Travel Opps

By this time last year I’m starting to prepare documents for Shengen visa application. For this year, thanks to Marcus’ 13th bday and Zach’s 7th, I have all the reason to book our plane tickets to Singapore. We also plan to visit Malaysia and Indonesia. To be honest, I promised Gary last year that after the Euro trip, we’ll start saving (meaning, enough travel for I don’t know how many years). But you see, you can promise anything when your dream just came true LOL.

We have another opportunity to go back to Frankfurt, Germany this April. So important for the company (I cannot divulge right now) that Gary and I are really considering it. It’s so hard to decide because we have to consider the budget and the 3 kids that we cannot bring along. My heart is torn.

Big Ben, not!

Every time I look at these pictures I can’t help but smile because I really did asked Gary if the clock at the background is already the Big Ben. Hahaha! Silly me. (*blush*) Pictures taken at Kings Cross, London. First day of our 9-day stay.

Eat.Pray.Love.FLY

mentioned too many times in this blog how I love to travel. I don’t know when it started. All I remember was that my father would always bring us to his company outings and even official business trips (not including international though because we can’t afford it), while my mom would bring us with her when she visits her home town in Cagayan de Oro or visit her sister in Cebu. Most of the time we would ride a military plane, C130, so that we’ll enjoy free round trip.

I’ve wanted to have a job that would require me to travel. I was blessed to be an auditor at Phil. National Oil Company – Energy Dev’t Corp. They’ve sent me to different parts of the Philippines. But again, no international trips.

I transferred to International Container Terminal Services Inc. They have subsidiaries outside the country. I’ll be auditing one of them if I’ve waited long enough. But a year after, I decided to resign and help my husband with our business.

To cut the story short, it was only in 2009 that my family and I had the chance to go out of the country, Hong Kong to be specific.

It takes a lot of patience to wait for the perfect time, especially when all the members of my family have secured their US visas and were able to leave the country as tourists. We don’t have enough money at that time, I don’t like pushing things to the point of loaning our travel expenses.

Now, after seeing a couple of countries in Europe, including my childhood dream Venice, I still want to go out of the country soon. Well, we could pack our bags anytime and leave, especially with budget fares and accommodation, but again I don’t like pushing things. It is wiser to use our money for investment than spending it again this soon. Don’t get me wrong, I feel blessed already, I just want to share my passion for travel and it takes a lot of discipline to stop myself from giving in. I am not sure if anyone feels the same way, I feel weird.

I pray that God would finance our ‘yearly’ travel. Then again, I am blessed already, I couldn’t ask for more.

When kids travel

When kids travel, they:

1. Enjoy the traveling part more than the destination, except of course if you’re going to Disneyland (or the like).
2. Get hungry and thirsty every second.
3. Get bored easily. So they either do or say the silliest things one could imagine and most of the time you just end up laughing.
4. Are super-hyper or maybe not. It’s just that you lack enough rest or sleep and too tired to look after them.
5. Need to go to the bathroom at the most inconvenient time and place. And ‘Wait’ is not an option.

6. Prefer to stay inside the hotel than go out. (Again, except if you’re going to a place that interest them)

7. Think they need to buy something, just anything. Like clothes, food, candy, souvenir, books… but most of the time TOYS. (Well, adults do feel that way too)
8. Will find a way to PLAY.
9. Can be easily pleased… for a short time.
10. Can’t be forced to MOVE when they’re sleepy. You’ll end up carrying them, on top of your hand-carries.

In short, kids will be kids. I am not discouraging anyone though. It’s fulfilling to travel as a family.  You just need to be well informed so that you’ll expect for the worst, come prepared and make the most of it. As they say, ‘Knowing is winning half the battle.’

Paris in my eyes

For me, Paris is overrated. I really don’t understand why a lot of people rave about seeing Paris over and over. I mean, yes it’s still one of the places you should include in your bucket list because of its tourist spots but to go back and see it again, for me, maybe not. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen London first or Paris’ hot weather when we’re there or most probably its dirty, full of vandalism, populated and ‘smelly’ streets. I have to be honest, I was disappointed with Paris as a whole. Sometimes I wonder if people talk with pride about seeing Paris because other people do, like the Emperor’s New clothes kind of thing.

To be fair, walking through Avenue des Champs-Élysées is an experience one should never miss especially if you have bucks (lots of it) to spend. There you will see Arc de Triomphe, built by Napoleon Bonaparte to honour his victories. A bit far from champs but still walking distance are  Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and Louvre Museum. When I saw The Louvre from afar all I was able to say was, WOW! Other famous tourist attractions we’ve seen are the Pantheon, Notre Dame, River Seine, Opera house, Statue of Liberty replica, Galeries Lafayette and of course Eiffel Tower.

Situated several kilometres Southwest of Paris, Chateau de Versailles is one I would REALLY recommend. The location is MUCH better than the heart of Paris… clean, cold, wider streets. The Palace (both in and out) should not be missed so don’t stop from Versailles gate, pay your way inside and see for yourself.

All in all, Paris is a must see but maybe you don’t have to set your expectation too high.

Here are the pictures of; Champs-Élysées with Arc de Triomphe at the center, me having dinner at one of the restaurants along Champs, one of the train stations and Chateau de Versailles.

Dinner in the sky

Not even in my wildest dream did I thought of getting near the Swiss Alps, more so have sunset dinner at the highest hotel of the said mountain, the 3100 KULMHOTEL GORNERGRAT. I have to say it’s an experience one should never miss in his or her lifetime, given the chance. To get there, from Zermatt you have to ride the Gornergrat Bahn train which runs on a winding path from Zermatt to the Gornergrat mountain summit at 3089 meters. During the ascent, you will be amazed by the magnificent view of snow covered mountain peaks, impressive bridges, tunnels and scary cliff. When you get there, you’ll enjoy the snow-covered viewing deck which provides a panoramic view of Monte Rosa massif, the Liskamm, the Breithorn and the majestic Matterhorn. The dinner on the other hand offers a 3-course meal of which Chinese fondue with various sauces (similar to shabu-shabu), fruits, chips and rice complete the main course. Words can’t describe the experience so better see for yourself.

10 things I love about Italy

I cannot say I’ve captured Italy as a whole because each of its cities is rich in its own history, culture, cuisine, and beauty and I’ve only been to three namely Milan, Venice and Rome. But at least the experience gave me something to smile about when I hear the word Italy.

1. Thin crust pizza
Forget about stuffed crust and pan pizzas because they will serve you plain looking but really tasty thin crust pizzas. If we usually order pizza for a group of 4-5 to consume, they usually have the whole pizza for one, that’s how thin it is. To share, there’s this Florida pizza in Rome that is cheap but really tastes good. They say it’s rich because it’s on the oily side and most Italians don’t like that much because they’re health conscious but for tourists it’s two-thumbs up.

2. Interesting and breath-taking churches (also as burial site)
Just in Rome, number of Basilicas can be found. Of course St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City is number one where St. Peter’s tomb is found. Basilica of St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore and St. Paul completes the four Major Basilicas of Rome. There’s St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. I’ve also seen Basilica di S. Ambrogio and Duomo in Milan.

3. Fountains, museums, structures and other ancient wonders
Sistine Chapel, Fontana di Trevi, Colloseum, Pantheon, Roman Empire, Castles, Palazzo Ducale and so so much more that either I couldn’t name or I wasn’t able to see.

4. Cobblestone-covered street. It makes me feel I’m in the early days where you see horses instead of cars, trams and buses.

5. Gelato. A small cup costs around 3 euros, expensive right? But I must say it really tastes good. It’s not too sweet and has a different creaminess in it, not to mention flavors you’ve never tried before in an ice cream.

6. Italian ham (Prosciutto) and cheese.

7. Public transport is everywhere. There’s metropolitane (underground systems), trains for intercity transfers, trams, buses, vaporetto (waterbus in Venice). All you need is a map (which is usually free but sold in other cities like Venice and Rome) and patience to understand which goes where. :)

8. Drinking fountains. Cool natural spring water flows endlessly from drinking fountains on nearly every Roman street corner. Bring a water jug and your water is free in Rome. :)

9. Coffee experience. Definitely no starbucks or any coffee shop that offer mug-sized coffee. I am not really a fan of their coffee because what they serve you is really strong half-filled small cup of coffee (like an espresso shot). It’s the feeling of drinking a coffee in one of the calles (narrow street) in Italy that’s priceless.

10. Gondola ride. I wouldn’t leave Italy without experiencing this. It has been my dream since childhood. And I must say that you really can’t have the feel of Venice without riding a gondola. It’s a bit expensive I must say (80-100 euros for 6 people with 40 minutes duration, amount depending on the time of the day) but it’s a once in a lifetime experience so forget about the money just this time. :)

I know I still missed a lot of great cities in Italy like Tuscany, Florence, Naples, Bologna and so much more. Maybe next time. I hope.

Family applying for Schengen visa at France Embassy

After getting a UK visa last year, we decided to try our luck with Schengen visa this year. Thanks to internet, we were able to prepare all the documents needed plus plus. Plus plus because we submitted some documents that turned out to be ‘useless’ in the application. The ‘interviewer’ at the France embassy gave back our land titles, business documents (other than the SEC certification, business permit and filed income tax) and credit card billings. This is because we were not able to find a site that guided us 100% with the application, so I thought of enumerating all the things that really matter for families with business wanting to get a schengen visa;

1. Application form with two (2) recent colored passport size photographs.
2. Letter to the Embassy expressing your desire to go to one (or more) countries included in the Schengen area.
3. Valid passport with at least 6 months validity. Photocopy the front page and all the visas acquired. Bring the old passport/s, if any.
4. Confirmed hotel bookings. In my case, I secured booking from booking.com because they offer free cancellation on most of the hotels that they feature.
5. Plane Itinerary. It doesn’t have to be booked yet. You can ask for a trusted travel agency to provide you one.
5. Detailed Itinerary. This includes the hotel and means of transportation from the time you leave your point of origin until you come back.
6. NSO certified birth certificates and marriage contract.
7. Travel Insurance good for the whole travel period plus additional 15 days with minimum medical coverage of 30,000 euros.
8. Source of funds and means of supporting the whole family throughout the travel. (In our case we don’t have relatives there or anyone to accomodate us)
8.1 Personal account – bank certificates (secured from the bank) and 3-month bank transactions (photocopy of passbook will do)
8.2 Company account – bank certificates and 3-month bank transactions
8.3 Last year’s tax return (in our case we submitted tax return of our business)
8.4 SEC certification if your business is a corporation
8.5 Business Permit
9. Proof of return for the children; enrolment form, excuse letter, report card
10. Payment: 60 euros for adult, 35 for children. Children below 6 are free of charge. You can pay in peso but you should bring exact amount.

France embassy will only get photocopies of your documents. (But just bring along all the original just in case they would ask for it). Be sure to have the numbers 1-7 for all the members of the family because each should submit his/her own application. As for the number 8, parents usually have them on file. Obviously, children attending school should have number 9.

I thought that we will just literally submit documents but there is an informal interview asking for the places we plan to visit, if we have travelled outside Asia, what our business is all about and so on.

Call France embassy to get an appointment. In our case we were given one month after our call. Lesson learned, don’t wait for your documents to be complete before making a call. We ended up postponing out vacation one month after.

After submission of documents/interview, you have to wait for at least 10 days for them to review your documents. They will give you a date as to when you have to go back to get your visa or otherwise. In our case, we were so blessed to be granted with tourist visa good for 45 days with 30 day duration.

Euro Tour Update

Change of plans.

We decided not to include London because I don’t want to go through the hassle of applying for 2 different visas.

After weeks of waiting for the Audited Financial Statement which is a requirement for filing annual income tax, of which income tax is a requirement for Shengen visa application, we finally asked for a visa appointment and May 11 was given to us.

Meaning, after May 11 we have to allot at least 10 days for the visa result to come-out. Thus, we need to re-sched our travel from May to June. (Which came out as a blessing because we need to set-up the satellite office in Pangasinan before we can have our month-long vacation.)

Iterinary now includes Paris(France) – Brussels(Belgium) – Frankfurt(Germany) – Milan(Italy) – Venice – Rome.

I love booking.com for those ‘free cancellation’ bookings they offer.

We’ll enter France and exit in Rome.

I pray for our visas to be approved.

I pray that my dream of riding a gondola in venice will finally come true.

Venue for team building

Working as an employee for 7 years, I have participated several strategic planning and team building activities. J&J, Phils brought me to Subic Yacht Club resort, Litton mills brought me to Punta Fuego, PNOC-EDC made me experience Fort Ilocandia and Pagudpod the first time, I played paintball at Antipolo c/o ICTSI… among others. I am thankful to the facilitators for ensuring that we learned as much as we had fun.

Relatively, I know that these facilitators (mostly from the HR department) are running out of unique ideas for a venue, not to mention dealing with a tighter budget. That is why I thought of recommending this place I’ve been to just recently. Yats Clear Water resort in Clark Pampanga is just approximately 3 hours away from Manila. It offers a man-made beach with white sand, beside it is a pool and lake good for boating and fishing. Their rooms are spacious and offer a country side ambiance. It has tv, bathtub, aircon and ref. To be honest, I think that the management could have done a better job in maintaining the resort but still it is worth a try. The 13 hectares of picnic grounds is so big that it is believable when you tell your boss that you lost your track when if fact you just don’t want to join the physically challenging games. (Just kidding :D ). See for yourself.