A day with the Aeta Community

When traveling, a lot of us resort to visiting other countries, mainly for leisure. I’m all about activities that give back to the community. I love experiencing how certain people live their everyday lives. My friend then recommended MAD Travel. They encourage social tourism and have tours available where you can immerse yourself in activities that give back to the community. We decided to join their Tribes and Treks tour in San Felipe, Zambales. Rest-assured by the end of our trip, I had a new perspective in life.

Being working people, we took the night bus to San Felipe, Zambales. Victory Liner Cubao has buses going to Zambales every day. Our only mistake was that we didn’t get to buy tickets early as to why we got the very last trip going to Iba, Zambales. You need to tell the conductor that you will be getting off at San Felipe, Zambales (Sa may “bayan” if I may specify). From there, you’ll already find the tricycle terminal just beside the bus stop.

Tell the tricycle driver that you will be going to Circle Hostel. Most of them already know the place but just in case, it’s in Liw-Liwa area near the pier. The Circle Hostel is the jump-off point for the Tribes and Treks tour. We got there at around 1AM and it was dark indeed. Sorry to the people in the room who were bothered by ‘Ate’ opening the lights at 1AM when we came in. So yea, if you’re in a hostel with other people you know the etiquette.

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The Circle Hostel couldn’t be more laid-back. The beds were simple and they give you that province feel. I am happy to say that The Circle Hostel is also Eco-friendly! Here you can see that they have “Eco-Bricks” made out of plastic bottles stuffed with more plastic inside. What a great way to make use of plastic waste!

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The Tribes and Treks tour usually starts as early as 7:00am. From the hostel, we rode a jeepney for about 20 minutes to get to the starting point of the trek. Here are the very helpful Carabaos (Water Buffalo) getting ready for the long journey.

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We trekked along the ‘Lahar’ or volcanic ash for about an hour to get to the Aeta Village. The trek is quite easy if you are walking on bare foot or flip-flops. You will be passing by rivers as to why your feet will get wet. The heat can be absurd too because of the open fields, so do wear sunblock.

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During our trek, a little girl named Eliza kept me company. She told me stories on how they walk to school for an hour every day, and if they find themselves running late, they would run. She was also so enthusiastic as we exchanged stories about our families. She told me she had brothers and sisters she would introduce once we get to the village.

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There are rivers where you could take short breaks because the carabaos needed their rest too of course. That feeling of putting your feet on the cold water after walking through the scorching heat of the sun is one of the best feelings ever.

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We then arrived at Yangil Village. We were welcomed with smiles and greetings. As soon as Eliza saw her mother, she then introduced us. We had taro chips and lemongrass tea as snacks. I gotta say I loved the lemongrass tea to bits. Nothing beats the traditional way of making tea. Smack the plant you will infuse into boiling water and bam! Best tea ever! The ‘nanays’ (mothers), boil the lemongrass, which they planted by the way, into one big pot to make this lovely tea.

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After the short briefing and snacks, our group then went on to learn archery. There were quite a few people who hit the target. For me, I still couldn’t get it after numerous tries. It was still indeed a fun activity and a chance to interact with the Aetas of the village.

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Before having lunch, we helped the ‘nanays’ prepare the dishes. Being the culinary graduate that I am, I volunteered to do the cutting of the vegetables. Some volunteered to read books to the kids.

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Later on, I had a coloring session with the kids. It all started with me and two kids until others saw and joined us. It was really nice to be teaching kids some color combinations and how to do outlining. If I had more time, I would love to teach them more. There are so many things I wish to share to these kids.

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Our lunch consisted of various dishes such as adobo, chopsuey and fried fish. The Aeta people of Yangil village could never be more hospitable to us. There were dishes available for our vegetarian and vegan friends. Also, gluten-free! Please do inform them beforehand though.

It was great to do an immersion where you could meet new people. Our group consisted of students from Australia and it was nice to hear stories from them and their thoughts about life. I also met a fellow Filipino who was traveling alone. Activities like this will open your eyes and amaze you that people from other parts of the world can come together for a great purpose.

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We were having a quick break when one of the Yangil girls asked if she could braid my hair. Without hesitation, I said yes. I was having a chat with Princess while she was braiding my hair. She told me they had a cat named Sapporo. The name rang a bell, then I asked her if she’s seen the movie “Kita-kita”, and indeed she did. Princess did an awesome job with my hair. I couldn’t be more thankful because it was so pretty.

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After that, the kids then had a braiding session with the other girls.

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The Aeta people then showed us their traditional dance and later on people joined in all the fun. The kids had their dance too and Eliza pulled us in to dance with them. Princess then sang a song which stuck to us for the whole trip. We all had a fun time sharing laughs with the Aeta community as we thanked them for their hospitality.

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We left the village to proceed to the nursery where we planted seedlings. The Aeta community have been planting them to restore the forests and also for their daily needs. This is where we come in. Just by helping them plant these seedlings, you will help generations of Aeta community. I could only imagine the number of seeds our big group planted. I felt a sense of fulfillment after that.

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It was hard to say goodbye to the people of Yangil. I’ve somehow become attached especially to the children. I was bid farewell with hugs from the children telling me that I should go back and visit them again. I told Eliza to do good and study hard in school so that she could achieve her dreams. I wish to see them all again someday, all grown up.

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Before heading back to the hostel, we had dinner by Chieftain’s house. Again, the aeta people were very hospitable to us. I personally loved all the vegetarian dishes during dinner. We taught some Filipino phrases to our new Australian friends. We also watched the sunset near Chieftain’s house. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

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This trip will leave you with a newfound perspective in life. I’ve also learned some things from the Aeta people. If they care about the welfare of others by building new forests and a better community for the future generations, I don’t see why we shouldn’t do the same. It is indeed a ripple effect. By doing this one small thing, we can help other generations in the future. Through immersing myself into their community, I’ve realized that sometimes all they need is company. Our presence together with a bit of a helping hand can change lives. It all starts with you. Will you go on an adventure that matters?

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A first-timer’s guide: Japan

There’s always a first time to everything. I’ve noticed that my way of coping with heartbreak is to leave and just go somewhere. So this is my first time traveling on my own, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, mainly because of the food. It was a place where convenience is important and people value discipline. Life is quite easy in Japan. The food is good and the culture is present. I used to think I couldn’t possibly go there alone, but good thing something pushed me to finally do it. Not waiting for people, not waiting for other decisions to be made, I just did it.

Let me share with you how I winged it in Japan alone. First, there was the airfare. I use skyscanner.com when looking for cheap flights. Luckily, I found a round-trip flight with Jetstar for only Php 13,703 with added 10kg check-in baggage on my way home. I know there are other cheaper flights out there, especially when airlines have their promos. Just do take note that some of these airlines don’t land in Kansai Airport (Osaka’s Airport). You can find the airport train station just outside after you go through the travel booths. It’s located just across the bridge.

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Second, your Japan Visa. Now, this is the part where it gets kind of lengthy. I got my Japan Visa with the help of Reli Tours (Megamall Branch). I needed to get a tourist visa, which is also referred to as a 1-B Tourist Visa with No Guarantor because I was paying for the trip myself. If you’re planning to go to Japan ALONE, I suggest you start saving up money in your bank account first, because one of the requirements for getting a Japan visa is a bank certificate. You will need a reasonable amount in your account for your visa to be approved. Since I was alone, I tried saving up to 50k on my account just to be sure. One of the requirements for getting a visa is a birth certificate, which I requested from NSO (Php 315). Once you submit all the other requirements to your chosen agency, in my case Reli tours, you need to pay Php 950 for the handling fee. I will break down the full process of getting a Japan Visa with a Philippine Passport soon on another blog post.

Next was a place to stay. Since I was on a budget, I opted for a traveler’s hostel. I chose ARK Hostel because it was very convenient to places I wanted to go to and it’s really adorable! I booked with them via booking.com and my four days three nights stay cost me only Php 4,505. That’s not so bad. I cannot recommend this hostel enough. I have everything I needed. The bathrooms were nice and clean. There’s a common area and a kitchen. There are lockers you can use and a computer too. Best part was I met new friends because of this hostel! 🙂

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I wanted a hassle-free way to go around, so I purchased the 3-day use of the Kansai Thru Pass via Klook for only Php 2,339 and it was a charm indeed. The Kansai Thru Pass can be used on trains and buses within the Kansai area. Do take note that this pass can’t be used on JR lines. It was very helpful that it can also be used from Kansai Airport to Namba Station using the Nankai Line.

Another thing I know I needed was internet connection. I knew I was going to get lost somehow and google maps would be my only hope. My friend recommended that I rent the Pupuru pocket WiFi. I rented 4-days use of Pupuru pocket WiFi, which cost me around Php 1,840. It was indeed helpful to have wifi wherever you go. You pick up the pocket wifi at the airport. On your last day of rental, you just drop it on one of the red mailboxes you can find around Japan. Return packet with address is already provided.

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Here’s the breakdown of the essentials:

  • Round Trip Flight via Jetstar from MNL to KIX – Php 13,703
  • Visa Handling Fee + Birth Certificate – Php 1,265
  • ARK Hostel Stay 4 Days and 3 Nights – Php 4,505
  • Kansai Thru Pass for 3 days via Klook – Php 2,339
  • Pupuru Pocket WiFi 4 Days – Php 1,840

Total of Php 23,652

Now all you need is an itinerary and your pocket money. I’m a person who doesn’t like planning so I kind of just went with the flow. There were places I had in mind that I wanted to visit, though my four days wasn’t enough for all of them. So here are the places I got to visit.

Osaka Castle
This wasn’t really part of my plan but it was nice that I got to go here too. I met a friend in my hostel and we went there together. You need to get ready for the long walk to reach the actual castle because it’s really in the middle part of the compound. It was quite far from the nearest train station. There are food stalls before you enter, and you can find the famous green tea ice cream in there. The area of Osaka Castle is very calm and serene. You can sit by the benches and enjoy the view from the outside, or you can opt to buy a ticket to enter the castle.

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Dotonbori
Now, this is my favorite part of all, lots and lots of food! You go to Dotonbori to eat and to shop. In my case, I was really just there to eat. From takoyaki to okonomiyaki, to ramen and gyoza. You need like a whole day to explore this place. Try as many as you can. The famous shopping place called Don Quijote can be found here. I bought so much stuff to bring home that I couldn’t fit all of them in my luggage anymore. The famous glico man can be found here.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kyoto was one of my favorites. It was an area in Japan where I could feel that I was actually in “old japan”. Kimonos everywhere and shrines for prayers. It was really just so overwhelming to visit this place. I tried ringing the bells on the Inari shrine. I was hesitant at first because I really didn’t know how to do it and it might come off weird if I didn’t do it right. Still, I had nothing to lose. I was in another country alone and on my own. I watched the Japanese people as they do their prayers. I quickly learned that you have to throw in some coins, ring the bells, bow twice, make a wish, clap your hands twice, and bow for one last time. It was a great experience to try new things. Near the Inari shrine there’s a mini market with lots of food stalls. My always-hungry-self got giddy with excitement when I saw them.

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Universal Studios Japan
A ticket to USJ can be quite expensive. If you’re really not into all the fun rides and shows, then you can actually just skip USJ. For me, I was a huge Harry Potter fan and I wanted to see a life-sized Hogwarts. I don’t have it in my heart to skip USJ. Let me tell you how you can lower that whole-day ticket price. I just found out that you can actually purchase half-day tickets and that’s like a helpful price drop-down. From 7600 yen, the half-day tickets cost around 5800 yen. That’s going to be our little secret haha. With the half-day tickets, you can enter the park after 3pm. That’s still a lot of time! But please do go there on a weekday to avoid herds of people. In my case, I went on a Thursday, and the crowd wasn’t that bad at all. The queuing wasn’t that long and was actually reasonable for a theme park. Maybe we were just in luck because I’ve read about people queuing for long hours just to get on a ride. I guess Thursday afternoon is the best time. Can I also just say that I love the ladies restroom down in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They actually have Moaning Myrtle crying in the restroom. Props to them!

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TRANSPORTATION

Don’t fret, because trains are Japan’s forte. From high-speed bullet trains to the numerous train lines making it easier for you to get from one place to another. Do not be intimidated by the train lines and ticket system. In fact, getting a ticket from the machine is quite easy, that you can ditch that JR pass. First, you should know which line to take to get to your destination. Stations in Japan can get quite big and you may get lost. Just follow the arrows to the line you need to get to or if you’re lost, ask questions and they would gladly help you. When you get to your line, you will notice ticket gates. There are always ticket machines beside them. The ticket machines have an English option so don’t worry. When purchasing a single journey ticket, you basically just select “Single Ticket”, put the amount of money in, then select the amount you’d like to buy (usually 180 yen for single journey). As far as I have understood, single journey tickets on main city lines are around 180 yen. JR lines are a different case though, they’re a bit more expensive because they travel long distances. Never lose your ticket while on the train journey because you will be using it to go out. I am in no way a local in Japan and I only got to understand the ticketing system quite a bit. There are tables you can check and maps that have the prices of your destinations. If your purchased ticket came short and you can’t get out of a station, there are always ticket adjustment machines available. This is my new friend Diane navigating through a ticket machine.

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I have also observed that Japanese people love to walk and they’re fast walkers. If you’re going somewhere pretty near, I suggest walking because that’s what everybody does. I noticed people overtaking me whenever I’m walking. I mean, I couldn’t possibly be that slow am I? Remember, Google Maps will be your best friend. Bicycles are also used aside from walking. Just do be careful with bikes because I almost got rammed over by a dozen bikers. When riding trains please give way to the people getting off the train, before you go inside. It’s simple etiquette but it makes everything easier. Taxis in Japan are also expensive. I chose to ride the train back to the airport even if it means I have to carry my luggage around, as long as it’s cheaper.

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FOOD

Food in Japan is the best thing ever. Who would have thought that I’d be loving 7-11 microwaveables. They’re that good. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Japan, eat like the Japanese. Don’t settle for familiar, try new things! Try as many as you can! Being the cheap-ass that we were, whenever we’re hungry at night, we’ll grab a rice meal from 7-11 with a can of Asahi beer. That my friends is a good combo. Hungry for a small snack? Get an onigiri by a local convenience store. Don’t know exactly what to eat? Just go to Dotonbori and spend a day eating your heart out or devour everything they sell on that mini food market near Fushimi Inari. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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PEOPLE

I have nothing more than good things to say about the Japanese people that I have encountered. They were all very nice. The day I came to Japan, I already got lost in Namba station. This nice man approached me asking if I was okay. I told him that I was looking for the Yotsubashi Line, and instead of just directing me where to go, he went all the way to actually walk with me to the gates of Yotsubashi line. Of course, at first I thought it was kind of sketchy, but wow he actually walked with me there. That was really nice of him. Same thing happened to my friend who was looking for Dotonbori, she got walked there by a nice stranger. They’re mostly nice people based on my experience. Just still be cautious ALWAYS though. Also, please understand that English is not their main language. If they are trying to help you, they’re actually taking their time to explain to you properly even if they speak a different language.

OTHER SIMPLE TIPS TO GET BY:

  • DO NOT walk while eating. You will get stares of disapproval.
  • DO NOT talk so loudly inside trains. You will get stares of disapproval.
  • DO NOT throw or leave your trash anywhere. You will definitely get stares of disapproval.
  • DO wait for your turn and stand on the right side to enter the train, after everyone has gotten off.
  • They are fast walkers. You might want to keep up with their pace when walking.
  • There aren’t many elevators in Osaka most especially in train stations. As much as possible bring a small luggage. You’ll be carrying them up the stairs.
  • Sometimes the distance of train stations and lines can be very far from each other.
  • You need to be ready to walk loooong distances. So wear comfy shoes.
  • Sometimes, eating at a restaurant can be an “eat-and-run” kind of thing. Don’t spend like two more hours just lounging around after eating.
  • It never hurts to use phrases such as “Sumimasen” (Excuse me) and “Arigato” (Thank you)
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions! They’re nice!
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New friends from the hostel. Shiori and Diane 🙂

I have to admit that my four days in Osaka were very short. I was even planning to go to Kobe but I couldn’t anymore. My first solo trip was a great experience. I met new people, done things I haven’t done before, and I just went for it! I had nothing to be afraid of. It was actually really fun. Glad that I started it off in Japan. Here’s to hoping I get to come back soon. Japan is now my favorite country by the way. I’ll rate everything 5-stars indeed! 🙂

A first-timer’s guide: Paris

“Aux Champs-Elysées, aux Champs-Elysées. Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit. Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées”

Now tell me who gets that giddy feeling whenever you hear that song. Ahh yes, Paris. The city of love, the coffee shop-filled streets and museums where maybe you’d have the slightest chance of meeting a fine young man with the same interests as yours. Paris does sound like a dream or an indie film. This city was not really one of my priorities or top places to go to before I die, but I was still very lucky to have visited Paris. It surprised me. Is it really how it’s portrayed in movies? How can you survive the city of wonder and art? What places can you go to? I will run you through how I managed to go around Paris.

1. Getting to Paris

You can get to Paris two ways, either via plane or the Eurostar. Most people take the Eurostar coming from London and arrive at Gare du Nord station. Usually,  people only do daytrips to Paris when they come from London. If you’ll be coming in by plane, Paris’ airport is Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Outside the airport and train station, you can find cabs and local metro trains and buses to reach your hotel or wherever you are planning to go.

2. Uber exists in Paris!

If you’re familiar with Uber and how to use it, I am glad to tell you that Uber exists in Paris. I was the only one really happy about this because cmon, you all know how convenient Uber is. They only use the credit card option though. If you’re more than four people riding an Uber please choose the van. Quite surprised with their Uber that I actually felt like a VIP. The cars were very clean and looked business-class, the drivers were quite nice and they were all wearing suits.

3. Where to Stay

When you’re in Paris, people would recommend actually living the Parisian life. We chose to get an AirBnb during our stay. When choosing your AirBnb, make sure the flat you choose is accessible to a metro station or if possible, walking-distance to some of the places you’re visiting. Also very important note, if you’re traveling with an elderly or you are bringing along huge luggages with you, please choose a flat with an elevator or at least located in the second floor. Most of the apartments in Paris do not have an elevator. Luckily, we found one with an elevator. It would also help if you’re near restaurants or groceries. We managed to cook our own breakfast everyday because there’s a grocery nearby, that’s if your Airbnb has a kitchen. There are also cheap hotels in Paris, but we wanted to experience the real parisian way of living as to why we resorted to getting an Airbnb.

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4. Plan ahead and download apps

Just like my tip from my London post. It would save you a lot of time by planning ahead and downloading apps. What do I mean by planning ahead? List down important addresses, places to go to and how to get there. List down the metro stations you will be going to so you won’t take up too much time asking ‘where is this’ and ‘where is that’. Download offline maps of Paris, it would be very useful. Maps are very important. If you can get a hold of them in tourist spots, please do. Here are some apps I downloaded that helped me:

Paris Metro & Paris App by Triposo

The Paris Metro app is very useful, it can plan your routes for you because sometimes you have to take two trains to get to your destination. The Paris app by Triposo is another helpful app most especially if you’re there on a budget. It lists down hotels nearby you could stay at, restaurants and attractions.

5. Transportation in Paris

Just like London, the city of Paris also has different modes of transportation. The easiest and most convenient way to go around is by using the paris metro. Riding the metro is quite easy, but first let me teach you how to get tickets. There are two kinds of ticket machines now, there’s the old one with the rollers used for navigation and the other one is touch-screen. The touch screen machine is easier because some of the old ones are not in english. Simply point to get tickets and you can choose the option of getting a single ticket, a carnet or a day pass. I would personally recommend getting a carnet. A carnet is a set of 10 tickets. It was much more convenient for us buying a carnet. It will indicate on the screen the amount of money to be paid. Oh and some machines don’t accept bills and some do, so better check it first before buying tickets. These tickets can also be used in buses.

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Now, riding the metro. Simply insert your ticket on the gate to enter the metro. Please keep your ticket because in some stations, you will need it to go out. Same concept as the London Tube, but the routes are determined by the name of both ends. For example, from La Tour Mabourg (Purple line) I want to go to Opéra, I will then take Line number 8 going to the direction of Créteil Pointe Du Lac (the right END of Line 8). On the fourth stop, I will go down to Opéra station and follow the Sortie sign which means the Exit. It’s really quite easy when you get the hang of it, you just need to know which side you’re going to. Also a warning, there are some gates that slam so hard when it closes so please be careful.

6. Be careful of pickpockets

This is like legit real when I say be careful. Even if you live somewhere where pickpocketing is quite normal and avoidable, don’t take this for granted. Pickpocketing and different kinds of modus-operandi are widespread in Paris. I personally have experienced an attempt when I was in the metro of Champs-Elysées. I was about to go through the gates when I heard my bagpack zipper open. I quickly glanced behind me and there was a couple dressed as tourists. I looked at him as he glanced away in embarrassment. He was using a brochure to hide his hand while he was opening my bag. They didn’t get on the train later on. Good thing nothing got taken and I heard it as soon as he opened it. There are also a lot more in the Eiffle Tower area. Sometimes people will approach you asking for donations for a charity. I experienced this and minutes later I saw her running with others when the police arrived. So basically, you really have to be mindful of your things in Paris and be alert. Since the number of tourists going in and out Paris are…. a lot, they have more guts to steal and they will do everything if you’re not observant.

7. Are people really rude?

I don’t know about others but my experience in interacting with Parisian people was quite okay. There is this connotation that people in Paris are rude. I have never experienced that on my stay in Paris. Heck, I even experienced being kicked off a table by a Swedish woman in Norway, but more on that next time. I noticed though, that Parisian people are always busy. Maybe that’s why people say that they’re “unapproachable” but to be honest, it is quite understandable. Everyone needs to make a living and I have observed that Parisian people are hard-working people. They take their jobs seriously and they don’t mess around. Well, there may be a few rude or lazy people you can encounter, but every country has one. Sometimes, there are rude tourists too. So when you interact with french people, try to ask nicely and don’t be scared. Always greet with a “Bonjour” and say “Merci beaucoup” and you’ll be good to go.

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Crepes near the Eiffle Tower. Please buy from this man they have really good crepes and i’ve tried a lot. This one is still the best.

8. Where to go

Eiffel Tower
Can’t say you’ve been to Paris without seeing the Eiffle Tower. Best time to go and take beautiful pictures is in the morning. Take some of your time to wake up early and go there about 7-9am and it will not be that crowded. Good thing our Airbnb is walking-distance away. You can get tickets to go up the tower. There’s a restaurant on the first level, Jules Verne by Alain Ducasse, but it may be quite expensive (Enderun represent!). There are also quaint cafes near the Eiffle tower so you can grab coffee and a croissant while fawning over the view.

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Notre Dame
I find Notre Dame magnificent since one of my favorite disney movies is the “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. You can buy tickets to go inside and go up to check the view and there are days when they have masses.

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Louvre Museum
The museum on its own is picture-worthy. I would love to chill outside and have a walk around where it’s less crowded. Once you get inside, be mindful of rowdy tourists. Minus the tourists, the inside is just as magnificent. When you get to the room with the Mona Lisa in it, you’ll be surprised and imagine that it was taken from an “expectations vs. reality” post. I managed to squeeze my way through the front and took a quick snap. Hey, just like concert moshpits ain’t it?

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Cruise on the River Seine
Nothing could be more romantic than cruising on the Seine river with your loved one. It screams Paris so much. There are cruises at night too and I believe it would be much more prettier especially if you see the Eiffle tower sparkling at night.

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Jardin du Palais Royal
If you’re a fan of pretty parks and want picturesque areas for your photos, Jardin du Palais Royal is for you. It was quite a bit of a challenge looking for the entrance though haha. It’s walking distance from the Louvre Museum. There are benches here and it’s a quiet place where you can just chill and let your surroundings sink-in.

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Arc de Triomphe
When you go to Champs Elysées,  no doubt you’d already see Arc de Triomph. Please be careful when taking your photos in the middle of the road with the Arc on the background. Please do it in respective spots and don’t just cross the road and pose. If you want to go up the Arc du Triomphe to get a view of Paris, that is also possible.

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Place de la Concorde
If any of you have seen “The Devil Wears Prada” movie, you might be familiar with Place de la Concorde where Anne Hathaway throws her phone in the fountain as she quits her A-list life. Place de la Concorde is also a beautiful area with monuments and cute cafes.

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Other places you can check out:
* Sacre Coeur- Gorgeous view up top and an alley of souvenir shops down below where you can bargain for a very cheap price.
* Palais Garnier-  An Opera house located in Rue Scribe. Marvelous architecture inside the opera house it will look like you stepped into the set of “The Phantom of the Opera”
* Paris Catacombs- If you are a fan of adventure and eerie places, this might spark your interest. Not for the claustrophobic though.
* Shopping at Champs-Elysées- A street filled with the world’s most popular brands. Be careful of pick pockets in this area.
* Spend a day at Palace of Versailles- Spend a whole day here because it is in the outskirts of Paris. A very beautiful garden and palace. Check their site for the fountain show schedule.

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9. Eat your heart out

Other than art and the Eiffle tower, Paris takes pride in their food. Having to go in a culinary school with the practices of the Alain Ducasse Group, I was most ecstatic to try actual french food because i’ve been studying it for years now. If you can shell out a bit of money and time, try eating at a fine-dining restaurant. An example would be Jules Verne on the Eiffle tower. Make sure you make reservations when eating at these restaurants. When you’re a “cheap-asian” like me, there are affordable cafes around the area that still provide good food. Don’t forget to buy crepes. There are a lot of them in Paris but sadly there was only one that I really loved. Try the famous French Onion Soup and the Croque Madame. I also did not forget to try a Truffle Cream Pasta and Risotto in Paris, and I did not expect that I was truly missing a lot. They were generous with the truffles and the cheese and take their food to the next level. If you’re really lucky, you’d find these gems in the streets of Paris that serve good food.

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All in all, Paris was beautiful. The architecture, the art and most especially the food. All of this are based on my experiences. If you’re planning to go to Paris, do not be scared to talk to people. At the very least you tried. Be careful of pickpockets too. Enjoy your time in Paris! Au revoir!

Paris Currency: € Euro
Cleanliness: ✮✮
Accessibility: 
Friendly People: ✮✮✮
Food: ✮✮✮✮

A first-timer’s guide: London

Visiting a country for the first time can get a little scary and I am very thankful for the little preparation I have done before the big adventure. I am a first-timer to London myself and I will share how I “winged” it in the British country if ever you’re going there for the first time as a tourist.

1. Flights and getting to London

Coming from the Philippines, you can imagine how far the UK is. I’m really not a fan of connecting flights, so we booked a direct flight instead. A direct flight from Manila to London Heathrow Airport will take about 14 hours. That’s if you can manage to stay inside a plane for 14 hours lol but do not fret! there are also connecting flights from Manila to London. Emirates has one I think but since we wanted to get there fast, we booked a direct flight with Philippine Airlines. Keep in mind though, when you book returning flights with the same airline, remember your point of entry. Our point of entry for our Eurotrip was in London, which means we go back to London for our flight back to the Philippines because we booked a returning ticket with the same airline. If ever you’ll be coming from another european country, there’s the option of taking the Eurostar train to London or going to London via Plane. If you’re taking a plane to London, you can choose British Airways or perhaps you’d like a more chill journey (but longer), then take the Eurostar. There are trains going in and out of London. Just make sure you have the right visa though.

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2. Where to stay

You have lots of options in London when it comes to lodging. You have three options. Hotels, Airbnb, Backpacker Hostels. Of course, when we say Hotel it’s not always cheap, but you get the luxury of staying in comfy beds, clean bathrooms, room service and sometimes free breakfast. I would most definitely recommend staying with Airbnb. Sometimes I could find flats/houses that are much cheaper than hotels and it has like a room or two, a common room and your own kitchen. If you’re rather adventurous and on a very tight budget, there are also Backpacker Hostels in London. You’ll surely meet new friends there. I did consider though, that our lodging should be in Central London and quite near train stations. So we got a hotel near Regent’s Park. Your life would be easier if you consider these things.

3. Plan ahead and download apps 

Thank god for the advancing technology right!? Believe me when I say your phone will be your bestfriend in another country. Before going to the UK, I have downloaded offline maps of London and apps for the tube (train). I also did my own research and written down notes on how to get from Point A to Point B. What station is nearest and where to go down. Trust me, Google Maps will help you. But if ever you don’t have data, make sure you have your offline map on your phone. If you are fond of another language, you can also download english translator apps. List down things you’re going to do, directions and addresses. You’ll be glad you did so. I used this offline map called Ulmon. It also has a London Tube map and recommendations for activities.


4. Transportation in London

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Getting around London is quite easy. There are cabs, buses and trains you can catch. The tube is London’s underground train system and it will be the most convenient way for you to go around. You need to use an Oyster card for both the tube and the buses. There is also the option of taking a taxi but it’s ~*expensive*~. Well, everything in London is expensive lol. So let me teach you how to use the London tube.

  • Buy an oyster card: Since it’s your first time, you might get intimidated by the self-automated machines. It’s rather easy to navigate. You can buy new oyster cards from there as well as paper tickets for a whole day use. Take note of the Zones when buying paper tickets. Most attractions are usually included in Zones 1 and 2. Don’t worry, you can ask questions and assistance, there are people there ready to help. Some stations have ticket offices too if you don’t like navigating through a machine.
  • Reloading your oyster card: On the ticket machines, there’s a spot there where you touch your card and it reads how much credit you have. If you want to top-up (add credit) you can simply choose that option. Choose the amount you want to add, slide in the coins/bills/credit card, and then touch your oyster card again to the reader to add the credit (It will indicate in the screen). Keep in mind that some machines only accepts coins and credit cards, some don’t accept bills.
  • Getting inside: Simply touch your oyster card on the reader so the gates will open. If ever you’re out of credit, it will not open up.
  • Knowing what train to ride: Here’s the London Underground Map
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    You will be guided by the colors of the line. Once you know what line/train you will be using, all that’s left to know is which train goes in that direction. It will be either north, south, east, west bound. Once you go inside, every train line has two different directions. Make sure you enter the right platform. You can also check the big maps there before entering a platform. I’m gonna give you an example on how to ride the train. From Warren Street Station, I want to go to Victoria Station.  If you can see, there are two train lines stopping in Warren Street Station. One is the Northern Line (Black line) and the other one is the Victoria Line (Light Blue line). I need to ride the Victoria Line (Light Blue line) going South bound to go to Victoria Station. I will then go to the right platform and wait for the train. Inside the train you could also see the stops so you are aware when you’re getting down. As you arrive to your destination, you can follow “Way Out” signs to exit the station. You will need your oyster card or tickets again to exit the station.
  • Buses: You can also use your oyster card on buses. Every bus stop has a timetable and a list of buses stopping at that area. That’s why it’s very helpful if you check what bus you’ll be riding before hand. Same procedure with touching your oyster card on the reader next to the driver. Though, some buses have readers on the other entrance at the back of the bus. If you have a paper ticket, kindly show it to the driver.

 

5. What to do in London

Harry Potter Studio
If you are a fan of the magical world of Harry Potter,  then this is the place for you. I was giddy when we went here. Seeing the set and the stuff they used for filming were there. It truly is a heaven for Harry Potter fans. You may purchase tickets there if you’re going on your own. If you’re coming from central london, I would recommend joining a tour. You can google tours that go to Harry Potter Studio. Great thing about tours is that transportation is included. You get to ride the bus together with other tourists and the guide would give out the tickets on-board. No more hassle of lining-up in the ticket office! If you’re planning to buy souvenirs from the studio, let me warn you that they’re rather expensive. Well, it’s Harry Potter.

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Portobello Market/Notting Hill
If you have a knick for antiques or just want to visit the site where they filmed “Notting Hill”, Portobello is an interesting place to be. You can also find cheap souvenirs there. When I say cheap, it’s like the “divisoria” type items that are sold £15 for 3 items and the like. If you want a food journey, Portobello Market has a wide selection of food stalls, cafés and restaurants. You can check out my Portobello Blog <– here

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Westminster/London Eye
Seeing Westminster will give you quite the London feel. You will find the Big Ben there and the Westminster Abbey, so don’t forget to take pictures, for it will be your one true proof of London hahaha. When you get to Westminster, you will already see the London Eye by the bridge. It’s quite a near walk if you want to get a closer look, or even ride the London Eye. There will be a long line though.

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Sherlock Holmes Museum
Cue Sherlock theme lol but if you are an ultimate fan of Sherlock, I know this will be on your go-to list. Just having your photo at the facade in Baker Street is already an achievement. They also have guided tours if you want to go up the apartment. You can purchase tickets inside the souvenir shop.

The London Beatles Store/Abbey Road 
That popular pedestrian lane would most definitely ring a bell to Beatles fans. Abbey road is just a walk away from The London Beatles store in Baker Street which just beside the Sherlock Museum. They can provide you with a map if you’d like to visit Abbey Road to get your picture taken while crossing. But please be mindful of the cars passing by, it’s still a normal street after all. Don’t make people wait.

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Windsor Castle
This place is quite far from Central London. I would also recommend getting a tour for this so you won’t have problems with transportation and tickets anymore. Sometimes you can even catch the queen in Windsor Castle! I’ve learned that whenever the flag is up, it means that the queen is there. It’s really a marvelous place with all the great structure. There are also guards in red uniform, marching around the area. Please respect them and don’t poke them or something, they’re doing their jobs in peace.

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Roman Baths
I would still recommend getting a tour for this. We got a packaged tour for Windsor, the Roman Baths and Stone Henge. Well,  that’s if you don’t mind going on and off a bus and feel like being rushed. The Roman Baths can get crowded and it’s quite hot in this area. Be careful of the slippery rocks though so you don’t slip. You’ll find many performers outside the baths which was more enjoyable for me. I’d rather chill outside next to the abbey though. It was already like being in Italy.

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Stone Henge
Well, what can I say. It’s a bunch of rocks in an open field lol but still it’s a piece of history though. Once you get to the entrance, you’ll get to ride a bus to the actual stonehenge. To be honest though, I was more fascinated by the vast open field around it. I wanted to roll over the fields and just lay there.

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6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

I cannot stress this enough. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. People in London are rather nice. Well, most of them. They would be willing to help you out with anything. Just say thank you afterwards 🙂

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So yea, these are some of my experiences in The Great Britain. I hope I helped you somehow. London is a very clean city, so please follow the rules and don’t throw rubbish everywhere. Seat belts are very important! Even in taxis. Don’t forget to wear them. Enjoy your first ever UK trip! You will have loads of fun. If ever I forgot some more places to go to. Please comment them down below. Thanks!

Currency in the UK: £ GBP (Great British Pound)

 

A Walk In Portobello Market

I’ve just been so lucky to have the opportunity to visit London. If you ever visit the Great Britain, set aside some of your time to visit Portobello Market. People with the knack for vintage cameras, antique finds and other cool things, this is the place for you.

Portobello is quite famous because of the film, “Notting Hill” and yes you will find the bookshop there. The first photo is the place used in the film, but the actual bookshop is the one on the second photo.

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The road of Portobello is full of antique sellers and great finds. I actually wanted to buy stuff but my problem was putting them in my bag and bringing it along to three more countries before I go back home to Manila. So I just resorted into taking photos. There were hard-to-find vinyl records, second-hand clothing, paintings from local artists, vintage teacups and pots, vintage cameras and silverware.

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Portobello Market is not only known for antiques, you can also have a happy tummy trying out the food stalls in the area. I was quite giddy when I saw the fresh produce that they sell in Portobello. I wish we could have that in the Philippines too. The vegetables and fruits were top notch fresh. We bought strawberries before leaving and they were so good!

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So “Notting Hill” fans, if ever you’re in London don’t forget to visit Portobello, or even if you’re not a fan and you just want a cool place to buy (cheap) souvenirs and other trinkets, you should definitely go to Portobello!

Journey to the land down under

Last May I finally got to visit the land down under, Aussie country 🙂

We first visited Melbourne where our relatives were and we got to tour around the city. Federation square is a great place for artsy people, or if you just wanted to chill. It was filled with galleries and marvelous structures, cafes and restaurants. One thing I also noticed is that they take their coffee seriously, so move aside Starbucks. We also got to ride the tram around the city, and guess what, it was free! Bless Australia.




At night, Melbourne’s skyline can be seen by Crowne’s riverside together with a gas fire show.


We also went to Phillip Island and watched the famous penguin parade, where you can see the adorable little penguins coming out of the shore in groups as they travel up their little houses. Cameras weren’t allowed tho because it might scare them away. I experienced a severe existential crisis the moment I saw the majestic view in Phillip Island. The rock formations were amazing and the grass couldn’t be much greener. It was just like stepping into a postcard.




Check out my first Australia vlog! Journey to the Land Down Under.

After a week in Melbourne, we flew to Cairns. Seeing the Great Barrier Reef was the highlight of my trip. We stayed in Port Douglas where the sudden change of temperature left me comparing it to Manila. We met a fellow Filipino in the hotel we were staying at, and he was nice enough to drive us around the town.


We availed of the day tour to the Great Barrier Reef and it was like an hour boat ride to the ‘actual reef’. It was also a great experience to scuba dive! I couldn’t take my camera with me for it was my first time scuba diving. It was difficult at first because I was breathing through my mouth and it was really salty :I because well yea, sea water. It got more difficult as we got deeper and deeper, my ears were ringing, almost choking because of the struggle I was having with breathing in salty air. At the bottom, I got to touch a huge clam and it was funny because it twitches and closes whenever you touch the inside. Most of the people scuba diving would look for Nemo, and yes I saw a clown fish in its humble sea anemone home. In summary, it was a privilege to dive a world heritage site. I was very lucky to have seen the beautiful reef.


I got to take my camera with me when I snorkeled. Click here for my Great Barrier Reef Vlog.


Side rant: Let me just say that if you find yourself going to Cairns, please avoid Sun Palm Transport at all costs (But if you’re not, then okay ignore this long paragraph) The only thing that ruined my whole Cairns trip was this excuse of a transportation company. We booked airport transfers to and out of Port Douglas. Going there was fine, the driver was nice and we got to our hotel in a breeze. We also scheduled a transfer back to the airport at 3:30am because our flight was 6:00am. We were instructed to wait for the shuttle at 3:30am and so we did, 30 minutes had passed and still no shuttle. We couldn’t call the office because the front desk itself was closed until morning (I was not aware they do that). We called using our prepaid mobile, after countless calls that were not answered, alas they decided to pick up the phone! Guess what bullshit they gave us. They said that there was a problem in scheduling and they did not apparently record it (Take note everything was already paid for!) They only said sorry and called a taxi to pick us up, in which we also paid. So hello Sun Palm Transport if you’re reading this. I’m putting this up here. I would totally understand if it was just a mistake that you didn’t get to schedule our transfer, but cmon now, all you did was call a taxi for us. I tried to search the web, to understand if it was just us who experienced this, but NO we weren’t. Up to now we still do not have our money back, and that is a big deal for us because hello cheap person here lol. Please avoid this company if you don’t want the risk of encountering problems. ~end of rant

Spending 2 days in Port Douglas, we flew straight to Sydney for another two days before going back to Melbourne. We took the train and visited the town of Wyong. We went to this open field with kangaroos, and yes they were just there, no fences or anything. It was a field of wild kangaroos. A lot of them approached us once we got out of the car, but they were quite nice lol they would just smell you but as long as you don’t hurt them they won’t punch you haha. We only had a day to tour the city. I gotta say, Sydney is almost like New York, especially at night, but a little bit safer (I think). But hey, nowhere’s really safe nowadays. The Opera House was magnificent at night with all the cool projections and stuff.




When we got back to Melbourne, the last place we visited was Lorne. We were supposed to check out the Twelve Apostles but it was too far out so we only reached Lorne. It was a very peaceful town, and another place I’d like to live in.

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All in all, this Australian trip was memorable. I’ve experienced the joys and downsides of being a tourist in a country that I was not familiar with (But I’ll get to that ultimate touristy story later). It was hard saying goodbye to such an awesome country and there were still so many places left to explore in Australia. I still have to go to Tasmania, Gold Coast and the Twelve Apostles. I cannot wait to come back.

Please do check out my Australia album on Flickr for more HD photos from this trip 🙂

Bright lights, yellow cabs and street signs

I’ll try and keep up with my posts, so I hope it’s not too late for me to share my New York experience. Yes! I’ve been to the big apple again, for the 3rd time. I had a few days to spare before going back to the Philippines and I had an amazing time with some of my Hyatt friends.

Exploring the big apple without any schedule to follow is a whole lot better than joining city tours and thus, having limited time. It was a great opportunity for me to just walk around a take photos.

Here’s my black and white collection.

   We also had the opportunity to dine at the famous Jean Georges restaurant that nestles near Central Park. Me and my friends had a lovely experience and i’d love to go back there again. We were given an amuse-bouche, because it was our first time in eating in the restaurant.

I got the veal for my main course and my friend tried the salmon entrée.



It was absolutely delicious, and I don’t say this a lot. The price range was also quite fair (Tip: It’s cheaper during lunch!) For dessert I had the caramel platter, which is a combination of three different caramel goodies.


Walking the streets of New York was truly overwhelming. Taking the subway, hotdog stands almost everywhere, and as Alicia Keys mentioned, the streets are mean. We got to visit Chelsea Market, it was a haven for food lovers.


One thing you need to do in New York is to have breakfast in Central Park (this was our alternative for Breakfast at Tiffany’s because we didn’t have any time to look for Tiffany’s lol) escaping from the rustle of the city, a nice walk in Central Park is very much needed.

It’s was a bummer that I didn’t get to see NYC in its white christmas state. I’m going to be honest and say that 3 days was definitely not enough for us to explore the city. I still wanted to go to a lot of places.

Finally, an NYC experience wouldn’t be complete without enjoying the skyline on Top of the Rock.