My favorite place in Wrocław is Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island), the oldest part of the city. You can check out its history here.
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!
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?!
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.
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
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.
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!!!).
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.
And here are some photos from our mini field trip..
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!!
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…
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.
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.
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! ♡
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
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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)
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)
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).
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.
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)
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)
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. 😛
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).
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…
However, I think NOTHING COMPARES to Fresco & Cimmino’s pizza and pasta!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.