Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Getting Lost In Amsterdam. Then Riding The Canal Cruise.

The walking tour ended shortly past lunch time. For some reason, I wasn’t really hungry even after all that walking. I still had pent-up energy. I was supposed to spend the rest of the day visiting one or two museum. I decided to go to Rijksmusuem by taking tram 10, my destination was just two stops away. boarded.

The standard Amsterdam shot with the canal as the backdrop.
I was discreetly looking at the map to watch for the street signs. Even if I was sitting in front of the screen, my short term memory cannot keep up with the names of the streets. I was supposed to get off at the Nieuwe Spiegelgracht stop. Sige nga, i-memorize mo yan. The tram had a couple of stops which are difficult to memorize as well. The tram stopped... at its last stop. I was the only one left in the tram and the doors were left open. The conductor said ”Last stop”. I got out.

Around Amsterdam: The Walking Tour

First, I have to get to my hostel for this leg to get rid of my stuff.
I will be staying here: Stayokay Amsterdam Stadsdoelen Kloveniersburgwal  97.
The last two words are a mouthful to memorize.

To get there, I have to take tram 4/9/16/24 or 25 and get off at Munplein. Muntplein. Muntplein. Inside the Centraal station, I asked where I can find the trams. The information person said “just outside”. So went outside and found the trams. But but but, I cannot find and of the trams that I should be riding even after waiting for almost an hour.

Passed time taking pics.

Arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport

After more than 12 hours of flight, I landed in the continent of my dreams. Schiphol airport was another state of the art airport.  This gorgeous airport is actually below sea level. Amazing eh?


First thing in order was to find my luggage. I had to pass by immigration first. The IO just asked me “how long will you stay in Amsterdam?”. I simply answered “two nights”. Tatak! Muwahahahaha! Said a silent prayer of thanks for my safe and stress-free arrival. Then I’m off to find my luggage.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fly Day: NAIA 1, We Meet Again.

I woke up after less than three hours of sleep. After receiving my visa, the next 72 hours was spent in a daze of preparations for this trip. I didn’t wake up with 2500% enthusiasm since I still had to go to work for a meeting. After all, I gave a very short notice that my Europe trip will push through. I happily rode the MRT to work and I was already daydreaming of riding trains across Europe. Haha! Advance celebration. Practice lang ng feeling. 

After lunch, I headed home to get my baggage. My mom and dad (he also took a half day) drove me to the airport. This is the first time that I will be away from home and from them for more than 3 weeks. To add to their worries, I was traveling alone. They thought that it was an unsafe idea for me to push through with the trip. But in the end, they were understanding and supportive of my decision (read: wala na silang nagawa dahil hindi na ako mapipigilan :P). I am very thankful to have such parents. :)

I was still stressed out about my stuff during our long drive to NAIA. I wasn’t actually done packing but I had no time to finish packing at home so I just brought everything I might need in the car and tried to squeeze them all in my 40L backpack to no avail. (You know, I might just need extra whatnot, just in case lang talaga!) In the end, I had to let go of books, a couple of shirts, a hat, and some toiletries. What was left were those in this list.

Just Before You Fly: Pre-Europe Errands



These are all part of my to-do lists before flying off to Europe. I researched those errands that I should be doing but due to my visa issues, I only had a short time-frame to do this.

Currency
The philippine Peso (Php) is not accepted in European money changers. You have to bring USD to Euros. Sanry’s Money Changer does not sell currencies anymore. If you want to change Php to USD or Euro, you have to resort to other money changers like Czarina’s (they require three working days reservation I think). Since I did not have that time, I had to buy dollars which I planned to convert to euros once I find a decent money changer in my first stop (Amsterdam).

Turned out that the exchange rates were bad bad bad. I was expecting a 100 USD= 72 EUR exchange when I was  there but the best deal was 100 USD = 70 EUR. A total rip-off! I just changed 200 dollars to 125 euros (really bad airport rates) to get to the city and I regret changing that.I should have done an ATM withdrawal  - which proved to have better rates. There were bad dollar to euro rates from Amsterdam to Paris.

How To Pack For a Europe Trip

So...Europe is really gonna happen! MUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! After the approval of my Schengen visa, I floated back to the office grinning ear to ear. Once I sat down back in my desk, I knew that I had to move fast to do all the work delegations that I postponed. I had to book rail tickets. I had to book the tours. I had to buy Euros. And most of all, I had to pack! Since I only had three days left before I fly out, this was a nerve wracking experience for me.

I already researched about the recommended packing list for backpackers and customized it accordingly for me:

Backpack vs. Wheeled Luggage. Since I was doing Europe on a budget, I thought a backpack would make me a more “authentic” backpacker. I bought a new Sandugo Ascent 40 backpack for Php 2,100 (it was on 20% off sale) for this trip. Wrong choice. I packed the backpack to its full potential without any thought that I would be shopping alond the way. Good thing I had access to a medium sized luggage in my next city. For my next Europe trip, I’ll ditch the backpack.

The backbreakers:


Monday, November 28, 2011

Applying for a Schengen Visa (Europe Visa) - Italian Embassy

Updated: August 2016
This blog entry pertains to the Schengen Visa application for my Europe 2011 trip (Denied-Reapplied-Approved)
For my Europe 2013 trip, I lodged my Schengen Visa Application in the Spanish Embassy (Approved).
For my Europe 2016 trip, I applied for Schengen Visa in German Embassy (Approved).

I am not a visa officer nor a visa agent. This post comes from my own personal experience. I prepared and submitted the visa application myself.

I love being a Filipino but I so hate being a Philippine Passport Holder. It is a hindrance to my travel plans. For travelers like me, we have to undergo the nerve-wracking visa application process.

Philippine passport holders are required to apply for a Schengen Visa when entering any of the 25 member states:

Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden
Switzerland

Criteria for Booking Hostels In Europe

Since I was traveling alone on a budget, hostels were the best option for me. Hostels have dorm-type rooms wherein you can rent a bed for a night. You share the room with other travelers.Most hostels have bunk beds:















 







My non-negotiable criteria. Everything that should be available in a hostel:
1) Locker
2) Breakfast
3) Hot shower
4) Wifi

Europe Itinerary and Budget Breakdown

After weeks of careful planning, I finally finalized my itinerary:
DATEACTIVITYCOUNTRY
Day 119:50 - Depart ManilaPhilippines
Day 206:35 - Arrive in Amsterdam/ Amsterdam Walking TourNetherlands
Day 3Explore AmsterdamNetherlands
Day 4Train from Amsterdam to Cologne -Cologne Cathedral, Explore CologneNetherlands/Germany
Day 5Cologne - Hop-on Hop off bus Around CologneGermany
Day 6Cologne - Rhine River Cruise, More of CologneGermany
Day 7Cologne to Bruhl - PhantasialandGermany
Day 8Travel from Cologne to Hahn Airport. Fly to Venice. Explore VeniceGermany/Italy
Day 9More of VeniceItaly
Day 10Train from Venice to Florence, explore FlorenceItaly
Day 11Florence City TourItaly
Day 12Day trip - Cinque TerreItaly
Day 13Day trip - Tuscany Tours: San Gimignano and SiennaItaly
Day 14Florence to RomeItaly
Day 15Rome Ruins: Colloseum, Roman ForumItaly
Day 16Vatican City plus more of RomeItaly
Day 17Morning: Rome. Afternoon: Fly To ParisItaly/France
Day 18Paris - Ile de la Cité /Notre-Dame/Latin QuarterFrance
Day 19Paris - Tour the Louvre/Champs-Elysées/Arc de Triomphe /Eiffel TowerFrance
Day 20Chateau de VersaillesFrance
Day 21Paris - Musee D' Orsay/Rodin Museum/Napoleon's TombFrance
Day 22Paris Shopping Day/ Train from Paris To Asterdam/ Overnight in AMSFrance/Netherlands
Day 2314:00 Flight from Amsterdam to ManilaNetherlands
Day 2411:15 Arrive in ManilaPhilippines


Whew! I’ll discuss my adventures, tips and costs in detail as I go along my Europe series.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Europe Planning: Online Resources. Helpful websites.

You will be bombarded with information all over the internet in planning for this trip. I’ve narrowed down a couple of the most useful websites that I used. This list is non-exhaustive and inclusion of the websites in this list is based on purely personal choice:
Flight search engines

Check the routes and rates offered by different carriers. It is still better to book using the website of the carrier itself.
Skyscanner
Wego
Low cost carriers in Europe:
Aside from Easyjet and Ryainair, there’s a whole bunch of other LCCs in Europe. Find them here: http://www.etn.nl/lcosteur.htm
Trains
Study your routes. Then find out which train operators travel from point A to B. Book using the ACTUAL website of the train operator.
Seat 61 – quite a long read about train travel in Europe read but very helpful.
Italian trains: Trenitalia
German trains: Dbbahn


My bookmarks for my Europe adventure:




















Friday, November 25, 2011

Managing The Europe Budget. Maximizing Your Money.

This involved staring at my excel spreadsheet and multiple open tabs and windows of my browser for hours. I frequently got lost in the maze and overwhelming information available online. I stretched, rolled up my sleeves and slaved away my eyes and brain for hours over the next couple of weeks to carefully create my itinerary with budget for this trip.

You can draft a rough budget on”a per day, per expense basis”. Example:
Plane fare – USD 1,000
Accommodations- 25-40 euros a night
Sightseeing – 30-50 euros
Food - 30-40 euros/day

I found this approach in doing my research online. However, I don’t think I can fly with this draft budget only. I poured time in crafting my own itinerary.

Scout for Cheap Plane Fare

Plane fares are cheaper if you buy them way ahead of your travel dates. If you are lucky enough, you’d be able to catch a nice deal when airlines offer seat sales. That’s why it would be good if you have a draft itinerary prepared so you are ready to pounce on the next seat sale. However, make sure that the ticket is refundable since you still need a visa. A round trip economy plane fare will cost you around USD 1,300-1,500 USD. You could also scout for airfare deals in travel fairs.

I bought my roundtrip ticket for USD 1,000 via Cathay Pacific five months before by departure date. Lucky me that there was a seat sale! It was refundable subject to a minimal fee. Note that a round trip booking is not a requirement for the Schengen visa application. I took a risk of booking a ticket already. A plane reservation is required for visa purposes. A travel agent can help you with this one or you can go to the airline directly. Can’t expound on those options since I didn’t do that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Planning For The Ultimate Europe Adventure

How the heck do I plan for a three-week solo backpacking trip across Europe? Where to start? How? Take a deep breath.

Then google... “How to plan for a three-week solo backpacking trip across Europe?”. Nyaharharhar! That’s what I did. Ka boom! I got dozens of planning tips who did this before. I am sharing the most important planning tips based on my personal experience:

Decide where to go
You know the countries. But you have to know further that each country have plenty of cities. Plenty. Do you have a particular place that you’ve been dreaming about going? A picture that motivated you to go there? A story that you recall that just made you want to experience it yourself?

Weave your path

So you want to go to Eiffel Tower, Vatican City and Santorini? Me too! When I started planning, I thought the entire Europe can be traveled using their train system. NOT! I had to drop Greece and Spain from my itinerary because they just didn't fit.

Know who you are.
Sounds like an advice to a teenager choosing what course to take in college. But this will define what type of itinerary will fit your taste and how you want to travel.

Are you a backpacker?
Do you mind sharing a room with strangers?
Do you prefer museums, or architectural work?
Buildings vs. Paintings?
Churches or Gardens?


Some Tips in Planning:
Planning is overwhelming. Be prepared for a barrage of information. Even with all the planning experience I have for local trips, planning for a 24-day trip is a lot to handle. There’s too much info to digest after googling “Amsterdam itinerary for three days”. I’ve planned DIY trips before but nothing in this level. At times, I wanted to throw in the towel and just go with a group tour so that I won’t deal with this headache.

Notes from my planning stage:












Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How To Do Europe 2011

Where do you find the travel companions for this trip of a lifetime? When I dreamed about this trip, I didn’t think much of who I should go with – I just mapped out the savings plan and focused on that.

I learned from a Singapore trip with a friend that it is also her dream to go to Europe! She planned on going with her friends. So I invited myself. Weeeee! Unfortunately, she can't push through with her trip this year. I was still very decided to pursue my Europe 2011 dream. I can’t defer it and say "I’ll do it somehow ,someday". Someday is already here! Last February, I had to sort out my other options:

Executing The Budget Plan

Planning the financial side wasn’t really challenging. You can plug in the numbers and voila – there’s your budget. It is mathematically possible. You have a plan - Saved in a few kilobytes in an excel file. Now you have to execute the plan to convert that .xlsx file to Php.

Executing the plan.
I can proudly say I handle my money matters well.
Although I am a seasoned "budgeter", this plan was still quite challenging. How can I resist pre-ordering another pair of boots that I don’t need anyway? What kept me going is my dream. I know I know, CHEESY! CORNY! But the dream becomes more tangible when you have the plan how you can achieve that – the plan being reflected in the Excel File. Also, I know that my money will be going somewhere I really want.

Sticking with the plan.

This illustrates how I felt when I saved for this trip:


















I saved the total amount I needed within my self-imposed timeline. OH YEAH.

You can take a break if this plan is straining your finances but don't give up. When you feel like giving up, just read travel blogs and look at pictures of your dream destinations in Europe.

I am obsessed with monitoring my finances in excel. Yeap, I’m one of those people with an excel file for everything with worksheets for every aspect – Salary, Bank account, credit cards, plans all have a separate sheet. Keeps me in check.

Monday, November 21, 2011

How To Budget For a Europe Trip

Back in 2009, I was already doing pretty well with my finances – I think. I had an emergency fund set up, I'm investing my savings and I had no debts except for the current balance of my credit card. I was just occasionally splurging on a pair of shoes and what-nots. I didn’t have a sideline. Everything will come from my salary (getting a sideline didn't appeal to me). Time to have a concrete plan how Europe 2011 will happen. It will be quite expensive.
















Sunday, November 20, 2011

Europe - Let’s Make It Happen

Back in 2008, I was a working as an associate in a large auditing firm here in the Philippines. If you know someone working in an audit firm, then you've probably heard how low the pay is. Working in an audit firm gave me a fantastic training ground but unfortunately, it cannot fund my dreams. Not just dream of going to Europe, but dreams of traveling in general.

In 2008, I resigned and moved to a better paying job - with better working hours too. Around mid-2008, I read that World Youth Day 2011 will be held in Spain. This is my chance! I made it my goal to attend the WYD 2011 in Spain. Oh, I wasn't able to attend the one here in the Philippines with Pope John Paul II. A former officemate attended the WYD 2008 in ___. She told me that I should prepare USD 2500 for two weeks. Now I knew how to convert USD to PHP but I had no concept whatsoever how much that money is. However, I realized I wanted to conquer Europe, in a certain way: carefree!

I devised other methods of how I can travel to Europe:
  • Defer until am old, settled and retired with loads of money to spend. But at that age, my health may not allow me to travel or I do food trip adventure due to dietary restrictions.
  • Find a company here that will send me in Europe for trainings and assignments (Company sponsored trip? Why not?)
  • Find a way how to study in Europe. I like my life to much here in the Philippines to seriously consider this back then. Of course, this is still an option.
  • Make Europe happen now. I have a job right? Now how can I save for a trip like that? - I chose to do this one.
A goal, without a plan, is just a wish.




















I decided that I would do a three-week trip in Europe. Why 3 weeks? Well, that’s the number of vacation days that I get a year – that simple, hahaha! An officemate went to a EU tour back on 2009 and he said that I’ll need around 3,500 to 4,500 USD for three weeks. I did some minor research and USD 4,000 sounds about right – inclusive of everything. I pegged it at 5,000 to cover for unexpected expenses, impulse purchases and pasalubong.

So Loraine’s Europe 2011 Dream Destination Travel Extravaganza will approximately cost: $5,000 x Php xx = Php 2xx,xxx. That is the target goal. *Gulp*

I was doing some mild saving before I really had a solid idea how much that dream will cost me. Whoa. So this dream would cost me that much. I actually don’t have any inclination much THAT is. I never owned nor bought anything near that amount. After a couple of breaths, I set out a plan how to carry this out. Yes, I really opened an Excel workbook and started budgeting. Plotting it in excel will let me see how realistic it is.

Europe Dream: The Beginning

I started traveling around the Philippines in 2009 but this blog was born in 2010. I still have a lot of backlog entries from my other trips. I’ll post my Europe adventure first before I forget some of the stuff I’d like to share.
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“A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow.” - Ovid

I can't recall the moment that I decided I will go to Europe someday. Maybe it was because I watched the Sound of Music over and over again when I was a kid? Maybe it was because of my musical background that I dreamt of traveling where Bach, Mozart or Beethoven grew up? I don't know. But I knew that I really want to go to Europe.

One day, I will conquer Europe.

The dream:

















I am writing this because I did it. I'd like to share my story, my experience, my adventure. I'm writing this to keep this memory. Maybe one day, it will remind me that I can do anything and everything, with His grace.
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