Travel

Monumental Firsts and Well-Celebrated Lasts

The week that had passed was full of monumental firsts and well-celebrated lasts.

(And if I start an entry in this tone, you know you’re in for a lot of feelings so just a mild warning for you guys)

At 8:47 am last October 6 (Monday), I, together with three other friends, went on a spontaneous adventure and decided to climb Mt. Pico de Loro. Excited as I was, endurance is not my thing. But doubts were the last thing on my mind at this point: I could not pass up a chance to tick off something in my bucket list.

A heavily physical challenge was the perfect way to  start the week. Although I said yes to climbing, I guess I didn’t really know what I was saying yes to. What I actually signed up for was an 8-hour struggle with nature: with slippery soil that refused to cooperate with my shoes and even clung like koalas, with bamboo trees that had conniving self-defense mechanisms which pricked you if you held them the wrong way, and rocks that were half-friendly and half-cruel at the same time. And so we climbed with no training nor physical preparation whatsoever (I was fresh out of couch potato mode with the exception of the occasional afternoon run). We climbed until our hands were polished with dirt and our shoes were adorned in mud. We braved the mountain trail until we were lightheaded and breathless, until we reached the summit with a sense of accomplishment. A monumental first.

 

Mt. Pico de Loro - Monolith

* * * * *

At about 11:45 am last October 11 (Saturday), I, together with 1,282 graduates, raised up my right fist with reluctance and pride (reluctance because I knew this was the mark of a bittersweet end), to sing the La Sallian Alma Mater. It was officially my last day as a college student.

Graduating from De La Salle University was a bittersweet way to cap off that eventful week. La Salle has been my life since Junior Prep (when pencil cases and lunchboxes were fashion statements and cops and robbers in the nearby park was my highlight of the day) and saying goodbye to a place that  I considered my second home for more than half of my life was pretty difficult.

This may sound silly, but I was literally fighting back tears of joy and sadness and other equally overwhelming feelings such as nostalgia and fear. Nostalgia for the morning assemblies back in Zobel; running around in the school fair while booth catchers chase you until you reach safe zones – like a scene out of a Tom and Jerry show (and that proud feeling of immunity when I’m carrying around a drink that was full to the brim); for the infamous sizzling burger steak of La Casita; for the intramurals which brought out friendly competition among frenemies; and for the time well-spent with friends – may it be on the bleachers of the field, the Gate 5 parking lot, the CPA lobby, the Cadlum Hall (which I believe no longer exists anymore to date), or whatever nook or spot our “barkadas” have called dibs on (hello territorial instincts). Yes, a lifetime worth of memories played like a movie in the back of my mind in the duration of that 3 minute Alma Mater hymn. And then there’s fear. Of what comes next – the open-endedness of it all. What’s now left is a butter-finger hold on comfort zones and a pressing need to make life-changing decisions.

But before the decision-making queue gets too long and stressful, I guess this is something I have to do: to take a moment and just pause and to be grateful for all those years of constant learning. For all the cups of coffee that helped me through my long exams (especially those that require reading more than a hundred pages of font size 10 text), for the hand cramps I got from writing back-to-back essays, for the nerve-wracking recitations, presentations and defenses, for everyone who inspired me to stay curious and to chase my passions.

Now that I look back to that week, I can’t help but think how timely it all was: from the climb up the mountain to that climb up the stage to receive my diploma. How those events tie together to help me come with a simple realization:  You have to start from the bottom to appreciate what awaits at the top. Needless to say, struggles and success go hand-in-hand and I am sure that no one will ever be exempt from this principle. But the best part of the journey, and the hardships that come with it, is knowing that there are people that will make them worthwhile. Ultimately, graduation day was a well-celebrated “last”.

And now, there is a shift in the air: it’s intimidating but it’s definitely the good kind. A myriad of new monumental firsts awaits.

Graduation at PICC

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Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

Compared to the whimsical air of Barcelona and roaring spectacles of Paris (as seen in my previous travel diary posts), Belgium’s beauty was more understated. Think Charlotte York from Sex and the City: an old-fashioned beaut amongst her seemingly au courant friends. It was nice to enjoy a pleasant kind of quiet for a change. Although the cold was pretty cruel and the kind that bites (quite expected coming from someone used to harsh amounts of sunlight and humidity c/o the tropics). 

Brussels, Belgium

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

This alley was filled with mouth-watering displays of artisan chocolate. Define sweet-tooth torture.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

There’s something inherently medieval about Brussels; I could have sworn that amidst the low murmur of dutch conversations, a fiddler was playing a folk tune…

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

“Today is a good day, today I eat Speculoos” (my apologies for my brother who seems to have been possessed with excitement)

 

Waterloo, Belgium

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

The Lion Hill. Yes, the struggle was real. All 226, not to mention, STEEP steps of it. I’m sorry for all that trouble, lungs – thank you for not giving up on me.  I did, however, leave my pride and shame somewhere around the 87th step (if not earlier) because I exhaled and cheered a little too audibly when I reached the top like it was some kind of Mt. Everest excursion. That wasn’t a good day to wear heeled boots, mind you (to my defense, that climb was a spontaneous decision).

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

The Lion Hill overlooks this vast plain – and as well-groomed and solemn as it looks now, this was practically a graveyard back in 1815 of over 50,000 casualties following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in the Battle of Waterloo, putting an end to the Napoleonic Era of Europe.  It was a good day for quite the history lesson and some ghost hunting. 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

After we went to Waterloo we stopped by a carnival to grab a bite. But what we found was anything but bite-sized. Insert incomprehensible Dutch translation for “monster chocolate-stuffed churro” here. And while you’re at it, say hello to diabetes with open arms!

 

Orval, LuxembourgEurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

The Orval Abbey Church is such a serene place (the place had an almost eerie aura to it as if it cleansed me of all my negative energy) It’s a monastery located in Luxembourg and legend has it that all of this was built from a widow’s request – after a trout spat out her wedding ring which she dropped in a spring located in the vicinity of the abbey. Truly this is a Val d’Or (Golden Valley)! Hence, the name Orval

 

Brügge, Belgium

 Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

I spy Manilyn Monroe!

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: BelgiumThis place had an abundance of swans and they are such elegant and long creatures. It was practically begging for a portrait. 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: BelgiumGrote Markt. Cardboard cut-outs? Think again.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: BelgiumBrugge was such a quiet place. Literally. You actually had to keep the noise level at a minimum in this hidden village. 

 

Mechelen, Belgium (aka our humble abode for a week)

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Belgium

 When we come home from our daily adventures, we like to annoy the sheep in our backyard in Mechelen (stopping only when they decide to chase us out of the pen).

 

 

Belgium was cold and cozy, but I can’t wait to share with you our last stop, Italy! Home of Gelato, gladiators and the best risotto I’ve ever had in my life.

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

It’s difficult to not romanticize Paris.

Known as the city of love, Paris thrives on all of these romantic undertones. There’s so much love that the Pont des Arts bridge can’t take it. Literally. Last June, the famous bridge laden with “love locks” collapsed from the weight of concrete promises made by couples from around the world. Talk about falling in love in Paris (pun intended). 

 Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

La Seine River: Through vessels such as the Bateux Parsiene, you get to see a panoramic view of Paris from the water. Seeing the Eiffel Tower light up at night was priceless. 

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

The regal edifice of Notre Dame hit me with a wave of nostalgia: I could vivdly imagine Quasimodo hiding behind one of the hauntingly statuesque gargoyles perched atop the Cathedral.

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris
Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

Château de Versailles: From its grandiose Hall of Mirrors adorn with chandeliers and elaborate ceiling art, to the colossal Garden that boasts quite a scenic array of flowerbeds, tailored lawns, and finely-shaped hedges, the Versailles Palace is definitely a kaleidoscopic beauty.

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

Musée du Louvre: One of my personal favorites. The museum of fine arts had so much variety: from Hellenistic sculptures to Egyptian mummies to the coveted Mona Lisa and other famous paintings, I was pretty much drunk on visual liquor. The Glass Pyramid (built to provide an alternative entrance to the museum to avoid congestion from the insane tourist traffic) lends the perfect allusion to modernism to a place that is surrounded with traditional architecture. Fiction also made it famous, thanks to Dan Brown’s sci-fi genuis (his book The Da Vinci Code claimed that the pyramid was composed of 666 panes of glass). But all this Illuminati fictional non-sense aside, it’s simply a beautiful charismatic piece of architecture. 

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

You haven’t seen all of Paris unless you’ve witnessed the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in the flesh: two world-famous Parisian monuments that are practically tourist magnets. They both made me question how tiny people like us can construct such cosmically beautiful structures that are seemingly larger than life.

 Eurotrip Travel Diary: Paris

Je suis en amour avec Paris!  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of daydreaming about you: the quaint boulangeries that make breakfast my favorite part of the day (man does not live on bread alone, but I sure did not mind living on butter croissant for a week!), heels clacking on the pavements (almost everyone is impeccably dressed), hushed conversations (that sound more like poetry rather than gossip, an intellectual exchange of ideas, or a mere rundown of the grocery list for that afternoon), the subtle hurried panics in the metro stations (it looked like a colony of ants – a sea of people in black trench coats and boots moving too fast for their freakishly long legs), and the men? Tres beau. Ridiculously good looking.

Seriously, all this talk about Paris is making me want to watch the fabulous life of Amelie Poulain… And that’s pretty much my queue to wrap up this pocket of nostalgia.

 

So Paris was pretty much a visual feast. I can’t wait to share with you Italy! Home of Gelato, gladiators and the best risotto I’ve ever had in my life.

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

I know it’s been more than a year. And to say that this travel diary is overdue would be an understatement. But I owe it to the experience, to immortalize it the best way I can. I’ll keep the narration to a minimum and let the photos do most of the talking for this one (with the exception of a few side stories along the way). I’m going to do this chronologically, so I guess i’ll start this off with my personal favorite: Barcelona!

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

Our apartment (bottom left) had a glorious view of the city. (The windows gave me this uncanny feeling of waking up the neighbors with the “Morning’s Here” song – do me a favor and click the link! It’s a pick-me-upper. Either that or it’ll just annoy you.)

 

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

Among the hustle and bustle of the city, you’ll find these quaint places where you can enjoy a cafe latte or better yet: a plateful of pastries to make your sweet tooth ache.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

While walking along the Barcelona Cathedral, we found this really awesome harpist. Barcelona has so much character to it and is always full of little and pleasant surprises.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

The view from outside our apartment! I could literally stare and devour their architecture all day.

Europe Travel Diary: Barcelona

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

Casa Batlló was born from the psychedelic imagination of Antoni Gaudi. The details are so intricate that it seems like a fairy-tale was unfolding before your very eyes.  His works are definitely the epitome of Modernisme in Catalan architecture.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

Eurotrip Travel Diary:  Barcelona

Parc Guell, also one of Gaudi’s works, was definitely my crowned favorite for the entire trip. The mosaic details of the ceilings, the marble pillars, the sandy textures of the cave-like tunnels -there was so much aesthetic variety in the vast garden complex – and yet it all surprisingly meshed into one chaotic order.To me, it felt like discovering a pocket of heaven.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona … make that heaven adorn with Rasta music! This was quite rewarding after hiking up the steps of Parc Guell and arriving at the mountain peak which had a nice little peaceful nature hideaway.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia in all its unfinished yet towering glory was the last of the many architectural legacies Gaudi left in his lifetime. It was definitely breathtaking and the attention to detail was exquisite. I only have praise for Gaudi’s work, obviously.

Eurotrip Travel Diary: Barcelona

The majestic Montseratt Mountains exude an unparalleled uniqueness. Its serrated-shaped peaks lend the meaning to its name “Montseratt” which literally means “saw-edged”. I remember when the bus was only approaching and I caught a glimpse of it from afar, I heaved a sigh of wonder. And yet even if there was a healthy population of tourists parading the place that day, an overwhelming sense of tranquility stilled all over the place.

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1 down, 3 to go! Barcelona made me fall in love, but Paris – well, who isn’t already in love with that place? Up on the blog soon!