Spring Favourites

It’s official! My favourite season has come to an end but I did not waste any time this year and made it probably my best one yet! Here, let me give you a recap:

I spoke up about my PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and have received some good feedback from people who are going through the same. I’m also happy to have found a way to reduce the symptoms which is by going on a Ketogenic diet and it has been working wonders! I had been on the diet for three full months when we went on holiday to the north of Spain and had to break our Ketosis to fully experience the Basque culinary goodness but I decided to jump back on, turns out I’d rather live without bread and sugary food than feeling bloated the whole time. My menstrual cycles have become relatively stable since and I even lost up to 6kg in the process. Not bad, yeah?

At the beginning of spring, I received my first birthday present, way ahead of my birthday. I’ve always wanted a record player so the wife decided to get me one, just in time for the beginning of flea market season so I can start haggling for vinyls. As of now I have found a few from different sources to add to my growing collection.

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The reason why spring is my favourite season is because it’s the time of the year I celebrate my birthday. Sometimes it also seems to me like I celebrate it the whole season. This year, though, it was probably a whole season’s worth of events that we made happen in just one week.

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Winter had been hard. I remember some extremely cold nights so it was exciting to see some colour, flowers in full bloom. I even planted some lavenders on my balcony (something I have been trying to do since we moved here two summers ago) and they did not die on me! I also bought some lights and new furniture to complete the balcony make-over.

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As you can see, we also decided to put up our Pride flag.

Did anyone say strawberries?! Part of this season is the excitement for the freshest strawberries we have missed all winter. I have wondered my whole life why I always hated strawberry-flavoured candy or ice cream or anything, really. It’s because the only way I can enjoy them is if they’re fresh! And what better way to get them than to pick them yourself straight off the field? That’s right! Though we live in the big city, we are still close enough to the best strawberry farms that allow you to pick the fruit yourself and buying them by the kilo.

As I have mentioned earlier, we went on holiday to Santander and Basque Country and it was gorgeous! It was our first time going on a camping trip. Nature is just wonderful, isn’t it?

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So peaceful, so green.

But because that holiday was too short (the flight schedules are just really inconvenient), we were back in Berlin on a Friday and we still had all weekend to find something to do. My friend Jannah so happened to be traveling around eastern Europe at the time and was on her way to Kraków for the weekend. We thought, what the hell, let’s just get in the car and go meet her there. I haven’t seen her in seven years and it was a chance for Joan to meet her as well. So Jannah was supposed to go to Warsaw after her stop in Kraków and then take the bus to Berlin from there but, with little convincing, she realised it’s probably much too exhausting to pursue that trip to Warsaw and we were going to back to Berlin anyway so she decided to skip it and we took her across the border and to the best city in the world (but that’s my humble opinion).

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And here’s a photo of the three of us taking a picture of each other.

And a trip to Kraków is never complete without a day trip to the Auschwitz concentration camps. There are no words to describe the experience of being in such a place, some people even got very emotional just being there.

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But the best part about this weekend is that we were in good company. 🙂

Speaking of trips, the next one in store for us will be this month! My cousin, who is currently living in Malaysia, married an Englishman last April and she is coming to the UK with the whole family for a small gathering. Many of us living here in Germany were not able to come to their wedding so we are all coming to this event in the UK together. Even my mum’s coming with us because her visa just got approved! This is something I am absolutely grateful for because she is about to go back to Philippines to stay there for good and I would really love for her to see a bit more of this part of the world before she leaves. I also have a few other short trips planned for her so summer will definitely be just as exciting as spring. ❤

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Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Kraków & Auschwitz

After our week in Spain, I still had the whole weekend off so Joan and I were thinking about going out of town. My friend, Jannah, was on her way to Kraków at the time to spend a few nights so we thought, why not go there? I really like Poland and we’ve been to a few major cities like Poznan, Wroclaw, and of course, Warsaw, so we were due to go to Kraków anyway. Also, we had been meaning to go to Auschwitz for quite a while but this never materialised until now.

Believe me when I say I absolutely loved the city of Kraków. It’s probably even my favourite among the polish cities we’d been to so far. But for whatever reason, I forgot to take photos of the place… But it’s definitely worth visiting! The city has been through a lot, historically, but there’s something about the place that just gives you hope and can make you believe that you can rise again. While you’re there, have dinner at one of the restaurants in the old town, walk around the Jewish quarter (you’ll also find great places there to dine at too), and visit the museum in Oskar Schindler’s Factory.

I did take a few photos when we were at the concentration camps in Auschwitz, though. They are about an hour outside of Kraków so we took a day tour. Entrance was free of charge but you may have to wait for a time slot if you hadn’t booked a ticket online.

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It was eerie to walk around the place that was the venue for such horror. Every now and again we’d found some people stopping to silently pray, some even getting emotional.

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España Verde – Santander & Basque Country

This year’s trip to Spain brought us to the green northern coast. Santander, in the beautiful region of Cantabria was our starting point, then making our way to the east, exploring the Spanish part of Basque Country.

Santander

A quiet little city on the Atlantic coast, home to some beautiful beaches and charming little plazas. We arrived rather late due to some delays and only had one night to stay. We used the time walking around town and going to the beach. It was a Sunday so it was pretty quiet and the shops were closed but we found the local people spending their free time by the beach. The weather wasn’t exactly suitable for swimming except for a few very brave ones, but it was nonetheless a good day to be there.

Unfortunately, we had to leave before we got to see more because we had quite a drive ahead of us going to our campsite (which is close to San Sebastián) and a tent to assemble and we did not want to get there so late.

Campsite

We booked our plot at the lovely Camping Itxaspe site. The staff was very helpful and we got everything we needed. From there, we had a great view of the ocean and nature – everything was so green! It was so satisfying to be able to breathe such fresh air and I think it’s something I will pursue in the coming years – traveling to places with the purest of air to breathe! It was still a bit cold in the region since summer hasn’t really kicked in yet and it was probably even too early for some to come over with their tents (all the others came with their caravans) but we came prepared and though the nights were a bit cold, it was still possible to get some good night’s sleep.

The campsite is in a Geopark area and very close to some Flysch cliffs and the beach.

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European Green Capital back in 2012, and rightfully so because it’s clearly their favourite colour (and also mine). The air was just as fresh in this city as that on the countryside and I am still amazed by how this is even possible and wonder why not all cities do the same.

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Bosque Pintado de Oma

After our visit to Vitoria-Gasteiz, we still had some time (and energy) for a 6km trek through the painted forest of Oma. This was a recommendation by a classmate from my Spanish class and it did not disappoint. It was quite a walk going up and down hills but it was all worth it once the worst was over an we finally came to the climax which was the painted forest itself. It looked so trippy and it was so strange to find such art in the middle of the woods.

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I heard from people about how gorgeous this city is – and it’s absolutely true! Though we had the worst weather conditions here during our whole visit to the Basque Country, it still did not stop us from exploring a little bit. We did have heavy rain, though, that just did not seem to want to stop and, when it did, it was extremely windy. We dared to go to the beach, which was right in the city, during this time but it was really uncomfortable walking around when you feel like you will be blown away at anytime.

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But the overall experience in this city was great because we had dinner reservations at one of the cider houses outside of town but close by. We went to Alorrenea Cider House and drank a good amount of this local specialty which we poured ourselves, straight from the barrel. People who know me know that I am a huge fan of apple cider and I try all the ciders that the world has to offer, so this really has been a unique experience. Alongside we had a four-course meal including a steak fresh off the grill. The whole experience only costs 31,-€ each, and I say only because they really served a lot of food and an unlimited amount of cider. Though we did have a car, we made sure to come by taxi and the personnel at the restaurant were also so kind to call a taxi to take us back to the city (only 15 minutes away) because if you do everything right in this house, then there’s no way you should drive after drinking.

We left San Sebastián with a broken heart the next morning and would have loved to stay but we wanted to find out if our tent was still standing after that storm. Though the campsite is close to the city, we were happy to find our little home still intact. Apparently, the place was not affected by the storm at all.

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I guess this was the place we were excited about the most. It’s famous for being a filming venue for Game of Thrones where, with the help of some editing, the home of Khaleesi stood, best known as Dragonstone. The castle shown in the HBO series did not really exist but the infamous steps going up the “castle” were very much real and so was the huge rock resting on the Atlantic – waves crashing and all. This, again, was quite the trek, even more difficult than the one at the painted forest of Oma (due to construction works we had to take a longer, more challenging route), but people did not seem to care. And, mind you, a LOT of tourists come by to see this.

Bilbao

Our last stop was the largest city in Basque Country – Bilbao. Also famous for its pintxos, we knew we had to find the best place if we were to break our diet anyway. In this region, there was not much of a choice for low-carb alternatives because the cuisine itself meant small-portions-of-food-on-top-of-a-small-piece-of-bread. We found Café Iruña and it did not disappoint, but you have to experience it for yourself to know what I mean. We went to the Guggenheim Museum, which in itself was already a masterpiece of architecture.

We also only had one night to stay here before we left Spain altogether. This, I can say, was really too short of a holiday because the whole region is just so beautiful and we would really love to come back for all the places we’ve missed and maybe even see some places again. The green part of Spain is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and I’m just in love with it. ❤

Spring Cleaning: Flea Market Edition

I’ve been going to flea markets my whole life. It’s probably part of the life of a second-generation immigrant child. My mom would be so proud showcasing her haul to me that she haggled down to the lowest low, all with the thought that they would fit me perfectly.

I still like going to flea markets myself, looking for books, clothes and most recently, vinyls. I live close to Nowkoelln Flowmarkt here in Berlin that runs every other Sunday during the warm season and it’s by far my favourite in the city for it’s trendy and hip and it’s small enough that it’s not too overwhelming, but also big enough to always find something to bring home.

It wasn’t until recently, though, that I was able to sell some stuff myself. I have been trying to declutter for years and I’ve even collected sacks full of clothing that I’ve decided to let go of, not to mention some decor and knick-knacks that I know I’ll never miss.

How to join:

We got in by registering two weeks before our preferred day. Registration starts at 7 AM and we got there at 6:30 AM just to be sure we get in only to be surprised by an already long queue by the registration booth. We got in line and waited. Around 7 AM they started handing out registration forms so everyone can start filling them up to just submit them at your turn. For this part, it’s smart to bring your own pen but also be nice enough to lend yours to the people before and behind you. When it was finally our turn, we were given a number for our stand and we paid 30 € registration fee (plus 12 € will be collected on the day itself). A good two hours since we got there, we were finally done.

What to sell:

  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Toys, board games
  • DVD’s + Video Games
  • Electronics
  • Books

Two full weeks to go before the big day, we had plenty of time to collect the things we want to sell. Most of them, as I have mentioned, are already in sacks from years ago. But I decided to sort through them again and found some old clothes that I thought I’d rather donate, send home, or maybe even wear again. Then I made my way to my closet and found more stuff. The most challenging part, I guess, is letting go. I have found plenty of dresses that I’ve only worn once but never found the right occasion to wear again. They’re in excellent condition but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sell them at a price that I’d like to think it’s worth because no one would touch them at that price. I just had to accept the fact that they will be gone forever but at least it will make someone very happy not just wearing them but also knowing that they got them for close to nothing (about the same rush I get whenever I get a good deal as a thrifter myself).

I am a huge collector of sunglasses and believe to have had like about 50 pairs of them before I sold half of them at the flea market. I never really got any expensive or branded ones for myself over the years and that’s why it was easier for me to let go of them. My style has also pretty much changed a couple of times in the span of 10 years so most of them I haven’t really worn in a while. The wife had the brilliant idea of hanging them on a string like a party banner above our heads so everyone who comes by can see them.

What I have also found lying around the house are board games that we don’t ever really get to play anymore. These have been a hit with the kids and it was a shame we did not have more to sell. Children tend to point at things in big boxes and that’s how we sold our old bingo set and other games. I was surprised in a really positive way to find that kids still get excited about games that don’t involve staring down at their parent’s smartphones for hours on end.

I also had a box full of English books that I was hoping to sell but I was surprised to find that people are not really interested anymore. I know that when I go to flea markets I tend to look for these boxes and have brought a couple of books home myself but clearly I’m alone in this because people barely even checked that box I laid open for them. For some reason I thought Neukölln was the right place to sell English books but I only ended up being rid of one book.

Overall it was a good experience. It’s normal to feel too optimistic with the money you’re hoping to make before you start because your goal really is to sell everything. We went home still with a big box full of clothes (I probably only sold half of them), some DVDs and video games, and a handful of sunglasses. It’s funny, though, how the day went by so quickly. There were moments where we did not sell anything for a full hour, then at some point we sell items again by the minute. It’s not eventful throughout but it’s fulfilling enough to carry on. Before noon we already got the 42 € fee back and even if business was slow after that, we knew we were in the black.

Happy, Quiet Birthday

Time flies, doesn’t it? I still remember the cold winter days like they were yesterday…

It was my birthday last week and we quietly celebrated it, just me and the wife. After a toxic work week it felt like a quiet birthday weekend was long overdue. Although I must admit, the celebration was month-long considering that I have received some of my birthday gifts really early and the anticipation of the things we were about to do kept me going.

I somehow lost my wife’s little JBL bluetooth speaker so she got me this one which is big enough not to misplace it. 🙂
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We have been searching record stores and flea markets for weeks now for some quality second-hand vinyls.

Also, a few months back we got tickets to Sam Smith’s concert here in Berlin and it was just a few days short of my birthday. To be quite honest, I did not expect such a great show. He’s just adorable and a great performer and I’m glad I didn’t give away our tickets or else we would have missed out on all his cuteness. 🙂

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Then on the first day of my birthday weekend, we had theatre tickets to see Die Therapie, from Sebastian Fitzek’s book of the same name which I have written little bit about here. I really loved the book so, sadly, I already knew the twists but it was nevertheless a really good performance and I realised that I actually do like going to the theatre and will be looking out for more shows in the city.

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So on the day before the birthday itself, we checked into the Hilton Berlin. Last year we were in Warsaw and got a great deal on a room at the Hilton hotel there and just loved everything about it, especially the breakfast buffet. Since we decided to stay home this year, we chose the Hilton again mostly for the breakfast but also because I got us a room with a view at a discounted price.

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The hotel is right at Gendarmenmarkt and from our window you can see Deutscher Dom from up close. Waking up to all this was the whole point. We also had access to the wellness area and executive lounge that served snacks and coffee and wine so I can really say it was worth every cent.

We lost track of time the night before my birthday when we took advantage of the facilities of the hotel by going to the gym, then the pool, then the sauna and next thing we know it’s already late in the night when we were ready for dinner. We went out and walked around Gendarmenmarkt looking for a place that still served warm food at 10 PM and ended up at a Bavarian brewery and ate crispy Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle). Really, Keto has not been more fun than that night, indulging in what we Filipinos would call crispy pata without any guilt whatsoever.

After our dinner, we walked through Gendarmenmarkt, appreciating its stillness. The moon was bright and only few people were out considering it was a Sunday night. While waiting for the clock to strike midnight, we took a few photos.

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On the day of my birthday and after checking out, we stayed a bit longer in the area since we don’t really get to roam around there like tourists do and just pretended we were one of them. Really, I can’t even remember the last time I stepped foot inside Galeries Lafayette. Since we have been on Keto for almost two months now, we skipped the whole birthday cake thing and I chose something I get to eat even less often – oysters. We had lunch at Seaside Fish & Seafood Bar for my oyster fix and I was positively surprised. It’s the only restaurant of its kind that we’ve found in the city so far and has instantly become one of my favourites. Fresh seafood reminds me of home. ❤

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My this year’s idea of a birthday cake.

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Soon the day was over and we went home feeling relaxed and I have been receiving birthday greetings by the minute which is always a great way to spend the day.

When I got back to work doing the AM shift, the table was set with flowers and cakes and gifts, a tradition we have that I usually coordinate. But since this time it was my turn at the receiving end, I did not know what to expect. I was even scared that they will all just forget about it. This clearly wasn’t the case, though, and I was glad to be back at work again. They even made a low-carb cheesecake that suits my current diet situation. 🙂

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More greetings came in that day from my colleagues and everyone politely asked if I had some sort of celebration. I always replied that I had my peace and quiet, which I seemed to value more these days. I don’t really miss having a birthday party with food and drinks and friends and family and lots and lots of gifts, or even having to spend it somewhere far from home. I’m not saying that I will only ever be spending my birthdays like this in the future because I might want to throw a party or two at some point, but I am sure that I’d be happy to have some days like this one – just me, the wife, and a view.

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(Had my sister not broken her leg last month, she would have come to Berlin to be with us on my birthday. Not sure what our plans would have looked like then, but I’m sure it would have been a fun day nonetheless.)

The thrill of living in this city is still the same as when we first moved here almost two years ago. We get lazy sometimes but it’s satisfying to know that to avoid boredom, all we have to do is get out of the house, maybe drive a few kilometres, and we’ll see something we’ve never seen before. ❤

My experience with PCOS

In 2011 I stopped having my regular periods. It would take about three months for a new cycle, at one point I had even gone up to six months without a drop of blood. I had never been one of those women who expected their periods every 28-30 days, sometimes it came earlier but most of the time up to a week later. Still, it wasn’t until that year that my cycle has changed dramatically.

That time I thought it may not be so bad to miss my period from time to time. I eliminated the chance of pregnancy immediately (for obvious reasons), so I asked myself, what do I need my period for anyway? For one, it saved me money for not having to fill up my tampon stash for months at a time and, honestly? I don’t know of a single woman who enjoys being on her period.

But I also remember that year to be the start of the darkest and most painful time in my life and it went on for up to three more years. I was a mess.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I sought the opinion of a doctor – my first time ever to meet with a gynaecologist. I did not know what to expect. It wasn’t because I was uncomfortable talking about my female problems that I waited this long to go, but another symptom of depression is procrastination and for that reason I never really found the energy to go until that year.

My gynaecologist that time was a sympathetic woman who made sure I was comfortable. She ran some tests, including an ultrasound that gave me the chance to also see what the inside of my uterus and ovaries looked like. When we were done with the ultrasound, we were at her desk again and she grabbed a book to explain to me what was really going on. She showed me a photo of ovaries which resembled what I saw in the ultrasound. Then she showed me another one that suggested what they were supposed to look like. She explained to me that this was the reason for my irregular cycles and gave me a name for it: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).

She asked me about all the other changes I’ve noticed in the past three years. I told her that it was the time when I started gaining weight (10kg in a matter of months!), and that I had been depressed – all of which, she explained, are symptoms of but may or may not be caused by PCOS (the weight issue, though, was likely caused by PCOS because of its drastic gain and the inability to lose weight despite of my humble attempts at dieting and exercise).

At this point I was worried about what this really means for me. Will I have to take pills? Change my lifestyle? Can this lead to other, scarier illnesses or diseases? No, yes, yes.

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Forgive me for not finding the real source of this image but I really do think it’s the best visual representation I’ve come across so far.

Because I said right on that my plans for the future do not include bearing a child, she said there was no need to try to correct this with the use of pills and regular monitoring. What I could do, was try to eat less carbohydrates just to help reduce the symptoms because my body can’t handle high levels of sugar. Exercising, she said, is of course always recommended but I should manage my expectations because it will be much harder for me to actually reach a physically fit status than it is for others. The risk of diabetes is very high, also considering the fact that both my parents have it.

She couldn’t give an explanation as to why I have PCOS. She said that about 20% of women have it and there is no actual cause, it just happens. It was frustrating, of course, it still is, because it’s not exactly satisfying to hear from a doctor that there is no cure for what I have. It felt like I had lost total control of my body and and it’s hard when you can’t blame it on anyone or anything, not even yourself.

It’s been years now since that first visit at the doctor’s. Since that time I have had some semi-regular periods for months at a time (about every 30-40 days) but every now and again I still have to wait up to 4 months for the next flow. Exercising, as I have been warned, has been extra exhausting given that I don’t get the results I am aiming for at an average pace but I try not to put too much pressure on myself when it comes to that. Dieting, on the other hand, has been the trickiest part. I was confused by how I was supposed to lessen my carbohydrate/sugar intake when I was pretty sure I was consuming much less than the average person. You will not find sugar in my coffee or tea and I drink soda only on rare occasions. I would only ever use sugar in baking but when do I ever have the time to bake? And unlike most Filipinos, I never felt the need to have rice with my food every time I eat and I can go months without a serving of rice. Same with potatoes, pasta, and other high-carb staples and I’ve always preferred dark bread over white which I believed at that time to be a better alternative. It was so confusing and I did not know what to eliminate from my daily intake when I know most people feel fine eating all this food and more. But I am not like most people. Not anymore after hearing the truth.

Right now I have finally come to a stage where I have accepted my fate and decided to take back control over my body. I understand the risks of PCOS for my health while I age and the best I can do now is to become aware of these and try my hardest to prevent them from happening. My primary goal right now is to get my period every month as a proof that I have been doing all the right things. I am fully focusing on my nutrition now more than ever and I am excited for the results!

I will be creating a separate post soon to elaborate more on my trials and errors in having PCOS focusing on diet and nutrition. As I am writing this, I have been on a low-carb high-fat diet for four weeks which I intend to keep up for a couple of months before reintroducing some good carbohydrates into my body.

Although PCOS is common, I don’t get to talk to a lot of people who also have it so I’d love for you to share your experiences with me and maybe we can get through this together! 🙂

Having too much of Venice

It was my wife’s birthday last weekend and we had another last-minute change of plans. We were supposed to stay in Germany and go on a road trip but decided against it when we realised that the country was about to reach the peak of winter. Going on a road trip while it’s cold and slippery just didn’t seem appealing, not to mention, safe. Joan had always wanted to go to Venice but somehow the idea never materialised because, well, other trips and places got in the way. But, hey, we finally made it!

So let me just get this out of the way: Venice is stunning. Gorgeous. A masterpiece, really. But please forgive me if I don’t seem too excited about it as I go on on this entry. The trip just got frustrating at some point, somehow, and the weather is to blame for most of it. You won’t believe how much I miss the sun and not having to wrap myself up in layers and layers of clothing!

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Gloomy Grand Canal

 

Venice is famous for its canals and bridges. It’s made up of islands and, instead of by car, you get around by boat – or you walk. We have been warned about 430+ bridges of this city and we were worried about rolling our luggage around and having to carry them when crossing the bridges so we looked for a better alternative:

So this is a backpack that measures like the maximum size allowed on most European airlines for cabin bags and it opens up just like your favourite hard shell carry-on luggage! Minus the wheels and the handle, it is much lighter so it allows you to pack a little more and it’s perfect for walking around. It can take up 44 Litres which was just right for six days worth of thick winter clothing. Buy yours here.

Where to stay in Venice

Finding budget-friendly accommodation in this city is challenging especially if you choose to stay on the main island. For the first three nights we stayed in a litte boutique hotel in Murano. It’s a short boat ride away from the city centre and it has its own charm. It’s awfully quiet especially at night so it might not be the best option if you prefer a place that is more alive. During the day, you may want to visit one of the many glass factories.

For the remaining two nights, we moved to a different hotel right before our 72h public transportation ticket expired. Since we were staying in the city, we did not need to ride the boats anymore to get around. There is a clear difference between staying in the city and staying on another island. For one, you pay more for one night and get less (smaller room, no window, no breakfast). But on the bright side, you’re closer to all of this:

Burano

Burano is another island right off a postcard. Its colourful houses by the canals are attracting tourists, and for good reason. The sun came out when we went there and the light hit the brightly coloured houses beautifully.

More on Venice

It was rainy when we arrived and the first couple of days had been really windy. It was hard to endure walking around in -12°C temperature and it got frustrating. Other than just walking around and sight-seeing (or visiting some museums, galleries), there is not much else to do. I must admit, six days is a really long time to be staying in this city. Maybe a whole weekend would have been enough to keep the excitement going. It can also burn a huge hole in your pocket because eating out is just so expensive. But I’m glad to be finally home after consuming an uncomfortable amount of carbs and I’m sure I won’t be touching any pizza or pasta again for the next couple of weeks!

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Venice Faves

 

 

Tenerife and La Gomera

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m back with a fresh(ish) post on our most recent trip. The second half of last year was exhausting at best as we did not go on holiday from August until December, something that the recent years have proven unusual for us. So before the year ended, we were on our maximum holiday vibe and bid Germany goodbye for the next ten days.

So why Tenerife?

  1. Tenerife is a Canary Island on the Atlantic Ocean, located closer to the African continental plate than the European and the winters are moderately warm.
  2. I may have mentioned before that we have been keeping up going to Spain at least once a year since 2015 as part of my studying the language.
  3. I also may have mentioned before that I work for an airline that is, for the most part, a holiday flyer and among our destinations are 5 of 7 Canary Islands, including Tenerife which we picked because it’s the biggest among the islands.
  4. Did I mention moderately warm winters? (as in around 25C, full sun and the ocean)

Where to stay in Tenerife

It is important to consider that the northern part of the island is much different than the southern. It is not only because of the wave of tourism that contrasts the two but also the climate. When we were in the north, it got cloudy with some drizzle from time to time especially in the early mornings and it was cold and wet on some days. The south, on the other hand, was warm and sunny, though on some days too windy for a proper swim in the ocean. But it was much quieter in the north, even in the capital, Santa Cruz. Tourists are everywhere on the island even this time of the year but the south is more of a haven for families on all-inclusive holiday packages. I guess it’s all more of a matter of taste.

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In our case, we had 4 different accommodations with 2-3 overnights at each.

What to do / Where to go

During the first few days, we were staying in Tacoronte, which is about 20 minutes away from Santa Cruz and Icod de los Vinos, respectively. We spent the days just driving around and exploring the area and the small towns.

Bajamar Natural Pools

Some coasts of the island are not safe for swimming because of the strong waves. As a solution, natural pools were built so people can still get their dose of Vitamin Sea without the danger of getting wiped out. Entrance to the pools is free of charge and it’s open to everyone! Unfortunately, we did not get to swim on that day because the water was just really cold and it was a windy day. But it was relaxing to watch the waves crash against the walls of the pools as they often get really high.

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And it was perfect for some silly mermaiding.

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Puerto de la Cruz

There is much more going on in this city since there are also some big hotels in the area. It’s a port city that also has a beach and some shops and restaurants.

Garachico

Garachico is a quaint little town close to our second Airbnb in Icod de los Vinos. We got out rather late to buy some snacks so our host recommended this town to us since there the other ones in the surrounding area close down early. We found this small café in the town’s plaza and it was beautifully decorated for the yuletide season.

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Sitio Litre – Orchid Garden

The orchid garden of Sitio Litre is open to the public for a small fee to satisfy our eyes with a variety of flora of all colours. Agatha Christie used to come to this garden and it inspired some of her works.

 

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San Cristobal de la Laguna

We found this city from driving from one Airbnb to another. Its historical centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its the most populous city of the island.

Teide National Park

No trip to Tenerife is complete without a trip to Teide National Park. The summit of Mount Teide is the highest point in Spain. We were able to book cable car tickets on the same day for 27,-€ each (roundtrip) so we could skip the queue. Driving up to the cable car station, I was already anxious because I thought we just blew away our money on the cable car tickets. We drove up some hairpin curves with very low visibility and couldn’t see 10 metres ahead of us because of the fog and I was afraid we won’t be able to see anything once we’re up there because of that. But once we were at a much higher point, it was clear and sunny and, apparently, we were high above the clouds. From this point everything around us was just spectacular and a visit was well worth it. Good thing the wife is an amazing driver even if the drive required her hand stuck permanently on the handbrake to start accelerating again mid-steep.

Once we finally got to the cable car station, we noticed immediately how the air was just different. It got harder to breathe because the air was so thin and it was also really cold, something one must not ever underestimate when planning a trip to Mount Teide.

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RIP Sunglasses that were blown away by some very sudden strong wind while they were sitting comfortably on my nose. There was no way to retrieve them since they landed on uneven ground in a restricted area. The wife had to convince me that they are “just sunglasses” and “it wasn’t worth it to risk my life over them” — yeah, right. 
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He’s just everywhere you look.

La Gomera

We combined our trip to Tenerife with a day-long excursion to La Gomera. It’s the second smallest of the Canary Islands and it’s pretty close to Tenerife, requiring only a 30-minute ferry ride. We took an organised tour which was a new experience for us. It was just rather hard to go by your own when you don’t really know where to go (also, it’s cheaper at around 60,-€ per person all-inclusive). This way, we were able to see the most important attractions — which were all spectacular. Also, I think it helps in the preservation of the island if tourists are in a more controlled environment.

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Our tour guide was a quirky guy who explained everything well. He was so passionate about keeping La Gomera a paradise. He brought us to beautiful, photographable places and also to a small eatery that serves a local specialty, the Gomeron – a mixture of grappa and palm nectar, a local product of the island. Next, he had us walk around a little bit to show us some plants, like this amazingly big Ficus benjamina:

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At garden centres they are rather small

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The trip included lunch at a local restaurant where some locals let us hear the Silbo Gomero – traditional whistling language used by the Gomerans to communicate even up to this day.

Lunch was followed by the trip to Garajonay National Park.

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View of the island of Tenerife from La Gomera

Beaches

Back to Tenerife, we explored some beaches as we were staying in the south in the latter days of our holiday. As expected, it was much warmer and the weather was a bit more predictable on this part of the island.

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This one is Playa El Bollullo which is located in the north. Though gorgeous, the stretch is almost in full shadow which is a shame because it’s really cold.

Snorkeling

  • Los Gigantes, Masca Bay. Los Gigantes is another port city but this one comes with some adventure. We booked a kayaking tour with Teno Activo that took us to see Masca Bay. Two hours of kayaking did our physical fitness a favour and it helped that we were surrounded by such beauty. Also, we had the chance to go snorkeling, which was a first for me and we took advantage of our new snorkeling gear which I recommend to everybody for they are really great.
  • Playa de las Teresitas. It’s a clean and family-friendly, but nonetheless quiet beach in San Andres with yellow sand and a chance to see some fish swimming close to the shore.
  • El Puertito. We read somewhere that there is a chance to see turtles here but no such luck for us. Anyhow, there were plenty of other sea creatures to stalk since the floor is pretty rocky but the water shallow and it was so far the best one we snorkeled at.
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Make sure to get yourself one of these babies if you want to snorkel because these are great and you don’t even have to accidentally breathe in seawater to spot some critters. Find them here.

Food

Spanish cuisine is absolute comfort food for me. I could dive into a tub of jamón anytime. But the Canarian cuisine has a few more specialties that are easy to love. The best way to find local food is to look out for Guachinches. Traditionally, they are small establishments that serve their own wine and homemade food. Today, more and more restaurants across the island tag themselves as “Guanchinche-style” but these are good nonetheless since they also serve traditional food that include grilled meat dishes, seafood, paired with the typical Canarian sauces called mojo. What I especially loved is the Canarian grilled goat cheese. Yum!

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One Guachinche was part of a banana plantation which made my heart really happy

 

 

Reading in German for the First Time

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 Heim when 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. 🙂

Ginger Shots – A recipe

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:

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Recipe for Ginger Shots

Ingredients:

Makes about 1L of ginger juice.

(Breakdown: 60% apple juice, 25% ginger-turmeric juice, 10% orange juice, 5% lemon juice)

  • 400g ginger roots (or replace 50g ginger with 50g fresh turmeric root for a more earthy taste and nutritional value)
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 oranges
  • 7 apples

Directions:

  1. 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.
  2. Juice the apples, ginger roots, and turmeric (if used).
  3. Squeeze out the juice of your oranges and lemon in a citrus juicer.
  4. Mix everything together and pour into your container of choice. I used a few airtight bottles.
  5. 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.)

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Important Reminder:

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.

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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.

Not a Travel Blog – Here’s my life nowadays

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.

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But first, check out this unicorn fondant cake my cousin and I made for sestra’s birthday.

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.

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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!

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Coincidence? I think not!!!

Rome and Cats

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.

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But first, lunch. Buffalo mozzarella is an essential part every trip to Italy. It’s just sooo goood.

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.

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But this is just gorgeous from all angles.

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.

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And realised they are not exactly comfortable for riding in tandem…

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!

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They are so lucky to be taken care of by volunteers, surviving off donations from locals and tourists alike. And they get to live among ancient ruins of this historical city!

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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.

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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.

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All these in less than a week!

 

Ah, but before we go…

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Gelato!

Santorini, Greece

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…

Getting there:

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.

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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.

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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.

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It was not too early for the local desert wine.

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.

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And they’re great for when you want to enjoy the view around you.

Red Beach

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.

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Gorgeous.

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!

Oia

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.

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By now anyone would have noticed an abundance of Freddo Cappuccino (iced cappuccino, Greek style, on the right) on the island. Regular Greek coffee is also a yummy alternative to espresso.

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Bougainvillea on plain white houses will only ever remind you of Greece, don’t you think?
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Byzantine Ruins in Oia

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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.

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Next stop  Rome!

Survival Items For Your Long-Haul Flight

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.

Blanket

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!

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Cabeau Fold ‘n Go™ Blanket & Case

Hammock

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.

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(photo credit: Amazon)

Inflatable Travel Pillow

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.

(photo credit: Amazon)

Memory Foam Neck Pillow

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. 😉

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Weekend in Liverpool and North Wales

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.

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I mean, the one side does not have any safety rails…
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…and it’s pretty high up there.

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.

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But instead of taking the narrow boat tour, we decided to rent some bikes to see more of the surrounding area.

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We were in luck because it was a beautiful day in this part of the UK!

Liverpool

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.

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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.

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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.

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To me, that’s an anniversary well spent! 🙂

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Sächsische Schweiz – Saxon Switzerland National Park

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:

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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.

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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.

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Felsenburg Neurathen

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.

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Bastei Bridge

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.


Schwedenlöcher

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.

 

Amselfall

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.

 

Amselsee

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.

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Solo Trip to Hong Kong

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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.

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I mean, it was really good but this octopus skewer cost me 11 HKD, about 1,20 €


Kowloon Park

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.

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Nathan Road

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.


Markets

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.

 

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I especially love the tea set. The vendor sold it to me for about 12 €. I honestly would have paid more.


Victoria Peak and Central District

Quick summary from my previous post:

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.

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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.

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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!

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This rice snack with tuna and mayonnaise filling is enough to get me through the day

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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.

Philippines: Just Being Home

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.

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Family

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.

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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.

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This is me with all of my female cousins and our dearest Inay. I haven’t been able to score a photo of the boys yet, so this has to do for now.

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:

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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.

 

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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.

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Ube flavoured dirty ice cream in a bun sold by a street vendor who passed by our borough
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Twin Latundan bananas brought over by my cousin who picked them personally from his farm
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Me picking mangoes off our own tree with an improvised sigpaw (landing-net used for fishing or, in this case, picking fruit)
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Kesong Puti (white cheese made with carabao milkand pan de sal for breakfast
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Taho (tofu pudding with tapioca pearls and brown sugar syrup)

 

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.

My First Hostel Experience

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.

The Room

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.

Common Room

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.

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Just being able to find some quiet to enjoy these simple pleasures is a true gift.

Sleep

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.

Elevator Entrapment

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:

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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”.

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Concrete wall behind the door

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:

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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.

Tips:

  • 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.

Philippines: Taal Volcano Crater Lake

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.

Fun Fact: That cone right in the center is not the volcano itself, although often mistaken by tourists. It’s just part of the whole thing, but in itself it’s a volcano called Binintiang Malaki.

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.

The Tour

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

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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!

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It goes waaay up
I remind them from time to time to look back and breathe in the view.
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This man goes up and down this trail on his horse to sell water at the top.

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.

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And I must say, it was all worth it.

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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.

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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.

Tips:

  • 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.

My this Year’s Birthday Gifts from the Best People

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.

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And she gave them to me as a birthday present (but that’s because she bought herself a new pair), and I love them!

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.

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She even took the time to harass me with these text messages. Big sisters are just the absolute worst.

So I took the paper bag all the way to Warsaw so I can open it as soon as the clock hits midnight.

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… and this was inside and I sincerely love it! I opened the bag about 20 minutes before midnight and sent her this selfie with a timestamp, because I’m a rebel like that.

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:

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I actually recommend it to everyone. We got it off Amazon for 15,99 €. Please read this to your children and/or partners or just to yourselves! These stories are really empowering!

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!

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I am too stoked for this!

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!).

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Thanks, M.!

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:

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This very adorable froggy doorstopper and matching necklace and bracelet from one of her many travels to far away places.

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:

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She even remembered my favourite flowers – carnations! Along with it a box of chocolates and a L’Occitane en Provence gift box with hand soap and cream that smell like magic.

Lastly, people who have known me for quite some time now know how much I love shopping at TKMaxx for just everything.

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My cat loves it, too!

Birthday Weekend in Warsaw

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.

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And so it did.

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.

Lazienki Park

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.

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We visited a few other parts of the city which has been made easy thanks to a great deal on public transportation tickets specially designed for weekenders. It’s valid from Friday at 19:00 until Monday 08:00 for a group of up to 5 people and you can get it for only 40,- PLN or about 10,-€.

Old Town

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:

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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.

Neon Museum

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!

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And we got to remake a photo from my last year’s birthday trip to Copenhagen with different versions of The Little Mermaid statue in the background.

 

Choice of furniture & growing up

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.

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(photo credit: ikea.com)

 

 

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.

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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.

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(photo credit: ikea.com)

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.

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I replaced the old map with this one
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Topped with a wall clock I got from my sister for Christmas

#MysteryMonday – Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

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.

Ending

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.

If you want to read this book, it’s probably cheapest in Kindle edition at 3,99 €.

Print VS eReader

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:

  1. Access to books written in the english language. There’s a very limited selection of english books in your regular bookstore here in Germany.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

My Kindle

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.

My Bookshelf

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.

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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.

How do you feel about the eReader so far?

Lady Wood – Tove Lo Live in Cologne 2017 and Feminism

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. 🙂

Had to add this pin to my haul simply because I’m obsessed with this logo and also girl power

 

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. 😉

Long overdue trip to London

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.

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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!

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Breakfast on the 40th floor with this view? Could be worse.

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.

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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.

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But first, dinner in Chinatown!

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.

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Outside of Backyard Cinema at Mercato Metropolitano
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King’s Cross
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When you’re bound for Hogwarts and you’re a Slytherin

 

London Eats:

9 countries in 1 year! – My year in travelling

I know, I know, we’re already on day 15 of 2017 and I’m just now coming up with my last year’s travel roundup because, you know, stuff got in the way so I’ll make this quick and mostly visual. 🙂

  1. Stockholm, Sweden / February 24-28, 2016
    Tour of the city in celebration of my wife’s birthday.

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    Stockholm, Sweden
  2. Copenhagen, Denmark / April 29 – May 1, 2016
    Weekend city trip in celebration of my birthday.

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    Copenhagen, Denmark
  3. Zadar & Plitvice, Croatia / May 5-9, 2016
    Exploring Zadar with a day tour to Plitvice Lakes as extension to my birthday celebration.

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    Plitvice, Croatia
  4. Bratislava, Slovakia / July 26-29, 2016
    Exploring the city as first leg of Donauwelle.

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    Bratislava, Slovakia

  5. Vienna, Austria / July 29 – August 1, 2016
    Exploring the city as second leg of Donauwelle.

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    Vienna, Austria
  6. Budapest, Hungary / August 1-4, 2016
    Exploring the city as third leg of Donauwelle.

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    Budapest, Hungary
  7. Luxembourg, Luxembourg / August 20, 2016
    Family day tour of the city.

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    Luxembourg, Luxembourg
  8. Transylvania, Romania / October 19-25, 2016
    Road trip through Transylvania starting in Timisoara, ending in Bucharest.

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    Hunedoara, Romania
  9. Mallorca, Spain / December 24-27, 2016
    Road trip on the island of Mallorca in celebration of Christmas.

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    Mallorca, Spain

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?

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016: 30/30

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:

  1. Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult
  2. Rage Of Angels – Sidney Sheldon
  3. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  4. Like Being Killed – Ellen Miller
  5. The Ice Twins – S.K. Tremayne
  6. We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  7. Leaving Time – Jodi Picoult
  8. Dark Places – Gillian Flynn
  9. The Grownup – Gillian Flynn
  10. Change Of Heart – Jodi Picoult
  11. Morning, Noon & Night – Sidney Sheldon
  12. Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson
  13. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
  14. The Likeness (Dublin Murder Squad #2) – Tana French
  15. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) – Ransom Riggs
  16. Confessions Of A Murder Suspect (Confessions #1) – James Patterson & Maxene Paetro
  17. The Sky Is Falling – Sidney Sheldon
  18. A Time To Kill – John Grisham
  19. The Other Side Of Me – Sidney Sheldon
  20. The Private School Murders (Confessions #2) – James Patterson & Maxene Paetro
  21. The Interview With The Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles #1) – Anne Rice
  22. Luckiest Girl Alive – Jessica Knoll
  23. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
  24. Behind Closed Doors – B.A. Paris
  25. The Woman In Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware
  26. The Girl In The Ice – Robert Bryndza
  27. A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
  28. The Pocket Wife – Susan Crawford
  29. The Berlin Conspiracy – Tom Gabbay
  30. 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!

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Christmas in Mallorca

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.

Road trip

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.

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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.

Beaches

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).

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Port de Soller
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Magaluf

Towns

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.

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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!

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And by that I mean waking up to this on Christmas morning.

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So I guess that was it for travelling this year, huh? What a year!

Rakotzbrücke in Rhododendron Park, Kromlau (Saxony)

The great thing about new friends is that they bring new energy to your soul.

Shanna Rodriguez

 

Brief back-story:

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.

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Which then made me appreciate some of its beauty as well.

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.

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Dear Reader, this is Rakotzbrücke of Rhododendron Park in Kromlau, Saxony. A perfect circle from any angle. It was built in the mid 1800’s, and it’s also known as “The Devil’s Bridge”.

 

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?

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A rare occurrence: A decent photo of the two of us – because when it’s just the two of us traveling, we don’t have anyone to take photos. 🙂
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There’s something about being with a bunch of nurses that can make you feel really safe.

My 10th year of “planning” my life

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.

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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. 🙂

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There’s just something so satisfying about having things with your name on them, don’t you think?

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. 🙂

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I love my Dracula pen

I just know 2017 will be a great year for collecting new memories. 🙂

Just Weihnachtsmarkt Things

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?

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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!

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A hot cup of Lumumba (hot chocolate with a shot of rum) from Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Charlottenburg

And this ridiculously big sparkling tree in front of the casino near Potsdamer Platz.

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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!

Red Hot Chili Peppers Live in Berlin

Let me tell you a story:

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. ❤

Roadtrip: Romania

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.

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Looking back, I realise we could have planned it so much differently.

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.