where the exact location of the highlight of Transfagarasan road was (the one shown in all the pictures you find on the Internet). Our turning point was supposed to be the dam on Ploiesti lake, not knowing that the place we wanted to see was still an hour’s drive away! It got frustrating at some point, not knowing if we’re actually heading somewhere if we drive further and further. Ah, but what a treat! Next thing we know, we were on top of an icy mountain and the view was just so breathtakingly beautiful, we were both speechless for a long time.
But to get to Bucharest, we had to drive all the way back, going through the same claustrophobic tunnel, seeing again what was earlier covered with a cloud has now cleared up, and vice-versa. I’ve really never seen anything like this before.
October 25, 2016 – Bucharest
Our flight back to Berlin wasn’t until tonight so we walked around the historic centre of the city, watched the Parliament building from the outside, and just drove past whatever else the was to see. It was hard to appreciate the city after all we’ve just seen all week so we ended our trip early and headed to the airport.
Ryanair flight from Bucharest to Berlin: 10,19 € / pax
Driving from Timisoara to Bucharest in the course of 5 days, we were able to view 6 castles and fortresses along the way.
In recent history, it has been used as a stronghold by the Communist State of Romania and was still used as a prison in as late as the 1950s.
View from one of the windows
It’s hard to miss the sight of this fortress when walking around the town of Brasov when its name is written right at the cliff in big letters much like the Hollywood sign. It’s an old ruin with wobbly paths but it’s the first castle/fortress in this trip so far that is located on a cliff, overlooking the city.
Peles and Pelisor Castles
Located in Sinaia and in close proximity from each other, both castles were built in the late 1800s as residences for the Royal Family. Peles was open for viewing at the time we were there, while Pelisor wasn’t due to some construction work going on.
Lastly, to end our castle-hopping trip, we entered what is more commonly known as Dracula’s Castle. It was a very crowded one, too. Somehow, most of Romania’s tourism is being sold with the “Dracula” story. Souvenir shops in all of Romania sell different products with the Dracula brand on them. This castle, I believe, has adapted it at most, so it’s not surprising to see the huge wave of tourists coming in. As a conclusion, though, this one has been the least impressive of all the castles we’ve visited – all of which were less crowded, some even nearly empty.
Check out the main post about our Romanian Roadtrip experience.
During one of those late summer weekends, my mum had decided to go on a day tour around Luxembourg. My uncle has been living there for a few years now and usually it’s him driving out to Germany to be with us so we wanted to return the favour. So far he’s made some very youngin’ friends there whom he’s met in church so they had also kept us company all day, just walking around the city. At the same time, we were assigned to babysit for my nephew while his parents are at work, so he came with us on his first trip out of the country. Because of this, we had nursery rhymes playing in the car for two straight hours to try to get him to sleep but I guess he was too excited to be on the road. Kids, amiright?! 🙂
In itself, Luxembourg is a small country with a population of less than 600,000. It is bordered by Belgium to the north and west, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Naturally, tourists from these neighbouring countries fill up the city during weekends. What’s great is that public transportation is free of charge on weekends, which helps keep the traffic under control.
I can say this has been one of our more relaxed travels for we just let ourselves be guided by our kind companions. As for photos, it had been hard to take any while taking care of the little rascal at the same time.
Schueberfouer Fun Fair
We were in luck that we had this chance to take the little one on his first Ferris Wheel ride. She showed absolutely no sign of fear going up, he was even looking out the window while we were on top. All in all, it has been a tiring day but we’re glad we got to do this before he grows up to be the kid who is annoyed by his aunts who can’t get enough of him. 🙂
Are you a slow reader? And if so, do you feel bad about it?
I am reading much more than I’ve ever had – even more than during those days when I had plenty of time and less worries. At the time when I felt like every day was a bad day, I read, because I literally had nothing else other than the 50c books from the 2nd hand bookstore nearby. Still, I can’t help but thinking I should read more. I know I want to, and it’s not like I don’t make time to do it. Until a few months ago, I had been taking the train to the city everyday for a whole year and I made sure to always bring a paperback or my Kindle with me to read for at least an hour at a time. But when we finally moved to Berlin, my everyday train ride has been reduced to 30 minutes from what had been 1.5h. No wonder I have been sitting on this Anne Rice novel for two weeks now.
Wait, two weeks? That’s a lot of time for a book with less than 400 pages. I know people who only need a few hours to finish a novel and, truth be told, I’m awfully jealous. In fact, I wish to have finished it in two days’ time. What I wouldn’t give to be on that pace, eventhough it’s still a little slow for some readers. But then, I could finish more books in less time, fill up my shelves and visit bookstores more often! There’s just so much out there that I haven’t read yet, and just so much more that has yet to come out that I would want to read.
So does this mean I’m a bad reader?
I’d like to think not. I mean, I think I like it as much as anyone with a goal of 100 books in their Goodreads Reading Challenge (with my goal of 30, and being 3 books behind schedule this late in the year). And while I don’t believe I need to prove anything to anyone especially about this matter, I just don’t want to miss out on all the books out there, waiting to be read. It’s my goal to read a lot and I don’t want to feel like I’m failing.
How to read more in less time:
I have gathered some tricks to make you want to read and on how to keep wanting it. I mean, it really has to start there.
Talk to someone about books. I have a friend I talk to regularly about the books we read. In fact, this friendship has started with this very topic of conversation. We have read about 30 books in common, a handful of them we just recommended to one another over one year of friendship. This has helped me a lot because since then, I clearly have read less books that I felt I just wasted time on. That way, I can read more quality books and get more excited to finish them because I know I have someone to talk to about them.
Always have a book with you. Sometimes you’ll be stuck in the train for a while, or wait at the doctor’s office for an hour, or you’ll just decide to sit on a park bench before going back home. All these are perfect excuses to open that book and read.
Goals. Aside form the Goodreads Reading Challenge, I have set and achieved my personal goal of reading all of Sidney Sheldon’s novels. However, I didn’t really set a specific time to finish that one so it took me 6 years to gather and read all 18 books. Right now I just started Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, currently on book one. And because I like her material so far, I already grabbed a copy of book two. After book three, I’ll decide if I want to continue and then maybe I’ll give myself a year to get to the latest and keep track of the release of the next one (so far there are 12). I think this also helps to get the hang of your author of choice’s writing and, therefore, read faster.
Not reading before bed. I remember a few years back when I made a habit of it because it was the only quiet time I could get in a day. I would read until I fell asleep. But then, when I got some time to read during the day, it made me sleepy because I had somehow conditioned myself that way. Worst case, as soon as I wake up, I’d already forgotten where I finished and would probably have to do a few pages of back-reading.
Be around books. I rarely ever just pass by a bookstore. I don’t always come out with a book in my hand, but I look around to see if there’s anything I might be interested in and take note of it. Most of the time it’s just a reminder to finish the one you are reading now quickly, so you could jump to the next one (sometimes you’d lose one night’s worth of sleep but it’s worth it nonetheless.) 🙂
We started October with a long weekend here in Germany, one that also happens to be my dear mum’s birthday weekend, so the family (all coming from the 6-hour-drive-away, North-Rhine Westphalia) decided to spend it here in our dear city.
We, too, as fairly new Berliners, have used this chance to see the places we should have already seen by then. One no-brainer is of course our city’s TV-Tower (Fernsehturm) in Alexanderplatz. It’s hard to miss this famous landmark and even the rest of the family has been to Alexanderplatz many times before but none of us had ever actually made it up the tower. Unfortunately, we have just about picked out the worst weather to go up because it was really foggy and we barely saw anything other than the cloud we were stuck in. I’m not even going to bother with pictures. 🙂
Entrance to TV Tower: 14€ per person
Park Sanssouci – Potsdam
The next day, the sky has cleared up nicely so we went to Sanssouci Park in Potsdam. This one’s a real treat and there’s no entrance fee for the park itself, and it’s HUGE. There are individual fees for each site if you wish to enter them but we just walked around and looked at them from outside.
Detail on top of Neue Palais
Roof of Chinese Teahouse
Someone told us this one right here is a rare type of heron
Himmelspagode – Hohen Neuendorf, Brandenburg
And for more of mum’s birthday celebration, we had a nice feast in Himmelspagode, this enormous Chinese restaurant built in a very unlikely location, in Hohen Neuendorf, Brandenburg.
We called this year’s summer trip the Donauwelle. Literally, it means Danube Wave, and it’s a traditional cake often found in Germany and Austria. The goal was to visit three major cities where Europe’s second-longest river flows through:
We’ve been extremely busy these past few months because of our move to Berlin last month and that’s why I had not even prepared half an itinerary for this trip. It’s the first time we’re traveling with no plans whatsoever, we just did some minor research on the best sights of each of these cities. This has proven to be a little chaotic but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was afraid it would be. I’m sure we’ve missed a few sights and some of our tours were badly timed but I am just glad we have survived it and we are back home with no regrets. 🙂
So here is an outline of our trip:
July 26-29, 2016 – left for Bratislava from Berlin SXF with Ryanair. Booked a studio apartment via Airbnb for three nights. Airbnb 116 € for 3 nights / Ryanair flight 50,98 € for two – Berlin SXF to Bratislava
July 29 – August 1, 2016 – left for Vienna via Twin City Liner (ca. 1h 30m boat ride). Booked a whole apartment via Airbnb for three nights. Airbnb 145 € for 3 nights / Twin City Liner boat ride 50 € for two – Bratislava to Vienna
August 1-4, 2016 – left for Budapest via Orange Ways (ca. 3h 15m bus ride). Booked a whole apartment via Airbnb for three nights. Airbnb 78 € for 3 nights / Orangeways bus ride 20 € for two – Vienna to Budapest
August 4, 2016 – flight back to Berlin with Easyjet. Easyjet flight 132,82 € – Budapest to Berlin SXF
The first leg of this summer’s trip was Bratislava. Aside from not having done much research about the places we’re about to go to, we didn’t know what to expect from Slovakia’s capital beforehand. I always had a feeling that, given its history and location, it has an inferiority towards the capitals of the neighbouring countries. I must say, though, it might not be as big as say, Prague or Vienna, but it is charming in its own right, and it’s easily one of my favourite cities so far. As I go further into this post, I will discuss more about why it’s a must-go for everybody.
Here’s how our trip went by:
July 26, 2016
The Airbnb we have booked offers Airport pick-ups if you stay three nights minimum. Surely, we have availed of this service. We arrived in our apartment at around 17:30. By then, we were dead-tired because we have had to stay up all night to fix our old apartment to make it turnover-ready. So, not surprisingly, we hadn’t done much that night but, thankfully, we were right in the historical centre and there was enough to see within a 300 metre radius. Our host has recommended a nice restaurant we must try – something I would have frowned upon and considered a tourist trap if I wasn’t too tired to look for another place – so we went and we were glad we did. It was right around the corner, and it’s called Bratislavská Reštaurácía, a flagship restaurant with a very nice traditional ambience and excellent authentic Slovakian food. With fair prices, too.
We then just checked out the grocery stores for our breakfast we would prepare the next morning and just called it a day because we were, in fact, just really tired.
Airbnb 116 € for 3 nights / Ryanair flight 50,98 € for two Berlin SXF to Bratislava
July 27, 2016
After breakfast, we walked to the old town to see what it has in store and there was, in fact, plenty to see. It wasn’t as crowded as many other tourist destinations which helps if you like to take some decent photos. One very much photographed site here is the Man at Work statue.
Another site one can’t miss seeing as you go towards the water is the UFO Tower. It’s basically an odd looking tower, resembling some kind of UFO. It’s an interesting site, too, as it is on the bridge. And since we didn’t know where to go next, we decided to give this one a go for a view of Bratislava from the top.
Entrance fee to UFO Tower observation deck: 7,40 € per person
From there, we got the idea to go to Bratislava Castle. It’s a quick hike from the bottom of the hill which is also easily reachable by local transportation or by foot from old town. We didn’t enter the building. Instead, we just enjoyed the sights, sat on the lawn, and just indulged in a serving of gelato from the restaurant. After a whole day of walking around town, you will surely have noticed all the signs that say “lemonade available here”. We have tried a few jars from various places and we have found different flavours from each restaurant.
July 28, 2016
Another one of the things one will have noticed by now is Bratislava’s reading culture. We have spotted a few bookstores, bookstore cafés, bistros or restaurants with used books you can grab, or just booths with used books in them. The number of these places really surprised me for a small city like this one. And so we had breakfast in one of these places before going around some more. Today, we had seen the Church of St. Elizabeth, or otherwise known as the “Blue Church”.
Today’s plan also included a trip to Devín Castle, which is located in Devin, a borough of Bratislava, about 10km away from the city centre. There is a bus that takes you right to the bottom of the hill and from there it’s a few minutes’ hike to the castle itself. You get the most amazing view of the Danube river from there, and also of the Morava river and Austria.
View over the Danube and Austria from Devin Castle
Ruins of Devin Castle
Entrance fee to Devin Castle: 4€ per person
I am still amazed by this magical little city. It’s just so nice to be able to explore almost everything by foot and just get lost. I’ve also never been to a city that is more enthusiastic for reading than this one. I even bought a few books from some of the bookstores we’ve passed by, many of which have a big selection of english books.
Coins. Make sure you always have some! Cashiers always ask for change, it’s like the city doesn’t have enough of it. Our theory is that it gets collected in the local transportation ticket machines because they only accept change.
Walk. A 3-day local transportation ticket is pretty cheap, sure (10€ for 3 days), but most of the sights are best reached by foot.
Uber. It’s our first time trying it, and if you’re a big fan of the app and its services, you’d be surprised by how easy it is to get a ride here (because it’s just lacking in neighbouring countries).
Man At Work
At Urban House. One of my favourite things about Bratislava: Books everywhere!
The second leg of our trip was Vienna. Its city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it’s pretty obvious why. If you’ve never been to Vienna, you’d be surprised by how many buildings were actually preserved to make you feel like you’re walking in a different century.
July 29, 2016
We left Bratislava today via boat that took us to Vienna. By land, it would have only been 80km away, about an hour drive. You can even take the bus for only 10€. I chose to proceed by boat because I thought it would be interesting. It’s not the cheapest option, but we wanted to actually do something on the Danube as part of the Donauwelle. It was a 90-minute ride, and it took us straight to Schwedenplatz, Vienna. We’ve arrived at around noon and went straight to our Airbnb. We each bought a 3-day ticket, which later on proved to be worthy because we did take public transportation quite often, as it is the best way to get around. Our Airbnb was close to U6 stop Dresdner Straße, and the area was mostly populated by students, not much by tourists.
Airbnb: 145 € for 3 nights Twin City Liner boat ride 50 € for two – Bratislava to Vienna
72-hour Wiener Linien public transportation ticket: 16,50€ per person
After checking in, we went to the city centre for some lunch. I had my first Wiener Schnitzel, and it was about the size of my plate.
After that, we went to Stephansplatz to see the famous Stephansdom and just walked around a little bit in the area before heading to Wien Prater. We went on the ferris wheel and it was nearly empty at around 21:00. It gave an interesting view of the rest of the amusement park’s lights from the top. The ride lasted about 20 minutes.
Tickets for 20-minute ride on Wiener Riesenrad: 9,50€ per person
July 30, 2016
Today was an extra exciting day for me because we were bound for the Sigmund Freud Museum. It’s located in Freud’s old apartment/practice. This experience sort of brought me back to my college days, back when I was striving for a degree in Psychology and where Dr. Freud has been an important figure in our studies. In case you’re wondering, his famous couch is not part of the exhibit but it can be found instead at the Freud museum in London.
Entrace fee to Freud Museum: 10€ per person
We’ve walked some more today around the Ring for some of the best sights in Vienna and just sat in the park when we got tired. One of the best luxuries you can have in this city, in my opinion, is peace. I was surprised about how easy it was to to find a quiet spot where you can just sit back and stop thinking about all the things that stress you out.
Back to the Ring, we got lost in all the old buildings. It was hard to keep up with all of them and we really found ourselves not knowing what building we were taking a picture of anymore. But there is one that really stood out, though, and for obvious reasons:
July 31, 2016
A place I wished we had gone to sooner is Donauinsel. In English, it literally means “Danube Island”, and that’s basically what it is, found in between the Donaukanal and Große Donau. There are a couple of places to just grab drinks from, and there’s also a footbridge leading to the mainland. It’s great for people watching and just enjoying the warm weather by the water. The park is also great for picnics.
Our last stop was Schönbrunn Palace, a place one shouldn’t miss when in Vienna (or you can try but somehow everything leads to it anyway, so). We didn’t take the tour inside the palace itself for it’s quite pricey and it seemed so crowded (we witnessed the constant stream of tourists exiting the palace). Instead, we just walked around the park and admired the landscape. The park’s entrances can be found on either end of the premises.
All in all, Vienna, for me, has been a nice and short stop-over. Our stay has not been that eventful but, to say the least, it was quiet and peaceful and maybe that’s exactly what we needed. I still haven’t gotten over the price of coffee, though.
Their pedestrian signals come in various forms, but this one’s my favourite. ❤
Budapest has been… WOW. It’s not like we have expected anything less from this city, but I guess we never would have thought it would be this… cool.
August 1, 2016
We left Vienna at 12:30 via bus. About three hours later, we were in Budapest! We went straight to our Airbnb (we didn’t even stop for a Kürtöskalács even though the smell filled up the whole metro station), and by that time we were starved. It’s not like we did much planning about the whole trip anyway but our booking for the bus was supposed to be for 15:00 but that one was canceled so we took an earlier trip and, as a result, it left us hungry. My sister has been to Budapest before and she told us about how it’s all about food in this city, most especially MEAT. She wasn’t exaggerating.
Airbnb 78 € for 3 nights Orangeways bus ride 20 € for two – Vienna to Budapest
Another thing we heard about Budapest was how it’s so much prettier at night for everything lights up and it all goes well with the water, which is the centre of the city, dividing the Buda and the Pest.
August 2, 2016
We had planned a trip to one of Budapest’s famous baths. Our bath of choice had been Szechenyi. It’s beautifully decorated with roman sculptures. You may choose to rent a cabin for more privacy, or settle for the lockers. On the main area near the baths were another set of small lockers for, say, your wallet or phone. It was a little crowded, though, but I guess it wouldn’t have looked any different somewhere else like in Gellert or Rudas baths this time of the year.
Entrance fee to Szechenyi Baths with cabin rental: 5200 HUF per person
After our bath, we went up to Buda Castle. You can either go by foot or take the funicular going up. I’m really the type of person who can walk for miles but when I’m with the wife (or with anyone else, really, because most people have trouble keeping up with me), we would always opt for the fastest and easiest way to get somewhere – preferably without much walking!
Funicular ride to Buda Castle Hill (roundtrip): 1700 HUF per person
Some time after, we went for some gelato. We’ve seen it on Facebook some time ago so we gave it a try. The reason why it’s so popular, aside from the fact that it tastes really good and they make it from organic ingredients, is that instead of scoops, it’s served in the form of a rose.
August 3, 2016
We got up early today for our tattoo appointment. We stumbled upon a tattoo parlour that offers sessions even on short notice so we decided to each get one done. The artists at Invictus Tattoo & Piercing were nice and gentle and despite some delays, we got what we wanted done.
For anyone travelling on a budget who wants to have a decent meal that will get you through the day, I can recommend Trofea Grill. Staff was really nice, and they make you feel like you’re sitting in a really fancy restaurant (even the decor says so) but it’s actually more laid back than it appears to be. It is visited by both tourists and locals, so one probably won’t feel underdressed in their walking shoes. We had lunch from the buffet table and they had a fixed price on both food and drinks.
After our big lunch, we just sat by the water, overlooking the Parliament, before heading to our next fun activity. We went to play an escape game! Claustrophilia offers two live room escape games and it can be played by a group of 2 to 5 persons at a time. We had so much fun! You enter a room and they give you one hour to get out. There’s a walkie-talkie that speaks up every once in a while when you’re in a bit of trouble to give some clues, so you can actually make the sixty minutes and not feel trapped. Also, the whole game is in English!
One-hour game at Claustrophilia: 8000 HUF for two persons
August 4, 2016
So that’s about it with our summer trip. It was finally time to go back home. Our flight was early in the afternoon so we didn’t really get to do anything more than pack our stuff and go. We bought some Kürtöskalács for the road and that was it. Budapest has been really nice and it’s definitely one of those places we would want to come back to soon. 🙂
A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it is to be God. – Sidney Sheldon
It’s been over a month since I have finally reached my goal of reading all of Sidney Sheldon’s unputdownable novels. The obsession started when I asked a then lover over six years ago, back in my college days while I was pursuing a degree in psychology, to grab me a copy of Tell Me Your Dreams. It was my book of choice because one of my professors has assigned us to read about Dissociative Identity Disorder (or Multiple Personality Disorder). So while most of my classmates have sat for three hours watching Sybil, I had spent the whole day reading the book while completely ignoring my kind book sponsor.
About a year later, I had decided to read the next book I had found on the shelves of the bookstore nearby. I had realised that Tell Me Your Dreams was the only one of its kind among his novels, but the rest were great nonetheless. It wasn’t until my third book, though, when I decided to read them all. My sister had somehow gotten hold of a copy of Master of the Game, and she was so kind to hand it down to me after she was finished. Since then I had been going through used-bookstores and bidding on eBay for the most worn-out copies as long as they were written in english (this has proven to be pretty easy here in Germany, because not a lot of people are interested in the english prints, and I more often than not made bids with no competition, one of which included 3 books for 4,50€ and free shipping).
Over the years, they have been my go-to reads whenever I am not sure what book to indulge in next. They were the ones I could trust not to disappoint me like many books have, and they kept me busy while I was depressed and battling my share of quarter-life crisis.
I just started reading The Other Side Of Me, Sheldon’s autobiography. I normally stay away from non-fiction but I’ve always been curious about the life of the Master Storyteller himself so I gave it a shot. So far he’s told some anecdotes that he has used in his books as well. His storytelling of his own life is much like the way he does in his novels; it’s fast-paced and page-turning.
Now the trouble is that, I don’t know which author whose books I’d binge-read next. I do have a few books lined-up but I guess I just want another set of safe-picks. So if you have any suggestions, I’m all ears. 🙂
Here’s a list of all 18 novels Sheldon has written, in the order in which I have read them:
It’s been two months since we’ve moved to Berlin and I am more tired than ever. My life has become a constant juggle between my job and working around the apartment. Yes, two months and we still aren’t close to being done!
That being said, the wife decided to surprise me by taking me out on a date to a drive-in theatre nearby. She knows it’s something I had been wanting to do for the longest time. I even dreamed about starting my own drive-in theatre business back in the Philippines because I always thought it was pretty cool. But I had really never been to one until last Friday night.
For someone who had watched all episodes of That 70’s Show twice, I kinda almost had an idea what the drive-in is supposed to be like. On the show, they said it’s really just about making out for two hours with your date and not about watching the movie at all. I really didn’t see the point in that because, well, I don’t need to go to a drive-in and pay for a movie for that (and, also, the wife is sick with mumps which I’d never had and it’s contagious and what better way to catch it than by direct contact like, say, kissing). So, yes, we’d actually watched the movie.
The sounds were picked up by our car’s radio via FM transmitter and we heard everything pretty clearly – something I didn’t expect. Some people even drove there with their old-timers to really feel like traveling back in time. There was a food truck for some burgers and snacks and drinks and they even offer to deliver the food to your car when you order via SMS. All these things I’d found pretty cool about the whole experience.
Sitting in the car trying to watch the movie on the big screen can get a little uncomfortable after, say, two hours. I am just glad to have experienced it but I’m pretty sure I’ll be watching my next movie in a regular, indoor theatre.
So, yeah, I guess the drive-in really is just about making out after all.
Movie tickets to Autokino Berlin: 10 €/pax, includes entrance fee and 3€ drink coupon
Having lived for four years so close to this wonderful UNESCO biosphere reserve, the Spreewald, we have come to adapt to some of the traditions of the lower Lusatian people, one of which is the yearly kayaking tour, where it is to be expected to paddle away for hours on end. This year’s excursion was extra special, as we have gathered the family to go out and challenge our upper bodies and, not to mention, our patience in this very exhausting but totally fun activity.
Lit. Spree Forest – located about 100km outside of Berlin (south-east), it consists of countless small channels that makes kayaking so popular in this area.
Renting your boat
The are plenty of boat rentals in the town of Burg (Spreewald) and its neighbouring villages to choose from. It might be smart, though, to get a reservation especially if you’re in a group and you’d each like a boat of your own. Otherwise, it’s also possible to get one that can accommodate more people, from two up to five. Our rental place of choice was Spreewaldhafen Waldschlößchen. Online booking was easy and the boats were in good shape. We were a group of seven people (including one child), and we got three boats – two duos, one trio. Each boat came with a map of your possible routes with an estimated travel time. The boat handlers were also very helpful in giving tips where it’s best to eat and on how to plan your tour.
Kayaks (day-rates): 1 trio 30,-€; 2 duos 25,-€ each
If you even only slightly love nature and are able to stay composed when the occasional spider or dragonfly or whatever jumps on you, then you would definitely survive this place. I mean, it’s not like you can have much of an escape plan anyway if you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the forest, right? Jumping out will only cause you much more trouble because these waters are not made for swimming – they’re muddy!
Of course, you get to have a break. There are a few restaurants you may go to for big hearty meals, or even just a cold glass of beer. Pohlenz Schänke has been our go-to place for years. Quick tip: manage your time – from 14:30 to 18:00, they are serving pancakes! Around here, they are called Hefeplins, a traditional Sorbian dish. They are much like your regular pancakes but they’re made with yeast, so they are thick and chewy and give you just the energy you need for a few more hours of kayaking. We got there a little too early so, instead, we ordered big plates of lunch and searched for another place along the way that serves these pancakes as well.
Another tip: More like a warning; given the place’s history, these people have been living a pretty simple life and they do not want to see food go to waste! So finish your plate to keep the peace. Trust me, we’ve learned the hard way. 🙂
I’m sure this is something we will still be doing in the coming years, even after leaving our humble town. It’s a fun activity with friends and family that will leave your muscles aching for days but it’s nonetheless a very relaxing getaway from the busy city. 🙂
A few more tips for your trip:
Zip-lock those gadgets – or pretty much anything you wouldn’t want to get wet! Water splashing on you is simply inevitable.
Bring a light jacket – you’ll probably choose a perfectly sunny day for your trip, sure, but it still might get chilly out there, considering you’re on water, in the middle of a forest.
Anti-mosquito lotion – for obvious reasons
Wear something light, especially for your bottom – sitting in tight jeans might not be very comfortable after a few hours…
Your puppy is your best friend? Bring them! – You’re allowed to bring dogs onto your boat, just make sure they are not too scared of water and/or of other dogs that might come their way! You wouldn’t want them to rock the boat so much to the point that it flips!
“Maybe that’s the best part of going away for a vacation – coming home again.” – Madeleine L’Engle
Months before we even came up with the plan to move to Berlin, we have planned our vacation first. It’s the one that I refer to as the Donauwelle (lit. Danube wave), because we are going to three cities along the Danube river – Bratislava – Vienna – Budapest. This one is due in about two weeks but, in a way, I’m just not too thrilled about it. Usually I get pretty excited for our trips but, right now, I can’t even get myself to research for some p