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Luxembourg

Visiting Luxembourg wasn’t part of the plan when we visited my aunt in France three years ago. It just so happened that my uncle’s girlfriend, who was traveling with us, has family living in Luxembourg and they haven’t seen each other in years. She was planning to take a train, but then the ticket price is not too far off from hiring a car. So, we thought, why not hire a car and take the opportunity to visit this country?

The car ride from Chantilly to Luxembourg was stunningly picturesque and we got to visit a lot of small French towns along the way. The trip took us around five hours one way. A word of caution: be wary of speed limits. My dad was flashed twice because he was going over a hundred on some segments, so when it was time to get back to France, R took over because he’s had enough of it!

I can’t say much about my travel experience here because we didn’t get to stay for long. So, what I’ll share below are my impressions but should definitely be taken only as an anecdotal supplement guide. If you plan to travel here, I highly recommend the following official guides: Luxembourg City Travel Office and Visit Luxembourg.

Some Tips on Visiting Luxembourg:

  • Philippine citizens need to apply for a visa to visit Luxembourg. You can apply through the Belgian embassy, or through VFS, the visa-handling partner of many European embassies in the country.
  • It’s so much more expensive here than in France in terms of dining out, shopping, transportation, and accommodation. It’s not the best place to do your wardrobe and souvenir shopping as most brands are imported from nearby European countries (especially predominant are French brands).
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I was looking forward to having fajitas until I was confronted with how expensive they were in Luxembourg. I then settled for a cup of ice cream (9 Euros, still expensive, but the cheapest I could find)– and this is what locals call a “regular” restaurant.

  • The views are beautiful and we took our time strolling around the city and along the seaside. When everything is so expensive, you must find something else to do other than shopping 😛
  • The cuisine is largely influenced by French and German traditions. Menus are usually written in two languages: French and German (two of the three official languages here, the other being Luxembourgish), which says a lot about the influence of these two countries to Luxembourg. Don’t worry, there’s always a separate English menu, or an English translation after French and German.

Why I want to go back: My stay was so short and I didn’t get to explore outside the business district. I’ve heard hiking is also a popular activity here and would love to try one of its trails one day.

As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | take good care of your valuables | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture, and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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England

It’s funny how R and I ended up in England. We were in Köszeg, Hungary back in September 2016 for my four-month-long fieldwork. We were just settling in the country, exploring the area, and organizing our place when six days in, together with my colleagues, I went to the immigration office to get my work visa. Lo and behold, I was told that I needed to go to Indonesia (!) to extend my visa. I couldn’t do it in Hungary, nor in any other European country nearby. Consular matters from the Philippines are brought to the Hungarian Embassy in Indonesia; therefore, even for the slightest visa concerns, I need to travel to Indonesia.

At this point, I had two options: travel to Indonesia to sort out my visa and go back to Hungary, or defer my contract. The former is far from a practical option, and the latter is the last thing that I want to do. But living so far away from home, our families and friends, we had to choose practicality over anything else. Luckily, I applied for a UK visa three months prior when we were in Morocco. At that point, we didn’t have any travel plans for the UK; R just wanted me to apply “just in case.” Faced with this dilemma in Hungary a few months later, everything just came together.

What I love about England is its gardens and the locals’ fascination and appreciation of nature. I love how their gardens look so raw and where the settlements are planned around landscapes; not the other way around. It’s British naturalists that first come to mind when we talk of evolution, taxonomy, exploration, and literature on flora and fauna.

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Morning coffee amidst the beautiful views. Thank you, Mother Nature! (Kirkby Malzeard)

I’m not a city person so I’m glad that we had to live in Kirkby Malzeard, Northern Yorkshire, a good eight hours away from London. Aside from Kirkby, we also had the chance to stay in London to meet with my cousin on a few weekends. Though I’m not a big fan of the city, traveling here with R who is so in love with London makes a big difference because it allowed me to see the beauty of this city.

In total, we stayed in England for two and a half months: mostly in the countryside, and a few weekends in London. It was nice to see vastly different landscapes in the country, and I’m glad we got the opportunity to do so.

Some Tips on Visiting England:

  • Philippine citizens need to apply for a visa which can be initially submitted online; however, you will still need to visit VFS, the embassy’s visa-handling provider, to have your photo and biometrics taken. It’s best to apply early since the embassy is quite strict with documents submitted, especially with bank and employment certificates.
  • I cannot stress enough how expensive it is to stay here. For one, British Pounds is a heavyweight compared to Australian Dollars and more so to Philippine Pesos. Conversion makes a huge difference as to your buying power. We stayed the longest in a container van in Kirkby Malzeard, Northern Yorkshire, which, I think is the highlight of this trip. Imagine living in the middle of a ranch, surrounded by a forest, where you wake up to a breathtaking sunrise and the birds’ calls, and you get to be so in touch with the land and the skies. It’s my favorite residence up until this day! Apart from Northern Yorkshire, we also got to stay in London. We’re lucky because we stayed with my aunt’s best friend and another time, with R’s uncle. It saved us loads given that food and transportation in London are already expensive.
  • As with any cuisine in the world, it depends upon your preference. I am not a big fan of traditional British food, but what I love is the variety of options everywhere (except in Kirkby Malzeard, being so far away from everything). On my stay here, I think I’ve eaten more Middle Eastern than British food because I was always looking for rice 😛
  • Public transportation here is so expensive, but I think, so far, nothing beats Geneva’s fares. So, when we had to travel to and from London, instead of taking a train, we hired a car which saved us hundreds of pounds. Traveling with a car in the UK allows you to visit so many picturesque places that can be hard to reach with public transportation. R and I had a one-week break when we were here, so we decided to do a road trip around England and Scotland. That one-week journey calls for a post on its own given all the adventures (hint: so many unforeseen expenses while on the road) that we’ve experienced doing it.
  • There’s just so much to see in England, let alone London, and to me it’s difficult to mention just a few places to visit. For an extensive guide, you can check out Visit Britain, the state’s official tourism website.
  • We had a great time sampling different kinds of teas while here and so, we bought teas as souvenirs for our families and friends back home. We also bought some trinkets from Buckingham and Kensington Palace, and I think these got our loved ones excited more than the selection of teas!

Why I want to go back: The garden and countryside sceneries in England are just breathtaking, and I would love to go live in that container van again if given the chance.

As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | take good care of your valuables | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture, and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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At 34 Weeks

Yesterday has been quite a ride. It was just midday and I’ve just logged in two hours of work when I felt something odd. Since I came back from Morocco, I’ve noticed that the baby has significantly decreased his/her movements. Before, I would wake up to the baby’s kicks, and I would feel him/her moving around my tummy after meals. But for 24 hours now, I have only felt ten movements at most. I told my mom about it and together with my brother Rad, they picked me up, and brought me for checkup. Since it was midday, no one was on queue just yet and I was first in line. The obstetrician could hear the baby’s heartbeats on Doppler but was concerned about the lack of movement; so, I was brought to another room for further examination and the baby was put under a fetal monitor.

Since I was feeling that the baby must just be tired from our recent trip, I told my mom that I’ll have Ichi, my brother, just pick me up after his training. My mom is supposed to have her clinic on this day which is a good three hours away from home. I told her not to worry, so together with my brother Rad, off they went.

The monitor ran for 30 minutes, and the doctor expected at least three movements. But there was none, so the doctor requested for an extension of 30 more minutes. There was none again. I was then requested to get an ultrasound but in this hospital where we went to, the radiologist already went home; and so, I was requested to get an ultrasound elsewhere as soon as possible.

At this point, my mom and brother were already on the road, and my other brother was one hour away but already on the way to pick me up. I started feeling my breath going faster, and my train of thought just wouldn’t stop. I’ve never felt so scared in my life, because being in the hospital in the middle of this situation feels like this little part of me that I love so much is starting to slip away from me. I knew I wasn’t “alone” in every sense of the word; but while waiting for my brother at the hospital lobby, on my own with only my small bag and this little me in tow, everything that I’ve been through since the start of this pregnancy just came rushing through my head. I never thought that certain triggers could evoke emotions so much.

I stayed at the hospital until late at night, and guess what? My mom and brother Rad drove back immediately to join me in the hospital, my brother Ichi went back home and brought my hospital bag (good thing I’ve already prepared it a month ago!), my brother Ren cut short his date to visit me, and my Dad, just arriving home from meetings in Manila, went to the hospital immediately. When I went out of the examination room, I wanted to tear up (but fortunately, I was able to hold it in) because of all the support I got from my family. Another part of me wanted to tear up because the situation reminded me of a particular absence, yet this place has been replaced by so many people who are so committed into loving and nurturing this child.

Mother Teresa-minI still feel overwhelmed with all the love and support I’ve received yesterday. I may not deserve all this love and kindness, but I know this innocent child does. After everything that we’ve been through since the very start, I know that the best thing that I can do for him/her is to work to the fullest to be strong physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually every single day. I should remind myself that I should channel my energy on those who truly love and care for me and this child; not on those who choose to bring us down.

The obstetrician believes that this decreased fetal movement is due to low amniotic fluid, that’s why the baby has gone weak due to dehydration. I’m going back for another checkup today and I’m praying that the baby is all good and healthy.

I wish to thank not only my family, but also everyone I’ve met yesterday who made this day so much easier: the midwives, doctors, nurses, and security guards who’ve been so kind and understanding of my worries.

Truly, it takes a village to raise a child!

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What It’s Like to Keep a Diary for 19 Years

People close to me know that I’ve been keeping a diary (“journal” as I chose to call it in high school since it sounded more “mature”) since fourth grade. I have stacks of diaries kept in my room, locked in cabinets that only I have the keys to. My diaries come in different shapes and sizes, and no two notebooks are alike. I do not know exactly what made me want to pick these notebooks, but as I leaf through them now, I realize there’s a certain ease in writing on them. No notebook is too thick, nor is there any that is too thin.

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Some of the journals I’ve kept through the years

I never thought that the poetry journal (that’s the apple green notebook on the photo above) that I started when I was nine would evolve into an almost two-decade long dedicated habit. Last week, I’ve just finished the pages on my journal and I’m onto fresh sheets again.

Journaling has been one of the few constants in my life through these years. Imagine, I started it in fourth grade, and the practice has been with me throughout elementary, high school, university, my first job, first boyfriend, first heartbreak, job changes, relationship changes, travel adventures, health struggles, first home, and now, my fresh life as a first-time mom. I’m guessing that my journals know more about my life than I do, since I’ve written things that I only meant and felt at the time that I wrote them. The many inner thoughts that they keep are the reasons why I haven’t allowed anyone to read even one page, and the reasons why I treat them like the most precious jewels in my room. Up until now, I am unsure as to how I’d feel if someone breaks in the locks and gets access to them.

If you ask me why I keep a journal, I don’t really know the reason why—all I know is, keeping, writing on, and taking care of one makes me feel good. And if something feels good and it does not cause harm nor cause a disadvantage to others, then why stop?

I know that in the last 19 years, journal writing saved me from saying and doing more hurtful things than they already have been, and it also saved me from more impulsive decisions that I would have just added to my already long list of “bad” decisions. In many ways, journaling saved me from the countless implications of being human: driven yet fragile, hopeful yet confused.

What I’ve also noticed is that journaling is continuing to help me organize my feelings and thoughts better, given that it is not every day that I get to have the privacy of space or luxury of time to write. It is helping me appreciate the idea of emptiness and the importance of stillness, because many times silence within is all I ever need to better weave through my decisions. When I’m preoccupied and I finally get the chance to write, sometimes I’ve already gotten over the feelings, or have already arrived at a decision, and all I need to do is to articulate them for my safekeeping.

I am not saying that journaling is the best way to deal with everyday endeavors; I’m only sharing what’s been working for me. I am always thankful for the gift of writing that’s been honed through thousands of years, with engaging in it now as easy as dropping by a shop to purchase a pen and paper (and it seems like shops never run out of stock!). I wish to continue journaling until my hands can’t take it anymore. By then, I may be just as ready to leave my journals behind, because at the end of the tunnel, I’ll be at peace knowing that leaving them behind may impact another person’s life, just like how those words and sentences made an impact on me.

A blessed long weekend everyone! 🙂

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China

To be honest, I’ve always had my inhibitions with visiting China. For one, visiting evokes a sense of fear with the government in control of almost all aspects of the citizens’ lives: from education, health, to telecommunication services. Also, the country is incredibly huge with an equally incredibly huge history that can be too much to take in for a first-time visitor. I like reading up on a bit of history before I visit a country, but with China, I feel like even one year is not enough.

Since there was too much information to take in, I decided to just go with Beijing as my base. I thought it would be a good starting point for China since it is my first time here, and Beijing is the country’s main hub for train travel to Mongolia. Plus, I was also traveling with my family and having too many people moving around can be a logistical nightmare.

The tips below will only focus on Beijing since I only got to visit this city.

Some Tips on Visiting China (with a focus on Beijing):

  • Philippine citizens need to apply for a visa, and I would say it’s even more difficult to apply for a Chinese than a US visa. The process is quite stringent, and the embassy is very strict with bank documents. There’s even a minimum deposit required depending on your profession. You can check out the process on the embassy’s official website.
  • We stayed at Beijing 161 Wangfujing Hotel and it’s in a pretty good area. It’s located along a hutong which made it feel like we were in one of those chasing fight scenes in kung-fu movies. Although breakfast is not included, there are so many breakfast and lunch eateries nearby that you can choose from.
  • The hotel provided us with a phone registered in Hong Kong. This way, we got to use Facebook, Google, Instagram, Skype, Viber, YouTube… Basically every site that’s blocked in China. It felt incredibly frustrating to be locked out of these sites that became almost second nature for us to use. It was an interesting experience, though.
  • For a first-time visitor, I highly recommend visiting the following: Great Wall of China, Palace Museum, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Olympics Stadium, and Wangfujing Street. When visiting historical places, please don’t forget to bring your passport. You will not be allowed to enter without it!
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So much respect for this 375-year old architectural marvel (Photo credit: Ren Albano)

  • It’s been said that China wouldn’t be the cultural superpower that it is today without the discovery of silk. That’s why I recommend visiting a silk factory in the country where it all started. We went to Yuanhou Silk Factory since it’s the one nearest to our hotel.
  • If you have an evening to spare, I also recommend watching the Legend of Kung Fu at the Red Theater, the longest running kung fu and acrobatic show in Beijing. You can book your tickets on site or on Red Theater’s official website.
  • Why I want to go back: There’s so, so, so much more to see in the fourth biggest country on this planet. I also wish to use my limited Mandarin the next time I visit to see if locals can understand me 😛
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | take good care of your valuables | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture, and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤

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“We Have a New Baby, Now What?!” Workshop

As a first-time mom, I have loads of questions on how I can best prepare myself for my new upcoming role in life. Although I get tips from many important women in my life, like from my mom, mom-in-law, grandmothers, and aunts, I still want some sort of structure on what I exactly have to do so I can minimize surprises due to my ignorance.

So, I signed up for the “We Have a New Baby, Now What?!” workshop offered by Pinay Doulas Collective, a group that provides emotional and physical support for pregnant women from birth to after-care. I’ve never really considered signing up for doula services not until I experienced a learning curve a few months ago that encouraged me to sign up for this support group.

Geared for first-time moms, this workshop is Part 2 of 2 sessions offered by the group; however, due to schedule conflicts, I had to attend Part 2 first. All sessions are scheduled on a Sunday.

Coverage of the workshop is as follows:

  • What to expect for the fourth trimester and first 1,000 days
  • Newborn appearance and newborn care
  • Physical development for a healthier baby
  • Brain development for a smarter baby
  • Delightful sleep for baby, mommy, and daddy
  • Care for the new mom (physical recovery, hormones, dealing with postpartum depression)
  • Planning for your birth, postpartum, and breastfeeding
  • Hands-on sessions on breastfeeding, infant bathing and massage, cloth diapering, and baby wearing.
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Trying out my new baby carrier. I fell in love with the fit, the colors, and all the hard work that went into making it! 

After the workshop, I bought a baby carrier handwoven by the group’s partner community in La Trinidad, Benguet. It’s the perfect fit amongst all the options I’ve tried and I’m glad to have found it here! I even won an anti-stretch mark cream, and got to bring home hypoallergenic detergents, baby bottle and dishwashing liquids, and talc-free powders courtesy of the group’s sponsors.

It’s a Sunday worth spending all my time and road travel for. I can definitely say that first-time moms should consider attending a workshop like this as it eases out the stress and worry (a bit!). There’s still so much to take in and I already acknowledge that I may make mistakes along the way, but at least I know that I am doing my best to empower myself.

I’d like to end this post with this powerful quote from Pinay Doulas Collective:

You are the author of your own birth story, and you have the power to write it beautifully.

Have a blessed Sunday everyone!

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Mongolia

Mongolia is one of those places that I never thought I would have the chance to visit… Until, my family and I visited China. Since airfare from the Philippines to Mongolia is expensive, we decided on trying out the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Beijing since it’s by far the most cost-effective way for us to visit this country. Excuse me for the spoiler, but we were definitely not disappointed!

Thanks to National Geographic magazine, I had the chance to “visit” Mongolia numerous times. It seems it’s a favorite among Nat Geo explorers, given that it’s been featured so many times for the past three years since I started subscribing.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to visit this country, a place that I’ve never imagined myself going to with, of all people, my family! Going here via train and staying in a yurt are indeed a test for my parents and brothers who are not so used to “rough” traveling. It’s nice to share my kind of travel with them. It’s a trip to remember, for sure.

Since the train trip is super long (36 hours for Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital) we decided to go with Inner Mongolia only.

Some Tips on Visiting Inner Mongolia:

  • Philippine citizens do not need a visa for stays of up to 21 days. For longer stays, you can apply for an extension while you’re in Mongolia. It’s best to have a Chinese visa though, as there are random checks on the train with inspectors asking for this.
  • Flights from Manila to Ulaanbaatar are expensive, so what we did was to take the Trans-Mongolian Railway from Beijing. Tickets can be bought online from Ctrip. However, as of this writing, I’ve noticed that Ctrip is now rebranded as Trip and to be honest, I prefer the old platform. I highly recommend that you book in advance since tickets sell out fast.
  • It took us 11 hours from East Beijing to Hohhot, then another three hours from Hohhot to Xilamuren Grassland, which is part of Inner Mongolia. A one-way ticket costed us 38 USD each for a soft sleeper berth. There are five categories to choose from: luxury, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seat, and hard seat. There are ample toilets in the train (but don’t expect too much). There’s even a restaurant on board. The ride may be long, but the wonderful views are worth the experience.
    • Important: One thing that you can’t do online is to choose your seats, so the best option would be to try to do a swap when you get to your carriage. Make sure you have your Google Translate (Mandarin) available offline since English speaking ability among staff and passengers is limited. Imagine, we were seven passengers all assigned on different carriages! Good thing we got to download the translator before leaving the hotel. Plus, we got lucky with the staff who have all been really helpful to us.
  • Contacting a local tour operator is the way to go when visiting Inner Mongolia. Unless you have a car and know the terrain, language, and culture well, it’s best to have someone guide you through the overwhelmingly vast grasslands. There are barely any road signs, there are many blind signal spots, and Mongolian is the primary tool for communication. We enlisted the local guiding services of Mr. Jason Cao. You can contact him at +86-158-4710-8168 (via Line, Viber, WeChat, or WhatsApp). Not only is he highly knowledgeable of the area, he is also very responsible and thoughtful of the group’s needs.
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As we watch in awe of the teenagers’ incredible horsemanship (Photo credit: Ren Albano)

  • As for food options, it’s apparent that it’s catered for Chinese tourists who dominate Inner Mongolia’s tourism market. Traditional Mongolian cuisine is comprised mainly of meat, dairy, and yes– alcohol. But in restaurants, fruits, grains, and vegetables are also available.
  • The best area to purchase souvenirs would be at the city market since they are cheaper and the options are better compared to the grasslands. Souvenirs you find in the grasslands are brought in from the city, after all. But it’s also thoughtful to buy even just a few items from locals living in the grasslands as a way of supporting their trade.
  • Why I want to go back: After just one day, my brothers were bored to death. There was no signal, and no attractions other than the vast grasslands, the clear blue skies, and the sight of healthy horses. And you feel like you are stuck in the middle of nowhere. But as for me, I loved every bit of my stay here. I know that no other landscape can offer me such freedom. It’s a breath of fresh air to be staying in a place like this.
  • As with any country in the world: Do not quickly assume. Make sense of the why behind the what first and while you’re at it, get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | take good care of your valuables | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in the local language, culture, and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut ❤