I have been lucky nonetheless for being able to visit more countries in 2013. To date, I’ve got a total of 19 countries and over a hundred cities and towns. In 2013, I was able to add 9 new countries and over 20 new cities on my list, which is quite a lot by the way, compared to previous years of my traveling spree. Lucky me.
Another too, I just found a new travel buddy – my husband. And lucky boy, he’s been to over 50 countries all throughout his life. So that perhaps explains why I’m more inspired to travel around and discover more new places. It might be also my competitive side that’s secretly wanting to beat his high travel score, too!
So yes, 2013 is the year that I finally got hitched, to the man I love who is apparently a genuine travel junkie. Truth is, our travels this year are comprised of events that somewhat led us to take our relationship to the next level – settling down to eventually start a family we’ll call our own. In most weekends, my husband and I would spend quality time together visiting nearby places such as Lyon and Interlaken. As we visited other places in Switzerland and France, I also started meeting his friends. Last August, we went to Belgium for me to meet his family and friends. By the following month, we got married in Denmark and went to Italy for our honeymoon. Then by December, we flew to the Philippines for him to meet my family and friends, and to get to know more about my home country as well.
My travel moments have just gotten better this 2013, and here are the 10 most memorable times.
1. Savoring the gastronomic capital of France – Lyon
Lyon must have been popular as home for the greatest classic 3-star Michelin restaurants in France – Paul Bocuse, Troisgros, Georges Blanc, Anne-Sophie Pic, Alain Chapel and La Pyramide. Nevertheless, the good way to enjoy traditional Lyonnaise cuisines is through visiting this type of restaurant they call as bouchon. From its hefty menu at a very reasonable price, I was able to enjoy salade Lyonnaise, fatty escargots, Andouillette, duck pâté, and French wines coming from Rhone and Burgundy regions.
As it is also the second largest Renaissance city after Venice, Lyon is rich in culture and history. And it is very evident when we strolled around Vieux Lyon and Croix-Rousse. For a panoramic view of Lyon, we went up to Fourvière. Then I went to Presqu’île to do what most women like doing. Believe me or not, shopping in Lyon was intoxicating. There were lots of interesting finds, yet less expensive than in Switzerland.
For all the gastronomy, sightseeing, and shopping experience, it is worth visiting Lyon all over again.
2. Champagne tasting in Reims and mustard picking in Dijon
I’d always associate Dijon as a mustard kind, which is true enough that the best mustard in the world originated here. But little I did know about Reims, until we got invited for some champagne tasting activity in this city.
Nowadays, Reims, along with Epernay and Ay, is one of the big producers of champagne. Many of les grandes marques (champagne-producing houses) have its headquarters in Reims. And of course, who wouldn’t miss the infamous Dom Pérignon? While I was starting to get tipsy as we’re “tasting” wines, er, champagnes, I had a rare opportunity to visit the abbey where the monk peacefully lies. But then, I met and tasted Henri Giraud. I got infatuated to it right away, without knowing how expensive it would be, I still bought a bottle to bring home.
After a few days in Reims, my husband and I visited Dijon next. In this Burgundian city, I bought all the Dijon mustards I can carry home. Here I also had my first taste of beef bourguignon, with a tray full of cheeses to boot, for our sheer delight.
3. Road trip to Avenches, Thun, Spiez, Interlaken and Bern
I personally enjoyed the trip to this side of Switzerland. We spent the whole day visiting these nice towns namely, Avenches, Thun and Spiez. We were able to see a Roman amphitheater in Avenches, the downstream of Aar river that flows majestically out of Lake Thun, and the historic castle in Spiez. We arrived in Interlaken and decided to stay for a couple of days. It could have been perfect except for the rainy weather that didn’t entice us to go up and visit the “top of Europe,” the Jungfrau. Going back home, we passed by Bern and I was glad to meet the Bernese bears and see the medieval Zytglogge clock tower.
4. Getting to know my second home, Belgium
It was not only meeting his family and friends but also was an opportune time to get to know my hubby’s home country – Belgium that is. I was eagerly anticipating a visit to a frite kot (“Belgian fries stand”) but for some unknown reasons, my husband seemed to be diverting my attention to something else, which appeared to be much more interesting anyway. Going around Mechelen, I found colorful 16th-century houses, the palace of Margaret of Austria, old nunneries and convents, the rustic Het Anker Brewery, and a carillon concert. Then in Antwerp, I found the statue of hand-thrower hero Brabo standing in front of 16th-century guild houses, the adventurous Tintin and the gang, Nelo and Patrasche, its beautiful central train station, and house of diamonds from which we bought our wedding rings.
Then this December, we spent Christmas with my husband’s family in Belgium. During our stay, I was also able to visit Brussels for the first time. Of course, I couldn’t skip seeing the Mannekin Pis and a freebie, the Jannekin Pis too!
Yet still, no frite kot. Anyhow, I can always look forward to it, just the same as I excitingly look forward to seeing myself with a new life in Belgium.
5. Tying the knot in Aeroskobing, Denmark
We took the smell of Nordic romance, uncomplicated and free, and embraced Denmark as the wedding place to be. We chose Aeroskobing, a quaint, peaceful island-village that is full of maritime past. Days before the wedding, we stayed in Copenhagen . My first taste of anything Danish started here in this sophisticated capital city.
It’s a must for every first-time visitor to take a canal cruise in Copenhagen. It’s also a great way to do sightseeing while experiencing a genuine maritime atmosphere. After the canal boat tour, we started strolling around until we finally reached the beautiful stretch of Nyhavn, to take more photos and grab a beer or two.
Then off we went to melancholic Aeroskobing where we finally tied the knot as Mr and Mrs. Definitely, we’re onto a new journey in our lives.
After getting married in a fairytale-like Nordic island called Aeroskobing, we flew back to Switzerland, packed our luggages again and went on to our honeymoon the next day. Yet the honeymoon seemed to continue after Italy. We also went to visit Porto in Portugal for a long weekend, and the Philippines for 3 weeks.
6. Hiking through the five villages of Cinque Terre
Otherwise known as the “Five Lands,” Cinque Terre features five beautiful fishing villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We stayed in Levanto, a village that lies at the northern end of these little villages of Cinque Terre. After many months of being in the cold, we had our first good dose of Italian sun at its beach.
We took the train to visit these five villages, starting at the opposite end and heading back to Levanto. We were only able to visit Riomaggiore, Manarola and Monterosso al Mare. We thought we could be able to visit the two other villages by car, but we found out along the way that the roads heading to Vernazza and Corniglia were closed. Taking the hiking trails in Cinque Terre would have been an amazing, rewarding experience as well.
7. Experiencing Italian life in Tuscany and Siena
As soon as we reached Tuscany, we visited Pisa to see its famous leaning campanile; and the walled city Lucca to see the symbolic tower with trees sitting atop of it. We stayed in a centuries-old villa in Buggiano, which is a dainty village sitting atop of a hill with a panoramic sight of other Tuscan towns and olive trees growing bountiful all around. We also went to visit Florence particularly, the Medici chapels, the Uffizi Gallery and Ponte Vecchio. Then we relaxed ourselves in historic thermal baths before we headed to equally stunning Siena.
The province of Siena has the most majestic, enchanting hilly landscapes that I’ve ever seen, particularly, the Val d’Orcia that we saw afar from Pienza, which is also one of the interesting medieval villages I visited. We also went around to visit the famous wine villages – Montepulciano and Montalcino. And of course, we also visited the medieval city, Siena.
It was a bummer that we didn’t stay in Siena that long. Staying either in a rustic farmhouse or a romantic medieval castle, we could have enjoyed hiking or biking around its cultivated lands, relishing traditional Italian dishes and savory Tuscan wines, visiting historical sites, and more. If there’s any chance, I’ll surely come back to Siena. Here it’s dolce vita at its finest.
8. Falling in love all over again in Verona and Venice
Truth is, it was in Verona that I fell in love right away to a seductive Amarone della Valpolicella. I enjoyed Amarone very much when we went to an open wine tasting in Musella estate and during an exquisite dinner at Antica Bottega del Vino. A euphoric moment it was that I started moonlighting of becoming a sommelier, for the nth time! I might be infatuated, yet indeed it was still a luscious meeting between Amarone and me.
Then, of course, Venice. Seeing its grand architecture and artworks, and the charming gondolas, I surely was smitten.
9. A taste of Porto and its port wines
I’ve always been curious about Portugal. It started when I asked my dad, “Of all the places you have been, which is the best for you?” And he answered, “Portugal. Lisbon, particularly.”
It was supposed to be Lisbon first, but since he’s been there already, hubby suggested if there’s any other place in Portugal where I can take my training. I replied, “there is one in Porto.” Obviously, for me, Porto is unheard of. At any rate, I don’t mind. It’s still a slice of Portugal I can enjoy for the first time. Off we then went to Porto.
It was its old mysterious, gothic charm that makes Porto fascinating. Walking along its old zigzag streets is a labyrinth to the city’s extravagant baroque churches and iconic buildings, while the steep ones lead to the Ribiera, the oldest part of Porto and a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, straddling along the Rio Duoro.
Porto feasted us with its gastronomical specialties such as tripas à modo do Porto, tripe cooked with dried beans, vegetables, pig’s trotters and offals served with rice; bacalhau, dried and salted cod cooked in different ways (one of which I had was bacalhau com todos, as translated literally, “cod with everyone,” which consisted of boiled bacalhau and vegetables and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and wine vinegar); francesinha, bread topped with steak, sausage and cheese and a beer-flavored sauce; and pastel de nata, the infamous Portuguese egg tart. And of course, the Port Wine, or Vinho do Porto, is a sweet, red wine with huge varieties, that is exclusively produced in the Duoro valley in Porto.
It’s a perfect weekend after all. Yet visiting Porto doesn’t seem to be enough, I’m afraid. I eagerly look forward to visiting Portugal again, and hopefully I make it to Lisbon.
10. At home in Pinas with my Mister
I have been away from home for almost 2 years, so just imagine how excited I was when we decided to spend our new year holiday in the Philippines. Not only I would be able to see my family and friends again, but I also would be able to formally present my husband with them. At the same time, I also planned to tour him around more, so he can see tiny bits of my home country.
The Philippines isn’t entirely new for him. As a matter of fact, it must be his fifth visit to the country already, but usually it’s only for the New Year celebration in Boracay when he and his friends from all over, who’ve originally met each other either in Shanghai or Hong Kong, would get all together. After the NYC in Boracay, we then flew to Cebu, took a ferry to Dumaguete, flew back to Manila and wandered there around, and went on a road trip to Batangas and Tagaytay. So far, he survived. Happy moi!
So…what’s up for On the Go in 2014?
No definite travel plans so far, as it’s always been the case. Predictably we could be in more places in Europe or in the Philippines maybe during the holidays. What I can assure somehow – because this is going to be my new year’s resolution – is that I’ll spend time to blog more about my travels. Right away, beefed up with lots of stories, photos, tips and ideas worth sharing.
Apart from that, I wish our traveling would be more into “quality over quantity.” A slow travel so to speak, and for me that means, we stay longer in one place without the maddening rush to get to another destination, so we can really get to know more about the place, and spend quality time with ourselves and each other at the same time. Take a pause. Think and immerse. Saunter and enjoy the details.
Let our feet itch to travel again and take us where it will interest us. So 2014, give us some giddy-yaps!