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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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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