Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How do you fit your whole life in 2 luggages? (Thoughts on moving on)

I have always dreamt of working abroad, of living abroad. One time I asked a college professor of mine (who claimed to be clairvoyant) if I will ever be able to work abroad. He said only for a vacation, for a short time. I was disappointed to hear that but I tried to be optimistic and thought that's better than not being able to travel outside my country at all.

photo from the book "moving on"

9 years later. After 2 H1Bs (work visa) stamped on my passport, one Italian employer job offer and in between deciding if I should go to Singapore or New Zealand, my time came. It was year 2007. The time I was 98% sure I'm leaving because I have my 2nd H1B visa stamped on my passport (first one was 1999) and a plane ticket in hand. It was the time I was faced with some important decisions - what to leave behind.

The problem is, even without trying, I always accumulate so much stuff over time. So choices will have to be made and some stuff will have to be left behind, but which stuff? I have to fit my whole life in two luggages, with a maximum weight of 50 lbs (or 23 kg) each and a maximum dimension total of 62 inches (or 157 cm) each. How the heck am I gonna do that. My shoes and books would already occupy one luggage each (and maybe more).

I started packing the basic stuff. Business clothes & formal attire with matching shoes. Some technical books that I really need to bring with me. Some casual clothes and lounge clothes with matching shoes/slippers. The rest I can just buy from there. Easy,  right?


What do you do with items of sentimental value? I suddenly found myself staring at boxes after boxes of letters and greeting cards and photos and books and souvenirs and all kinds of knick-knacks that someone gave me and means so much to me.  How do you know which ones to take with you and which ones to leave behind?

What do I do with the letters I got since I was in high school. Letters from classmates thanking me for helping them with their math assignments or someone thanking me for giving her an idea for a good title for her biography project. How about pictures of friends with dedications at the back. You know, J-A-P-A-N (just always pray at night), C-E-B-U (change everything but us), and all those mushy gushy girly stuff that still puts a smile on my face whenever I read them. How about the first love letter I received and all the other "from your secret admirers" notes folded origami-like that I have somehow kept. Of course there are these one box of letters and greeting cards and pictures I have kept and have meticulously labeled from a long time college pen pal MB that I really connected with and thought I would end up with (he suddenly disappeared). There's more, I also have a box of letters and greeting cards, and some tiny knick-knacks and dried flowers and even dried leaves, I received from the first boyfriend to the 2nd boyfriend of 7 years. I also have boxes of diaries after diaries after diaries. Some of them were even written on secret codes that only I can understand (it's a good thing though, that I kept and remembered where I hid the code cracker). These might sound just petty little things, unimportant things, but to me they're not but I can't bring all those boxes with me or at least I have to decide which ones I'll take along.

This is pretty much the same as moving forward with your life's journey. You have accumulated lots of memories, stories, and a few grudges here and there but there would come a time in your life when it's time to purge them out from your system and move on but where do you start?

I remember this analogy I read somewhere, I think it's from Joel Osteen (but I'm not positive because I've read too many versions already)  about a car's rear view mirror versus the windshield.

There’s a reason why the windshield of a car is so much bigger than the rear view mirror and that is, what’s in front of us is much more important than what’s behind us. We cannot move forward looking at the rear view mirror. If we take this rear view mirror vs windshield as an analogy to our life's journey, it just simply says our past isn't as important as our future. Have you ever experienced looking too long on the rear view mirror that you almost hit the car in front of you? Same deal. We can look at our past from time to time but one shouldn't dwell on it too long or we'll screw up our future.

Sometimes we start blaming the past for what we have become and start making that as an excuse not to grow. Somehow, we succumb to this sadomasochistic, self-pity approach that we still like to play the bitter past in our mind like a broken record and all for what?

I am guilty of thinking about the past and dwelling on it that I sometimes end up drowning  with  could-have-beens and might-have-beens. It wasn't a good feeling. That's a very potent ingredient for insecurity.  Not to toot my own horn but I am not one for staying low for too long. When the rubber hits the road, when push turns to shove I learn to just let go. I have to. For myself. For my family.

So I forced myself to start the de-cluttering process. Both literally and figuratively. It was actually therapeutic. You start to realize that the stuff you thought is important to you wasn't really that important at all. I did have some bouts of sentimental breakdowns and crying spells on some of the items or letters that I found and I won't lie, it wasn't easy to decide whether or not I'll take them with me or not. I have one tip though, when I'm faced with situations like that, I would step away, do something else, walk, eat,  sleep, whatever and then come back and see if I still feel the same way.

Things are things and if it's really that important then those shouldn't be sitting on some dusty shelf or an old box. It should be on a frame or special glass cabinets. If you think it's worth the trouble of framing them or building a custom-cabinet then keep it,  but if you're fine with it sitting on an old tattered, moldy box, then just give yourself a favor and throw it away. Because that just means you really don't care too much for it than you thought you do.

Moving to another country is like starting on a clean slate and de-cluttering is the first huge step and when I was done, I have a new box in front of me and it's labeled "time to move on" box. It was fun glancing at the past but I also need to give room for the future. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful for the past, because it molded me how I am, what I am right now and what I will become in the future but it's time to let go.

I remember our clutter-control instructor who said something like: people who are holding on to clutter (memorabilias, souvenirs, old stuff given by so and so) are afraid of facing the future.

That wouldn't be me.

And so I left my home for another country. 8539.01 miles away. Carrying my whole life in two  luggages....

and a hand carry.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Celebrity Cruise Part 1: The Excursions

The hubby and I didn't have a proper honeymoon yet. The El Nido Resorts? Nah, we have the sister-in-law and bestman with us so we really didn't got to enjoy it that much. We're not saying we didn't enjoy El Nido, per se. El Nido is a wonderful wonderful place and we somehow got a day all to ourselves doing more island hopping tours but we were still a little bit stressed out during that trip. It's hard to go on a honeymoon when you have family members and foreign guests to think about.


It took us a while to finally book our honeymoon cruise because I had to save. Our travel arrangement is, since we both have fairly good jobs, that we always need to split the bill and the hubby takes care of the incidentals. So I had to pay for my share of the cruise package including the excursions, my airfare and my beverage package. I got the Premium non-alcoholic beverage so I could have my soda, smoothies and cappuccino, which I regret doing. I should have just done ala carte (i'll post more about that when I wrote my Celebrity Cruise Part 2: Food and more Food blog). The hubby took care of the dinners/lunches outside the cruise ship and other tours that we didn't book from the Celebrity Cruises. He also took care of the 4 Specialty Restaurant package. 

the sticker indicates that i purchased
a non-alcoholic beverage package

So anyway, for our honeymoon cruise we chose the 12 Night Eastern Mediterranean and Greek Isles Cruise (Aqua Class) from

The sail date was September 3 in Civitavecchia port in Rome but we booked a pre-cruise arrangement which is a 2 nights/3 days accommodation in the center of Rome (Empire Palace Hotel) with transportation arrangement from the airport to our hotel then from our hotel to the port where our ship would sail from.

We flew from Newark airport on August 31, and we got lucky to get upgraded from Premium Economy to Business Class (aka Club Class from British Airways), of course the hubby was very thrilled, lol.  Well, I am too, because I got to sleep on that 6-hour long flight to London. Dressing up nicely really pays off sometimes. Then we had a short layover in London then off to Rome we flew. We arrived in Rome on September 1 around noon.

British Airways' Business Class seats

The only hassle we encountered was the long line at the immigration booth, but that's a given. Then we went to the baggage area to retrieve our luggage but to our surprise someone from Celebrity Cruise had already picked up for us, cool! She said she thought we missed our flight because she was waiting for us at the luggage area and no sign of us but when she saw the Celebrity Cruise tags attached to our luggages that's when she knew we are at the airport somewhere already. Boy, was I glad we attached that tag, we were thinking of attaching that not til  the sail date. So people, when you read from your Cruise Guest booklet saying you need to put the luggage tag on your luggage even before you leave home, just do it.

We were actually surprised someone from the cruise was at the airport to greet us. We thought we're on our own since it's a pre-cruise arrangement but apprarently they were there from day 1. There's even someone from the hotel who was doing some of the hotel paperwork for us and  helping us give instructions to the bell hopper in Italian. Just awesome.

our cruise ship

If you're curious how the inside looks like below is the video. Otherwise, you can continue scrolling down to see the list of places the crusise went to and the excursions we joined.

The cities we visited for our 12 night Mediterranean Cruise are below (or you can find the complete IT here):

Day 1 Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy 5:00 PM
Day 2Naples, Italy Docked 7:00 AM 6:30 PM
Day 3Valletta, Malta Docked 1:00 PM 10:00 PM
Day 4 At Sea
Day 5 Athens (Piraeus), Greece Docked6:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 6 Mykonos, Greece Tendered 7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 7 Ephesus (Kusadasi), Turkey Docked7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 8Rhodes, Greece Docked 9:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 9 Santorini, Greece Tendered7:00 AM 6:00 PM
Day 10Chania (Souda),Crete, Greece Docked 7:00 AM 3:00 PM
Day 11At Sea
Day 12Venice, Italy Docked9:00 AM
Day 13 Venice, Italy

Celebrity Cruise offers a lot of choices when it comes to excursions that it was really hard to choose but we managed and below are the descriptions of the excursions we chose per port/city. We also did some on our own like while when we were in Rome (we booked the VIP tour of the Colosseum which takes you to forbidden places, we also climbed on top of the St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican, more about this on a detailed per city blog)  and while in Santorini and Mykonos. I'll be writing separate posts about each of these places, because they are all amazing and unique. Also so that I could post more photos of each of them and share some trivias, but meanwhile here are the descriptions of the excursions we joined from Celebrity Cruise's or did on our own. The blue texts are from their website.

Rome (Civitavecchia)
i've always wanted to take a night shot of the colloseo
finally, i was able to!

The port of departure was Civitavecchia in Rome so we had to fly from Philadelphia to Rome. Like I mentioned earlier, we didn't sail until September 3 but we decided to book some pre-cruise arrangement so we flew to Rome 2 days early.

We pretty much did our own thing when we were in Rome. It was our second time in Rome, the first time was Christmas of 2010 so we kinda know where we want to go and we did discover a few more places. I will elaborate more on this when I finished my Italy for the second time blog.

Athens (Piraeus)
The Karyatides statues of the Erechtheion on its Acropolis.

OVERVIEW: The highlight of this tour is one of the most recognizable monuments in the world, the Acropolis. 

HIGHLIGHTS: Enjoy a panoramic tour past Hadrian's Arch,Temple of Olympian Zeus, and Parliament Building. At the Acropolis and Parthenon, enjoy a guided tour to see the architectural masterpieces of the Golden Age of Greece. NOTES: Guests must be able to walk approximately 1.5 miles over steep inclines, approximately 200 steps and uneven surfaces. At the end of the tour, there will be an optional drop-off at Melina Mercouri Statue in Athens for independent shopping and guests will make their own way back to the ship.

Experience a guided tour of Greece's largest and most impressive site, the Acropolis, to see the architectural masterpieces of the Golden Age of Greece.

being the geek that we are, we made sure we see the
the antikythera mechanism with our own eyes, which is said to be the first computer
(2000 year old computer at that) and  that is rumored to be one of archimedes' invention

-Acropolis and Parthenon: Enjoy a guided tour of Greece's largest and most impressive temple
-Panoramic tour past the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian's Arch, National Gardens, National Library and Parliament Building, and Panathinion Stadium
-Optional drop-off in Constitution Square for shopping (return to ship is at your own expense)

Full Description:
Begin your half-day tour with a drive from the pier in Piraeus to Athens city center. Piraeus is the ancient name of the harbor created in the early 5th century BC.

Today it is the main port for the Greek capital city, Athens. Approximately five million cruise ship and ferry passengers pass through the busy port annually.

Driving through the suburbs along Syngrou Avenue, you will see some of the most famous sites including the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest Corinthian style templein Greece, taking over 700 years to build. Hadrian's Arch separates the old and new Roman towns. Other sites include the National Gardens, the National Library and the Parliament Building, formerly the Royal Palace. The Panathinion Stadium, built in 1895, was the site of the first modern Olympics held in 1896.

The tour highlight is a visit of the Acropolis to see the architectural masterpieces of the Golden Age of Greece, all built in the latter part of the 5th century BC.Climb the winding pathway and approximately 100 steps that lead to the top of the famous hill. See the Propylea Entrance, the Erectheum, the Temple of Wingless

Victory, and, the crowning glory of Athens, the incomparable Parthenon. Dedicated to Athena, the patron goddess of Athens, it is Greece's largest and most impressive temple. Time permitting; guests will have approximately 15 minutes for souvenir shopping in the shops below the Acropolis.

At the conclusion of the guided tour, you may remain on the coach for the return to the port or exit the tour at Melina Mercouri Statue, for shopping or independent exploration, and return to the ship independently (at your own expense).

We wander around Plaka market and went to the Archeological Museum of Athens to see the antikythera mechanism on our own

Real Crete
Chania (Souda)
OVERVIEW: Enjoy a cultural tour that includes the extensive ruins of the ancient city of Aptera as well as the villages of Georgioupolis and Gavalochori. 

Start your tour with a short photo stop at the ancient ruins of Aptera. Enjoy a short guided tour of Georgioupolis and some free time in the traditional Cretan village of Gavalochori. You'll have some free time to explore Chania Town before returning to the ship.NOTES: Guests must be able to walk approximately 1 mile over various surfaces and cobblestone streets with inclines a few steps. If guests should miss the return bus, transportation back to the vessel is their own responsibility & expense.

Cretan village of Gavalochori

Enjoy a cultural tour that includes the extensive ruins of the ancient city of Aptera as well as the villages of Georgioupolis and Gavalochori.

-Aptera: Photo stop at the ancient ruins
-Georgioupolis: Enjoy a short guided tour and some free time
-Gavalochori: Free time in the traditional Cretan village
-Chania Town: Free time to explore before returning to the ship

Full Description:
Your tour begins with a photo stop at the extensive ruins of the ancient city of Aptera which can be found above the entrance to the great harbor of Souda, where the town of Paleokastro stands today.  According to tradition, the name Aptera is derived from the Apteron King of Crete who is said to have lived in the time of Moses, around 1800 BC.

Your tour continues to the village of Georgioupolis where you’ll enjoy a short guided tour and some free time to explore.  The village was founded in a grove of green trees at the mouth of the Almyros River. Georgioupolis has a small port which is used by the local fishermen. You will also visit Gavalochori, another very old, traditional Cretan village which has an interesting history. The population is around 350 but the number swells during the summer months.

You will have the opportunity explore in Chania Town at your own pace before you return to the port.

What to Bring:
-You should always take your SeaPass card (provided onboard ship) and photo identification when in port
-You will need Euros and/or credit cards for any purchases (foreign currencies are not accepted).

What to Wear:
-Hats, sunscreen and other forms of sun protection are highly recommended.
-Comfortable walking shoes are also recommended.

Important Notes:
-Guests must be able to walk approximately 1 mile over various surfaces and cobblestone streets with inclines a few steps.
-If guests should miss the return bus, transportation back to the vessel is their own responsibility and at their own expense.
-The return drive from Gavalochori to Souda Port is approximately 45 minutes, dependent upon traffic conditions.
-The shopping hours and closure dates should be reviewed in the introduction section of Chania, Greece.

Ephesian Modus Vivandi KD28 
Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey
library of celsius at ephesus, turkey
 OVERVIEW: This tour offers a complete perspective about the Ancient City of Ephesus and the Roman way of living.

HIGHLIGHTS: In Ephesus, see the Magnesia Gate, Odeon,Fountain of Trajan, Temple of Hadrian, Library of Celsius, Grand Theater, and the Arcadian Way. Explore the Terrace Houses known as "the houses of rich" and visit St.

John's Basilica. Enjoy a Roman feast for lunch as well as a carpet presentation and time to shop.NOTES: Guests must be able to walk approx. 1.5 miles and and this touris not recommended for guests with walking difficulties or using a wheelchair. Guests must walk across scaffolding with Plexiglas flooring at the Terrace Houses

This tour offers you a complete perspective about the Ancient City of Ephesus and the Roman way of living.  You’ll also enjoy a Roman feast for lunch and a carpet demonstration on the history of Roman carpets and handicrafts.

-Ruins of Ephesus: See the Magnesia Gate, Odeon, the Fountain of Trajan, Temple of Hadrian, and the Library of Celsius, Grand Theater, and the Arcadian Way.
-Terrace Houses: See the houses of the rich dating back to the 1st century BC
-Ephesus Archaeological Museum: See the 9 exhibits tracing the religious and chronological history of the ancient city.
-Lunch: Enjoy a Roman feast featuring food which pertains to the golden ages of Ephesus.
-Enjoy a brief carpet presentation and time to shop.

Ancient Delos MK01 
Mykonos, Greece
charming little corridors of outside
OVERVIEW: The importance of Greece's once religious center of the entire Aegean Sea is sure to form a lasting impression as you experience a guided walking tour of the ancient Delos. Arrive on this uninhabited island by boat to explore the significant archeological ruins and enjoy the unforgettable views of the Cyclades archipelago.HIGHLIGHTS: Visit Delos and the scenic Cyclades archipelago by boat and on a guided walking tour. See the Temple of Apollo and the dried lake with the palm tree among its most renowned sites.NOTES: Guests must be able to walk and stand for approximately 2 hours over varying terrain. No shops or stores are available on Delos Island

The importance of Greece's once religious center of the entire Aegean Sea is sure to form a lasting impression as you experience a guided walking tour of the ancient

Delos. Arrive on this uninhabited island by boat to explore the significant archeological ruins and enjoy the unforgettable views of the Cyclades archipelago.

- Delos: Visit this important archeological site and former religious center of the Aegean Sea
- Scenic boat ride: Enjoy an approximately 30 minute ride from Mykonos to Delos Island and back

the naxian lions terrace of delos

Full Description:
The small, uninhabited island of Delos was once the religious center of the Aegean Sea. According to mythology, Delos was the birthplace of Apollo, the god of sun, light, music, harmony, and beauty. According to revelations of 19th century excavations, Delos prospered for centuries due to its strategic position within the trade routes of the Aegean. Today, its archaeological ruins stand as one of the most important historical sites in Greece.

After joining the tour at your ship, depart from the pier by bus to the shuttle station where your guide will lead you on a 10 minute walk to the Mykonos port. A local boat will be waiting to take you on the 30 minute ride to the west side of Delos Island, which leads directly to the entrance of the archaeological site. Enjoy a guided walk into the heart of the sanctuary where you will see the Temple of Apollo, monuments famous for their history and architectural styles, the famous dried lake with the palm tree. After a short rest stop, continue towards the terrace of the foreign gods. Pause for a moment with your camera for an unforgettable view of the archipelago. Pass through the theater and walk into the famous Hellenistic mansions of Delos with their superb mosaics decorating the floors and walls.

windmills of mykonos

Following your tour in Delos, your boat will be waiting to return you to the harbor in Mykonos. At the conclusion of your scenic Aegean boat ride, your guide will lead you to the shuttle station where you will return by bus to the ship.

What to Bring:
-You should always take your SeaPass card (provided onboard the ship) and photo identification when in port

What to Wear:
-Flat-soled, comfortable walking shoes are highly recommended.
-During summer, hats and other forms of sun protection are highly recommended.
-Umbrellas and jackets are recommended when visiting from the end of September.

Important Notes:
-Guests must be able to walk and stand for approximately 2 hours over varying terrain.
-Participants will be required to walk approximately 10 minutes from the town shuttle station to the pier (or vice versa) to board the ferry bound to/from Delos since the greater portion of Mykonos is in a pedestrian-only zone.
- No shops or stores are available on Delos Island; however in Mykonos town, you will find plenty of shops, stores, tavernas, restaurants, and boutiques. Kindly note after that mid-October, many shops in town are closed.
-Due to adverse weather and sea conditions during the month of November, the Delos tour may be cancelled if weather conditions are unfavorable.

Capri, Sorrento & Pompeii NP02 
Naples, Italy

the signature rocks of capri
OVERVIEW: See the highlights of Italy's southern gateway - from an ancient city's ruins to a breathtaking coastal town and an idyllic resort isle.

HIGHLIGHTS: Take a boat to Capri to shop and explore. Visit Sorrento for lunch at a typical restaurant and finally it's on to explore the ancient ruins of Pompeii, an archaeological wonder preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 

NOTES: There is extensive walking involved over cobblestones and uneven ground in Pompeii (1.5 miles) and approximately 1 mile of walking over cobblestone surfaces in Capri. Guests will be on their feet up to 90 minutes at any given time. Pompeii and the funicular in Capri are not wheelchair accessible.

Activity Type: Sightseeing
Activity Level: Strenuous

See the highlights of Italy’s southern gateway - from an ancient city’s ruins to a breathtaking coastal town and an idyllic resort isle. Departing from Naples, you’ll take a boat to Capri for shopping or a stop at the Gardens of Augustus. You’ll visit Sorrento for lunch at a typical restaurant and finally it’s on to explore the ancient ruins of Pompeii.

quaint town of sorrento

- Capri Town: Take a 50 minute boat trip and then the funicular ride up to town for exploration and shopping
- Sorrento: Stroll through one of the most beautiful towns in Italy
- Pompeii: Explore an archaeological wonder preserved by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius
- Lunch with a flute of Italian champagne and house wine will be served at a typical restaurant or hotel.

Full Description:
Stroll to the jetfoil terminal and take a 50 minute ride to Capri. From the dock at Marina Grande, you will ride the funicular up the terrace to Capri Town. The view overlooks the marina and the Sorrento Peninsular. Capri has become very commercial in recent years, but you will enjoy visiting La Piazzetta, the heart of the shopping and nightclub area. You can wander through the narrow streets and explore the shops and sights. Time permitting; visit the beautiful Augustus Gardens, overlooking the famous Faraglioni of Capri and Marina Piccola. You’ll then return to the marina by funicular and travel by boat back to the mainland.

pompeii ruins and mt. vesuvius in the background

Driving south, the next stop is the fabled town of Sorrento. Legend states it was the Sirens of Sorrento who attempted to lure Ulysses onto the rocks. Lunch will be served at a typical restaurant or hotel, with a flute of Italian champagne and house wine. After lunch, board your coach for the one hour drive to Pompeii.

This ancient Roman town sits at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. The archaeological site is considered to be the world's finest example of what life was like in a Roman town. In 79 AD, the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii under 20 feet of ash and pumice stone, destroying, yet preserving the entire city. During the walking tour of the ruins, admire the mansions and art of wealthy patricians who moved to Pompeii to escape the turmoil of Rome. View countless paintings, inscriptions and streets with raised pavements on either side. At intersections, you’ll see stepping-stones which ensured pedestrians a safe crossing. This prosperous Roman city had an extensive forum, lavish baths, temples, and villas richly decorated with frescoes. Excavations have revealed details of everyday life such as wine jars, still setting on the counter of the wine shop.

its really  kinda eerie looking at these around the pompeii ruins

Time permitting; a stop will be made at a cameo factory, where you will learn about the delicate art of cameo carving and have an opportunity to purchase some of the handicrafts.

Journey To Lindos RH05 
Rhodes, Greece

acropolis at lindos, greece
 Travel just 1 hour from Rhodes to the ruins of a once-power ancient city. Your guide will lead the climb up to the Acropolis, the temple that offers commanding views of the coastline and of the bay where the Apostle St. Paul is said to have taken shelter from a storm. Includes free time in the town.

NOTES: The village of Lindos is pedestrian-only; you will be required to walk 1 mile over even and cobblestone surfaces built on an incline.
Activity Type: Sightseeing
Activity Level: Strenuous

This tour covers one of the highlights of this region, the Acropolis with views of the bay where the apostle Paul is said to have landed, and the once powerful ancient city of Lindos.

Scenic drive: Relax on a ride through picturesque Rhodes with commentary
Lindos: Enjoy panoramic views from the Acropolis and a guided walking tour of the town of Lindos

Full Description:
Your tour will begin with a scenic drive past the walls of Old Rhodes and through the modern city. Continuing your journey southward along the coast, you will observe picturesque villages, orange and lemon groves, vineyards, and gnarled old olive trees. The once powerful ancient city of Lindos is located on the island’s eastern shoreline, 47 kilometers from the city of Rhodes. The 4th century BC Doric Temple of Athena Linda, a double-winged portico, a Byzantine church and the fortifications of the Knights, including the remains of the Governor's quarters, dominate the Acropolis. Once you've climbed to the top of the Acropolis, enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding coast, including St. Paul's Bay where the apostle is said to have landed.

coast of lindos, greece
Below the Acropolis, you will see the old, whitewashed houses and the narrow streets of this most delightful town. Its beauty has inspired artists and writers for many years. Follow your guide on a walk to the town of Lindos where you will find many little shops selling the most attractive souvenirs, such as small ceramic items or beautiful crocheted linen. At the conclusion of your time in Lindos, return to the pier in Rhodes via the same picturesque route.

What to Bring:
-You should always take your SeaPass card (provided onboard the ship) and photo identification when in port
- You will need Euros and/or credit cards for any purchases (foreign currencies are not accepted).

What to Wear:
- Comfortable walking shoes, hat and plenty of sunscreen are recommended.

Important Notes:
- The village of Lindos is pedestrian-only; you will be required to walk 1 mile over even and cobblestone surfaces built on an incline.
-To reach the Lindos Acropolis, you must climb 292 steps.
-You may be required to wait in long lines to enter some of the popular sites. Guests with any physical restrictions are kindly requested to take this into consideration.
-Tour buses park in the upper level parking lot. Kindly note that the walk downhill and return uphill is approximately 300 yards. During high season, a small bus makes round trip transfers for guests with limited mobility.
-The drive to/from Rhodes is approximately 1 hour each way, dependent upon traffic conditions.
-Time permitting you will have a short stop at a ceramic factory on the way back from Lindos.

Island of Santorini & Village of Oia SO01 
Santorini, Greece

oia, santorini by yours truly
Discover classic landscapes and architecture on a half-day tour to the northernmost point of the island. Clifftop Oia charms with its brilliant, white stone buildings and churches, unique shops, and dramatic vistas. On the return, stop at a winery for a tasting. You may opt to remain Fira after the tour for independent exploration.

NOTES: Guests must be able to walk approximately 1 mile over uneven surfaces, steep inclines and 20 - 30 steps.
Activity Type: Sightseeing, Culinary
Activity Level: Moderate

Enjoy this opportunity to stroll through the beautiful village of Oia with its brilliant white stone buildings, panoramic vistas and charming stores and art galleries.

You’ll also have a chance to taste Greek mezes and locally produced wine.

-Oia: Stroll through this beautiful village with its white stone buildings that create a maze of ships, cafes and churches
-Winery visit: Taste locally produced wine and Greek mezes, see the bodega where wine is aged

Full Description:
Begin your half day adventure with a short tender ride from the ship to the port of Athinios, where your coach will begin its ascent 800 feet to the top of the caldera. Your guide will provide commentary on the active volcanic islet in Santorini Bay and discuss the geological upheavals which gave the island its overwhelming and unique form.  Ride past picturesque scenery and small villages from the southern to the northern ends of the island of Santorini, travelling across rich, volcanic countryside to the village of Oia.

fira, santorini - this we did on our own

The beautiful village of Oia is perched atop a craggy cliff at the northernmost point of the island offering panoramic views of steep plummeting cliffs and small islands surrounded by the deep blue sea. While walking through the village, enjoy the panoramic views, admire the Cycladic architecture for which the town is well known, and visit many of the art galleries. Experience the charm of this traditional and remote village on its narrow, twisting cobblestone alleyways and steps, along with the brilliant white stone buildings that create a maze of fine shops, cafes and domed churches.

After visiting Oia, continue to a local winery to taste Greek mezes and wine while enjoying the magnificent views. Visit the bodega where the wine is aged and purchase some of the locally produced wines if you wish.

Following your wine tasting, your tour proceeds to the hilltop village of Fira, where your escort will lead you past Mitropolis church to the pedestrian zone where you'll have the option to return directly to the ship or remain in town for shopping or independent exploration. The charm of this lovely cliff-top village lies in its narrow, twisting cobblestone paths that cater to pedestrians only. From Fira, receive a ticket and join the cable car independently for descent to the tender port below. Return by tender to the ship which will be anchored offshore.

What to Bring:
-You should always take your SeaPass card (provided onboard the ship) and photo identification when in port
- You will need Euros and/or credit cards for purchases (foreign currencies are not accepted).

What to Wear:
-Comfortable walking shoes
-Hat and plenty of sunscreen are recommended.

Important Notes:
- Guests must be able to walk approximately 1 mile over uneven surfaces, steep inclines and 20 - 30 steps. - Guests must be able to walk 0.5 mile in Fira on their own in order to reach the cable car.
-At the end of the tour, there is a distance of uphill walking of approximately 150 yards to Mitropolis church.
- A one way cable car ticket to transfer from Fira to the tender loading station is included in the return portion of your trip. Waiting and queuing time are expected to enter the cable car station.
- Due to occasional low level fog, visibility may be impacted.
- Please note that in October and November some stores in Fira are closed.

Additional: We just did a half day tour and after which we kinda stayed around Fira for the rest of the afternoon before going back to our ship. More on this on my Santorini blog.

Mdina & Historic Valletta VT01 
Valletta, Malta

i am so inlove with mdina, malta

Explore Malta's historic splendors of Malta in two walled cities. The former capital of Mdina, in the middle of the island, is a medieval town whose heritages dates to the ancient Phoenicians. In Valletta, see landmarks such as the Upper Barracca Gardens, St. John's Co-Cathedral and the Magisterial Palace. 

NOTES: Guests must be able to walk approx. 1 mile over even and cobblestone surfaces in each city. Guests will have to navigate approx. 40 steps at the cathedral and palace. In order to enter the cathedral, respectful attire which covers shoulders and knees.
Activity Type: Sightseeing
Activity Level: Strenuous

this narrow medieval streets of mdina, malta makes
you feel like you went back in time

Visit the ancient walled cities of Mdina and Valletta as you step back into the time of the Knights of Malta.

-Enjoy a walking tour of the city of Mdina with its palazzi, bastions and churches including the Old Cathedral (exterior view)
-Tour the walled city of Valletta including the Upper Barracca Gardens, St. John's Co-Cathedral and the Magisterial Palace

Full Description:
Leave the harbor front and travel through the beautiful island on your way to the city of Mdina, one of the few remaining fortified medieval cities in the Mediterranean. You'll be escorted on foot through this former capital which has played a key role in the island's history for more than 1,500 years. You’ll see the impressive palazzi and churches. You’ll stroll to the bastions and admire the stunning view of the surrounding countryside. You’ll also have the opportunity to admire from the outside the 9th century Old Cathedral with its imposing facade. Time permitting; you will have approximately 30 minutes for shopping and browsing in Mdina.

one of the closed windows of mdina, malta

Rejoin your coach for the drive back to Valletta. You'll proceed on foot with your guide to visit the main sites of the city. You'll stop at Valletta's Upper Barracca Gardens for a panoramic view of the island's natural harbor. From this vantage point, you'll also see the fortified cities of Senglea, Cospicua and Vittoriosa. A visit is made to St. John's Co-Cathedral. Together with its striking interior, the church also contains Malta's finest art treasures. In the oratory of the cathedral, you’ll see Caravaggio's famous 1608 painting; “The Beheading of St. John”. With their headstones lining the church floor, today the cathedral is the final resting place for many of the Knights of Malta. Your tour continues on to the Magisterial Palace, the former residence of the Grand Masters of the Order. You'll visit the Tapestry

Chamber and the State Rooms, displaying period furnishings and artwork.

What to Bring:
-You should always take your SeaPass card (provided onboard ship) and photo identification when in port

What to Wear:
-Comfortable walking shoes are strongly recommended.
-Hats and other forms of sun protection are highly recommended.
-In order to enter the cathedral, respectful attire which covers shoulders and knees should be worn.

Important Notes:
-In Valletta, guests must be able to walk approximately 1 mile over even and cobblestone surfaces. Guests will have to navigate approximately 40 steps at the Cathedral and Palace. Mdina requires approximately 1 mile of walking over cobblestone streets.
-No vehicles are allowed in Mdina; therefore, this is a guided walking tour.
-Occasionally St. John’s Co-Cathedral  may be closed due to religious functions.
-If the Magisterial Palace is closed due to official functions, the Palace Armory or National Museum of Archaeology will be substituted.
-To avoid congestion at the venues, tour order may vary.

Murano Glass & Burano Lace VE08 

Venice, Italy

Get away from the crowds of the main sights in Venice and tour the lagoon by boat. Cruise north to the enchanting island of Murano, where you can watch artisans engaged in the timeless art of glass blowing. You'll also visit Burano, a series of four tiny islands connected by bridges, that are famous for its lace makers and brightly painted homes. 

NOTES: This excursion is not recommended to guests with limited mobility or wheelchairs. This excursion involves moderate walking (1 mile) over cobblestone surfaces with several steps (160) inside the glass factory on Murano Island and during the walk on Burano Island.
Activity Type: Sightseeing
Activity Level: Moderate

Escape the frantic pace of Venice with a tour to two of the Venetian Lagoon’s most enchanting islands, Murano and Burano, and experience the timeless arts of glass blowing and lace making.

- Panoramic cruise: Pass the northern Venetian Lagoon via private motorboat
- Murano Island: Glassblowing demonstration and shopping at a local glass factory
- Burano Island: Stroll and shopping opportunity

Full description:
Your tour begins with a visit to a traditional Italian glass factory on the island of Murano, home to a centuries-old tradition of glass making. Once an exclusive product of Venice, glass production moved to Murano in 1291 when furnaces were banned from the city for fire prevention. The artisans have developed a unique style and world-famous reputation for producing blown glass. Your guide will lead you to one of the factories where you will have the opportunity to observe the Maestri at work during a glass blowing demonstration. At the conclusion of the demonstration, there will be an opportunity to browse the enticing display rooms where items may also be purchased.

You will then proceed by boat to Burano Island, and step ashore for a visit to this charming island, well known for lace making, fishing, and boat building. While describing the island, your guide will lead you on a stroll through the narrow streets cheerfully decorated with brightly painted houses. At the conclusion of your
tour, you will have the opportunity to purchase lace as you pass the vendors lining the path near Piazza Galuppi,

What to Bring:
-You should take your Seas Pass card (provided onboard the ship) and photo identification when in port
-Camera and local currency (Euros).
-Sun protection and sunglasses during summer season.

What to Wear:
-Flat-soled comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
-During summer, hats and other forms of sun protection are highly recommended.

Important Notes:
-This excursion is not recommended to guests with limited mobility or wheelchairs.
-Guests will be required to embark and disembark a vessel that sits low in the water.
-This excursion involves moderate walking (1 mile) over cobblestone surfaces with several steps (160) inside the glass factory on Murano Island and during the walk on

Burano Island.
-Restroom facilities are located inside the glass factory in Murano. No toilets are available inside the motorboats.
-The order of the sites visited may vary.

We also did Venice on our own. Since it was our second time in Venice we kinda know our way around and didn't have to book a tour and toured around on our own. Again, I'll elaborate more on my Italy for the Second time blog.

this is the kind of traffic jam that i would not mind

Then it was time to pack.

My verdict? As a first time cruiser I thought it was really fun but tiring as well. We were always tired when we come back to our cabin. The next time we do another cruise we'll make sure we won't overdo the excursions and just book an excursion that's just 4 hours long (maximum) and moderate not strenuous, so that we'll have enough time to rest during port days. Overall, it was still a wonderful cruise. I'll do it again in an instant.

note: all photos are by yours truly, please do not use without permission

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

on pilates

i've always been a fan of mat pilates even back home...when i moved here there were limited gyms that offers pilates and the schedule always sucks...
i've been eyeing on a handful of pilates studio in my area but they're pricey so i decided to hold that off for a bit....but then 3 months ago i bit the bullet and enrolled at im=x..... not only that, i took it a notch higher and enrolled in reformer pilates...

how was it? i like's more fun than mat pilates... the thing is, i usually lose interest after a month but this one i didn't and i'm now on my 3rd month and just finished my 30th session!

this is how it looks like:


Friday, August 30, 2013

Italy : First time in Italy Part 2

As promised, from my previous post about Italy, I'll talk about Florence next but before that I'll post about Pisa first.


Still December of 2010.

Pisa, by yours truly
top of the leaning tower of pisa

After Rome we hopped on our chartered bus that took us to Tuscany. Upon reaching it we hopped on another local bus to take us to Pisa. We got off the bus and started walking towards the entrance of the Pisa town. There you would see souvenir stalls lining up the streets. Don't forget to buy those leaning mugs and/or leaning shot glass, you won't find that anywhere else and that will make for an awesome gag gift. It's not everyday that you'll see a drunken shot glass, lol.

top of the leaning tower of pisa
the narrow stairs you had to
  Towards the entrance, ready your camera. The arched entrance would make for a good frame for the leaning Tower of Pisa. Hopefully, you'll get a gap where no people is blocking the arch. Then proceed inside. The Tower of Pisa was opened to public again that time but they only allow 20 people at a time per 30 minutes. If you did decide to climb up (like what the hubby-boyfriend-then did) be prepared to climb up 294 spiraling, narrow steps. You can buy your tickets in advance but it must be booked at least 16 days but no more than 45 days ahead of your visit thru or in person at the box offices on Piazza dei Miracoli. Tickets cost €17 in advance (guaranteeing you a set entrance time) or €15 at the box office (but with no guarantee that you'll be able to climb the tower that day). Also, please remember that you need to deposit your bags, umbrella, backpacks, yes even the tiniest of purse needs to be deposited in the bag drop area along the north side of Piazza dei Miracoli. Don't worry, they will allow you to bring your camera.

bells inside the leaning tower of pisa

view from the top of the Tower of Pisa

Like I mentioned, the hubby (boyfriend then) was so itching to climb up the Tower of Pisa. It was in the Tower of Pisa that Galileo dropped two balls (of different masses) to demonstrate that their time of descent was independent of their mass (more here) and for a Physicist like him, climbing the steps, all 294 of those narrow steps, is like paying tribute to Galileo.


Home of Michael Angelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Well almost.

When we first entered the city the first thing that we saw was  a church called Basilica of Santa Croce. It was in the middle of what looks to me is a piazza (which looks empty that time). If you walk away from the Basilica you will find stores after stores selling leather goods (jackets, pants, gloves, etc). Welcome to Florence! The leather goods supplier!

If you walk further and proceed to the first street to your left (if your back is on the Basilica of Santa Croce) that will lead you to where the more exciting part is!

the intricate facade of piazza del duomo

Florence is like a huge outdoor museum. With huge sculptures all over the place. And their Piazza del Duomo? It's mammoth and you can't deny how intricate the details are both from the inside and out. It's just an amazing, amazing structure. Now, I'm into architecture, old and new so something like this gets me really, really excited, but I really believe that even if you're not into architecture you will still find Piazza Del Duomo very interesting. Here's more information about it.

gates of paradise

In front of the the Piazza del Duomo is the Baptistry and there you would see the famous door called "Gates of Paradise", which I believe is an appropriate name for an entrance to the Baptistry.

Overall, I really like the atmosphere in Florence. I'm not sure if this is just because it's December and it might have been their off peak season that's why the crowd is tame. Or because not a lot of tourists realize how great this place is and they didn't bother to visit. This would specially be a lot interesting to those who sculpts like my sister-in-law (hubby's sister) that we are really considering to come back here and take her with us.

If you're looking for a good walking tour for Florence try this.

note: all photos are from yours truly...please be respectful and do not use without permission..

Italy : First time in Italy Part 1

It was year 2010, in December, when I finally saved enough to go to Europe.

I asked the hubby (boyfriend then) to join me but he was having second thoughts because of the expenses it would entail (he was saving to replace his roof that time) and because he has a dog  (he doesn't want to leave his dog that long). But ofcourse that didn't stop me. I've been obssessing about going to Europe for as long as I can remember perusing old copies of Rick Steves in Shoestring, googling, plotting the logistics and planning my route and budget, yep, the whole nine yards so with or without travel companion I'm going! I'm used to travelling solo, so it didn't bother me at all and so I went ahead and booked my trip (but he later on changed his mind and booked his trip a month later).

The tour I got was for 16 days and it would go to UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, France, Italy, Switzerland, Monaco, and Liechtenstein but, as the title hinted,  what I'll be sharing is just about Italy. Atleast for now. The cities we went to in Italy were Venice, Assisi, Rome, Pisa, Florence.


I'm fascinated with Italy. Their language, their food, their history, their architecture, their people, their cappuccino and tiramisu!

The first city in Italy I saw was Venice. The first time I laid my eyes on that city, seeing the gondolas and canals and tiny bridges, I was just mesmerized. Even though it was flooding in San Marco when we got there that didn't dampen my spirit at all because all I can think of was, I'm in Venice!

the dock where we got our gondola ride

Our first stop was at a store where they demonstrated how they do glass blowing. I was hesitant to watch the demo because as soon as I saw it was a store we're going to first I know there would be some selling involved. It's like going to a Hongkong tour all over again where the tourist guide drops you off to a Tea store or Jade store for a "demo" which what really happened is they held us hostage for an hour and I swear if none of the tourists bought anything they wouldn't let us go. By the way, that was my very first international trip (Hongkong/Shenzhen) and I was naive and didn't know any better. I digress. .

I was actually surprised I enjoyed the demo. It was pretty interesting actually. I'm fascinated with pottery ever since I saw the Ghost movie (cheesy alert) and the way you can shape the clay however you want it with your bare hand fascinates me (I never got to play play-doh as a kid, maybe that's why, lol) and glass blowing is one notch awesom-er (i know there's no such word, go away!)  and I wouldn't mind trying that someday. Oh, and I was right about the hidden agenda and that is to tempt us to buy their merchandise, which by the way are all very expensive but, like I said, I enjoyed the demo so I give them credit for that.

glass blowing in Venice
Do you know that red glass (bright red, ruby red) is the most expensive? Do you know why? Because the metal that produces some of the red color in the glass is gold. That's the only thing I remembered from the demo so I just googled how the other colors can be produced.

iron oxidesgreens, browns
manganese oxides deep amber amethyst, decolorizer
cobalt oxide deep blue
gold chlorideruby red
seleniumcompounds reds
carbon oxides amber/brown
mix of mangnese cobaltiron black
antimony oxideswhite
uranium oxides yellow green (glows!)
sulfur compounds amber/brown
copper compoundslight blue red
tin compounds white
lead with antimony yellow


Then we head out to walk along the streets of Venice. Like I mentioned earlier, Venice was flooded because it rained that day and they had this long interconnected wooden platform weaving along the flooded streets of Venice up to St. Mark's Square so people won't get their shoes wet. We also saw some people, which I'm pretty sure are tourists, walking with yellow trashbags covering their shoes. Flooding is a not a rare occurrence in Venice, specially since Venice is sinking and the sea is rising.

Piazza San Marco when flooding

Of course, when in Venice one should not forget the gondola ride. it's like going to New York City without seeing Miss Liberty if you don't (and besides we don't know how long will Venice stay afloat, ssssh!). Our gondola ride started at San Marco, well, close to San Marco. There were 5 of us in the gondola and the hubby (boyfriend then) were seating at the best seat, with a heart-shaped back-rest, lol. Our gondolier didn't sing for us but what our tour coordinator did was we were following this other gondolier who was singing for all the other 6 gondolas, including us, and that's the video below.

It was interesting to see the chipped buildings as we glide along maze-like canals. It's entertaining to watch people crossing the canal bridges while we're passing through. I'm sure it would be a lot nicer if it's just me and the hubby with a singing gondolier in the gondola. Maybe next time. Gondola, by the way isn't just for tourists' consumption, it's also the locals' way of getting around.

i love pizza and i love prosciutto

After our gondola ride we were on our own. The tour guide just gave us a map and instructed us where to meet and what time. We had to go to Assisi then Rome next and we're only in Venice for a day tour. So we explored the streets of Venice for a few hours, went inside some shops, looked for an ATM machine (tip: HSBC has the best conversion rate) then finally went to where the meeting place is. We got to the meeting early on purpose so we could grab something to eat. We stopped by a place that sells pizza and man, that was the best prosciutto pizza I have ever have. I am in Italy indeed! Oh, and did I mention I love love love love prosciutto? No?

I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Prosciutto to the nth power!


view from the the Basilica of  St. Francis of Assisi

Next stop was Assisi. The  Basilica of  San Francesco 'd Assisi is lovely! It's sitting on top of a hill and the view on top is just breathtaking. No pictures are allowed inside the Bassilica but I managed to sneak in a few video shots until the hubby (boyfriend then) started yelling at me, lol. The paintings on the walls and ceilings are a sight to behold. I wonder how the painters did that. Lying down, suspended on the ceiling? We made sure we went to the lower, upper and the "basement" where the they claimed St. Francis was buried.

The hubby (boyfriend then) also liked the place so much that when he converted to a Catholic he chose Francis as his Christian name.


From the Romantic city of Venice and the awesome view of Assisi we went to the historical Rome next.

Before entering the city of Rome our guide (which, by the way, is Italian) warned us about how bad the Roman drivers are. He said once a Roman gets into his car, his brain switches to Gladiator mode, therefore the driving skills. I thought that was pretty funny. Our guide wasn't lying, though. The way they park is bad, there's not even enough parking to begin with.  I don't think they have a concept of pedestrian lanes nor stop light, ahh, it reminds me of home (Manila), lol.

It was already night time when we reached Rome and the first place we visited in Rome was the Trevi fountain. According to traditional legend, if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome.

ce sta na leggenda romana
legata a sta' vecchia fontana
per cui se ce butti un soldino
costrigni ar destino
a fatte tornĂ 

there is a roman legend
bound to this old fountain
that if you throw a coin in
you'll oblige the destiny
to let you be back

But our guide got a little creative and kinda mangled the legend a bit, lol. He said that if we throw 2 coins we will a meet an Italian mate, 3 coins and we will marry an Italian. I wasn't married yet that time so I teased the hubby (then boyfriend) that I'll be throwing 6 coins because I want to have better chances of marrying an Italian, to which, of course, he just rolled his eyes to, haha. By the way, you don't just throw the coin into the Trevi Fountain. Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder, which also means your back should be on the fountain.

Next stop was the Spanish Steps at the Piazza di Spagna. Again, it was night time  so it was dark and I wasn't really sure why and what it is famous for but then I just saw "The Roman Holiday" a few months back and now I can't wait to see Rome again so I could eat some gelato by the steps ala Audrey Hepburn, lol. Anyway, our tour guide met us at the top of the Spanish Steps and then he escorted us to our hotel and called it a night.

The next day we had an early start and made a beeline to the ruins which of course includes the Colosseum. It was Christmas day and most establishments are closed, yes, including the Colosseum so we just contented ourselves on oohing and aahing on the the facade. Next time, we'll make sure we can actually go inside.

Do you know that Italians hate Starbucks? They don't like how Starbucks butchered their espresso and cappuccino. So for the Starbucks' city mugs collector, sorry, no Starbucks Rome mug. I don't think Starbucks would dare step foot in Italy, lol.

We saw all the usual touristy stuff in Rome (the Forum, Bocca della Verita, etc) and then hopped back on our chartered bus and went to the Vatican. As a Catholic, that was a pretty awesome experience. Hearing the Papal Blessing on Christmas day, right there in front of him, in the Vatican City is just surreal! I was hoping to hear the Pope say Merry Christmas in Tagalog (fine, Filipino) but I got bored waiting so we just head out to check out the surrounding areas.

Then it's lunch time. An Italian Christmas lunch to be exact, which means a five-course meal complete with Panettone. Ah, what a delight! The hubby would always tease me that I'm a Tiramisu connoisseur, which I'm really not, it's just that it irritates me when some restaurant would call their Tiramisu a Tiramisu when in fact it's just a sponge cake with vanilla icing and some sprinkles of cocoa powder. Excuse me,  that's false advertisement. A real Tiramisu uses mascaporne cheese and lady fingers soak on espresso and rhum. Anyway, they didn't serve Tiramisu on our Christmas dinner so I had to sneak out from our lunch to go to the next door restaurant to buy a Tiramisu to go. For a foodie like me and a Tiramisu fan, it's like I died and went to Tiramisu heaven!


Home of Michael Angelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Also, if you're into leather this is the place.

I love Florence. Love. Love. I will go back in an instant if given the chance. And  time. And money. And vacation leaves.

I'll tell you why on the next Italy blog post.