A Royal Trip Around London

Hampton Court Palace

I want to go to London for four main reasons:

  • I want to hear the British accent (man, there’s nothing like being surrounded by it hahahaha!)
  • I’m hopeful I will find Harry Potter’s Platform 9 and ¾ (and be Hermione … “wingardium leviosa!”)
  • I want to see the café where Tolkien and CS Lewis hung out
  • I am so curious about the royal family (Prince Harry, where are you?)

And so I want to begin my London tour with a “royal” trip, checking out iconic places where Britain’s identity was formed throughout the years. Here’s a list of all the places you need to check out for you to understand and appreciate its kings, queens, and the culture formed around them.

  • Buckingham Palace. The White House of Britain, the residence of the royals in London. You can tour the whole place for over a thousand pesos, but you might get disappointed at how lackluster it looks. But if you’re a fan of prince, princesses and their grand life, maybe you will still get the worth of your money.
  • Westminster Abbey. It isn’t really a cathedral, but perhaps its significance in the country is enough for it to have that impression of holiness and utmost respect. This is where the remains of Britain’s past kings and queens lie, such as that of Henry VII and Elizabeth I. It is also the place where royalties are crowned. If you’re not convinced of its worth, hear this: it is nearly a thousand years old. That should make you enter the Westminster Abbey.
  • Tower of London. A huge historical site where you can take different tours – an unguided tour that comes with booklets, an audio tour, or a 45-minute guided tour care of the Yeoman Warders. If it were me taking the tour, I’ll take the guided one. The Tower of London is full of curiosities you would love to learn more about, such as Henry VII’s armor, and the actual site where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Just make sure you watch the movie “The Other Boleyn” before you head to the Tower, so you can appreciate the story and the site more.
  • Kensington Palace. Princess Diana’s last residence before she died in a tragic car accident, the Kensington Palace offers a curious look inside this royal home. Outside, you can dip your feet into the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, or you can take your lunch at the nearby Lido Café.
  • Hampton Court Palace. Yes, London has many palaces. In fairy tales, there always seems to be just one. But lo in behold, it is grander to be a prince or a queen in real life. The Hampton Court Palace is best known for Henry VIII, one of the most interesting monarchs in the history of Britain. If you’re a student of architecture, or if you’re simply a curious mind, you will easily appreciate the marriage of Tudor and Baroque architecture meant to match that of the Versailles Palace in France. Don’t know how the Versailles Palace looks like? Then book your Philippine Airlines flight to France too!

My Travel Bucket List

Ten years ago, a friend of mine has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer. It was a wake-up call for most of us, a realization that somehow our end is beyond our control. And life can be taken away from us, even if we think that we’re still young and has a lot to go for.

This is what triggered my travel bucket list, a collection of places that I want to visit and make a part of my life with. Some of these places I was lucky to have visited over the past few years, few of them are still on my to-do list. Here’s to my friend, who taught me to live my life to the fullest and without regrets.

My paradise island.

  • Maldives. It’s a beautiful island, and it aptly represents my sunny side of life. Marvel at its white sandy beaches and palm trees. Take all its beauty from the balcony of your room.

And I looked back at this marvel from the world’s past.

  • Pyramids of Egypt. Although the pyramids wouldn’t disappear, you would. Make sure you go with a tour guide, or at least you read about this historical icon, so you can really appreciate the worth of your visit.

You give me a feast for my eyes.

  • The Great Barrier Reef. The most beautiful set of marine life you will ever lay eyes on, the Great Barrier Reef will make you realize that Planet Earth isn’t just for you and your needs. Simply snorkel and see amazing sea creatures and corals.

Always my state of mind.

  • New York. Who wouldn’t want to sing “Empire State of Mind” in the place that inspired it? New York is the most famous city in the world; it would be a shame if you don’t even wish to walk its streets.

A man-made wonder of the world.

  • The Great Wall of China. This man-made marvel is so amazing that rumors once circulated that it is the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon. What’s interesting is that although it looks oh so mighty, it actually represents the fear of being invaded. Paranoid much, China?

Enter to the unknown.

  • The Amazon. Oh nothing to see here, except half of the world’s remaining rainforests, the most number of animal species, and the largest river basin. If you want to see some nature, the Amazon’s got it all for you.

Falling in love over again.

  • Venice. Because it is simply beautiful and peaceful in the area. Bonus reason: If you’ve read Shakespeare’s the Merchant of Venice.

Pulsating with so much action.

  • The Coliseum. This Italian structure isn’t only a must-see because it is old, but because it is a place where Romans fought gory, bloody, movie-worthy fights. Yes, Gladiator was true, and even more brutal than what was in the film.

I call them the vast beyond.

  • Grand Canyon. Vast, overwhelming, wondrous. Plus you can stand on a transparent glass that is set at 4,000 feet above the floor of the Canyon. Watch 127 Hours before going there, to make the thrill complete.

I’m taken by its beauty, inside out.

  • The Louvre. This great museum in Paris houses the most important art pieces of our time. Paris could have made it on the list, but Paris without going to the Louvre is just sad. So Louvre makes my travel list complete!

Yes, there’s just a lot to see that is beyond your Manila to Cebu trip. These are some place to aspire for and inspire to live the life.

Hipster Traveling: A Rough Guide

To be young and unique.

Emphasis on rough. Because if you’re hipster, you don’t play by hard and fast rules. Your mode of living is based on unwritten rules that you know because you’re hipster, not because you read it somewhere.

It’s still a puzzle to me, but it’s so interesting to live the carefree, cool life that hipsters do.  What better way to experience it than by traveling, hipster style. Here are some tips:

  • Skip the typical. What? No photo by the Eiffel Tower? If you’re hipster, you shouldn’t mind; or you should take a photo that’s as unique as your getup.
  • Speaking of getup, you should wear attention-getting clothes that do not necessarily come in bright colors. Most hipster go for the vintage look, but hipster girls can really go for the pretty and bold look.
  • Get inspired. Hipster traveling is all about being creative. A sculpture should raise questions about feminism, a street filled with people should inspire you to create a sculpture, and so on.
  • Be an advocate. No matter where you go, you should live out your advocacy. Whether it is saving the planet, supporting local music, or promoting equal rights for all, you should be a walking rally poster. Look for avenues to help; connect with organizations in the country or area that you’re visiting, and participate by extending your help. Being helpful never goes out of style, so they say.
  • Do something that most tourists wouldn’t. For instance, take a walking tour when everybody else prefers the bus – you’ll never know what you’ll encounter. Instead of watching buskers in New York, be a busker! Take a spot, play your guitar or do your awesome yoga poses, and just enjoy the experience.
  • Go vintage. A hipster appreciates the olden days. Find old books, first edition copies, old postcards, anything old that you can place on your cool workspace at home. Of course you’re a freelancer, it’s too mainstream to work in an office anyway. Make sure you check out the flea market, you might find a great looking fedora there.

Go cheap. A hipster wouldn’t order cocktails. He goes for the beer, the rough kind of drinks and food. He enjoys local culture more than anything, so he skips the five star hotel where you will meet tourists and employees, and chooses a family-owned hostel where he can chat with the owner and have a home-cooked meal. You can start by booking that cheap Air Asia flight to Cambodia, and by keeping in mind all the other tips listed above.

More than the Volcano: the Taal Experience

Volcano crater

The Taal Volcano experience is actually more than just seeing the crater of this world famous land formation. It is an adventure that you and your family would enjoy taking, albeit with soiled clothes and a hardcore sweat, in case you come on a sunny day. Actually, coming on a rainy day isn’t recommended. It’s meant to be enjoyed with the sun shining brightly. Here’s what you’ll go through as you take the trip to Taal.

Drive to Talisay, Batangas

If you’re coming from Tagaytay, you’ll take a route that descends down mountainous roads. The drive will last for around thirty minutes. There are no public transportation that passes through that route, so you should rent a tricycle or van if you can’t bring your car.

Boat ride to the foot of the volcano

Once you get to the lakeshore part of Talisay, you can leave your car parked in a resort and even order lunch for when you get back from your trip. You would then ride a boat that will bring you across from the lakeshore to the foot of the volcano. This should take around 40 minutes. Sometimes, the waves are weirdly strong. You don’t have to worry if this happens though, since the boat drivers are quite skilled. Just enjoy the view, the wind and the waves. A boat ride can cost you P1,500, to and form the Talisay shoreline.

Horse ride to the view deck

Once you get to the shore, you will be welcomed by vendors selling everything from snacks to gas masks. Gas masks? Yes, you will need it, since the trek up to the view deck is one dusty ride. It would help if you have a pair of sunglasses, to shield yourself from dust and from the harsh rays of the sun. After buying a bottle of water and wearing your gas mask, it’s time to ride a horse. The horse handler will ride with you; don’t worry. Just hold tight and encourage the horse, since it can be quite tiring for them. This can last from 20 to 30 minutes, so you owe your horse all the cheers it can get from you.

View deck    

You might be wondering why when you were on the boat you didn’t dock on the always-photographed volcano. Well, that’s because that “volcano” isn’t really one. It’s called a caldera, and the real actual crater of the Taal Volcano is the one you will see after the horse ride. Unfortunately, you will not be allowed to descend to the crater; it’s now forbidden. What you can do instead is to drive a golf ball down to the water. Yes, there’s a golf club up on the view deck, and some balls meant to be thrown away. I’m just not quite sure if doing that is eco-friendly.

If you want to go to Tagaytay, it’s only a two-hour drive from Manila. If you’re coming from the provinces, there are flights you can take either to Manila or to Clark Airport. If you’ll coming from Clark, however, you’d have to add two or three more hours to your travel time.

The Martial Arts of the World

It seems that our ancestors had a lot of time in their hands. They were able to create different martial arts that served different purposes: self-defense, physical development, and even spiritual focus. Check out the most famous martial arts of the world, and what makes them so special.

Brazil: Capoeira

Do the back flips now.

A form of war dance that African slaves created to learn to defend themselves, and to survive the harsh world in the hope that they would soon be set free from slavery. It is a form of martial arts that incorporates music and rhythm, making it look like a relaxed and beautiful dance. However, capoeristas back in the days would work as hitmen, as mercenaries, terrorists that spread fear all over Brazil. Today, you wouldn’t imagine a capoeirista winning a battle over a skilled policeman, as the practice of it is now purely to promote the Brazilian culture and to enjoy the art as an expression of oneself.

Mexico: Lucha Libre

Pro wrestling at its best

If you have watched the movie Nacho Libre, you would know how lucha libre works, both in terms of game rules andwhat goes on in the politics of the game. Basically, it is a wrestling match much like the ones that we see on American TV, only freer and with masks! And although it is illegal to remove the mask of your opponent, matches called lucha de apuesta, or betting matches, the end goal is to remove the mask of your opponent or to remove a patch of his hair. Lucha libre continues to be a popular sport in Mexico, making it the country with the most number of professional wrestlers.

China: Kung Fu

A form of martial arts that traces its history to legendary dynasties that existed more than 4,000 years ago, kung fu utilizes the body for combat and also for self-improvement, particularly of the qi or the energy within an individual. With its rich history, it has evolved from being a fighting method to an aesthetically appealing form of art that champions precision and excellent execution. Although some moves that are used in routine competitions look beautiful, critics say that such movements are in fact unnecessary and useless in actual combat.

Japan: Karate

There have been too many films and even video games that depicted karate as an amazing way to kill a person, to win a battle, and to show one’s skills. However, true karate practitioners say that the karate shown in movies are ambitious modification of the true martial art, which is actually all about self-discipline and mastery. Kids love the sport very much, perhaps because of its popularity in movies, cartoons and games. The good thing is that you don’t really have to go to Clark Airport and board a plane to Japan. There are a lot of karate schools even in Manila.

World’s Best Buskers: Where to Find Them

Busking is basically performing on the street and earning money while doing it. So what makes a great place to see buskers? It should be generous with loose change to drop into the busker’s guitar case or hat, and it should be rich with talent. Here are places in the world where you can find the most awesome street performers, and then wonder why in the world are they not famous internationally. Just a note though; there are no Asian countries listed, which means you can’t count on a Cebu Pacific seat sale for you to be able to watch excellent buskers. You’d have to spend on it!

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

This place is already a competitive area. They say that you can only busk in Amsterdam if you’re really talented, otherwise you should take your act somewhere else. Needless to say people in the area are so used to excellent performances every day of the week!

New York, USA

Image from subwaymusicblog.com

For a place that is very populous, New York makes it ideal for artists to strut their stuff. There are a lot of like-minded individuals on their way to their hipster work either organizing a concert for peace or designing shirts tat promote eco-friendliness. In other words, there is an atmosphere of fun, artistry and advocacy, things that you would not normally see in other places. New York is really that special.

New Orleans, USA 

The birthplace of jazz, New Orleans naturally has a talented bunch of street performers who can always count on crowds who do appreciate some good music. Aside from soloists with their guitars or harmonica, you can also chance upon a capella groups and small bands playing wind instruments.

Paris, France 

Image from steffe (flickr)

Here you won’t see a lot of musicians, but you can marvel at the finest mimes in the world. Stand transfixed at their antics and costumes, and make sure to leave some change. There are also a lot of street performers who dress up like statues and only move when you drop a change in their hats! Pretty fun, actually.

Berlin, Germany

Image by Cormac Mulhall

There are a lot of boheme performers in Germany, making it one of the most eccentric and interesting places to see different kinds of performances. Aside from musicians, you can also watch magicians and little circus acts all across the city. In fact, Berlin even holds a festival that showcases street talents from different parts of the world. You can say that Berlin is the world’s busking capital.

Five Best Places for Solo Travelling

If you want to go on a soul search alone, you need to choose your destination well. Don’t go some place where people gather to celebrate with friends, such as the Oktoberfest in Germany during the last weeks of September leading up to the first days of October.

Pick a place where you can find yourself, where there’s less noise, friendly people, and little to no crime rate. Seriously, travelling alone can be scary if you don’t choose the destination well.

So we listed our favorite destinations for the solo wanderlust you. Here goes, and good luck!

New Zealand

Picturesque New Zealand

Aside from a generous supply of milk (har har), New Zealand also has the best views worthy of your shutter click and your undivided attention. Plus the locals are uber friendly – a big deal for anyone who will travel alone. The transportation system is very tourist-friendly, and the accommodations are superb. Plus you might have relatives who currently reside there! There are a lot of Filipinos in the country; one of my friends just flew to NZ last week!

Costa Rica

Frolicking the beach in Costa Rica

Unlike New Zealand, Costa Rica is more dynamic and noisy. Don’t get me wrong though, Costa Rica is very tourist-friendly. You won’t run out of things to do. Head to the beach for a morning stroll, go zip-lining, hike a trail, or scuba dive! Do them all! The best thing about Costa Rica is that it isn’t a honeymoon destination, which means you won’t awkwardly run into couple after couple while you try your best to concentrate on your solo travel to get over the love of your life who left you for somebody else. So the drama, but a broken heart is one of the most legit reasons to go on a solo travel.

Ireland

The way to the pub 😉

Ireland is the kind of place that will demand your attention. Traveling solo to this beautiful country will be better than being with you family and friends. Why? There’s a lot of local culture to learn about! Everywhere you go locals will willingly talk with you and tell you more about the best pub in town or the perfect inn to spend the night in.

Australia

Australians are so used to travelers, so being there won’t make you look like a sore thumb sticking out for attention. It is safe in the country, and because it is modern, you won’t have a hard time using pubic transportation. There’s a lot you can do – dive in the Great Barrier Reef, take a tour in the Outback, visit locals’ favorite restaurants. It is best to stay in a hostel, where rooms are shared, so you can meet other travelers and exchange notes.

The UK

Seeing the queens and kings of the past

The region has everything you want and more. Perfect for artists and passion seekers, the UK has an abundant supply of inspiration, from museums to structures to historical sites that will help you appreciate art more. You want some shopping? There are a lot of stores to check out! You want some partying? You won’t run out of bars to choose from. You can experience the big city life in London and then easily transfer to the small area of Aberdeen, for some peace and downtown vibe. I’m just not sure if you can book a promo fare to the UK. But still, being able to experience its beauty and culture should be worth all the money that you burn.