Year 2012: Thank You For Leading Me Home

I suppose it’s a bit premature to say thank you to 2012 twelve days before the new year. But just in case the world ends tomorrow I want to have been able to reflect on this past year (and of course it helps that I have time to do that now 🙂 ).

Moving to Australia was the hardest things I had to go through in my life. Leaving my friends behind broke me into a million pieces. I left my comfort zone, my home and the people who have been the source of my strength in life. I remember thinking “am I wrong for wanting such a massive change? am I wrong for wanting to follow my dreams?”. At my age stepping out of that small Manila bubble was more than a big change. It was a life altering decision.

sydney australia

Looking back, I wouldn’t have imagined being where I am now. There had been great highs and terrible lows. I’d been disappointed. I laughed and I cried. Because of the move, I was able to push myself emotionally, mentally and physically. Looking back at 2012 I can’t be more proud of where I’ve been and where I am. This year brought me more than I could have ever wished for. I wasn’t able to travel as much as I wanted to but I discovered the Maldives and the South of New Zealand. I am too far from my Manila friends nor do I have heaps of friends over here but I have been blessed with the most wonderful bunch of people.  These past few months would have been terrifying without all of them. I was always afraid of applying for a job and ended up with one of the most satisfying (albeit very tiring) jobs one could ever ask for. I was scared that since my 2 boys moved for me they wouldn’t be able to adjust but it seems that they have – beautifully.

So to my family, thank you for putting up with the move, for putting up with me and for loving me every second of the day. To my friends and family in Manila and to my best friend in the US, I miss you more than words could ever say. Thank you for the unending text/facebook/whatsapp/viber messages, emails and calls. Even from across the miles you all have been my strength and the reason why I smile everyday. To my friends here in Australia, thank you for the warmth and laughter. I am very lucky to have you all in my life and cannot imagine not having all of you in it. To the big Guy up there, I never say it enough but thank you. This year has been the biggest blessing yet and for that I am utterly, wholeheartedly grateful.

So 2012, thank you for leading me home.

new zealand

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My Top 5 Destinations for 2010

As another year ends, my journey and dream to travel the world continues. But I believe it is only fitting that I look back at the numerous, blessed trips that I was able to take this 2010. Among the old and new places that I have visited this past year, these are my top 5 favorites:

1. Lucerne/Luzern (German), Switzerland

When I was a little girl, I remember sitting on our living room sofa staring at my dad’s wall of travel trinkets (stickers, pins, flags, pictures, plates, etc). I clearly remember looking at one particular banner type of decor that said “Luzern” and seeing one plate with a picture of a wounded lion. This started my love affair with this particular place. Every so often I would look at these souvenirs and wondered where they came from. I even remember playing the game ‘name, place, animal, thing’ with my grade school classmates and getting into arguments because they didn’t believe that there was a place called “Luzern” (and I couldn’t tell them exactly where it was). I would get postcards from Lucerne and kept dreaming that someday I would be able to visit this enchanting city.

And true enough, as I stepped off the train when we got to Lucerne I felt like all my wishes were coming true. I avoid making bucket lists for one particular reason –I get obsessed with having to complete them. But going to Lucerne has always been one of my greatest dreams. I felt silly getting teary eyed when I finally got a chance to walk across the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) and when I finally saw the Lion Monument. But just this once, I let the little girl inside me savor each moment that I had in that wonderful city.

Lion of Lucerne

Lucerne Chapel Bridge Kapellbrücke

Lucerne Chapel Bridge and Water Tower

Reasons to go back: Beautiful landscapes, Charming city, The Swiss Alps, Saturday markets, Chocolates, Shopping

2. Paris, France

Paris, Je T’Aime! Paris is love, love, love. I love the Parisian lifestyle, I love the glitter, I love the quaintness of it all. Being in Paris is a whole new experience in itself. You will never run out of things to do, places to see & shops to conquer. This is one city that I will keep coming back to. Je t’aimerai toujours.

Paris Eiffel Tower La Tour Eiffel

Paris View at night

Reasons to go back: Beautiful city, Fabulous food, Great wine, Experience

3. Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

The Bernese Oberland is a magical area in Switzerland. This area comprises of different destinations including Lauterbrunnen which was our base for a number of days. Lauterbrunnen is a small valley with waterfalls and majestic views. We wanted to go up the Alps, specifically  the Jungfrou, so I chose this place since it was somewhat a transportation hub. I didn’t expect that my husband would end up wanting to visit all the surrounding areas, so staying here was really a plus.

Bernese Oberland Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

The Top of Europe Jungfraujoch

Lauterbrunnen

Reasons to go back: You will never really run out of places (specifically mountains and alps) to go to, Weather, Cheese

4. Seam Reap/Angkor, Cambodia

Seam Reap is actually just the gateway to Angkor, where the beautiful and unique ruins of the Khmer Empire lie. Cambodia has always been known for Angkor Wat but unless you’ve actually been there you won’t expect the Angkor area to be that huge and how Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples that you can visit. My personal favorites are Angkor Wat, Bayon and Banteay Srei. Another popular temple is Ta Prohm where “Tomb Raider tree” can be found. But I wouldn’t go back to Kbal Spean – EVER. Another thing that I enjoyed was eating Khmer food – one of the best and least expensive I ever had! I would keep coming back to Cambodia even if only for their food.

Angkor Wat Cambodia

Restaurant in Cambodia

Reason to go back: FOOD!

5. Gold Coast, Australia

Australia is the land of koalas, kangaroos, fish & chips and surfing! Gold Coast has always been my favorite Australian city and is always a highlight of my year when I get to visit. I love walking around Surfer’s Paradise, just relaxing and taking it slow. For the adventurous bunch, there is always surfing and of course the numerous theme parks Gold Coast is known for. I like that whether I’m on my own or with my family or with my spouse, there will always be something for me to do.

Surfers Paradise

Surfing Lessons in Surfers Paradise

Reasons to go back: Relaxation, Theme parks/activities, Weather

Happy New Year everyone and happy travels in 2011! 🙂

Australia Highs (2010)

My family and I spent 2 weeks in Australia early this month. It was pretty tiring but still amazing since I was able to spend time with my son 🙂 In addition to that I discovered a couple of things that totally made the trip worthwhile…

Favorite Hotel/Apartment

Towers of Chevron Renaissance, Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast (I was pretty set on choosing a beachfront apartment but luckily I was vetoed by my husband and sisters in law. We loved this place! It was close to everything and the our apartment had a spectacular view of the river and docks. http://www.chevronrenaissance.com.au/ — a reminder: check out time in Australia is at 10 am not 12 noon).

Best Dish/Food/Meal

Ribs from Hurricane’s Grill, Darling Harbour, Sydney (http://www.hurricanesgrill.com.au/about-hurricanes/hurricanes-darling-harbour;  Big, TASTY ribs and chips/fries…need I say more? But I need to share my worst/least favorite dish from Sydney – Meat Pie from Harry’s Cafe de Wheels – http://www.harryscafedewheels.com.au. A lot of people will disagree for sure since this is a staple dish but I cannot stress this enough —- I HATE MASHED PEAS!!!!! I actually wanted to throw up right after my first bite but this is just my personal opinion. We were 8 in our group and I was the only one who didn’t appreciate mashed peas).

Favorite Dessert

Deep Fried Mars Bars from Bondi Beach, Sydney (Heaven help me if we had this here in Manila. THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST DESSERTS EVER. http://www.bondisurfseafood.com.au/mars/mars_fr.htm)

Deep-fried Mars Bar Picture from http://grabyourfork.blogspot.com/2009/11/food-bloggers-birthday-and-mountain-of.html


Favorite Snack

Tim Tam Chewy Caramel (I love all Tim Tam snacks but this is my favorite! http://www.arnotts.com.au/our-products/products/arnotts-tim-tam.aspx)

Best Non-alcoholic Drink

Guylian Shake – Prailine and vanilla shake with guylian chocolate syrup from Sydney’s Guylian Belgian Chocolate Cafe (I’m addicted to sweets and milkshakes. I’ve tried numerous shakes all over and this tops my list – nothing comes close! http://www.guyliancafe.com.au/)

Best Alcoholic Drink

Jack Daniel’s Cola from Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast (I’m a Jack Daniel’s girl. I don’t drink beer but can have Jack Daniel’s for breakfast. So while we were shopping for drinks – my husband always tries different beers from different countries/cities – I found bottles of Jack Daniels Cola. MIXED! SOOOOOOO GOOD!!!!!! Expensive (around 17 aud for 4 bottles) but REALLY GOOD. On that note, I also found Johnny Walker Red Label Cola which sucked and Jim Beam Cola which was surprisingly good as well. One of my favorite discoveries = Jack Cola + Tim Tam Chewy Caramel!!! YUM!!!!)

Favorite Park/Zoo

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast (Staying true to it’s slogan you really “get closer” to the animals 😛  http://www.currumbin-sanctuary.org.au/ )

Favorite Tourist Spot

Sydney Opera House, Sydney (I always remember being a kid and seeing the Opera House for the first time. This was my 3rd time in Australia and my 3rd time to visit this and it always feels like the first time. As an added bonus we were also able to experience vivid sydney – http://vividsydney.com)

Favorite City

Gold Coast (I’m a bit biased but I’m really in love with Gold Coast – specifically Surfer’s Paradise. If I could I would live there!)

Favorite Australian Animal

Koalas (Most people would probably say the same too, I know my husband would – he’s obsessed with Koalas. My son on the other hand adores kangaroos. Even though he’s smaller than them he would go near them and try to pet them and play with them. Totally scary from a mother’s point of view but I’m sure it was fun for him.)

Australia will always be one of my favorite countries to visit. The cities we visited, I have been to 2x before so hopefully the next time around we get to see more of this beautiful country 🙂

Countdown to Australia (1 day to go!)

The day before leaving is always a MAJOR stress day for me. Besides last minute packing, errands and office work there are a couple of things that we try to accomplish before we leave:

  • make sure that we leave behind copies of our passports, visas & itinerary
  • leave duplicates of our house keys and car keys
  • take out the garbage
  • make sure that our refrigerator doesn’t have food that can spoil
  • make sure that all bills are paid
  • notify our building security that we will be gone for a while
  • (before we leave) unplug all appliances except for the refrigerator
  • talk to staff regarding work/payments that are lined up while we’re away
  • last minute preps of ipod, laptop, ebook reader

Before this day becomes a crazy day, I will relish in the excitement of it all! 24 hours to goooo!!!!!! Can’t wait! 🙂 See you Australia! 🙂

Countdown to Australia (2 days to go!)

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”  ~Benjamin Disraeli

It has been 12 days since my last domestic flight and 54 days since my last international flight. I enjoyed April sorely because it was the only month since October that I didn’t have to get on a plane (and the next month I’ll be able to enjoy staying home will be in August). Our close friends know how much my husband and I love to travel. We actually made a vow not to travel that much this year but there is something about exploring new places and experiencing new cultures (regardless of whether or not we’ve been to a certain place before) that makes us still want to do it. And at this very moment, I cannot think of any other way to live. My husband laughs at me when I say that sometimes I feel like that’s what I was born to do (yes he laughs but I know he feels the same way!)

My son is turning 2 in July and I know sooner than I think we’ll have to lessen our travels considerably (since he will start school soon). It scares me a bit not to have that freedom to travel anymore. We’ll be limited to his summer and Christmas breaks and weekends. But then I think that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? Then he’d be able to come with us to some of our travels. At this rate, he would probably be able to visit more countries than me since he’s 2 before 2! 🙂 I would always tell my husband that it would make me really happy if our son would learn how to love travel the way we do (hardly any shopping, hardly any tours – own time, happy with seeing and experiencing new cultures, happy with just eating and eating and eating, etc). I got the love for travel from my parents and I hope he gets his from us.

49 hours and we’ll be off once again. My husband’s excitement is starting to get to me. I’m counting the hours till I get to visit the Queen Victoria Market again, see the penguins at Phillip Island, relax at Surfers Paradise and visit Currumbin and Dreamworld, walk around Sydney and eat at the Sydney fish market. I know that my son is still too young to remember this trip but I hope this will be the start of our many adventures with him.

Countdown to Australia (4 days to go!)

On May 18, my husband and I along with our 21 month old son and my sisters-in-law will be going to Australia for a 16 day trip. Melbourne will be our first stop then Gold Coast and Sydney. Even though I’ve been to Australia 2x in the past (so unfortunately this will not add to my 30 before 30 list), this trip will include many firsts for me. I am a bit anxious so I am crossing my fingers that things will run smoothly.

My firsts:

1. I needed to buy toys (play-doh, flashcards and some doodle thing), books, coloring books, a portable tv and headset for my son to keep him occupied in the plane.

2. This is my first “budget” long haul flight via Air Asia (clark-kl-melbourne and vice versa) with an overnight stay at Kuala Lumpur each way. It’ll take 4 hours to get to Malaysia and 8 hours to Australia but with the rate of 9,100 pesos per person roundtrip (from clark), I don’t think I should complain.

3. This is our first long international trip with our son (our first international trip with him was only for a weekend in Hong Kong)!

4. This is also my first long trip with my sisters in law without my in laws or the rest of the family.

5.  Never realized before how hard it is to plan for a trip for more than 2 people (we don’t use travel agencies).

6. First time I’ll have to pay extra for luggage. The minimum weight allowance is 15kg which you have to pay for as well but we have to upgrade ours since infants do not have their own luggage allowance.

7. I personally had to lodge all our visa applications (5 people!!!).

And I’m sure once our trip starts, I will be faced with more firsts…but hopefully happier and enjoyable firsts 🙂

Australian Tourist Visa Application

One thing I despise about living in a 3rd world country is having to apply for tourist visas for most countries outside Asia. Not only are they expensive but it can get pretty stressful having to compile all the documents that you need.  When my husband and I travel, we hardly go through travel agencies nor do we join tour groups. Oh if only I could skip the hassle and go everywhere I want to in a whim (I would totally fall in love with my Philippine passport).

Yesterday, in preparation for our family trip to Australia in May, we lodged our tourist visa applications. This was the second time we applied for a tourist visa and this trip will be my third time to visit this lovely country (my favorite Australian city – Gold Coast – how I miss you!). I had to lodge 5 visa applications – mine, my husband’s, my son’s, my 2 sisters-in-law’s apps. We had 2 options: 1. call the toll number and schedule for a courier pick-up. 2 way fee (pick-up & delivery): P320 per applicant. But the downside was the call would cost us 32 bucks per minute. And based on experience, the call takes a while. 2. Go directly to the VIA Center (Visa Information & Application Center) in Makati. Fee: P600 per applicant. The good thing about bringing your papers directly to them is that they make a checklist of everything that you submit. Also, your papers will be at the embassy the very next day. The downside: it took me 2 1/2 hours to finish everything–a waiting time of almost 2 hours and another 30+ minutes once you get to the counter. My husband brought his PSP, so he wasn’t bored. I, on the other hand was a bit unlucky; I forgot to bring my ebook reader (I blame it on the stress), I had my Ipod but wasn’t able to charge it and cellular phones had to be shut down.

So what do you need to apply for an Australian Tourist Visa? I would say the usual: filled up forms (48R for Filipinos), bank cheques (payment for the visa fee – P4,700 per applicant – even for my 20 month old son!), birth certificate, marriage certificate (I submit this because I don’t use my husband’s family name), passport pictures with plain backgrounds, bank certificates, proof of financial capability (credit card statements, etc), employment/student/business papers and any other kind of proof of your ties in your country. But I completely forgot about needing photocopies of the data/information page of our passports and photocopies of our bank certificates. Luckily my husband’s PSP ran out of batteries and he had them photocopied for me 🙂

Every time we lodge visa applications, I learn something new (I seriously learned how not to cram applications the HARD WAY). This time around I found out that some people just submit a photocopy of their passport (Aus visa application only). This will become helpful when you have other trips in line and you fear that your passport might not be returned to you in time. Of course there is an additional cost but I suppose it should be worth it rather having your passport pulled out (which a lot of embassies allow if really necessary).

My husband (the optimist in our relationship) always tells me not to worry about being approved, but I always do. I just don’t want to set myself up for disappointment. So here I am again, counting the days and crossing my fingers that all our visa applications will be approved. 🙂