9 Awesome Tourist Attractions in Seville, Spain

Europe, Spain

Considered as the capital of the independent community of Andalucia in Southern Spain, Sevilla (Seville for English speakers) is a picturesque province bursting in color, life and character. Like its fellow Spanish cities of Barcelona, and Madrid, this land situated at the banks of the Guadalquivir, gives proof to the Spanish penchant for beauty, culture and art.

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Seville recently and no words could describe the emotions that took over me during my one week-visit. Once you arrive in Seville, you will have that certain feeling of calmness and relaxation absent in the megalopolis that is Madrid.

You can take a walk and find small alleys that are so lovely, you can’t help but spend countless minutes there. Or you can go to the city center, and find it absolutely vibrant and alluring, you would never want to leave until the wee hours of the morning.

It’s not just the places that captivated me. Everyone was so laidback here and they indeed observed the siesta, leaving most of the tourist places yours to enjoy for hours. I soaked up the Andalusian sun and let Seville overwhelm me and I can say that it’s one of the best places on Earth.

I took the liberty of compiling the best places to check out in this gorgeous province. Mind you, these are the places that really captivated me. You can check out other travel websites and find other attractions like the Parque Maria Luisa (just-so-so), Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballeria de Sevilla (there was no bullfight so I never got inside) and Torre del Oro (just so-so too) but they are not listed here for the said reasons.

Seville Cathedral

Any visit to Sevilla would not be complete without checking out the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See or simply Seville Cathedral. Any local, hotel employee or taxi driver would insist that you go here and they have good reason. A mammoth structure located in the center of town, Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic church in the world and the third largest church of all. Counstruction began in 1402 and it was completed in 1506. Work resumed again when the dome collapsed in 1511.It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The bell tower beside the church is called La Giralda and is considered a tourist destination in its own right. The nearby Archivos de Indies housed in the Casa Lonja de Marcaderes is also a heritage site. it houses all the oldest and most important documents of the Spanish empire during the medieval period.

Real Alcazar

This grand Palace will soon be featured in the Games of Thrones series and everyday, the queue is so long. The site of the palace used to be a Moorish fort but was redesigned to be a grandiose structure to house the Spanish monarchs. The Moorish fort stood in 913 AD but construction of Alcazar was formally acknowledged in 1248. It is now the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. In 1987, it was also registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ayuntamiento de Seville

The general area around the cathedral is called centro. It is literally the center of all action in Seville. And in this area, you will see the Ayuntamiento de Sevilla and the large plaza around it. By day, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in Seville, with intricate carvings on its facade. By night, the plaza is filled with locals drinking under the moonlight. i think it becomes one of those public spaces for drinking called botellones. The ambiance is electric and if you really wanna experience Seville as a local, and/or meet the locals, here’s one good place to check out.

Plaza de Espana Oh, wow. That’s literally the first words that came out of my mouth when I saw Plaza de Espana for the first time. It is so grandiose and majestic and huge, I can’t fit it all inside one camera frame. It was built in 1928 in time for the Ibero-American Expo in 1929. The design is a mix of Art-deco and Neo-Mudejar achitecture. It is a semi-circle in shape and there’s a moat that runs through the entire circle. There is also a grand fountain in the middle. The best time to check it out is near sunset when it is not so hot and you can paddle a boat around the moat. This place attracts tourists, families and lovers (for the boat) alike.

Calle Sierpes

If you are after some shopping in Seville, then you must check out Sierpes. Of course the place is littered with the mall El Corte Ingles but where’s the fun in that right? Sierpes is basically a long stretch of road filled with shops, and restaurants, where you can see lots of Sale, or rebajas. You can buy souvenirs, chocolates and some Spanish brands such as Desigual here. It is quite close to the Ayuntamiento de Sevilla so before drinking or having dinner, locals loiter around here.

Metropol Parasol

At the northern end of Calle Sierpes, you can take a right, pass by the Universidad de Seville and marvel at the Metropol Parasol or locally known as Las Setas de Encarnacion or giant mushroom. Located in Seville’s old quarter, it claims to be the biggest wooden structure in the world. It has four levels with levels 1 providing a space for public exhibits and for people to lazy around. During my visit, there was a Jamaican band who did an impromptu reggae set. How cool was that huh? Levels 2-3 have panoramic terraces and a restaurant where you can get the best vantage view (and photos of course) of entire Seville.

Triana

Located at the west bank of the Guadalquivir river, Triana is considered as the gypsy quarter of Seville. Durng previous centuries, sailors and gypsies were relegated to this independent community. Now the place boasts of the best bars, and cervezerias in Seville with a great view of the Torre del oro and the river. By day, you can see and buy the best ceramic tiles. By day, you can drink and party at the numerous nightclubs along Calle Betis, fronting the river. Triana is separated from the rest of Seville by the Guadalquivir and can be reached by the Puente de Triana. Note: you can take a river cruise and see Calle Betis and all of its colorful houses.

Alameda de Hercules

According to Legends, Seville was built by the Greek hero Hercules. This explains, why Seville has a plaza called Alameda de Hercules. The plaza has two pillars each at the north and south end depicting the real pillars in Gibraltar. There is a statue of Hercules on top of one of the towers and there is also a statue of Julius Caesar in remembrance of Rome’s rule over Seville (then called Hispalis). This is a place where people hang around to chat and uwind. There is a children’s playground at one side and around the plaza, there are lots of restaurants, bars and clubs to choose from. I fell in love with it because you can observe the locals and their families here. It is located near the La Macarena district of Seville.

Calle Amor de Dios

Also located in the alternative side of Seville, the La Macarena is a curious little street called Calle Amor de Dios. I loved this place because this is actually the queer side of Seville. Homosexuality is accepted in Spain and in Europe in general and this little tiny street attracts the local LGBT community. Foreigners with the alternative inclination also flock to this area. You can check out La Bohemia Bar, El Hombro y el Oso (The Man and the Bear), and Men to Men, which is technically located in the adjacent Calle Trajano. But you get the gist.

Seville is indeed a marvelous place. Whether you’re a history geek, an architecture junkie, a partyphile, a traveler or simply a tourist, there is something that will appeal to you. Honestly, Seville is sometimes overlooked in favor of the fancier and flashier Madrid, but there are hidden gems in this place. And it’s up to you to discover them.

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Must-See Montmartre in Paris, France

churches, Europe, France

Paris is without a doubt, one of the most visually striking cities in the world. Any visitor who reaches its shore attests to its sheer beauty and splendor. No surprise, it is the most visited city in the whole world.

The Eiffel and the Louvre are certified crowd favorites and they are definite must-sees. You can’t leave the city without paying a visit to the grand Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe.

But if there is one district in the French capital that you should visit to feel the collective rhythm and heartbeat of the city and its people, it is definitely Montmartre.

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A View of Montmarte

Located in the northern region of Paris, in the 18th arrondissement, Montmartre is a large hill, largely knowned for the white domes of the Basilica de Sacre Couer. The name Montmartre however, refers to the greater community that surrounds the church.

Sure, Montmarte has lost some of its luster and fame over the past decades. It has also lost its reputation as the preferred haunt of aspiring artists, since the district has become too noisy, and too crowded, no thanks to the millions of tourists who climb this hill.

In many ways, however, Montmartre has retained its schizoprenic identity that captivated some of the most renowned artists in the world like Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh and Claude Monet among others.

On the surface, Montmarte is known for the Romanesque revival styled Sacre Couer, built in the late 19th century as a way to appease the public following France’s defeat to the Prussian army. It was completed in 1912 and has since become the single most recognizable structure in Montmarte.

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Funicular Going Up The Sacre Couer

The best way to reach the Sacre Couer is through the many steps up the hill, but visitors who have weaker knees and stamina can always take the funicular up the church complex. But honestly, where is the the fun in that?

A breathtaking view of Montmarte awaits you when you finally reach the foot of the basilica. If you want an ever higher vista, you can go up the dome, for 5 euros, and see the city from one of the city’s highest points.

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Montmartre is also famous as the humble address of aspiring artists who flock to Paris to find their muse and own artistic identity. But as I’ve said earlier, the number of artists who stay permanently declines each passing year as the district continues to shed its artsy image, and embraces commercial establishments to welcome more tourists.

If you dig deeper, however, you will realize that Montmarte is so much more.

Boulevard de Clichy is the area situated at the foot of the Montmarte hill. Here, you will find a smorgasbord of bars, souvenir shops, kebab shops, sex shops and peep shows that gives the district a more playful, and accessible ambiance.

moulin rouge

Photo by Wikipedia.org

The famed Moulin Rouge, established at the fin de siecle 1900s, and is considered by many as the birthplace of the can-can dance style of performance, is one of the most recognizable and visited structures in Boulevard de Clichy with its familiar windmill design. Up until now, moulin rouge continues to provide can can revues, and it also offers dancing classes for tourists.

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Anvers Metro station

Montmartre can be reached by foot from the Blanche and Anvers metro stations.

If you choose to pass by Anvers, you will see the seedier section of Montmartre with the sex shops and neon lights. Choose to walk via Blanche and you will experience the more sanitized section with the quiet cobbled streets.

A word of caution. While Montmarte is indeed a tourist friendly district, there are pockets that are not friendly and not very safe, especially at night, such as the Barbes Rochechouart. I was told that the ethnic immigrants of Paris frequent this area.

Rue de Steinkerque is another interesting strip in Montmarte. her eyou can get great bargains for shirts sporting Paris signs, along with keychains, ref magnets, and other Parisian memorabilia. You can also get French brands such as Esprit, Naf Naf etc here at way lower prices. This is indeed a true heaven for bargain hunters.

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Montmartre is definitely not the prettiest part of Paris but it gets my vote as the most complex and interesting.

No matter if you are after spiritual enlightenment or more earthly pursuits, there is something for you in Montmartre.

Montmartre has been called many things: a pigstyle, a hell hole, a stunning hill, depending on the preference and orientation of the person who pays a visit.

On the other hand, a person who’s more open minded and accepting of things outside of the ordinary, like me, will find it a fun, quirky but charming place.

One thing though is for sure, Montmarte is never boring and this fact alone, is enough reason to consider an afternoon, or a day in its warm embrace.

Picture Perfect Prague

Czech Republic, Europe

I still have a long way before I can say that I have seen the beauty of this world. But I can say that I have visited a lot of spectacular places that literally took my breath away.

Europe, for example, is a region that boasts of so much grandeur and beauty thanks to its medieval castles, winding cobblestone roads, well-preserved churches and moats, gardens of colorful flowers, and collections of majestic fountains among others.

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A City of a Thousand Spires

But even in a region such as this, Prague, the biggest city and capital of the Czech Republic, stands tall as one of the most arresting and breathtaking cities you will ever see.

Situated at the heart of the Bohemian region, Prague is one of the oldest cities in Europe dating back to as far as 1,200 years ago, Born during the Romanesque era (1000AD), the city continued to flourish during the Gothic and Baroque periods.

A great part of the city also boast of Art Nuveau style. This explains why some of the famous landmarks in the city are a mixture of these styles of architecture.

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Old Town Hall and Astronomical Clock

Without question, Prague Castle is the most visited spot in the city and it is one of the most picture perfect and impressive complexes in the known world. Founded in the 9th century, it has been the symbol of the city and it has been a major tourist destination for travelers. Spanning 45 hectares, the complex contains of palaces, offices, churche, fortification buildings, and gardens among others.

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Charles Bridge with a view of Prague Castle in the distance

Prague’s monicker “the city of a thousand spires” was probably inspired by the astounding view of the city from atop the castle grounds. From the elevated castle, you can see the buildings adorned with spires reflective of the different architecture styles.

Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), is a 14th century Gothic bridge adorned by sculptures of 30 saints and martyrs. It gives visitors and locals alike a gorgeous vista of the Vltava River.This sandstone bridge connects the city’s Lesser Town and Old Town. The best time to visit is during early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays on the rivers creates a very romantic atmosphere.

The Vltava River is another integral part that creates the stunning Prague landscape. In fact, almost every traveler who pases by the city, takes the a picture of the Prague Castle in the distance, from the bridge with the river serving as the foreground. When done correctly, a picture that contains these elements will definitely convince anyone to come visit the city at least once.

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The Gates of Prague Castle

While the the triumvirate of the castle, bridge and river, are the most famous lanmarks in the city, Prague boasts of other elements that further add beauty and grandeur to the city.

The Old Town Hall with the Astronomical Clock (Staromestska radnice s orlojem),  located at the very heart of the city’s tourist district, is a definite must-see. The Gothic tower, built in 1338 is the oldest part of the district and the astronimical tower or Orloj, features an hourly display of the 12 apostles between 9am to 11pm. You can go inside the tower and see the inner workings of the clock for a one of a kind experience in Prague.

The Church of Our Lady Before Tyn (Chrám Matky Boží před Týnem), is another prominent fixture in the syline of Old Town Prague. It is one of most recognizable religious buildings in the city and it boasts of both Gothic and Baroque styles due to the fact that it was constructed from the mid 14th century to the early 16th century. This cathedral houses some of the Prague’s most important works of art including the altar paintings of Karel Skreta and the tomb of the astronomer Tcho Brahe.

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Prague Castle Complex

Prague is known to have some of the oldest buildings in Europe but the city also has a contemporary side.

The John Lennon Wall located in Mala Strana district is a psychedelic tribute wall to the famous Beatles singer and songwriter. You might ask why the singer, who was never able to visit Prague, has a dedicated wall in the city.

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John Lennon Wall

Well, you see, the pacifist singer is such a hero and inspiration to the youth of Eastern Europe in the 80’s, when the region was still under communist regime. Lennon’s death inspired the locals and they trooped to the wall to pain graffitis and blurbs of suport and dedicated to the late singer. Before you know it, the wall expanded and has been a major tourist landmark in Prague.

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The Royal Guard of Prague Castle

Prague is such a picturesque city and it willl take you weeks before you can see all of its attractions. and it will take months, before you can get see the full beauty and charm of this remarkable city.

I had the pleasure of visiting Prague for only three days and a half days but those were enough for me to be completely enamored with the city. They were enough for me to realize that Prague is indeed one of the most beautiful places on earth. And it would be a sin to come back.

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St. Vilnius Cathedral

Amsterdam Canal Cruise

The Netherlands

As you may have known over the past few days, I had the pleasure of visiting Europe in 2014 and this year as well.

I visited Seville and Madrid for about a week, then I had time for an overnight adventure anywhere in the continent.

From Madrid, I could have flown to any of the usual, more popular destinations such as Paris, Berlin or Rome.

Instead, I choose the very unassuming city of Amsterdam. Part of the reason for my decision was my desire to finally see the city’s many canals and the colorful houses that line up such waterways.

As soon as I landed in Amsterdam, I wasted no time and made quick inquiries on the various boat companies offering canal cruises in the city.

The nearest one from the Centraal station was the Lover’s Canal Cruises.

Since it was only a very short stay, I made the Lover’s Canal Cruise offered by Rederij. I had a companion when I made such inquiries.

Unfortunately, he had to leave very early in the morning, to head to The Hague, so I ended up taking the cruise alone.

I lined up at around 9:30am and I was immediately able to purchase a ticket for the 10am cruise.

Our boat was a super cool one. Made for lovers, it had open windows so the passengers can freely take photos of the surrounding buildings.

It also had tables for the benefit of couples and families who brought along food during the tour.

The Rederij tour had a recorded narration which disappointed me slightly. But afterwards, I realized it was better that way so all passengers, even those at the back can hear it through the loud sound system.

The narration was in dual language (Dutch and English), so I was able to understand it.

I didn’t miss any of the highlights of the tour including the residence of the mayor, the father and son houses, the elephant statue, and the red light district among others.

The cruise captain also showed us samples of Amsterdam’s many boat houses and explained the logic and history behind such trend.

The entire tour took abourt one hour and it was an hour well spent. The narration asked passengers for additional tip to the captain and I happily gave a few added euros.

The ticket for the Rederij tour costs 8.5 euros.

For such a small amount, it was definitely worth it and I was able to tick off one activity from my very long bucket list.

Making A Wish To The Trevi Fountain in Rome

Europe, Italy

When I first made plans to come to Europe, I made a conscious decision to come to Rome, Italy.

A lot of my plans were still up in the air and I haven’t even figured out which other countries I will visit, or where will I stay, but I knew in my heart that I just had to go visit the Eternal City.

You see, I have had this long-time dream of traveling to Rome, explore its ancient, cobblestone streets, marvel at its landmarks dating back to Pax Romana, and even earlier. One of the places, I definitely wanted to see was the legendary Trevi Fountain, or Fontana di Trevi.

Call me a romantic, I don’t care, but I fell head over heels in love with the 1954 classic “Three Coins In The Fountain” starring Maggie McNamara and Louis Jordan among others. I saw myself in the hopeful characters who believe that love would come, no matter what. I have had so many heartaches and break-ups that sometimes I wonder, if there is really someone out there who will love me forever.

In that movie, it was shared that when you turn your back from the fountain and tosses a coin from your left shoulder, you will definitely come back to Rome. If you toss a second coin, the you will meet a Roman love. A third coin will ensure that you end up with him/her.

On my very first day in Rome, I ventured to seek out the legendary fountain to try my luck. 11102659_10152799076115735_2214355830281942755_nI braved the very crowded Roman metro A and headed to Barberini, going northwest to Battistini. The fountain is located in one of the many small alleys in Trevi so there is no other way but to take a walk. From Barberini, you can navigate you way into the fountain going through Via del Tritone, Via in Arcione and then finally Via del Lavatore.

If you’re Italian sucks, and you can’t follow a map to save your life, just follow the throngs of tourists wearing big cameras on their neck and chances are they are seeking the fountain too.

Fontana di Trevi is the biggest Baroque fountain in the world and is the probably the most visited too. It was built in the 18th century at the end of the 21-kilometer aqueduct called Virgo, which supplied fresh water to the city. It was named after the Goddess Virgo who according to ancient legend, guided soldiers in search of clean water when they are thirsty.

Since the 1954 movie, the number of tourists visiting the fountain grew exponentially and on one cold spring morning, I became one of those admiring tourists.

Because of frequent visitors, the fountain is getting a much-needed restoration and a fiberglass gate is built around it, presently. You can still go near it, by joining the long queue, at the rightmost passageway, which is subject to control and inspection by the Roman Police, and you can walk through an elevated wooden platform.

After spending 10 minutes in the queue, I finally got my chance to come near the fountain and all I could say at that moment was “whoa”. it is an immense fountain with the most gorgeous sculpture of Neptune.

In the bright light, the white marble statues were luminous and are just a marvel to behold. The pool at the end of its fountain, glistens with the thousands of coins thrown by hopeful travelers and lovers hoping to come back to the city and find romance.10409044_10152799074855735_7608760053800275324_n

There are lots of activities at the very front, like crowds taking selfies, etc, so it is up to you to find your own inner peace and quiet, and continue on with your coin-throwing pursuits.

I had to ask a group of very, very tall Swedish guys, to give me some space, for fear of hitting their foreheads with my coins.

I made a silent wish to the fountain to let me come back to Rome, and threw a euro over my left shoulder and it made a small splash. I continued to gaze at the lovely fountain, and then a few moments later, I decided to really push my luck and throw a second euro into the pool. I wasn’t really looking for a tryst with a Roman lover, but you’ll never know.

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In that exact moment, scenes of the movie flashed through my eyes and the lyrics of the theme song, sung by an uncredited Frank Sinatra, played in my mind.

“Three Coins in the fountain, each one seeking happiness. Thrown by three hopeful lovers, which one will the fountain bless?”, Sinatra mused,.I looked all around me, and wondered, out of all the people who made a wish to the fountain this day, how many would find their own happiness?I never got the chance to think of the answer as the loud police officer yelled at us to move forward since we’re taking too much time. I was near the end of the wooden platform, when my phone suddenly buzzed. Three new tinder matches, it showed, and I gave a hearty laugh.
I turned to face the fountain again, and gave it a silent thank you. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna respond to any of the matches. After all, I wasn’t really prepared for any romance at that moment, but I knew that the fountain was sending me a message.Never give up hope. Love will come when you least expect it, and I think it was right on the mark.

POST SCRIPT:

The fountain receives an average of 3,000 euros a day and since 2006, the Roman charity group Caritas has been collecting the money. The charity group clean up the coins and use it to fund social services worldwide. In 2008, Caritas opened a low-cost supermarket for Rome’s needy.

How I Got My Schengen Visa in 5 Days

Europe, Visa and Immigration

DISCLAIMER: I am not an employee of the Czech Embassy or any embassy of countries within the Schengen territory. I lodged my application on my own capacity and received minimal assistance from travel agencies. The approval and release of visa varies with each application depending on the completeness of the documents and the travel history of the applicant.

For many Filipinos, Europe is the ultimate destination. The castles, the museums, the gorgeous people,the rolling hills and snow-capped peaks are just too difficult to resist. This continent holds so much beauty and sophistication that it is just imperative for anyone to visit it at least once in their lives.

Travel junkies especially have more reasons to conquer Europe since it only takes one visa, the all-powerful Schengen visa, to gain entry to about 26 countries, including some of the most visited countries in the world like Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. The more countries you visit, the better your travel cred becomes.

The only problem? It is difficult to secure a Schengen Visa. I know some people who have secured other visas including previous Schengen Visas who were denied a new Schengen Visa. To be honest, I can understand the reasons behind this. A lot of travelers who visit Europe jump ship and simply vanished the government’s radar. They become illegal aliens or workers who take away jobs from the locals.

Also, traveling to Europe is expensive and it certainly takes substantial amount of money to travel to Europe.

I am therefore considering it a blessing that for my recent Europe trip, I was able to secure my Schengen Visa in as fast as five days from lodging my application? How did I do it? Nothing really special. I just stuck to my real purpose of travel and spoke truthfully about my finances.

THE SCHENGEN VISA APPLICATION PROCESS

Rather than spending additional money on travel agencies, I decided to lodge my visa application on my own. My travel was a legitimate vacation so I had nothing to worry right? Besides, it was my second application for a Schengen Visa and I was approved last time, so I pretty much know the process. However, having secured a previous visa (my first one was a sponsored trip) is not a guarantee you can get one. This is especially true if your second trip is a personal one.

I decided to lodge my application before the Czech Embassy because I wanted to stay longer in Prague. Also, I received a tip from a friend who travels frequently, that they have a higher visa approval rate since they have fewer applicants, compared to say France, Italy or Spain (which has one of the lowest approval rate because of too many Filipino workers there).

I checked their website and scheduled an appointment. You cannot submit an application without prior appointment which is true for nearly all Schengen embassies. To secure an appointment check this website https://visapoint.eu/disclaimer or this http://www.mzv.cz/manila/en/visa_and_consular_services/visa_information/index.html

After completing the appointment application, a confirmation will be emailed to you using your preferred email. You have to print this and bring it to the embassy on your appointment date to gain entry to the embassy.

Then it is time to prepare all the documents you need for your Schengen Visa

1. Schengen Visa application form. This is free and you can download it from this site http://www.mzv.cz/public/b/41/a4/545396_443768_ZOV_short_term_en.pdf. I attached a passport sized photo with the required size and dimensions. Most photo companies know this already.

2. Proof of Travel History. To prove the consul that you are indeed an avid traveler, you have to furnish him/her a copy of all your previous passports, visas and stamps. In my case, I photocopied all my arrival and departure stamps and all previous visas (Japan, Taiwan, China, Australia, South Korea and Schengen).

3. Proof of Travel Intention. To convince the embassy that you are really traveling to Europe, you have to furnish him with a copy of your return tickets reservation. It is important to note that this should be reserved tickets only since you havent secured your visa. A purchased ticket might seem too desperate for the embassy. If you purchased the ticket already, then dont volunteer the information. Just say you have reserved tickets. I reserved round-trip tickets from Manila to Berlin thru KLM. You can check skyscanner.com to find the cheapest and the most convenient flights.

For the hotel reservations, it is important to secure reserved hotels in all the countries you are visiting within the Schengen Visa. In my case, I visited Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Rome, Paris, and Copenhagen. I reserved hostels in all those cities using Hostelworld.com. It is quite adviseable since it has a deposit security feature which protects your money in case you decide to cancel the trip or in case you fail to secure your visa. I also used Agoda.com in checking out the cheapest available hotel rooms.

Now, what about the train, bus and plane tickets within the Schengen region?

As mentioned, the embassy understands that you are only reserving tickets so it not imperative to buy these tickets. You can reserve plane tickets from one European country to another but this will not work for bus and train tickets since you they are always book and buy.

What I did is I researched all the connections I needed to do within Europe and confimed all the ticket prices of the buses and trains I needed to make. I printed it in a separate sheet detailing all my planned expenses (tickets, hotels, daily cost of living which is around 50 Euro daily).

I also prepared a complete travel itinerary which included the sights/museums/attractions I wanted to see in each of the countries I visited. It is important to research these sights so you will have a better appreciation of the countries you want to visit. Should the consul ask you what you wanted to see, you’ll have lots of ammunition.

4. Proof of Income and Finances. I must confess that I am not the richest traveler hence, the backpacking. At the time of my application, I only had P145,000 in the bank. I secured my bank certificate and bank statement (3 months) from BPI at a cost of P100 deductible from your account.

I also submitted a Certificate of Employment detailing my current position and tenure in the company. The certificate also explicitly mentioned my annual and monthly income including all allowances and de minimis.

To leave no stone unturned, I also submitted my recent 3-months payslip and ITR.

5. Travel Insurance. Unlike other visas, it is important to secure a travel insurance for the Schengen Visa. Medical bills in Europe are exorbitant and Schengen governments dont want to shoulder your bills in case you meet some sort of accident during your European adventure. Your travel medical insurance must have a coverage of up to 30,000 Euro. I checked the embassy for a list of their accredited insurance companies through this website http://www.mzv.cz/manila/en/visa_and_consular_services/visa_information/schengen_visa_stay_of_up_to_90_days/travel_medical_insurance_for_schengen.html.

I chose Ace Insurance and contacted them immediately. They emailed me the form which I filled up and emailed back to them. They gave me their bank account number for the payment of P1887 (for 16 days) and sent them a scanned copy of the deposit slip. The following day, they delivered to my preferred address the booklet and certificate detailing my insurance coverage and benefits.

INTERVIEW FOR SCHENGEN VISA 

Duriny my application appointment, I proceeded to the Czech Embassy at the 30F of Rufino Plaza in Makati. I arrived 30 minutes early and wore proper attire that would convince them of my traveler persona.

As expected, they required the appointment confirmation and once I handed it to them, they ushered me to the waiting area. Plastered all over the waiting room are pertinent details about Prague and the schengen visa application.

The current visa fee was also indicated (P2,920 at that time).

When it was finally my time to be interviewed, I was led into a small, private room where I waited for a minute or two. When the consul lifted the blinds covering the glass panels, I was surprised to find a young, very good looking consul. He has Filipino blood I can tell. He asked me my intentions for traveling to Europe. I replied candidly that I intended to backpack all around Europe.

He also asked my I chose Prague to be my main destination. I told him the truth that Prague is considered one of the most gorgeous cities in Europe. I told him that I wanted to check the Prague Castle, the John Lennon Wall, and the Petrin Tower and I wanted to experience riding the funicular up the tower. He smiled and gave me advice on how best to reach the castle and the tower. He told me to take the stairs instead of the funicular and then he smiled. Definitely a good sign.

He checked my previous visas and stamps and was satisfied with my substantial travel history. He nonetheless asked me how I did my backpacking before in Asia and Australia. He then checked the hostels and plane ticket reservations and was satisfied that I covered all bases.

Finally, he checked my bank statement and was a bit surprised to see that I had less than 3,000 Euro or P145,000 in the bank. He categorically asked me how I will survive with such small money in Europe.

It was really a good thing that I prepared a sheet detailing my planned expenses. I showed it to him and explained that the cost of the return tickets, hostels and the 50 Euro daily cost of living in Europe were well within that amount.

I also showed him that even with my planned bus and train connections, museums fees etc, my money in the bank was still sufficient.

He was really satisfied with my explanation and started to smile. He was later joined by a more senior consul and he explained my planned trip. They concurred for a while and both of them smiled eventually since they can find no loophole in my application.

Now, the processing of Schengen visa usually takes 7 to 15 days but since I was leaving soon, I told him that any effort to expedite the processing would be greatly appreciated. He gave me a small piece of paper with the embassy’s hotline and told me to call in five days to check my visa status.

After five days, I called the embassy and almost cried with joy after learning that my visa was ready for pick-up. I ran to the embassy from our office in Makati and was smiling all throughout my trip back.

Two days after getting the visa, I flew to Europe and had the best two weeks of my life.

Traveling Around Rome Using The Metro

Europe, Italy

As a history geek, I have long dreamed of traveling to Rome, the capital city of Italy and the former seat of the very powerful Roman empire, to explore its history and find out the stories, we don’t usually read in the history books.

I imagined myself in front of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, admiring the ruins of a civilization that controlled and changed the history of the Western world.

I had the pleasure of visiting Rome during my recent European journey and it was awesome. It was everything I have imagined it to be, and then some. I spent three days and two nights in the Eternal City, but even those were not enough to cover all of the important sights and travel destinations in the city.

Without any hesitation, I promised to come back and explore areas I wasn’t able to include in my jam packed itinerary.

Nevertheless, I decided to share with you the main highlights of any visit to Rome, regardless of your areas of interest. Even better, I am including directions to get to them using the Metro, to cut your travel time, and to stretch your travel budget (cabs are crazy expensive).

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square

Without a doubt, the main travel destination in Rome is the Basilica and the expansive grounds within the St. Peter’s Square. Within the complex, you can also visit the Sistine Chapel, the site of the papal conclave, and the Vatican Museum. If you are planning a visit to these sites anytime soon, it is best that you visit very early (6am or so), because the lines get really long, as in really, really, really long. I was in the Vatican during Eastern Monday and the lines were unbelievable.

To cut you travel time, it is best to the Metro line A (Red Line) and get off at the Ottaviano station. You can also try the Cipro station if you want to come visit to the Vatican Museum first. If you are coming from Anagnina area, it is a long ride since you will travel 21 stations to get to Ottaviano. But it is still faster than taking a bus or a cab. Cheaper too. If you are coming from Battistini, the ride is shorter, since its only five station from there.

The Colosseo

After a half-day exploration of the Vatican grounds, a lot of people decide to come visit the Colosseum next.  After all, it is one of the most famous historical and architectural sites for which Rome is known for. This impressive elliptical amphitheater was built during the Flavian dynasty and three emperors saw to its constructions.

It is the largest amphitheater in the world. It hosted bloody gladiator games during its heyday, but now its portions are in varying stages of ruin.

As expected, hundreds of thousands come to visit the Colosseum located at the Piazza Colosseo. If you’re planning to come visit, it, you also need a lot of patience since the lines are also long no matter what time of the day you arrive.

To go to site, you have to transfer to Metro line B (the blue line) and get off at the Colosseo station. if you are locate dalong the red line, the best way is to go back to the Roma Termini station (the central station) and transfer. From termini, you will pass by Cavour and then Colosseo if you are going to the direction of Laurentina.

The Roman Forum

The ruins of the Roman forum is located very close to the Colosseo so it is advisable to just stretch you legs and walk the few hundred meters to the site. This rectangular plaza is located around the many important government buildings and is located in the very center of Roma Capitale. Even during the ancient times, the forum or Forum Magnum was an important part of daily Roman life, It is the center of commerce and discourse among Roman scholars. Along the way, way to the forum, you will pass by several porticoes, which are also in ruins.

To get to the Roman Forum, you have to take the Metro line B (the blue line and get off the Colosseo station.

The Trevi Fountain 

One of the most visited sites in all of Italy is the Fontana de Trevi or simply the Trevi Fountain. Lovers from the the world over, come to visit this Baroque fountain and throw a coin into its pool, thanks to a wildly popular superstition that if you make a wish to the fountain, it will come true. Everyday, around 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain, which is used to subsidize indigent Romans. The fountain was built in the 18th century. The reason for its construction can be traced to as far back as the the original Aqua Virgo in the 19th century BC, when Roman soldiers discovered the source of pure water that can be supplied to the city. It was a little girl m who supposedly aided the soldiers, hence the name Aqua Virgo. Now, the fountain is located in a rather cluttered area of Trevi so there’s no direct way to come to it. The easiest is to take the Metro line A (red line) and get off at Barberini station. From there, it is a 10 minute walk through Via del Tritone, Via in Arcione, and then finally Via del Lavatore.


The Spanish Steps

Another famous landmark in Rome is the Spanish Steps. It is simply a plaza with 135 steps up the Trinita dei Monti church. It was built in early 18th century.

For some reason, Romans started to hang out in this place and so did the tourists, Now, it is hard to come and visit without finding flocks of people sitting on its steps while casually chatting.

I visited the site on Eastern Monday and I could hardly find a seat anywhere (hahaha). I went back to the steps at night and find it more romantic as lovers sit on the steps and while away the time.

The fountain at the base of the steps called Fontana della Barcaccia or Fountain of the Ugly Boat is enchanting in the evening. The lower fountain was supposedly designed by Pietro Bernine, the father of the more famous Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a stalwart in the Roman Baroque sculpture movement.

To get to the steps, you can actually walk from the Fontana de Trevi. But to make it easier, just take the Metro Line A (red line) and get off at Spagna station. As soon as you get out, the Piazza Spagna will welcome you like an old friend.

Altare della Patria or “Il Vittoriano

Simply called Il Vittoriano, in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy, the Altare della Patria or the Altar of the Father is a grand monument between Piazza Venezzia and the Capitoline Hill. It is the largest monument in Rome, and there was some controversy during its construction until 1925, since a large part of the Capitoline Hill greens had to be destroyed. The main attraction of the monument is the equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel. There also two statues of the Roman Goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas or emblems of triumph. At the base of the monument is the museum of Italy’s unification.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon is also one of the most visited sites in Rome. Located in Roma Capitale, it was built in 29-19 BC, under the orders of roman general Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. It is one of the best preserved buildings in Rome and has been used as a church since the 7th century. The most famous of the Pantheon is its columns and grand dome. There are eight granite columns in the first row. There are two groups of four columns after. It is located in front of the Piazza del Rotunda. It is the burial place of several important figures in Roman history including Raphael. It is located in a tight area similar to Fontana di Trevi so there’s no direct metro available. But most people just walk from the Spanish steps to the Piazza Navona and passing the Pantheon along the way.

Up Close and Personal With The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Europe, France

April 7, 2015

Paris, France

It is barely 9am, but the busy Charles de Gaulle Etoile station at the heart of  Ile de France, is pulsing with life and energy. At both ends of the station, Parisians clad in the latest fashionable winter/spring clothes, march hurriedly along a silent but frantic beat.

This is Paris, the most visited city in the world and if you are to judge with the throngs of people shuttling back and forth the metro, you will see that this day is not an exception. It seems like tourists and travelers alike from virtually all points of the planet have come to adore and explore the city of lights.

What makes Paris, the destination of choice the world over, I never really understood until I set foot in the city, barely 24 hours ago.

With only my heavy backpack as my companion,and after spending an exorbitant amount of money, 23 euros to be exact, for a 24-hour whole-day transport pass that gives me access to all of Paris’ transport systems, I arrived in central Paris near midnight.

I wanted to explore the city at nighttime but my body simply shut down after a few nights of running after buses, trains and airplanes.

Today, After a good night’s sleep however, I am fully ready to discover Paris and all her beauty.

My first stop? The Eiffel of course.

All my life, I’ve been staring at postcards and wallpapers of Paris and its most recognizable landmark.

In the silence of my childhood room, I imagined myself dancing under Eiffel’s shadows on a cold autumn day, while dressed in the latest Parisian garb. I would bow in front of the mirror, as if addressing high-born monsieurs and mademoiselles.

It took me three decades before I managed to do it. When I got my schengen Visa, I made a hasty decision to come to Paris, throwing a wrench to my already set European journey. I just had to come and visit the city and come face to face with the Eiffel.

Now I am about to realize one of my lifelong wishes and I’m beginning to unravel.

I took a few tentative steps outside the Bir Hakeim Metro station (Line 6) metro towards the Champs de Mars. All the while, my hands are sweaty and my heartbeat is racing.

As soon as I got out of the metro’s tunnels, the Eiffel materialized, standing mightily over the Parisian skyline.

Standing 324 metres, it is literally the latest structure in all of Paris. Erected in 1889 for the World Fair, the Eiffel tower has become the most visited paid monument in the world. In 2010, it welcomed its 250 millionth visitor.

It has been a global icon, and with a good reason.

Looking at the lattice steel tower, one cannot begin to imagine how such a structure can stand. Tons of steel, held together by mere nuts and bolts, and it defies the law of gravity. It is freakin amazing.

It has three levels with dining establishments in the first and second. At the third and upprmost level, you can get the most breathtaking view of Paris. Both stairs and elevators are available to ascend the tower.

There are a lot of good vantage points in Paris to view the Eiffel, with a majority of people judging that is the Trocadero across the river Seine which has the best view. But to be honest, for me, any view is just as spectacular.

The Eiffel is just larger than life and I just stood there frozen, with mouth agape, as I admire its beauty and grandeur. I looked around and I was comforted to know that there are hundreds of other people from all over the world, also standing completely still as they gaze up the tower. Admiration and wonder reflected in their eyes.

Truth be told, I teared up a bit, in honor of this moment.

I knew since childhood that I wanted to come visit Paris and see the Eiffel. But for someone who hails from a middle-class family, it was a bit difficult and unrealistic to prioritize travels over education costs, groceries and other more pressing needs.

There were a lot of challenges and hurdles along the way but I endured and pressed on with my dream.

Now, after traveling 20,000 kilometers across oceans and continents, here I am, standing at Eiffel’s feet and the feeling is just indescribable.

It’s like Christmas morning. It’s like seeing the dear friend for the very first time after years of being apart. It’s like breathing after struggling with the current deep under a dark perilous ocean.

And I wanna feel it over, and over and over again.

Still admiring its beauty, I made a silent promise, a vow really, that I will come back again someday.

Wandering Around Warsaw

Europe, Poland

It was a chilly Tuesday, and while the season was changing from winter to spring, the weather remains as frigid, with the mercury level continuing to plummet closer to negative numbers.

I’ve been walking around the city for the better part of the day and after passing through several quiet streets, imposing 13th century style buildings, and picture-perfect houses, I have just confirmed what I have known in my heart to be: Warsaw, the largest city and capital of Poland, is one of the most charming cities in Central Europe. 

No kidding, Warsaw doesn’t get enough credit as travel destination. 

The Marie Curie Museum

I’ve been on a road for several days, before I arrived in the city, and along he way, I have met fellow travelers hitting the backpacking circuit. Unfortunately, very few people I met, were headed to the same direction. Most talked of the big flashy cities in Western Europe such as Paris, Barcelona and Berlin among others. 

No offense to these cities, which I know, are also awesome, but I have always wanted to discover a whole new side of the continent. 

It’s a good thing that I have had inside information before I went on my European journey.

My friend Michal giving me a tour of Warsaw

As a couchsurfing host in Manila, I met an awesome Polish couple Michal and Marta, two years ago. They talked of the wonders of the city and invited me to come visit their city. More than that, they are some of the nicest people I have met in the traveling circuit.

It took a few months of saving money, a lot of research, and determination and courage, since none of my travelers friends were really that much into the off-the-beaten path thing, but I finally soldiered my way to Warsaw.

The rewards are just too awesome, for what I have discovered is a modern city, that is proud of its culture and history, with people very welcoming and friendly, I instantly felt home. 

Blue Skies near Warsaw

Situated at the banks of the Vistula River, Warsaw is the crowning jewel of Poland. It is cultural, economic and tourism hub of the country and it continues to defy expectations in terms of economic growth and tourism arrivals. About 15 million people visited Warsaw in 2013, that is three times the visitor arrivals in the Philippines. 

Take a stroll downtown towards the city center and you will be amazed at the  numerous malls and shopping district.

But the main attractions remain to be those that reflect the storied past of the city. These include the Warsaw Uprising Memorial in Wola district. It houses mementos from the bloodiest war in Polish history, during which nearly 200,000 civilians perished. 

Krasinsky Square
 There is also the Uprising Monument that stands boldly at Krasinski Square.

The Little Insurgent or Maly Powstaniec is  a statue depicting a young boy wearing an oversized helmet and carrying a rifle, is an understated monument located along Podwale Street inside the old city walls. 

The highlight of Warsaw, for me, is its Old Town or Stare Miasto.  A reconstruction of the original, this features 13th century buildings following Gothic and late Renaissance styles. It is part of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites 

Courtyard of the Royal Palace

  Another charming building is the Royal Castle also found in the Old City Walls. 

Wilanow Palace
 The Polish royal residence, the Wilanow Palace located in the city’s Wilanow district is also a sight to marvel. This aroque castle was built in the 17th century for King John III Sobieski
The Syrenka and I
 At the very center of Warsaw’s market square, you can find the “Syrenka” or the Mermaid Guardian of the city. Old legends say that the mermaid is named Melusina, who was saved by the local people, and remains to be the city’s main protector. 

I fell even more in love with Warsaw as I finally get to know them.

All around me, locals would smile at me in silent welcome. After all, it’s not everyday that they see someone from the Far east visit Warsaw. I would ask someone for directions, and he would go to extra lengths to assist me. One kind lady, even walked me to the nearest train station, after getting helplessly lost.

I would dine and have cakes at a corner cafe and the waiter would ask charmingly where I am from and would genuinely show interest in my city, even though their own is such a majestic city that’s just hard to forget. 

I stayed in Warsaw for only two days and all those times, the weather just kept on getting colder and colder, once even giving me a chance to experience sleet. 

But contrary to the weather, the city and its people are super warm, I just couldn’t help but feel at home. My stay was super brief, but definitely sweet. And if there is ever a chance to come back, I would definitely grab it.

5 Essential Things To Do in Berlin For First Timers

Europe, Germany

Traveling to a new city or country is honestly a bit overwhelming at times. You are removed from your comfort zone and you have to make an itinerary and draft a plan out of thin air. For travel neophytes, this can be quite a daunting task, because let’s face it, how are you to know, which ones are the cool and best places to see and check out, without even having been there in the first place.

I had the very same dilemma when I traveled to Berlin, Germany last spring.

My visa was approved three days before my scheduled trip and I had very little time to packs things I needed for a three-week trip, left alone, plan and finalize the nitty gritty details.

It was a good thing that my friend K, happens to be a semi-permanent resident in Berlin, and upon arrival in the city, she gave me a lowdown of things I needed to know as a first-timer in Berlin. Normally, I don’t need much help. But It was first time in the city and I only had 36 hours to spare.

She gave me tips on how to save money on transportation (get a tageskarte), and how to avoid the Police (validate all tickets). She taught me the difference between an S-bahn and a U-bahn.

Best of all, she helped me figure out some of the things I needed to see and needed to do, in order to experience Berlin, from a local’s perspective. These tips, complemented what little pre-trip knowledge I had.

So without further ado, here are 6 Things Can Try/Do on your very first visit to Berlin.

The painting by Dmitri Vrubel

1. Visit the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall 

One of the most important historical events in the 21st century was the reunification of West Berlin and Eastern Germany, that led to the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall in 1989. A great portion of the former wall, was maintained and was turned into an open air gallery, thanks to more than a hundred artists painting on the political and social events in the early 1990’s. The most famous painting on the wall is the painting number 25. Painted by Dmitri Vrubel, it depicted Communist Party of Russia Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev and German leader Erich Honecker locked in a passionate kiss.

Today, the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall is one of the most famous landmarks in Berlin, if not the most and without a doubt, any visitor to Berlin has this item in their bucket list. No matter if he regards himself a tourist or a traveler, one must simply visit this amazing gallery that stands as an inspiration to never again let hate and indifference get the better of us. This gallery stands as a symbol of freedom for everyone.

A snowy day at the Brandenburg Gate

2. Snap a photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate

Another important landmark in Berlin is the 18th century-styled Brandenburg Gate, which is the last city gate formerly used to represent the separation between East and West Berlin. Originally constructed in the 18th century, it was damaged severely during World War 11 and was restored between 2000 to 2002. In support of the gate’s important, the gate has been closed for traffic. The gate was closed off by the wall during the separation that is why it received so much coverage and attention during the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. During its earlier years, the Brandenburg Gate also had severe political importance. Napoleon took the gate’s quadriga to Paris following the defeat of the Prusian army. The quadriga was returned to Berlin after Napoleon’s defeat and the Paris occupation by the Prussian army began.

Nowadays, if you search photos of Berlin, chances are you will see visitors posing or taking selfies in front of the monument. And if you want to convince your friends and family back home, you better take a snap a selfie too in front of this very famous gate.

Alexanderplatz
The World Clock at Alexanderplatz

3. Go around Alexanderplatz

It’s your very first time in Berlin and you have a very limited time to get a feel of the city, and chances are you would want to explore the city for some hip and interesting stuff. Perhaps, you are traveling with friends and family and you want to have a meeting point. No need to look further. Alexanderplatz is the place to go.

Lovingly called Alex by Berliners, Alexanderplatz is one of the largest squares in the city, named after the Russian Czar Alexander I who visited Prussia in the early 19th century.It suffered heavy damage during the war and was restored in the 1960s. Now, it is the largest urban square in the city full of shopping malls (Galleria Kaufhof), restaurants, beer gardens, and it is also an important traffic hub for the city’s more than 3.5 million inhabitants.

The Biergarten at Alexanderplatz sells superb pilsner and currywurst

4. Try Currywurst

I stayed in Berlin for a maximum total of 36 hours and I think I covered a great deal of the city center. And you know what occurred to me? The City is full of Kaiser marts and currywurst stalls.  On the streets, in train stations, you won’t fail to see stalls selling this proudly German street food.

Currywurst is basically steamed and then fried pork. It is served with curry sauce and fries. I was on a diet during my visit to Berlin, but I just couldn’t let the opportunity to try authentic and superb currywurst. I was not disappointed.

K contemplating how to finish the Eisbein
Inside Max and Moritz

5. Eat an Einsbein

If you are more adventurous when it comes to food, and wants to explore Berlin by way of its gastronomy, then I suggest that you try having a big serving of Eisbein. My friend K, dragged me to Oranienstrasse to try this dish at one of the awesome German restaurants in this street, Max and Moritz, established in 1902 and is considered an institution in Berlin.

Einsbein is a salt-cured pig knuckle dish which is boiled for a long time to soften the meat and skin to  astonishing levels. It is then served with sauerkraut and peas. Sometimes, you can have fries to go with it too. It was amazing and despite my diet, I tried some helpings but K just most of it. The serving is huge (food for 2-3 people), and we even had some take out because we can’t finish it.

Berlin is a magnificent city, full of history and culture. It should definitely be part of anyone’s bucket lists. To truly discover all its wonder, you have to spend a few days, or longer, because there is just so much to see and experience.

If time is limited though, I hope that my recommendations are enough for you to have a better understanding and appreciation of Berlin.