Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Best of Both Worlds

Story of my life: I love routine. Until I'm bored. Then I love excitement. until I'm overwhelmed. then I love routine.

I am a very complex person. I love extremes.

I am never – most of the times – satisfied. It’s like my feet are always itching to go places, to achieve new things, to try something different, to step away from the norm. I always want more – because I know what it’s like to search for something more.

But then there’s also a part of me that can never leave my comfort zone. One that’s happy living what I’ve always thought I‘ve always wanted – which is a normal life, doing normal everyday things with the people I love.

One thing I do know is that all my life, I like living one day at a time. And that I am never satisfied. And I always want more.

Three years ago, my days consisted of the atypical “breakfast in Europe-lunch in the Middle East-dinner at Africa-weekends in Manila”.  I was paid to travel, to wake up to a different city every day, to look good and be glamorous, to stay in the most luxurious hotels, to go to places other people only dream about. I get to shop and to party anywhere I wanted to – it was the job a million girls would die for. But then, I was never satisfied. There were always days that I would cry myself to sleep. There were days I would rather trade places and give up Paris or Rome or Mauritius. A part of me always longed for home, for normalcy. I wanted a normal 8-5 desk job, being home on weekends, doing housework, spending time with my family.

These days, that’s what my life consists of. It was what I always wanted.

But these days, I find myself on the other side, looking in to what my life used to be and wishing I was there instead. I miss flying but it is the travelling that I really miss the most. I want to once again wake up trying to remember where I was, what day it is or what time zone I am in. I miss the craziness that comes with the job: waking up in the middle of the night to go somewhere else only to arrive in a new destination a few hours later and everything will be different, being gone for days at a time, an overused suitcase that is always packed with clothes for summer, autumn,spring or winter - just because you never know where you’ll be sent to next.

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy where I am now. I have never been happier but perhaps it is human nature to want something you don’t have. And for someone like me, someone who has dreams so big and wings that just keep on wishing to fly higher and a longing to search for something more, something better  - maybe I just will never be satisfied. Or maybe I just don’t know what I want – yet.

I have always questioned why I can never have the best of both worlds.

But who knows? Maybe one day I will.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roma, Italia - Take 2!

I love Rome so much that I think it deserves not just one entry, but two.

I have been around the city so many times (and I just fall in love with it over and over again) but I've visited the Vatican and the Fontana di Trevi only once. I was with two other Filipina crew so we knew it was going to be fun.

Our stops - S. Pietro and Fontana di Trevi

We took the hotel shuttle to the city and took a bus ride going to the Vatican. The Vatican is about 20-30 minutes away from the city and as any other trip that you take for the first time, the drive itself is an experience on its own.

We took the Number 64 bus from Plebiscito to San Pietro

The Vatican is a city-state, unofficially the smallest country in the world, occupying an area of approximately 44 hectares with a population of 800. It is ruled by the Bishop of Rome - the Pope, and is home to the Basilica di San Pietro (St. Peter's Basilica) - regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites. I grew up Catholic and so it was a great honor to have set foot in Vatican City.

Basilica di San Pietro


I came there in a sleeveless dress and they restricted entrance to people wearing shorts or skirts or anything skimpy. You had to buy a shawl to cover up which costs like 10 Euros! I thought they wouldn't let me in bit I was able to sneak in without being stopped. Oh my. I felt like I had cheated on a church - at the Vatican, no less - but hey, I was dressed perfectly decent in my opinion.

The whole church was unlike anything you've ever seen before. There were sculptures everywhere with craftsmanship so detailed, stained glass windows with intricate details, a piece of history everywhere you look.


List of Popes

They say you have to make a wish every time you set foot on a church for the first time, so I did.We were even lucky enough to have charmed one of the staff in the church into getting our souvenirs (rosaries, prayer books and even got a bottle of holy water) blessed by the priest.

At the Apostolic Palace

Waiting for my cute Italian. Everyone in Italy is so handsome!

From the church, we went to Fontana di Trevi, another must-see in Rome. It is the largest fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Of course, I got to make a wish there, too.

Fontana di Trevi

I remember at one point of this trip, we took a bus going somewhere and we had to get off our stop and I was still chatting with the person seated beside me (I like chatting with other tourists) and the bus was so crowded, I couldn't squeeze my way out and the door closed with my two companions already out and me still inside the bus.We didn't have each others numbers, the next stop wasn't far so I got off and decided to wait for them there which luckily they thought of, too.

We had so much fun, ate cheap pizza from the street and made a new friend at the gelato store so we got free scoops. I looooove gelato. I love ice cream so much already but I love Italian gelato even more!

Local street pizza


I got to make two wishes that day and it came true. Want to know what I wished for?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Buon Giorno! Benvenuti a Roma!

Gladiator (directed by Ridley Scott starring Russel Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix) was, and is still is, one of my favorite movies of all time. The movie opened my eyes to Roman history and culture and from then on, I have always dreamt of making it to Rome to see the Colloseo.

And I did. That was the moment that I realized that I had made it.

Rome (Roma) is the capital city and the most popular tourist attraction in Italy and is the third most visited in the European Union. Its historic center is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The city has so much history: the rise of the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar, battles in the Colosseum, home of the Vatican and it goes on.

I was fortunate enough to have visited Rome the first time with a good friend. She was a fellow Filipina who was also my batchmate during our abinitio (training) days at Emirates. It was both our first time so we tried to make the most out of it. We stayed at the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel which was not very far and luckily, the hotel had a shuttle to take guests in and out of the city.

At the Hilton Rome Airport Hotel
With Gina

Rome is a beautiful place once you make it to the tourist spots, but elsewhere it was not as pleasant. There were trash and beggars on the streets and at night, you would see hookers in skimpy clothing, some even naked, along the highway. Fact: Prostitution is legal in Italy.

The beggars in Rome are actually more artistic and put on costumes to entertain tourists. 

The Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II) or Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) or "Il Vittoriano" is a monument to honour Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. The monument was designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885. The base of the structure houses the museum of Italian Reunification. In 2007, a panoramic elevator was added to the structure, allowing visitors to ride up to the roof for 360 degree views of Rome.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

Inside and surrounding the monument are sculptures of Roman heroes and influences. 

This fountain, unofficially named "Foutnain of Tears", can be found in the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II.

Sculpture of Zeus who, in the ancient Greek religion, is the "Father of Gods and men"  who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus. He is the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology.

At the Cordanata (meaning: wide ramped stairs) steps, designed by world-renowned artist Michelangelo. It was built to be wide enough for horse riders to ascend the hill without dismounting.


This is at the Piazza del Campidoglio - an elliptical courtyard with a central figure sculpture of Julius Caesar, also designed by Michelangelo. Behind us is the sculpture of Julius Caesar - a Roman general and statesman who played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

 The Roman Forums a rectangular forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome.

The Arch of Constantine is located right next to the Colosseum. The Senate built this arch in 315 AD to honor Constantine's defeat of the pagan Maxentius. Many of the carvings on this arch have nothing to do with Constantine or his works, but were taken from other long forgotten memorials.

And of course, the most popular landmark in Rome - The Colosseo. It is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.

Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Rome is a wonderful place that I would love to come back to over and over again. It is one of my favorite cities in the world (I'm being biased because I have been dreaming of this place for a long time!). 

I saw this couple having their prenup taken and I just couldn't help but wish it was me ***

There's still more to Rome. The Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, the gelato... but that deserves another entry on its own.

I have finally had my Gladiator moment... and  again, have made a dream come true.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Willcomenn in München!

Germany is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe which consists of 16 states. It is the most populous in Europe with 81.8 million inhabitants and has the largest economy in the European nation.

When I think of Germany, I think of sausages and beer. I look forward to having German flights because I go crazy sausage shopping (which my Mom loves). I'm not really a beer person but I had to experience it at least once and have tried a mug of local beer (well, more like a pitcher - their mugs were huuuuge!) in a local pub.

My very first German destination was Munich or München (meaning "by the monks' place" - derived from the monks of the Benedictine order who founded the city.). I have been to Munich countless times. There's not really a lot you could do except visit museums, go on a city tour and shop. I'm not really a museum type of girl so I've never set foot into one.

I always end up going to Marienplatz (St. Mary's Square) - a central square in the city center of Munich where the new City Hall is now located. Located right below it is a transportation hub. This is where most of the shops and restaurants can be found, too.

Marienplatz - City Center

Sausage shopping is always my favorite part. There are are a lot of types of German Sausages (Würste) - Frankfurters/wieners, Bratwürste, Knackwürste, Bockwürste or whatever "würste" they are - I love it! They are soooo cheap,  ranging from 50 Euro cents to less than 5 Euros per pack.

Which got me thinking: I was listening to the news yesterday, about the Senate pushing the "No Plastic" bill in the Philippines and realized that it is about time we adapted this. In Europe, people bring their own bags when they shop, as you had to pay for a plastic or paper bag if you don't. They have been practicing this for years and it's about time that we did. This just goes to show how primitive and third-world we are but I am glad that over the years, we have started adapting to the Westerners and Europeans. We now celebrate Trick or Treat here, places and people are more pet-friendly - well, baby steps.

Germany also has a largely temperate seasonal climate. I always check BBC weather for updates on countries I'm going to but I am never good at packing the right clothes and comparing temperature. I once ended up in Munich with just a light jacket and flip-flops on a crazy winter day. I had to pretend I wasn't cold but I was dying! I kept dragging my companion inside the shops because the heaters were on.

With a Brazilian colleague. Notice how she was wearing winter clothes? It was that cold and I was freezing!

To German sausages and beer!


My Jetset Life: Shanghai, China and New Year at 35,000 feet

Two days before the New Year  of 2007, I was on airport standby not knowing whether I'll be home to welcome the New Year or not. 10 more minutes to go and my standby will be over. I was so happy. I thought I was going home. But 5 minutes before the clock hit 3AM, I got Shanghai. And I won't be back until the morning of the 1st. I was devastated. I cried all the way to the aircraft. I didn't want to miss the New Year. 

But God always does find a way to make me happy. First, I had been upgraded to work first Class (on a flight that had 1 passenger and 3 of us crew). Second, I was flying with three other Filipino girls and we immediately decided that we were going out to have fun to make up for being away for the New Year.

As soon as we got to Shanghai, we signed up for the city tour early the next morning. It was freezing and I hadn't packed for the winter because I was secretly hoping I wouldn't get pulled out for a flight so they had to lend me some to keep me warm. 

Three of us (me, Mira and Catherine; the other girl, Riyah, couldn't join us as she was meeting relatives in Shanghai.) went out to have dinner.We thought we were up for a treat. Local Chinese food. But, believe me when I say this: Chinese food is not as good as it is when you're in China, just as Italian food sucks in Italy, and cous-cous tastes like hell in Morocco. (Well, that is my personal opinion, we all have different taste buds.) Unsatisfied, we ended up having dessert at the hotel lobby.

We had an early start and had gourmet croissants for breakfast while waiting for our tour guide Chen and the shuttle to pick us up.

Shanghai, according to Wikipedia, is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It was once a fishing and textiles town, but due to its rapid growth over the last two decades, it has become a global city, exerting influence over finance, commerce, fashion, technology and culture. It is also a popular tourist destination renowned for its historical landmarks.

The city tour was up first. Shanghai has a rich collection of buildings and structures of various architecture designs. The Oriental Pearl Tower being one of the most popular was actually a setting in the Mission Impossible 3 Film starring Tom Cruise (well, I wouldn't know, I never watched that.).

Shanghai buildings and skyscrapers.

The Oriental Pearl tower.

Shanghai is unofficially divided into two parts: Old China and New China.

Although a modern metropolis, Shanghai has maintaned some of their old buildings that is very popular with tourists. Of course, I did not waste any time in having my own Old China photograph. Everything looked so ancient but was very well-maintained.

Our next stop was the Yuyuan Flower Garden. The place was wonderful. It was beautiful, serene and almost perfect with so much history - It was first established in 1559 as a private garden created by Pan Yunduan, who spent almost 20 years building a garden to please his father Pan En, a high-ranking official in the Ming Dynasty, during his father's old age. Over the years, the gardens had been damaged by the wars and eventually repaired by the Shanghai government from 1956–1961, opened to the public in 1961, and declared a national monument in 1982.

The Yuyuan Flower Garden

The last leg of our tour was The Bund - it's like a big viewing deck where you could see the Old Town and New Town at the same time, with great views of the Pudong skyline. The area centers on a section of Zhongshan Road (which runs one mile) within the former Shanghai International Settlement, which runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River.

View from The Bund: Overlooking the Pudong skyline.

From there, we had lunch (KFC-just to be safe!) and - now comes the good part - went shopping! China is a good place to shop. We got really good bargains and it was so funny haggling with people who couldnt really understand us.

The flight back was very easy, passenger load was light as it was going to be officially the new year in a few hours. So the crew had ample time to rest and we made little paper hats and drank sparkling juice to welcome the new year when the clock struck midnight.

Happy 2007!

And then we were home.

I actually had a blast because I was lucky enough to have been with people who were just as crazy as I was.

And that was how I spent the last days of  2006.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Journey to the South of France

I fell in love with Europe the first time I set foot in it.

My very first layover was in Nice, France. I was clueless as to where Nice was or what it had to offer. All I knew of France then was Paris and ironically, I never got to see Paris.

Nice, according to Wikipedia, is located on the south east coast of France on the Meditteranean Sea and is the second largest French city on the Meditteraneean Coast. The city is nicknamed Nice La Belle meaning Nice the Beautiful - and I could not agree more!

We stayed in a hotel by Promenade des Anglais (The Walkway of the English – coined from the earliest visitors of the resort, Upper English classmen and aristocrats who frequented Nice to spend their winters there.) Promenade des Anglais is a whole stretch of hotels, restaurants and shops right next to the seaside.

We arrived in Nice in the afternoon and with the entire crew, we took a 30 minute train ride going to Monaco. The train ride was an experience in its own, what with the scenic route that had me gaping the whole time.

We passed by a nude beach as well and it was also another first for me. J It was May and the start of summer in the Mediterranean so there were tourists left and right soaking up the sun. The climate was cool but sunny, in short – perfect.

Monte Carlo is widely known for its prominence (Monaco being a monarchy) and casinos, the Le Grand Casino being the most popular (right next to Hotel de Parisan elite hotel established in 1864 by Charles III of Monaco from which the name Monte Carlo was derived.) and has been the setting of countless James Bond movies. You could instantly feel the grandness and elegance of the city – luxury cars were parked everywhere, people in suits and ball gowns entering the casinos and hotels, flag-bearing limousines driving around.

Les Grand Casino

The city streets along the harbor of Monte Carlo is also known as Circuit de Monaco, used one weekend every May to host the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix. We were fortunate enough to be there when the track was being set up and there were already F1 race cars driving all over the city. There had been a point in my life where I used to obsess about the F1 because I had an ex boyfriend who was into drag racing, so you could say I was ecstatic.

Setting up for the Monaco Grand Prix

We had dinner at a small restaurant by the harbor. It was already 8 in the evening but the sun was still up and for someone used to sunsets at 6, it was definitely something new.

Dinner with the crew. 8PM in France.

We took the last train ride out of Monaco at around 11 in the evening and was back at the hotel and safely tucked in bed by midnight. I woke up early the next morning to the sound and smell of the sea and it was one of the best mornings I have woken up to my entire life.

Not wanting to waste time as we were set to leave that afternoon, I set out and explored the city on my own. I took a leisurely stroll along Promenade des Anglais, sat by the coastline for a while watching the tourists, the birds and the sea, and took a tram ride back to the train station (with just the aide of a map on a country that spoke little or no English. I have always been good with directions.) because I had been craving the sausage in wheat bread we had the previous day.

My day ended with a smile and with beautiful memories of a place I will, to this day, remember every detail of as I have never seen a place more serene and elegant than Monaco and Nice.

I could not wait to be back.