Where is she now?

Rachael in Prague

It all began in 2015, the year when I started to feel the significant changes. I wanted to fly away to unfamiliar places so I did things differently. I traveled alone quite a few times, marveled at the beauty of the world, and plunged into the deep sea of adventures and wonders. I’d like to say it was my renaissance year.

Time went by so fast and I can’t believe it’s already been a year since I came back to the Philippines from my three-month Europe trip. I came home excited to tell so many stories through this blog, but tough times hit me hard that I just detached myself from the world, from everyone.

2016 was a whirlwind. I lost a dear friend in September, a loved one in October, and my dad in November. It was a year of emotional chaos.

March. I wasn’t very happy to come home. I wanted to stay longer in Europe. I could have, but I chose not to, for dad. He missed me terribly. Actually, days before my trip, he would usually feel sad and ask me, “Do you really have to go?”. I would tell him it’s just three months and I would be back home soon. He couldn’t help but feel really really sad. He didn’t even take me to the airport! Lol. So, moving on, three months passed and I arrived in Manila safe and sound. I was greeted by my mom and uncle, then I began to realize I was really back because the terrible traffic welcomed me with not-so-loving arms.

We picked dad up in his office. He was very delighted to see me. Oh, his smile was priceless! And of course, he asked me how my trip was. While still trying to make sense of reality, I replied, “Incredibly life-changing.”

Days passed and I never stopped looking back. That was my March.

April-August. I had a hard time coming back to reality. Memories in Europe kept flashing back. I thought, I should start doing something meaningful so I applied for a new job and I got it! It’s my current job and I really like it. I am able to travel around the Philippines and write about programs helping uplift lives of millions of Filipinos. Okay, so, everything was going well, then I realized I can never be satisfied. We always want something more, don’t we? I don’t know why, but I have this longing that never dies. It never goes away. In silence, it just keeps getting stronger. I try to get my mind off it, but it pushes itself to be felt. It’s the longing to travel and live at the same time. It’s the longing to keep going, walking, running. It’s the longing to move and never stop exploring…

September. I lost my friend Stephen. It was painful losing him. He was so young and so full of dreams. He pushed me to do more, to do better. He believed in me when I doubted myself. His words were nothing but full of wisdom, optimism, and encouragement. “Strive for the sun,” he once told me.

Stephen’s death reminded me of setting my priorities right, of living as if today’s my last.

We can be so preoccupied with the offerings of this world that sometimes we forget how to live and not merely exist. So I say, choose what matters most. Choose life.

October. I lost Ate Pining. She had been with us for over 30 years. She was basically a mother to me, to all of us. The simplest things in life were enough to make her happy.

When I heard the news that she was getting weaker, I felt distraught and desolate. I didn’t want to lose her, but I knew her time was coming, and I just had to slowly accept it. She battled cancer for years, but never did I see her complain, never did I see her lose heart. She was a selfless fighter who lived her life mostly taking care of us.

I miss her. So much.

November.  The darkest moment of my life came. I lost my best friend, mentor, and hero – my dad.

I became depressed. I forgot to eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t take a proper bath. I had chest pains. I felt dead. Helpless. I fought with myself, my emotions, my thoughts. I felt like I was really ready for death – where there’s no more pain and suffering.

I lost my sanity quite a number of times. I started fearing the person I was becoming.

It was a month of emotional torture not being by dad’s side when he was struggling, fighting for his life. We hoped for a miracle, but days passed and I knew I just had to let God. A day before he died, I told him everything I wanted to say and right after, I felt so much peace in my heart. And then the worst came – he took his last breath and I wasn’t beside him. I never thought it would be like that. I tried to absorb what happened, but not long after, I snapped.

I looked at my window and watched the heavens welcome dad. Suddenly, the pain was no longer there. I was happy for a while…

The moment I had been waiting for finally came. Dad flew back to his beloved home, the Philippines. I slowly walked to his coffin and saw him looking dapper as ever. He was wearing the suit he was supposed to wear for the Pacquiao fight. And of course, he was proudly wearing his favorite pin – the Philippine flag pin. I talked to him and when I got to hold his hand, tears started falling from my eyes. Memories of us walking together, holding hands, flashed back in my head.

Weeks after his death, I started feeling the excruciating pain and unimaginable sadness. My faith was the only thing that kept me going. I held on to it because I felt like I didn’t have anything else.

My dad loved me so much. I remember one time, he told me, “No one will love you as much as I do.” I think you’re right, dad. I don’t know if anyone can ever love me like you did. You made me feel like I’m the most precious gem in the world.

“Cry, heart, but never break.”

Life is definitely full of surprises. I say, make every day count. Don’t let a day pass without fixing your relationships. Be selfless and love deeply, fully, without pretensions. When you feel like giving up, DON’T. Just DON’T. I know it’s not easy, but you can do it. Cry all the pain out. Let the sadness linger, but when you’re ready, welcome happiness. There’s still beauty in this world that you deserve to take in. And when you feel like there’s no end to your web of struggles and you’re freezing in the cold cold winter, don’t worry because sunny days are coming. Patience, my friend. And when you feel like there’s no more reason to live, think about why you’re still alive, look at the bigger picture of life. This is cliché, but how can we appreciate happiness without sadness? The sun without the rain? Life without death? We will all die, you know. So as long as you’re living, I hope you try and make an effort to lift yourself up, try not to be so serious all the time, acknowledge your emotions but learn how to tame them – and if you can’t, that’s okay, it’s normal. And if you’re feeling bad right now, I just hope you feel better. If not today, maybe tomorrow, or the day after…

To everyone who helped me get through the dark, thank you. Without your love and support, I wouldn’t know how to rise again.

P.S. Sharing with you my favorite article on loss: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/03/08/cry-heart-but-never-break/ – hope it gives you a positive perspective on death.

Much love,

Rachael

 

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Wrocław, my beloved Polish city

Market Square - Wrocław

I’m not a fan of cities, but Wrocław was too charming to ignore.

It was winter when I first visited the city. The sky might be gloomy, but Wrocław was full of life, art, and magic.

Pathway - Wrocław

Art or anti-art? - Wrocław
Art or anti-art?
Graffiti wall - Wrocław
“The world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
One of the interesting sculptures outside the National Museum of Wrocław
One of the interesting sculptures outside the National Museum of Wrocław
City lights and silhouettes - Wrocław
City lights and silhouettes

As the sun set in the west, Christmas lights lit up the city with vibrance.

It's Christmas time in the city... - Wrocław
It’s Christmas time in the city…

Christmas lights - Wrocław

On a sunny winter day, I came back for the free city tour (care of Angloville), which helped me know more about Wrocław and its history.

“Never lose your childish innocence.”

My favorite part of the tour? Spotting gnomes!

Trivia: Gnomes are a big part of the city’s history. As a response to the oppression of the communist regime in the 80s, the Orange Alternative moment was launched.
“The thesis is the anti-regime slogan. The anti-thesis is the splotch of paint. And the synthesis is the gnome.” (Major Fydrych)

Check out these links if you want to know more about the movement and the gnomes: The Gnome Revolution: ‘Major’ Fydrych & the Orange AlternativeThe Orange Alternative: There Is No Freedom without DwarfsGnomenclature: Wrocław’s Gnomes

My favorite place in Wrocław is Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island), the oldest part of the city. You can check out its history here.

Picturesque, isn’t it?
Tumski Bridge
Magical view

One of the best things I encountered in Wrocław is the pathway of history. So fun and interesting to work out the meanings behind the symbols!

Festung Breslau (Fortress Wrocław): The Siege of 1945
Solidarity (founded in 1980): a Polish trade union that became the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country
In the middle, you can spot the 315-year-old University of Wrocław

After the tour, we had a hearty Polish lunch and drinks for the evening. We went to this candy shop-themed bar called Czupito where they offer shoty (shots) for 5 zł (62 php). There were so many flavors to choose from, and I ended up choosing Lollipop because who doesn’t want a shot with a free lollipop?!

Too overwhelming

There are various places of interest in Wrocław. Google away and you’ll be fine. There’s free wifi in the city so you don’t have to go to any cafe to do your research.

According to Lonely Planet, Wrocław, Poland’s fourth-largest city, is “not just a pretty face.” “It’s a lively cultural center, with several theaters, major festivals, rampant nightlife, and a large student community.” So,  if you’re visiting Poland, make sure to put Wrocław on your list! The vibe, the energy, and the youthfulness of the city will make you feel alive and kicking.

P.S. I visited Wrocław in December 2015 and February 2016.

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Angloville LOVEville

Let’s just say my “internship” experience in the Czech Republic didn’t go very well. If you read my first blog post, you’d know the story. Anyway, let’s talk about the good. I was looking for opportunities because I still had 2 months left in Europe. I was pretty determined to do something interesting to cover my bad experience. Fortunately, I stumbled upon Angloville!

Basically, Angloville is the biggest provider of language immersion programs in Central – Eastern Europe. So how does it work? They get native English-speaking volunteers who are tasked to engage the program participants in conversations, so as to improve their English. In exchange, the volunteers get free accommodation and food.

The fact that they were looking for native English speakers from specific countries didn’t stop me from applying. English is my second language so I thought I had a chance. It’s very very cliché, but there’s no harm in trying. Well, in that context. Haha. I also checked reviews and was pretty impressed. I thought Angloville was a very good program. However, I told myself not to expect anything if ever I got accepted. Lesson learned, you know.

I filled out the application form for the Angloville Junior Program in Poland on their website and eagerly waited for an email response. Because I had no solid back-up plan, I hoped they would get me. And surprisingly, they did!!! I was so excited!

I met the other volunteers in Wrocław; they were from the UK, US, and Canada. We had a free city tour, and man, was it lovely. It was my second time in Wrocław and it easily became my favorite city in Poland! I’ll let you know why in another post. 😉

The next day, off we went to the Angloville venue in the countryside!

7 Days in Angloville

Our Angloville home

Those 7 days (February 7-13, 2016) in Angloville were pretty intensive, undeniably fun, and life-changing for me. There were a lot of talking, sharing, thinking, and moving.

Speaking sessions were not solely about helping the participants improve their English. They were more about opening up, sharing what you know, and learning things from the perspective of another. It was about realizing that despite our differences, there is something that connects us.

Meet Wiktoria, my sister from another mother
Meet Wiktoria, my sister from another mother

Group activities/games/socials were not only about playing. They were more about making things work as a team, creating strategies as a team, and of course, having a good time as a team. P.S. They were also about learning something fun from a different culture! (e.g. Scottish dance – so sad that I missed this because I got sick. But I did  learn another, Belgian dance! It was so much fun!!!).

Dr. Quack Quack - AnglovillePlaying Cowboy - AnglovillePlaying Ninja! - AnglovilleWe love orange! - AnglovilleFreeze running? - AnglovilleMy squad - AnglovillePlaying Werewolf! - AnglovillePaper pong? - AnglovillePlaying Bananagrams - Angloville

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were not only about enjoying Polish food (I miss pierogi ruskie and żurek so bad). It was more about sharing lovely stories, laughing over silly things, and connecting deeper and deeper. Conversations start naturally. Connections form naturally.

ruski pierogi - Angloville
PIEROGI RUSKIE!!!
My food squad - Angloville
“Nakakapagpabagabag”
With Natasza, my favorite eating buddy.. - Angloville
With Natasza, my favorite photographer/filmmaker/artist and eating buddy. Our friendship started with a piece of bread. Lol. Oh and there’s Julia just casually photobombing..
The Poles doing a wacky pose - Angloville
Werqin’ it

And here are some photos from our mini field trip..

My cutie little sister, Klaudia! - Angloville
My little sister, Klaudia! She’s always smiling! She once told me she doesn’t know how to make a sad face. What a cutie!

img_3706Forest - Angloville12744716_1075539949157096_826407867434375492_n

During my last night in Angloville, I was in the kids’ room with some of the closest friends I made. We played games and ended up talking about society and life. It was a pleasure to be surrounded by inquisitive, creative, and smart individuals. Unforgettable scene.

The Last Day

And the last day of the camp came. The Polish participants delivered the presentations they prepared a few days back with the help of their mentors. They were free to choose whatever topic they wanted to talk about. Such an enjoyable time listening to all their presentations!!

With my mentees, Natalia and Laura - Angloville
With my mentees, Natalia and Laura
Natalia presenting about strange ice cream flavors! #ProudMamaMoment - Angloville
Natalia presenting about strange ice cream flavors! #ProudMamaMoment

What was my role as a mentor? Be there and show support. I had to help my mentees realize their potential, and make them believe they are capable of doing something they maybe haven’t figured out yet. I was there to help them come out and bloom, and if they weren’t ready to do it just yet, I had to let them know that it’s okay, that their time will come.

After the presentations and our last lunch (<///3) came the awarding of certificates for Polish participants and Angloville volunteers. When I heard my name being called, I felt a big sense of fulfillment. People were cheering on me. It was such a rewarding moment knowing that even at one point in my life, I made a small but positive impact on other people’s lives.

Because Angloville was not part of the plan, I wasn’t able to bring anything special to give my Polish friends. Instead, I gave them letters and things I had with me – my favorite beanie, my little black dress, and Philippine souvenirs I had left.

It was a super emotional farewell for me. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I was crying like a baby (Thanks, hormones?). Maybe I got so attached to the people I met that I didn’t want to say goodbye. Maybe I discovered something beautiful that made me want to stay…

Kiss from my little sister - AnglovilleWith Marta - AnglovilleWith Natasza - AnglovilleWith my roomies! - AnglovilleWith Bonnie! - AnglovilleWith Josie - AnglovilleWith Kasia - AnglovilleWith Alicja - AnglovilleWith my dear Zuza - Angloville

What Angloville really is

As a volunteer, I must say that doing Angloville was not as easy as it might seem. Not everyone was open. Not everyone wanted to talk in English. I had to be clever and devise ways to engage the participants, especially the younger ones. I had to make them feel that I was there not because I was tasked to, but because I wanted to. I was a friend more than anything else.

Teacher Rachael haha - Angloville
Trivia: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. Can I pass as one? Haha

Angloville is not just an English camp. It’s a special kind of cultural exchange. It gave me the opportunity to build significant connections with interesting people from different parts of the world. And with the diversity of people I met, my mind was then again opened to a wider view of the world.

Class picture! - Angloville
Class picture!

Angloville pushed me to do better, to think out of the box, and more importantly, helped me believe how I could positively impact other people.

I must say that my experience made me more patient, open, and understanding. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that is nothing short of amazing.

Ross, Milena, and Maciek, thank you for letting me be part of the Angloville family. Sending my love all the way from the Philippines! ♡

The Angloville Family

Note: I did Angloville for a week, their usual schedule. However, they allow volunteers to do it for more than a week/every other week and whatnot. As I’ve mentioned before, I still had a lot of time in Europe. I wanted to do Angloville for more than a week, but unfortunately, there were no more slots available in the other dates. So what did I do for the rest of my stay in Europe? I ended up staying in the Polish countryside, reflecting about life. Haha

 

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Ciao from the Italian Countryside!

We took a train from Venezia Santa Lucia to Susegana. I decided to sit by the window, and there I witnessed the light from the sun slowly painting the sky with beautiful hues. Sunrise marked the start of a beautiful day. Halfway through our destination, it started to snow. Oh how unpredictable and magical life can be.

Not long after, we heard a voice announcing our stop.. I think someone told us that the platform was not long enough. And because we were sitting at the far end of the train, we had to hurry and move! So there we go again, running for our lives, together with our luggage. It felt like we were in an action movie, really. Imagine a vigilante-catching-the-villains-on-the-train scene. We were the villains trying to get away. We are skilled so we got off the train in one piece. Haha. Then, we met our Italian guy, Marco Bozzo!! It was a breath of fresh air seeing him after all the hardships we went through. Ahhhh, finally, we would have some rest in the Italian countryside!

The girls with Marco Bozzo - Italy
On our way to Marco’s home!

P.S. Marco lives in Farra di Soligo, a commune in the Province of Treviso in the Veneto region, Northern Italy. If you’d like to pay him a visit, do let me know! Haha. Kidding aside, he has a very cozy Airbnb room where he let us stay for free. Well, that’s what friends are for. Haha thanks Marco!

Exploring the North

A taste of paradise

It was a beautiful sunny (but cold) day, so to make the most out of it, Marco took us to a peaceful and incredibly beautiful place called La Rondine located in Santo Stefano village, in the town of Valdobbiadene. My goodness, it is a paradise! A paradise of vineyards! The view was incomparable. I was happy to be there, taking in that moment of plain bliss. I felt nothing but genuine happiness.

Me crying tears of joy - Italy
Yes, I cried. Nara caught me and thought it would be nice to preserve that memory. Haha
Me crying tears of joy - Italy
Look at those happy tears!
Vineyards - Italy
Welcome to my crib!
Vineyards - Italy
Vineyaaaaaaards ♡
La Rondine - Italy
Let’s sit and have some wine, shall we?
Nara modeling - Italy
Narmina the supermodel

We met Marco’s family friends and owners of La Rondine, Nadia and Vittorio. They’re the best! A lovely happy couple! They warmly welcomed us with wine and more wine. White and rose, why not??! Not only that, they filled our tummies with GOOD food. It was heavenly.

With the owners of La Rondine - Italy
Meet my Italian grandparents! Haha
La Rondine wine - Italy
THE BEST!
La Rondine wine - Italy
Nothing but love ♡
The Italian first course - Italy
The Italian first course

A taste of history

Marco the tour guide took us to our next destination – Asolo.

Trivia 1: Known as “The City of a Hundred Horizons,” Asolo is a charming medieval town surrounded by lush mountains and hills. It was once ruled by Queen Caterina Cornaro who married the king of Cyprus, James II. Venetians wanted to take hold of Cyprus, but Caterina fought in resistance. Real queen, ey? However, she eventually surrendered the island after ruling it for almost 16 years. In return, she was given the town of Asolo, where she established a court for poets, scholars, and artists.     

Trivia 2: Freya Stark, Ernest Hemingway, and Robert Browning lived in Asolo! 

Garibaldi Square, Asolo - Italy
Piazza Maggiore. The fountain in the center has a winged lion detail which symbolizes Asolo’s former allegiance to the Venetian Republic.
Caught this cute and very adorable little girl calling her friend! - Italy
Caught this cute and very adorable little girl calling her friend!
Duomo di Asolo - Italy
Duomo di Asolo
A part of Castello della Regina Cornaro - Italy
I wasn’t able to take a good shot of the whole castle (Castello della Regina Cornaro/Queen Cornaro’s Castle), but here’s a part of it.
This idyllic view of Asolo left me in awe! - Italy
This idyllic view of Asolo left me in awe!
Another stunning view of Asolo - Italy
Another stunning view of Asolo
Narmina the supermodel - Italy
There she goes.. there she goes again ♪
Asolo in perspective - Italy
Asolo through my lens

It was an unforgettable first day exploring Italy’s other side! The best way to end it? Eat delicious pasta; have some more wine, cheese, and meaningful conversations. Cin cin!

Oh by the way, I’d like you to meet papa Tony, Marco’s dad. He’s a very funny guy! I remember that moment when he scared me wearing a creepy mask! I almost had a heart attack. Lol. Oh, Tony!

Marco's dad giving us a lesson about the history of Venice - Italy
Professor Tony giving us a lesson about the history of Venice
Chef Tony making sure we're eating well - Italy
Chef Tony making sure we’re eating well
Papa Tony just being.. well, papa Tony - Italy
Papa Tony just being.. well, papa Tony

A taste of (more) history

On our second day exploring, Marco took us to Abbazia di Santa Maria and Castel Brando. Oh what charming and lovely places! I felt like I was living in a fairy tale.

Trivia 3: “In keeping with the custom of the Order of Cistercians, the Abbey of Santa Maria in Follina stands near a water course, between a mountain and a plain. The monastic complex has been a national monument since 1921 and dates back to the 12th century. In 1915, the Servants of Mary settled in the Monastery of Follina and they still live there today.” (Source)

Abbazia di Santa Maria - Italy
I want this for my future garden! Lol
Abbazia di Santa Maria - Italy
This is my future home. Let me keep dreaming..
Abbazia di Santa Maria - Italy
The clock tower
Abbazia di Santa Maria - Italy
What a beauty!

Trivia 4: “Set on a promontory overlooking Valmareno, with a mild climate typical of the Treviso hills, Castel Brando is a splendid example of the historical and artistic restoration of one of the largest castles in Europe.” (Source)

Castel Brando sign - Italy

Gorgeous view from the castle - Italy
Gorgeous view from the castle
Gorgeous view from the castle - Italy
Anywhere I look, I see a beauty like this!
Castel Brando - Italy
Ahhhh, too much charm for my eyes

Castel Brando - Italy

Castel Brando - Italy
A different perspective
A beautiful tree in Castel Brando - Italy
The most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen!
A forest by the castle - Italy
A forest by the castle

We ended our day cooking for Marco and his family before we set off for Venice and Rome. Nara made her specialty Russian salad (I miss this huhu). Trang cooked beef strips with pineapple chunks, paprika, and broccoli (Missing this girl’s cooking </3). And I cooked nilagang manok (Filipino boiled chicken soup).

Dinner time - Italy

A taste of heaven

After Venice and Rome, Trang and I came back to Farra di Soligo for our trip to the Dolomites!!! I was sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo excited! That’s a lot of o’s, I know. Our early morning road trip was amazing! Talk about good friends, good music, and good conversations. Okay, I think I’ve overused the word good. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Oops.

Road trip to the Dolomites - Italy
Seeing snow-capped mountains is one of the best things in the world! Ahhhhh

Trivia 5: One of Italy’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Dolomites, constitute the eastern part of the Alpine Mountain Range.

“The Dolomites have always had an enormous impact on the imagination of all those who have seen them. No one has remained immune to their extraordinary fascination, to the extent so that they are universally considered ‘the most beautiful mountains on Earth.’” (Source)

Dolomites - Italy
Yes, this is real.
Marco and Elsan, our tour guides - Italy
Marco and Elsan, our tour guides

Now, the challenge. Hiking in winter. At first, it was easy peasy, but as we progressed, I didn’t think I could make it to the top. But did I have a choice? NO. </3 I wanted to give up because my legs were telling me to do so, but I had to go on and push myself. I must admit, there were moments my heart skipped a beat just by looking at how high I was from where we took off. I have fear of heights, but I didn’t let that break me. That’s the spirit, right? Haha. After moments of doubt, I finally did it! I reached the top!!! The view??? SURREAL. INCREDIBLE. MAGICAL. What I used to see in movies, photographs, and paintings was there RIGHT BEFORE MY EYES!!! Did you ever have that moment when you feel your eyes glowing because of seeing something so beautiful for the first time? That happened to me. A lot of times.

“..since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive.” – The Pilgrimage (Paulo Coelho)

Dolomites - Italy
Not a painting at all

Dolomites - Italy

Dolomites - Italy
Background NOT photoshopped haha
One happy kid - Italy
One happy kid
Trying to model hahaha - Italy
Trying to model hahaha
Trang sleeping on a bed of snow.. - Italy
Trang sleeping on a bed of snow..
Dolomites - Italy
Oops……

The way down was kinda slippery, but nonetheless, fun. Having hot cocoa after that hike was a treat. Life’s good!

Why I love the Italian countryside

I think it’s natural for me to feel a strong love for the countryside because I was born in one. It gives me a sense of peace and belonging.

I don’t like crowded places. Hence, exploring the Veneto region, where there are definitely more locals than tourists, was extra splendid! Another good thing is you get to discover hidden gems! I feel a deeper sense of connection to places not a lot of people have been to, places not everyone is talking about. And of course, nothing beats the laid-back vibe, the alleys, the fascinating nature, and the terrific food and wine of the Italian countryside!

P.S. If you ever go to Italy, live with the locals. Your tummy will be happy with all the hearty food and overflowing wine. Not to mention, you get to learn some Italian too. 😛

 

The trio in Italy
Il trio in Italia ♡

 

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What’s not to love about ITALY?

My home away from home, my dream come true, oh Italia, ti amo tanto!

Funny how I used to be amazed by your beauty in photos and movies. Then, you suddenly became part of my reality.

If you’ve read my 1st post, you’d know how unforeseen/spontaneous my travels were!

I remember watching Eat, Pray, Love; Roman Holiday; and Lizzie McGuire the Movie (10x or more haha). They all intensified my desire to go to Italy. I used to tell myself that one day, I would also throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain (I did it!! It’s a beautiful fountain!!), eat authentic Italian pizza and pasta (+gelato!! THE BEST. JUST THE BEST!), ride a gondola in Venice (With random people, it was a fun experience haha), and ride a vespa in Rome (Still have to do this with my one true love haha).

2016-05-15 Pizza scene from Eat, Pray, Love Vespa scene from Roman Holiday  Trevi Fountain scene from Lizzie McGuire the Movie

It was January 2016 when I realized Italy was no longer a picture, no longer a movie, no longer a dream in my head.

Here’s the story: before we went on our separate ways, Nara (my Azerbaijani friend), Trang (my Vietnamese friend), and I decided to go on a trip to Italy. I was TOO EXCITED that I didn’t really think about how little money I had left. But thank goodness, I survived. Haha. Special thanks to promos, connections, friends, Couchsurfing, and Airbnb. Lol.

First stop, Milan.

Of course, I was looking forward to having a good Italian meal on our first night. Il Capatosta’s brickoven pizza paired with red wine did not disappoint…

Love at first bite
Love at first bite

However, I think NOTHING COMPARES to Fresco & Cimmino’s pizza and pasta!

Parmigiana pizza
Parmigiana pizza
Spaghetti alla Nerano
Spaghetti alla Nerano

I’m craving now.. </3

And last but not the least, Cioccolat Italiani’s gelato is just heaven. Nutella + vanilla + pistachio is the perfect combo.

OOH LALA
OOH LALA
Gelato in winter? No problem!
Gelato in winter? No problem!

Okay, enough about food..

Because of the limited time we had, we weren’t able to see much of Milan. Nonetheless, we made sure not to miss seeing the Duomo – one of the largest gothic cathedrals in the world! I remember studying this sacred structure in Art Appreciation class back in college. Seeing it in person made my jaw drop. Literally. What a magnificent work of art!

The Duomo as our background? No big deal.
The Duomo as our background? No big deal.
Staring at that beauty..
Staring at that beauty..

One of the things I will never forget about Milan is the night we partied. Believe me, I really didn’t want to, but I ended up having so much fun. Haha. Luckily, we found the right place- Tocqueville 13. The good mix of music was enough to make us dance (and sing) the night away!

Partying in Milan

Second stop, the Italian countryside.

Since this is my favorite, it deserves a separate post! To my favorite Italian, Marco, wait for it! :p

Third stop, Venice.

Italy - Venice

Out of the 3 cities we visited, Venice has got to be the most charming for me. The people, the alleys, the houses, the bridges, the gondolas, ahhhh, everything that makes up this city is lovely!!! Let these photos speak for themselves:

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San Marco Campanile

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Fourth stop, Rome.

We didn’t have enough time and money to visit the must-see places in Rome, so we just went our own way.

The Colosseum is stunning. And because we always have luck by our side, we weren’t able to see the inside since it was already closed.

Italy - The Colosseum
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

The largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most beautiful in the world is the Trevi Fountain!!! I told my girls how badly I wanted to see it so they covered my eyes while we were walking towards it. Haha. When I finally opened my eyes, I felt like I was in a dream. Yes, I’ve had too many dream-like moments in Europe.

Italy - Trevi Fountain
Isn’t it lovely?
Dad (in the middle) with his friends just chillin' by the Trevi Fountain back in the day
Dad (in the middle) with his friends just chillin’ by the Trevi Fountain back in the day
Look, daddy! I made it!!
Look, daddy! I made it!!

Legend says, when you throw a coin into the fountain, you’ll be back in Rome. Frankly, I threw a coin for the hell of it. I think I made a wish, but I’m not so sure what it was. Haha.

Rome at night is alluring. As we walked over the Ponte Sant’Angelo or “The Brigde of Angels”, I looked at each angel sculpture and remembered the angel figurines I used to collect as a kid; I smiled.

Italy - Bridge of Angels
Ponte Sant’Angelo at night
Italy - The Angel of Sponge
“Portaverunt me aceto”
Italy - street artist
A talented street artist who badly wants to go back to the 50’s

Rome was the last city that we visited together, the city where we had to say goodbye. As a souvenir, the three of us got a spray paint art that will remind us of Italy and the memories we made.

To my loves, Nara, Trang, and Marco, thank you for making this trip possible!

I have yet to see more of Italy, but for now, ARRIVEDERCI!

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I Truly Absolutely Love You.

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To my dearest friends from all over the world

Thank you. Gracias. Tak. Cảm ơn. Təşəkkür edirəm. Grazie. Obrigada. Terima kasih. Děkuji. Dziękuję. Salamat.

How are you? There’s never a day I don’t think about you. Sometimes I wish we live closer to each other- in the same continent, or better yet, in the same country. I miss us trying to learn a word or two in each other’s languages, us singing and dancing, us laughing at the silliest things, us doing crazy stuff without a care in the world, us engaging in talks that can go from weird to interesting, from funny to deep… There are so many things that I miss, and every day, I can only reminisce.

You told me things about your country that my Geography teacher didn’t. And for that, thank you. Not only did you widen my knowledge, but you made me realize There’s so many different worlds, so many different suns; and we have just one world, but we live in different ones..”

P.S. We think we already know a country after studying it in Geography class, reading about it in a magazine, checking it out on Google, etc. However, when you meet people from a country different from yours, you get to know the world better. You learn about a country from the perspective of a local. You ask questions. They help you understand. 

Thank you for sharing your culture and letting me share mine; for listening to my stories about our people, our history, our food, and of course, the things that make it “more fun in the Philippines.” Because of that, you made me appreciate the beauty of my homeland more. I have never been so proud of our diversity as much as I am now. I have never been so amazed of our 7,107 islands as much as I am now. I have never loved the Philippines as much as I love it now.

Thank you for reminding me that despite our differences, we have a common point. We listen to the same music. We watch the same movies. We read the same books. We find joy in the simplest things. We think the same way. Whatever it might be, it connects us.

Thank you for treating me like a sister, for taking care of me, for cooking for me, for making me feel at home, for laughing with me, for crying with me. Even though you don’t know much of my past, I feel you know my soul. You understand me in a different way. And despite being the ordinary person that I am, you made me feel so appreciated. Above all, thank you for making me feel loved.

The uncertainty of our paths crossing again saddens me, but despite that, remember that you’re a part of me and that will never change.

Love,

Rachael

Pondering/friends

 

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The Fulfillment of the Ultimate Travel Dream : Europe

Europe used to be a far far away dream – unreachable, uncertain. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I longed for it. Like a hopeless romantic longing for love, I waited every single day.. In reality, I worked hard for it. There were times I almost gave up, but my motivation was strong enough to keep me going. Paulo Coelho kept reminding me, “When you want something, the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” However, the victory is solely dependent on you.

Postcards! - Europe

So, the question is, why Europe?

There are so many reasons, and I just thought there was something in this part of the world that I had to see, know, and feel. Simply put, my heart told me to go. Hence, I followed it.

I went to Europe not for a vacation, but an internship. I thought it was the best way to learn and explore because I would immerse myself in a totally new environment and a culture that is undoubtedly different from mine. Well, I always want something more when I travel. I love challenge. I love cultural exchange. I love getting lost in translation (though sometimes, it’s too much haha).

I had 2 months to prepare for my trip. I ACTUALLY DID NOT EXPECT TO GET THAT INTERNSHIP SO SOON! I still remember that moment when I read that acceptance e-mail. I jumped off my seat and started screaming, smiling, and crying like a crazy little girl. I WAS VERY CLOSE TO FULFILLING MY ULTIMATE TRAVEL DREAM!!! Thoughts like “Am I dreaming?!” “Is this true?! “Am I really going to Europe? To EUROPE?!!!” filled my mind. Things went by so fast, and I had no time to waste.

If you come from a third-world country, you must know that getting a visa is not easy. However, because my internship was under a good international organization, I really didn’t have any problems. I got my visa after a few days *reminiscing that moment I opened my passport with a stamped Schengen visa (MY OH MY)*!! I thought I would already accept the fact that I was going to Europe after getting that visa, but I just couldn’t. It was too much for me to take in. Oh, emotions. Believe it or not, I was dreaming about being in Europe almost every night before the day of my departure! That’s how excited I was.

December 3, 2015 – oh what a sweet sweet date! It was time to leave the tropics for a while and experience real winter! Woohoo! Thank you to ukay-ukay (second-hand) shops for sponsoring my clothes. Haha! 😉 Now going back to the main story.. Well, it was my first time to travel solo to a place so far away from home. I was so excited and a bit scared (a good kind of scared). I think it was a right balance. After some hours of waiting, I happily boarded the plane bound for Amsterdam!!! *butterflies butterflies butterflies, lots of butterflies* I was so excited that I had a really hard time sleeping on the plane. However, I was pampered really well by KLM. By really well, I mean, they gave me really good food (the most important thing! haha just kidding.. or not.). *After 17 hours on the plane* We finally landed at Amsterdam airport! I cried tears of inexplicable happiness knowing I was in Europe already. I was very emotional, you see. After 5 hours of taking reality in at the airport, I boarded the plane bound for Prague!!! I was slowly trying to calm myself down… then boom, touchdown Prague! IT. WAS. FREAKING. COLD. Brrrr. I realized 10 degrees Celsius is not real cold. Anything below zero is. Beware, people of the Philippines. If you want don’t want to freeze, don’t underestimate European winter. If you’d have to look twice as big as you are wearing 3-4 layers of clothing, do it.

Praha/Prag/Prague. The City of a Hundred Spires - Europe
Praha/Prag/Prague. The City of a Hundred Spires

At the airport, I met my Polish friends! They brought me to Ostrava where I would have my internship. I never heard about this city before, actually. I just applied for the internship without minding where it would be. After doing a little research, I thought it was not a bad city at all. I know there are more waaay better cities in Europe, but I wasn’t too fancy about it. I was going to travel around Europe, anyway (P.S. I didn’t even plan to visit more than 2 countries, but I ended up visiting 7 including ITALIA– my dream come true!! Spontaneity is the key, people!).

We arrived at the dorm where I would be staying for the whole duration of the internship (3 months). I was sooooo tired and sleepy. I thought I would be able to sleep already, but no. I was welcomed with negative stories by the other interns. Hooray! It was my first night in Europe, and it was bad. However, that didn’t stop me to check out the internship for myself. I was surprised because I never heard a single bad internship story under the organization I signed up to. Maybe I was unfortunate or just failed to set the right perspective towards it. I had to be positive even though it was hard. I held on to my belief that better days were coming. 2 weeks had passed and my expectations toward the internship were not met at all. I pushed myself to give my best, but I lost the drive. I knew that the internship had to fail for me to learn. Because of that experience, I learned to set lower, or if possible, NEVER set expectations. And if not because of the new-found friends I met from all over the world, I wouldn’t have stayed longer.

First night out in Ostrava - Europe
First night out in Ostrava
Crazy good times - Europe
Crazy good times

I decided to shorten the internship to 1 month and started looking for another project. I wanted to do something interesting and fruitful before I leave Europe. So, after some time looking for a possibly good opportunity, I stumbled upon Angloville’s website. I applied as an English-speaking volunteer in Poland and unexpectedly got accepted! My experience with Angloville turned out to be very special. It was more than just an English camp. Then, all of a sudden, I knew why my first project did not work out.

Watch out for my post about my Angloville experience!

My Angloville family - Europe
My Angloville family

Now, I’ll share with you the TOUGHEST CHALLENGE I encountered in Europe. My friends and I went to Prague for the weekend before the holidays. We explored the city on a beautiful sunny day. It was an incredibly fun and amazing experience! C’mon, it’s Prague. Need I say more? Anyway, so the day was going really good. Come night time, a very unfortunate thing happened to me – I lost my wallet with all my bank cards, some money, and my IDs including…. *drum roll* my passport. I was too distracted by the beauty around me that I became so careless (lesson learned, mom). That night was terrible. I couldn’t stop crying, but my friends were there to support me no matter what. Kelly Clarkson also reminded me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Kidding aside, I was in an UNBELIEVABLY tough situation. However, I did not let that control me. I knew God was in control. I just had to put ALL my trust in Him. If I chose to be sad all the time, it wouldn’t solve the situation. So, I applied and paid for a new passport. That day started out very dull. I didn’t have much energy, but I kept pushing myself to take over my emotions. All of a sudden, things turned around. When my friend and I came back to the train station, the Philippine Embassy called me. They said SOMEONE WAS GOING TO RETURN MY PASSPORT THAT SAME DAY. I couldn’t believe how it happened. All I know is, it was a miracle! From tears of sadness, I cried tears of relief and gratefulness. It was the best Christmas gift.

Exploring Prague with my international chicas! - Europe
Exploring Prague with my international chicas!

Better days started coming. I spent a beautiful Christmas and a crazy New Year in Poland (watch out for it in another post!). Things were going really well that I got a bit afraid I would face another misfortune really soon. Haha. Luckily, just minor challenges like running for our lives to catch the tram/train/whatever mode of transportation there is and pushing/pulling/carrying heavy bags. Well, they’re all part of traveling! After spending the holidays in Poland, I had to go back to Ostrava and finish my internship. After the internship, my friends and I traveled to ITALY!!! We spent 1 day in Vienna where I fulfilled my fan girl dreams by visiting Café Sperl! Before Sunrise fans, you know what I mean. Then, off we went to the laid-back city that is Bratislava. From there, we flew to Milan. I WAS THE HAPPIEST KID IN THE WORLD THE MOMENT OUR PLANE LANDED! After Milan, we also visited Venice, Farra Di Soligo, and Rome! (my adventures in Italy) Then, I went to Spain, Germany, and back to Poland for Angloville.

Milan, Italy - Europe
Milan, Italy
On top of the world! - Europe
On top of the world!

This Europe trip made me experience a lot of firsts, good times, and even not so good ones. I saw snow for the very first time (YAAAAAAAY!), learned how to snowboard (amaaaaazingly fun!), climbed the Dolomites (superb!!!), learned words from different languages (fun!), slept on the floor/in the bus (not very fun), lost my wallet (definitely not fun), got scammed (not fun at all), ran for my life (challenging!), got sick (boring), washed my clothes in the tub just to save money (tiring), learned how to cook (interesting!), learned to value time more (oh yes), carried bags I thought were heavier than me (hated it), saw places I thought I could only see in my dreams (magical!), and the list goes on… One thing’s for certain, all these learnings and memories will always be with me wherever I go.

Jezioro Bystrzyckie, Poland - Europe
Jezioro Bystrzyckie, Poland

Coming back to the Philippines felt like a wake-up call. I did not want to wake up. I wanted to continue dreaming. However, I was left with no choice. Good things have to come to an end even if it’s against your favor. 40 minutes before boarding, and there I was looking back at each beautiful moment I had in Europe. I knew I was not going home as the same person who left 4 months ago. I’ve learned to live in the moment, to focus on the present.. Traveling changed me. People might not notice the change in me, but that’s okay. I know I can only share stories, but the experiences are mine to keep.

P.S. Europe is not a paradise, but it’s beautiful.

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