Europe tour day 7-8: Munich, Germany

I don't know how to describe Munich, so let me put it this way. When you travel, there are places you find yourself wanting to come back to so you can explore more of it, or visit a certain place you weren't able to previously. That's not how I feel with this city.

Munich, instead, is the place where, if I had to relocate here for some reason, I know I'd be so happy living here.

From Innsbruck, this was the easiest city we wanted pass thru. I have previously not been interested in Germany, because I'm all about Paris, but Munich changed my mind.

I'm actually not sure what this building is, but it's so grand!
From the moment we arrived in the Munich Hbf, I felt that it was going to be different. On our way to our accommodations, the vibe was different. Despite the old architecture and various parks we passed by, there were also very modern buildings. I was highly fascinated by the tram right in the middle of the road, and the plants.

Coming from Italy and Austria, which felt like life was a bit slow-paced and all about art, which I also loved, in Munich I felt very much in the 21st century although it still had dashes of cultural appreciation -- one that I can only hope for now that we can achieve in the Philippines too.

Tip: If you're looking for rice or Asian food, there's a small kiosk right in the Munich Hbf which, to one who has been craving for a little taste of home, seemed like heaven.

One thing I immediately found out about Germans is that they are so nice and helpful! We were at the train station near the apartment, trying to figure out how to get to Marienplatz, when a German walked up to us and asked if he could help us. Apparently he couldn't speak English much, but he saw that we were very confused yet he still tried to help us. And when he couldn't communicate with us that well, another German on the platform walked up to us and helped us instead.

We reached Marienplatz, but the train station was right below a mall, and so up we went and found ourselves at the topmost floor, where we discovered a beautiful open plan restaurant called Dinea. I was so happy to see rice! and fish! and chicken! and beer on tap.

Their food court already looks like a buffet restaurant in Manila :/

I couldn't make up my mind and ended ordering a lot of food just to try several German food. It kinda blew my mind.

Nom nom from Dinea
Did I mention they have beer on tap? The delicious Paulaner beer, no less.

I couldn't help but also order a pretzel. And their potato gratin and a sausage (not in photo) and some of their rice, because I wasn't sure when I'd get the chance to eat rice again. Thank you, Germans, for eating rice. I can last on pasta and pizza and bread for seven days, but no longer than that. I needed a fix of the Philippines' staple food.

Afterwards, my parents attended a mass at the Frauenkirche, but my sister and I stayed outside taking photos and just generally getting lost amidst the shops and looking at Germans. Have I mentioned how good looking these Germans are? And how tall they are? At 5 feet and 1 inch, I felt my height.

Frauenkirche along Frauenplatz
My sister and I only went inside when the gong sounded. I didn't realize it before that it was the church with the so-called Devil's footprint, but when we went inside, the area with the step was too dark, and they were ushering us outside quickly so as not to disturb those who were still praying. I'm just glad I was able to tick off one thing off our Muenchen itinerary.

The next day, we were supposed to go to Wieskirche, which is a very beautiful church, but we were so exhausted, and my mom just wanted to stay in the apartment. So my father, sister and I went to the city instead. After watching the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, we started walking around and promptly got lost, walking in the English Garden. According to my research, it's one of the world's largest urban public park and is actually larger than Central Park in New York.

I promised them we can find one of those restaurants in the garden and dine al fresco, but after getting lost for a long time, my dad just wanted to get out and go somewhere else.

Temple of Diana in Munich
Temple of Diana in Munich
Along the way, we stumbled upon the Temple of Diana. While papa kept taking videos for my niece Aj, I started walking towards the temple. When I got there, I sat down in one of the benches, and an old man came in and set up his violin case and started playing.

At that time, I had no idea what he was playing. All I knew was that it was so heavenly. You could really see he loved music, and that he could feel the music flowing through him. He was selling his album for 10 euros each, but since I was on a tight budget, I couldn't afford it.

Violinist Vladimir Turchinsky playing in the Temple of Diana

His name is Vladimir Turchinsky, and how I wish I bought his album. People started drifting into the temple, lured by his music. He played so beautifully, I actually had tears in my eyes. I think we lost ourselves there for a good 15 minutes, just listening to him play with so much passion.

Eventually, we had to keep moving because papa was getting hungry. Thankfully, there were so many trees, it kind of felt like a forest in some parts because there were no concrete roads. It felt like an oasis. Then we stumbled upon one of the coolest things I have ever seen.

River surfing in English Garden, Munich
The river's current was so strong that people actually go there to surf. I've read about it online in forums during my research, but I didn't think I'd actually see it. It was so thrilling to watch, that we temporarily lost our dad because he got so close to the water's edge.

Excuse my outfit, but it was just so, so, so cold that day. And because we are such tourists, we actually asked one of the surfers for a photo when she emerged from the water. I was surprised she knew about the Philippines, and she was so friendly. The Germans were really nice.

Really, our second day in Munich was one of the things that taught me that being part of Team No Plan is also a good plan.

After that, we proceeded with our guest to find the restaurant somewhere in the Garden. My dad was about to give up. We took a couple of turns then dun dun dun, we finally reached it! It felt like an oasis.

Of course, what is Germany without beer? There were a lot of people, both Germans and tourists, milling and buying food. It was just such a nice day out.

St Peter's Church in Munich
St Peter's Church in Munich

After we had filled out on schnitzel, potatoes, and pretzels, we finally left to go back to the apartment to fetch our mom because we had to go to mass at Peterkirche, the oldest church in Munich. Outside, the Church looked so ordinary, but the inside took my breath away. It was light and airy, a stark contrast to the plain exterior.

The mass felt so solemn, and I actually felt shivers down my spine while attending mass. It just felt so surreal.

Afterwards, we had dinner and went home, ready for our early trip the next day to Zurich, Switzerland.

I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Austria day 6

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

Europe tour day 6: Innsbruck, Austria

Surprising, beautiful, lovable Innsbruck
I'm so behind on my travel posts, so here I am playing catch-up!

Coming from Venice, we went straight to Innsbruck, Austria, using our Eurail train pass. It was quite a long train ride since we only used the regional trains, but we had so much fun seeing the influence of different cultures as we moved through Italy, closer to Austria.

Buildings from Italy to Austria reminded me of Russia
Innsbruck is the kind of place where gingerbread houses wouldn't seem out of place. It was just so utterly charming. We were only there for an overnight trip, and I think I should go back and stay for at least two days.

The buildings are less ornate than the ones from Italy, but no less artistic. It was definitely chillier up here than when we were in Italy, and we were all freezing to our bones. We visited Europe around the end of summer, just before autumn, but to our bodies used to the tropics, we felt like it was winter. So if you're going to Europe around end of summer and you're not used to the cold, wear thick jackets and leggings.

We took a bus ride to our hotel, and I think it was one of the more expensive bus tickets we have bought throughout our Euro trip since it was about 3 euros for one ride only. The hotel manager said it was cheaper to get a taxi from the train station to their hotel since there were four of us. Unfortunately, because of what we experienced in Rome, we decided to buy our tickets beforehand.

We stayed in the quaint Hotel Tautermann, which cost 130 euros for one night for four persons. It included a buffet breakfast; the food was so fresh and felt like a real European experience. We were the only Filipinos in the hotel, and during breakfast, it was so exciting to be surrounded by hotel guests from different continents.

Respite for the weary travellers
Breakfast spread :)

They have WiFi but only a limited number of devices are allowed to connect at any given time, so we took turns going online at night.

The place was very clean and comfortable. I am in love with those quilts because they were so warm. If we didn't have blaring alarms and an early train to Munich, we all would have been content to sleep longer.

After a quick change into warmer clothing, we were off to our number one itinerary in Innsbruck: Hungerburg Funicular!

One thing I've learned about Europeans is that when they say it's a five minutes' walk, it usually took us ten minutes longer to get there. But since the bus was expensive, and the manager said the Funicular was nearby, we decided to walk. Thank you, HERE Maps, for being so functional and useful, even offline.

We walked along the river, which made me feel like my blood was turning into ice. When we finally got to the Funicular, I handed our money to the teller to buy tickets to the topmost exit. She gave the money back and bluntly said, "no".

I blinked and stared then tried again. She returned my money again and said the Funicular was closed! We arrived at the exact closing time. Such a bummer. We were only allowed to go up to the Nordkette, which still provided a view of Innsbruck, but we really wanted to get to the topmost and experience the Austrian alps.

Aboard the cable car up to Nordkette
It was quite an experience riding the cable car by ourselves, with our backs to the mountains, and have Innsbruck slowly revealed to us as we went higher and higher.

From above, Innsbruck looked just like any other metropolis, albeit surrounded by green mountains and so chilly.

We wanted to explore the village but it started raining, and it was getting dark, so we went back to the town proper and after just walking around aimlessly, we found ourselves at the Old Town. Sometimes, when I look back to our Euro trip, I really marvel at how we were able to get to places by ourselves.

View of Innsbruck from the Nordkette

We just walked around trying to find the plaza we saw on our way to the hotel. We walked along alleys, saw a few trinkets we were so tempted to buy, but I soldiered on, taking pictures here and there.

Then we reached the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)! It was built in 1500 and is considered Innsbruck's most famous symbol. According to, the roof was decorated with over 2,000 fire-gilded copper tiles to mark Emperor Maximilian I's wedding to Bianca Maria Sforza.

Goldenes Dachl (or the Golden Roof) is Innsbruck's most famous symbol.
Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof)
This is located in the Old Town, where there are numerous buildings still decorated in the old European architecture.

One thing I noticed about Innsbruck is that they usually have flowers hanging on their window sills. It makes the building so much prettier and just adds to the charm of the place.

I'm telling you, if you have the chance to pass through Innsbruck, take it.

View from our hotel's window
The sunrise in Innsbruck took my breath away. I love to sleep beside the window because I love looking out to the sky, and despite the cold, that night was no exception. And I was rewarded with such a beautiful view. Rolling clouds over hills and rooftops, while we were surrounded by mountains. It felt like a dream, so I had to take a lot of pictures. I just had to, because I might start to think that I just imagined the beautiful scene I witnessed!

After breakfast, we headed off to Innsbruck's Hbf, and off we went to Munich, Germany.

I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

Blog design overhaul

Since I've been taking online classes, one of the things I learned was the importance of having a well-designed blog. I mean, yes, I knew that a long time ago, but this was the first time in over a year that I've taken a step back and looked at my blog critically.

How do you like this new look?

I think I've spent five hours tweaking all the codes and figuring out which part of the template I needed to edit to get what I wanted, such as the sub-menus and the icons and deleting fixed/locked widgets. Thank God for the internet!

And I just found out after five hours that HTML5 doesn't support bullet points (HTML <li>) tags anymore. Bummer. I now have to use the CSS code (which I have dutifully applied to this post).

But there are a few things I still don't know how to do, such as:

  • Turn my header name from black to a gold color
  • How to fix that search button
  • How to make all the labels of my post appear
  • How to make some of my images not blow up
  • How to make the clickable links stand out
  • How to make visited links turn into a different color

  • I love this new theme a lot, but tweaking this wasn't easy for someone who doesn't really have a background in coding/programming. Everything I was able to do, I learned from a basic HTML class I took in high school and a whole lot of GIYF moments.

    I know I could have hired someone but (confession) I actually love to code my blog. I always learn something new, and I feel so accomplished. Programming has always been one of those things I'd taken way back in college, so I dabble in it whenever I can.

    If anyone has problems with drop down menus and sub menus, the Java2s website was the most helpful tutorial I could find, and believe me, I looked through a lot of links. This was the only code that also worked for my blog, too.

    If you have any suggestions on how to fix the problems I listed above, that would be so welcome.

    Dreaming of the Kingdom of Bhutan

    Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
    Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery
    Image by: Douglas J. McLaughlin - Own work, CC BY 2.5

    Since I fulfilled my Paris trip dreams (soon to be up on the blog!), I've been looking for a new major dream I'd like to fulfil.

    This year, I have completed several domestic trips (which I should write about!), and I have several more lined up, but I feel hungry for more, something out of the ordinary.

    Paro Valley, Bhutan
    Paro Valley, Bhutan
    Image by: jmhullot /
    License: Creative Commons License (By SA 2.0)

    My parents and I plan to visit Jerusalem in the near future – although that's dependent on my mom getting her pension when she turns 60 next year. And of course, I need to save up for that because I've been paying for my own travel expenses since I graduated from college, even when travelling with family.

    But I wanted something more. So I planned to go to Machu Picchu, but that would depend on my being able to visit the US, too, which is within my five-year plan. That seems so far away.

    Enter Bhutan.

    I accidentally stumbled upon Daphne's blog post about her trip to Bhutan, and aided by Johnny's posts about Bhutan, and it instantly fuelled my wanderlust. Beautiful vistas, warm people, and just a chill trip all around? Sign me up.

    I looked it up immediately and found it would cost me maybe about P100,000 to P150,000. I guess it will cost almost as much as my Euro trip, but this time I'd only get to stay in one country for a week. But there are some things worth paying for, and I think the relaxation and inner peace Bhutan could give me just might be worth it.

    Listing down the major trips I have to save up for...

    • Jerusalem / Holy Land / Istanbul / Jordan
    • Cambodia/Vietnam
    • New York & Machu Picchu (have to do it in one go to save up on air fare)
    • Kingdom of Bhutan
    • Japan
    • Iceland -- I want to see those auroras!
    • Scandinavia

    Gulp. Well. Time to save up and invest!

    Haa Valley, Bhutan
    Haa Valley
    By No machine-readable author provided. Greenmnm69 assumed (based on copyright claims).
    - No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 2.5

    *All images have been sourced and credited, as I haven't been to Bhutan. If you are the owner of any of these photos and want it/them removed, kindly let me know. No copyright infringement intended.

    Europe tour day 5: Venice

    Sunset in Venice
    Sunset in Venice -- one of my favorite photos from our trip

    Day 5, fourth region, we arrive in Venice around 2pm, and after some confusion with the instructions, we took the expensive taxi ride to our hotel.

    We did not stay in Venice Island, but in Mestre, where the Venice main train station was situated, because we had an early train ride to Innsbruck the next day. That, and because it was way cheaper to stay in Mestre than in Venice itself.

    We took the bus to the island, and we arrived during sunset, which seemed like the most romantic time to be in Venice. This was both good and bad. Good, because the view was ridiculously picturesque; Bad because the streets were dark already, and we weren't able to go further inland.

    We didn't ride the expensive gondolas nor the slightly cheaper little yachts. We walked around the island instead and had dinner al fresco, right beside the water. Since we were right beside the water, we definitely smelled the oil from the boats. It's not as bad as Pasig river, but it certainly didn't make for appetizing eating.

    What surprised me about Venice, though, is that the Italian-made leather goods are cheaper than the ones in Rome. The quality even seemed better.

    We were still walking around the winding streets of Venice when it got too dark, and we became afraid, so we just walked back to the pier. I think I kind of looked European when we were there because numerous tourists and locals would come up to me and ask for directions or simply have a chat with me in their native tongue. It was fascinating.

    Venice at night
    A friend of mine who visited Venice a few years ago told me I should have ridden the gondola. I hope I can come back someday, and maybe this time with my future partner, and we can ride the gondolas under the numerous bridges of Venice.

    I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

    Read about my Eurotrip!
    Rome day 1
    Rome day 2
    Florence day 3-4
    Pisa day 4
    Innsbruck day 6
    Munich day 7-8

    Other links you might find helpful:

    Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

    Europe tour day 4: Pisa

    Beautiful bridge in Pisa
    Beautiful bridge in Pisa
    Pisa is one of the most beautiful cities I've seen at from dusk to night. People always marvel about the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but no one ever mentioned how beautiful the place is at night.

    Since our schedule was messed up during the morning, we had to move our trip to Pisa after the wine tasting in Chianti, Tuscany.

    We had to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as this was one of my parents' must-see places, and I think we were only in Pisa for two hours, and that already included the trains to and fro. We got to Pisa so late that we haven't been able to eat dinner until we got back to our apartment in Florence by 11pm. And we almost missed the trains, and only got to the Pisa train station in time for the last train back to Florence. Woooh!

    Sunset over Pisa
    Sunset over Pisa

    When we got to the Pisa train station, we were advised by the train station staff, and Filipino OFWs sitting outside the plaza after work, that we could just walk to the tower instead of taking the bus.

    Using my Here maps app, we walked straight to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We crossed a bridge and several lights. One thing I noticed is that there was barely any traffic and few people were out and about that weeknight, at around 7pm

    When we finally emerged from the streets, we were met by a huge plaza with a huge Church, a separate domed tower, and finally, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

    The Leaning Tower of Pisa was definitely leaning!
    The Leaning Tower of Pisa was definitely leaning!
    Since we arrived too late, we were not able to go up the tower of Pisa, but that was okay. We were just happy to look at it.

    There were a lot of tourists and some Italians. One sweet Italian couple also asked me to take their picture, but I couldn't understand Italian and refused at first. They approached me again, and I replied in French this time, and we finally had a semblance of understanding.

    Before we knew it, we had spent an hour just taking pictures and looking around the plaza. Even though it was a pretty stressful morning, I felt like we got to Pisa at just the right time. It was definitely mama's most memorable birthday ever!

    I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

    Read about my Eurotrip!
    Rome day 1
    Rome day 2
    Florence day 3-4
    Venice day 5
    Innsbruck day 6
    Munich day 7-8

    Other links you might find helpful:

    Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

    Cross-country train travel in Europe

    Train station in Zurich, Switzerland
    Train station in Zurich, Switzerland

    I've had a lot of questions on how my family and I traveled across Europe during our trip. Two words: Eurail pass.

    If you're doing the trip on your own and want to experience Europe's marvelous train system (it was pretty easy and efficient once you get the hang of it), there are numerous websites out there who can teach you. Some will also tell you not to get a Eurail pass, as buying point-to-point tickets are cheaper.

    But here are the reasons why we chose to buy a Eurail pass:

    Eurail Pass enabled us to travel first class across Europe.
    Roomy and comfortable train travel across Europe
    1. Flexibility

    We were going to travel through seven regions and five countries, and since we didn't have any guide, we wanted the flexibility that a Eurail pass allows. A Eurail pass (for regional or trains that don't need reservations) gave us the option to get on and off any train stop we wanted, especially since we have a Global pass, which meant our train pass can be used in 28 EU member countries.

    Since I knew our travel plans would keep adjusting, as self-planned tours do, I wanted the time flexibility that the pass allowed us. We weren't so stressed to miss a train because we can always take the next one, or take an earlier one if wanted to do so (which definitely happened a lot of times).

    2. First Class Seats = more comfortable long train rides!

    Our Eurail Global Pass automatically gave us first class seats on all trains with first class carriages. Based on all the websites I've read, first class seats are roomier and better, especially if you're going to be on the train for four-five hours. Since there trains that only had second class carriages, I was able to compare, and I can definitely attest to the comfort of traveling first class by train across Europe.

    3. Discounts/benefits for Eurail Pass holders in several countries

    We bought a Eurail Global Pass Saver (those travelling in groups consisting of 2 or more adults get 15% off, but only if you're travelling together at all times). When I bought our tickets, I chose Standard Shipping because I ordered our tickets over a month before our travel (right on the day our visa was approved), so we were able to afford waiting for it to arrive. Our Philippine post isn't the fastest, and I admit I was nervous, but the tickets actually arrived after three working days!

    Eurail travel documents
    Eurail travel documents
    I bought our pass from the Eurail website (although you can buy from local travel agencies) because the Euro-Peso conversion rate was on our side at that time, and paying in Euros (including the shipping fee + conversion rate + credit card fee) was cheaper by over P1500 per person.

    The Eurail shipment included the following:
    • Eurail Global Pass coupon and Eurail Control Voucher
    • Eurail cover (don't lose this!)
    • Official Receipt
    • Eurail Pass Guide 2015 booklet

    Roomy first class cabins c/o our Eurail Pass
    We had no regrets with our Eurail pass even though it was pretty expensive compared to buying point-to-point tickets. You have to weigh the pros and cons. In our case, it definitely helped ease the stress from going one region/country to another.

    I was so nervous because we only received one pass four our whole group. My heart pounded as I handed the Eurail booklet to the train inspector, but there were no problems.

    Just don't forget to have your Eurail pass validated on the first time you're going to use it. For example, we were in Europe for 17 days, and we only used the Eurail pass on the third day, when we travelled from Rome to Florence. Therefore, I only had our pass validated at the train station in Rome on our way to Florence.

    Validating your Eurail pass:

    I contacted the Eurail company directly before our trip, and this is what they said:

    Visit the ticket desk at an international train station, where a railway employee will write the first and last day of validity and your passport number on your pass, as well as stamp the pass so it becomes valid.

    Please note that you do need to show original passport documentation when you activate your pass – a photocopy won’t be accepted.

    Officially, it’s not possible to validate a Saver Pass with photocopies of each passport. So, either all passengers must be present, or one of you must have all original passports at hand, I’m afraid.
    Before leaving the validation booth, check that the Eurail employee has stamped the start and date because you will be charged a very hefty fine if they forget to do so.

    So when we went to the train station in Rome, I immediately looked for the ticket desk (meaning I asked around until I was sure I was waiting in the right line). I fell in line with all our passports and the complete Eurail packet. The waiting time was longer than the actual stamping time.

    Using our Eurail Pass:
    Since the Eurail pass was for travelling across regions/countries, we did not use it within Rome.

    We used the Eurail pass from the following points:
        Rome to Florence
        Florence to Pisa just to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa
        Florence to Venice
        Venice (Italy) to Innsbruck (Austria)
        Innsbruck to Munich (Germany)
        Munich to Zurich (Switzerland)
        Zurich to Schaffhausen
        Schaffhausen to Schloss lauf to see the Rhine Falls
        Zurich to Engelberg to go up the Swiss Alps
        Zurich to Geneva
    However, if you're entering Italy and Paris by train, you will need to reserve a seat. There are only limited seats available to Eurail pass holders, and you can only reserve at the train station. I contacted Mark Smith of Seat61, and he advised me to just buy a train ticket from Geneva to Paris, thru, and the ticket will automatically include a reservation. Since we bought early, we were able to buy Geneva-Paris Gare de Lyon train tickets for only 31 euros/pax.

    All in all, our cross-region/country train passes cost 525 euros (conversion at that time was around 1 euro = Php 50) so this cost us about P26,250/pax.

    Filling in your Eurail pass:

    The whole time we travelled across Europe, we were only asked to present our passport once, when we were on the train from Munich to Zurich. That actually got me a little nervous.

    As soon as you get on the train, you have to fill up your Eurail pass. You have to write the day, month, departure time (to the minute) and the train station you're coming from and where you're going down, even if you're transferring trains.

    Train travel record in our Eurail pass
    Train travel record in our Eurail pass
    For example, looking at the image above, on our way from Firenze (Florence) to Venice (Venezia), we had to change trains at Prato and Bologna, so even though Prato and Bologna were not our destinations, we still had to record those in the book.

    Mother outside a church in Verona
    Mother in Verona
    For the Global Pass, you need to record for every train/bus/ferry ride you take, even if it's on the same day. For example, on the same day we arrived at Zurich from Munich, we travelled to Schloss Lauf to see the Rhein Falls. Even though the travel from Munich to Zurich to Schloss Laufen happened on the same day, we still needed to record them.

    If you make a mistake, don't cross it out. Write the correct details on the next line instead. (If you're not using a global pass, I'm not sure if this will be counted against your allowed number of days.)

    It's pretty nice to look back and see all the train stations we've been to, including Verona, which made me think of Shakespeare.

    As I said, our Global Pass gave us some degree of flexibility, so we weren't in such a rush all the time, although we did hurry for some train schedules as we wanted to get the quickest regional routes available.

    However, we had a few hours' stopover in Verona, and my parents visited the Church across the train station. This was one of those things I don't think we could have done if we didn't have our Eurail Pass.

    European train experience

    The first time we travelled from Rome to Florence, we were nervous wrecks, my mom especially. She insisted that we be there three hours early, a la airplane style, and stay put until the train arrived. I kept telling her we only needed to be there 30 minutes early as we will only know the assigned actual train platform at least 30 minutes prior, but she wouldn't listen to me (probably because we kept getting lost while in Rome hehehe!).

    But staying there for some time helped me to get a bearings of how train changes work.

    Waiting to board the train from Rome to Florence
    Waiting to board the train from Rome to Florence
    In every train station, there is a display of the trains arriving and departing, the time it will depart/arrive, the platform number, the destination and the type of train and flight code.

    If you're taking a connecting train, sometimes the display will show the connecting train and not your actual destination. Going back to my example of travel from Florence to Venice, since we were going to change trains at Prato, what we had to look for at the board was the train going to Prato, not to Venice. And when we arrived in Prato, we looked for the train bound for Bologna. When we arrived in Bologna, that's when we looked for the train bound for Venice.

    This is important because you might panic and see the train code you're supposed to take but the destination displayed is different from your intended destination. The most helpful app I can suggest is the Eurail Rail Planner app, which will show, to the minute, the trains and times you're supposed to take. It can even show you which ones are the regional trains, if you want to avoid paying reservation fees.

    (If you're making an itinerary beforehand, the Eurail website's online planner is very helpful, and was the one I used to plan our itinerary to the minute.)

    Once you see on the display your train's assigned platform, go to the platform and wait until you're allowed to board. Don't panic if you don't see the train! Some trains can be late (and you will be notified on the platform displays (look at the picture above). If your train is just arriving, let all the passengers disembark before getting on the train.

    My parents, enjoying first class carriage comforts in Switzerland.
    My parents, enjoying first class carriage comforts in Switzerland.
    If the trains have first class seats (some regional trains only have second class carriages -- this is also indicated in the Eurail Rail Planner app), then look for the carriages with the #1 painted outside. Second class carriages have #2 outside.

    There are luggage bags overhead, or at the end of the carriages, or if your luggage fits, there's also a bit of space in between the seats.

    Sometimes, you might see that you only have 5-10 minutes to change trains. Don't panic! Sometimes, transferring trains is just a matter of alighting from your train and going down the stairs/elevator and taking the train on the next platform.

    By the fourth time we've taken regional trains, my mom has become a no-sweat train pro.

    Benefits/Discounts using our Eurail pass

    The Eurail website lists free passes on the S-Bahn in Austria and Germany, but we were not given free tickets. We still had to buy tickets as we went around Innsbruck and Munich.

    With our Eurail pass, we were only able to avail of the 50% discount on the cable car ticket from Engelberg up the Swiss Alps, but that was a pretty good discount of over 40 euros!

    We were also supposed to take the free boat rides on Lake Zurich and Lake Geneva, and on the Rhein Falls but we were too exhausted to take advantage, and we just enjoyed the cities.

    Majestic Rhein Falls in Switzerland
    Majestic Rhein Falls in Switzerland

    In Europe, each train ride was an adventure unto itself. There were noisy trains and trains that were cleaner than the others. There were trains with tables, and one train with its own restaurant. There were seats for two, seats for four people. We've ridden train carriages where we were the only ones riding first class. We'd sleep for several hours, or read books, or enjoy the scenery. We passed by several castles on our way from Italy or on our way to Austria.

    Charging outlet while on the train
    Yep, they have free charging outlets!

    There were times our train would stop for ten minutes at certain stations, and we didn't have to go down, so while the train was stopped and with one hand on the rung, I'd put one foot on the station just to feel like I've been there!

    When we travelled from Italy to Austria, there was a train station shared by the two countries and marked as Osterreich and Italia, so it felt like we were in two places/countries at the same time.

    Lovers in Austria
    Lovers in Austria
    And on our way from Austria to Germany, the backdrop at the train station were the Austrian alps. Definitely a memory to remember!

    There are train stations that are so roomy and majestic it made me think of Hogwarts. There were some stations that are so cramped and filled with people. The Muenchen Hauptbahnof was the first station we've been to that had Asian food. After a week of missing Asian food, we immediately ordered several dishes and gobbled them up.

    After almost a week in Italy, my sister and I will never forget the words prossima fermata. If you've taken the trains in Italy, you'll know what I mean!

    Our train travel across Europe might have been a little expensive and slightly stressful at the start, but it was definitely one of our most treasured experiences. And if I ever get to visit Europe again in the future, I'd surely take the trains because that cross-country ride in Europe was one of a kind.

    I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

    Read about my Eurotrip!
    Rome day 1
    Rome day 2
    Florence day 3-4
    Pisa day 4
    Venice day 5
    Innsbruck day 6
    Munich day 7-8

    Other links you might find helpful:

    Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via

    Taking Chances

    I have forgotten to pick a Word of the Year for 2015, but looking back, I would say that it was Courage.

    Courage means doing whatever it is even though scares you, and 2015 offered me plenty of that.

    • The year 2015 was the first time I travelled out of town, somewhere new, with only my sister as my companion.
    • It was the time a huge work position = responsibility was offered to me.
    • It was the time I took on planning a two-week Eurotrip even though I've never been there, and all I had was my belief that we can do it on our own.
    • It was also the year I've finally fully let go of the past because I've hidden behind it for so long, using it as a reason for so many things in my life.
    • And by the fourth quarter of the year, 2015 became the year I finally opened myself up to the possibility of falling in love again.
    • And I finally sent that forgiveness letter because it felt time to fully let things go.

    I've pondered for a while what my 2016 will be like, and this was before I've thought of a Word of the Year. The past two years have brought me immense experience and joy, and I have no regrets, but it also took me one step away from my life goals.

    So I sat down and started planning. And when I thought about my Word of the Year, I realized it will be this: Taking Chances.

    For 2016, I will both move backwards and forwards.

    I will move back to the core of my goals and myself, while moving forward with my dreams. I will take chances with the things I want to do (such as fly a plane or go on an out of town trip with certain friends I've never been out with), and I will go back to editing. I will finish my editing class and reconnect with my old authors.

    And I will move forward by the end of 2016. I will figure out what I want with my career, and whether I should take that next step I've been hesitating to try.

    And finally, 2016 is the year I will take another chance on love. I didn't end up falling in love in 2015, and maybe it won't actually happen this year, but I refuse to let my fears and insecurities get the better of me.

    2016, I'm ready for you.

    Europe tour day 3-4: Florence

    Sunset in Florence
    We were so tired from the first two days that our third morning in Rome was just spent packing our things after breakfast. Then we went to the train station to go to Florence. Armed with our Eurail pass, we only took a regional train to avoid paying extra, so our travel time was twice as long. We still treasured our train travel since it was one of the things we wanted to experience in Europe.

    We arrived in Florence by 5pm, and we were famished so we had a light snack. We were supposed to go to the Lantern festival in Ricoleta, but the bus took so long to arrive and we were all too tired, so we just went back to the apartment and slept. But not without buying gelato from the little gelateria around the corner!

    Some might call sleeping in a waste of time, but we needed to conserve our energy for the rest of the trip. And we all badly needed sleep anyway. So that's our Euro tour day 3.

    Early the next morning, we went to Santa Maria Novella, which is easily one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. Ate Mako turned to me and said, "Are you sure this isn't one of those Lego pop-ups?"

    The beautiful, grand Santa Maria Novella Basilica
    The beautiful, grand Santa Maria Novella Basilica
    Santa Maria Novella
    Since our second day in Rome, we've been touring with a 30-page itinerary pamphlet I've prepared. It was such a joy to see my family poring over the tidbits and notes of distinction I've researched for every location we visited.

    And whenever I saw their smiles whenever we arrived at our destination, all the months of preparation were worth it.

    We went to Santa Maria Novella for their morning mass because it was Mama Mary's birthday and my mama's birthday too.

    Since the mass only started half past 8am, we walked around, looking for a cheap cafe for breakfast.

    Florence is the only place where I ordered my first ever cappuccino, and found that Italians serve the perfect cup of coffee. My small cup was only 1.50 euros, and worth every sip. I only needed to add some sugar and milk, and I had the best cup of coffee I've ever in my life. Until I went back to Manila, the taste of Italian coffee still haunts me.

    Afterwards, we went back to the plaza and sat on the marble chairs outside, enjoying the sunshine while waiting to be allowed to go in.

    Santa Maria Novella is the first great basilica in Florence, and included stained glass windows by Filippo Lippi and other artists dating back to the 14th and 15th century; the Nativity scene above the door is by Botticelli.

    Lastly, Santa Maria Novella's duomo is that duomo you see in postcards and whatnots of Florence.

    Florence holds a special place in my heart because 1) I wouldn't have visited it if my sister didn't want to go wine tasting in Chianti, Tuscany, and 2) Because the choir that sung during the September 8 mass was so excellent, I felt like angels were singing to me.

    I even came up to them after the mass, thinking they were an opera group, but nope, the guy said "just" the choir. I wish I could sing as beautifully as them. They were so amazing, I wondered why they don't join those singing competitions on TV.

    Vasari's fresco of the Last Judgment
    But as much as I enjoyed the choir and attending the mass in Italian, I was pretty sad to see such old priests. Where are our young priests? I wondered for how long they could still live, and I felt so sad for the Catholic Church.

    Before we left, I took a quick snap of the Last Judgment fresco of Vasari, but sadly, my picture looks so washed out.

    On our way to the train station, we passed by Caffe Scudieri (since 1939!) and ate some of the most delicious pastries I've had. Ugh, Italy, my mouth waters just thinking about your food!

    That chocolate puff is to die for
    After lunch, we took the bus to Chianti. The bus to Chianti is in the building behind the Firenze train station. Not a lot of people know where it is, and there's no signage. It's along the street of the church behind the Firenze train station, and you will cross a tram.

    Castello di Verrazzano wine shop
    Castello di Verrazzano wine shop
    Again, Florentinians didn't speak English very well, and I had to speak French. I was so nervous to talk to the bus driver, and if I had been sleeping, we would have missed the Castello di Verrazzano stop. Instead of getting down at Greve like the winery instructed, we got down a few steps away from their wine shop, which is at the foot of the winery and very visible along the road.

    It was a good thing I didn't pay any reservation beforehand because we had to move our wine tasting in the afternoon because we got delayed in the morning, trying to find the bus station. I just called them via the payphone (there's a payphone under the Firenze terminal station and a call costs about .80 to 1 euro for five minutes) and rescheduled.

    I chose the Castello di Verrazzano because the other tours were too expensive for us and didn't fit our schedule. The reviews of Castello di Verrazzano's wine tasting tours were also pretty good. As we didn't have our own transportation, going to only one tasting was the best deal for us.

    When we arrived at the wine shop, we asked the wine seller to have us picked up (for free) because it was too hot to walk up the mountain. The only tour available was their wine tasting with a few slices of salami and cheese, for 16 euros. We had a very good tour of the winery's history and saw huge barrels of wine, taller than me!

    Fulfilling ate Mako's dream!
    Overlooking Chianti's rolling hills
    Overlooking Chianti's rolling hills

    Then we got to the good part, which is the reason why everyone went there!

    We were given three wines to taste: their Rosé di Verrazzano IGT, the Chianti Classico DOCG and the Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva. We were also given their own salami called Sbriciolona grevigiana, as well as a delicious slice of  pecorino (cheese) with Balsamico Verrazzano.

    Their rosé made a mark in my heart
    Since I work with a wine magazine, I was really looking forward to the wine tasting. Our tour guide taught us how to appreciate wine and distinguish some ingredients, and by the end of the tour (which lasted about two hours), I was feeling very appreciative indeed!

    Balsamic vinegar on cheese? Yes, please!
    I know what you're thinking: vinegar on cheese?! If the balsamic vinegar is the authentic kind (which is sweet and not too sour), then yes, please. I don't like vinegar, and I vomit at the smell of it, but I gobbled up two slices of cheese with vinegar. It was just that good.

    Paired with their rosé, of course.

    1. Florence has one of the cheapest Italian-made leather shoes I've ever found, and there are a lot of beautiful shoes stores around Santa Maria Novella. The prices in these stores are about half of the pricing in other parts of Europe.

    2. If you eat in cafes, food and drinks are cheaper and has no service charge if you eat "by the bar", which literally means you use the counter top as your table, instead of sitting down at one of the tables.

    3. Travelling by bus? Don't forget to bring a copy of the times of the buses, and to buy your return ticket at the station.

    I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

    Read about my Eurotrip!
    Rome day 1
    Rome day 2
    Pisa day 4
    Venice day 5
    Innsbruck day 6
    Munich day 7-8

    Other links you might find helpful:

    Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe