The past few months had been very surreal. It passed by quickly that before I knew it, I was back home. Again. And now, I am trying to figure out how I will manage my 2016 by getting over a few essentials before I send myself off. Away. Again.
My 2015 actually started slow in terms of going out and about. I mean, I was swamped with so much work that the moment I was able to take a breather, it was already April! My previous job was the most challenging albeit rewarding part of my career as an Engineer. I was in a position where a vision of success comes with so much responsibility, and with all things considered, a ripple effect is almost inevitable. Et cetera… Et cetera! Thank goodness that after what seemed to be an infinite amount of meetings and sleepless nights, my schedule had finally aligned with the summer sun and the water.
Summer (April to May, 2015)
That said, every opportunity to getaway at that point was grabbed by this little lady. I was in 2 beaches and in a back-to-back pool resort in half of the summer months (meaning, 1 of 2 months!) which is never enough if you live in an archipelago. Mind you, these are the beaches just within my reach, which meant that I have yet to set foot on the real deal (Inshallah, 2016!).
Bolinao, Pangasinan – if you want to find out more about this, read Life’s A Beach: Patar, Bolinao
Calaguas, Camarines Norte – if you want to find out more about this, read That Trip to Calaguas, Camarines Norte
Pansol Hot Spring, Calamba City, Laguna – this [Isabela Hot Spring Resort] was where our team (from my previous job) held our annual team building + summer outing. It’s quite a lovely private pool with a lot of amenities and a great view of Mount Makiling as seen from its balcony. Right after this, I had to leave for Subic!
Lighthouse Marina Resort, Subic, Zambales – fortunately for us, my cousin has 2 gift vouchers for an overnight stay in this resort. The pool was quite nice, just the right size for the number of guests. There’s a beach (as shown here) just a few steps away. We actually went swimming in the beach that afternoon, however, the security told us that it’s not as clean. Perhaps because it was at the Subic free port? We just moved back to the pool. There wasn’t a lifeguard at the beach anyway (not that the Philippines is used to it!)
Post-summer and Pre-unemployment period (June to July, 2015)
Before I knew it, summer was over and in parallel came the most critical phase of my previous job. In the wake of my stolen moments where I find myself reflecting, I knew that I needed to take a break, step back and leave (related post: Finding My Treasure: Leaving and Living). Not because I hated what I was doing (it was tough, on most days frustrating but at the end of the day, gratifying), but because I hated what I’ve become, allowing myself to be consumed with work. I was all heart and all out when I am into something. And at that point, I couldn’t separate my work and my life, thus, I was living an unbalanced and unhealthy life. I needed to sort myself and figure things out in order to move forward.
So there I was, preparing for Schengen and UK visa applications while trying to envision that RTW trip. It would have been convenient to make my way to Europe after hitting Asia, until I cross the Atlantic via Iceland and visit my family in the East Coast until I eventually make my way to New Orleans, then see Machu Picchu in Peru, and finally discover my way back to the Philippines.
a “then” yet-to-be-determined an extended period of time (88 days within August to November, 2015)
Two weeks after I quit my job, my passport with all the necessary visa stamps came and finally, I luckily stumbled upon the cheapest, most flexible, and date-convenient flight to Europe. That is Asiana Airlines for a USD 905 with return!
With the restrictions of the visa validity period, I had to forego Asia for the time being. 🙁
Waiting for my
rocket flight to come at Incheon International Airport, Seoul, South Korea: Skipping Asia altogether. For now, it’s just a stop-over.
Paris, France – As much as I wanted to skip Paris (for a lot of personal reasons), it was inevitable. The idea of the so-called cliche that it’s the most romantic city almost dragged me away from being able to see its beauty. Truth be told, it wasn’t as romantic as I had envisioned it to be, even if this photo says otherwise. This is why I actually loved every bit of it! And the Versailles? Don’t even get me started!
Maximizing the Schengen Visa
Upon learning that there are some European but non-Schengen countries that would allow valid Schengen visa holders to enter, I just knew that I had to take advantage of it. Fortunately, Croatia is one of them!
With a twist of fate, I was given only 40 days in the Schengen area within a two-month period. With Croatia making its way in my daydreams, it was a no-brainer. I can easily enter Croatia with my Schengen visa and not utilize my 40 allowable days.
Route to Croatia from Paris via Italy
Flying to Croatia though is expensive. So I figured, I might as well fly from Paris then find my way in Italy until I take the ferry to Croatia!
Florence, Italy – passing by Italy gave me the opportunity to explore the lovely city of Florence before hopping on a ferry to Split (Croatia). Why Florence? I’ve heard that Florence is amazing. Truth be told, I knew that Florence won’t just be a stopover. With its elaborate beauty, it deserves a lot more than that. Romantic and very artistic, it is so easy to get consumed with Florence. Days later, I had to pull myself away and go to Croatia.
Destination to Maximize the Schengen Visa: Croatia
It was quite refreshing to be gushed with the cold breeze while having a view of the bluest rivalry of the sky and the water. With just Split and Dubrovnik in mind, it was only then that I tried to figure out what to see and where to go.
Talking to fellow travelers at the top of the bell tower in Split made me learn and stumble upon Trogir. I’ve also learned that there were some islands that I could explore, but at that point, I got cozy just hanging out in Split.
Split, Croatia – rich in history, a combination of old buildings/ruins, blue skies, and a very laid back lifestyle.
Trogir, Croatia – almost an hour away from Split by bus, this quaint little city has started to become popular as well. Perhaps because it’s part of the route of some cruises?
Dubrovnik, Croatia – a lovely historically rich walled city with a nearby beach. Really touristy, very expensive, and highly popular due to “Game of Thrones”.
Making new friends, ditching that non-existent plan and creating a new route
Who would’ve thought that I’d meet an awesome bunch in Dubrovnik? Unbeknownst to all of us, we took ourselves to a small little town called Trebinje in Bosnia and Herzegovina right after hearing about it from the hostel we were staying at. This truly made my belief even stronger, “that we’re exactly at the right place at the right time” (surrounded by the right people, of course).
Thank goodness that it’s another country that accepts Schengen Visa in spite of not being a part of it 🙂
This is where our Bosnia and Herzegovina trip began!
Another Destination to Maximize the Schengen Visa: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country that truly exhibits the idea of East Meets West in history, culture, and cuisine.
Traveling with my new friends, this is where we played everything by ear, booking one night at a time, extending or moving on afterwards.
Trebinje, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Trebinje is a nice little town just less than an hour away from Dubrovnik. It is perhaps the best “tourist” break from the walls of Dubrovnik, as this little town is pretty laid back and can easily be explored by foot. We were probably the only “tourists” in town which is good in a sense that the locals can still keep this lovely place to themselves, but a bit bad for the tourism industry.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina – the influence of the Ottomans is highly evident with its picturesque Old Town and dominant Muslim religion. In spite of how pretty Mostar may seem, a closer look will allow you to see the aftermath of the 1991 Bosnian war.
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – the capital is a nice mixture of old and modern city life where one can eat good food and just have a laid back city life. This is where we’ve actually met the most genuine locals, survivors of the war, relaying the rawest of their emotions with respect to Bosnia then and now.
Being in and Leaving Bosnia
I honestly didn’t know that I was going to Bosnia when I started this whole trip, let alone spend so much time there that I had to miss Plitvice and skip the “originally planned arrival date” in Munich. Indeed, it was because of the amazing people I’ve met who I ended up traveling with.
Every “extension” of my stay in Bosnia came with “for as long as I get to Munich by September 18 because I have friends flying from Dubai who’ll do the Oktoberfest with me.”
I was TORN.
But, I knew that at some point in the spontaneity of it all, I had to leave and find my way to Munich. It was in Sarajevo when I figured, it was time for me to go.
Route to Munich from Sarajevo via Zagreb
Flights to Munich had become ridiculous! The most practical way that worked for me was by taking an overnight bus to Zagreb and then catching another night bus to Munich.
Might as well checkout Zagreb.
Zagreb, Croatia – I couldn’t miss the opportunity to take a stroll around the city of Zagreb. Unfortunately, it took the tired version of me. It was a bummer that I had to miss Plitvice Lakes but thankfully, there’s an interesting museum called “Museum of Broken Relationships” that was worth a visit.
Munich, Germany – thanks to my 3 liters of beer, my newly purchased camera now has a void warranty. But kudos to the festivity, I’ve learned so much about German kindness, hospitality, a good laugh with strangers, and the stupidity that comes with being drunk!
Route from Munich to Berlin
After Munich, we were initially set to make our way to Switzerland (my friends were flying from there). But we figured that it’ll be more cost-effective to just explore Germany and perhaps find our way to Berlin instead.
Leading to Berlin, we managed to do a few stopovers in between. The Andechs Monastery in Andechs and King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen just a few hours away from Munich allowed us to get out of the city for a different feel of Germany.
Andechs, Germany – our AirBnB host in Munich told us that we could checkout Andechs Kloster just an hour away from Munich. It was a very pleasant day tour, actually. At the top of the hill is the Andechs Monastery with an amazing view. A climb up the bell tower will give you an even better panoramic scenery. And, the monks brew their own beer which taste really good for a relatively cheaper price.
Fussen, Germany – what made us visit this little town is the Neuschwanstein Castle, popularly known as the inspiration of Disney’s Castle for Cinderella. But there’s so much more in this little town that is worth more than just a day trip.
Berlin, Germany – historically rich, modern living, and ethnically diverse: at some point, Berlin felt like home. It took me days to pull myself away and figure out where to go next.
German history overload led me to Dresden
After being historically drained with all the pre-taking-down of the Berlin wall and WWII, I was at a lost on where to go next. Thanks to one of those free-walking tour websites offering some paid tours, I managed to learn that a beautiful little city named Dresden exists just a few hours away.
Dresden, Germany – a spontaneous trip away, Dresden is a beautiful city to escape to. It would’ve been nice to sulk on the history behind every building, but at that point, I just wanted to be there and leave the past behind. It somehow reminded me of Prague with less than a quarter of the tourists.
Listening to my heart, it said Poland. Then I ran like I was on a race.
Once I got back in Berlin, I finally realized that I had to move forward. I couldn’t get myself to go to Spain yet, and somehow, my heart told me to transport myself to Poland.
After writing all my postcards the night before, I finally left Berlin with an exciting “almost-amazing-race-like” experience. I found myself running towards the bus station to catch my on-time Polski bus to Wroclaw.
Wroclaw, Poland – another beautiful old town with lots of gnomes around! This is where I’ve experienced the most lame “free walking tour” that couldn’t save a life if it had to.
Krakow, Poland – a more popular city compared to Wroclaw. I’ve learned that there’s actually some kind of rivalry between Krakow and Warsaw. This is also where I’ve experienced a surreal travel moment with perhaps the most generous Norwegian people I’ve met, and I’m glad to have shared that moment with a new Polish friend I’ve made.
Warsaw, Poland – a city I know I would go back to, as I missed a whole lot of it because of my recurring extension of stay in both Wroclaw and Krakow. I was only able to manage half a day here in Warsaw, arriving late the night before I had to fly to Madrid. Imagine doing a free walking tour while writing your postcards and sprinting to catch a cab to the airport with just more than an hour to spare!
Not too sure if it was the right time, I had to take off to Spain
Flying from Warsaw to Madrid via Norwegian Air gave me a mix of emotions. The week in Poland felt like a blur and passed by quickly. But I knew I had to get myself to Spain this time around, otherwise, I’d regret it.
Skipping Madrid altogether, I immediately hopped on the bus to Salamanca.
Salamanca, Spain – what attracted me most to the idea of visiting Salamanca was the student vibe in it. When the hopes of going back to school or perhaps learning Spanish in Spain came up, Salamanca was in the top of my list. Since it is an unfamiliar territory, I just knew I had to go. It is here where I actually felt mum on most occasions in the common area of my hostel, as most, if not all, tried to speak in Spanish.
Last minute change of travel plans: A quick jump to Porto
When you find yourself clueless that you were in a country during the much awaited local holiday, you have no choice but to leave. Almost everything was either fully booked or had become ridiculously expensive! Thanks to the Spanish National Day, me and a new friend that I’ve made in Salamanca decided to go to Porto and see what this Portuguese city is all about.
Porto, Portugal – my first taste of the Atlantic Ocean view, together with the most gastronomic experience yet. True to what everybody says, good food makes a person happy. The whole Porto experience for me holds memories of shared food and laughter.
Route from Porto to Morocco: Porto – Lisbon – Sevilla – Marrakesh
During my stay in Porto, again, I had to figure out how to get myself to Morocco. The most feasible flight with respect to time and price was to fly from Sevilla to Marrakesh.
As there were no direct buses nor trains from Porto to Sevilla, I had to go via Lisbon first.
And, let’s face it, Lisbon is one of the most inviting cities that one should not skip if given the opportunity.
Lisbon, Portugal – what I loved about Lisbon are the moments I’ve shared with the people I got to hangout with in the hostel. We explored the city together and with them, I somehow stumbled upon a museum that houses a great deal of artwork (including a Picasso and a Dali!) which is FREE. Another laid back city with an amazing view, I hope I had more time here.
Sevilla, Spain – this is where Christianity and Moorish influence combines. The Alcazar is probably the most popular building in this city, due to the series Game of Thrones, but trust that there’s a lot more this city has to offer. My favorites were the bridge towards Triana and the Plaza de España.
When all signs lead to Morocco
As the validity of my Schengen visa had come to an end, it was finally time for me to leave. It was meant to happen. Leaving, for the most part, is always a heart breaking experience. But as painful as it could be, the excitement of what lies ahead is just as worth it!
A visit to my friend in Casablanca was all it took for me to go to Morocco and the idea of visiting Marrakesh was just an idea.
Who would’ve thought that I’d get to stay longer and see more than that?
Casablanca, Morocco – mostly a business hub, this city is often skipped by tourists unless they’re flying in/out of Morocco. The Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest mosques in the world, is a must when visiting. Surprisingly, I felt more “local” here than my friend who has been staying here for a few months. Exploring this and doing that within the limited amount of time.
Being intimidated with the unknown and conquering the Sahara
The thing about exploring an unfamiliar territory is that you have to deal with the imaginary intimidation first. This was how I felt with Morocco in general. And as much as I wanted to go to Marrakesh immediately, I was intimidated. So, when a friend I’ve made in Salamanca asked me about my plans, we’ve decided to go and explore Marrakesh together.
And to our surprise, we even managed to do a Sahara desert tour as well!
Marrakesh, Morocco – it’s no wonder that this city is very popular among the visitors. Perhaps the most vibrant city in Morocco, traversing the streets and souks in the Medina was really overwhelming. The square alone gives you a sight of the street performers that I personally am not willing to pay for. This is where their persistence and my patience have come to test.
Erg Chebbi, Sahara Desert, Morocco – if it weren’t for my friend, I probably wouldn’t find the courage to do the Desert tour, let alone climb the steep dunes to take a good look of this part of the Sahara. An overnight in the Sahara is a must. When will you ever say that you actually get to see the sunrise, sunset, and sleep on it as well? Add to the fact that the tour is relatively cheap and we got to make stopovers in some of the coolest places of Morocco as well!
Playing it be heart, seeing places and learning about it one moment at a time
After Marrakesh, I returned to Casablanca to send myself and my friend off to our next destinations. At that point, I actually had no clue where to go yet, but I figured I might as well checkout the places I’ve heard off/learned about from the people I’ve met in Marrakesh such as Fes and Chefchaouen. “A must” even if I had no clue at all.
En route to Fes are some cities that I felt the need to checkout as well. Thus, bringing myself to Rabat.
Rabat was meant to be explored and the rest was history
I arrived in Rabat with no place to stay and no idea what to see. Just an hour away from Casablanca, I left with no prior hostel booking thanks to my lack of connection to the internet world. I just trusted my instincts and hoped to find one once I get there. I figured, if I couldn’t find a place to stay, I could just hop on to the next train to Fes.
Thankfully, I found a really affordable one via AirBnB. And much to my surprise, Rabat is amazing!
Rabat, Morocco – I didn’t know that Rabat was the capital of Morocco until a few days before I got there. Shameful, I know! But let me tell you, Rabat is an underrated destination. As the country’s capital, most government offices can be found here, giving an impression as a busy city that of course, doesn’t attract a lot of tourists. But being here, you get to see for yourself how almost the whole city is surrounded by walls, experience the mix of cultural and cosmopolitan life, manage to be told of the history through the ruins at Chellah as well as get the Atlantic (surfers, alert!) view from the Kasbah. Talk about having the balance of life.
Route to Fes with side trips to Meknes and Volubilis
Ideally, I’d go to Meknes before heading off to Fes. But at that point, I was getting tired of packing and unpacking. So I figured, I’ll probably just make a day trip from Fes once I got there. Fortunately, I’ve made new friends in Fes who thought of doing the same thing!
Meknes, Morocco – going around the city walls with noone else but us was a refreshing take from all the hustle and bustle of the previous cities I’ve visited. The Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss and his granaries (Heri es-Souani) were the only places we were able to get ourselves into. Most of the places were either closed (even the golf course) or exclusive for Muslims (not that they’re open). The Agdal basin outside the granary seems like a nice place to chill out if not for our hunger and the rain that was about to fall.
Volubilis, Morocco – what’s amazing with just tagging along is the possibility of getting surprisingly amazed with what you’re about to see. Not having heard of Volubilis until the moment our Meknes travel buddy mentioned it, we were in for a huge surprise. It’s perhaps the most worth it rain-soaked wandering experience that I’ve ever had. The view of the olive fields, the vastness of the well preserved historical ruins, the genuine kindness of the guard in Volubilis — it’s totality is just overwhelming.
Fes, Morocco – this medieval city made me lost the moment I thought I got it all figured out, even with all the signs that I’ve tried to follow. Fortunately, the locals I managed to ask were nice enough to point me to the right direction. My favorite part was perhaps finding comfort in eating the Kefta for 12 MAD and savoring my mint to for 5 MAD. The kid that works there deserves all the tip more than the kids who tried to rip me off, acting as my brother to take me to the tannery.
Chefchaouen, Morocco – as blue as the city looks, the atmosphere is calming enough to not make you feel blue at all. This is one of my favorite cities to the point that I actually had to book my bus to Tangier the afternoon of my last day and leave. If I didn’t, then I probably won’t leave at all! And it’s w
A minute was all it took for Assilah
The idea of visiting Assilah came up when I thought I was going to spend so much time in Tangier. Upon arriving at the bus station, I met another traveler who thought of visiting Assilah. When I mentioned that I was actually thinking about it, she immediately re-booked her ticket, allowing a day trip to Assilah to become inevitable.
Assilah, Morocco – a convenient less than an hour train ride from Tangier, Assilah is a quite little town. Most of the visitors I’ve seen here were Spanish. A stroll around made me miss Chefchaouen, actually. It would’ve been nice to take a slow stroll at the beach but unfortunately, my company was eager to make the day more filling. The food there that we had was super filling, really good, and quite cheap.
And then, there was Tangier. My heart and this universe told me so.
I never thought that I’d actually realize my idea of going to Tangier upon reading the book, the Alchemist. While I was in Fes, I knew that I had to find the most feasible flight to London by the 2nd week of November. Little did I know that Tangier has an airport that serves the most affordable flight to London (at that time!).
Another city for me to explore, I visited what I thought was just a bustling port city in Morocco. Little did I know that this is where I’d enjoyed the Moroccan vibe the most.
Tangier, Morocco – the Atlantic in all forms and sizes. From catching a view while drinking mint tea at the Cafe Hafa, to beachin’ around near the Hercules Cave, until finally chilling at the hostel, Tangier is the best conclusion to this Moroccan trip.
London catching me off guard.
After embracing the laid back, inexpensive standard of living in Morocco, I came to London totally unprepared. Or perhaps I jumped off to London with my other foot still in Morocco.
I was culture shocked. I was in the phase where I couldn’t help but notice the details I’ve been experiencing and reflect back to how it was when I was in Morocco. That was wrong but I couldn’t help it.
Pulling myself together, I had to experience London with an extra effort of leaving the past for the sake of myself.
London, England – a big city with so much to indulge to. From historical monuments, churches, to food exploration, shopping, and musicals, there’s really so much going on in this city. As I was counting every penny, I had to be strategic about my stay in London. Minimizing unnecessary expenses by going to free museums and churches, and not buying that unhealthy soda, I was able to have extra money for a musical and a jacket for Scotland.
Feeling the need to leave London and braving the cold of Scotland
Although there’s still so much to explore in and around London, I actually getting tired of it all and just felt like leaving. The idea of going to Edinburgh had been playing in my mind for a few weeks, since a new friend told me about it when I was in Seville. But coming from a tropical country, I had no idea how cold is “cold”and not sure how to prepare for it. I was afraid of the weather forecast and thus, made me procrastinate.
Fortunately, I have very supportive friends who pushed me to buy that GBP 20 H&M jacket.
And fate had it rolling by making sure that I end up with a roommate who had recently went to Scotland, telling me that “that was probably the highlight of my whole trip.“ How can you resist Scotland with that?
Finally, I booked my Isle of the Skye tour and took the overnight bus to Edinburgh.
Edinburgh, Scotland – I was lucky enough to catch Edinburgh with a short-lived sunny day before I head off for the Isle of the Skye. Maybe because I was sleep deprived that I wasn’t able to absorb all the history told in the free walking tour. Thankfully, when I came back from the Isle of the Skye, I had the freedom to ditch my pre-booked morning bus back to London to savor my last day in Edinburgh. Christmas markets, hot beer, whiskey, and cider… that’s a game-changer.
The Highlands, Isle of the Skye, Scotland – one of my most favorite in this whole trip. Words can’t describe how beautiful and rich Scotland is. This is when I also learned that snow is not something that I should be afraid of. Let alone swimming spontaneously in a 7-degree lake. And the group I traveled with on this tour is just amazing!
The Sign of Going Home and Feeling Right about it.
While in the highlands, a visit to Dublin had played in my mind. Just as I was about to pay for my ticket, I found out that unfortunately, I needed a separate visa from it. At that point, taking my flight home felt right.
When almost all of your family had decided to go home for a reunion in order to celebrate the anniversary of your most beloved grandma’s passing… When you’re the only person missing that spot… It felt right to go home.
And with the holidays coming to an end, I need to accomplish all the necessary for my 2016 plans. Talk about more places to see, more moments to share, and more dreams to realize.
With just 3 days to go, that almost sums up my 2015.
Sending you all the positive energy, may we all have a prosperous 2016 in Life and Travels! 🙂