Kaunolu, Lana’i (2005)

#memoryMonday – Offroading in the quiet little island of Lana’i.

This place was one of King Kamehameha’s fishing spots. On this particular day, I had no luck catching a single fish. But I have yet to replicate the unique experience of being  so remote a place that not a single soul could find you without knowing you were going there. I felt a strange kind of peacefulness, walking on the slippery rocks at the side of the cliffs  and standing at what felt like the edge of the world.

May Day in Munich

You could definitely tell something was up when drinks were served. Granted, this was the first time that I’ve flown on Lufthansa. But when drinks were passed out and a large bottle  handedProcessed with VSCOcam to those who requested beer, it was more than just good German hospitality.

After arriving in Munich, we walked through the open terrace on the way to the underground. The sound of German folk music signaled that there was some sort of celebration before we saw people dressed in traditional garb! It seems that we came at the perfect time.

We arrived during May Day celebrations (1 May). What lucked to get a 7-hour layover in Munich, Germany! With that kind of time, it’s hard to miss a chance to check out a new city. To make the opportunity even more perfect, Munich Airport has a brochure complete with suggestions on where to go and what to do for people who have a long layover.IMG_7814

With all the merriment, a rainy day in Bavaria couldn’t get me down. We got a partner day ticket (unlimited for one day for 2 people) to take the S-Bahn to and from the city center for 22.30€. It took a half hour or so to get to the center, but it was fun to watch the passing countryside and small towns along the way.

One of the train stops on the way to city center

One of the train stops on the way to city center

With only a handful of hours, we explored one part of the city – Marienplatz, which seemed to be the epicenter of most tourist sights. Sure enough, it was the place to be. In the plaza, there was a crowd of folks who braved the rain, surrounding a platform where bands were performing. To the side, another booth was selling beer to passersby.

The Rathhaus in Marienplatz has a famous glockenspiel that would play a couple of times in the day. Since there was still another hour or so before the next show, there was time to visit nearby St. Peter’s Church for a bird’s-eye view of the city. The staircase to the vantage point was narrow, but well worth the leg burn.

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view of Marienplatz and Rathaus with its famous glockenspiel from the top of St. Peter’s Church

rooftops near Marienplatz

rooftops near Marienplatz

After taking tons of pictures of how gorgeous the city looked from above, it was time to watch the old glockenspiel do its thing. We headed back to the plaza, this time in the pouring rain, and bought a cup of beer to keep us warm.

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Glockenspiel at the Rathaus

The show at the was interesting, but we watched only about 5 minutes. Blame it on short attention spans. Instead, we went to the next must-see listed, the Frauenkirche. It’s a gothic cathedral that is known to have the “Devil’s footstep” inside. During World War II, the inside was destroyed, but you couldn’t tell from seeing it now. Honestly, we were more distracted by the area right in front of the cathedra. We don’t know it’s purpose, but most of our time was spent walking through and taking pictures there.

There were many other sites we discovered while wondering the area around Marienplatz.

Finally after all the walking, we were getting pretty hungry. Since this was the location of the world famous Hofbräuhaus, we tried to get some grub there first.

Hofbräuhaus

However, though the hall itself was larger than Hogwarts and boasted at least 3 floors, there was no room for 2 hungry/wet humans. At least we can say that we’ve been there. Just the experience of being in a very large room filled with loud raucous joyousness all around was memorable. Instead, we went in search of  a restaurant where one finds just the right amount of cheer to hear yourself think.

At the end, we ate at Augustiner am Dom. The restaurant’s layout was fascinating since it was several floors (5 maybe). Though, in areas where space is a hard to come by, it makes sense that even restaurants are built up instead of spread out.

With all that walking, we were very pleased to have some have some comfort food warming our stomachs. After the meal, we headed back to the airport, happy at a half-day layover well spent in this lovely German city.

Plaza de la Virgen, Valencia (2014)

Plaza de la Virgen

The biggest celebration in Valencia called Las Fallas has just ended yesterday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it out there. Instead, here is one of my favorite shots of Valencia at night. This view is from the tower in the Cathedral and shows a lit up Plaza de la Virgen. This area is where they make an offering to the Patron Saint of Valencia.

Madrid quirks that I wish I knew before coming

Countdown: 17 days until the arrival of my first official visitor to my Madrid apartment. I am excited to welcome my sister for 2 whole weeks! The best part is that I have extra motivation to clean and make this humble pre-furnished, one-bedroom look like a cosy home.

While preparing for her visit, I began to wonder about what sort of things she may want or need to know in order to have a comfortable visit. There are the usual tips such as knowing how to say a few things in Spanish (hola, gracias, quiero un vino tinto, por favor etc.) or trying Spanish delicacies like tortillas and paella. But you can find those tips on any Madrid article on the web. So, I am listing a few things that I wish others had warned me about before I came to this lovely city. Over the last few months, there were several more that I thought of. However, for the sake of brevity and my aging memory, I will give you five:

1)  Lights automatically shut-off almost anywhere.

light

Electricity is an expensive commodity. To be more budget-conscious and eco-friendly, most public places – restaurant bathrooms, apartment lobbies and hallways – will have a switch to turn on the light. However, after a minute or so, it shuts off. Some lights may automatically turn on with motion-sensor. But the automatic shut-off is the thing to be watch out. It is NOT FUN if you are fumbling for keys to your apartment door and suddenly, you are in complete darkness. It is even worse if you are in a bathroom and the same thing happens. Personally, I try to immediately locate the light source upon entering the room and (in case it’s a motion-sensor) it helps to flail your arms so that the sensor knows you are there! It may seem silly, but this technique has helped me more than once.

2) If you can’t figure out how to open/close the door – it might be a sliding door.

Speaking of important bathroom info… before my move to Madrid, encounters with sliding doors were limited to ones that lead to a balcony or patio. Here in Madrid, where space can be at a premium, many cafes, bars and restaurants ditch the typical push and pull for its sliding relative. This tip may seem like a “no, duh”, but, I’ve had enough encounters where I stood like a dummy in front of one until some kind-hearted camarera took pity and enlightened me.

3) Don’t step on the dog poo!

pooMadrid is a city of dog-lovers, or so it seems to me. I see many adorable barking creatures coming out of apartment buildings, being walked around the block or tied on a bike rack in front of a store awaiting its human. Therefore, when wandering the lovely neighborhood barrios, it is likely that you will find these ubiquitous staples. Sometimes they are in an easy-to-spot pile. Other times, it looks like they were stepped on and stamped down a line on the sidewalks. Whatever it’s form, it would be wise to keep your eyes on the pavement to ensure that your next step remains pleasant and clean. (Can’t help much with the smell though.) Thankfully for most sightseers, it’s rarely seen in the crowded tourist areas. But, better safe than sorry.

4) Pedestrians make their own rules as they go.

Growing up near New York City has taught me certain rules to follow as a pedestrian: a) Walk fast. b) Follow the flow of the traffic by staying on the right side and don’t stop (unless absolutely impossible). c) Don’t make eye contact. However, these rules don’t exactly work on the streets of Madrid. If you try to walk straight and fast, you will likely run over grandma en route to buy bread or the dad picking up the kids from school. Instead you have to either a) slow your roll – you don’t have anywhere to be right? (Even if you do, it’s okay to be a few minutes late.) or b) learn to slalom – swerve around slow-moving pedestrians and ones that decide to abruptly stop to look inside a store. Do this as safely as possible on the narrow sidewalk without pushing those in the opposite direction onto incoming traffic. It doesn’t matter which side of the sidewalk you decide to walk on… really. As long as you don’t run into people, you’re fine. And, if a friendly passerby may want to say “hola”, it should be safe enough to make eye contact, share a quick smile and say “hola” as you walk past.

5) Doorknobs are perfectly acceptable in the middle of the door.

doorTo be honest, this isn’t a very useful tip. I wanted to add it to this because it’s something that fascinates and perplexes me. Hey, I like symmetry as much as the next gal! However, doorknobs that are dead center do not provide much leverage to open a door. You have to push a little more than if it were on the side furthest from the hinge. But, anyway. It is what it is.

Does anyone else have other tips or quirks to share with Madrid first-timers?

Surviving my new foreign city

Palacio RealToday is day 13 in Madrid.

What amazes me the most is the range of emotions that can be felt within a short time! So far, I’ve been excited, in awe, afraid, sad, confused and quite definitely lost. But this is not the first time that I have travelled to a foreign country, nor is it the first time that I’ve moved to a shiny new city!  The difference is that for the first time, I am somewhere that will be “home” and I do not speak the language fluently nor am I familiar with the culture. This place is unlike other temporary travels since I have to figure out how thrive and make a life for myself. No matter how adventurous your spirit, something like this inevitably make you pause.

As pathetic as it may sound, I admit that there were many days when I wanted to simply stay inside the aparthotel (apartment + hotel) to live in my safe little room bubble. This feeling was stronger especially on days when I was out without my handy interpreter (a.k.a. spouse) and not a single Spanish word sounded familiar to me!

However, I am in MADRID! Everyone has told me of how wonderful, fun and amazing it is here. And I am not about to spend three weeks frozen in defeat. So, I took some steps to get acquainted with my new city, which I will share below.

1. Walk around the neighborhood.

This was one of my favorite. It allowed me to become familiar with my surroundings and easily explore new sights, sounds and smells (which was not always pleasant). Also, I did not have to interact with anyone other than the occasional “¡Hola!” from a friendly passerby. Plus, it was a great source of exercise which made me feel very accomplished!

2. Make one simple goal to accomplish every day to bring a new experience.

Everyday, I planned one specific experience that I haven’t done yet. For example, I wanted to go shopping at H&M one day. Instead of walking to the shop in my neighborhood, I decided to visit the one at Gran Vía, a popular shopping area in Madrid similar to 5th Avenue in NYC. Since I knew what to expect, I was better able to prepare the Spanish words that I may need to accomplish my task.

Remember, however, to leave yourself open for unexpected, spontaneous things. Those occurrences can make your new life much more interesting!

3. Search for your comfort food.

The power of food is amazing. Not only is it fuel, but it can make you feel “at home” even when you are not quite there. As an immigrant who lived many years in the States, I’ve had my share of moments where I felt out of place. If I can find a nearby Filipino store and get a hold of my favorite snacks, I feel a sense of relief and contentment in an otherwise unfamiliar place. Sure, it doesn’t solve everything, but it helps!

Within the first week, I visited 2 Filipino stores to grab a can of coconut water and chat with the store workers. It was comforting to meet my other kababayan (even if their Spanish was better than their English and my skills are quite the opposite). Now I know exactly where to go the next time I am a little homesick.

4. Connect with other expats in your new city.

The internet makes this goal a lot easier. Just a few searches revealed several Facebook and Meetup groups in Madrid where I could find other expats. I knew they were around somewhere, and it was encouraging to easily find activities where I could meet with them.

To date, I have not met up with anyone yet. And I am also on a search for a church in Madrid, which will be another great way to connect. Sadly, I have not found a “Filipino” group yet. So I will content myself with going to the Filipino store for the moment.

5. Take language classes.

This is another of activity that I enjoy. It kills two birds with one stone. One, you learn the very important skill of knowing how to speak the local language. Two, you meet other people who are on the same boat as you. Additionally, since many Spanish language learners come from all over the world, you can meet with people from other countries! The last time that I took classes was four years ago in Peru. It was a great experience, during where I made new friends from Holland, England and other states in the US.

6. Be patient with yourself.

This is something that the perfectionist in me struggles with, but it is the most important part of adapting to new evirons. All things new will take time before they become comfortable and familiar. You can only take one step at a time. Don’t be too hard on yourself because you can’t expect to know everything automatically! Plus, the fun is really in this process, so enjoy each moment, even when you feel completely lost.

So that is all that I have done so far. I’m sure there are other ways to feel more comfortable in a foreign new city. What other steps have you done?

 

Map of Wanderings

This feature was a fun discovery in Google Maps. I now have a rough list of places that I’ve seen around the world! There are still more to discover. And it’s exciting to cross things off my list one at a time.

The toughest thing about travel…

is the part where you have to go back.

People greet you with a sarcastic, “Welcome back to reality!” I actually resent this remark. For short vacations where you spend the week at a beach resort, sipping margaritas or touring the countryside, I would let that slip. Living in hotels and having no responsibilities could definitely count as non-reality. But my recent adventure, that was real. It was reality. This summer, I actually had a chance to live in Peru. I had a rhythm, a routine. I had friends and a family. I had work and responsibilities. I spoke the language, mas o menos. Each day, as my friend eloquently put it, we worked to survive… watched our backs so we don’t get mugged, hit by a crazy driver, cheated by the guy at the market or fall off a mountain. That’s the part that seems to get lost on people.

It has been 3 full months since I’ve gotten back. Still, I find my mind wondering off to those days. As much as I love traveling and doing spontaneous things, I always take a while to adjust to change. Returning to America after Peru, definitely a change. It feels the way it did when I returned to the mainland after 2 years in Hawai’i. Though my stay in Peru was exactly 8 weeks, it was a whole lifetime. I went through things that touched and changed me so deeply that I have a hard time living life exactly the way I always had before I even left.

Anyway, I’m done with this random rant that has no real purpose. Next summer, I have a couple of trips that I do look forward to… the Dominican Republic, Alaska, Texas… but I know it’s not the same… and I know it will be a long time before I have an experience like that again.

Just a quick peek at the Pisac Ruins from the highest point…

Rusticating in Pisaq, Peru

I am having the absolute best time in this quaint little town. Where can I even begin?  We arrived last Sunday, driving from Cusco, over the mountain and then descended upon this place in the Sacred Valley.  Our school house is at the edge of town, at the base of one of the mountains and my room has a balcony.  Huzzah! 🙂  Classes are in the morning for my friends and I, which means we can actually go do things together.  Thi was put to good use the last couple of days when we were able to do with our time as we will after the set activity for the day.

Yesterday, we visited Salineras by Maras, which are basically salt mines on a terrace.  The salt apparently comes from the mountains and they are sold for animal feed.  It was quite the hike going up and I totally wasn´t expecting it.  I ended up being last and completely overwhelmed with the amount of energy I expended.  However, the place was a beautiful sight and it was fun just to be part of that scene.

Later, we caught a taxi to Moray, which is an archeaological site where Incas apparently used to plant things on a terrace because of various temperature.  The nice ladies by Salineras called their peeps to get us a ride and we went offroading to get to the circular terraces. We hiked down and wandered through the terraces, pondering the real use and being awed at the handiwork of the Incas.  Then we caught the taxi back to a bus stop and took a couple of them to make our way back to town.

Today was an even more amazing day.  I ended up hiking around the Pisaq ruins for about 4.5 hours.  It was a lot of up mountain, down mountain, and even going off the beaten paths with my friends.  There were points when I was basically standing on a rock and a 360 degree view of the Andes Mountains that surrounded me.  It was an amazing feeling to be so up high like that and just be surrounded by awestriking beauty.  It´s so hard to describe, but climbing up by all those different ruins on the different side of the mountain was just unbelievably wonderful.

On our way back down, my friend and I went to another ruin right  on a part of the mountain that was out of the way from the usual tourists.  It was funny cuz here were these ancient stones and then someone went by one of the walls and laid a big one… or according to my friend, someone ¨pinched a loaf¨.  Yes, disgusting.. And in one of the caves was hidden toilet paper.  I guess this is the ¨real¨side of these mysterious ancient ruins.  On our way down as well, there were 2 ladies waiting to sell us things.  We were the last ones down and I felt so bad I ended up buying a bracelet… which I lost.  Ah well.  By the time we made it down, the sun had set and we decided to stop by a little hole in the wall for some empanadas.  Overall, it was definitely one of the best days.

Tomorrow was supposed to be another activity day, but there´s a strike by people in transportation, I think regarding gas.  Therefore, it´s a nice free day.  We´re probably going to climb up the mountain by the school.