Tuesday 1 October 2013

Across Europe in 15 Days.

So this is what you call "the post-vacation blues". I suppose this is normal though. Take me back to Europe please. ☺

Paris, oh Paris. That 16-hour flight from Singapore was really exhausting. The airport was crowded and I was really tired so when I finally got my suitcases I headed off to find my way outIt was a chilly Saturday morning when I arrived at my hotel. Hotel De La Mare is a single studio apartment which is located less than 10 minutes by foot from the Metro (Menilmontant Station). I didn’t bother about how exhausted and sleep deprived I was and immediately started my European journey. My friends gave me numerous warnings about pickpocket in Paris and those made me feel a bit anxious. I tried not to worry though and began my trip equipped with immeasurable excitement and delight. 

Paris is indeed a very romantic place. It is a scenic city of lights, elegance and history. I was amazed by how they manage to preserve the old architectures which are visible everywhere. The structures of buildings, monuments, churches, bridges, fountains and even the gardens are impressive! I roamed around the city by foot and that made my trip more interesting. My attention was captured by street artists who sing and play musical instruments and street painters showing off their brilliant talent. People would buy their masterpieces and perhaps that’s how they (somewhat) earn a living. On the other hand, gypsies and aggressive vendors are all over too. They were all around the touristy spots stalking their prey. I was really alarmed not just because I was traveling solo, but because of the rising pickpocket issue in the city which was evidenced by the endless warnings inside train stations and even museums. I was bothered so I remained vigilant at all times. During the day I enjoyed the scenic views and hopped in between museums and gardens. Before the sun set (which was then around 9.00pm), I was back in my hotel to recharge for the following day’s adventure.  While five days wasn’t enough to wander the whole city, nevertheless (I guess) I've visited most of its top destinations. Thank God I was safe.

It was early Thursday morning when I left Paris (halfheartedly) to continue my trip to Luzern, Switzerland. That was a long 6-hour journey by train. Again, I was welcomed by a chilly breeze. I fell in love with Luzern right away. A 20-minute uphill walk from the train station to Seminarhaus Bruchmatt became bearable because of the countryside’s picturesque view. Most of the interesting places are within walking distance so I took advantage of it and enjoyed the bucolic and strikingly beautiful view while wandering. The view on the top of the 7000ft high Mt.Pilatus (the one they called the Dragon Mountain) is incredibly breathtaking! A little snow made me so ecstatic! On the way back to the city I leisurely admired the endless greenery view while cruising Lake Luzern. It was really relaxing and I fell in love with the place even more. Swiss people are nice and accommodating too. Surprisingly I didn’t seem to doubt any one of them.  I felt safe when I was there. How could I forget the woman who approached me when she noticed I was lost? She barely spoke English but despite that I knew that she tried. She’s an angel. My Luzern experience was awesome! I wish I have million of Francs! I'll definitely retire and live there (if I were a millionaire). (In case I didn't mention, it is super duper pricey in Luzern)

I woke up early that Saturday morning to catch my train going to Venice. That was again another long journey (almost 8 hours by train). To kill time I read the book I’ve got from Shakespeare and Company while being enchanted (again) by the inexplicable panoramic view (it was a joy rummaging through countless piles of books inside that bookstore and I am still giddy about it). Casa Gaia is a single room simply decorated with wooden furnishing. I was really confused when I looked at Venice's tourist map. I oftentimes got lost and just followed the crowd of tourists walking around. It was good to get lost in Venice though. I’ve seen and walked through those hidden and not so touristy paths. Visiting the churches and museums made me appreciate Venice even more. The relaxing and romantic Gondola ride through the Venetian canal was another amazing experience. It reveals all the charm of Venice, especially when you are being serenaded by a young and good-looking guy with a very powerful voice! (Made me wish I wasn’t alone though!) I felt sad however seeing beggars around St. Mark’s Square. Most of them are on the floor with their kids right in front of the exit door of St. Mark’s Basilica. I refrained myself from giving them even a cent. That was a heartache, but that was the best thing to do too.

I felt like a princess when I arrived at Hotel Masaccio in Florence. I stayed in another elegant, furnished room featuring hand painted walls and ceiling, and light-colored and antique wooden furniture. After admiring my nest for the next couple of days, I immediately started wandering around the city. The panoramic view of the city at Piazzale Michelangelo is surreal. The sight of the illuminated city on top is exceptionally astounding; I can't contain my delight. One most physically challenging activity I did was climbing the Florence Duomo. The only way to see the inside of the dome up close including the wonderful view of Florence is to climb its 463 steps. (I climbed the 284 steps of Arc De Triomphe in Paris too by the way and it’s equally worth it!) The infamous “David” by Michelangelo is a total must-see! I caught myself staring at the perfect details, beauty and majesty of the artwork for minutes, thinking how did Michelangelo do that?

I was lucky to see Pope Francis during the Papal Audience in Rome. I felt so blessed and grateful for having that chance. Rome is like a big open air museum. While walking on the cobblestone road I overheard this line from a tour guide, “Rome is one of world's most photogenic cities”, and I couldn't agree more. Rome is an ancient, historic, romantic city filled with architectural charms that survive timelessly. The happiness I felt when I was at the Vatican brought tears in my eyes. I can’t help but still be amazed of the grandiose churches, despite seeing countless in Paris, Luzern, Venice, and Florence. Though the transport system in Rome is fairly better than in Venice, I still (and again) opted to wander by foot. Sightseeing or lazing in cafes while marveling at the city's beauty became a routine. It was like a dream. I sometimes follow the usual tourists’ path but most of the time courageously went off the typical tracks. Four days in Rome wasn’t enough and how I really wish I could stay longer. I tossed a coin in Trevi Fountain into which it is a tradition to ensure that one day I’ll return to the Eternal City. I’ve heard about the things I should avoid when visiting Rome. However, there’s one thing I supposed anyone won’t be able to, and that’s FALLING IN LOVE WITH ROME. I did.

I will forever be grateful of that experience. It has always been my dream. I fell in love with the food, the culture, the sceneries, the architectures, and the people. I absolutely fell in love with everything. It was difficult not to notice those couples having their photo shoot wherever. I bumped into countless newlywed couple spending their honeymoon there too. Those people (I guess) are the proof of how romantic and lovely Paris, Luzern, Venice, Florence and Rome are (or should I say Europe is). Old couples were noticeable too and I can’t help but admire how “sweet and obviously in love” they are still even after years of being together. I became accustomed right away to people who blissfully welcomed me with “Bonjour/Ciao” everywhere and with a full blast smile cut across their faces they waved goodbye and cheerfully say “Merci/Grazie” when it was time to leave. On a side note I noticed the great influence of Spanish on Filipino language too. I assumed that most of the tourists in Rome are from Spain. I got lost most of the times. I rode the wrong train, took the wrong bus and walked through the wrong paths. Those instances however brought me to some beautifully unnoticed and skillfully paved cobblestone avenues. Pickpocket issue was a distraction though. I (actually) thought that marvelous cities like those are free from that scandalous crime. An immediate solution is a must I supposed. In churches I lit a candle, knelt, and prayed. When it was allowed, I would take photos and secretly admire those places of worship. However, I felt (a bit) sad seeing tourists visiting churches obviously without any intention to pray, but to just be amazed of the unbelievable structures and artworks inside the church. Most of them even refrained from keeping silent despite the visible reminders. On second thought, I presume those are uncontrollable. Perhaps because those churches are included on the list of not-to-miss spots there. And how could I forget the food! The yummy croissants and baguettes with aromatic cappuccino for breakfast, mouth-watering “Spaghetti al Pomodoro”, Bruschetta and fresh Orange juice for lunch, refreshing, tempting, and creamy Gelato or the “melt in your mouth” Macarons for snack,  and insanely delicious Panini or Margherita and Red Wine for dinner! Those are to die for (made me forget about my diet!). Even the trees were perfectly in place! I tirelessly took photos of autumn leaves too and apparently it became one of my obsessions. I hope we have those in Ph or Sg too! (I terribly miss Europe) One of the most demanding things I have done (because I traveled solo) was politely asked other travelers to take a photo of me. A few people turned my request down and that was honestly upsetting especially because I knew that they are from Asia too. I pitied myself but I should not complain because I supposed that it was included in every “solo traveling package”. Opposite thing happened however when I did the same thing to other nationalities (American mostly). You wouldn’t hear any rejections from them but instead asked to check if the photo was good or if I want another shot. Some even offered help when they knew I was alone. I made new friends, and best of them all is Maria. She's a sweet, young, and pretty Italian who manages my hotel in Rome (Rome&Suites). Meeting new people, getting along with them and learning from their cultures and history are the things that I enjoy the most when I travel. When it’s time to depart I couldn’t help but weep. I wanted to stay yet I have to leave. I have experienced a lot and I guess would experience more if I continue to do this thing that I love the most. I certainly will because every trip is journey to discovery. And as long as I have this hunger for discovery, my journey will never end. Ciao for now! ♥

"To travel is worth any cost or sacrifice." - Elizabeth Gilbert

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