Travel Bugged

“Exploring the outside world is the key to understanding your inner self.” – From the Bangkok Airways ad on CNN.

I have been to a lot of places recently, but laziness has prevented me from blogging about them. That, and the cheap thrill of posting status updates, check-ins, and photos on Facebook.

Just before leaving the Philippines last March to start my year of travel, I explored my country with friends and family. I went to Baguio, Bacolod, Boracay, Corregidor Island, Tagaytay, and Cavite. I also visited museums, watched plays, attended ballets and recitals and operas, and don’t even get me started on the going-away parties.

There were also little trips around Asia – to Bangkok, Singapore, and Malaysia. It was a great way to prepare me for even more adventures ahead.


The Mother Ship in Singapore. No, I do not own an LV. Yet. But I enjoyed browsing them bags and wallets.


This was a Catholic church in Bangkok. Love the roof detail.


Around time last year, I celebrated my birthday with best friends in Bangkok. We went to the hotel venue of The Hangover and had one of the loveliest dinners ever.


I extremely enjoyed my trip  to Penang, Malaysia with my family. It is a beautiful city  full of old world charm.



But the Southeast Asian tour last year turned out to be a mere appetizer. It set me up for a year of more traveling. When I whipped out my passport last March 2013 then, there was no turning back. I had embraced my travel bug. My own version of “Eat. Pray. Love” had started.  

Mostly I have been doing the Eat part.  The Pray part is very active too.  My other blog takes care of that. The Love part, well, friends and family as always have been providing that. God has been so good in sending me people who open their doors for me. Yes my life currently feels like a movie.

First stop for 2013 is beloved Sydney, Australia.  I have been to some new places and some old places here.



I have made new furry friends, too.

Sydney is a picturesque city.  It is alive even at night. Below, see Vivid Sydney.




Some more feathered friends.


High Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral – a highlight. Must attend that again.


At the Sydney Opera House

With my good friend Mitch before watching Idina Menzel’s concert at the Sydney Opera House.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra

We were so close, I could read the titles off the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s music sheets.

The Good Food and Wine Show

The wine glass I used for the Good Food and Wine Show.

The Tempus Two Vineyard

The beautiful vineyard at Tempus Two is pictured above. Because I love wine, chocolate, and cheese so much, the long weekend spent at Hunter Valley was also very memorable.




I saw some kangaroos roaming the Bimbadgen Estate freely.


I was also lucky enough to spend four days at Port Stephens last autumn. It was a relaxing holiday and the last bit of sun I felt before winter set in. The beach was beautiful.Image

I shopped for boats, too at the marina.


Obviously, I have been enjoying myself immensely.  I will write separately about my trip to Canberra. Truly the pages of my journal should contain more words, but for now I will let these pictures speak.

If the airline ad quote above is to be believed,  I should be learning a lot about my inner self  too, after all this exploring that I have been doing. 🙂  Will see if that is the case. For now, I am content just to explore.


My Auckland Adventure

Tāmaki Makaurau is the Maori word for Auckland. It means ‘Isthmus of one thousand lovers’, also translated as ‘Tamaki-the bride sought by a hundred suitors’, a reference to the fertile volcanic soil of Auckland and the positioning between two resource-rich coasts. There are around 49 volcanoes in Auckland alone. It used to be New Zealand’s capital.

Polynesians are thought to have discovered and settled in New Zealand, which they named Aotearoa (“the land of the long white cloud”), as early as 950AD. It was not until after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed with Maori in 1840 that significant numbers of Europeans arrived in what is now modern day Auckland.

Auckland has the highest number of boats per capita than anywhere else in the world, that is why it is also known as the City of Sails. It is New Zealand’s largest city with 1.4 million people.

Take a short city tour with me. Most photos were taken while inside a moving coach, so please pardon the perspective. I had little time to compose. 🙂

City of Sails

Auckland Architecture

Maori Architecture

The first day was spent traveling and then dining by my pretty self at the hotel café where I splurged on my first glass of Camshort Classic Riesling and the chef’s special for the night.  I always eat properly when I am alone.

The second day was spent on a half-day city tour, mostly inside the coach, as the driver-slash-tour guide gave us a bit of an overview of Auckland, pointing out spots we might want to spend more time on, like the Viaduct or the ferry ride or the Sky Tower. I liked the old shops and the beachfront properties more than the new buildings and outdoor adventures. In my small tour group of five people, I met a couple from Brasil and we became friends easily. They looked about my age and I offered to take their pictures with their camera. They returned the favor by taking my photos. So it was a good exchange deal that worked for us at the wharf, the Auckland Maritime Museum, the Joseph Savage memorial that gave us a glimpse how isolated NZ was from the rest of the world. I asked them where to get good rates for foreign exchange. We were almost sad to part ways.

Then I spent three hours getting lost along Queen St, refusing to consult my map properly for fear of being branded a tourist. I took loads of photos of more buildings. I bought snacks from a convenience store and chatted-slash-flirted with the cute guy manning the counter. I had no trouble asking for tips about the weather, etc.   Then I went back to my hotel exhausted and ordered seafood chowder and a glass of Chardonnay through room service. I watched the rain from my tiny window. I read a book.  I listened to Chopin. I was very happy. I felt like I was in heaven.

I slept early Tuesday night because my pickup time for the Hobbiton tour was 6:35 a.m.  Not being a morning person, I had to psyche myself well for it.  Good thing I had always been a Tolkien fan, and I was really excited about the trip.  My sister and I planned it for months.

There was a long road trip – about 3.5 hours – from my hotel to the sheep farm where the movie set was located. I had to share the journey with about 10 people, 5 of them  Americans, 2 from Helsinki, and 2 from Brasil. Yes, my friends were also on the same tour! I was happy to see  them and we hugged and kissed like old friends, even in my sleepy, caffein-starved state.

Then, we arrived at Hobbiton. The rain, which had been upon us for three days, suddenly stopped.  As a result, the grass was very green, but also very wet. We had to be careful in walking up and down the hill. I lagged behind the group, happy to take my pictures, imagining the scenes where the characters roamed those specific hobbit-holes. The Brasilians thankfully were there to exchange pictures with.  We had to queue behind other people – we had merged with other tour groups – for some of the hobbit-doors.

I was sad when we reached the end of the tour, which was the Green Dragon inn. We were each given a drink, and I chose amber ale. Then we were all herded back to the tour bus that would take us to lunch. The Brasilians had to take a different coach as they had booked another tour in a different place. We sadly said goodbye, and they asked for my email address.

My fourth day in Auckland was fun. It was raining so I took a leisurely hotel breakfast, and then had lunch with a friend’s mum. Then I explored the art gallery and was again in ruptures absorbing the creative spirit of the people who had left their mark in the world. For dinner, I was invited by a Filipino couple (in-laws of a friend) and they were very gracious and generous. Then, it was time to go back to my hotel and pack. Already I was wishing I could go back.

Middle Earth

“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a Hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous opening lines from “The Hobbit”

These photos were taken from Hobbiton where some of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies were filmed. I had a drink at The Green Dragon (memorable) and lunch at The Shire Cafe (forgettable). The doors and the grass were worth the trip, though. Some people in my tour group were complaining that there weren’t many souvenir items/goods to choose from. I preferred it that way. Friends, please visit now before it becomes too crowded and commercialized. 🙂

This was proof (again) that dreams do come true. I have loved the Lord of the Rings since I was in high school. I have, since then, measured every epic fantasy ever written against Tolkien’s genius. Everything else is a copycat. Gandalf, Mordor, Sauron, Saruman, Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Legolas, Arwen, Galadriel, Faramir, Boromir, all of the characters, all of the languages, the plot and storyline, the setting and conclusion, the values, the humour, all these and more make The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings my most favourite work of fantasy fiction of all time.

Hobbiton Tour

Hobbit Holes!

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