Saturday, February 23, 2013

Europe 101: Beware of Ice... Bonjour!

Sunrise at 6am... sunset at 6pm... temperature of 26deg to 32deg... this is normal. Well, that's what I thought.. on the other side of the globe, they have a different meaning of normal.

Have you ever seen little Christmas decorations of houses with chimneys and ice coated roofs? How about snowman on an ice flatland with snow fall? And a big emphasis on ICE and SNOW. You might be wondering why the fuzz with snow. Everybody in the world knows there is snow... but not everybody have experienced that... maybe the ice in the freezer but not something that comes from the sky. If you live in the Philippines, you would know what I mean.

Here's what happened... when the clouds cleared and we are about 20mins short of landing, the scene down almost made you sing “walking in the winter wonderland”. Except that I'm not walking but flying over the winter land wondering what just happened to this place?! I can't barely see the houses from these “white stuffs”... am I really going down there?? Thoughts rumbling through my mind... Oh, my... in this side of the globe... at this time of the year... snow is normal... this is normal... in Switzerland.

So, when I was about to get my bag, I went to geared up first for my winter outfit... layered pants... yellow jacket... and of course, my beloved boots! I have never been excited to wear a pair of boots in my life... it feels so natural... my boots felt so at home.. :D

Anyways, moving on... during the flight, I met Ate Chit, she's a government employee who was there for a meeting/seminar (I can't remember) at United Nations(!)... and when she said UN, I realized that I did not include it on my list.. so, I made a note to myself to add #16 Visit United Nations (at least a picture with the flags :D). As we chitchat, and of course with the emphasis on the interest to see UN, she eventually said that she would contact me when she will be there and if she will have time to get me there. My heart just did a chirping dance! I don't know what it is... but there's really something about the Filipino camaraderie that feels so natural. I also met others on the previous flight and have conversations like we were friends or family. It seems so easy to have conversations with just about any Filipino anywhere... it's pretty cool... it does really made you feel at home anywhere. On the other hand, I also think it's also human's natural tendency to tap into something familiar to get some sort of security in an unknown land or territory. Still, the warmth you feel when you hear their stories close to feeling at home.

Going back... after we got our bags, I went with Ate Chit have her money exchange for Swiss Francs... as you already know, I already have mine exchanged from the good-looking-European-guy at the money changer counter at Schiphol... it took us a little while to get to the exit of Geneva terminal. Gosh, Geneva... sounds so unreal... the surroundings looks like just some buildings I have seen... nothing so exceptional... except 99% of the people doesn't look like us. I was just thinking that if ever my friend, T, will not be there, I would probably be like Tom Hanks in The Terminal or go with Ate Chit wherever she go, and talk to the president of the UN or something. So when I saw him, I just released a deep breath which I never thought I was holding on... maybe not literally... but it was a super big sigh of relief.

I happily gave him (or maybe he took) my huge unbalanced purple bag that weighs like a ton... well, it feels like a ton... I'm sure he would agree with me that it was indeed heavy... :D I introduced him to Ate Chit and as we went out together.. I felt the cold... no, really cold... nope, really really cold wind... accordingly, it was 6deg.. 20deg less than my normal temperature.. at night.. :S Reality sinks in that I'm not in the Philippines anymore. I'm not sure if it would be more or less fun but it's definitely more cold... way more... :D That was also the last time I saw Ate Chit. She did call me the next day to tell me that they just went to UN for a day for the meeting/seminar and will not be coming back there. It didn't matter much to me... I know that I will have some other time to do that... and besides, meeting her and other Filipinos already made my 16+hr flights bearable. Now, on to the winter wonderland... :) 

There's a beach at the end of this road. :P
Have you ever been in a scenic place and felt like you are in a picture? The first time I felt this was when we went to Bantayan island with some friends. The island looked so picturesque... the sea and white sand felt so calm and really looked like a wallpaper on your desktop... and since there's not much people around, you will feel like you own the place. Well, this time there's no sand but snow around... and the sea backdrop is replaced with the white mountain range, aka Alps. It feels so surreal... like I'm in a movie. It might sound weird but I feel like Harry Potter and his friends would just pop-out from the mountains riding their broomsticks... it was somehow magical too... but it was real... snow-is-real.. :D 

My friend and I went out for a walk around the town... a-walk-on-the-snow. He said that it was a great weather to walk since it's sunny (and not windy)... so we won't freeze while walking. Part of me did not totally believe him, I thought that I would just freeze somewhere and stopped walking. But what the heck, let's do this! :D

Surprisingly, the tropical girl survived the snow walk... and most importantly, enjoyed it... ;) On the other hand, my hands felt like it held an ice for a long while that it feels super cold and a little numb... but only because I do not have gloves with me... so, another note to self, “buy gloves (immediately!) and carry it with you always(!)”. Aside from having the right clothes, here are some few tips that I believe would be able to help you get ready for snow-walking...

  1. Wear your gloves... as per my experience, gloves are super important.. you can't just always place your hands in your pockets. You also have to take some pictures, point to something, and maybe also feel the actual snow in your hands (although, I will not advise it at the start of your walk). I got one with silver-covered fingertips that allows me use touch screen devices. Cool huh? Plus, with your gloves on, you can normally do HHWW with someone ;)
  2. Cover your ears... I don't know why but ears easily feels cold. So if you have earmuffs or headbands with you, that would be better. But as for me, I'm shy that I'll look funny with earmuffs, so I opt to use a cap/hat that can cover my ears. Another plus for me is that I have a long hair, so that also insulates my ears from cold. As for the nose, they haven't really invented anything yet that will not make you look like a clown or Rudolf. As per experience, it's bearable.. however, colds in winter is always a risk. :S
  3. Moisturize your lips... it's not comfortable to have choppy lips... although with the cold, it's sometimes unavoidable... it helps when you have a handy lip balm or something else that will moisturize your lips... mine has already a color with it so I don't have to wear my lipsticks on ;)
  4. Use water-proof shoes... my friend already told me about this but I never really get the importance of this before... I thought it was just like walking on sand... ahm... a little... maybe... but not with your bare feet... :P Snow is frozen water... so, it is still water. You can dust it off but when it melts the water can already get into your shoes. Although, I lurve my boots, the linings still have little openings, so the water still gets in... not so much but enough to make your feet feel cold. And a numb cold feet can be really uncomfortable.
  5. Beware where you step on... there are areas where you can easily slip... I almost have, a couple of times... these are snows which were already stepped on and partially melted... fluffy snows are safe to walk on, however, you also have a risk of water getting into your shoes (refer to #4)... I think the safest way is to watch your step and maybe someone with you to hold on to in case a slip happens. Eventually, you'll get the hang of it and you become familiar with the looks and feel of the snow area you walk on.

Watching snowfall from the balcony... surreal :)
I'm still no expert on snow-walking but these tips helped me made the cold bearable for a period of time... however, what made the walk perfect is a crystally white scene and a good company. Our walk was as perfect as it can get. ;) The next morning, the clouds got darker, and my first gift happened... I was able to cross out #1 on my list... surprise! suprise! snow starts to fall :)... and it felt like Christmas... in a more solemn and surreal way. Watching snowfall from the balcony, felt somehow romantic... a white Valentine's day.

From the time I arrived, we only had about 3 days to go around Geneva before we go on our next trip... and one of the most famous scene in Geneva is the Lake Geneva, with its huge fountain... unfortunately, the first time that we went there, the fountain was off... Well, it was on but was turned off after a few minutes... enough time to take 1 picture.. :S (I stand corrected, this happened the 2nd time around.. :)) But the next times we went there, we did took great pictures... (but that's for another time.. another blog post :D) 

These days we just spent... a day walking on the snow, visit the “mall” (where I did not buy anything... well, not yet), and stroll around Lake Geneva and the business district where I first ate a genuine home-made Swiss chocolates! It's heaven. :D And one of the unexpected things happened... I was able to get into CERN! Yey! This is something that will make Sheldon super jealous. For those who are watching Big Bang Theory, you know what I mean. ;) The CERN is popular for their “little” device and they are also known to be the place where the Internet was born. Now, these all sounds geeky all of a sudden :D

I'm keeping this card to the best of
my ability for as long as I can . :)
Roaming around the streets of Geneva, I can't help myself to feel different. The streets are different from the streets that I usually walked on. And the people are different (in terms of looks and language). Well sometimes, you get to meet Asian-looking people but not often... not as often as in the Philippines. I felt different. Not because people made you feel different but it is just because the place is totally different from the streets and environment that you're used to. This is not something negative... but more of a realization.

There's too many things to explore, to discover, and to experience. My first stop in Switzerland is just the beginning... and the snow is just nature's way of welcoming me to Europe... and since the #1 on my list is to experience snow, I believe that it's God's way of granting me my first wish. ;)

Au revoir, Switzerland for now... on to my next stop... Ciao!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Europe 101: My Mission Impossible

Where do you want to go in Europe? This was the question that was asked to me by my friend, and my answer was.. ahm.. anywhere! :D First, I don't know much about Europe (and I don't mean the countries in it) and for me, this is like a super vague question since you just don't go to a place just to go there but to really experience and do or see something there. 

So instead of enumerating 'where' I want to go, I just list down what I want to 'experience' there. You have to understand that while doing the list, I'm still not sure if my visa or my leave will be approved. Hence, my list is not a product of thorough research but just a personal list with (was) my current state of mind. And since I don't know much about European history and culture, my list sounded exactly like someone who doesn't know much about European history and culture :D With a little modification to the original texts, here's my things to do in Europe:

    1. Experience snow falling 
    2. Go to the Alps (Switzerland).. I'm still not sure about skiing.. :S 
    3. Drink German beer in Germany 
    4. French something in France 
    5. Drink wine from a vineyard 
    6. Watch opera or musical theater (any Mama Mias?) 
    7. Go to a Planetarium (anywhere) 
    8. Pray at the Vatican City.. I also want to get a rosary from there for my mom & sis 
    9. Climb the Eiffel Tower.. hopefully with an elevator :D 
    10. Learn history (maybe Rome / Germany).. arts and culture (maybe Paris) 
    11. Be in two countries at one time.. any borders.. 
    12. Be in any castle.. hopefully not ruined. 
    13. Shop for chocolates! (and well, some souvenirs too).. and maybe some cheap Swiss watch.. Oh.. and swiss knives for my brothers 
    14. See pictures of my friend when he was little
    15. Take a picture with (at least) 10 European men.. :D
Some of the items from the list were immediately crossed out while some have never been achieved... but(!) I feel that the remaining items were replaced with cool experiences... and even more... there are those that are not on this list which I think should be. So after a series of google maps... housetrip rentals... flight schedules... bus routes... tourism websites... travel blogs.. winter fashions... then, more of google maps... we finally have our itinerary... and my obvious first stop is Switzerland! ;)

Enjoyed swiping this card at
Schiphol's transfer service. :)
Well, its actually Amsterdam... at least Schiphol airport. As we researched on the possible flights to Europe from the Philippines, we found out that the only flight directly to Europe was this flight to Netherlands. I think the DOT should do something about additional flights to some key points, like maybe London or Germany. ;) And since this was my first international flight, everything is so new... from the foreign looking flight attendants.. to the huge airport terminals... to money changer booths-with-good-looking-European-guy-at-the-counter.. :D

Waiting at the gate... no turning back... ready for the first leg of the race! :D

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Europe 101: Introduction

It's been 3 weeks and 3 days since I stepped out of Manila International airport and feel the “normal” temperature again with overweight bags and clogged thoughts. Believe it or not, the main thought that's on my mind was “What just happened?!?” Stop: It's not what you think. :P

Now, rewind a few months ago... my friend, T, invited me for a visit in Europe. Yes, you heard it right. For “ordinary” person like me and for most Filipinos, the idea of going to this part of the world seems like a dream, more like a crazy dream. Well, for me, more like an illusion. So, when he invited me, it doesn't sound like “a trip to Europe” but more like “a visit to a friend's place”. And since it's just an invitation, the thought of Europe still doesn't sink in. No kidding. Seriously. I guess, I just don't want to set my expectations that high. If it happens, it happens.

A huge cross of light for my travel..
sign of amazing things to happen.. :) 
After a few discussions and ideas and some planning, I find myself working on the requirements and documents for the trip. The dreamy reality slowly starts to sink in, and the first reality check was when I talked to the personnel at the embassy, and I realized “Oh, shocks! I have to speak English. I'm going to a place where they speak a foreign language!!! :(” I'm not so stupid not to know it beforehand, but as I've said, the idea still sounds otherworldly.

Forward a day before my trip to Europe... my exact thought: this-is-not-happening. The odds doesn't seem to fall in my favor. My mind is too exhausted. Not because of preparation.. nor of excitement.. but because my last piece of document is not yet ready (!). It's almost frustrating.. the paper that you have passed 2 months ago, because of certain circumstances, is not yet ready. My government has this great idea to keep their competent and not-so-competent employees within the country's territory. I don't know how many officials have gone out of the country to “escape” compared to the total number of employees at hand.. anyways, that's a whole different story.. After hours of waiting and praying, and because of some angels, a colleague and my boss, I finally have it! I really don't have much time to be excited after that, my mind is just too exhausted. I just have to make sure that I did not forget anything.. passport (check).. documents (check).. clothes (check).. etc (check).

And just when I passed by the immigration border that I was able to breath (not literally though).. mind check: so where am I heading again?? Oh yes, Europe.. my mind is still clogged from all the almost-misfortunes and just tuning in to international flight mode.. only when the plane to Netherlands took off that I fully realized.. This-Is-All-Weird.. my Europe experience / my first ever out-of-the-country experience just began.. thiz iz it! :D

Upon writing this I just realized that the picture of the sun almost looks like a cross.. :)  I feel super blessed to have had this experience and for all the little experiences that I've had in my life.. my Europe experience is too huge to be in just one article.. ;) details of which will be written in the coming days.. God bless us all!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Phase 1: Complete

Easy is not exactly fast. And now after n years, I have my own blog page. :) I'm no writer, so I didn't really feel the need to make one before. But now... (although, I'm still not a writer)... there are some thoughts, ideas, people, places, and events that you just want to share to people on earth that 120 characters is not enough.. there are limits to using shortcut words and removing all those vowels in expressing your mind.. in my case, can sometimes be a crazy mind, not in a scary but more like a funny way.. I hope. I will make this one of my happy place, and hopefully, for the readers of this earth as well. We'll see how this goes. God bless everyone! And peace on earth!