Taking Chances

2:25:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

I have forgotten to pick a Word of the Year for 2015, but looking back, I would say that it was Courage.

Courage means doing whatever it is even though scares you, and 2015 offered me plenty of that.

  • The year 2015 was the first time I travelled out of town, somewhere new, with only my sister as my companion.
  • It was the time a huge work position = responsibility was offered to me.
  • It was the time I took on planning a two-week Eurotrip even though I've never been there, and all I had was my belief that we can do it on our own.
  • It was also the year I've finally fully let go of the past because I've hidden behind it for so long, using it as a reason for so many things in my life.
  • And by the fourth quarter of the year, 2015 became the year I finally opened myself up to the possibility of falling in love again.
  • And I finally sent that forgiveness letter because it felt time to fully let things go.

I've pondered for a while what my 2016 will be like, and this was before I've thought of a Word of the Year. The past two years have brought me immense experience and joy, and I have no regrets, but it also took me one step away from my life goals.

So I sat down and started planning. And when I thought about my Word of the Year, I realized it will be this: Taking Chances.

For 2016, I will both move backwards and forwards.

I will move back to the core of my goals and myself, while moving forward with my dreams. I will take chances with the things I want to do (such as fly a plane or go on an out of town trip with certain friends I've never been out with), and I will go back to editing. I will finish my editing class and reconnect with my old authors.

And I will move forward by the end of 2016. I will figure out what I want with my career, and whether I should take that next step I've been hesitating to try.

And finally, 2016 is the year I will take another chance on love. I didn't end up falling in love in 2015, and maybe it won't actually happen this year, but I refuse to let my fears and insecurities get the better of me.

2016, I'm ready for you.

Europe tour day 3-4: Florence

12:00:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Sunset in Florence
We were so tired from the first two days that our third morning in Rome was just spent packing our things after breakfast. Then we went to the train station to go to Florence. Armed with our Eurail pass, we only took a regional train to avoid paying extra, so our travel time was twice as long. We still treasured our train travel since it was one of the things we wanted to experience in Europe.

We arrived in Florence by 5pm, and we were famished so we had a light snack. We were supposed to go to the Lantern festival in Ricoleta, but the bus took so long to arrive and we were all too tired, so we just went back to the apartment and slept. But not without buying gelato from the little gelateria around the corner!

Some might call sleeping in a waste of time, but we needed to conserve our energy for the rest of the trip. And we all badly needed sleep anyway. So that's our Euro tour day 3.

Early the next morning, we went to Santa Maria Novella, which is easily one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. Ate Mako turned to me and said, "Are you sure this isn't one of those Lego pop-ups?"

The beautiful, grand Santa Maria Novella Basilica
The beautiful, grand Santa Maria Novella Basilica
Santa Maria Novella
Since our second day in Rome, we've been touring with a 30-page itinerary pamphlet I've prepared. It was such a joy to see my family poring over the tidbits and notes of distinction I've researched for every location we visited.

And whenever I saw their smiles whenever we arrived at our destination, all the months of preparation were worth it.

We went to Santa Maria Novella for their morning mass because it was Mama Mary's birthday and my mama's birthday too.

Since the mass only started half past 8am, we walked around, looking for a cheap cafe for breakfast.

Florence is the only place where I ordered my first ever cappuccino, and found that Italians serve the perfect cup of coffee. My small cup was only 1.50 euros, and worth every sip. I only needed to add some sugar and milk, and I had the best cup of coffee I've ever in my life. Until I went back to Manila, the taste of Italian coffee still haunts me.

Afterwards, we went back to the plaza and sat on the marble chairs outside, enjoying the sunshine while waiting to be allowed to go in.

Santa Maria Novella is the first great basilica in Florence, and included stained glass windows by Filippo Lippi and other artists dating back to the 14th and 15th century; the Nativity scene above the door is by Botticelli.

Lastly, Santa Maria Novella's duomo is that duomo you see in postcards and whatnots of Florence.

Florence holds a special place in my heart because 1) I wouldn't have visited it if my sister didn't want to go wine tasting in Chianti, Tuscany, and 2) Because the choir that sung during the September 8 mass was so excellent, I felt like angels were singing to me.


I even came up to them after the mass, thinking they were an opera group, but nope, the guy said "just" the choir. I wish I could sing as beautifully as them. They were so amazing, I wondered why they don't join those singing competitions on TV.

Vasari's fresco of the Last Judgment
But as much as I enjoyed the choir and attending the mass in Italian, I was pretty sad to see such old priests. Where are our young priests? I wondered for how long they could still live, and I felt so sad for the Catholic Church.

Before we left, I took a quick snap of the Last Judgment fresco of Vasari, but sadly, my picture looks so washed out.

On our way to the train station, we passed by Caffe Scudieri (since 1939!) and ate some of the most delicious pastries I've had. Ugh, Italy, my mouth waters just thinking about your food!

That chocolate puff is to die for
After lunch, we took the bus to Chianti. The bus to Chianti is in the building behind the Firenze train station. Not a lot of people know where it is, and there's no signage. It's along the street of the church behind the Firenze train station, and you will cross a tram.

Castello di Verrazzano wine shop
Castello di Verrazzano wine shop
Again, Florentinians didn't speak English very well, and I had to speak French. I was so nervous to talk to the bus driver, and if I had been sleeping, we would have missed the Castello di Verrazzano stop. Instead of getting down at Greve like the winery instructed, we got down a few steps away from their wine shop, which is at the foot of the winery and very visible along the road.

It was a good thing I didn't pay any reservation beforehand because we had to move our wine tasting in the afternoon because we got delayed in the morning, trying to find the bus station. I just called them via the payphone (there's a payphone under the Firenze terminal station and a call costs about .80 to 1 euro for five minutes) and rescheduled.

I chose the Castello di Verrazzano because the other tours were too expensive for us and didn't fit our schedule. The reviews of Castello di Verrazzano's wine tasting tours were also pretty good. As we didn't have our own transportation, going to only one tasting was the best deal for us.

When we arrived at the wine shop, we asked the wine seller to have us picked up (for free) because it was too hot to walk up the mountain. The only tour available was their wine tasting with a few slices of salami and cheese, for 16 euros. We had a very good tour of the winery's history and saw huge barrels of wine, taller than me!

Fulfilling ate Mako's dream!
Overlooking Chianti's rolling hills
Overlooking Chianti's rolling hills

Then we got to the good part, which is the reason why everyone went there!

We were given three wines to taste: their Rosé di Verrazzano IGT, the Chianti Classico DOCG and the Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva. We were also given their own salami called Sbriciolona grevigiana, as well as a delicious slice of  pecorino (cheese) with Balsamico Verrazzano.

Their rosé made a mark in my heart
Since I work with a wine magazine, I was really looking forward to the wine tasting. Our tour guide taught us how to appreciate wine and distinguish some ingredients, and by the end of the tour (which lasted about two hours), I was feeling very appreciative indeed!

Balsamic vinegar on cheese? Yes, please!
I know what you're thinking: vinegar on cheese?! If the balsamic vinegar is the authentic kind (which is sweet and not too sour), then yes, please. I don't like vinegar, and I vomit at the smell of it, but I gobbled up two slices of cheese with vinegar. It was just that good.

Paired with their rosé, of course.


1. Florence has one of the cheapest Italian-made leather shoes I've ever found, and there are a lot of beautiful shoes stores around Santa Maria Novella. The prices in these stores are about half of the pricing in other parts of Europe.

2. If you eat in cafes, food and drinks are cheaper and has no service charge if you eat "by the bar", which literally means you use the counter top as your table, instead of sitting down at one of the tables.

3. Travelling by bus? Don't forget to bring a copy of the times of the buses, and to buy your return ticket at the station.

I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

Europe tour day 2: Rome

4:01:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Coliseum, Rome
Coliseum, Rome
We started out early on our second day because we had a whole day planned, but like our first day,  we didn't accomplish everything we set out to do.

One of the reasons why I insisted on not getting a tour package (but this does not apply to everyone!) is because I wanted our family to enjoy Europe at our own pace. Of course the downside were the stressful moments when we didn't know how to get to our apartment when we first arrived, and which bus/train to take to get to our next destination.

But thankfully, my sister and I finally figured out Rome's public transportation system on our second day in Rome.

And also, shoutout to the super nice driver in Rome who didn't fine us and dropped us off at the Vatican even though we didn't have a bus ticket and we didn't know you can't pay the bus driver. So pro tip: Buy a bus ticket at the kiosk before riding one.

I received a very wonderful tip-off from a Kiwi I work with, which helped me rearrange our tours. She said (pro tip) the best time to go to mass at the Vatican was at 7am where several priests held masses at the little chapels inside the Basilica, in different languages. She was right.

St. Peter's Basilica in the morning light
St. Peter's Basilica in the morning light
We arrived late and the first mass we saw ongoing was in Spanish, but the guard wouldn't let us enter the chapel anymore. We rushed to the opposite side where an English mass was just starting.

Morning view from the entrance of the Basilica
Morning view from the entrance of the Basilica
Attending mass that early was such an incredible experience. No long lines and hardly any tourists so it wasn't as overwhelming. I just wish tourists would turn off the sound from their cameras/phones when inside churches because it gets terribly distracting during mass.

Plus, the St. Peter's Basilica looked incredible in the morning light.

This morning mass at the Vatican was also memorable for me because I got two usually-stoic Swiss guards to say hi back!

I was sprinting towards the Vatican when I passed a Swiss guard at his post, and I waved a cheery Buon giorno! He stared at me for a beat then smiled so quickly, I would have missed it if I wasn't looking.

Serenade on the train
The second one was at the Swiss guard who was guarding one of the doors where no one can enter, but since it was so quiet, I just smiled and waved at him. He looked around him before nodding at me. That was nice of them. I didn't expect them to say hi back, but I was just feeling so energetic and happy that morning because hello, I'm in Rome!

After the mass, we went to the Coliseum. I scheduled our trip there early in the morning because (pro tip) every first Sunday of the month, the entrance is free. The line was quite long, and there were a lot of other tourists on the train, but we quickly got in line outside the Coliseum, and after ten minutes, we were inside. Holy guacamole, I was at the Coliseum. This was the stuff of my dreams.

It felt so weird to be at the Coliseum. I felt sad because I felt the history of the place even though it hasn't been used for such purposes in thousands of years. I could just imagine the horror and blood and gore that happened so many times, and it made me shudder.

But at the same time, I was happy because I saw the Coliseum, which was something I only ever read about in books and not something I actually thought I'd get to see. Heck, my whole Eurotrip was like a dream.

Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano
Afterwards, we rode the wrong bus. A helpful Italian guy noticed my confusion and, in a halting mix of English and Italian, explained to me that we have to walk back where we came from and take the opposite bus. This was definitely one of those moments I saw the frustration in my parents' faces, wondering why in the world they let me navigate! But our destination was worth it: Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, which is actually the papal seat of Christianity in Rome.

Amazing detailing
It is one of the grandest and most beautiful churches I've ever seen. The statues of the apostles on top were life-sized and carefully crafted. I felt so small.

Truly, the churches in Italy have the best artworks. Pro tip: Beautiful artwork from the best masters can be seen for free decorating the churches in Italy.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Scala Sancta. The Scala Sancta is a small chapel where the stairs from the palace of Pontius Pilate that Jesus walked on during His Passion, and St. Helena, Constantine's mother, brought them back with her when she went looking for the Holy Cross. Since Jesus walked on it during His Passion, these steps are considered holy/sanctified.

The only way to go up the Scala Sancta is on one's knees. Literally. You cannot stand up and just kneel on the second step. You have to push and propel yourself forward. It was one of the most painful things I've went through in Rome. Imagine going up 28 steps of stairs on your knees? It was a miracle none of us fell down. At first, I was so excited but when I was almost at the top I wanted to cry, because I knew none of the pain I was feeling could compare to the excruciating pain Jesus went through out of love for me. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

The Scala Sancta
The Scala Sancta
Once I got to the top, the pain was gone. There was also the revered Image of the Most Holy Saviour just across the top of the stairs, which is believed to not have been painted by human hand.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to an authentic Italian trattoria, which, based on their food preparation, served us meals bought pre-packed from the grocery and heated via microwave. It was affordable but the taste left a lot to be desired. I immediately grabbed gelato from the next homemade gelateria we found a few steps away, which was one of my best foodie decisions.

Next, we walked all the way to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, a Papal major basilica and the largest Catholic Marian church in Rome. It is also considered a UNESCO world heritage. And when I saw the beautiful Church, it really is worthy to be considered a world heritage.

Santa Maria Maggiore
Santa Maria Maggiore

Marble step of Bernini
Bernini!!! Yes, I'm a fan of his.
One of the earliest depictions of Mary as Theotokos.
After touring the Maggiore, it was about 3pm and we were so exhausted, but we didn't give up. We took the train to our next destination, the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, which Constantine founded on the spot over the burial place of St. Paul. And we even saw the where St. Paul's tomb was found, as well as his chains when he was imprisoned in Rome.

St. Paul's tomb
St. Paul's tomb


After taking lots of pictures, papa said we didn't have to go to Via Appia anymore since we already went to St. Paul's Basilica, and I was so happy because I felt my feet were about to fall off. We took the train and got off at Piazza Bernini, which was the closest train station on our way to the Trevi Fountain.

Another of Rome's numerous beautiful fountains
But on our way to Trevi, we kept stopping because I led my parents right through a shopping street, and there were numerous affordable beautiful Italian-made leather bags. And of course, papa's trip wouldn't be complete if he didn't get a shirt from every city we went to. He actually bought the most number of memorabilia out of all of us! His pack light motto served him well.

Al fresco dinner in Rome
We decided to eat dinner before going to the Trevi Fountain because I was hungry, so I chose the nearest restaurant I could find. We dined al fresco, and the waitress kept bringing us bottles of water, which I later realized is a no-no because (pro tip) you can ask for free table water. But I was so thirsty and so tired that I just paid for them.

Everything was still so surreal at that point. I knew I was in Rome but a part of me felt like I was still dreaming.

After dinner, we then walked the short distance to the Trevi Fountain, which was quite a disappointment because there was a huge acrylic glass barrier as Rome's most fountain was being rehabilitated. But I managed to find a way to get a good, clear shot (meaning I asked a very tall and complete stranger to take a photo over the barrier -- dad was like, what you did was so dangerous!!!), and here it is!

Trevi Fountain under construction
Trevi Fountain

1. Ask for tap water when dining in Italian restaurants.

2. Buy your transportation tickets before going on trips. Rome has a transportation pass you can use on buses and the metro, with set number of days.

3. Try to attend the 7am Sunday mass at the St. Peter's Basilica. It's the best time to visit. :)

I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

Europe tour day 1: Rome

12:00:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-


The beautiful and majestic St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
I had quite the day planned for our day in Rome, but as they say, everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and our timing was off when we landed in Rome...

We're the type of travellers who don't rest once we arrive at our destination. We love to maximize our vacation time, so we almost immediately leave the apartment once we check in. But when we landed in Rome, our luggage took too long to arrive. Then the airport was farther from our accommodation than we thought, so we only had about thirty minutes before our first appointment -- and it was an appointment we had to keep.

St. Peter's Basilica really is a work of art!
One of the things I quickly discovered in Europe is that the locals walk really fast. When they say it's about ten minutes, it usually takes us twice as long to get there. Our accommodation was literally behind the Vatican City, and we thought the entrance to our destination was just around the corner.

Our appointment was at 10:30am. We arrived at 10:45am. They almost didn't let us get thru the gates, but the Swiss guard must have seen the desperation in my eyes (and all the huffing and puffing) because he let us in.

When we got to the entrance of the office, we were told we cannot be accommodated anymore. My mom asked if they can accommodate us at a different time. After checking their schedule for a few minutes, we were told they can accommodate two people at 1:30pm and two people at 2pm, so we would need to separate. We immediately agreed. They rescheduled us with no extra charge, but we were oh so willing to pay up.

You see, getting to enter that museum was the major highlight of our trip to Rome. The museum I'm talking about is the Vatican Necropolis...and what we believe to be the tomb of St. Peter (I say believe because there are those who dispute this). And very few people are granted access because they only let 250 people per day, and by special permission from the Vatican office.

It was raining when we arrived -- mum said we were being blessed. It was a wonder we didn't get sick!
And I literally begged for this, because they initially turned down my application. In desperation, I gave them the date of our arrival, and they granted us a tour at 10:30am. Sometimes, I still cannot believe that I walked on the old roads of Rome and saw the very old Vatican, and was able to visit the tomb of St. Peter. It just felt so surreal.

Pictures are not allowed. Carrying big bags are also not allowed, so we just brought our ticket, phone, passports, and money.

After a wonderful and informative tour by our guide named Laura, we were all surprised because we were told we can enter the St. Peter's Basilica without having to line up outside! And let me tell you, the line was really long.

It felt like we spent all our time at the Vatican on our first day, but it was worth it.

Since we were there by 11am, we decided to have lunch in one of the numerous cafes in the Vatican.

My first gelato!
And of course, fulfill my plan of eating gelato every day we were in Italy.

Of course it was expensive! The panini was priced at 5 euros, but it was huge and can be shared for two. The gelato was also priced at 5 euros and the serving was substantial. I actually didn't get to finish my cone, which is a first.

This is also the first time I ever drank San Pellegrino, you know, that super expensive water sold in the Philippines, which I bought for only 50 euro cents (or about P25). And we found we don't like sparkling water at all.

It felt so surreal eating a chocolate gelato while looking at the Vatican.

When I took my first bite, I closed my eyes to savor the whole experience. Then I said, "This is a gelato." It wasn't too sweet, and definitely didn't have that cloying aftertaste. Sigh. Memories.

We were thinking of lining up with the people to get into the Basilica while waiting, but the rain soon stopped and it became too hot to wait in the sun. Also, it would take us hours to line up, so we just took a lot of pictures.

Fun fact: Rome has a lot of fountains where you can refill your water bottle for free!

Finally, 1pm came, and we went up to the guards to enter. But they didn't allow us. They said we can only enter at 1:20pm. So we waited, antsy, then asked to enter again at 1:20pm. The first guard allowed us. When we had to pass by the Swiss guard, he barred us, saying our appointment was at 2pm and we had to wait.

We were panicking, let me tell you, because it was a five-minute walk to the office. He was talking to another girl who kept asking a lot of questions. The girl turned to me and looked at my paper then dismissed me. I persisted in talking to the Swiss guard, and he finally realized he didn't see the 1:30pm appointment, and let us in.

Sigh. We were in!

After the tour, which lasted about an hour or so (we had a lot of questions!), we finally went inside the basilica, where we, of course, took a lot of pictures. By accident, we found our parents roaming inside the basilica as well, so that was another hour of taking pictures.

The obelisk in St. Peter's Square, which is said to be the sole witness to St. Peter's death.
The Jubilee doors!

St. Peter's chair by Bernini
Seeing La Pieta in the flesh made me realize why Michelangelo is a master of the arts


St. (Pope) John Paul II's tomb

We were at St. Peter's Basilica!
Afterwards, we all trudged home to make the thirty-minute long (which stretched to an hour's worth) walk back to the apartment because we didn't know how to get back via the bus.

And when we got to the apartment, my body finally gave in, and I slept a solid 12 hours, only to wake up at 5am the next day, fully clothed in yesterday's gear. I was exhausted from working for a solid 31 hours straight (we were finishing a major magazine!), travelled for 19 hours, and was on my feet for 8 hours. It was a wonder I didn't get sick! Thank you for blessing us, Lord! Surprisingly enough, I was the only one who didn't get sick (my sister while in Rome, my mother while in Munich, and my dad when we got home).

Our trip could have been better, sure, but the first one was rocky. Still, I believe that everything happens for a reason. And still being able to enter the Necropolis and the Basilica was enough for us that first day.

We experienced so much in Rome and my parents, who are used to having a tour group and guide, were overwhelmed by the trip and not having a guide. My sister and I, who have travelled on our own without tours, were more relaxed. But here are some tips that will hopefully prepare first-time Europe travellers like us.

1. If you're taking public transportation, buy a train pass at Termini station, or online. We were only able to buy tickets the next day. Read up online on how to use Rome's public transportation or ask your friends/relatives who have been to/work in Rome. We didn't know anyone at all.

2. If you're a Filipino (or even a foreigner, I suppose), don't be shy to ask for help from Filipinos, especially if they work there. I only met one snobbish Filipina (and that was in Austria). The Filipinos who work there are so friendly and helpful.

3. Bring a refillable water bottle or flask with you. It will save you a lot of money. Don't let yourself get dehydrated!

4. Bring euro coins with you in case you need to use the toilet. While there are free toilets, you may find yourself needing to use the bathroom, and most toilets have a fee, ranging from 50 cents (the cheapest we've encountered) to 3.50 euros (in Switzerland).

5. If you don't speak Italian (or French or German), install Google translate (or some equivalent app) on your device and prepare to translate your questions. The Italians didn't speak English very well, and some don't speak English at all. I had to speak French, and they responded to me in Italian. That was both challenging and a marvelous experience!

6. Even if you're going during summer, it's best to bring a hooded jacket you can tie around your waist when it's hot, and cover yourself up when needed (i.e. in Churches). If you're not planning on bringing or buying an umbrella, make sure you bring a cap. Even if it's not raining, the heat can be pretty intense!

7. Lather on some sunscreen!

8. Be prepared for cigarette smoke. The Italians, compared to the other European people we met, smoked a lot. We even saw people lighting up as soon as they stepped off the train.

9. Bring your most comfortable shoes that can withstand all the walking you'll be doing! And if you're buying new shoes, make sure you break them in thoroughly before your trip. I could barely use my P3000 pair of Hush Puppies because it kept bruising me. Thankfully I brought a pair of flats, which was supposed to only be a back-up, but which I ended up using 90% of the trip. And it only cost me P299. :)

10. Beware of pickpockets -- and this is something locals and your fellow Filipinos will keep warning you about.

11. Arm yourself with detailed maps of Rome as well as their transportation system. Find out which bus or train station is closest to your house, as well as all alternative buses or routes you can take.

Most importantly, relax and enjoy every minute. A lot of things can happen, so learn how to let go of what's not important. Rest when needed. Splurge a little. Communicate with your group if you have any concerns. Don't lose your cool.

You're in Europe. Relax. ;)


I hope you'll enjoy your trip!

All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.


Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Booking your hotel and plane fare  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe

How to apply for the Schengen visa thru Via.ph

12:00:00 PM 2 Comments A+ a-

Resting at the Louvre in Paris
So you've decided to go to Europe, you've filled out the Schengen visa application form and finished prepping the requirements. The next step is to apply for the Schengen visa. This post is only about applying to the Italian embassy thru Via.ph.

If you have any questions, call them at their free hotline number 845 9200.

1. Book an appointment by calling any of the numbers below that suits you:

PLDT/SMART Line 1 - 909 - 101 - 2200
BAYANTEL Line 1 - 903 - 101 - 2200
Globe Line 1 - 900 - 101 - 2200

Make sure you have your passport ready when you call. In case you're booking for several people, make sure to get all their passports as well because the call costs Php 32.00/minute + VAT, and other charges if you're calling from outside Metro Manila.

I tried booking with the embassy directly, but their next available slot last July was on October already, and my trip was in September! With via.ph, I was immediately given a schedule.

I only called once we had all our documents ready.

In case the agent forgets, make sure to ask how much the total fee will be. Remember: Bring exact change.

2. Go to VIA office in Makati.

  • Bring all the documents including the original copies
  • Bring a stapler with staplewire, scissors, a black pen that works, whiteout and glue. This is in case you need to attach something you forgot to print out, fill out some lines in the application, erase some of the entries as instructed by the agent, or cut out some parts.
  • A book or anything that will keep you engrossed and happy while waiting!
3. Once you reach the VIA office, sign in and get your number from the security guard. Even if you have an appointed time, you will still need to get a number.

4. Wait for your turn. We waited for an hour or two!

5. Submit your application. Answer any questions the agent may have.

6. If your documents are complete, the agent will tell you if you will wait for your name to be called for the thumbprint.

7. After inputting your thumb prints, wait for the instruction to pay.

You're done! Now it's the waiting time for the status of your visa. You'll either get a call or a message if you need to submit more documents. The only way you'll know if you're granted a visa (or not) is when you receive your passport.

Some documents may not be returned. Our birth certificates were not returned, they returned papa's.

If you've been granted a visa, check any accompanying documents or attached papers to your visa.

My sister and I had attached letters from the embassy stating that we need to return to the embassy in Salcedo, Makati, to have our passports signed within 10 days after the expiration of our visa. Since our visa was given a one week extension, we only returned on the day of the visa expiration.

How to get your visa signed after your trip, if you are requested by the embassy

1. Go to the Italian embassy in Salcedo St, Makati.

2. Tell the guard you're going to the embassy. If there's a line outside, you'll need to line up.

3. Once they let you go up to the Italian embassy office, you'll need to turn off your cellphone (and other electronic devices) and hand it to the guards at the embassy lobby.

4. Hand over your passport and letter from the embassy.

5. Wait for your name to be called.

6. Once your name is called, go to the designated window.

We were simply given back our passports once we went to the window. Even though we weren't first in line, we were still processed first from all the batch in the 3pm group (we didn't make an appointment, we just dropped by).

Tip: You can take the e-jeepney outside Landmark (a ride costs P8) and you can go down in front of the embassy. If you don't know where the embassy is, it's along Salcedo St, with a Cafe France outside the building. Or ask the driver :)

I hope the past few posts have helped you with your Eurotrip planning! It has been very tiring preparing all these documents, but once we got to Europe, it was all worth it. :)

Other helpful blogs and links I've read while getting ready:


Tips from:
Wanderlass: http://www.wanderlass.com/others/visa-challenge/schengen-visa-philippine-passport.html

Tips and LOA and CoA templates:
Kristine Camins: 
http://www.kristinecamins.com/schengen-visa-application/
http://www.kristinecamins.com/schengen-visa-flight-booking/

Tips from:
More Fun with Ems: https://morefunwithems.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/how-to-apply-for-a-schengen-tourist-visa-in-the-philippines-2013/

Tips from:
Lynne en-route: http://www.lynne-enroute.com/2014/03/19/how-to-get-the-schengen-tourist-visa-through-the-italian-embassy-philippines/



Filling out the Schengen visa application form

12:00:00 PM 0 Comments A+ a-

Somewhere in Switzerland...
Filling out the Schengen Visa application form was a little tricky, but I had help from Kristine Camin's How to Apply for the Schengen Visa post and our own experience when we were applying. If your handwriting isn't that flash, I suggest using Adobe Acrobat Pro, or a PDF program that enables you to fill out the form legibly.

Hopefully this guide can help you :)

We filled out our application form in capital letters (except for our email address) and put an X in the boxes where applicable.

1. Surname (Family name): Your surname

2. Surname at birth

  • If married, write your maiden name. 
  • Since I'm single, I left it blank, but the processing agent at Via asked me to write my father's surname, I'm not sure why.

3. First name: Your real name -- not your nickname. If you have two (or seven) first names, write all of it.

4. Date of birth: Day MONTH year e.g. 08 SEPTEMBER 1957

5. Place of birth: City (MANILA) or town, province e.g. KIBLAWAN, DAVAO DEL SUR

6. Country of birth: PHILIPPINES

7. Current Nationality: FILIPINO

  • Nationality at birth, if different: I left this blank since our nationality did not change

8. Sex: (No, this is not the frequency.) X for whichever box applies.

9. Marital status: X for whichever box applies.

10. I wrote N/A since I'm of legal age.

11. N/A since I don't have a National Identity number. I'm also not sure what that is

12. Type of travel document: X for whichever box applies. I put an X on Ordinary passport

13. Number of travel document: Passport number (found in the biographical page of your passport)

14. Date of issue: (found in the biographical page of your passport)

15. Valid until: (found in the biographical page of your passport)

16. Issued by: (found in the biographical page of your passport)

17. Applicant's home and e-mail address: my email address in small letters, my address in full caps, up to my city

  • Telephone number(s): Landline (if applicable) and cellphone

18. X for whichever box applies. I put an X on No

19. Current occupation: I put on mine BUSINESS WOMAN since I have a startup, but on my sister's: EMPLOYED - [her position/job title]

20. Employer's name and details: Again, written in caps
NAME - ADDRESS UP TO CITY - PHONE NUMBER

21. Main purpose: X for whichever box applies. I put an X on Tourism

22. Member State(s) of your destination: I put ITALY, AUSTRIA, GERMANY, SWITZERLAND, FRANCE (or whichever Schengen country applies to you)

  • Please note that you cannot use your Schengen Visa for the UK. If your trip involves going to the UK, you will need to get a  UK Visa as well.

23. Member State of first entry: ITALY (or whichever Schengen country applies)

24. Number of entries requested: X for whichever box applies. I put an X on Single entry

  • Since we were not going out of the Schengen area, we only needed a Single entry. Based on my mapped out train itinerary, all our trains will pass only through Schengen Member States.
  • If you're flying from one Member State(s) to another, and your plane will go out of the Schengen Area (i.e. you'll be coming from Spain, but it will stop through the UK before landing at your final destination [e.g. Amsterdam]), you will need to put an X on Two entries or Multiple entries (if you'll keep coming in and out of Schengen within 90 days -- the minimum number of days for an ordinary Schengen tourist visa)

25. Duration of the intended stay or transit: Whatever # of days apply to you

26. X for whichever box applies. Mine was No.

27. X for whichever box applies. Mine was No.

28. I left this blank, but the agent at VIA said to write N/A (if that's applicable to you, fill it out. If you're not sure, ask them when you file)

29. Intended date of arrival: This is the date you're in the Schengen area, not the date of your departure from the Philippines. If you're departing on the 4th, and you'll arrive on the 5th, write 05 [MONTH] [YEAR]

Unless, of course, you're arriving on the same day -- is that possible?

Check your flight reservation/booking for the dates.

30. Intended date of departure: When you'll be leaving the Schengen area, not your arrival back in the Philippines.

31. The agent instructed me to write the name of the first hotel we'll be sleeping at in Italy. I'm not sure how this goes if all your accommodations are thru Airbnb, but she asked me to write the hotel, even though we weren't staying there until our 5th day in Italy.

However, I also prepared an attached table with the following details: Surname, First name/Hotel name, Address, Email address, Telephone and telefax.

We were very transparent in our application
32. N/A (or fill out as applicable)

33. Cost of travel: X where applicable

  • Since we were all paying for ourselves, I put an X on 'by the applicant himself/herself'

Means of support: X where applicable

  • I didn't put an X on Credit card because I didn't have one.
  • My sister and mother didn't put an X on Credit card because they only had supplementary/extension credit cards from my dad, and all billing statements only had my dad's name on it.
  • But we put an X on Prepaid accommodation and Prepaid transport since our accommodations, air fare, and several train fares were pre-purchased while in the Philippines.

34. N/A (or fill out as applicable)

35. N/A (or fill out as applicable)

36. Place and date: You put the city where you filled out the form, and then the date you filled out the application form

37. Your signature

Page 3:
Place and date: You put the city where you filled out the form, and then the date you filled out the application form

Your signature

One of the castles we saw while we were on the train. The little girl in me was so excited!
Good luck!

All notes are based on our experience. These are just guides and tips. If you are unsure about any of the questions in the form, I suggest you leave it blank and ask the agent at the Via counter for help when your name is called. If your visa is denied, please don't blame me. I don't decide the approval of your visa :-)

Booking your hotel/Airbnb apartments and plane tickets for the Schengen visa

12:00:00 PM 3 Comments A+ a-

Good morning, Firenze! (View from our apartment)
Airline ticket reservation
We didn't pay for our airline ticket when we booked it, but we were still able to fulfill the Schengen visa requirement. And the embassy encourages applicants to book, but not yet buy, the ticket as much as possible.

I was thinking that if travel agencies can book an airplane ticket without my having to pay for it immediately, maybe I can do that too. We actually went to a travel agency to book our ticket, but they said they can only reserve a ticket thru them if we were availing of their tour package, too.

After screening several websites and comparing prices, we narrowed down our choices to two airlines: Qatar and Emirates. Between the two, Qatar was cheaper.

I called up Qatar Airways but the agent I talked to said they don't hold long reservations.

I called up Emirates and they agreed to hold my reservation for over a week. I made sure that the flight I reserved is the same flight we'll be taking if our Schengen visa is approved.

When our Schengen visa was approved, our reservation had already lapsed, so we just bought our tickets from Emirates online. Note that you are encouraged to book the same flight/airplane company that you used for your booking, as stated in the letter accompanying our visa.

Simply reserving our tickets saved us from worrying about the huge cost of plane tickets if we bought them before our visa was approved.


Reserving our accommodation

Airbnb
One of my dad's requests was that each person should only spend around Php150,000 for the whole two weeks, and that was the budget I worked on. The budget also helped because I was the one who paid for all my expenses, except for our two hotels.

While I would have loved to have experienced European hostels, the total was still beyond the set budget so I finally opted for Airbnbs. Note: Make sure renting an apartment from your host is legal because there are issues that differ with every city.

My rules for choosing an Airbnb rental:
      Must have at least three reviews already
      Must have 4.5-5 star ratings
      Must have beds for four adults
      Proximity to the places we wanted to go to, or the center of the city
      Must have a flexible or moderate policy
We were all excited for our apartments because we felt like we were going to live how the locals live. And I was right! Quite exciting to see our other "flatmates" and buy from the local grocery. However, buying food from the grocery was a bit of a challenge because the staff rarely spoke English.

Since I'm a newbie in Airbnb and had no ratings, I sent an introductory message to each host whose rental attracted me. Seven out of ten times, the response was positive. Most would even just reserve me for the dates I stated. It was amazing.

Here's the sample message I sent (italics for emphasis)

Buongiorno! [I changed this according to the language of the country]
My name is Haeja, from the Philippines. I'm [age] and [my job]
My family and I are visiting [city] on [date we'll be staying in that city]. We will be coming from [city], [country]. Is your place available for a [# of nights and days] stay? :)
[Then I ask my questions so we both know we fit what each other is looking for:]
Also, I would like to confirm that it will fit four adults?
Do we have to pay extra 2 euro/person tourist tax upon arrival, or pay anything else upon arrival? [yes, there is a tourist tax in some European countries i.e. Italy and Austria] 
[Then I explain why I chose to rent from them]
I like your place because it looks cozy, it is within our budget, and it is near the places we want to go to. 
[closing remarks] 
Looking forward to your response. 
Kind regards, 
Haeja

Remember! Most Schengen Member states only accept Euro. Even if you have dollars, you have to exchange them to Euro. In Switzerland, you have to exchange your money for their local currency, the Swiss francs, because they are not part of the European Union, and therefore don't generally use the euro. Some stores in Switzerland do accept Euro, but will only accept bills (like in Starbucks and McDonalds, but sometimes with a minimum amount of purchase) and they will give you your change in Swiss francs.

Some images of our Airbnb rentals...

Pull-out bed our favorite apartment
Beautiful furniture here!
Super cheery apartment and chic decor
Great in photos, not so much in real life
Better than we expected!
If we our visas hadn't been approved, the only money we'd have lost are the ones we used to pay for documents, visa processing, travel insurance, and minimal Airbnb booking fees. The cost of applying for a visa you're not sure will be processed, eh?

Note that some flats don't have a microwave too, so check out the listed utilities available before booking a place.

Some of the apartments exceeded our expectations, and some were not as clean or as beautiful in real life. Thankfully, all of them provided towels.

Also, note that in Europe, when they say "second floor", that's actually the third floor because the first floor is like the 0 floor. So when reading the description, be wary of the "apartment on the second floor, without elevator" because if you're carrying a heavy bag and travelling from one country to another, it can be tiresome!

Unless your hosts are nice and they offer to carry your luggage up the stairs for you :)

Also, don't transact outside Airbnb, because if there is a problem, then Airbnb won't help you out if you paid the host directly.

If you don't have an Airbnb account yet, get a discount from me! Use my sign-up link to create your account. Claim your discount here!


Hotels
Of the eight cities we slept in, we booked two hotels because 1) No available Airbnb in the area that met our requirements and 2) They were cheaper for a group than if we stayed in a hostel. Plus, they offered breakfast.

We booked directly with the hotels, although I did email them first to make sure the still had vacancies, and that they indeed have rooms for four adults.

Luckily, our chosen hotels also sold public transportation tickets, so it was easy for us to get to and fro the location. This is actually one of the benefits when we booked the hotel. If you're booking a cheap hotel, do remember that they may not have someone to help you carry your luggage.

Their breakfast buffet usually consists of a selection of bread + jam/cheese/butter spreads and liquid beverages. Some may also offer pie.

View outside our hotel in Venice
Super cosy accommodation in Innsbruck
One of the coziest dining places I've been to!

Good luck!

I hope you'll enjoy your trip! All photos are unedited. I don't know how to use Photoshop! Please don't use my images without permission.

Read about my Eurotrip!
Rome day 1
Rome day 2
Florence day 3-4
Pisa day 4
Venice day 5
Innsbruck day 6
Munich day 7-8

Other links you might find helpful:

Getting ready for Europe  |  Preparing your Schengen visa requirements  |  Filling out the Schengen visa form  |  How to apply to the Italian embassy thru Via  |  Cross-country train travel in Europe