Going Greek

From one European country to the next, I again counted my lucky stars as soon as I stepped onto Greek soil. I didn’t think that I would set foot in this ancient city where myths and history fuse. We stayed here a little bit longer than we did in Italy, and we tried to see as much of Athens as we could. Its grandeur has withstood the test of time, and remains standing like sentinels of past glorious eras.

Among the many places of interest, of course, we just had to do the Acropolis, the ancient citadel where the Parthenon is located; the Panathenaic Stadium, an all marble stadium made for the Olympic games; the Syntagma Square or the government center; the Plaka; and everywhere else in between. And when I visit foreign countries, especially in Europe, I always envy their beautiful parks and public spaces, which unfortunately is few and far between here.

Of course, we got to taste traditional Greek cuisine courtesy of our gracious hosts. Greek food is love!!

The Vatican

The highlight of my trip to Rome is probably the visit to the Vatican. As a Catholic, there are probably two ultimate places that, ideally, should be visited as part of our journey to God. Not required, but I am very fulfilled to have visited Jerusalem before, and now the seat of the Catholic Church itself. I am beyond thankful for this opportunity and having been brought closer to Jesus in my lifetime.

I and some colleagues from another agency went there for two days – first just to have a look at St. Peter’s Basilica, and second, after obtaining a pass for the papal audience, went to get blessed. The second day was particularly challenging as, despite our starting out early, we were met by throngs of people vying for coveted positions in the quadrangle. Everyone was out to get sweet spots that would guarantee a close encounter with Pope Francis when he passes by aboard his mobile.

And we were not disappointed despite me wanting to elbow everyone trying to elbow me. haha. Everything was so surreal! I can’t even describe the happiness I felt in the 3 seconds the Pope was directly in front me. I am truly one lucky girl!

My own Roman holiday

Giddy that I was able to set foot again in Europe. This must be my favorite continent on Earth, and I would make it my mission to visit as many countries and places as it can offer, even if it takes me a lifetime. For this trip, this lucky made it to Italy and Greece. And what can I say? There is so much to see, I couldn’t drink it all in gulp! I feel like I barely scratched the surface.

Rome, for one, has so much history, one wouldn’t even know where to begin. Home to many of the world’s greatest influencers, — scientists, philosophers, kings, discoverers, artists, politicians — and architectural grandeur, I was such in awe to be in the place where arts, humanities, sciences, religion and political thoughts were conceived and bred. Going around in a 36-hour free time is almost a sacrilege. But this is my own Roman holiday.

My sojourn to the Vatican deserves a separate post.

And there was always cheese and meat! I had them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. lol. Seriously, it was cheese heaven, and I almost went berserk trying to get hold of them.

Arrivederci Italy! I hope the coins I threw at the Trevi Fountain would take me back there someday.

Manhattan on foot

There is truly too much to see in the Big Apple. But since I only had one free day, I could only explore those in the neighborhood around the hotel I was billeted in. I was glad for the opportunity even though I almost had blisters in my feet, and my shins and calves shouted in my protest as I kept on going and going the dozen blocks I went around in. Anyway, I swore to myself that I will be back, and next time, I will make sure to visit all the things the city has to offer. But for now, my feet took me to these places…

Business class

I just got back from the Big Apple a few days ago. As always, I will blog about it in the days to come, but this one here deserves a separate post. Yay! For the first ever, I got an upgrade from Cathay Pacific to Business class! I wished that I got the upgrade during the long haul flight from New York to Hongkong so that I got to travel more comfortably, but I will take this any day. I was really so giddy the whole time. Who wouldn’t enjoy the pre-flight champagne, 18-inch LCD screen, huge legroom (though I have short legs, lol), upgraded menu, and much much more personalized service.

I could get used to this. I loooove Cathay Pacific, and have travelled with them on my first international flight to London, then to Canada, then to Cambodia (through Cathay Dragon), and now to New York. If at all possible, I will always use them for all my trips abroad. It can also be said that I totally dig transiting in the Hongkong airport, absolutely one of my favorite airports in the world!

Hundred Islands

This is sooo late, but better than never right?

So last Holy Week, we brought ourselves to Pangasinan so we can try something new. The highlight of our trip was the famed Hundred Islands. Mischa has been dying to go here because it has continuously cropped up in her lessons, mostly in Social Studies, and one of the major tourist destinations in the Philippines.

We set out very early because we knew it would be so crowded given that 90% of the workforce is on holiday. Thank goodness we had a wonderful host, and Mommy Ann, being a local of Alaminos, pre-arranged everything for us, including our boat ride. We had to spend some time at the port, which was teeming with people of all sizes, ages, gender, etc. on that Holy Friday. The local government requires all visitors to register with them first prior to venturing out to sea plus pay a minimal amount for the continued maintenance of the islands and its surroundings. Since we were a large group, we had to be in two boats.

We just got off one island-Marcos Island-and stayed there for lunch and of course, beach frolicking. You wouldn’t believe how clear the water is and how semi-fine the sand. It is a bit rocky near the edge of the beach though.

Afterwards, we went around the area and just viewed all the other islands from our boat. Almost all the beaches were occupied. Most of the bigger and dock-able islands are named. It is noteworthy that those that we went to or seen even from afar seemed to be impeccable and well-maintained. Good for the people and environment, as well. I am not sorry we came here at all.

Up north

We had our annual family vacation this year in Alaminos, Pangasinan. This actually happened about three weeks ago but hadn’t had the chance to blog about it yet. Anyway, we kind of dragged ourselves there because it was kind of far away, and this is the longest we drove in a private car (we went to the hubby’s home province in Cagayan but on a public bus so no one among us got tired driving), and I am happy to report that we all survived haha. My brother was going on and on about “not doing this again ever” because no. 1: it was Holy Week and everyone was driving away from Metro Manila, ergo, major major traffic!; no. 2: it was a ten-hour drive; and no. 3: let’s just go abroad!

Because I was not driving, I enjoyed myself because I really like the provincial scenery. It is really like leaving your worries behind in the Metro as you drink in the beauty of nature–trees, animals, fields, mountains, rivers. Even the kids like it when they were not asleep. I like to hear the awe, especially in Maxine’s innocent young voice, as she points out birds, cows, dogs, goats.

Finally, we arrived in Alaminos City in the mid-afternoon of Holy Thursday. We had enough time to visit the city’s church and had some time relaxing by the pool of the Northwood Hotel where we stayed. We had dinners and breakfasts at the home of our host, whom we fondly call Mommy Ann. She used to be based here in the Metro but has since moved back to their ancestral home. It was such a great place, full of old charm and history.

The following day was spent traveling (again) for the better part of the day down to Cabongaoan, a place in Burgos, Pangasinan known for its wonderful and secluded beaches. It was dirt road for the most part, and we rented a jeepney to take us there, but the destination was great. There were even depth pools, which we didn’t have the energy to trek for. lol.

Kids had so much fun, even Mischa, who used to dislike the beach and wanted to swim just in pools. Great that they’re beginning to love the sea!