The Roots of My Travels

walking

Yay for Thursday! Two reasons why I’m excited today: because it’s almost the weekend, and I get to blog about my throwback travels.

Today I’m writing about where my love for travels might have most likely started from.

One of the things I remember vividly from my childhood is the big world map that my dad hung up the wall. Everyday my brother and I would, as part of our games, go up to that map and read through the colorful countries. I remember wondering about countries and how far away the Philippines was from them, surrounded by seas.

Could we take a boat and row all the way to Indonesia? It seems pretty close.

Why are these countries called Turkey, Greenland, Finland, Oman and Laos (Laos, when translated to Filipino, is ‘used to be a star, but not anymore’)?

Mongolia is smaller compared to China, how were they able to conquer it? As well as Rome – it is so small yet it was able to establish an empire.

If we go to the easternmost tip of Russia how long would it take us to drive all the way to Portugal.

How do countries situated next to each other know if they already crossed the border? Is there a long fence or wall? Why are there lots of countries in one big chunk of land? Can’t they just be one country so it’s easier to remember?

Why is there snow in other countries and not where I am?

Of course no one answered those questions for me and my brother, as our mom and dad were at work and by the time they got home we would have already moved on from these thoughts.

I believe subconsciously that curiosity lingered on. That was why as I got older, and the world progressed from the conventional way of booking tickets (going to an actual airline ticketing office and getting the plane tickets tucked in envelopes) to the more efficient online flight bookings, I’ve raced away as much as I could, visiting one country to another. I’m glad D is game to fly with me, and he’s also into getting lost and exploring our way around.

Like the big map I grew up with, the world is bigger – with many beautiful places, people, cultures, nature to find and appreciate. I’m thankful to my Dad because he was the catalyst to my curiosity, and eventually motivation, to travel.

Map

Reminiscing Bicol

ATV

Mayon Volcano, the perfect cone shaped active volcano of the Philippines, is in the province of Bicol, which is the southernmost tip of Luzon. I’ve always been curious to go, having had friends from the University who lived there. I’ve heard so much good things about Bicol, but it was just so long a drive from Manila, that I’ve kept on postponing a trip. Until I saw photos from my niece’s quick holiday to Bicol – that’s what motivated me to finally go.

We were able to book promo airfare tickets from Cebu Pacific, and arrived around noon. As soon as we boarded off the plane, Mayon Volcano and its grandeur captivated me and D.

We stayed at Balay de la Rama Bed & Breakfast in Daraga, Legazpi. It was close to the tourist spots, and we were also able to arrange for a day tour through them. The famous ruins of Cagsawa was walking distance to the hotel so it was one of the first places we went to the next day after sunrise, in the hopes of beating the tourist crowds.

Cagsawa
Cagsawa Ruins

Shortly after, D and I went to an ATV adventure. We rode through black sand, streams and a forest. We had such a blast! Later D and I would compare our tan.

ATV
ATV to Mayon

After the ATV tour, we went to Lignon Hill, another place with a view of Mayon. We also went for a quick stop at the Hoyop Hoyopan cave, which was a cool relief from the temperature outside. Our guide told us that the cave played a significant part for the refugees during WW2.

Cave
Hoyop Hoyopan cave

Lastly, we went to the Daraga church. Built by the Franciscan priests in 1773, Daraga church sits on top of a hill overlooking Mayon. Its architecture style is Churrigueresque Baroque, and was built using volcanic rocks.

Daraga
Daraga Church

I know that my weekend in Legazpi was too short. I would love to go back to Bicol this year, perhaps to go swimming in Donsol, enjoy the water sports at Camarines Sur, or bask in  the sun at Caramoan beach. These destinations are definitely in my bucket list for travel in the Philippines.

 

 

 

Rustic Beauty that is Batanes

Years ago I watched a Filipino  movie called Batanes: Sa Dulo ng Walang Hangan – because Ken Chu, one of the Taiwanese stars of F4, was part of the cast.  While I was paying more attention to the movie’s plot, I remember I was also mesmerized by the views of Batanes that the movie had to offer. But back then, I was resigned to the fact that though it looked beautiful, I would just admire Batanes from a distance.

Until a couple of years ago, when Philippine Airlines had a seat sale and D and I were lucky to have been able to secure round trip plane tickets to Batanes. Lucky days!

Batanes is a group of small islands located at the northernmost tip of the Philippines. If one looks at the Philippine map, they have to magnify the view as they’re quite easy to miss. They’re almost equally distant from Taiwan and from Luzon. The airport is at the province’s capital, Basco. Back when D and I flew there, there was only 1 flight thrice a week by Philippine Airlines. The plane was small, and it was a turbulent ride from Manila. I was amazed at how the flight attendants seemed so calm through the turbulence – they said they’re used to it. On the way to the hotel,  I was told by our driver that during the rainy season, the pilots may even make a call to turn the planes back to Metro Manila as landing on the runway could be risky. Maybe that’s why there was a seat sale at the time we went because it was the month transitioning from summer to the rainy season? Anyway, just for trivia: before climate change, the usual path of typhoons that pass through the Philippines is through Batanes. That’s why the locals built their homes in such a way that they could withstand the storm.

Ivatan
Ivatan headgear

We stayed at the Bernardo’s Hotel in Basco. I booked this hotel after seeing a travel review about it on tv. It’s a few meters away from the Chanarian Beach. They have a restaurant called Casa Napoli, which serves pizza baked in a brick oven.

First thing we looked for after we checked in was a place where we could rent a motorbike. We were only staying for a couple of days, so we needed to cover the most that we could. We would also be missing the daytours to Sabtang Island the next day, so we figured driving around Basco and Mahatao would do. We were able to rent one for 500 pesos a day and off we went, determined to be pleasantly surprised with what we would discover.

We drove to the Basco Lighthouse. We also passed by an honesty store, and then rode for hours of just spectacular seaside view. There are no words…

Lighthouse
Basco Lighthouse, Batanes

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Next stop was the Valugan Boulder Beach. This is one rocky beach, and quite a sight to behold – in fact, I don’t recall seeing any space with just sand. D and I ended up walking far away from each other because we were preoccupied finding our balance as we stepped through the rocks.

Beach
Seaside, Batanes

Rakuh a Payaman, more commonly known as the Marlboro Country of Batanes, means ‘wide pasture’. This is a favorite tourist spot, with its rolling hills and magnificent view of the sea. Reminded me of Victoria’s 12 Apostles. D was so fascinated by the view here that he suddenly declared that Batanes is already his number 1 travel destination in the whole world.

Hills
Batanes outdoors

Last stop was at the quaint Mt Carmel chapel. What better way to cap the trip saying a prayer of thanks for having been given the chance and the means to visit this beautiful place.

Overall, we were very much impressed by Batanes: its beauty, cleanliness, simplicity, and its people. The only downside during our trip was at the time, the whole of Batanes had scheduled power outages during daytime hours. We were told it was because the electric company was doing repairs when their facility was impacted by a recent typhoon. But this does not change our positive impression of the place – we’d go back in a heartbeat. Hopefully next time, we can do it on the cooler months. I heard it could get chilly there in December. That would be awesome to experience.

Blow Ur Horn
Usual signage on roads of Batanes

Call of Koln

Koln

I’m writing a series of Throwback Thursday travel diaries, and I’m kicking it off with writing memories of my trip to Cologne, Germany.

D and I have been to Germany three times, and this is one of the places that stand out for me. Before going to Cologne, I had no idea what was in store for us. All I knew is that it was a city that was halfway through Brussels and our final destination, Frankfurt. D and I did not intend to sit in a train for a long time, so we chose a Cologne, which was along the way, to spend a night.

When we got off the train at Koln Hauptbanhof, I was immediately astounded at the sight of the two towers of the Cologne Cathedral. And as we exited the train station, there was the full view of the Gothic architecture and its grandiose. It is the seat of the Catholic archbishop of Cologne. Its foundation was started in 1248, and the cathedral was completed in 1880.  Because it is also the second highest building in the city of Cologne, it can be seen all the way through the Old Town. The Cologne Cathedral was declared a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral

After minutes of gaping at the cathedral, D and I searched for somewhere to eat, and stumbled upon a pub called Frueh am Dom, located at Am Hof 12-18, less than half a mile from the central train station. I liked the vibe of the pub, and the food was pretty awesome.

Frueh
Frueh

After lunch we explored the streets lined with shops. Back then, when I used to love shopping, I was overwhelmed with joy at the sight of the shops and managed to buy myself souvenirs. We lost track of time and decided to extend our stay in Koln for another night, so we can get to know the city more. That night, we tried out the beer and dined at a restaurant along the Rhein River.

The next day we got up early, had a quick breakfast at the Hotel Heinzelmannchen and headed out to walk along the Rhein River towards The Old Town, or the Altstadt, which is a picturesque area consisting of colorful buildings. I understand this area was nearly destroyed during World War II, along with majority of the city. Most of what is seen in Altstadt now were rebuilt after the war. We had lunch at Muhlen Kolsch, the pink building next to the yellow building. I had fish, and of course, a pint of beer.

Old Town
The Old Town

For us to be able to extend our stay meant that we would have to skip Koblenz. I don’t know what I missed, but I’m glad we got to stay longer in Koln. We were able to walk around leisurely (compared to if we only had one day), and were able to see the Farina Fragrance Museum as well as the 4711 Eau de Cologne. Being already in Cologne, we got ourselves a set of 4711 Eau de Cologne souvenirs. I’m not sure if the word cologne was derived from this city, or it’s the other way around? Whatever it is, I was in love with the scent of the 4711, such that when I found that D kept a stash of these little bottles, I was in scent heaven! It reminds me of Jo Malone’s Nutmeg and Ginger. I just can’t get enough of it!

Danke furs Lesen!

Cologne
Cologne