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Friday, December 30, 2011

Travel 2011: Rabbit Year Rewind

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

The days are counting down so quickly! In a day, 2011 will bid adieu and the year of the Metal Rabbit will sleep as the Dragon makes a roar in a few weeks. But before I get too caught up with the excitement of traveling in the coming year (and add more backlogs in my list), let me wrap up and rewind how the Rabbit year has been.

I jumped start the year with a leisurely  Road Trip To Pangasinan. It was work related, with lots of opportunities to discover more the tale of two cities of - Urdaneta and Dagupan, known to be the safest/cleanest city and the Bangus Capital of the world respectively and visited the many places of interest in its capital - Lingayen passing along the equally endowed municipality of Binmaley, the Seafood Capital of the North.

Then before January came to a close, I had a chance to be in Tagaytay once again to tour around three couch surfers from Taiwan (Ryan, Nikki and Jordan). The itinerary for that day became my entry to the Pinoy Travel Blog Carnival' Best One Day Itinerary.

For the love month of February, I did a Douglas Mc Arthur and returned to the romantic  capital of Pangasinan - Lingayen, to complete the property due diligence assignment. The work was easily coupled with pleasure, spending the night at the nearby Hundred Islands National Park In Alaminos City, which is only 45  minute-drive from the capital.

On our way back, we stopped in Calasiao for a sumptuous feast of crabs and shrimps courtesy of my friend Atty. Rubenita Bigol in addition to its famous puto and kutsinta treat for travelers.

March ushered in with a quick road trip to Cavite and side trip to Antipolo City but followed by frequent road trips to Pangasinan, an opportunity to get to see more towns like Mangatarem, Bolinao, BaniSan Carlos, Bayambang, and Villasis  in addition to the usual do.

The month of April literally opened up with a travel to Binangonan on April Fool's Day (not for some prank jokes but) to attend my aunt Liway's post birthday celeb slash pre-reunion prep for the first ever Lavarro Family Reunion. Then for the Holy Week, I had a hometown treat discovering the paradise right in our backyard - the Calaguas Group Of Islands in Vinzons, Camarines Norte.

With my new-found friends in Calaguas, we went on a Summer Road Trip Around Laguna in May enroute to enjoying the Kiping and Other Colorful Stars of Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon. And as my month won't be enough without a drive to Pangasinan, work required me to go back there affording a chance Meeting With the Best and the Beast of Urdaneta City, napping at a quaint town of Binalonan and attending the summer destination wedding reception of my friends Delilah and Randy in Manaoag. 

June was my busiest month work wise - with more frequent road trips to Urdaneta City  almost on a weekly (and sometimes on a weakly) basis. Well I had to be nice to my bosses and clients you know, to get the green light for my month-long trip to the United States at the end of the month! But still I was able to start my Lakbay Jose Rizal At 150 Heritage Trail  with sites visits around Manila (Rizal Park),  Antipolo City, Malolos, Bulacan and San Fernando, Pampanga. Finally, the feat of being in Four Countries In One Day added to the mid - year excitement!

Travel wise, July tops prettily in terms of the most number of flight segments, covered road trips distance,  new places and exciting experiences. In order, my month-long vacation took me to Daly City, San Francisco, Sacramento, Coloma, Martinez, Vallejo, Marin County, Hayward, San Jose , Oakland (all in California) , Las Vegas (Nevada), Newark, Freehold, Edison, Atlantic City (all in New Jersey), Cincinnati (Ohio), Denver, Castle Rock, Aspen  (Colorado),   St. Paul Minneapolis (Minnesota), Pennsylvania, Indiana, Downersgrove & Chicago (Illinois), Cleveland, Kirtland (Ohio)  and New York City, Palmyra, Niagara Falls (New York). Blog wise, I was able to blog daily (albeit belatedly) with 30 posts! yeahey!

Back in the Philippines from my month-long US vacation, the travels for August were limited to a 4D/3N get-away with friends in old, familiar destinations watching a parade! I was in Hongkong with my high school friends Lanie, Angie, Dolly and Kuya Mike enjoying Disneyland's Flights of Fancy Parade in the mid-week. Then, flown in Davao with my friend Nilo to watch the Kadayawan Festival Parade along with the fun Pinoy Travel Bloggers (PTB) friends, which culminate in  my gutsy commute to Cateel, Davao Oriental the following day. 

The month of September was  a month of many exciting and not-so exciting firsts! On the first day of the month, I found myself arriving in Brunei Darussalam for the first time, with my parents, brother Joel and friend couple Jojo and AA. It was my parents and brother's first travel abroad while it was first travel abroad as a couple for newly weds Jojo and AA. During the 4 - day stay, we were able to experience for the first time meeting a royalty and attending a Hari Raya Aidilfitri Feast At the Sultan's Palace and to get to know for the first time a  Golden Treasure named Jonathan, a  complete stranger who paid for all our rooms in a five - star hotel for two nights stay! 

But the not-so exciting first (sad!) was when I missed my flight to Dipolog  due to heavy traffic and not-so-trained driver. It should have been 3D/2N adventure with my Kuya Mike, checking off the 10 sites featured in the Rizal @ 150 Heritage Trail in Dapitan, Katipunan and Dipolog.

Wow, except for a quick road trip to Urdaneta, Pangasinan (work related) and in my hometown Vinzons, Camarines Norte for the long week-end,October, my birthday month was almost travel-free, less busy month this year (unlike in previous years) where I had birthday adventures abroad. It was, of course, for a good reason! My prince, announced I could either be in Idaho (his parent's hometown) and other US States (for Christmas and New Year) OR Europe (Austria, Germany and London) for his birthday (January 19). Both were appealing and so I can't and didn't want to choose! He agreed after I promised to not spend on travels for October and November!

Still part of the travel deal with my prince, I did not go anywhere far for the month of November!  This allowed me to host, Joy, a couch surfer from Beijing. I picked her up from Clark, Pampanga where she arrived from Cebu and brought her to the American Cemetery, Mall of Asia and NAIA 3 the next day. Travel preparation wise, this month is full of stuff to blog about as it was the time to get all the visas needed for the mini RTW (round-the-world-trip) in December and January!  I applied for my first ever UK visa which was surprisingly fast and easy (took a day) and my second Schengen Visa before the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.

And finally the most-awaited month of December brought excitement by being able to fly on three (3) new airlines (Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Continental), meet my PTB idol Ron Cruz of Flip N' Travels during a lay over in Changi Airport (Singapore), have a five - hour lay over in Frankfurt, Germany, celebrate Christmas with my prince and brother's family in New Jersey, USA and enjoy every unhurried days left this month with my prince until the coming year!

Surely 2011 has been a blast! Oh! the excitement of checking off some bucket lists and receiving high travel credit ratings both in Lakbayan (for Philippines Travel) and Geckogo (for World Travel).As I counted it today, I had 22 flight segments aboard 9 airlines (Asiana, United Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Delta Airlines, Singapore Airlines,  Lufthansa, Continental, Cebu Pacific and Tiger Airways),  visiting 12 States in the US,  (4 of them -Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota new and added to my 28 US States to date), 12 new US cities, 5 countries in Asia (Hongkong, Seoul, KoreaTokyo, JapanSingapore and Brunei Darussalam), 1 in Europe (Frankfurt, Germany), and 1 in the Philippines (Davao City) with 82 rounds of road trips around the United States and the Philippines - ALL within whoaah, 92 days(who says you can only get 15 days paid leaves?). 

In sum, 2011 has been much of a Rabbit year for me - affording me longer vacation time for a  more relaxed, unhurried and calm travel experiences! I kinda like it that way!! Do you?

Happy New Year to all!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter 2011: In Flight, Frankfurt Germany

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda
Date:December 23, 2011
Location: Frankfurt (Germany) International Airport

I flew on Lufthansa Airlines from Singapore and changed my flight to New York (USA) in Frankfurt (Germany) International Airport. It was my first time in Frankfurt,so I had earlier (gotten a Schengen Visa) planned a long lay-over to allow me to go out of the airport and get arrival and departure stamps on my passport (to possibly claim that I've been to Germany (lol.) 
Alright, the premeditated (evil) plan didn't work quite that well since I wasn't able to go out of the airport, but my passport has Frankfurt's arrival and departure stamps! Yeahey!!
(one of the shops in Terminal II where I got my teddys)
Frankfurt Airport is a huge airport with two terminals connected by bus and a Sky Train. My flight deplaned at around 6am in Terminal I which has five levels based on the touch-screen info-terminals I passed along the way. My flight (and all other flights) to US leaves in Terminal II which means I have to take the Sky Train on Level 2.I walked miles to find the Sky Train, which I didn't mind because it was an opportunity to take lots of pictures. Thankfully also, I have only the red bag to carry around which proves that traveling light is such a bliss!!   
(view from the Waiting areas at Terminal II)
Sky Train is Frankfurt Airport's free shuttle trains that run on two - minute intervals between the two terminals.It was such a short ride, I couldn't take pictures of the view lol. When I got to Terminal II and passed through security check, things started to drag  since my gate assignment did not appear yet on the flight screen monitor and I didn't wanna roam   around until I knew which gate to go for my flight.But after constant checking for almost 30 minutes to no avail, I decided to do the airport tour that was mentioned in the airport pamphlet. 
(free sleeping beds between Terminal I and II)
The pamphlet did not provide much info on the Frankfurt Airport Walking Tour except that it starts at Level 0 of Terminal I.Well, at least that's a good reason to actually get my dream Frankfurt arrival stamp! And so I got the stamps and exited. As I walked though I learned that the walking tour begins at 10:30am (it was only 7am) and normally lasts 3-4 hours (ouch my flight leaves at 11am), so I headed back to Terminal II, approached an Immigration officer and in a few seconds I got my dream Frankfurt departure stamp! Easy huh!! 

Back at Terminal II, my remaining hours were spent browsing through stuffed toys and souvenirs from Germany and finally buying two teddy bears (after exchangin $100 for Euro), grabbing a healthy drink and mixed nuts, using the free wifi computer, and just people watching and basking at the non-stop activity at the airport!   

The IF's at Frankfurt Airport
-if you can't find the Airport Guide 

1. If you have at least 7 hours lay-over between 10:30am onwards, go in one of the airport tours of exciting places just outside of the airport. No advance booking is required. Just go to Airport City Mall in Terminal I, Level 0 to purchase ticket. It is 12 Euro each with 5 other   people doing the same tour (or $75 if alone). 

2. If lay-over happens in April-October between 10am and 6pm, you can score an impressive panoramic view of the action on the apron and airfield from the Visitors' Terrace located in Terminal II at no cost. 

3. If you have children, there are several play areas in both terminals.Terminal 1-Concourse A, Level 2 & Concourse B .Terminal II-Concourse E, Level 2 & Bet.Concourse D & E, Leve 4.

4. If you want to save yourself a long walk, look for Terminal Express Shuttles for a free ride after passing the boarding pass check.

5. If you do not have a lounge accommodation at your airline, but wants to enjoy relaxed moments, get entertained, work or doze off, you can go to Terminal II Level 3 and avail of Sky Lounge accommodation for three hours for $40.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Winter Travel: Packing Light,Possible?

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

I’m leaving on Thursday for a 33-day travel around the United States, United Kingdom, some countries in Europe (with short stops in Singapore) to celebrate the holidays with my prince and meet family and friends. I am pretty excited. Everything is ready - all visas (US,UK and Schengen), tickets (courtesy of my prince) and world travel insurance!  With that I can now officially start packing!

I opened my so-called "winter closet" and put to good use the coats, gloves, mufflers, thermal wear, boots, sweat shirts, socks, hoods since it is winter in US and Europe at this time. In February 2009, I spent the winter mainly  in the US (California-Boston-New York-Philadelphia-New Jersey) for only three (3) weeks. I  survived the freezing temperature only because I have 2 suitcases of clothing that I could wear! Glad. I didn't have to travel alone frequently with those two big suitcases!

But for 33 days, I could easily see my winter clothing ensemble to fit at least 2 big suitcases with a carry-on luggage since I want to wear different clothing everyday (for picture purposes)! SO how then can I pack  “light” and fit everything in just one medium size luggage with no carry-on? If I don't pack light, I will punish myself carrying all three (3) suitcases as I migrate frequently between countries!

Well, I learn that the trick is to layer, and just change base layer every day AND do my laundry as needed! So, for my final count I am bringing the following items:

2 shoes - a pair of boots a and a water proof sneakers (SUPRA for added height)
2 coats - a water-resistant, black coat and a red cardigan coat for holiday color
4 pairs of socks - one red long (almost a full leggings), two knee-length and one toe socks
5 hooded mufflers - maroon, gray, white, pink and green
1 knitted cap and 2 scarves
6 tops including a thermal wear
6 bottoms - 2 jeggings (jeans leggings, black and blue), 3 leggings (black, white and gray), and a thermal.
10 pair of garments
1 polo shirt (to be worn on flight to Asia)
2 pairs of pajamas
1 pair of black sports attire
2 Sunday's Best clothes

Let's see if this will be enough to carry me through and enjoy the winter holiday without freezing!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Journey To Gutsiness: Un-Buckle Up WIth A Backpack In And Around Davao!

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

Arrived in Davao International Airport last August 21, 2011. It was my nth time there, but wow felt like a first time. I was in casual attire, carrying only a backpack without any checked in luggage to collect from the carousel, a far cry from the usual deck up during past travels in the largest province of Mindanao.

Soon enough, I realized the daunting task ahead of me! It was my friend Nilo's first time in Davao and he was counting on me to make all the decision - including choosing the cheapest way possible to get to our destination! I may have given him a wrong impression that I know how to commute while in Davao. My previous trips were no help, being all business-related and company arranged for everything including a rental car with driver. Worst, I really can't travel on vehicles without buckling up (though I wasn't driving or sitting in the front seat). Oh yea, George Cayley's seatbelts for me are the greatest invention!!

Stepping out of the airport was met with trepidation. I don't know where to begin (how to get out of the airport even!) on public transportation. But I am determined to give my friend Nilo a good three days in Davao. So let's go, I remember saying to him as I nodded in agreement to a smiling-face guy holding a signage for taxi to the city. It was an SUV (which I thought is a good deal at Php 350 giving us enough space to stretch our legs). But it is a bit old and viola! no seat belts!

"No Fear" I told myself (as if I read the sign on this colorful tricycle in Compostela Valley in my mind!). At this point my unbuckle up in a backpack journey has begun! Oh well, I later realized that with Davao's unique, exciting and varied public transportation, seatbelts are unnecessary!

Next to the SUV , the second type of Davao transport we hopped on was the taxi from our hotel to Ecoland Bus Terminal. The trip during early morning cost us Php 60 since taxi fare start at Php 40.00 and will add Php 3.50 per few hundred meters. I sat behind the driver and looked for seat belts but there wasn't any. The travel was fast and smooth though so I soon forgot the need to buckle-up!

From Ecoland Bus Terminal, we boarded a Mallen Express Bus to Cateel, Davao Oriental via Compostela Valley. We were seated in front but opposite side of the driver. Again, I noticed that there was no built - in seat belt. None of the passengers seemed to mind that at all, so I too embraced the five (5) hour - ride on alternating paved and rugged roads without the safety belt! (with silent prayer for Heavenly Father to keep us safe!).

When we got to Cateel, my "un-buckle in a backpack journey" seemed to get more adventurous. I spotted a motorcycle with four persons, with the person sitting sidesaddle on the gas tank in front of the driver. I was told it is called habal - habal and common transport in Cateel to stand the rough, narrow roads. I silently told myself, I will definitely not try the habal-habal, not only I have to buckle up but also I have a motorphobia(or the fear of riding two -wheeled vehicles like bicycles and motorcycles).

I spoke too soon! Our host Rhoderick "Dodong" Emboscado (brother of PTB Olan Fernandez Emboscado) already contacted a motorcycle driver to tour us around. Motorcyles are the cheapest, fastest and most common transport in Cateel, the only option if we want to see the enchanting Aliwagwag Falls located about 45 minutes on rough road from Poblacion. I hesitated big time! But getting the boost and the cheers from friendly Cateelenos, I pushed myself, and had the ultimate heart-pumping thrills of my life - on a motorcycle minus the modified seat for the habal - habal!

Back in Davao City from Cateel and after getting over the motorphobia, I opted for more transport adventure. According to the Davao Tourist Map (I've gotten from the airport), going to Philippine Eagle Center in Brgy. Malagos can either be by bus or jeepney. The jeepney fare is Php 40 while the bus fare is cheaper for only Php 30. But to take the bus, we would have to go to Annil Terminal located at corner of Quirino and San Pedro Extension. We decided to get off at Magsaysay and with the help of local police, flagged the correct jeepney that ply to Calinan. Of course, there was no seat belt, but I don't care anymore.My adventurous nature overpowered me that time, so I enjoyed the ride even though the uso-uso jeepney we boarded was a bit driving fast and playing annoying loud music!

The jeepney driver was very helpful though. When he passed by a bunch of habal-habal, he stopped and asked if they can bring us to the Philippine Eagle Center. I told the driver, we didn't want a habal-habal (coz my backpack is heavy, I don't think I can balance like in Cateel). I told him the map said there are tricyles in Calinan Public Market for Php 10 each and that's what we wanted to try. He obliged. So when we reached the market, he called out for the driver of this unique pedicab which to me looks like a motorized wicker.When we asked the pedicab driver how much the ride to Malagos, he said it is Php 80. I felt that was a rip - off, so I revealed to him that the tourist map was mentioning a Php 10 tricyle ride and a Php 6 pedicab fare. Not sure where the wicker ride fall but Php 80 is too much. He suggested we go to the common terminal which we did.

Inside the Calinan Public Market is a terminal for the shared tricycle for six (6) persons costing Php 10 each. The driver normally fills up his trike before it leaves. Since there were already three (3) passengers when we get there, plus the two of us, I decided to pay for the one passenger missing. That gives me a space for my backpack.(note: my backpack is the black one, but I always carry Nilo's beige backpack coz it is lighter!) It also shielded me from falling out, since I don't have the safety belt!

Returning to Davao City from Malagos, we basically went on the same route on the reverse but this time took the shared air con L300 van from its Calinan terminal instead of jeepney. When we reached the city, we went to People's Park. There, I enjoyed another unique Davao transport - a goat ride! haha. (Well, earlier at the Kadayawan Festival - there were so many colorful transport options. I'll write about it in another post).

I am so happy with this experience. I learn to trust in the Lord to overcome my fears. I know that while I wasn't wearing an actual seat belt around me, Heavenly Father provide me with an invisible one to keep me safe from harm and enjoy one of life's simple pleasure - traveling!

This is my entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for December with the theme ‘Memorable Journeys Taken as Traveler’ being hosted by Kara Santos of Travel Up .

For previous Blog Carnival topics please visit Estan Cabigas' Langyaw.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Brunei Trip 2011: Omar Saiffudin Mosque (From Every Angle)

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

With its marble minarets and golden domes, the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque dominates the skyline and visible virtually anywhere in the Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei. The main dome is covered in pure gold and the main minaret is the mosque's tallest feature in combination of Renaissance and Italian architectural style.

(view of the mosque from Kampong Ayer)

My family and I literally checked the mosque from every angle and count off the different places where we found postcard perfect views of this majestic mosque last September 2-3, 2011. Our first picture was when we were sailing around Kampong Ayer's Water Village

(with my parents and brother Joel at the gate of the mosque)

Named after Omar Ali Saifuddien III, the 28th Sultan of Brunei, the Masjid Omar Ali Saifuddien is an iconic symbol of the Islamic faith. The interior of the mosque has magnificent stained glass windows, Shanghai granite walls, semi domes, Italian marble floors and white columns. Since the inside is for prayer only, taking pictures is not allowed and non-Muslim females (like me,mama and AA) have to wear the abaya available at the entrance. All visitors are required to remove their shoes when entering the mosque.

( with my whole family inside the courtyard)

At the left side of the prayer hall is a door that leads to the courtyards and lush gardens full of fountains. Islam faith believes that mosque symbolizes heaven so it was built in 1958 with an artificial lagoon on the banks of the Brunei River and surrounded by a number of trees and floral. Across the lagoon is a bridge to Kampong Ayer and another marble bridge that leads to the replica of a 16th Century Sultan Bolkiah mahligai barge. The Sultan's mahligai replica was built to commemorate the 1,400th anniversary of Nuzul Al-Quran in 1967.

(near the artificial lagoon)

We enjoyed our tour inside this mosque that Saturday morning, since we missed seeing the inside of the other stunning mosque, Jame' Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. The mosque is closed to visitors every Thursday and Friday and during the prayer time and we were lucky it fits well with our schedule.

(right side of the mosque)

Another great view of the mosque is from the Taman Sir Omar Ali Saifuddien (like our Rizal Park).From this point, one can have a good picture of the whole mosque showing the highest minaret and its elevator that goes to the top where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. It was closed when we visited and we couldn't find anyone to inquire about it.

(taken in front of the Taman Sir Omar Ali Saifuddien)

After dining at our fave Jollibee (yes our Pinoy's fastfood chain), we were surprised to catch a good view of the mosque from the parking lot of the Yayasan Shopping Mall complex.Though a bit far, couple Jojo and AA posed for a picture!

(couple Jojo and AA at the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Shopping Complex near the mosque)

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Opera House - Sydney