Friday, October 26, 2007

going home

I was gone for 25 days. Almost totally abandoning every single work back home. I have not computed the total amount I have spent, I’m quite afraid of doing so. For 25 days, a lot of places were seen, been to, a lot of things were done. A lot of questions asked, a lot of answers, a lot of puzzles solved and a lot created. 

From London to the south of France, to the old central Italy, to lower Germany, to the capital of the land below sea level and to the city of lights, one can reflect what we don’t have back home and yes, what we do have that they don’t anymore. As a friend would say, “Manila is like London a hundred years ago,” and another,  “there are no fishes anymore in the mediterranean.” 

Comes with development is the fact that something has to be lost. Comes with urbanization is the rape of what has been fertile and natural. Europe is a perfect example. But yes, the sensibility to preserve the salvageable (natural and most especially, man-made) is strongly felt and encouraged. It is with utmost efforts that these places or what is left of it, be preserved. Something that needs a lot of support back home. 

One thing also that was most disturbing was the treatment of our kind abroad- treatment from the ones coming from the arian race and from our own kind. Yes, it is possible that a Filipino can actually go to such region just as a tourist if one perseveres and yes, it is possible that to some of us, it is still better to work in the country of our birth, regardless. It was in my train ride to Amsterdam coming from Munich that I strongly felt the discrimination. I was with a Korean whom I met in the train when we were stopped by border officials to check our passports. We were on our way to get coffee at the first class canteen. It took them ten seconds to check the Korean’s passport and mine for ten minutes and only after a series of questions, they gave me my passport. The inevitable question coming from the Korean asking what’s wrong right after was asked. I know the answer but it was very painful to explain. Brings me back to the questions asked in London, “Saang hospital ka?” “May balak kang mag-TNT dito no?” “Di talaga, nagbabakasyon ka lang?” My friend in Italy suffered the same, being a student in music. Stereotyped by stereotypes. 

On the other side of things, I want to ask why am I born in my country? Having to carry the green passport with all the disadvantages that go with it. Why am I born to a country where my concept of money can actually be translated to just pence and pennies? Why am I born to a country which can boast of almost nothing to the field where I am working? And I actually don’t know the answer. Or maybe we can rephrase the questions into statements- I can be proud of my passport regardless. I can earn more than these people earning in pounds and euros if I try harder. I can work where I am most familiar with, with what we already have. 

It is easy saying it actually. Well, its easier saying it now than before. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

europe dyaris 6


Unlike London, Paris is more carefree and young. Unlike London, Paris is more fashionable in the middle of the cold fall. Unlike London, Paris speaks french and loving it. It was very hard the first few days until I got the hang of it. Eating in a restaurant tasting the so called 'french cuisine' is a challenge whether the waiter would actually understand me, more often than not, they did, much to my delight. 

Walking the streets of Paris is like browsing through the pages of History of Western Architecture. Almost every single street in the city has a story to tell. Almost every corner is a monument standing that is hundreds of years old. And whatever carving or architectural detail we have in Manila combined, it will not match a single monument in this city. And we are just talking about the streets. Entering the Louvre is another story. You will not need books on art movements, just enter the Louvre. And it is true what they say, a day is not enough to tour the entire museum. And it is not the only museum in the city, and yes, not only the museums but also the cemeteries, about fifty percent of what you read is buried in this city. Ok I'll stop because I'm getting obvious that I'm actually overwhelmed. 

I thought I will have the same feeling when I saw the Eiffel. In daylight, from afar, the Tour Eiffel looked like a paper weight. It becomes different when you see it at night. Now, I know why it is called the City of Lights. 

It's my last night in Paris and I just finished checking-in online in Haven't packed yet but that one will be fast. I was expecting I can do some shopping in the city of lights but to my dismay, I have been to other places where the same items are sold a lot cheaper (Manila, for example) I decided not to. Besides, I really don't have the money to splurge. I'm  here in europe for the photos really, and that's about it. It was twenty five days of worthwhile experience. Went to museums, parks, the typical tourist attractions, bought post cards, ref magnets and yeah, ate the food where it is best served. Cheese and wine in Provence, ragu bolognese and pizza in Bologna, fresh milk in Amsterdam, cappuccino along the grand canal in Venice, beer in Munich, crepe in Paris (better if it was in Normandy though), fish and chips (eww!!) in London. The baguette and saucisson survived me during my train rides, and yeah I still miss rice. I miss lucky me, I miss the tinola of Bebing, I miss my family. 

Glad that I'm going home to the Philippines tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

europe dyaris 5

Munchen and Amsterdam

Im in my room in Paris and I can’t help but think about home. Im going back to Manila tomorrow. I’m way lagged behind this diary and there are just so many things to write about. It’s ten in the morning and I don’t have the drive to get out of my room. My last day in Paris- as of this trip is concerned. 

After Bologna, I took the night train to Munich. Originally, to buy a Samsonite bag. Im going to Germany just to buy a Samsonite bag. But my cheap bag did not reach Germany. I bought the bag in Bologna. Luckily, when I went to Munich, they have the same price. I smiled to myself, at least I was not duped in Bologna. 

Munich, the capital of Oktoberfest. I arrived there two days after the last day of the beer festival. It was pretty quiet. Just like the rest of Europe, it boasts of it’s old buildings. The picturesque riverbanks and on a far distance, the Alps. Not like the rest of Europe, this city is terribly chilly. Coming from the south, I was warned by my friend to be ready for it. I thought I was (even with my thermals on). 

From Munich, I took the night train again to Amsterdam. Arrived in Amsterdam at about nine in the morning the following day. I met a couple of friends (whom I don’t think I will ever see) on the train. 

First one was this English lady who escaped her German husband and went to Italy. She was on her way back to Munich to settle the legal papers for her children so they can have the money to go back to England. Next was this old lady on the train station who half the time I can barely understand and the third one was this Korean guy in the train. He was the only one who talked in english during that trip so we got along well the entire trip. It was in Amsterdam that he doesn’t want to let go of my hands when we said our good byes. 


The sex capital of the world. The pot capital. The flower capital. The gay capital. The city of bikes.  A lot has been attributed to this small city in the province of Holland. Surrounded by canals and lying below sea level, this city reminds me of the story we read in grade five - A leak in the Dike. Now, I got to understand why the leak should be stopped.

I found my hotel in Amsterdam fast. I took the taxi. It’s a charming B&B just outside the perimeter street on the central part of the city. I have to say, the owners are as charming as well.

Walking around the city gives you this feeling of being trampled by their leaning buildings. Now, unlike the rest of Europe, Amsterdam is more funky when it comes to interiors while their exteriors are of Housseman  era. There are Museums everywhere you go, from Van Gogh to the Sex Museum. 

Probably the next thing that they should make into a museum is their red light district. Mainly because of many of those in their windows are already of museum quality. 

I was supped to leave Amsterdam 19th of October but because of of so many things, my train left me. I got stuck there for another night. And finally, after so many train stops, I got to Paris the following day.

europe dyaris 4


I am still here in my room in Paris. My first night in the city of lights and my room indeed has one bare warm white power saver compact flourescent. My first night here was almost a disaster. I was supposed to arrive yesterday but because of the strike of the rail workers in France and the traffic in Amsterdam, I missed my train. I left Amsterdam this lunch and and after two train transfers (Antwerpen, Belgium and Lille, France) I finally reached Paris. Only to find out that my hotel cancelled my reservations because I was a no show yesterday. I tried to call them. 

Pretty much unlike in Italy. The visit to Bologna was unplanned yet came out to be one of the most endearing. Rica was a friend way back in the musical Elias at Salome way back in 1996. A few year after that I never got a word from her only to find out that she was already in Italy in my friendster eleven years later. unlike most Filipinos in Italy, she is a student. To make it more unlikely, a student of music. And yes, she can pass for a tourist guide. 

Bologna means nothing for me except for Bolognese. That spaghettini with a lot of tomato sauce and meat. Basically the one most popularly bastardized by a lot of us. It was that morning when we walked around the city that I found out that Bologna is one of the centers of education in Italy (if not the world). They have the first university that started in the year 300, a library with an extensive collection of manuscripts and records from the medieval era, fully modernized archival system and a lobby with glass flooring underneath of which is a museum of the pre-roman city ruins, and yes, Einstein launched his theories here and Guilelmo Marconi is from this city too. Bologna is also the city of Porticos, they invented this structure.  

They say, this is one of the old Italian cities. I can’t help but agree with them. Especially after tasting the Ragu Bolognese prepared for me for my last dinner there.

europe dyaris 3


I’m back in Paris. I should have written this a long time ago but did not have the time or the  space (in the train) to do so. The last one was when I was on my way back to this city just to run (literally with my 600-peso bag with a 24 kilo load) to the other station to catch another train going to Venezia (forgive me for using their original names, you just have to so that you won’t get confused when you’re looking at train schedules).

My cousin Jinny told me to enjoy TGV because they are the best trains in Europe. She was right. The train I got to Venice was an experience. Being very tired did help. I was asleep the whole time and when I woke up, I was alone in the cabin of six and I can smell the mediterranean from the open window by the aisle of the train. 

The plan was to meet Rica in Bologna but after much changes, we decided to meet in Venezia, deposit my bag, walk the whole day then catch the last train to Bologna for the night. Exactly what we did except that we caught the second to the last train.

Venice is not Italy. You can very well say it has it’s own architecture, it has its own culture, it has it’s own world. Its not even part of this world. From the gate of the station, you can see the grand canal. From there, you have the option to either walk, or take the public ferry  or take the taxi boat. For the experience, you can hire the popular gondola with it’s legendary rate of 95 euros an hour. I was very tempted to try it but I was stopped by Rica saying it’s not worth it (imagine if you’re alone paying for it?). Well, almost everything in this group of small islands is expensive. Regular coffee is 4 euros 50- convert that into peso. Sans the tourist, hoards and hoards of tourists, Venezia is one place I can truly say -- BEAUTIFUL. 

I waited for Rica for about fifteen minutes. An hour of walking and we found ourselves sipping coffee along the banks of the grand canal. Quite pricey for 4.50 euros a cup but the experience is priceless. Walking along the narrow streets of Venice is like being transported to some medieval flea market (translated to divisoria really, if you think about it) with murano glass scattered from all directions. 

The structures are hybrid of European and upper African architecture. The mosaic work of the Basilica di San Marco (and yes, Mark, of the New Testament, is buried inside) is amazing. The piazza, the porticos around the piazza, the small alleys and the canals are picturesque. And yes, Venezia is all about it. It’s hideously commercialized and it will be pointless to spend the night there. By the time that we are about to leave, almost all of the shops are already closed. Maybe during the spring carnival where everybody is donning their venetian masks and revelry is all night long (as they say, it’s better than the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro). 

Maybe I will come back just for that. 

Thursday, October 18, 2007

europe dyaris 2

Trying to read something that you can’t really understand is an exercise of intuition. Pictograms help. A lot of times, I would like to think that the international language really are illustrations (to refute my grade five music teacher). 

From Rossy Charles de Gaulle, I took Air France Bus #4 because I read it somewhere that this bus will bring me to Gare de Lyon. It did. I was in the train station trying to figure out what to do with my Eurail Pass and when I finally had the courage to approach the ticket guy, I was told that I should go to other windows because he can’t validate my ticket. I went to the other side of the hall and went to a window. I had no clue that ‘firme’ means close yet I tried my luck anyway. The kind french woman in her 40’s (or 30’s?) validated my pass and gave me my ticket.

Apol picked me up from Gare de Montpellier at about midnight. There were students loitering around the station. I was already outside and she came from inside the station . We reached their place about thirty minutes later. Somehow, a hundred kilometres in this part of the world is not far at all. 

I was given my trailer. It’s my first time to actually enter one. Apol and her husband live at the other trailer a few steps from mine. And I got excited to sleep in such.

The following morning was very relaxed. Just as I expected. As compared to the other country across the English Channel, France down south is relaxed and child like. Amidst the preserved architecture are windows and doors in high color. They spell fun in caps. By some pleasant coincidence, I arrived in Aigues Mortes just in time for their fete. “Pumunta akong France para mamista!” Now, spell fun in bold.

I am in my seat right now in a train en route to paris to get to my overnight train to Venice. From where I’m seated, chateaus and villages cling to hillsides amidst the vast fields.  

Provence has this reputation back home of one of the most inspiring places to visit in Europe. Maybe because Van Gogh had his Sunflowers grow from this place. The region boasts of dry flat lands with communes older than the Philippine Republic. One particular area is the walled Aigues Mortes. Let’s talk about Intramuros. Make the walls lime (or was it sandstone?) and triple the height. Now, remove the moss, make the gates gothic, and add towers every one hundred meters. And yes, make the walls seamless and poke spear holes on the lower part and add teethlike finish on the upper part. I was told Intramuros is a fortress. I want to bring that person to Aigues Mortes and show him a fortress. Around the area is a landscape thats dry and raw. Pretty much like the people. Very simple and pure. 

I was introduced to Jeanette, Apol’s mother-in-law, a very pleasant lady who brought us to this brunch with the entire town. She has this very pronounced sense of pride about her town and about Provence in general. She invited me to her house and almost every single piece has a story. Of course, to say that the house has some character is an understatement. I can’t really say that designers would automatically love her place but sure it can charm anybody’s innocent fantasy. But that's beside the point, the house wreaks of symbols and objects endemic to Provence and that alone is admirable. Such characteristic is almost extinct back home. 

Jeannette is not alone. Apol brought me to this market in Camargue the products are screaming of culture- raw and pure. There is warmth in this community and even if you can’t understand what they are saying, you would know you are in good company.

Pierre brought me to the station this afternoon. Made sure I get my ticket before actually leaving me for their climb today that I was supposed to join. I am glad, I was in good company.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Europe dyaris... 1

It started with Apol telling me to visit her in Provence. Admittedly, I had a very vague idea where Provence is. They said, it is the provincial France, specifically located on the southern part. I contemplated on the idea, tried to do some math vis-a-vis my finances. It was impossible.

I told Apol, “Maybe next year...” not being sure of everything. Then I tried telling my friends about it. They got more excited more than I. It was when I got to be introduced to my travel agent a few months after that the plan became more concrete, at least the expenses. It was that time that I started doing feelers to my mom. Good thing that we, as a family started traveling together in and outside of the country.

You see, travel in my parents vocabulary when we were young is as vague as latin. It was never part of life. To actually think about it is totally absurd. My dad would often say, it is just a waste of money.

I hope to see the Eiffel from where I sit while writing this- First class TGV to Montpellier. Mont... what? I bought this Eurail pass from my agent before I left Manila. As advised by a friend whom I’m meeting when I go back to Paris before I fly back to Manila.

Way back in Manila, when I was still in UP (where I willingly flunked my French 10), I would see photos of paintings and architecture period styles and just wonder how they are built and made. Studying them and forcing yourself to actually appreciate and master each style with just pictures was doubly hard. I would only wish I can touch them or see them in real life so my memory won’t fail me.

It was last January that I told myself, I will not only visit Apol but make the most of the trip. After all, airfare to Europe is not cheap. The original plan was June. It was moved to August. I tried to make it August but the British Embassy did not allow me. They had my passport on hostage for two months making me almost lose hope. It was when my Schengen visa was given by the French Embassy that I decided to push thru with it regardless of my fluctuating finances.

As birthday gift, my aunt gave me a considerable amount for my pocket money. And my mom agreed to sponsor my airfare. With those on my sleeve, I’m ready to go. Except that I still have responsibilities to finish. And it reached the end of September for work to be done. To be honest, they are still not done but I don’t want to reschedule my ticket.

I arrived in London October 2 at six in the morning. The stories are true, London is cold and wet. My friend picked me up from Heathrow then we took the train to the nearest station where he lives. The initial sight of London did not disappoint me. Brick Victorian homes with remnants of Neo-classic adobe and the far too old Tudor. Then the train went underground.It was when we got off and took the stairs that I got awed by the city. The first thing I saw in central London was the Parliament, full in it’s Gothic revival grandeur. I almost bump into some Japanese tourists primarily because I can’t seem to remove my eyes from it. My friend’s place is just across the bridge over Thames. I told myself, “I’m the luckiest tourist in town!”

London. Aside from being cold and wet, and expensive!, the city boasts of the finer things in life- the height of urban living. It is a city that treasures it’s age while enjoying what modernism can give. The city that stands contented yet operating like a fully lubed clock.

The city of townhouses. In the central part particularly Westminster City is filled with multilevel thin houses built side by side with each other. On the ground level are mostly commercial establishments. If you look closer, There is either a gap between the pavements and the buildings (with rails) or the walkway is lined with glass blocks, just enough to provide natural light to the basement. Basements abode the city. Simply goes to show how old the place is. Maybe, once upon a time, the ground level was way lower than where it is now.

The train system is complicated. It carries the entire city from underneath. On the ground is a vast systematized routes for buses. Needless to say, you don’t really need a car to get you around the city. Taxi rides remain to be a luxury. And yes, who wouldn’t want to walk on old narrow cobblestone roads? With the cold weather, anybody from Manila would know what I mean.

One thing about the city that struck me was the existence of theatre as an industry. Shows are being watched by walk-ins and well appreciated. Tickets are sold everywhere, posters and streamers are all over the city. To be a stage actor in this city is actually a legitimate job. Maybe paying better than others. I was told that once upon a time, Manila was like that. Before the advent of the now deteriorating movie industry. If only for that reason, I would want to live in London. Now, stage plays in Manila are nothing but required field trips to high school students.

I watched four shows in London from the planned six. Not bad I thought, considering the ticket prices. Thanks to Rob who shouldered almost everything.

I reached Montpelier midnight as scheduled. I will be writing more about France soon.