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Got 2 see what's out there!

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dated for 8 years, married for nearly 4 years, no littlies yet, understandably bored and seeking new adventures... therefore, we go.

young married couple. both born in the same small rice-farming village in the northern Philippines. presently residing in beautiful New Zealand. guy (Kanootz) works in a factory. girl (Joia) works in a preschool. in short, we rely on our gutsy & hardy outlook (5 barley loaves & 2 fish will do) more than our finances.

10 weeks ago: to save some bucks, Kanootz installed a king-single bed in the far end of Joia's grandparents' lounge; furniture & other stuff safe in self-storage; been a real blessing to receive only bank statements; NO power - phone - internet (thanks, uncle Roger for the free Wifi, haha!) - BILLS for the past 3 months. Such FREEDOM!

leaving for San Francisco (ex Auckland) in 10 days as first leg of our first (we hope there to be more) RTW trip. posting opening page now as will be busy with packing & finalizing stuff these coming days, plus some crash-course in DSLR photography this Monday (thanks Steph!).

so we forgot to blog... just cause u guys aren't on holiday!!! haha!

Manila, Philippines

So sorry everyone... this blog will probably have to wait to be finalized when we get back to Auckland. wifi isn't so easy over here. I don't enjoy working on other people's computers. we're both getting bigger by the day - but no worries, we'll have plenty of time to shrink down when we get back. haha! we miss you all very much and all our host families/friends too. we're already dreading the thought of saying goodbye to the Philippines again.... kabaliw!

permalink written by  garcia on February 10, 2008 from Manila, Philippines
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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Our Torinese Yuletide

Torino, Italy

Well, lonely planet was right... after a while, Europe begins to feel like work. To be fair, we've also had many moments that we'd like to remember for a long long time. This blog entry is really only a photo-diary of our yuletide season in Torino: things we saw and did, people we met, etc.

- we visited ate Kholeen & kuya veingie's baby's tomb. sad...

-christmas concertino by Filipinos in Torino. Funny!

-centerpiece Joia salvaged from the rubbish

-more Luci d'Artista

Day-visits, etc.

-Ate Kholeen's make-over... girly stuff!

-Random stuff:

-La Basilica dei Frati Cappuccini: always wanted to take a shot of this blue domed church perched on top of a hill but Nikky's 135 lens never gave a clear enough shot even at closer points. but this one... i like it's reflection on the waters of the River Po.

-Snow. Frolick. Childish. Cool...

A day in Municipio di Moncalieri, 30 minutes from Citta di Torino...

watch out for next blog... thanks for dropping by. x Kanootz&Joia x

permalink written by  garcia on January 5, 2008 from Torino, Italy
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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Versailles - Paris - Turin

Turin, Italy

Day 4: 7am, we said our good-byes and gratitude to Aunty Nessy who has generously shared her Paris place with us. Though we’ll never know how we can return the favor to her directly, we do intend to ‘play it forward’. We caught the metro from Courcelles to Pyramides where we met up with our tour bus to Versailles.

9am, our bus departed from Cityrama headquarters. It was packed – with Japanese tourists! They all wanted front / top deck seats. We were quite happy occupying the whole spread of tail seats. And we got some sleep on the way, yippee! 9:45, we arrived in Versailles as scheduled. It was a sunny day but the chill was still there. The tour was much like the tour of Windsor Castle. Can’t really tell much about their differences but I do know I like Versailles better. The inside was also a lot more camera-friendly. We were able to take some shots of the great big chandeliers in the Hall of Mirrors.

When we got to the landscaped gardens, Kanootz said, Inang Inday (my grandma) would have loved to be in there. We imagine that it’d look even more stunning in the summer when the frozen fountains actually do their work. The trip cost us 130E in total.

We could have had it a bit cheaper, but we were too exhausted to sacrifice comfort. This whole leg of the trip has been the most expensive one (so far) but… we wanted Paris to be a pleasant experience, not one wherein all our memories are dominated by skimping and budget-everything!

1:00 pm, we were back in the city center. We hurried to Champs-Elysses to try and grab those pair of shoes which Kheli spent the whole of last night mulling over. In the same gallery, we also found yet another ‘Turo-turo’ style Thai restaurant and their menu looked good. Most of the people dining there looked like professional office workers, so this must be a favorite local choice. Not bad for our last meal in Paris.

The man who served Kheli at the shoe shop helped us out with some information on how to best get to the airport to catch our 4:05 pm flight. So at 2pm, we walked to the closest metro again and came out from another where Air France bus was waiting for us. It was like everything was laid out for us, and the timings were perfect. We made it to the airport in time. And Kheli was allowed into the plane – yippee! 5:30 pm and we were already in Turin’s Caselle Airport where Papang had been in the car waiting for us for an hour.

And was Paris romantic? Well, first of all, we had Kheli with us. Then at times when we do try to kiss, our lips were freezing and wind-chapped for most of the trip. We couldn’t even hold hands because we’d rather keep them in our own pockets. We did have some moments, like dancing to some easy jazz on the cruise boat… young Kheli right next to us of course… haha! Besides, kanootz isn’t the cheesy-weepy-romantic kind of guy, & I like that about him! As well, of course, as the fact that he makes me laugh...

I would never want to ever forget… that on the plane, high above the Alpine mountains bordering France and Italy, the view was so awe-inspiring! It’s such an irony that we’d paid over a thousand euros for a trip to Paris, and still the sight that was most remarkable of all – is the one that we hadn’t paid any penny for. Here it is:

permalink written by  garcia on December 22, 2007 from Turin, Italy
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Paris Day 3

Paris, France

Paris Day 3: We didn’t get out till mid-day for 2 reasons. 1: It was freezing outside. 2: we stayed up till late last night watching a Koreanovela. Haha! Once you start one of these things, it catches you and impossible to disengage until all 8 DVDs have gone in and out of the player. Still, we knew this was the day – for Eiffel Tower. We were in Paris and it may take a while before we could come back so we had to battle the cold. It was snowing in Turin but the cold in Paris is quite different. It bites your toes even when they’re covered in 3 layers of socks.

We emerged from out of the Trocadero station. From the Trocadero, we caught a glimpse of the ever graceful century-old tower. We tried to take as many photos as we could and then finally succumbed to the cold. And anyway, we’d seen Eiffel at day time the other day.

We’re looking forward to tonight when it comes alive. For now: lunch. So we walked along a major street behind the Trocadero to try and find a cheaper option. We thought, either McDo, or Chinese. We saw a Pizza Hut sign, only to be disappointed when we found out, it was a delivery joint. We needed a warm sit-down place. We walked a little further and voila! We found ourselves in front of this Chinese/Viet restaurant. ‘Turo-turo’ style – in Paris! Haha! You literally point to the viand you like. Our bill still totaled 30E but the food was so “UMAMI” and warm! And the place was clean, and the waiter even came running a block to give us our bottle of hand sanitizer which we’d forgotten. She just made our day!

All refueled, we cued under the Eiffel for our tickets to the 3rd level. Glad to know, it wasn’t just as who’s jerking in the cold. Everyone else thought it was crazy we were all willing to suffer this much for Tour Eiffel. There were tiny little bits of snow falling on us every

now and then. But the wind, ooh, it was mean! The tickets to the top cost us another 30E+. But the view from there, worth every penny! I know a lot of people say Paris is overrated. That’s okay by me. Really, there’s two ways of looking at it: either everything is overrated or nothing is, so one must find a comfortable spot in between... For me, I think, It’s amazing to see how the city spreads itself out like the tentacles of a giant octopus, to think that it was laid out many centuries ago and still holds itself together as one of the world’s greatest cultural and commercial capitals! And my observation was that, for being the world’s most visited city, Paris is impressively CLEAN! I guess this should answer my dear friend Rose's question...

After the climb, the smell of crepes from the stall across the road gave me the cravings for some sweets. Kanootz suggested that we should go to Fauchon instead.From Trocadero to Madeleine, it was quite a distance – but a worthy one. So, if you happen to be in Paris, do drop by Pattisserie / Traiteur Fauchon “Paris in your lips” – if you intend to splurge on some gastronomic delights even once. We’re glad we did! They have anything from the humble Madeline, to crispy palmiers, to the very posh truffle-salmon pâté. Only thing is, unless you’re a girly-girl like me, you’ll just have to bear with the PINKness of the place! Kanootz & Kheli managed fine. Following are some photos of our afternoon snack in Fauchon… Enjoy!

In the evening, after watching Eiffel Tower slowly come alive – in the cold, we bought tickets to ride a Parisienne Bateau along the River Seine. We were shivering in the cold, but it was magical! Some shots in / from the boat:

We thought it was going to be a half-hour ride like the Thames (UK) one, but this one lasted 1.5 hours. An added bonus! There were so many beautifully illuminated buildings to look at on both sides of the river, so much to see! There were some merry souls in the boat which gave the atmosphere a lively feel. They even got everyone else chorusing with them to Joe Dassin’s ‘Les Champs-Elysses’ – including us, even though we'd never heard of this apparently classic before. "Aux Champs-Élysées... aux Champs-Élysées...au soleil, sous la pluie...à midi ou à minuit...il y a tout ce que vous voulez...aux Champs-Élysées." What a splendid day! … More portraits of Tour Eiffel:

Watch out for Part 4: Versailles… up next.

permalink written by  garcia on December 21, 2007 from Paris, France
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Aux Champs-Elysses! (Paris Part 2)

Paris, France

Paris Day 2: We took the Montmartre – Grand Boulevards route for the morning. We stopped at Madeleine and also saw views of Le Printemps (Harrods of Paris), and Gare Saint Lazarre. Near Moulin Rouge, Kheli spotted a KFC. He wasn’t going to miss it. They don’t have KFC in Turin, so he hasn’t had one since coming to Europe – a year ago. Inevitably, it was chicken for lunch. We sat next to a couple of Filipino ladies. Either they were snobs, or they thought we were. Shame, I would’ve loved to chat with them, learn about their jobs, etc. Then back to Moulin Rouge for our bus to take us around and back to Place de la Concorde… pass views of Sacre Coeur up the top of the Montmartre Hill, two more major Gares, and a few magnificent fountains all with names too difficult to pronounce or even spell…

In the afternoon, we got stuck in Champs-Elysees again… surprise! We were there late enough to see the avenue turn into a sparkling promenade. From here, we also contacted our accommodation for the night. On the last minute, Kanootz’ eldest sister (Karen) was able to speak w/ an old friend living in Paris. He (Karen’s friend) was vacationing in the Philippines but was able to give us the number of his relative living in Central Paris.

Aunty Nessy was her name. On the phone, we took directions from her for later and then enjoyed Champs-Elysses a bit longer. We even ended up having dinner in a posh Chinese/Thai resto a block away from Arc De Triomphe. That set us back another 60E. Another big OUCH! Just as well, we’ve got FREE accommodation for our last 2 nights in Paris - ahh, the perks of being a Filipino!

Aunty Nessy’s place is in Courcelles. Not far from Charles De Gaulle station beneath the Arc De Triomphe. It would’ve been easy enough to find, except our map didn’t have the street name she mentioned. We got lost; I even tripped and got my bottom wet by a frozen puddle on a curb. It turns out; her place was only a few meters from the Courcelles station. Aunty Nessy’s lives in a small but comfortable service room on the 5th floor provided for her by her Jewish boss. There was a lift to get to her place, even tinier than the hotel’s - less than a meter square in floor space, but still handy.

She was very kind, even gifted me with a matching red hat and pashmina (which I wore for the rest of the trip). Fortunately, we managed to grab a couple of French fragranced soaps for her from Sephora before leaving the shopping district. Everything was small in her place – small chairs, small table, small fridge, and small shower… except for her very large (1.5m) LCD screen TV compliments of her boss. She is a practicing Jehovah’s Witness… so, inevitably, we had a very interesting 2 nights. It’s amazing though how she just opened up to us about her story. She was very accommodating, and very caring to all 3 of us. And then she told us we’re the same age as her own children. She’s not been home since she came to France 6 years ago. I really felt for her… but she seems to me a very strong woman who takes strength from her faith. God bless her heart.

Next up: Paris Day 3...

permalink written by  garcia on December 20, 2007 from Paris, France
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Crossing Borders (Caselle - Paris)

Paris, France

Day 1: We’d already bought our plane tickets (Kheli’s including) online even before we went to Roma (150E each). We opted for flying simply because we only just came from a 16-hour train ride to Roma and back. Because it was a last minute booking, train tickets were going to cost us more anyway. This we did knowing that there’s a very big possibility that Kheli may not be allowed to leave Italy. At the time of our scheduled trip, his permit to stay in Italy was expired and in the process of being renewed.

Still, we had to give it a try; it was worth a try, absolutely! He really wanted to come with us. Besides, if he wasn’t allowed into the plane, the worst thing that could happen was for him to forfeit his return ticket. So, with Kheli’s Italian Identity Card, Kanootz’ Schengen Visa in his Philippine passport, & my NZ passport, we cued with a daypack each (our only baggage for the 4-day trip) in front of Air France’s Boarding gate @ Caselle Airport.

I reminded them both to pray – really hard. I’ve also said my prayers before we left the apartment: ‘Lord, we promise, we just want to see what Paris is like, nothing else… and we’ll be good conscientious and polite travelers… and you know Kheli is coming back to Turin with us’… “Buon Viaggio!” the airline staff finally greeted us as she handed us back our travel documents. Sigh! The flight took around 1 ½ hours. Not bad. We arrived in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport at 8:30 am. From here, we took the Air France Bus to Gare De Lyon which was another hour’s ride. At Gare De Lyon, we found a Tourist Info Office and bought our 2-Day L’Open Tour Passes (35E each). We also booked our trip to Versailles for our last day in France. This drew us back another 45E each. OUCH! So we walked out the train terminal and towards our L’Open Bus Stop across the road.

The sun was shining, but the wind chill was almost unbearable. We were so excited to get to sit on the top deck… until 5 minutes later, it got too cold for me, and it turns out, for the boys just as much! With a bit of disappointment, and realizing of course for real why people would much rather endure the thick crowd of European summer, we climbed down to the lower deck – it wasn’t that much warmer either.

Our 2-Day pass allowed us to hop on and hop off at main tourist stops. Our first bus for the day was the Blue Line which circled the areas around Bercy and Bastille along the River Seine’s Right Bank. There were so many Ponts (Bridges) all notably beautiful, but too many to remember each by name. And really, I could spend pages and pages describing every single structure we saw… or you could simply enjoy the photos. I prefer the latter, so go ahead…

Then next major stop was Ile de la Cite – the site of the very first settlement in Paris dating back to 3rd century BC. Our Bus stop is right in front of Place du Parvis Notre Dame (the square in front of Cathedrale De Notre Dame De Paris). We were getting hungry so we crossed a bridge towards Bd St Germain where there were shops and restaurants of all sorts. Apparently, 11 am was still too early so most restaurants were closed. But there’s always McDonalds. My toes have been numb for half an hour so anywhere warm was a good choice. After lunch, we went back to see Notre Dame Cathedral. The Place Du Parvis was also a lot more crowded than it was earlier. There were Police everywhere. Police on foot, Police on bikes, Police Buses, Police Boats…

We were planning to go see the inside of the cathedral made famous by Victor Hugo’s Hunchback, when suddenly, the crowd began to panic. People rushing in, some running away, the city Police draw in with their sirens… The three of us found ourselves a corner away from the crowd… It turns out that there was some kind of demonstration… we decided it was sensible to stay away, so we hailed the Green Line: Paris Grand Tour bus to move on to Place de la Concorde.

Apparently: The 3300(?) year-old pink granite obelisk in the middle of Concorde square came from Egypt. From here, we could already see the Arc De Triomphe at the other end of Champs-Elysees. For this reason, Kanootz and Kheli decided we should head there on foot. What none of us realized is that there was a 2.5K distance from one end of the Champs-Elysees to the other. It didn’t really matter that much, after all, this was one of the world’s poshest (if that’s a word) shopping avenues.It was sunset when we hailed the bus that would take us to our hotel for the evening. We had to make our way from Champs-Elysses to Porte Doree and the closest the bus could take us was Parc De Bercy.

It was some 45 – 60 minute walk to the hotel. The cold was unbearable by now, as the sun has gone away. We regret not even checking the weather & temperature beforehand. This should teach us. Thank God, the hotel we’d booked online (Hotel de la Porte Doree) was STELLAR! For 90E (triple room), we are very pleased. It was a bit far from the city center, but was well worth it. Their website said it all ‘we are no ordinary 2 star hotel’. It was CLEAN CLEAN CLEAN! Ensuite bathroom, plush beddings, good heating, view was nothing special but the inside décor more than made up for it. Oh, their lift was funny too – so tiny but apparently able to carry 3 persons. They have very friendly staff behind the reception – which is next to a tiny but classy lobby. We dashed out for half an hour for some dinner at a Japanese resto and hurried back to the hotel and slipped into our warm beds as quickly as we could. We were snoozing at 10 pm, woke up at 10 am the next day. Love, love this hotel! We recommend people to stay here - 100%! I think they're a GREEN hotel too...

Coming right up: Days 2-3 in Paris

permalink written by  garcia on December 18, 2007 from Paris, France
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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Under my umbrella, ella, ella... (Pisa in 4 hours)

Pisa, Italy

After saying our parting words and gratitudes to Signor Mariano, we went into the Roma Termini for some hot drinks frist, and then our tickets. It took little to convince ate Kholeen that Pisa was a necessary stop. Guess she always wanted to see it too, but when you live here in Italy, it can wait... for this time. We were early for our train so it was easy boarding in. Kanootz even got the chance to nose about when the train engine was being connected to the carriages.

Thank goodness, we shared the carriage with pleasent passengers and mind you, this one's heating was just right. After 2.5 hours, we were in Pisa Centrale where we had the chance to buy some souvenir and more postcards. More umbrella vendors in here... Kheli tells us, they change merchandise according to the weather...From there we caught the Linea Rossa pulman which took us to the Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles).

Before we write any further, we'd like to express disappointment about our photographs. We're a bit bummed because first, it was pouring that day! And then wind chill factor if we remember properly was about 0 deg C. This meant that Niko (our little Nikon S200 point-&-shoot) was the only one on duty. On days like this, Nikky (Nikon D80) gets too shy. Also, the weather sort of dampened the colour of what is supposed to be white marble lined Pisa Cathedral. Still, theye were our personal shots so to us, they're better than any other.

When we got to the Cathedral site, basically, everything is as it is in photos. As one would expect, there were countless souvenir stalls lining the walls of the city. Kanootz & Kheli found a shirt they liked in here which they couldn't resist. The rain and the cold were such a challenge but never enough to stop us from doing what we came here for - take photos! It was actually quite funny 'cause none of our trick poses worked.

We got so hungry and tried to find some place to eat outside the cathedral grounds. Kheli's preference was Chinese. We also liked the thought of warm fried rice and hot chicken soup. The last thing we'd think of eating in this kind of weather was cold sandwich / tough bread. We waled along narrow streets and almost lost hope when we met a Filipino mother and daughter who directed us to a decent one. It was quiet and clean... and @ 35E for 4 starved travellers, not bad.

Then we walked back to the bus stop to catch the same bus to the terminal. Along the way, we managed to take a couple of shots of the beautiful buildings lining the Arno River. Our train ride back to Turin was easy and restful, thank God.

Anyway, a bit about Pisa:

Pisa was a bustling maritime city in the medieval era, rivalling Genova & Venice. Perhaps Pisa's greatest claim to fame is being the birthplace & home of the Renaisssance genius Galileo Galilei who also taught at the city's historic university. The Leaning Tower of Pisa - the cathedral's belfry, is what we'd say a beautiful architectural accident - thus, the name Campo dei Miracoli. next up, Paris...

permalink written by  garcia on December 10, 2007 from Pisa, Italy
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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Roma in a Day (5 Euro... each!)

Rome, Italy

We met up with Ate Khols first and then Kheli at Torino’s Parta Nuova station after his evening classes to catch our train to Rome. Travelling time is 8 hours. There were two other passengers in our cabin but because there were more of us than them, it wasn’t that awkward for us. Well, it would have been (not ‘would of been’ – Joia gets terribly annoyed when native English speakers make this very common grammatical error!) a perfectly pleasant train ride… for even at night, the silhouettes of the Riviera, and the Tuscan hills are delightfully serene… the only thing is that the train’s heating system turned out to be faulty. It was scorching! We had already switched our woolens with cottons. It was still super hot. We could have kept the windows open except it meant we had to listen to the train’s terrible rumbles all night. Both heat and noise were unbearable! We tried distracting ourselves by playing UNO. Finally, we reached our stop: Roma Ostense at 6:30 am. This meant ½ hour of waiting for the ‘bigliatteria’ to open. There was a distinct smell inside the terminal - similar to the smell of New York’s trains in the early mornings. We don’t really know how to say this in a politically appropriate manner… all we know is that along the corners of the terminal walls, there were several souls sleeping in dirty blankets with their bundles of belongings close to them. By now, we’re no longer as naïve as to think that people in such living conditions only exist in the 3rd world. We’d seen them in San Francisco, in New York, in London, in Milan…

The weather was threatening to turn bad, so we hurried down to the underground metro station. Well, Roma’s underground transportation was not a very pleasant experience. It’s covered in graffiti inside and out. The carriages smell. It’s a harsh contrast to Torino’s brand new (and yet unfinished) English-speaking underground metro. Our first stop was the Colosseo, except we got lost, so we didn’t really get there. It was raining but still so neat, to be ‘Roaming Roma’ in the early morning when there aren’t any crowds and we had the city all to ourselves. Piazza del Campidoglio was our very first scenic stop, and although the Musei Capitollini’s facade was all covered up for renovation, it was still worth bringing our cameras out (in the rain). We were walking pass Piazza Venezia when our phone rang. It’s our Roman host, Samantha (Kuya Veingie’s cousin). We agreed to meet up with her by the Fontana di Trevi. Again, it was so pleasant to be there and not have to fight the crowds for a decent view of one of the most famous and artistically significant fountains in the world. Ever ‘mapamahiin’ (superstitious), Ate Kholeen threw a coin in – although this was already her 2nd visit to Rome.

As a tour guide, Samantha walks like someone from NZ – FAST! Soon, we found ourselves in the middle of Piazza di Spagna where one finds the famous Spanish steps. Although it didn’t seem to be such a big climb, the gigantic Mercedes Benz poster at the very top was more than enough commercialism to put us off the climb. And anyway, we couldn’t wait to get away from all those umbrella vendors who kept nagging us despite seeing that we already had umbrellas and were even wearing rain coats!

Then, Samantha led us to Piazza del Popolo. By now, our tummies were rumbling, so we didn’t really get to appreciate the piazza as much as we ought to. We did take some photos but we were already thinking ‘pizza, pizza, pizza’. Samantha ignored our rants and instead got us to climb up the Pincio Hill beside the piazza. When we got to the top, we realized that no slab of pizza could ever compete with the 270-degree ‘bella vista’ of Rome.

From there, we walked for another hour – in search of McDonald’s! We found one – smack in front of the Pantheon, no less! By now, Rome is starting to get crowded. It didn’t help that there was only 1 functioning toilet in McDonald’s and you have to cue down a skinny spiral stair case. But when you gotta go, you know you gotta go! After our well-deserved burgers and patatini (fries), we tried to get inside the Pantheon. We reached as far as the doorway and got a shot of the domed light-dispersing ceiling when we agreed that the thickness of the crowd was way beyond us.

We then headed for the Colosseo, and this time, we made sure we got there. We stopped at the stalls for a bit to buy ourselves some souvenir. If you’re thinking that the ‘5 Euro… each’ title is about the souvenirs, well, you’re wrong. It’s about this photograph with these costumed posers in front of the ancient stadium built in 72 AD. After failing to entice us by words, they took Kanootz & Kheli by the hand, and Joia – forgetting that she’d been warned about this on the Lonely Planet website – also joined them. Then they suggested that the boys also took photos of Kholeen and Samantha with them.

After that, the woman said ‘5 Euro… each’. What???!!! Kanootz and Kheli were so angry… in fact, Kheli was fuming. For one who was born and raised in Rome, Samantha seems very shocked. She’s obviously not very familiar with tourist traps. We ended up giving them 9 Euro in total instead of 25. It was all we had. They were still harassing us with the payments and the man was already trying to catch another group to victimize. Joia yelled out ‘Don’t, they charge 5 Euro each!’ in front of the woman. She didn’t say anything. We’re glad the other group listened. Kheli was still very irritated and unhappy. He said he’d never been robbed ever in his entire life – especially not in as silly manner as this. Well, oh well… it could have been worse.

From here we followed the path leading to the Roman Forum & Palatine Hill where one finds the remains of what was considered the political, religious, and social centre of the ancient Roman world. Kheli was still very upset but because he likes being photographed, he forces a smile each time we engage the camera in front of him.

The walkway was muddy and tight, and by now, our feet and legs are throbbing. But we can’t just stop, there’s so much more to see and do. Just as well, there was a bus stop nearby for the ride to the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele which is our gateway to Piazza San Pietro and nearby Castel Sant’Angelo.

At the bus stop, Samantha decided that we should first go to Castel Sant’Angelo. So we did. We took some photos along the River Tevere with the Castel right behind us… in front of Castel Sant’Angelo were more souvenir shops, and while Kholeen and Joia were busy choosing postcards...

Samantha casually tells everyone ‘Guarda, di la’ (Look, there)… meters away from us was a very familiar sight – albeit we’d never actually seen before: Piazza San Pietro. The Vatican. The walk towards Basilica di San Pietro was longer than we thought. Still, one has to admit that Bernini did well in laying out these four rows of colonnades. Our feet were already blistered – Roma’s cobbled streets weren’t exactly the feet-friendliest. But we were there so we thought, a bit of cueing and we’ll get to see what’s in the walls of the smallest sovereign nation in the world. We weren’t going to pay for any entrance fees so it meant we only got as close as the Basilica’s giant doors. The place is actually smaller than we thought. It always looked so big on the TV. Even the fountain is average sized. There was a poorly-looking sort of giant Christmas tree in the middle of the piazza.

Finally, we headed for Roma Termini to meet up with Samantha’s dad, Mariano, who works in a pizzeria in Roma. He’d been waiting for us an hour. Glad he wasn’t a grumpy guy. After the introductions inside their 6-seater van, we’d fallen asleep and only woke up when we stopped to fetch Samantha’s much younger twin sisters from their babysitter. By now, there were 8 persons in the van. Of course, this was Roma. The children were, let’s say, lively, so no more sleeping. Then after an hour drive out of the city and uphill, we reached our host home. ‘Intayon!’ (Ilocano for ‘let’s go!’) says Mariano who is a native Roman. At their home, Kuya Veingie’s Aunt (Samantha’s Mom) and other younger sister were waiting to meet us. Mariano’s sister and nephew were also staying there temporarily. It was a very full house, but a happy one.

(More memories of Rome:)

After dinner, we brought out our UNO cards, for one round – we thought. But everyone, even Signor Mariano wanted turns so the game went on and on. Samantha’s mom must have noticed how tired we were (we haven’t slept since 40 hours ago!) and told her family to let us go to bed already. Kanootz & Joia shared the top bunk, then kheli underneath us, then ate khols on the other one while Samantha's bed was on the far end of the room. This one wasn't a forced sleep at all... we really were tired and sleep-deprived. and wake up time was 5am to catch a lift w/ signor mariano to Roma Termini...

permalink written by  garcia on December 8, 2007 from Rome, Italy
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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grisini e nutella

Torino, Italy

We spent the whole day in Sestriere Ski fields, an hour’s drive from the city center. The small car couldn’t take the whole family, so Ate Kholeen and Kuya Veingie took the bus instead. The drive to the ‘Montagne’ (mountains) was incredibly scenic. It’s a little bit like New Zealand, except the road signs are either in Italian or French. Now and then, we pass by castle ruins, or medieval-looking structures atop steep hills, or frozen rivers and creeks.

The ride was almost perfect: we’re with Kanootz’ family, enjoying pleasant conversation with them; we are surrounded by all these magnificent snow-capped mountains; we’re all warm and snug in our down jackets; we’re snacking with grissini dipped in Nutella. That covers our senses of hearing, sight, touch, and taste… the only thing is that, something is really bothering my sense of smell. I keep sniffing at everything, and even at everybody, trying to find that unpleasant smell… only to find out, it was ME! I’ve borrowed Ate Khols’ warm boots for the ride up. What she hasn’t told me is that she’d stepped on DOG POOP the night before and hasn’t washed those boots!

The laughter in the car almost deafened me. Papang (dad), found a café (Café Des Alpes) nearby for a pit stop. Fortunately, there was a water fountain beside some lump of snow in front of the cafe. Kanootz and Kheli took a boot each while I changed into my snow boots (borrowed from Lola Edna – my mother’s midwife when she gave birth to her first child – that’s me).

When we got to the main ski fields, we met up w/ Ate Khols and Kuya Veingie. We walked around the town a little bit and agreed that we should all have lunch first before we hit the slopes.

We found this little ‘ristorante’ amongst the tiny boutique shops and let ourselves in. The food was average, but as they say, it’s not about the food but the company. By now, I’m also starting to learn that what I’ve read sometime ago about how restaurant / cafes in Italy treat ‘Filipinos’ isn’t always true. At least in this part of Italy, and at least in this particular restaurant, we were treated respectfully and hospitably.

After lunch, Kanootz & Kheli rented snow boards while Ate Khols got us a pair of toboggans. Papang didn’t seem very interested in any physical activity. He headed back to the parking lot for a snooze soon after lunch. Mamang (Mom) on the other hand was so much fun! She tirelessly climbed and slid up and down the slopes, even racing with the boys.

Well, for myself, I was perfectly content with just being in wonder of what was around me. Sometimes, I think it’s all a grandiose dream. Now I know that God really does give us more than we could ever ask for. All this was way beyond my childhood aspirations. For a little sickly girl from a tiny rice-farming village in the middle of Southeast Asia, what can I say, except that “life is beautiful”!

And whilst the miracle of snow remains an awe-inspiring experience for me, it was the might and magnitude of the snow-capped mountains that really showed me just how enormous the Earth is and reminded me that we are all but a speck of dust in God’s infinite universe. Still, Job (7:17) exclaims, ‘for what is man that you make so much of him? That you give him so much attention… o watcher of men?’ It really is incredible to know that the same God who made all this beauty and the whole universe in all its vastness knows every single one of us by name!

permalink written by  garcia on December 2, 2007 from Torino, Italy
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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garcias reunited...

Turin, Italy

As we write this entry, we are both sat in front of the TV, Kanootz busy flicking the remote control for any decent channel, and Joia commenting on the shows… we both are having a laugh because Kanootz has just made an interesting comment about late-night Italian TV programmes. ‘Angel vs. Devil’ he says about the channels. One channel would be advertising lewd services/products and the next will be a Gospel music concert. Flick it again and you know what you’re going to get. They even feel the need to have these so-called models advertise home furniture and grocery stores! Anyway… we’ll write as we recollect.

23 November 2007… Kheli wagged classes that evening to fetch us from Torino’s Porta Nuova station. We didn’t think he would mind, so we didn’t apologize. Wink! Well, the photos didn’t lie… he is TALL. He had to bend down to give us both a typical Italian hug…

Sick of dragging our backpacks in and out of buses and trains, we hailed a taxi to take us to our home for the next 7-8 weeks. Kheli seems apologetic about the apartment, mentioning that it’s like Manila. The truth is, for a metropolitan dwelling, this 2 bedroom apartment isn’t bad for 3 people. And anyway, it’s so conveniently located. 5 minutes away by foot is a shopping mall, and beside it is a first-class gourmet food market called EATALY. Then around the corner is the local flea market – open everyday till 4pm. Then there’s another (albeit smaller) shopping mall right in front of the apartment building, and a grocery store behind it. Bus stops are also right in front of and behind the apartment. To go to the central shopping area is one bus ride away. The only downfall (and quite a major one, considering we’ll be here for a considerable amount of time) is that we can’t seem to find an SDA church nearby. No surprises there… this is Italy.

We told kheli not to tell anybody of our actual arrival date/time, to surprise the rest of them. It was so funny, kholeen rang later in the evening for kheli to meet her at the local grocery shop. kenneth went instead... she said she kept looking and thought she knew the guy next to him... then the next morning, when kanootz' mum & dad got home from work, kanootz opened the door for them. Minja (mom) & Pim (Dad) were... uhm... crying. It has been close to 7 years since they saw each other. sob! sob! drama della famiglia!

Anyway, to give you all a little background on the city of Turin…

Turin or Torino (Italian) is the regional capital of Piemonte. It is encircled by the Alps and host to the rivers Po, Dora, Stura and Sangone. It has a vast area of parks and gardens, therefore considered one of the greenest cities in Europe… although of course in the winter, it looks much as one would expect of a continental city – GRAY.

Just as well, during the winter months, the city’s piazzas and streets are illuminated by art and fantasy, poetry and social themes, words and numbers, canvases and carpets, flowers and wheels, thus making the winter and Christmas atmosphere more magical. Luci d’Artista [Artists’ Lights] is a major ‘open-air’ museum project which started in 1998 and the only event of its kind in the world. Of course, there’s no use describing all these in words… so we took photos for all to see:

This first one is called ‘Palle di Neve’ [Snow Balls] by a lady named Enrica Borghi. If you take a closer look, you’ll see that the snow-white balls are actually made up of several (used) plastic bottles cut in half, the necks stuck into a polystyrene ball and the bodies hot-fringed with scissors to form a rose with transparent petals. A light bulb is inserted into each of these so that when placed side-by-side, the artificial flowers become luminescent crystals in a giant snowflake.
Next one is called ‘Tappeto Volante’ [Flying Carpet] by Parisian Daniel Buren. It is an unusual “gazebo” that supports a tightly-knit mesh of steel cables to which red and white or blue and white cube lanterns are attached and illuminated at night. It’s in Piazza Palazzo di Citta, Close to what is apparently the biggest open market in Europa.

A favourite one, is by Carmelo Giammello (apparently a well-known name in the world of contemporary arts), which he calls ‘Planetario’. An invisible net hanging over Via Roma supports many different illuminated shapes representing various constellations: the Plough, Little Bear, Orion, etc. The other smaller lights are the thousands of stars that crowd the universe. It really is amazing...‘Luì e l’arte di andare nel bosco’ by Luigi Mainolfi is a colourful narration of a local fable about a crazy guy who managed to find the children who were lost in the woods... This lighting work on the façade of the Porta Palazzo market is called “Amare Le Differenze” [Love Difference/Diversity]. The artist envisioned his work to bring love wherever there is tension due to diversity. And quite fittingly, Porto Palazzo is the citta’s area with the highest concentration of various ethnic, religious and cultural groups.

It’s a beautiful city to stroll at night. Reminds us of Fiestas back when we were younger, except the bridges, building architecture and cobbled streets definitely make you know you’re in Europa. There’s even this musical fountain. It’s mesmerizing to watch… just watch out for dog poops on the grass. Haha!

More photos of/in Turin:

On our first weekend, Kanootz’ family took us up to Basillicatta di Superga, a gig beautiful domed structure perched on the very highest hill of the city and historical home to the Royal Savoys.

As beautiful as it was, the Superga was no match to what was surrounding it, what no human being could ever make / build – the magnificent Montagne Alpine! What a sight! You could really stare at it all day. So sorry that the photos can never get anywhere close to the actual experience of being surrounded by it.

Ate (Filipino for big sister) Kholeen also took us around the shopping center. Jane would have loved all the shoe shops over here! Joia is salivating over stilettos and boots of all kinds! Fortunately for Kanootz, Jane has sent some money for Joia to have the pleasure of shopping for a few pairs in her behalf.

It’s been a bit tougher for us when it comes to exploring independently. Joia’s Italian… SUCKS! Boohoohoo! So we wait till the evenings and weekends when Kanootz’ Dad gets off work so he can take us around by car. Don’t worry, we do use most of the free day times productively – by SLEEPING! Or in Joia’s case, sewing (a hobby she’s just taken up after a crash course from Kanootz) new curtains for Kholeen and Kheli’s rooms and kitchen. Also, she’s been busy gift-wrapping tiny little presents for Kholeen to give out to her hubby’s family here in Turin (there’s more than a battalion of them!!!).

Slowly, we are getting familiar with bus routes, actually coming out of the grocery shop with shopping bags, etc. Still, it’s a lot better when Kholeen comes out with us. Like one time, she took us to Veneria Reale – a Reggia located outside the Turin City Center where the Royal Savoys’ 17th century palace and gardens are located and newly restored. It was so funny… we got there so late because we stopped to window-shop at nearly every single boutique we passed by. We were so late; it was dark when we got there, and anyway, it was close on Mondays. Oh, but it was so much fun! We even got to enjoy some hot chocolate drink in one of the boutique cafés / cioccolatterie. The people here claim that chocolate is from the Torinese and not from the Swiss. Does Ferrero or Caffarel ring any bells? Well, these are Torinese chocolate and confectionery companies. Oh, and we should mention that a hot chocolate drink here is not hot water with a spoonful of chocolate powder… rather, it’s half-a-cup of melted chocolate blocks (latte/nero… milk/dark) and half-a-cup of whipped crème! By golly, our diabetic genes had a temporary feast!
Anyway… we‘ll blog some more tomorrow… cause Joia’s found ‘The Purpose-Driven Life’ on Kheli’s desk the other day, and it looks like a good read...

permalink written by  garcia on November 30, 2007 from Turin, Italy
from the travel blog: Got 2 see what's out there!
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